Time to Think

by Michael Patrick O'Leary

Part Two

A shorter version of this article appeared in the Sunday Island  on March 19, 2023

Gender Identity Development Service

In my previous article I reviewed Hannah Barnes’s excellent book Time to Think which is a detailed investigation intothe bizarre and horrific events  at the GIDS (Gender Identity Development Service) clinic operated by the  Tavistock and Portman NHS Foundation Trust in north London. The NHS has closed the clinic after a number of damning reports. This NHS service was said to be using “poorly evidenced treatments on some of the most vulnerable people in society”. Why did it take so long to close it down? An insider told Barnes: “because it was bringing in so much money they could not challenge it.” This is the business-orientated NHS of 2023.  In 2015/16, GIDS’s income was 5.9 % of the Tavistock Trust’s total. Within a year, it had almost doubled to 10.4 %. That proportion grew further. The Tavistock needed the income GIDS brought in.

GIDS was set up in 1989 to provide talking therapies for  young people who were questioning their gender identity. The Tavistock used to be a centre of excellence for psychotherapy (the talking cure) but concerns started as long ago as 2005 that children were not being given any meaningful counselling but were being put on a fast track to gender reassignment through drugs or surgery. By 2011, it seemed that it was routine practice to refer children to endocrinologists for prescription of puberty blockers. In 2011, a child of 12 was on blockers. By 2016, a ten-year-old was taking them. Barnes’s title is ironic. GIDS claimed that children did not have to make a snap decision about gender reassignment because puberty blockers would give them pause and time to think. GIDS falsely claimed that the effects of these drugs were reversible and that they were harmless. The drugs caused various problems on which data was not kept. There is evidence they affect bone density, brain development and sexual function. The children were being used as guinea pigs but they were rarely offered follow-up appointments. GIDS did not keep in touch with its patients in the long term or keep reliable data on outcomes. Keira Bell regretted transitioning from female to male and took the Tavistock to court. GIDS had referred her for blockers at 16 and she had a double mastectomy at 20.Then she had second thoughts.

Dysphoria and Datphoria

Gender dysphoria is a term that describes a sense of unease that a person may have because of a mismatch between their biological sex and their gender identity. This sense of unease or dissatisfaction may be so intense it can lead to depression and anxiety and have a harmful impact on daily life.

The condition has long been thought of as extremely rare, but by 2023,transgender issues have created a lot of conflict. Ambiguity of gender at birth happens very rarely. Incorrect description and assignment on birth certificates happens but is very rare. How is it that we seem today to have an epidemic of people who want to identify as a different gender from the one on their birth certificate? Today, it is puzzling that a very rare condition, gender dysphoria, has become an epidemic and that so many people have become transphobic.

Kathleen Stock writes in her book Material Girls: “something called ‘gender identity’ gripped public consciousness, strongly influencing UK and international institutions, and causing protests and even violence.” According to Stock, “In 2004, it was estimated there were about 2,000–5,000 trans people in the UK. Back then, the popular image of a trans person was mainly of a ‘medically transitioned’ adult trans woman, or ‘male-to-female transsexual’: an adult person of the male sex who had taken hormones over a long period of time to change many aspects of appearance, and who had also had ‘sex reassignment’ surgery to refashion natal genitalia.”

That is not the case today. Today, according to the LGBT charity Stonewall, their “best estimate” of the number of trans people in the UK is “about 600,000”. Many of them opt to keep their natal equipment but still want to use women’s changing rooms and call themselves lesbians and take part in women’s sports.

Kathleen Stock is a British philosopher and writer. She was a professor of philosophy at the University of Sussex until 2021. She has been pilloried for her allegedly “trans exclusionary position.” She  resigned from the University of Sussex in the aftermath of a student campaign that called for her dismissal and allegations of the Sussex branch of the University and College Union of “institutional transphobia.” A group of over 200 academic philosophers from the UK signed an open letter in support of Stock’s academic freedom. On the other hand, a group of over 600 academic philosophers objected to her getting an OBE arguing that Stock’s “harmful rhetoric” contributed to the marginalisation of transgender people.

