Butterfly – a great TV drama

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Butterfly – a great TV drama

“Butterfly” has been a terrific drama. There were three episodes each shown on a Sunday evening at 9 pm on ITV. If you’ve missed it, do watch it on the ITV hub – it’s well worth it!

At the centre of the drama is an eleven-year-old child named Max, who was assigned male at birth on the basis of his anatomy. Max, though, feels that he is a girl, and has felt like this for years. He suffers from a condition known as gender dysphoria. The drama is about the efforts made to resolve this and their consequences.

Before I go any further, I feel I ought to say that although this article is about “Butterfly”, it isn’t a review. It’s my personal response, as a transgender woman, to a powerful drama about the transgender experience.

At the start of the drama we are shown how Max’s gender dysphoria has split the family, with the father, Stephen, living away from his wife and two children. He has access to the children, though, and Max attempts to please him by feigning enthusiasm for football.

But Max must be Maxine. The drama follows the journey made by the whole family as he/she seeks to achieve this. The drama shows us that a sufferer from gender dysphoria experiences acute distress as a result of a mismatch between the gender they feel themselves to be, and the gender suggested by their anatomy. It’s a serious condition. Sufferers, including children, have a high rate of self-harm and suicide.

Max, being eleven, is going to enter puberty soon, possibly within months. His voice will break and he will grow facial hair; his whole body will become, irreversibly, that of an adult male. This will bring two big problems; firstly, Max will suffer great distress at the physical changes; secondly, those changes will make it harder for him to live in his chosen gender role when he’s an adult. What’s to be done?

Well, certain drugs block the hormonal onset of puberty and delay the development of adult secondary sexual characteristics. So, Max’s voice won’t break, and his body won’t develop the characteristics of an adult man. This will allow time for him to mature before any irrevocable decisions about gender role are made.

This is the heart of “Butterfly”; the struggle by Max/Maxine, championed by her mother Vicky, to obtain puberty blockers. We see the family at an NHS clinic, and at a private clinic; we see Maxine start to live full-time as a girl, with the inevitable bullying at school; we see her feeling so unloved that she self-harms, with almost fatal consequences; we see the family pulled this way and that by their response to the situation. The biggest problem is that before anyone will prescribe puberty blockers both parents have to give consent – and Stephen simply will not do this.

Vicky resorts to desperate measures. The courts become involved. The Local Authority child protection team become involved. There is a real risk that Maxine will be taken into care, and then what would happen to her?

I won’t give any spoilers, except to say that the drama is tense, nail-biting, and has a believable finale.

Is it true to life? Yes, very much so. The common theme in all the responses to Max’s gender dysphoria is a personal agenda – I’d call it a moral agenda, except that prejudice is hardly a moral stance. Nobody was actually neutral, even the professionals who really ought to be even-handed. And that is completely true-to-life.

Even more poignantly, and powerfully, the drama captures little details like Max’s difficulties with the school toilets. He couldn’t bring himself to use the urinals, and clearly found the whole masculine environment overwhelmingly hostile. How well I remember that!

So “Butterfly” is both powerful and authentic. It’s worthwhile, therefore, to consider its implications in the real world.

In recent years there has been controversy about intervention where children feel themselves to be transgender, and “Butterfly” contributes to that debate. Watching it, and thinking about it, has crystallised my thinking on the matter (yes, the drama really is that good). In brief, the effective treatment of gender dysphoria requires irreversible changes. One viewpoint is that we should not give such treatment to children, “because they might be mistaken”; the other viewpoint is that where there is a clear and strong diagnosis of gender dysphoria we should intervene as early as possible, before puberty if possible.

Drugs to block puberty blur the lines of the debate a little by allowing time for the child to mature. They seem to be safe, but some people have questioned the reversibility of their effects if administered over a long period.

The current treatment of gender dysphoria is for the sufferer to live in the gender role that they feel is appropriate, supported by whatever surgical and hormonal treatment is necessary. Gender confirmation in this way has a good record of success.

