On the Science of Changing Sex

Who Knows Best?

Posted in Film Review by Kay Brown on January 14, 2017

Video Review:  Transgender Kids: Who Knows Best?

I just finished viewing BBC Two’s documentary on the contraversy about whether the “affirming” model is best for gender dysphoric, potential transkids.  It is well worth viewing.  It covers the full ground while (mostly) being sensitive to the transcommunity.

But sadly, it fails in several key respects.  One, it completely fails to mention that transkids are nothing like adult transitioners.  At times we catch B roll scenes of adult transsexuals, which one instantly recognizes as autogynephiles.  So this failure to distingish the two may lead naive viewers to mistakenly equate the two.

Also unhelpful, the documentary interviews one person who frankly had no idea what she was talking about regarding sexual dimorphism of the human brain. While correctly saying that one couldn’t simply look at a brain and say whether it came from a man or a woman, she fails to mention that we can see statistical trends.  But worse, she flat out states that brains only become ‘gendered’ by living in a gendered society, completely ignoring research that shows the correlation with sexual dimorphism of the brain and sexual orientation.

The areas that the documentary does cover well is the well known phenomena of desisting of gender dysphoria in most gender atypical young children by the time that they are twelve or so.  They interview a girl who had been extremely dysphoric as a younger child who desisted at puberty.  As I’ve discussed in a previous essay, 80% of such dysphoric children do desist.  The video also mentioned that most of the desisting boys will grow up to be conventional gay men and not transgender.  However, the video introduces a straw man, lumping all “transgender activists” together as saying that we all wish to sweep this inconvenient fact under the rug.  Fortunately, though it was not well show-cased, this was (partially) shown to be untrue as they interviewed an FtM transman / activist / gender therapist who acknowledged this in passing, though he also contradicted himself and made an outright lie in stating “If someone says that they are transgendered, than chances are that they are transgendered”.  We know that this is simply untrue for pre-pubescent children.

The documentary interviews both Ray Blanchard and Kenneth Zucker.  I felt Dr. Blanchard was well spoken and articulate.  But frankly, and this truly surprised me, I came away feeling far less sympathy for Dr. Zucker than before.  Perhaps the editors are partly responsible, in that they used some odd frame editing at times, perhaps they chose the quotes where Zucker was the least sympathetic?  But Dr. Zucker seemed to lack all empathy for these kids and never once affirmed that transition was a viable option that should be considered for persistors.  Further, one got the opinion that Dr. Zucker was taking credit for his treatment having lead to desisting outcomes, that from his attitude while speaking, he would consider a better one than persisting.  (As a persister myself, having been “treated” with just the type of play therapy and later direct talk therapy that he outlines, I find that attitude offensive.  For the record, I firmly hold that neither outcome is better than the other.)  He even insinuated that parents who are ‘affirming’, who helped their children transition, are homophobic, refering to a remark, that may likely be apochraphal, supposedly a quote from a parent, “Well… at least they’re not gay.”  (Most parents who are homophobic are even more virulently transphobic; like my father who begged me not transition, promissing that he would look the other way when I had boyfriends over – just like he did with his gay brother.)  What really was disturbing was his strong attempts to pathologize all gender atypical and dysphoric children as suffering from a wide range of mental illnesses, which was echoed by one of his former colleagues, specifically arguing against the oft noted concerns regarding reaction to stigma (that is, Zucker and his former colleage questioned the conventional wisdom that transkids are depressed and anxious because they are teased, bullied, and considered a dissappointment and embarrassment to family and peers).  Frankly, I was dismayed.

The real heros of the documentary are the transkids who were interviewed.  One’s heartstrings were tugged, as one would expect, but these kids also told their stories with brutal effect.

All in all… a must see.

If you are in the UK, you may watch the video here: http://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/b088kxbw

Further Reading:

Essay on Desisting and Persisting Gender Dysphoria in Gender Atypical Children

Advice to Parents of Transkids

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