An anti-transgender video titled “Pediatrician Shuts Down Leftists on Puberty Blockers” has gone viral on Facebook, with over 58 million views to date. It gives a chilling glimpse into the Right’s new campaign against transgender people: that transgender people simply do not exist. (It may also be triggering for some readers, which I write as a caution before clicking on the link.)
In the video, Dr. Michelle Cretella of the “American College of Pediatricians” (ACP) spends five minutes discussing how sex is a biological, genetic fact, and that any attempt to change it is, when it comes to teenagers, a form of child abuse.
There are crucial errors in the video, but its presence and impact should be of great concern to LGBT people and their allies.
The American College of Pediatricians
In contrast, there are over 60,000 members of the mainstream American Academy of Pediatricians, which officially “stands in support of transgender children and adults, and condemns attempts to stigmatize or marginalize them” and has created a detailed guide for caring for trans children.
ACP was founded in 2002 to oppose gay adoption. Since that time, it has taken extreme positions on abortion (life begins at conception; abortion is murder), capital punishment (contrary to all peer-reviewed studies, ACP says it is beneficial), abstinence-only sex education (again, debunked by all scientific studies), ‘reparative’ therapy for gay people (same), and now transgender people.
In other words, while presenting itself as a scientific organization, it is an anti-scientific organization.
ACP has been designated as a hate group by the Southern Poverty Law Center because of its repeated lies and campaigns against LGBT people. Cretella herself is executive director of ACP, and apparently its sole staff member.
Gender is not the same as sex
The video conflates sex, which is a biological fact (usually) determined by genetics and anatomy, and gender, which is a socially constructed set of notions of what it is to be a man, a women, or neither. As the quip goes, sex is between your legs, but gender is between your ears.
(Now, even this is not entirely accurate, since there are biologically intersex people, about .05% of the population. But the general principle stands.)
To take a religious example, when the Bible talks about women giving birth, that’s sex. When it says “Wives, submit to your husbands as you do the Lord,” (Eph. 5:22) that’s gender. When the Bible talks about men usually having deeper voices and hairier bodies, that’s sex. When the Bible talks about men inheriting property and owning their wives, that’s gender. See the difference?
The video completely misstates this. It describes “identity” as something which is “factually right” or “factually wrong.” But that’s only true if identity is about sex. In fact, transgender identity is about gender.
Not only that – the video doesn’t even mention gender. It fails to define or even acknowledge the primary subject it is supposedly about.
Gender dysphoria isn’t just a feeling
You might notice that the video doesn’t feature any trans people speaking about their experiences. That’s because if it did, those experiences would be very different from what Dr. Cretella says they are. She describes gender dysphoria as simply thinking or feeling oneself to be of the other gender, and then strolling into a doctor’s office to say so.
That is not what gender dysphoria is or how it is diagnosed. As described in the DSM-5, the diagnostic manual for mental health, a diagnosis of gender dysphoria requires a persistent gender identity (not some occasional whim), symptoms that last for at least six months, severe discomfort in one’s body, a pattern of behavior, and other factors.
As the DSM-5 specifies, but as the video ignores, gender dysphoria is far more than gender nonconformity – boys playing with dolls or girls playing with power tools – and is a diagnosable, treatable medical condition.
The video also says nothing about the rates of wellness and illness before and after transition – absurdly suggesting that parents are bluntly warned their children will commit suicide if they don’t transition. In fact, numerous peer-reviewed studies show marked increases in mental health outcomes once gender dysphoria is addressed.
Being transgender is not a mental illness
The video describes being transgender as actually being mentally ill. One wonders: has Dr. Cretella ever met a transgender person? My dozen or so trans friends are clearly not mentally ill. Trans celebrities like Laverne Cox and Janet Mock are clearly not mentally ill. What planet is Dr. Cretella living on?
To somehow justify this view, the video seizes on one case study – not documented, so I don’t even know if it actually happened – of one kid. This is anecdote, not science. For every one “Andy” in the video, there are dozens of actual trans kids who have had gender dysphoria addressed and had clusters of mental health conditions like mood disorders and suicidal ideation vanish.
One peer-reviewed study in the Journal of the American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry followed 179 transgender children and 185 controls, for example.
