In an episode of his show uploaded to YouTube, podcast host Joe Rogan and his guest, Wall Street Journal writer Abigail Shrier, spent nearly two hours spreading misinformation about trans youth, including claiming that being transgender is a contagion comparable to having anorexia, “demonic possession,” and joining a cult. YouTube has policies banning content that claims groups of people are “mentally inferior, deficient, or diseased” and has taken down content similar to the interview in the past.
Rogan is one of the most influential podcast hosts in the world. He recently signed an exclusive licensing agreement worth more than $100 million with Spotify, where his show The Joe Rogan Experience will begin streaming on September 1. In a press release, Spotify said the show “has long been the most-searched-for podcast on Spotify and is the leading show on practically every other podcasting platform.” It continued, “Bringing the JRE to Spotify will mean that the platform’s more than 286 million active users will have access to one of culture’s leading voices.”
During the July 16 interview, which has been viewed over 1.8 million times on YouTube at the time of publication, Shrier promoted her new anti-trans book Irreversible Damage: The Transgender Craze Seducing Our Daughter and, alongside Rogan, encouraged parents to reject the identities of their trans kids. Rogan has previously used his podcast to oppose gender-affirming health care and to lead a crusade against trans mixed martial arts fighter Fallon Fox, including calling her a “fucking man.”
Both Spotify and YouTube, which currently hosts Rogan’s interviews alongside other streaming platforms, have bans on hateful content targeted at trans people. YouTube has taken action against videos from other figures who made similar anti-trans attacks, such as comparing being trans to having a mental illness.
Rogan and Shrier equated being transgender to anorexia, bulimia, demonic possession, self-harm, and joining a cult
Throughout the interview, Rogan and Shrier repeatedly claimed that being transgender is a “social contagion,” equating it to anorexia, cutting, demonic possession, and other disorders or afflictions that are affected by peer pressure or social influences. Rogan specifically compared young people identifying as trans to joining “suicide pacts” and a “crazy radical cult.”
The idea that being trans is a “social contagion” is central to Shrier’s thesis and comes from a flawed and since-corrected study by Brown University researcher Dr. Lisa Littman which suggested that trans youth -- primarily trans boys -- are rapidly identifying as trans due to “social and peer contagion.”
Littman’s study has been described by a colleague as “below scientific standards,” as it relied on “survey responses from parents who had visited sites promoting anti-trans views” and did not actually survey trans youth themselves. However, The Wall Street Journal has given Shrier a platform to repeatedly promote the study’s flawed concept of so-called “rapid onset gender dysphoria,” spreading dangerous misinformation about gender-affirming health care to millions of its readers.
These claims ultimately urge parents to reject their trans children and could have devastating impacts on their wellbeing. Research shows that affirming families and communities can be lifesaving for young trans people. According to Reuters, a 2016 study in the journal LGBT Health found, “For transgender or gender non-conforming individuals, as rejection from family members increases, so does their likelihood of suicide attempts or substance abuse.”
During the interview, Rogan claimed that young people who are transitioning and parents who support them are doing so because of a “groupthink model” and “contagion” that he equated to “cutting” and “even suicide pacts.” Shrier agreed that for young trans people, the idea of transitioning can become something to imitate like suicide, claiming it “becomes a thing in their minds that’s always an option.”
Shrier asserted that transitioning is “one form of self-harm” for trans youth. She also made other comparisons of trans identities to contagions, asserting that trans boys are “the same population that gets involved in cutting, demonic possession, witchcraft, anorexia, bulimia, and convinces themselves there’s a problem.”
Shrier also claimed that “there’s a reason that social contagion spreads among teenage girls specifically,” saying that unlike boys, “girls try to take on their friends’ pain very naturally.” She claimed that girls “are more likely to share and spread a peer contagion like anorexia, like cutting, and like trans identification.”
Rogan and Shrier cited “wacky friends,” the internet, and supportive schools as influences for youth coming out as trans. Additionally, Rogan compared coming out as trans to joining a cult, claiming, “For the people that don't think people are easily influenced, that's how cults start. Cults don't start because they make sense. Cults start because people want to belong.”
