Saturday, March 30, 2024

You Got Played, Girl

 On March 19, 2024 the United Conservative Party of Alberta held an event that they called "Let Kids Be Kids" (spoiler alert:  it was an anti-trans/anti-2SLGBTQ/anti-SOGI/"parents rights" rally in reality).  

They brought in a transgender woman from Lethbridge to speak to the transgender case.  I don't know this person, but from their answers to the questions put to them, they clearly lack both research and clinical knowledge in the domain.  Being transgender does not mean that one has spent time in the academic and clinical literature relevant to this domain, and this is a problem.  

Her stated purpose was to engage in dialogue, but quite frankly, she got played.  In a 2 hour long event, she was allocated a grand total of 10 minutes during which the host asked them questions that she had to respond to.  The rest of the 2 hours was given over to opening comments, and presentations by some of the most dishonest players in the Alberta "parental rights" movement - and their presentations destroyed any semblance of "goodwill" and "open dialogue".  She got played for a patsy. 

Let me explain: 

The Questions

I have transcribed the questions as they were asked as accurately as I could, and frankly the way the questions were asked is both misleading and they wrapped a stunning level of nonsense around the core point that was being alluded to.  

For example, at 00:20:23, the host asks the following: 

When someone says to you “there’s exceptions and really kids who are 8 should make their own decisions … or they’re 12 … or they’re 14 … how do you feel about that? Do you feel that those kids should be able to go to a third party and not involve the parents in the conversation and then to have that third party validate in a way that pulls them from their parents?”

This is a loaded question, and it's hugely misleading. First, lying at its core it contains a subtle claim that minors are unable to know themselves and assert for their legitimate needs.  Second, it disregards the reality that no treatment can happen at those ages without parental consent - period.  It just doesn't happen that way.  Third, it presupposes that if the child confides in another adult, that this is somehow "driving a wedge between the child and their parents".  Again, this is false.  

Here's the answer given: 

Absolutely Not. We know that the number one indicator of successful children is an involved parent. Ideally parents and a supportive family around them. So any idea that any child is able to make these massive decisions alone is ignoring that foundational principle. I can understand that some people are worried that they may not have support from home. But why start on that premise when we have existing legislation to deal with in those rare cases … <indistinct> … a lot of teenagers are identifying as trans and they may not actually be, and that worries me.

Frankly, she fell right into the trap the host laid out for her.  I'll come back to this when I address some of this from a more research and clinical perspective.  She took as a given the premises of the question being true and reasonable - they aren't. 

The second question comes up at 21:53: 

Do you think that comes from pressure, peer pressure, or do you think that there’s programming that is occurring in schools that gives kids a premature idea of questioning their sexuality?

Again, this is a question based on false premises, and those are enormously problematic.  First, it supposes that teens identifying as trans is somehow a result of "peer pressure", and then it cues up one of the later presentations by implying that comprehensive sex education is being used to prime children to question their gender and sexuality (thereby making them queer?)

Now let's consider her answer for a moment: 

I can … a little bit of both maybe …

Host: it’s a tough question but …
I can … look, almost every teacher I know <indistinct> excellent educators and they follow the best practices they can … but there is a social pressure … definitely on the TikTok that is the number one area where I have seen especially young teens talking to the elderlies and they just read all this stuff and <indistinct> this is what it is. Any young person who is potentially having gender dysphoria … they need counselling first and foremost. That was a vital part of my transition and I’m still on … and then we have the medical side of it but … in the schools I think we don’t … a lot of people don’t know how to talk about this. We hear, for example, it’s a different brain than your body, and being trans is way more than that. That is an oversimplification. In fact with these young kids just can’t fully understand that, nor should they be able to. I think we’re pushing sometimes we’re pushing too fully for these kids, they can’t understand it. They’re just kids.

Again, talk about being caught flat-footed, and not having the evidence and knowledge at your fingertips that is needed to address the real question being asked - and the assumptions underlying it. This is an unfortunate fumbling response that shows us the limits of personal anecdotal experience. 

The last question of the segment comes as follows at 23:36:

So do you think the Premier - you heard her statements - do you think that she had a fair and reasonable position that satisfies the balance between today’s society and parental responsibility? 

The answer: 

Yeah … um … well we have to wait to see exactly what the legislation is, I haven’t seen it

Host: I’m just saying - what she’s said out loud

<Indistinct> … when she was on the Ryan Jesperson show just last week … some stuff was brought up, she said she was concerned. I’m like that’s the Smith I know, that’s the Smith that I love and want to be our Premier because that’s not the intent of the policy. The intent is, as she laid it out is “If that young person, that teen is going to make that decision to come out to their school, well everyone else in the school community knows, well you better believe that the child’s parents know, or will find out one way or another. And I would rather it come from that child in the first place than have to hear it by hearsay and I think that’s the goal of the policy. And it’s to give them that support combined with the counselling pilot program, I think that’s an excellent decision. We need that and I’m looking forward to seeing that be rolled out.

