Here are Victoria Atkins’ words in her Telegraph interview on the topic of gender reassignment treatment today:
“I read in the paper recently that there has been a large increase in the number of teenagers who are identifying as such, and I think we need to get down to the reasons why this is happening.
“It may simply be a case of greater awareness, it may be that for some they see it as an answer to questions they are perhaps not asking themselves. We need to be particularly alert to this with regard to young people. The treatments are so serious and life-changing, I’m a little cautious of the use of those treatments because of the potential for the rest of their lives.
“Lots of questions are rightly being asked about how we treat young people, people whose bodies perhaps haven’t developed yet.”…
Mrs Atkins also said she would “never ever” say the growth in the number of teenagers wanting to change their gender was a trend and that doing so would “risk dismissing the concerns of those young people”.
Read from any angle, that is a mild and responsibly-phrased comment on a serious and important issue. You’d expect nothing less from a barrister, someone whose career was built in part on choosing the correct words.
It is a topic which raises reasonable and reasoned concerns, which is still relatively new and growing, and for which Atkins among other ministers have responsibility to oversee the law – it’s her job to think about it, and she is doing so. Not much to see here, you might think.
Not so over at The Guardian. Kaboom! “It is damaging to imply that trans teens are being given treatment lightly, as behind it are decades of research and best practice. Trans people’s lives are at stake here, and we know what we need”, declares Fox Fisher, patron of the LGBT+ helpline. Rather patronisingly, James Morton of the Scottish Trans Alliance suggests Atkins is yet to “see through the anti-trans campaigners’ scaremongering”, and will improve as she “explores this topic in more depth”.
This issue deserves thought and considered discussion. It’s hugely important to those affected, and often mystifying (not least with its attendant jargon) to much of the wider populace, which is a tricky combination to navigate. The way in which ministers mistakenly assumed last year that self-identification policies would be uncontroversial illustrates the difficulty.
Given that bigotry does exist, and often has horrendous consequences, I can understand why campaigners and support workers are watchful for it. But Atkins’ comments are the very opposite – indeed, they are a model of the respectful and thoughtful engagement that is needed on the topic. Trying to howl her down as ignorant, “damaging”, or even somehow risking lives is undeserved, wrong, and does a disservice to the topic.