The infallibility of the oppressed: Story of one influential trans activist

by Overwhelmed

I recently came across this well-written article from a former social justice activist. It reveals how people with good intentions try to change the world for the better, but can end up doing just the opposite. Here are some quotes from the essay that I thought were particularly relevant:

 “I need to tell people what was wrong with the activism I was engaged in, and why I bailed out.

This particular brand of politics begins with good intentions and noble causes, but metastasizes into a nightmare. In general, the activists involved are the nicest, most conscientious people you could hope to know.”

“There is something dark and vaguely cultish about this particular brand of politics. I’ve thought a lot about what exactly that is. I’ve pinned down four core features that make it so disturbing: dogmatism, groupthink, a crusader mentality, and anti-intellectualism.”

“Perhaps the most deeply held tenet of a certain version of anti-oppressive politics – which is by no means the only version – is that members of an oppressed group are infallible in what they say about the oppression faced by that group. This tenet stems from the wise rule of thumb that marginalized groups must be allowed to speak for themselves. But it takes that rule of thumb to an unwieldy extreme.”

“Consider otherkin, people who believe they are literally animals or magical creatures and who use the concepts and language of anti-oppressive politics to talk about themselves. I have no problem drawing my own conclusions about the lived experience of otherkin. Nobody is literally a honeybee or a dragon. We have to assess claims about oppression based on more than just what people say about themselves. If I took the idea of the infallibility of the oppressed seriously, I would have to trust that dragons exist. That is why it’s such an unreliable guide. (I half-expect the response, ‘Check your human privilege!’)”

I believe that many trans activists have good intentions when it comes to gender-defying kids. I think they feel noble, that they are rescuing children from inevitable doom. Since these crusaders are transgender themselves, they label themselves experts and, along with their social justice allies, conclude they know best. When someone questions their cause, they easily discount any concerns as “transphobic.” They are so focused on doing good, they are blind to the negative consequences of their campaign.

One of these likely well-intentioned activists is Aidan Key, who appears to believe that the lives of transgender children are at stake if not affirmed as the opposite sex. Key seems particularly driven to educate the public, believing that stamping out ignorance will remove the reluctance of people to accommodate these kids.

aidan-4

Aidan Key

(Before I continue, I want you to be aware that I believe no one can actually change sex, just their outward appearance. But for this post I will be referring to Aidan Key using preferred pronouns as a courtesy. I am not out to brazenly offend anyone and would actually welcome constructive dialogue on this subject.)

Who is Aidan Key? He was born female (and originally named Bonnie) but started transitioning to male in his thirties. A self-proclaimed Gender Specialist, Key has a BA in Communication, Program Development, but he counts psychotherapy and mental health counseling among his skills.

Key CV

Key has worked tirelessly to bring awareness to the public that transgender children are a normal variation. He states that these kids don’t need to change their gender expressions or identities. Instead it is society that needs to change by accepting and affirming them as their authentic selves.

 The truth of the matter is that having a transgender child is an inconvenience to society because, instead of asking the child to change, we are asking society to change. This is a tall order.

Even though Key realizes that changing the world is a “tall order,” it hasn’t stopped him from trying. For over a decade, he has been involved in many different projects, attacking what he considers ignorance from all angles.

In 2005, Aidan and his identical twin sister Brenda were featured on an Oprah Winfrey Show titled “Transgendered Twins.”

 But early on, there was one major difference—Brenda was “the lady” and Bonnie was “the tomboy.” Bonnie hated wearing dresses. When playing house, she preferred to take the role of dad because she just didn’t feel like a girl. With puberty, the twins had trouble relating at all. “I got as boy crazy as I think you could get,” Brenda says. “I’d look at Bonnie and see her be so calm and levelheaded around these boys. [I’d think], ‘How does she do that?'”

During college Bonnie realized that she was a lesbian. Right away she came out to her twin sister. “She told me she had an encounter with a woman and kissed her,” Brenda says. “I got really upset about it because we’re twins. We’re supposed to be identical.”

For the next 15 years, Bonnie lived as a lesbian, married a woman and even adopted a daughter. But once again she began to feel that things were still not right. When she met two men who had transitioned from female to male, Bonnie felt a connection. She made the most difficult choice of her life—she decided to become a man.

