What Schools Are Teaching Your Kids About 'Gender'
It’s not about ‘acceptance’—it’s about compliance.
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Many parents are starting to panic about what schools are teaching their children about gender. Here in New Zealand, increasing numbers of parents are withdrawing their children from school due to concerns about gender identity instruction. In the US, after sustained pressure from angry parents, Florida recently passed controversial legislation prohibiting, among other things, classroom instruction on gender identity for students below the age of about ten.
These parents are concerned about the influence of a belief system called gender identity theory, or more informally gender ideology. Gender ideology is tremendously unpopular with everyday people, as highlighted by a recent cover story in The Economist, which described efforts to “relabel women as birthing people” as one of the “most extreme and least popular ideas” of the US Democratic Party’s activist wing (the phrase ‘birthing people’ is a hallmark term of gender ideology). It’s therefore unsurprising that opinion polls in both New Zealand and the United States indicate that a large majority of people oppose gender identity instruction in schools, including many or most Left-wing voters.
Still, some people are not yet convinced that gender identity instruction is a serious problem. Gender identity lessons are marketed as efforts to reduce bullying and promote inclusion, which are laudable goals that appeal to most people. Gender activists also misleadingly package their ideas as an extension of the popular campaign for gay and lesbian acceptance.
But many people remain confused about what “gender ideology” actually says, whether it is being taught in schools, and even whether it really exists. One article in Quartz claimed that the whole idea of gender ideology is a “conspiracy theory” invented by conservatives, and even attempted to spuriously tie objections to gender ideology to opposition to abortion rights and gay marriage (both of which I personally support).
If you’ve been confused and on the sidelines of the gender education debate, this article is for you. I want to show you exactly what’s being taught to your children, so that you can decide for yourself whether you like it. We’ll examine several typical examples of gender identity instruction, and think through their implications.
While I’ve based these examples on material I’ve encountered here in New Zealand, this type of material is being promoted across the Western world.
Example One: The League of Super Feminists
Who’s recommending it?
I’ve seen this comic book on prominent display in the children’s section of Wellington’s Te Awe library on several occasions, suggesting an implicit endorsement by the library. The School Library Journal described it as “the sort of book one wishes could be put in every reader’s hands.”
What does it say?
This book first explains the concept of gender roles:
Girls = love, beauty, mother, princess, jealousy, shoes, etc.
Boys = courage, toughness, friends, maths, firefighter, cool, etc.
The book later illustrates the female gender role with a drawing of a woman washing the dishes.
The book explains that your gender identity is determined by whether the male or female gender role fits better for you: “GENDER IDENTITY is how we find where we fit within social roles.”
Finally, it defines what makes someone “transgender”:
When we’re born, society chooses a box (boy or girl) for us and even if it makes us uncomfortable because it’s a bad system, most of the time we deal with it and don’t feel the need to change the box we’re in. But sometimes it’s unbearable and it feels like we’ve been put in the wrong box, and we realise we need to change it. When we aren’t put in the right box at birth, we’re trans!
In other words, if a girl feels that the female gender role doesn’t fit her, then this makes her trans. On the other hand, if she’s not transgender, this means that she accepts the female gender role, and earns the label “cisgender”—“People who stay in their assigned gender categories are called cisgender or cis!”
Remember that according to the book, a girl’s role consists of domestic drudgery, jealousy, uncoolness, and (oddly) not having friends. The book thus gives several powerful reasons for girls to adopt a transgender identity and gain access to the superior lifestyle promised to boys and men. Conversely, the book encourages boys who don’t see themselves as tough, or who don’t fit into the “cool” crowd, to interpret this as evidence that they must be trans. For any boy who feels insufficiently manly, this offers an appealing reinterpretation of traits they might previously have been told were weaknesses.
While the book shows illustrations of trans women with breasts and a feminine appearance, it does not mention the drugs and surgeries needed to achieve these results. Nor does it mention the serious health costs involved in medical gender reassignment. Instead, the book claims that merely identifying as a woman transforms someone into a “real” woman, complete with a female body. The book sternly warns the reader not to question this idea, in a caption reading:
CAREFUL...! A trans woman isn’t a “fake woman” nor is a trans man a “fake man”!!!
