[edited 19/12/18 to restore links to an audio recording of a Mermaids training presentation]
To whom it may concern:
I am writing to express my concern about your proposed funding for an expansion of the work of Mermaids.
Although I support Mermaids’ aim of relieving the mental and emotional stress of people aged under 19 who are affected in any manner by gender identity issues, I have some serious concerns about whether the current activities of the organisation in fact contribute to that aim. I also have concerns about the CEO of the charity, Susie Green, and whether she is a suitable person to be entrusted with public funds.
Children and young people affected by gender identity issues are a growing and vulnerable group of people, with a wide variety of needs. Because gender identity formation is a complex process which takes place (as all psychological processes do) in a social context, there is considerable debate among scientists as to the nature of gender identity and the possible causes of distress related to it.
There is no scientific consensus supporting a single approach to gender dysphoria expressed by children. Teams of clinicians working directly with young people who experience dysphoria in 10 different countries were interviewed for a qualitative study in 2015, and several of them expressed a variety of concerns about treatment protocols that include puberty blockers. For example:
“I believe that, in adolescence, hypothalamic inhibitors should never be given, because they interfere not only with emotional development, but [also] with the integration process among the various internal and external aspects characterizing the transition to adulthood.”
“I have met gay women who identify as women who would certainly have been diagnosed gender dysphoric as children but who, throughout adolescence, came to accept themselves. This might not have happened on puberty blockers.”
“You might think that the experience of gender dysphoria is kind of a solution [for all their problems] that is culturally available for adolescents nowadays. […] I think that the culture is kind of offering or allowing this idea that all problems are stemming from the gender problem. And then they stick to this fixated idea and [they] seek for assessment and we readily see that they have numerous and relatively serious psychological and developmental problems and mental health disorders.”
The authors of the study concluded:
“As long as there are only limited long-term data in support of the guidelines, there will be no true consensus on treatment.”
Nevertheless, Mermaids deliver training to teachers, NHS workers, police officers and other professionals which presents an affirming approach as the only ethical way to respond to a young person’s disclosure of gender dysphoria, and does not address the scientific debates at all.
Other controversies are also glossed over in the Mermaids training presentation (audio recording part 1 and part 2), in a way that I see as counterproductive to the organisation’s stated aim. For example, participants are asked, in an exercise involving jelly babies, to locate their gender identity, sexual orientation, gender expression and biological sex on a one-dimensional spectrum which spans from Barbie at one end to GI Joe at the other.
This framing of complex human attributes as points on a narrow spectrum is, in my view, damaging to the interests of young people who wish to express their individuality in ways that are entirely outside of or at odds with that model. As a lesbian, who wears clothes marketed for men and has short hair, I do not consider myself to be less of a woman than another woman who wears skirts and has long hair. I find this idea offensive and I think it is likely to be damaging to the interests of young lesbians if it is presented as factual to their teachers or their peers.
The complex legal issues surrounding the provision of separate-sex toilets and changing facilities in schools are also presented inaccurately by Mermaids.
Mermaids are presenting extreme and controversial views as if they are settled and agreed “best practice”. For a significant proportion of young people who are affected in some way by gender identity issues, this could – far from relieving their mental stress – in fact add to their distress by encouraging them to pursue medical interventions and adopt practices (such as breast-binding) which cause lasting harm. The MORF binder scheme, included on Mermaids’ web page of resources for young people, in turn recommends Mermaids as a source of support.
Mermaids rely heavily on disputed statistics about suicide among young people who identify as trans. They do not abide by the Samaritans media guidelines for reporting on suicide, and I am concerned that their approach to this issue could result in an increase in suicidal ideation among this very vulnerable group of young people.
One of the themes that can be seen in the growing number of testimonies of detransitioners is that it is possible for young people to be swept up in an overwhelming culture and that there is a need for more precise, careful and personalised therapeutic care for young people who are expressing distress or dysphoria related to gender.
Mermaids advocates instead for quicker intervention, easier access to puberty blockers, and cross-sex hormones to be prescribed to under-16s. Their website still refers visitors to the GenderGP service run by Dr Helen Webberley, who has been convicted of running an unlicensed medical clinic.
The CEO of Mermaids, Susie Green, has shown a long-term disregard for legal restrictions and regulations when making decisions about the medical treatment of her own child. Contrary to the advice of the Tavistock & Portman clinic, she took her child to the USA at age 12 to access puberty blockers. When her child was 16, she arranged sex reassignment surgery in Thailand (an operation which is now illegal in Thailand, as well as in the UK).
I hope you will be able to take these concerns into account in the course of your review of the decision to award funding to this organisation.