Republicans in the North Carolina legislature have introduced a measure that would prohibit healthcare providers from offering gender transition services to “minors.” (I put minors in quotes because the bill defines “minor” as “under 21,” meaning that it is actually also banning care for many trans adults.) The measure, perhaps the most extreme of the wave of recent legislation targeting healthcare for young trans people, also goes so far as to require state workers (including public school teachers) to tell parents if they suspect an under-21 of being transgender.
It should go without saying that this measure is a cruel and extreme attack on transgender people. Requiring teachers to out students to their families will ensure that abusive parents have every opportunity to persecute their gender nonconforming kids. The kids will be unable to confide in any authority figures and will need to take ever more stringent measures when it comes to concealing their gender identity. It is not easy to be a trans teen already (especially in North Carolina), but somehow this bill has found a way to make it worse. Even by the standards of the Republican Party, it’s repugnant and sadistic.
The bill presents itself as a solution to a serious social problem. In the preamble, it lays out an argument that children are being subjected to needless risky medical procedures by irresponsible healthcare providers. It states that “the sex of a person is the biological state of being female or male” and “it cannot be changed.” Acknowledging that “some individuals, including minors, may experience discordance between their sex and their internal sense of identity,” it says that “numerous studies have shown that a substantial majority of children who experience discordance between their sex and identity will outgrow the discordance.” Nevertheless, “some in the medical community are aggressively pushing for interventions on minors that medically alter the child’s hormonal balance and remove healthy external and internal sex organs when the child expresses a desire to appear as a sex different from his or her own,” and these “unproven, poorly studied series of interventions results in numerous harmful effects for minors.” Hence the need to ban them, which the bill does, prohibiting under-21s from receiving puberty blockers, hormones, or any kind of gender reassignment surgery (and stripping medical providers of their licenses if they administer this kind of care).
The bill’s preamble echoes a narrative that has been emerging on the right (and among some who insist they are absolutely not on the right but just happen to share the right’s social concerns), a story about a terrible and dangerous problem that is facing the Youth Of Today. The story—which we will examine closely—goes something like: today, more and more young people are identifying as transgender, which they are. Young people, especially those assigned female at birth, are expressing a desire to transition to being the opposite sex. But scientific evidence shows that most of them are merely going through a phase, and will eventually grow out of their gender dysphoria. They are being influenced by peers into thinking that they are trans, because being trans is trendy. Many teens are even turning transgender all of a sudden, without warning. Alarmingly, unscrupulous medical providers have shown a willingness to indulge these young people, and are providing them with dangerous untested treatments like puberty blockers, hormones, and surgeries. The parents of America should worry about this. The legislators must take action.
You can hear various parts of this coming from J.K. Rowling, and Ben Shapiro, and appearing everywhere from National Review to the Atlantic and the Economist. In the more extreme right-wing, Shapiroist form, it is openly anti-trans—Ryan T. Anderson, Christian conservative author of the cringe-worthily titled When Harry Became Sally: Responding to the Transgender Moment, states plainly that there are fixed traditional gender roles that we should adhere to. (Gender distinctions, he says, “have been for all of human experience based in what was understood unquestionably to be reality” and our task is to think about “how to raise boys to see themselves as future men, husbands, fathers [and] girls to see themselves as future women, mothers, and wives.”) The Rowlingite tendency rejects religious conservatism and claims to be both feminist and even pro-transgender. It argues that you don’t need to be transphobic to be concerned, because while We Should All Love And Accept Trans People, the present trend is something different and troubling. And it shouldn’t be considered transphobic to ask questions.
This is the posture Abigail Shrier takes in her 2020 book Irreversible Damage: The Transgender Craze Seducing Our Daughters, which is perhaps the clearest articulation of the trans kid panic narrative. Shrier actually begins the book by praising the achievements of transgender activists in gaining acceptance over the years. She insists throughout the book that she has spoken to many trans people in the course of her research and she likes them tremendously and wishes them well and has no desire to undermine their identities. It is just that the Facts compel her to speak out.
I. Manufacturing Panic
Irreversible Damage has been called one of the “best books of 2020” by the Economist and the Times of London. It is blurbed, unsurprisingly, by Shapiro and Dennis Prager, and is currently the No. 1 bestselling book in transgender studies on Amazon. The book has been deeply controversial—Target stopped selling it for a hot minute—and Shrier is presented by some as a victim of censorship and “cancel culture.” Shrier says that major publications have refused to review it.
Personally, I am opposed to censorship of Shrier’s book and think major publications should review it (I have long lamented the tendency of left-of-center publications to ignore conservative books rather than decimating them). Its arguments should be examined. They are not good, but it’s easy to see how they can be persuasive, because Shrier skillfully weaves a series of anecdotes, sprinkled with some dubious data, into a scary story about The Trans Trend That Will Seduce Your Daughter.
In an interview with Jordan Peterson, Shrier describes the central thesis of her book as follows:
“A large population of teenage girls who probably do not have gender dysphoria—they certainly have an atypical form of gender dysphoria—are able to quickly obtain hormones and surgeries, they are acting under social media influence and peer influence, we have numbers on that… and there is virtually no medical oversight of this process.”
In making her case that peers and social media are making young girls transgender, Shrier relies heavily on a controversial study by Brown University researcher Lisa Littman, who argues that a subgroup of teenage girls experience what Littman calls “rapid onset gender dysphoria (ROGD)” meaning that they “turn” transgender very suddenly. Littman says that ROGD is linked to the use of social media and to having transgender friends, and describes gender dysphoria as a “contagion” that spreads through peer groups. Littman insisted in her study that she meant the word contagion in a value-neutral social-scientific sense—“the use of ‘contagion’ in this context … is not meant in any way to characterize the developmental process, outcome, or behavior as a disease or disease-like state, or to convey any value judgement”—but Shrier certainly sees trans-ness in these teens as a kind of virus, with a chapter called “The Contagion,” and calling it a “trans epidemic plaguing teenage girls.” Plague! Epidemic! Why have we been worried about Covid when there’s an equally unstoppable pandemic of children transgressing gender norms? (Shrier also insists that she does not mean “craze” as a pejorative but merely as a neutral sociological descriptor.)
Littman’s study was immediately met with harsh criticism, for very good reason. It’s important to understand exactly how she proved the existence of ROGD. Littman went on web forums for parents who were concerned or upset by their transgender children. On these forums, the parents report that their children developed gender dysphoria very quickly and without warning, and that they often had other trans friends in their peer groups. Littman surveyed the parents on these forums, and from her surveys, reached her conclusion that social media and peers were influencing young girls to become transgender.
