AMAC Exclusive – By David P. Deavel
Joe Biden’s just-released Executive Order on “advancing equality” for so-called LGBTQ+ populations in America is a sign that the Democratic Party has gone all-in with the view that though adults cannot consent to the terms of a student loan, children have absolute autonomy to decide issues about their own sexuality and “gender” and can demand access to drugs and surgeries to make their bodies fit that gender even though such drugs have lasting and often dangerous effects on their health. Thank God, however, that this latest destructive administrative act comes at a time when abundant resources for fighting back against this destructive ideology exist, including an important new study and a new film.
The EO itself targets “conversion therapy,” a term that many associate with therapeutic attempts to help people with same-sex attractions develop opposite-sex attractions. In contemporary parlance, however, and in the parlance of the Biden Administration, this term is used for any therapy that helps people with gender dysphoria, a discomfort with their own biological sex, become comfortable with that sex. The upshot is that the only proper approach to gender dysphoria is “affirmative” care that simply accepts a child’s own determination that he or she really possesses a gender different from biological sex—and will prescribe puberty blockers, cross-sex hormones, and even plastic surgeries to create the illusion of opposite sex genitalia or secondary-sex characteristics. As Leor Sapir notes in City Journal:
The idea that it is unscientific and unethical to use psychotherapy as the default treatment for gender dysphoria is demonstrably wrong. The original Dutch Protocol, which laid the foundations for pediatric gender transition, insisted on lengthy psychological prescreening of candidates before prescribing them puberty-blocking drugs. What the Dutch experts knew then, and what researchers know now with even greater confidence, is that minors seeking transition tend to have extraordinarily high rates of mental-health problems, including anxiety, depression, attention-deficit and eating disorders, and autism.
In other words, what used to be assumed—even among those who accepted the morality of transgender identification and medical interventions of “affirmation”—was that you actually had to figure out whether dysphoria was being caused by or was a reaction to other mental health problems. Starting at least five years ago, however, trans advocacy groups have demonized such assertions as “transphobia” and have claimed that refusing the path of pure affirmation is the proximate cause of transgender youth suicides. On Thursday, the World Professional Association for Transgender Health (WPATH) announced a new set of guidelines that pushes down the recommended ages for puberty blockers and cross-sex hormones to age 14, mastectomies to age 15, and genital surgeries to age 17. This is the radical line that the Biden EO is following.
The irony is that in the last couple of years even some trans advocates have backed off on the extreme position that our White House is embracing. Dr. Erica Anderson, a former board member of WPATH and president of the American group (USPATH), resigned from these positions last year due to the belief that the organizations were not actually giving adequate counseling to children and were advocating similarly. Anderson was so bold as to co-write an op-ed expressing these concerns in the Washington Post and later gave an interview to Quillette elaborating on them.
Dr. Anderson was not alone. The New York Times Magazine ran an article this week that, though largely siding with the “affirming care” crowd, acknowledged the controversial character of treating transgender youth, a welcome change from previous articles. Dr. Anderson’s worries and the willingness of the Times to acknowledge other points of view are no doubt influenced by international developments. As Sapir noted, “over the past two years medical authorities in Australia, Finland, France, the U.K., and Sweden have recommended severe limitations on affirming therapy, insisting that the evidence for this approach is tenuous at best.” What this means is that just as some of the most progressive countries in the world are putting on the brakes, the Biden Administration has put its foot down on the gas.
There is a battle to be fought on this count, but luckily the information weapons have been presenting themselves quite regularly. Dr. Anderson acknowledged that part of what prodded a change of mind was reading Abigail Shrier’s Irreversible Damage. That book, along with Ryan Anderson’s When Harry Became Sally, has been of great help in explaining the contradictions of the transgender movement as well as the dangers it poses to young people who are vulnerable due to adolescence as well as, often, the aforementioned mental health problems. To these two fine resources have been added a number of very good studies and presentations that examine the sketchy evidence in favor of proceeding with these health-altering treatments that are now being pushed to younger and younger ages.
One persistent argument (that plays a notable role in the EO) is that affirming care is necessary because otherwise these young people will commit suicide. A good start in terms of responding to such arguments is to note that if gender dysphoria has its roots in either mental illness or attempts to deal with mental illness (as the experts have observed is often the case), then such “affirming” care will not alleviate and may likely exacerbate the very suicidal feelings that are being experienced. But do we have large-scale data on that? As it so happens, a study just released by Jay P. Greene of the Heritage Foundation goes a good bit of the way in showing that.
