Written by Janet Albrechtsen
The transgender cause is pitched as the civil rights movement of the 21st century. It is no such thing. No legitimate civil rights movement would emasculate the rights of women or show scant regard for the welfare of children or disregard the wellbeing of the most vulnerable, people suffering confusion and underlying traumas.
Nor would it ignore the growing number of adults who regret undergoing gender-reassignment surgery. And there is nothing “civil” or “right” about a political movement that silences dissenters and punishes those who try to bring nuance to a complicated story about sex and gender.
Forget dystopian fiction. The real-world trajectory of transgender activism deserves scrutiny. That’s why James Caspian has had his name splashed across British newspapers. His story is a common one about the convergence of political correctness, the disproportionate power of a minority political movement and a faint-hearted university.
Caspian, a registered psychotherapist, has worked for a decade with hundreds of transgender and transsexual patients and supported many through gender transition. In 2014 he enrolled at Bath Spa University to undertake research into what he was hearing from within his profession: more and more people seeking surgery to reverse their gender-reassignment surgery.
It’s true that this is not for the faint-hearted. When men undergo gender-reassignment surgery, their penis and testicles are removed and a vagina is medically constructed. Reversing this surgery is equally awful.
After a long application process that involved altering his research parameters and resubmitting his proposal, the university ethics committee rejected Caspian’s application in November last year. The committee’s report stated the research was “politically incorrect” and “the posting of unpleasant material on blogs or social media may be detrimental to the reputation of the university”. The ethics committee advised him to do a “less ethically complex piece of research”.
The university’s position shows how political correctness has become the coward’s way out. It stops us considering difficult issues, the ones that require the most deliberation. It makes us dumber. And in this case it will end up harming vulnerable people. After all, Caspian’s research idea wasn’t plucked from thin air.
In 2014 he spoke with Miroslav Djordjevic, a leading genital reconstructive surgeon working in Serbia and New York, who mentioned he had done seven reverse gender-reassignment surgeries. All were transgender women wanting to restore their male genitalia. Djordjevic said someone needed to research this new phenomenon. Soon after, Caspian started doing preliminary work for his planned research and, over the phone from Hastings in East Sussex, he told Inquirer he was shocked by what he found.
“I found that, particularly in the US, there are increasing numbers of very young women who decided they were trans, had taken testosterone, some had breasts removed and then realised, typically in their early 20s if not before, that it was a mistake. This is a hugely under-researched field,” he says.
People who had reversed their gender-reassignment surgeries contacted Caspian but were too traumatised to speak publicly about it. Caspian recalls being contacted by a spokeswoman for a group of women who said “quite a lot of us have taken testosterone, had breasts removed and have gone back to living as women. But we don’t all reverse our surgery, which would mean breast implants. So we just live with the scars.”
Caspian’s determination to research this area also grew out of the changing profile of his own patients. “I certainly noticed that much younger people were coming in, and many more were natal females wanting to transition to men.” This matches Djordjevic’s experience. The surgeon told London’s The Telegraph newspaper this month that in the past 20 years the average age of his patients had more than halved, from 45 to 21. That means very young adults are having gender-reassignment surgery. With a push to lower the age limit for surgery to below 18, Djordjevic told The Telegraph: “I’m afraid of what will happen five to 10 years later with this person.”
Caspian is gravely concerned that transgender activism is altering the standard of care, removing the requirements for counselling to make access to treatment easier. “The World Professional Association for Transgender Health, which drew up the guidelines, has become much more activist-oriented. Previously it had been more psychiatric-oriented.”
He points to the growth of gender clinics and how many operate on an affirmation basis. “So the idea is that if someone tells you they have a new gender identity, you accept that. You must not question it, and that’s being written into law and policy. If you can’t question this, if you can only affirm, then you don’t explore.” Caspian’s experience is that people seeking gender-transition treatment are varied and complex, and many have serious underlying issues that are not explored. “My concern is for safe clinical practice and to do no harm.”