This caption is accompanied by a drawing of a trans woman who says:
I’m not “a woman in a man’s body”... or “a woman who was a man before.” I’m just a woman.
Obviously, the book’s message that your preferred gender role determines whether you are male or female is incompatible with the scientific definition of these terms. In fact, the book actively rejects the established scientific definition of male and female as “two groups… that complement each other reproductively,” falsely asserting that this definition is disproven by the existence of so-called “intersex” conditions (more correctly referred to as differences of sexual development). The book states:
There’s a girl/boy system imposed on us, and it’s dumb. It’s not based on biology or logic... biologically, there aren’t just two options... there are dozens of other possibilities.
While the book’s notion of what makes someone “male” or “female” may seem outlandish, it is representative of the ideas now being taught in many schools.
Let’s look at a few more examples of how gender identity theory is taught to children.
Example Two: Trans 101 - The Basics
Who’s recommending it?
This video is recommended to schools by the New Zealand Ministry of Education, for inclusion in relationships and sexuality education programmes. It was produced by the Australian trans activist group Minus 18, who were deeply involved in the design of Australia’s controversial Safe Schools programme.
What does it say?
This video starts by introducing the concept of being “trans”:
Most of us are taught the idea that people are born a boy or a girl, and that we’re expected to act a certain way based on what’s between our legs. But that actually isn’t true for everyone. It totally ignores the huge and amazing world of people who are trans or gender diverse.
This opening statement strongly implies that if you don’t act according to “what’s between your legs” (i.e. in line with sex stereotypes), then you’re transgender. The video continues:
Traditionally, we tend to think of gender as decided by the body we’re born in. People are usually assigned female, or male at birth. But bodies and gender are actually pretty separate things. Gender is basically part of someone’s internal sense of self... You’ve probably heard the term transgender, or even gender diverse. That’s when your gender doesn’t entirely match the one you were assigned at birth... That could mean the gender you were assigned felt meaningless, restrictive, or altogether just didn’t quite fit. That might seem like a pretty broad definition, and that’s because it is.
To the uninitiated, this part of the video might not seem to make much sense. Let’s try substituting the definition the video gives for the word “gender” into some places where this word is used. I’ve marked substituted text with (parentheses):
You’ve probably heard the term transgender, or even gender diverse. That’s when your (internal sense of self) doesn’t entirely match the (internal sense of self) you were assigned at birth... That could mean the (internal sense of self) you were assigned felt meaningless, restrictive, or altogether just didn’t quite fit.
Obviously, people are not “assigned” their internal sense of self when they’re born. To make sense of this video, you need to understand the several different meanings of the term “gender.” As Kathleen Stock explains in Material Girls, gender can mean:
Biological sex. The Merriam Webster dictionary gives “sex,” in the sense of having male or female reproductive organs, as one definition of the word “gender.” Some people say “gender” rather than “sex” because “sex” can also mean sexual intercourse, and they find this embarrassing.
Gender roles and/or sex stereotypes. Gender roles are social expectations of males and females, as explained in the League of Super Feminists book. For example, the World Health Organisation defines gender as the “norms, behaviours and roles associated with being a woman, man, girl or boy.” Similarly, Merriam Webster defines gender as “the behavioural, cultural, or psychological traits typically associated with one sex”—in other words, sex stereotypes. Technically, female sex stereotypes refer to what people believe that girls are like, while female gender roles define what society wants girls to be like, but in practice these two ideas are very closely related.
Gender identity. As the term itself implies, and as explained in the League of Super Feminists book, gender identity refers to the gender role that someone identifies with. For example, having defined “gender” to mean “gender role,” the World Health Organisation proceeds to define gender identity as “a person’s deeply felt, internal and individual experience of gender.” In other words, gender identity refers to feeling an affinity with male or female stereotypes. Confusingly, gender identity is often referred to as “gender” for short.
