TransgenderTrend is a website run by a group of British parents who are concerned about the current trend to diagnose children as transgender, including the unprecedented number of teenage girls suddenly self-identifying as “trans”, as well as safety for young women in public spaces and fairness in sport. It has no religious or political affiliation.
MercatorNet asked TransgenderTrend’s founder, Stephanie Davies-Arai, to comment on the explosion of trans children.
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MercatorNet: What motivated you to launch TransgenderTrend?
Stephanie Davies-Arai: We are concerned that the increased public awareness of transgender issues has led to parents worrying unnecessarily about normal childhood behaviours. Throughout the media, in cases of “trans kids,” those parents who uncritically accept the trans ideology are the ones who are deemed “brave” and “supportive,” leading to huge pressure on parents to accept the diagnosis of transgender. When worried parents seek information online they inevitably come across sites that reinforce (and even glamourise) the notion of the transgender child.
We wanted to create a site which balanced that view with some research and facts which challenge the prevailing acceptance of an ideology which is new, untested, and invariably based on personal belief systems. We also want to provide information on legislation regarding the use of public toilets, bathrooms and changing rooms for parents who are concerned about the child protection and safeguarding issues this raises.
How do you respond to allegations that you are transphobic?
No, we believe that transgender people deserve the same civil and human rights as all of us and should not face discrimination. As the term “phobic” literally means “irrational fear” we want to make it very clear that we are not afraid of, or prejudiced against, transgender people in any way.
Or that you are part of the intolerant religious Right?
No, again. Within our group we have different or no religious or political affiliations, we are mostly left-leaning and liberal but we don’t see this as a party political issue. We set up this project only to support parents and to challenge what is a completely new diagnosis and treatment of children. We are examining the trans narrative, its claims and how it is being applied to children and young people.
What do you mean by “the trans narrative”?
We mean the stories surrounding trans issues which have become regarded as fact and interpreted as universal truth. Although we respect everyone’s individual story and acknowledge the importance of hearing personal testimony, we feel this needs to be balanced with research and scientific inquiry in order to arrive at a realistic picture unprejudiced by personal beliefs.
Why can’t you just support trans people if you’ve got nothing against them?
Our concern is children. Whilst we have no objection to adults behaving in any way they choose (as long as they are not harming others) we also feel a responsibility to get things right for children, as they are the ones who may be harmed if the theories are wrong.
Medical interventions such as puberty blockers and cross-sex hormones have some serious irreversible effects which may include infertility and loss of sexual function. The research to justify such life-changing treatment is inadequate and no long-term clinical trials have been carried out. We call for urgent action to address the lack of scientific evidence behind this new treatment for children which will have lifelong consequences for them.
We believe that children who identify as transgender must be accepted and supported in schools through equalities policy and robust anti-bullying measures. We don't think this should include changing all facilities to become mixed-sex. Our concern is the safeguarding of all children, in particular girls who must retain the right to their own boundaries with the opposite sex and their right to say no.
But if kids are really trans shouldn’t we just help them?
We don’t have any evidence that children really are trans; this is a very new phenomenon which is based on no credible scientific research. Children’s preference for particular toys and activities just reflects their personalities and we need to take care not to read any deeper meaning into their choices, but allow children to explore and form their own identities at their own pace.
Behaviour which does not conform to rigid gender “norms” is not unusual and “gender dysphoria” is poorly understood. We are in danger of jumping to assumptions about children based on only one allowed interpretation informed by political ideology.
What about trans people who knew they were trans from a very young age?
We can’t speak for individuals and their personal experiences. We do know, however, that the nature of memory is to project current awareness backwards in time in order to affirm a present belief, so this has to be taken into account when we hear such experiences. In any case, it is reverse logic to say that because some people “always knew” they were trans this means that every child exhibiting non gender-conforming behaviour must also therefore be trans.
