I came across a scary report the other day about a girl who was involved in a car accident in the US and required emergency treatment. When the paramedic who arrived at the scene discovered she had a penis, he stood back and laughed and didn’t take her seriously. Delays ensued with her treatment which compounded her injuries and led to her death. According to the cause of death report, the delay in treating her was a factor in her demise. The social stigma associated with transgender identity was ultimately responsible for her death, not the car crash.
Leading in sex discrimination
No wonder this kind of bias still exists in the world today when we have a world leader waging a nonstop onslaught against the rights of LGBTQ people since the day he came into the White House. His latest move was just last week when he undid what his predecessor Obama put in place to protect transgender Americans against sex discrimination in health care. The new policy shift allows healthcare providers and insurance companies that receive federal funding to refuse to provide or cover transition-related care for trans Americans. Thankfully, Australia and the UK take a more supportive stance on this issue. In the UK, gender dysphoria is accepted as a widely recognised medical condition characterised by an overpowering sense of different gender identity. It is of concern though that a so-called world leader thinks it’s acceptable to discriminate in this way, in this day and age.
Take a minute to digest this. Imagine you are the parent or carer of a teenager who has been suffering with the distress of not feeling or believing they belong in their body since they were little. You have sought out all the right support and professional advice available to you both and your son or daughter is sure that the right thing for them is to transition to the opposite sex. While this is equally distressing for parent and child, it is less distressing than a life spent in conflict with one’s true beliefs. It is, after all, up to each person to decide who they want to be. Imagine then the added suffering for both parties when faced with the moral judgment that is passed by those who quote the bible or call it a contagious condition, just as they did with homosexuality. And the suffering doesn’t just stop there. As long as there are leaders who evangelise about the sanctity of ‘the family based on a biological man and a biological woman’, transgender people will have to constantly justify their existence and fight for a legitimate place in the world.
We are living in a hugely confusing world. It is made even more so by the constant stream of opinions and misinformation that we are fed daily through social media. Conflict abounds around the issues of transgender rights and equality. I don’t claim to understand it all so I cannot claim to have any answers. But I do know one thing for sure. This issue is not going away and the sooner we can educate ourselves about it, the better. On one hand, there are parents who are frightened and struggling to accept that their kids want to change sex. I get this, being a parent myself. On the other hand, there are young trans activists who claim their parents are against them and holding a gun to their heads. On either side of these groups, there are the extremists: transphobic, homophobic bible bashers and radical transactivists. It’s as though we, as humans, are always inventing new enemies to fight against to the ultimate detriment of all humanity.
Leading in kindness
I am very much inspired by New Zealand’s PM, Jacinda Ardern as a leader and proof that she is an enlightened leader can be found in this quote: ‘The true measure of leadership is the ability to confront the anxiety of the people of their time.’ If only every other leader could adopt this way of thinking instead of clinging to old ways and esoteric theories. The fact of the matter is that there is a large LGBT community in the world, and we have a lot to learn from their lived experiences. Many will tell us that gender dysphoria has led to healthy outcomes with transition and acceptance . But not without the open-minded support and compassion from parents, carers, clinicians and the wider community. There should be no place for judgment and bias when it comes to a person’s freedom to choose how they want to live their life. With a supportive environment, children and teenagers can be given the space to grow and learn about themselves without fear or pressure. They will be exposed to plenty of peer pressure as it is and will need lots of reassurance and feelings of being accepted no matter what. It’s up to us as parents and carers to enable our children to be strong rather than trying to make their life an easy one. It’s just not realistic to expect them to live a problem-free life. If we lead with kindness and understanding, our children are more likely to feel secure and equipped to make the choices that are right for them. We need to be informed and empathetic about the struggle of young people who are suffering with the distress of gender dysphoria. It’s important that our own children are not exposed to any prejudices we might have around the issue. One young person I know told me that she has a friend who was born a boy but knew in his heart that he wanted to be a girl from an early age. This simple familiarity informed her attitude of acceptance. She shrugged her shoulders as talked about her, as though it’s never been a big deal. Many of the negative assumptions made by people are done so out of fear and ignorance.
Leaving no philosopher’s stone unturned
You might have heard that JK Rowling has been in the spotlight recently with her 3,600 word essay on gender identify and her fears for women’s safety in a world where men can call themselves women and gain themselves the right to use women-only spaces such as bathrooms or changing rooms. Her stance comes on the back of proposed Scottish reforms to gender recognition laws that would remove the current requirement for applicants to provide medical evidence of their diagnosis of gender dysphoria. Transgender folk would still be required to prove that they have lived in the acquired gender for three months before signing the statutory declaration and would have to wait for a further three-month reflection period before the certificate is granted. While she makes some very valid points in her essay, it is important to understand that her fears have their roots in her experience of sexual assault and domestic abuse. It concerns me that someone with the reach and following of such a prolific public figure could influence people who might otherwise have no problem with transgender people and make them question their fundamental rights. The essay triggered many people online, as was seen on Twitter. Emma Watson, who played Hermione Granger in the Harry Potter films, tweeted:
Trans people are who they say they are and deserve to live their lives without being constantly questioned or told they aren’t who they say they are.
That sums it up for me. Live and let live.
If you would like to learn more about transgender issues then I recommend you visit the National Centre for Transgender Equality in the US at transequality.org, Stonewell in the UK at https://www.stonewall.org.uk/help-and-advice, or QLife in Australia at https://qlife.org.au
And please bear in mind that, from everything I have read during my research for this blog, the factors that contribute to gender identity development in teenagers is still evolving and not yet fully understood by scientists, clinicians, community members and other stakeholders. For this reason, we must all stay informed, keep an open mind, and above all else, be kind. Thanks for being here today.