June 4th 2016

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Articles from this issue:

COVER STORY Gross desserts on the sex-education menu

CANBERRA OBSERVED Suggested parallel less a Murphy than a furphy

EDITORIAL Obama rewards Vietnam: a particularly nasty regime

ENVIRONMENT Land sinkage, not rising sea levels, the real threat

LIFE ISSUES Who am I? Baby's first memoir

SOCIETY Haircuts and tattoos: new rebels get funky

LIFE POLICY Queensland abortion bill is out of step with voters

SEXUAL POLITICS Gay 'marriage' and the given in human procreative behaviour (part 1)

RURAL LIFE Some of the reasons why farmers need a new bank

It's a queer theory that says kids can transgender (Part Two of two)

MUSIC Digital sonics by no means free of glitches

CINEMA Action movie lacks punch: X-Men: Apocalypse

BOOK REVIEW Tragic betrayal

BOOK REVIEW Great reformer or great dictator?

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It's a queer theory that says kids can transgender (Part Two of two)

by Patrick J. Byrne

News Weekly, June 4, 2016

Part One in this series of articles examined how queer theory is predicated on the notion of the child as agent, capable of making its own decisions. Part Two of these articles examines other controversial aspects of the theory. Patrick J. Byrne writes.

Another controversial aspect of queer theory is transgendering – not just cross-dressing, but medical gender transition. Particularly controversial is the idea that the child as agent can choose to transition gender – to male, female or something else.

An example is the Safe Schools program resource, Guide to Supporting a Student to Affirm or Transition Gender Identity at School,[1] which advises schools how to develop a plan to manage a student’s gender transition, even without parental consent – “It may be possible to consider a student a mature minor and able to make decisions without parental consent” (p1).

Safe Schools’ Gender Questioning[2] says: “When under 18, the first medical option available to you is puberty blockers. They’re most effective for people in the early stages of puberty, if you’re younger it’s definitely worth discussing with your doctor.” (p11)

Another Minus18 resource used by Safe Schools, OMG I’m Trans,[3] advises students that “[s]urgery is something you might consider too, and while it isn’t for everyone, for some it can be hugely beneficial”. The booklet says that while chest and genital surgery are currently not available to people under 18 years of age (p11), it provides the contact details for a number of Victorian medical clinics specialising in servicing transgender patients (p22).

Safe Schools resources are self-contradictory in that they state that gender is defined not by physical anatomy but rather by feelings while at the same time discussing the benefits of medical gender transition treatments for the alteration of physical anatomy. Queer theory often embraces inconsistencies. It is ideologically motivated and more concerned with “subjectivities” and the creation of “new truths” than with a rational investigation of any given matter.

OMG im Trans encourages students to use opposite-sex public toilets: “Victoria has no explicit laws about using public bathrooms and you can use whichever ones you want” (p36).

This is particularly relevant in Victoria, where not only is transgender a recognised gender identity under anti-discrimination laws, but also counseling that discourages hormonal treatment and surgery may run the risk of complaint under the new Health Complaints Act.[4] Recently, Victoria has also seen a drastic increase in the number of children seeking transgender medical treatment at Melbourne’s Royal Childrens’ Hospital from one patient in 2003 to 60 in 2014;[5] over 200 patients were expected in 2015.[6]

Gender dysphoria is overwhelmingly a temporary condition. One study estimating that between 80 per cent and 97.5 per cent of all cases observed in childhood and adolescence do not go on to manifest as permanent transgenderism in adulthood.[7]

Is it appropriate to treat school-aged children as “agents” able to consent to transgendering, possibly even to medical procedures that are irreversible and that can leave the person sterile?

What limits?

There is no universal queer theory agreement on the degree of child agency on such controversial issues.

Queer theory has no clear boundaries between terms like baby, child, teenager and adult. In fact, the theory aims to questions these very ideas by which society creates boundaries to protect younger people.

The Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy explains part of the “child agent” problem, asking: “Is transgenerational sex (e.g., pedophilia) permissible? … While some queer theorists specifically disallow pedophilia, it is an open question whether the theory has the resources to support such a distinction. Furthermore, some queer theorists overtly refuse to rule out pedophiles as ‘queer’.”[8]

Diederik Janssen summarises the array of relationship issues at stake in treating children as “agents”. In his article, “Queer theory and childhood” (Oxford Bibliographies) Janssen says: “The ‘queering’ and ‘queerness’ of the child are accordingly tied in with that of the family, adult, parent, teacher, and ‘pedophile’.”[9]

While a range of queer theorists oppose pedophilia, at the very least queer theory blurs the lines between our culture’s understanding of the need to protect childhood, the time when we let kids be kids, and promoting the idea that children are agents able to make their own (sexual) decisions.

Queer theory’s advocacy for “child agency” raises other questions.

If children have “agency”, then perhaps all child labour laws should be abolished so that children can exercise their “agency” and go to work when they please? Should the law requiring compulsory education to the age of 15 be abolished so children can choose to attend school when they please? Should the voting age be abolished so that children can vote?

So far these issues don’t seem to have significantly entered queer theory discussions.

A sexual revolution

Queer theory is deeply political and revolutionary.

Using various controversial analytical tools, including forms of neo-Marxist analysis, it argues that neoliberal politics has legally and culturally conditioned both childhood and gender as a means of maintaining power.

Both childhood and gender are just social constructs reinforced by laws and conventions such as defining sex on birth certificates as male or female; separate male and female school toilets; imposing different dress codes for males and females; different toys for boys and girls; having laws provide special protections for children, treating them as minors, different from adults. One law requires that adults have a police clearance to work with children.

In order to destabilise neoliberal social institutions and capitalism, queer theory says it is necessary to dissolve male/female gender and childhood.

Consequently, Diederik Janssen says the battle over child agency is a key issue in queer sexual politics; it’s “a central queer concern: and arguably the crucible, or ground zero, of all sexual politics”.[10]

Safe Schools, heavily based on queer theory, is on the frontline of the fight over children in Australia.

Roz Ward, one of the main academics who created the Safe Schools program at La Trobe University’s Australian Research Centre into Sex Health and Society (ARCSHS), says that conventional notions of male and female, sex, marriage and natural family have been imposed on children and society.

These notions only “serve to break the spirits of ordinary people, to consume our thoughts, to make us accept the status quo and for us to keep living or aspiring to live, or feel like we should live, in small social units and families where we must reproduce and take responsibility for those people in those units”, she told the 2015 Marxism Conference in Melbourne. (See extracts from Roz Ward’s speech in News Weekly, February 27, 2016.)[11]

Ward says that doing away with male, female and the hetero-normative family will “create a world where human sexuality, gender and how we relate to our bodies can blossom in extraordinarily new and amazing ways that we can only try to imagine today.”[12]

She told a Safe Schools symposium that the program is “not about stopping bullying. (It’s) about gender and sexual diversity.” (The Australian, March 22, 2016)

Queer theory in schools is part of a queer sexual revolution that confronts the social order. This includes school activist groups to monitor student and staff attitudes and behaviour, and act as queer thought police.

Deconstructing natural sexuality

Queer theory rejects the idea of schools teaching and affirming as the norm children as biologically male and female but with diverse physical appearances. It also treats children as (sexual) agents.

A group of the leading academics at ARCSHS have described the place of queer theory in education. Elizabeth Smith, Roz Ward, Jennifer Dixon, Lynne Hillier, Anne Mitchell and Dr Tiffany Jones (now at the University of New England) co-wrote “School experiences of transgender and gender-diverse students in Australia,” (Sex Education, 2016).

They say that queer theory is interested in “(de)constructions of sex and gender”,[13] that is, in deconstructing the idea that people are just male or female.

In another academic article, “Saving rhetorical children: Sexuality education discourses from conservative to post-modern” (Sex Education: Sexuality, Society and Learning, 2011), Dr Tiffany Jones examines the evolution of sex education from conservative, liberal, critical to post-modern, including post-modern “queer”.

