60 Minutes segment on trans health care becomes ammo for right-wing media attacks
Detransitioning is a rare occurrence, yet right-wing media often capitalize on it to oppose affirming care
Anti-trans media outlets and figures including Fox News’ Tucker Carlson and The Daily Wire’s Matt Walsh misled about best practice health care for trans youth by highlighting a May 23 episode of CBS’ 60 Minutes that covered the rare occurrence of “detransitioning,” in which “people who begin a gender transition ultimately decide it’s not for them.” (Research suggests that only 1% to 3% of trans people do so).
The episode featured several doctors who highlighted the necessity of affirming health care, but it also included interviews with people who had “detransitioned” and suggested that young people are being rushed to transition. Advocates called the segment “shameful,” described it as “fearmongering,” and said it was “dangerous.”
Detransitioning narratives have been used in the past by right-wing media, including anti-trans outlet The Daily Wire, to fuel misinformation about best practice health care for trans people, especially trans youth.
In reality, this care is widely supported by medical professionals and yields long-term mental health benefits. Furthermore, young trans and gender-diverse children are not undergoing surgery until they are older and have received other types of care such as therapy -- rather, as social work professor Katherine Kuvalanka told The Washington Post, “the only interventions for young children is affirmation and acceptance for who they are.” Furthermore, the 60 Minutes segment noted that medical guidelines for trans youth, which will be updated in 2021, say that people under 18 must get parental consent for gender-affirming surgery and should have “seen a therapist,” while “those over 18 can sign an informed consent form after an initial assessment but for surgery they too need to have seen a therapist.”
Research and personal narratives have demonstrated that affirming trans people’s gender identities -- and those of youth in particular -- is critical to their well-being. The American Academy of Pediatrics issued a policy statement in 2018 encouraging parents and medical providers to affirm the gender identities of trans and nonbinary youth, which has been shown to reduce their risk of experiencing depression; homelessness and suicidal behavior are also linked to rejection of gender identity.
In fact, a recent national study from the Trevor Project found that “42% of LGBTQ youth seriously considered attempting suicide in the past year, including more than half of transgender and nonbinary youth.” The report also found that suicidality greatly decreased in youth who were affirmed in their gender identity.
Anti-trans media and figures used the 60 Minutes segment to deceive about best practice health care
The 60 Minutes episode did not appear in a vacuum; it aired after right-wing media and anti-LGBTQ figures have spent years obsessively fearmongering and spreading disinformation about best practice medical care for trans youth. In a familiar pattern, they leveraged the May 23 episode of 60 Minutes to reinforce their lies.
On the May 25 edition of his show, Fox News’ Tucker Carlson, a repeat misinformer on the subject, aired a clip of the interviews with detransitioners and lied that “therapists will steer those children to doctors who will almost immediately give them powerful sex hormones, drugs whose long-term effects we cannot know. In some cases, those kids will then be referred to surgeons who will mutilate or remove their sex organs permanently.”
He also called affirming care “reckless, and cruel, and totally unethical” and lied that “gender reassignment surgery and chemical castration cause depression and exacerbate mental illness. This is known.” Once again, minors are not generally undergoing surgeries, and older people who do undergo gender confirmation surgery report long-term mental health benefits. One of the detransitioners who received surgery featured in 60 Minutes said she was in her early 20s, and the other did not specify his age.
Later in the show, Carlson interviewed a detransitioner who said, “So I called out to God and asked for him to help and gave my life, gave all of me and my problems, to him. And he helped me. He helped me find my way back.”
Carlson finished the segment by comparing being trans to changing one’s race, height, or vaccination status:
TUCKER CARLSON (HOST): So you shouldn't be surprised when they don't stop with gender transition. Why would they stop? If you could control nature, you'd probably make a lot of improvements. If you can change your sex, why can't you change your race? That's a serious question. Please explain. Why can't you change your race?
Race is far less fundamental to human biology than sex is. And by the way, why can't you change your height or your eye color or your shoe size? For that matter, why can't you change your vaccination status?
The same day, TheBlaze’s Louder with Crowder also discussed the 60 Minutes episode, which host Steven Crowder praised, saying, “They did a pretty good job.” Crowder also featured video of a detransitioner from the segment who claimed to have been exposed to transgender topics online, and his co-host Dave Landau commented, “She went to a trans site to get answers. It's like if you went to a Nazi site, and you’re like, ‘Well, they seem to be really into this one thing.’”
Later in the podcast, another co-host lied that 6-year-olds can receive hormone therapy treatment and Crowder called best practice care “child abuse.” Landau seemingly advocated for discredited and dangerous conversion therapy and said:
DAVE LANDAU (HOST): And depression is a very serious thing and the people that are depressed need to speak to somebody who is a professional who wants to hear you and talk to you about your real problems to get you real treatment. It’s not just, cut your tits off, and you’re going to be -- it’s true, I mean, I’m not — I’m not trying to be funny.
The Daily Wire’s Matt Walsh also used the 60 Minutes segment to fearmonger about best practice health care in a nearly 20-minute monologue featuring video from the episode. During Walsh’s May 24 podcast episode, titled “The Evil Quacks Mutilating Our Children,” he compared affirming care to “molestation and rape” and repeatedly slandered doctors who provide such care, calling them “evil -- we’re talking about Nazi scientist-evil” and “pedophiles.” He also said that performing affirming procedures has “plastic surgeons basically acting like Leatherface from The Texas Chainsaw Massacre.”
Other right-wing outlets also picked up the 60 Minutes episode:
- Breitbart published an article on the segment in which Michelle Cretella of the anti-LGBTQ group American College of Pediatricians lied that there are “physically healthy girls, who are being referred for double mastectomies at age 13. This is institutionalized child abuse. We’re taking emotionally troubled youth, psychologically abusing them by reinforcing their gender, sexual confusion, and then experimenting on them with toxic drugs and mutilating surgeries.”
- The Daily Wire called the episode “explosive” and published a transcript of a portion of the 60 Minutes interview featuring one of the detransitioners.
- On Twitter, anti-trans author Abigail Shrier praised the segment for talking about “peer influence”; the flawed idea that being trans is a “social contagion” is central to Shrier’s thesis. Shrier also praised one of the detransitioners interviewed on 60 Minutes, saying, “She just may save thousands of girls.”
- Also on Twitter, Christiana Holcomb of the extreme anti-LGBTQ group Alliance Defending Freedom (ADF) responded to the episode, “We need to highlight more of these stories. There is a devastating human cost to transgender ideology.” ADF is reportedly working around the country to ban best practice medical care for trans youth.
States around the country are considering measures to prevent trans kids from receiving best practice health care
State legislatures around the country are advancing measures to ban and criminalize best practice care for transgender youth; on April 6, Arkansas became the first state in the country to ban such care. Similar efforts in the past were fueled by the anti-trans misinformation spread by anti-LGBTQ media and groups.
Trans advocate and American Civil Liberties Union lawyer Chase Strangio has noted that such measures are “forcing young people already receiving treatment off of it and removing them from care that has allowed them to manage distress and embrace their own, individual processes of learning about and celebrating their bodies and identities.”