(As has been talked about many times on 4thWaveNow, so many trans men formerly lived as  lesbians—but no one in the media ever really delves into why these women abandon their femaleness.)

Prior to this interview with Oprah, though, Key was already becoming well known in the transgender community of Seattle, Washington. In 1999, he founded the Gender Diversity Education and Support Services. And in 2001, he launched the first Gender Odyssey conference.

Gender Diversity,  a non-profit, has the goal of increasing awareness and understanding for gender diverse individuals of all ages. The organization facilitates many support groups for families with gender-variant children. And training sessions for workplaces, health providers and K-12 public and private schools are offered. The following is information about their school trainings.

Increased awareness and education regarding gender identity enables all children to achieve a more holistic and confident school experience. Our aim is to not only assist a school in the optimal inclusion of transgender students, but to highlight the ways that creating a more inclusive environment benefits all students.

Scheduling a training or consultation with Gender Diversity will help you…

  • Understand, adhere and fully implement a school’s anti-discrimination and inclusion policies
  • More fully incorporate the topic of gender within the school’s existing diversity programs and commitments
  • Support a transgender student through a gender transition
  • Increase the school community’s understanding of gender identity and expression as it relates to all students
  • Seek specific guidance relating to gender-segregated spaces such as bathrooms, locker rooms, sports and other team activities
  • Adequately and confidently answer questions from parents or other students
  • With one-on-one lesson planning or problem-solving with a teacher, staff or administrator
  • Develop age-appropriate classroom instruction on issues related to gender and gender diverse identities and expressions

An ideal educational package includes training for all school personnel, parent education and age-appropriate gender education for students.

Gender Odyssey  is an international conference geared towards transgender and gender non-conforming teens and adults. It includes “thought-provoking workshops, discussion groups, social events and entertainment.” Conference programming for 2016 has not yet been released, but the schedule for 2015 is still on their website. Last year’s keynote speakers were Kate Bornstein and Andrea Jenkins. Over the course of three days, there were numerous workshops with a wide range of topics including, but not limited to, the impact of trans identities on relationships, how to change identity documentation, increasing awareness of anti-discrimination legislation, hormones and surgeries.

Quite a few workshops focused on medical intervention. One workshop presenter was Dr. Tony Mangubat, who regular readers will remember from 4thWaveNow’s post on a 15 year old gender dysphoric girl who had her breasts surgically removed.

Mangubat workshop

Another surgery workshop is presented in part by Dr. Curtis Crane, a doctor with “penis-making skills that have won him a global following.” Crane’s burgeoning top surgery business was discussed in this 4thWaveNow post.Crane workshop

This show-and-tell workshop, with the euphemism “chest surgery” in its headline, makes me particularly sad.

chest surgery

The annual Gender Odyssey Family conference was started by Aidan Key in 2007. It is tailored for families with gender variant children and “provides real tools to support and encourage your child’s self-discovery in regard to their gender.” Below is a small selection of workshops from the 2015 lineup.

 Some presentations, like this one, concerned social complications that arise as a result of a transgender identity.

kid with crush
The next three workshops were presented all or in part by gender specialist Johanna Olson-Kennedy, the subject of a recent 4thWaveNow post highlighting Dr. Olson-Kennedy’s desire to lower the age for genital surgeries because trans kids are being left in “limbo” after being on puberty blockers–the theme of the third workshop below.

Olson non binary.pngolson puberty suppression

Olson limboThe Gender Odyssey Professional conference, the newest in the series of conferences, first launched in 2012. It is geared toward professionals, and participants can earn Continuing Education credits.

Leading experts will offer sessions discussing best practices for therapists, legal considerations related to transgender issues, current medical protocols, and educational considerations including model policies for gender variant students ages K-12. Continuing Education and Clock Hours available.

The 2016 conference includes this workshop by Asaf Orr, which sounds like it is designed for teachers and school officials. Orr was one of the lead authors of “Schools in Transition,” a set of transgender-inclusive guidelines for schools, which I wrote about here.Orr schools

And here’s a workshop that seems to focus on the inconvenience of pesky gatekeepers.

gatekeeping

Then there’s this talk by Mara Keisling, a trans woman and founding Executive Director of the National Center for Transgender Equality. Because the trans rights movement needs even more momentum.

