Brian Anderson: Welcome back to the 10 Blocks podcast. This is Brian Anderson, the editor of City Journal. Joining me on the show today is Kay Hymowitz. Kay is the William E. Simon Fellow at the Manhattan Institute and a contributing editor of City Journal. Her work focuses on childhood, family, cultural issues, many other topics, and it's appeared in multiple prominent outlets including the Wall Street Journal, the New York Times, the Washington Post, and of course, City Journal, where her byline appears regularly. Kay is the author of several books, including Manning Up: How the Rise of Women Has Turned Men Into Boys. Today we're going to discuss her essay, “The Transgender Children's Crusade,” which appears in our spring issue and describes young people's unique vulnerability to gender ideology. So Kay, thanks very much for joining us.
Kay Hymowitz: Very happy to be here, Brian.
Brian Anderson: So you begin this essay by telling the story of Jazz Jennings, a transgender activist, reality television star, and influencer whose parents transitioned her from male to female, really beginning at a very young age when she started showing predilection for girl toys and behavior. Jazz has had the most intimate details of gender transition on view really, from her childhood social transition to her sex reassignment surgery when she was 17. But her journey is not typical, you write, but it is emblematic of the increasingly commonplace idea that selecting one's so-called gender identity is part of growing up. So I wonder if you can just to set the context for the story, if you could describe the concept of gender identity and how it's transforming the experience of coming of age in America.
Kay Hymowitz: Yeah, I think probably a lot of listeners have heard about puberty blockers and hormones and the debate that's going on about those in states around the country. But I wanted to really focus a little bit more on the idea of gender identity. There's a dogma about it that I don't think a lot of people realize is behind a lot of the thinking about transition, about transgender kids. Gender identity posits that we have, all of us, an identity, some part of the self, that only we have access to. And it's almost a spiritual idea. In fact, there are those who refer to gender identity as a kind of religion, and I don't think they're entirely wrong. You decide that you have inside you, a female or male or some other odd, maybe not even familiar identity. And only you know, and when you say "I am really a girl," if you're a boy, let's say in Jazz Jenning's case, that is supposed to be taken at face value. Okay, that is what you feel you are.
Gender identity is separate from sex, which we generally think of as male or female, although there are a lot of activists who are disputing that now. It is separate from sexual orientation. It doesn't tell you who the individual is attracted to. It tells you the gender identity. This is a relatively new concept, well, very new concept.
I was just looking at a paper that showed that the word “gender” was only used in relation to grammar up until the middle of the 20th century. Even then, if you searched for the word “gender” in articles about marriage, family, or anything related to that, you wouldn't find the word “gender.” Nobody was using it. And even until about 2010, it wasn't all that common in relation to young people, in relation to children and adolescents. And it is now, of course, central to our discussion about childhood and adolescence and becoming very much part of the way children and adolescents begin to think about who they are and what they want to be.
Brian Anderson: This is really an extraordinary development and an accelerated one, as you suggest, it's as if it's come out of nowhere. Parents, every parent would once recognize that children are given to make believe, making things up. They fight cowboys or dress up as princesses or play space aliens, whatever. They're not very good at thinking about the future. They're very present-oriented. Yet gender activists are claiming that children who are clearly emotionally and intellectually immature, are somehow fit to make decisions about their bodies that are going to permanently alter their health and identity. So I wonder, how do you explain this contradiction of gender identity with the basic tenets of child psychology, and how are child psychologists reacting to this?
Kay Hymowitz: Yeah, I don't find that there is an explanation for it. One of the things I wanted to get at my article was just how much of a gap there is between what we always thought about children and what we're now being told about them. The gender activists don't really explain the problem of the immaturity of children. They are insistent that the child knows who she, he, they is or are, and that nobody else can really know, the child knows. Now, they're not proposing that every child is interested in being a different gender than their sex. These terms get very confusing, I know. But they are implying that if a child says something like, as Jazz did evidently—according to her parents, that she really was a girl inside, we are just supposed to take that at face value. She knows. One of the most prominent child psychologists in this area, a woman named Diane Ehrensaft, at the University of San Francisco, puts it this way: she says, "It's not for us to tell. It's for the child to say."
