Liberal activists are rebranding sex change surgeries as “gender-affirming medical care,” even when discussing these procedures for children. Former transgender people and conservative activists told The Daily Caller News Foundation that this is a deliberate effort to normalize the surgeries and make them more accessible to children.
Lawmakers have proposed at least 114 bills related to transgender issues as of June 2, according to the LGBTQ activism organization Gay & Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation. Both Arkansas and Tennessee have passed laws restricting sex change surgeries or procedures for minors: Arkansas banned the surgeries and procedures for minors, despite the governor’s veto, and Tennessee banned ethically fraught hormone treatment for children who had not yet reached puberty.
Most media framing of these bills take an activist approach rather than reporting the bills straightforwardly. Outlets use vague phrases like “gender-affirming medical care” or “trans-affirming medical care” instead of saying sex change surgery or gender transition surgery.
“They keep rebranding the gender change process,” said former transgender woman Walt Heyer, who now runs the website Sex Change Regret. “First it was ‘sex change,’ then it was ‘gender reassignment.’ They want to make this not look like the child abuse it really is and now want to sell you and everyone else that it’s ‘gender-affirming medical care.’”
“This liberal obsession is destroying an entire generation,” Heyer added. “And they don’t care.”
The Daily Caller News Foundation reached out to multiple progressive activism organizations, including the American Civil Liberties Union, the Human Rights Campaign, and GLAAD, for insight into why activists and media discuss sex change surgeries in this way. GLAAD and the ACLU did not offer perspective, but the Human Rights Campaign directed The Daily Caller News Foundation to its media guide and highlighted that the American Academy of Pediatrics has endorsed gender-affirming care.
Sex Changes for Minors or ‘Gender-Affirming Medical Care’
When Arkansas passed the Save Adolescents From Experimentation Act banning sex change procedures and surgeries for minors, most media outlets described the legislation using phrases like “gender-affirming care” and “lifesaving care.”
“Arkansas passes bill to ban gender-affirming care for trans youth,” NBC News headlined its story, while Yahoo News similarly described the bill as one that banned “access to gender-affirming care for transgender residents who are minors,” and CNN referred to the surgeries as “gender-affirming ‘procedures’ for trans people under age 18.”
The Washington Post reported the Save Adolescents From Experimentation Act restricts “access to medical treatments for transgender children,” calling the legislation “part of a growing effort by politicians to restrict the rights of transgender young people across America.”
This media trend has continued throughout discussion of sex change procedures and surgeries for children, such as in a May CBS News segment that refers to “gender-affirming medical care for trans youth” regarding Texas legislation. Correspondent Lesley Stahl even used the phrase in a “60 Minutes” segment criticized for its frank discussion of how easy it is to obtain the irreversible sex change surgeries.
The New York Times referred to “gender-affirming or transition-related medical care” in a Sunday piece on a Brooklyn, New York, transgender rally.
The language is also used by smaller outlets like The Dallas Morning News, The Texas Tribune, and The Salt Lake Tribune.
Activist Charlotte Clymer used the phrase when praising Iran as a supporter of trans rights last week, tweeting, “Iran literally pays for trans-affirming medical care with state funds,” though Iran has a documented record of forcing LGBTQ persons into sex change surgery against their will and often punishes homosexuality with death.
Like Clymer, former President Barack Obama’s State Department also referred to Iran’s sex change surgeries as “gender-confirmation surgery.”
As recently as Monday, Popular Information reporter Judd Legum described transgender bills as “legislation that would criminalize providing gender-affirming medical care to adults and children.”
Legum first incorrectly told The Daily Caller News Foundation Monday that the bills he referenced, such as Texas’ Senate Bill 1646, had nothing to do with sex change surgeries. He then defended his characterization of the bills as “100% accurate,” saying, “I don’t have to follow The Daily Caller style guide.”
