Lessons in “War” from a Transgender Child

This headline from the CBC — Canada’s publicly funded national broadcaster — was designed for maximum screencappability and high velocity ragebait:

Catholic Trustees Wage War . . .”

Apocalypse of brimstone, hailstorms of Hail Marys, and an arsenal of papist footsoldiers …

Waging war on who? Who is it this time?

“. . . transgender seven-year-old

A seven year old? A transgender?

Those Catholic monsters!

War as a metaphor in CBC’s headline is a gratuitous heaping of incendiary rhetoric that posits a global conflict between the Vatican’s shock troops — educational trustees — against the most vulnerable creature in the public imagination: the little mermaid of gender metamorphosis … the prepubescent transgender girl.

She is — and let’s be clear about this — a physically sexed male who identifies (a rhetorical gesture) as a girl and, by extension, as female (and female bodied). And where is this vulture-ridden conflict taking place? Upon what soon to be landmarked fields of ferocity and battle?

In a school toilet: at the physical level of a place to urinate, as well as within a collective sensibility that Sheila Cavanagh identified as the “hygienic imagination“.

Undoubtedly, a massive cultural undertaking is transpiring at this moment, as children are being diagnosed as transgender at frequently earlier ages, are often hustled onto blockers and then hormones with ad hoc efficiency, and the longterm consequences a matter of prediction as much as concrete debate. Allison Bechdel recently opined that, had she been a teenager now, she would have been incorrectly diagnosed as a transman. And incoming research suggests that a number of kids — just being kids — will receive false assessments of transiness just for exhibiting gender non conforming behaviour:

“In a study of pre-pubertal male and female children with gender dysphoria followed-up approximately 10 years later, only 27 percent of children with gender dysphoria remained gender dysphoric at follow-up.”

This isn’t a war, but it’s a conflict over biological realities and personality politics in our neolib era of iDentity™ as consumer driven.

And while too much attention is invested in the dueling egos of Jenner and Beck as the pair of them duke it out over personal honour (cough, masculinity), the most vulnerable and most malleable of the trans community, kids, are really the frontlines.

Contemporary Catholic social teaching is deeply indebted to John Paul II’s theology of the body, who was himself building upon post-war developments in science and sexuality as analysed in Paul VI’s Humanæ Vitæ. These two presentations of Church teaching, in addressing emergent biosocial and biopolitical realities that commenced in full with the sexual revolution of the 1960s, explicate and defend some of the most controversial analysis of social ethics in Catholicism today. They are foundational documents on current statements in regards to abortion, homosexuality, contraception, and sexual ethics.

As heatedly debatable as these texts are, both John Paul II and Paul VI begin from a similar position to feminism, as espoused by feminists such as Simone de Beauvoir and Luce Irigaray: sex differentiation is real, biologically factual, and necessary to understand the human condition.

I’m not suggesting Beauvoir and JPII are philosophical parallels: clearly not. However, they share an understanding of the dyadic nature of human procreation: male and female. Intersex exists as a category of derivation, but it does not undo the principle duality of mammalian reproduction.

Biological differentiation, based on sex, is fundamental to the human condition and is the first material fact from which any meaningful class analysis of social structures begins: men and women — or, as feminism shows us, men over women.

John Paul II states, “Man and woman, He made them” as a cosmographic imperative, a complimentary system of divinely-inspired enactment of the drama of love. Luce Irigaray would not be quite so sanguine in evaluating the hierarchy of sex. Yet, while certainly not theistic, she also recognizes that “the human in what it is objectively ever since its beginning is two, two who are different.” And Irigaray, using intentionally salvific language maintains, “Sexual difference is probably the issue in our time which could be our ‘salvation’ if we thought it through.”  Feminism restores “the truth of sex”, as Foucault referred to it, away from the linguistic impositions of gender and sexism that ignore, deny, or disavow the epistemological for the fanciful. This kind of basic observation is enough to get one labelled a TERF and have media campaigns launched to dislodge your job. 

So a transgender child — physically male, identifying as female — seeks to transition in her Catholic school. I am utterly in sympathy with her situation: I was such a child once myself. Unlike what probably would have occurred in my time, the school didn’t expel her, nor denied her a right to socially and medically transition; in fact, they made appropriate adjustments and welcomed her back. In the regulation blouse and skirt. With long hair and being called ‘she’.

However, on the difficult question of sexed differentiation, the transgirl should use a gender neutral space for her personal needs. This was an arrangement that recognizes the transgirl is not a “boy” yet also is mindful of female students, their female bodies, and the privacy from males to which they’re entitled. Young female humans have rights as well.

However, this wasn’t enough. It was “bigotry”. Why? Well, this transgirl’s mother asserts that  “my daughter is a girl who has a penis.”

Bigotry, apparently, is not accepting a penis as “female”.


The school board, as represented by its trustees, were not so readily inclined to accept what is, factually, an incorrect statement. Penis is male. Females do not have penises. Girls do not pee out of their clitorises. While one might appreciate the supportive tenor of the mother’s proclamation, one would also have to abandon a scientific education to accept such statements. This sort of discursive trick of declaring anything “female” is merely transgenderist flip-switching of the ontologically untenable. The shout of “bigot” is the only evidence hurled in response to those who don’t believe that girls have penises. While one may have intensive sympathy for this transgirl, acceptance does not mean acquiescing to every demand, particularly ones that are quite simply incoherent and reality-denying. And in the case that means having to pretend this child is female as a school-wide project of false consciousness.