And there is no age, really, given for that self-knowledge. And some children, as you point out, are prone to magical thinking. Jazz herself asked her mother when she was three or four, "When is the good fairy coming and giving me a vagina and taking away my penis?" So did she really believe that? I don't know. But we know children talk that way and that they do have very rich and active fantasy lives. The idea that they could understand from, “I want to play with dolls,” let's say, or “I like wearing sparkly bathing suits,” as Jazz did, that they could go from that to understanding what the implications are to becoming the opposite sex—or to trying to become the opposite sex, because in truth, they cannot become the opposite sex—as they learn when they go through these surgeries, which are often filled with all sorts of after effects, unpleasant after-effects and problems, as was the case with Jazz.
So I think the idea that these children—and also adolescents, and I'll talk about that in a minute—are capable of understanding the implications of wanting to change their sex, of becoming something else and of understanding all the after-effects that come with that. Because what we now know is that if you give a child, a teenager, cross-sex hormones, give a boy estrogen and a girl testosterone, they will very likely become infertile, that is never be able to have children. And their sexual function will be limited, restricted, possibly pretty dramatically. And try to tell that to a 13-year-old who's hysterical for whatever reasons, maybe not being included in a peer group where everybody's trans, there's a lot of social contagion going on here. But the point is, we should know better than to believe the teenager who becomes hysterical about something that they don't understand, they don't understand themselves. That's one of the very strong facts about being a teenager.
And we know this because we have all sorts of laws and customs that say adolescents are not fully mature, they're not fully grown into themselves. That's why we don't let them buy alcohol. That's why we don't give them the driver's licenses or why we have laws against even getting tattoos without a parent's permission. All of these suggest that we do know by law and custom, that children and adolescents are not fully adult. And there is nothing that I have seen in the literature from the trans activists that can explain what they think children are capable of. Are they proposing, for instance, that we lower the age when which children are able to get guns? I doubt it. Are they proposing that we give them access to buying alcohol? I really doubt it. But yet here they are saying they can acquiesce, not only acquiesce but request and should be respected when they request, puberty blockers and cross-sex hormones.
Brian Anderson: Really amazing. A bit more on the teens. High schools generally serve as the kind of proving ground for today's teenagers. So I wonder how has the high school setting and especially the role of peer influence contributed to this rising emergence of transgender-identifying youth? And relatedly, how does social media, which enables users to curate their own communities and really creates the kind of world in which most teens live these days, complicate things further.
Kay Hymowitz: So there was a time where adolescents, teenagers, were not separated off into the ghettos that were high schools. That is, they were part of the world. Some of them worked in factories—I'm talking many, many decades ago—they worked as apprentices, and they had jobs, and they were a part of a community and part of the workplace and part of the family. I mean, girls of course were expected to be at home and helping with their mothers, although they did start to work in factories later, I guess by the late 19th century in some cases. The point is, they were not only among peers, they were among adults as well. Now, with the high school, and this goes back to the 1940s and '50s, with the high school, you have children, teenagers who are, I believe by nature, very much programmed to follow, to conform to the people around them, who are mostly surrounded by people their age.
At any rate, we know that the peer group is a very, very powerful force in teenagers’ lives. And social scientists do know this. They've done a tremendous amount of work showing that all sorts of problems, of damaging behaviors can be spread through the peer group. I mean, social network theory has found that there are social contagion effects for obesity, smoking, drinking, and on and on, even suicide. There was one study showing, or more than one, and self-cutting as well. So these things do get passed on to kids. Now, as you point out, the real change, though, today, is social media, because you don't need a peer group in your high school who is telling you about being trans or about changing your identity or about questioning your identity. They can find it all over the social media. And all of these kids, they live on social media when they're not in school, and maybe even when they are in school.
