The Greatest Scandal In Gay Rights History?
How journalists - yes, journalists - want to shut down reporting on child transition.
Five years ago when I wrote “We All Live On Campus Now,” I noted how illiberal practices that originated in elite colleges — bullying, ostracism, public condemnation, speech shutdowns, purges of dissenters — were becoming common in every sphere of life, super-charged by social media. From 2020 on, that dynamic has intensified, especially in journalism, with the media purges of 2020 lifted straight from the campus woke playbook.
And this week, we saw another campus maneuver: an open letter from a thousand or so New York Times contributors, accusing the NYT of “follow[ing] the lead of far-right hate groups” in its coverage of transgender issues. Other campus tactics: a loud demo outside; alliance between insiders and outsider activists; public shaming of named journalists; accusations that the NYT is a “workplace made hostile by bias” (the now-familiar HR gambit); and non-negotiable demands for even more hiring solely on the basis of identity and ideology.
It’s an echo of Evergreen and Yale and Middlebury and Reed. The ploys are repeated because they work and there’s no downside. And almost all the university presidents caved. They held meetings and meetings; they apologized; they appeased; they conceded core liberal principles of free speech and dissent; they terminated dissident faculty; they equivocated and collaborated in the pursuit of “diversity” and then “equity.” In a word, they were pathetic.
And in the summer of 2020, when campus tactics invaded newsrooms, and writers and editors were purged for committing journalism that violated the orthodoxies of social justice, we saw a similar collapse of nerve.
But this time was different. Check this out, from the executive editor of the NYT. It’s the response we always needed from the leadership of besieged liberal institutions before and never got:
It is not unusual for outside groups to critique our coverage or to rally supporters to seek to influence our journalism. In this case, however, members of our staff and contributors to The Times joined the effort. Their protest letter included direct attacks on several of our colleagues, singling them out by name. Participation in such a campaign is against the letter and spirit of our ethics policy … We have a clear policy prohibiting Times journalists from attacking one another's journalism publicly or signaling their support for such attacks …
We do not welcome, and will not tolerate, participation by Times journalists in protests organized by advocacy groups or attacks on colleagues on social media and other public forums.
Readers know I’m often merciless about the NYT, but Joseph Kahn is a hero for the clarity of this. The writers under attack from their peers — Emily Bazelon, Ross Douthat, Katie Baker, and Azeen Ghorayshi — are among the best there are. Each of their pieces is fair, balanced, nuanced and deep. Defending them from these attacks on their integrity is the first and right thing for an editor to do. The next is to discipline those who’ve openly broken NYT policies in this latest tantrum. (The WaPo last year fired Felicia Sonmez for “misconduct that includes insubordination, maligning your co-workers online and violating The Post’s standards on workplace collegiality and inclusivity.”)
The letter has no factual criticisms. It has three quibbles: that Grace Lidinsky-Smith was presented as “an individual person speaking about a personal choice to detransition, rather than the President of GCCAN, an activist organization that pushes junk science and partners with explicitly anti-trans hate groups.” Yes, Lidinsky-Smith became an activist after a traumatizing de-transitioning, but GCCAN is an organization designed for “gender-affirming care” patients.
Another NYT piece “failed to make clear that court cases brought by parents who want schools to out their trans children are part of a legal strategy pursued by anti-trans hate groups.” But the piece has several paragraphs highlighting the acute discomfort many liberal parents had when allying with conservative groups, which they otherwise opposed. The third complaint: that Bazelon used the term “Patient Zero” as a slur to describe the first minor patient to undergo the new affirmation-and-medicalization experiment in Holland. Please.
And that’s it. Seriously, it’s all they’ve got. The point of the letter is not that the pieces had errors, but that they were published at all. They shouldn’t have run because opposition to affirmation-only transition for gender dysphoric children is entirely illegitimate, and the task of journalists who already know this is to suppress rather than describe the argument. As the sign at the protest outside the NYT blared: “The Science Is Settled,” as if science is ever “settled,” and as if journalism is about ignoring and censoring controversy, not reporting and airing it.
One more criticism of the letter. It uses the terrible history of the NYT on coverage of gay men and AIDS in the 20th century as equivalent to the reporting of Bazelon, Baker, et al, today. This is unhinged. Transgender people today are fully covered under the Civil Rights Act; in the 1980s, gays had nothing. In the 1980s and 1990s, the NYT opposed using the word “gay” because it legitimized homosexuality in some way; today the NYT prints “queer” or “trans” or LGBTQ+ in almost every other article.
