When gender is not such a neutral issue



Most of us have notions around the way we want to bring up our children and prepare them for the world. In the early days of Women’s Lib I decided to avoid stereotyping when it came to toys and my daughter got a train set as well as a cuddly baby doll.

The upshot? Two neighbouring boys thought the train set was brilliant, came round to play and became fast friends with her. Together they were like the three musketeers, raiding orchards, building wigwams and gliders. Their friendship came to an abrupt end when the teen years struck, as teenage boys simply didn’t play with girls.

My ideas weren’t as radical as today’s non-binary approach which avoids rigid differentiation between the sexes and where gender doesn’t have to depend on sex.

Paul Murphy, People Before Profit-Solidarity TD, and his partner Jess Spear went public recently about their decision to raise their new baby Juniper as gender neutral. Little Juniper will be referred to as they or it and as a baby who is male. Hmm, I wonder how this will work out for Juniper. Will he, sorry they, grow up free of the social constructs around gender stereotypes, (some of which may be limiting while some serve society well in terms of what it means to be a women or man)? Or will nature win out over nurture, with Juniper heading off to play football and fight with other boys?

Paul Murphy was quoted as saying that he didn’t like the idea of people being fitted into neat little boxes and that Juniper could decide when ‘they’ were three years old whether ‘they’ were a boy or a girl. Three seems way too young for questions about self-concept though. Identity formation is a complex process in which individuals develop a unique view of themselves.

According to psychological theory the process of personality development goes through a critical stage during adolescence and early adulthood as young people form different aspects of their identity which an important part of healthy development.  Teen years are a time when young people try to see how they fit in, test out different ideas and begin to consider  what their future looks like. It’s a vulnerable stage when they ask themselves the question ‘who am I’ and answering that question can be confusing if you are not sure who you are.

Trans ideology, which includes ideas about gender neutrality. is one of the latest forms of social activism to make waves. The central tenant is that people can be male or female ,depending on how they feel rather than according to their biological sex and that people can self-identify as the gender they want to be and can declare as non-binary, gender fluid or trans man (biologically a woman) or vice versa. Within a remarkably short time these ideas have become mainstream in Ireland covered in areas like SPHE (Social Personal and Health Education) at primary and secondary level education and in official literature in areas like health.

Ideas which promote freedom from prejudice, allow people to develop their full potential and offer sensible sex education covering issues like consent are welcome. But there are aspects of trans ideology which cause concern in relation to vulnerable young people. Wishing to be the gender other than the sex you were born can be a socially contagious idea.

Wind back a decade and hardly any girls presented for treatment for gender dysphoria, now they are the majority internationally. When the controversial, now closed. UK Tavistock Clinic opened in 1989 there were just two referrals but by 2020 there were 2,378, mostly teenage girls. Numbers attending gender clinics have soared with around 9,000 transgender surgeries a year are carried out in the US.

Don’t we need to think carefully about a situation where teens who self-declare may be  too readily prescribed puberty blockers before going on to be prescribed cross-sex hormones and maybe have life changing, sterilising surgery, decisions which in some cases may be bitterly regretted?

There is the irony too where the recognition of trans women (born male) who identify as female gender results in the deletion of the word woman in official publications.

Maybe one day in the future we may all look the same: coffee coloured and androgenous. In the meantime let’s hope that trans ideology won’t be a Pandora’s box but rather one that comes with a treat and with caution warning on the lid.

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