The conclusion is bogus and the research is garbage, as many quickly pointed out. But Littman, Shrier, and others suggested that these critics were politically-motivated activists who simply do not want to accept the study’s conclusion, because it contradicts their ideological belief that trans people’s identities are more than just a social media driven fad. Shrier points out that while the journal that published the research, PLOS One, issued a correction—something Littman’s defenders suggest was the result of activist pressure rather than scientific critique—the correction did not actually retract any of the findings and the activists could not prove that Littman’s data was wrong. How, then, can one justify calling the conclusion bogus and the research garbage?
Well, let’s think about what Littman did. She went on forums where parents were upset about their teenagers being transgender. (She emphasizes that these parents, like Rowling, often self-described as Tolerant And Supportive Of LGBT People In General Just Concerned In This Particular Instance.) She then found that, according to interviews with the parents, the teens had been viewing a lot of pro-trans things online prior to announcing their gender dysphoria, that many of their friends were also trans, and that the dysphoria appeared to come on rapidly. Hence: social contagion by peers and media, the conclusion that underpins the thesis of Shrier’s book.
But as Julia Serano points out in a comprehensive debunking of Littman’s paper, it could well be that the parents simply do not understand their kids’ lives very well. What if what was sudden was not the children’s dysphoria, but the parents’ surprise? We know full well that we are dealing with a biased sample here; Littman selected only the parents who were alarmed/concerned/troubled by their children’s trans identities. Could it be that the parents most likely to be alarmed are also the ones kids are most likely to spend a long time concealing their true feelings from?
As Serano notes, Littman also didn’t consider the (Scientific Research 101) problem of correlation v. causation. These trans kids watch a lot of pro-trans media and have a lot of trans friends. Littman expresses shock that “the expected prevalence of transgender young adult individuals is 0.7%” yet “more than a third of the friendship groups described in this study had 50% or more of the AYAs [adolescents/young adults] in the group becoming transgender-identified in a similar time frame, a localized increase to more than 70 times the expected prevalence rate.” She also says that “the majority of [parent] respondents (69.2%) believed that their child was using language that they found online when they ‘came out.’” (Oh they believed it, did they? Well that settles that!)
But what if the kids gravitate toward LGBTQ+ peer groups because they are trans, rather than becoming trans because they have trans friends? Or what if the media isn’t influencing their identity but their identity is influencing their choice of media? I almost feel like it is an insult to your intelligence to point out this rather glaring logical hole, but it seems to have escaped Shrier, Littman, and everyone citing this research as proof that there is a Social Contagion of Transness. Consider this ridiculous passage from Shrier:
“Many [of the parents who contacted Shrier] said they had witnessed the phenomenon I had described at their own adolescents’ schools and had no idea it was playing itself out across the country. They noticed that the incidence of trans-identification among their children’s friends seemed much higher than anything they might have imagined. As one mom said, all of her daughter’s friends ‘identify as transgender, or lesbian or gay or bi.”
The logic here is about as sound as concluding that if a Black boy eats lunch with other Black kids, they must be turning him Black. But the parents think it must be that the friends are influencing the child, and Shrier chooses to treat these parents as authorities on their children’s lives. Serano suggests that one reason this grievous reasoning error is made is because the cisgender people making it haven’t the first clue what it’s actually like to be an LGBTQ+ person:
“I can understand how straight cisgender people might jump to the conclusion that A (trans friends and social media) causes B (gender dysphoria and trans-identification). But from a trans/LGBTQ+ perspective, it seems clear that these people are ignoring the crucial element C — the fact that trans/LGBTQ+ people are highly stigmatized, face harassment, and our perspectives are largely discounted and not readily accessible in society at large. This (aka, C) is what leads trans/LGBTQ+ folks to seek one another out (regardless of age) for mutual support, shared understanding, and the exchange of relevant information and ideas.“
If you didn’t treat parents’ views as automatically credible, and instead did pay attention to variable C, the narrative might get complicated. If Littman, as she put together her study, had been interested in finding out more about how these kids’ identities had developed, she could have done something straightforward: surveyed some of the kids as well. But she didn’t. She relied entirely on Concerned Parents. Why? If she had talked to the kids, and had found that a bunch of them said “Oh, I felt dysphoria for a long time, but I kept it from Mom, because I knew she’d freak out and start posting on web forums,” that would have seriously undercut Littman’s hypothesis. A good scientist is open to finding data that might undercut their hypothesis. Littman is not a good scientist, because she avoided going anywhere near an obvious set of potential interview data that might have complicated her results.
Shrier, too, relies largely on parent accounts, and she does something even sneakier, which is that she changes not only names, but also details of people’s stories. Ostensibly she does this so that they will not recognize themselves and be upset at their parents for disclosing the information, or as she puts it, “accuse her battle-worn parents of treachery.” But note that there is another effect, which is that none of the teens Shrier discusses will be able to come forward and contradict their parents’ accounts of what happened. (Or point out that Shrier deliberately misgenders them over and over throughout the book—a problem that, I apologize, is going to make it hard to comment on quotes from the book without repeating the offense, since Shrier does not tell us the subjects’ actual preferred pronouns.)
In fact, when you read Shrier’s retellings of the parents’ stories, it becomes extremely obvious that if you talked to the children, they might have a very different take on what happened. Consider the story of “Richard,” father of “Joanna.” Richard is described as the type of person who “vote[s] Republican but support[s] gay marriage… believe[s] in small government, but [has] no real interest in seeing Roe v. Wade overturned.” Shrier says that “Joanna’s” parents “were in complete agreement that their daughter wasn’t on a good path. That none of this gender journeying had done their daughter much good.” Some excerpts from the parents’ tale of woe:
[Richard’s] daughter, Joanna, had been a feminine girl, even boy crazy off and on, before announcing a pansexual, non-binary, and then trans identity in her last year of a progressive high school. Richard and his wife Rachelle agreed to allow her to attend the top-tier university to which she was admitted on the condition that she promise not to medically transition while at college.
It was a promise Joanna broke almost immediately.
` […] By the time his daughter came home that summer, she had legally changed her name. “She’s done all this stuff without telling us,” Richard said. “And the top surgery thing, she went in for a consultation with the doctors and then submitted a request to the insurance company, so I come home with it, and I see, I opened this letter, it’s addressed to her from the insurance company… So I saw it and I was like, oh wow… [T]here’s a whole different world of stuff that’s just being done secretly, surreptitiously, and it’s so damaging to the relationship.” He told his daughter flatly that if she went through with this, their relationship would never be the same.
At times, his voice hardened to fury. He sounded ready to break walls. He blamed his daughter’s foolishness, her ‘echo chamber’ of friends, her enabling psychologists, so many trans ‘friends] she had made on the internet, the mental health counselor at college—a “wrecking ball for families”—and the trans-embracing culture that pervaded her top-tier university.
