Kilarney April 2023
Review by Robin Ion
I spent four days at the end of April 2023 at the Genspect Bigger Picture conference in Kilarney, Ireland. The aim of the event was to promote exploration of how best to support people who experience gender dysphoria, including those who have regrets about social and/or medical transition (detransitioners) . It opened with a call for discussion between those with an interest in what has become the most difficult of conversation topics. In practice, this was a call for dialogue, from those who are sceptical about the medicalisation of gender and the medical treatment of those who are gender non-conforming, to those in the medico-psychological community who advocate transition as an early intervention and / or a low risk option to alleviate distress. The great majority of those who spoke and who I met fell into the former category – Genspect’s call for dialogue remains open.
Many of the talks are already available for easy access on YouTube. I can recommend listening – as a seasoned conference attender, this was easily the most interesting and stimulating set of presentations I have seen. Contributors included detransitioners, along with ‘A listers’ and emerging stars from policy, law, medicine, psychotherapy and academia. As I have said, the conference was fascinating. Unlike previous events, at this one I attended (almost) everything– not because I felt obliged to do so, but because I didn’t want to miss anything. The quality was consistently high. Perhaps because of my own background I particularly enjoyed the sessions which examined psycho-therapeutic approaches to support. It seemed to me that these offered potential opportunities to open conversations with those in distress and models for helping them
The sessions which examined the roots and nature of gender ideology were equally stimulating. I have always enjoyed listening to people who are smarter than me and these sessions reinforced my view that there is no shortage of them. The real highlights came however in the informal discussions which took place before, during and after each day. Here I met some of the ‘stars’, but more of the parents, those with dysphoria, the feminists teachers, musicians, artists, filmmakers, nurses, midwives and journalists who had paid with their hard-earned cash to attend. These were people who had come along to learn more, to meet others who were open to discussion and to try and understand how it has become problematic to hold the belief that sex matters and that it is immutable and biological. I saw no sign of bigotry or hatred. While scepticism toward gender ideology seemed to unite most of us, there was no ‘conference view’ and I both heard and experienced disagreement. This, of course, is healthy.
I left Kilarney feeling encouraged and refreshed. There are people who want to talk about their concerns and ideas. They are intelligent, well-read, thoughtful, critical thinkers who have considered the current limited evidence base, and now question the wisdom of medical intervention.
I left with something else. A very clear sense that there is an urgent need to better understand the needs of those who have detransitioned and what helps them in their journeys to recovery. If we can understand this, we can help build the services and supports they and those who follow them may need. One last thing – thank you to the organisers at Genspect, to the speakers and to those fascinating people I had the pleasure to meet over the four days in this beautiful setting.
Dr Robin Ion (PhD) is a Mental Health Nurse.