When lobby groups like Mermaids dictate policy and discourse around gender identity, kids lose


Last week, The Guardian reported that “a seven-year-old boy who was “living life entirely as a girl” has been removed from his mother’s care after a ruling by a high court judge. At first read, it was unclear who the actors in this case were aside from, obviously, the mother (M), the father (F), and child (J). The judgment of this case, which includes a critique of the section 37 report prepared by Social Services, which Justice Hayden describes as “very disturbing reading,” though, begins to clarify things.

Justice Hayden writes that J’s mother caused “significant emotional harm” to her child and critiques the local authority social services staff responsible for the youngster’s welfare.

He goes on to detail the acts of a controlling mother towards her child, M’s personal diagnosis of J’s alleged gender dysphoria, and a system which failed this child. Together, these various failures demonstrate a pattern of abuse and a mother who, Hayden writes, “deprived [her son] of his fundamental right to exercise his autonomy in its most basic way.”

What the judgment shows is that reports made by the Local Authority’s Housing Department, J’s school, the National Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Children (NSPCC), and Social Services gave M’s behaviour towards her child (including her approach to J’s “gender presentation”) a pass simply because she was receiving support from Mermaids, a UK-based charity that claims to support parents of children who identify as transgender. Observations like these show major conflicts of interest between Mermaids and the government agencies named in the judgement.

Susie Green, the CEO of Mermaids, began her trajectory into the transgender debate through personal investment. She took matters into her own hands regarding her son’s gender dysphoria, leaving the country for the USA, then Thailand, when the National Health Service (NHS) would not undertake the treatment she thought her child needed. Mermaids is entirely comprised of parents like Green, who have either a child who self-identifies as having gender dysphoria or have started seeking professional help for their child. Despite the fact that Mermaids is not a professional organization, it has managed to push its way into government policies such as the House of Commons Select Committee “Transgender Equality” report (within which Mermaids is referenced twenty times) and has successfully convinced local school systems and councils that its form of “support” is tantamount to professional ethos.

In short, we have governmental policies being decided via a support group that functions as a political lobby — a political lobby which justifies its authority because of government championing. (The NHS, for example, cites Mermaids as “a charity that helps children with gender identity issues and their families.”) More surreal is the fact that some of the Mermaids members regularly give lectures to nursing students and NHS staff. The fact that medical and legal documents are produced by basically taking the word of desperate, if not confused, parents equates to both a shocking oversight and the tail wagging the dog.

Make no mistake, Mermaids is not a body of psychologists or trained healthcare professionals — it is merely a group of parents who have a child they believe to be transgender. Unlike other professional organizations, Mermaids is just a support group and therefore not accountable to medical and psychological  bodies or government institutions. Under the leadership of Green, Mermaids harbours vested interests in dictating political discourse around transgender identity.

Two days before a public seminar organized by Mermaids called “New perspectives on healthcare provision for transgender youth,” a number of people who had registered to attend received an email from Green stating that “due to oversubscription” their tickets had been cancelled. The recipients of this email were uniquely women — largely self-identified feminists. Oddly, the tickets of those who registered after these women were not cancelled. Notably, the women who received this cancellation email had signed their names to a letter in support of the Morning Star after the newspaper published two gender critical articles and was subjected to backlash and threats of violence earlier this year. Not surprising, the first talk at this seminar was by none other than Dr Norman P. Spack, Paediatric Endocrinologist, Boston Children’s Hospital — the same doctor who attended to Green’s child.

In short, the government is taking its cues from a lobby group that apparently keep lists of gender critical women, striking them from participating in an ostensibly public forum.

On their website, Mermaids defines gender dysphoria as “a mismatch between the gender assigned to a person at birth and the gender that they actually identify with.” Expanding on that definition, they explain:

Sometimes in younger children, this may surface with boys playing with dolls and other traditionally female toys, or girls who refuse to wear dresses or hate having long hair. Some young people may identify as non-binary, meaning that they feel as though they are neither truly male or female, they may feel like they can be both at once, either one or the other on different days, or just a mix of the two. Once puberty hits a lot of trans* teens begin to get very depressed, withdrawn and may even self-harm or have suicidal feelings.”