She says that queer theory and diversity education see the child as a person “whose ‘sexual identity’ is … fluid, fractured and problematic”. The child “can inhabit and move between sexual identities and cultures, although,” Jones admits, the child “is also ‘subject to’”, or influenced by, the child’s identities and cultures to a certain extent.[14]

Queer theory “aims to disrupt/destabilise the structures (sex, gender, orientation) that uphold the illusion of heteronormativity”, Jones says.[15]

At one level, queer theory aims to “disrupt/destabilise” the natural human experience of sex and gender (that is, male and female, boy and girl). These are regarded as just socially constructed concepts, antiquated ideas upholding “the illusion of heteronormativity”,[16] the idea that people fall into distinct and complementary genders (male and female) with natural roles of being mothers and fathers in a family.

Partly this is done “through deconstruction and (re)creation of texts, including the self or others as texts”, says Tiffany Jones.[17] This refers to analysing literary texts and analysing the lives of children and others, whose lives are seen as “texts”. These “texts” are to be “deconstructed” and “(re)created” allowing many possible sexual identities to be explored and adopted.

As Annamarie Jagose says in “Queer theory” (Australian Humanities Review, December 1996), ultimately queer theory aims to demonstrate “the impossibility of natural sexuality, [calling] into question even such apparently unproblematic terms as ‘man’ and ‘woman’”.[18]

At another level, in schools it teaches, or provides resources that offer, an array of sexual practices that sexualises children, promotes sexual experimentation and the notion of “child agency”.

Queer fault lines

Many have taken “queer” to mean all non-heterosexual people and movements. In fact, queer has no clear definition, but emphasises a wider range of fluid sexual identities than just gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender. Ironically, even though queer stands as a sexual identity itself, some argue that it challenges the relevance of sexual identities altogether. If all people are queer, sexual identities would become obsolete.

Because queer theory questions the binary male/female nature of people as the norm, there are those in the GLBT community who see queer as messing up the concepts of gay, lesbian, transsexual and bisexual – concepts which are reliant on the binary nature of gender for their own definition. A gay male is a person attracted to another male. A bisexual is attracted to both sexes. A transsexual is a person wanting to be the opposite sex. For many GLBTs, sexuality is still binary, male and female. It’s not about a fluid choice of over 50 queer sexual identities.

Many GLBTs want to be accepted into the structures of heterosexual society – by redefining marriage to include them, being accepted in the military, and so on.

In contrast, while some queer theorists see same-sex marriage as furthering their agenda, others want to abolish the institution of marriage because it upholds the oppressive structures of society.

In 2010 as Americans were debating and voting on various marriage state referenda, a group of queer theorists published Against Equality: Queer Critiques of Gay Marriage.[19[ The book was hailed as making “the powerful argument that same-sex marriage is an essentially conservative cause, an effort to prop up an essentially unfair system.”[20]

Against Equality marked a major rift between many in the GLBT community who wish to be seen as ordinary members of society, and those queers who see themselves as separate, confrontational and opposed to the ordinary social order.

Another rift exists between many gays and transgenders. Some gays have challenged the idea that medical treatment can change a person’s sex, which idea has been embraced by queer theorists wanting to deconstruct the hetero-normative into a more fluid array of sexualities.

Recently, gay writer Daniel Harris created a storm of controversy when he wrote: “While I fervently support [transgenders] rights to transition, I believe that the whole phenomenon of switching one’s gender is a mass delusion.” He said that it’s impossible to change one’s gender, regardless of how many body parts one chops off. “Gender is not ‘assigned’” and, therefore, cannot be “reassigned” by plastic surgery.

Gender “is revealed, first by the transducer of an ultrasound machine massaging a besmeared and distended belly and then by the obstetrician as he dangles the wailing infant by its feet. One can no more change one’s gender than one’s species.” Pop psychology and postmodern theory be damned, Harris wrote in The Antioch Review, Winter 2016.

Harris is puzzled at how the “public almost universally disapproves of plastic surgery and laughs derisively at celebrities who present a face ‘different from the one they rode in on’”, while praising transgenders like former U.S. Olympic champion Bruce Jenner, who identifies as Caitlyn Jenner.

“I know of no other human-rights movement in which supporters are adjured, not only to advocate for the greater civil liberties of a minority, but to aid and reinforce its self-delusions, to guard those who harbour them from the truth,” wrote Harris.[21]

Feminist discontent

Some feminists have also attacked queer theory. They fought for the rights of “women”, not for the female identity to be dissolved into a smorgasbord of over 50 different sexual identities.

