“My son wanted to be a dinosaur when he was four. Didn’t mean I’d let him be one.”
“It’s child abuse.”
“How can you condone the mutilation of a four-year-old?”
“ The parents are nuts.”
“The parents are brain damaged.”
“What is wrong with the parents to allow this to happen?”
“The world’s gone mad.”
There is no need to read the thousands of comments on social media today about the news that a four-year-old has begun “transitioning” their gender before attending their first day of kindergarten – they are all basically summarised above.
The reaction has been swift and contemptuous – outrage at these unnamed parents who have made a “dangerous”, “mad” or even “abusive” decision.
The report in The Daily Telegraph has revealed that a wave of children – some as young as three or four – are transitioning their gender in primary schools, with The Children’s Hospital at Westmead saying referrals to its gender services have tripled.
The one case making heads spin, as revealed at yesterday’s NSW state government budget estimates, is that of a four-year-old.
The Education Department’s Deputy Secretary of School Operations, Gregory Prior, said: “Without breaching privacy, we have a four-year-old who is transitioning to kindergarten next year who has identified as transgender.”
Some of the thousands of comments online. Via Facebook.
The school is assisting the family, the family is assisting the child but society is damning them without even knowing their story.
But not all of society.
“I don’t think there is anything wrong with a child expressing him or herself with feeling different.”
That’s Dr Dion Klein, some might say the voice of reason, others might just say a guy with a hell of a lot more experience in this than you or me.
“We all go through our own experience of trying to fit into this planet," he says and no one has any idea “unless they’ve walked in their shoes."
Dr Dion Klein. Image Supplied.
Dr Klein was born female.
He transitioned later in life than this young child might, but he says by the age of six he knew he wasn't a girl but was male.
Dr Klein says "whether you are four, 44 or 84 the journey is different for everyone" and if the child is acknowledging it, then the parents are probably doing the very best they can by acknowledging it too.
“The parents are allowing the child to express themselves, they’ve got to go with their gut and no one can say whether it is right or wrong.”
Some of the thousands of comments online. Via Facebook.
TODAY host Karl Stefanovic entered the fray this morning with a fiery speech on how he believes above all this needs to be kept private.
“I do believe this sort of stuff needs to be kept private, and the families don’t need whatever is going on with their family and their four-year-old played out in the public profile like this,” he said.
For Dr Klein there is an argument that "changing" younger could be easier for the child, rather than later in life.
“It’s a real challenge,” he says.
Unlike many of the stories we hear for Dr Klein, transitioning wasn’t a difficult part of his life. He says he’s had a blessed life and there are no horror stories in his transition, growing up in a very supportive environment.
But he says for thousands of transgender people the bullying and anguish over their gender can be catastrophic.
A film about the transgender experience in Australia. Post continues after video:
When you try and pin Dr Klein down on whether or not he feels the age of four too young he admits he is evasive, but evasive for a reason.
“It's so individual.”
He says it comes down to that one child and no one knows the circumstances of that child so no one has a right to make a decision for the child other than his parents who have no doubt consulted renowned experts in the field.
Experts who have a lot more knowledge than the keyboard warriors.
“They need to say to these people who think they know best - 'thank you for your opinion, now go away'.”
Amidst the outrage Karl Stefanovic, the other voice of reason, points out that nothing actually happens in terms of surgery at the age of 18.
At the age of three or four the only intervention that is being made is a social, reversible, non-medical one.
An important point to consider before blindly resorting to arguments such as “my child pretends to be a horse should I buy her a stable" is that they are on a different scale to children who challenge cultural gender norms.
As Kristina Olson and Lily Durwood point out in Slate there are “children who enjoy toys and clothing that are stereotypically associated with the opposite sex (imagine a girl who loves GI Joes and rough-and-tumble play or a boy who love Barbies and ballet).”
“In the middle are children who express a lot of unhappiness about being a member of their gender group. For example, a boy who says he wishes he were a girl because then no one would tease him about his preference for nail polish or the fact that he only plays with girls...”
“At the other end of the spectrum are children who consistently, persistently, and insistently assert that they are members of the opposite sex and who are beside themselves when they are not allowed to live as such. Such children sometimes resort to self-harm or become anxious and depressed that others will not recognise their gender identity."
On the latest episode of This Glorious Mess, Holly Wainwright and Andrew Daddo discuss if you should be raising your children gender neutral. Post continues below.
They say while some children in the last group "undergo social transitions" they see "no evidence that anyone believes that children elsewhere on the spectrum should do so”.
Just the kids who need it.
What’s of utmost importance here is that parents generally want what’s best for their kids and as Dr Klein says “no one knows these children better than their parents.”
Karl's right the rest of us should just keep our opinions to ourselves.