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Leor Sapir On Transing Gender-Dysphoric Kids

Leor Sapir On Transing Gender-Dysphoric Kids

More light than heat from a student of the topic.

Leor is a writer and researcher. He’s currently a fellow at the Manhattan Institute and a frequent contributor to City Journal, particularly on issues of gender identity and public policy. I know of few people more likely to provide light than heat in the agonizing debate over treatment for children with gender dysphoria.

You can listen to the episode right away in the audio player above (or on the right side of the player, click “Listen On” to add the Dishcast feed to your favorite podcast app). For two clips of our convo — on the sudden skyrocketing of girls seeking transition, and how the medicalizing of trans kids destroys their ability to have orgasms in the future — pop over to our YouTube page.

Other topics: Leor’s childhood bouncing between the US and a kibbutz in Israel; getting drafted into the IDF and serving in a combat unit; traveling the globe afterwards; getting a BA in Haifa and a PhD at Boston College; doing a Harvard postdoc on the Obama administration’s redefinition of male and female under Title IX; the Dutch protocol; the shift from “transexual” to “transgender”; Stoller and Money; the Reimer twins; how there’s no single definition of “transgender” in Gender Studies; autogynephilia; how “early-onset gender dysphoria” is mostly effeminate boys who turn out to be gay; Jazz Jennings; Marci Bowers; how puberty blockers were originally a “pause button” — not a transition method; the suicide scare-tactic; the Tavistock Center and Time to Think; the US shift from “watchful waiting” to “gender-affirming care”; the shifting rhetoric of “conversion therapy” and “born that way”; trans athletes; the euphoric effect of a T surge; Masha Gessen; Rachel Levine; how “nonbinary” is one of the fastest growing identities; and tales of detransition.

Browse the Dishcast archive for another convo you might enjoy (the first 102 episodes are free in their entirety — subscribe to get everything else). Coming up: Ian Buruma on his new book The Collaborators: Three Stories of Deception and Survival in World War II, the young reactionary Spencer Klavan, and Martha Nussbaum on her book Justice For Animals. Later on: Matthew Crawford, David Brooks and Pamela Paul. Please send any guest recs, pod dissent and other comments to

The following listener loved last week’s episode with Vivek:

I have been following your work since the early 1990s, and of all your writing, interviews, podcasts, etc, I have never enjoyed anything more than the interview with Vivek Ramaswamy. I work in politics, and I’ve never heard an interview with a politician who has been so thoughtful and self-reflective. And your willingness to engage in a friendly conversational interview made it so much better. I especially liked the “screw you” at the end. It emphasised why I like your work so much; you are willing to take a position without fear or favour. Hopefully you will be able to get Vivek back in the future. 

A very different reaction comes from another longtime Dishhead:

I’ve been a reader/follower/listener/subscriber/defender of you for over 20 years, but I was sincerely disappointed by your interview with Vivek. I’ve heard Sean Hannity ask harder questions of Donald Trump. You were credulous.

I felt another media inquisition would be superfluous. So I tried another tack — letting him make his case. I may well have been affected by my desire for any candidate who isn’t Trump in the GOP. Another dissent:

I think you rightly predicted that you’d get shit from Dishheads, though perhaps not for simply airing Vivek’s ideas, but for the lack of testing them. It’s not that you left everything unquestioned (e.g., you chortled at his proposed policy toward Taiwan). But you’ve scrutinized other guests considerably more than Ramaswamy, on both philosophical and practical grounds — recently Matt Lewis and Sohrab Ahmari, but also Briahna Joy Gray and Bryan Caplan.

It’s your podcast, of course, and I won’t bother nitpicking each moment with my pet peeves, but considering that it’s the first guest asking us for a seat in the Oval Office, we could have used a bit more skepticism and inquiry.

Point taken. But I also think a different approach revealed some things about Ramaswamy — on his faith in particular. This next listener was “pleasantly surprised” by the episode:

In his many TV interviews, Vivek comes across as slick and opportunistic, with clearly impractical proposals (e.g. abolish the FBI, fire 75 percent of federal employees). The short length of these interviews — usually 5-10 minutes — means that the candidate has a limited amount of time to attract attention, and saying outlandish things is one way to do this. The clear bias of the interviewers, especially when faced with a non-white conservative, does not help.

Perhaps the worst recent example of this was an interview on CNN with Dana Bash. A black congresswoman had said that a non-white conservative was not an authentic person of color, causing Vivek to call her a racist. Bash spent most of a 12-minute interview trying to get him to walk back this one comment! 

It is a testimony to your interviewing skills — helped by the 80-minute length of the interview — that Vivek came across as a highly intelligent young man who wants to give back to the country that has been so good to him. I’ve read Alexander Hamilton by Ron Chernow, and while it would be impetuous to compare Vikek to one of the premier intellects of US political history, there are some similarities. Both were immigrants or sons of immigrants, and both were young men in a hurry; Hamilton became George Washington’s chief staff aide while still in his early 20s.

Another listener is of two minds:

I enjoyed your interview with Vivek. It humanized him in ways that haven’t been apparent on the campaign stump. I am perhaps somewhat less afraid of him, although his focus on shared values seems empty when set beside his blindness about Donald Trump’s lack of values, which he seems to think is irrelevant. There’s no squaring that circle.

But what continues to scare me is his foreign policy glibness. His gig about Ukraine and Taiwan is moronic — less than an inch deep. The “Russia has more interest in Ukraine than we do” shtick could be equally applied to Finland, Sweden or Poland. And what about our interest in not incentivizing bad actors to invade sovereign countries? 

The Taiwan position is even worse. He wants to tell China not to invade Taiwan until we become self-sufficient in semiconductors? And then go back to the current status quo of ambiguity which, in the next breath, he excoriates as an epic policy failure?

Indeed: that stance is a mess, as I told him. But Ukraine is not like Poland or Sweden; Ukraine has long been deeply entwined with Russia, plays a significant role in Russia’s self-understanding, and has large numbers of Russian-speakers. And I think there is some blindness in the US risking World War III to defend two small territories, Taiwan and Ukraine, on the edge of two other great powers, China and Russia. The US would never tolerate it on our borders.

Another listener on foreign policy:

Vivek had a preposterous approach to Russia and China decoupling, which amounts to asking Russia to pretty please leave its alliance with China after effectively granting Russia 1/3rd of Ukrainian territory. Time after time, he demonstrated exactly what is meant by Josh Barro’s “section guy”: an extreme confidence in the correctness and simplicity of his policies by merely stating them clearly, and making a superficial acknowledgment of the counterpoint before dismissing it without having to address it.

Yet another dissent against Vivek:

He wonders why a lot of his interviews focus on Trump. It’s because he showed up at a federal courthouse during a Trump arraignment to pledge a pardon. And it’s because he is obviously going to become a Trump surrogate in the general election. While I appreciated your interview strategy of getting to know Vivek aside from his views on Trump, it was hard to stop thinking about this core problem during the interview.

His thoughts on American liberty? What about the fact that he will be, in a matter of months, throwing his support behind someone you believe to be an existential threat to liberal democracy?

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