The Danger of Amplifying Misinformation

on May 27, 2021

It should come as no surprise that Tucker Carlson says outlandish and shocking things, many of them based on out of context quotes and data to outright lies, using questions to accomplish one goal: raise doubt.  It’s gets so bad at times that Fox’s own lawyers argued successfully that Carlson “is not stating actual facts’ about the topics he discusses and is instead engaging in ‘exaggeration’ and ‘non-literal commentary.’”

So why then, you might ask, would I even bother to spend the time to research and write a rebuttal to a segment that aired earlier this week about Transgender people?  This story, based on a 60 Minutes interview from this past weekend about transgender people that decide to “detransition” are the type of rhetoric that throws the transgender community — including myself — into the spotlight as people who are being duped by a fad.  That this is some sort of life that we’ve chosen, and that compassion isn’t something that should be considered in how so many in Conservative circles  — many of whom are in Tucker’s audience and looking for reasons to justify their discomfort with the LGBTQ+ community — have historically and continue to treat the trans community.

It wasn’t that long ago that my dad passed away, and as part of the process, the mortuary posted an obituary that we provided in which I was identified by name as one of his daughters.  Imagine my own surprise at how, when looking at the guestbook a few days later, I found that someone had decided that it would be the perfect spot to declare that my dad didn’t have two daughters, but a daughter and a son, calling me by my former name, Darryl.  Much of the mentality that drives hurtful actions like that are the result of the rhetoric that people like Tucker Carlson espouse in an effort to appease their audience.

With that as the backdrop for this post, I wanted to take a moment to address both the 60 Minutes piece entitled “Health Care Challenges for Transgender Youth,” as well as Tucker’s segment from a couple nights ago.

First off, it’s important to note that this all takes place against a backdrop of increased legislation against transgender people in our country.  

For many, those who are questioning their own gender identity do not have adequate access to therapists and doctors that can accurately diagnose and treat gender dysphoria for a number of reasons, the most glaring being that covering transgender services is a hotly debated issue for insurance companies and providers.  Some states have gone so far as to even push for medical providers to deny trans people basic and life-saving medical services if doing so “violates their religious beliefs.”  With that in mind, people are having to look for resources that may not be reputable to ask the questions and receive treatment.  

In the 60 Minutes piece, Leslie Stahl interviews Grace Lidinsky-Smith, who within months of seeking help, was receiving hormone treatments and a double mastectomy.  Tucker, in his segment, went on to raise the “concern” that this was the way trans healthcare is being handled in our country.  That is categorically false.  Grace’s story is tragic.  During the course of her interview, she states that she told her doctors that she wanted to transition to being male because she was tired of being female, and thought that life would be easier as a male.  If I had given that answer to my own doctors, it would raise a lot of red flags that would at the very least put the idea of hormone treatment on the back-burner, let alone push the idea of surgery further down the line.  In my own experience, the questions are invasive.  They deal with how my gender dysphoria has been historically experienced.  What effects had it had on my life up until that point?  How had it manifested itself?  Simply stating “I’m tired of being male” wouldn’t have been a valid answer.

It took me a little while and several phone calls before I was able to get my hands on hormones, and three years before I was able to receive my breast augmentation surgery.  In fact, one of the requirements to start hormone therapy was that I needed to live fully as female-identifying for a few months before hormones would even be considered.  One more year beyond that, and I’m finally on the books to get facial feminization surgeries, and several more months of electrolysis — the painful removal of hair follicles around my genital area using electricity to kill and cauterize each bit of hair — before I am eligible for vaginoplasty.  

So for both the 60 minutes segment and Tucker’s segment, the two main detransitioners are admittedly examples that went against scientific and ethical guidelines that have been set out.  But is that really the fault of the victims here, or is it the fault of a community of people that is working as hard as they can to make gender dysphoria treatment as difficult to access in a way that is safe and regulated?  I would argue the latter, but as Tucker tends to do — I’m not here to tell you who to blame.  I’m just asking questions.

Starting right off the bat, Tucker’s segment began with the headline, “Powerful Sex Hormones Given to Kids.”  That, my friends, is categorically untrue.  

I don’t know how to state this any more clearly, but PREPUBESCENT KIDS DON’T TAKE HORMONES, AND MINORS NEVER GET GENITAL SURGERY.  

Children who identify as transgender are, however, eligible to receive hormone blockers prior to puberty that act as a sort of “pause” button on the changes that come with puberty until they are at least 18.  And to further refute Tucker’s claim that these are “drugs whose long-term effects we may not know,” the Pediatric Endocrine Society and the World Professional Association for Transgender Health both endorse the use of puberty blockers in transgender children, stating that they are a safe and effective way to treat gender dysphoria in children.

Carlson ended his segment by pointing to a quote from a 2016 memo entitled, “Proposed Decision Memo for Gender Dysphoria and Gender Reassignment Surgery” which reads, “Based on a thorough review of the clinical evidence available at this time, there is not enough evidence to determine whether gender reassignment surgery improves health outcomes for Medicare beneficiaries with gender dysphoria.”  What Carlson failed to mention was that the determination was made based on insufficient input from the transgender community.  They requested the need for further research, and admitted within the next paragraph that “Knowledge on gender reassignment surgery for individuals with gender dysphoria is evolving.”  It was with that understanding in mind that the scientific community recommended that “gender confirmation surgery be covered on an individual claim basis.”  It’s now five years later, and time has passed.  Research has been furthered, and we know a lot more now than we did five years ago about the effects of gender affirming surgeries.  It’s life-altering, and life giving to many in the trans community.  Will there be those who regret it?  Yes.  But those stories are in the minority, and it’s time that we stop giving them a major platform — because the stories of a few are being used against the majority of trans people as a means to justify transphobia and laws that are targeting our ability to live a peaceful life as the gender that we were supposed to be all along. 

Does gender affirming surgery help cure trans people of depression?  No.  

To be honest, I still struggle with it myself.  The majority of it, however, isn’t because of my transition and identity — there is great joy that I have found in embracing who I am — it’s because so many people are bent on using whatever weapons they can against me and those like me to push us further out into the margins of our communities.  It’s because I have had to work hard — sometimes on a daily basis — to prove my worth.  Because the communities that I had previously found to be life-giving were now places where I was shunned and seen as a threat.  

Do I discount the stories of those who detransition?  Not at all.  

Every single person has a journey and an experience all their own, and those stories are ones to be heard.  At the same time, it is not fair for those stories to be used as weapons against those whose stories and journeys vastly differ.  They are not the standard, and as the 60 Minutes piece pointed out, they are more a call for us to have the conversation surrounding gender dysphoria and its treatment brought to the forefront.  Our inability to provide quality healthcare and therapy is having disastrous results, and it’s a good argument as for why healthcare providers and insurance companies should cover transgender care processes. 

At the end of the day, here’s the question that needs to be asked: are we, as transgender and gender non-conforming people, to be seen as worthy of love and community?  What are the fears that you hold to that cause you to think that someone like me is out to get you?  Is it simply because I’m different?  Because you don’t understand me?  Humanity has had a long history of what happens when we begin to fear others simply because they’re different.  My own ancestors were imprisoned here in the United States during World War II because it was thought that they were people to be feared.  Fear can make us do things that we regret.  

How do we combat this?

Listen.  Hear the stories and experiences of those who are transgender.  People like Paula Stone Williams, Laura Beth Buchleiter, and Kai Shappley.  Spend time getting to know us, and stop getting your “facts” from people who make their money off of breeding fear.  This isn’t limited to trans people.  It’s all people.  Those that we don’t understand.  Get to know us.  And it might just change how you see the world.

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