On a recent episode of Sway, a New York Times podcast hosted by Kara Swisher, American Civil Liberties Union lawyer Chase Strangio tore into Republican lawmakers for backing bills that limit the kinds of procedures that can be performed on transgender youth and protect the integrity of women’s athletics, even going so far as to suggest that the aim of these bills is to kill off transgender kids.
“You can’t stop people from being trans unless you kill them. And I think on some level, there’s that impulse behind them [the bills]” Strangio hypothesized. Swisher did not protest this characterization of Republicans’ motivations.
Expanding upon this theory, Strangio claimed that “in Arkansas, for example, you had pediatric endocrinologists testifying, saying, my patients will die, and the lawmaker passing the bills anyways.”
It was only the most egregious of many inaccuracies — medical, political, and otherwise — that Sway listeners were subjected to during Swisher’s interview of Strangio.
Dr. Ryan T. Anderson, president of the Ethics and Public Policy Center and author of When Harry Became Sally: Responding to the Transgender Moment, provided a far more compelling explanation of these lawmakers’ motivations to National Review than the strawman offered by Strangio.
“The motivation is first to protect children from irreversible damage to their bodies, to provide them with the time and space to physically mature without adults interfering with their natural biological development. Second, it’s to affirm the child’s true identity as consistent with their bodily reality, rather than affirming a falsehood by attempting to transform the body” Anderson explained.
Moreover, he chafed at the idea that bills such as the one passed in Arkansas over the objections of Governor Asa Hutchinson represent a threat to children.
“There is no evidence that physical interventions on a child’s body to ‘affirm’ a misguided ‘gender identity’ at odds with the body actually brings meaningful longterm benefits,” he said. “In fact, in the past year Sweden, Finland, and the United Kingdom (UK) have all moved away from physical interventions on the bodies of minors with gender dysphoria.”
Anderson is correct about Sweden, Finland, and the UK’s evolving views of the issue. In the first, puberty blockers and other cross-sex hormone treatments have been cut out of most of its clinics, including its best hospital, Karolinska.
In the second, the government recommends “the initiation of hormonal interventions that alter sex characteristics may be considered before the person is 18 years of age only if it can be ascertained that their identity as the other sex is of a permanent nature and causes severe dysphoria.” It also “must be confirmed that the young person is able to understand the significance of irreversible treatments and the benefits and disadvantages associated with lifelong hormone therapy, and that no contraindications are present.”
And in the UK, a High Court ruling determined that “it is highly unlikely that a child aged 14 or 15 could understand and weigh the long-term risks and consequences of the administration of puberty blockers.” The treatment is, after all, “experimental” noted the Court.
To back up the outrageous accusation, Strangio insisted that pubertal suppression and “affirming hormone therapy” constitute “medically necessary care” that only “pauses puberty” without long-term risks and consequences. Strangio makes this claim matter-of-factly, implying that this is an obvious and well-accepted scientific truth that is being ignored for malicious political reasons by Republicans. In truth, it is Strangio who allows his political goals to shape his evaluation of the available data.
For the New Atlantis, doctors Paul Hruz, Lawrence Mayer and Paul McHugh have argued that using puberty blockers as a treatment for gender dysphoria is a “drastic and experimental measure”
The first problem with puberty blockers is that they are designed for treating precocious (early) puberty, not gender dysphoria. “Hormone interventions that treat that condition are tailored to its causes. In the case of gender dysphoria, however, we simply do not know what causes a child to identify as the opposite sex, so medical interventions, like puberty suppression, cannot directly address it,” they explain.
Justifying a biological solution to a psychiatric problem becomes even more difficult to do when you consider that a majority of children who experience gender dysphoria grow out of the condition. Indeed, the prescription of puberty blockers may very well lead to higher persistence rates of the condition. Hruz, Mayer, and McHugh have postulated that the administration of puberty blockers “may have solidified the feelings of cross-gender identification in these patients, leading them to commit more strongly to sex reassignment than they might have if they had received a different diagnosis or a different course of treatment.” An affirmative step, not a pause, then.
Assertions that the effects of puberty blockers are “reversible” are also tenuous. Hruz, Mayer and McHugh observe that “if a child does not develop certain characteristics at age 12 because of a
medical intervention, then his or her developing those characteristics at age 18 is not a ‘reversal’ since the sequence of development has already been disrupted.” Furthermore, they point out that there is a dearth of scientific data on a whole host of potential physiological and psychological effects of puberty blockers, rendering unbending contentions of reversibility ideological rather than medical.
As for affirming hormone therapies, these can leave the patients in question sterile.
There’s yet another dangerous, unscientific element to Strangio’s interview. By echoing irresponsible claims that people will die if bills such as the one in Arkansas become law, Strangio has contributed to the “social contagion” aspect of suicide, suggesting to those struggling with gender dysphoria that self-harm is the natural and inevitable reaction of transgender youth who are not able to undergo experimental treatments, and that there can be no end to their suffering outside of immediate administration of these treatments.
It’s yet another example of how the transgender political movement sometimes abandons basic, agreed-upon principles — with potentially disastrous consequences — in an effort to win in the court of public opinion.
The ACLU responded to a request for comment by doubling down on this strategy, sharing a clip of the Arkansas doctor to which Strangio referred and the following quote from Delaware state senator Sarah McBride:
It’s not about access to care. It’s not about competitiveness in sports. What it is truly about is making life so difficult for trans young people that they never grow up to be trans adults. And that doesn’t mean they grow up to be cis-adults, it means they don’t grow up at all.
A spokesman for the New York Times defended the interview:
“Kara Swisher’s interview with Chase Stangio is an in-depth exploration of the coordinated strategy behind the more than 100 anti-transgender bills introduced this year. In the moment of that extended interview that you’ve referenced, Chase offers an opinion and supports this with data of lawmakers voting in favor of bills to bar medical treatment for transgender children despite medical testimony that children may die. Kara does indeed follow up on this opinion, asking Chase to articulate the best argument from the other side.”
The debate over laws pertaining to those suffering from gender dysphoria is by its nature contentious — and doubly so when it addresses children. By amplifying voices like Strangio’s, the Times has not only intentionally raised its stakes, but inadvertently misinformed the public and endangered members of the group in question.