There was, between 2009 and 2020, a 4,700% increase in the number of girls referred to GIDS. When asked publicly why three-quarters of referrals to GIDS were female, a representative of the Tavistock Trust said they simply did not know. Stephanie Davies-Arai closely followed events at GIDS for many years and founded the organisation Transgender Trend in 2015. She was worried about the increase in young people, particularly girls, identifying as trans. She wanted quality  research about why girls arrived at GIDS with a set of beliefs.

As well as believing that they were boys some of these girls believed they were Japanese or Korean when they were not. Barnes quotes  Dr Anna Hutchinson, one of the many whistleblowers to have gone on the record: “Self-diagnosed adolescent trans boys — natal females — started to fill up GIDS’s waiting room with similar stories, haircuts, even names – ‘one after another after another’. They’d talk about their favourite trans YouTubers, many having adopted the same name, and how they aspired to be like them in the future.”

The whole issue of gender dysphoria had by the mid-2000s become highly politicised. Stonewall declared in February 2015 that it was extending its remit to campaign for trans equality alongside lesbian, gay and bisexual (LGB) equality.

Collective Fantasies

Sometimes a madness overtakes the masses. I have been reading Norman Cohn’s influential book,  The Pursuit of the Millennium: Revolutionary Millenarians and Mystical Anarchists of the Middle Ages, which I first encountered in my student days in the heady 60s. Cohn’s book was published in 1957 and influenced many people such as the French Marxist philosopher and writer Guy Debord and the British author Richard Webster who wrote a book, which I found quite impressive, about false allegations of child abuse, The Secret of Bryn Estyn (2005). Webster helped find lawyers for Dawn Reed and Christopher Lillie, former Newcastle nurses who were falsely accused of sexually abusing children in their care. Reed and Lillie, who were first accused of child abuse in 1993 and only found not guilty in 2002, say that they would probably be dead, through suicide or murder, without Webster’s assistance. Webster said of Cohn’s work: ”All three books seek to establish the role played in history by collective fantasies….” 

Here in Sri Lanka we had the “Grease Yaka ”phenomenon. When we lived in Uva province, there were a number of attacks blamed on bhuthaya, grease yakas or grease devils. Historically, a “grease devil” was a thief who wore only underwear or went naked and covered his body in grease to make himself difficult to grab if chased. In 2011, the “grease devil” became a night-time prowler who frightens and attacks women.

As Sri Lanka was experiencing Grease Yaka mania, riots were erupting all over the UK. Contagion Theory was formulated by Gustave Le Bon in 1896. According to him, crowds exert a hypnotic influence over individual  members. In a crowd,  people abandon personal responsibility and surrender to contagious emotions. A crowd can drive people toward irrational, even violent action.

Today, we have social media to help spread the madness.

Epidemic of Dysphoria

Transsexualism was discussed in the mass media as long ago as the 1930s. Time magazine in 1936 devoted an article to what it called “hermaphrodites”, treating the subject with sensitivity not sensationalism. When I worked in a local social security office in Manchester in the early 70s, there was one client who wanted to change the gender on their official documents but was unable legally to do so. The office staff were a hard-bitten, cynical lot but were sympathetic, if nonplussed. It is good that society has evolved so that practical measures can now be taken to address such  a problem. Unfortunately, sympathy has been distorted by activism. Even Joe Biden has contributed his confused view of the issue by saying that regulations to protect children from transgender medical interventions and to restrict classroom instruction in gender ideology were “close to sinful.”

Transgender Children and Young People: Born in your own body was a book of essays published in 2018. The thrust of the book was that that the “‘transgender child” is a relatively new historical phenomenon, “brought into being by a coalition of pressure groups, political activists and knowledge makers”. “A copy of the book was removed from the Tavistock library. A clinic director who sent an email letting staff know where the book could be purchased more cheaply ended up with a note on his HR file, and the prospect of disciplinary action, for abusing the Trust’s email policy.

The foreword to this book was written by David Bell a distinguished psychiatrist and practising psychoanalyst,  who in 2018 wrote a controversial report about GIDS. He had worked at the Tavistock since 1995. He was disappointed that the “jaw dropping “ things he found did not lead to greater change. In his foreword, he writes: “Many services have championed the use of medical and surgical intervention with nowhere near sufficient attention to the serious, irreversible damage this can cause and with very disturbingly superficial attitudes to the issue of consent in young children.”