If you don’t treat gender dysphoria, the afflicted individual goes on suffering. Because the suffering is intense, the individual is at a (much) higher risk of suicide. In fact, there’s only one thing worse than not treating the condition and that is treating gender dysphoria as a mental illness. This has a dismal record, especially where it is linked to condemnation of the transgender feelings, and has led to many suicides.

And yet, despite these facts, people persist in wanting to treat gender dysphoria as ‘special’, ‘different’ or just plain ‘morally wrong’. This inevitably finds its way into the treatment of transgender children. People say that they must be protected from these strange urges until they’re old enough to make a mature choice (of course, by that time puberty has well and truly done its worst…).

What would I like to be available for everybody who suffers from gender dysphoria?

Prompt referral to clinical specialists (the current waiting time is far too long).

Where gender dysphoria is diagnosed, prompt availability of treatment (currently once you have your diagnosis it’s at least an eighteen month wait before you can even discuss the options with a surgeon, and many months more before surgery takes place)

Treatment of everybody with a confirmed diagnosis of gender dysphoria. Age should not be a factor (subject to NHS guidelines for consent). Gender confirmation is a life-saving treatment, and this applies to young people as well as adults.

It’s worth looking at the NHS Guidelines for Treatment of Children and Young People

These set out the following criteria for consent.

“Children under the age of 16 can consent to their own treatment if they’re believed to have enough intelligence, competence and understanding to fully appreciate what’s involved in their treatment. This is known as being Gillick competent.

Otherwise, someone with parental responsibility can consent for them.

This could be:

  • the child’s mother or father
  • the child’s legally appointed guardian
  • a person with a residence order concerning the child
  • a local authority designated to care for the child
  • a local authority or person with an emergency protection order for the child

The person with parental responsibility must have the capacity to give consent.

If a parent refuses to give consent to a particular treatment, this decision can be overruled by the courts if treatment is thought to be in the best interests of the child.

If one person with parental responsibility gives consent and another doesn’t, the healthcare professionals can choose to accept the consent and perform the treatment in most cases.

If the people with parental responsibility disagree about what’s in the child’s best interests, the courts can make a decision.

In an emergency, where treatment is vital and waiting to obtain parental consent would place the child at risk, treatment can proceed without consent.”

These guidelines seem to me to be all that is needed to safeguard young people. There is no need to treat intervention for gender dysphoria as something special; it’s just another medical procedure that will improve the lives of most of those who receive treatment.

“Butterfly” has done a great job of highlighting these issues, and I hope it helps to improve society’s treatment of young trans people. And, whatever your stance on the issues, do watch “Butterfly” – it’s a cracking good drama!

 

Friday Fictioneers – Setting the Date

Every week, Rochelle Wisoff-Fields (thank you, Rochelle!) hosts a flash fiction challenge, to write a complete story, based on a photoprompt, with a beginning, middle and end, in 100 words or less. Post it on your blog, and include the Photoprompt and Inlinkz (the blue frog) on your page. Link your story URL. Then the fun starts as you read other peoples’ stories and comment on them!

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PHOTO PROMPT © Ted Strutz

Setting the date

Here by the lake the air smelled fresher. Swallows shrilled their night-song. Half-seen moths brushed against skin.

“So I guess, if it’s okay by you Mom, we’ll have the wedding in the fall.”

Eva smiled at her son, John, and his fiancée, Elise.

“Can we manage that, do you think, Pa?”

Cornelius blinked through thick spectacles. He thought of his life with Eva. Such memories! The delight of being a couple; Eva’s support when he was jobless; the joy of bringing up a family together.

“I guess,” he said.

Eva slipped her hand into his.

“That’s settled then,” she said.

Friday Fictioneers – The offering

Every week, Rochelle Wisoff-Fields (thank you, Rochelle!) hosts a flash fiction challenge, to write a complete story, based on a photoprompt, with a beginning, middle and end, in 100 words or less. Post it on your blog, and include the Photoprompt and Inlinkz (the blue frog) on your page. Link your story URL. Then the fun starts as you read other peoples’ stories and comment on them!

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Photoprompt (c) Roger Bulltot

The Offering

“Dad, may I go into the ruin?”

