The Women’s March and the Erasure of Women

On Saturday January 21st the Women’s March on Washington took place in order to protest the potential effects the election of president Donald Trump would have on women’s rights in the USA. Conceived of by women, organised by women, networked and shared by women and overwhelmingly attended by women, the Women’s March became a chance for women worldwide to join in solidarity with their American sisters, and march for women’s rights in towns and cities all over the world. And this is what women did, in large numbers and in many places.

It is quite clear from the pictures that this was a women’s event, though it was by no means exclusionary – anyone could attend, but the focus was on women. In the UK for example there were many feminist and women’s groups represented:

It was a powerful opportunity to get across whichever feminist message meant the most to you, or whichever feminist campaign you have been working with, or simply to register your opposition to sexism. Although not all the signs and placards at the march were overtly feminist in nature, they were overwhelmingly so. Some of the subjects of inequality that women marched for included sexism, objectification and the sex trade, reproductive rights, political representation, violence against women and girls, women’s health and childcare. The other issues represented included racism and homophobia which obviously affect men too, and climate change and poverty which affect women disproportionately, as women bear the brunt of world poverty and the effects of climate change. I am trying to get across here the fact that even though there were some men present at the march, and even though some of the issues represented concern men too, you would have to be wilfully blind to ignore the fact that this was a women’s march, about women’s issues.

So why did the BBC do just that?

In the reports on BBC TV News on Saturday evening the march was referred to as an ‘anti-Trump’ march which was attended by lots of ‘people’. On BBC Radio 4 the same language was used, both on the Saturday evening and the Sunday morning news bulletins. We only got to learn that it was a ‘women’s march’ towards the end of the programme Broadcasting House, when one of the guest reviewers mentioned it. The choice of words really jarred after a day of following the march on social media and other news outlets, where the constant repetition of the words ‘women’s march’ had a feeling of power to it, which is a rare experience for women listening to the news. It felt as if the BBC had some kind of agenda. WHY was the word ‘women’ so dangerous to use?

Online it was a similar story, at least at first:

BBC online (thanks in part, I like to think, to a couple of tweets sent by myself and others…) changed their headline from ‘Anti Trump marches take place all over the world’ to ‘Women’s marches take place all over the world’. So thanks for that BBC. A small victory.

If the marches were just that: ‘anti Trump’, then I wonder why so many women came out the whole world over, in countries far and wide, none of which actually have Trump as their president? It doesn’t take much analysis to see that it was not Trump himself that the rest of the female world was protesting against, but the attitude towards women represented by Trump – an attitude which unfortunately can still be found all over the world, and which women still have to deal with on a day to day basis. The election of Trump acted as a catalyst for a powerful outpouring of dissatisfaction everywhere with the current state of women’s equality. The specific problems vary from culture to culture, but the strength of feeling is the same, and the election of Trump gave us a rallying point to express it.

It was not only the BBC which seemed intent on erasing the women from the Women’s March. Transactivists too were less than happy with the emphasis on the female population, particularly the biological aspects of being a woman:

Transactivism has been getting more and more extreme of late (the more it’s been allowed to get away with stuff…?) but this is a new low. Now we are being led to believe that simply HAVING A FEMALE BODY AND MENTIONING IT is transphobic and cissexist.

All women are now in the wrong.

Remind you of anything?

This is what happens when you allow men to dictate what you can and cannot say about your own body and your own experience. Women must simply disappear from the story in order not to hurt the feelings of trans people, and if we don’t do that we are wilfully contributing to their oppression. So it’s difficult, because we’re nice. We’ve been socialised to be nice. We don’t want to hurt anyone do we?

We need to wake up to this as women. On the one hand we have all that power and energy out there. We were funny and creative. We got angry. We did a good march:

On the other hand we are standing by when the very words we have to describe ourselves and our lived experience are being taken away from us. It has been happening for a while: Green Party Women call us ‘non-men’, to Sussex Police we are anyone who ‘self-identifies’ as a woman, to Planned Parenthood in the US we are ‘menstruators’ and to some people we are literally anyone who ‘doesn’t identify as male’:

brighton-hove-police-postermenstruatorswho-does-not-identify-as-malegreen-party-women-non-men

It’s time for women to wake up and stop being nice. The Women’s March felt like a celebration of how brilliant women are and what it looks like when we get angry. We should be more angry and we should be able to name the reasons for our anger. I hope the Women’s March has sown the seeds for further action and more awareness, but to be able to fight for your rights you need to be aware of how they are being eroded and who is doing the eroding.