I knew, beyond doubt, what he never expressly said: she was the person he loved most in the world. She had broken his heart.
He told me about all he had done to find her a good, safe apartment and to provide the down payment. He was also subsidizing her rent.
Here Shrier gives a few more observations about Richard’s character:
“[Richard] cloaked his anguish… in a series of assertive, sometimes aggressive factual statements, which alternately expressed despair, contempt, fury, and gruff indifference. Richard is a partner at a prominent international law firm, prone to tough talk, head-on confrontation with other men, chivalry with women. I met him at a café downstairs from his office. He asked for my parking card and had it validated. We were on his turf, and he seemed to assume it was his job to take care of me. When I fumbled for a moment with the cellophane wrapping on my cookie, he took it from me, opened it, handed it back. It was the sort of thing another generation might have called good manners, but I think it was at least partly a diversion.”
Hm, well it’s the sort of thing my own generation calls “patronizing and sexist.” In fact, let us think about Richard a bit. What do we know about him? Richard treats men confrontationally and women “chivalrously,” which appears to mean as if they are babies. He doesn’t hesitate to snatch something from a woman’s grasp without her permission on the theory she must want or need his help. Richard’s emotions vary between “despair, contempt, fury, and gruff indifference.” He is aggressive and angry. Shrier is convinced he loves his “daughter” but notes that he never actually says that; in fact he complains that “she” has betrayed him even though he is paying “her” rent (which it seems he thinks should give him more of a say over his child’s gender identity). Richard and his wife are convinced they know what is best for “Joanna” and “she” doesn’t. He conditioned letting his child go to college on letting him dictate whether “she” was allowed to transition. Richard opened his child’s mail to read private medical information. He believes his child has hurt their relationship by refusing to obey him. He does not think his child is capable of autonomous judgments, even now that “she” is an adult, and believes that “she” must have fallen prey to nefarious social influences. And oh, yeah, the only reason we are talking about “Joanna” and his “daughter” is that Shrier declines to tell us what “Joanna” considers their own name or pronouns to be, because Richard thinks “Joanna” is wrong about their identity.
Knowing what we do about Richard, even in Shrier’s portrayal—which is intended to be sympathetic!—what might we suspect about what is going on here? Personally I think Richard sounds like a fucking asshole, and it seems like he is utterly incapable of listening to “Joanna” or treating them as an adult human capable of deciding who they want to be. I think Richard feels like he owns his child. I suspect that Richard is a person who is incredibly difficult to talk to because even in Shrier’s account, in a conversation he had over cookies in a café, he has bouts of rage in which he sounds “ready to break walls.” If you were Richard’s kid, how excited would you be to have a conversation with Richard about your gender identity?
Richard might be the most extreme of the ignorant parents whose accounts form the core of Shrier’s book, but most of them are similarly uninterested in empathizing with their kids, and Shrier isn’t either. She makes it clear she’s on the side of these parents. They are the ones who get all the understanding, because their lives are hard and their experiences are painful and all they want is what’s best for their kids.
Faith initially thought the Pride celebrations were nice; she had been to many Pride parades herself. But she noticed her daughter seemed to be taking to the rainbow fervor at school with an intensity and gusto. ‘They had a festival. They had a booth where they were painting rainbow flags on everybody. Her daughter spent a day in seventh grade wearing a rainbow flag. By the end of the seventh grade, Faith’s daughter decided she was ‘asexual,’ and then ‘trans.’ She had never even kissed a boy, had not yet gotten her period. But the new identity gave her both a cause and a team. “All her friends are bisexual,” her mother told me… “There’s only one heterosexual girl in her little crew.”
There’s a moment I love in the Adam Curtis documentary “The Century of the Self,” about a 1970s convent falling apart when the nuns discover personal self-transformation—what begins as an empowerment experiment accidentally ends with the total undermining of Church authority and the mass release of female sexual energy. Most of the nuns shed their habits, and of the few who remained Curtis narrates: “But they had become radical lesbian nuns.” Horrors. Faith feels as the church authorities must have felt: I love Pride parades. I love rainbows. But these had become radical trans rainbows. There was intensity. And gusto.
Shrier piles on these anecdotes one after another. Always: I am a tolerant and open-minded parent, I have nothing against LGBT people, BUT… Always the same “correlation = causation” second-hand data to prove the existence of the Great Trans Contagion. And always the same lack of interest in the child’s own perspective. Consider Katherine:
Katherine had already noticed that a very high percentage of the kids in her daughter’s school seemed to be coming out as trans—far more than prevalence numbers for gender dysphoria would have suggested. She rushed to inform Maddie’s school of all she had learned, before the teachers encouraged more adolescents along this path. “I thought I was being quite reasonable and giving them evidence and whatever. They treated me like I was the biggest transphobe.” She gave up on the school and decided on helping her daughter see the harm of transitioning. If she couldn’t entirely pry Maddie from the ideological grips of its fanciful science, perhaps she could at least persuade Maddie against self-harm. She got nowhere. “When you have a daughter that’s really indoctrinated—and it’s almost like a cult really—and it’s part of who they think they are, and you yourself have been affirming, and the school’s been bending over backwards, she’s had therapists going along with her new name, that’s all solidifying to a young person,” she said. Even the medical advice Katherine found online seemed to support Maddie’s new identity and the urgency of medical transition. “She has everybody on her side. I mean, I don’t have a leg to stand on.” Katherine eventually founded the Kelsey Coalition, an organization devoted to opposing transgender ideology.
You might think that if all the medical advice Katherine found, “Maddie’s” teachers, “Maddie’s” therapists, and “Maddie” themself all said Katherine ought to recognize her child’s own self-conception as legitimate, Katherine might wonder whether she was wrong. Instead, Katherine founded an anti-trans organization! (A fellow parent in the organization managed to get an op-ed in USA Today spreading Trans Kid Panic and lambasting school officials for resisting his efforts to help his child, help that took the form of refusing to use their preferred name and pronouns.)
But at least Katherine didn’t do what the mom identified as Brie did:
“[Brie began] traveling with her daughter, to remove her from the social environment in which she’d identified as a boy. Her daughter’s friends seemed to be fortifying the trans identity. To undermine that identity, Brie needed to get her away. They moved across the U.S., to the Southwest, where her daughter could start life, redux, once again as a girl.”
This is pretty psychopathic, no? You took your kid away from all his friends and across the country purely because you wanted to force him to be a girl? Yet for Shrier, it is the parents who suffer!
