Saturday, September 5, 2020

The dangers facing American youth from 'peer contagion'


J.K. Rowling

[Editor's note: This story originally was published by Real Clear Politics.]

By J. Peder Zane
Real Clear Politics

Left-wing activists and the liberals who fear them love signs – the de rigueur accoutrement for today’s virtuous lawn is a poster (or two, or three) declaring that “In this house we believe science is real, black lives matter, love is love.”

Our inner Mr. Spock finds it hard to see the point given that the vast majority of Americans endorse these banalities. It’s the political equivalent of proclaiming, “In this home we breathe air and drink water.” Welcome to the club, pal.

And yet these signs are meant to convey the opposite message: I must take these courageous stands because all around me have abandoned basic principles of decency – and if I don’t signal this, the activists and bien pensants might target me next.

This effort to co-opt basic values, to claim they belong to just one political group, is false, ugly and divisive. It denies the humanity of those who dissent from the left’s aggressive demands. It silences debate by reframing complexities of COVID-19 and policing, race and American history to moral questions. You’re either good or evil.

This Manichaean strategy has risen to the fore because the ascendant left has sought to transform America, no questions asked. Just a few years ago, Democrats believed that we were an essentially good country that had made meaningful strides on race and gender. They agreed that the police were a flawed but necessary tool for maintaining safety.

Not anymore. With a blinding velocity of grievance they have planted a new sign above our fruited plain that reads: This Property Is Condemned. The left excels at finding the speck in their brother’s eye – at deconstructing the failures and hypocrisies of the current system. They are far less capable of acknowledging their own contradictions and laying out specific plans for the new society they wish to construct on the ashes of the old one.

Thus they tell us the issue is not about what they want to do and whether it will work, but about love. That’s our side – are you for us or against us?  Journalist Abigail Shrier details one dangerous outcome of this strategy in her new book, “Irreversible Damage: The Transgender Craze Seducing Our Daughters.”

Most Americans had never given much thought to transgenderism until 2016, when North Carolina Republicans passed a bill restricting single-sex bathrooms to biological boys and girls. Let me say at the outset that I believe the law was stupid and unnecessary; no one was complaining about “men” using the ladies room. But the left went to war, presenting transgenderism as an all-or-nothing civil rights issue. The message: Embrace every demand of trans activists without question or be branded a hater. While acknowledging the need to respect the dignity and equality of trans adults, Shrier’s eye-opening book illuminates the devastating impact this cultural change is having on teenage girls.

She reports that transgenderism has long been a rare condition – historically about one in 10,000 people suffer from the medical condition known as “gender dysphoria.” One of those is the great British writer Jan (nee James) Morris, who eloquently described her struggle and ultimate deliverance in “Conundrum.”

In the last decade, Shrier reports, this figure has increased 1,000 percent. “Two percent of high school students,” she reports, “now identify as transgender.” Shrier notes that transgenderism was so rare among girls that before 2012 “there was no scientific literature on girls ages eleven to twenty-one ever having developed gender dysphoria at all.”

It is likely they existed and no one was looking for them. But that cannot begin to explain the fact that biological girls now account for “70 percent of all gender surgeries.” Shrier reports similar increases in other Western countries, including Canada, Sweden, Finland and the United Kingdom.

Although one would expect that a condition allegedly rooted in DNA would occur somewhat evenly across all races and classes, Shrier’s research found that these girls largely come from white, upper-middle-class families. She reports that Dr. Lisa Littman of Brown University found that one of the best predictors that a girl might feel she was born in the wrong body is having friends who believe they were, too. Littman calls this root cause “peer contagion.”

Shrier notes that contagion is occurring against a broader mental health crisis among America’s youth marked by sharp increases in depression and suicidal ideation. The hardest hit group is young girls who have historically suffered from self-esteem and body image issues far more than boys. The rise of social media, a hothouse of judgment, is also key. So, too, is the online culture where strangers influence children through YouTube videos promising that all their problems will be solved once they transition.

Make no mistake, these girls are in pain. They need help. But Shrier argues persuasively that the woke culture that casts transgenderism as a civil rights issue limits the care they receive. The prevailing medical standard for treatment, she writes, is “affirmative care,” which replaces professional judgment with self-diagnosis. “The therapist must agree, in other words, that a male patient with gender dysphoria who identifies as a woman really is a woman.”

This can have long-term effects because the hormone blockers and surgeries necessary for transition often lead to infertility and other permanent changes.

“Irreversible Damage” tells a frightening story. Though convincing, it is far from the last word on the topic. And that’s the point. Transgenderism is a complex issue that came out of the blue just a few years ago. It demands rigorous research and full-throated debate – not real-time experimentation on youngsters. Instead, the left has sought to silence discussion by casting it as a moral question of tolerance. That’s why Amazon refused to carry ads for Shrier’s book and people like “Harry Potter” author J.K. Rowling have been attacked by Twitter mobs for claiming that biological sex is real.

More broadly, as the left rushes headlong to erase our past and the traditional pillars of our society – all in the fuzzy name of justice and love -- “Irreversible Damage” shows the damage that often occurs when we fail to ask: With what result?

God, after all, is in the details.

J. Peder Zane is an editor for RealClearInvestigations and a columnist for RealClearPolitics.

[Editor's note: This story originally was published by Real Clear Politics.]


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