Journalist Thinks Trans Kids Are Getting Hormones to Turn into Helicopters

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I’ve been wanting to address the most recent spate of transphobic news, but where do I even start? It’s been an entire year since I last discussed the pseudoscience behind anti-trans legislation that presumably wants to “protect the children” from receiving science-based medical care, and in that time there have been so many more bills trying to criminalize the act of being transgender. Texas, who I discussed in that last video, has continued to go completely off-the-rails, with politicians introducing bills to outlaw procedures that don’t happen based on things they think they saw on social media. No, I’m serious:

“(Texas state representative Brian) Harrison says he felt shocked into action when he came to believe that young children were undergoing significant, irreversible surgeries, including phalloplasty and vulvoplasty (which are sometimes referred to as “bottom surgery”). Harrison says he’s seen photos online that purport to show children who have undergone these procedures. “When I saw them circulating on social media—and honestly, it’s hard to avoid them at this point—of these young, beautiful children post-surgery: those photos look like something out of a horror movie. They’re heartbreaking,” Harrison says. 

Okay yeah first of all, I am terminally online and I can tell you that it is actually very, very easy to avoid seeing photos of prepubescent children’s genitals. Like, has anyone in Texas law enforcement thought to take a peek at Brian Harrison’s browser history? Because something there is not right.

Second of all, as that piece continues, “There’s one problem with Harrison’s story: the photos do not evidence something happening to young children in Texas. Across the United States, medical guidelines already prevent gender-affirmation surgery for any prepubescent patient.” If you want more info on that, you can also just check out my previous video on what “gender-affirming care” actually looks like for kids in the US.

Along with the growing number of states introducing legislation to prevent kids (and sometimes adults) from accessing gender-affirming care, we have politicians citing outlets like the New York Times for their friendly coverage of transphobes. This was explicitly called out in a letter signed by more than 1,000 New York Times contributors, who wrote:

“The natural destination of poor editorial judgment is the court of law. Last year, Arkansas’ attorney general filed an amicus brief in defense of Alabama’s Vulnerable Child Compassion and Protection Act, which would make it a felony, punishable by up to 10 years’ imprisonment, for any medical provider to administer certain gender?-?affirming medical care to a minor (including puberty blockers) that diverges from their sex assigned at birth. The brief cited three different New York Times articles to justify its support of the law: Bazelon’s “The Battle Over Gender Therapy,” Azeen Ghorayshi’s “Doctors Debate Whether Trans Teens Need Therapy Before Hormones,” and Ross Douthat’s “How to Make Sense of the New L.G.B.T.Q. Culture War.” As recently as February 8th, 2023, attorney David Begley’s invited testimony to the Nebraska state legislature in support of a similar bill approvingly cited the Times’ reporting and relied on its reputation as the “paper of record” to justify criminalizing gender?-?affirming care.”

The whole letter is good, and I agree that many articles in the New York Times have suffered from “both sidesism” at best: presenting conservative theocrats who literally want to destroy public schooling in the name of “parental rights” as “concerned parents” who are upset that somewhere there’s a teenager asking people to use different pronouns at school. They let them spread their misinformation, and they rope in a larger, more mainstream audience of “concerned parents.” I especially enjoyed this article about the parents’ rights to know whether their teen has “socially transitioned” at school, where the reporter visits an anonymous “safe space” where the parents can freely share their opinions about all this without judgment. Wow, I’m so glad that they have a safe space amongst accepting peers where they can truly be themselves. It’s a good thing no one needs that until they reach the age of 18. Or, 26. Whatever.

Anyway, that safe space anecdote was immediately followed with this photo and the caption “A family in Florida said they weren’t notified that their child was being counseled about “gender confusion” at school. The child now has an emotional support rabbit.”

Dear lord, that is truly the worst case scenario result of a kid talking to a school counselor about their feelings: an emotional support bunny. RIP to all your power cables, my poor friends.

