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Scientific truth is needed in gender talk to schoolchildren

Dear everyone. You can safely call this the conversation I never thought I’d be having with you, but here we are, less than a week from Christmas and I’m asking that you join me for a trip into some murky waters of the reproductive variety.

It involves some sensitive information but I’m going to do my best to not leave anyone too scarred. You with me? Great. Let me start by sharing this moment in time from childhood.

One Saturday afternoon when I was in grade three, my mum sat me down and proceeded to explain that being a gal and all comes with certain biological differences of the monthly variety. Every woman I know has a version of what I’m about to share.

Anyway, legend has it that I listened quietly (indicative of my level of shock, no doubt) before looking mum in the eye and calmly saying “that’s got nothing to do with me, Mum” and leaving the room. Ten out of 10 for denial.

Why am I talking about this (indeed, for the love of God, why?).

Because just this week, news has broken that students at a British primary school will now be told that boys, too, can get their periods. Read that again and let it sink in for just a minute.

Children as young as eight will be told by a school that boys can indeed get their periods, the report stating: “Trans boys and men and non-binary people may have periods.”

A spokesperson was quoted as saying they believe it’s important for all genders to be able to learn and talk about menstruation together, so that boys and girls can talk about it in more detail. The guidelines approved by Brighton Council reportedly advise that “menstruation needs to be inclusive of all genders”.

As a self-confessed 30-year veteran of my own lady-situation, I’m confident when I say that menstruation is not in fact a gender-inclusive event. It’s about the most gender exclusive event there is. The only thing that could be construed as inclusive about it is the fact that no sane man wants to have a conversation on the subject. I’d be willing to bet my sweet behind that no eight-year-old boy wants to either.

There’s a lot that bothered me about this story and the school’s approach to what is a very complex issue, one that some would argue is too mature for most eight-year-old minds.

Still, my first instinct was to have a laugh. Don’t appropriate my biology, you thieving b*stards! I’ve periodically suffered for 30 years and you shall not take that away from me (see what I did there?).

But it’s really not that funny. At the heart of it, this school and the people behind this policy (well meaning or not) are being dishonest.

They’re blatantly denying that thing called biology which is soundly backed up by science (inclusive of, but not limited to, DNA).

And to what end? Feelings, I guess. Primary school children being fed scientifically unsound, socially engineered narrative clothed in the mantle of inclusion, because once again, someone’s feelings need to be protected. Or validated. Or some such thing. Because of the need to say everyone’s the same, or that men and women aren’t different.

What is honest, and what has nothing to do with feelings, is the fact that getting your period is not inclusive. Only people born with female DNA (This is a scientific fact. Saying that boys get their periods, too, is not.

The things at play here are complex. They are emotional above all and speak to a person’s identity. How they see themselves. But complex matters demand to be treated with honesty, not glossed over in an attempt to socially engineer a bunch of primary school kids. And that’s before you have the debate about whether it’s the school’s job or a parent or care-giver’s job to have these kinds of conversations with a child.

Adults know and can understand that there are many trans men who would still menstruate, a fact which reinforces the truth of still being biologically women.

This is a very important distinction and a tricky concept to explain to your average eight-year-old. To gloss over it by just saying boys can have periods, too, is dishonesty dressed up as acceptance.

It occurred to me also that this doesn’t help trans people, who seek to be recognised and treated equally. You can’t be treated equally without honesty. Intellectual, scientific and social honesty. Pretending biology changes with the stroke of a pen does not mean that it does. It doesn’t deal honestly with the complexities. It seeks to brush over them.

This issue in society is becoming ever more complex, particularly in the area of sport where the past year has seen trans women attempting to compete, and in some cases succeeding, in the same arena as women: AFL, cycling and bodybuilding.

The issues have been explosive and heavily divisive and it’s easy to see why. Some athletes have complained of the obvious and unfair biological advantage at play.

In AFL, for example, the key consideration has been risking of injury. Why? Again, that pesky issue of DNA. It tends not to lie nor be easily hidden, regardless of what gender a person says they identify as or have chosen to transition to.

Nobody seems to have an answer and I’m not sure a simple one exists. One thing I do know is answers must be grounded in honesty — for everyone’s sake.

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