Warner and Charlie

(Ottawa, January 23, 2017) The BBC2 “Transgender Kids: Who Knows Best?” is myopic, one sided, dehumanizing and excludes the voices of intersex, transgender and gender fluid kids, as well as their supportive parents. A documentary film from a public broadcaster like the BBC should not be an exclusive tool for controversial academics to publicly promote themselves, and shame or discredit citizens or families who voice reasonable dissent.

My daughter, Charlie, is a good friend to Warner – the nine year old featured in the documentary – and together these two young girls are blazing trails in Canada’s National Capital, to inspire acceptance of diversity.

Charlie was also a patient at the CAMH Gender Identity Clinic clinic at age 6. Now ten, she has worked hard for two years to support Canada’s Senate to pass laws to protect gender identity and expression and she has tried to educate the public about gender diversity. At her recent speech at the Human Rights Monument – Charlie said:

For a while now, I have been trying to explain to others that being transgender or gender fluid isn’t something you just choose one day, like you choose your favourite ice cream.  It’s is not like an idea pops into your head one day and the next day everything changes. It is not like wanting to be a cat – because I wanted to be a cat – but I knew THAT was impossible, and kind of silly – even if it was fun to try. I have rescued three cats now though.

 Like everybody else on the planet, I came to understand myself by listening to my feelings, my own inner voice. My spirit. Didn’t your inner voice speak to you? My inner voice spoke to me. I am a girl. Girls have lots of different kinds of bodies.

People seem to expect me to fit in a one of two categories – boy or girl. I could be neither, or both – no matter what my body is or isn’t. All I really know for sure, is that right now – I am not a boy. I am also not a nuclear bomb, a predator, a freak, or a monster. I am human, a person. I have Grace too.

(excerpt of Charlie Lowthian-Rickert speech at the United Way Campaign Launch of “Path to Pride”, August 7, 2016)

We didn’t buy Charlie cat food just because she wanted to be a cat. Since Charlie was three she has demanded the freedom to explore her own gender identity without influence from anyone – not her parents, not society, and not so called ‘experts’ who don’t know her. Since she also has Aspergers, she tends to do her research, and often sees things in categories of black or white, yet when it comes to gender identity and expression – she sees rainbow. Yet no analysis of the correlation of ASD in transgender kids is provided in this documentary.

BBC2 provides no evidence that Dr. Zucker or CAMH was ‘targeted’ for ‘political’ reasons. In fact, it was a public invitation to contribute perspectives during a public review of CAMH services that resulted in the closing of the clinic. In fact many respondents recommended only changes in service model and accountability, in order to keep the clinic going to better support kids.  Our family respectfully questioned Dr. Zucker’s self proclaimed ‘modern-day-Gepetto’ role, in order to inspire a deeper, more thoughtful analysis and exploration of gender, involving the cooperation of a multitude of health disciplines, and more current and corroborated research. Yet the BBC2 film makes no mention of this intersectionality of oppression in public mental health services during its hour long discussion of gender diversity. Clearly the BBC2 goal is to discredit what is perceived as ‘activist’ (instead of well-informed) parents, and label legitimate concerns of bias as political ‘ideology’, instead of broadening understanding of a complicated issue.

Academics know there are natural consequences to certain research frameworks that ignore legitimate concerns raised about gender bias or faulty methodology. Though learning and progress involves a willingness to be wrong, too many health ‘professionals’ think themselves agnostic and infallible – though the data they rely on is discredited or debunked. Their view is not THE only reliable source for understanding gender diversity in children, and there is considerable evidence BBC2 has not explored.

When Charlie and I visit schools, churches, and agencies to provide seminars on gender diversity, we begin by explaining that other than small structural differences there is no real difference between the brain matter of a human boy or girl. We then go on to demonstrate how new biological research shows more than just the xx/xy variants in human chromosomes – there are a multitude of combinations and possibilities. Then we show how intersex characteristics are relatively common and we provide evidence of birds, and butterflies with both sets of secondary sex characteristics. Then we flash a picture of Charlie playing outside at eighteen months old, and ask the audience to determine or guess the gender of the child – simply by looking at the clothing and hair and expression.  Guests are inspired to consider their own gender stereotypes – whether socially, biologically, of philosophically constructed, and everybody gets to reconsider what gender really means to them. Together we explore a variety of current theories and references from a multitude of faculties of study. We even draw links to the wisdom of ancient indigenous cultures. This is a productive way of discussing current research and evidence in a non threatening environment that fosters understanding, not judgement.

So why would the BBC2 take such a hostile approach – and avoid interviewing past clients who felt harmed by the judgements and assumptions that clinical researchers (and journalists) make? Or how about listening to the transgender kids who are now adults and who are the alleged 20-40% of those who are still consistent, persistent and insistent?  Not once does producer Conroy provide contextual facts like: the total number of kids studied by Dr. Singh in her follow up study in which she alleges 159 kids stopped being transgender (desisted) as they matured. Other contextual information, like how many of these study subjects were male to female, female to male, or agender? How many families were LGBTQ friendly or ideologically opposed?  Most of these studies also lack inclusion of those kids who are intersex or gender fluid, a glaring oversight in any analysis that proposes to be ‘balanced’.

Finally BBC2 does not provide any evidence about how supportive parents of gender creative kids are actually parenting, or point to any specific things we are doing to harm our children. Something concrete – like say – choosing to not accept gender expression in children has been directly linked to a 43% attempted suicide rate in Ontario. Producer Conroy makes the biggest assumptions of all by type-casting all parents based on one single clinical view – and omitting relevant and meaningful contrary evidence or comment. He doesn’t even note how clinics across Canada practice affirmative care precisely because it has been proven to save lives.

In one hour the BBC2 has done considerable damage to transgender and gender fluid people who have spent years and years making efforts to educate. Clearly, BBC2 did not think about the impact their judgement in favour of one group of academics would have on their entire discourse of gender diversity, or the harm this narrow view could cause the actual kids and adults who are the subject of discussion. I expected better from the BBC.