Perspective: How societies can step back from the precipice
It takes brave people on both sides of the political aisle, but pushback in Missouri and Scotland over transgender care show it can be done
One of the most important news articles of this year was just published; not in the mainstream press, but in Bari Weiss’s publication, The Free Press.
Weiss resigned from The New York Times in 2020, and The Free Press is her attempt to publish the stories that the Times once would have published because of their quality, but will not publish now because of politics. The explosive article by Jamie Reed is an example.
Until her resignation a few months ago, Reed, who describes herself as a “42-year-old St. Louis native, a queer woman, and politically to the left of Bernie Sanders,” had been working at the Transgender Center at St. Louis Children’s Hospital. In a lengthy exposé, she alleges that instead of “First, do no harm,” the center instead rushed to do harm to children suffering from gender dysphoria.
Reed says there were no evidence-based protocols upon which treatment was based. Rather, the practice was to fast-track the children — the overwhelming majority of whom were girls — into hormone treatment:
“To begin transitioning, the girls needed a letter of support from a therapist — usually one we recommended — who they had to see only once or twice for the green light. To make it more efficient for the therapists, we offered them a template for how to write a letter in support of transition. The next stop was a single visit to the endocrinologist for a testosterone prescription. That’s all it took.”
But these girls did not understand — and apparently were not made aware of — all of the possible consequences, according to Reed. She details cases of vaginal lacerations requiring surgery, the development of painfully sensitive microphalluses, and the less alarming, but still irreversible side effects of voice change and facial hair.
She said one 18-year-old girl was granted an elective double mastectomy and then two years later, told the nurse, “I want my breasts back.”
When Reed started disagreeing with fast-tracking patients, without examining the effects of co-morbidities such as autism, and keeping parents in the dark, her performance reviews went from excellent to below average. She was told, “Get on board, or get out.”
Reed has now broken ranks. While still identifying as a progressive, she has brought her concerns and evidence to the Missouri attorney general, a conservative, who has agreed to a full investigation. Even Washington University in St. Louis, home of the medical center in question, is pledging an investigation. What I find heartening about this story is that progressives and conservatives are now working together to step back from the precipice of uncritical medical treatment of children that results in permanent and irreversible changes to their bodies.
This alignment of left and right to pursue common sense concerning issues of transgender identity can also be seen across the pond in what I call “The Great Scottish U-Turn of 2023.”
Nicola Sturgeon, first minister of Scotland, pushed the Scottish Parliament to pass a new gender self-ID law, which would allow an individual to change their sex upon mere declaration after three months for adults, and after six months for those ages 16 and 17.
The Scottish Parliament did so, even voting down clearly needed amendments that would make it harder for sex offenders and rapists to change their sex and name. This, despite vigorous opposition from women’s groups such as For Women Scotland, which understood the ramification for women should the law pass. Their slogan was “Women Won’t Wheesht,” which translates into “women won’t be quiet,” and they were very loud in the gallery of the Scottish parliament as the law passed. Women from the right, women from the left, shouting together in protest.
And then Nicola Sturgeon’s house of cards fell. Only a few days later, and after the U.K. government announced it would nix the new Scottish law, convicted Scottish rapist Adam Graham announced he was now a woman named Isla Bryson and was sent to a women’s prison. The resulting hue and cry saw an immediate backdown by the Scottish government, which moved the convicted rapist back to a male prison. As Alex Massie commented for The Times of London:
“As recently as 100 hours ago the Scottish government argued it was ridiculous to suppose people might take advantage of the opportunities afforded by its gender reforms. Bad people need no fresh licence, we were told. Now we see — and the government appears to agree — that they had ample licence anyway but the Scottish government thinks the answer to this is to expand that licence tenfold. Truly, madness may beget fresh outbreaks of insanity. Sturgeon’s opponents are wholly entitled to scream ‘We told you so.’ Because they did and then they were treated as though they must be bigots. And so, here we are.”
Support for Sturgeon, her SNP party, and her push for Scottish independence all fell precipitously, and Sturgeon resigned her position yesterday. While Sturgeon insisted her decision was not “not a reaction to short-term pressures,” it appears otherwise, and her resignation should be a wake-up call to politicians who think these issues are fringe: politicians will pay a steep price at the ballot box for undermining women’s rights.
Now even the Scottish Prison Service has rebelled and said it will not examine an individual’s stated gender identity when making decisions about whether to place them in a male or female prison. “Previous offending history” will be the primary variable examined. Noteworthy is the fact that The Great Scottish U-Turn was effected within the space of only a few days.
What is happening in Missouri and Scotland gives me great hope that people who view themselves on the left and people who view themselves on the right can agree on common sense issues, such as the idea that male-bodied rapists do not belong in women’s prisons, and that children should not be permitted to undergo irreversible elective medical procedures. Society can walk back from these precipices, but it takes brave individuals on both sides of the political aisle to join their efforts — even if they might disagree on myriad other issues. Kudos to Jamie Reed, For Women Scotland and all the others who have shown us the way.
Valerie M. Hudson is a university distinguished professor at the Bush School of Government and Public Service at Texas A&M University and a Deseret News contributor. Her views are her own.