‘I think I might be transgender!’ How should schools react to such revelations? By the time they find out, the child may already be convinced that their identity lies on the LGBTQIA+ spectrum. Probably with its own multi-coloured flag.
But while social media influencers are quick to dispense answers, schools are left to cope with the consequences, with little understanding of what is really going on.
Stonewall and Mermaids — large publicly funded LGBT+ charities — would have us believe that we all have an innate gender identity that determines whether we are men or women, or perhaps neither. But that’s all it is — a belief. However, gender identity ideology is presented to young people as a self-evident truth, and that has caused a crisis among children struggling with what it means to be a boy or a girl.
Life was simpler in the 1970s and 1980s. Young people knew we could break free from gendered expectations. David Bowie had worn a dress on the cover of The Man Who Sold the World in 1971. In the years that followed, Annie Lennox wore suits and Grace Jones was Grace Jones. But nobody doubted their sex.
The freedoms we knew have been eclipsed by gender identity ideology. Children have been led to believe that being a boy or a girl depends on feelings rather than a sex that — according to the idealogues — is arbitrarily ‘assigned at birth’. The message to gender non-conforming children is inescapable: if you feel you want to present in the same way as another gender, then you are another gender. And schools are left to not only pick up the pieces, but to develop resources to put them back together again.
The government knows the dangers of that. Guidance to schools published by the Department for Education in 2020 is clear: ‘Materials which suggest that non-conformity to gender stereotypes should be seen as synonymous with having a different gender identity should not be used and you should not work with external agencies or organisations that produce such material.’
That, however, is far easier said than done when gender identity is explained in terms of gender expression. Even the NHS is in a muddle. According to its website: ‘Gender identity refers to our sense of who we are and how we see and describe ourselves.’ Confused language has led to confused thinking, and schools have been left in a quandary.
Teachers don’t know what is going on because the words we use to try to explain it obfuscate what is really happening. In my view we would be much better off if we returned the word ‘gender’ to where it belongs: the classification of foreign nouns. We might use it to mean sex — perhaps to avoid the connotation with sexual intercourse — but while sex is biology, gender is whatever we might want it to be. We could jettison the word along with ‘gender identity’ and ‘gender expression’, and lose nothing in translation. Rather we might gain some clarity.
The idea that human beings are somehow detached from — and different to — the rest of the animal kingdom is enticing, but ultimately we are just one species of mammal. If I want to know the sex of my cat, I don’t consider her feelings. Peacocks have beautiful plumage, but they also show it off to signal their sex. They need no social constructs to attract the interest of any peahens that might be interested in finding a mate.
Like peafowl, human beings have also evolved to reproduce, and we also engage in sexual signalling. We are different to peafowl because human society is characterised by the male response to female signalling. We all know which sex worries more about what to wear.
Understanding truths such as these helps us to understand children. Why do girls roll up their skirts and overdo their make-up? And keep doing it when it gets them into trouble? They are simply exhibiting evolved behaviour that is as natural to them as breathing.
Sexual signalling is so ingrained in our nature that we only become aware of it when an individual steps out from the crowd and does it differently, especially when it mimics the signalling associated with the other sex. Then we certainly notice, and we can become uncomfortable with it. Since it tends to be women and girls who invest time and energy into signalling, the two sexes break the rules in different ways. While non-conforming girls might simply eschew the palaver of wearing dresses and the like, non-conforming boys may have a compulsion to perform what they believe to be femininity.
Why they do this, they probably have no clue. I transitioned in adulthood totally unaware of why I wanted to wear dresses and make-up. I simply had the notion that because I wanted to signal in the same way as women, then I must be some sort of woman. If I could be taken in by that fallacy — at age 42 — children stand no chance.
My childhood was far from perfect. Butch girls may have been accepted, but feminine boys were more often ridiculed. None of us, however, thought they were the opposite sex, or that we had no sex. While we might have wished it to be different, we knew that changing our sex was a preposterous idea. And as such our lives could be built on solid foundations.
Today’s children are not so fortunate. The messages from wider society are based on wishful thinking and impressionable youngsters have been taken in by them. Schools have a vital role to play in bringing them down to earth. But to do that we need more than a different message; we need to explain it so that children understand it.
While we rightly teach children that people can be attracted to their own sex, we need to add that some people can signal in the same way as the opposite sex. Both variations are normal — if perhaps atypical — behaviours. And sex is sex, and we all have one. Just like cats and peafowl. Only then might we get beyond gender and return to language that describes reality.
Debbie Hayton is a teacher and journalist.