The Trans 101 video appears to switch deceptively between at least two of these definitions of “gender” as the video progresses. By substituting the appropriate “translations” of the word gender, we can try to discern what the video is saying. I’ve marked substituted text and clarifications based on what seems the most logical reading of the video with parentheses:
Traditionally, we tend to think of (gender identities and roles) as decided by the (biological sex of the) body we’re born in. People are usually assigned (a female or male gender role) at birth, based on the body they’re born in (and expected to adopt the gender identity that goes along with that role). But bodies and (gender identities) are actually pretty separate things. (Gender identity) is basically part of someone’s internal sense of self... You’ve probably heard the term transgender, or even gender diverse. That’s when your (gender identity) doesn’t entirely match the (gender role) you were assigned at birth... That could mean the (gender role) you were assigned felt meaningless, restrictive, or altogether just didn’t quite fit. That might seem like a pretty broad definition, and that’s because it is.
The video is saying that girls who find female stereotypes meaningless or restrictive are “trans” (e.g. a girl who doesn’t always like wearing makeup would fit this definition). And boys who feel uncomfortable with the expectations society puts on boys (e.g. being tough, or playing contact sports) are also trans.
Arguably, this “pretty broad definition” applies to every child, at least to some extent. Unfortunately, by encouraging anyone—especially children—who experiences any discomfort with sex stereotypes to identify as trans, the video risks guiding them down a pathway that ends in drastic medical and surgical intervention.
The video avoids any explicit reference to biological sex. Like The League of Super Feminists, the video does not seek to complement the concept of biological sex with the idea of gender identity, but to replace it altogether.
The persuasive power of this video comes from the way in which it is presented and produced. The presenters come across as enthusiastic, confident, and excited about being trans, implying that distressed children can achieve these same outcomes if they transition. In reality, the evidence that youth gender transition improves overall mental health is dubious at best.
Example Three: Who Are You? The Kid's Guide to Gender Identity
Who’s recommending it?
This picture book, targeted at children aged 3 to 8, is recommended by Family Planning as part of its popular sexuality education programme for New Zealand schools. The School Library Journal described it as “an ideal title for caregivers and educators to share with children.”
The book’s Amazon page also includes endorsements from a long list of education professors and “gender affirmative” clinicians.
What does it say?
This short book’s key message appears to be that your parents, and even your doctor, may well be wrong about whether you are a boy or a girl:
When babies are born, people ask “Is it a boy or a girl?” Babies can’t talk, so grown-ups make a guess by looking at their bodies. This is the sex assigned to you at birth, male or female... For some people, the grown-ups guessed right about their body and their gender. This is called cisgender - when someone’s identity matches their sex assigned at birth.
The phrasing “for some people, the grown-ups guessed right” strongly suggests that parents frequently guess wrong about whether children are male or female, perhaps more than half the time. Notice also that the reference to “their body and gender” suggests that parents are frequently wrong about children’s actual physical sex, in addition to their gender identities. This is a particularly bizarre claim, and an extremely confusing and destabilizing thing to tell children.
Consistent with the other materials we’ve discussed, the book explains that whether you are male or female depends not on the physical reality of your body, but on your subjective feelings:
Kids know a lot about themselves. They know who they are by how they feel inside... you are who you say you are, because YOU know you best.
The book does not directly explain what it feels like to be male or female, but it offers a hint in the form of illustrations of an array of stereotypically female (e.g. a tutu, an ironing board, and a doll) or male (e.g. a toy aeroplane and a soccer ball) childhood objects. These pages are introduced with the caption, “What do you like?” In the context of a book about gender entitled Who are you?, the implication of these illustrations is pretty clear. As with the League of Super Feminists and Trans 101, the underlying message is that children’s preferences for stereotypically male or female gender roles determine whether they are boys or girls.
Notice also the book’s implicit claim that babies are born with a gender identity. That is, the claim that “Babies can’t talk, so grown-ups make a guess [about whether they are boys or girls] by looking at their bodies” implies that if babies could talk, they’d be able to explain their gender identity. This claim is difficult to logically reconcile with the book’s definition of gender identity as a feeling of being male or female, because it’s hard to imagine that a new-born baby could know what ‘male’ or ‘female’ feel like. Here, it’s possible that the book is referencing the supernatural concept of a gender identity as an inborn spirit or soul. This tendency to move seamlessly between secular and supernatural concepts of gender identity is not uncommon among gender activists.
Who are you? also includes a special wheel that teaches children to dissociate themselves from their bodies, and invites them to select a transgender identity. The wheel has three movable rings, which can be shifted to produce different combinations of statements.