Keisling

School indoctrination is a big focus of trans activists, and the conference features another workshop geared toward elementary school teachers. Johanna Eager is part of the Human Rights Campaign’s Welcoming Schools project.

welcoming schools

Aidan Key has accomplished a lot with these organizations, and his activism doesn’t even come close to stopping there. Besides juggling support groups, conducting trainings and putting on conferences, he has teamed up with Kristina Olson, an assistant professor of psychology at the University of Washington, on the TransYouth Project.  You may remember 4thWaveNow’s analysis of the first study generated by the TransYouth Project here.

The TransYouth Project aims to help sci­en­tists, edu­ca­tors, par­ents, and chil­dren bet­ter under­stand the vari­eties of human gen­der devel­op­ment. Based out of the Social Cognitive Development Lab at the University of Washington, we are cur­rently leading the first large-scale, national, lon­gi­tu­di­nal study of devel­op­ment  in gen­der non­con­form­ing, trans­gen­der, and gen­der vari­ant youth . In addition to our primary goal of supporting the first major study of transgender children in the U.S., we are also conducting research about the origins of anti-transgender bias, and have plans for outreach projects in collaboration with some of our partner organizations.

Another one of Key’s many talents is writing. He authored the transgender child chapter of Trans Bodies, Trans Selves and has written blog posts for the Huffington Post and Welcoming Schools.

In addition to the Oprah Winfrey Show, he has appeared on Larry King Live, National Public Radio, Inside Edition and Nightline.

And that’s not all. Due to his “expertise,” Key has designed and helped implement policies and procedures for the rights of transgender school children in grades K-12 with the Washington Office of Superintendent of Public Instruction (OSPI), the Washington Intercollegiate Activities Association, and Seattle Public Schools.

There is still more. He is also involved in film. In 2005, Key started the annual TransLations Film Festival, which shows movies featuring transgender personalities. And, more recently he has become the Primary Consultant for the upcoming documentary “Inside Out.”

Inside Out, a 90-minute documentary, takes us deep inside the world of transgender and gender non-conforming children. Ranging in age from pre-school through high school, these children feel they were born with bodies that do not match their innate gender identity. Each yearns to live an authentic life – and live Inside Out….

In a culture that is deeply invested in gender norms, the discovery that “boys will not always be boys” has frequently led to fearful responses and an attitude of intolerance. Indeed, many view transgender rights as the next civil rights front. The stakes are high: over 40% of transgender youth attempt suicide at least once before their 20th birthday. This forces many parents to ask themselves, “Would we rather have a live daughter or a dead son?”

You would think someone as steeped in transgender research and activism as Aidan Key would know that the 41% suicide attempt figure (repeated uncritically ad nauseum in the press) is based on a faulty interpretation of the survey by the Williams Institute. 40% of trans-identified people don’t actually “attempt suicide.” In fact, gender nonconforming people (not just those who ID as trans) have more suicidal thoughts and self-harming behavior over their lifetime, and it is not at all clear that “transition” is a solution for most. But scaring parents with the worst imaginable nightmare is standard practice for trans activists, and Key is obviously no exception in using this emotional blackmail technique to quash dissent.

Why did I just enumerate the prolific accomplishments of Aidan Key? Well, I intended to convey his great influence on countless numbers of children and adults, and point out that he is only one of many trans activists doing so. These people are the drivers of the international rise in transgender-identifying youth.

GIDS increase in trans kidsOf course many activists, like Aidan Key, think this increase in trans youth is a positive thing. Here is Key on a live chat at the Seattle Times:

Seattle times

I predict that unless something drastically changes, we will be seeing many more youth like ours caught up in this trend: Kids who have been educated that being transgender is a normal variation of the human condition; that it is possible to change sex; that society needs to accommodate them; and that transitioning will solve all of their problems. These messages are especially attractive to children who have difficulty navigating the turbulent adolescent years.

