Researcher fights for transgender answers
A U.K. university rejects a study on gender change regret
From 2007 to 2017, James Caspian worked two days a week as a psychotherapist at a private gender clinic for adults in London. During that period, he noticed a shift in the patients seeking or undergoing medical treatments and surgeries to identify as the opposite sex. They were getting younger, and instead of men, Caspian began seeing mostly girls, many with complex mental health issues.
“We were seeing something different happening, and it was happening fast,” Caspian said. “There was no research into it.”
As part of a master’s degree program at Bath Spa University, Caspian proposed to research individuals who took cross-sex hormones or underwent sex-change surgeries and experienced regret. But in 2016, the school’s ethics subcommittee blocked his research, calling it “too complex.”
For nearly four years, Caspian has engaged in a legal battle with Bath Spa University to defend his academic freedom and freedom of expression. After unsuccessfully petitioning the United Kingdom’s High Court, he is now taking his case to the European Court of Human Rights with support from the Christian Legal Centre.
Caspian said his case represents a wider threat to academic freedom and to studying the lasting effects of medical treatments and surgeries on transgender patients.
“It is not a one-size-fits all,” he said of patients seeking hormone-altering drugs and surgeries, many of whom he has supported as a clinician. “It is highly complex, under researched, little understood, and yet it’s been reduced to a black-and-white political argument … used as a vehicle by people who have quite strong political agendas.”
Bath Spa University’s ethics subcommittee initially approved Caspian’s proposal to research patients who underwent sex-change surgeries and then experienced regret and pursued surgery to cosmetically replicate the genitalia with which they were born. It was titled, “An examination of the experiences of people who have undergone reverse gender-reassignment surgery.”
But after Caspian amended his research to include people who more broadly expressed regret and wished to reverse their transitions, such as girls who stopped taking cross-sex hormones and regretted getting double mastectomies, the ethics subcommittee rejected it.
In statement to WORLD, Bath Spa University officials said his research proposal “was not refused because of the subject matter, but rather because of his proposed methodological approach. The university was not satisfied this approach would guarantee the anonymity of his participants or the confidentiality of the data.”
Caspian provided WORLD with a rejection notice from the university’s ethics subcommittee that identified the privacy concerns but also stated that his “potentially ‘politically incorrect’” research carried risk for the university, including “the posting of unpleasant material on blogs or social media” which could be detrimental to its reputation. The subcommittee also expressed concerns that Caspian could face cyberbullying himself for carrying out the research.
In 2019, U.K. High Court Judge Michael Kent denied Caspian’s plea for judicial review. He said that while issues of freedom of expression existed, he did not believe Caspian had an arguable case.
Since hearing Caspian’s case, the High Court issued a landmark ruling barring doctors from administering puberty blockers to children younger than 16 without a court order. The judges cited a lack of scientific basis for administering experimental drugs to children and said doctors failed to explain their long-term effects. The plaintiff, Keira Bell, 23, said she was not warned as a teenager of the irreversible damages of such hormone treatments.
Almost three-quarters of children in the United Kingdom seeking to change their gender are girls, according to a 2019 report from the country’s only gender clinic for children, the Tavistock and Portman National Health Service Foundation Trust. The number of girls referred to the clinic rose from 32 in 2009-2010 to 1,740 in 2018-2019.
Caspian said since 2017, at least 50 people have contacted him expressing regret over their medical transitions and surgeries. He said his conscience will not let him drop his fight against Bath Spa University: “Too much is at stake for academic freedom and for hundreds, if not thousands, of young people who are saying that they are being harmed and often silenced by a rigid view that has become a kind of transgender ideology and permits no discussion.”
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