When a teenage girl in her mid-teens suddenly declares she is trans and wants to identify as a male, it sends shock waves through her family. Especially when the child up till that point has been happy being a girl, and even had a boyfriend.
But the shock waves were multiplied for a West Australian family when their girl (identified as TM by the court to protect her identity) was taken into state care when the parents wanted to explore alternative options to the hormone treatment regime that the Perth Children’s Hospital Gender Clinic was recommending for their daughter.
The supposed reason for taking the child into care was that if she continued living with her parents, and did not undergo treatment, she would be at grave risk of committing suicide. So supposedly the issue was not about treatment options, but about ‘the right of a child to be protected from harm.’
The parents were distraught. They unsuccessfully challenged the Department of Communities’ decision to take their daughter into care in the Children’s Court. They then appealed to the Supreme Court, which dismissed the appeal. Even though their daughter will turn 18 later this year, and would soon be able to make her own decisions, the parents pursued the appeal to try and prevent their nightmare scenario playing out for other parents.
One of the most troubling aspects of the case is that both courts simply assumed that – as the mother put it – everything the child said is true. The social workers involved in the case even admitted that they never challenged or questioned or checked for veracity of the child’s claims.
The court heard from the Department of Communities lawyers that certain words and phrases used by the parents to their daughter were, according to the judge, ‘abusive and derogatory’. However, the judgment by Justice Quinlan, did not divulge what these alleged ‘abusive and derogatory’ words were on the grounds that he did not want to cause TM further distress.
That a judgement is based on the claims of a child which were reported second hand to the court, and were not allowed to be tested in court, and which are not divulged in the judgement, is most concerning. Indeed, the judgement seems to have been made on the basis of assuming that what the child reportedly said was true and accurately reported, while the parents were not reliable witnesses, and not in a position to provide a safe home for their daughter.
The outcome of this case is disturbing: The judgement says that the issue at stake was not about gender dysphoria and various options for treatment, but about ‘the right of a child to be protected from harm’. But a careful reading of the case shows that the court believes that the gender affirming treatment offered by the gender clinic will prevent harm to the child, and that is what was the deciding factor.
The mantra that if a child that suffers from gender dysphoria is not given affirmative treatment involving the use of cross sex hormones is at much greater risk of committing suicide is oft repeated. But it is not grounded in scientific evidence. As has been recorded in Sweden, those who transition still have 19 times the suicide rate of the rest of the population, and that is in a society that is very accepting of trans people.