Here’s What’s Missing From The Moral Panic Over Trans Kids
An unpublished law reform submission by the Australian Psychological Society has caused no small amount of moral panic in conservative media this week.
According to reports, the submission argues transgender people under the age of 16 should be able to undergo gender-affirming surgeries without the permission of a parent or guardian, that competent doctors should be able to assess a young person’s ability to make these decisions, and that pre-surgery counselling is often “an unnecessary burden”.
Of course, the reporting of this unpublished submission, on the face of it, is a blatant attempt to generate further moral panic in the ongoing war against trans people in conservative media, and this recommendation by the APS is unlikely to have a huge impact on how the Family Court engages with transgender minors.
That being said, there are elements of the APS findings that are worth discussing, and that will undoubtedly be overshadowed by the furore over a supposed removal of parents’ control over their children’s health and healthcare.
The argument against children aged under 16 being allowed to make decisions about, as some put it, “irreversible transgender surgery”, is fairly simple: that children are not able to make informed decisions about their bodies without their parents’ involvement, because their brains are still developing and they might be wrong.
Leaving aside the huge amounts of anecdotal and statistical evidence about the strength of conviction in trans children and adolescents from as early as three years old, there is a clear bias towards one particular ‘worst case scenario’: “but what if you’re wrong and you can’t change back?'
This appears to be society's number one fear for trans children, and not“but what if you’re right, and making you wait causes immense trauma and emotional anguish?”
For transgender people who transition as adults, there is often a feeling of “playing catch up” to our cisgender peers -- that transitioning is in some way making up for lost time, the years we spent either knowing or figuring out who we were, whilst also watching our bodies develop into something we couldn’t relate to or feel comfortable in. For decades this was a trans person’s only option, as hormonal and surgical interventions were (and are) still developing.
But today’s young trans people have come into a world in which there are more knowns than unknowns about the so-called ‘trans experience’, and it stands to reason that this should mean that those young people don’t have to endure the same feelings of unmoored powerlessness that prior generations have.
If we have this information now, and if we have these forms of medical interventions that have been proven to improve quality of life in transgender patients, then is it not the responsibility of our healthcare and court systems to act based on what will improve the well-being of a young trans person, rather than on whether or not their parents approve of or believe in their child’s identity?
Studies on the number of people who transition and later regret or reverse the decision are few and far between, and usually of highly disputed quality -- in truth, we have no clear indication as to how often people, especially young people, regret transitioning, as this has only been the focus of any serious research for a few decades.
And of course, the focus of these studies on the potential negative outcomes of transition do little more than highlight society’s ongoing aversion to trans people -- the amount of discussion about the negative outcomes far outweighs discussion of the much better documented positive outcomes of transition processes in young people.
I would argue that the negative impact on a trans young person who knows they identify as a gender other than the one they were assigned at birth and watching their body go through unwanted changes and feeling increasingly powerless to curtail their dysphoria, is at least as serious, if not moreso, than the potential negative impacts of a young person regretting their transition later on.
Harm reduction around trans youth needs to encompass both these risks rather than focusing solely on the latter and making trans people go through extensive bureaucracy and invasive questioning just in case it turns out they’re not as trans as they thought they were.
I obviously cannot speak to the trauma of coming to regret your transition, but I imagine it is something like watching your life slip out of your control, being thrown bare into a world that doesn’t understand what you’re going through, being unable to recognise yourself and feeling powerless to do anything about it -- the exact experience that is going through puberty under the crushing weight of gender dysphoria.
If we don’t want our trans children to experience that regret, then we should equally want to protect them from the pain of avoidable dysphoria. “But what if you’re wrong and you can’t change back?” is certainly a serious question to contend with for young trans people (and, I guarantee, a question we all ask ourselves before anyone else asks it of us), but that concern cannot supersede the danger of allowing a child in distress to languish in that lost, lonely place, while a solution sits just outside their grasp.
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