The Other Side of the Trans Issue
A letter from a reader
Trans issues have come up several times in this space, but I haven’t devoted much sustained attention to them. To be honest, I’m still formulating a cogent response to the topic. But one thing I can say without reservation is that the enforced silencing of voices that would dissent from the progressive view of trans issues cannot be tolerated. In most areas of the mainstream media and within academia, anyone voicing views that are even mildly skeptical of the most radical trans practices—like administering puberty blockers to small children and performing surgery on teenagers—can find themselves drummed out of polite society.
While, as I said, I have not fully formulated a position on trans issues, my instincts on the matter tend to be conservative, in the sense that I feel we are moving much too quickly in the direction of radical change without having any idea where we’re going. We don’t know enough about the longterm effects of many of these therapies, and we don’t know how much of the staggering increase in trans-identifying young people is the result of actual gender dysphoria and how much is, to put it indelicately, a fad.
Whatever the answer is, we’re not going to find it by simply shutting down one side of the argument, along with any research that produces uncomfortable results. I don’t think I’m stepping out of my lane to say that even pro-trans activists should want the opposing view to have a public hearing in the academy, if only so that it can be publicly refuted.
Frequent readers of this newsletter may be familiar with Elizabeth Hummel, who often contributes to the comments section. Elizabeth is very skeptical of the most radical trans practices and therapies, and she wrote in to tell me why. With her permission, I present her (lightly edited) email below. I think she exhibits great courage by laying out her case in public, and I’m glad to be able to offer it to you here.
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In response to the video where you and John talk about some aspects of gender identity ideology: No, you are not a moldy old dinosaur who doesn’t get it. I believe it is something we’re “making up as we go along.” John is right, this ain’t going away, but that doesn’t mean we should assume it is progress, that it is a good thing. You should know that there are many brilliant young heterodox thinkers from both the right and the left—and outside either—who are pushing back against this ideology as being the antithesis of “progress.” I also agree with your feeling that this is a sign of decadence, of our society unravelling. It is only the WEIRD (Western, educated, industrialized rich, and democratic) countries where this ideology has taken root. As usual, you see through to the heart of the intellectual and moral problems, without even having studied this issue.
Please trust your thinking and your instincts. John is misinformed and wrong, just as all the people who have believed (and still believe, though you and others have moved the needle) that there is “open season on black people by cops” are misinformed and wrong. I firmly believed that too, until you showed me the evidence to the contrary. It took a long time for me to change my mind, because changing my mind meant that I could no longer trust media I had relied upon for accurate information. That was one of the most destabilizing events of my life, and I am still reeling.
Glenn, I promise you, the evidence about the dangers of this ideology and the resulting policy changes is there in spades, but it has not been widely reported (except by feminist publications, independent journalists, and increasingly on the right). Abigail Shrier, who sits with you on the advisory board of FAIR, wrote a book about what is happening in 2020 called Irreversible Damage, which I highly recommend. (She would be a fantastic person for you to interview.) The situation has only deteriorated since she wrote this book, putting more kids in danger. In particular, the harms of puberty blockers have been grossly underreported (see this report about the practice in the UK written by an Oxford sociologist).
This is not just a harmless fad. Often there is a pathway that starts with being non-binary, leading to binding breasts, leading to begging for puberty blockers, powerful cross-sex hormones requiring life-long medicalization, and complicated surgeries. These are teenagers, and teenagers are influenced by social contagion. Teenagers, by their very nature, want to break away from their parents. In some places in the Western world, children who allege “abuse” for not being “affirmed” in their gender identity can be taken from parents by the state and even subjected to atrocious harm. And the indoctrination begins in grade school, with teaching children unscientific and harmful ideas about their bodies. Many writers characterize these ideas as essentially religious. Conservative (and, increasingly, liberal) parents are right to be upset and outraged!
