Since we have decided to complicate an already complex world even further by claiming that a person can become a gender that is opposite to their biological sex, it is no surprise that we are being rewarded for our endeavours with increasingly complex situations. Two cases have recently emerged that pretty neatly exemplify the complexities that arise because we are choosing to tread on this path.
The parents of a 14-year-old girl have been accused by social services of neglecting their daughter because they are refusing to go along with her insistence that she is a boy. They fear that she could be taken from them unless they agree to her demand to change her name to Gary, and to treat her as a boy.
A judge has recently removed a seven-year-old boy from his mother, after she forced him to live “entirely as a girl”. In his ruling, Mr Justice Hayden said the child had sustained a “great deal of emotional harm” when his mother forced him to wear dresses and nail varnish, and even registered him as a girl at a doctor’s surgery.
Do the authorities have the right to intervene? Are the parents in both cases guilty of neglect?
It would appear that the overarching reason the authorities have decided to get involved in both cases has been determined purely and simply by the wishes of the children, and the fact that they are apparently being overridden. That this is so is easy to see by tweaking each case slightly.
If we imagine that in Case A, the parents go along with their daughter’s request to call her Gary and treat her as a boy, the authorities will presumably leave them alone. In Case B, if the boy had agreed with his mother’s desire for him to wear dresses and to be treated as a girl in every respect, the authorities would presumably not have intervened and the boy would now be living as a girl with his mother.
Yet since when has a child’s wishes been the point when local authorities become involved, or the reason why they take the side of the child? There are hundreds of things throughout childhood where parents override their children’s wishes, and where local authorities do not become involved. Of course, local authorities might reply that what we have here is a much more fundamental thing. We are not talking about whether Anna wants a chocolate before dinner, or whether Peter wants to buy a skateboard, but a life-changing decision.
Indeed, but then the authorities in both cases are also making life-changing decisions for the children, in taking them away or threatening to take them from their parents, and so they had better make sure that they know what they are doing. But do they? I would suggest that in Case B, the authorities are indeed acting correctly (though I hope the decision only came after every other avenue was exhausted), whereas in Case A, the authorities are, by threatening the parents, making a terrible error.
Imagine that two such cases had come up back just 20 years ago. What would the authorities have done about them? I think we all know the answer to that. In Case A, they would have intervened only if the parents had requested assistance in helping their daughter overcome what would have seemed to all to be a quite irrational desire. In Case B, they would have intervened to protect the child against his mother, if she had continued to insist on treating him as a girl, just as the local authority in the case today has done.
In other words, whilst the mother in Case B would have been treated in the same manner then as now, the parents in Case A are being treated in a diametrically opposite manner. Back then, they would have received the support of the authorities, whereas today the authorities are seriously considering taking their child from them.
So the question that the authorities in Case A must answer is this: what has changed in the intervening years to make your policy move from one which would have offered help to the parents of Child A back then, to a policy where you are considering taking the child from them on grounds of neglect. What objective information has come to light during those years that has caused you to take a diametrically opposite stance in such cases to the one your predecessors would have taken?
The answer is that no objective facts have emerged in the intervening years which prove that the girl in Case A is really a boy. No scientific proof has been found that can show categorically that her problem is her objectively female body, rather than the subjective opinions she has in her head. All that has happened in those years is that the zeitgeist has moved. But is this really a good enough reason to separate the parents and the child? It is not, and the onus on the authorities in Case A is to show why it is that they are now threatening the parents, where once they might have helped them.
Let me end by stating this another way, which I think will show more starkly what is going on. Why is it that we all (I assume all) recognise that the behaviour of the mother in Case B is wrong? Why do we assume that she is harming her child when she insists he is a girl? Why did the judge state that this had caused the child a “great deal of emotional harm”? Is it because he is not really a girl? Or is it merely because he thinks he’s not a girl?
It would have been interesting to have heard some of the conversations between the mother and the local authority in that case. Did they tell her that what she is doing is wrong because her child is a boy? Or did they tell her it was wrong because he believes he is a girl?
If they took the latter approach (which I very much doubt), they would be faced with the question of whether the boy’s judgement can be trusted. I mean, (sarcasm alert) he’s only seven and how can he possibly know he’s a boy at that age? What if his mum is right? How could they be sure?
I suspect, however, that they took the former approach; that is, they told the mother that what she was doing was wrong because her child is actually a boy. How do they know? They know because it’s objectively true.
Which tells us what about the girl in Case A? Not that she is either a girl or a boy because she thinks that – she might think she’s a badger, and it would not make her a badger – but that she is objectively a girl. This, not the child’s wishes, is the real issue the authorities need to get right. And it is why the authorities in Case B have acted entirely correctly, whilst the authorities in Case A are doing something very, very wrong.
(Image: Ted Eyton)