The first ring is labelled “BODY: I have…,” for example, “I have a body that made adults guess ‘girl.’” The second ring is labelled “IDENTITY: I am…,” for example “I am a boy.” These two rings move independently, sending the message that your body is unconnected to whether you are a boy or a girl.
The wheel’s equation of “identity” with “I am…” implies that identifying as something means that you are that thing. This is, of course, false. If someone identifies as a good driver, this doesn’t always reflect their actual skill level. More seriously, an unconfident child may identify as “hopeless at sport,” or a depressed child may identify as “hopeless at life.” These are thoughts, not facts, and it’s healthier not to hold on to them too tightly. In Acceptance and Commitment Therapy, the belief that thoughts or feelings are facts is called “cognitive fusion,” and is understood to be a deeply unhelpful way of thinking.
The wheel invites a child to choose from a long list of gender identity options, including “trans,” “genderqueer,” “transgender,” “neutrois,” “sometimes a girl and sometimes a boy,” and “just me!” The option “just me!” sounds promising, until you realise that a child cannot use the wheel to select “just me!” and “a girl” or “a boy” at the same time.
Altogether, there are eighteen gender options, only one of which will correspond to the child’s actual biological sex. The wheel thus suggests to children that being trans is far more usual than identifying with your biological sex, which is concerning given that children are very suggestible.
Neither the wheel nor the book explain the potential long-term implications of adopting an alternative gender identity, or even what these identities mean. It’s safe to say that the average three year old has no idea that “affirming” a neutrois identity involves surgically removing your genitalia.
The wheel’s third ring is labelled “EXPRESSION: I like,” e.g. “I like painting.” This ring juxtaposes preferences like “tutus,” “dresses,” “nail polish,” and “cooking” with activities like “puzzles,” “climbing trees,” and “football.” The fact that this ring parallels the two other rings, which show male and female bodies and identities, sends the message that childhood interests and preferences are inherently male or female. This message is also built into the concept of “gender expression,” which implies that your likes and dislikes express your innate gender identity. So the implication is that if you like cooking (for example), this is a sign that you might really be a girl.
While this book is clearly grounded in gender identity theory, the author appears wary of the sexist implications of openly defining a “woman” or “girl” as “someone who embraces the female gender role.” Thus, the book includes some messages that superficially appear to encourage children to break free from sex stereotypes. For example, the book says, “There are lots of ways to be a boy. There are lots of ways to be a girl.... Be who you are!” However, this statement can be read in different ways. In the book’s wider context, it perhaps suggests that one way to be a girl is to put on nail polish (and that this will turn you into a girl even if you happen to have a penis). At best, the book’s messaging about sex stereotypes is highly contradictory and confusing. The inherent tension between gender ideology and traditional feminism is perhaps the reason that so many true believers are unable to coherently answer the question, “What is a woman?”
Overall, Who are you? conveys the same regrettable key themes as The League of Super Feminists and Trans 101. These messages are again conveyed in an indirect, disorienting way that interferes with critical thinking. Unfortunately, the young children who are exposed to this book are unlikely to have the knowledge of basic biology required to identify its flaws. They will grow up with a fundamental misunderstanding of what male and female mean.
Now let’s look at perhaps the most famous transgender-themed book for children. This slightly older book shows some interesting differences from the more recent materials we’ve looked at.
Example Four: I Am Jazz
Who’s recommending it?
This picture book, targeted at very young children, is again recommended by Family Planning as part of its popular sexuality education programme for New Zealand schools. The School Library Journal describes I Am Jazz as “a unique and much-needed addition to literature on the subject of transgender children.” Despite this effusive praise, schools and libraries have received numerous complaints about the potential impact of making this book available to young children.
What does it say?
This book tells the story of a child called Jazz who is socially transitioned (i.e. adults begin treating Jazz as if Jazz was a girl). In accordance with the real-life Jazz’s preferences, I will refer to Jazz with female pronouns (she/her). I trust that the reader will understand that Jazz was, and remains, biologically male.
The book opens by saying, “I am Jazz! For as long as I can remember, my favourite colour has been pink.” The book goes on to say that Jazz likes dancing, singing, and mermaids, but dislikes playing with trucks, tools, or superheroes. The book presents the fact that Jazz fits these female sex stereotypes as if it was evidence that Jazz is really a girl.
