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Dec 21 2012

A clean break

Once again, here comes the Daily Mail with some guy’s unsolicited advice for trans people – because if there’s one thing we’re in need of, it’s people who aren’t trans telling us how to live our lives. This time around, Richard Littlejohn singles out a trans schoolteacher for daring to be trans while being a schoolteacher. Oh, the scandal of it all:

Mr Upton/Miss Meadows may well be comfortable with his/her decision to seek a sex-change and return to work as if nothing has happened. The school might be extremely proud of its ‘commitment to equality and diversity’.

But has anyone stopped for a moment to think of the devastating effect all this is having on those who really matter? Children as young as seven aren’t equipped to compute this kind of information.

Pre-pubescent boys and girls haven’t even had the chance to come to terms with the changes in their own bodies.

Why should they be forced to deal with the news that a male teacher they have always known as Mr Upton will henceforth be a woman called Miss Meadows? Anyway, why not Miss Upton?

There are a lot of things to find fault with in this column – things like his persistent use of Meadows’ former name, and the inclusion of only pre-transition photos of her. But that kind of stuff is already par for the course in mainstream news coverage involving trans people. Where Littlejohn goes above and beyond the merely average failures of the media is in his utter refusal to respect the integrity of Meadows’ life in general – all in the name of how “devastating” he imagines transitioning must be to anyone who witnesses, hears about, or attempts to comprehend it.

But we can’t just assume, as he does, that children are even less capable of understanding and processing what it means to be trans than adults are. As with many other “controversial” issues, this is quite possibly just an instance of of adults mistakenly believing that their children share their own hang-ups. Adults have already had plenty of time to develop all of their own issues with trans people, their misinformed scientific and philosophical objections, their misplaced focus on chromosomes and genitals and reproduction and supposedly unchangeable masculine and feminine essences.

Children, however, tend to be lacking in most of these preconceptions. Most of the time, it’s entirely possible to inform them of what it means to be trans, in terms they can understand and which don’t require a crash course in biology, neurology, psychology, anthropology or gender studies. They haven’t yet been inculcated with that entire adult repertoire of immediate objections about why someone “can’t” become a man or a woman. You can just explain it to them, on their level, in a matter-of-fact way – it’s simply a part of life, something that happens sometimes, and it’s entirely normal and not at all a problem.

Littlejohn isn’t having any of it, though:

Parent Wayne Cowie said the news had left his ten-year-old son worried and confused.

For the past three years he has been taught by Mr Upton, but has now been told that he will be punished if he continues to call ‘Miss Meadows’ ‘Mr Upton’ after the Christmas holidays. ‘My middle boy thinks that he might wake up with a girl’s brain because he was told that Mr Upton, as he got older, got a girl’s brains.’ …

By insisting on returning to St Mary Magdalen’s, he is putting his own selfish needs ahead of the well-being of the children he has taught for the past few years.

It would have been easy for him to disappear quietly at Christmas, have the operation and then return to work as ‘Miss Meadows’ at another school on the other side of town in September. No-one would have been any the wiser.

Wow, so students have to call their teacher by her name. What’s next, making them sit in their seats? Surely this is political correctness gone mad.

Even when children do struggle to understand something, that doesn’t mean their own limitations can automatically be used to define the boundaries of adult conduct. There are many things children don’t understand, things that may trouble them, but this doesn’t imply an obligation to shield them from any exposure to this, or to disrupt people’s lives in order to accommodate this lack of understanding.

Children could be equally upset by the possibility that their parents may one day split up, and yet we don’t see anyone suggesting that teachers who divorce or remarry should be moved across town to avoid inadvertently traumatizing their students with their own “selfish needs”. Only when it comes to trans people do we see Littlejohn describe their very lives as something children need to be protected from, something that will cause students to “lose their innocence”, something so “challenging” that it warrants demanding they uproot their lives for the comfort of others.

Sure, having a fresh start somewhere else, where nobody is quite so familiar with or attached to your history, can sometimes be an advantage to trans people. I’m certainly happier that I’ve been able to live as a woman for the entire time I’ve been in Florida, instead of having to transition in my old neighborhood in Chicago where everyone’s known me since I was a kid. But how trans people go about their lives should be a matter of their own choice, not something imposed upon them on the basis of other people’s anxieties.

