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Paris Lees

Stop Media Lies About Transgender Kids

Trans kids are some of the most vulnerable people in society; I know because I was one. The inability of some in the media to understand and properly cover transgender issues is dangerous and demeaning for everyone involved.
May 22, 2014, 10:45am

Last weekend, the UK's Mail on Sunday, a publication not traditionally known for tasteful headlines, ran an especially rancid pile of shit on its cover: "NHS to give sex change drugs to nine-year-olds: Clinics accused of 'playing God' with treatment that stops puberty." You know what that means, don't you? That the UK's NHS (National Health Service) is definitely NOT giving nine-year-olds any "sex change drugs" and won't be any time soon.

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The Telegraph, a paper that revels in being openly hostile toward trans people, is now repeating the misleading headline. And what's with the "playing God" bullshit? As one parent of a trans child pointed out by email: "The Mail wouldn't be questioning the treatment of diabetic children or children with congenital hypothyroidism on the NHS, so what makes it OK to print this shit about children receiving another kind of endocrine treatment?"

I don't quite understand everything she's talking about, but you can't argue with an angry mother.

Papers pull stupid shit like this all the time; six of them recently admitted they got it wrong by making irrelevant references to a woman's transgender status in a story about her nearly dying after being attacked by a buck. A buck whose antler pierced her throat, broke her spine, and narrowly missed her spinal cord and a couple of major arteries.

As far as we know, the animal didn't attack her because she was transgender. Nevertheless, six national newspapers in England decided to print various details about Kate's history, including her former name and the obligatory "sex swap" headlines. Admittedly the Mail wasn't, in this instance, the worst offender, and quickly corrected its mistake. And they do run sympathetic—or, at least, neutral—articles sometimes. The point remains, though: The British media, as a whole, can be really, really shit when it comes to covering stories about transgender people.

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This article is going to contain a lot of "shits," because I give one. But does the media? I may be completely wrong, but the people arguing against so-called "sex change drugs" on behalf of vulnerable under-16s don't, as far as I'm aware, go out of their way to combat gender-based bullying in schools. If you're not doing anything to stop transgender kids from being beaten up—a.k.a., the most important issue here—then how the fuck are you planning to get away with starting a moralizing headline campaign about the choices they're allowed to make?

Trans kids are some of the most vulnerable people in society; I know because I was one. Tiny violin time. It was terrible: I got bullied at school for talking like a girl and bullied at home for "acting like a poof"; I hated going to school, and I hated going home. I've written about this before, so forgive me if I'm repeating myself, but so long as there are still kids going through what I went through—those who aren't protected at school and let down by parents confused by the shit they've read in the media—it's a message people need to hear.

Puberty blockers are not "sex change drugs." They pause puberty. They're completely reversible. The whole point of them is to allow the kids time to grow up and decide what they want to do. Seriously, they're like the opposite of "sex change drugs." They're "wait and see how you feel in a few years" drugs. They're caution drugs. In fact, why call them "drugs" at all? When doctors prescribe drugs for medical conditions, we generally just call them "medicine." So no drugs, no sex change, and no actual nine-year-olds on this trial. Don't let that get in the way of a juicy headline, though. Sex! Transgender children! The NHS spending money on stuff that's not cancer! Thank god they didn't find a way to connect all this to house prices, or the majority of Mail readers would be housebound indefinitely, glued to the floor by their own bodily secretions.

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Trans kids need family support and expert medical advice, not tabloid-induced fear and confusion. Of course, anyone with even so much as a cursory awareness of gender dysphoria or endocrinology would have known that the headline was misleading. So what's that—like, ten people? Common sense is what everyone else is an expert in, but you don't treat people's medical conditions with common sense (properly controlled medicines usually do the trick, though). The quicker this happens, the quicker trans kids can get on with their lives and the less crap they'll have to deal with.

I wish I'd had hormone blockers. My life got mega shitty for about five years while I had to go through an unwanted male puberty—which I've since spent another five trying to undo. I feel better now. More me. What's the point in messing around? Time waits for no man, but it will wait for you to grow into one if you don't take action when it's needed.