There are numerous such studies. An analysis in Psychology Today noted “in the journal Pediatrics in 2014, researchers showed that pubertal blockade and cross-sex hormones resulted in improved mental health for transgender youth.
"In 2016 and 2017, two papers showed that transgender children who are supported in their identities and allowed to socially transition have developmentally normal rates of anxiety, depression, and self-worth. Furthermore, transgender individuals whose families do not support their transgender identities are 20 percent more likely to attempt suicide.”
This is the danger of using a single anecdote and ignoring the scientific method: the results are extremely misleading and over-generalizable. Of course, in the video’s case, the “danger” is entirely on purpose.
Attacking “the experts”
The only way any of this video can be true is if everything the scientific community tells us is wrong.
That’s why the video attacks the vague, shadowy “experts,” in what is basically a Trumpist conspiracy theory. As in other populist fantasies, the elites/experts/media/establishment have all either lost their minds or are actively, conspiratorially destroying our society and putting kids in danger.
Not coincidentally, all these “experts” and “elites” are the same people: over-educated urbanites, the enemies of the people. This is populist demagoguery, sometimes directed at Jews (Hollywood elites, ‘New York’ bankers), sometimes just at latte-sipping intellectuals driving our Priuses in Park Slope (I do all of these things). One doesn’t have to invoke Germany of the 1930s to see how dangerous this thinking is.
Science is real. The scientific method is real. The science on transgender is part of that. If you don’t “believe in” transgender, you shouldn’t believe in your microwave oven or cellular phone, because all are products of the same scientific method.
So, the video is wrong, and this matters for several reasons.
First, the federal government has already eliminated many references to transgender people as such, affecting schools, VA hospitals, the Department of Health and Human Services, the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, and much more.
If the government redefines transgender as a mental illness and allocates money to "treat" it with therapy and perhaps other interventions (shock treatment, maybe?), this could lead to widespread abuses of transgender people that look a lot like the 1950s when gay men and lesbians were subjected to shock treatment, institutionalization, and anti-psychotic drugs to “cure” something that cannot and need not be cured.
Second, the issue of trans kids is a wedge. As a parent, I get that it’s scary to think that “experts” will cause your daughter to have a double mastectomy, even against your own wishes. But this is a pure scare tactic, not how treating gender dysphoria actually works in practice – and also as a parent, I find that particularly outrageous, hitting parents at their weak spots.
It’s a deplorable tactic that encourages emotional, reactive responses rather than reasoned ones – and yet, based on past experiences, it might just work to lessen support for trans people. (It’s also a wedge meant to sever the T from LGBT, but so far, this tactic has failed spectacularly with LGBT communities refusing to be torn apart.)
Finally, and speaking to LGBT allies here primarily, progressives need to see that the sticks are being moved here. We’re not talking about bathrooms or pronouns or employment protections anymore. We’re being forced to debate whether trans people even exist. This is basic stuff, folks, and the consequences of failure are severe, as they were for gay people half a century ago.
I’m not one who sees the sky falling on gay people, even if the federal marriage right is overturned by the Supreme Court (which is quite likely). But on trans people? The sky has never not been falling, and these storm clouds are dark and ominous.
Moreover, this junk science is being mainstreamed. The Heritage Foundation published a video with nearly the same title as the viral one: Pediatrician Shuts Down Leftists on Giving Children Puberty Blockers.” This the same Heritage Foundation that has provided much of the Trump administration’s staffing.
If there is a silver lining here, it’s that government is not the only place where societal values are enacted. Culture is another one, and here, from Caitlyn Jenner to the film Tangerine to the FX series Pose, culture is moving forward even if our Christian Right dominated government is moving backward.
If anything, the Republican party’s shocking retrenchment on transgender existence ought to be a political liability for them, as a generation entirely comfortable with trans people recoils against transphobia, trans-ignorance, and anti-trans violence.
The truth does matter, and you can hide from it only by living in a Fox News bubble and never changing the channel.
But as soon as you open your eyes and talk to someone trans in your community, or listen to trans people in the media, those lies fall apart. In reality, the science on transgender is real and transgender people is real – and while videos like this one can go viral today, one day we will marvel at how anyone could have believed this crap.