I’m sorry to say this, because I have parents I love very much and this definitely does not apply to them, but the first thing to know about parents is that they don’t know anything about their kids. Parents think they know everything, but parents don’t know crap. That’s what fundamentally makes Shrier’s and Littman’s arguments hilarious as well as illogical. Relying on parents to tell you about their kids is like relying on bosses to tell you about the home lives of their workers, and Shrier and Littman happen to have chosen the subset of parents (the panicked and horrified ones) most likely to be ignorant of crucial aspects of their children’s inner worlds.
II. Some of the Most Obnoxious Talking Points and Deceptive Presentations of Facts
I want to address a few other points that come up a lot in the Trans Kid Panic narrative. First, though, let me introduce a concept I am going to call the “So The Fuck What? Principle.” The STFWP means responding to a given assertion by asking yourself “So the fuck what?” meaning, okay, but even if that’s true, why should I care?
So, for instance, let’s actually take Littman’s argument that people become trans in part because of peer influence. As we’ve seen, the study doesn’t show this happens, it shows that a certain subset of panicked parents think this happens based on their own understandings of events they mostly have not observed firsthand. But I think we should also ask: even if it was true, so the fuck what? If we had a study showing that kids are more likely to want to be poets if they’re friends with other kids who consider themselves poets, that wouldn’t make love of poetry a dangerous plague. Even if our gender identities are affected by those around us, or the media we take in, unless you are transphobic—i.e. you think it’s bad to be trans—then STFW? Or how about Littman’s finding that parents thought their trans kids were using language they had found online to explain their identity. STFW? If a website helps you figure out how to articulate what you feel, that’s okay.
The STFW principle—distinct from the STFU principle, which is the one we may be tempted to use on many of the people whose work is at issue—is useful in helping us understand why trans activists (and the mainstream medical community) strongly objected to the work of a certain Dr. Ken Zucker, whose work is cited positively in Shrier’s book (and in Anderson’s When Harry Became Sally, a title that truly is so awful that I can hardly bear to type it, and which I have an additional personal grievance against because when someone saw the book in my office, they thought I had a bound copy of the screenplay of the classic Billy Crystal-Meg Ryan comedy When Harry Met Sally, which they thought was cool, and I was truly embarrassed at having to explain that actually this was a horrible transphobic book doing a bad pun based on the name of that film).
For 30 years, Ken Zucker ran a gender identity clinic in Toronto and was one of the world’s foremost experts on gender dysphoria, leading the team that developed the DSM-V diagnosis criteria. Zucker was controversial, and his clinic was shut down in 2015. Zucker’s belief is that the gender identity of children is often quite malleable, and may change in response to external influences. His rhetoric has never been like Shrier’s—though he blurbed her book—but he believes that children with gender dysphoria can be nudged toward a gender identity that corresponds to their birth-assigned sex, and that doing this is okay and often good. So, if a Boy-child was insisting that they were a Girl-child, Zucker would offer the parents the option of helping them try to encourage the child to think of themselves as a Boy-child. NPR ran an article in 2008 discussing what this entailed for one family:
[T]o treat Bradley, Zucker explained to Carol that she and her husband would have to radically change their parenting. Bradley would no longer be allowed to spend time with girls. He would no longer be allowed to play with girlish toys or pretend that he was a female character. Zucker said that all of these activities were dangerous to a kid with gender identity disorder. He explained that unless Carol and her husband helped the child to change his behavior, as Bradley grew older, he likely would be rejected by both peer groups. Boys would find his feminine interests unappealing. Girls would want more boyish boys. Bradley would be an outcast. Carol resolved to do her best. Still, these were huge changes. By the time Bradley started therapy he was almost 6 years old, and Carol had a house full of Barbie dolls and Polly Pockets. She now had to remove them.
Taking away the Polly Pockets! And for what? To make the kid Normal, to make the kid fit in, by which we mean to make the kid cisgender.
Many trans people compared this to the religious right’s gay conversion therapy, a comparison Zucker vigorously objected to (a typical Canadian liberal hates to be lumped in with bonkers U.S. theocrats). Some, like Shrier and Ryan Anderson, suggest that Zucker’s approach is unfairly disparaged by activists. But I think conversion therapy is the right analogy, for a simple reason: if a “Boy-child” wants to be a Girl-child, so the fuck what? Unless you think it’s better not to be trans, why not just roll with it? Why try to mold the child into your image of what they ought to be? Shrier writes of Zucker that “transition was never his goal—if he could help a child or adolescent become more comfortable in their skin, he would.” This sounds nice, but what it means is trying to get a child to be comfortable with the gender identity they were assigned at birth rather than becoming “comfortable in their skin” the way they want. Why did people hate Zucker, then? It was because he imposed a normative anti-trans conception of what it means to be a well-adjusted human, instead of just letting kids be what they say they want to be.
The Focus on Detransitioning
Part of the Trans Kid Panic narrative involves paying an excessive amount of attention to those who later regret undergoing gender transition. The available numbers show overwhelmingly that people benefit from receiving the care they ask for. Deirdre McCloskey, a libertarian economist who has co-signed Harper’s magazine’s free speech letter alongside J.K. Rowling, nevertheless argues that the conclusions reached by those like Rowling and Shrier are utterly bogus and totally ignore the real lived experiences of trans people:
[Rowling] is mistaken, for example, to believe that a sound reason to oppose gender change in say, children, is the alleged “accounts of detransitioners.”… The overwhelming bulk of transitioners, male-female or female-male (whose numbers, by the way, are about equal), are happy with their decision, whether they did it as children or as adults. “Ecstatic” is how I would describe it. I did it at age 53 in 1995, 20 years after the pioneer Jan Morris, the Welsh writer. The extremely small number of transitioners who are not ecstatic can return to their birth-assigned gender for most purposes… Like all choices in life there are consequences, such as infertility. So we are to prevent people from driving cars because there have consequences? In a free society we leave people alone if their choices do not harm others… The TERFs [trans-exclusionary radical feminists] fiercely oppose free choices by others, choices that do no harm to any of them.
McCloskey is right about the numbers. A 2018 survey of practitioners who offer gender affirmation surgeries revealed very few reports of regret. 22,724 patents that had been treated by the surgeons. Only 62 patients had ever reported regret about their gender transition or sought detransition care. 22 of those 62 did report that their gender identity had changed, but another 17 reported that social factors (difficulty in relationships and a lack of family support) had led to the regret, meaning that a good portion of the regrets that do occur come about because we live in a transphobic society. The surgeons had only had to perform 38 detransition procedures in total. A UK study found that out of 3398 patients it studied in an NHS gender identity clinic, only 16 (less than half a percent) reported “transition-related regret or detransitioned.”
The fact is that people who transition tend to be happier and healthier as a result. No elective medical treatment is going to have 100 percent satisfactory results all the time, and if we deliberately sought out only the population of people who had unsatisfactory results and interviewed them without talking to the overwhelming majority who had satisfactory results, it would be possible to paint a scary picture of anything, even if it was actually extremely beneficial and negative outcomes were rare. (This is why you’ve got to be very careful in how you report on the side effects or risks of vaccinations.)
