Posts tagged children

With apologies to Dr Seuss

Oh, dear. School children in Philadelphia are not after all to enjoy Dr Seuss performed by drag cabaret star Martha Graham Cracker. Is it because he is gay? They’re not saying. Oh no:merely that it would be inappropriate.

So with due reverence to the immortal Dr Seuss (and alittle borrowing from “Cat in the Hat”, my own commenton the matter: Read the rest of this entry »


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Deciphering the smut

Ah. Radio 4’s News Quiz. Sandi Toksvig. Jeremy Hardy. And the need, once more, to navigate carefully the narrows of an expanding juvenile awareness of the perils and pitfalls of “bad language”. Read the rest of this entry »

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Event: ‘Children, sexuality, sexualisation’ – Call for chapters (April)

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The wisdom of children

As always, tis the boy’s reaction to my activities that is the most amusing and, dare i say it, insightful. Read the rest of this entry »

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In search of support

Of course, the other serious thing that today’s foray into the Guardian (not to mention the documentary coming up in a week or so’s time) is how poorly provided for are those nearest and dearest who pick up the sideswipe from any individual’s decision to transition.

Because at the end of the day, even though so much of the therapic support on offer is directed at the person sat at the centre of the storm, it is often those close by who are in greater need of it – and also less able to access any support. Read the rest of this entry »

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Living in the real world

I had to smile, recently. A good friend, who once significantly outflanked me when it came to feminist issues, was reflecting ruefully on her life. Now 40-something, she expressed a degree of regret and – yes – mild anger at the way she had limited her life in previous decades in a vain effort to conform to what she felt was demanded of her by feminist orthodoxy.

“I wasted years”, was her slightly biter summary.

Fast forward to a debate going on right now on blogs and forums dedicated to some more rarefied theorising about the nature of gender and the rights and wrongs of transition. Specifically, thousands of words dedicated to whether it is “right” to use puberty-blockers to delay puberty for children that claim, early on, that they are trans.

Sub-text: maybe there i no such thing as “trans” after all.

A hard decision

It seems to me, pretty obviously, to be a fraught and difficult issue. But it also seems tht those opposed to this practice are somewhat over-egging their argument.

If we were proposing surgical intervention at 5, i’d be with them.

But no-one is. What is being proposed is an option that allows a child at 11 or 12 to put an outcome (puberty) on hold. Yes, but…yes, but…what if they’re not trans? What if they’re being pushed down this route by pushy parents and meddling therapists? Yep. I get that, too: and if there is any evidence that this is happening, I want it stopped. Now.

But still. This is not surgery. Nor is it even an inevitable preparation for surgery. Its dealing with reality. Because at the end of the day, either the child is going to become an adult that wants to transition or they aren’t. End of. And I defy ANYONE to tell me that they can listen to a child at 12 and tell me what the same person will want six years later.

At the same time, I know, how I know, the one thing that still, sometimes, keeps me awake (and in tears) at night: it is the grief, the awful crushing grief of knowing that because I grew up in a world in which trans was the “freak option”, I came to this late. Nothing can ever give me back the middle years, the teen years, the childhood when I should have been living as a woman.

But I know now, as sure as anything, that if I had been aware back then, and some meddling therapist had forced me thru puberty when I didn’t need to, I would be inclined to go back later and inflict serious and possibly terminal violence on that therapist.

The danger of absolute truths

Nah. The real issue here is not whether it is right or wrong to stop puberty for a particular child. It is a difference – which is not a symmetric difference – between those who argue that there is one truth, and those who argue that until we reach that point, we should allow for there to be many.

The rarefied argument going on right now is between those who argue for a purist genderqueer point of view and those who argue for diversity. The former argue, with some force, that the world should be constructed in such a way that gender is absolutely immaterial. That one can be a “boi” in the morning and “grrl” in the evening and no-one should bat an eyelid.

Added corollary is that in such a world, transition would just be unnecessary. Really?

