Alice Dreger's spectacularly appalling article published in an issue of a journal edited by a known transphobe has IMO shown her up to be exactly what she claims she is not; a transphobe. I hope I am wrong about this but there are so many things wrong with this article that it is as difficult to draw any different conclusion as it is to know where to start.
So I will start at the beginning. Although she claims she does not intend it to be analogous to trans people, she uses a story of a very young boy who, we are told, believed he was a railway locomotive, using this story to suggest that children who believe they are the other gender are engaging in similar games or childish make-believe. This is an appalling start to a truly vicious and deliberately misleading article about trans children. The idea that a child who claims he is an inanimate object is equivalent to one who claims he or she is a different gender of the same species is simply not comparing like with like. A person who is assigned a gender at birth that is different from that with which they identify is asserting their right of self-identification as a human being, not playing engaging in harmless childish play. A train is not a person, therefore a person who says they are a train is not to be taken seriously because an inanimate object does not have the capacity for self-determination or the ability to express an identity of any kind. A girl trapped in a boy's body, on the other hand, does have this ability. As such her allusion fails, it is one which has been employed over and over again by transphobes, and one I regularly have to deal with. The fact that it is being used by someone who claims not to be a transphobe is neither here nor there.
However Dreger's argument is based on many more false premises and untruths than that. The first of which being her reliance on evidence which supposedly shows that gender variant children most often grow up not to be trans adults.
“Most transgender activists do not want to hear that most children with gender dysphoria end up nontransgender; they want transgender to be understood as a biological, permanent, unchangeable, acceptable, natural variation.”
She provides us with a link to the evidence. Unfortunately this link only sends us to another paper she has written which asserts this but provides us with no links or references to any empirical research that provides evidence to back up her claim. Now we have all been guilty of referencing our own work, but when I do that I link it to something which supports the assertion I am trying to make with empirical evidence, rather than simply me asserting the same thing with no supporting evidence. Indeed, if Dreger were writing this as an academic paper rather than a piece of journalism for an editor claimed by many in the trans community to be trans community to be a transphobe, she would be guilty of an academic crime.
The problem for Dreger is that the evidence that the majority of trans children grow up to be non-trans is weak to put it mildly, it is highly contested, mostly carried out by individuals who have a pecuniary interest in exaggerating the results, and my own research has suggested that it is based on skewed and unreliable sampling. This research is largely carried out by psychiatrists belonging to what Ansara & Hegarty (2011) describe as an “invisible college”, a group who cite each other in order to make their own work appear more important that it really is. The problem for this research is that it is carried out on a sample that probably comprises less than 5% of trans children. This is because they only study what I have termed “apparent” trans children, and do not account for the other 95% who do not make themselves known to any adult as trans (I have called them “non-apparent” trans children). Further, the sampling is likely to be further distorted by some parents deciding not to take their trans child to a psychiatrist, or who take them to one which is not known or suspected to practice “reparative” therapy (ie psychological torture) on these children. It is also likely that any child who is becomes a victim of “reparative” therapy will pretend to be cured in order to get the shrink in question out of their lives. Some sociologists are currently following up former patients (“victims” would be a more accurate description) of these “psychologists” to find out if this is the case. I look forward to their report.
We do not have to look far to find empirical evidence that young trans people are active agents in concealing their gender identities from adults, Shannon Wyss’s (2004) careful and detailed research confirms this.
One of the most serious inferences from this article is that trans people are trying to prevent children who might otherwise grow up or identify as “genderqueer” or some other non-transsexual variant, from expressing gender variant natures. Of course no evidence is put forward by Dreger to support this contention. Unfortunately for Dreger, there is evidence to suggest that those who force genderqueer kids into making a gender binaried choice are not trans people, but cisgender people. Brill and Pepper’s (2008) wonderful book about transgender children describes what happened to Marlow/Marla. Marlow was a boy who liked to have a female appearance, including wearing dresses, who played with “girls’” toys and engaged in “girls’” activities. However he was still very clear about the fact that he was a boy and went to school calling himself Marlow and insisting that male pronouns be used about him. He soon found that he was subject to the most severe bullying, mostly exclusion bullying, by the other children, and suffered greatly. He subsequently agreed, at the suggestion of his teachers, to adopt a female name and be called “she”. He didn’t like this but went along with it and the bullying was greatly reduced. In Marlow’s case no trans person was forcing him into the gender binary, the cisgender children and teachers in his school were.
So Dreger has produced no evidence that trans people are forcing gender variant children into a transsexual gender binary position, yet I have produced evidence to demonstrate that cisgender people do. The experience of Marlow is far from unique, I have recently spoken to the mother of a trans child in the UK who had a very similar experience.
Dreger’s reference to the Samoan Fa’fa’fine is particularly worrying. Although these people are permitted in Samoan culture they are subject to serious restrictions on their roles within society, as are many other third gender individuals, so for her to advocate this as a cultural model in the West would effectively mean allowing genderqueer/non-binary people to exist but to greatly restrict the jobs they can do and the roles they can play in society including restrictions on their sexuality and marriage rights. In the West we have trans academics, teachers, lawyers, pilots, musicians, etc. In fact we have trans people of many different sexualities and in any number of different jobs, including, in Poland, a member of parliament.
The whole tone of Dreger’s piece seems to me to position any outcome which involves transsexual surgery as worse than any which does not. In reality an outcome which includes surgery is a very good outcome if you are a transsexual. Ask any transsexual and they will tell you that the path to obtaining the surgery they need is a long one and one filled with obstacles. To suggest, as she does, that this is an outcome which is being forced onto children against their will is simply to ignore reality.
It seems to me that on this point Dreger’s position is little different from that of Janice Raymond or Sheila Jeffries; two notorious “radical” feminist transphobes who have both advocated hate-crimes against transsexuals, whilst being less concerned about non-transsexual trans people. If this is the case Dreger appears to be advocating little more than a less unsubtle version of this “rad” fem hatred.
Her conclusion, to leave gender variant children alone and allow them to freely express their gender-variant nature is the correct one, however we should be clear about where the responsibility for pressure to conform to the gender binary is coming from, and it is not coming from any trans activists, it is coming from ordinary cisgender people.