The rights of transgender people are enjoying something of a moment in the sun. It may have begun early in 2013 when Orange is the New Black was released on Netflix, featuring a trans character played by real-life transwoman Laverne Cox.
Things really picked up in 2014, though. From CeCe McDonald (convicted of manslaughter after being attacked, then released from the men’s jail she was held in) to Janet Mock (invited onto Piers Morgan’s CNN show to discuss her book Redefining Realness, then again after Morgan redefined shitty journalism in the first interview) to Avery Edison (detained at Toronto’s Lester B. Pearson Airport for overstaying her last visa and held in a men’s jail before being transferred to a women’s facility), more people have been paying attention to trans people’s stories than probably any other time in recent history.
And just in time for this momentous groundswell of publicity for transgender issues comes Margaret Wente, who thrice-weekly likes to share her thoughts with Canada. She’s got some surprising opinions, and she’s really going against the grain. You know, speaking truth to power. Journalist stuff.
This week, headline-scanner that she is, Wente is speaking truth to the all-powerful cabal that is transgender children. Wente is concerned that “a condition that used to be vanishingly rare […] now seems common.” She has no proof of that assertion, but if Margaret Wente feels something to be so, it must be so.
Trans children are coming out of the woodwork, according to Wente. School boards are coming up with policies to address their needs, parents are paying attention when their kids say they’re male or female instead of the other way around, doctors are even prescribing treatments to allow children’s bodies to match their identities.
This is all, in the world of Margaret Wente, very unfortunate.
You see, it’s very likely that many of today’s trans children are not actually transgender. They probably saw something on the internet and now they think the “in” thing to do is to create an entire identity for no reason and stick to it for years. The distinctly Wente twist on this is her claim that some parents, convinced that trans kids are the latest fad, are actively seeking out signs of trans identity in their children and then encouraging this to develop much more than it might have naturally.
To confirm her ideas and shield herself from entirely reasonable claims that she has no authority with which to write about trans issues, Wente spoke to Dr. Ken Zucker of the Centre for Addiction and Mental Health in Toronto. (Did she speak to any trans people or parents thereof, you ask? Well, uh, no. But she probably tried really hard to find someone! Or maybe she just didn’t think of it. Hard to say, since she didn’t mention it in her column.)
Zucker works specifically with trans people at CAMH. He’s widely considered an expert in the field, and even worked on revisions to the DSM-V. However, he is disliked by many in the trans community for promoting what is essentially the trans version of reparative therapy for gay people. That’s the “pray the gay away” therapy that used to be widely available and is now considered highly unethical by mental health professionals.
In fact, Zucker advocates reparative therapy in Wente’s column. Obviously Wente doesn’t refer to it as “reparative therapy,” because that would sound a warning bell for many readers, but it’s clear that’s what he’s talking about:
He even advises parents of princessy six-year-olds to say, “You’re not a girl. You’re a boy.”
There are so many things wrong here. For one thing, a boy can want to play princess without being transgender. It’s 2014. There aren’t “girl colours” and “boy colours.” Sometimes boys do home ec while girls take industrial arts. Ladies even wear pants! It’s a crazy, crazy world out there. Let your son play with a doll if he wants to, for Christ’s sake.
However, if your “princessy” son says “I’m a girl, quit calling me Dan and call me Susan,” then following Zucker’s advice — insisting your child doesn’t actually know who they are, or that who they are is wrong — will probably do some real damage.
It is just basic common sense to listen to what someone is telling you and respond accordingly. If your child says repeatedly that they are not the gender you think they are, pay attention. See a professional to discuss options. Don’t try to force your child to be something they are telling you they aren’t.
The movement for trans rights may be in its early stages in the mainstream, but it is, undoubtedly, gaining steam. It is no longer acceptable to discuss the experiences of trans people in a national newspaper without including their stories in their own words. We need to listen to the people who know first-hand what life is like for transmen and transwomen, and we need to let them tell us what they need in terms of treatment, behaviour and policy.
But as with any good Wente column, things like “common sense,” “appropriate reactions” and “ethical behaviour” are absent and wouldn’t be welcome if they did show up. It makes perfect sense that Margaret Wente would write hundreds of words about the trials facing trans kids and their parents without consulting anyone from either group. What doesn’t make sense, what makes less sense each time Wente writes another garbage column, is why the Globe and Mail still pays for her opinions.
[Globe and Mail] [image via CTV screengrab]