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Transgender Backlash by Jonathon Van Maren

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Essay

Transgender Backlash

In less than a decade, the transgender movement has taken the West by storm. Gender ideology spread swiftly from campuses to public schools; the media obediently changed their language and their ledes; the entertainment industry flung themselves enthusiastically into producing propaganda for all ages. There was a sudden rise in female rapists who looked suspiciously masculine; women were told to shut up and welcome their new penis-packing sisters into female-only spaces; religious people were informed that they were guilty of a brand-new phobia, having just gotten used to the previous ones.

But most worryingly, untold thousands of children—usually girls—became convinced that they were born into the wrong bodies. A medical industry sprang up almost overnight to remedy this, providing double mastectomies, sex change surgeries, and hormone blockers to transform their human subjects into the people they thought they were. There were dissenting voices—they were shouted down. Heads of state obediently fell into line, conditioned to snap to attention when the ever-expanding LGBT movement informed them what was next on the agenda. Suddenly, parents were faced with girls who insisted they were boys and boys insisting they were girls, and everyone was telling them to head down to the new gender clinic to get the drugs and snips their children needed.

It was staggering to see how swiftly dissent was crushed and gender ideology became a new dogma. And yet, in the last several years, there have been signs of hope—cracks in the transgender narrative. Those cracks are growing across Europe, and there is a very real chance that this horrifying civilizational medical experimentation on the young may finally be forced to face the facts. 

In the United Kingdom, gender ideology spread far and fast. Even Boris Johnson transitioned, backing away last year from plans to ban sex change surgeries for minors at the behest of trans activists and, according to some Tory parliamentarians, due to influence from his millennial live-in fiancée, Carrie Symonds. Prince Harry, the Windsor wokeling, endorsed the radical transgender charity Mermaids, which promotes sex change treatments for children. Feminist critics of the transgender movement were attacked: J.K. Rowling was doxed and received death threats; philosophy professor Kathleen Stock resigned from the University of Sussex after a wave of harassment and intimidation from trans activists.

But while it is too early to say that the tide is turning, there are indications that the trans movement has hit the high-water mark. In 2020, the UK government announced that it was scrapping plans for “self-identification,” which would have allowed people to change their gender via a statutory declaration as opposed to attaining certification from the Gender Recognition Panel. LGBT activists decried this move as “a major blow to LGBTQ rights.” Trans activists are also warning that opinion may be turning against key elements of their cultural project, especially gender transition for children.

This aspect of the pushback bears the face of Keira Bell, who went to the Tavistock clinic’s Gender Identity Development Service in London at age 16. Bell, struggling with gender dysphoria, was promptly prescribed puberty blockers, which stop natural physical development. Trans activists claim that puberty blockers give children time to grapple with their gender identity and that they can resume puberty if they choose, but the reality is these drugs can have permanent effects. By age 20, Bell had her breasts removed and the treatments she’d taken had given her body hair, a beard, a low voice, and impacted her sexual function—and she realized that none of it had helped her.

“What was really going on was that I was a girl insecure in my body who had experienced parental abandonment, felt alienated from my peers, suffered from anxiety and depression, and struggled with my sexual orientation,” she wrote later. “As I matured, I recognized that gender dysphoria was a symptom of my overall misery, not its cause.” Bell became what is known as a “de-transitioner” and once again lives as a woman. She took the Tavistock clinic to court, where her team argued that “Tavistock had failed to protect young patients who sought its services, and that—instead of careful, individualized treatment—the clinic had conducted what amounted to uncontrolled experiments on us.” Bell won a unanimous verdict.

To the horror of the trans movement, the judges ruled that children under 16 could not give consent to puberty blockers, and clinics seeking to prescribe these drugs to 16 and 17-year-olds might need to obtain permission from the courts. Mermaids called the judgment a “devastating blow;” Stonewall, a UK LGBT charity and the largest gay rights organization in Europe said it was “stunning.” Earlier this year, an appeals court overturned the judgement, and Bell is seeking leave to take her case to the supreme court. The futures of thousands of children hang in the balance.