Initially, the goal of trans activists may have been to make it more acceptable for boys to wear dresses and play with dolls and girls to be on soccer teams and play with trucks (which I think is a noble aim), but the activism has gotten out of hand. Now there are many confused children that are convinced that altering their bodies is the only option for happiness. And it has literally become a nightmare for many families.

I wonder at what point, if any, trans activists and their allies will start to question their crusade. I hope for the sake of our children that more of them, like the social justice warrior quoted at the beginning of this piece, wake up to the harms that their campaign is causing.

And, I hope that more people will start challenging the premises of trans activism. We need more people to realize that members of an oppressed group are not infallible. Being transgender doesn’t mean they know best. They are human like everyone else and their views should be assessed as such–not as all-knowing experts.

 

Groundbreaking study: Kids mean what they say

The clinic advised that Rudy should start to make his own choices and, specifically, recommended that he was allowed to pick an item of clothing. ‘He chose a Disney princess nightie and skipped around the house in it, laughing,’ recalls Kathryn. Towards the end of Year 1 at school, Rudy started wearing girls’ clothes at home. ‘Of course, he chose to dress as a girl. I watched him at the disco, chatting to girls, wearing a pink glittery dress. That was a turning point.’ Back home, Rudy chose a girl’s school uniform for the new term and asked to be called Ruby.

–Parenting a transgender child: The day my four-year-old son told me he was a girl

 


When Ana was five years old, her mother Cathy organised a birthday party with one rather unusual condition: No girly presents, please. ‘I felt awful doing it, but I knew Ana would be devastated if anything pink or fluffy turned up.’

‘I knew when I was growing up,’ says Alfie now, ‘that I didn’t want to do the things that girls did. I was the sort of kid who ran around and got dirty. … People thought me being a tomboy was a phase, but I knew I wouldn’t change. I didn’t want to wear girl clothes. I hated the way they fitted to me. … I was told I would change and get interested in make-up, but I could never see it happening.’ The paediatrician then brought up the topic of gender transition. So in the car on the way home, I said to mum: ‘I think I’m transgender.’

–My child had a boy’s brain in a girl’s body


Trans activists and gender specialists don’t have much in the way of well controlled, peer-reviewed research to support their core assumption that “gender identity” is innate and immutable. The latest brain science shows very little difference between male and female brains. If this is the case, what is the scientific basis for believing there is an innate “gender identity,” baked in at birth, that would be worth turning young people into sterilized, permanent medical patients as adults?

Recently,  in the activist blogosphere, the transgender press, and on the WPATH Facebook page, there have been excited proclamations that data to prove “true identity” has emerged in the form of a paper published a few months ago in the journal Psychological Science. The study of 32 “transgender” children and the same number of non-trans controls, entitled “Gender Cognition in Transgender Children,” [abstract; full study here] was conducted by University of Washington assistant professor of psychology and director of its TransYouth Project  Kristina Olson (not to be confused with LA Children’s Hospital gender specialist Johanna Olson), along with transgender activist Aidan Key and Stony Brook University assistant professor of psychology Nicholas Eaton.

I’m going to start with the punch line and work backwards from there: The study demonstrates only that 32 socially transitioned children (that is, kids who are being “supported” by their families and “gender specialists” in being referred to by an opposite sex name, pronouns, and assumedly, though the authors don’t tell us, sporting opposite-sex-stereotyped clothing and hairstyles), really, truly do prefer the playmates, hairstyles, and clothing more typical of the opposite sex. Further, these “transgender” children really and truly do prefer and “identify with” the same playmates and physical attributes as the control group of “cisgender” children (yes, the study authors use that term) of the opposite sex.

Who were the “transgender children” recruited for the study?

To be included in the current study, children had to be 5 to 12 years old and live in all contexts as the gender expression “opposite” of their natal sex. These requirements resulted in the exclusion of 4 additional gender-nonconforming participants

And the control group?

Thirty-two control participants (20 female, 12 male; mean age = 9 years) … matched to the transgender participants were recruited through the first author’s research lab from a database of families interested in participating in developmental psychology research studies. They were required to have no significant history of gender nonconformity.

[Note: A group of “cisgender” siblings of the “transgender” children were also part of the study, but time and space in this blog do not allow a full analysis of their responses, which were similar to but not the same as the non-familial “cisgender” control group.]

