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What do transgenders really need?

By Roslyn Phillips - posted Friday, 27 September 2013

Alice suffers from anorexia nervosa.  She hates her skinny body.  She thinks she’s fat.  She eats as little as possible and exercises every day – sometimes to absurd levels.

Should schools reinforce her distorted self-perception?  Should her teachers agree with her that she’s fat, facilitate her extreme exercise regimes, and not try to help her overcome her mental problem?

If we say ‘no’ to such an idea, why would we support a different policy for those who hate their bodies because they believe they are the wrong sex?


Some years ago I chatted with a transgender woman who told me about her earliest memory of being bathed with her twin sister.  “I asked my mother why I was different ‘down there’,” the transgender woman said.  “I thought my sister looked neat and attractive, but I didn’t.  I wanted to be like her.”

Sometimes perceptions like this, very early in life, may lead to conditions such as transgenderism or same-sex attraction. 

These conditions are not genetic, and do not result from unusual hormone exposure in the womb.  If that were so, identical twin studies would find that where one twin is homosexual, the other twin is always homosexual too.  A study of identical twins from a large Australian twin register found that where one twin is homosexual, the other – with the same genes – is heterosexual in nearly 90 per cent of cases.

Similarly, although the incidence of transgenderism is much lower than same-sex attraction, twin studies show that the condition is not genetic per se.  Parental mental disorders have sometimes been suggested as a contributing factor, along with sibling relationships, bullying, family dysfunction and influences outside anyone’s control.

But it is not true to say, as Jane Fynes-Clinton does, that “gender is a spectrum, a continuum and the elements of it change through life” (Courier-Mail, 19/9/13).  That statement suggests that being male or female is a variable condition – possibly unrelated to our biological sex, and may change from year to year depending on how we feel.

This idea may align with radical feminist theory, but it is not evidence-based.  It should not be forced on Queensland students, who are already confused by modern media.


So what should schools do when faced with the problem that one of their boy students wants to be treated as a girl – wear the girls’ uniform, play girls’ sport, use the girls’ toilets?

We could ask the same question about anorexic students, who need psychological help – counselling, family therapy, possibly anti-anxiety medication. 

Schools should not change their rules or arrangements in order to accommodate one student with a disturbed body perception.  The outside world does not do so.

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About the Author

Roslyn Phillips is National Research Officer of Family Voice Australia.

Creative Commons LicenseThis work is licensed under a Creative Commons License.

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