And some of the social media websites are known for hosting groups of kids who want to identify, let's say as okay, girls who want to identify as trans boys. And they can go on websites on Reddit or Discord or some of the other places and converse with people who have done it already, and they get advice about what to tell your parents, what to tell the gender clinician. In the case of girls who want to transition to become boys, they learn where and how to wear chest binders to make them look like they don't have breasts. And there's a certain amount of manipulation that can go on when a child, when a teenager goes to the gender clinic because they've seen and heard from other kids who have already been through it, how you convince the clinician that you are ready for or able to handle puberty blockers or hormones. There are even cosmetic surgeons who are advertising on some of these social media websites to encourage kids to call them if they want to have a double mastectomy.
Now, I want to be careful here. We're not talking about younger children here. I don't think they're, occasionally you hear, and I think it's been shown to be true, that there are 14-, 15-year-olds who are having their breasts removed. But I think that's very rare, and it's even rarer still to see older kids. But it's happening and it's happening more and more. And as I say, there are even cosmetic surgeons advertising to these kids. And I don't think this is all about money, but they are making a pretty penny off of these surgeries. And the kids are extremely vulnerable to an adult encouraging them and telling them how to do this. And they are going ahead with it in many cases.
And then there's also, in Jazz's case, bottom surgery, which in her case involved a vaginoplasty in which you basically castrate the child and try to create an artificial vagina. Now that, she didn't do that till she was 17. And I think that's primarily the age that kids are doing this. But I don't know how many people have been around 17-year-olds recently, but I have, and I wouldn't trust them to make a decision like that. These are irreversible changes. These will change their lives completely. And I don't think they can possibly know whether this is what they, as a 30-year-old, would want.
Brian Anderson: Parents are naive, you write, to believe that their children's exposure to gender ideology, whether in school or online as you've been describing, is inconsequential or for that matter, easily countered. I wonder, maybe this is changing, but why are so many parents still in the dark about this, and what can parents do to prevent their children from falling victim to these, in my view, very dark influences?
Kay Hymowitz: Well, I think there are a lot of things going on for parents. One is that there is a significant minority, I do believe it's a minority, who really believe that the trans movement is an extension of the gay-rights movement. And that this is just something that if they're going to be modern and with it, they have to accept. So I think there are a lot of parents like that, although not a majority. And then you have the efforts of some educators—I don't want to say all, that would be wrong—some educators who are in favor of gender identity ideology and who are not only suggesting that kids think about what pronoun they should have, but what their gender identity is. In other words, they're pushing the idea that gender identity is something that these kids should be thinking about from a very young age.
There are books in all the school libraries about gender identity and about kids who have transitioned or are thinking of transitioning, maybe not getting surgery, but who are considering social transition, which means that they would present themselves as the opposite sex, let's say a boy who was going to wear dresses and grow his hair very long and look like a girl and change his name also. That would be a social transition. So I think teachers are encouraged in many places. And remember, we're a big country. We have a decentralized education system, and I don't want us, I think it's very unlikely that this is going on everywhere. But there are many, many schools where teachers are encouraging this. And in fact, there are states, California and Maryland in particular to name two, where it is forbidden, it is against the law, state law, to tell a parent if their child is asking to use a different pronoun or a different name.
So the schools, at least in some places, are very much on the side of the transition. And they tell parents in some cases, and this is more likely to become from a gender clinic, that if you don't endorse your child's transition, they will kill themselves or they're at great risk of suicide, is the way they'll put it. The common phrase is, "Would you rather have a live son or a dead daughter?" And parents are terrified. They're terrified that they're going to destroy their children's lives and are not in a position to argue. These are doctors telling them that this is absolutely necessary in some cases. This is one of the things that I think has been understated in the mainstream press, of how much pressure these parents are under to endorse, to confirm, to validate their child's supposed gender identity.
Brian Anderson: Well, it's a remarkable and disturbing story. It's called the Transgender Children's Crusade. Kay Hymowitz, I wanted to thank you for coming on 10 Blocks as always. Don't forget to check out Kay's work on the City Journal website, www.city-journal.org. We'll link to her author page in the description and you can find her on Twitter at @KayHymowitz. The story will be posted there, and it's available on our website. You can also find City Journal on Twitter @CityJournal and on Instagram @cityjournal_mi. And if you like what you've heard on today's podcast, please give us a five-star rating on iTunes. Kay Hymowitz, thank you very much.
Kay Hymowitz: Thank you, Brian.