“They’re Lost and They’re Being Led”
Thoughts on “Trans Kids: We Need to Talk”
So, Channel Four seems rather determined to enter the “gender debate” this year, already screening GenderQuake and the GenderQuake debate a few months ago. We resisted doing a post about them, but given last night’s documentary “trans kids, we need to talk” firmly set its sights on young people we figured it would be worth putting something up.
If you got upset by the show or wanted more information around gender please do check out these sites below. They’re all filled with resources and information as well as ways to talk to others about the issues brought up.
There were a range of opinions represented in the show and attention drawn to important, but more stigmatised questions. The first wave of reactions on social media were largely of condemnation and outrage but how about after a good night’s sleep?
The Good Stuff
Before getting into some of stickier points of the documentary it’s really worth noting there was interesting stuff in there too! Hearing from a number of happy and healthy Vloggers was great. It was well worth them shining light on the lack of information available bout being trans, even well into someone’s transition and clearly more work should be done on that.
(SIDEBAR – I’d really recommend the “Trans Teen Survival Guide” by Fox and Owl fisher to address that one!)
I also felt it was important to include to concerns of an anxious mother who very likely reflected the feelings of other concerned parents, who are genuinely acting out of wanting the best for their child. Those are the kind of conversations I’m really interested in having – to listen to parents concerns about their child and talk through them and put forward a few different perspectives (unfortunately the show didn’t quite get round to that last bit…)
I felt it did also highlight that transitioning at an older age is even harder and more traumatic to do in some circumstances, which is certainly worth shining a light on as well.
That all being said though…
Is this Right for “Kids”?
Here I think we’re trying to box off things at too high a level and decide what is right for “kids”, as if they were one big gelatinous blob. Attempting to group everyone under 18 into a single developmental block doesn’t end well. It’s something education systems do an awful lot and it’s why it can end up in a bit of mess at times.
Some young people will transition, some won’t. Some will experience gender differently to others. Transitioning medically will be right for some, and wrong for others. Understandings of gender and what it means to them will vary massively for people, which is OK. What’s not OK is deciding that what it means to you must be what it means to other people at all costs…
These “transkids” are individuals, not a social justice concern. Having a supportive, holistic system that helps children and young people work out their identity as individuals is very different to a sensationalised picture of a health system that hands out hormones like candy (which really doesn’t happen, it’s ludicrously difficult to get them btw).
People are individuals and will need different solutions. Tans people themselves want different medical support and outcomes, because there’s not one magic surgery that’s right for everyone, even if that’s the route you do chose. Deciding on mass whether something is OK for a group as big and diverse as “kids” is a tall order, and often comes at the expense of systems that could support individuals to find what’s right for them.
“They can’t even drink or vote and they’re not even allowed too much chocolate so how they make decision this big?”
So firstly it’s worth highlighting to start on hormones extensive consultations are done, often including competency tests. These tests are designed to work out someone’s ability to reason and understand long term consequences among other things. When at a gender clinic, not only would a “transkid” have to go through these but also a wealth of other processes where pretty much any solution other than medically transitioning is offered and recommended. A lot of care and consideration goes into a journey like this. Some would even argue too much.
Transitioning isn’t a right that’s just granted to people like being able to buy a beer or vote or being grown up enough to eat all the chocolate in the cupboard. It’s earned through an extremely trying and often distressing process.
We’re also getting a bit lost in this “we don’t allow kids to do X Y Z so why let them do this?” debate. It’s a valid point, but not necessary one about transitioning. It’s a valid point that highlights the difficulty of systems that arbitrarily draw a line of responsibility at a certain age.
These systems often contradict themselves about what’s considered a child let alone what responsibilities people should have (you can have sex at sixteen but not send a photo of yourself to your partner, you can get married but not drink a toast at your wedding, you can serve in the army and pay taxes but not vote and so on…)
The discussion needs to be about how and why we’re drawing these lines in the first place, not on whether something new belongs among them.
Those pesky Millennials
So that protest was fun… Or extremely uncomfortable and heartbreaking…
I suppose only the people there will know if any reasonable discussion actually took place, but the film certainly portrayed anything but.
People who are made to feel invisible or less valued will be rightfully angry, and it appeared to a degree those feelings were on both sides of the protest. If the things that constitute your identity are being brought into question it’s scary and frustrating and going to make you very angry.
It’s incredibly hard to discuss gender as a theory without impacting and directly challenging individual identities. It’s why this “debate” gets so charged so quickly, because it’s very, very personal.
But we’re going to have to find a way to have this discussion. Refusing to engage people, no matter how objectionable their view is, doesn’t get us anywhere. Having a panel filled with people who already agree with each other isn’t going to get us anywhere. Screaming insults at people isn’t going to get us anywhere.
People aren’t going to go away or change their mind because of passionate insults. People change their views on things all the time, but they don’t do it whilst being attacked and they certainly don’t do it on camera in front of millions. The more you push someone into a corner or marginalise them, the more threatened they’re going to feel, and the more defensive they’re going to be. We’re going to have to find a way to have these discussions softly and reasonably and not endlessly show the polarising, sensationalised version of things.
