In the last 10 years, there has been an extraordinary increase in teenagers seeking to transition from female to male. What's behind it—and has the NHS been too quick to find a solution?by Emma Hartley / March 3, 2020 / Leave a comment
It is commonly acknowledged that while biological sex is genetically determined, gender is a social construct. A human being cannot—and should not—be reduced to their biology, or indeed their genitals, because psychologically we are as much a product of the way that other people treat us as we are of our genetic inheritance. Homo sapiens are social creatures: our ability to cooperate is what gave us the evolutionary upper hand over our stronger Neanderthal cousins. Without parents, siblings, peers, colleagues, friends and lovers our idea of ourselves would remain ill-defined—we wouldn’t know who we were.
Imagine you were raised by wolves in a cave—let’s call you Mowgli—but then later met another human of the opposite sex. You would notice the physiological differences. But as to interpreting those differences, where would you start? Without being exposed to the concept of “man” or “woman”—let alone “laddish” or “girly”—you’d lack any mental map to provide the pointers to the typically “male” and “female” behaviour instilled in us by human society.
Precisely because gender is a social construct, the evolution of its boundaries and meanings will tell us something fundamental about our society. And gender-wise something really big is going on in the UK—but it’s not the big something you might think.
Transsexuality is a talking point like never before, and a glance at the figures sheds some light on why. The number of children, in particular, being referred to the Tavistock and Portman Foundation Trust’s gender identity development service (Gids)—the NHS service through which all UK candidates for a sex change under 18 are funnelled—is up from 77 in 2009 to 2,590 in 2018-9. But what’s almost as dramatic as the headline numbers are developments in who is transitioning. In November 2017, the Guardian reported that 70 per cent of referrals were female. This was a surprising statistic because only 10 years previously the overall ratio had been more like 75 per cent males seeking to be female, and indeed it is still the gender traffic in that direction that dominates the increasingly noisy, divisive and panic-inflected debate.
Recently, though, alarm bells have begun to ring among a handful of psychiatric professionals about the number of teenage girls arriving at the Tavistock’s door…