What do the authors mean by “gender nonconforming” or “no significant history of gender nonconformity”? This is never defined, although we can guess that the “transgender” children dress, play, and appear differently from generally recognized gender stereotypes. But the control group? Do the authors mean these children entirely conformed to stereotypes—i.e., the girls all wore dresses, played with dolls, and had long hair, while the boys played with trucks, had short hair and wore rough-and-tumble   trousers?

Olson et al don’t tell us. And what about the four excluded “gender nonconforming” subjects, who apparently did not “live in all contexts” as “opposite” to their natal sex? Did these children occasionally indulge in sex-stereotyped play and behaviors, so they weren’t “trans” enough?

The study stimuli consisted of questions coupled with pictures of boys and girls, “matched for approximate age and attractiveness.” (And what does “attractiveness” mean? There is an even bigger question vis-à-vis these pictures, which I will get to in a few moments).

Olson and colleagues tested the children in 3 areas:

  • Gender preference (for play/friendship)
  • Object preference (associating a nonsense word with a picture of a boy or girl,  saying this was the name of a toy or food that the pictured child was using)
  • Gender identity (whether the child feels they are a boy or girl)

Each of these three variables were addressed via explicit (i.e., responses to direct questions)  and implicit measures.

What’s the difference between explicit and implicit measures? In psychology research, it has been posited that “implicit” measures

 may resist self-presentational forces that can mask personally or socially undesirable evaluative associations

In other words, “implicit” measures are meant to get at how someone really thinks and feels, whereas a reliance strictly on explicit “self reporting” might be tainted by what a subject thinks someone wants to hear (or other motives).

So, for the “gender preference” part of the Olson et al study, the explicit measure was to ask the child, “who would you rather be friends with?” when shown a pair of pictures of a boy and girl. The implicit measure was to show the children pictures of a boy and girl and ask to label them “good” or “bad.”  (The underlying premise here is that most pre-pubescent kids prefer their own “gender” as playmates).

For gender identity, the implicit measure consisted of asking the research subjects to label pictures of boys and girls as “me” or “not me.” The explicit corollary was

telling them that people have outsides (their physical body) and insides (their feelings, thoughts, and mind). They were told that some people feel like they are boys on the outside, and some feel like they are girls  on the outside, and that those people might feel the same way or different on the inside. They were told some people feel, for example, like a boy on the outside and inside, and that others feel like a boy on the outside but a girl on the inside. Further, they were told that some people feel like both or neither, or that their feelings change over time.

Children were asked whether, on the inside, they felt like a boy, a girl, neither, or both; whether their gender identity changed over time; or whether they did not know.

For “object preferences” the authors didn’t assess preference for actual objects, but only whether the research subjects chose the same preferences as pictured  boys or girls. They were

shown pairs of photographs of children and told that each one had a preferred toy or food. The names of these items were in fact novel words (e.g., “This is Amanda and she likes to play flerp. This is Andrew and he likes to play babber.”). Our interest here was whether children would use the gender of the person endorsing the item to inform their own preferences.

It’s difficult to see how this adds any more information than asking kids what sex playmates they prefer. If a child who “identifies” as a boy sees a picture of a boy playing “babber,” that child would likely prefer to do what the pictured boy is doing.

Be that as it may, what exactly did Olson et al set out to prove with these probes?

… if these children are not confused, delayed, or pretending, and in fact their expressed gender represents their true identity, we would expect them to respond   similarly to gender-matched control participants not only on self-report measures, but also on implicit ones.

We reasoned that if children are confused by the particular questions posed to them….[or] if they are merely self-reporting the “wrong” gender identity… or even if they are just oppositionally reacting to the question of their gender identity— …these children should show one of two patterns of confusion. First, they could be truly confused, as indicated by random responding and no systematic  response across measures and participants. Alternatively, they could implicitly identify as their natal sex (because they actually understand gender and are merely self reporting this “incorrect” gender).

And the results of the study? Surprise—the socially transitioned “transgender” children did indeed respond similarly to the “cisgender” control group.

But what does this actually demonstrate?

First, let’s consider the stimuli, consisting of pictures of age-matched boys and girls. What would distinguish a picture of a prepubescent boy from a picture of a prepubescent girl,  apart from clothing and hair styles? Not much.