Bell’s case broke through the monolithic discussion on gender identity, which for several years has been almost totally dominated by trans activists. The BBC and other major British media outlets have reported on Tavistock scandals, medical misdemeanours, and dozens of resignations from gender clinics. Criticisms of trans ideology that would never get published in countries like Canada now appear regularly. Slate even asked in 2019 “how transphobic discourse has become so mainstream in the UK” and called the UK “the motherland of ‘gender criticism.’”  

In a little-noticed but significant event, last month Vice reported that the BBC is planning to withdraw from “Diversity Champions,” a program run by Stonewall. The program is designed to help organizations become more ‘inclusive,’ and in 2021 the Equality and Human Rights Commissions, the UK government’s Cabinet Office, and the UK media regulator Ofcom all severed their ties with Stonewall. According to reports, the BBC is cutting ties in order to appear more impartial, and LGBT staffers at the BBC stated that the work atmosphere was like “working for the enemy.” One ludicrously stated that “I no longer feel safe as an LGBT+ person within the organisation.” 

The hysterical response from many LGBT activists reveals something important: they know they are losing their grip on the narrative. The spell has been broken, the criticisms are getting louder, and the scrutiny they desperately wanted to avoid is growing.

In France, too, the trans movement is starting to face stiffer opposition. As in the UK, transgender people can have a chosen gender identity recognized by the French government. In a case last year, however, France’s highest court ruled that a biological male identifying as a transgender woman cannot be recognized as the biological mother of a child conceived with his wife. Additionally, earlier this year the French government banned the use of gender-neutral language in schools, citing damage done to the French language. The French government’s willingness to legislate the transgender agenda appears to have limits.

More significantly, a subset of the French elite is taking a stand against gender ideology. In September, over fifty medical professionals, prominent academics, legal experts, doctors, philosophers, psychiatrists, judges, and psychoanalysts published a scathing open letter condemning aspects of gender ideology and gender transition in children. Published through the Observatory of Ideological Discourses on Children and Adolescents, the letter laid out their concerns—and was almost totally ignored by the international press:

We can no longer remain silent about what appears to us to be a serious drift committed in the name of the emancipation of the ‘transgender child’ (the one who declares that he was not born in the ‘right body’). Radical discourses legitimise requests for sex change on the basis of feelings alone, which are set up as the truth. But this is at the cost of lifelong medical or even surgical treatment (removal of breasts or testicles) on the bodies of children or adolescents. It is this phenomenon and its high media profile that concerns us, not the choices of transgender adults… Children are made to believe that a girl could become a boy and vice versa because they have decided to do so without the advice of adults, and this is happening at an increasingly young age.

The letter concludes with a powerful denunciation of what is being done to children:

We denounce this abduction of childhood. It is now urgent to inform as many citizens as possible, of all professions, of all sides, of all ages, about what could well appear tomorrow as one of the greatest health and ethical scandals, which we would have watched happen without saying a word: the commodification of children’s bodies. For by persuading these children that they have been ‘assigned’ a sex at birth, and that they can freely change it, they are made lifelong patients: lifelong consumers of hormonal chemicals marketed by pharmaceutical companies, recurrent consumers of ever more surgical operations in the pursuit of the chimerical dream of a fantasy body. At present, countries that were in favour of medical transition before the age of majority are banning hormone treatments for minors (Sweden, the United Kingdom and some states in the USA …).

The signatories—and it is an impressive list—noted that many have been afraid to speak out “for fear of certain LGBTQI+ associations.” As in the United Kingdom, many in France now feel compelled to speak out as the obvious dangers of the medical experiment being performed on thousands of children grows larger and trans activists grow bolder. In France as in the UK, trans activists are beginning to lose control of the narrative.