Today, the paper has published a mountain of empathetic coverage of trans people — over 800 stories in the past year. Since January 1, the NYT has run a moving profile about a trans man in Mexico; a celebration of “queer” life in Alabama by a trans staffer; an exploration of nonbinary fashion; a critical orgasm over “queer” theater; and a news story explaining that “the flood of [trans-related] legislation is part of a long-term campaign by national groups that see transgender rights as an issue on which they can harness voter anger.” Comparing this with A.M. Rosenthal’s reign of homophobic terror and censorship is just obscene.
One historical analogy does seem salient to me, though: the drugs they now give to gender-dysphoric teens are very closely related to the drugs they used to “cure” Alan Turing of his gayness. Every time I think of that I shudder.
And this attempt to suppress reporting on the subject comes at a very strange time. Next week, a new book will be published about the Tavistock Centre, the place responsible for the medical and psychological treatment of children with gender dysphoria in Britain. It’s written by a liberal female journalist, Hannah Barnes, of a flagship British documentary show, Newsnight.
Her book exposes a huge medical scandal, in which countless children were put on puberty blockers with almost no psychological evaluation, and with rates of autism and domestic abuse that were already through the roof. It shows what happened when the new affirmation-only puberty-blocker experiment, only begun in the late 1990s, was left to run its course, with no opposition and no dissent allowed. Check out an extract here. Here’s where I sat up straight:
Clinicians recall multiple instances of young people who had suffered homophobic bullying at school or at home, and then identified as trans. According to the clinician Anastassis Spiliadis, “so many times” a family would say, “Thank God my child is trans and not gay or lesbian.” Girls said, “When I hear the word ‘lesbian’ I cringe,” and boys talked to doctors about their disgust at being attracted to other boys.
When Gids [the Gender Identity Development Service] asked adolescents referred to the service in 2012 about their sexuality, more than 90 per cent of females and 80 per cent of males said they were same-sex attracted or bisexual. Bristow came to believe that Gids was performing “conversion therapy for gay kids” and there was a bleak joke on the team that there would be “no gay people left at the rate Gids was going”.
Just think about that for a second. And remember that gay groups cheer this on; and several gay writers put their names to the letter. What a massive reckoning may be in store for them. If any of this pans out, and gay groups have endorsed it, it could easily be the greatest scandal in the history of the gay rights movement.
More than a third of the kids pushed onto the trans track had autism, sometimes severe. Others were victims of domestic abuse: “[A natal girl] who’s being abused by a male, I think a question to ask is whether there’s some relationship between identifying as male and feeling safe,” one clinician at the center said. No questions about other aspects of a child’s mental health were considered if the kid was identifying as the opposite sex. And this took place in a socialized system, with constant oversight, and no massive financial incentives to treat children. Just imagine what could be happening in the US private system where trans patients are among the most lucrative to have in your care, and are under treatment their entire life.
Actually, don’t imagine — check out the affidavit of Jamie Reed, a lefty progressive whistleblower who worked at a similar clinic in the US. Some case studies she saw:
Most children who come into the Center were assigned female at birth. Nearly all of them have serious comorbidities including autism, ADHD, depression, anxiety, PTSD, trauma histories, OCD, and serious eating disorders. Rather than treat these conditions, the doctors prescribe puberty blockers or cross-sex hormones.
One patient came to the Center identifying as a “communist, attack helicopter, human, female, maybe non binary.” The child was in very poor mental health and early on reported that they had no idea of their gender identity. Rather than treat the child for their serious mental health problems, the Center put the child on cross-sex hormones.
Patient who has severe Obsessive Compulsive Disorder and had threatened to self-harm their genitals. The Patient did not have a trans or other incongruent gender identity. The patient was placed on hormones not even to treat any gender dysphoria but to chemically reduce libido and sexual arousal.
Patient had history of sexual abuse and notified the psychologist of this. It was even documented in the letter of support that the patient had concerns about the changes that testosterone would cause to their genitals. Instead of treating the underlying trauma the patient was started on testosterone.
This is one affidavit and not dispositive. I’m presenting the worst possibility. I have no doubt that some transitions have benefited some children. Any examination should look at the pluses and minuses. And I don’t want to ban all child transitions. But I no longer trust the medical establishment on this, let alone the trans activists. And neither should you. What you should want is the press to thoroughly report on this question, airing all sides, giving you all the data points they can. That’s what Emily Bazelon and Katie Baker did — with a skill perhaps only a fellow writer can appreciate. They should be given Pulitzers, not demonized by their peers.