Unfortunately,  this definition is entirely inaccurate (gender dysphoria has nothing to do with “boys playing with dolls and other traditionally female toys” or “girls who refuse to wear dresses”) and imposes gender normativity on children and parents, reinforcing the idea that girls and boys should dress and behave a certain way. This definition also plays on parents’ fears around what their child might be suffering, browbeating them into accepting the easiest answer without any further investigation. The reality is that, once puberty hits, most teens get depressed or withdrawn for varying lengths of time. In fact, these rates have soared in recent years among adolescents. Most notably, the mental health of teenage girls in the UK is at an all-time record low and the rates of girls engaging in self harm are on the rise.

Considering that Mermaids appears not able to define gender dysphoria in an accurate way, it is shocking that UK government agencies are relying on the charity to craft its future policies on the transgender identity of children.

Is it any wonder that Mermaids was “supporting” M in her delusion that her son was “really” a girl for over three years, considering that the government has done absolutely nothing to rein in rogue organizations that present themselves as professionally sound? Even now, Mermaids stands in fierce opposition to this judgment and has recently launched a petition in protest of the judgment against M. Green writes:

“During the three years that Mermaids have supported this family there has been no evidence AT ALL to support this judge’s views. Mum has listened to her child and supported her unconditionally. There have been two independent gender specialists who have reviewed the family and agreed that Mum is not responsible for her child’s gender expression.”

Justice Hayden notes that M’s description of her son’s issues sounded coached, explaining that “She offered an impressive, intense and highly articulate evaluation of the problems faced by children with gender dysphoria but she conveyed no sense of J’s personality, temperament or enthusiasms, notwithstanding frequently being encouraged to do so.” He added that M struck him “as a professional witness giving evidence about somebody else’s child.”

Rather than support a child, the agencies and organizations involved appear to have simply supported a mother’s claims, without investigating further. In fact, Justice Hayden ruled that “There was no independent or supportive evidence that J identified as a girl at all, indeed there was a body of material that suggested the contrary.” Notably, he added that he believes Social Services “failed properly to investigate M’s assertions, in part I suspect, because they did not wish to appear to be challenging an emerging orthodoxy in such a high profile issue.”

This is the sort of solipsism from which Mermaids operates. The organization cherry-picks “specialists” who corroborate their view of gender, denigrates judgments that are backed up by myriad others whose observations support the judge’s views, thereby ignoring the actual specialists involved in this case.

This particular family and case is not an isolated one. The media is having a field day with these children and there have been numerous incidents of parents parading their children on a sound stage only to project their ideas of gender onto them. The infamous case of Jazz Jennings whose mother “was convinced she was going to have a girl” is a good example of that narrative.  More recently, a Radio 4 interview featured Leo, a “non-binary” child who takes cues from a mother who queries her child about which gender they are on a daily basis. This mother admits she has taken cues from the “transgender community,” which has led her down a path to non-binary pronouns, a litany of vocabulary words and concepts which she clearly does not fully understand, and a very naive understanding of the implications of what the long-term medical implications of Leo’s “identity” could be, given that she compares Leo’s non-binary status to her son’s vegetarianism.

Unless government agencies stop taking cues and training from parental support and lobby groups that are obviously not objective, the number of legal battles involving parents who do not see transitioning a child as the only option to gender dysphoria will continue to grow. Tangentially, one must also ask why only the pro-transition side to this debate is being heard by the government when we know that desistance rates for these children are at least 80 per cent.

Where Mermaids seeks to change reality through fiat and to close down debate such as the recently cancelled NSPCC debate on transgender children, we must push to open the doors of censorship to clear avenues towards dialogue and reason in the hopes that children who are suffering from issues of body dysphoria are treated with the best medical and psychological care that can be afforded to them. Equally imperative, we must undertake an ethical debate as to why there is a stigma being placed on practitioners who see viable alternatives for dealing with gender dysphoria or gender non-binarism where permanent medical intervention is not generally necessary or recommended.

Julian Vigo is a scholar, film-maker, and human rights consultant. Her latest book is Earthquake in Haiti: The Pornography of Poverty and the Politics of Development (2015). She can be reached at: [email protected].

Guest Writer

One of Feminist Current's amazing guest writers.