The issue has gained national prominence over the past couple years since events like the case of James Younger, a 7-year-old whose mother planned to transition him to a girl despite his father’s objections. Author and researcher Abigail Shrier ignited global discussion through her 2020 book on concerning spikes in transgenderism among teenage girls who formerly displayed feminine traits and tendencies.
Transgender journalist and physics teacher Debbie Hayton, who believes it is “impossible to change sex,” explained to The Daily Caller News Foundation that use of the phrase “gender-affirming medical care” over “sex change surgery hinges on the idea that the surgery isn’t actively changing a person but is instead helping their mind align with their body.”
“Sex change surgery implies active treatment to change something,” Hayton said. “Gender-affirming surgery implies treatment to restore the existing situation.”
American Principles Project President Terry Schilling told The Daily Caller News Foundation that this use of language is “an organized and deliberate effort.”
“Woke activists need to use euphemisms to describe the horrible policies they support because they are so incredibly unpopular with the American people,” Schilling said. “They say things like ‘reproductive care’ as a substitute for ‘late-term abortion,’ ‘equity’ instead of ‘state-sanctioned racism,’ or ‘gender-affirming medical care’ instead of ‘sex changes for kids,’ hoping no one will call them on it.”
The media, Schilling warned, is “all too willing to go along with the ruse because the newsrooms are full of woke activists.”
What Is Gender-Affirming Medical Care?
Medical professionals who undertake a child’s a sex change usually begin with puberty blockers such as the gonadotropin-releasing hormone (GnRH), which temporarily suppresses puberty for the child, according to the Mayo Clinic.
For biological males, the puberty blockers will decrease face and body hair growth, prevent the voice from deepening, and limit genitalia growth, according to Mayo Clinic; and for biological females, the puberty blockers will limit or stop menstruation and the development of the breasts.
The Endocrine Society recommends that clinicians begin puberty blockers “after girls and boys first exhibit physical changes of puberty,” usually around 11 years old.
A U.K. judge ruled in December 2020 that it is “highly unlikely that a child aged 13 or under would be competent to give consent to the administration of puberty blockers,” adding that “it is doubtful that a child aged 14 or 15 could understand and weigh the long-term risks and consequences of the administration of puberty blockers.”
Transgender advocates “maintain that “the suppression of puberty using GnRHa is a reversible phase of treatment” and that puberty blockers can be considered “‘buying time’ to allow for an open exploration of the SR [sex reassignment] wish.” But other experts have called puberty blockers a “momentous step in the dark,” wrote Dr. Jonathan Wells, a senior fellow at the Center for Science and Culture.
Wells cited studies showing that almost all children who go on puberty blockers proceed to take cross-sex hormones, which is the next step in the sex change process. Cross-sex hormones will cause the individual to develop more masculine or feminine secondary sex characteristics, according to Mayo Clinic.
The Endocrine Society recommends that children “who fulfill eligibility for gender reassignment” begin cross-sex hormone therapy at age 16, but notes that there may be “compelling reasons” to begin cross-sex hormone treatment earlier, even though there are limited studies on cross-sex hormone treatment administered to children younger than 13 or 14.
Wells wrote that “since almost all children who start on them go on to take cross-sex hormones, it seems that the ‘completely reversible’ claim is exaggerated.”
It would more truthful, Wells said, to tell parents and children:
We can give you medicine that will block changes in puberty that you might find disturbing. According to the evidence, if you don’t take the medicine, there is at least a 3 out of 4 chance that you will grow up happy with the body you have. On the other hand, once you start taking the medicine, there is a 98% chance that you will go on to take cross-sex hormones. Those hormones will probably make you sterile, and you may have to take them for the rest of your life.
The Endocrine Society suggests that young people wait until 18 to obtain sex change surgery, though in some countries the age minimum is 16.
A Transgender Style Guide?
The terminology many media outlets use in reporting on LGBTQ issues conforms to progressive activist style guides, such as GLAAD’s style guide for reporters.
GLAAD boasts of promoting “accurate, inclusive stories and messages in media outlets that increase and enhance representation of LGBTQ people,” highlighting that The Associated Press, Reuters, and The New York Times have specific LGBTQ style requirements.
