8 September 2019
A friend recently told me she spent four years of her childhood living as a boy. ‘I hated dresses, cut my hair, gelled it and spiked it,’ she says. ‘From aged eight, I thought I was meant to be a boy. I remember going into a swimming pool changing room in board shorts and the girls shrieking: “It’s a boy!”’
It wasn’t until my friend hit puberty that she began to feel more comfortable in her gender. By her mid-teens she was living happily as female. Now she’s a married mother of three who looks back on her tomboy phase with an air of amusement. Yet she shudders to imagine what might have happened if she’d been a child going through the same thing today.
Over the past year, senior medical professionals have come forward to express their concerns that an over-readiness to recognise young people as transgender could be leading to vulnerable children — and in particular young girls — being wrongly referred for life-changing treatments. They worry that clinicians are wrongly interpreting signs of complex conditions, such as depression and autism, as evidence that a child could be transgender.
‘This is one of the most complicated clinical areas of mental health and clinicians are often put under huge pressure to refer individuals, who believe this will solve their dysphoria, on for medical interventions,’ Dr Evans says. ‘Adolescence involves biological, psychological and sociological changes, and feelings of anxiety and confusion about their role required by society, and experimentation. I’m not saying no to gender transition, but services should resist the pull towards a quick solution that bypasses thoughtful exploration. How an adolescent feels now may not be how they feel in ten years’ time.’
What is the correct approach for schools? Evidently an understanding of transgender issues is important for a school to carry out many of its pastoral duties, not least combating bullying and ensuring an inclusive and welcoming environment. It’s relevant, too, to a school’s mental health procedures: suicidal thoughts are known to be high among young people identifying as transgender (estimates say as high as 41 per cent). So it’s more than understandable that more schools are taking a proactive approach. But these policies need to be balanced against those which protect the rights of other students: for example, the use of single-sex toilets and changing facilities.