A stethoscope in white, a trans symbol in rainbow and a trans pride flag on a pale green field with a blue bar under the stethoscope and a pink one under the trans symbol

Andrea Austria / Media Matters

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Right-wing media are comparing gender-affirming care to lobotomies

The procedure was once used as a “cure” for homosexuality and “transvestism”

Right-wing media have a history of making extreme comments about gender-affirming care, including comparing it to the acts of Nazi doctor Josef Mengele and calling for imprisonment or even execution of doctors providing such care. Now right-wing media — and some politicians — are comparing the essential medical care that trans people receive to lobotomies.

Lobotomies are still technically legal in the United States, although the procedure has not been performed in decades. By comparison, gender-affirming care — now banned for youths in 21 states — has been practiced for about a century, is backed by over 50 peer-reviewed studies, and is endorsed by every major medical association and leading world health authority. Gender-affirming care is also administered with the consent of the patient, whereas people who underwent lobotomies “rarely had a voice in determining whether or not lobotomies would be performed.”

In fact, lobotomies were once used as a means of attempting to convert or “cure” LGBTQ people. The “Father of the Lobotomy,” Dr. Walter Jackson Freeman II, performed almost half of his nearly 3,500 surgeries on gay men to this end. 

But being gay or trans is not a mental illness. Gender-affirming care is a means for trans people to pursue lifesaving treatment for gender dysphoria and a way to affirm their identities in everyday life.

  • Right-wing media have falsely equated gender-affirming care and lobotomies several times in 2023

  • Fox News pundit Emily Compagno compared gender-affirming care to lobotomies, forced sterilizations, and other “dark chapters in our government’s history.” Compagno was part of a panel implying that gender-affirming care was the cause of suicides and suicidal ideations of some transgender people. [Fox News, Outnumbered, 5/19/23]

  • The Washington Examiner claimed children are “having their brains and bodies distorted” in the same way “the mentally ill were numbed and lobotomized.” The Independent Women’s Forum reposted the article, which is based on the disputed account of so-called whistleblower Jamie Reed. [The Independent Women’s Forum, 2/10/23; The Washington Examiner, 2/10/23]

  • An article from conservative outlet The Spectator specifically referred to trans mastectomies, known more commonly as top surgery, as “the lobotomies of our time.” The article drew this conclusion based on the account of anti-trans activist Chloe Cole, who called gender-affirming care “barbaric pseudoscience.” The article hinged on Cole’s testimony before the House of Representatives, where she used provocative language about the care she received, referencing the disposal of breast tissue after her surgery, which the article then compared to trash disposal. [The Spectator, 8/13/23]

  • Daily Wire host Michael Knowles agreed with a caller that “trans surgeries are our generation’s version of lobotomies.” After a viewer called in to the pundit’s show claiming that gender-affirming care and lobotomies were both “pioneered and expanded by crackpot doctors,” Knowles said the comparison was “apt.” He later repeated this sentiment, saying that gender-affirming surgeries are “obviously much worse than any lobotomies we ever gave women.” [The Daily Wire, The Michael Knowles Show, 6/30/23, 7/12/23]

  • Gays Against Groomers founder Jaimee Michell said “gender-affirming care on minors has been appropriately labeled the biggest medical scandal since the lobotomy craze.” At this year’s Moms For Liberty summit, Michell also called gender-affirming care for youth “a thousand times worse” than conversion therapy. [Moms For Liberty, 7/1/23]

  • Turning Point USA founder Charlie Kirk has repeatedly claimed that gender-affirming care is actually worse than lobotomies and that it should be put “back in the pit of hell where it came from.” Kirk claimed that gender-affirming care is the “modern equivalent” of lobotomies, but “worse” because “there was some evidence to show that lobotomies worked one out of three times.” Kirk falsely claimed there was no evidence supporting gender-affirming care. He would repeat some of the same rhetoric verbatim in late September. In the meantime, Kirk reasserted this stance at a Turning Point USA event with “groomer” smear provocateur James Lindsay. [Salem Media, The Charlie Kirk Show, 7/27/23, 9/28/23; Turning Point USA, 8/2/23]

  • On a QAnon Rumble show, anti-trans psychiatrist Miriam Grossman used the controversial Nobel Prize given to the man who introduced lobotomies to cast doubt on the acceptance of gender-affirming care. Grossman appeared on the QAnon program The MG Show on Rumble to compare gender-affirming care to lobotomies and push the debunked “social contagion” theory. [Rumble, The MG Show, 6/28/23]

  • This rhetoric has also begun to proliferate among lawmakers, while gender-affirming care is increasingly restricted by state and even federal legislatures

  • Rep. Dan Crenshaw (R-TX) appeared on America Reports to compare gender-affirming care to lobotomies and electroshock therapy, calling it a “social contagion.” [Fox News, America Reports, 9/1/23]

  • Missouri Attorney General Andrew Bailey compared health care for trans youth to lobotomies as right-wing radio host Jenna Ellis called it “child abuse” and “genital mutilation.” [Salem Media, The Jenna Ellis Show, 8/28/23]

  • Echoing right-wing media, a Nebraska lawmaker used the comparison to cast doubt on the medical community collectively. Republican state Sen. Jana Hughes cited lobotomy in her stance against gender-affirming care, telling New York magazine, “The medical community is not always right. … Are we going down that path with this?” [New York magazine, 5/20/23]

  • Wisconsin’s assembly speaker used the comparison to support a ban on gender-affirming care for youth, a nationwide trend codified in 21 states. At a news conference prior to debate on anti-trans legislation in Wisconsin, Republican Assembly Speaker Robin Vos called gender-affirming care “mutilation” and compared it to lobotomies. [The Associated Press, 10/12/23]

  • At a U.S. House hearing, Rep. Harriet Hageman (R-WY) rejected the term “gender-affirming care,” proposing instead the term “sexual lobotomy.” She reaffirmed this stance on her official government website. [House of Representatives Judiciary Committee, 7/27/23; Website of Rep. Harriet Hageman (R-WY), 7/28/23]