"But how can you live and have no story to tell?" Fyodor Dostoevsky
"Ultimately, it is up to the child, the parents and their healthcare provider to decide what is best for the individual."
It was only a matter of time before the more challenging aspects of the transgender debate arrived in Hong Kong.
Look at this case. A teenage girl going through puberty tells her school counsellor she feels uncomfortable. It is alleged the counsellor told her she suffers from gender dysphoria. He suggests the solution is gender reassignment — to turn herself into a male. She was then given information from Reddit, hardly a reputable information source. The school did not inform her parents.
Next, the girl started to use a male name at school but kept her female name at home. Later the girl told her parents, and after a discussion with them, concluded she does not suffer from gender dysphoria.
The chat with her parents proved pivotal. It prevented a vulnerable child from starting a journey that can lead to hormone treatment, then binding and ultimately removing the breast. I'm not making this up. This is the crux of the story that The Hong Kong Standard covered last week.
As far as I can establish, the school has not refuted the story. CIS is generally recognised as a top-league school. It caters to affluent, fee-paying families with a mix of local and international students.
This saga is not unique. Reports from the UK point to hundreds, if not thousands, of children getting similar advice about their gender. The scandal at The Tavistock Centre exposes what happens when activists are in control.
In this such cases, many questions arise. For instance, are counsellors qualified or empowered to diagnose such a complex issue as gender dysphoria. Indeed, common sense suggests that only medical experts working to the highest professional standards can address such a matter.
With schools increasingly promoting an inclusive agenda, which no right-minded person can criticise, a line may be crossed when they become advocates.
Also, let's face it - the teenage years can be confusing for kids due to the physical and emotional changes they experience. During this time, they are navigating a wide range of new emotions and experiences, such as puberty and establishing their identity, which can be overwhelming and challenging to understand.
Additionally, teens may feel pressured to fit in with their peers and conform to societal expectations. This leads to confusion and conflict between themselves and their parents. With chemical changes raging through their bodies, throwing gender issues into the mix, and pushing a child to make a decision that will have life-long consequences, seems inappropriate.
In the broader context, Hong Kong remains a conservative society. Hence, the transgender debate is contentious among adults, never mind inserting it into schools. There are bound to be disagreements surrounding the rights and treatments of transgender people.
Some folks believe transgender people should be allowed to use the bathroom and locker room, corresponding to their gender identity. In contrast, others think they should use the bathroom and locker room designated for the gender assigned to them at birth. Other people view transgender rights as a violation of religious beliefs, which has caused further controversy.
In the case discussed above, the decision to exclude the parents is at the crux of the matter. As discussed, the teenage years are difficult for both children and parents. Thus, keeping the parents in the dark means they cannot provide support and guidance to their child during this difficult time.
Others argue it is the child's right to choose what information to share with their parents and that respecting their wishes is essential.
Such a stance fails to recognise the role of parents, amounting to an attack on the integrity of the family unit. If there is one thing we are sure of, most children flourish and get better outcomes with the support of a family unit.
The CIS Child Protection Handbook states, "The school expects that CIS students will receive close adult care and supervision in their home environment at all times and, regardless of age, will not be regularly left alone or unsupervised." It is difficult to see how a parent can fulfil this obligation if kept in the dark about issues impacting a child.
Ultimately, it is up to the child, the parents and their healthcare provider to decide what is best for the individual.
A check on the Education Bureau website revealed a lot of material discussing inclusiveness. This tends to focus on race, disability and anti-discrimination measures. The Bureau lacks a specific policy on transgender issues. This lapse is notable given the instances seen overseas, which a prudent administration should be preparing to address.
According to Oxford University sociologist Micheal Biggs, the speed at which transgender rights advocates have advanced their cause is unprecedented. He suggests they have embedded themselves into public and corporate life and successfully changed policies without significant scrutiny or debate.
Moreover, with both feminists and gay people expressing discomfort at the activity of militant trans-rights activists, the debate rages on. This discussion includes trans-right groups demanding access to female safe-spaces for men who assert they are women. In one shocking instance, Girl Guide leaders were expelled for questioning a policy of allowing transgender people (with penises) to share tents and showers with young girls.
Consider sports in schools. In the US, young men who think they’re female are permitted to compete in girl’s teams. It’s already happening. And female sports are suffering as a result.
Against that background, schools want guidance on dealing with children describing themselves as transgender since more and more seem to be doing so. This could be simply part of a broader mental health crisis among teenagers. I don't know. But neither do the doctors and scientists who study the issue.
So wouldn't it be prudent to hold off having children undergo gender reassignment until more is known or at least until children have matured into young adults? In the meantime, involving parents at every stage is a must.
To sum up, the CIS incident raises serious questions about public policy. The government needs to wake up to these matters. A good start would be taking a measure of public opinion so as not fall into the trap of allowing a minority of activists to dictate the agenda.
Walter De Havilland was one of the last of the colonial coppers. He served 35 years in the Royal Hong Kong Police and Hong Kong Police Force. He's long retired.