I was invited onto Radio 5 Live on Sunday night, and my gut instinct was not to take part if they expected me to debate with some old bigot. But I thought, No, better to express my disapproval on air than not have a voice. At first I thought they were going to have Victoria Gillick on. She's in the Mail on Sunday article, arguing against hormone blockers. She's not a doctor, a psychiatrist, or an endocrinologist (hormone expert), nor is she trans or does she—as far as we know—have any trans children. However, she's decided she doesn't agree with a strictly controlled program run by world experts in the field of gender diversity. Inviting her to give an opinion on this subject in the Mail on Sunday is like the Times inviting me to give my opinion on the medical efficacy of inhalers.

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Sadly, I guess Victoria wasn't around, so the producers "balanced" the debate by getting in "Family Rights Activist" Lynette Burrows, who last year argued that gay people shouldn't be allowed to raise children. Like Victoria, Lynette doesn't have any special medical knowledge or indeed any firsthand knowledge of transgender issues. Like Victoria, she was literally just some. Random. Woman. Just imagine this joker telling her pals, "Do tune in, I'm on the radio later discussing medical care for transgender children." Her qualifications for discussing this issue on live radio seem to be that she speaks English and has an opinion. This is who they brought in to provide an opposing view to Dr. Polly Carmichael, the highly educated, leading specialist in the field of gender-diverse children.

In many ways, Lynette was a gift. She couldn't have been more patronizing and offensive had she tried, dismissing gender dysphoria as a "fashion" that simply wasn't heard of years ago. I daresay it wasn't—in much the same way that homosexuality, dyslexia, and autism weren't heard of either, because no one wanted to talk about them. That doesn't mean these things didn't exist, just that people were really shitty at dealing with them. People with these misunderstood conditions suffered in silence; locked away in attics and told to pull themselves together (though I'm sure Victoria Gillick—who wrote a book on "traditional parenting"—thinks all that was a much better way of doing things).

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One of the reasons Lynette said she didn't agree with "sex change drugs for kids" is because she'd read the Mail on Sunday article, and the writer of that didn't seem to think they were a good idea. This would be the same Mail on Sunday article that quoted a Tory MP and an unnamed "public figure" who were also against "sex change drugs for kids." If you're going to argue against a medical treatment, shouldn't you try to at least build some sort of argument based upon actual science and experts and all that kind of shit that makes an article legitimate?

The Mail on Sunday is well within its rights to write something about a rare medical condition and invite MPs and random members of the public to argue against said treatment, but what they shouldn't be doing—according to the PCC's (Press Complaints Commission) guidelines on this issue—is misleading the fuck out of people: "The processes of gender transition—including hormone replacement therapy and surgical interventions—can be complex and difficult to explain, particularly if space is limited," the guidelines read. "Editors should be aware that shorthand references can create a misleading or inaccurate impression to the reader, which may give rise to a complaint."

"Sex change drugs" sounds like a misleading epithet to me.

I'm going to end by throwing down a gauntlet to these journalists: Find me one young adult who completed the blockers program and then went on to transition who has a single regret. Hormone blockers have been trialed in the Netherlands and Boston for well over a decade; many of the children who were chosen for the trials are now well into their 20s—like Jackie Green, for example. I know her mom through a group called Mermaids, which helps families with gender diverse children. These are the people you should be talking to if you want an opinion on hormone blockers, not Victoria Gillick or Lynette Burrows or some random Tory MP who all lack any real understanding of the issue.

"My son's devastated," emailed one mother of a trans boy who found out, yesterday, that her son has been rejected from the hormone blockers trial. "He's been coping with stealth and just hoping for some relief. He was so affected that he secretly took it out on himself and I spent last night cleaning his self-harm cuts and butterfly stitching the larger ones across his chest. He's a frightened little boy in the wrong body and nobody will help him. We're trying our best as parents to keep him together and safe, to help him become a healthy and happy adult, but now we have to go to another country for that."

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