Many adults (particularly gay and lesbian adults) also have childhood memories of fiercely believing themselves to be the opposite sex, but they came to terms with their sex during adolescence. Their stories may also be used as “evidence” that children grow out of such feelings but their voices are not heard in this debate.
Why do you deny that kids are much happier when parents accept they are trans?
We do hear these reports from parents in media stories about “trans kids”; we don’t deny this can happen. We do, however, question the assumption that this happiness stems from being accepted for “who they really are” or whether it is just the relief of being able to dress/behave in the way they wish to, with adult acceptance and approval. There may also be great rewards for the child in terms of becoming the centre of attention and achieving special status among parents, teachers and peers.
“Trans kids” gain a lot of power among the adults around them, especially if the school also takes part in their “social transition” and changes whole school policies for them. This is an irresistible situation for many children. We believe that children would ultimately be happier if parents accepted them for who they are, without reinforcing their belief that their body is “wrong.”
Why don’t you just listen to children? They know who they are better than you, don’t they?
We do believe in listening to children, we think it’s really important. But listening doesn’t mean always agreeing with a child. Children know who they are as children, they can’t know how they will change. In fact, the belief that you will never change is a symptom of childhood and adolescence. Pre-pubertal children are at the stage of magical thinking.
To affirm a boy (for example) that he is really a girl will be accepted at face value by a child who can have no idea of what it really means, and no understanding of the reality of the medical pathway that lies ahead. We know that in fact around 80 percent of children do “grow out of it” and come to accept and be happy as the sex they were born.
You’re just forcing your own beliefs onto other people, aren’t you?
No, our aim is just to provide an alternative source of information for parents worried that their child may be trans, as the information currently available online is overwhelmingly biased in one direction only. We believe that parents have a right to access all the relevant facts in order to be able to make informed decisions regarding their own children. Nobody is forced to agree with us.
Don’t you think that the world has moved on? Aren’t you just resisting reality like the homophobes of the past?
We abhor homophobia, just to make that clear. We wholeheartedly support everyone’s right to their own sexual orientation, and we agree that lesbian and gay people had (and still have) a hard fight against discrimination.
But transgender is not a sexual orientation and we don’t believe that current trans theory is “moving on”, but rather regressing to a state of conservative gender “norms” which we are now imposing on children. We feel that truly progressive thought would accept that (for example) a boy can play with dolls, dress up in pretty things and enjoy female company and still be a boy.
Childhood gender non-conformity and cross-sex identity is more predictive of gay or lesbian sexual orientation in adulthood than transsexualism, so labelling children “transgender” and setting them on a path of medication and sterilisation for life can be seen as a form of gay conversion therapy and therefore homophobic in itself.
Doesn’t the research show that gender is innate in the brain and some people are just born in the wrong body?
It’s more accurate to say that some people feel as if they have been born in the wrong body. To be a true conflict between brain and body at birth, there would need to be a “gender” area of the brain which is innate, fixed, and as impervious to influence as the biologically sexed human body is.
Everything we know about brain function suggests the opposite; the human brain is plastic, open to influence and suggestion, and responsive to nurture, environment and experience. We don’t mean to minimise the distress of gender dysphoria (which we accept is real) but we question the interpretation that any child is literally “born in the wrong body.” We reject the (unproven) idea that “gender” is innate in the brain.
Gender is a set of behaviour and personality expectations applied to the sexes, which can differ from culture to culture. It is impossible to separate any cognitive brain function from the environmental influences which help to shape it.
Stephanie Davies-Arai is an accredited communication skills trainer who has worked with parents and teachers for 20 years. She was a founder of a successful small school in East Sussex where she was a school governor and worked in various roles in the classroom and the playground for eight years. She is author of the book Communicating with Kids (2014). She was also a contributor to the best-selling book Transgender Children and Young People: Born in Your Own Body, edited by Dr Heather Brunskell-Evans and Professor Michele Moore and published in 2018 by Cambridge Scholars. For her schools resources she was shortlisted for the John Maddox Prize 2018 for standing up for science in the face of difficulty or hostility.