Young children cannot undergo gender reassignment surgery of any form in the UK.
And with one very tightly defined exception, the NHS does not allow any gender reassignment surgery to take place on children (individuals under the age of 18).
Despite this, mainstream media are keen to present this as a significant issue in respect of trans children:
- advertising a Newsnight debate on Trans Kids in January 2017, a tweet sent out via the account of Newsnight presenter Emily Maitlis promoted the key debate as being whether transgender primary school kids should receive surgery (although following multiple complaints, this was deleted)
- in April 2019 children’s author Jacqueline Wilson expressed “concerns” about young trans children having bits lopped off – though does not cite any instances of this happening
- surgery before physical development has taken place – whether due to a conventional puberty or through hormonal intervention – is almost always inappropriate and risky and is not endorsed by best practitioners
- mastectomy at age 17 or above is permitted: however, any individual opting for this procedure would have to demonstrate both that they are competent to make such a decision and that they fully understood the implications of it.
Despite very clear guidelines for what may happen in the UK, concern narratives are fed by a steady drip of “horror stories” from overseas. Of these, a proportion appear to be wholly fictional: and some (primarily in the United States) reflect the operation of very different systems from those in the UK.
In the US, for instance, access to surgical intervention is primarily linked to ability to pay, which is closely linked to what Insurance companies consider justified, and the notion of informed consent, not just for transition-related procedures, but for all, is paramount. In addition, as best we understand it, laws, and therefore the rules governing surgery, vary on a State by State basis.
There exists one area where children have been regularly operated on in order to make them conform to gender stereotype: and this is where a child is intersex and presents, at birth, with ambiguous gender characteristics. It has been common practice both in the UK and in many other countries for the medical profession to intervene surgically in order to “normalise” such children – even where no medical need for such intervention exists.
There are also many instances of such interventions then being covered up through the removal of details from medical notes. It goes without saying that such a practice is unethical and in some circumstances can be dangerous for the individual concerned: many individuals who have been subject to such intervention have suffered lifelong adverse consequences as a result, including incontinence and chronic pain; yet they have had to engage in major battles with the Health Services before medical professionals will even admit to what has been done.
While this site is primarily focused on trans people – and intersex is NOT transgender – we are more than happy to substantiate the above claims by putting individuals in touch with intersex victims of this treatment.
We also note that those who appear most concerned with what is almost entirely a non-issue in the UK, of operations being carried out on trans children, are for the most part silent on the issue of non-consensual surgery being performed on intersex children – some aged only a few months old at the time.