Some of you might remember my daughter Katie, who collaborated with me on a book review a few years ago. She’s now twelve, she’s still opinionated, and, when the subject of the anti-trans-mythbusting I was doing on the blog came up in conversation with her, I had a spur-of-the-moment idea; what if I interviewed Katie on the subject of anti-trans myths? I wanted to see what her reaction would be to some of the ideas that were getting put forth.
I hadn’t expected Katie to be keen on the idea, but, in fact, she was; I went ahead without further ado before she could lose interest. I’ve posted the full recording here (it was too large for WordPress to handle easily), but, as it’s just about as polished as you’d expect from an unprepared interview of one untrained person by another untrained person recorded with only the equipment available on a mid-range laptop, I’ve written up a redacted version for this blog.
I started with the oft-raised concern that the increasing numbers of people choosing to transition are an indicator that people are getting pushed into transitioning.
“Well, that isn’t how that works,” Katie stated. “How it works is because transgenderism wasn’t accepted in the past; so it’s like, well, people wouldn’t be transitioning in the past because they weren’t allowed to. Now they’re allowed to, so they’re going to.
Can I just clarify that you are only trans if you yourself know that you are actually one gender instead of the other?” she went on. (I’ll explain to her about non-binary genders another day; at this point I didn’t want to break the flow.) “If someone says ‘oh, you’re trans because you like boy stuff more than girl stuff’… it’s the 21st century! There is no ‘oh, girls play with dolls and boys play with – I don’t know – sports and stuff’; that isn’t a thing any more! Boys can play with whatever they want… and trans people are the people who are physically one gender but mentally, actually, and truly another, and they get referred to as their true gender rather than their physical gender because that’s just simply how things work.”
“One of the fears,” I told her, “is that somehow doctors who specialise in transition medicine wouldn’t know all this.” I explained the concern that children with interests typically associated with the opposite gender might be misdiagnosed as trans and advised to transition.
“I’m pretty sure that a professional doctor would get taught not to do that,” Katie said, practically rolling her eyes. “You yourself are a doctor; you’ve been through… how many years of medical school?
“And I presume that a transition doctor would go through the same amount, right?”
I confirmed that this was the case, adding that doctors had years of specialty training after graduation as well.
Katie was not impressed by the concern that someone with that many years of training would be trying to talk unwilling people into transitioning. “Their job is to take people who want to transition and transition them, not to pick someone off the street and say ‘You’re trans now! Go be trans!’ even if they do like stuff that’s like ‘boy stuff’, not ‘girl stuff’… you’ll have to imagine the air quotes,” she added to the microphone. “Isn’t it just that someone who’s already trans but just hasn’t had the transition yet… isn’t it only they that go up and say ‘Can you transition me?’ You don’t just go in there and say ‘Hey, I’m a girl and I kind of like wearing trousers’ and get told ‘You’re a trans boy!’ That’s not how it works.”
I brought up the Littman study, an infamously badly-done study supposedly showing that young people are now subject to a new disorder called Rapid Onset Gender Dysphoria. Littman’s evidence for this was that, when she interviewed parents via anti-transitioning websites, they reported that their children only came out as trans after spending time with groups of new friends who often came out as trans at approximately the same time; Littman felt the likely explanation for this was that non-trans adolescents were being convinced they were trans by peer pressure. The flaws in that methodology seem glaringly obvious to me, but I do have some professional training in the basics of critiquing and interpreting studies, so I don’t know how obvious they are to the average person without training. I was curious to see what Katie would make of it.
“I think,” Katie told me, “rather than it being that a bunch of them had come out as trans and they’re like ‘Oh, well, you be trans too’… I think it’s less of that and more that they might not mentally think to themselves that they were allowed to be trans, but after their friend’s transition they might start realising ‘People do this, I myself personally allow myself to get transitioned’.
I mentioned Littman’s finding that the parents in the study reported that their children spent a lot more time on the internet prior to coming out, which, again, is supposed to be evidence of… something nefarious going on. What, I asked Katie, did this sequence of events suggest to her?
“They went on the internet,” she replied, “and, being the internet, it would probably have mentioned something to do with transness, they might have looked into that more, done a bit more research, ended up on some online group for people who think they might be transgender, and they would have properly discussed things there and then thought to themselves “You know what, I think I might be transgender.”
So, there you are, that is how obvious the flaws in Littman’s study are: some of them can literally be spotted by a bright twelve-year-old. (If you’re interested in a more detailed analysis, check out the multi-post analysis by Zinnia Jones on the Gender Analysis blog, starting here.)