Based on this evidence, Jazz claims, “I have a girl brain but a boy’s body. This is called transgender. I was born this way!” This is a reference to the controversial theory that a transgender identity results from being born with a brain whose structures and physiology are typical of the opposite sex. While evidence for this theory is mixed, the truth is that people desire to transition for a range of reasons, and that social influence can play a significant role in this decision.
A positive feature of I Am Jazz is that it acknowledges that being trans is unusual (“I don't mind being different. Different is special!”). More recent trans activist content, like Trans 101, tends to imply that being trans is quite common. This is important because emphasizing the popularity of something is an effective influencing technique.
Another positive aspect of I Am Jazz is that it acknowledges that Jazz is biologically male (i.e. has “a boy body”). As we’ve seen, in recent variations of gender identity theory, this is held to be an unacceptable thing to say. In fact, a New Zealand public servant was recently formally told not to use the term “male-bodied” to describe trans women. This shows how swiftly gender activists have departed from reality since I Am Jazz was published in 2014.
I Am Jazz also parts ways from more recent gender theories by painting gender dysphoria as an integral part of being trans (gender dysphoria is intense distress about the biological sex of your body). Towards the start of the book, the boy version of Jazz is portrayed as an unhappy child, overshadowed by dark clouds. The book suggests that Jazz’s unhappiness is due to her discomfort with being treated as a boy, and that this is the prompt for her gender transition. While the wisdom of using social transition to treat childhood gender dysphoria is questionable, naturally-occurring childhood gender dysphoria is probably rare. In contrast to I Am Jazz, Who are you? makes no reference to gender dysphoria, and Trans 101 explicitly states that “having dysphoria doesn’t make someone more, or less, trans.” The claim that you can be trans without ever experiencing gender dysphoria opens the floodgates to the medicalization of many more children.
Overall then, I Am Jazz tells a slightly different story from the other materials we’ve looked at, based on a distorted version of the psychiatric model of what it means to be trans. So we can now see that gender ideology promotes three distinct concepts of what it means to be a trans woman (or a trans man):
Queer theory concept: A trans woman identifies with the female gender role, but was incorrectly assigned the male gender role.
Spiritual concept: A trans woman was born with a female soul in a male body.
Medical concept: A trans woman was born with a female brain in a male body, causing gender dysphoria.
To most of us, these three concepts might seem logically incompatible. But in the minds of many gender activists, they are mutually reinforcing. While never explicitly articulated, the general idea seems to be that a trans woman’s gendered soul inhabits her brain and makes it female. This is what causes her to identify with the female gender role, and in turn this may require her to medically transition.
These three intertwined concepts of what it means to be trans provide a convenient defense against criticisms of gender ideology. When feminists complain that defining a woman as someone who identifies with the female gender role is sexist, gender activists can respond that being trans is based not on gender roles, but on an undefinable feeling (i.e. implying a gendered soul). When scientists complain that this definition is unscientific, gender activists can respond that being trans is a scientifically established medical condition. And when parents complain that they don’t want schools to celebrate and encourage gender dysphoria, gender activists can indignantly respond that being trans is merely a harmless preference for a different gender role.
By shifting from one concept of being trans to another, gender activists ignore the flaws of all three concepts, and thus remain trapped in a perpetual circle of denial.
The medical explanation of being trans presented in I Am Jazz has at least some—albeit tenuous—connection with reality, so overall this book compares favourably to the other materials we’ve discussed. However, certain aspects of the book are still very concerning.
For instance, the book suggests that Jazz discovered her “girl brain” at about age 4, with the guidance of a helpful doctor. It is strongly implied that everyone involved is certain that Jazz’s newly-discovered transgender identity is permanent. The book’s “born this way” narrative suggests to children that preferences typical of the opposite sex are a sure sign of a permanent transgender identity. This is highly inaccurate.
Additionally, when Jazz is socially transitioned, the book suggests that this changes her into a girl. While most adults will understand that this is not literally true, younger children or those with autism could easily be misled into believing that wearing new clothes and adopting new pronouns has changed Jazz’s biological sex. Medical transition is not mentioned in the book.
