Gillian Bouras
An Australian
Living in Greece

March 2018

Tomorrow is the first day of spring, and I’m pleased to report that trees are blossoming everywhere, and that the wild flowers are doing all the right things and precisely on time. I returned from a brief stay in Athens today, and the Peloponnese is the usual spring time picture of pinks and greens. And soon the deep mauve of the Judas trees will be added to the landscape. There has been a great deal of rain lately, but today the sun was out, really out.

I visited all my grandchildren (what else is new?) and have only one complaint: they are growing up far too quickly for my liking, and I suspect their parents feel the same way. Orestes is my youngest grandson, and he had his fifth birthday three days ago. He is very pleased with himself, and thoroughly enjoyed the celebrations: a small family gathering, and a party at his kindergarten. His sister Natalia is now 19 months, going on about 9: she was very pleased with the festivities as well, and danced away with a will. I am interested to observe that she is a very assertive female, and stands no nonsense from her big brother.

It is probably inevitable that my grandchildren make me remember my own long ago childhood. In these days of political correctness you don’t often hear the word ‘tomboy.’ But I was one: in an era of prescribed gender roles, I was often in trouble at school for getting my dress dirty or for playing football with the boys. My Dad was a local footy star; my parents, surprisingly, gave me a football for my third birthday. When I marvelled at this gesture many years later, my Mum replied matter-of-factly, ‘It was the only thing you wanted, dear.’ I could never quite manage a drop kick, but after years of practice my torpedo punt became pretty good.

As time moved on from that birthday I also acquired cars, a train set, and bits and pieces of a cowboy outfit complete with toy guns, in which I used to tear around  pretending to be Hopalong Cassidy. In another innovative parental move, my sister and I became the first girls in our township to wear jeans. As we were always climbing trees or hanging upside down from monkey bars, Mum thought such clothing only sensible. But various matrons disapproved, and of course we never wore trousers to school or church.

While still a child, a much younger female friend donned a flat cap and her jeans, and told her family that she was now Fred. ‘Oh, hello Fred,’ said her mother, unflappably, and that was that. Fred was around for quite a while, after which ‘he’ faded away. I don’t think we ever felt we were boys: we just tried to imagine what it would be like to be one. Way back then it was obvious to me at least that boys had more fun, more freedom. And girls were second best, with the term girl being used as an insult in the playground. ‘Ya great girl!’ the bullies would yell at more timid boys.

I was an avid and precocious reader, and when I first learned that people could be born with gender dysphoria, with the ‘wrong’ body, I was shocked. Mum made low-key and sensible comments about Nature’s mistakes and ‘muddled hormones.’ It was a simpler time, of course, and there was very little in the way of medical intervention. How things have changed, with life-changing and sex-changing decisions now being made, quite often at an early stage.

It also seems that there is a prescribed and doctrinaire line to follow, a ‘prevailing narrative.’ The British press recently interviewed a Scottish therapist who wished to remain anonymous because she fears being struck off: she explores various possibilities such as depression and anxiety, rather than simplistically affirming that a teenager is transgender. The National Union of Teachers (perhaps in this case aptly called NUT) accused a maths teacher of professional misconduct because he said that boys and girls ought to be able to wear whatever they like without anyone concluding that they are transgender:  my younger friend and I could have been labelled transgender at the age of 7.

Susie Orbach, famously therapist to the late Princess of Wales, and author of the influential book Fat is a Feminist Issue, has always been concerned about the pressure on women to have a perfect body, and the pathological, self-loathing aspects of this pressure such as anorexia and self-harming. Now many clinicians fear that such problems with body image are being funnelled into gender dysphoria. Orbach considers this ‘panic about gender’ disturbing, and is concerned that gender dysphoria is diagnosed rather than permitted to resolve itself. Young people no longer live through the discomfort of identity problems, often a feature of the teenage years.

The sense of time seems to be slow to develop: children think they are going to feel the same way forever, while adults know that feelings ebb and flow. But many children are now becoming legally able to make huge decisions: the Scottish government, for example, has published guidelines recommending that primary school children should be allowed to identify as either gender without parental consent. I’m not sure how this is going to work in practice.

But I am sure that my three sons, growing up in a Greek village 30 years ago, had a childhood closely resembling mine. We were fortunate in many ways, and particularly fortunate in our simpler lives. I am rather afraid that my grandchildren’s lives are going to be much more complicated for all sorts of reasons. As children grow too fast, so the world changes too quickly for many of us.


Gillian Bouras


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Gillian Bouras 2018