I was deeply saddened to read that the high court in England has just ruled to severely curtail, if not forbid, access to puberty blockers for young people under 18 (See the article in The Guardian). This applies to GIDS at the Tavistock Institute, the sole clinic in England working with transgender children. The ruling came as the result of legal action taken by a young woman who regretted having transitioned, a process that she hastened to point out began with her taking such blockers. What are puberty blockers and why are they vital to transgender young people?
Why would children need to take such hormones? Because they have an intense feeling of mismatch between the shape and form of their body, in particular in terms of sexual characteristics, and the gender they are convinced they are. These feelings are acerbated by social norms and repressive attitudes. The arrival of puberty marks the end of a grace period in which relative androgyny affords freedom to come closer to being the gender one aspires to. Puberty blockers prolong that time for a few years by staving off bodily changes that would force the person in a direction they are convinced is not theirs. It grants more time to explore the gender they aspire to. Without that extra time, the onset of puberty can be a source of immense anxiety if not despair for transgender children. Furthermore, should they subsequently decide to transition, some of the changes wrought by puberty are painful to rectify if not extremely difficult.
What right has an adult to deny the deep-felt conviction of young people that they are in the wrong body? The legal argument brought by the plaintiff to deny children’s right to decide hinges on the supposed inability of children to make informed decisions about vital questions. It relies on a social construct which we call ‘childhood’ that goes hand in hand with a disempowerment of the young that acts as a self-fulfilling prophecy. In other words, by treating young people as incapable and irresponsible you render them so. Childhood and the inherent restrictions on young people is not a god-given reality but a man-made concept that is not at all as self-evident as people believe.
The scientific argument put forward by those who oppose the use of hormone blockers is that there is insufficient evidence of the long-term impact of taking such products. So saying, detractors employ a well-oiled ‘scientific’ argument frequently used to defend vested interests, like sidelining long-standing folk-remedies in favour of dubious pharmaceutical products because the former lack the scientific ‘proof’ of their efficaciousness. It is interesting to note that no such argument is levelled against the COVID vaccines currently being rushed for approval. Who knows what the long-term effects might be? Clearly the principal of precaution is being used in a selective and biased way.
An additional argument used against puberty blockers is that they necessarily lead to the use of cross-sex hormones and subsequently to transition. As GIDS point out in their documentation, it would be misleading to consider the choice of gender as binary. There are multiple possibilities. Gender has many facets. So transitioning is far from the only choice for a transgender child and the use of puberty blockers does not necessarily lead to such an outcome.
Which brings us to the final point. Although it is deeply regrettable that the plaintiff found her transition to be a serious mistake and chose to transition back, that is no reason to extrapolate from her case and a hypothetical misjudgment in the handling of her transition to impose a blanket ban on puberty blockers which in themselves do not necessarily lead to transition. Such an act whether it be motivated by a misguided desire to protect like-souls or out of spite, inevitably condemns many others to unnecessary misery and despair.
The onslaught of puberty in the Boy & Girl Saga
The question of unwanted puberty and puberty blockers arises in my novels in a series entitled The Boy & Girl Saga. Peter, a twelve year-old who dresses as a girl, is confronted with the advent of puberty and the unwelcome changes it brings. Luck would have it that, at a time when puberty blockers were largely unknown, he gains access to experimental treatment and is able to push back the fatal date until villains force him to go without. He would have been plunged into despair had circumstances not obliged him to defend the interest of others far worse off than him… Here are a couple of extracts.
In Search of Lost Girls (extracts)
(…) Peter’s eyes smarted from the makeup. He’d forgotten to remove it the night before. Peering into the mirror, a wad of cotton wool grasped between his fingers, he was about to remove the makeup when he halted at the sight of a dull shadow across his upper lip. It looked like a dirty smudge but when he tried to rub it away, he was shocked to feel stubble. He was growing a moustache! He stared at himself in horror.(…)
(…) He closed the door and flung himself on his bed, burying his face in the pillow. He didn’t want to grow up and be a man. Most older boys in his school were ugly, coarse, ill-mannered brutes who stank of sweat. He despised them. Why couldn’t he remain soft and gentle? How could he dress as a girl and have a moustache? (…)
We Girls (an extract)
(…) If Peter did nothing, the boat would carry him off to England. And there, without the hormones, his voice would break and all those transformations that would mark him as a man would proceed unchecked and irreversible. (…)
The Boy & Girl Saga
Boy & Girl – Imagine Peter’s delight when he finds himself in the head of a girl, he who secretly dresses as a girl. Yet, despite his wild hopes, that girl is not him. She’s Kaitlin, the daughter of a mage in a beleaguered world. Peter has his own problems when a new girl at school threatens to reveal his girly ways. Becoming friends, Kate and Peter confront their problems together.
In Search of Lost Girls – In search of Kate, his lost soul-mate, Peter is beset by individuals hell-bent on stopping him dressing as a girl and besmirching the name of all those who befriend him. Meanwhile Kate has been dumped into a girls’ orphanage where, despite constant abuse and mistreatment, she emerges as a decisive figure in the rescue of her fellow orphans.
We Girls – Peter is beset by an existential choice, retain his androgynous ambiguity or say goodbye to his girlish self. Circumstances, however, force both him and Kate to take up other challenges. By straddling the line between child and adult, between carefree creativity and weighty responsibility, between play and work, they find imaginative ways to confront far-reaching problems on which adults persistently turn a blind eye.