Monthly Archives: January 2016

Gender in primary sex-education

I had an interesting conversation with my eldest’s school teacher yesterday. He’s in year 6, which means he’s in his final year of primary school. It is in this year that the school teaches its first sex-ed lesson in which the mechanics of baby-production are actually outlined.

Frankly, I do not envy the teacher.

I outlined my concern relating to the lesson with a hypothetical situation. The children she teaches will all (or at least nearly all) end up in bed with someone at some point in the relatively-distant future. It would be a real shame if that ex-student were to beat up the person they went to bed with simply because that person is transgender or intersex.

She told me that she hadn’t thought about that before. This doesn’t surprise me at all. To most people in our society, trans- and intersex people don’t really exist except as curiosities on the telly, or as clown figures in films. Sadly for those clown figures, they tend to be beaten up and murdered at an alarming rate. Being trans- or intersex is not about sex, but a great many people like sex, and trans- and intersex people are no different in this regard.

This Vice article makes for sobering reading, as do stories about trans folk being assaulted and murdered simply for walking down the street, using a train or enjoying sex. The article is a couple of years old now, but I am not sure that society has moved on very far in that time. I wanted to do my bit to encourage one small school in one corner of England to do its bit to reduce violence against trans- and interex people.

In related news, it is LGBT history month in February. The school knows that it is. I am waiting with bated breath to see what they do about it. I’ve set my hopes really low, of course. I’m not an idiot. It’s Holocaust Memorial Day tomorrow, too. They know about that, too. We’ll see.

For we are all people. Even those of us that others wish to under-value, ignore or pretend don’t even exist. We are all people.

The imposition of gender

Six years ago, yesterday, at some time after two in the morning, I was cradling the phone between ear and shoulder and watching a bloody, slimy, slippery new human emerge from my wife. It was just the two of us, in the living room of our little house. It was very cold outside, but we needed to have the front door open so that the ambulance crew could get in when they arrived. I can tell you this much, newborns slide, and ours damn near slid out of my hands. It all went swimmingly, and our youngest entered this world quietly and without much fuss.

It was shortly after this major life event that the excrement began to interact with the rotary ventilation device, and for reasons that none of us had predicted.

To cut a long story short, I didn’t do a post yesterday because it we were celebrating a birthday.

And on to the point of today’s post. In the last few days, I have happened across a couple of articles relating to on of this blog’s recurring themes, namely gender, what it means and what others do about yours.

Although I saw the article second, I will start with this one on HuffPost Parents. Given the headline “Why am I so sad about having a boy?”, I had dialled my hopes down to low as I began reading the article, “it’s a baby with a penis, not necessarily a boy, you haven’t had a chance to ask the child about eir gender yet”. I was hugely gratified when I got down to the bit where the author concedes that the ultrasound scan says nothing about the gender of the baby, and can only make a suggestion at the child’s sex (I have waxed lyrical on this subject before). The author then goes on to open their mind to the possibility that even a child with a penis might love ballet and having their hair braided or having long conversations in the coffee house.

Gender is all around us, and it seems that Western society is, very slowly, beginning to wake up to the fact that there are more than two genders in humans, and that ones gender is not always correlated with one’s genital arrangement.

I bristled every time I was asked what my baby “was”, whilst still in the womb, and it annoys me every time someone else rolls their eyes when the say that their own child is “a boy”, inviting me to infer all kinds of chaotic energy, mud and boistrousness from that simple expression. The fact remains that there is a vast range of expression even within the two traditional categories of “boy” and “girl” even before we start to consider intersex people and people whose gender simply doesn’t correlate to the apparent sex of their bodies.

Which brings us neatly on to the other article that interested me (found via Nonconforming Mom‘s excellent blog). I have heard (and used), many times the statistic that “80% of gender-nonconforming children grow up to be happy, healthy, cisgender adults”. It is a thing that gets thrown about in most conversations about transgender and gender-nonconforming children and is frequently used as a bat to bludgeon parents who have chosen to support and affirm their children’s right to self-identify. We are accused of forcing a child into whatever clothes they are wearing, or of setting them onto a path that will, inevitably, lead to medical intervention, surgery and other major, irreversible interventions. At age eight.