Rogan and Shrier mocked Caitlyn Jenner and suggested parents reject their trans kids’ gender identity
Rogan and Shrier suggested that young people do not have the capacity to determine their own gender identity and that parents should not affirm them. Rogan also mocked Caitlyn Jenner for receiving gender confirmation surgery, questioning why she needed the surgery if “she was completely woman, all woman, before that,” claiming, “We’re in la-la land.”
In reality, gender affirmative health care is the best practice that is widely supported by medical professionals and yields long-term mental health benefits. Moreover, a recent study found that both cisgender and transgender children sense their gender identities at young ages, and another study found that gender-nonconforming kids “who go on to transition do so because they already have a strong sense of their identity.” In addition, as Vox’s Katelyn Burns has noted, “Transitioning is a slow, deliberative process for minors, and only adolescents who are insistent, persistent, and consistent in their gender identity over long periods are recommended for medical intervention.” Despite these facts, right-wing media and anti-LGBTQ groups often attack the benefits of trans-affirming, best practice health care and provide fodder to lawmakers across the nation trying to ban it.
Despite this, Rogan and Shrier dangerously encouraged parents to reject their children if they come out as trans. ” Shrier twice recounted suggesting to the parents of trans boys that they take away their kids’ binders, a tight undergarment that flattens the chest and can help reduce gender dysphoria. Additionally, she suggested kids can’t know their gender identity and claimed parents are “treating these kids like prophets.
Rogan fearmongered that activists have an “agenda” to force kids to become transgender
At the end of the interview, Rogan claimed without evidence that activists “have this agenda, and this agenda is very ideologically driven that anyone who even thinks they might be trans should be trans, are trans, and the more trans people the better.”
Shrier also posited, without evidence, that there are “two types” of transgender people: “One who’s genuinely suffering gender dysphoria and always has since childhood, and another who discovered it on the internet with her friends.”
YouTube has terms of service that ban hate speech against trans people and has removed other content for similar anti-trans rhetoric
YouTube hosted Rogan’s interview with Shrier and has terms of service that ban anti-trans content. There is precedent on YouTube to remove this video, particularly given Rogan’s and Shrier’s claims equating being transgender to “anorexia” or joining “suicide pacts.”
The company’s hate speech policy says, “Hate speech is not allowed on YouTube. We remove content promoting violence or hatred against individuals or groups” based on numerous attributes, including “gender identity and expression.” YouTube has previously taken down at least two videos from the right-wing Heritage Foundation reportedly for comparing being transgender to having a mental illness or disorders. YouTube removed a 2017 Heritage video featuring the president of the extreme anti-LGBTQ group American College of Pediatricians, Michelle Cretella, for her comment, “See, if you want to cut off a leg or an arm you’re mentally ill, but if you want to cut off healthy breasts or a penis, you’re transgender."
YouTube also removed a video of a 2019 Heritage panel that advocated against affirming the gender identities of trans youth. In the video, “ex-trans” activist Walt Heyer said that people are “not born transgender. This is a childhood developmental disorder, that adults are perpetrating on our young people today, and our schools are complicit in this.” YouTube indicated that this comment violated its hate speech policy, pointing to language that bans videos that “claim that individuals or groups are physically or mentally inferior, deficient, or diseased based on any of the attributes noted for the purpose of inciting hatred. This includes statements that one group is less than another, calling them less intelligent, less capable, or damaged.”
Language from Shrier and Rogan -- including comparing being trans to “anorexia,” “bulimia,” and “cutting” -- is not a far cry from the comments made in the Heritage videos YouTube removed.
Additionally, Apple Podcasts, which currently streams the Shrier interview, has terms of service that bans posts that contain “objectionable, offensive, unlawful, deceptive or harmful content.” Apple previously removed episodes of far-right conspiracy theorist Alex Jones’ Infowars podcast for “hate speech” and failing to “provide a safe environment for all” users.
Spotify, which is poised to host this episode of The Joe Rogan Experience when the show “become exclusively available on the platform later this year,” also has a policy that states, “Hate content is content that expressly and principally promotes, advocates, or incites hatred or violence against a group or individual” based on a variety of characteristics, including gender identity.