BBC 4 have recently released a documentary film by Sébastien Lifshitz called Petite Fille (Little Girl), the story of a 7-year-old French boy who likes wearing dresses and playing with dolls, and who thought as a four-year-old that he could grow up to be a girl. Sasha is now identified as a girl by his mother, his father and siblings, and his psychiatrist.
This is one of the saddest documentaries about a trans-identified child ever televised by the BBC. It illustrates vividly what happens to people when a society does not accept difference, and will not accept people for who they are. This documentary shows how gender restrictions (which are placed on all people) are the height of cruelty and result in misery and feelings of rejection.
One of these restrictions is how people feel they must present to be accepted. In Sasha’s case, he would like to wear female clothes, but sadly, until well into the film, he can only do this at home. The opening scene of Petite Fille has him dressed up in a princess outfit, enjoying playtime, just like children should. He carefully attends his lovely long hair, choosing which accessories to place in it. This should be a normal scene, enjoyed with friends, but instead we hear much about the narrow-mindedness of the school and the way he has been rejected because he wants to wear clothes usually associated with girls. We hear how Sasha has never had a friend over, is afraid to wear a ‘girls’ swimming costume and will not go shopping with his family while wearing a dress.
Another problem Sasha encounters is that his bedroom – and everything in it – is what society has deemed to be very feminine. His bed is pink, his soft toys are pink, and his mum is afraid that bringing friends home will lead to ridicule. He has a shelf full of Barbies and hair accessories – all associated with ‘being a girl’. This poor child therefore has preferences that mark him out from other children – and this causes him real torment.
Sasha’s mum is therefore justified in her frequently voiced concerns about how this will lead to rejection by his peers as he gets older. At several points throughout Petite Fille, she says that he will be rejected, beaten, and treated like a pariah for being himself. One cannot help but feel immense empathy for him, after all, as the mother says, what is it to ‘people’ if her child wants to wear a dress? Just what business is it of theirs?
This statement is so well put. It is also a position that gender critics, radical feminists and the equal opportunities advocates of the past share: clothes for male and females are arbitrary. There is no reason why dresses should be just for girls; they are mere pieces of cloth designed and arranged for personal taste. It is shocking that in the twenty-first century some people have missed this memo.
However, this idea of the interchangeability of clothing is not shared by gender activists. Far from believing that any clothing, any toys, any way of being can be for any person regardless of sex, they hold the belief that should one chose to express oneself using artefacts associated with the opposite sex, then this means that one must be this sex.
This idea is obviously regressive and the way it is clumsily expressed is reliant upon ideas that have no basis in science. What is worse is that Sasha’s doctor does not seek to correct his family’s attempt to make sense of his dysphoria. His dad asserts that he was “born in a boy’s body, but a girl.” Soline, his oldest sibling, states “he’s a girl in a boy’s body”; Vasili, his older brother says, “Sasha’s a girl stuck in a boy’s body.” And furthermore, “in her mind, she’s a girl, just not with the right body.”
There are multiple problems with this conception. First, it relies on a semi-religious idea that being male or female is attributable to some sort of free-floating independent essence that settles randomly in unsuspecting minds. This is factually incorrect – or a plain old lie, if you like; every single cell in the human body is sexed and sex is determined at birth: ‘hardwired’. A person’s sex is a neutral fact, confers no moral approval and does not determine what a person should do with their lives. There is no evidence that male and female brains work differently or that there is such a thing as ‘feeling like a girl.’ It is notable that Sasha does not say this – but these feelings are attributed to him by others because he likes to wear skirts and dresses and put hair bands in his hair.
Furthermore, teaching children such as Sasha that their bodies and their brains are separate – often referred to as a dualism – is not only dangerous, it is also long discredited. Research suggests that those who hold dualistic beliefs “make real-life decisions that may ultimately compromise their physical health, for example consuming unhealthy food.” This damages children in obvious ways and every precaution should be taken to ensure they understand the importance of caring for one’s body and mind, and that neglect of either one may lead to the damage of both.
Instead, it would be far more accepting to state that Sasha, a boy, likes to wear clothes and play with toys that are stereotypically associated with girls. As well as helping Sasha, it would set a precedent for other children and increase tolerance. However, his mother is so wedded to stereotypes that she encourages him to lie to other children in his school, saying “some children might wonder why you’re dressed as a girl. What will you tell them?” His mother is not being ironic when she states that her “aim is to help people open their minds…and change them…” There is absolutely nothing new in the gender myth Petite Fille is perpetuating.
It may appear to his parents that Sasha’s classmates have accepted he ‘is a girl’ when he reveals “The others, they don’t care.” However, he adds that a girl in his class also told him that he “doesn’t have a…”. This may instead mean that children really do not care what choice of tent others places over their bodies, because this will not change material reality. After all, the women of the early twentieth century did not suddenly turn into men when they stopped wearing corsets and started wearing trousers.
Throughout Petite Fille sex (biology) and gender (stereotypes) are repeatedly and deliberately conflated by the adults. This lie is maintained even as the psychiatrist in the gender clinic, Dr Bargiacchi, discusses treatment pertaining to sex. She offers the extraordinarily simplistic explanation about the purpose of hormones being “what the body produces to give it a feminine or a masculine look.” An audience familiar with the side effects of puberty blockers, outlined by evidence submitted by Professor Michael Biggs in the Bell v Tavistock case, will be horrified.