John is right that there have always been gender non-conforming people and that other cultures have found sometimes found ways to integrate these people. There have always been homosexual and bisexual people. There have always been people with persistent “gender dysphoria,” who wish that their bodies were the opposite sex (or perhaps no sex). There are also people with ambiguous sex characteristics, sometimes known as “intersex” people, about two people in 10,000. The needs of all these gender non-conforming people are very real and important. There are problems to be solved. WEIRD countries have already made great advances towards celebrating and supporting and gay and lesbian people, with same-sex marriage laws as an important example.
Our society needs to understand and address the unique needs of intersex children. But the existence of people with unusual and very rare sexual development does not erase the biological truth that, like all mammals, our species has two sexes: male and female. The biological fact of sexual dimorphism does not depend on anyone’s identity or sense of gender.
John referenced gender non-conforming people such as the Samoan fa'afafine and the muxes from Zapotec culture as possible evidence of a universal “trans” or “non-binary” aspect of human diversity that we in the West are beginning to reasonably embrace and understand. But in these other cultures, so called “third genders” are feminine gay men or masculine gay women whose same-sex attraction is only sanctioned if facilitated into a new category. In most (if not all) of these cultures, there is no concept of gender identity. I do believe we can gain insights from cultures that have developed solutions to integrate people who are gay or otherwise gender non-conforming, but I also think it is inappropriate (and disrespectful) to graft an indigenous culture’s solutions onto our own culture.
Regarding people who are gender dysphoric: Until very recently, people with persistent life-long gender dysphoria were also extremely rare and most of them were males. Most children who experienced gender dysphoria outgrew it (though there is still hot debate on this research). The huge cultural phenomenon of this moment is very different. Many children today believe they are born in the wrong body or identify as non-binary or gender-fluid. A majority are girls, though the rate for boys is also increasing. The distress of these children is indeed serious and must be addressed but rushing children into medical solutions is not the answer.
As you know, being misinformed and subject to controlled narratives by the liberal press can lead to tragedy. Thousands of black people are being murdered in their own communities as the police are “defunded” in “anti-racist” policies. The New York Times made a platform for John McWhorter, and that’s fantastic. But the NYT, NPR, and the rest of the American mainstream media have not been telling people like John and his NPR audience the truth about the phenomenon of gender ideology harming our youth. The White House is not telling the truth, and neither is Assistant Health Secretary General Rachel Levine. “Social transition” is not harmless: too often, it leads to medical transition.
The governing health bodies in Sweden and other European countries are pulling away or at least questioning “gender affirming healthcare” (social transition, puberty blockers, cross-sex hormones, and surgeries) as the evidence has rolled in about how children are being harmed. 16-year-olds with irreversible skeletal damage, bone density loss, impaired kidney function, and even improper brain development are being cited. It is well known that children who are put on puberty blockers almost always go on to cross-sex hormones.
This medical path leads to sterilization of these children. But most of the mainstream media and government institutions in the US will not report that there is no “medical consensus” on the safety, reversibility and helpfulness of these procedures. In fact, the studies cited supporting the “Dutch Protocol” using puberty blockers on children and moving to hormones and surgeries have been repeatedly shown to be scientifically shoddy.
John has good reason to be more concerned about his daughters than he is. Being smart is not a shield against the harms of gender identity ideology and Rapid Onset Gender Dysphoria, which can overnight turn a harmless-seeming cultural fad into a medical and psychiatric nightmare for families. Gay and lesbian kids and kids on the autism spectrum are even more susceptible. I have read story after story from parents, many of them from the left, who are trying to cope with this. They are not bigots; they love their kids. And they know something is very wrong. I wrote a song, “Icy Storm,” for these parents on a Substack called PITT, Parents with Inconvenient Truths about Trans. It’s a heartbreaking reality.
Thousands of young people are detransitioning. Most regret their decision to take powerful drugs with significant side effects and have irreversible surgeries, which make them life-long medical patients. Tucker Carlson interviewed one of these young people named Helena in a documentary. Yes, once again Elizabeth will be watching Tucker (the first time was when he interviewed you). This trend is starting to change, but Tucker has been one of the very few journalists giving feminists a platform for our concerns and covering how the changes in our laws and policies hurt women.
