Trans Kids or Gay Kids?

A fault line should be developing between those who advocate defining pre-pubescent children with gender dysphoric behavior as transgender and starting them down the road to transitioning (including hormones to block puberty), and those who believe it’s way too early to make that call—and that if left alone, many of these kids will grow up to be healthy gay or lesbian adults.

In a Wall Street Journal op-ed (firewalled; try googling The Transgender Battle Line: Childhood), Debra W. Soh writes:

How best to deal with [children who identify with the opposite sex] has become so politicized that sexologists, who presumably would be able to determinine the helathiest approach, are extremely reluctant to get involved. They have seen what happens when they deviate from orthodoxy.

She gives as an example the experience of Kenneth Zucker, a psychologist in Toronto who was charged with practicing conversion therapy, which aims to change a patients’ sexual orientation. Writes Soh:

But he had not been trying to dissuade anyone from being transgender. Instead his therapy facilitated exploration of gender identity. For example, in addition to thinking about transitioning, gender-atypical males could consider being boys who simply liked female-typical things. One doesn’t necessarily need to be a girl to enjoy nail polish or bedtime stories about fairy princesses.

Pointing that out to a gender-dysphoric child isn’t the same as practicing conversion therapy…. Of the boys and girls seen in clinics like Dr. Zucker’s, a high percentage—up to 80% in a study of 44 gender-dysphoric boys—grow up to be not transgender, but bisexual, gay or lesbian adults. Thus, helping prepubescent children feel comfortable in their birth sex makes more sense than starting a lifetime of hormonal treatments and surgeries that will in all likelihood turn out to be unnecessary and unwanted.

Soh concludes:

The silencing of those who oppose this sends the message to parents that early transitioning is the only valid and ethical approach for a gender-dysphoric child. This message—pushing children to transition at increasingly younger ages so that they will fit neatly into one of two gender categories—is false and unscientific. It is more progressive to offer them the time and the space they need to figure out who they are and what is ultimately best for them.

Similar points are made in a recent New York Magazine article by Jesse Singal, Why Some of the Worst Attacks on Social Science Have Come From Liberals.

Allowing effeminate boys and masculine girls to develop and decide (after puberty kicks in) whether they are, in fact, transgender or gay/lesbian is the least we owe these children.

More. Tweet by Alice Dreger (@AliceDreger): “I’m getting a lot of mail from gay and lesbian adults who say they believe they would have been pressured to transition gender if then=now.”

Furthermore. In a critical letter to the editor, the Human Rights Campaign Foundation, an affiliate of the nation’s largest LGBT lobby, predictably dismisses Dr. Zucker’s efforts and Ms. Soh’s commentary:

By relying on “data” produced by Dr. Kenneth Zucker, a psychologist whose gender-identity clinic closed last year after an external review found it “out of step with current operational practices,” Ms. Soh thoroughly undermines her own nonscientific musings.

Note the scare quotes around “data,” and the fact that being “out of step with current operational practices” means that attempts to explore whether or not children with gender dysphoria are actually transgender is now out of bounds (and, in some places, illegal).

HRC continues:

What’s really happening here is that doctors and parents are finally supporting our [transgender] lives, even the youngest among us. To do otherwise dangerously denies transgender children their very humanity—and their safety and well-being.

The real threat to “safety and well-being” seems to be directed at gay kids at risk for being put on a premature and unnecessary path to sexual reassignment. As another letter puts it, a child’s gender identity is “a difficult and complex issue that needs serious attention and should not be decided on the merits of gender-identity politics.”

And finally. From the New York Times Magazine, How the Fight Over Transgender Kids Got a Leading Sex Researcher Fired.

Dr. Zucker encouraged effeminate boys and butch girls to be content with their gender. For that, he was fired. The progressive line is now is that you can’t be an effeminate male or butch woman (and if so, you must gender transition). Once again, the progressives show just how reactionary and authoritarian they truly are.

The Progessive Campus Anti-Speech Movement

There was a point, not so very long ago, when students and outside speakers advocating gay legal equality might not have been welcomed on campuses. That model of closed-mindedness isn’t something you might suppose those calling themselves “progressives” would aspire to emulate.

Later, when being gay was no longer anathema but support for same-sex marriage was a decidedly minority position (even on liberal campuses), discussions of marriage equality weren’t closed down. An open engage of conflicting ideas was viewed as central to a liberal education.

But today, progressives believe it is their responsibility to make sure no views outside their echo chamber, including conservative speakers and student op-eds, are permitted, lest they mislead those whose minds are not completely closed. Two cases in point, from Wesleyan University and at Williams College, expose the barely concealed authoritarianism that lurks behind much of progressive activism.

More. Feminist pioneer and committed leftist Germaine Greer is the wrong kind of feminist/leftist (not supportive of transgender rights). So:

While debate in a University should be encouraged, hosting a speaker with such problematic and hateful views towards marginalised and vulnerable groups is dangerous.