Another rambling answer that unfortunately ignores the enormous scope of what Danielle Smith actually introduced at the end of January, 2024.  Is Smith's policy reasonable?  No - it's deeply problematic for a thousand reasons.   

The Debunking

I'm going to go a bit academic here, because in order to appropriately address these issues, it's important to reach beyond personal (or even professional) experience and examine the basis of the research literature that we do have.  I'm going to walk through the assumptions and issues in both questions and responses here, because there are enormous issues on both sides of the "conversation" that took place on that stage.  

Question 1

There are several issues with the first question that I need to address.  First, is the assumption that based on age, that a minor is incapable of understanding themselves.  Second, is the issue of consent, treatment, and what can actually take place in the school setting.  Third, is the issue of the safety of the student both at the time of disclosure and beyond.  

 Limits Of Comprehension

Can a child or youth "know" themselves at the level required to understand that they are transgender?  

The short answer here is "it depends".  It depends on the individual, their stage of development as an individual, and a number of other variables.  Although age can give us some idea as to where an individual might be at developmentally, the reality is that everyone grows at slightly different rates.  This is individual. However, we have pretty good evidence that gender identity has taken form by the age of 3 or 4 (Boskey, 2014).  So, to argue that a child as young as 8 can't understand themselves to be transgender is arguably false.

While there is much we don't know about the construct and development of gender identity (Egan, & Perry, 2001), and this is an area worthy of much more investigation (Diamond, 2020), we certainly should not fall into the trap of assuming children "can't understand". 

Consent, Treatment, and Schools

Much has been made of the idea that if a child reveals feeling transgender to a teacher, or other other adult in the school setting that somehow this is "putting the child on a track to medical treatment", or that it will "drive a wedge between the child and their parents".  

Both of these ideas are nonsense at their face.  No minor can access medical treatment without their parent's consent.  This is just as true for gender identity issues as it is for anything else.  School counsellors, teachers, and others cannot provide treatment - and certainly cannot provide medical interventions or referrals.  

As for the issue of "driving a wedge", I want to be very, very clear about something.  Being transgender is hard.  It's scary.  Even coming out as an adult is goddamned scary, and our parents and family all the more so.  If a child uses a teacher or school counsellor as their "first safe adult", that is in no way driving a wedge that will isolate the child from their family.  

Safety of The Child At Disclosure and Beyond

This is a big deal.  As much as so-called "parents rights" advocates love to paint an idealized picture that the vast majority of parents are "loving and supportive", the brutal reality is that some 30% of families are not accepting of their 2SLGBTQ offspring (Mason, Hamilton, 2024).

Smith's proposed mandatory reporting of such disclosures to parents creates a very dangerous situation for transgender youth.  A 30% rate of rejection, which can lead to anything from being kicked out of the family home to other forms of outright abuse is non trivial.  Post-event application of Alberta's child protection legislation is too little, too late (Faculty Members at the University of Alberta and University of Calgary Faculties of Law, 2024).

Put yourself in the position of a teacher hearing such a disclosure from a child.  Do you know the child's family situation better than they do?  Do you know all of the non-verbal and verbal cues that the child lives with day in / day out?  I know myself, I don't.  I have no idea, even if I've met the parents many times.  What goes on in the household when I'm not present is unknown to me.  The most lovely of parents (socially) could have all sorts of opinions that they don't express in public, but would almost certainly be seen and heard by the child.

If the child says "I don't feel safe telling my parents", they're far more the expert than any other adult. Is the child in immediate danger if the parents are not told?  Nope. Are they in immediate danger if the teacher tells their parents?  Maybe, and the teacher has no tools to assess that. 

2SLGBTQ identities are a bit different than your average student's interest in the Chess Club or Volleyball Team.  Some people hold very strong opinions about those identities and their validity, and you won't know until the person reacts to the disclosure.  As pointed out in Abramovich (2012), 2SLGBTQ youth are vastly overrepresented in the homeless population.  In spite of legal changes in Canada, conversion therapy still very much exists (Salway, et al, 2021), and poses a serious danger to youth exposed to the practice. When the consequences of disclosure can be as severe as physical abuse, emotional abuse, involuntary conversion therapy, or being kicked out of the family home, we cannot take that step on the child's behalf.

This policy puts teachers and school administrators in the awkward place of being obliged by law to report the student’s identity declaration to their parents, while the existing Child Protection legislation also requires them to consider whether or not the child is now in immediate danger requiring the intervention of family services.  To put it kindly, that is an ethical/legal double bind that I do not envy them.  

Teenagers Identifying As Transgender

This is an area where the person answering the questions put to her on stage simply doesn't have a full picture.  As I have pointed out previously, in general, no treatment happens without parental consent.  So, if a teen decides to identify as transgender, so what?  They try it "on for size" for a while and if it's not who they are, they'll know plenty soon enough and likely will step away from that identity.  It's not a problem.  Those who are "really trans" will persist, and those who aren't are going to step back eventually.  

