Breaking down the pseudoscience behind Ohio’s proposed gender-affirming care ban

“The Ohio Legislature must trust the science, not Pastor Representative Gary Click.”

Last week, Rep. Gary Click (R-Vickery) provided a sponsor testimony for HB68, also known as the Save Adolescents From Experimentation (SAFE) act. The SAFE act, among other things, would ban trans minors in the state of Ohio from receiving life-saving gender-affirming care.

Throughout his testimony, Click, a Baptist pastor, made numerous scientifically false claims. This article presents a few of those claims and displays why they are incorrect.

Claim #1: The vast majority of youth with gender dysphoria will desist as they go through puberty

A large part of Click’s justifications rely on the idea that most youth identifying as trans will no longer identify as trans after they go through puberty. This is false.

A 2022 study followed 317 trans children to find out how many would retain their trans identity five years after their initial social transition. Social transition involves changing one’s name, pronouns and clothing. By the end of the study, only 2.5% of participants had reverted to identifying with the gender they were assigned at birth, a far cry from the 85-95% which Click repetitively claims.

In addition, a 2021 study found that a large majority of detransitioners revert to the gender they were assigned at birth not because they no longer feel they are trans, but because of external factors such as familial rejection, non-affirming school environments and sexual violence.

So where does Click’s claim come from?

The oft-cited inflated desistence statistic can be traced to a 2011 study by Dr. Thomas Steensma. Steensma alleged that 80% of trans youth desist (return to the gender assigned to them at birth). Like many studies used to bolster anti-trans talking points, Steensma’s study is riddled with methodological errors. It counts the near half of participants that did not return to his clinic for a follow-up as desisters and lumps together participants who are trans with those who simply display behaviors not stereotypically assigned to their gender.

Steensma’s biggest cheerleader is Dr. Kenneth Zucker, who Click regularly cites. Zucker’s Toronto clinic was forced to close in 2015 following an independent investigation. Among other things, the investigation found that Zucker’s clinic used methods that were decades out of date, assumed gender variant youth needed to be “fixed,” held back affirming medical resources from patients, asked prepubescent children inappropriately sexual questions and pressured them into being photographed without clothes. It also found that, despite Zucker’s claims that 80% of

gender dysphoric youth desisted, nearly half of the patients at his clinic never actually met the criteria for gender dysphoria.

To summarize, Click’s assertions about desistance rates come from discredited pseudoscientists and are categorically false.

Claim #2: Being trans is a social contagion

Click often claims that trans identity is a social contagion that spreads through peer groups and social media. This, too, is bunk.

To bolster this, Click cites Dr. Lisa Littman’s sincedebunked study on what she calls Rapid Onset Gender Dysphoria (ROGD). The study theorizes that many kids who identify as trans are not actually trans, but identify as such due to peer pressure and social media influence. The concept was swiftly denounced by swaths of medical associations after it began to gain attention.

Littman’s methodology is a head-scratcher. She targeted participants on websites that specifically advertise themselves as being communities for people suspicious about increased rates of kids coming out as trans. In other words, the users of these sites already believe in what Littman is testing for.

In addition, Littman advertised the survey in a way that primed participants to provide specific answers. The advertisement explained what ROGD is and stated that it had already been reported by “many parents.” It then specifically called on parents who perceived that ROGD applied to their child to participate.

Pseudoscientific accusations of minority groups expanding through social contagion is not a new phenomenon. The same accusation was levied against those who experience same-sex attraction for decades.

To sum up, the ROGD hypothesis is bigoted pseudoscience originating from a study with severe methodological faults.

Claim #3: What is needed is a “watchful waiting” approach

Click regularly promotes a “watchful waiting” approach to gender dysphoria. Watchful waiting is an outdated method that seeks to hold children back from transitioning based on false assumptions that dysphoria will go away during puberty. It has since been replaced with a more affirming method, which allows gender-expansive youth to experiment with gender expression. The affirming method is recommended by almost every major medical association

Watchful waiting is sometimes termed Gender Exploratory Therapy (GET). In GET, practitioners regularly deny life-saving treatments to patients until they find a way to get the patient to delay

transitioning. The organizations that push the practice hide their fringe ideology behind a cloak of non-partisanship. One of these groups, the Society for Evidence Based Gender Medicine (SEGM), has extensive ties to evangelical activists, supporters of conversion therapy and promotes Littman’s debunked ROGD hypothesis. Genspect, another GET organization, has advocated banning gender-affirming care for trans individuals up to the age of 25. The Gender Exploratory Therapy Association filed a brief opposing the Biden Administration expanding Title IX to protect trans students. The brief argued against allowing trans students being allowed to use bathrooms aligning with their gender identity, claiming it would harm the mental health of their peers.

In 2018, The American Academy of Pediatrics issued a statement against the practice. They condemned it for withholding “critical support” from patients and being based on the idea that gender fluidity is abnormal and needs fixing. They also note that the studies influencing the practice contain validity concerns, methodological flaws and limited follow-up.

The consequences of withholding gender-affirming care are dire. A 2022 study associated gender-affirming care with 60% lower odds of moderate or severe depression and 73% lower odds of suicidality in trans and non-binary youth.

To conclude, lives depend on the Ohio Legislature trusting the science. Not Gary Click. 🔥

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