The U.K. Rightly Pushes Back on Gender Transitioning for Minors

COMMENTARY Gender

The U.K. Rightly Pushes Back on Gender Transitioning for Minors

Jul 16th, 2020 4 min read
COMMENTARY BY
Andrea Jones

Research Assistant, DeVos Center

Andrea is a research assistant in the DeVos Center for Religion and Civil Society at The Heritage Foundation.
British author J. K. Rowling at Hudson Yards on December 11, 2019 in New York City. ANGELA WEISS / Contributor / Getty Images

Key Takeaways

On both sides of the Atlantic, advocates for transgender rights are increasingly substituting ideology for biological reality.

Author J.K. Rowling published an intensely personal essay in response to criticism of her position on the issue of gender identity.

Britain’s National Health Service recently made another change related to its treatment of gender dysphoria in minors.

On both sides of the Atlantic, advocates for transgender rights are increasingly substituting ideology for biological reality.

But while here in the U.S. the Supreme Court last month was writing into Title VII of the 1964 Civil Rights Act legal protections for people who identify as transgender that the authors of the law never intended, the United Kingdom appeared to be moving in the other direction, standing up for common sense.

On the other side of the pond, just five days before the Supreme Court handed down its decision, bestselling “Harry Potter” author J.K. Rowling published an intensely personal essay in response to criticism of her position on the issue of gender identity.

In the essay, Rowling, who is British, revealed her past experiences with sexual assault and domestic abuse, and expressed concern about transgender activists’ attacks on single-sex spaces for women.

As a former teacher and a supporter of children’s charities, Rowling also stated her discomfort with the rush to medically transition children with gender dysphoria and especially the massive increase in young girls suddenly identifying as transgender.

Despite the vitriol she received in response from the left, Rowling refused to back down from her stance.

The comments by Rowling, along with other recent developments in the United Kingdom, show promising signs that the relentless advance of transgender ideology in medicine and public policy finally might be encountering some resistance across the Atlantic.

This spring, Minister for Women and Equalities Liz Truss in Britain announced plans to ban sex-change procedures for anyone under the age of 18. She told a parliamentary committee on April 20, “I believe strongly that adults should have the freedom to lead their lives as they see fit, but I think it’s very important that while people are still developing their decision-making capabilities that we protect them from making those irreversible decisions.”

Transgender activists frequently recommend those medical interventions—which include puberty blockers, cross-sex hormones, and surgery—for children who suffer from gender dysphoria.

Parents of children questioning their biological sex are advised to unquestioningly affirm the child’s new, self-identified gender and help them to transition socially with the help of a new name, pronouns, and wardrobe.

Little attention is paid to the adverse effects of that treatment, however. As Ryan T. Anderson and Robert P. George have written, such interventions “should be prohibited.”

Prudent legislation is needed to prevent adults from interfering with a child’s normal, natural bodily development. 

‘Gender affirmation’ procedures violate sound medical ethics. It is profoundly unethical to intervene in the normal physical development of a child as part of ‘affirming’ a ‘gender identity’ at odds with bodily sex.

Activists have frequently brushed off concerns about possible regret following gender transitions, ignoring evidence that shows that they carry a number of physical and psychological risks.

The use of puberty blockers and cross-sex hormones can lead to increased cancer risk, decreased bone density, and adverse effects on brain development. In addition, hormones and surgeries can sterilize children who would normally be considered far too young to make such a serious—and permanent—medical decision.

In contrast, a “watchful waiting” approach allows children time to accept their biological sex instead of rushing to alter it and can help address any underlying issues causing the distress.

Studies show that 80% to 95% of children experiencing gender dysphoria who do not transition eventually come to accept their bodies, while nearly all children who are placed on the path of social transition go on to pursue medical interventions.

The U.K.’s decision to prevent those under 18 from being subjected to those unproven procedures demonstrates the importance of considering the best medical and scientific evidence, even if it contradicts the activists’ narrative.

Britain’s National Health Service recently made another change related to its treatment of gender dysphoria in minors.

The Health Service’s website, which provides information about medical conditions and treatment, includes a section on gender dysphoria in children. A section on the use of gonadotropin-releasing hormone (GnRH) analogues to prevent puberty in children who identify as transgender previously stated, “The effects of treatment with GnRH analogues are considered to be fully reversible, so treatment can usually be stopped at any time.”

That’s a common talking point for transgender activists, often employed to support early transitions while avoiding discussion of detrimental side effects or the lack of medical evidence supporting the use of puberty blockers to treat gender dysphoria.

Surprisingly, that section on the National Health Service website was recently updated to read:

Little is known about the long-term side effects of hormone or puberty blockers in children with gender dysphoria. …

It’s also not known whether hormone blockers affect the development of the teenage brain or children’s bones. Side effects may also include hot flushes, fatigue, and mood alterations.

Rowling noted those concerns in a tweet, writing, “Many health professionals are concerned that young people struggling with their mental health are being shunted towards hormones and surgery when this may not be in their best interests.”

The National Health Service site also notes that the use of cross-sex hormones can lead to irreversible physical changes, such as deepening of the voice in females and breast development in males, as well as permanent infertility.

The changes to its site were made without fanfare, suggesting that the Health Service still fears activists’ outrage against even reasonable medical cautions.

Despite its own update, the Health Service continues to recommend and administer these medical treatments to minors. The Minister for Women and Equalities’ report on banning some of those treatments is not expected until later this summer, and its exact recommendations remain to be seen.

The changes to the Health Service’s website and the minister’s comments provide reason to hope that they will move toward a more cautious approach to treating children with gender dysphoria, protecting vulnerable youth from rushed, ideologically motivated—and often irreversible—interventions.

Policymakers in the United States would be well advised to do the same.

This piece originally appeared in The Daily Signal