What is gender?

Published by Becky Guest on

Pronouns sign
The very recent transphobic moral panic has become the subject of fierce political debate. One which has inevitably fed its way into questions about how those working with children and young people respond when young people request that we refer to them with pronouns which are different to those assigned to them at birth.

It seems to me that there are two important considerations at play here. The first is driven by a noisy minority who are vehemently anti-trans and who propagate fear that children are being coerced into making what they consider to be disastrous decisions. They view transgender identity as something to be avoided, discouraged and feared. Something so awful that no one in their right mind should desire, let alone celebrate.

The second important consideration is that of listening to children and young people. Interestingly, some have argued that expressions of transgender identity should be treated as a safeguarding concern even though child protection reviews consistently highlight that not listening to children is a considerable risk factor. As a society, we seem wedded to the old notion that ‘children should be seen and not heard’. We don’t listen to children, we don’t see them as capable of making good choices and we don’t consider them to be reliable witnesses. Indeed, many professions see the voice of children and young people as a direct threat to their own status and authority. This feeds the reluctance to listen and respond accordingly when a young person asks us to identify them in a certain way.

On the Working With Children, Young People and Families programme, we ask questions like, “what is gender?” and “how do historical expectations of gender roles and identities influence our thinking today?” We also explore the importance of listening to children and young people and ask how we might create a climate in which they are enabled to take active roles in the decisions that affect them.

Keith Bishop is a Senior Lecturer in Social Policy and Programme Leader for the ‘Working With Children, Young People and Families’ BA (Honours) programme at Birmingham Newman University.