Monash university feminist Laura McNally, recently criticised Safe Schools for teaching over 50 new queer gender categories.

She said it does not resolve problems of stereotyping and discrimination. It merely creates “more confusion, more anxiety and more pressure for children over an issue that is not their burden to bear”.

“This is not gender neutrality, but gender enforcement,”[22] says McNally.

And like Daniel Harris, feminist Germaine Greer has rejected the idea that a person can change their sex.

In the face of student protests over her views just prior to a speech at Cardiff University last October, Greer told BBC’s Newsnight program that a person can have surgery, hormone therapy and change their dress – a man can make himself look like a woman – but “it doesn’t make them a woman”.

“That happens to be an opinion. It’s not a prohibition; carry on, if that’s what you think it is you want to do. I’ve been accused of inciting violence against transgender people. It’s absolute nonsense.”

Greer added that “a great many” women did not dare to say that transgender people “don’t look like, sound like, or behave like women”.[23]


It is one thing for adults to adopt queer identity theories and live as they please, it’s another to predicate sex education on telling children that their identity is based on how they feel sexually and how they conduct themselves, even when many are not engaged in sexual conduct.

Queer theory aims to dissolve the idea that biology defines male and female identity. It asserts that what we know as natural human sexuality is nothing more than a social construct imposed by the dominant class of the society in which we live.

It is an extreme form of sexual libertarianism that attacks an essential part of human nature.



[1] Roz Ward, Joel Radcliffe, Matthew Parsons, Mel Gaylard, Dani Wright Toussaint, Guide to supporting a student to affirm or transition gender identity at school. Accessed 26/5/2016.

[2] Gender Questioning, accessed 26/5/2016.

[3] Margot Fink, Micah Scott, eds, OMG I’m Trans, MINUS18, 2015, accessed 26/5/2016.

[4] Health Complaints Act 2016, accessed 26/5/2016.

[5] Jill Stark, “Calls to help sex-change kids as demand for gender reassignment soars”, The Sydney Morning Herald, July 6, 2014, accessed 26/5/2016

[6] Legge, K., Making the Switch, The Weekend Australian Magazine, July 18–19, 2015, pp12–16.

[7] Korte, A. et al., Gender identity disorders in childhood and adolescence: Currently debated concepts and treatment strategies, Deutsches Arzteblatt Int., November 2008; 105(48): 834–841. Accessed 26/5/2016.

[8] Homosexuality, The Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy, 2002.

[9] Diederik Janssen, “Queer theory and childhood”, Oxford Bibliographies, accessed 26/5/2016.

[10] Ibid.

[11] See extracts from Roz Ward’s speech in “Safer schools or a radical Marxist sexual revolution?” Patrick J. Byrne, News Weekly, February 27, 2016.

[12] Ibid.

[13] Tiffany Jones, Elizabeth Smith, Roz Ward, Jennifer Dixon, Lynne Hillier and Anne Mitchell,“School experiences of transgender and gender-diverse students in Australia”, Sex Education, 2016, Volume 16, No. 2, pp156–171, accessed 26/5/2016.

[14] Tiffany Jones, “Saving rhetorical children: Sexuality education discourses from conservative to post-modern”, Sex Education: Sexuality, Society and Learning, Vol. 11, Issue 4, August 12, 2011: pp369–387, accessed 26/5/2016.

[15] Ibid.

[16] Ibid.

[17] Ibid.

[18] Annamarie Jagose, “Queer theory”,1996, accessed 26/5/2016.

[19] Ryan Conrad, ed., Against Equality: Queer Critiques of Gay Marriage, 2010.

[20] Walter Benn Michaels, “The trouble with diversity: How we learned to love identity and ignore inequality”.

[21] Daniel Harris, “The sacred androgen: The transgender debate”, The Antioch Review, Winter, 2016, accessed 26/5/2016.

[22] Laura McNally, “Gender neutrality or enforcement? ‘Safe Schools’ isn’t as progressive as it seems”, ABC Religion and Ethics, March 24, 2015.

[23] “Cardiff University rejects bid to bar Germaine Greer”, The New York Times, October 24, 2015. 

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