“GLAAD has learned a lot since its founding in 1985 about the media’s role in changing hearts and minds,” the organization’s website said. “GLAAD demonstrated not only media’s powerful influence—impacting how people treat others, how they vote, and their daily decisions—but our own authoritative potential to lead the conversation, reshape the narrative, and ultimately, change the culture.”
GLAAD’s guide encourages reporters to avoid the phrase “sex change operation” and adds in bold that “journalists should avoid overemphasizing the role of surgeries in the transition process.” GLAAD did not respond to a request for comment explaining this statement.
The Human Rights Campaign’s style guide also offers suggestions to reporters on how to discuss this topic.
“Transition is a process that some transgender people undergo when they decide to live as the gender with which they identify, rather than the one they were assigned at birth,” the Human Rights Campaign style guide said. “A transgender person transitioning is not ‘becoming’ a man or a woman; they are starting to live openly as their true gender.”
“Transitioning can include medical components such as hormone therapy and surgery. However, not every transition involves medical interventions,” the style guide said.
Schilling, American Principles Project’s president, suggested that conservatives should respond to this use of language and media by rejecting “the left’s framing.”
“Tell the truth about what’s happening,” he said. “And do what’s necessary to protect these kids—pass legislation that would ban these horrific procedures, and create private rights of action for all these kids who have been harmed by these doctors, industries, and institutions that pushed them into genital mutilation, sterilization, and even worse.”
“The vast majority of Americans agree that pushing sex changes on children is crazy, so politicians need to be willing to stand up for these kids and do the right thing,” he added.
Former Trans People Weigh In
Partners for Ethical Care co-founder Erin Brewer said that she finds these descriptions “very concerning,” adding that even the World Professional Association of Transgender Health guidelines warn “that the vast majority of children will have their gender dysphoria resolved if they progress naturally through puberty.”
Brewer, who has written a book describing her experiences as a child who identified as transgender but did not go through any type of hormone therapy or procedures, told The Daily Caller News Foundation that children often develop gender dysphoria as a result of underlying issues, such as sexual assault.
“These kids need mental health services to help resolve the underlying issues, not medical interventions that damage their healthy body,” she said. “These interventions are the antithesis of medical care, they damage a child’s healthy body and give a child the message that they are inherently flawed and the self-hatred they have for their body is justified. ”
“There is no research that supports medically transing a child,” she added, “However, there is ample evidence that shows these interventions increase self-harm and suicidality. It is unconscionable that activists are trying to rebrand these harmful practices in order to validate harming vulnerable children.”
De-transitioner Billy Burleigh told The Daily Caller News Foundation that gender identity-related distress “has been controversial for decades, and with each step through history, the effort has been to make it more normalized and acceptable.”
“And this step, where activists are trying to rebrand sex changes as ‘gender-affirming medical care’ rather than ‘sex changes’ appears to be another effort, another step to make gender identity distress not only as more normal and acceptable, but as an ailment that requires medical intervention, medical treatment,” he added.
Burleigh stressed that instead of treating outward symptoms of gender identity distress, families and mental health professionals should help “uncover and work through the underlying issues and problems.”
The solutions presented by LGBTQ activists, he said, cause him to stop and ask himself, “Is the LGBTQ community, and our government, trying to help individuals overcome problems and improve their health, or are they pushing an agenda?”
“When I was a small boy, I would have run down the road of gender change,” he said. “In my nightly prayers I asked God to change me into a girl before I would wake up. I made this happen (changed my gender presentation—we cannot change our gender) as an adult and presented as a woman for seven years.
“I had so many underlying issues that I had to deal with later in life—these issues manifested in me to identify as a girl, and I convinced my therapists that I was in the wrong body because I fully believed this,” he said. “I have met transgender people and, in my conversations, we all have, or have had, underlying issues, such as sexual abuse, that had not been addressed.”
He concluded: “Gender-affirming therapy, I believe, does more long-term harm than good.”
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