It’s as if the BBC has sent a memo round saying ‘The word Woman is only to be used when it’s a case of a transwoman being done for murder or assault. Otherwise the word People will be sufficient. Woman’s Hour can apply for an exemption to this if and when it’s necessary.’

The trans lobby seems determined to erase all words to do with women, especially the biological ones, and many organisations have already capitulated. We now have birthing parents instead of mothers and chest feeding instead of breast feeding, amongst many more examples.

Is the timing coincidental or is the BBC’s choice of language meant to appease the trans lobby?

Women often find it hard to say no to men, but we really have to now. Current legislation around ‘gender identity’ will harm women and benefit men, and our ability to talk about this, let alone organise against it, is being eroded by the same ideology which is harming us in the first place. The downgrading of ‘sex’ as a category in favour of ‘gender identity’ has this one very important result: instead of the axis of oppression being male/female ( where 49% of the population who are male oppress 51% of the population who are female) the axis is being changed to cis/trans (where 99.97% of the population who are ‘cis’ oppress 0.03% of the population who are trans). It’s a clever way for men to say they are being oppressed by women, and it’s a reason we must all reject the category of ‘cis’ which only ever functions as a means to make us feel guilty when we assert our female rights, and to obscure the sex-based oppression we suffer. If 51% of the population cannot name their body parts for fear of upsetting the 0.03% this is an obvious and overwhelming injustice. You’d think.

The other result of this new language is that everything previously fought for on the axis of sex oppression becomes de-sexed, or, in common parlance, gender-neutral. It’s a tactic used by Men’s Rights Activists, for obvious reasons: if you can argue that domestic violence for example affects men almost as much as it affects women you can grab some of that (woefully inadequate) funding for yourself. Regarding trans people, if you can argue that transwomen (and particularly transwomen of colour) are the most oppressed of all then you have to give them priority treatment to compensate. Which is, I suppose, how two male-born speakers, one a self-confessed rapist and the other an apologist for child sexual exploitation, got to be two of the speakers at the Women’s March:

To get back to something positive, here is a reminder of the wonderful job women made of the Women’s March on Saturday:

And now let’s ensure that the complaints resulting from the Women’s March are seen for what they are: an attempt to silence and erase women. The (frankly ludicrous) assertion of trans rights over women’s rights, in response to the Women’s March, should be a wake up call to all of us.

If we don’t tackle this now then next time we need a protest march we may not even be allowed to call it a Women’s March.

Advertisements

The Bias of the BBC

Camoflage bears 001The BBC charter specifies that ‘we should do all we can to ensure that controversial subjects are treated with due accuracy and impartiality’. I have written numerous complaints to the BBC of late due to the bias in programming regarding  trans issues. After the last complaint (here) I received another inadequate reply, which failed to answer any of the points I had raised, so now I want to look at the BBC’s output as a whole, in order to provide some context for my concern.

It is worth noting to start with what the BBC says about the sources used for its information about trans issues, as this is instructive. Many of the quotes used to defend its stance come from GIRES (Gender Identity Research and Education Society).  Apart from GIRES, the BBC’s view on transgender issues is lifted wholesale from transadvocacy sites such as Gendered Intelligence, Mermaids and Trans Media Watch. There is little awareness of the issues that affect women, and no quotes which suggest any research has been done into the subject from a feminist point of view.

This is strange because the BBC knows this is a controversial subject. It has reported on the no-platforming of Germaine Greer, the trashing of Peter Tatchel and Mary Beard and the apparently controversial opinion of Ian McKewan that the male sex organ is normally associated with men. In the BBC’s editorial guidelines on controversial subjects it says:

“When dealing with ‘controversial subjects’, we must ensure a wide range of significant views and perspectives are given due weight and prominence, particularly when the controversy is active.  Opinion should be clearly distinguished from fact.”