The Trans Kid Panic narrative suggests that those who detransition are being deliberately ignored. “Detransitioners, understandably, elicit suspicion from the trans community,” wrote the Atlantic’s Jesse Singal, though he does not support the claim with evidence about what the apparently-monolithic Trans Community’s suspicions are. In fact, as Julia Serano writes, there is no dispute about the existence of a sub-population of people who regret their gender transitions, and that they should be supported. The suspicion is about the way that detransition narratives can end up reinforcing the idea that people who say they are transgender aren’t “really” transgender and will regret it later. There is certainly some suspicion of the “detrans movement,” which aims to “raise awareness” of detransition. This is not because people who later decide to return to their previous gender identity are considered invalid or wrong, but because the messages put out by the “movement” often suggest that trans people should face greater barriers to receiving healthcare, and that trans young people are likely to just be confused. Here, for instance, are some of the messages tweeted or retweeted by the “Detrans Voices” Twitter account:
“What was really going on was that I was a girl insecure in my body who had experienced parental abandonment, felt alienated from my peers, suffered from anxiety and depression, and struggled with my sexual orientation.”
“We’ve no idea how many will regret it.” Too many. Several detransitioners have messaged me saying they won’t be sharing their stories under #DetransAwarenessDay because they’re not in a good enough headspace to deal with the backlash. There’s so many of us.
“The narrative was that if you had dysphoria, transitioning was the only route to deal with it.”
“Those who detransition are dismissed, insulted, threatened and silenced when we talk about transition regret.”
“I spent three years being someone I wasn’t. I thank my mom for not letting me medically transition, I would be in regret now if she hadn’t”
“I decided to detransition, because I realized that I would never be male. Transition would be chasing the impossible at a great cost. After realizing this, I began to seek out therapeutic approaches for my gender dysphoria instead of hormones and surgery.”
The account also links to a Daily Mail story headlined “Why Did The NHS Let Me Change Sex?” about Keira Bell, who successfully challenged the NHS’ London gender identity clinic in court, and argues that it should have challenged her more before prescribing her puberty blocking medication at the age of 16. Bell’s lawyer has said that because Bell “gained courage from the internet” to transition, there is a “need for safeguarding guidance on protecting children from information that will encourage them down an experimental medical pathway.”
You can see why trans activists would be suspicious of accounts like Detrans Voices. In the above tweets, we see messages like: It’s good when moms prevent kids from transitioning. Unspecified parties are pushing a story that if you have dysphoria you have to transition. People who think they are trans might just be insecure. Transition was not going to succeed in making me male. People who detransition are being silenced. All of these points are objectionable, though that doesn’t mean the people sharing detransition stories are wrong about their experiences. What it means is that some of them don’t appear to have thought about the consequences of their arguments for the greater number of trans people who will not regret their transitions, and they are wrongly extrapolating from their own experience to suggest a kind of silent majority of misled cis people being silenced by trans people.
Keira Bell, for instance, argues that the NHS should not have treated her, though she admits that she was “adamant” about her need to transition at the time. Bell’s story is a sympathetic one—she came to believe that she was wrong and that transition was not right for her, but by the time she realized this five years later, she had made many permanent physical changes to her body. Bell blames the NHS, because she was 16 when she began treatment, and argues that she was not capable of making the decision herself. I can see why she is angry. But it’s also obvious that Bell isn’t really thinking about the consequences that what she’s asking could have for trans young people who won’t feel the way she did. A trans writer—publishing as Roanne K. Jalopy (RKJ), though this is a pseudonym—who sought care at the same London NHS clinic as Bell recently gave her own account here in Current Affairs, and her story was very different. RKJ’s first problem was that she couldn’t even get an appointment at the clinic that served Bell and had to seek private care—more than 13,500 people are on the waiting list and there are years of treatment delays—because she desperately needed to slow down changes to her body that were making her life harder. Far from being pushed into transitioning, she was thwarted by clinicians who did not seem to believe her and doubted her gender identity:
I realized I was facing years of fruitless “psychological assessments,” whose real aim was to force me to accept the gender I had been assigned at birth. The most cruel and unusual practice was the so-called “real life test.” Rather than providing as much support as possible for an incredibly difficult step, the psychiatrists withheld hormone treatment until their patients had socially transitioned for at least three months. Even after this period, they could still refuse treatment if the individual did not live up to their preconceived idea of gender. For adults, this meant attempting to transition without the physical changes brought on by hormone therapy. In my case, it meant going further through a puberty I didn’t want. I didn’t have years to wait. My body was starting to change in ways I didn’t like, and if things continued, I’d have to pay hundreds of pounds that I didn’t have on painful facial hair removal, and figure out how to un-drop my voice. Like many women, I chose to self-medicate with testosterone blockers and estradiol pills ordered from an overseas pharmacy.
Bell is upset that she was given puberty blockers when she asked to transition and believes the NHS should have placed more obstacles in her way. RKJ reports on what happens when those obstacles are placed in the way. Bell is asking clinicians to treat all young self-identified trans people as if they are incapable of deciding what they want to be. But there are severe negative consequences of doing this. That’s why the “affirmative” approach—taking young people’s own accounts of themselves and desires seriously—has become standard practice. Shrier, Anderson, and others raise serious doubts about the approach, often citing the cases of teens who change their minds later, and the fickleness of young people’s self-conceptions, but they don’t reckon with the harm that comes from withholding medical treatment from those it will be extremely beneficial for. Yes, that approach has the consequence that medical providers may give people like Keira Bell exactly what they ask for at age 16, and they may come to regret it. But as McCloskey notes, we let young people make choices all the time that could actually do them serious permanent harm—such as handing them car keys. Some people may wish, after they make regrettable decisions as a teen, that they had been more infantilized by authority figures. Others, however, will very much resent that they were forced to live in accordance with someone else’s conception of who they ought to be. If the public campaigns of Bell and other vocal detransitioners are met with suspicion and hostility, it is not because trans people want to hush up the fact that detransition happens (this is not disputed) but because they are essentially—whether or not they realize it—throwing others like RKJ under the bus.
