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The U.S. is an Outlier on Trans Kid Policies
Is Europe now dangerously reactionary?
For years, the American healthcare industry has staunchly defended medical interventions for transgender minors, including puberty blockers, which suppress the physical changes of adolescence as a treatment for those distressed over their gender.
The European medical community, by contrast, is expressing doubts about that approach. Having allowed these treatments for years, five countries—the U.K., Sweden, Finland, Norway and France—now urge caution in their use for minors, stressing a lack of evidence that the benefits outweigh the risks. This month, the U.K.’s publicly funded National Health Service limited the use of puberty blockers to clinical trials, putting the drugs beyond the reach of most children.
“These countries have done systematic reviews of evidence,” said Leor Sapir, a fellow who studies transgender care at the conservative-leaning Manhattan Institute think tank. “They’ve found that the studies cited to support these medical interventions are too unreliable, and the risks are too serious.”
Many countries still allow puberty blockers as a clinical option, including Canada, Spain and Australia. Some in those countries also are urging curtailment. In Italy, for example, the president of the Italian Psychoanalytic Society wrote a public letter to the Italian prime minister in January expressing “serious concerns” over the use of puberty blockers.
In a congressional hearing last week, GOP politicians and their expert witnesses repeatedly cited European examples of increased caution and portrayed Democrats and the U.S. medical community as having gone too far in making treatments readily available for minors.
“It’s beneficial to see European countries coming to their senses,” said Rep. Dan Crenshaw, (R., Texas) in an interview after citing U.K. systematic evidentiary reviews of puberty blockers in last week’s hearing. In a sign that Republicans plan to make transgender-care issues a 2024 campaign theme, Crenshaw said at the hearing: “This is the issue of our time. This is a hill we’re gonna die on.”
But as Max Eden reports, in New York, it’s so much an item of holiness to assist transitions even as young as kindergarten, the state is directing educators to lie to parents about it:
Parents who send their kids to New York public schools have lots to worry about. Is he really learning? Is she really safe? And: Is the school gender-transitioning my child behind my back?
Earlier this week, the New York State Department of Education (NYSED) published a “legal update and best practice” document for how schools should serve “transgender and gender expansive” students. The key takeaway: if your child decides that he or she wants to socially transition to the opposite gender, it is now a “best practice” for the school to lie to you about it.
“Only the student,” the NYSED declares, “knows whether it is safe to share their identity with a caregiver.” The baseline assumption, then, is that “unaffirming” parents are dangerous to their children. If Kevin wants to go by “Kimi” but doesn’t want his parents to know, the best practice, according to NYSED, is as follows: “The teachers call her Kimi and use she/her pronouns at school. When calling home for any reason, teachers use the name Kevin and he/him pronouns.”
Leading experts like Hilary Cass, a medical doctor who documented rampant malpractice in England’s Tavistock child gender clinic, have explained that social transition is not a neutral act but rather an active psychosocial and arguably even medical intervention. Finnish medical authorities have discouraged gender self-identification for children, recognizing its potential to disrupt healthy development and result in unnecessary medicalization. While activists believe that transition is beneficial to mental health, a new study in the U.K. finds no improvement for socially transitioned kids relative to control groups. Evidence suggests that treating children as if they are the opposite sex can cause their feelings of gender dysphoria to persist and increase the likelihood that they will seek experimental hormonal intervention.
If the NYSED has its way, schools will also effectively market experimental hormonal interventions. Its new policy recommends that all schools, at a minimum, adhere to the guidelines of the National Sex Education Standards, which state that children should learn about puberty blockers by fifth grade. It may be doubted whether schools would provide the full medical picture concerning the use of puberty blockers, including the lack of evidence for their benefits, the serious long-term side effects, and the near-certain progression to cross-sex hormones that can cause permanent sexual dysfunction and sterility.
The National Sex Education Standards also recommend introducing children to the concept of “gender identity” starting in kindergarten. As a next step, NYSED recommends that staff actively solicit sexual and gender information by “ask[ing] students which terms they use and generally us[ing] the term the student uses to describe themselves.” (This includes terms such as “agender,” which “refers to a person who does not identify with or experience any gender, [and] is different from nonbinary because many nonbinary people do experience gender.”) In New York, schools now apparently stand ready to tell five-year-olds that they might have been born in the wrong body, socially transition them behind their parents’ backs, and steer them toward experimental hormonal interventions.
