An interview with Ryan T. Anderson, the author of “When Harry Became Sally: Responding to the Transgender Moment”.
PIOTR WŁOCZYK: It seems from your book that the transgender movement has „kidnapped” a large portion of medical professionals in the US. How did it happen that so many doctors agree to irrevocably alter/mutilate bodies of people who think that only operation can heal their gender pain?
RYAN T. ANDERSON: It’s a mixed bag of reasons. Some doctors truly believe this will help their patients. Some are ideologues. Some go along with what the self-appointed experts say. Many professional associations have had their subcommittees on these issues captured by activists and ideologues, so it’s not as if the entire medical profession, or any given expertise, endorses the treatment protocols. But the loudest, most passionate, most aggressive members have made the price of dissent too high. So many doctors simply don’t speak out.
Why is doctor Paul McHugh so important in this context?
Dr. McHugh is one of those doctors who was willing, and still is willing, to speak out. He was educated at Harvard College and Harvard Medical School, and then was hired at Johns Hopkins Hospital and Medical School. He subsequently was appointed chair of the psychiatry department and psychiatrist in chief of the hospital. It was during this time that he shut down the sex-reassignment clinic that Hopkins had pioneered.
When you listen to LGBT advocates you can hear that hormones and operation is a safe and only way to permanently help these people. Is it true? What does real science say about the effects of „sex-change operation” on general life comfort of transgender people?
The world’s largest dataset on patients who have undergone sex-reassignment procedures reveals that these procedures do not bring mental health benefits. But that’s not what the authors originally claimed. Or what the media touted. In October 2019, the American Journal of Psychiatry published a paper titled “Reduction in Mental Health Treatment Utilization Among Transgender Individuals After Gender-Affirming Surgeries: A Total Population Study.” As the title suggests, the paper claimed that after having had sex-reassignment surgeries, a patient was less likely to need mental health treatment.
Well, ten months later, the editors of the journal and the authors of the paper issued a correction. In the words of the authors, “the results demonstrated no advantage of surgery in relation to subsequent mood or anxiety disorder-related health care.”
But it’s actually worse than that. The original results already demonstrated no benefits to hormonal transition. That part didn’t need a correction. So, the bottom line: The largest dataset on sex-reassignment procedures—both hormonal and surgical—reveals that such procedures do not bring the promised mental health benefits.
In fact, in their correction to the original study, the authors point out that on one score—treatment for anxiety disorders—patients who had sex-reassignment surgeries did worse than those who did not. These results are consistent with decades of studies showing that sex reassignment procedures do not improve the lives of patients. In fact one particularly prominent study showed that adults who had sex reassignment procedures were 19 times more likely to die by suicide than the general population.
A few months ago „60 minutes” on CBS reported on teenagers who decided to detransition. How widespread is detransition and what is the reaction of LGBT advocates to such reports?
No one knows how widespread detrainsitioning is because we don’t have quality studies of the phenomenon. Many people who transition and then regret it don’t want to talk to researchers, let alone the media, for when they do they are attacked by LGBT activists. The concern is that as more and more minors are pushed toward transitioning, more and more adults will be detransitioning. Their stories are heartbreaking. Many entail struggles in highschool and college fitting in, and “gender experts” claiming that testosterone and double-mastectomies would bring happiness. Five or ten years later when they realize their hormones and surgery didn’t address the underlying root cause of their discomfort, they regret the transition and try to get their lives back.
What are the best ways to help people with gender dysphoria and why is it so hard to implement them in the Western world?
The best therapies focus on helping people accept and embrace their bodies. Rather than attempting to do the impossible—“reassigning” bodies to line up with misguided thoughts and feelings—we should at least attempt what is possible: helping people to align their thoughts and feelings with reality, including the reality of the body. Frequently, for children at least, this doesn’t even require any active interventions. Just providing them with the time and the space to continue maturing, deepening their understanding of what it means to be a boy or a girl, a man or a woman, removing misplaced stereotypes and other misconceptions they may have about masculinity and femininity, and helping them mature. Some doctors draw a parallel to teenage anorexia, where no good doctor would prescribe liposuction—because the problem isn’t with the teen’s body. Instead, a good therapist would try to discover the root cause of the anorexia—a body-image struggle, a control issue, an eating disorder, sexual assault, societal expectations, etc.—and then address that cause. No two patients are the same, so no two responses would be the same.