A similar situation to Edmonton occurred here in Vancouver, and I am pleased to say that the archdiocese enacted an honest, equitable, realistic protocol, one attentive to the needs of girls (females) and transgirls (socially and medically transitioning males).

I thought the accommodations made in this case also involving a transgirl — interesting how it’s so often transgirls claiming space among girls in these stories — were excellent, attentive, and sensitive. They were identical almost to what was introduced in Edmonton: the school accommodated this transgirl — under care from a team of medical specialists — by allowing her a change of name and the right to the pronouns she prefers. She could attend school in the uniform appropriate to her gender identity. For the most part, all cultural clues the semiotics of gender were hers to wear and show.

However, mindful of the ethics of sex differentiation, the school drew the line at the toilet and other private spaces set aside (or segregated) for the dignity and privacy of young girls. Lockers rooms, washrooms — these are female spaces, and a “girl with a penis” cannot access them. A gender neutral toilet and space were made available, without monitoring or interference, for her to use during the maximum 10 minutes out of the school day she might need facilities.This is not meant to be mean, although I could see how a seven year old being held up as a political token by parents might take it that way. I’m sure this little transgirl’s feelings were hurt.

I really don’t see a similarity to the ‘segregation’ of black Americans as resultant from the conquest of slavery. This is a disagreeable comparison that Grell elicits, a trustee who has commented on the Edmonton case. Personally, I think we must be very cautious in summoning up the history of racial inequality in the US deep south to make a point about the sex binary amongst pre-pubescent children. Do not conflate race and sex: that is a red herring and a derailment. Sex is already ‘segregated’ at schools: a separation that recognizes the reality of physical embodiment, the ethics of sexual conduct, and the contested lives of women in the terrain of misogyny and rape culture.

However, this compromise — and I truly perceive it to be a fair one — did not suit the parent of the transgirl. And hence something as simple as a toilet has become a porcelain platform not just of “trans rights” but physiological denialism.

The ‘bad guys’ in this war are, of course, women who don’t think penis is male. It’s shockingly easy to disarm a woman of her right to an opinion about her own space by yelling “TERF”, “Witch”, or “Bigot!” What are the rights of the girls who don’t think penises are ‘female’ and are uncomfortable having one in a space whilst they’re removing their clothes? All the liberalist bafflegab about “fraught spatialities” and “the objectification of the organic” cannot overwrite the facticity of sexed materiality.

Now, I’m a transsexual Catholic. I do support any child transitioning, but I won’t support an enforced ruse that this child is female-bodied by merit of claiming it. You might as well call it a war on facts, dear CBC: females aren’t male. Wearing a dress doesn’t change that. I am thankful that the school has been attentive to this child’s needs — I was just like her once, in a Catholic school — and I would have loved a policy such as this. However, as a transsexual, I cannot — nor can any transwoman — dismiss that it is women and girls — females — who are, once again, bearing the brunt of sacrifice in attending to a male’s requests and requirements. A male who was unwilling to make the smallest compromise. Now that’s privilege. (And it’s not an accident that it’s transgirls whom we most often hear about running to the media in these instances of sexed space invasions.)

Identity is an idea: the bodily ego is a gendered morphology constructed out of enforced cues of signification. However, self-concept does not override physical anatomy. Not in theory, not in practicality.  Women must not be called “bigots” or “irrational” for having specific concerns that sex is not transferable or adaptable except for superficial adjustments.

The option of a gender neutral toilet was an accommodation based on cooperation. And it was rejected as inadequate.

I do not like that women and girls are being told to accept whatever imposition is placed upon them, including pretending a male-bodied child is a ‘girl with a penis’, to paraphase once more what the mother in the CBC report claimed.

Being ‘accepted’ as transsexual doesn’t mean demanding that every single person give in to every single demand. Maintaining a basic understanding of sex differentiation is pertinent for the safety and dignity of all children.

There’s more to this: are blockers appropriate for kids? At what age? Why encourage transition when we know that most kids will simply identify otherwise as they grow and mature. Isn’t it conversion therapy to rush someone to a psychiatrist for exhibiting gender variant behaviour? Why kids can’t just be kids? Yes, many more questions — but here’s the first answer …

stop blaming women who say “this far, no farther”.

Women are saying no.


Editorial note: Sunday (Solemnity of the Ascension) — 17 May, 2015.

The above essay elicited a very nasty and unpleasant barrage of tweets, subtweets, and various other disgraceful forms of public behaviour in my direction.

Here’s a mere sampling of the obsessional abuse that I receive — from trans activists! — as a transwoman who happens to have a wee blog about gender with a politically unpopular/incorrect opinion. They are vicious, pathological bullies who cannot argue ideas but instead resort to paranoid personal attacks.

(Feel free to ask them how someone is a “TERF”, a post-op transsexual, and a Roman Catholic all in one go.)

Only someone who’s never been bullied would think a child could never be a threat to another child.”

B4b3b2  b1a1 a2aa

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