Friday, 13 September 2019

Mermaids, Transgender Trends and Seahorses

For what seems like a long time now I’ve been struggling. It’s not a debilitating struggle. And mostly I guess it’s an intellectual thing for me. The word struggling is, perhaps, an overstatement. Maybe tussling is a better word.
Although much of this is intellectual for me, these things can be a real-life all-in thing for others.

At times it’s almost like a sense of despair. Again, maybe an overstatement. Perhaps discouragement is a better fit.

Reading what some people say and of the things some people do.

Seeing how easy it can sometimes be for people resort to fighting with words or fists. How hard some people seem to find it to feel empathy or sympathy.

I’m not immune from this myself.

But mostly, given time, my preference is to work towards consensus – or at least respectful disagreement when consensus seems impossible.

The thoughts have often been triggered by stories that appear in the news. And comments that some people make about the stories.

Mostly the issues are LGBT related.

The intellectual tussling is typified by the kinds of things raised by Transgender Trend .

Transgender Trend is either:

a group of parents based in the UK who are concerned about the current trend to diagnose children as transgender, including the unprecedented number of teenage girls suddenly self-identifying as ‘trans’ (Rapid Onset Gender Dysphoria or ROGD). We are also concerned about legislation which places transgender rights above the right to safety for girls and young women in public toilets and changing rooms along with fairness for girls in sport.
Or is it an organisation that produces a document described by Stonewall as:

a deeply damaging document, packed with factually inaccurate content.
And is Mermaids an organisation that:
is passionate about supporting children, young people, and their families to achieve a happier life in the face of great adversity. We work to raise awareness about gender nonconformity in children and young people amongst professionals and the general public. We campaign for the recognition of gender dysphoria in young people and call for improvements in professional services.
Or is it an organisation that, according to Julian Vigo at Forbes, is involved in:
Pseudo-Scientific Hokum And The Experimentation On Children's Bodies
Is the Trans Health Manifesto making sensible demands in saying:
We demand hormones & blockers are made available over-the-counter and by free prescription upon request. We need free, universal access to safe hormones & blockers at any age, the opportunity to decide our own doses, and universally accessible information on the safety & efficacy of different regimens. We are already taking hormones in this way, so this demand is simply that the danger of doing so is effectively mitigated.
Or is David Wilson making any sense at all in saying:
A silly website I dip into reports this exchange (from Scotland):

([The reporter’s] daughter is seven years old.)
Me: “What do you want to be when you’re older?”
Daughter: “A pink cat!”
Me: “Anything else?”
Daughter: “A mermaid!”

I think that puts into perspective any reliance on a child’s view about gender.
The only way to begin to make any sense of this that I can see is to take each piece of news, each claim and counterclaim on its own merits.
So, I’ve decided to try doing things that way.
Every so often I’m going to open up Google News and try the search term Trans and see what comes up as the first news story. And see what I think of it.

So on 11 September 2019 it’s Seahorse's Trans Dad Criticises Fertility 'Misinformation' Leading To 'De Facto Sterilisation at HUFFPOST.
The article begins with:

Freddy McConnell suggests confusion around fertility options could be leading transgender people to make life-changing decisions they don't need to make.
Freddy has become fairly well known through the recent screening of the documentary “Seahorse: The Dad Who Gave Birth
There’s a review of the documentary at the Telegraph here.
At first, I started typing all this stuff down based simply on what the HUFFPOST article says.
But it wasn’t long before I stopped typing. I spent a while watching the documentary. It's described as:
Trans and pregnant: How one man gave birth to his own baby
Freddy decided to carry his own baby after wanting to start a family, but he faced a highly unusual challenge – he is a gay transgender man. He made the decision after years of soul searching, but nothing could prepare him for the reality of pregnancy.
The documentary raised a whole lot of other questions in my mind.

Now, having done that, here is my take on the HUFFPOST article – and then some thoughts on the documentary.

Freddy was told that the hormone treatment he receives would lead to infertility. This proved to be incorrect.

The question then is should medical practitioners tell the truth when giving people advice about treatment that they will receive?

And the answer to that is: Yes they should.

