March 13, 2024 - 7:00am

Halting the development of children who wish to be the opposite sex is insane. It’s so insane that you could be forgiven for thinking there’s something about it you must have missed. Do bodies and time no longer function in the way that you, and billions of other humans, have always known them to? Are panic-stricken nine-year-olds world experts on gender as a social construct?

When you think back to your schooldays, were your peers dropping like flies due to the absence of life-saving gender affirming care? It’s either that, or the entire concept of puberty suppression — one that has been supported by countless adults and institutions that ought to know better — is ludicrous.

NHS England has just announced it will no longer be prescribing puberty blockers to children with gender dysphoria (a fancy term for distress at being the sex you are, which explains precisely nothing). There is, it turns out, “not enough evidence to support the safety or clinical effectiveness” of this form of treatment. Other countries, such as the Netherlands, home of “the Dutch protocol”, are now acting with greater caution. It seems as though the doubters — those of us “radicalised” into believing what everyone else believed until six or seven years ago — were right all along.

Even so, I didn’t expect us to be quite so right. For a while, my own position on puberty blockers was rather like my pre-referendum position on Brexit. I trusted my ignorance was making a terrible idea look worse than it actually was. To advocate for something so extreme, those on the other side had to know something I didn’t. While the moral implications of supporting children in their flight from the body seemed devastating, I was prepared to accept that maybe one could “press pause” — not socially, but at least in some cold, hard physical sense.

As I’d often be reminded when I raised objections, I’m not an endocrinologist, or a psychologist, or a queer theorist, or a porn-addled New York writer, or a four-year-old child speaking in gendered tongues. It is hard to pinpoint precisely which field makes you an expert on whether puberty blockers are a good idea, because for so long the only acceptable qualification has been insisting that they are a good idea.

As Hannah Barnes documented in Time to Think, experienced clinicians at London’s Tavistock clinic ceased to be considered experts the moment they no longer toed the line. Whistleblowers such as David Bell and Sonia Appleby were sidelined and vilified. The painstaking work of campaigners such as Stephanie Davies-Arai was wholly dismissed. Anyone who did not approve of blockers was at best a bigot, at worst someone who wanted trans children dead.

It is staggering to realise just how flimsy the evidence in favour of all this was. Experiments have been conducted on the bodies of children due to the political cowardice of adults. Humans cannot change sex. We cannot go through any other puberty than the one our body is destined to go through. This is what makes us adults. It is obscene that so many have lied to children, and by doing so put them at risk of so much long-term damage.

Right now, social media is awash with ideologues insisting that children will die because of this decision. On the contrary: lives will be saved, and it will be due to the work of campaigners who kept naming the madness even when told they had no right to speak.

They will not be thanked for it; far more likely is that they will be blamed for stoking a culture war which made due diligence impossible. Anyone who lies to children about their own bodies will have no difficulty lying about the part they played in this scandal. Still, some part of them will know: it was always insane.

Victoria Smith is a writer and creator of the Glosswitch newsletter.