Public polling suggests that NYSED’s policies on gender are massively unpopular. About 70 percent of registered voters oppose teaching students in elementary school about sexual orientation and gender identity, and 75 percent say that schools should be required to get parental consent before facilitating a gender transition.
Bill Barr on the Trump Indictment
All the razzle-dazzle about Trump’s supposed rights under the Presidential Records Act is a sideshow. At its core, this is an obstruction case. Trump would not have been indicted just for taking the documents in the first place. Nor would he have been indicted even if he delayed returning them for a period while arguing about it.
What got Trump criminally charged was his deceit and obstruction in responding to the grand jury subpoena served in May 2022 after he had stymied the government for a year.
That subpoena sought all documents in Trump’s possession that were marked as classified. If Trump truly thought he had a solid basis for keeping those documents, there were easy and obvious ways he could have lawfully raised those arguments at the time. Among other things, he could have taken legal action to quash the subpoena or have a court declare his right to keep them.
He did not do any of that.
Instead, the indictment alleges, he led the government to believe he was complying with the subpoena, telling the DOJ he was an “open book.” At the same time, he told his own lawyer it would be “better” to tell the DOJ there were no such documents and suggested his lawyer pluck out any “really bad” ones before giving anything to the government. Why would Trump say these things to his lawyer if he really thought he had a good legal basis for keeping all the documents?
But the pivotal fact—and what ultimately led the DOJ to charge Trump—was the department’s conclusion that Trump personally engaged in an outrageous course of deception to obstruct the grand jury’s inquiry. The indictment alleges in great detail that (1) Trump led his lawyer to believe that he would be allowed to conduct a complete search of all the boxes that could contain the relevant documents; (2) Trump then arranged, without the lawyer’s knowledge, for a large number of the relevant boxes to be removed from the room to be searched, thus preventing a complete search; and (3) Trump then caused his attorney to file a false statement with the court saying he conducted a complete search.
If true—and many key facts come from Trump’s own lawyer—this was brazen criminal conduct that cannot be justified in any way.
The New War on Free Speech
It is for this reason that Biden’s Department of Homeland Security recently created a “Disinformation Governance Board”, the European Commission crafted a new Digital Services Act and Code of Practice on Disinformation, and the UN is proposing a “Code of Conduct for Information Integrity on Digital Platforms”. All of these initiatives are allegedly the product of good intentions; all of them, however, are rooted in the same fallacy: there is little evidence to suggest that hate speech and misinformation are on the rise. On the contrary, Western countries are more tolerant of racial, religious and sexual minorities than ever before. To take one example, the percentage of Americans who approve of marriages between white and black Americans has risen from 4% in 1958 to 87% in 2013 to 94% in 2021.
There are, of course, plenty of examples of misinformation and hatred online, and Twitter and Facebook are right to reduce their spread — but often the threat is exaggerated. The Institute for Strategic Dialogue (ISD), for instance, recently published a study that concluded that antisemitism was increasing on Twitter. But there is no definitive evidence of rising hate online. The ISD study counted tweets criticising George Soros which didn’t mention his Judaism as antisemitic. Elsewhere, “hate speech” includes the reluctance of some people online to use female pronouns when referring to transwomen — even though one might oppose using female pronouns for natal males and harbour no animus toward transwomen.
Here we can see that what people label as “hatred” and “misinformation” is often merely an opinion they don’t like or which they fear will encourage bad behaviour. In both the UK and the US, this led to government officials demanding that social media platforms censor “often-true” content, including about Covid vaccine side effects, out of fear that such stories would result in vaccine hesitancy.
What’s more, Facebook and Twitter have also started deleting a significant amount of true content. Between 2020 to 2021, for example, Facebook censored claims that the coronavirus came from a Chinese lab, even though that was always as likely, if not more so, than the natural-origin hypothesis. Twitter also censored an accurate New York Post story about Hunter Biden’s laptop while allowing supporters of his father, Joe Biden, to falsely claim it was a result of “Russian disinformation”.
The global campaign to censor disfavoured views on Twitter and Facebook is therefore rather curious. If there is no evidence that hatred and misinformation are increasing, and ample evidence of inappropriate censorship of true and accurate information, why are politicians across the West calling for greater power to censor?