Brendan O’Neill responded:

The Cardiff censors say Greer’s ideas are ‘problematic’. That is what the PC say instead of ‘haram’.

Furthermore. The Williams student group that invited and then disinvited conservative author Suzanne Venker later reinvited her after being embarrassed over the fallout that followed their caving in to the student censors. At that point, Venker had apparently had enough and declined.

Late addition. Robby Soave writes at reason.com, citing Colorado College’s student newspaper, The Catalyst, that LGBT student activists at the college are demanding that the movie “Stonewall” is too offensive to be shown on campus by the college’s Film and Media Studies Department, which wanted to moderate a discussion about the controversy. Instead, they are demanding that the administration cancel the upcoming screening.

“I think Colorado College should cancel the screening because the safety and well-being of queer and trans students surpasses the importance of a critical discussion,” one student told The Catalyst. Said another: “If CC is really as dedicated to diversity and inclusion, they would never have agreed to screen a film that queer students have repeatedly stated is a threat to our identity and our safety. … It is fallacious to equate the rights of students to view a movie with the rights of students to exist free of violence.”

Soave comments regarding the students’ response to the film, directed by openly gay filmmaker Roland Emmerich, which positively depicts gay people fighting for equality in 1969:

That’s right: the film isn’t merely offensive to gay and trans students (despite having a truly gay-affirming message), it’s actively dangerous to their physical well-being…. This is a complaint emotionally-coddled students often make: that some kind of expression is so triggering that allowing it to proceed constitutes an act of violence. Such complaints are usually pure hyperbole, but hyperbole doesn’t even begin to cover the opinions of Colorado College’s precious snowflakes.

Conversion Therapy Bans: Some Considerations

Update. Breaking Ranks: From The Right Therapy for LGBT Youth:

[Legislative] Bans could have the unintended consequence of deterring therapists from engaging with children who have questions or even of ensnaring good therapists when they do. … Psychotherapy is inherently private and complex, and for some individuals, sexual orientation and gender identity can and do evolve in the course of legitimate treatment.

That’s not the opinion of right-wing homophobes. It’s from a May 2, 2015 Washington Post op-ed by Stewart Adelson, an assistant clinical professor at Columbia University medical school and principal author of the American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry’s practice guidelines on LGBT youth, and Kyle Knight, a researcher in the LGBT rights program at Human Rights Watch.

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The White House, in response to an online petition that cites LGBTQ+ youth suicide in calling for a federal ban on all conversion therapy, responded with a statement saying, “While a national ban would require congressional action, we are hopeful that the clarity of the evidence combined with the actions taken by these states will lead to broader action that this Administration would support.”

Over at reason.com, Scott Shackford risks opprobrium, writing:

It’s absurd to say that the transgender experience is all in somebody’s head or that it’s not real, or cling to the idea that it’s a mental illness out of hand. I have known transgender people both before and after their transitions and have seen them leading much happier lives.

But it’s also equally absurd to never push or poke at any individual’s claim to a transgender identity. A gender transition is a huge, huge deal, and therapists need to be able to make sure their clients hammer out their concepts of who they are before they make some very major decisions. A small number of those who pursue surgery to change their sex regret it. …

We should be more concerned that therapists would become afraid to challenge how their patients see themselves out of fear of running afoul of a government regulation telling them how to go about treatment.

The position of LGBT youth is different from that of adults, and there is a necessary role for the state in protecting youth against abusive parents (although this role, too, is often handled badly by government). As regards protecting LGBorT youth, there are some issues to be addressed. The petition states, for instance, “Therapists that engage in the attempt to brainwash or reverse any child’s gender identity or sexual orientation are seriously unethical and legislation is needed to end such practices that are resulting in LGBTQ+ deaths.”

As Shakeford suggests, the matter isn’t always so simple, particularly concerning the need to be certain of a young person’s transgender identity before life-altering changes are made. There is some convincing evidence, for instance, of prepubescent males regarded as “effeminate,” and who then self-identify as transgender, being put on hormonal therapy to stifle male sexual development by obliging parents. There is also evidence that post puberty and into adulthood, many “effeminate”-regarded (and self-regarding) boys, including some of those who had identified as transgender, maturing into gay men who are not, it turns out, transgendered and are most happy to have their male sexuality intact.

From a conservative magazine (the Weekly Standard); and no, I don’t endorse everything here, but I do find this point worth considering:

Critics of puberty blockers, now administered in at least 37 locations in the United States according to Spack, point to the expense, the numerous side-effects associated with Lupron and its pharmaceutical relatives, and the possibility that parents and physicians might be pushing children who would otherwise grow out of their transgender identities into a lifetime of painful and costly surgery, dependence on daily doses of estrogen and other hormones, and the difficulty of finding a place for themselves in a world in which their femininity will always be questioned. On top of that, taking large doses of the hormones of the opposite biological sex almost invariably renders the taker sterile.