In many aspects of life we’re encountering these polarised views. It can be difficult to stomach at times (whatever side of things you fall on) and often a complete unfathomable mystery as to how someone could reach a different conclusion. No matter how difficult it is, I feel we’ve got to cling to reasonably and calmly making an argument for something and listening to where someone else is coming from. And doing that on TV is virtually impossible.
The media needs to tell a story (and needs people to watch it) and creating conflict and drama is often the way that happens. It’s why “debates” and protests make for good TV. “Good TV” doesn’t tend to come from calm, rational, informed discussion. But life changing ideas and progress do.
(SIDEBAR – there’s a great video on YouTube from an ex-member of The Westboro Baptist Church who makes this point too, check it out if you have a spare 10 minutes HERE!)
“No one wanted to talk us!”
Allowing a relatively small area (such as de-transitioning) to be sensationalised and restrict the support accessible to others would be unsettling, and that’s why, understandably, there’s hesitancy in allowing media bodies to raise the profile of those areas.
There’s an understandable mistrust of the media when it comes to showing sensitive topics in non-sensationalist or conflict-inducing ways. It’s unsurprising, given the calamity of the live GenderQuake Channel 4 debate, why many organisations would not what to take part in another Channel 4 documentary.
“I’ve changed my mind!”
Some people do de-transition. It has to be said though that “Person changes mind” really isn’t actually that headline worthy… People change all the time but that doesn’t mean decisions should be taken away from them because there’s a chance they might change their mind down the line.
The existence of people who de-transition is already very much taken into account and is precisely why it is so difficult to start hormone blockers or medically transition at a young age. By no stretch are people trying to ignore or shut down those stories. They’re trying to ensure they’re not disproportionately represented and create a public fear that will impact care systems more than they already do.
As for the danger of making “permanent life altering” decisions?
Young people make life altering decisions all the time. Even within a simple school setting, the subject options they choose at 13 determine the university courses they can attend or whether they’ll even be interested in academic paths at all. Even before that, in year 6(!) an 11+ exam will drastically alter experiences they have. The environment they grow up in can impact their physical height and weight. The hobbies they pursue will alter their neurology. The friends they have can alter their social capabilities and ethics. As a child everything is life altering, because that’s what being a child is. It’s developing into an adult.
A decision like this is no different, and involves significantly more professional intervention than a dozen other life altering decisions children and young people are perfectly capable of making without whipping up a media frenzy.
There’s a separate debate happening here, one that’s not wholly about gender theory and definitely isn’t about the wellbeing of young people.
It’s about men exploiting or invading women’s spaces. It’s a debate that may well need to happen, but it isn’t one that should see “transkids” as collateral damage. They’re not trying to invade protected spaces or invalidate hard won and tremendously valuable feminist progress. They’re just trying to live a healthy and happy life. Pesky, self-involved millennials and their troublesome ways aren’t interested in claiming territory from feminist movements. They’re interested in not having a generation of people decide their identity for them.
(SIDEBAR – if the problem is a fear of trans women doing abusive things in women’s spaces then the problem is with abusers and predators, not trans people…)
“They’re lost and they’re being led”
The final lines of the documentary are possibly the most damning and speak a lot to the show’s overall ideology. Tearfully spoken our presenter concludes about “Transkids”; “I think they’re lost and they’re being led”
There’s a big difference between people who transition and people who are “lost”. We’re talking about a group of people experiencing such a high level of distress that nearly 50% attempt to take their lives by the time they’re 25. A distress felt because their identity is not represented externally and is actively undermined by their own body. Being “lost” implies not knowing where to go or what to do, but often for people transitioning the problem isn’t being lost, it’s knowing exactly where you want to go but having to jump over endless roadblocks on a constantly shifting route to get there.
A lot of people might find themselves, quite understandably, feeling overwhelmed and potentially lost during adolescence and in fact even most adults can feel lost too. People can face uncertainty around their identity, including gender identity. That’s why it’s important to embrace the wealth of options and identities that exist and send the clear message that it’s OK to explore those identities and find what’s right for you, not close off options to people. And for those that do explore and do find what’s right for them, no one has to right to tell them they’re mistaken and they’re still lost…
For one thing virtually every human on the planet represents who they are externally. We all enjoy this ability. A lot of humans go to significantly lengths to ensure their bodies are part of this identity.Matching up the body you live in with the identity you feel is not some new, luxury concept, it’s a basic, fundamental part of being human and we all do it. Why potentially deny that to someone because you view them as being “lost”?
It’s OK to feel lost and it’s OK to want to transition and those things might both be on someone’s journey or they might not.
The other, particularly frustrating, element to this is the idea of being “led”. The path to medical transition is one that needs a hell of a lot of determination to go down. It’s not one that a Pied Piper figure can trick confused children into going down. It’s one that’s very long and sometimes distressing and one involving a lot of professionals weighing in.
The question to ask is “why?” Why would anyone bother to “lead” young people down that path? Who on earth would stand to gain from doing that? People who do “lead” people astray or exploit lost and vulnerable people do so for their own gain, and the only person who potentially stands to benefit in the situations in the film is the individual themselves.
And lastly, if having happy, healthy trans people visible in communities and on YouTube constitutes being “led” then I think we’re really doing young people’s intelligence an injustice. And all those visible people, they’re not telling people what to do. They’re saying what worked and what was right for them. That’s all.