Edmonton Journal

Political insults won't resolve gender debate

- ANDREW MACDOUGALL Andrew MacDougall is a London-based communicat­ions consultant and ex-director of communicat­ions to former prime minister Stephen Harper.

At last, clarity. Now that Conservati­ve Leader Pierre Poilievre has declared his opposition to puberty blockers for children younger than 18, perhaps we can have a sensible debate about care pathways for children who identify as transgende­r or nonbinary instead of a partisan screamfest?

Oh, who am I kidding? We're in line for another hundred rounds of stupid before we settle into a proper debate based on clear positions. But the dividing lines are at least becoming clearer. Instead of each side attacking the other using the weapons of a culture war, we should be able to focus on actual questions of policy.

Just what is the appropriat­e age to begin the long-term use of puberty blockers, not to delay so-called “precocious” puberty until it would be (slightly) less embarrassi­ng to do things like grow breasts among your peer group, but to delay puberty until your sexual organs can be removed, then reconstruc­ted into their opposite number? How much caution should we apply until longer-term studies of the wholesale removal of critical hormone-producing organs like the ovaries and testes are in? And what role should parents have in these decisions versus teachers and doctors?

These are not easy questions to answer and there are sensible and defensible positions on both sides of any of these debates. The trick now is to surface the wheat from the ocean of chaff that has grown around transgende­r policy since it exploded into public focus, fuelled by social media. This will take the encouragem­ent of debate, not shutting it down.

Sadly, the early returns are not good, wheth

We're in line for another hundred rounds of stupid before we settle into a proper debate ...

er it's Liberal MP Randy Boissonnau­lt calling Alberta Premier Danielle Smith's new policy on transgende­r care an “Article 5 moment,” or comments like the prime minister's that suggest somehow placing limits on access to puberty blockers will nudge youth along a pathway to mental health issues and/or suicide. We need to take a breath.

As the recent Cass Review in the United Kingdom highlights, the scientific and medical communitie­s are still short of informatio­n on what happens when drugs used to delay puberty are used over a longer haul. We're equally short on informatio­n on the long-term effects of sexual organ removal, whether in teens or young adults. Nor is it a clearcut task to delineate the origin of any suicidal thoughts within the cohort, who sometimes suffer from other pressures in life and/or unique developmen­tal characteri­stics. And then there are the pressures of growing up in the unforgivin­g and predatory hothouse of social media. It shouldn't be controvers­ial to suggest we proceed with caution and not simply accept whatever a child wants.

And so, while some opposed to the existing permissive attitude toward gender-affirming care are undoubtedl­y bigots, woe be to any politician who presumes they are anything other than a tiny minority. More to the point, any politician whose default position is that parents can't be trusted to care for their children, or should at least take a back seat to teachers and doctors, is going to be on the wrong side of public opinion and massively so.

Yes, some parents are bastards. But the vast majority only want the best for their children. Surely some guardrails can be put in to protect the vulnerable from the bastards without assuming wider parental guilt? More to the point, are you more likely to persuade the bad parents by presuming the guilt of other parents? Or are you, in the long run, more likely to hurt the people you want to help by deciding sensitive issues by fiat?

In other words, could we, for once, presume good intent on all sides? Even better, could we not play for the excitable crowds on social media, where only maximalist positions play well? Now that we know where both major parties are, can we finally let the politics of this issue lie? Can we have an adult conversati­on about our children?

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