Insisting that trans kids are actually gay and that being pro-trans is homophobic
This is one of the stranger talking points, but it’s a very real one. Writer Katie Herzog has argued that lesbians are “disappearing” because those in the LGBTQ+ community who would previously identify as lesbians now identify as nonbinary people or trans men. Herzog admits that there “has been no clear polling on the shift from ‘lesbian’ to ‘nonbinary,’ and so my sense that the lesbian is endangered is purely anecdotal,” but says “there are plenty of anecdotes.” (Personally I think it’s better to follow the statement “my sense is purely anecdotal” with “and that’s why I am going to do more research before publishing my views,” but that is not Herzog’s approach.) Herzog echoes the idea that people are being socially influenced into transness:
I’m aware that this will be offensive to some people. The concept of a fixed, internal gender identity has become sacrosanct, and it’s viewed as something deeply personal and meaningful, like the soul. But humans are social creatures and we are easily influenced by our peers. This isn’t a moral judgment, just a fact, and I’ve seen how it plays out in my own peer circle. First one person comes out as nonbinary, then another, then another, and then one day half the dykes you know go by “they.”
In fact, the polling suggests Herzog is empirically incorrect—good reason not to base social scientific conclusions off Things Your Friends Have Told You—because there are actually more self-identified lesbians among young people than in prior generations. The number of lesbians and the number of trans people is growing (furthermore, these are not mutually exclusive categories!) But she’s not the only one to make this kind of argument. Consider Deborah Soh’s bizarre article in Quillette (where else?) called “The Unspoken Homophobia Propelling the Transgender Movement in Children.” Soh, citing (who else?) Lisa Littman, offers a bizarre and unsubstantiated theory that kids become transgender because it is more socially acceptable than being gay and parents would rather a heterosexual transgender kid than a homosexual cisgender kid:
A study published last month on ROGD—one that gained widespread media attention for infuriating transgender activists—found that a large proportion of these girls had come out as lesbian or bisexual prior to coming out as transgender. Why would this be the case? Along with the physical and emotional discomfort that is typical of undergoing puberty, it has become more socially acceptable to be a transgender man than a gay woman…. A little boy who enjoys indulging in make-up and other female-typical activities will bring about much less attention and criticism if he were a girl. This same logic extends to a child’s future sexual orientation. On some level, these parents likely know that there is a chance their feminine son will grow up to be sexually attracted to men. Instead of allowing this to happen, they may be more than happy to go along with facilitating their child’s requests to transition to the opposite sex, so that to the outside world, that child will appear heterosexual—an adolescent boy who is attracted to other boys will appear to be straight if he transitions to female. What’s most disturbing is that these parents will be lauded as open-minded and “on the right side of history,” when in actuality, they are homophobic. In some cases, a child may internalize their families’ anti-gay sentiments, which adds to their desire to transition. Saying any of these things aloud will get a person branded as transphobic.
I’m not going to brand Soh transphobic here, since I suspect that’s what she wants. I will, however, brand her someone who peddles bizarre and totally unsubstantiated theories about gender identity and doesn’t bother to check them against reality to see if they’re correct. I don’t see a need to respond to this argument, because it isn’t even really an argument—it’s just a story about a phenomenon that could theoretically occur, without evidence that it actually is occurring. (Zinnia Jones has a 3-part debunking of Soh here—nearly every point I make here, incidentally, has been made better, more often, and in greater detail by trans writers like Jones, Serano, and Bryn Tannehill.)
Always about transition; fluidity & complexity ignored
One very strange part of the Trans Kid Panic story is that it presents a completely wrong and simplistic view of what gender nonconforming identities are actually like in the real world. The story told by Shrier and others tends to be something like: there are Girls, and these girls decide they are Lesbians, but then they are lured by Peers and Influencers into thinking that they are actually Trans, meaning that they think they are Actually Boys. Then these Girls decide to turn themselves into Boys, which involves a three step program: puberty blockers, hormone therapy, and surgery. It is up to the American Family to stop these Girls before they have gone too far down the path.
As Julia Serano writes in her excellent and comprehensive 2016 article “Detransition, Desistance, and Disinformation: A Guide for Understanding Transgender Children Debates,” there is ignorance packed into every part of this story. It assumes a rigid gender binary, when for many people, being trans is more a matter of finding the form of expression, the category, and the body type that feels right.
They are primarily concerned about children socially transitioning, being placed on puberty blockers, and ultimately hormones. As a result, they often fail to mention that only a subset of trans kids follow that path (i.e., those who identify as that gender consistently, persistently, and insistently), and that the gender-affirming model also provides support for gender non-conforming and questioning children who do not transition as children. They often talk generically about “transgender children” without ever elaborating on the diversity of transgender identities and trajectories, or the fact that some transgender people transition while others do not… Instead, they create a false dichotomy between “transgender children” (i.e., those who maybe should/will ultimately transition) and “gender non-conforming cisgender children” (who they fear are being misled into gender transition, and who they believe would lead happier lives not transitioning). This ignores…that trans and cis are not immutable essentialist categories.
The reason this is important is that providing affirmative care to trans kids is not about encouraging them to switch from their birth-assigned gender identity to the other side of the binary, it’s about helping them find what feels right for them by their own standards. As Serano writes, the clinician’s favored outcome should not be a cisgender child or a gender-transitioned child but a happy child, one who feels understood and cared for. Over their lifetimes, they may even float between being nonbinary and being a particular gender. Their preferred pronouns may shift. They may want to change their name, or they may not. They may want to change it back again later. And the only thing anyone should care about is whether that person is getting what they need in order to live their best life according to their own definition of what that means.
Shrier acknowledges the existence of nonbinary people, but her response is to suggest that their existence is a chimera (again, writers like Shrier insist they are pro-trans but then it usually turns out they they believe rigidly in traditional gender conceptions):
“But if what you want from your body is ‘non-binary’—something that does not, or has not, ever existed—how will you know if you’ve reached it? Doesn’t it seem more likely that you’ll never arrive? Like Michael Jackson’s ‘perfect’ nose, it may always lie one surgery away, just out of reach.”
But this is pure speculation about other people’s lives. If, instead of focusing on Concerned Parents, Shrier had interviewed scores of nonbinary people to discuss what it meant to them and whether their lives had improved since their change in identification and what they desire from their bodies, maybe she would have learned something.
III. The Meaning of Transphobia and the Way That Framing Choices Convey Certain Biases and Assumptions
A lot of the I’m Not Anti-Trans Just Concerned types get irritated by being called transphobic. Activists, they say, are tossing that word around unfairly in order to smear people. So I’d like us to think for a bit about what is meant by the accusation. The word transphobia, like homophobia and Islamophobia, is a bit of a misnomer, because it implies that all transphobes must fear trans people the way arachnophobes fear spiders. This is not what most of the people who use the term are trying to convey. Instead, it’s meant to describe bigotry against trans people, and bigotry doesn’t always take the form of conscious fear or hatred. Instead, it can mean that one simply sees trans people’s lives and experiences as less valuable than those of cisgender people. Their suffering carries less moral weight, their testimonies have less credibility, their needs are less important.
