This weekend, a number of newspapers reported that women’s minister Victoria Atkins, has expressed concern ‘about the rising number of teenagers undergoing gender reassignment treatment.’
She references the fact that she recently read an article in the paper about the large increase in the number of teenagers identifying as trans and urges us to ‘get down to the reasons why this is happening.’
Mrs Atkin’s concerns are understandable, when there is so much misinformation out there and so little focus on genuinely understanding gender in all its variation.
The truth is that gender is complex. What we need is education.
Everyone has the right to an opinion and when it comes to supporting younger people who may be struggling with their gender, I wholeheartedly agree, we need more and better understanding.
But I do not believe that comes from reading a newspaper article. It comes from meeting trans youth and experiencing their struggles first hand. We have too many opinions about trans people coming from those who have had no more interaction with a trans person than reading a salacious headline.
Healthcare for the trans and non binary community is evolving, albeit slowly. And with more and more information available, those who were previously unable to put a name to their dysphoria can now verbalise their feelings. That being the case, it is only logical that we will see an increase in people questioning their gender.
In the truly gender variant, the level of research usually undertaken before they even begin to share their feelings with anyone else is extensive. Should they not be afforded the same respect? Is it not fair to ask those who have an opinion to at least do a little research before commenting so categorically about their ‘concerns’?
What gender variant people need is understanding, access to professionals who can provide answers and guidance. Instead, we face stigma and doubt.
Watchful waiting is encouraged, spurious statistics of desistance rates and gender reassignment reversal surgery are thrown about as evidence that rushing to treatment could do harm. Any doctor seen to be going against this antiquated model in favour of a more informed and proactive approach is treated as a maverick.
There is only so much you can learn about trans people from a newspaper article or a text book. To truly understand what it is to be trans, people must stop assuming that they know what is best and start listening.
We need more politicians and healthcare professionals who want to learn. Who want to help. Who come to the support groups and listen to the very people who are suffering and adapt their approach accordingly, to give them the care they so desperately need.
But, while we have high profile people, who may have had minimal contact with a trans person claiming to know and understand what it is to be gender variant, better than a trans man or woman, our outcomes will remain poor.
Research into gender will not stop more and more children and young people coming out, research will not find a ‘cure’ but it will aid understanding and ultimately improve the situation for those members of society who do not conform to a binary notion of gender.