Family First, has over the last two years or so sought to spark a debate about the appropriateness of trans people to participate in the social life in Aotearoa/New Zealand. Thus, in July 2018 Family First had its annual Forum on the Family to discuss important social issues facing the families of Aotearoa/New Zealand. This year they decided to focus on the existence of trans people and how they pose a clear and present danger to cisgender people, especially children. They brought to Forum on the Family, Walt Heyer who had transitioned from male to female and then detransitioned from female to male and who now actively opposes access to transition-related medical services for trans people. Also, they had another person Glenn T Stanton, who also actively opposes trans people not only transitioning but also providing support to trans and gender diverse children and it is Glen T Stanton’s talk this post will focus on.
As a researcher on the issues faced by trans people in Aotearoa/New Zealand, I can provide an insight into the views raised by both Glenn T. Stanton. Glenn T. Stanton talks about how the social construction of gender is based on objective reality and gender is not separate from biological sex. Yet for sociologists, anthropologists and gender studies scholars recognise that gender and sex are separate. Stanton also talks about how inconsistent trans people are about their gender identity and its application to themselves and other family members because some trans men want to bear children or breastfeed their children. He contends that this is evidence that trans people are telling a lie about human nature and human anthropology, that they cannot keep their story straight.
Within Family First narrative in opposing the medical transition of trans people, drew upon the works of Kenneth Zucker and J. Micheal Bailey, who are seen as giants in the theorizing of the transition of trans people. Indeed, Zucker has engaged in ‘aversive conditioning’ that included restricting the gender expression of children along with ‘shaming’ children and parents into ensuring that children conform to societal gender norms, have been described as good practice (Pearce 2018, 29). While, Stanton draws upon Bailey and Triea’s 2007 article “that all male-to-female (MtF) transsexuals are, essentially, women trapped in men’s bodies. This understanding has a little scientific basis, however, and is inconsistent with clinical observations” (521). Yet, Bailey and Triea do not recognise that trans people are often required to vocialise a script that reinforces the narrative of being women trapped in men’s bodies and that creates the dissonance between desired gendered behaviour and clinical observations. Moreover, Stanton draws upon Steensma et al. (2013) to restate that there is an 80% desistence among gender non-conforming children, who are believed by their parents or caregivers to have gender dysphoria. Yet, the belief in the 80% desistence has been challenged by two of the authors in the aforementioned article (Steensma and Cohen-Kettenis 2015) and recently in Temple Newhook et al. (2018). Furthermore, Stanton also discusses that these young children who are gender non-conforming “not yet make a complete social transition (different clothing, a different given name, referring to a boy as “her” instead of “him”) before the very early stages of puberty” (de Vries and Cohen-Kettenis 2012, 307-308), although recognising that these children who desist in their gender conformity are that do not have gender dysphoria. Furthermore, Stanton draws upon a Swedish study (Dhejne et al. 2011) that according to him reinforces the position that trans people experience higher rates of suicidality than among the cisgender population. Yet, Dr Cecilia Dhejne in an interview (Williams 2015) has refuted the misrepresentation of the study she co-authored:
People who misuse the study always omit the fact that the study clearly states that it is not an evaluation of gender dysphoria treatment. If we look at the literature, we find that several recent studies conclude that WPATH Standards of Care compliant treatment decrease gender dysphoria and improves mental health.
Additionally, Dr Dhejne also clarifies her position on her study:
It is therefore important to note that the current study is only informative with respect to transsexual persons health after sex reassignment; no inferences can be drawn as to the effectiveness of sex reassignment as a treatment for transsexualism. In other words, the results should not be interpreted such as sex reassignment per se increases morbidity and mortality. Things might have been even worse without sex reassignment.
And now to the sociology
One of the primary issues Stanton has with the so called “transgender ideology” is the social construction of gender. He, like many that oppose the existence of trans people, believes that the social construction of gender is a fallacy that reinforces the division between sex and gender. Moreover, Stanton contends that any social construction is a denial of the scientific method. Yet, Donald MacKenzie’s (1999) “Nuclear Missile Testing and the Social Construction of Accuracy” provides the useful the insight into how we mould the social environment to fit our vision of the world. Indeed, MacKenzie shows that those in charge of testing nuclear weapons, decided that the majority of weapons will hit with a designated target area they will not necessary hit the desired target.
From a sociological view, “we always live our lives with a sense of ourselves and others as gendered beings because expressions of gender occupy every corner of our society” (Brickell 2007, 207). Thus, we are seeing an evolution in the ways we are doing gender and the existence of trans and non-binary people are showcasing this evolution.
Hannah Rossiter is PhD Candidate at The University of Auckland.
This blog post was an entry into the 2018 SAANZ Student Blog Writing Competition.
Bailey, J. Michael, and Kiira Triea. 2007. “What Many Transgender Activists Don’t Want You to Know and Why You Should Know It Anyway.” Perspectives in Biology and Medicine 50 (4):521-34.
Brickell, Chris. 2007. “Gendering.” In Being Sociological, edited by Steve Matthewman,
Catherine Lane West-Newman, and Bruce Curtis, 193-211. Basingstoke, Hampshire: Palgrave Macmillan.
de Vries, Annelou L. C., and Peggy T. Cohen-Kettenis. 2012. “Clinical Management of Gender Dysphoria in Children and Adolescents: The Dutch Approach.” Journal of Homosexuality 59 (3):301-320.
Dhejne, Cecilia , Paul Lichtenstein, Marcus Boman, Anna L. V. Johansson, Niklas Langstrom, and Mikael Landen. 2011. “Long-Term Follow-up of Transsexual Persons Undergoing Sex Reassignment Surgery: Cohort Study in Sweden.” PLoS ONE 6 (2):1-8.
MacKenzie, Donald. 1999. “Nuclear Missile Testing and the Social Construction of Accuracy.” In The Science Studies Reader, edited by Mario Biagioli, 342-357. New York: Routledge.
Pearce, Ruth. 2018. Understanding Trans Health: Discourse, Power and Possibility. Bristol, United Kingdom: Policy Press.
Steensma, Thomas D., Jenifer K. McGuire, Baudewijntje P. C. Kreukels, Anneke J. Beekman, and Peggy T. Cohen-Kettenis. 2013. “Factors Associated with Desistence and Persistence of Childhood Gender Dysphoria: A Quantitative Follow-up Study.” Journal of the American Academy of Child & Adolescent Psychiatry 52 (6):582-590.
Steensma, Thomas D., and Peggy T. Cohen-Kettenis. 2015. “More Than Two Developmental Pathways in Children with Gender Dysphoria?” Journal of the American Academy of Child & Adolescent Psychiatry 54 (2):147-148.
Temple Newhook, Julia, Jake Pyne, Kelley Winters, Stephen Feder, Cindy Holmes, Jemma Tosh, Mari-Lynne Sinnott, Ally Jamieson, and Sarah Pickett. 2018. “A Critical Commentary on Follow-up Studies and “Desistance” Theories About Transgender and Gender-Nonconforming Children.” International Journal of Transgenderism:1-13.
Williams, Cristan. 2015. “Fact Check: Study Shows Transition Makes Trans People Suicidal.” November 2, 2015, Accessed 29 July 2018. Available from http://transadvocate.com/fact-check-study-shows-transition-makes-trans-people-suicidal_n_15483.htm.