She was only 12. Her mother had been rung by the school, after a few weeks into the new school year, to find out how ‘Sam’ was doing, and how best the school could help ‘them’ during ‘their’ process of transitioning.
Sam’s mother was gob-smacked. Sam had only just told her, with no explanation, what name to use, and what pronouns were needed. She was still reeling from the shock.
But the school had known for weeks that Sam was transitioning; that was another shock. She had no idea what was behind Sam’s decision, and could not see anything in her upbringing that would suggest she had been suffering from gender dysphoria. Sam’s mother sought outside help.
A few years ago, a teacher at a girls’ school indicated that a number of girls had been ‘coming out’ as lesbians. Now that had changed, and girls were wanting to transition instead.
Now there are increasing numbers of children, like Sam, who are seeking to transition. Schools are having to deal with issues of uni-sex toilets, safe changing rooms, how children want to be named, and which pronouns each one prefers. The focus is on acceptance of wherever a child is at, and on easing them through a life-changing situation – at a time when adolescence throws up various issues of identity anyway.
What is happening?
With any societal change, there is a cultural context. What has been issues for a very small number of people; perhaps because their sex was indeterminate at birth, or because of issues when growing up, has now become a mainstream trend. There is more understanding and more acceptance of children struggling with gender issues, and a wider acceptance of adults who are transitioning, or who have transitioned. Hopefully this means there will be less persecution of a group of people who had been in the shadows.
There is an increasing amount of research being carried out on those with gender dysphoria, and well-meaning attempts have been made to offer treatment. It’s a very complex field, and certainly needs greater awareness.
What is also clear is that the activism that is promoting mainstream acceptance of transitioning from one gender to another (including surgery and hormone treatment, and puberty-blockers for children) is motivated by an ideology that is not always obvious.
The goal of gender fluidity
Over 20 years ago a paper was presented at a women’s conference in Beijing. It promoted a concept of gender fluidity and of ultimately people deciding to choose what gender they wanted to be, and to opt in and out of a particular gender as and when they chose. When I read the paper, I almost laughed, as it seemed so ridiculous. Gender is a given, I thought. That can never happen.
I was wrong. The emphasis on being able to choose has taken hold of our society in such a way, that to deny someone their right to choose, no matter how young, or what the consequences might be (unless it impinges on someone else’s right to choose), is held to be paramount. Being able to choose one’s gender is part of that ideology.
Because of social media the impact of the peer group has become even stronger. Vulnerable young people can be subject to the influence of their peers day and night. No longer do parents have the same opportunity to control the influences their children are subjected to, as in the days before cell phones. Instead of real role models, followed through young people’s participation in sporting and cultural organisations, the increasing impact of ‘influencers’, bloggers, and younger pop idols, is becoming more apparent. (Just recently one of those pop idols celebrated her coming out as transgender.)
All this is happening at a time when hormones are swirling around adolescent bodies; when young people are growing and developing, trying out new skills, learning new things, and in particular, wanting to belong.
The answers are not obvious. However, some things are clear.
One trans writer is appalled at what is being offered to young people and says that the protection of young people is paramount. Therefore, the countries that have decided to ban treatments that offer surgery or blockers before puberty to children who declare they are transgender, are taking necessary steps to protect them.
One counsellor suggested finding out whether a particular child’s desire to transition has emerged as a solution to other issues, or whether it is a result of actual gender dysphoria. Or, as in the case of teenagers sometimes overdosing on drugs, a means of getting attention.
Waiting until a child is through adolescence is also encouraged before any medical or surgical treatment is offered. Most young people resolve their issues of gender dysphoria by the time they have reached adulthood. (One young boy wanted to be a girl when he was 12, but by the time he was 14, he didn’t.) This raises issues about following the only path recommended by transgender ideology; ie that of affirmation of transitioning. To affirm, rather than explore the feelings transgender teenagers express, is to deny any opportunity for other therapeutic approaches.
It can be helpful too to find the stories of those who have transitioned, and wished they hadn’t, because transitioning didn’t resolve their issues.
Fundamentally, and finally – any young person needs support as they navigate adolescence, wherever their particular journeys may take them. Acceptance of each, as a person, regardless of what identity may be expressed, is paramount, because each one is ‘made in the image of God’, as we all are. At the same time, in the wider context, we can be researching, challenging and compassionately presenting a different perspective and approach to what is becoming a prevailing ideology, never forgetting that is people’s lives that are at stake.
Liz Hay rejoices in living in a beautiful part of God’s creation in a high country mountain basin; and she also rejoices in hearing stories of God at work in people’s lives. One of her favourite activities is reading fascinating biographies that illustrate the wonderful ways God works uniquely with each person.