Once the legitimate pursuit of transgender rights became a broader political movement, everyone from Facebook with its 58 gender choices to political parties of all stripes have jumped on board. Caspian says Momentum, the grassroots group behind British Labour Party leader Jeremy Corbyn, is “very pro-trans and they won’t know the first thing about who walks into a gender clinic and why”.
Last week the British government proposed that the term “pregnant woman” should not be used in a UN treaty because “it may exclude transgender people who have given birth”. Needless to say, plenty of women have a problem with their biology being erased by transgender politics. And proposed changes to Britain’s Gender Recognition Act, again under the watch of conservative Prime Minister Theresa May, will make gender self-certifiable. That means if you say you’re a woman then legally you are. And you don’t need a doctor’s diagnosis.
Caspian told Inquirer “already some women are noticing men going into women’s change rooms, claiming they are women when there is nothing female about them. Women end up getting changed in a broom cupboard. The Gender Recognition Act cements this stuff.
Last month, when some women organised to meet at a London community centre to discuss these changes, a small group of angry trans activists found out and told the venue they would disrupt the meeting. The community centre cancelled the event. Women then gathered at Hyde Park’s Speakers Corner to agree a new venue. Janice Turner, a journalist at The Times, was there. She wrote that the activists “rang every conceivable venue within a mile radius to promise mayhem”.
Turner saw Maria, a 60-year-old woman “in specs and sensible shoes” who was taking photographs, get smacked in the face by a trans activist after another activist smashed her camera. As police arrived, Turner asked a young activist if she was OK with men smacking women. “It’s not a guy, you’re a piece of shit, and I’m happy they hit her” was her reply.
Trans politics has become a textbook case of trying to silence dissent, with bogus claims that violence is justified. And the most innocent victims include children who are encouraged to go down a path of gender reassignment with puberty blockers, chemicals and, when they are older, gender-reassignment surgery. Doctors who work in the field report a spike in the number of these children in the past three years.
Caspian says it’s a one-size-fits-all affirmation ideology, a case of: “Great, you’re trans, let’s get you on the pathway and if your parents object, then they are transphobic. And anyone who has any concerns is transphobic.”
In the US, research is being done into something called rapid-onset gender dysphoria. Caspian says rapid onset involves “somebody who has not displayed the more typical long pattern of feeling they are the other gender. Suddenly, and often after intensive internet exposure, they develop gender dysphoria; dysphoria meaning unhappiness. They are invariably young, minors, under 18s and young adults.”
Doctors tell us that patients of gender clinics are six times likelier to be on the autistic spectrum and vulnerable to being drawn into a social movement where trans is considered a place where they can belong. Increasingly it’s girls who hate themselves for being female, hating their bodies. Many of them have been raped and sexually abused and gender transition is a means to escape from the conflict they feel being female. This trauma is not the same as someone who, from a very young age, feels they are essentially male.
As Philadelphia-based clinical social worker Lisa Marchiano has written, we are told that “gender is between the ears, not the legs”. That’s true. It’s also true that there is much more going on between the ears than gender identity.
And today there is much confusion between gender identity and gender roles. There have always been children who don’t fit gender roles and who don’t want to conform to them.
Last year British actor Rupert Everett gave himself as a reason not to medicate children with hormone therapy. He spent his childhood wanting to be a girl, often decked out in dresses, but said: “Thank god the world of now wasn’t then because I’d be on hormones and I’d be a woman. After I was 15, I never wanted to be a woman again.”
We need to be able to discuss this serious business of gender transition by gathering research and listening to clinicians. But, as Caspian says, too many clinicians are afraid of speaking up. “One clinician told me she felt like a heretic, another said that ‘I didn’t think we were allowed to talk about this de-transitioning’. They are afraid for their careers.”
While Caspian waits for Bath Spa University to conclude its investigation, he is considering legal action, claiming a breach of his right to freedom of expression. It’s not easy fighting a Goliath, so he is raising funds through crowdjustice.com.
These are high stakes for the most vulnerable people, especially those wrongly drawn into gender-reassignment surgery, which is why Caspian doesn’t mince his words. “I think we are going to look back on this in 20 or 30 years and say: what on earth were we doing?”
Written by Janet Albechtsen