Tuesday, 20 April 2010

Volcanic Dust - The Dangers to us all.

The subject matter of this bog is normally to deal with matters of transgender politics and the core deceit at the heart of the Conservative Party and the dangers of Tory governments. However today I am going to break with tradition because of the serious situation which has arisen from the volcano in Iceland which has produced a cloud of volcanic dust now hanging over northern Europe. Apologies to my usual readers, normal service will be resumed as soon as possible.

Warnings of the dangers of the volcanic dust cloud have so far been limited, at least in the case of the media, to the flying ban and the obvious dangers of engine damage, which has been documented by the RAF in particular. However, what goes up must come down and as the particles descend to ground level little consideration seems to be given to the actual health risks, other than some vague warning from the medical profession about people with respiratory problems.

However, communicating with a relative in Japan who grew up in an area prone to regular volcanic eruptions suggests that health problems are not going to be limited to asthmatics and the like and will affect us all. Indeed this is something which we all need to be aware of, particularly children.

The danger is to our eyes.

Microscopic particles of volcanic dust in the atmosphere after a volcanic eruption are usually very hard pieces of volcanic rock with hard edges and sharp sides. These get into our eyes throughout the day. In areas such as Kagoshima on the southern Japanese island of Kyushu where volcanoes are common, the locals know of the dangers...

When you get these microscopic particles in your eyes through the course of the day, the natural reaction is to rub your eyes, to relieve the feeling of hard dryness. This is however the worst possible thing you can do. This will result in the surface of your eyes becoming scratched, and the under-surface of your eyelids also. This obviously represents the potential to seriously damage your sight.

The solution? Simple; rinse your eyes out gently with water, but do not rub. It is also advisable to wear sunglasses as much as possible while outside, the big women's-style sunglasses are best, ones which provide real protection for your whole eye. Men's sunglasses are better than nothing but rather pathetic in comparison with women's ones.

However the people most at risk are once again, children. They generally do not wear sunglasses and it is very difficult to stop them from rubbing their eyes. Parents need to protect them with sunglasses which properly cover their eyes and teachers need to be aware of this and stop kids from subbing their eyes. Schools should ideally organise mass eyewashing sessions at the end of any period when children are outside, especially after lunch or games/PE sessions when children are likely to have been outside for an hour or so.

There are other things which the inhabitants of areas such as Kagoshima take care over, which people need to be advised about, but are not so important, like taking great care when cleaning specs/sunglasses and to rinse your car thoroughly with water before trying to clean it. but these all pale into insignificance when compared with protecting our children's eyes.

I am giving this post a Creative Commons (cc) licence which means that it may be reproduced without ammendment and with attribution (ie let them know who originally wrote it) as often as anyone likes as long as it is not for commercial, profit-making purposes. as soon as that happens normal rules of copyright apply.

Natacha Kennedy 20 April 2010

Tuesday, 13 April 2010

Natacha's submission to the APA about GID in children and the DSM-V

This is thoroughly unacceptable as a diagnosis category. As a researcher who is specialising in transgender children, and who has many years experience of teaching transgender children, I am totally opposed to this. Pathologizing transgender children and young adults will only make their conditions worse. Transgender children are simply presenting themselves in a natural way, which happens not to fit with the gender norms of society as a whole. Retaining GID for children, as for adults, risks perpetuating the traumas which these children face from social exclusion and bullying at school and home. The arguments for retaining GID in children include references to the fact that they suffer mentally as a result of social exclusion. However the APA risks perpetuating this exclusion and mental trauma by retaining this diagnosis. Withdrawing it will send a powerful signal to society that these children should be accepted for who they are.

There is no evidence (Minter 1999, Gottschalk 2005)that any psychiatric treatments work in changing either the gender identities or sexual orientation of transgender children. Current good practice in primary schools is to accept these children for who they are and allow them to express themselves in whatever way they choose. Schools have started to protect children from transphobic bullying and removing GID in children would encourage more schools to do so.

The evidence (Matzner 2001, Ghasemi 1999) is that the only way to help transgender children feel comfortable and untraumatised is to change the immediate and general social environment to one in which they are more or less accepted. In other words this is a phenomenon which is outside the remit of psychiatry, with the exception of the signal that the APA should send to society that being a transgender child is not a problem and should not be treated as a mental illness.