According to a report by Policy Exchange, schools are routinely allowing children to switch gender and not telling their parents in a “mass breach” of safeguarding.some schools risk breaching laws by failing to offer single-sex toilets or by allowing organisations involved in political campaigning to provide relationship and sex education lesson resources.

Crowds of Gender Ambiguous

Ambiguity of gender at birth is very rare. Incorrect description and assignment on birth certificates is very rare. While one might sympathise with people in this situation, giving blocker drugs, hormones and irreversible surgery to children is a drastic response. It is indeed a reinforcement of gender stereotypes. Just because very small boys do girly things does not justify physically changing their gender. When I was about four years old, I was fascinated by the pomp and theatre of the Mass and played at being a priest. Thank God my parents did not pack me off to a seminary and force me into a life of celibacy.

Some young people appeared to be experiencing internalised homophobia and some families would make openly homophobic comments. It is not wise to reorder society and suppress freedom of speech because of birth defects in an infinitesimal minority. It is even more foolish to reorder society and suppress freedom of speech at the behest of men who have decided they are women without going for the surgery. One should sympathise and protect the rights of minorities but not kowtow to bullies who want to act out outdated gender stereotypes.

The original founder of GIDS, Dominic Di Ceglie, said that only about 5% of the young people seen at his clinic would “commit themselves to a change of gender” and that “60% to 70% of all the children he sees will become homosexual”. Barnes write: “Many of the young people did not seem in need of a specialist gender service  at all. But because they were being seen by a gender service, it created the expectation for physical interventions. Why on earth would you wait a year and travel miles to receive therapy? this therapist asked.” Clinicians feared they may be seeing fabricated or induced illness (FII), a presentation previously referred to as “Munchausen’s by proxy”.

Mass delusion extended to the GIDS staff. As external criticism grew, the service developed a “siege mentality”. One clinician, Matt Bristow (who happened to be gay), told Barnes that doubts and criticisms were regarded “as a personal affront rather than people raising legitimate professional concerns”. He and others recount how :“It was difficult to voice legitimate concerns when these were construed as a personal attack on people you cared for and admired. “ “It’s tribal, isn’t it? Anybody who speaks out against a system that they’re part of inevitably is going to have a hard time.” Staff who raised concerns about the safety of children were labelled “transphobic.”

There was, between 2009 and 2020, a 4,700% increase in the number of girls referred to GIDS. When asked publicly why three-quarters of referrals to GIDS were female, a representative of the Tavistock Trust said they simply didn’t know. Stephanie Davies-Arai closely followed events at GIDS for many years and founded the organisation Transgender Trend in 2015. She was worried about the increase in young people, particularly girls, identifying as trans. She wanted quality  research about why girls arrived at GIDS with a set of beliefs.

Satanic Abuse

“The history of medicine is scattered with psychosomatic diseases that appeared, spread like wildfire and then disappeared”. In Creating Hysteria: Women and Multiple Personality Disorder, published in 1999, journalist Joan Acocella described how a disease so rare that most doctors never came across it turned into an epidemic. I had dealings with the Tavistock Clinic in the 1990s when they were promoting the idea of Satanic Ritual Child Abuse. Who believes in that now?

According to her website, “Dr Valerie Sinason was Consultant Child Psychotherapist at the Tavistock Clinic from 1987 … Valerie founded the Clinic for Dissociative Studies in 1998.”  In 1994, Valerie Sinason edited a collection of essays entitled Treating Survivors of Satanist Abuse that claimed satanic ritual abuse existed in the UK and that she had treated victims.

On her Substack blog, Suzanne Moore wrote: “In ten years’ time, a lot of the men (and women) currently  advocating for permanently harming children will no doubt have rewritten their roles in the history of these turbulent times. It’s what they do. There won’t be a backing-down, just tweeted revisionism. Others may learn something about the need for evidence and many will keep some vague faith.” Sinason has put her satanic abuse nonsense behind her and is calling herself a poet.