I think it MIGHT be unnecessary. But I did that thought experiment a while back. What if gender really, REALLY didn’t matter? Would I still want to transition (physically)? Well, how the hell would I know?

We’re not there. Maybe my desire for a more female standard body is just me succumbing to social pressure. And sure: I thought, initially, that my trans-ness was more to do with identity than physiology. But then I was utterly taken aback by how right it felt to make the physical change.

So maybe, in the end, in a totally genderqueer world, whether one opted for surgical intervention for a more masculine or feminine form would be no greater a deal than whether one had a boob job. Which in the end is how I saw it. My grs was not a big thing.

But we’re not there. And that’s the prob. To debate some such possible future is interesting, but so what? It isn’t now. It’s a bit like pure Marxism, which actually proposes the communist model, but only after a great deal (centuries, maybe?) of consciousness raising – which is why Marxist thorists are not at all surprised by the failure of attempts to instal communism in a non-consciousness-raised society like Tsarist Russia.

On the other hand, to argue back from that vision to any view of how things “should be” now is quite malign. It’s a form of absolutism: an attempt to erase the way people live now, by appealing to some putative unknown future.

Individual freedom of choice vs conforming to the ideal

Its intriguing. I have a series of flashpoints with certain radical feminists. And they aren’t about issues per se, so much as the response to that issue.

Sex work? On the whole, I think its probably not ideal: but there are circs in which it makes sense for an individual. So don’t accuse individuals of betraying the whole of womanhood if they opt for it.

A boob job? Make-up? “Femme” lesbians? You know: there are intelligent informed adult women who opt for these for themselves and so long as they don’t, then, try and impose those choices on others, I believe they have the right to.

Whereas, making people feel bad about themselves because they fail to conform to some theoretical model, whether of feminism or of genderqueerness: that’s wrong. And when it shifts into actively stopping people from having access to particular options (like puberty blockers) that starts to become evil.


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T-girls and the trans umbrella: does “one size fit all”?

Its nice when things link up and, through linkage, i start to puzzle out stuff for myself.

The t-girl revolution

At Erotica, a week or so back, i was more than mildly disturbed by the proliferation of things T-girl. First off, there was a t-girl bar (located, either thru malign co-incidence or organiser quirk, right opposite the great British sausage stall). Then there was a load of events at the show lionising all things “tranny”: cross-dresssing and stage show. You name it: it was there.

This set me thinking about how healthy this was. I’d already noticed, following “My Transsexual Summer” a slight tendency not so much to pathologise as to “cutesify” the trans. People posting supportively on twitter their admiration for “us trans” – and whilst i’ll not reject that, it did feel as though we were being seen as rare and cuddly exotic species rather than people.

And this? I know already that t-girl stuff is divisive too: that a lot of women quite approve of it; and yet its a mode of being that can seriously get in the way of transition for some trans women.

So there’s one strand. Then, on saturday, being entertained in Manchester by a very good and supportive trans woman, i ended up, for a while, in a pub mostly frequented by t-girls and realised, not for the first time, how scary i find such places.

They’re like the distant cousin i know i have and can never quite make my mind up about: family, but altogether different jenes. (or rather, i wore jeans…they wore the tight leopard print).

And yet…and yet: we are all supposedly one under the great transgender umbrella, which now includes ts, tv, intersex, genderqueer and a whole host of others.

Pause that thought a moment.

Dreger does stats 101…

Next up is a piece which i cam across today by Alice Dreger, a professor in Bioethics. It has aroused controversy, though in terms of argument, i can’t see why.

Because all she is pointing out is something that i – and anyone else who ever studied statistics at a level beyond Micky Mouse – will know by heart: when you are faced with a difficult decision, there are two mistakes typically made.

One is to take action when in the end, no action was needed. The other is to not take action when it should have been.