And yet, despite an awareness of the disagreement between feminists (not the fun kind) and transactivists, there has been very little attempt to look at the issue from the point of view of  women’s rights. Getting Sarah Ditum onto Newsnight one time doesn’t count as a ‘wide range’ of views and perspectives, however articulate she was.

There are several areas of concern where the expansion of trans rights will potentially adversely affect women:

  1. The pressure on parents to accept a trans diagnosis for a gender non-conforming child, based on gender stereotypes of clothing and toy preferences; or in the case of teenagers, to give in to the social media contagion to which they might be susceptible.
  2. The threat to current sex-based rights, which keep males and females segregated in public places where women and girls might be physically vulnerable. These include toilets, changing rooms, rape crisis centres, refuges, hospital wards and prisons.
  3. The inclusion of male-bodied, male-socialised people, into areas of success and achievement where women currently have their own space in order to make competition fair or to level the playing field. These include sports, prizes and awards, shortlists and quotas.
  4. The negative affect on the lesbian community of the pressure on young women to identify as trans rather than as lesbian. There is also pressure to accept male-bodied self-identified ‘lesbians’ as sexual partners.
  5. The skewing of national statistics regarding crime, due to the higher rate of offending by male transitioners as opposed to women, with possible knock-on effects on funding for women’s services.
  6. The effect on the ‘trans widows’ of men (and it mostly is men) who transition in middle age. There is nowhere for these women to turn: all the help and support is directed towards the ‘trans’ person.
  7. The changing of language pertinent to women and girls in order to make it more trans-inclusive, thereby making ‘women’s issues’ impossible to talk about. This includes the use of such terms as ‘pregnant people’ by health providers.

These are all legitimate concerns which the BBC has largely ignored.

Instead we get this:

Louis Theroux: Transgender Kids

CBBC: My Life: I am Leo

Victoria Derbyshire: Transgender Children

All these programmes are largely uncritical of the transing of children, despite the research which shows that around 80% of gender non-conforming children will grow out of it before puberty. All programmes rely heavily on gender stereotypes to prove that children are not really the sex that they were born. All programmes minimise the harms of transitioning, and repeatedly use the idea of ‘born in the wrong body’ which has no scientific basis, and is an idea, not a fact. The reality, including such downsides as double-mastectomies, a lifetime on medication and probable sterility, is minimised or left out completely.

The message to teenagers, on radio and online, is similarly on-script:

iPlayer radio Advice

Newsbeat: transgender terminology

BBC Taster: Transgender

These sites link to sites such as Mermaids and  GIRES to go to for more information and support, and in return Mermaids recommends BBC programmes such as ‘I am Leo’ to the young people consulting their site. It’s all very cosy and circular. Teenagers get enough encouragement and support for trans identities from social media today without having the BBC reinforcing it too. The BBC should be aware of the impact of social contagion.

As women are the class of people most adversely affected by trans ideology, you’d think that Woman’s Hour might tackle the implications. After all they do a good job of tackling the implications for women of every other subject under the sun. But no:

Woman’s Hour: Power List

Woman’s Hour: Kellie Maloney interview

Woman’s Hour: 2015: The year trans became mainstream?

Caitlyn Jenner’s inclusion on the Power List was accompanied by the accepted narrative of ‘always felt like a woman’, and, as an additional reprimand to the more sceptical amongst us, the only motivation suggested for challenging this was ignorance and intolerance. Kellie Maloney was allowed to get away with minimising the violence he had previously inflicted on his wife (brilliantly analysed here). Both these men had had a lifetime of male privilege and entitlement, and both had presented with toxic masculinity, Maloney by way of domestic violence and Jenner by dangerous driving resulting in the death of a woman. To celebrate either of them was understandably an insult to many women, not only because of the numbers of women who have suffered this kind of violence at the hands of a man, but also because of the number of unsung heroines who work to help victims of male violence but are never celebrated. One of these women could have been on the Woman’s Hour Power List and enjoyed some recognition, but her place was taken by a person who was male-born, male-socialised and male-entitled.

