"SOME people believe in using social media to spread fear and misinformation,” began the Hogmanay tweet from the Time for Inclusive Education (Tie) campaign. “Some people believe in targeting members of our community.”

The animated message echoed the formatting and the language of a Christmas Eve post by another campaign group, the LGB [Lesbian, Gay and Bisexual] Alliance, which had stated, starkly: “Some people believe that girls who like football need puberty blockers, and a double mastectomy. We believe they need football boots.”

The National:

This isn’t a column about the Tie campaign, or the LGB Alliance, or a Twitter tit-for-tat. But it is about girls who find it very difficult to be girls. Girls who like football, girls who like other girls, girls who play with “boys’ toys” or pursue careers in male-dominated industries. Girls who dislike their bodies, dislike how men respond to their bodies, and dislike the expectations others have of them based on their bodies.

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I could easily fill the remaining few hundred words with suggestions for how society could change to make the lives of these girls easier, but specifically I want to tell you about young women who at some point identified as young men, and believed it was their bodies that needed to change if their lives were ever going to be tolerable. Who underwent transitions – in some cases making relatively minor changes, in other cases in major, irreversible ones – in the hope this would be the answer to their problems, but found it was not. They are called detransitioners.

These changes can include not just taking drugs to prevent the onset of puberty and having double mastectomies, but also hysterectomies and oophorectomies. The last of these, surgery to remove the ovaries, is a term I had not come across until this year, when I heard it from the mouth of a woman in her early twenties who had undergone every one of these surgical procedures. She did so not because of cancer, or endometriosis, or any reproductive health problem, but because she believed that by having these healthy organs removed she could become a man. She now deeply regrets every operation.

Might writing about this young woman, and others like her, contribute to the spreading of fear about gender transition? Quite possibly, but perhaps it should. We should fear for the girls who are presenting at doctor’s surgeries with complex psychological problems that may require years of intensive therapy to resolve, only to find themselves parked on long waiting lists and turning to internet message boards for medical advice. Alarm bells should be ringing about the fact that almost three-quarters of the young people referred to gender identity services in England are girls – in line with a trend seen all over the world – and that we don’t know what proportion in Scotland are girls because NHS Scotland does not log the sex of these patients.

Is it spreading misinformation to highlight the experiences of those who detransition when there is almost no academic literature on the subject, and little way of knowing how many people make changes to their bodies that they later regret? The courageous, compassionate and articulate women behind the UK-based Detransition Advocacy Network and the Germany-based Post Trans project, both of which launched in the second half of 2019, would certainly contend that it is not. They would be the first to agree that much more research is needed to understand both the complex causes of gender dysphoria – distress caused by a mismatch between a person’s sex and how they identify – and the prevalence of detransition.

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They would also highlight the fact that not every woman who detransitions regrets making changes to her body. Some women maintain that undergoing surgery, or taking testosterone (many of the effects of which are irreversible) was the best or only way to alleviate their distress, while acknowledging that this cannot be entirely divorced from how they are perceived by others. For example, a lesbian woman with a lower voice or facial hair may find she experiences less homophobic abuse when out holding hands with her girlfriend. A woman who has had her large breasts removed will be spared the experience of men staring at them and commenting on them.

No two detransitioner testimonies are exactly the same.

However, Charlie Evans, who founded the Detransition Advocacy Network, says many of the women who have contacted her are on the autistic spectrum, have experienced sexual trauma and/or have a history of eating disorders – another manifestation of the sense of being “in the wrong body”, but one that would never be treated with drugs to prevent puberty or surgery to remove healthy organs.

Many of those referred to gender clinics are also lesbians – so many, in fact, that one of the numerous whistle-blowers to have quit the English system has said that sending youngsters down a path to gender transition “feels like conversion therapy for gay children”.

That’s something one would imagine the TIE campaign, which aims to combat homophobia, would be at least slightly concerned about.

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Of course not every girl who plays football, or every young lesbian, will question whether this means she might be a boy, and even fewer will go as far as medical interventions.

But some are going down that path, and some who have done so are now tormented by regret.

Having come out the other side, they can clearly see it is society that needs to change, not girls’ bodies. How many more of them must speak out before groups like Tie – and the MSPs who strongly endorsed its core aim of supporting gay and lesbian young people – will listen?