Butterfly. I’d heard of it, of course. Couldn’t have avoided hearing about it: Back in February/March there seemed to be a promo for it on every time I watched anything on the ABC. It was broadcast too, but in a timeslot that was way past my bedtime.

‘Hasn’t it been on before?’ asked my friend Miranda, as the pair of us sat sipping our lattes at an Inner West coffee shop one morning.

Yes, we decided, it had been. Years ago. On SBS. Where you’d expect it to be, given SBS’s diversity mandate.

So how come it’s now on the ABC instead? A case of the ABC out-SBSing SBS. At least where gender identity is concerned. And we know why.

But back to Butterfly. I’d better watch it, I suppose, I said to myself. So I betook myself to my iView account, which, as I’ve indignantly recounted, I had to fraudulently claim to have a gender identity in order to open.

And I watched it. All three episodes.

Just briefly – spoiler alert, folks – Butterfly is essentially a propaganda piece for puberty blockers. A sophisticated propaganda piece, to be sure. The production values are excellent, likewise the actors’ performances. The script has its subtleties, allowing alternative analyses of the situation to get an airing, however briefly. But it’s puberty blockers that bring about the happy ending, once doubtful Dad gets on board with them: Max ceases to self-harm; elder sister (for unknown reasons) ceases to feel neglected or betrayed; Mum doesn’t abduct Max again for any more secret trips to the USA; Mum ceases to defraud business partner and relative to finance said abductions; local authority stops threatening to impose an interim care order; Dad comes home for good; Dad’s girlfriend graciously bows herself out of the picture.

All that was what I’d expected, TBH. But what I hadn’t quite expected was how dated this piece looks, only five years after its making. Society’s moved on: puberty blockers, trans youth demographics, Jazz Jennings, Mermaids, and the NHS gender service: none of them now look anything like how they’re depicted in Butterfly.  

Puberty blockers

The only hint of negative consequences to puberty blockers in Butterfly comes in Episode 2. A therapist at the NHS gender service tells Max’s parents: ‘As far as puberty blockers are concerned, some people might say it’s totally reversible, but there are potential complications. Concerns about creating an unequal rate of growth between the trunk and the legs.’ Dad asks: ‘Deformity?’ Therapist answers: ‘Well, not really.’ Dad persists: ‘Define “Not really”.’ At which point Mum interrupts, saying: ‘Maxine’s – she’s started puberty, and it’s killing her.’ That’s it. No more talk of negative consequences.

Now, of course, puberty blockers have been nearly abandoned by adolescent gender services in Sweden, Finland, France, and even England (where Butterfly is set). And the concerns about the ‘potential complications’ go way beyond trunk/legs disproportion, to include possible adverse effects on bone density, cognition, and sexual function.

Even the ABC Ombudsman ordered a clarification to be posted on ABC news reports stating puberty blockers were ‘completely reversible’, admitting that some long-term effects of then ‘are currently unclear’. This happened on 8 May, but has had no effect on the iView posting of Butterfly.

Or – for that matter – on the iView posting of the Four Corners episode ‘Being Me’, which was broadcast on 17 November 2014 and seems now to be embedded on iView till the end of time. In which Michelle Telfer, ABC darling and then head of the adolescent gender service at Melbourne’s Royal Children’s Hospital, tells an adolescent in her care that if he stops taking puberty blockers ‘your body goes back to how it would have been with no long-term consequences’. A claim which was wisely edited out when the same scene was re-used and re-purposed for an Australian Story episode about Telfer broadcast in May 2021.


The protagonist of Butterfly is a boy who, so we’re told, has been ‘identifying as a girl’ since the age of 5 [Episode 1 18:14]. Nowadays kids like this are almost rarities at the UK’s gender services. The big majority of patients are girls. Girls who have no history of gender dysphoria prior to adolescence. As a matter of fact, this was already the case even when Butterfly was made, back in 2018.

Now, with greater awareness about ROGD (rapid onset gender dysphoria) and its causes, the atypicality of the Butterfly protagonist sticks out like a sore thumb.

Jazz Jennings as inspiration

Max is shown in Episode 1 watching Jazz Jennings on his laptop.

This scene is amazingly similar to a scene in the 2014 Four Corners episode ‘Being Me’, in which a real-life Australian boy-who-says-he’s-a-girl is shown doing exactly the same thing [starting 08.09].

All very poignant, in view of what has become of Jazz Jennings: botched attempt/s at creating an artificial vagina, struggles with mental illness, and weight gain.


Butterfly’s a promo not just for puberty blockers but for the UK gender-identity ideology lobby group Mermaids as well. We start off with a magic-realist moment at the aquarium in Episode 1.

And in Episode 2, we learn Max sleeps with a silver mermaid pendant in his hand. (That’s Bad Dad taking it off him in this screen shot.)

All three episodes include a visit to Mermaids the organisation.

All three are key scenes where Mermaids Leader Alice gives Max’s Mum (and Dad as well, in the third scene) crucial advice that drives the plot onwards. Susie Green, who was chief executive of Mermaids at the time, is credited as ‘series consultant’ for the show.

You bet she can! IRL Susie Green took her son to Thailand to be castrated at the age of 16.

This all looks super inappropriate, even disturbing, in light of Mermaids’ recent shenanigans:

  • In July 2020, the BBC dropped Mermaids from its LGBT advice pages, citing complaints about the information it provided.
  • In 2022, the Charity Commission opened an inquiry into Mermaids after The Daily Telegraph reported that Mermaids was offering chest binders to girls against parents’ wishes, and advising users it believed to be as young as 13 that hormone-blockers were reversible. Funding from the National Lottery has been paused while this inquiry is on foot.
  • Also in 2022, a Mermaids trustee resigned after his links with a paedophile support group were revealed.

All in all, Mermaids is pretty much discredited and disgraced, and I found it totally disquieting that the ABC is still harbouring, and promoting, a show that presents Mermaids as the saviour of gender-dysphoric youth. 

NHS service

Butterfly’s Ferrybank Trust is a thinly-disguised representation of the Tavistock and Portman Trust NHS Foundation, which runs the UK’s gender service. (It’s even specified that Max and his parents have to go to Leeds to attend: Leeds is one of only two cities in the UK where Tavistock has a clinic.) The therapists at this service – we see two of them in action – are positively presented: very wise, very cautious, very thorough. Very very trustworthy.

However last year a devastating report – the Cass Report – found such serious deficiencies in Tavistock’s modus operandi that its gender service is to be closed down and replaced with hospital-based clinics which will be less gung-ho about puberty blockers and cross-sex hormones for under-18s, and more sensitive to mental health issues. 

And the breaking news as we go to press, is the revelation that Tavistock and Mermaids have been thick as thieves – and Tavistock even lied about their links, till the information regulator forced them to disclose 300 pages of documents.

The depiction of the NHS gender service, in light of all these recent developments, is far too rosy. Or blue-white-and-rosy.

Which is what I’d say about the whole show, really. My advice to anybody who’s thinking of watching it is to bone up first on Jazz Jennings, Mermaids, and Tavistock, then watch it as you might watch, say, The Birth of a Nation – ie as a historical document reflecting the naivete and shortcomings of an epoch that’s now done and dusted. Same goes for ‘Being Me’. They’re both past their use-by date, and the ABC should either pull them or post lengthy clarifications and warnings on them.