Cruelty to trans children must stop. FULL STOP.

In February this year I was asked to speak at an organisation I greatly admire, the NSPCC – the first time, I understand, that trans issues have been officially discussed there. I really hope the NSPCC can do more work to support trans kids in future. I promised to make my notes available online… find them below the clip of me and child trans campaigner Livvy James,

• When I was asked to come and talk to the NSPCC my initial reaction was: Great! I’m so pleased they’re looking at transgender issues – but what do I know about vulnerable children?

• I quickly realized, though, that I know all too much about vulnerable children. I was one.

• I’m not sure how much you know about me but I’m a campaigner, writer and broadcaster – and much of what I do focuses on promoting the idea that trans people deserve the same human rights as everyone else. So do trans children.

• So what are the issues affecting children who express their gender non-conventionally?

• Trans kids can expect bullying, isolation, rejection by family, teachers and schools, rejection of their identity, lack of role models, and violence.

• Here’s an extract of a piece I wrote for the Guardian in 2011:

“Growing up, the only time I’d ever seen trans people on TV were those ‘brave’, depressing ones, hanging around hospitals waiting for ‘sex change’ surgery. They may as well have been aliens. The ex-mining town where I grew up in Nottinghamshire was insular to say the least. Changing gender was something that simply didn’t happen to the people on my council estate. But I knew from four that I was ‘different’, and other people seemed to notice too. I was routinely bullied, often quite violently, for years.”

• This time last year I appeared on BBC Breakfast with a trans girl called Livvy. After being bullied at school she began a campaign to end bigoted reporting of trans issues in the press. (Clearly this 10-year-old was smart enough to make the connection between bullying at school and bullying in the press.)

• I was both pleased and sad to meet Livvy. I wish I’d had the support that she enjoys when I was a child. I got quite the opposite – and was bullied by my violent father for “acting like a poof”.

• It’s important to understand the culture into which trans children are born. Trans people are ridiculed in the press daily and we are frequent punch lines in comedy across a range of genres. Julie Buchill’s Observer piece, in which she accused trans people of being “bed-wetters in bad wigs” was just one example.

• If serious newspapers feel it’s OK to attack trans people because of the way they look – relying on lazy, inaccurate stereotypes – why would our playgrounds be any better?

• Parents of trans children (whether they know they are yet) will read newspapers (like mine did) and this will inform their view on what transgender means.

• Does anyone here know someone who is transgender? If not, where do you get your information about trans people?

• Most people get most of their information about trans people from the media. As the media promotes bullying of trans people, you can see what trans kids are up against.

• Ironically, though, some of the most sympathetic stories about trans people are about trans children.

Livvy James

Livvy James

• People are often more willing to accept a gender identity that doesn’t match up with a person’s birth sex providing puberty hasn’t occurred and there are no secondary sexual characteristics to indicate birth sex (put simply: people are more likely to accept someone who was born with female genitals as male if he doesn’t have visible breasts.)

• Most trans people, though not all, will tell you they knew who they were, inside, from a very young age. I did. The majority are “non-apparent” – and were not able to come out and be themselves when they were young.

• Most trans people were also too scared to tell anyone; many older trans people even felt so pressured into conforming that they got traditionally gendered jobs and began families. Many trans women, i.e. those who feel female but were born male, enter the army in an attempt to “man up”. This is frequently unsuccessful. (“Flight into Hypermasculinity” (1988) by Capt. George R Brown documents this.)

• In this way, we might compare being trans to being gay – with a ‘coming out’ (although it is important to note that transgender is not an ‘extreme form’ of being gay and that trans people may turn out to be straight, gay, lesbian or bisexual the same as anyone else. This is about identity, not sexuality).

• So if it’s not about sexuality (and clearly in young children that can’t be the motive) why are people trans?

• GIRES have a great website that explores the theories behind why people are trans, and I’d like to read something from a booklet they produced for the Department of Health.

“Typically, we are divided by our physical sex appearance into ‘male’ and ‘female’. We tend to think that all human beings fall into two distinct categories: boys who become men, and girls who become women… In most cases, our sex appearance, gender identity and gender role are in agreement with each other. However, a few individuals find that the way they look on the outside doesn’t fit how they feel inside.”

• This doesn’t mean that all boys who play with dolls are trans. But some might be. There are various theories as to why people might feel they are in the wrong body – social, mental, hormonal and physical – ultimately none of this matters.

• The important thing is that trans children exist. It doesn’t matter why they exist. They deserve the same human rights as everyone else – they must be protected from violence and abuse. They are likely to be vulnerable and need protection. Oftentimes from their families.

• I know that children’s charities have, in the past, held back from explicitly supporting trans children. There may be various reasons for this, not least the pernicious idea that trans is somehow taboo or wrong.

• Many people who deal with trans children – including teachers, adoption agencies or GPs – won’t understand trans issues. Some may be openly hostile.

• It doesn’t matter, though, if people who deal with children don’t ‘agree’ with transgender – the law now recognizes gender reassignment as a protected characteristic under the Equalities Act 2010. Transgender is something people just have to learn to deal with.

• People who may wish to help trans children may also feel scared and that they don’t understand the issues properly. Or that it is about sex. It’s not. And the only thing to understand is that this is a human rights issue and a child protection issue – protecting these children from bullying and social rejection.

• There is research in the States that shows teachers in schools are scared of dealing sensitively and positively with trans children because they fear being seen as ‘too progressive’, or ‘too left-wing’ and who also fear the response, in particular, of parents of other children, and indirectly, through them, the media.

• Mermaids, a wonderful charity that offers support to families with trans children, has really struggled to find funding – mainly due to that unhelpful idea that trans is taboo.

• I cannot praise them enough for the good work that they do, such as brining together families for weekend retreats where parents can talk to other parents going through the same difficulties and the children can play safely. Mermaids also offers guidance to schools who have a pupil who is trans – from breaking the news to the other pupils, to solving problems like what changing rooms the child will use.

• I’d like to finish by asking people to check out Mermaids and also by reading a few case studies of trans children. Thank you.


6 thoughts on “Cruelty to trans children must stop. FULL STOP.

  1. What an excellent piece of writing. You are a very important and intelligent voice. Thank you.

  2. Reblogged this on The Way of the Transgressor is Hard and commented:
    “Cruelty to trans children must stop. Full stop.” Not much I can add to this post’s title. Read it … just read it.

  3. This is excellent and important work you’re doing here with your writing. Can I have some more, please?

  4. Great piece Paris, as ever 🙂

  5. […] was recently asked to speak at the NSPCC about the issues trans children face. As part of my talk I read out three case […]

  6. […] Cruelty to trans children must stop. FULL STOP. ( […]

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