The following is an excerpt from Dr. Heather Brunskell-Evans’ newly released book, Transgender Body Politics, published by Spinifex Press. The excerpt has been lightly edited for clarity. Brunskell-Evans is an academic, a social theorist, and an editor of two collections: Transgender Children and Young People: Born in Your Own Body and Inventing Transgender Children and Young People.
The Memorandum of Understanding on conversion therapy (MoU), which many healthcare professionals have signed, purports to protect the patient from conversion therapy. This MoU implies that “there is a fixed category called ‘transgender’ which, like eye colour, is simply a given that need not be thought about or understood.” However, children’s sexual orientation and “gender identity” are formed out of a complex developmental process that involves an interaction between their body, their mind, and society. Sexual identity and gender identity are developmental processes that evolve as the individual goes through the different life stages.
The belief that transgender identity is located “in the body” now permeates multiple aspects of our culture: media popularisation; educational curricula in schools; advice given by NHS to parents; and the Gender Identity Development Service (GIDS) itself. Collectively, these provide the background to children’s everyday lives and combine to construct for them a definitive set of “truths.” These “truths” reproduce gender stereotypes that confirm to children they must be transgender, that medical reassignment will resolve acute discomfort, and that without hormone “therapy” they will be likely to self-harm and probably commit suicide.
Through postmodern disdain for the biological reality of dimorphic sex, and the language of “assigned sex at birth,” the girl seeks coherence through the unrealizable fantasy that she will be able to change sex. Cross-sex hormones will rob her of her future ability to become a mother, to have sexual pleasure without pain, to be free of a lifetime of dependency on the NHS and the unknown long-term risks of unlicensed drugs. And she will never become male or have the genitals of the other sex. Surgery on female bodies to produce a penis cannot create a functioning and sensate organ. The exogenous sex-related hormones will only create the appearance of sexual characteristics that differ from those her body would produce in the absence of intervention.
Her human body is a whole organism which will constantly seek homeostasis (i.e., the tendency towards a relatively stable equilibrium between interdependent elements, especially as maintained by physiological processes). Interventions, whether surgical or hormonal, cannot actually create the desired sexed body, but can only modify the appearance and functioning of her own sexed body.
The idea that sex — whether the child is female or male — is socially constructed, and that trans is a human problem, merely promotes the “illusion of inclusion.” A woman is assimilated by this men’s rights movement in much the same way that girls and women are assimilated into other male-defined realities: “on men’s terms.” Janice Raymond says that “transmen neutralize themselves” and are “not only neutralied but neutered.” The neutering of women is not aberrant, but on a continuum in the patriarchal attempt to control “female energy, spirit, and vitality.”
History testifies to the brutal control of female flesh through foot binding, clitoridectomy, and infibulation (the latter are still practiced within some cultures), hysterectomies, radical mastectomies, oophorectomies, etc. to restore patriarchal social order, Raymond argues. When surgeons performed clitoridectomies and oophorectomies on women in the past, they solicited women’s acceptance and collusion. Similarly, the young woman who now undergoes hormone treatment and medical surgery is “voluntarily” divesting herself of the last traces of female identification. Raymond suggests that for a woman to castrate herself through surgery in order to become male is “the ultimate weapon in the hands of the boys.”
In February 2020, a challenge to the legality of hormone blocking and cross-sex hormone treatment for under 18-year-olds at the GIDS was mounted. Three people filed papers asking for a review: a former GIDS psychiatric nurse; the mother of a 15-year-old girl with autism who is on the GIDS’ waiting list; and Keira Bell, a 23-year-old woman and former “transboy” helped by the GIDS to transition to a “man” who has now detransitioned.
A judicial review was granted on the basis of the claim that the hormone treatment is unlawful as the children in question cannot, by reference to Gillick criteria, validly give consent to a treatment which is both life-changing and likely to be irreversible. The review is now scheduled to take place in October 2020.
Bell, a young lesbian woman, is a textbook example of the girls presenting at the GIDS. She was referred at the age of 16, deeply distressed about her sexed body, and desperate to transition from female to male. After only three one-hour-long appointments, she claims that she was prescribed puberty blockers; one year later she was prescribed testosterone; three years ago, at the age of 20, she underwent a double mastectomy; last year, she decided to stop taking testosterone and says she now accepts her sex as female.