Some of the demand certainly appears to be grassroots. Since 2016, an increasing number of psychologists have started to document the rise of “concept creep”, the dramatic expansion of what people in Western societies consider to be “harmful”. It used to be that one would have to show physical or financial harm from speech for it to be restricted: often, one would have to commit fraud, incite violence or ruin a person’s career. Today, by contrast, a growing number of people consider petty offences, such as calling a transwoman “he” or denouncing Soros as a “globalist,” to be the cause of “real-world harm”.
Yet this support cannot be taken in isolation; more often than not, it is the result of funding from governments. It was, after all, Renee DiResta, a former CIA Fellow at Stanford University, who proposed that DHS create a “Disinformation Governance Board”; in Brazil, meanwhile, a Supreme Court judge is leading calls for greater censorship; in Canada, it is Justin Trudeau who has sought a crackdown on wrongspeech; and in the UK, the Institute for Strategic Dialogue is funded by the UK government and the US Department of Defense.
Perhaps it is unsurprising, then, that these efforts all share an elitist, anti-populist strain. Many of the government agencies, contractors and NGOs that are advocating for greater censorship have ties to the military, intelligence and security organisations, spawning what I term the “Censorship Industrial Complex”. How this is manifested is relatively straightforward: fearing that a wave of populist political victories would undermine Nato, the EU and the Western Alliance, government intelligence, military and security officials engaged in disinformation campaigns, such as the one claiming Trump was a Russian asset and that the Hunter Biden laptop was Russian disinformation, while demanding censorship of populist and anti-war voices.
Together, these measures constitute nothing short of a world war on free speech. After all, the intention of the UN and the EU is to censor disfavoured speech at a global level, specifically by insisting that Twitter and Facebook obey their dictates or face massive fines and nationwide restrictions.
Release the Thornton Cut
To summarize how author and filmmaker Matt Zoller Seitz related the story back in 2017, Weinstein demanded to see an “assembly cut” — essentially, all the footage you have for the film, pre-editing — and hated it. He lobbied against it by arguing that it was nearly four hours long (Thornton insists that he intended to cut it down to around 2:40, about the length of Miramax’s own English Patient). But Weinstein wanted it under two, and he wanted to lean into the idea of marketing it as a romantic piece for the two young stars, despite the fact that’s not what the story’s about at all.
So Miramax slashed the film apart, ditched the Daniel Lanois score, and cut it to under two hours, resulting in a mess of a movie that seems unevenly paced and was widely panned (though Roger Ebert loved it). At the box office, like so many westerns released in that decade, it failed.
Thornton felt so drained by the experience that he never directed again. Damon has expressed his frustrations at multiple times over the years — in a 2012 interview, he said:
“Everybody who worked on All the Pretty Horses took so much time and cared so much. As you know, the Cormac McCarthy book is set in 1949 and is about a guy trying to hold on to his old way of life. The electric guitar became popular in 1949, and the composer Daniel Lanois got an old 1949 guitar and wrote this spare, haunting score. We did the movie listening to his score. It informed everything we did. We made this very dark, spare movie, but the studio wanted an epic with big emotions and violins. They saw the cast, the director, Billy Bob Thornton, and the fact that we spent $50 million, and they never released our movie — though the cut still exists. Billy had a heart problem at that time, and it was because his heart fucking broke from fighting for that film. It really fucked him up. It still bothers me to this day.”
Note that key sentence: the Thornton Cut still exists. According to Seitz, he’ll even show it to you if you ask — it’s on VHS, apparently.
So now it’s 2023. Cormac McCarthy is a much bigger mainstream name than he was in 2000. His books are bestsellers again with his passing. Harvey Weinstein is disgraced and in prison. And westerns, thanks to cultural phenomenons like Yellowstone, are bigger business in Hollywood than they’ve been in a generation. Daniel Lanois’s score is out there floating. And Billy Bob Thornton still has his cut of All The Pretty Horses.
The internet has proven its power. If it worked for Zack Snyder, surely we can ask for something more important than Justice League. It’s time to release the Thornton Cut.
Items of Interest
“When God made man the devil was at his elbow. A creature that can do anything. Make a machine. And a machine to make the machine. And evil that can run itself a thousand years, no need to tend it.”
— Cormac McCarthy