As co-editors of Transgender Children and Young People: Born in Your Own Body, we were surprised by Rachel Pain’s review (Books, 15 March). It contains a significant inaccuracy as well as misleading statements.
Pain positions the chapters as belonging to feminist studies and as representative of a conflict between two “types” of feminist commentator – the virtuous, sophisticated feminist who stands up for the marginalised and the oppressed, and the unreconstructed trans-exclusionary radical feminist, or TERF, a category to which we are relegated. To the uninitiated, TERF has become the epithet of choice to dismiss any female person who dares to critique the theory and practice of transgendering children.
In locating the book in feminist ideas and politics, Pain deflects from the substantive content of the book. Its focus is not feminism but rather transgender studies. Pain dismisses our authority to comment on transgenderism because we are “white and middle class”. If the voices of white, middle-class academics are illegitimate, this also excludes Pain. She charges us with: not realising that trans children experience binary gender norms as tyrannical; not addressing queer theory; and not understanding that young people’s identities actively queer normative gender categories. She advances queer theory as beyond critique, cordons off transgender identity as immune from cultural context and, by implication, elevates the unassailability of her own alleged intellectual authority.
Pain’s charges are not true. Chapters 9 and 11 explore in depth the queer perspectives of young people. In chapter 5, co-editor Heather Brunskell-Evans, a sociologist of sex and gender, addresses the historical, epistemological and political underpinnings of queer theory.
In chapter 12, co-editor Michele Moore, psychologist and professor of inclusive education by background, compares the social model with the medical one, while Stephanie Davies-Arai, in chapter 2 and elsewhere, suggests alternative resources for schools that are more gender-freeing and do not lead to medicalisation.
In conclusion, the contributors do not ignore queer perspectives: we put queer orthodoxy under an analytical spotlight. Our purpose is ethical. None of us ignores the deeply felt experiences of trans-identifying children. We disagree that queer theory is a liberatory prism through which to view children and gender; we provide alternative frameworks for practice.
Pain’s approach exemplifies the trend in academia to proffer ad hominem comments rather than reasoned argumentation whenever contrary views about transgendering children are expressed. By shining a light on the way that slurs such as “TERF” are used to shut down scrutiny of queer perspectives, the book is exceeding the scope of its original aim.
Co-editors of Transgender Children and Young People
In discussing the “book review” of Transgender Children and Young People, I am obliged to put the two words in quotes because Rachel Pain’s article is a string of personal attacks. Pain recycles the obscure language of transgender ideology while homing in on the authors, whom she claims “identify as gender critical feminists” (not TERFs) without defining the terms, and skipping over any argument made. That Pain thinks that these contributors identify as anything is evidence that she has missed one of the central critiques about identity in the book.
As scholars, it is our duty to keep an open mind, yet Pain’s ad hominem attack offers zero academic insight. Claiming that the book is “feminism untouched by subaltern or queer perspectives”, Pain demands that readers put their trust in the opaque language of “queer theory” and a lifelong medicalisation of the body. Pain’s message is clear: there is no god but hers. That is not academic discourse, it is sophistry.