There is pushback in Scandinavia, as well. In 2020, Sweden’s Board of Health and Welfare reported a 1500% spike in diagnoses of gender dysphoria—girls believing they are boys—among teen girls between the ages of 13 and 17. According to The Guardian, the rise in numbers reflected a shift in public opinion on transgenderism that resulted in parents and physicians becoming more open to permitting young people to pursue ‘gender reassignment’ surgery. In 2018, under pressure from trans activists, Sweden’s government put forward a law eliminating the necessity for parental consent for these surgeries.

But in May of 2021, the Society for Evidence Based Gender Medicine (SEGM) reported that the Karolinksa Hospital in Stockholm, one of the world’s most prestigious teaching hospitals, is changing their approach to gender dysphoria, issuing a policy statement on the treatment of minors. As SEGM put it:

This policy, affecting Karolinska’s pediatric gender services at Astrid Lindgren Children’s Hospital (ALB), has ended the practice of prescribing puberty blockers and cross-sex hormones to gender-dysphoric patients under the age of 18. This is a watershed moment, with one of the world’s most renowned hospitals calling the ‘Dutch Protocol’ experimental and discontinuing its routine use outside of research settings. According to the ‘Dutch Protocol,’ which has gained popularity in recent years, gender-dysphoric minors are treated with puberty blockers at age 12 (and in some interpretations, upon reaching Tanner stage 2 of puberty, which in girls can occur at age 8), and cross-sex hormones at the age of 16. This approach, also known as medical ‘affirmation,’ has been endorsed by the WPATH ‘Standards of Care 7’ guideline.

According to Karolinska’s newest policy, which went into effect in May 2021, going forward, hormonal (puberty blocking and cross-sex hormone) interventions for gender-dysphoric minors may only be provided in a research setting approved by Sweden’s ethics review board. The policy states that careful assessment of the patient’s maturity level must be conducted to determine if the patient is capable of providing meaningful informed consent. There is also a requirement that patients and guardians are provided with adequate disclosures of the risks and uncertainties of this treatment pathway. It is not clear whether minors under the age of 16 would be eligible for such trials.

Despite the significance of this news, the international press once again almost completely ignored the development—in all likelihood because it is a significant crack in the narrative that has been almost universally promoted for several years now. The media mantra has until now has stated that if children are not given ‘gender affirmation surgery,’ they will commit suicide. Now, some of the most prestigious experts in Europe are rejecting that notion. 

The Finns are following a similar path. In fact, Finnish medical guidelines distinguish between early-onset child gender dysphoria and adolescent-onset gender, recognizing that some gender confusion or exploration can be a natural part of growing up and almost entirely forbidding medical intervention until “identity and personality development appear to be stable.” In the meantime, psychotherapy is recommended for gender dysphoria, and surgical interventions are forbidden for those under the age of 18. Puberty blocking is also considered explicitly experimental, and if utilized in severe circumstances, the patients are sent to a research clinic and medical professionals ensure that they are “able to understand the significance of irreversible treatments and benefits and disadvantages associated with lifelong hormone therapy, and that no contraindications are present.” 

***

The fight is far from over. Trans activists wield an enormous amount of cultural power, and their ideology is far from discredited in the eyes of progressive politicians, delusional academics, and their media microphones. Many still insist that without sex change surgeries and life-long dependence on drugs, gender dysphoric children will kill themselves—and this threat packs potent power. Yet, from the British Isles to the Continent to the Nordic nations, people are beginning to wake up. Major medical institutions are beginning to put research over ideology. Each time this happens, trans activists lose power that they can never recover. And as the ugly and irreversible consequences of their delusional experiment become clearer, we can begin to hope that their narrative will implode sooner than seemed possible only a short time ago.

For the sake of the children being inducted into lives of perpetual medicalization, I desperately hope so. 

Jonathon Van Maren has written for First Things, National Review, The American Conservative, and is a contributing editor to The European Conservative. His latest book is Prairie Lion: The Life & Times of Ted Byfield.

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