I Am Jazz also presents social transition as if it was a solution to all Jazz’s problems—not just her gender dysphoria. Following social transition, Jazz is shown as a radiantly happy girl who claims, “Inside, I am happy. I am having fun. I am proud!”
But in real life, Jazz’s social transition led to later medical transition. She has undergone gender transition surgeries that have resulted in severe complications and considerable suffering. She also suffers from depression, disordered eating, and sexual dysfunction. Like Trans 101, I Am Jazz paints gender transition in a glittery, rainbow-hazed light that simply does not reflect reality.
After being exposed to books and videos like those we’ve discussed, it would be reasonable for children and young people to start to wonder if they themselves might be transgender. Transition could easily sound like a potential solution to their general unhappiness or trouble fitting in. How can they know whether gender transition is a good option for them? The internet is filled with “helpful” information on this topic.
Let’s look at an example.
Example 5: 8 signs and symptoms of indirect gender dysphoria
Who’s recommending it?
This blog post is recommended by the Am I Transgender? website. The answer that this website always gives to the question it poses in its title is:
Am I Transgender? is not an officially-endorsed website, but it’s an example of the type of material that children now frequently encounter online. The website identifies its author as Zinnia Jones, a trans activist and prolific YouTuber who writes for the Huffington Post and has appeared on CNN and Democracy Now. Zinnia openly admits that the intent of her writing is to “spawn more trans,” and her personal blog includes an article advertising “low cost alternatives to puberty blockers” that “circumvent the ‘my parents won’t let me go on puberty blockers’ problem.”
Am I Transgender? recommends a series of highly misleading articles for its readers to use to decide whether they are trans. The first of these articles is “8 signs and symptoms of indirect gender dysphoria” by Jones herself.
What does it say?
Zinnia’s article starts by saying that even if you’ve never had any concerns about your gender identity, you could still be trans if you’re “in distress” or “feeling unwell”:
My gender dysphoria primarily took the form of this indirect dysphoria, and I’ve spoken with many other trans people whose dysphoria also did not initially have a clear and unavoidable association with gender. Due to the lack of strong indicators that these “unwell feelings” are actually a matter of gender, it can take us quite a long time just to realize that we’re trans or that what we’re feeling is dysphoria.
Zinnia then proceeds to list 8 supposed symptoms of “indirect gender dysphoria,” which include: “Continual difficulty with simply getting through the day,” “A feeling of just going through the motions in everyday life, as if you’re always reading from a script”, “A seeming pointlessness to your life, and no sense of any real meaning or ultimate purpose,” “Knowing you’re somehow different from everyone else, and wishing you could be normal like them,” and “Attempting to fix this on your own through various coping mechanisms.”
These symptoms do not indicate gender dysphoria. Most are symptoms of depressed mood. The two exceptions are “knowing you’re somehow different from everyone else” and “attempting to fix this on your own through various coping mechanisms,” both of which are symptoms of simply being human.
The Am I Transgender? website appears almost calculated to convince vulnerable youth to transition. For most, the outcomes are unlikely to be positive, because transition will not address the true nature of their underlying problems. Classroom gender identity instruction, in the form of books and videos like those described earlier, primes children to seek out and believe this type of toxic internet content.
Why be concerned?
Gender activists claim to be teaching tolerance. Sadly, they are not. Instead. what they’re teaching is a radical and harmful redefinition of what it means to be male or female.
Schools can teach religious tolerance without insisting that children must believe in fundamentalist Christianity, radical Islam, or any other particular religious viewpoint. Similarly, we can and should teach children to accept transgender people without teaching gender identity theory. In fact, many transgender people utterly reject gender ideology, and LGB advocacy groups are especially concerned about the damaging effects of gender ideology on gay, lesbian, and bisexual youth.