Do people on the „right/conservative side” of political debate generally understand problems that people with gender dysphoria have?
There is a huge difference between people who struggle with their gender identity and people who are LGBT activists. Most people who suffer from gender dysphoria are not activists, and many of them reject the activists’ claims. Many of them may be regarded as victims of the activists.
Many of those who feel distress over their bodily sex know that they aren’t really the opposite sex, and do not wish to “transition.” They wish to receive help in coming to identify with and accept their bodily self. They don’t think their feelings of gender dysphoria define reality.
But trans activists do. And they tolerate no dissent. They’ve gone after “trans-friendly” doctors—who regularly support transition therapies for adults—for not being trans-friendly enough in encouraging children to transition.
We should be tolerant—indeed, loving—toward those who struggle with their gender identity, but also be aware of the harm done to the common good, particularly to children, when transgender identity is normalized.
Transgender activists are not merely asking for tolerance or kindness—they are demanding affirmation, not just from adults but from children and adolescents who are already challenged by the normal process of sexual development. In a culture where transgender identities are not only affirmed but celebrated, everyone will be compelled to construct their own gender identity, unaided by a common understanding of sex differences and why they matter.
It seems that more and more children are at the crosshairs of transgender activists. We can see that really young children are being harmed by „specialists” who claim that they can solve their „transgender issues”. How worrying should that be and do you see any real counter action of concerned parents who want to make sure that nobody experiments on their children?
Very worried, and thankfully more and more parents are realizing it. Parents in particular need to educate themselves about what activists are promoting through the schools, media, entertainment — the teen world, especially social media, is saturated with messages and images promoting “trans” identity and “gender diversity” as normal and healthy, which means kids are consuming those messages all day long. It will have an effect on how they think about themselves, the body and relationships in ways incompatible with both science (reason) and faith.
Beyond educating themselves, parents need to realize that “LGBT” content is flooding the public schools, not just in coursework, but in the school culture. And there’s no “opting out” of school culture the way you might be able to opt out of a given sex-ed class.
Furthermore, legislation is needed to prevent adults from interfering with a child’s normal, natural bodily development. As I’ve argued before, “gender affirmation” procedures violate sound medical ethics. It is profoundly unethical to intervene in the normal physical development of a child as part of “affirming” a “gender identity” at odds with bodily sex. While puberty-blocking drugs may be an appropriate treatment for precocious puberty — the early onset of puberty — in order to delay puberty to a biologically appropriate age, the use of puberty blockers to delay or permanently block natural biological puberty in order to “affirm” a discordant “gender identity” is unethical and violates the bodily integrity of children. Administering cross-sex hormones to minors, in an attempt to make their bodies cosmetically resemble those of the opposite sex or of their preferred “gender identity,” is likewise a violation of sound ethical norms and the rights of minors. Surgically removing genitals or secondary sex characteristics in an effort to “affirm” a “gender identity” — as done to 13-year-old girls who underwent double mastectomies in taxpayer-funded “research” — is particularly heinous. Governments should prohibit this misuse of medical technology and protect children from these harms.
You had your own problems with distribution of your book – Amazon blocked it. What does it say about the general atmosphere around the tansgender movement and its influence?
The silencing, shaming and censoring that we see on this issue is a sign of weakness from the left, not strength. Sure, it’s strength in one sense, that they control so many powerful institutions of American life — from the news media, to entertainment, to big business and big tech, to the major medical associations. But it’s a sign of weakness because they know their ideology can’t stand up to scrutiny, and that’s why they have to use their power to shut down discussion. We’re on the side of the truth, and we need to be faithful in bearing witness to it, and in using legal mechanisms to reduce the power of various “woke” forces in our culture.
Ryan T. Anderson is the President of the Ethics and Public Policy Center, and the Founding Editor of Public Discourse, author of “When Harry Became Sally: Responding to the Transgender Moment”.
This interview was published in November 2021 in “Do Rzeczy” magazine.