One of the leading critics has been Kenneth Zucker, a psychologist and former colleague of Blanchard who heads the gender-identity clinic at Toronto’s Clarke Institute. “One controversy is, how low does one go in starting blockers?” Zucker told the Globe in 2011. “Should you start at 11? At 10? What if someone starts their period at 9?” Zucker prefers a therapy regimen of trying to ease transgender girls into accepting that they will be happier in the long run by accepting their genetic maleness, since most of them will grow up to be gay men anyway.

[Transgender activist] Andrea James, as might be expected, has repeatedly attacked Zucker on her website as promoting “reparative therapy for gender-variant youth”—likening him to the often religiously motivated advocates of “curing” a gay sexual orientation.

Should Zucker’s therapeutic approach be illegal?

Some forms of conversion or reparative therapy are indeed destructive when inflicted on minors. But if conversion therapy should be illegal, when does religious counseling become therapy, and at what point should the state and its social welfare network step in and override parents? Is there a risk that these practices where be driven “underground,” where they might be even more destructive?

These concerns don’t mean that states shouldn’t be scrupulous about how they license potentially harmful and abusive therapeutic practices, or that the federal government shouldn’t weigh in. Or that there are no transgendered youth. It just suggests the issues involved aren’t always so clear cut and that it will be useful to see how these state bans play out, and if they are demonstrated to be protective of at-risk youth.

More. From the comments, “Jesse” writes:

I think here, as elsewhere, the idea that T and L&G are the same issues leads to a number of problems. A very strong argument can be made that sexual orientation is inherent and thus therapeutic approaches are destructive, unscientific and should be banned. But to say that someone who hasn’t gone through puberty can be certain that they are transgender and thus should have their puberty blocked just is not the same thing. …

With so much hostility toward gay youth, I’m not surprised some find it easier to say, I’m transgendered; fix me so I fit in. And if the transgender activists say that counseling to see if maybe they are not transgendered, just gay, should be barred, that’s a problem. Fear of offending transgender activists could actually be putting gay youth at risk.

Intolerance of Intolerance, or Academic Censorship?

Should a tenured professor be fired for online criticism of a graduate student instructor who allegedly told a student not to oppose same-sex marriage in her class? The story from Inside Higher Ed:

In November, [John] McAdams, an associate professor of political science [at Marquette University], wrote a blog post accusing a teaching assistant in philosophy of shutting down a classroom conversation on gay marriage based on her own political beliefs. His account was based on a recording secretly made by a disgruntled student who wished that the instructor, Cheryl Abbate, had spent more time in class one day on the topic of gay marriage, which the student opposed. McAdams said Abbate, in not allowing a prolonged conversation about gay marriage, was “using a tactic typical among liberals,” in which opinions they disagree with “are not merely wrong, and are not to be argued against on their merits, but are deemed ‘offensive’ and need to be shut up.”

Abbate said McAdams had distorted her actions—and that she wasn’t trying to shut down an argument she disagreed with, but simply had wanted to keep a focus on an in-class conversation about the philosopher John Rawls’s equal liberty principle. But conservative blogs spread McAdams’ take on the situation— and she found herself receiving a flood of hateful email messages, some of them threatening.

And from FIRE (the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education):

Marquette is taking action against McAdams, a political conservative and frequent critic of the administration, supposedly in response to his online criticism of a graduate student instructor who told a student not to oppose same-sex marriage in her class. Marquette had previously suspended McAdams without due process, treated him as though he presented a violent threat, and cancelled his current semester’s classes. …

“If Marquette can fire a tenured professor for criticizing a fellow teacher on a blog, then tenure at Marquette is worthless, as are freedom of speech and academic freedom,” said FIRE Executive Director Robert Shibley. “While this is more than likely just an excuse to get rid of McAdams, the fact that McAdams’s supposed offense was criticizing a teacher for squelching dissenting opinions in class only makes Marquette’s utter contempt for dissenters more obvious.

It’s hard to say what the truth of the matter is, but this is bad optics even if McAdams over-reached. Some instructors do, sometimes, stifle/shame students for expressing political opinions that they disagree with, and it’s legitimate to call them out on it. And if that’s not what happened in Abbate’s classroom, then she certainly can respond. So the firing of McAdams sounds like politically correct intolerance by those who like to present themselves as defenders of tolerance (just not of views they happen to know are incorrect).

New Study Tells Us Virtually Nothing About Same-Sex Households

A major (and exceedingly well-funded) new study from sociologist Mark Regnerus aims to uncover major differences between children raised in same-sex households and those raised in traditional, intact, two-parent biological families. As I argue at TNR, it does no such thing.

Update: Maggie Gallagher’s Reply, and my Rejoinder.