Question 2

The second question contains material that is really priming the audience for the later presentations in the evening.  It raises two issues, both of which are misleading.  The first is that of peer pressure as a factor in the formation of transgender identity, and the second is the suggestion that comprehensive sex education in schools is somehow influencing students to "become queer".  

The Role of Peer Pressure

Yes, peer pressure is a thing.  I don't think that's a question.  Does peer pressure play a role in the formation of transgender identity?  That's a bigger problem.  The short answer here is NO - a very firm, emphatic "NO" (Bauer, Lawson, & Metzger, 2022).  There is no convincing evidence that such a phenomenon occurs in reality.  I can appreciate that some people might believe it is the case, in part because peer pressure has resulted in teens doing some pretty silly things.  Changing someone's gender identity isn't one of those things.  

In fact, I will go a bit further and point out that if gender identity were malleable to external pressures, transgender people simply would not exist.  If there is one thing we grow up with, it is being bombarded by normative stereotypes - and yet transgender people are still here.

The Role of Sex Education

There is a belief held by many that merely being exposed to ideas related to sexuality in school can mysteriously cause someone to become homosexual or transgender.  Along with peer pressure hypotheses, there simply isn't any data whatsoever that supports that notion.

I can appreciate that some people find the idea of sex education uncomfortable and worry that somehow it's going to change their child's sexuality.  There is no evidence of that being the case, and I think the fears are more a reflection of individual discomfort with open discussion of sexuality at all. Personally, I would much prefer to see my children given a rich, complete understanding of sexuality that includes queer identities so they can navigate those spaces safely themselves where I may not be willing or able to do so as a parent myself. 

The answer given is clearly uninformed and at best anecdotal.  Sure, kids see stuff on TikTok all the time - big deal.  When I was a teenager, the big panic was about Dungeons and Dragons making us all into Satanists.  It didn't, and I'm fairly certain that I'm much more concerned about kids having regular exposure to unrealistic sexuality in the form of bad pornography than I am about them hearing about transgender people on TikTok. 

Question 3

Is Smith's policy reasonable?  No, it is not.  This little brief part of the presentation conveniently glossed over the more draconian aspects of the policies that were unveiled.  If this were only about parental notification, it would be easy enough to deal with.  It's not - it's far more sweeping and its consequences will be much more severe than I think anyone understands at this point in time. 

The response to this question clearly focused on the alleged issue of name / pronouns in schools, and ignored the broader swath of the January announcement, which was far, far more damaging than the name / pronoun policy. 

Final Comments

This wasn’t a “good faith” exercise on the part of the UCP.  Those questions were leading and based in misinformation from the beginning.  I actually feel sorry for the person who had to answer them - they were unprepared, lacked the knowledge of the research and clinical issues that refute the suppositions underlying those questions. 

That wasn’t “fighting for trans rights” - it ended up validating the utter nonsense that was Smith’s policy announcement. The simple fact is that the UCP clearly looked for a convenient trans person who was willing to be a patsy on the stage at their scheduled hate-fest.

I will comment on the other aspects of the March 19 presentation as time permits. 


Abramovich, I. A. (2012). No Safe Place to Go - LGBTQ Youth Homelessness in Canada: Reviewing the Literature. Canadian Journal of Family and Youth / Le Journal Canadien de Famille et de La Jeunesse4(1), 29–51.

Bauer, G. R., Lawson, M. L., & Metzger, D. L. (2022). Do Clinical Data from Transgender Adolescents Support the Phenomenon of “Rapid Onset Gender Dysphoria”? The Journal of Pediatrics243, 224-227.e2.

Boskey, E. R. (2014). Understanding Transgender Identity Development in Childhood and Adolescence. American Journal of Sexuality Education9(4), 445–463.

Diamond, L. M. (2020). Gender Fluidity and Nonbinary Gender Identities Among Children and Adolescents. Child Development Perspectives14(2), 110–115.

Egan, S. K., & Perry, D. G. (2001). Gender Identity: A Multidimensional Analysis With Implications for Psychosocial Adjustment. Developmental Psychology37(4), 451–463.

Faculty Members at the University of Alberta and University of Calgary Faculties of Law, “An Open Letter to Premier Danielle Smith Re: “Preserving choice for children and youth” Announcement” (15 February 2024), online: ABlawg.

Mason, C., Hamilton L. (2024). Alberta's New Policies: Anti Trans, Anti Evidence. The Tyee. Retrieved February 11, 2024 from

Salway, T., Juwono, S., Klassen, B., Ferlatte, O., Ablona, A., Pruden, H., Morgan, J., Kwag, M., Card, K., Knight, R., & Lachowsky, N. J. (2021). Experiences with sexual orientation and gender identity conversion therapy practices among sexual minority men in Canada, 2019–2020. PloS One16(6), e0252539–e0252539.

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