As bad as all of the examples in that letter were, the response to that letter was truly next-level. First, the New York Times itself responded by running a vigorous defense of JK Rowling, the transphobic nightmare woman who came up with Harry Potter. Which, I have to admit, is very funny. Like, JK Rowling is a billionaire. No one needs to defend her! She could literally just close Twitter and never open it again, and spend the rest of her days lounging on a yacht somewhere. 

But yeah, they stand behind their reporting. Even nuttier was the response from the pundit Jonathan Chait written for New York Magazine, which I honestly thought was satire at first because I saw one screenshot and was sure that no one would write this with a straight face. But friends, he did. As proof that doctors specializing in gender-affirming care have gone too far, he cites a “whistleblower” named Jamie Reed who says she worked “as a case manager at the Washington University Transgender Center at St. Louis Children’s Hospital”:

“According to Reed, children coming to the clinic were given little or no psychiatric evaluation, even when they presented with serious mental illnesses or obvious false diagnoses. Instead, they were pushed overwhelmingly, almost automatically, into gender reassignment…(Reed says) “Children come into the clinic using pronouns of inanimate objects like ‘mushroom,’ ‘rock,’ or ‘helicopter,” and were given puberty blockers or cross-sex hormones.”

I’ll be honest, prior to reading this piece, I had absolutely on opinion about Jonathan Chait. None at all. After reading that insanely credulous quote, I now believe that I could call Jonathan Chait right now and convince him that I’m from the IRS and his 2021 1040 was incorrect and I’m going to arrest him for failure to pay if he doesn’t immediately go to the corner store and buy 15 Playstation Store Gift Cards and read me the serial numbers over the phone. I could tell him I’m going to buy his used car off Facebook Marketplace for $1,000 over his asking price but first I need him to wire $200 to the guy who is going to pick it up for me. I could pretend to be a Belarusian model for several months, building a romantic relationship with Chait before subtly suggesting I was having trouble paying my rent, and only giving up the ruse when after two years of correspondence he shows up in Minsk with a camera crew from 90-Day Fiance.

If you don’t know, “I identify as an attack helicopter” is a 4chan joke so old that it could pursue gender affirming care in Texas. So like, that’s one reason we know that this obviously did not happen but the other reason we know it is because we can just imagine how this would play out: “Hello doctor, I am a 12-year old who was assigned female at birth but now I identify as a helicopter. Hormones, please!”

(Now I’m the doctor): “Oh okay, here are the special helicopter hormones. By which I mean an oil change, I guess? Because there are no cross-sex hormones to turn you into a helicopter, or a mushroom, or a rock? I just…Jesus Christ. Jonathan Chait read this, believed it, and actually PUBLISHED IT IN NEW YORK MAGAZINE, presumably after other adults saw it and nodded and agreed that it was real. Incredible.

Look, I have seen teens acting out on TikTok, obviously pretending to have all kinds of disorders they don’t have. So, sure, I believe that some cringey kid out there is telling their friends their pronouns are “smile” and “kitten.” And sure, I could maybe believe that one of those kinds of kids has made it all the way to a doctor’s office. But unlike New York Magazine writers, most doctors are not credulous morons, and absolutely no doctor would do anything for a kid like that besides recommend intensive therapy for their unbearable need for attention. “But practices very similar to those have (NOT, in fact) already been proven in the United Kingdom.” No. I am begging people to take a deep breath and use your bullshit detector, ESPECIALLY if you are writing for a major publication read by literally millions of people. Transphobes and “parental rights” theocrats are not trying to overrule 12-year olds in drama club who think they can be a penguin when they grow up–they’re trying to overrule doctors who specialize in the health and wellbeing of people experiencing gender dysphoria.

Rebecca Watson

Rebecca is a writer, speaker, YouTube personality, and unrepentant science nerd. In addition to founding and continuing to run Skepchick, she hosts Quiz-o-Tron, a monthly science-themed quiz show and podcast that pits comedians against nerds. There is an asteroid named in her honor. Twitter @rebeccawatson Mastodon Instagram @actuallyrebeccawatson TikTok @actuallyrebeccawatson YouTube @rebeccawatson BlueSky

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