Definitely not a lifestyle choice

The Observer’s architecture critic does a little swerve into medical critic in response to the Tavistock ruling:

To be transgender is not a lifestyle choice. It is not a fad or a craze. It is not easy, but requires courage and commitment. It is a part of who you are, like being gay, and, as such, denial of it can be annihilating. Denial of the medical treatments that can help trans people can also be devastating.

Well that’s a bold first paragraph. How does he know? How does he know that to be transgender is never a lifestyle choice? How can he tell? How can he reconcile that claim with the endlessly-repeated mantra “people are who they say they are”? How can he possibly know that’s true when the rules of the game are that simple assertion is all that’s required?

The rules of the game make it possible for people to choose it as a lifestyle, so how can he know that no people are doing exactly that?

How can he know, for instance, that no male people are exploiting the assertion-only criterion to enable them to compete against women in sport? What would be different about for instance Rachel McKinnon aka Veronica Ivy if he were doing it to win competitions rather than because it is “part of who he is”? How can anyone be confident that he’s not doing exactly that?

I offer these views as the father of a trans man, which has caused me to see and reflect on these issues more than I would otherwise have done.

And yet still not enough.

If you are a trans adolescent, you may find puberty unbearable, as your body changes in ways that you don’t want.

If you are a female adolescent, you may find puberty unbearable, as your body changes in ways that you don’t want. Girls have to deal with a lot as puberty gets going. Adolescent boys are all too likely to see adolescent girls as targets, for harassment, abuse, “flirtation” that’s actually more of a veil for sexual aggression, and outright assault. Puberty can be disconcerting for boys too but they do gain a lot of strength and muscle definition and voice resonance – a lot of markers of Power and Dominance – that girls don’t. Boys get a consolation prize and girls not so much.

Then he gives a rosy and incomplete picture of the joy of puberty blockers, then he minimizes the harm.

Blockers are largely reversible, though according to the NHS, some of the the side-effects are unknown. If you later decide that transition is not for you, your body will continue to develop the characteristics of your natal sex.

Good medical advice for an architecture critic.

The high court case was brought by Keira Bell, a woman who had believed herself to be a trans boy, and at the age of 16 was prescribed puberty blockers by the Tavistock clinic in London…

Wait wait wait what? She believed herself to be a trans boy? You mean she was wrong? How is that possible? If it’s not a lifestyle choice, how can it be possible to be wrong about it? If it’s a belief, how can you tell it’s not a lifestyle choice?

[T]he court paid minimal attention to the consequences for trans people of puberty unhindered by blockers. It thought it more important to protect transgender children from blockers, which are reversible, than from the effects of unwanted puberty, which in many ways are not. Doing nothing is not a neutral option and can be harmful, a point that the court did little to acknowledge.

But blockers are not reversible. They are stoppable, but not reversible.

It’s true, in a way, that either course is doing something, and neither is neutral – “in a way” because the whole idea of fiddling with one’s sex in order to attempt a simulacrum of the other one is relatively new and, I think, tragically futile. At any rate even if we agree that there is a fork in the road at puberty and children age 12 or so can decide which kind to have, it’s still not true that they’re equally ok or safe or likely to be the best thing for the customer’s next 60 or 70 years.

39 Responses to “Definitely not a lifestyle choice”