This same confusion also occurs in discussions about whether something or someone is “racist,” when the accused racist says something like I’m Not Racist, I Don’t Hate Anyone. Racism is far more often a bias or preference than it is a hatred, and transphobia often takes the form of thinking of trans people as unreasonable or delusional—though sometimes the “phobia” part is quite literally accurate, as when people like Rowling and Shrier stoke fears that trans people will lure your daughter into a lifestyle of gender-bending madness. Or that the absence of laws against use of their preferred restroom somehow grants trans people a free license to assault children.
The devaluing of trans people’s lives often occurs unconsciously, and is implicit in the assumptions that people make. For instance, Rowling and Shrier worry about what trans women might do to their daughters in restrooms, but they do not worry about what, given their assumption that men will prey on women they see in a bathroom, might be done to trans women forced to use the men’s room. (Shrier says that even if trans women never actually commit any assaults, the fear that they will justifies prohibiting them by law from entering the ladies’ room—“if such violence were somehow never to occur, it would still not be unreasonable for young girls in such situations to feel threatened.”) Shrier and Littman show great concern for the pain experienced by cisgender parents horrified by their trans teens, but they are much less interested in the perspectives of the teens themselves. Try to watch out for these differences in the weight assigned to some perspectives over others, because if you are not in the relevant marginalized group, you are less likely to notice when they occur. (I am in the process of training myself to be more conscientious after years of finding myself making subtle assumptions that turned out to be sexist or transphobic or racist. But everyone has unexamined prejudices to work on.)
I should note here a common problem that makes many discussions about racist/transphobic bias extremely frustrating, which is what I will call the But These Are Just Facts problem. There is a type of person, and it’s not always a white man, but it is very often a white man, who thinks that so long as he/she/they/but-let’s-say-he is just stating things that are factually true, they cannot possibly be biased/ideological. When someone criticizes such a person, the Just the Facts Guy points to a study showing that the thing they are saying is technically accurate. And then they insist that those criticizing them must simply be politically motivated and fear the facts. After all, if you don’t fear the facts, why are you so mad at me for discussing them?
But this type of person is ignorant, and does not grasp why the framing and selection of facts is just as important as the facts themselves in determining whether you are communicating something true or something misleading. Let me tell a story to illustrate: years ago, Fox News became very interested in a thing called the New Black Panther Party. Fox ran story after story about how members of the New Black Panther Party were intimidating voters outside polling places. Over and over, they showed footage depicting a couple of members of the New Black Panther Party standing around, supposedly in order to menace voters by—I don’t know, really, since it’s not clear how the New Black Panther Party would ever know which way someone voted. But the implication here was that the New Black Panther Party was a thing, and people should care.
In reality, the New Black Panther Party was virtually nonexistent. But importantly, that didn’t mean Fox had technically said anything factually incorrect. The guys in the footage may well have been members. Hell, they may have been trying to look scary. They may even have been trying to get people to vote for whoever their preferred candidate was. But Fox clearly wanted its viewers to think that this problem was more than just two guys in Philly wearing berets. It was an example, showing something that was probably going on all around the country.
The segment was racist, though of course the Fox hosts who pushed it would vigorously object to the characterization. But the story was a fact. Yes, but why did you pick these two guys in Philadelphia to focus on? These defenses have an obnoxious kind of willful naivete. Oh, no reason. Why is Charles Murray so interested in racial gaps in I.Q. scores? Oh, no reason.
You can lie with facts. Some people do not believe this, because on the surface it sounds absurd, but if you think about it for a moment you can see how it’s obviously the case. Climate change deniers do this a lot, making arguments like: People say climate change is melting glaciers, but this glacier in Norway actually gained mass over the last four years. Of course, the very reason they chose to focus on that particular glacier is because it’s the one that didn’t melt, and the thing that matters is the overall trend. But the denier selected the fact that would give the misleading impression. The defense, of course, is that What I Said Was A Fact.
Here you can begin to see why many trans activists loathed the Atlantic’s cover story on trans kids and Leah Littman’s study. Littman and Singal, of course, think the activists were motivated by politics rather than science, because none of the facts they cited could be disproven. Littman did not have to correct or retract any of her findings, which—to her and her defenders—shows that the activists had no argument. But why did Littman choose not to check the parents’ testimonies against those of the actual kids? Singal’s Atlantic cover story only said that “some” medical practitioners may have been moving too fast with treatments, and some young people have detransitioned. Since he never said how many, nobody can disprove the point. But the framing of the story implies that this is a thing we ought to worry about.
Because an implication is implicit, there is always plausible deniability, which is what makes many of the people who do this so fucking annoying. How can you prove definitively that there was anything racist to Fox’s interest in the New Black Panther Party? How can you prove that someone who is constantly talking about the stories of gender transitions gone wrong, and is less interested in those that go right, is trying to scare people about gender transition? In fact, they might not be lying when they say they’re not consciously trying to manipulate impressions—they’re simply unaware of their own bias in their selection and presentation of the facts. I am sure the editors of the Atlantic thought they were being very reasonable when they published their cover story, because after all, it was carefully fact-checked, it made sure to give voice to critics, it appeared fair. Littman, I am sure, is convinced her study was a rigorous and reasonable attempt to explore an emerging phenomenon, and feels persecuted by activists.
If you have read Current Affairs for a while, you might know that one of the themes we return to over and over is the way that people who insist they are Just Being Reasonable and Care About The Facts—and say everyone else is motivated by Ideology and Politics and Political Correctness—are often the most stubbornly unreasonable and unwilling to examine the actual facts. It’s the rhetoric of reasonableness rather than actual reasonableness. Figures like Sam Harris, Steven Pinker, Jordan Peterson, Ben Shapiro all insist that The Left Can’t Handle Facts, but are themselves the ones who are ignorant and/or bigoted.
