Why can’t we just let kids be kids? CNS photo/Dave Hrbacek

Serious debate needed on gender transformation

By  John Sikkema, Catholic Register Special
  • September 21, 2023

Delegates at the recent Conservative Party’s National Convention voted to support a ban on treating gender dysphoria in children with pharmaceutical and surgical interventions.

This followed recent moves by the governments of New Brunswick and Saskatchewan to change school policies to ensure greater parental involvement in decisions to change a child’s name and pronouns at school when a child self-identifies as transgender. Ontario’s Education Minister also recently expressed support for these changes in principle.

Some people are lamenting such developments as a spillover of American culture wars into Canada and, worse, a manifestation of “transphobia.” But that is a facile dodge. There is an important debate to be had here.

Sadly, many children today experience distress about their bodies – about being male or female and about sexually maturing into a man or woman. They may say they feel stuck in the “wrong” body. A technical term for this is “gender dysphoria.” It has risen exponentially in children in the past decade, especially among teen and pre-teen girls. Plenty of evidence suggests this rise is largely a social phenomenon or “social contagion.”

People who support medical transition for minors believe they are supporting kids’ freedom to “be themselves.” But it’s not so simple. A person’s self-conception can change. His or her DNA and biological sex cannot change (though pharmaceutical and surgical interventions can make somebody appear more masculine or feminine). In a fundamental sense, you are your body. You didn’t choose it. You wouldn’t exist without it.

Male and female bodies are good and beautiful just the way they are. Boys should be free to take joy in picking flowers or playing with babies without questioning if they’re in the wrong body. Likewise, girls should be free to love sports, find bugs or be uninterested in dresses or dolls while still accepting and celebrating their natural bodies.

But our culture presents a mess of conflicting messages: airbrushed, impossible standards of beauty and people as sexual objects on the one hand; messages of body positivity and self-acceptance (“love the skin you’re in,” “amazing just the way you are”) on the other, and so on.

When did “being yourself” begin to require major medical alterations to healthy bodies?

We should not teach children to question basic bodily realities, as our schools currently do, by teaching them that their body might not match their “true” identity. Not only does this reinforce tired gender stereotypes, but it also causes mental and physical anguish.

Using puberty blockers, cross-sex hormones and even so-called gender reassignment surgeries on minors is quite new. While most children overcome gender dysphoria by adulthood without pharmaceutical or surgical interventions, once a child is given puberty blockers, that decision usually proves fateful, as most who start puberty blockers go on to also receive cross-sex hormones.

This helps explain parents’ desire to know what is going on with their children at school since school is where a child might start to identify as trans and be affirmed in that identity. By the time a child is convinced he or she is trapped in the wrong body and needs medical treatment, a concerned parent will be in a very difficult position.

The risks from cross-sex hormones alone include infertility, blood clots, hypertension, heart disease, cardiovascular disease, cerebrovascular disease, weight gain, sleep apnea, central nervous system tumours, urinary problems, erectile dysfunction, type 2 diabetes, low bone mass, osteoporosis and more. The risks of surgeries are significant as well.

Thus, it is no surprise that even progressive, trans-affirming nations have recently reversed or revised their approach to treating gender dysphoria in children. In Sweden, pediatric gender clinics stopped prescribing puberty blockers after a documentary by Mission Investigate, Sweden’s premier investigative news program, revealed that clinics neither fully informed parents of the harmful side effects of puberty blockers and cross-sex hormones nor monitored for such effects. Sweden’s famous Karolinska Institute, which pioneered medical interventions for gender dysphoria, now permits puberty blockers only as part of controlled clinical trials.

In Australia and New Zealand, the medical regulators of psychiatry have advised pediatric gender clinicians to first support children’s mental health needs and move cautiously and slowly toward medicalization.

Canada has become perhaps the most “affirming” and “progressive” nation on Earth when it comes to gender ideology, especially in education and healthcare. But this has largely occurred without meaningful public debate. That debate is long past due.

(John Sikkema is Director of Law and Policy for ARPA Canada.   This column is edited length  from a longer version distributed by Troy Media.)

Please support The Catholic Register

Unlike many media companies, The Catholic Register has never charged readers for access to the news and information on our website. We want to keep our award-winning journalism as widely available as possible. But we need your help.

For more than 125 years, The Register has been a trusted source of faith-based journalism. By making even a small donation you help ensure our future as an important voice in the Catholic Church. If you support the mission of Catholic journalism, please donate today. Thank you.