Children’s author Jacqueline Wilson has come under fire for expressing concerns about the impact of hormone treatment on trans children. In an interview with the Daily Telegraph, she said it made her ‘very, very worried’. She also said that the idea of carrying out gender reassignment surgery on children was not ‘to be taken lightly’ as it can ‘have pretty devastating consequences’.
The reaction on Twitter, where Wilson has been labelled a ‘washed-up transphobe’ and a ‘TERF’ (trans-exclusionary radical feminist), has been depressingly predictable. The trans movement, which has rightly called for tolerance and open mindedness towards transgender people, has failed to demonstrate these qualities when dealing with an individual who begs to disagree with some, not all, of their ideas.
What is interesting is that Wilson seemed to know that her comments might cause this reaction. She said the issue was increasingly difficult to discuss because opinions ‘can be taken down and used as evidence against you.’ In doing so, she predicted her own fate.
On Twitter, Wilson has been accused of pedalling ‘misinformation’ – a revealing choice of word, as it implies that the alternative point of view is merely ‘information’; that the transgender cause is so crystal clear in its moral direction that the details of how to realise its aims are beyond argument.
This is dangerous territory. Every major social change requires careful debate and discussion, even if those who disagree with the direction of travel eventually find themselves, to coin another overused phrase in this debate, ‘on the wrong side of history’. None of us can presume to know what the right side of history will be; those who claim to know and who shut down discussion as a result are doing their cause a disservice.
Wilson has a right to express her opinion and transgender activists have a right to take her to task on her views. But descending into name-calling does little to move the conversation forward or help develop child-centred responses to young people who might be struggling with these issues.
When Wilson’s critics have taken the time to engage with what she is saying, useful discussion has started to occur. Some have argued, for instance, that because gender reassignment surgery is not carried out on under 18s, Wilson’s worries about surgery are misplaced.
Here’s an opportunity to talk about and distil what the trans agenda should be working towards. Some trans activists have espoused the view that early surgical intervention is the right course of action for children who identify as transgender and that, in their opinion, it avoids the painful experience of puberty. Others express a view more in line with Wilson that surgery should be carried out in adulthood. Wilson is clearly uncomfortable with surgical intervention on children because she says ‘it’s a decision that has to be left a while until you are utterly mature and utterly certain you know all the actual consequences.’
But to pretend that surgical intervention on children is an idea that nobody has ever advocated, which is what some of Wilson’s critics have done, is to misrepresent the nature of the debate. If the trans lobby is in complete agreement that surgery is now off the table for children then it should simply say so, rather than claim this was never a point of contention.
Whether or not she was aware that surgery can’t currently take place on under-18s, Wilson was making a point about the direction of travel in the trans debate: if hormone blocking drugs are currently given to children then would surgery soon be an option too? And do children possess the maturity to make these decisions at a young age?
These are all questions that people should be permitted to ask. Wilson has every right to talk about this issue without facing accusations of transphobia.
It’s not clear why Jacqueline Wilson decided to express her opinion on this topic, knowing the reaction that it would prompt. But there are probably countless others with experience of working with children watching this debate play out, who now might think twice about expressing their views. This is bad news. Whether you agree with Wilson or not, a spirit of open mindedness on both sides of the debate would do nobody any harm.