Russell smiled at his eight-year-old son, John.

“OK. No climbing, mind.”

In the cool shadows, John could feel the holiness of the place. There was a special silence that was full of voices chanting. He took out a trowel from his backpack, and the silver teaspoon that his mum had bought him at the seaside because he had wanted it so much. There, amid the echo of centuries of prayer, he buried the spoon, and wished with all his might.

In her hospital bed, John’s mum peacefully abandoned her struggle against cancer.

Short story – The Refugee

I first posted this story on 21st January this year, under the title “Where is Europe?” I think this may have misled people into thinking it was a political post about Brexit, and it had very few readers. So, here it is, retitled but otherwise unchanged!

Short story – The Refugee

Latifah struggled up from the nightmare, sobbing, the taste of fear like blood in her mouth. As she opened her eyes she saw her mother.

“Quickly, Latifah, quickly!”

She heard revving engines, screeching tyres and gunshots. For a few seconds she lay petrified, too frightened to move. They had come!

Her mother pulled her to her feet, thrust her abaya over her head, tied her niqab in place.

“Come quickly,” she implored.

“Allah, do not let me fall into the hands of these men; let me die first,” Latifah prayed.

Men were pounding at the front door, battering it. She could hear her father shouting. There was a burst of automatic fire, and agonized shrieks. Her mother gasped, pushed her out of the back door, and they stumbled away.

Behind them were screams, and the flickering light of burning buildings; in front was darkness. Latifah’s mother fell to her knees.

“I’m wounded. You must run, Latifah, run!” She fell forwards, face in the dirt and lay still. Latifah let out a howl of despair, and then ran.

She ran until breathing hurt, until her legs wobbled, until she could no longer hear the dreadful sounds and the flames were hidden behind a hill. And then she wept for her mother and her father and her brothers, for her friends and for her home. There was no way back.

She walked on through night, and the desert, and the sunrise, until she reached a small town. The gunmen weren’t there; this was still a place of friends. Latifah had a little money, and she bought some bread and drank from a water fountain. “Which is the way to the sea?” she asked everyone.

It was a long walk. Sometimes she was lucky and found a day’s work, which would buy her a little food to last a week. Sometimes she had to beg. She slept in the open, fitfully.

And she reached the sea. Her eyes grew large and round in her gaunt face. The sea was so large! It was like a desert of water! “Where is Europe,” she asked everyone.

Some shrugged; some laughed; “It’s like heaven,” said a woman. “You only get there after you’re dead.”

One good-looking young man said, “I can fix it for you to travel there. Show me your face.”

“No, that would be sinful!” she exclaimed.

He grabbed her niqab and pulled it off roughly, tossing the rag into the bushes at the side of the road. She fought him, but he was strong and she was starving,

“Allah protect me!”

She fell and felt him press hard on top of her. He smelled sweet, rotten. The stones under her were gouging into her back, and they lacerated her as she struggled. He was laughing as he forced her legs apart. And then, suddenly, he slumped. His head fell against Latifah’s, stunning her.

It was the face of a very young man that she saw first as she recovered consciousness. She gasped and shrank back.

“Don’t be afraid,” he said. “See, I’ve found your niqab. You can put it on and be modest again.” She looked at him as a cat approaches a stranger, warily, ready to flee.

“It’s alright. Here it is.”

He held it up. Latifah snatched it, tied it in place.

“Are you alright to walk? We’d better go. I think I killed him when I hit him with the rock. He…he hasn’t moved.”

Latifah dragged herself upright, and sobbed. She hurt all over, and her limbs shook. She looked at the young man. Why, he was a boy really, hardly older than she was!

“Thank you,” she said. “Do you know where Europe is?”

“It’s over there somewhere.” He gestured towards the sea. “Is that where you want to go?”

Latifah nodded.

“My family is going tonight. Do you want to come with us?”

“Could I?” she said, hardly daring to believe it.

“I don’t know,” he said. “I shall have to ask.”

That night, Latifah and Asif, with the strong arms of Asif’s mother around them, crossed the sea and reached safety.