Transgender Children and Young People: Born In Your Own Body, edited by Heather Brunskell-Evans and Michele Moore

The messages of this edited collection are bold but are the contributors the silenced minority, asks Rachel Pain

March 15, 2018
End transphobia demonstrators
Source: Getty
Body politic: a rally in Washington DC in response to the suicide of transgender teenager Leelah Alcorn

The recent storm of media attention surrounding transgender youth may reflect much broader cultural anxieties. Certainly, it is a furore over a tiny population – of more than 13 million under-18s in the UK, 2,016 were referred to the NHS Gender Identity Development Service in 2016-17. This edited collection is positioned by its authors as heretical and marginalised, but reflects concerns voiced regularly in recent times. They identify as “gender critical feminists” (rather than “trans-exclusionary radical feminists”) but inhabit the same small but acrimonious position in a feminist movement that is otherwise predominantly inclusive of trans people.


See co-editors’ response to review and another letter


The messages of the book are bold. The first is that “transgender children do not exist”. As an academic contribution to the debate, the promise is in its theoretical framework. Having dismissed the perspectives of youth, parents, charities, medicine, social policy and the law as “unproven” and “intellectually incoherent”, it suggests that trans youth are a discursive invention. “Transgenderism”, it contends, reinforces traditional gender binaries, propping up the patriarchy. This framework remains undeveloped and the chapters are inconsistent, offering a hotchpotch of pet clichés that sidestep the evidence-base. Trans youth are variously explained by tribal belonging; restrictive femininity; the distressing human condition; childhood trauma; male transvestites’ sexual desires; and really being gay.

Perhaps hopes were pinned on the highest-profile contributor, whose activism is currently aimed at blocking schools from accepting that children may be transgender. But of 57 sources cited in Stephanie Davies-Arai’s chapter, only seven are peer-reviewed research and these are cherry-picked and distort the wider medical and sociological evidence. Meanwhile, editor Michele Moore’s account of transgender theory leans on dated and inaccurate stereotypes of trans identities that make tiresome reappearances throughout. Nowhere is it acknowledged that many trans people experience binary gender norms as tyrannical, or that many (if not all) trans identities actively queer these binaries.

The second message is that children are “transgendered” by adults and that this is “abusive”. The book constructs an artifice of a society teeming with over-eager parents, whereas research consistently shows that trans youth are often rejected by their families and peers. While claiming that they are motivated by children’s well-being, the authors frequently misuse or ignore recent international studies that unequivocally show both high rates of depression, self-harm and suicide among trans adolescents and the safeguarding effects of gender-affirming support. Indefensibly, the book is almost silent on widely substantiated hate crime against trans youth. The authors’ account of secret meetings to plan the book – “each afraid of very real consequences for our families and livelihoods” – is the single point of resonance with the challenges faced by their subjects.

Gender critical feminists are often accused of recycling second-wave feminism’s failure to address differences between groups of women, but as “radical feminism” most of the arguments here are barely recognisable. Some fundamental principles are missing: powerful people shouldn’t dictate others’ identities, for example. More specifically, Brunskell-Evans and Moore reflect a white middle-class feminism untouched by subaltern or queer perspectives. Masquerading as scholarly text, this is epistemological chicanery, with the contributors adopting an already vocal repositioning as the silenced minority. In labelling “transgenderism” abusive, they don’t listen to the supposedly abused; in claiming to challenge “the seemingly unstoppable celebration of transgender ideology”, they present arguments neatly aligned with much recent media coverage. The irony is complete, the consequences no less serious.

Rachel Pain is professor of human geography at Newcastle University.


Transgender Children and Young People: Born In Your Own Body
Edited by Heather Brunskell-Evans and Michele Moore
Cambridge Scholars, 244pp, £61.99
ISBN 9781527503984
Published 1 January 2018

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Reader's comments (5)