I don’t know the full details of who said what to Freddy. I hope that the medical practitioner(s) involved told the truth as best they knew it. If that’s the case, then it’s vital that the advice people are given is updated whenever new information becomes available.
I don’t know enough about the human body and the impact that hormonal treatment has upon it to know the whole truth on this. What is clear though, is that testosterone treatment doesn’t render all people that receive it infertile. So that ought to be made clear to a person.
People in medicine are always on a learning curve. Data on the impact of testosterone injections on people is still incomplete. Side-effects will vary from one person to another. So perhaps the advice offered by medicine will always be confusing and potentially conflicting. Nevertheless, it’s vital that advice that isn’t true is given to people.
Freddy is reported as saying:

By paying such little attention to trans people’s wishes to start families and have full lives, and not just the lives that they dictate through this narrow sense of what it is to transition, it is in fact de facto sterilisation
Whenever a trans person is told that their treatment will make it impossible to have children and that belief means that they don’t attempt to have children then I can see that it’s as if they had been sterilised.
However, in Freddy’s case this has, ultimately, proved to not be the case. And, perhaps in no small part thanks to the documentary, it is getting less likely that it will be the case for other people in the future.

And then there is the documentary itself.
This raises a whole lot of different issues.

In the review in the Telegraph (Seahorse: The Dad Who Gave Birth, review: an unflinchingly honest film that doesn't sugarcoat its subject), Sarah Hughes says:

A revealing scene with Esme’s friends [Esme is Freddy’s mother], many of whom had known Freddy since childhood and all of whom were keen to support him, raised many of those tensions – one woman attending the celebration pointed out that Freddy was only able to give birth because of his womb.
Her attempts to articulate that, while not intended to hurt, inflamed the situation to the point of causing Freddy to storm off.

Some viewers will have sighed at that point but there was the sense too that in focusing too much on such debates, on who is right and who wrong, we too easily lose our understanding of the personal stories at stake. For while friends and family might sit around and debate Freddy’s decisions, he himself was clear that his true self, the one that he felt comfortable in, was male and that his journey towards fatherhood was challenging precisely because of that.
And that, for me, is a really important point.
It’s easy to sit at a keyboard and type stuff and focus on what I think might be right or wrong. And to lose touch of the people involved.

The review ends with:

“Is it selfish?” Freddy asked about his decision. “I don’t think so. I think finally people can see who I am – it’s not about being more male making me more valid. It’s just that this is me.”
That simple message lay at the heart of his ultimately rather beautiful journey, a journey that celebrated not only Freddy’s stubborn desires but also the loving support of Esme, who tearfully admitted that she was “in awe of the bravery of my child”.
Emotional and honest to the point of bracing, Seahorse won’t have convinced everyone. But those who were willing to listen were well rewarded. “I had no idea, I was very naïve,” Freddy admitted holding his young son in his arms with a beaming smile. “I think everybody has the potential to feel this way.” That they do was the joy of Finlay’s sensitive, warm-hearted film.
Freddy’s words "It’s just that this is me" speak to me.
The story presented by the documentary does raise questions. Some of them I hadn’t thought about before. Some I’ve thought about a lot.
  • What are the relationships between biological sex, gender, masculinity and femininity?
  • Can a man give birth to a child and be the child’s father?
  • Can someone that is assigned female at birth become male?
  • If a trans woman decided to have a child using her own sperm would she be the child’s mother?
  • Should people refer to me as she, he or they?
  • Should my daughter call me mum or dad?
For some people their answers to these kinds of questions are worked out solely on the basis of:
  • did the person concerned have a penis or a vagina at the time that they were born?
Not so long ago (and sometimes in some places even now) questions like the following have been answered on the same basis – did the person concerned have a penis or a vagina at the time that they were born?

  • How much should a person get paid to do a job?
  • Should this person be allowed to speak in church?
  • Can the person be a Bishop?
  • Is this person allowed to vote in an election?
And yes, I know that they are different kinds of questions. But they illustrate that the significance of words can change over time.
Once upon a time in the country where I live it was correct to say: “A voter is a man”. But these days it isn’t.

I believe that things are changing. The vocabulary that we use isn’t always able to cope well with the daily realities that we face.

For now, I’ll ask just one more question and provide my own answer.

  • As Freddy’s child grows, is Freddy able to support child in the kinds of ways that a father supports his child?
And my answer:
  • I got the feeling that the answer to that question at least is yes.
I know ... a lot more could be said about this – including arguments about how I phrased that last question and answer.

But for now, I’m leaving it at that.

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