Bell’s teenage identification as male gradually built up as she found out more about transitioning online. As she proceeded down the medical route, “one step led to another” and, although she now says she wouldn’t have wanted to listen to voices of caution, no one actually challenged her. She was allowed to run with the fantasy that she could change sex and that hormone treatment would save her from suicidal ideation and depression. Alongside her purported gender dysphoria, Bell strongly believed sex transition would relieve all her mental health issues, stemming from a difficult home life and feeling unaccepted by society. She is angry about what has happened to her during the last decade and incensed that the GIDS facilitated medical transition so readily.
Dr. Polly Carmichael made a confident and bold but disingenuous statement to the media in response to the Bell case. She said that detransitioners amount to less than three per cent of young people who have transitioned. In fact, the actual numbers of those who detransition are as yet unknown and difficult to assess for many reasons, including that transitioned girls are just coming into adulthood now.
Moreover, for those of us who have been researching transgender body politics for some years, we know that many young women privately detransition but are afraid to make it publicly known because they experience the transgender community as a cult from which they are afraid to extricate themselves and become socially excommunicated. Carmichael could have proffered some concrete evidence, namely that around four-fifths of young children grow out of trans identification naturally if not assisted by gender identity development services
Marcus Evans argues that the “political, rights-based approach to the treatment of children,” such as that practiced by the GIDS, “is at risk of forcing [children’s and young people’s] complex psychological needs into the background.” The radical disconnection of children’s discomfort about gender from its potential roots in psychological and sociological phenomena has been fiercely promoted by pro-trans lobbyists, who label clinicians as “transphobic” if they insist on a thorough assessment of young people’s familial and psychological background.[Evans argues that] clinicians who are trying to protect the child from embarking prematurely on irreversible treatment are “rebranded as a malign influence getting in the way of what the child ‘needs.'” [He] points out it is “clear that this politically driven culture interferes with the freedom of thought necessary to work with these very troubled children and adolescents … they become political symbols, actors in a wider ideological conflict.” Evans concludes that the GIDS has been “functioning as if acting outside the ordinary requirement of good medical and psychiatric practice … [and] requires a new regulator tasked with appropriate oversight of gender identity services to ensure a more clinically rigorous, balanced and ethical approach to this complex area.”
Big Pharma is a capitalist enterprise deeply invested in the medical technologies that help create and shape the girl’s self-identification as male. The GIDS (and other international Gender Identity Development Services in the world) provide the global marketplace for Big Pharma’s profiteering. The Care Quality Commission, which rated the GIDS system as “good,” has been working with Stonewall since 2012 as part of their Health Champions scheme. The Tavistock and Portman NHS Trust is also a Stonewall Health Champion. While health and educational institutions remain captured by the ideology of Stonewall, Mermaids, and Gendered Intelligence, and while all practices of transgendering children can be traced back to an extremely powerful multi-million dollar medical-industrial complex, it behooves the UK government and the governments of all other democratic countries to thoroughly examine the theories, politics, and money that underpin them.
Citizens should be able to ask without reprisal: Who has the right to make knowledge about sex and gender which then informs paediatric clinical practice? How free are clinical psychologists and other medical professionals to “first do no harm,” given the force field of transgender meaning-making and trans lobbyists’ assumed authority about human rights? What is the relationship between the exponential rise in girls identifying as boys and misogyny, sexism, and sexual violence?
I argue that a militant trans activism positively requires “trans children” to exist as natural figures in order to fabricate the illusion that transgender identity is apolitical. The human being most sacrificed on the altar of queer theory and a burgeoning men’s rights movement is the new medicalized identity: the “transboy.” The idea is promulgated that girls can become men and that medical intervention is an opportunity for them to reject the constrictions of their female bodies to become their true authentic “masculine” selves.
Since “gender identity” has been successfully untethered by pro-trans lobby groups from its social and political context and is increasingly conceptualized as an inherent quality, girls will continue to be caught up in socially constructed gender-based oppression. The sterilization of girls in the name of gender freedom does not signify the extension of their human rights, but constitutes their egregious breach.
Excerpted from Transgender Body Politics, by Heather Brunskell-Evans, pp. 75-81. Copyright © 2020 by Heather Brunskell-Evans. Reprinted with permission from the author and Spinifex Press.