There will no doubt be plenty of work for child psychiatrists in dealing with the effects of social exclusion and bullying of transgender children, however to maintain GID in children as a mental disorder means that the APA leaves itself open to the charge that it is deliberately making transgender children traumatised by the very fact that it retains this classification. The only course of action which the APA can ethically take on this issue, is to support the insight of Thomas & Thomas (1928) that “If men [and women] define situations as real, they are real in their consequences.” and not to stand in the way of those who wish to change the definition of the existing binary gender system as the only way of perceiving gender. To do anything else seems to me to be a serious breach of your professional responsibility, in a the widest sense, to transgender children. To retain this classification will mean that the APA will no longer be the solution to these children's problems, but will have become part of the problem.

Given the chequered history of the DSM and some diagnoses in the past which, in retrospect can be seen to be quite clearly based on the prejudice and bias of some psychiatrists (eg Rekers 1992), the APA risks substantially losing credibility if it fails to remove this diagnosis.


Ghasemi, Z (1999) A Transsexual in Teheran. In Boenke, M (ed) Trans Forming Families: Real Stories about Transgender Loved ones. Walter Trook. California pp21-25

Gottschalk, L (2005) Response to Zucker Commentary on Gottschalk’s (2003) ‘Same-sex Sexuaity and Childhood Gender Non-conformity: A Spurious Connection. Journal of Gender Studies, 14.2 153-158

Matzner, A (2001) O Au No Keia: Voices from Hawaii’s Mahu and Transgender Communities. Xlibris. Philadelphia

Minter, S (1999) Diagnosis and Treatment of Gender Identity Disorder in Children. In Rottnek, M (ed) (1999) Sissies and Tomboys: Gender Nonconformity and Homosexual Childhood. New York University Press. New York

Rekers, G (1982a) Growing up Straight: What every family should know about homosexuality. Inadequate Sex Role Differentiation in Childhood: The Family and Gender Identity Disorders. Journal of Family and Culture. 2(7): 8-37

Thomas, W & Thomas, D (1928) The Child in America. Alfred A Knopf. New York.

Sunday, 11 April 2010

Trans Children - Challenging the Myths

This post is a summary of findings from my recent research into the lives of transgender children which came from a survey of trans people carried out in October 2009. The results of this have challenged some of the myths about transgender people, in particular the age at which gender variance is realised by transgender people.



- The mean average age at which trans people realise they are trans is 7.9 years. The modal average is 5 years.

- Around 80% of trans people knew they were trans before leaving primary school. (this contrasts with around 2% of gay, lesbian and bisexual people).

- Less than 4% of participants came to the realisation that they were trans after the age of 18.

- Although the average age of realisation is 7.9 years, the average age at which trans people learned any words about being trans, was 15.5 years. In other words, on average trans people know there is something different about their gender identity for seven and a half years before they learn any vocabulary about it.

- There appears to be a great deal of shared experience of childhood for trans people, especially MTFs. Initially they blame "God" for getting it wrong, and pray that they will wake up as a girl. Then they realise how different they are from other kids, than they realise how important it is to conceal this. This concealment often results in feeling guilty and isolated. Indeed, because trans kids do not have any vocabulary about it, one of the most common reactions is to feel that they are the only one, that they are a freak. Trans children then most often suppress their gender identity until they are well into adulthood. The result of this is usually low self-esteem leading to underperformance in school and in early adulthood. In some cases attempts at suicide and self-harm result from this.

As a result of this study I identified two types of transgender children; "apparent" and "non-apparent". and it is particularly important to distinguish between the two.

Apparent = children whose parents or other adults, including teachers, know to be transgender.

Non-apparent = children that no-one else knows to be transgender

It seems that there are probably only 60-70 new apparent transgender children in the UK every year. The other 99%+ are non-apparent. This is hugely important for policymakers and educationalists, because so far the only guidance for schools to deal with trans children only refers to apparent trans children. There is nothing for non-apparent trans children. Yet it is arguable that these children need more support.

- Only around 30% of trans children tell anyone they are trans. This occurs mostly only in late teens. Those told tend to be a sister or a, possibly, gay friend. Telling parents in particular seems to be a mostly negative experience.

- 55% of trans kids are bullied by other kids in primary school. 64% in secondary school.

- around 20% of trans children were bullied by teachers or other school staff in primary and secondary schools.

- 7% of trans kids were bullied by other children’s parents in primary school, 6% in secondary school.

- There were no instances of bullying of trans children dealt with effectively by any school.

If anyone is interested, I will be expanding on this in a bit more detail when I present my research to colleagues and anyone else interested

on the Top Floor of the Educational Studies Building
at Goldsmiths College, New Cross, London.
on Wed 19th May at 4.00pm. Everyone welcome.
Trains/overground; New Cross or New Cross Gate.

I will also be giving a short summary at the Transgender Community Conference at the Central School of Speech and Drama on Friday 16th July.