I wrote to you once to tell you that because of how you opened my eyes, I could no longer call myself a “progressive.” But in truth I am still a progressive in many ways, though one who in my 60s is finding resonance and appreciation for both traditional values and the Enlightenment values of liberalism upon which our country was founded. I was born in 1958 and came of age in the 1960s. I am a west coast artist. I have always been and still am a defender of gay and lesbian rights, of women’s empowerment and rights, of the need to care about the environment beyond just as “natural resources” to benefit humans. I find my connection to spirit in art, music, and the beauty of nature. I care about the vulnerable and want our society to be more inclusive, not less. I also uphold the basic human rights and dignity of trans-identified people. I believe that fully mature adults have the right to make decisions about their bodies, including surgery and hormones. There are in fact more and more trans-identified people joining the chorus of voices warning about the harms to children.
But sadly, my voice will not be heard in progressive circles. I have lost friends and bandmates and social status because I have taken a public stance about the harms of gender identity ideology. I have been told I am aligning myself with hate groups, and that my views are like the “Proud Boys without the guns.” It is painful for anyone to face social exile, but I just cannot in conscience stay silent. The harm being done to children is far greater than any social costs I may encounter.
Glenn, I am writing this to you personally rather than posting publicly because the most important aspect of what is happening with children and gender ideology is personal. It is your own family who matters most. Your role as a public person and intellectual and your goals with your Substack are much less important than the well-being of each and every young people in your life. I implore you to make it a priority to learn more. It will take some time. If any children do suddenly announce a trans identity, please consider me as a resource.
I have been studying this phenomenon as long as I have been studying with you as my teacher debunking the ideology of anti-racism. I would love it if you could use your platform to examine this issue publicly because I feel it is so important. However, I understand if that’s not right for you. This issue of gender may become even be more explosive than race. Both you and John have done so much, using your brilliance, status, and “racial identity” to shed light on the problems with woke racism. But I hope you will take the time to learn about this for the sakes of those you love the most. In some cases, radical intervention is necessary.
Here are a few resources to check out
Helen Joyce’s book, Trans: When Ideology Meets Reality
GC News, a free Substack daily news roundup of “gender critical” news and opinion, sources from across the political spectrum
For parents: PITT, Parents with Inconvenient Truths about Trans
Newsweek has been an exception as a mainstream source reporting on this topic. Others are beginning to follow since I first wrote this letter to you in May. One of the best American journalists working on this issue is Lisa Selin Davis: “What Both Sides Are Missing About the Science of Gender-Affirming Care”
Another recent piece of excellent independent journalism from Christopher Rufo, from the Manhattan Institute: “Transgender Activists in Their Own Words”
Excellent resource for safe, compassionate, ethical, and evidence-healthcare for children, adolescents, and young adults with gender dysphoria: Society for Evidence Based Gender Medicine
An international alliance of professional groups, parents, trans people, detransitioners, and others who advocate for a better model of care than the current “affirmative” approach: Genspect
For deep, compassionate, and intelligent discussions of gender dysphoria in children, see this excellent podcast, Gender: A Wider Lens Podcast
I also have a new Substack for my music and sometimes writings about gender.
The topic of gender identity ideology is vast and complicated. There are many harms, but I believe the harm done to children in the name of gender ideology will evolve to be the biggest medical scandal of all time, not the next step forward for a progressive society. If you want further direction for resources, there are others I can recommend.
Thank you for taking the time to read this. There is more on my thoughts about the transitioning of children and how I look at the situation at the link to my song “Icy Storm.”
Fantastic piece-- I agree with every word. Liberal Democrat who has been a CASA in my 60's.
I am so late to this post but I am destabilized and reeling right along with you Elizabeth. Looking forward to delving into more content from you Glenn and John, thank you for linking these issues.