Wednesday, 17 March 2010

More bloody should try being ain't easy.

I have always thought it a funny but true concept that as people, we don't know what we don't know. In fact there's bound to be much more we don't know than we do. A humble and open mind can go much further than a closed one. Anyway - that was just a not-entirely-relevant preamble.


When people are set up as experts, sometimes if they are asked a question they don't know the answer to, you see them making something up - because they feel they ought to know the answer, rather than admitting they don't know and offering to go and find out. I suspect this is similar to a need to be right and a fear of appearing not to have absolute authority over their area. I hope I am not projecting too much!

If given the choice between a fabricated answer posed as the correct one and someone who says they are not sure but will go and find out, I know which I would prefer.

Here's an example:

Recently a teacher expressed her concern for a young child that was physically born a boy who is upset if he is treated as a boy and wants to be completely treated as a girl. In fact this child insists that s/he is a girl. Now I have come across this once before - with a child that was a bit older. The teacher asked me for some advice. I said I wasn't by any means an expert in this but that I would do my best to dig out some information for her. I could only give generic advice from what I had read so far and offered to dig out some more information for her (which I did. I also used it as an opportunity to educated myself further on the matter.)

When we discussed future actions she could take, she said that the child had already been taken to the local GP but that he had said, 'don't let him dress up in female clothing for two weeks.' The school enforced this and the child was really miserable. I winced.

And there's my example.

I have no idea what the GP thought he was doing but he clearly had not read anything about this issue. But because he was a GP (and had 'authority'), the school adhered to his advice. A GP cannot be expected to know everything, but perhaps in an example such as this, some humbleness and acknowledgement that he didn't actually know what to do - would have shown more wisdom. I also suspect the GP's prejudice played a part and he assumed the aim would be simply, 'prevention.'

Next, the teacher mentioned getting an educational psychologist in. And here was where I could advise. I said that the ed psych is unlikely to have extensive experience in gender dysphoria. You, as the teacher, will need to be monitor the keeping of this child's best interest as central to any dealings.' E.g. If the ed psych makes a similar suggestion to that the GP made, you can explain that has already been tried and did nothing but make the child unhappy. Better still, you can read information about this topic and if you feel the ed psych is floundering, suggest s/he goes and investigates rather than making suggestions on the spot. This is an example of having a little background knowledge being very beneficial.

I also spoke to the teacher about helping the other children to accept this child as s/he is.

P.S. In my reading round the topic I found a great website: (which set me off on more ponderings about how the web is fantastic for information and how it must de-isolate minorities).

P.P.S. I could write more on the topic of transgenderism, but that was not really what my post is about. I'd say understanding of transgenderism is ten years behind attitudes towards gay, lesbian and bisexual people - but it's all moving in the right direction.

P.P.P.S. If you feel prejudice towards transsexuals, or if you feel you'd like greater understanding...this letter might help evoke a little empathy.


  1. Exactly how many genders are there ? is a question that I asked a friend who works in Awareness Raising on LGBT issues with Local Authorities & other bodies.
    Her answer was 9 different genders. However when I did my own research and looked at the possible number of chromosone variations, then 9 was a conservative answer.

    The prejudice that some people have towards LGBT is complex and is not just through Fear & Ignorance, other factors need to be taken into consideration. Such as Religion, Social Conditioning and Lack of Awareness.

    We are deluding ourselves, if we believe that those to who the term Proffessional is attached, will necessarily be as informed on the subject of LGBT than the ordinary
    person in the street.

  2. The most educated can be the most blinkered if the education is a career based process.

    I sometimes feel like the more I find out the less I know. Wasn't that a line from a 70's song? It can play havoc with your inner self.

    Wish I was informed well enough to contribute in an enlightening way, but I'm not, even though I have well formed views based on what I think and feel. (Isn't that prejudice?)
    Perhaps prejudice is part of everyone's makeup and isn't always the ugly head being raised.

    I like the idea of awareness, understanding and empathy. It's generally in short supply but always well received.

  3. This post made me think of 1. The last chapter of The God Delusion, 2. Billy Elliot and 3. the lethal combination of arrogance and ignorance which I have experienced in some GPs/consultants. Too hungover to elaborate!!!! xxx

  4. Who was that American politician who everyone took the mick out of when he spoke of two kinds of unknown: known unknowns and unknown unknowns?

    I think he was right.

  5. That website is very interesting, although the dark background thing, deliberate or otherwise, would be easier to read with a light text. It's an area I know next to nothing about so it was very useful to increase my awareness, however slightly.

  6. Hi Heronster
    Who is this friend?...I may well know of him/her as it is also part of my remit...although mostly LBG. The lumping together or LGB and T has sometimes caused concern as they are quite different as one is sexuality the other is to do with your whole self – gender. It was almost like ‘well where else can this issue be put?’ Not good.

    When I talk to primary schools about LGB I start by asking them when they feel it is appropriate to cover different types of sexuality. In the time I have done this job, I am glad to say that the understanding has massively improved and it has become much rarer to encounter blatant prejudice. Most say that discussing same-sex relationships with young children is a positive thing to do – ‘exposing them to the full spectrum of diversity in relationships and not portraying one time (deliberately or inadvertently) as more ‘normal’ than any other.

    The fact that most school have children that will grow up to be gay in them makes this a diversity issue that people need to address. Here’s been a lot of suffering through prejudice. Suicide rate amongst gay men is much higher than amongst straight...etc.

    When I come across someone saying point blank that being gay is wrong – usually because of religious dogma I reply with. All religions say bullying is wrong. You cannot tackle homophobic bullying without acknowledging gay people exist. It would be like trying to tackle racism without acknowledging black and Asian people.

    The transsexual (arggh I did the labelling thing) people I know - all say that they feel that ignorance towards LBG has been tackled more than prejudice towards transsexuals. I suspect it is because it is more rare.

    I’ll stop there...of course I could go on and on and on and on....

    Hi Ken D (it makes you sound a bit like a refreshing drink).
    Education can blinker us. It definitely has protocols that mean we learn to think a certain way. This is getting better though – as a greater amount of creativity is allowed to flourish in some schools.

    I think some self-awareness can tackle prejudice. I see prejudice as an automatic response towards a particular stimulus (e.g. a transsexuals) that the person hasn’t self-challenged. However, some people won’t be in the position to ever challenge their responses and will have the same response all their lives I suppose.

    I found this a while ago which I liked:
    By becoming a bit more self-aware we can gain a greater degree of control over how we are operating in the present, instead of reacting to something conditioned by our past.

    Yes – a little empathy goes a long way.

    James – what is in the last chapter of that book?
    Why are you hungover? (I know that they are caused by alcohol – but what have you been up to?)
    Yes – I was partly thinking of your medical experiences when i wrote this post and the reluctance for the ‘professionals’ to take your self- diagnosis seriously despite all the Lyme disease symptoms being spot on.

    Codgi – he was in good company.
    Some I like...along the same theme

    *Real knowledge is to know the extent of one's ignorance. Confucius
    *The greatest obstacle to discovering the shape of the earth, the continents and the ocean was not ignorance but the illusion of knowledge. ~Daniel J. Boorstin,
    *Believing you know it all, will guarantee you learn nothing - and achieve even less. Nisandeh Neta
    *As for me, all I know is that I know nothing. Socrates
    *The greater the knowledge, the greater the doubt. Confucius
    *To be conscious that you are ignorant is a great step to knowledge. Disraeli
    *Education's purpose is to replace an empty mind with an open one. Malcolm S. Forbes

    Jonathan – well you took heed of Disraeli!


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