The Boy in the Dress

A Summer dictated by a house move meant that writing took a backseat- I had been waiting for something to inspire me to ‘pick up the pen’ and get back to blogging. You know you have a hot topic when:

1. You get out of your car at work to your friend asking if you have listened to Radio 4 on the journey in (alas, it had been a morning that required music / singing to get me through the Monday blues).

2. You get an email from your wife asking if you had listened to Radio 4 (by this point I was regretting my decision to sing). 

With what I had gleaned from the aforementioned friend and my wife I decided to Google ‘Christian parents school dress’: I could not believe what I was reading. I had to listen to the interview myself. Whilst cooking dinner I caught up on the ‘Today Programme’ (Monday 11th September, 1hr 52mins in). 

In case you haven’t listened to the interview or read the range or articles available online, here is a brief synopsis of the situation:

A Christian couple, Sally and Nigel Rowe, have removed their six year old son from his primary school because another pupil (male at birth) sometimes wears a dress to school and, on other days, chooses to wear trousers. The couple said that their son came home confused and upset, just as their 8 year old son had done a year before when a similar situation arose. Mr and Mrs Rowe have taken the decision to home school both of their children and are mounting a legal challenge against the school which will state that their rights to raise their children with biblical values were not being respected.

If your reaction to this is anything other than shock I urge you to stop reading.

When a six year old child comes home and says that they are ‘confused’ by something it is the duty of parents to help them understand; Mr and Mrs Rowe have done quite the opposite. They had an opportunity to help their child comprehend the situation and begin to open their mind to the diverse world we live in. The path taken by the Rowes will not only narrow the life experiences of their child but misses a chance to teach about empathy for different groups of people. Supporters of the parents have argued that six is too young to explain potentially complex ideas of gender identity. Absurd. By hiding these topics from young people we do them a disservice; they deserve age appropriate explanations that allow them to make sense of the world around them.

The main argument presented by the parents was that the concept of gender being on a spectrum does not fit in with their Christian ideals. The Rowes are hypocritical: Christianity should be a religion of acceptance with people following key teachings such as ‘love thy neighbour’. Fortunately the Diocese of Portsmouth replied to the complaint, upholding such Christian values, by stating that its schools were safe places that celebrated diversity. Mr and Mrs Rowe have used their faith to mask their bigotry.  Religion should never be used to narrow lives, it should only ever enrich and enhance someone’s understanding of the world.

Mr Rowe has stated that primary schools are not the environment for gender disphoria and identity to be explored – he believes young children should be protected from such ideas. The couple believe that all parents should have been consulted before the child was allowed to wear a dress. Their own self importance shocks me. In every interview I have heard or article I have read, I have not seen the Rowes show any empathy for the child who is exploring their gender identify. Their son is confused; what about the child who is choosing to wear a dress? Presumably they are being allowed to explore who they are by supportive parents but many young people who are questioning their gender are unable to do so. Mr Rowe even seems to become an expert on rates of suicide amongst transgender people: when questioned about this he said that he did not believe it was linked to a lack of social inclusion. What naivity. 

The earlier that children encounter different people and different circumstances the more likely it is that they will celebrate diversity. I feel for the children of Mr and Mrs Rowe: they have parents who are narrowing their understanding of the world. Maybe the Rowes should have sat with their children on the sofa, picked up a copy of David Walliam’s book ‘The Boy in the Dress’ as a starting point. It’s not difficult to be honest with children.