There are many things wrong with that argument, of course, the first being that supporting a gender-nonconforming child pre-puberty involves the radical irreversible steps of hair-styling and clothing. And, maybe, adjusting the pronouns and the name someone uses.

I once knew a guy called Rob, who had changed his legal name to Rob by deed poll. No particular controversy there. When a child changes their name, even when they don’t change their legal name, it is seen as a permanent step, and one that cannot be reversed. It is the first step down a path that will inevitably lead to a boy having his balls cut off.

Sorry for being blatant about it, but that is the though process that occurs in some people when they see a gender-nonconforming child, and that is a route that some people see is their duty to divert someone away from. What if the child is only going through a phase? What if the boy just likes dresses and pink and would grow up into a man who likes dresses and pink? Is that a reason to cut his balls off?

The problem I have with knee-jerk reactions like this is that they are based upon scant observation and a boat-load of speculation and assumption. The assumption that upsets me the most is the one where the irate outsider simply believes that you, the parent, have just sauntered into your decision based on personal whim without reference to the child and without considering the future. Oh, how easy it would be if that were the case. Today, I’m going to put my boy in a dress and send him out into the world, and I’ll call him “she” as well. Just because I want to.

So very far from the truth.

We, as parents, spend months and years worrying and researching and crying and deliberating before we decide to stop trying to protect society from our children and, instead, switch to trying to protect our children from society as they live out their lives in the identity that they, themselves, control.

One of the problems in the past has been the complete lack of scientific studies of gender-nonconforming and transgender children who have been allowed to live as they choose to. There have been a number of studies of children who have been forced to live an identity that others have imposed upon them, but none about letting the child guide their carers about their own identity. Until now.

The TransYouth project, based at the University of Washington is seeking to collect data from children who identify themselves as nonconforming or transgender and watch how they develop over the course of many years. Their research will provide critical information about how best to cope with children who transcend society’s gender norms, and will allow future generations of gender creative children and their parents to feel a lot more normal than we do just now.

Kristina Olson, director of the project has written a piece for Slate outlining their work and what they hope to achieve, and I sincerely wish them well.

Well, who’d have thought

I have read, on a number of occasions, that the most powerful way to reduce poverty and increase wealth in any given place is to educate women and give them control over their fertility.

The theory is that educated women concentrate their efforts on projects that benefit themselves, their children and their communities. They make useful things and do small, practical jobs that, across a whole community, make an enormous positive difference to the way people live. This cannot happen if every waking moment is taken with trying to care for endless babies forced upon them by societal expectations (often fuelled by Christian churches): they are tired and end up dependent upon others to find food, education and medical care for their always-growing families. It would seem reckless to us in the West to have another baby when we are struggling to feed the children we already have, so why do we encourage women in poor communities to bear and bear and bear?

It’s a good theory, anyway, but where is the evidence, and can the theory be tested in other parts of the world, parts that are not normally associated with the kind of grinding poverty we immediately envision when we think of “Africa”?

Let’s try Colorado.

Yes, that Colorado.

It turns out that a private fund has been paying for birth control methods for youngsters in Colorado, so they can show up at a clinic and walk away with effective contraception at little or no cost to themselves.


Except that the effect seems to have been a positive one. The abortion rate in teenagers has fallen by over 40%, as has the rate at which teenagers are giving birth. Astonishingly, a teenager without a baby to care for is much more likely to complete her education and to be much more economically mobile than one with no qualifications and no time to do a job because, let’s face it, looking after a baby takes time and energy.

Of course, the Republicans don’t much like this. They say that they don’t like abortion or teenage pregnancy but are not willing to spend money on a programme that seems to have slashed both of these. When the private funding runs out, Colorado teenagers could find themselves stuck once again.

An additional question that comes to the surface here is “is the Catholic church committed to reducing poverty?” If it is, if it truly believes what it preaches about poverty, it’s going to have to take a look at the other things it preaches to the poorest people on the planet.