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How do we help 'trans kids'?

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Last week Channel 4 broadcast a documentary called “Trans Kids: It’s Time to Talk.” It is a compassionate but critical exploration of how we should treat children who are suffering with gender dysphoria. The presenter interviews several trans people about their experiences and comments on her own experiences of childhood. She is very concerned about offering irreversible treatment to kids who may change their minds. Tim Dieppe discusses what she found.

A personal interest in the subject

The programme is presented by psychotherapist and author Stella O’Malley, who as a child wanted to be a boy. She says she was convinced that she was a boy and strongly defended her identity as a boy to those around her. Now, however, she is happily married with children and says she loves being a mother. She is very concerned that if she had been growing up today, rather in the 1980s, she would have identified as transgender and been given hormone blockers and perhaps surgery.

Puberty was the solution

What changed for Stella? It was puberty. As she explains:

“I went into puberty and it was awful. But ultimately it was the solution for me. I felt nature is so much bigger. I think I’m strong. Nature is bigger than me.”

Part of the problem here is that some children are being offered puberty-suppressant drugs, ruling out the possibility that the natural process of puberty will be the solution for them. Furthermore, no one is certain of the long-term risks of hormone therapy.

Studies show that on average 80% of children who suffer from gender dysphoria do not continue to identify as transgender into adulthood. For many of them, as for Stella, it is puberty that helps them to change their minds and accept their biological identity.

A sharp rise in referrals

The number of children being referred to the NHS’s gender-service unit has risen 2,500% over the last nine years. This has to be related to social conditioning rather than any medical effect.

Today, the option is being given to kids – do you want to change gender? This option wasn’t available in the 1980s. But it’s not an option that should be offered to children. Children are still discovering who they are. They should be taught to accept their bodies, not to reject them. For many of them, gender dysphoria will be naturally resolved during puberty, as it was for Stella.

Stella discusses the role of trans vloggers who post regular video blogs online about their experiences. She meets one of them. They post videos about transitioning and how they are feeling, presenting transition as the answer to all their problems. This can sound very attractive to an impressionable and disturbed teenager many of whom are influenced by these vlogs.

Stella meets Matt who is just 13 years-old and who has already started taking puberty blockers with parents’ consent. She interviews the parents who are concerned about the possibility of a change of mind in the future when the blame could land on them. Stella comments to the viewers:   

“If Matt chooses to go down that road it will be a lifetime of medication, and that doesn’t look like liberation at all.”

Trans regret

Stella also meets James Caspian, a psychotherapist who specialises in working with transgender people. He discusses how in the US therapy is conducted using an affirmation mode where the therapist will only affirm the feelings of the client. In some cases, this means that people can acquire hormones after only one or two half-hour visits. There could be a referral for a double mastectomy six months later. He says that UK policies are moving towards this affirmation model and he is concerned that some young people might be making permanent decisions about their body that they will later regret.

James comments that virtually 100% of children put on puberty blockers go on to transition. So in practice, giving someone puberty blockers leads to irreversible processes. There are people who feel damaged by what they have been through. Although the principle of all therapy and medical practice is to do no harm, people are saying they have been harmed.

Research blocked

More research is required into what is happening here. James wants to research detransitioners and proposed a research project to Bath Spa University on the subject. The university refused his research project stating that it might attract criticism on social media. They said it is better not to offend people. James was shocked. Academic freedom requires that research should be conducted whether or not it may challenge prevailing ideas. Yet the university is preventing such research from taking place.

James is pursuing a legal case against Bath Spa University. He sees his case as suppression of free speech and academic freedom. This is a conversation that is being supressed – a conversation that needs to be had.

Preventing discussion

There are legitimate questions to ask about people who regret transitioning. There are also questions about the long-term effects of hormone therapy. Trans activists, however, don’t want these discussions to take place. They don’t like the fact that someone like Stella, who used to identify as a boy and now enjoys being a woman, exists. Nor do they like the fact that there are many who regret transition.

It is telling that none of the groups that are pro-transition wanted to engage with this documentary.


Stella attended a meeting about the issue with various campaigners who are concerned about self-identification of gender. Trans activists picketed the venue and refused to take part. These protestors believe that even to debate this issue is transphobic. Protestors forced their way into the meeting wearing masks and shouting slogans. Police had to be called to protect the people there and to force the protestors back outside.

Stella comments:

“Anger inside the venue, anger outside the venue, nobody listening to each other.”

Interestingly, one of the protesters filmed in the documentary has since expressed regret at her tactics. She admits she intended to break into the event and set off a smoke bomb. She now thinks it is better to engage in the discussion than to try to silence dissenting views. She now says:

“It’s immoral for me and immoral for the transgender community to act as if we have the right to control speech. Not only is it ultimately impossible in free societies, it sends the wrong message: we want to control you.”

I hope that trans activists will listen to these sentiments and see the wisdom in them.

What about kids who change their minds?

Towards the end of the programme, Stella is drawing her conclusions:

 “In spite of all the people I’ve met, I’m still so uncomfortable with the idea of kids taking drugs that can cause permanent changes to their bodies. I am just haunted by the thought that there are kids out there like I was. Kids who change their minds.”

Stella’s last meeting is with Kale who decided to transition to a boy when she was 15. She took testosterone, and after years on drugs had a double mastectomy at the age of 23. Later she decided to detransition and now identifies as a woman. She says she grew as a person through it all, and that she doesn’t regret it.

Stella comments:

“She had options that I didn’t have, but she has the scars to prove it.”


Schools are leading the way

Since the documentary aired, more examples of what is happening in schools have been reported in the media. The Times reported that one school has 40 pupils who do not identify as their birth gender and another 36 who are gender fluid, not consistently identifying with their birth gender. In another case, it is reported that a school allowed a child to transition when she was just over 16 and it was between six months and a year before the parents knew about it. They found out at a parents’ evening that the school was calling her ‘him’. Scenarios like this will only increase with guidance issued to schools in Scotland that parents should not be told if their child wishes to change gender.


‘They are being led’

The programme concludes with Stella commenting on what she has seen and experienced. She is emotional and with tears in her eyes she asks:

“What if they’ve got this wrong?”

She is asked why does that make you unhappy?

“Because I think they are lost, and I think they are being led.”

Time to stop

Channel 4 is to be commended for broadcasting this documentary which is an important contribution to the debate. Voices such as Stella’s need to be heard. We are rushing in to affirm children as transgender without thinking about the long-term consequences. It is time schools and medical practitioners decided to stop harming children in this way.



Channel 4: Trans Kids: It’s Time to Talk.

Christian Concern: MPs debate self-identification for the first time.

James Caspian Crown Funding: Free Speech Matters.

Transgender Trend: Do children change their minds?

Guardian: I regret my tactics at a trans rights protest. Here’s why.

The Times: Trans groups under fire for huge rise in child referrals.

The Times: One parent’s story: the school was already calling her ‘him’.

The Times: Activists challenge ‘transgender ideology’ sweeping Scottish schools.

Transgender Trend: “They Look Normal” – The Case For Puberty Blockers.