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The reported suicide of trans teacher Lucy Meadows, and the subsequent backlash surrounding Daily Mail columnist Richard Littlejohn, has provoked some rather odd reactions from Littlejohn’s supporters.
The hounding of Ms. Meadows by the press was barbaric, merciless and with few boundaries. According to an email sent by Meadows earlier in the year, printed last Friday on The Guardian’s website, she was forced to “slip out of her back door before the paparazzi arrived” every day and was constantly on the lookout for those trying to get a picture of her. She even suspected the press of offering money to parents to that very end. She had personal photos of her wedding printed in papers, along with photos lifted from her siblings’ Facebook pages.
So it’s no wonder when people start calling for the resignation of those like Littlejohn, whose complete lack of sensitivity towards Ms. Meadows’ situation—despite his alleged sympathies for those trapped in the wrong body—showed a complete lack of understanding of what it is like to be a trans person and the respect with which one should treat her. Moreover, the reaction also showed a fundamental misunderstanding of what it is like to be a child.
He wrote that “children as young as seven aren’t equipped to compute this kind of information.” Oh please. Children as young as seven can believe in a mermaid who does a deal with an octopus-witch to get legs, enabling her to live above the water with a prince—I’m sure there’s not going to be any huge difficulty in believing it when “Sir” becomes “Miss” over the holidays.
Such arguments that you should not have to explain things like that to children are cowardly and moronic, especially in light of how life is explained to a child in all other situations. When Uncle John marries his girlfriend Jane, and your child asks “Why?”, you don’t tell your child the entire history of their relationship, you say “because they love each other”. When Auntie Jane gets pregnant, and your child asks “How?”, you don’t tell your child the intimate sexual process by which she became pregnant, you say “they wanted to have a baby”, or possibly “Uncle John put it there”—or if all else fails, “I’ll tell you when you’re older!”
In the same vein, you talk about how Uncle Steve and Uncle Dan love each other, without going into details about why neither of them can get pregnant. You talk about how Uncle Simon is now Auntie Sara but don’t talk about the fact that she may still have a penis. In short, you use your common sense.
The Daily Mail called children “vulnerable” (which in many situations they are), but when questions of orientation and gender come into play, they’re not so much vulnerable as open-minded—indeed much more so than a lot of adults. No child is born homophobic or transphobic; they are influenced by the morals of their parents. Children can accept almost anything, as demonstrated by countless witness statements of people telling their children about a gay relative culminating in a magnificently anticlimactic reaction on the part of the child. One example of this being the viral video a year ago of a frankly adorable little boy’s reaction to finding out that two men at—I’m assuming—a family party were married to each other: “So that means you two love each other!”
So The Daily Mail’s defence that Littlejohn was “echo[ing] the parents’ concerns about whether it was right for children to have to confront complex gender problems at such a vulnerable young age” should not be seen as any kind of legitimate argument, as some 7-year-old children seem to be able to grasp certain aspects of the world a lot better than some 59-year old journalists.