Trans Activists Silence The Science So They Can Claim It’s On Their Side
According to legend, Galileo defiantly muttered “and yet it moves” after the Inquisition forced him to abjure his Copernican views. Although unverified, this story became a popular anecdote in the history of science, giving voice to the passionate love for inquiry and truth, even in the face of dogmatic threats of violence.
If the transgender movement has its way, we shall soon see many more like Galileo, forced by today’s ideologues and inquisitions to deny the plain truth of science and reason. For example, Ray Blanchard, a leading researcher on human sexuality, was recently suspended from Twitter for the clinically correct statement that “Transsexualism and milder forms of gender dysphoria are types of mental disorder.” After an outcry, his account was restored, but the message had already been sent—thoughtcrime will be punished, even, perhaps especially, if it is true.
This might be dismissed as another Twitter tempest in a teapot, were it not part of a trend of trans activists targeting scientists and researchers who reach politically inconvenient conclusions. Another respected researcher, Kenneth Zucker, was defamed and wrongly fired when trans activists smeared him. Lisa Littman, whose qualitative research identified the phenomenon of rapid-onset gender dysphoria, was vilified and lost a consulting position.
Even Moderates Get Punished
Notably, these scholars are not social conservatives who have religious or metaphysical objections to gender-alteration surgery. For example, in the thread that led to his suspension, Blanchard stated that “Sex change surgery is still the best treatment for carefully screened, adult patients, whose gender dysphoria has proven resistant to other forms of treatment.” What these researchers do share is caution and scientific skepticism regarding the foundational belief of today’s transgender movement, which is that gender identity is innate and unchangeable, and that gender change is always the best treatment for expressions of gender dysphoria.
The research of the scholars noted above challenges this simplistic narrative. Blanchard believes that there are diverse causes and forms of gender dysphoria, rather than every case arising from an innate, immutable sense of gender identity. Zucker found that many childhood cases of gender dysphoria will resolve over time without transition, so he did not rush children into transition. Littman’s work suggests that gender dysphoria may sometimes be socially contagious.
These researchers are being targeted because their moderation threatens an increasingly radical trans agenda. In the few years since transgender issues went mainstream, the public debate has shifted from how to respond when Bruce Jenner wants to become Caitlyn to how to respond to a five-year-old boy who wants to be a princess or a 14-year-old girl who, encouraged by social media, suddenly self-identifies as a man and wants to take testosterone and amputate her breasts.
Prepubescent children are being prescribed dangerous chemicals that suppress their natural physical development, followed by potentially harmful hormonal treatments that sterilize them. Gender clinics expedite the administration of cross-sex hormones, even prescribing them on the first visit, and minors are undergoing irreversible surgeries. California has decided to teach children about gender identity and transsexualism in kindergarten, and parents will not be allowed to opt their children out. Efforts to help children (or even consenting adults) reconcile to their natural bodies are being mislabeled as “conversion therapy” and outlawed.
Not Every Case Needs Affirmation
Trans activists are acting on the assumption that every instance of gender dysphoria results from a transgender identity that must be affirmed. Thus, they are not only targeting those who disagree with them wholesale but are also going after gay and lesbian allies who resist this radicalization of the movement. Feminists who do not accept that men make the best women are regularly harassed and threatened by trans activists. These exclusionary efforts have succeeded to the point that the conservative Heritage Foundation is hosting radical feminists whom the left has excommunicated.
Intimidating and silencing researchers whose work does not support current trans ideology is necessary for trans activists to claim that settled science supports their approach. But the science is not settled.
For example, I recently examined the What We Know Project, which is hosted by Cornell University. It asserts that the “scholarly literature makes clear that gender transition is effective in treating gender dysphoria and can significantly improve the well-being of transgender individuals.” This effort claims that out of a total of 56 peer-reviewed studies on the subject of adult transition, 52 found that transition improved wellbeing for those with gender dysphoria. The project’s creator declared that the science was robust and that it favored transition.
Left out of these boasts was that most of these studies were small-scale efforts with fewer than 100 subjects, that a third had 50 or fewer, and that 10 percent had fewer than 25 subjects. Limited research is not necessarily bad science, but it becomes so if it is falsely presented as stronger than it actually is.
Furthermore, the handful of large studies were almost all self-selecting, self-reported, non-representative surveys, often completed online. These problems persisted throughout many of the smaller studies. Almost all data regarding wellbeing were self-reported, rather than the result of objective, professional evaluations, and samples were unrepresentative, self-selecting, and uncontrolled. Much of the research only evaluated short-term effects.
The long-term studies often had terrible response rates, sometimes below 50 percent. This is important because of the assertion that “regrets following gender transition are extremely rare.” This claim is unsupported, especially when applied to the present context.
First, some of the methods used to assess regret were flawed, such as a Swedish study that counted the regret rate based on the number of transsexual patients who had applied to legally transition back to their original sex. This metric ignores those who might regret transition without attempting to legally transition back.
Data Collection Problems Abound
Second, the poor response rates for many longitudinal studies leave a large portion of the trans population unaccounted for. It is possible that non-respondents are doing as well, or even better, than those who reply to survey requests. It is also possible that they are doing worse and it would be reasonable to expect that those who are doing poorly after transition would be harder to reach and less likely to complete a survey on their well-being. Therefore, the regret rates reported in these studies should not be taken as authoritative, even for the population they attempted to survey.
Finally, data collected from adult patients who were carefully screened before transition will probably not match that of children who are being rushed into transition. It is dangerous and irresponsible to assume that adult Swedish transsexuals who were rigorously vetted before transition will have the same regret rate as the American adolescents and young adults who are being given cross-sex hormones after one visit to a gender clinic.
Trans activists are trying to have their cake and eat it too. They are trying to promote transition in response to every case of gender dysphoria by citing data from an approach that is cautious regarding transition as a treatment for gender dysphoria. Meanwhile, persons who have de-transitioned or resolved gender dysphoria without transition are ignored and dismissed by activists and their media allies.
These cases of desistance and de-transition are especially dangerous to current transgender ideology because they highlight that there is no objective or reliable method that differentiates between “real” transgender identities and mistaken ones. This should lead to caution in the use of irreversible chemical and surgical transition methods, especially for minors.
However, activists are determined to expedite transition and foreclose other options for treating gender dysphoria. They seek to silence not only social conservative critics of transgender ideology, but also careful, moderate researchers who support transition in some cases, but do not believe immediate transition is the best response to every case of gender dysphoria.
In order to claim that science is on their side, trans activists need to bully actual scientists into silence. Hopefully their efforts will fail, and truth will be freely and loudly proclaimed in the public square. But even if they have some success, there will always be some quiet voices defiantly whispering the forbidden truths.
Nathanael Blake is a Senior Contributor at The Federalist. He has a PhD in political theory. He lives in Missouri.