Prior to puberty and the influence of estrogen or testosterone, school-aged kids look much the same. So unless the pictured boys and girls had identical haircuts and clothing, the 32 “transgender” children labeling a boy or girl picture as “me” or “not me” would have been identifying with a boy or girl based on stereotyped dress and appearance—haircuts, clothing, and the like. How could it be otherwise?

Put another way, if the pictures of the boys and girls did all have the same haircut and clothes, irrespective of biological sex, would the research subjects have been able to identify the sex of the child they identified with? Likely not.

Now, to the question of whether these kids were confused, delayed, or pretending, the authors did show that these kids are not likely to be knowingly pretending to be the opposite sex, nor are they “confused” i.e., they just don’t know what they think or feel. But why is this of much significance?  What would be the motivation for these children to “merely” self report the “incorrect” gender, or to “oppositionally react”? The fact that these kids are sincere in their convictions is reported by Olson et al as an important finding, but does anyone, including critics of pediatric transition like me, doubt that dysphoric or trans-identified kids really mean their gender nonconformity?

Further,  deliberately “pretending” in order to deceive is not the same as conflating fantasy or desire with objective reality–an aspect of normal childhood development which activists, gender specialists, and researchers like these seem never to have heard of. Just because a child  sincerely sees him or herself as the opposite sex does not make it true.  Child psychologists have known for decades that children’s firmly held beliefs do not always comport with reality.

 Research indicates that children begin to learn the difference between fantasy and reality between the ages of 3 and 5 (University of Texas, 2006).  However, in various contexts, situations, or individual circumstances, children may still have difficulty discerning the difference between fantasy and reality as old as age 8 or 9, and even through age 11 or 12. For some children this tendency may be stronger than with others.

The authors seem not to have thought of the most obvious conclusion: That these kids DO believe they are the opposite sex but that doesn’t make it so—especially since even the implicit measures the authors seem to think are so meaningful are nothing more than identification with gender-stereotyped activities and appearances which they happen to prefer.

By demonstrating that the “transgender” children aren’t just being obstinate or dishonest, Olson et al seem to believe that their study indicates (in their words) “true identity” in the children they have labeled “transgender.”

But what is “true identity?” Is it the elusive Holy Grail of inborn, unchangeable gender, something no one has come remotely close to proving, yet is the unquestioned assumption from which all the current medical and psychological and legal decisions about “transgender children” have flowed in the last few years?

That the authors even use the term “true identity,” which they themselves admit is unproven, is all we need to show the study is fatally tainted by confirmation bias.

 Confirmation bias, as the term is typically used in the psychological literature, connotes the seeking or interpreting of evidence in ways that are partial to existing beliefs, expectations, or a hypothesis in hand.

–Confirmation Bias: A Ubiquitous Phenomenon in Many Guises, by Raymond S. Nickerson,  Tufts University

It’s quite clear that the authors’ “hypothesis in hand” is that there is such a thing as “true identity.” Further, they interpret the evidence that “transgender” children feel as strongly about their identity and gender nonconformity as “cisgender” children do as somehow confirming this hypothesis. Even though they themselves in their Notes section  of the study assert:

  1. We avoid using common colloquial phrases such as “born as a boy” because they suggest that transgender identities are not innate (an unresolved scientific question) and are thus offensive to some individuals.

 On the one hand, because they don’t want to be “offensive” to “some individuals” (and I think we can guess who they are), Olson et al don’t want to “suggest” that gender isn’t innate (and in fact present their study as evidence that their “transgender” research subjects have a “true identity,”). But at the same time, the authors explicitly acknowledge that the question of “innate” gender identity is an “unresolved scientific question.”

But while being careful not to offend “some” people, they don’t have any trouble splattering the term “cisgender” throughout this article,  despite the fact that some other individuals find “cis,” well—offensive. Certainly Olson et al aren’t living in such a bubble that they are unaware that the label “cisgender” is repugnant to many of us who the transgender community apply it to.