Despite recommending that a 7-year-old meet with an endocrinologist in order “to decide when to block puberty” (note ‘when’, not ‘if’) the doctor tries to mitigate against her advice, saying that “there’s doubt over…producing functional sperm or using immature testicles to mature them in vitro” and there is “no established means of dealing with this”. This looks like experimental treatment, an observation repeatedly made by Judges Dame Victoria Sharp P., Lord Justice Lewis, and Lieven J. in the Tavistock case (above). In contrast to the ‘watchful waiting’ approach, this doctor instead says “You need to be aware of options early.” How meaningful consent can be in this situation is currently the subject of intense debate.
All this talk of biology reinforces the fact that, after all the conflation, one’s sex cannot be discarded. Biology is permanent and a body is not any kind of meat dressing for an inner essence.
The mother reveals that she has significant issues with the school because they will not accept that Sasha is: i) really a girl, and therefore ii) he may wear feminine clothes. She wants a certificate to show to his teachers and her son may be able to present as he wishes, and to prove that she is not crazy.
It should be obvious now what is wrong with these motivations, but to recap: hitching sex and gendered presentation together is massively discriminatory. It is about time that society accepted that it is a full human right to dress as one would wish and these choices are independent of one’s sex. Anything else is simply sexist.
Dysphoria and the DSM
We learn from Dr Bargiacchi that Sasha has gender dysphoria. Dysphoria is a medical term and is defined in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-5). This manual provides for one overarching diagnosis of gender dysphoria with separate specific criteria for children. In relation to children, a gender dysphoria diagnosis involves at least six of the following and an associated significant distress or impairment in function, lasting at least six months:
1. A strong desire to be of the other gender or an insistence that one is the other gender
2. A strong preference for wearing clothes typical of the other gender
3. A strong preference for cross-gender roles in make-believe play or fantasy play
4. A strong preference for toys, games or activities stereotypically used or engaged in by the other gender
5. A strong preference for playmates of the other gender
6. A strong rejection of toys, games, and activities typical of one’s assigned gender
7. A strong dislike of one’s sexual anatomy
8. A strong desire for the physical sex characteristics that match one’s experienced gender
Some of these are more worrying than others:
First, placing a “strong dislike of one’s sexual anatomy” on an equal footing with a “strong preference for wearing clothes typical of the other gender” is grossly irresponsible. As mentioned above, one is mere convention, the other is a fact that a child should be helped to come to terms with as permanent biology.
Second, a child may wish to “be the other gender” for entirely understandable reasons, for example: we all live a society that sexualises even young females, and so there is little wonder that some do not wish for their bodies to be objectified. There are instances when children have become older siblings and feel that they would get more attention if they were the same sex as the new child, something Richard Branson’s daughter, Holly, recently revealed she did from ages 4 – 11. In relation to Sasha, his mother spoke openly about having miscarriages of girls and really wanting a daughter. This desire is an indication of a person attached to the ideas that girls and boys have different gender roles in society and will behave differently.
There are also instances where children have been sexually abused and so have an understandable desire to be rid of their primary and/ or secondary sexual characteristics, attributing blame for their abuse to their sexed body rather than their abuser.
Third, the idea that girls and boys should have different “toys, games and activities” is sexist and was beginning to become outdated before companies availed themselves of the services of marketing professionals advertising pink toys to girls and blue toys to boys, thereby increasing profits by selling twice as many products. This manufactured preference perpetuates gendered thinking already firmly embedded into the DSM criterion. This is inherently homophobic – many gay and lesbian people find it impossible to fit into social norms, marking them out for persecution.
Fourth, it is entirely normal for children to play with children of the opposite sex because children of both sexes share a significant overlap in interests. Discouraging their interaction prevents them from discovering a common humanity and denies the development of fulfilling friendships.
The DSM thus makes serious errors when it pathologises children that have understandable reactions to the lies they pick up from society’s toxic messaging, or from the mistreatment they suffer at the hands of abusers, or from family circumstances they have misconstrued or have been affected by.
Dr Bargiacchi’s claim in Petite Fille that the cause of dysphoria is unknown illustrates a worrying lack of curiosity and a disregard of thousands of testimonies from those who have subsequently realised they were mistaken in their claims to be the opposite sex.
The DSM criteria attribute unevidenced ‘brain essences’ to the sexes, continually reinforce these invented differences and reintroduce the unevidenced idea of the separateness of the human body and mind. By repeating heteronormative ideas about gender presentations and behaviour, the DSM has created dysphoria as a psycho-social disorder. There are four issues that may result from this:
i) Sex stereotypes go unchallenged. It is a stunning hypocrisy and an enormous irony that those who seek to force acceptance on the grounds of tolerance are reinforcing appallingly oppressive stereotypes.
ii) actual abuse may go unchallenged;
iii) co-morbidities are uninvestigated, and
iv) perfectly normal variations are pathologised.
The irony in Petite Fille is that the Head’s refusal to allow Sasha to express himself is the same species of intolerance as that unconsciously held by the mother. There is nothing radically freeing about pathologising children who do not conform to gendered ideals. Similarly, Doctor Bargiacchi’s application of the DSM and her assurance to Sasha that “what you wear is up to you” sounds lovely, but with it comes a mental health label and leaflets home about the effects on future fertility.
The BBC, in airing this documentary, is contributing to the obliteration of years of equal opportunities and anti-sexism campaigns in the UK. Petite Fille is sexist, relies on stereotypes, is devoid of analysis, promotes harmful ideas of mind/ body dualism and peddles lies about the effects of puberty blockers. The BBC should remove this documentary.