Trans teens are be­ing killed while we de­bate nonex­is­tent prob­lems

The Guardian Australia - - Opinion - Zoe O'Con­nell

Sal­man Rushdie’s new novel ap­par­ently touches on gen­der iden­tity. That’s all very well. But it’s a shame that when asked for his views on the sub­ject he takes aim at a sce­nario that is, to all in­tents and pur­poses, imag­i­nary. “I have quite strong views about the over-in­sis­tence on these is­sues,” he says, “par­tic­u­larly when you get down to very young peo­ple. If there’s a boy who likes play­ing with dolls and wear­ing pink shirts it shouldn’t nec­es­sar­ily mean that he has to have gen­der re­as­sign­ment surgery.”

Any­one who has con­ducted a mod­icum of re­search into the is­sues trans peo­ple face will know it is al­ready tough to ac­cess gen­der re­as­sign­ment surgery even as an adult. Money helps, of course. Fig­ures on the num­ber of very young peo­ple hav­ing gen­der re­as­sign­ment surgery each year are also easy to un­cover. The num­ber is zero.

No young peo­ple un­der­went gen­der re­as­sign­ment surgery in the UK this year. Or last year. Or the year be­fore that. The world­wide fig­ure – as far as is known – is none at all. The youngest known per­son to have un­der­gone gen­der re­as­sign­ment surgery is the UK’s Jackie Green. She did so at 16 but had to travel abroad for the op­er­a­tion.

That does not mean that the UK does not carry out gen­i­tal surgery on very young chil­dren. Sup­pos­edly “cor­rec­tive” and ir­re­versible pro­ce­dures are per­formed on in­fants with in­ter­sex con­di­tions so that they can con­form to so­ci­ety’s ex­pec­ta­tions. That form of surgery is one that is rarely if ever crit­i­cised by celebri­ties.

Per­haps a bet­ter fo­cus for the nov­el­ists and com­men­ta­tors would be the cri­sis in young trans peo­ple’s safety and men­tal health. Stonewall’s de­ci­sion to be­come transin­clu­sive in 2015 was very wel­come, and re­search it has un­der­taken has quan­ti­fied the se­ri­ous­ness of the sit­u­a­tion. Al­though fig­ures in its 2017 School Re­port show­ing that one in 10 trans pupils re­ceived death threats are no sur­prise to those work­ing in the area, they still make sober­ing read­ing. But even Stonewall’s re­sources, huge though they are in com­par­i­son with the mea­gre pick­ings pre­vi­ously avail­able to trans sup­port ser­vices, are too pre­cious to waste. No one wants to see them used up in fight­ing a rear­guard ac­tion, as Stonewall so of­ten has to do, against mis­lead­ing por­trayal of trans is­sues in the me­dia. How about sup­port­ing, rather than do­ing down, trans youth ser­vices?

We still need more helplines for young trans peo­ple. We need more gen­der iden­tity clin­ics, as the only one cur­rently in op­er­a­tion – the Tav­i­s­tock and Port­man, based in Lon­don – re­ported in 2016 that first ap­point­ments were tak­ing 36 weeks, de­spite an 18-week NHS limit on wait­ing lists.

These things are achiev­able if peo­ple are will­ing to speak up for, rather than against, trans peo­ple’s needs.

The gay com­mu­nity is noted for a colour­ful and up­lift­ing pride pa­rade each year, a far cry from the Stonewall ri­ots of 1969. In con­trast, trans peo­ple are still stuck in those dark days. Our most prom­i­nent cal­en­dar date, 20 Novem­ber, is a day of re­mem­brance. Our com­mu­nity is drawn to­gether more by shared grief than by cel­e­bra­tion.

The young of­ten bear the brunt. Luana Bier­sack was 14 when, in Brazil, she was sex­u­ally as­saulted and drowned. Kandicee John­son, 16 and from Iowa, shot. Joseph Sanchez, Be­lize, stabbed at the age of 18.

These are just a few re­cent names from the hun­dreds memo­ri­alised each year dur­ing Trans­gen­der Day of Re­mem­brance.

The most sig­nif­i­cant dan­gers to trans youth are not myth­i­cal gangs of doc­tors lurk­ing out­side pri­mary schools, snatch­ing un­sus­pect­ing chil­dren. That is an imag­i­nary threat con­cocted to cre­ate a moral panic in an age in which ho­mo­pho­bia is no longer ac­cept­able in po­lite so­ci­ety.

The most sig­nif­i­cant dan­gers are ig­no­rance, hate and a lack of vi­tal sup­port.

• Zoe O’Con­nell is a trans ac­tivist

A rally in New York City de­mand­ing pro­tec­tion for trans­gen­der and gen­der non­con­form­ing peo­ple. Pho­to­graph: Kena Be­tan­cur/AFP/Getty Im­ages

Trans­gen­der teenage wrestler wins Texas girl’s state cham­pi­onship – video

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