young people
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The rise of youth gender clinics in Western nations has presented a case study in the dysfunction of mainstream media. Famous mastheads and broadcasters, especially those regarded as progressive, have failed to cover major stories in this area, bungled those they have covered, and ignored scientific evidence that conflicts with the demand that self-identified gender must trump biological sex in all areas of policy-making (a system of beliefs often described as gender ideology). Interested news consumers have been left to sift through the uneven reporting on this subject that takes place on social media, where gold nuggets of truth intermingle freely with misinformation.

Yet many people still believe that it's worthwhile to critique journalists who cover (or, more commonly, fail to cover) this topic, in the hope that they will ultimately choose to do their job properly. And there are good practical reasons for doing so. As with other specialized issues, if the mass media doesn't cover it, only a small minority of (typically web-savvy) people will make it their business to educate themselves. And while New York Times coverage alone won't dissuade a non-binary girl from a double mastectomy or other irreversible medical steps, Times reporting can get the attention of those elite policymakers — in politics, health care, and academia — who've legitimized and facilitated the medicalised transition of a fast-expanding group of minors.

And so it's significant that the Times and, on the other side of the Atlantic, the Guardian, have each shown signs of correcting their journalistic lapses. Last month, the Times reported "growing concerns" about the potential harms of puberty-blocker drugs that are prescribed to interrupt natural adolescent development — concerns that activists have, for many years, dismissed as right-wing propaganda. Ten days later, the Guardian allowed one of its award-winning reporters to publish her investigation of the "huge rise in the number of adolescent biological girls seeking referrals to gender clinics."

For years, the party line among gender ideologues has been that this sharp upward spike in gender-clinic admissions is a good-news story of children finally coming forward to live their "authentic" trans identities. Among journalists, there's been a reluctance to question this narrative by reporting the disturbing prevalence of trauma, bullying, autism, mental-health issues, and other possible root causes that characterize many gender-clinic patients.

This is obviously not to say that all journalists are motivated by ideological factors, but rather that many reporters, editors, and producers have come to regard the issue as a toxic niche that's best avoided, lest they provoke a backlash from activists. Indeed, many parents and clinicians who've summoned the courage to go to the media with troubling stories about gender clinics will report a common experience: A journalist appears open-minded and asks sensible questions; fact-checkers follow up; then weeks pass without publication and the journalist stops returning calls.

What one often learns, after the fact, is that some ideological enforcer within the media outlet has condemned the project as "harmful" to trans people. Even those progressive media bosses willing to brave a negative reaction from social media and woke advertisers are often wary of internal revolt. Some mastheads now reportedly have a self-appointed queer caucus that routinely challenges any articles — even drafts and story topics discussed on Slack or at editorial meetings — they deem "transphobic."

Adopting this kind of cowardly journalistic approach is a mistake. Putting aside the welfare of medicalised children and adolescents, the trans-rights campaign against truthful reporting in this area has also served:
to chill free speech; normalize the sidelining of science in favour of ideology; compromise the rights of women and girls to sex-protected spaces; embolden educators who encourage students to adopt new identities without their parents' knowledge; and inhibit the collection of sex-based government data in key fields such as health and crime.
Even now, the standard journalistic template for exploring the issue of gender clinics remains a human-interest vignette centred on an articulate and photogenic trans-identified child who's been rescued from despair by brave doctors and now lives a rich and satisfying life. The medical interventions are often described as literally life-saving, with the weak and uncertain evidence base that supports early transition going either unmentioned or summarized in a misleading way. Journalists will name-check a panoply of medical and professional societies — such as the American Academy of Pediatrics and World Professional Association for Transgender Health — whose policy statements give "gender-affirming care" a ringing endorsement that cannot be found in the actual peer-reviewed literature. This trend toward science-lite "eminence-based medicine" reflects the capture of such organizations by ideologically dominant cliques, not any genuine expert consensus.

As other Quillette writers have already described in some detail, there is a strong element of homophobia embedded within the movement to encourage the transition of young clinic patients (notwithstanding the highly progressive postures of those who celebrate the rise in trans self-identification). That's because gender ideology discourages LGB community members from asserting their identity as same-sex attracted — a materialist concept that ideologues have sought to replace with a gender-based attraction model.

Moreover, many cases of gender dysphoria seem to present as deflected forms of gay attraction. At the London-based Tavistock child gender identity clinic (which is to close next year after a loss of confidence in its "gender-affirming" treatment model), there was reportedly a dark joke among staff that "there would be no gay people left" as medicalised gender change accelerated. This is because many of their young patients appeared to be potential lesbians who'd been "affirmed" in their new identity as (nominally) straight boys. In smaller numbers, effeminate boys who might otherwise emerge as gay or bisexual adults were being affirmed as girls.

The hormonal treatments — puberty blockers and opposite-sex hormone drugs — given to these minors are likely to make them lifelong medical patients, leaving them sterilised and incapable of full sexual pleasure. This is the unsettling background that led to the little-reported emergence of the LGB Alliance in the UK three years ago, and its rapid spread to other countries. It's a gay group that regularly gets smeared as hateful by queer media outlets. The growing rift between members of the LGB community and radical trans activists has been known to insiders for some years, but remains under-reported or disguised by mainstream media.

In fact, almost all mainstream outlets still invoke the mythical idea of a unified "LGBTQ+ community" that marches lock-step in support of radical trans-rights demands. This messaging allows activists and their journalist allies to cast all forms of dissent — including dissent from fellow progressives — as right-wing "hate speech" (or even actual "violence").

