For the past 12 hours I’ve been involved in a Twitter debate, stemming from this tweet.
The guidance it refers to is this, from Allsorts, which is being given to schools, to educate them on how to accommodate transgender students.
Much as I love Twitter, it’s often difficult to use it to debate subtle points, which is possibly why my question has seen me being accused of being “transphobic” and “hysterical” and having “medieval ideologies”.
I spend a lot of time designing policies and procedures, and what I tell people is this:- Imagine a worst-case scenario occurs. There is an official investigation, where you’re asked “What did you do to prevent this happening?”. Now imagine what answer you’d like to be able to give to that question in that scenario – that’s the starting point for writing your policies.
In that vein, here’s a scenario.
You are the head-teacher of a secondary school, with pupils aged 11-18. A police officer arrives at the school and asks to speak to you. They have found a video on a porn site which shows the changing-rooms at your school, including a number of girls, who appear to be aged 13-15, in various states of undress. It has clearly been filmed with a concealed camera-phone.
The video has been taken down, but not before it had tens of thousands of views. The account that posted it has been traced to a student at the school who identifies themselves as trans and was, in accordance with the guidance, allowed to use the female changing rooms.
The police need a female member of staff to view the video with them, to identify the 20 or 30 teenage girls who appear in it, so that they and their parents can be informed that they have been victims of voyeurism.
What did you do to prevent this happening?
The answers that Twitter has thrown up so far don’t seem to be very good answers to that questions. Assertions that it could never happen, that nobody could or would fake being trans just to get access to female spaces, and a strong suggestion that simply asking the question is bigoted, or even “dangerous”.
There are around 2.2 million males aged 13-18 in the UK, no matter how much experience you have with children, with trans people, with trans-children, you cannot absolutely assert that none of them will abuse, or attempt to abuse, the guidance given in a manner that infringes of the rights of other students.
This isn’t about demonising all trans people, or suggesting that any given one of them would act in such a manner. This is about the risk presented by the guidance itself, whether that risk can be mitigated in a manner which is proportional to the potential seriousness of the outcome and whether the risk is, in part or in whole, outweighed by the risks of not implementing the guidance.
To draw an analogy, every school will have a policy about visitors to the school which might say, for example, that no visitor to the school will be given unsupervised access to children unless they have an enhanced DBS check.
It is not visitorphobic for that policy to exist. No school has ever been accused of being biased against visitors for implementing it.
This policy doesn’t suggest that all visitors would be a risk to the children, or that any particular visitor themselves presents a risk, it simply recognises that the entire sample-space of ‘visitors’ may contain some people who may be a risk.
Where the analogy breaks a little is that, when assessing the level of risk represented by moving from traditional sex-segregation of spaces to gender-segregation, it’s important to realise that our sample-space isn’t ‘trans-children’ but ‘teenage males’. In the month a 16-year-old boy was found guilty of abducting, raping and killing a girl it would be reckless to suggest that this group is entirely risk-free for others.
If there’s an acceptance that the suggested guidelines aren’t risk free then the questions that follow have to be, “How much risk?”, “How can that risk be mitigated?”, “Do the benefits justify the risk?”
Those are big questions, and I have no intention of tackling them here, but they need to be asked. To suggest that they are unaskable is, dare I say, a little hysterical…and certainly dangerous.