I have been reading widely in both pro-trans and anti-transgender literature. Rachel Pain here echoes the tropes of the pro-transgender literature to perfection. I find her breezy dismissal of everything in "Transgender Children and Young People: Born In Your Own Body" a little distressing. It is hard to tell if she even read the book before reviewing it. I can unequivocally state that the evidence does not support Ms Pain's contention that everything about transgender ideology and practice is well established as a good and positive thing. If it were so, the community would not put so much energy into censoring alternative viewpoints. For instance, transactivist got a panel on detransition and alternatives to medical transition accepted for presentation in a Philadelphia conference cancelled and got a study into transition regret (by a trans-positive researcher alarmed at the number of patients who regretted their decisions to transition) cancelled at Bath Spa University. A 60 year old woman going to a discussion called What is Gender? was physically assaulted by transwomen in London. I am a scientist, and I am appalled by the poor quality of the "science" coming out of the transgender health community. Often it is the lowest quality of evidence, self reporting, that is presented. Sample sizes are small, there are frequently no control groups. The language of the papers assumes that which is to be proved. While it is true that there are high rates of mental health problems in those who identify as transgender, it is not true that medical transition solves these difficulties. Studies in fact show, especially longer term studies and those with objective measures rather than self reporting, that mental health declines steadily and suicide rates often increase, rather than decrease, after transition. Currently, the largest group of those who are asking to be transitioned are adolescent girls who did not previously show signs of gender stereotype non-conformity. These girls seem mostly motivated by discomfort with puberty and the effects of social contagion. If readers of this review care to judge for themselves, they can go to sites such as 4thwavenow, where there is much discussion of the papers Ms Pain so enthusiastically endorses, discussion by parents of children who identify as transgender, as well as many essays by young people who transitioned and came to regret those decisions. A little searching on the Internet will also show that the "white middle class feminism" Ms Pain uses to dismiss any and all views which critique any aspect of transgender ideology and practice, are views widely shared by Black women and Hispanic women as well as some transwomen.
Well said Gilow. Rachel clearly hasn’t bothered to read Heather’s book before trying to dismiss it. This issue isn’t going to go away. There will be litigations in the future from young people who believe the trans mythology!
As the parent of a teen girl who suddenly claimed one day, out of the blue, to be a boy after 15 happy years of being the girl she is, I am grateful to the authors for raising awareness and challenging the current "affirm only" mindset of pediatric transgender medicine. My experience with my child's Rapid Onset Gender Dysphoria (ROGD) has been eye-opening to say the least. I had always been a trans ally, assuming that this very rare condition was something that was carefully investigated over years of deep, thoughtful psychotherapy. However, this is not the case, and that is why there is a current backlash against the transgender medical machine, which rather than carefully looking into a child's mind for underlying conditions such as autism, trauma, OCD, ADHD, possible homosexuality, social contagion, grooming, etc., dictates that any child who says they are transgender is transgender and they must not be receive more than brief, superficial questioning of their claim to be the opposite sex. Parents are told trying to get to the root of their child's claim is not only unnecessary but offensive. As more and more parents find out every day, as this tween/teen trend of claiming to be trans for attention, clique inclusion and social cache continues, it is a dangerous climate for kids who claim to be transgender. Parents who know their kids best and never saw even one clue that their kid might fit in better with the opposite sex, are stunned when told the child must be believed and that looking into the child's mindset and motivations is "anti-trans conversion therapy." Parents are told they must affirm their child's transgender claim, let them choose a new name, enroll them in school as a member of the opposite sex, and look into medical treatments such as blockers and cross-sex hormones. Anything else is bigotry and being "unsupportive." Is there such a thing as a transgender child? The book says no. I find the book's arguments very persuasive, but admit I am not personally qualified to make that determination. However, like hundreds if not thousands of parents caught up in the transgender craze for kids, I am certain my own child is not transgender but is claiming a trans self-ID in order to fulfill some psychological need to stand out, fit in, gain social cache or reinvent herself as a strong boy rather than a powerless girl whose purpose in life is to be sexually available to males. If only parents were listened to rather than completely dismissed as being in denial, or worse, vilified as bigots. I am thankful to the authors for challenging the current "affirm only" narrative and pointing out that it is highly dangerous . Kids deserve more. Kids deserve years deep psychotherapy and careful, watchful waiting before being given medical treatments which permanently change their bodies and even permanently sterilize them. With the high prevalence of autism and eventual homosexuality among kids and teens who claim to be transgender, I find the sterilization of such vulnerable populations very troubling. I am thankful to the authors of this book for speaking out.
"The authors account of secret meetings to plan the book - 'each afraid of very real consequences for our families and livelihoods' " It seems to me we are living in very worrying times when academics and their families face existential threats for daring to voice a critique against one of the "new orthodoxies" of so-called progressivism. Maybe Thomas Hobbes was not too far wrong in describing human nature in his book, the Leviathan. While Orwell was spot-on with his identification of doublespeak.
I wonder if the Ms Pain actually read the book and engaged with other, especially medical, views disagreeing with the affirmation approach. It seems much more likely she was keen to simply wave away any challenge to her convictions (her reference to trans exclusive radical feminists, a slur levelled at anyone expressing gender critical views, rather answers the question). A very different review of "Transgender children and young people: born in their own body" was published in the latest issue of The Journal of Child Psychotherapy. Here's what the writer, Melissa Midgen says: "The editors of this groundbreaking book, Helen Brunskell-Evans and Michele Moore, deserve both our congratulations and our gratitude for compiling such a comprehensive selection of arguments, which together provide an analysis of the complex phenomenon that falls under the term ‘trans’, an analysis that is very different from the narrative currently capturing the minds of young people and professionals alike. They bring together a variety of dissenting stakeholders to enlighten and educate us on the pitfalls inherent in the affirmative model, which asserts that gender is a self-identified feeling unrelated to biological sex. These dissenting voices include academics, activists, parents, commentators and clinicians who have all arrived, from their different involved locations, at positions of profound concern; a position collectively identified as ‘gender critical’. It is essential to understand that ‘gender critical’ is entirely unrelated to ‘transphobic’ – the easy, careless accusation levelled at those of us challenging the so called ‘gender-affirmative’ approach which demands that, for children and adolescents who claim their biological sex is at odds with their felt gender identity, the process of both social role transition and the attendant physical intervention should go unchallenged. It is perhaps worth stating at this point that I write this review from the position of being a clinician at the only NHS commissioned gender service for children and young people. Many scores of hours have therefore gone into the formation of my thoughts, ideas, concerns and dilemmas. These are forged out of the crucible of the gender service alongside much reading, thinking, talking and debating with colleagues and professionals along the way. My relationship with this book therefore inevitably emerges out of my personal clinical submergence in the world of gender in all its guises." For the full review see here: https://www.tandfonline.com/doi/full/10.1080/0075417X.2018.1435707

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