When horses can be dogs: Swedish book for toddlers promotes transgender lifestyles
A book published in Sweden for toddlers and preschoolers depicting a transgender man who wears women's clothes and lipstick, as well as a horse who believes it's a dog, has sparked mixed reactions.
RT discussed the book and transgender issues with Peter Tatchell, human rights campaigner, and David Kurten, UKIP London Assembly member, and UKIP spokesman
RT: David what's not to love about a book like this? Isn’t it preparing children for the richly diverse world we live in with all sorts of people, minority groups? And this is one of the minority groups, isn’t it?
David Kurten: It is a minority group. When you’re an adult, when you’re over 18 you’re entitled to do what you want in the privacy in your own home, and I don’t think anyone would disagree with that. But propagandizing this kind of thing to children, you can damage them and their natural development as boys and girls. Nature is binary; nature creates male and female – there are boys and girls. And we hear, as well as the book, moves to try to ban the words: boys and girls, men and women, mothers and fathers in primary education. This is the time when children really need to be affirmed in their identities as to who they are. This is something that is far too much, too young, it is going to confuse people.
Children are imaginative. They play. They pretend to be all kinds of things. They pretend to be footballers; they pretend to be aliens, spacemen, unicorns. They maybe pretend to be men and women as well. But you have to separate imagination in play from objective scientific fact. And the fact is that your gender or your biological sex is defined by your anatomy and by your chromosomes. That is the science that we need to be making sure that children know, and the science that we need to be teaching children.
RT: Peter, what are your thoughts on this? Do you think this is too much emphasis on those minority groups?
Peter Tatchell: Transgender people exist in every society and have done all throughout history. When there have been scientific studies of animal species, transgenderism has also been found in non-human animals. So it is part of a natural spectrum of life for all animal species – human and non-human. This book is not about promoting or encouraging transgenderism; it is about trying to affirm young people who don’t feel they fall neatly into the male-female roles and trying to tackle bullying and prejudice.
We know that in Britain, for example, nearly half of all young transgender people have attempted suicide. Nearly half! That is a shocking statistic. We need to try and reduce that. Not just in Britain, but in every country. Any book like this one that seeks to promote understanding and respect for people who are different that is fantastic, because we want to live in a kind, gentle and compassionate society.
RT: David, surveys show the number of children questioning their gender identities in Sweden, where the book was written, is doubling annually – surely there's a pressing need for books like this? Do you agree with this?
DK: I don’t. Yes, the figures at the moment are doubling every year in Sweden. That is because children in schools are being exposed to this kind of material, and that is very, very new. All through history – yes there may be a few very small number of people, who are transgender and then particularly when they are adults, but it has never been an issue in primary school until about 2015 – if you look at this country. The law has changed, I think in 2002 to allow people to register to change their gender if they wanted to – they had to go through a two-year process of living as the opposite gender.
Now in 12 years, there were 4,500 people in total, who registered to change their gender. Since we’ve started bringing this teaching into schools, the number has rocketed in the UK. This is a problem that is entirely artificial because people have tried to do this first of all to children who are 14 and then 15, then children who were 10, 11, then seven, and now it is five years old, and four years old. And this book in Sweden is going to two-year-old children, three-year-old children in preschool.
When children are two and three they are not thinking about this kind of thing – they want to play, they want to be imaginative. But exposing children to this kind of idea that they are not boys, they are not girls – that is something that can come later on if they want to think about it – 16, 17, 18 when they are adults.
And the most damaging thing about this is they are encouraged to take puberty-blocking hormones, and in some cases encouraged to have operations, where they have procedures done on their reproductive organs. That is something that they can never reverse. We do hear situations that people who have been encouraged into that, and then they changed their minds – one or two years later. But they stuck with what they have done…
RT: What’s your answer, Peter? Does David have a point here – that if children are given that power to choose what gender they want to be, that they mind change their mind?
PT: No one is going to change their mind just because they read a book. It is something that comes deep from within, and no amount of propaganda or proselytizing can make someone transgender. I think our starting point has to be the welfare of the child. And my concern is that we know in countries all across the world pupils who don’t fit the gender stereotypes, who are Trans or gender variant – they suffer teasing, name calling threats and bullying. That is truly shameful, that is not good for the child’s welfare.
What we have to do is to create an atmosphere and understanding, where it is ok to be different. That doesn’t mean we’re saying it is a good thing, or bad thing, or something to be encouraged, but if people are different – that they are not picked upon and bullied. And from there, then of course eventually children will come to their own conclusion. If they are Trans – that is their choice, that is fine. If they are not – they will change their mind, that is also fine…