And in point 2 in the Notes, we have a further indication that the authors’ work is riddled with confirmation bias:

2. We use the term “opposite” for clarity but acknowledge that gender is not binary.

They “acknowledge” that gender is not binary. But as with “innate  gender identity,” who has proven that “gender is not binary?”  No one. This jargon comes straight from the trans activist lexicon.

In peer-reviewed research, investigators always indicate the limitations and possible flaws in their study.  The weaknesses I’ve pointed out in this post are not even marginally addressed by the authors. What limitations do Olson et al concede?

 All of the participants tested here identified and lived life as one gender at the time of assessment, choosing names consistent with that gender and preferring those pronouns as well. Future studies along the spectrum of childhood transgender experiences will be needed to clarify how generalizable these findings are to children who have different degrees of identified gender expression or to those with different life experiences.

Apparently what’s next is seeing whether their study measures can also be used to prove the “true” identities of “gender fluid,” “genderqueer,” and “nonbinary” children. I wonder what exclusion criteria they’ll have in future studies? Hopefully they will be more precise in their definitions of what constitutes  gender (non)conformity in their next paper.

In their summary, Olson et al reiterate their key finding that these kids really mean it when they say they prefer the lifestyle of the opposite sex:

In summary, our findings refute the assumption that transgender children are simply confused by the questions at hand, delayed, pretending, or being oppositional. Instead, transgender children show responses that look largely indistinguishable from those of cisgender children, who match transgender children’s gender expression on both more- and less-controllable measures. Further, and addressing the broader concern about transgender individuals’ mere existence raised at the outset of this article,the data reported here should serve as evidence that transgender children do indeed exist and that their identity is a deeply held one.

“Do indeed exist.” Of course children who believe they are, or want to be, the opposite sex “exist.” And of course such children are going to exhibit preferences for the appearances and activities of the opposite sex, in a “deeply held” way. But it doesn’t follow that those children are somehow innately the opposite sex.

All Olson and colleagues have demonstrated is that some children really, really, really want to be the opposite sex; even to the point of saying they are the opposite sex. They want to look and dress like the opposite sex—a girl, for instance, might want a short haircut and to wear comfortable boys’ clothes. They like playing with children of the opposite sex. And they like doing things that the opposite sex likes to do. In other words, these kids are don’t conform to the stereotypes of their birth gender. But does it then follow that they should be groomed and conditioned to believe they are the opposite sex, leading them in the near future to puberty blockers and on to sterilization and surgeries?

If the stakes were not so incredibly high, a study like this could simply be filed away under “strongly held beliefs and desires of gender nonconforming children.” But given the fact that so many activists and gender specialists are in the business of promoting medical transition, this study should instead be filed under “confirmation bias rationalizes non-evidence-based medical experimentation on vulnerable children.” What Olson et al have not proven is innate gender identity. All they have shown is that these kids really mean it when they say they are or want to be the opposite sex.

This study, instead of being promoted as a rationale for pediatric transition, should carry no more weight than any of the thousands of media articles trumpeting the unsubstantiated yet continuously promoted idea that children who refuse to conform to gender stereotypes—yes, who really mean it when they say they want to look and play and dress like the opposite sex—are “transgender.” Like the ones quoted at the beginning of this article. Or the thousands of others that have been published in the last few years. Like this one:

Tom charges about in a Batman costume, brandishing a sword. …Tom loves dressing up. “Normally as a superhero,” Cassie [his mom] says.

“Batman and Superman,” Tom adds. “And Wolverine!” He also likes to play cowboys or policemen with his best friend, Charlie. “Sometimes we arrest people. Remember when we did it yesterday to the dog?” He grins. “He wasn’t putting the ball down.” He shows me his bedroom. There’s his treasured Playmobil pirate ship, his Marvel poster featuring Ironman, Captain America and the Hulk, and his pencil case shaped like a football boot.

When Cassie took three-year-old Tom to the barber for the first time, she wept. “That was the final thing. If I let him get his hair cut short, that was me accepting he is a boy.” The hairdresser was bemused. “I was crying and I had this little boy with me who had hair down to his arse. She asked him: ‘Has your mummy never let you get your hair cut?’ And he loved it, because she thought he was a boy with long hair.” After that, Tom never got mistaken for a girl, and became much happier.

Transgender children: ‘This is who he is – I have to respect that’