Conundrums, Confusion and Circular Arguments: DfE Guidance on Gender Identity

This article was originally published as a Twitter thread. We reproduce it here with kind permission of the author.

The Department for Education has given schools an impossible task when it comes to the RSE curriculum and teaching about “gender identity”. A summary of the conundrum the Department for Education has created.

The DfE state:

“Pupils should be taught the facts and the law about sex, sexuality, sexual health and gender identity in an age-appropriate and inclusive way.

DfE Statutory Guidance – Relationships and Sex Education (RSE) (Secondary)

At the same time, the DfE states

“You should not reinforce harmful stereotypes, for instance by suggesting that children might be a different gender based on their personality and interests or the clothes they prefer to wearMaterials which suggest that non-conformity to gender stereotypes should be seen as synonymous with having a different gender identity should not be used

DfE Guidance: Plan your relationships, sex and health curriculum

But what are the “facts and law” about gender identity? The Equality Act 2010 makes no mention of “gender identity”, referring instead to the protected characteristic “gender reassignment”. The Gender Recognition Act 2004 makes no mention of gender identity except in a single reference to the now-abandoned “gender identity disorder”. The truth is: “gender identity” currently has no status in UK law.

So, what about the “facts” relating to gender identity? Let’s look at the terminology defined in the government’s GRA consultation (referenced here):

And what is gender?

This definition of gender sounds remarkably close to gender stereotypes, i.e. “the beliefs that people have about the characteristics of males and females [which vary] over cultures and over time.” 

So gender identity is your internal sense of gender, which is socially constructed and effectively is a set of stereotypes associated with men and women, but the DfE says schools are not allowed to say this.

Alternatively, if there are “socially constructed characteristics” relating to “masculinity and femininity” that are not stereotypes and could help a child figure out their gender identity, maybe DfE could list them.

In short: the question for the DfE is how can schools possibly teach “the facts and law” about “gender identity” without suggesting it is based on stereotypes? DfE urgently needs to offer guidance, because in the meantime kids (and adults) are utterly confused. The definitions used in PSHE materials are either circular, or so nebulous as to be meaningless, or contravene the no stereotypes rule.

Meanwhile, we have the NHS Cass interim review emphasising the need for further consideration on “The important role of schools and the challenges they face in responding appropriately to gender-questioning children and young people.”

We have an unmanageable explosion of referrals to gender identity services (overwhelmingly among the under 25s), and no sign of this abating. Kids are being told we all have a “gender identity” that determines whether we are “trans” “non-binary” or “cis“.

But nobody can tell you what it is (without stereotypes, which are prohibited).