The news though: that’s fact, rather than opinion, right? Afraid not:

BBC News reports: Tara Hudson, Vikki Thompson, Joanne Latham, Davina Ayrton, Claire Derbyshire

BBC news programmes, on TV and radio, have consistently misrepresented trans offenders in a way which is sympathetic to the trans people in question. Tara Hudson for example, was talked of purely as a victim, who would not be able to survive in a male prison, rather than as a violent offender with previous convictions and a fully-functioning penis. No mention was ever made of the rights of female prisoners to be safe. The suicide of any prisoner is a tragedy but the reporting of trans prisoners’ suicides has been misleading, especially in the case of Joanne Latham whose only ‘transition’ had been a change of name a few months earlier. Again, the BBC reported this uncritically so that Joanne Latham was presented as a trans suicide statistic, whilst in contrast, Claire Derbyshire, a male transitioner, was presented as a female murderer, her trans status not mentioned on most radio news bulletins.

Finally, analysis…a chance for a more informed and critical exploration of the facts maybe? Er, no:

Radio 4 Today

Radio 4 Analysis: Beyond Binary

The Today programme is a serious news and affairs programme, and as it decided to tackle the subject of transgender on two consecutive mornings you might have expected some in-depth research to back it up. What happened was a re-hash of the usual story regarding children who ‘didn’t feel right’ and felt ‘better’ once they identified as trans, with a bit of added John Humphreys-style confusion over a subject in which he was clearly out of his depth. He treated his young transgender guest with a combination of a desperate attempt not to say the wrong thing, along with a patronising and almost jovial ‘what you kids get up to these days’ tone which made light of the implications of transing children. The (male) scientist who was consulted couldn’t see a problem with male transitioners using the women’s toilets. So that was informative.

Analysis promised more: a whole half hour on the subject of ‘non-binary’ gender identities, and, as non-binary comes under the trans umbrella these days, there was an opportunity here to look at what this means in terms of the conflict between protecting gender-identity rights and protecting sex-based rights. This didn’t happen. Instead, some common and glaring mistakes were made, such as the conflation of non-binary with intersex and the incorrect use of the terms ‘sex’ and ‘gender’ which were used interchangeably throughout. There was no attempt to even define what ‘non-binary gender’ means (possibly because it’s actually meaningless: we are all non-binary in terms of gender). The only mention of the feminist argument led to a bit of a joke about a Star Trek episode in which there was no gender so people were a bit boring and everyone looked the same. In other words, there was no analysis.

The BBC has clearly done its research into transgender issues, but unfortunately has only consulted transadvocate sources and then failed to question any of the ideology found there. Much of the ideology does not stand up to scrutiny, but you would not know this if you relied on the BBC for your information. Despite knowing that feminist arguments exist, it has obviously not been considered necessary to explore these arguments or take them seriously. Woman’s Hour did look at the worrying rise in the rates of young girls referring to gender clinics, and touched on the subject of the influences girls face regarding social media and body image, but the dots were not joined up. The BBC, in its coverage of trans issues across the board, are adding to the ‘trend’ and not questioning it. As a public service broadcaster the intention to be inclusive of a minority should be balanced with the duty to be factual and well-researched so that another group does not suffer as a result.

If the downside of the transgender trend is left to feminists to analyse and challenge then it makes it easier for transactivists to villify and slur those feminists and bully them into silence. If the general public is not given a balanced view it makes it easier for them to discount a few women’s voices and to believe that they come from a place of bigotry and transphobia. The view presented by the BBC’s programming is of a brave struggle by children and teenagers to express their true identity, (with the support and love of courageous parents), followed by the brave struggle for justice by ‘women’ held unfairly in male prisons, and the brave struggle by rich and successful middle-aged men to achieve an authentic ‘gender identity’ through the spending of vast sums of money on cosmetic surgery.

With all that sympathy on show it can be very hard to go against the grain and criticise or ask questions, but a public service broadcaster needs to do just that.