In those days I worked at the Department of Health as a ministerial advisor on child protection and I studied Sinason’s work very closely. I found that she presented very little evidence to support her claim and she kept recycling the same anecdotes under different guises.  She hounded the Department to take action and eventually my boss, Rupert Hughes, agreed to meet her and listen to her views. I was present at the meeting and it was an embarrassment. Rupert destroyed Sinason with cold logic and common sense. I also met Beatrix Campbell who was peddling similar views. Sinason  was recycling a small number of anecdotes to fit different scenarios.

As a concession to her, the Department of Health commissioned anthropologist Jean La Fontaine to investigate. I edited the subsequent book, Speak of the Devil, which was published in 1998. Professor La Fontaine found that all of the cases of alleged satanic ritual abuse that could be substantiated were cases where the perpetrators’ goal was sexual gratification rather than religious worship. The satanic allegations by younger children were influenced by adults. She said that there were indications that most allegations were sparked by investigations supervised by social workers who had taken SRA seminars in the US. LaFontaine responded to an attempted rebuttal of her book by Sinason and Robert Hale saying “It is not surprising to me that patients who are having treatment by Valerie Sinason would produce stories that echo such topical issues as the recent trial for receiving internet pornography and the publicity for the film Hannibal. There is good research that shows the ‘memories’ of abuse are produced in and by the therapy.”

I attended a conference on child protection in Bristol where I was horrified at the religious zeal of the social workers promoting the idea of satanic abuse. It reminded me of a pyramid selling convention a neighbour took me to. These professional social workers seemed about to burn at the stake for heresy a police forensic psychologist who argued rationally against their zeal and said she had never heard of any evidence to support their case.

Hope for Common Sense?

David Bell wrote: ”Like many, I am acutely aware of the way that proper critical debate has been shut down leaving a near hegemony of a peculiar kind of thinking, or I should say non-thinking, that has come to dominate this discourse.” Bell continued, “silencing has been remarkably successful, resulting in a simplification of a very complex problem that needs to be understood at both individual and socio-cultural levels.” Joe Biden take note.

What on earth is happening in the UK?! Gary Lineker was excoriated for saying that the language used by supporters of immigration control was reminiscent of 1930s Germany. Graham Linehan was savaged on BBC by the daughter of a former leader of the Labour Party for saying that use of puberty blockers could be compared with the practices of doctors working for the Nazis.

Graham writes: “I was offered £200,000 to walk away from the Father Ted musical because I object to the medicalisation and sterilisation of gender nonconforming children, the destruction of single-sex spaces such as shelters and rape crisis centres, the homophobic rape culture that puts men on lesbian dating apps and the misogynistic abuse levelled at anyone who dares object. Because of my work defending women’s rights, Hat Trick and Sonia Friedman Productions folded to activists within their own company and robbed the public of the Father Ted musical.”

Nick Cohen has written on his blog: “writing in his preface to Animal Farm in 1945, George Orwell said that ‘the sinister fact about literary censorship in England is that it is largely voluntary. Unpopular ideas can be silenced, and inconvenient facts kept dark without the need for an official ban’.” Barnes submitted her manuscript to 22 publishers who did not want to touch it. Junior staff at publishing houses prevented the publishers from going with the book. Once the book found a publisher, junior staff at bookshop chains worked hard to prevent readers from buying the book. Cohen comments “The British state wasn’t trying to silence Barnes. Publishing houses were attempting to enforce a quieter but no less effective form of censorship.”

How has transgenderism reached the point that the Labour party is endangering its chance of toppling a horrible, inhuman and incompetent Tory government by signing up to issues that it does not really understand and that mean nothing to most voters? Promotion of trans rights has already contributed to the downfall of the previously unassailable Scottish first minister, Nicola Sturgeon. Nick Cohen: “A similar blowback helped knock Nicola Sturgeon out of politics after she took gender theory to its logical conclusion and tried to house a rapist who said he identified as a woman in a women’s prison.”

Can we hope that the madness can be contained? I leave the last word to Helen Joyce: “liberal, secular society can accommodate many subjective belief systems, even mutually contradictory ones. What it must never do is impose one group’s beliefs on everyone else.

Time to Think: The Inside Story of the Collapse of the Tavistock’s Gender Service for Children by Hannah Barnes is published by Swift Press (£20). I got mine from Kindle.