My sons consider me a part of the family, and they understand what it means to be trans – it’s just the way some people are, and there’s nothing wrong with it. When I started hormones and my body began changing, should I have preserved their innocence by abandoning them and running off to start a new family? However “devastating” Littlejohn may think I am to the children I care for every day, would it be any less traumatizing for their stepmom to disappear from their lives for no reason?

Everything about his appraisal of the situation – insofar as this even needs to be a “situation” – reflects an inability to see trans people as people like anyone else, people with real lives and families and social connections and a place in the world. His lazy, unexamined assumption that the mere presence or knowledge of trans people will corrupt children’s innocence veers dangerously close to implying that we’re potentially unfit even to care for our own kids. And does he think it’s actually that easy to up and find a new job? Oh yeah, there are so many jobs available in today’s economy – especially when you’re trans and people think you’re going to scare their children.

Speaking of children, what does he think his column says to any gender-questioning kids out there? He’s telling them that they’re inherently frightening and disturbing to others, and that if they ever want to be themselves, they’ll have to drop everything and move to a place where nobody knows who they are. Because if there’s one thing we need when we’re going through an intensely personal process like transitioning, it’s being forcibly ripped away from everything familiar in our lives.

And really, he thinks she could have kept her old name? Why? Not everyone prefers to maintain that connection to their history. Maybe she doesn’t want to, and it’s just as much of his business as it is for me to suggest that he should go by Richard Completeasshole instead. Hey, it would be less confusing to children!

10 comments

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  1. 1
    Forbidden Snowflake

    He has a point. Children will have difficulty understanding Miss Meadows’s gender transition. How can they possibly be made to understand it? It’s not like we have professional workers trained to help children learn new facts. And even if we did, where would Miss Meadows find one? At some kind of “learning institution” where adults would work at teaching things to children? The entire idea is preposterous.

    1. 1.1
      Leah

      I see what you did there ;)

  2. 2
    ibelieveindog

    And this guy has two kids. You’d think he’d realize that he’s seriously underestimating the capacity of children to accept new things. They do it literally every day. Everything they encounter is new to them!

    1. 2.1
      Sassafras

      If he even notices them, his children’s sense of wonder, curiosity, and openness probably piss him off for not being just like him.

  3. 3
    Anthony K

    Parent Wayne Cowie said the news had left his ten-year-old son worried and confused.
    For the past three years he has been taught by Mr Upton, but has now been told that he will be punished if he continues to call ‘Miss Meadows’ ‘Mr Upton’ after the Christmas holidays. ‘My middle boy thinks that he might wake up with a girl’s brain because he was told that Mr Upton, as he got older, got a girl’s brains.’ …

    Good. Coddled children grow up to be lazy, whiny, entitled, 47%er, gift-grabbing, success-hating leftists, as the conservative narrative goes.

  4. 4
    simonbroome

    Oh, the Waily Fail. The Faily Heil. Centrepoint of (almost) everything that is wrong with Modern Britain (outside of the Sun, but that’s another day’s rant).

    I revel in anyone that opposes the Mail and their crusade to turn back the clock on a nation that needs to move Forward. :)

  5. 5
    Carol Uren

    What I found extremely objectionable (beside Littlejohn’s transphobic bile) was the fact that they then followed the article immediately with another about that predatory paedophile Jimmy Saville – thereby linking the two (a ‘perverted’ primary school teacher with an article about a child molester) by association.
    That I found to be far more sinister and far more likely to inflame hate than the article itself (which was bad enough as it was)

  6. 6
    Giliell, professional cynic -Ilk-

    Parent Wayne Cowie said the news had left his ten-year-old son worried and confused.

    It’s not like this argument can’t be made and indeed has been made against everybody who isn’t a straight, white, cis guy.
    Women in pants? Confuuuuuuuuuuusing!
    People of colour? Scare the kids!
    Gay teacher casually mentioning their SO: Cats and dogs living together!
    And now trans people exist!

  7. 7
    Yui

    I remember when I came out to my students when I used to teach.
    Most of them took it really well and I was astonished that some of my students who I was and still are close to, were very upset about the news.
    Anyways, am glad I am still in touch with them and I miss them everyday

  8. 8
    Divizna

    ‘describe their very lives as something children need to be protected from, something that will cause students to “lose their innocence”’
    I hate this view that children must be kept ignorant in order to “protect their innocence”. No, children need to grow up, mentally too. There are already way too many thirty-year-old little babies, even older. Not healthy for them or the society.

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