Teaching gender identity theory seems likely to have at least four corrosive effects. First, it undermines children’s understanding of science and the world. Children are being taught a belief system that insists that men can menstruate. While people often struggle to believe that the claim that gender identities can transform human bodies is meant literally, children are being told this explicitly. A Teen Vogue video features a trans woman who claims, “When I say that I am a woman, I don’t just mean that I identify as a woman. I mean that my biology is the biology of a woman, regardless of whether or not doctors agree... the reality is that a trans woman’s biology is a female biology.” In the same video, the attorney for the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) claims that, “A trans woman is a woman... all of her body parts are female body parts.” One popular LGBT magazine has even claimed that, “There’s nothing intrinsically male about XY chromosomes, testosterone, body hair, muscle mass or penises... Sex, like gender, is indeed socially constructed and can be changed.” Obviously, these claims are scientifically incorrect.
This is reminiscent of the debate about teaching “creation science” in schools, but far worse. Billionaires with commercial interests in the gender transition industry provide generous funding to organizations that promote gender ideology. True believers try to silence parents who are concerned about the harm being done, by branding them as bigots. Transgender people who step out of line are often the first to be targeted with threats and bullying. This has nothing to do with “tolerance” and “acceptance” and everything to do with compliance with a cult-like ideology.
Second, if children believe that breaking free from traditional gender roles requires becoming transgender, then most of them are likely to stick to traditional gender roles. Wary parents may encourage the same. This is deeply regressive. Almost everyone has at least some personality traits, interests, and preferences that are stereotypically associated with the opposite sex. Classroom instruction needs to be crystal clear that this is perfectly natural and healthy, and in no way suggest that children may have been “born in the wrong body” or need any kind of medical treatment. This means that classroom instruction needs to state clearly that being male or female is a matter of biology, not personality or preferences. Children deserve the freedom to be who they are without medically transitioning from girl to boy or vice versa.
Third, these books and videos encourage children to experiment with social transition. Children are taught to interpret discomfort with traditional gender roles as evidence that they’re trans. Transition is presented as common, harmless, beneficial, and fun. The results are predictable, as illustrated by this case study of a seven-year-old girl who was given trans-themed books for Christmas. She started identifying as a boy within a month. This girl’s new identity was reinforced by her mother, but in other cases activist teachers facilitate social transition behind parents’ backs. One mother reported that after her daughter’s school embraced gender instruction, a quarter of the girls in her daughter’s class started identifying as trans. After a lesson in gender identity, her eleven-year-old daughter “went home, looked up ‘transgender’ on Tiktok, and that was it. She was now trans.”
While some people claim that all this is harmless, social transition appears to put children at high risk of eventual medical transition. Emerging evidence suggests that social transition can have a long-term impact on gender identity. Children who socially transition will eventually be told that, for trans folk like them, medical transition is “lifesaving” and a “matter of life and death.” Their parents are being sold this same narrative. The recent, dramatic, and tragic rise in rates of medical transition seems an inevitable result. The consequences of surgical gender reassignment can be severe, with research suggesting that surgical-site infections occur in over 50 percent of cases. A gender surgeon recently admitted to the New York Times that “we wouldn’t accept this rate of complication necessarily in other procedures.”
Finally, there are reasons to worry that destabilizing children’s identities could worsen their mental health. Many people will be aware that youth mental health has sharply deteriorated in recent years, in countries including New Zealand and the United States. Between 2012 and 2018, as gender ideology spread through US schools, surveys detected a significant rise in levels of anxiety. This rise was especially pronounced among LGBT students, despite improved social acceptance of same-sex attraction. CDC data for 2015 to 2021 show that youth mental health has continued to decline, and that over 75 percent of LGBT students now feel “persistently sad or hopeless.” No doubt many factors have played a role in the rise of youth anxiety and depression, including among LGBT individuals. Nonetheless, while advocates of gender identity instruction claim that it improves children’s mental health, so far its real-world results appear to be exactly the opposite of what was promised. This is unsurprising, given the dubious contents of gender identity instruction materials like the ones we’ve just reviewed.
The New Zealand government’s current media regulation review acknowledges that “content can cause harm to individuals’… physical, social, emotional, and/or mental wellbeing.” It’s a terrible irony that our own Ministry of Education is feverishly promoting this exact type of damaging content.
The spread of gender ideology into the classroom is not a conservative issue, a Christian issue, or even primarily a feminist issue. This is a matter of children’s health and wellbeing. Most people know in their gut that what’s being done to our children is wrong—they just need the confidence and courage to act. Every parent who loves their children needs to protect them against this anti-scientific, regressive, and harmful belief system.
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