It is not just feminists who are being silenced: there is also a backlash from the gay and lesbian community who see that the transing of children can sometimes be a homophobic response to a gender non-conforming child. And, as previously mentioned, lesbians are being pressured to accept male bodies in such vile ways it would be seen as rape culture if it wasn’t for the fact it is trans people doing it. Transsexuals, who have gone through a process of transition which takes time and hard work, are often not happy with the current assertion from transgender people and allies that you ‘are a woman if you say you are’ as this will potentially lead to a backlash against all transsexual people. Detransitioners are routinely rejected by the transgender community and do not have a voice, presumably because their experience contradicts the preferred narrative. Scientists and professionals who work with children and young people are shamed and slurred if they step out of line and can only voice their concerns anonymously, despite the fact that there are serious child protection issues at stake. Women dealing with the experience of a husband transitioning in middle age (often after years of cross-dressing) are not listened to because their own needs at this traumatic time are deemed transphobic. Even rape victims are castigated for expressing a desire for a woman-only space in which to recover, as this too is now considered transphobic.

The BBC, in its response to my complaint about the film ‘I am Leo’, was keen to assert that the inconsistencies and inaccuracies in the programme were due to the necessity of simplifying the story so that children could understand it. I am not a fan of myths being presented as facts in order to help children understand anything, as it is not so different from just telling them lies, but there is a bigger problem here. In its presentation of all transgender stories, not just those directed at children, the BBC has simplified the issues and presented a sanitised version for public consumption, and this has resulted in serious misrepresentation. The whole of the general public is being treated like a child. Most people will have no idea that 80% of men who transition do not get rid of their penis for example, as this fact gets in the way of the simple story of the ‘poor woman trapped in a male prison’ which is so easy to tell and to understand. No moral ambiguity has been allowed, so that the public is kept ignorant of the facts they need in order to form an opinion. The BBC might be protecting transgender people with this approach, but they are completely neglecting women’s rights in order to do so.

The laws around sex-segregated spaces are currently under review as part of the trans inquiry, and the Women and Equalities Committee has already published some new guidelines for service providers, which give trans people more rights to use the facilities which match their gender identity. This is not an issue which affects men, as men do not generally fear the inclusion of women in their private spaces. For women however, the change in the law to allow ‘gender identity’ to take the place of ‘sex’ as a criteria means that we would no longer be allowed to challenge the presence of a male-bodied person in a toilet or changing room. It is not a slur on trans people to say that this provides a loophole for abusive men. Abusers, whether they are flashers, voyeurs or rapists, will go to great lengths to get access to women and girls in vulnerable situations and it is naive to believe that the new law will not be abused.

It has become impossible to talk about women’s safety without being accused of bigotry against trans people. To end all arguments about competing rights the common argument used is that ‘transwomen are women’. This has become a mantra from transactivists, and is an assertion which is unscientific and unprovable, much like any faith position. The great irony here is that existing hate crime laws include transgender people as a protected group, but not women. So if transwomen really are women they are no longer protected by UK hate crime legislation.

Women’s rights are about to take a backwards step and nobody knows about it. The BBC has not only seen fit to ignore the issue and fail to inform its viewers and listeners, but through its oversimplified and over sympathetic presentation of trans issues, it has actively helped to obscure the problems and made it more difficult to tell the truth about what is going on. The BBC is failing in its duty to inform and educate and to present a balanced and unbiased point of view, and the people who will ultimately pay the price for this will be women and children.

Bigoted or Brave? A Response to CBBC

Last month the BBC’s CBBC channel for children aired a documentary called ‘I am Leo’ which took the form of a video diary about the personal journey of a transgender child. In my view the programme was biased, misleading and even dangerous, in the sense that it presented an overwhelmingly positive view of the experience of being transgender, with little attempt to qualify this picture with correct information. Indeed, the parts of the programme which purported to give factual information were flawed to an alarming degree, not only in terms of biology, but also in a way which promoted outdated stereotypes of what boys and girls should be, and the way that it made the idea of being transgender look easy and fun. I sent in a complaint through the BBC’s website, and a week later I got a reply. The reply was patronising and insulting and compounded my view that the BBC had only listened to one side of the debate and was unwilling to take on board any criticism or do any further research into the subject. This (with the BBC’s comments in italics) is my response to the points made in the BBC’s reply:

“Thank you for taking the time to air your complaints about ‘I Am Leo’.