One result of this propagandistic approach to journalism has been public ignorance about the reality of "gender-affirming care" — including the fact that medical interventions, in the form of puberty blockers, can start with children as young as eight to 10 years old. Trans surgeries, such as double mastectomies, are also increasingly carried out on minors.

During Australia's recent federal election campaign, political journalists shouted down a candidate, Katherine Deves, who'd bluntly condemned under-age trans surgery. The supposed gotcha line was that, contrary to what Ms. Deves had said, such interventions could not, by law, be carried out until a patient was 18 years of age. But the critics were wrong: Australian court records indicate that a patient as young as 15 had indeed received a trans mastectomy. In the United States, one well-known research paper disclosed trans mastectomies at age 13. It is odd that so few journalists seem curious as to why such a radical medical procedure might arouse concern (even when the patients are 18 or older.)

Crucial to the dominant narrative is the claim that trans-identified children are uniquely suicidal unless they are swiftly "affirmed" in their identities and offered "gender-affirming" medical interventions. Journalists have a duty to scrutinize such lurid claims, which are typically based on anonymous online surveys conducted among self-selected groups — the kind of low-quality study design that would not be taken seriously if the results weren't seen as ideologically convenient.

Because gender clinicians and activists keep recycling this alarming suicide rhetoric, the result is that, far from serving to protect children, their claims tend to consign these already troubled patients to victim status, and encourage their unrealistic expectations of what can be accomplished by medical interventions. Quite apart from the effect this may have on suicidal ideation, it's hard to ignore that this narrative presents the clinicians and doctors as heroic saviours of children otherwise doomed to self-destruction.

The suicide narrative related by gender clinics is still uncritically reported by media across the Anglosphere. However, it should be said the coverage of medicalised gender change in general has been more informed and balanced in the UK — as compared to the United States, Canada, Australia, and New Zealand, where progressive media taboos and mistaken assumptions remain strong. And one reason why the recent Guardian piece is so noteworthy is that this newspaper had been an outlier in its refusal to report the growing international debate about the exponential increase in teenage girls presenting at gender clinics.

In fact, the fortunes of gender ideology have suffered reversals on several other fronts in the UK. This month, the country's Charity Commission opened a full statutory inquiry into the advocacy group Mermaids, which had done so much to create the appealing public image of the "trans child" that's "born in the wrong body." And Ofcom, the nation's broadcast regulator, has joined the growing list of companies and agencies stepping back from involvement with Stonewall's "Diversity Champions" program, whose members compete to implement and celebrate doctrinaire pro-trans policies (including on social media). Stonewall is one of many former gay rights bodies that supposedly represents the full LGBTQ spectrum, but which in fact has been effectively captured by trans and queer activists. The same holds for Stonewall's US counterpart, GLAAD, whose full name, the Gay & Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation, is a relic from the days before gender ideology took over. It was GLAAD, for instance, that helped lead the campaign to trash the stories of detransitioners aired by CBS on its flagship 60 Minutes news program.

GLAAD's language-policing guide, now in its 11th edition, lists, as "Terms To Avoid": born a man, born a woman, biologically male, biologically female, biological boy, biological girl, genetically male, genetically female — on the basis that such phrases "oversimplify a complex subject and are often used by anti-transgender activists to inaccurately imply that a trans person is not who they say they are." The guide has a distant fan in the complaint-handling Australian Press Council (APC), which has produced its own similar guide.

Asked which groups had been invited to help shape this document, the APC refused to say, pleading "privacy." But two lobby groups active in promoting trans medicalisation of youth boasted about being chosen for consultation. One of these, ACON, formerly an AIDS health group, runs an Australian variant of Stonewall's Diversity Champions scheme, whose members include Australia's public national broadcaster and the federal health department. (I had predicted that the APC's guidelines would make routine coverage of gender clinics more difficult. And sure enough, I later found myself on the receiving end of a partially upheld complaint, complete with gender-affirming talking points and the misreporting of a key factual claim that I'd made.)

Even the once staid and sober Associated Press has issued a trans reporting style guide, which states that "a person's sex and gender are usually assigned at birth by parents or attendants and can turn out to be inaccurate." This code phrase, "assigned at birth," started to appear in mainstream media outlets just a few years ago, but is now widely used by the many journalists with pronouns and trans flags in their social-media bios — an implicit statement of allegiance to gender ideology. In North America, such activist scribes now churn out a steady flow of articles that claim to trace sexual dimorphism to colonialism and racism, under the conceit that Indigenous societies were havens of gender bending until Europeans showed up.

One especially ambitious attempt at enshrining gender orthodoxy comes from a self-appointed UK media watchdog group called TransActual, which has developed a 3,000-word, five-section definition of transphobia. One of the many provided examples of transphobia: "Claiming there is a 'conflict' between trans people's human rights and those of any other group." Yet as every good journalist knows, all human societies are shaped at a fundamental level by the negotiation of competing claims, complaints, and rights among numerous groups. And it makes a travesty of our trade to insist that we all ignore this plain fact when it comes to one particular issue — much less one so important as the protection of minors from unnecessary medical interventions.

If activists want to boycott the necessary dialogue on the medicalisation of trans-identified children, instead of engaging in good faith, that is their choice. But journalists must take a more principled path. And it is a promising sign that, after many years of ideologically mandated self-censorship, the New York Times and Guardian have finally opened up their coverage to key issues in the gender-clinic debate.
About the Author:
Bernard Lane is an Australian journalist who reports regularly on the international debate about youth gender clinics. He writes the independent newsletter, Gender Clinic News.