In an article attacking CBBC’s programme educating children about gender issues and transitioning between genders, The Daily Mail quoted MP Peter Bone as saying: “I entirely share the anger of parents who just want to let children be children.” Until I read that comment, I was fine. Disgruntled, but fine. There is nothing new about The Daily Mail using vileness to sell papers and, considering this article’s most influential source was Mumsnet (an internet safe-space for middle class mums), I did not think this was any more than your usual, ill-conceived outrage-mongering. And then I read Bone’s comment and I changed my mind.
The Daily Mail and Bones’ stance against Just a girl – which depicts the process of an 11-year-old beginning the process of hormone therapy – comes from the same place that the outrage of extreme conservatism always comes from.
There is the obvious fear factor: questions and issues of gender are increasingly crossing over into mainstream media. They raise questions that we did not have before; they force society to change its perceptions. Conservatism, meanwhile, is the embodiment of that small child that still has to eat the same thing for every meal. For them, change is dangerous and suggests a world in which good old Tory values are no longer relevant.
The lack of knowledge and understanding of transgender issues on the part of The Daily Mail and its sources are obvious from the complaints against the programme that were quoted. One mother described the fear that, since her daugher liked to wear boy’s clothes, she must really be a boy – in doing so proving exactly why we need shows like this.
Those parents would have been better off watching the show with their children – or doing some research themselves – because fear grows with ignorance and is stunted by knowledge. I suspect that the reason so many parents have spoken out is because they are, to some extent, putting their uncertainty onto their children – and when children are scared one can close the book or turn off the film. When acting on behalf of children it is much easier for adults to pretend that issues stop confronting us if we pretend they are not there.
However, back to that comment. Why did it outrage me so much? Because it prioritised some children above others: it implied that the comfort of the majority is more important than that of the minority. The insistence that we “let children be children” ignores the fact that for some children it is already too late.
Children and adults suffer when forced to live in a gender that they do not feel they belong to and they suffer when society casts them out for that which they cannot help or choose. I do not want to live in a society which ignores that suffering and I do not want to read the opinions of those that do. I do not mean this in a ‘if one child suffers they all have to suffer’ sort of way. I mean that we cannot crucify some of our children so that the ones that do not challenge us get to be happy.
Furthermore, the majority of mental health experts – such as Dr Polly Carmichael who spoke in the defence of the CBBC – believe that educating children about such issues in a gentle way is far better for their well-being than allowing them to find out for themselves. Besides, the programme was almost overwhelmingly praised by its audience. If children can behave maturely about transgender issues, maybe one day there will be hope for The Daily Mail.
Image Credit: Lucelia Riberio