By the time of the first broadcast, Leo had lived as a boy for 8 years. The documentary is about his personal experience as a transgender boy and those of the other transgender young people he meets in the film, Kai and Natalie. Like Leo, Kai lives as a transgender boy and Natalie, who was born in a male body, identifies as a young transgender woman. Like Leo, Kai has been accepted by his family and received their wholehearted support. He speaks in the film about how important this acceptance has been to him. However, Natalie’s family has refused to accept her as a young transgender woman, which she feels has been damaging.

The meeting with Natalie shows the only negative experience of being transgender in the film, and the blame for this has been placed fairly and squarely on the family and their lack of acceptance. At this meeting Leo is 13 years old and has been on medication to delay puberty, whereas Natalie is 20 years old and very much more of an adult: the difference between the two in terms of maturity is stark. Natalie’s more negative view of her experience could be down to so many factors, including simply growing up, but the only narrative we are allowed to consider is the one of lack of acceptance from family members about the choice to transition. Leo’s other meeting, with 10 year old Kai, reinforces the message about positive acceptance from parents, as they talk about how lucky they are to have this. However, the rest of the conversation mainly consists of discussing how awful it would be to have to wear dresses or have long hair, which illustrates how immature their world-view is. I mean no disrespect by this: I would not expect a more sophisticated understanding from a 10 year old and a 13 year old with delayed puberty, but it does help to illustrate just how little children know when they still have such a lack of experience of life and are not yet sexually mature.

One very important reason for making the documentary is that some people still refuse to accept transgender people exist and as a result, those who present as transgender, as Leo has done, often aren’t accepted and are instead bullied. Unfortunately, this bullying is not just from other children, but also from adults who haven’t read or don’t accept the many peer reviewed and published scientific studies about gender.

Actually the question here is not whether trans people exist, but whether trans *children* exist, and the jury is still out on this. Gender non-conforming children certainly exist, but there is by no means a consensus amongst professionals that ‘transing’ kids is a proportionate response to gender non-conformity. You say that Leo ‘presents’ as transgender, but this acts as a fait accompli on your part: Leo actually presents as a girl who feels like a boy, as large numbers of girls have always done, and it is the adults who  give this the label of trans, which then Leo takes on as his new identity. All labels carry a certain degree of restriction, whether it is ‘girl’, ‘boy’ or ‘trans’. Leo simply has a new box to be trapped in, and to have some legitimate concerns about the implications of this does not equal bullying. When you correlate bullying behaviour with ‘adults who haven’t read or don’t accept the many peer reviewed…scientific studies’ it is quite insulting to those of us who have read these studies extensively and have still considered it important to keep questioning the dogma. It suggests to me that you haven’t read, or don’t accept, the opinions of professionals who have expressed concern about the treatment of GNC children, of which there are a growing number.

Statistics repeatedly show that because of this lack of understanding and education, transgender children experience more bullying than other children and as a result are more likely to self-harm and take their own lives. The documentary was made and first transmitted during anti-bullying week in 2014, for this reason. We hope the documentary promotes understanding of people like Leo who present as transgender, and will discourage children and adults from denying their chosen identity and exhibiting other bullying behaviour towards them.

I would like to see the statistics that show this. The threat of suicide is one that is constantly used to guilt-trip parents who are not 100% on board with the trans narrative, but there is speculation as to the cause of self-harm and suicidal behaviour, rather than hard stats: the rate varies according to age and social status for example, and is linked to outstanding mental health issues. Bullying obviously does not help, but there is no evidence of a causal link, and it is certainly not the only factor as your comment suggests. The other misconception is that the way to minimise any suicidal tendency is to go down the transition route, whereas in fact the suicide rate does not fall after transition: in this sense there is no benefit to transitioning. The blame which is exhibited towards parents in the film, and in your response to my complaint, serves largely to silence any dissent from the accepted narrative, and the curtailing of open discussion, the results of which cannot be good for children’s needs in the long term.

The British Government accepts transgender people – hence it being possible to get a passport in a different gender to the one on your birth certificate.