Think “possibly diseased kidney”: remove it when it isn’t, and you do damage. Fail to remove it when it is and you do damage. This is kindergarten stuff and i don’t really see why she needs to go on at such length about it – and if that is what it takes to be a fully paid-up bioethicist, count me in. Its easy-peasy.

The problem, though, is twofold. Dreger applies this thought process to early transition. Similar problem: “diagnose” a kid as trans when they aren’t, and you do damage; fail to when they are, and you do damage.

Where’s the big idea in that?

Ah. Well, there are two probs, really, and this does go back to that big umbrella thing.

Dreger doesn’t do empathy

First off is the language. Dreger begins by using the analogy of a kid who “thinks they are a train”. Sorry, Prof D: this won’t do. The issue raised is real: but the language is decidedly inflammatory. I note that the comments on the Prof’s piece drew out the usual “what if i think i’m Napoleon” commentary – to which the obvious answer is: you have every right to dress the part and spend the rest of your life in exile on St Helena.

But this is about more than intellectual argument. Its about tone and position and erasure…even though i’m sure the author would reject all that.

The point is that this is a space where even Julie Bindel has a point and a contribution to make.

Force the wrong diagnosis and wrong treatment on someone and you genuinely risk fucking up the rest of their life. And that doesn’t stop with disgnosing trans when they aren’t: it includes far right and christian efforts to train kids out of being gay…or to “rectify” the intersex by surgical intervention in their bodies…and a whole host of other interventions besides.

I won’t say that fervent advocates of one of the more newly recognised sexual minorities (anyone, basically on the LGBTQQQI spectrum) don’t occasionally get over-enthusiastic about this stuff. For the most part, though, i see the Dreger position – Bindel’s too – as straw man stuff.

Basically: if you force a child to be ANYTHING, on the basis not of careful consideration of that child’s needs, but of some external ideology, that is abuse.. However, to date i haven’t seen masses of evidence of that evangelical tendency on behalf of anyone other than trad and mostly reactionary groups.

Otherwise, and for the most part, what i do see are people well aware of the enormity of the decisions they are being forced to take – and once a situation does present, you have to take a decision, one way or t’other, for good or ill – and a very great deal of nervous trepidation on their part.

You need a lot of sympathy and support, which this piece definitely fails to give.

The language of privilege

Beyond that, two observations.

What doesn’t help is frankly stupid language: and yes, i think Dreger’s language here IS stupid. Its shock jock stuff, deliberately designed to sex up what is otherwise a fairly dry debate about statistical risk-taking.

Sometimes it is born out of deliberate provocativeness: heck! I’m a journalist. I know how to provoke: and i know that provocative pieces sell better, make my reputation louder than considered ones.

And its born out of privilege. Because being “just” academic and “just” detached is a privilege that not all of us have. When you’re lying awake at night agonising what is the right thing to do for your child, i don’t think some academic likening your child’s state of being to a kid wishing to be Thomas the Tank engine is either kind or helpful.

DO we need one big umbrella?

Last up, is the umbrella thing. Dreger does make some valid points – which tend to be overwhelmed by the controversial way she wraps them up: not least, she asks whether there is not some “transsexual orthodoxy” that is being used to erase gender queer positions. I’d ask the opposite…because, going right back to the start: i do find my t-girl cousings uneasy company.

I recognise the kinship – but i’m not them, and they’re not me. Nor am i genderqueer. Probably not intersex either. I’m me, which just happens to be a woman of trans history. End of.

And it all begins to feel to me like the same debate we’ve started to have about the LGBT umbrella. Does trans belong in there and…well, sometimes it does, sometimes it doesn’t.

We suffer similar bigotries, have some issues in common – and we also have a lot of things that are different. We’re family…maybe more distant than the trans family…but family all the same. We should respect that – but not regard it as some sort of overwhelming restriction on who we are.

Ditto the trans umbrella. Maybe the time has come to start to re-assert differences. To make it very clear that we, too, are family, but we have differences – and it does no-one any good for one or other group to attempt to assimilate each other’s way of being.


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