How anti-trans BS gets its wings

13 May 2024

Anti trans groups cloak their bigotry in pseudo science, and rely on mainstream media too lazy or underfunded to fact check to get their word out. In truth they've adopted the SOP of Qanon, and deserve about as much credibility.

If you're wondering how, despite every major medical association and psychiatric group stating the benefits of gender affirming treatment for young people, so much anti trans nonsense gets into the discourse, the answer is kind of horrifying. Let's take an unpleasant journey on a recent bit of anti trans BS which meant nothing, and how major media outlets turned it into a great big something it wasn't, isn't, and shouldn't be.

 You may have seen the story that French senators want to ban gender transition for under 18s, releasing a report calling it "one of the greatest ethical scandals in the history of medicine" and thought "oh great, now what?". (Though if you thought "finally, a nation standing against this trans menace"; if so, please do keep reading!). Rhetoric in much of the media was of a national movement by French senators, producing proof that gender affirming care for minors is unethical and finally standing against this menace. 

It probably won't surprise most of you that that's not what's going on at all if you look into this at all. The report was produced by a working group of 18 senators from the Les R├ępublicains, a proclaimed liberal-conservative party. Les R├ępublicains currently has 115 representatives in the French senate, so Le Monde's description of them as a fringe group seems to be borne out (the party makes no mention of the report amongst the anti-immigrant rhetoric on their home page). The report was produced by the senators (or their staffers, one may assume) themselves, claiming to have:

 Interviewed 67 French and international experts , all concerned by this theme, and reporting on all points of view: those of doctors and medical teams in France and around the world, those of associations of people concerned and parents, those of institutions.

There may be translation issues at play here, but I'm stuck on the phrase "concerned by this theme", which sounds like the working group sought out the views of those who already agreed with their ideological position. Either way, that's all the report is: interviews. There's no literature reviews, no research, no studies, and there's no medical or research institutes behind this, just a fringe group seeking to confirm what they already knew.  It may be dressed up in legitimacy and officialdom, but this report has about as much credibility as this blog post. (We're both claiming to prove something, after all). 

The story was picked up by the Daily Telegraph in the UK. Whilst the Telegraph is avowedly conservative, it's considered a "newspaper of record", with a tradition that includes breaking the story that World War Two had started. You'd expect that they would have strict journalistic standards for their news coverage if not opinion pieces, including checking sources, verifying what was said, and not blowing the scribblings of a few fringe nut jobs way out of proportion. 

This is nothing new for anti-trans bigotry. It's how the paired false concepts of trans social contagion and rapid-onset gender dysphoria got started. In 2017, a Dr. Lisa Littman published an abstract claiming:

Parents online are observed reporting their children experiencing a rapid onset of gender dysphoria appearing for the first time during or after puberty. They describe this development occurring in the context of being part of a peer group where one, multiple, or even all friends have developed gender dysphoria and come out as transgender during the same timeframe and/or an increase in social media/internet use.

Littman went on to report that 76.5% of parents she surveyed "believed their child was incorrect in their belief of being transgender" and over 85% said their child had increased their internet use and/or had trans friends before identifying as trans. 

Littman's claims were quickly boiled down to a few easy talking points and splashed across the usual suspects in the media. It wasn't until Littman's full study was published the next year in the online science journal PLOS that the critical flaw in her work became apparent - she had only surveyed parents who were members of anti trans forums. PLOS retracted the paper, Littman's employer Brown University retracted their press release, and other media issued apologies for running with the story (you really wish they'd vet these things before they're published). The term was rapidly discredited, the notion described as a moral panic. But you still see Littman's theory of a trans social contagion parrotted on social media today; you can read more about the harm it caused here.

Besides, the anti-trans crowd will not be cowed by such pesky matters as facts. Whenever their efforts are corrected or discredited, they simply respond "we're being silenced!".  It's the perfect strategy, one it's almost impossible to counteract: claim any damn nonsense you please and when called out on it, blame a shadowy cabal of trans influencers secretly running the world for silencing you. This isn't a reasonable debate. The anti trans lobby has cribbed the modus operandi of Qanon and The Protocols of the Elders of Zion. They have no interest in a good faith discussion, and we have no obligation to debate them on the issues. Unfortunately though, they have outsized influence and media presence for all of their whining about being silenced, and we need to call out what they say, not to the anti trans bigots themselves, but to everyone else; so the general community knows that what they come up with is no more credible than what comes out of the rear end of the cow pictured above.


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