We need to take ideological gender rhetoric out of education – a trans-man and healthcare professional speaks out

A letter to the Provincial Minister of Education, SOGI123, and the chair of our local school board

I’m writing to offer a perspective on the SOGI curriculum being presented in public schools, which I do with some sense of urgency. My concerns come as a parent of four teenaged kids in the public school system, as an RN who specializes in mental health and transgender care, and as an intersex man who legally and medically transitioned to male, starting back in the early 1990s. I hope I can bring some nuance to this topic.

Firstly, I want to express my support for a curriculum that promotes awareness and acceptance of diversity. For example, one of my kids recently learned in class about intersex conditions which was enlightening and interesting for her. I’m fully in favour of social justice and civil liberties, which has been the goal of activism in the past. However, activism has taken on a new character in recent years and I wish to bring to your attention the ways in which I believe it’s doing harm. Similar things can be said of many (all?) of the movements based on critical theory, but I’ll limit this letter to the branch called “queer theory” which I’m most familiar with. From what my kids report back and what I hear from other parents, educators in the public school system are not just promoting diversity, access and anti-bullying to kids but are also teaching a certain ideological understanding of transgender and queer identities. For example, this same daughter mentioned above was also taught that there are “58 genders” by that teacher. What is the basis, purpose or impact of that lesson? Clearly this is well meaning but I’ve come to understand those conceptualizations as distortions, fictions and political rhetoric which actually harms those it’s meant to help. 

I studied queer theory at its inception in the mid-1990s, just after I was diagnosed with my own gender condition at age 19. Back then we had little understanding of gender dysphoria.  I left my home in rural Manitoba, moved to Winnipeg where I initially became a part of the lesbian community and the art scene, and I studied advertising art before moving to Halifax to study at the Nova Scotia College of Art and Design.  While in art school I also studied Queer Critical Theory at Mount Saint Vincent University. Social philosophies, like Judith Butler and Judith Halberstam’s work, had just been published. These philosophies are where all of these ideas about gender identity came from. The mistake I made was I thought women like Judith Butler were articulating the kind of gender dysphoria I felt. I, and my circle of lesbian friends who studied that stuff, took those ideas and started packaging it up as cultural narratives. We connected with a curator, Robin Metcalfe, in Halifax who’s a gay man who loves those theories. He’d curate art shows, we’d make the art, and he’d write essays about it for magazines, books and newspapers, using our art to illustrate his ideas. We very intentionally made art that had the same look and feel as popular media. It was a strategic, political tactic to spread these ideas. Then drag kings started to pop up. Then people started to medically transition. Similar things were happening all over the world. Now we have the internet and social media and we’re teaching this gender narrative in schools to children. I’ve watched these theories spread out to all levels of society, including the medical system.  

The problem is this: 30 years later, Judith Butler hasn’t come out as intersex or transgender. She’s a lesbian. Those narratives have nothing to do with intersex people or transsexual men. Those women were crafting carefully designed rhetoric with the aim of socially subverting male power by dismantling everything we believe about biological sex, and then asserting themselves as both males and female in the world. I know academic lesbian women of that era who adopted a male persona and sought medical interventions like mastecomies for “political reasons” not because they had gender dysphoria. They were acting out these theories and delighting in the fact that they could hijack the medical system to do so. 

Because those narratives aren’t about people with medical gender conditions, they ended up being very psychologically damaging for the few of us with these conditions. What it’s also done, I believe, is replicated psychological gender dysphoria among girls – especially gay girls and those who are psychologically vulnerable. So we’re now seeing expediential growth in young girls reporting gender dysphoria and seeking medical transitions. Kids have not consented to being wrapped up in the queer theory movement. They’re not aware of where those ideas came from nor what their purpose was. It’s being presented to them as “fact”. 

Meanwhile, since these theories have also permeated the trans care medical system, scientifically-based therapeutic practices have been replaced with activist driven practices, and sound research is being demonized and suppressed. The new “affirmative model” together with upcoming legislation to criminalize “conversion therapy” means that we are to fast track young people into permanent medical interventions with no exploration of their identity formation or motivation. I predict we’re about to see a huge wave of transition regret and the whole thing is going to implode in the coming years. This perfect storm makes me extremely nervous as a clinician who works with young people. Several countries like Sweden, Finland and the UK are piecing this together. Sweden and Finland have completed systematic reviews of gender care for children and concluded that there is an alarming lack of evidence for this approach. The principle author of the affirmative model, the “Dutch Protocol”, himself has raised alarm that the model wasn’t designed for how it’s now being used. Their research was limited to a specific cohort of kids with early childhood onset gender dysphoria. It was designed prior to this new spike in teen girls presenting to gender clinics, many of whom haven’t experienced early childhood gender dysphoria.  It’s this new cohort of clients I’m most concerned about. We don’t know much about them yet. 

None of this was the intended outcome we had in mind 30 years ago. We were kids exploring our own identities during a confusing time. I feel horrified that I’ve had a hand in this. It seems as though kids today believe they have only 3 options: a narrow definition of boyhood or girlhood, and anything outside of those little boxes is “trans”. Girlhood and boyhood are shrinking while “trans” gets ever bigger. Perhaps not the worst social fad, except that it involves permanent alterations to their bodies. Well-meaning trans activists (I hope) seem blind to the broader social repercussions of their ideologies. They celebrate the growing numbers, while I feel saddened and alarmed. I happen to know some trans men, who transitioned many years ago, who now regret that they altered their bodies. I wonder if you can imagine how devastating that is for them, and they went through the system when it was cautious. It’s nothing short of alarming to think of thousands of teens or young adults altering their bodies and then realizing it was a fashionable social phase propagated by ideology and marketing cleverly disguised as “facts”. These are not facts of biological reality in any way. Activists use intersex and cultural realities to make their case but those are distorted appropriations. Most intersex people like myself do not identify as queer, trans or non-binary. Trans activists should not be rewriting our stories to suit themselves.

I am actively working to shift the medical practice in Canada, but that will take time. I hope you will take this concern seriously and with the urgency it warrants. You are in a position to do your part to slow this down in young people by taking the ideological gender rhetoric out of the education you provide to impressionable children who are not old enough to think critically about it.

I would be happy to discuss this with you further, at your convenience, if you’d like me to clarify anything. 

Thank-you for your attention.

Image credit: Alice Shen – discovered at the New Discourses article “Everything is Problematic” an exposee on radical political ideology at McGill University stemming from Judith Butler and queer theory.

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