We’ve got a major case of that here. Lisa Littman and Abigail Shrier and the Concerned Parents all believe that they are the fact-based ones and everyone else is a hysterical social justice type. As we’ve seen, that isn’t true. Unfortunately, the rhetoric of reason is powerful, and once someone portrays themselves as being Censored For Telling The Truth, a lot of people go along with it. Consider these accounts of Littman’s research, which portray it as neutral:
“In a recent survey of 250 families whose children developed symptoms of gender dysphoria during or right after puberty, Lisa Littman, a physician and professor of behavioral science at Brown University, found that over 80 percent of the youth in her sample were female at birth. Littman’s study reported many other surprising findings. To meet the diagnostic criteria for gender dysphoria, a child typically needs to have shown observable characteristics of the condition prior to puberty, such as “a strong rejection of typically feminine or masculine toys,” or “a strong resistance to wearing typically feminine or masculine clothes.” Again, 80 percent of the parents in the study reported observing none of these early signs in their children.” (Note: the fact that Littman’s sample was 80 percent female-at-birth tells us nothing about broad trends among kids, because the sample was “parents who use Concerned About My Trans Kid” forums, and moms of girls might just use those forums more.) — Psychology Today
“An American academic, Lisa Littman, encountered strenuous opposition when she published an article that coined the term “rapid onset gender dysphoria.” She lost a consultancy job, though remained an assistant professor at Brown University School of Public Health. Littman identified knots of socially-awkward girls drawn together in online chat rooms who reinforced each other’s self-diagnosis of being transgender before presenting to medical professionals. She had been led there by research involving the parents of some of these children, who had mentioned that their offspring had friends who also identified as transgender.” — Prospect Magazine
“Is [Shrier] describing a problem that isn’t there? At least with regard to the subgroup of girls of the type Littman studied, she insists not, and makes arguments that are persuasive. One issue is intimidation: how can science properly assess certain therapies if people like Littman, Toronto-based Dr. Kenneth Zucker, and multiple others are losing jobs and academic appointments for asking the wrong questions? Another is a medical system financially incentivized to move patients through expensive courses of treatment and surgery.” — Matt Taibbi
All of these accounts treat Littman as a victim of Activists and her research as fairly benign. But they don’t fairly portray the arguments. The problem with Zucker was not that he “asked the wrong questions,” but that his approach is, at its root, transphobic. The question is not whether someone should lose a job for asking Dangerous Questions but whether they should lose a research job for doing bad research with potentially extremely harmful consequences. “Methodological problems” was not some euphemism for “I don’t like Littman’s conclusions.” Littman picked data that had obvious, serious problems, from sources that there would be good reason to consider biased and unreliable. Yes, it’s true that academics don’t necessarily get quite as upset when research is just bad, as opposed to when it is both bad and could have serious negative consequences for a vulnerable group of people. But I think that’s quite reasonable: on issues where a finding is clearly going to be ammunition for Republicans who want to pass horrific legislation, it’s more important to make sure you are doing incredibly rigorous and careful work. When people hear the argument that scholars should be “responsible,” they often take this to mean “should suppress politically inconvenient findings.” That’s not the case, though. Responsible scholarship does not mean burying the truth, it means taking into account the role that academic scholarship plays in informing public debates and making sure you aren’t being sloppy in ways that could hurt people.
I have thrashed Shrier’s terrible arguments far beyond what they deserve, so in the interest of not boring your pants off, let me avoid further elongating this disquisition. I do, however, want to emphasize that when you scrutinize a lot of the anti- “social justice,” anti- “cancel culture,” anti- “woke,” anti- “identity politics,” anti- “political correctness” stuff, you will find that while it claims Activists and Ideologues are the ones with the dubious facts, the reality often turns out to be that what the Activists and Ideologues are saying is not nearly as wacky as how it is being portrayed. If you look closely and listen to them carefully, and see what they’re actually saying rather than what they’re presumed to be saying, you will find that the portrayals of them as hysterical, unreasonable, and censorious are often deeply unfair.
You will also begin to notice that many of the Facts And Reason brigade on the conservative right (and the I’m Not A Conservative, I Love LGBT People, I Just Think Political Correctness Has Gone Mad types) is that their logic is hilariously unsound. I want to end with one final howler from Shrier, who believes that the following passage is an example of sound reasoning:
It’s worth noting how different [being the parent of a trans child] is from being the parent of a gay adolescent. An adolescent who comes out as gay asks her parents to accept her for what she is. An adolescent who is transgender-identified asks to be accepted for what she is not. Even the most loving parent might be forgiven for failing this mind-bending test.
This is pure sophistry, of course. Anything you “are” is also something you “aren’t.” Being gay is “not being straight,” so a gay child is asking their parents to accept them for something they aren’t. And why would it be more strange or difficult to ask parents to accept children for what they “aren’t” anyway? The “test” is only “mind-bending” to those who think a string of words is automatically an argument. Yet plenty of Shrier’s readers will think that she is the one with reason on her side and it is the trans kids who are loopy.
If a government agent has knowledge that a minor [person under 21] under its care or supervision has exhibited symptoms of gender dysphoria, gender nonconformity, or otherwise demonstrates a desire to be treated in a manner incongruent with the minor’s sex, the government agent or entity with knowledge of that circumstance shall immediately notify, in writing, each of the minor’s parents, guardians, or custodians. The notice shall describe all of the relevant circumstances with reasonable specificity. — North Carolina S.B. 514
So here we are at this cruel and backward piece of legislation. Will it pass? I don’t know, but Arkansas Republicans were so committed to stripping healthcare from trans kids that they actually overrode the Republican governor’s veto of their own bill. The right is increasingly accepting the narrative that there is a terrible trans contagion. They are being helped here by supposedly well-meaning, Not Anti-Trans people like Herzog, Singal, Littman, and J.K. Rowling, who spend far more time worrying about Bad Activists or Rogue Practitioners or Disappearing Lesbians than about the lack of healthcare and support for trans kids, which matters far more.
As Serano explains, it could well get worse. If the Trans Kid Panic narrative continues to spread, it will not just end with outing kids to potentially abusive parents and forcing them to go through unwanted bodily changes and punishing doctors and teachers who try to help them:
If being transgender is presumed to be “contagious”… then that could be used as a justification for not only disaffirming individual trans kids’ identities, but also suppressing or outright censoring transgender voices and perspectives, and “quarantining” or excluding trans children & adults from schools and communities, under the pretense that they are “contagious” and will likely “infect” other people.
As I’ve noted, we shouldn’t even care if it is true that being around trans people makes one more likely to identify as trans. So the fuck what? We need to attack the shoddy pseudoscientific and pseudojournalistic findings that are fueling this panic, but we also need to attack the transphobia embedded in the very idea that it is worrying if kids start getting together and questioning or crossing gender boundaries. Good for them. We have to take a strong affirmative stand: you get to be whoever you want to be. If you decide you want to be someone else later, that’s fine. If you go back to who you were before, that’s also fine. Freedom means that nobody expects you to be anything in particular or care when you’re not what they expected. The current attack on trans kids poses as a response to a particular trend, but it is deeply rooted in a dislike and discomfort with new forms of gender expression. Look at the parents in Shrier’s book. I liked the rainbows, but then my daughter started wearing them. I was okay with the pronouns, but then she started taking hormones.
Republicans talk a lot about Freedom, but these horrifying pieces of legislation are an attack on the very heart of freedom, the freedom to be whoever the hell you want to be. We have to fight back, and fight back hard. These are not side issues. They are not Liberal Identity Politics. This is one of the major civil rights struggles of our time.