Transgender identity is in the news again, this time because it is ‘confusing’ and conflicts with a devout Christian family’s desire to raise their children with strict binary genders. We do not all have to like everything, but we should be able to say why. And public conversation is worthwhile only if the ‘arguments’ advance the debate.
First, talk about autonomy, whether in the guise of religious freedom or anything else, usually fails to take matters forward. It may restrict one person’s autonomy to recognise transgender, but it would restrict another’s autonomy to deny it.
Second: how can young children know they are transgender? This question overlooks the point that, if a child is too immature to know their own gender, that goes for all children, transgender and cisgender alike.
Similarly, the ridiculous, and insulting: what if they said that they wanted to be animals, would we allow that? That riposte could follow any wish any person might ever express. Whether someone wants to come out as transgender, or wants to be a Christian, or wants to be accountant, none of this is a slippery slope to absurdity.
Further, this question also implies that transgender is a choice, when the science (accepted by the NHS) indicates that it is simply natural variation.
It may be that some children who identify as transgender later change their minds. But we also know that some people who identify as cisgender also change their minds, sometimes very late (Caitlyn Jenner was in her 60s). We risk unthinking prejudice if we say that children who identify as cisgender are presumptively right, but those who identify as transgender are presumptively wrong.
As they are entitled to do, the Christian family have withdrawn their child from a school which was supporting another child to explore their gender identity. But then to instigate a formal complaint against that school ignores the fact that Parliament, after public and democratic debate, has decided that it is unlawful to discriminate against people on the grounds of being transgender. (And I agree with that sentiment.) In the meantime, the complaint is a waste of taxpayers’ money, founded as it is upon spurious argument, and made against a school which is commendably attempting to do merely what the law requires of them.
Dr Nathan Tamblyn