Fox News contributor and radio host Laura Ingraham still doesn't understand the most basic facts about gender identity in young children, but that isn't stopping her from giving terrible advice to parents and school administrators working to protect transgender youth.
During the May 30 edition of her radio show, Ingraham discussed an Associated Press story about a gender variant 10-year-old, Ryan, who is biologically male but identifies as female. After several failed attempts to get Ryan more interested in “traditional boy things,” Ryan's parents decided to abide by their child's request to refer to her as a female.
Ingraham cited the story as evidence of a “new gender-bending phenomenon,” suggesting that parents are “pushing kids” to identify as transgender and peddling a number of common misconceptions and children and gender identity:
INGRAHAM: 10 years old. This is an AP report. And it's part of our examination of this new gender-bending phenomenon, which clearly is facilitated and encouraged by a popular culture that seems to have concluded that, you know, traditional gender roles are yesterday's news. It's all very antiquated. That we have to have an evolving view of gender. Just because you were born a girl or a boy, so what? Get past it if you want to. And if you want to we'll encourage you. Not just encourage you, we may actually encourage you to go to a hospital as a prepubescent and start undergoing medical procedures and hormone treatments that delay the natural.
It's got to be confusing for kids. I mean I am just a throwback I guess. All of this stuff just seems wild to me. But this what has not only been pushed in the film world and the world of literature. We are always pushing, pushing, pushing. And kids really can't be kids any longer. They have to be sexual beings at age 6 -- 5 even.
[T]his pushing kids into a box -- you are transgender, you are this, you are that. How about they're just kids first. And provides no time for them to grow and maybe grow past their current fascination with -- whether it's trucks for a girl or fairy princesses for a boy.
So that's -- it's normal for kids to experiment. They wear different things. But now it becomes their identity. And I am not saying some of these kids don't end up sexually in different places, I don't know. But I know when they're kids, their brains have not developed. You don't have your -- your sexual being even if you can have sex, your sexual being, from everything I have read from all the accomplished psychotherapists and everyone who has examined this, your sexual, quote, identity is really not solidified until much later on.
I just think of friends of mine who have large families and would be like, get the dress off. Take the dress off, we are going to go out and play some football. Paint. Whatever we want to do. But you're not wearing the dress. But instead it's, 'wear the dress.' And 'we're validating you.' And again, this is not a 17 year old, this is a 10 year old. And other stories that we have shared with you, as young as 5 and 6 years old.
This isn't the first time Ingraham has attempted to shame parents for supporting their transgender children, so it's naturally not the first time she's been dead wrong about the best way to treat gender variant youth. But her ideas aren't just “throwback,” as she puts it. They're dangerous, and they're totally inconsistent with the views of experts who've studied gender identity in children:
Conflating Sexual Orientation And Gender Identity. This is a basic mistake that Ingraham makes throughout her rant. A child's gender identity - “one's sense of oneself as male, female, or transgender,” according to the American Psychological Association - is completely distinct from a child's sexual orientation. While most children don't begin to develop a “sexual identity” until their early teens, most children establish a clear sense of gender identity - whether they identify as male or female - by a much earlier age.
Blaming Parents For “Pushing” Kids To Become Transgender. A recurring theme of Ingraham's tirade is that parents are unfairly “pushing” their kids to identify as transgender. In the overwhelming majority of cases, however, the opposite is true - transgender children are the ones encouraging their parents to identify them correctly. It was true in the case of Ryan, who explicitly asker her parents to call her a “she.” And it's been true each time right-wing media figures have chosen to freak out over a similar story. Whether through explicit requests, recurring behavior, or even the threat of self-mutilation, it's typically the children, not the concerned parents, who initiate discussions about the possibility of being transgender.
Claiming Kids Are Too Young To Know Their Gender Identity. Much of Ingraham's criticism rests on the idea that children aren't qualified to “choose” their gender identity at such a young age and are thus susceptible to being influenced by their parents or school environments. According to experts, however, most children have a firm sense of their gender identity by age four, and that identity remains stable for the majority of children.
Urging Parents To Force Their Children To Abide By Gender Norms. Ingraham mocks parents who choose to “validate” their transgender children, but studies show that failing to acknowledge and support transgender youth can lead to a host of negative consequences, including increased rates of depression, substance abuse, and suicidal behavior. Forcing children to abide by strict gender norms can cause serious emotional damage, and failing to provide transgender youth with necessary medical care can put them at risk for abuse and stigmatization.