The government will issue a passport in the opposite SEX (M or F) to the one you were born as, if you have a Gender Recognition Certificate. The confusion between sex and gender is not helpful here, but again, nobody is saying transgender people don’t exist.

Factual accuracy is fundamental to our programme making. In the documentary Dr. Polly Carmichael explains that when taken before or during puberty, hormone blockers pause the body from developing into a man or woman. This medication has been prescribed for 30 years to treat premature puberty in children as well as various health conditions in adults. Long-term medical studies show that when this medication is no longer taken, the body’s production of hormones continues as it would have done prior to the drug being administered.

The term ‘hormone blockers’ is misleading, as there is no drug developed specifically for this purpose: the term is used to encompass a range of drugs developed for adult health complaints and effectively used off-label for the purpose of delaying puberty. Aside from the list of side effects, there is no long-term study of the effects on children when used in this way. Professionals admit they have no idea about long-term outcomes. I am not impressed with the standard of ‘factual accuracy’ in this part of the programme.

For Leo, using hormone blockers prevents the severe anxiety he began to experience when his body started to change during puberty. His own GP, as well as the team at the Tavistock and his parents believe hormone blockers are the right medication for him. However, we explain in the documentary that hormone blockers are considered controversial and were only prescribed for Leo after long medical consultation with his parents as well as with him. Leo also makes clear this is not the route everyone who is transgender, or thinks they may be transgender, would take, but he and his family think it is right for him. Leo does not take cross-sex hormones and this medication is not mentioned in the programme.

Very little attention is paid to the difficult questions surrounding blockers: what IS said hardly dents the overall message of good news that Leo is getting what is ‘right’ for him.

The programme had to explain complicated scientific information to young viewers. The graphic device was used to demonstrate in a child friendly way, the peer approved and published scientific studies, which illustrate how gender differences can be seen in the brain.

The complicated nature of scientific evidence is no excuse to present misleading and discredited information. So-called ‘brain sex’ is no longer considered to be accurate: the idea that pink brains are for girls and blue ones are for boys is wrong, we all have human brains, which vary more within the sexes than between them. The most recent ‘peer reviewed and published scientific studies’ also show that brains are plastic and develop according to what is fed into them: in other words our brains change and grow with experience, so that it is more likely we ‘learn’ gender than we are born with an innate sense of it, whatever our biological sex. Furthermore, the notion that we can be ‘born in the wrong body’ is hotly contested, partly of course because this notion relies heavily on the belief in ‘brain sex’ to be possible. And yet in the film the phrase ‘born in the wrong body’ or a near equivalent is used fifteen times in under half an hour.

In response to some concerns that girls and women are negatively portrayed in this documentary – we believe Leo’s mum Hayley is a fantastic role model, and Dr Polly Carmichael is an excellent role model for girls too, as a senior specialist doctor. Leo and Kai’s conversation about not wanting to wear dresses is clearly presented as their personal view, which is directly linked to them being transgender boys.

My complaint made no mention of the issue of how women are portrayed, but what I did find myself wondering as the film progressed was ‘Where are all the men?’ Leo’s father is not around: Leo lives with his mum and sister, and no other fathers are mentioned. Apart from the people in the film who are trans, every other character is female. Without saying it was intentional, I couldn’t help feeling uneasy about this aspect of the programme. Women of course are meant to be the ones with empathy, understanding and the ability/desire to accommodate other people’s needs, and the impression given was that the message was aimed primarily at women. I had the uncomfortable feeling that women were being targeted as a kind of ‘soft touch’, more likely to swallow the inaccuracies than men who might be tougher and more inclined to challenge the assumptions made in the film. I hope I am wrong about this.

I Am Leo is part of the 6th series of My Life films which have covered many different topics, including ‘What’s a Girl?’ about gender perceptions, featuring tomboys and looking at how children are pushed into behaving in certain ways from a very early age. It was presented by a young lesbian. This documentary however, is about one boy’s journey and how he feels. It’s not about sexuality, but identity – an issue that many children relate to because of our universal need to feel accepted, however individual we are.

