Months after becoming the subject of an anti-trans media circus, a Missouri youth gender clinic is officially closing

OPINION: Anti-trans media has real-world consequences for trans health

An embattled St. Louis, Missouri, youth gender clinic officially announced its closure on Monday, citing a new state law banning gender-affirming care for minors. The Washington University Pediatric Transgender Center at St. Louis Children’s Hospital came under fire earlier this year when a so-called whistleblower, Jamie Reed, stepped forward with wild and largely unsubstantiated allegations against its doctors and other care providers. Republicans in the Show Me State ran with her stories, first by attempting to close the clinic through the state’s attorney general’s office, then by passing a legislative ban on gender-affirming care for minors.

Though the clinic was not affected by the new law, which stated that anybody already receiving such care could continue it, new legal liabilities imposed by the law’s passage made the clinic’s operation unsustainable.

While the bulk of the blame for the clinic’s shuttering lies with the state’s conservative legislature, its closure was also accelerated by a group of anti-trans journalists who presented Reed’s unsubstantiated allegations to a wide audience.

A summary of how Reed first burst upon the media scene is better recounted in this piece for the St. Louis Post-Dispatch. Thanks to the tireless work of several local newspaper reporters in the greater St. Louis area, Reed’s allegations have mostly fallen apart at this point. Suffice it to say that there is no evidence that kids who identified as rocks were being given cross sex hormones without therapy, or that teens were getting puberty blockers without therapist approval or that hordes of detransitioners were emerging from the clinic, angry with getting rushed through the gender-affirming care system there, as Reed originally claimed.

Despite all this, Reed got a rosy portrayal from New York Times journalist Azeen Ghorayshi. Ghorayshi reported that she couldn’t substantiate most of Reed’s claims, and yet still went on to paint Reed as a brave truth teller in the pages of the paper of record. It’s not the first time Ghorayshi has faced questions like this and it’s enough of a pattern now to question her coverage of trans issues or whether she has a pre-existing bias against trans people.

A recent piece by trans journalist Evan Urquhart in Assigned Media outlines the poor treatment parents of trans kids say they received from Ghorayshi when they acted as sources in a story of hers: parents said that they felt misled by Ghorayshi regarding her intentions with her reporting. In Urquhart’s piece, a former source of Ghorayshi’s describes being chased down and and blocked from accessing her car until she agreed not to pull out of one of Ghorayshi’s stories as a source.

 

But why would a New York Times reporter go to such great lengths to browbeat supportive parents into staying on as sources in a piece whose framing they had expressed discomfort with? A quick analysis of the current state of the anti-trans journalism cottage industry reveals the truth.

The golden goose of the transphobic journalist grift economy that has popped up over the last five years, mostly on the subscriber-based platform Substack, has been to find someone who will confirm all of the wild conspiracy theories peddled by the political right wing and the gender-critical wings of social media.

For years now, the anti-trans side has thrown out unsubstantiated rumours of kids being rushed through medical gender transitions, of growing hordes of trans kids getting carted down to the gender chop shop by woke liberal parents, of a growing cohort of of detransitioners who were allegedly mutilated in gender clinics.

Jamie Reed was supposed to be that golden goose.

But Reed’s stories, like the rumours pushed by gender critical activists and their right-wing friends, are rubbish. One common claim anti-trans figures parrot is that large numbers of people are choosing to detransition. As evidence for this claim, some prominent anti-trans voices have cited the number of people subscribed to the Reddit forum devoted to detransitioning, which anyone with internet access can sign up for. An internet forum having a large following doesn’t necessarily indicate a social trend. It shouldn’t come as a surprise that, as detransitioning has been pushed as a media narrative, more people have become interested in a forum about the topic. The truth, though, is that detransition remains very rare.

The rise in youth referrals to gender clinics can be explained in the same way. Thanks to better representations of trans life, more people are learning of the existence of transness earlier in their lives, and trans people are better able to understand their own gender dysphoria at younger ages. Transition is also not exclusively framed as a shameful or scandalous thing anymore, with more and more adult trans people out there for young trans people to look up to. Conservatives, of course, know this, hence the panic over trans-inclusive books and other forms of media portraying trans people as just another normal way of existing. They want to return to the days when being trans was looked at scornfully by the general public.

The increase in referrals has led to delays in accessing care, poking another hole in the gender-critical theory that kids are being rushed into transition. The process of accessing gender-affirming care in Canada, the U.S. and beyond, is often slow, because clinics are largely underfunded and unable to meet local demand.

But stories of delays in getting legitimate care don’t sell newspapers or Substack subscriptions the same way conspiracy theories do. This is why Reed was held up as the ultimate gender-critical trump card. She was supposed to be the proof that the transphobic journalists or public figures of the world were right all along.

They were wrong, of course, and Reed’s stories blew up in their faces. That’s why it makes me so angry that they kicked off the wave that closed the St. Louis clinic. It’s long past time that we acknowledged that this is a large propaganda campaign against innocent children. We need to meet conspiracy theories with cold, hard reality. Lives are at stake.

Katelyn Burns is a freelance journalist and columnist for Xtra and MSNBC. She was the first openly trans Capitol Hill reporter in U.S. history.

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