In recent years there has been a huge increase in the number of young people in Ireland who say they are transgender - and who want to change the gender they were born with.

A Prime Time programme broadcast last night, examined the exponential growth in the number of young people seeking to change gender, and the implications of the proposed new law allowing them to do so without their parents' consent.

RTÉ said it was a fair and responsible examination of an issue of considerable public importance, the programme, nevertheless, provoked strong reaction from activists.

Some of the issues around transgender, as reported by Eithne O'Brien, are outlined below.


Will Doyle, 14, who lives in rural Wexford, says he is transgender, which means he was born a girl and now says he is a boy.

Will’s parents, Bill and Gwen, spoke to Prime Time about their worries. While they have had support from Trans Equality Network Ireland (TENI) and Will’s secondary school in Ramsgrange, they are hoping for more professional support and a formal assessment for Will who may also be autistic.

It is estimated that 30% of young people presenting with gender dysphoria may be on the autistic spectrum.

Demand for transgender services is so high in Ireland that staff from the Tavistock Gender Identity Clinic in London run a satellite clinic in Crumlin hospital every month.

Thirty-five Irish children were referred to the Tavistock in 2017, up from just one in 2011 - but there are dozens more, like Will, who are outside the system.

Young people with gender dysphoria can be given drugs to block puberty in their early teens followed by cross sex hormones (oestrogen for male identifying as female, and testosterone for female identifying as male).

This can be followed by surgery in adulthood. Transgender campaigners say that people themselves should be able to "self-identify" as one gender or the other, or neither.

This means, in effect, that they make a declaration as to what gender they wish to be known as, and that, although they may welcome psychological help, no test or assessment they undergo should prevent them transitioning, and being recognised as their new gender.

Sam Blanckensee, 24, has had surgery and is now on medication indefinitely.

Sam is transgender, raised as a girl and now identifies as "non-binary" which means Sam says he is neither male nor female and wants to be referred to using the pronouns "he" and "they".

"At 12 or 13, as I was going through puberty I really started to get depressed and quite anxious and I didn’t know what was wrong."

"My body felt wrong and I just couldn’t connect with anyone because of how I was supposed to connect with them. I didn’t really know how to be what people expected me to be."

Some professionals like psychotherapist Stella O'Malley are concerned about the huge increase in the number of young people who say they are transgender.

While she doesn’t deny that transgender children exist, she is wondering whether being too quick to accept a young person’s claim to be transgender could see them put on a medical path with lifelong consequences.

But Sam, who didn’t get medication until they were 18, says that being able to get help earlier would have saved them from years of mental distress.

There are also questions being asked specifically about the massive increase in young girls who say they are transgender.

At present you must be an adult to get a Gender Recognition Certificate, which means that the State officially recognises you as your new gender.

Under 18s can only be given such a certificate with their parents’ consent and an order of the Circuit Court waiving the age requirement.

Here in Ireland, of the 12 under 18s who went through that process, 10 were girls who now identify as boys.

Demand for gender identity services among adults has also soared in recent years from just 10 in 2007 to 210 in 2017.

There are two parallel proposals which would make it easier for under 18s to be recognised as having a different gender to that of their birth.

A Private Members' Bill has passed the second stage of the Seanad which would accord 16 and 17-year-olds the right to gender recognition certificates without their parents’ consent.

Separately, the Government has commissioned a review which recommends that all under 18s should have a right to such a certificate with their parents' consent, and that there should be a legal process to decide whether a certificate should be granted where there is no consent from one or both parents.

While there has been relatively little public debate here about plans to allow under 18s to legally self-identify as male or female, it’s a very different story across the water.

I travelled to the UK with Producer Sallyanne Godson, where plans to introduce self-identification legislation for the first time has sparked a bitter row between some feminists and transgender activists.

We spoke to well-known Irish writer Graham Linehan (Fr Ted and the IT crowd) who has been very vocal on this subject.

He sees himself as being fully supportive of women’s rights and spoke passionately in favour of repealing the Eighth Amendment in last year’s referendum and is concerned that allowing men to self-identify as women is undermining women.

"The day after the referendum Amnesty put out a statement saying it was a great victory for pregnant people and that got me going as it was a huge betrayal of Irish women. You don’t identify your way into having a uterus."

Graham is not happy with transgender women playing women’s sports but is especially concerned that dangerous men identifying as women and who haven’t had surgery can access private women’s spaces such as prisons and refuges.

But this debate is not yet happening in Ireland where gender identity legislation has been in force without incident for three years. Sara Phillips from the Transgender Equality Network Ireland (TENI) said:

"I think its scaremongering and I think there are a lot easier ways for dangerous men to get access to women."

So while activists and commentators debate the issue, in Co Wexford, Will and his parents are left struggling to find the appropriate professional help and support that they need.

Will’s mother Gwen said: "We are caught between managing Will’s expectations and what you might like to happen for your child."