Of course I know that transgender is about identity, not sexuality, but this is part of the problem with the message of the film. When research shows that around 80% of GNC children will grow up to accept the sex they were born, and the majority of these will identify as gay or lesbian, there is a real prospect that we are erasing homosexual identities in favour of trans ones. This film gave no other option to GNC children other than that they are probably trans. You don’t have to be transphobic to know that a lesbian or gay outcome would be better for most children than a path which leads to a lifetime of drug dependency, surgery and sterility. But for parents watching this film with their children the message is clear: you can either be ‘brave’ and support your child’s journey towards transition, or you can be a ‘bigot’ who blocks their true path. Bigotry leads to unhappiness, self-harm and possibly suicide, whereas bravery leads to a happy smiley trans kid who gets to be on television. For children watching the programme this must look quite exciting.

The message portrayed in the programme could have been lifted straight from a trans propaganda website: it follows the standard narrative so closely. Children now have access to reddit, Tumblr and Youtube sites which promote transgender as a lifestyle choice, and parents seeking information online will be directed towards sites such as Mermaids and Gendered Intelligence which are overwhelmingly in support of a child’s trans identity. Parents and their children are getting the same message reinforced wherever they look. Meanwhile, contrary opinions are being silenced through a combination of name calling, emotional blackmail, no-platforming and even personal threats.

In response to this there are now sites growing up where worried parents can express their concerns anonymously, such is the fear of backlash from trans advocates. Twitter, Facebook, Mumsnet forums and blogs are increasingly home to dissent over the current orthodoxy, because there is a common need to find out information and express opinions without being accused of transphobia. New websites Fourth Wave Now in the US and  Transgender Trend in the UK have been set up by parents with the intent of gathering information free from dogma, and there is a growing number of blogs written by trans people themselves who have detransitioned and regret the process they went through. In the last few weeks a website has been set up in the UK called Youth Trans Critical Professionals, to provide a forum for those who are working with children in various professional disciplines and have misgivings about the ideology they are increasingly expected to adopt uncritically.

There is no doubt that some children experience such extreme hatred and discomfort with their sexed bodies that medical intervention may be necessary, and I do not minimise the suffering of these children. Leo may well be one of them, judging by the tenacity of the symptoms in his case, and I wish him nothing but the best. However, as a public service broadcaster, the BBC has a duty to all the other children, whose distress with their sex may not be as severe but who may be encouraged to believe that they are trans when they are not. The programme did not adequately express the fact that it is only a tiny minority of children who will be affected by body dysphoria to this degree, and in trying to stress how ‘normal’ Leo is, the impression ended up being that his story is far more common than it actually is.

Children are suggestible, which is why they are so easy to abuse. They naturally believe what adults tell them: they have no context or framework in which to test new facts which would help them to think critically about what they are being shown. ‘Born in the wrong body’ is an idea, not a fact, and it’s an idea which requires a suspension of disbelief. Our bodies are part of us, we are all born in bodies, our bodies are not ‘wrong’. There is plenty wrong with enforcing a certain set of behaviours on people *because* of the body they are born in: maybe the BBC could look at different ways to present the idea of challenging these beliefs, rather than encourage the idea that it is feasible to change sex. The Wibbly Pig Guide to Gender is a perfect example of one way to make the idea of gender easier for children to understand. The campaign group Let Toys be Toys does great work looking at how children are ‘gendered’ according to their sex by toy industry marketing. Presenting bad science is not necessarily the answer, however ‘child-friendly’ the graphics are.

There is no doubt that the intention to tackle bullying and prejudice towards the trans community comes from a good place, but it has resulted in the fact that ANY dissent from the preferred narrative is now seen as transphobic and a contribution to inequality. The BBC owes its listeners a balanced view which is not overly informed by a current lobby, particularly where children’s programmes are concerned. It has a duty of care towards its younger listeners (and their parents) to be aware of all the facts and to present them responsibly. Showing ‘I am Leo’ to an audience of 6 – 12 year olds, with no balancing point of view or counter-argument, is in my view a dereliction of that duty. I hope that in response to this the BBC will take the concerns of parents seriously, do more research and make sure that future programming is more balanced.

 

Toys 001