Greene’s study analyzed the design in the few studies purporting to show that giving puberty blockers and cross-sex hormones reduced suicides or improved mental health. What he found was that some studies did not actually allow for isolation of factors, some had no control groups, some controlled for different factors within the same study, some failed to show any statistical significance, and some combined different situations in ways that masked problems. For instance, one study involved both females taking male hormones and males taking female hormones. Though combining data for males and females showed overall improvement, when breaking down the data by sex, differences were shown. Though females taking testosterone reported fewer suicidal thoughts and severe psychological distress than those who did not, males taking estrogen showed a greater likelihood than those who did not of planning suicide, attempting suicide, and being hospitalized for attempted suicide.
Greene’s study, a “natural experiment,” divided American states between those that allow for minors to access hormones without or against parental consent and those that do not. It then studied suicide rates between 2010 and 2020 for those who would be in the age group (12-23) to receive hormones as adolescents, controlling for state-specific factors as well as national suicide rates and events that might trigger rises in the rates.
What the study found was that before 2010, the year that puberty blockers and cross-sex hormones for adolescents became available in many states, the suicide rates were largely the same. But after that period, there was a noticeable rise in suicides in the states that allowed for them, with the rates rising dramatically starting in 2015. Greene writes that though the study does not break down suicides according to whether the individuals received hormones or not, the random nature of the study along with the controls means that to attribute it to some other change, “one would have to be able to imagine other medical interventions that only became widely available after 2010 and would only affect young people. The lack of theoretically plausible alternatives strengthens the case for concluding that cross-sex medical interventions are the cause of the observed increase in suicide among young people.”
Along with Shrier’s and Anderson’s books, Greene’s study is incredibly useful in giving citizens the tools for both showing why pro-affirming studies don’t show what they purport to show and why the truth may be the exact opposite. But the reality is that, helpful as studies are, many people are more likely to be influenced by material not in the format of formal academic papers. For this crowd, I recommend Matt Walsh’s new documentary, What is a Woman?
The documentary, which has been scrupulously ignored by critics with the exception of a Rolling Stone hit piece by a reviewer who never watched the film, is really worth watching. One of the most prominent reasons is that Walsh actually interviews people from all sides—including psychologists and counselors who both deny the metaphysical claims made by the pro-trans side (i.e., the claims that a transwoman “is” a woman) and who speak truthfully about both the known dangers and the uncertainties involving stopping puberty and then pumping adolescents full of cross-sex hormones. (The details make the film unsuitable for younger children.) The film also includes a great deal of commentary by Scott (née Kelli) Newgent, a woman who transitioned at 42 and has since had to deal with the serious medical problems that came from the hormones and the phalloplasty surgery. She realizes, she says, that her life is most likely to be cut short by what has happened. She details how she was convinced to take on these medical interventions with the same kind of inadequate information and counseling that caused Erica Anderson to dissent from the WPATH ideology. She also cites studies indicating that suicidal ideation reaches its peak seven to ten years after “gender affirmation” surgeries.
All the most pertinent facts about transitioning and how too many of today’s clinicians approach it are revealed from the lips of the people themselves. Most important, however, is that Walsh’s very pointed interviews with gender studies professors, counselors, and even doctors reveal them as willing to shade the truth not only about the drugs and the statistics, but about whether there is a truth at all. In one widely circulated scene, University of Tennessee-Knoxville gender studies professor Patrick Grzanka tells Walsh that talk about reality is “transphobic.” He is unable to answer the film’s title question beyond saying that a woman is someone who identifies as a woman.
Joe Biden and those advising him want to “affirm” children. But the kind of affirmation children and adults need is that they are fearfully and wonderfully made as male or female. They need to be affirmed in the fact that there is truth in the world and that acknowledging and living according to that truth—rather than changing their bodies irreparably—is the path to healthiness and happiness. We have some very good tools to help them discover and affirm that truth. We need to use them.
David P. Deavel is editor of Logos: A Journal of Catholic Thought and Culture, co-director of the Terrence J. Murphy Institute for Catholic Thought, Law, and Public Policy, and a visiting professor at the University of St. Thomas (MN). He is the co-host of the Deep Down Things podcast. Follow him on GETTR @davidpdeavel.
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