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Review of Transgender Children and Young People: Born in Your Own Body

November 12, 2018Heather Brunskell-Evans

Journal of Analytical Psychology, 2018, 63, 4, 536–545

Book Review : BRUNSKELL-EVANS, H. & MOORE, M. (Eds). Transgender Children and Young People: Born in Your Own Body. Newcastle upon Tyne: Cambridge Scholars Publishing, 2018. Pp. 224. Hbk. £61.99. By James Caspian.

Over the many years of my work with patients and clinicians about transgender, ‘trans’ has moved from referring to a little known phenomenon affecting a very small number of people (largely transsexuals who underwent gender transition via medical treatment) to include anyone who is gender non-conforming. In  the process transgender has become central to the idea of identity politics, social justice theory, and an issue capable of splitting a  political  party.  For forty years in the UK a few clinics, public and  private,  operated  with  a clientele the majority of whom were men in middle age who wished to transition medically to live as women. In 2004 the Gender  Recognition  Act gave people who had transitioned socially the right to change their birth certificates, and the Equality Act 2010 made discrimination against them illegal.

To understand how this little known minority group went from relative obscurity to becoming, by 2017, a major and controversial subject within the media and politics is beyond the remit of this review. However, to appreciate the relevance of this book and to understand the extremely hostile reactions to it from some quarters, it is necessary to place it in the context of ‘trans’ becoming a focal subject for the media and politics. In addition, over the last few years the clinical profile of people presenting at gender clinics has undergone a significant change, becoming much younger, and greater numbers of young women; as well as many new gender identities emerging, such as ‘genderqueer’ and ‘non-binary’. ‘Trans’ as a social and political movement had arrived. Transgenderism and transsexualism are in fact under- researched fields where two camps – one favouring theories of gender as innate and neuro-biological, the other psychological and/or social- constructionist – have offered various theories as to why someone would seek gender reassignment. However, most research predates mass use of the internet and is inconclusive.

This book provides a critical view of the idea that gender identity is purely neuro-biological and/or innate, and discusses in particular the phenomenon of gender transition amongst children. The writers posit that while sex is biological, gender roles – and hence identity – are socially or psychologically

constructed, and that the current practice of uncritically supporting childhood gender transition is in fact unwise, dangerous and abusive. Alternative views are expressed to the idea of gender identity as an inherent and unchangeable fact, and they feel that transgenderism in children is a relatively new occurrence that is being co-created by adults. Holding and expressing this view has been enough to attract vicious attacks on social media and media censure, and in the case of one contributor, suspension from a post in a political party. This alone highlights the importance of this book as, if reasoned consideration and discussion of the important issues around children identifying as ‘trans’ are suppressed, and the splitting and projection which currently characterises the subject are not confronted, then ethical practice is not possible.

The editors of this collection of essays put forward their concerns about the rapid rise in the number of children being identified as transgender. (The UK’s Tavistock and Portman Gender Identity Development Service for children and young people had an increase from fewer than 100 referrals in 2009-10 to over 2000 in 2016–17.) They make the point that children who in the past might have simply been gender non-conforming are now more likely to be labelled as transgendered, and they challenge the idea that a child with a different gender presentation or identity to their birth sex is intrinsically ‘trans’ and needing to undergo social and medical gender transition.

There are eleven chapters written by a wide range of contributors, from academics and Jungian analysts to the parent of a trans-identifying teenager, a detransitioner and a transsexual person. US Jungian analyst Lisa Marchiano brings an analytical perspective, seeing young people’s identification with ‘trans’ and other new gender identities as part of a quest to find meaning and purpose. UK Jungian analyst Robert Withers explores how psychoanalysis may present an alternative way to frame gender dysphoria and seeks to open discussion of the role of the psychological within it, with dissociation of the male and female parts of the psyche as a contributing factor, in a climate of censure where such discussion is supressed and labelled ‘transphobic’. ‘Gender Critical Dad’ writes about his daughter’s embracing a transgender identity and his belief that transgender theory is damaging. Carey Callahan, who transitioned to male and then detransitioned, founded a community of detransitioned women and gives them a voice; editor Michelle Moore concludes the book with an appeal to the reader to ‘wrestle with social definitions of gender lodged within our own minds’ and shows how the social constructionist lens can help acceptance of gender non-conforming children without pathologising them or setting them on a path to unnecessary medical transition.

This is a radical book, a courageous book, a necessary book and one that

raises many uncomfortable questions about transgenderism and how society has responded to it, specifically with reference to children and young people. The authors have been prepared to put their careers and reputations on the line in the service of opening for discussion the points of view and experience of people who insist on thinking critically and voicing views and experiences that are extremely challenging to those promoting a ‘one size fits all’ approach to transgenderism.

James Caspian

UK Council for Psychotherapy

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