One obvious area for research: why have the sex ratios shifted so radically in the past decade or so — with girls now vastly outstripping boys in the young patients involved? Why the explosion in requests? It’s far more dramatic and skewed to one sex than it would be if merely a function of declining stigma. Yet for woke journalists, it’s all Principal Skinner: “Let’s have no more curiosity about this bizarre cover-up.”
Something is going on among teen girls more generally. The CDC just issued a frightening new report:
Nearly 3 in 5 teen girls (57%) said they felt “persistently sad or hopeless.” That's the highest rate in a decade. And 30% said they have seriously considered dying by suicide — a percentage that’s risen by nearly 60% over the past 10 years.
Now check out Jamie Reed’s and Tavistock’s overwhelmingly female, often deeply unhappy, clients. Is there a connection? I don’t know. What I do know is that it’s the job of the media to find out, and not to shut itself down.
The lobby groups and often well-intentioned doctors who have pioneered this massive experiment on children will naturally resist any idea they have been facilitating abuse, or concede any points — because as soon as they confess doubt, the whole house of cards can come tumbling down; and lawsuits alone could end the practice very quickly. The Democrats and the Biden administration have locked themselves to the idea that this kind of treatment is a no-brainer and never does any harm — and they just keep repeating that like a mantra and never address the recent restriction of these experimental practices in progressive Europe. The far right can use the issue to gin up homophobic tropes and cruel treatment of trans people.
So who you gonna call for the actual story? The reporters!
In this small respect (and not any others), it reminds me a bit of the Catholic sex abuse scandal. So many factors are keeping this out of sight; so many incentives keep the show on the road. Blanket denials of any possible errors — the current position of the medical establishment — are no more convincing than the archbishops’ once were. Which is exactly the situation where actual journalists, indifferent to public opinion, resistant to peer pressure, sensing a scandal, should get to work. Many already have. And now that the grip of the woke has been loosened a little more, maybe more journalists will.
(Note to readers: This is an excerpt of The Weekly Dish. If you’re already a subscriber, click here to read the full version. This week’s issue also includes: a robust debate with Jill Filipovic over feminism and abortion; reader dissents over my favorable take on the SOTU; five notable quotes from the week in news; 23 links to Substack pieces we enjoyed this week; an Yglesias Award; a Poseur Alert; a Mental Health Break of captivating CGI in nature; a dark window from Israel, and, of course, the results of the View From Your Window contest — with a new challenge and a new columnist, covering local cocktails. Subscribe for the full Dish experience!)
From a new subscriber:
Hi, I’m a long-time Dishcast listener (I’ve heard every one I think), and I’m now finally a subscriber too — I apologise for not becoming so years ago and for my many months of freeloading. I hope the Dish continues to grow on the current model; it feels very much needed.
So grateful for all the subscription support.
New On The Dishcast: Jill Filipovic
Jill is a journalist and lawyer. She has been a columnist for The Guardian, a contributing opinion writer for the New York Times, and an old-school blogger at Feministe. She’s the author of OK Boomer, Let’s Talk: How My Generation Got Left Behind and The H-Spot: The Feminist Pursuit of Happiness. Currently a columnist for CNN, Jill also runs her own substack and writing retreats around the world.
Listen to the episode here. There you can find two clips of our convo — on the state of feminism and gender equality, and whether freedom brings more gender differences. That link also takes you to dissent over last week’s episode with Nicholas Wade on the lab leak theory (with a response from Wade), as well as further dissent over race and crime in America. I also sound off on the Super Bowl ads about Jesus and the bear romance of “The Last of Us.”
Here’s a listener on the Wade episode:
While the subject may not be as exciting as other topics, it was certainly relevant to our problems in the world today. While the problems with the coronavirus can be attributed to Donald Trump and the mainstream media, you and Wade got to the bigger issue of what the role of objective truth is in our society today.
We live in a country where the right thinks climate change is a hoax, guns don’t kill people, and schools that can’t teach reading and math are teaching CRT.
The left can’t define a woman, won’t discuss any biological aspects of race, believe that the police are slaughtering innocent unarmed black men, and that a system of white supremacy has caused African-Americans to have lower test scores and less generational wealth than whites — without explaining why that same system has allowed Asian-Americans to earn higher test scores and often more wealth than whites.
As the world gets more complicated, we get dumber. It does not bode well for the future. At least I am old and won’t deal with all the consequences of our stupidity.
On the recent episode with Ben Appel on Christian cults and woke cults, here’s a listener working at a top university:
That was phenomenal. I always love when the conversation gets so deep and personal on both sides — but from an intellectual perspective, this one stood out to me as perhaps your best examination of wokeness yet. You and Ben crystallized what is fundamentally wrong with it: one can’t build a coherent movement for justice on postmodern philosophical nihilism — thank you for using that word — and what is essentially just a giant ad hominem attack. It leads to the kind of incoherence Ben so nicely nailed:
There’s no such thing as biological sex ... but intervention in the biology of children is essential.