The final topic I raised was the ‘Which Bathroom?’ debate. Katie gave this some thought, saying it was ‘a bit difficult’; she felt that, because ‘a bunch of the other people there might be uncomfortable with seeing other genitals’, it was better to have ‘the trans person shower or whatever in a private room separate from other people’ for anything involving nudity. However, she went on to make her overall opinion on the question clear:
“[T]hey should go with their proper true gender, not their physical gender,” she told me, “because, if you’re really going to stare at someone doing toilet stuff, you’re either a) a parent helping out a young child, which is reasonable, or b) why are you doing that that’s really creepy please stop.” I liked her framing; her response to people bothered by the prospect of possibly seeing trans people’s genitals was to place the issue not with trans people but with whoever was paying so much attention to other people’s genitals in the first place.
I brought up the fear that’s always brought up in these cases; the ‘what if a sex abuser pretended to be trans to get into a women’s public toilet and abuse someone?’
Katie’s immediate response was to object to the implicit idea that sexual abuse only affects women. “Let’s be honest here, this can go either way,” she told me. “That’s another discussion that isn’t right now, but I do feel like there’s a whole thing about how only women can be sexually abused… that’s not true.”
She turned her attention back to the question, which she thought was an interesting problem. “Since things like that [toilet cubicles] are closed off anyway… hmmm…. since the majority of those people [just to be clear, she meant people trying to use toilets of a gender opposite to their birth genitals, not trans people] would be actually trans, we should just go with what will help the majority and put in whatever current measures we have to stop things like that. Surely instead of stopping people faking trans to sexually abuse people, we should stop sexual abuse? That’s the point we need to stop. We shouldn’t worry about all the separate categories.”
I brought up the point that I discussed in my previous post. “If a man wanted to walk into a women’s toilet for purposes of sexually abusing someone, why would he have to pretend he’s trans when right now no-one is actually stopping you to check what sort of genitals you have anyway before you go into the toilet, and it would be incredibly rude if they did?”
Katie thought that was a good point. “Say they’re not trans; that’s just an inconvenience because no-one wants to have their genitals seen. And if you are trans, it’s like that would just feel so personal; it’s like they’re questioning your right to go into those toilets because of your transgenderism.” She agreed that a man who was determined to get into a women’s toilet to abuse someone would do so regardless of rules.
“Once again,” she summed up, “the problem isn’t anything to do with transgender. I’m really not sure how to tackle [abuse], but that’s a separate discussion.”
Some further thoughts
I did this interview partly because I love hearing my daughter’s thoughts on issues. But there’s another reason that I only fully articulated to myself as I wrote this up, and it relates to something I’ve realised about the anti-trans movement.
For many people, the attraction of the anti-trans movement is that it frames itself around the idea of protecting others. Transphobics claim that trans rights put cis [the term for non-trans] women and girls at risk of assault and put cis children and adolescents at risk of being somehow convinced to have transitions they’ll regret. While these claims don’t stand up to examination of the evidence, they’re powerful because they sound superficially plausible. And that allows transphobics to paint their views as necessary protection for others, rather than as prejudice or ignorance.
Now… my daughter, as a female adolescent, is at the intersection of the two groups anti-trans-rights lobbyists convince themselves they’re protecting. It doesn’t stop there, either. She’s thought for years that she’s probably gay, though at only twelve she’s still working out her sexuality. She’s almost certainly autistic (she’s on the waiting list for an official diagnosis). She’s struggled with physical aspects of female puberty. She’s struggled with discomfort with her body for reasons unrelated to being trans. She has mental health issues that make her potentially vulnerable. Apart from not being butch, she is pretty much the poster child for someone who, according to anti-trans rhetoric, would be at risk of dire consequences if trans rights are increased. Anti-trans lobbyists are using the existence and problems of thousands of young women as an excuse to deny thousands of other people their rights, and one of the young women they think they’re protecting is my daughter.
Well, I wanted to give my daughter a voice in that. And, as it turned out, that voice is firmly in favour of trans rights. My strong, funny, smart, complicated, wonderful daughter isn’t afraid of trans rights. She isn’t fazed by the existence of trans people. She doesn’t feel that making life more difficult for trans people will somehow solve her problems, because she understands that her problems are nothing to do with trans people or their rights.
When I finally did articulate this in my mind, I put it to Katie. How, I asked, did she feel about the thought that people opposing trans rights were doing so in an attempt to protect people like her? She cocked her head to one side and addressed a firm message to anyone holding those views.
“I appreciate your concern,” she stated, “but shut the frick up.”