Taking oneself hostage is a bold move, but sometimes it pays off. It worked for Bart, the hero of Mel Brooks’s classic it-could-never-be-made-today comedy Blazing Saddles, and it just might succeed for the trans-kids movement as well.
Among the latest examples of this gambit is a Variety profile of Jazz Jennings, who became famous after appearing on 20/20 as a six-year-old transgender child in 2007. Attention, accolades, activism, and entrepreneurship followed, including a TLC show, I Am Jazz, that is about to enter a seventh season, after a couple of years off for Jennings to deal with “burnout, depression, and anxiety.” Now, Jazz is back, but Variety’s paeon to Jennings and other trans kids inadvertently reveals the dangers of transgender ideology and the movement it fuels.
The piece presents Jazz and other trans icons and advocates as lifesavers, on the premise that trans-identifying children will kill themselves without affirmation and transition treatments. The article claims that laws restricting minors’ access to medical transition “could quite literally be a matter of life and death.” Jazz’s mother, Jeanette, declares, “When I talk to a parent that says to me, ‘My child would not be alive today if it wasn’t for you,’ that makes it all worthwhile. . . . To save a child’s life, there’s nothing greater than that.”
Conversely, skeptics of the trans-kids movement are accused of being hateful, bigoted child-killers. But they are not the ones feeding vulnerable children a suicide script in which the alternative to transition is death. We should be alarmed by a movement that encourages mentally distressed youth to take themselves hostage — the tactic reveals something ugly at the heart of transgender ideology. Furthermore, its presuppositions are unsupported by the evidence. Though those who identify as transgender do commit or attempt suicide at high rates, it has not been demonstrated that early transition will ameliorate this.
For example, citing Jack Turban of Stanford’s medical school, Variety reports that “being able to safely transition in consult with medical professionals can lower the alarmingly high rate of suicidal thoughts in trans youth.” This presumably refers to a study that Turban co-authored that found that the use of puberty-blockers was associated with lower rates of suicidal ideation. But the study “did not detect a difference in the odds of lifetime or past-year suicide attempts or attempts resulting in hospitalization.” Of course, the study’s design limited its findings (those who succeed in killing themselves are not able to answer retrospective surveys). Alternately, we might expect that those who have been told that they should have been suicidal will remember thinking about suicide more. Regardless, the efficacy of transition as a suicide-prevention measure in children with gender dysphoria remains unproven.
Indeed, the studies that trans advocates cite tend to be full of methodological flaws, from poor response rates to minuscule sample sizes to overreliance on self-reporting. Furthermore, older studies of, say, Swedish adults (mostly men) who were carefully screened before transition can tell us very little about how the explosion of self-diagnosed, rapidly transitioned American teenagers (mostly girls) will play out.
This partly explains why other countries are backing away from rushing children into transition. Earlier this year, Sweden’s Karolinska Hospital announced that it would no longer be “prescribing puberty blockers and cross-sex hormones to gender-dysphoric patients under the age of 18” except under carefully controlled research conditions. Meanwhile, the Keira Bell case in Britain ended the prescription of puberty blockers for children younger than 16. Like the U.S., both of these nations have had massive increases in the number of adolescents diagnosed with gender dysphoria, as well as loosely regulated clinics eager to begin medically transitioning these children. Unlike the U.S., these nations are moving toward a more cautious approach, having learned something from the damage done to children who were given body-altering hormones and surgeries by adults too afraid, or too blinded by ideology, to say no.
The case of Keira Bell illustrates the dangers of this approach. She was rushed into transition in adolescence and early adulthood; her regret is mingled with blame for the adults who were more interested in modifying her body than in reconciling her to it. “As I matured,” she writes, “I recognized that gender dysphoria was a symptom of my overall misery, not its cause.” Bell and the many others who regret transitioning are collateral damage from the hostage-taking of Jennings and other trans activists, whose threats of suicide have stymied efforts to carefully screen patients, even children, before transition.
The harm done in such cases is horrific. For example, when transition begins in childhood, using the Dutch protocol of puberty blockers followed by cross-sex hormones and surgery, it sterilizes the patient and destroys sexual function. The side effects are still being discovered. And yet it does not actually change the patient’s sex, which is beyond the capabilities of medical science. The biological reality, and there is no way to put it gently, is that Jazz Jennings is a young man who has been castrated and — through the use of chemicals, cosmetic surgery, and cosmetics — made to look like a young woman.
There is no proof that this drastic course of treatment is right for any, let alone all, of the onrush of children claiming to be transgender. Given time, most children diagnosed with gender dysphoria will desist and come to accept their natural bodies. Instead of rushing to affirm transgender identities in children, doctors used to urge patience in treating these (previously rare) cases. The new combination of affirmation-only treatments and a surge of children (many apparently influenced by social contagion and the Internet) claiming to be trans may be catastrophic, a medical disaster on par with the lobotomy craze of the last century. How will all the adolescent girls tripping off to Planned Parenthood for testosterone feel about it a decade or two hence?
These changes in treatment have been driven by activism, not medical science, and they are enforced by fear. Even stalwart progressives who support transgender identities in general are viciously attacked if they mention the growing ranks of those who regret transitioning, or if they suggest a need for more caution before transitioning children. Activists justify stifling discussion by citing the threat of the hostages shooting themselves. If dissent leads kids to suicide, then it must be squashed; if families stand in the way of transition, then they must be broken up.
Such efforts to manufacture and maintain elite consensus can collapse suddenly. We don’t know what may prompt such a shift with regard to transgenderism, but the negative public reception to letting men into women’s spaces and sports is a candidate, as is the mass sterilization of children by doctors adhering to the affirmation-only model of treatment.
We may hope that the radical results of transgender ideology provoke a reconsideration of it. Many who — rightly — want to be compassionate toward those diagnosed with gender dysphoria have been reluctant to challenge the demands of transgender activists. But genuine compassion depends on truth, and the truth is that the claims of transgenderism are fundamentally mystical, even magical, rather than medical.
In a revealing statement, Jennings insists that we listen to trans-identifying children because “they’re more connected to their spirit and to their soul than a lot of adults are.” This reflects the belief — manifest in slogans such as “trans women are women” — that physical transition is simply aligning the body with a higher, truer reality. In this view, the bodily modifications of transition are merely the external manifestations of internal truths about gender identity that even very young children can know, which is why leading LGBT groups assert that there can be transgender toddlers.
But the dangers of transgender ideology were apparent before it began promoting the idea of trans three-year-olds. Transgender dogma denigrates our physical embodiment by treating our bodies as mere material to be sculpted in accord with subjective desires. It demands the remaking of the exterior world, beginning with one’s body and continuing through all of society, to conform to subjective desires. Suicide, which subjectively destroys the world, is the proposed alternative. In other contexts, threatening suicide in order to manipulate others, or encouraging such threats, is recognized as abusive. Why should there be an exception for those encouraging childhood gender transition?
The self-directed hostage-taking in which transgender advocates engage reveals more than they might intend. It presents transgenderism as a compulsive desire that demands an impossible remaking of the world. The compassionate response from men and women of good will must be to develop therapies to mitigate these self-destructive passions, rather than flattering and indulging them.