Gender is a social construct that needs to be deconstructed ... but everyone has to be either GI Joe or Barbie.
Race is a pure social construct with no actual meaning … but racial essentialism must be the foundation of all public policy.
Here’s Ben on the philosophical similarities between woke academics and Iranian theocrats:
Browse the entire Dishcast archive for an episode you might enjoy. (The first 102 episodes are available in their entirety, but for all the other full episodes, you’ll need to become a paid subscriber.)
Dissents Of The Week: Boooo Biden, Boo. Liar.
A reader doesn’t buy the optimism I expressed in my column on the SOTU:
Ugh. Biden lied about being moderate in 2020. I don’t believe a word he says. And I hope others see it too. I don’t want either one for president — Biden or Trump. But I don’t know who yet. (I’m in the 41 percent independent group, and I’m all about independents being able to vote as independent in primaries everywhere.)
Read more dissents here, and please keep them coming: email@example.com.
Cool Ad Watch
A simple but powerful response to today’s tribalism:
Atheist and ad veteran Mark Duffy ventures into Yglesias Award territory:
Yes, [these Super Bowl] ads were via the Servant Foundation, a known anti-LGBTQ hate group. And the ads were partially funded by the homophobic (and sexist) Hobby Lobby CEO, David Green. No matter. ALL ads must stand on their own, without the background noise, at least creatively. And these stood out, in a good way. Today’s Marketers constantly parrot the old ad school maxim “Break Through The Clutter”, while continuously facilitating work that is The Clutter. These two spots broke through, powerfully.
Watch the other one here.
In The ‘Stacks
This is a feature in the paid version of the Dish spotlighting more than a dozen of our favorite pieces from other Substackers every week. This week’s selection covers subjects such as the new CDC report on teen despair, the new frightening AI from Microsoft, and abortion among African-Americans. A few examples:
What are the best and worst shows depicting cops?
What about the best renditions of the Star-Spangled Banner in sports?
If you have any recommendations for “In the ‘Stacks,” especially ones from emerging writers, please let us know: firstname.lastname@example.org.
The View From Your Window Contest
Where do you think it’s located? Email your guess to email@example.com. Please put the location — city and/or state first, then country — in the subject line. Proximity counts if no one gets the exact spot. Bonus points for fun facts and stories. The winner gets the choice of a VFYW book or two annual Dish subscriptions. If you are not a subscriber, please indicate that status in your entry and we will give you a free month subscription if we select your entry for the contest results (example here if you’re new to the contest). Happy sleuthing!
The results for this week’s window are coming in a separate email to paid subscribers later today. The latest VFYW sleuth to carve out a weekly beat is our super-champ in Austin, who has started to survey the local cocktails of each location and create an original cocktail. Last week’s was “Fire & Powder,” to be sipped après-ski at the ski resort featured in the contest. His latest concoction:
Finding the window so quickly this week gave me a good amount of time to create this week’s cocktail. For the base spirit, there are a lot to choose from. I perused the cocktail menus of local clubs in Ventura and there are drinks made with vodka, gin, rum, tequila, mezcal, brandy and whiskey, so I could basically have my pick.
I present the “Aventura” — Aventura means “adventure” in Spanish, and “a Ventura” means “to Ventura,” so the name has a double meaning:
Here’s the recipe:
Start with a double rocks glass (or a highball if you don’t have a double rocks).
Take 2 large fresh strawberries, cut the tops off and discard, and quarter the rest.
Place the strawberry pieces in the glass and pour 1.5 ounces of aged rum over them.
Muddle the strawberries in the rum until soft and chunky.
Add 1/2 ounce of Ilegal reposado mezcal.
Add the juice of 1 Meyer lemon.
Add 1/2 ounce of simple syrup (optional).
Fill the glass to the top with crushed ice.
Top with ginger beer and stir gently with a bar spoon.
Garnish with a strawberry and fresh mint.
Find a lounge chair by the beach or pool. Sip and enjoy.
I found the Aventura dangerously drinkable. It goes down fast and it’s deceptively light and refreshing despite the 2 ounces of hard liquor. The mezcal perfectly balances out the tartness of the strawberry and lemon and it’s not too sweet. (I added the simple syrup at the last minute because it was a little too sour for my taste, but my wife liked it without the simple.)
If any of your readers actually recreate these cocktails and let you know, I’d love to hear about it.
Cheers, and see you next Friday.