Pi summarises UCLU Debating Society’s public debate in honour of Transgender Awareness Week
Last Monday, 14th of November, UCLU Debating Society hosted a public debate on the motion ‘This House Believes that gender transition treatment should be available to under-16s without parental consent’, in honour of Transgender Awareness Week.
For children and young adults who experience gender identity issues from an early age, starting to develop the secondary sex characteristics associated with their assigned gender can turn puberty, that usually happens before the age of sixteen, into an extremely harrowing ordeal. This in part contributes to the very high rates of mental health issues, self-harm, and suicide amongst transgender youth.
First to speak in proposition of the motion is Emily Brothers. Emily is the first openly transgender Labour party candidate to run for a seat in Westminster, a former head of policy at the Equality and Human Rights Commission and a former President of the National Federation of the Blind. She begins by paying tribute to the amazing gender identity organisations that work tirelessly to fight for transgender rights, such as the charity ‘Mermaids’ that this debate helped raise money for.
Emily goes on to explain that parental consent is a key issue here, because when parents are opposed to their children transitioning it usually has less to do with age and more to do with the parents being opposed to transgenderism. When parents are opposed to their child not identifying with their given gender, children are forced to hold on to a prescribed part of their identity rather than being allowed to become who they truly are. This leads these children to significant despair and contributes to the mental health problems so many of these young people end up facing.
She argues that transgender treatments for under-16’s should be treated on a case by case basis because all people mature at different rates, both mentally and physically. Also, many think that these treatments are irreversible, but many of them actually aren’t. Many under-16’s definitely have the capacity to decide for themselves and shouldn’t have to resort to law courts to fight for the right to become who they are. There is much more harm than good in denying reversible treatments to children that ask for them, she argues.
If you are going to sacrifice being able to have children, being certain is very important
First to speak in opposition is Professor Gary Butler. Dr Butler is a consultant in paediatric and adolescent medicine at University College Hospital who specialises in gender identity problems in children and adolescents. Butler bases his case in opposition largely on the idea that transitioning in any way can be extremely challenging and a young child cannot be allowed to do so without support. In addition, there are very few other situations in which someone under the age of 16 is allowed to make such significant decisions on their own.
He also argues that the dilemma posed by having a child with gender dysphoria can spark conflicts within families. Avoiding familial conflict is of upmost importance for the general wellbeing of any child, he implies. He adds that it actually isn’t so easy to reverse one’s medical gender transition. An audience member asks, why? The reply is that there are a lot less resources for such procedures and the loss of fertility that comes with many first rounds of treatment is irreversible. If you are going to sacrifice being able to have children, being certain is very important.
Third to the floor and second to speak in proposition is Natasha Kennedy. Kennedy is an academic, a journalist and transgender human rights campaigner. She has also been transgender since she was very young. Natasha says she is currently conducting research on cisgenderism (the term cisgender refers to people whose personal gender identity corresponds to the the gender they were assigned at birth) and says that we live in a culture that wants to erase transgender and non-binary people. She believes that the idea that gender is binary and can be prescribed is a myth, and that the concept of there being only two genders is nothing more than society forcing an ideal upon us.
children that are being denied help are choosing to end their own lives rather than live in what feels like a physical cage
She goes on to say that many people see starting treatments to alter one’s gender as the beginning of a conveyer belt that inevitably leads to surgery. However, she argues, there exists another conveyer belt. The one that leads trans children denied any support and treatment to find it increasingly hard to battle against the identity thrust upon them at birth, that isn’t their own. The prevalence of self-harm among transgender youth is enormous, children that are being denied help are choosing to end their own lives rather than live in what feels like a physical cage. Overall, she emphasises that there is a horrendous lack of societal understanding when it comes to gender issues. Forcing someone to be one gender or the other demonstrates people’s inherent lack of awareness of the multitude of gender identities that one can associate with.
Last to speak in opposition is Johnny Allain-Labon. Johnny is a UCL student studying physics and is campaigns officer for the UCLU LGBT+ Society. Johnny opens by affirming the general consensus held by both sides within this debate: society’s understanding of gender is quite poor and most see gender as strictly binary. Where are the non-binary role models?
When it comes to children, parents are always best placed to determine whether their children should undergo gender transition treatments, because they are closest to their children, argues Johnny. The issue is that not everyone is certain of their gender identity, and children are probably the least certain. This means that simply allowing children to make their own decisions, even if they are convinced it is what they want at the time, can lead to the child regretting their decision later on. Because of this, sometimes waiting and taking things slow is truly the best approach. Being certain is extremely important, and as a child it can be hard to be certain about anything. Although this is not to say that none are. Therefore, more appropriate and well thought out checks and balances need to be put into place to help these children make these choices.
if a child understands what they want and what that entails, parents should be put completely out of the picture
Following the guest speakers, audience members are invited to give their own short floor speeches. One audience member argues that really the best option is for the state to implement extensive measures to help children with gender identity issues. This because while some children have understanding and supportive parents, others do not. These less fortunate children cannot be forgotten and left to struggle. The state must be there for them and if a child understands what they want and what that entails, parents should be put completely out of the picture.
Another audience member tells of her own experiences with transitioning and of how treatment was denied to her for many years due to her young age. This meant that her body was changing in a way she didn’t want it to and didn’t identify with, and she was powerless to stop it. This obviously became an extremely distressing situation for her as she was being denied treatments that could easily have helped her.
Overall, the consensus of the debate was that denying gender transition treatments to a child under the age of sixteen, when they are certain it is what they want, results in more harm than good. When a vote was taken at the end of the debate, most people voted in proposition of the motion, and many voted in abstention. Not a single person voted in opposition.
If you would like to support this cause, please consider donating to Mermaids, a charity that works to offer support to children and families affected by gender identity issues – http://www.mermaidsuk.org.uk/
This article includes summaries of arguments presented during a debate. The opinions presented do not always represent the personal views of the speakers. Most often they do, but this is not always the case.
UCLU Debating Society holds public debates open to anyone every Monday. To find out more about the society and the debates each week, please visit their website at http://www.debating.org/public-debates or join the Facebook group at https://www.facebook.com/groups/ucludebating
Featured image credit: Wikimedia