Potentially damaging to children’s mental health

Government and heads of schools differ over the “What To Do about students who say they are trans” problem.

School leaders have described advice from the attorney general, Suella Braverman, to “take a much firmer line” with pupils who identify as transgender as “unhelpful” and potentially damaging to children’s mental health.

In an interview last week, Braverman said schools in England do not have to accommodate pupils who want to change gender and are under no legal obligation to address them by a new pronoun, or let them wear a different uniform.

They shouldn’t have to or be under a legal obligation to, it seems to me. Schools aren’t required to play along with all students’ fantasies, after all, so why is this one fantasy singled out for Careful Handling? Especially when the basic job of schools is to educate, and that requires not lying.

Headteachers, however, who are increasingly having to navigate their way through these issues, fear that not listening to young people “would risk damaging mental health” at a time when pupils have already suffered during the pandemic.

Maybe it would, but here’s the thing: maybe so would “listening to young people” in the sense of agreeing that they are the other sex. Maybe both are risky. Maybe both are risky but one is more risky than the other and it’s not clear which one. Maybe the listening and agreeing approach is more risky over time – a palliative now but the source of disaster in two or five or ten years. It’s really not the case that humoring the belief system is obviously and clearly and reliably the safer option.

The attorney general told the Times that under the law, under-18s cannot legally change their gender, so schools are entitled to treat all children by the gender of their birth. She also said some teachers were effectively encouraging gender dysphoria by taking an “unquestioning” attitude.

This prompted criticism from Caroline Derbyshire, the executive head at Saffron Walden county high school, leader of the Saffron academy trust and chair of the Headteachers’ Roundtable – a non-party political headteachers’ group operating as a thinktank.

She said: “No good can come of any young person being forced to adopt a gender they feel miserable with. It certainly won’t improve their learning.”

How about letting the young persons dress (and cut their hair) however they like, and just set aside all the My Gender Is stuff until later. (It’s hard to know what “adopt a gender” even means. A girl isn’t “adopting a gender” if teachers continue to call her “her.”

“Schools do all kinds of things to safeguard the welfare of young people that they are not ‘bound’ to do by law,” she went on. “I am a believer in rules and following them, but I think that not listening to young people and their parents on this quite particular and personal matter would risk damaging mental health.”

But what if agreeing to young people’s fanciful and socially-induced ideas about their Magic Gender would also risk damaging their mental health? Which, if you think about it, seems pretty damn likely.

Some schools have already adapted their uniform codes to remove distinctions between boys’ and girls’ schoolwear in an effort to accommodate transgender students. Dysphoric or transgender pupils at Brighton College, a private day and boarding school that takes pupils from reception to sixth form, can choose between wearing a traditional blazer, tie and trousers, or skirt and bolero jacket.

That. Do that. Relax about the clothes, and then stop thinking about them. Don’t draw wild conclusions about teenagers being the other sex because they don’t like the clothes they’re made to wear. In fact why can’t they wear trousers and a bolero jacket? Why can’t they wear trousers and a turtleneck? Why make them wear ties for god’s sake? They’re not working in office towers. Loosen up on the clothes, and leave “gender” for much later, when it’s someone else’s problem.

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