How hateful conspiracy theories make it into the papers

The Christian Post is yet another evangelical newsletter from America, and it’s part of an axis that includes the Heritage Foundation and the Family Research Council – two organisations with strong links to the British anti-trans movement. It’s just published an article about the “trans cult” that could have been lifted from The Sunday Times.

You know how these things go by now. Sinister cult members stealing children by the dead of night, chopping bits off them, selling them to Satan.

Here’s Gillian Branstetter, media relations manager for the US National Center for Trans Equality.

The article is astonishing in its sensationalism, but quite typical of anti-trans fear mongering. The Heritage Foundation and the Family Research Council use similar language. The goal is to activate disgust–an extremely strong emotion–in the reader.

It’s why almost all of these articles talk about a sinister push towards surgery for children, even though children do not get gender confirmation surgery. When they can’t scare you about surgery, they’ll tell you that children are being given cross-sex hormones. That doesn’t happen either. And when they’ve ran out of things that don’t happen to scare you about, they’ll redefine “children” to mean “32-year-olds”.

The Sunday Times was doing it today, in yet another piece about the “state-sponsored sterilisation of trans children”. The “children” in the article were 20, 21 and 32. The article is uncannily similar to the one in the Christian Post.

It’s worth looking at the Sunday Times piece in a bit more detail, because the most shocking revelation was that one of the “children” – the 32-year-old – had committed suicide after a history of such attempts. The fact that the parent repeatedly misgenders their dead child suggests that lack of parental acceptance and support might just have been a factor. We know that the suicide rate for trans people with accepting families is the same as the wider population; for those with unaccepting families, it’s sky high.

If like me you’ve experienced the gender clinic system, there’s a lot of this story that just doesn’t add up. If this person, as stated, had a history of clinical depression, anxiety and suicide attempts, nobody from the GP to their psychiatric assessors would have ignored that let alone recommended transition in any form as the way to fix their problems.

Another parent, a father, said:

“I couldn’t change my daughter’s mind so I have to change the minds of those doing this to her.”

His child, who would presumably prefer to be called his son, is 20.  Does that sound supportive and accepting to you?

My daughter is not transitioning, she is being transitioned by an LGBT cult and by medical professionals.”

Which suggests that again, the adult child has undergone extensive psychiatric assessment by those “medical professionals”.

Last but not least, our case study, now 21. They have been persistent, consistent and insistent about their gender identity for five years and did not access any NHS gender services until they were an adult.

“I trusted the NHS with my child and cannot believe the harm it has done,” their mum says.

What terrible procedures did they make her child endure?

[The child] has had no medical interventions.

So in five years of attending gender services, the NHS has pushed the woman’s child – her adult child – towards no medical treatments whatsoever.

This, somehow, is evidence of the NHS pushing children – child children, not adult ones – into treatments that we know the NHS does not provide to children.

But of course, nobody wants to let the facts get in the way of a good satanic conspiracy theory.

The points Branstetter makes about the Christian Post piece, and similar pieces by the Heritage Foundation and FRC, apply just as well to the Sunday Times piece and most of the other anti-trans scaremongering in the UK press.

But it also relies on tropes we see in any number of moral panics and conspiracy theories. PizzaGate + QAnon– like Satanic panics of the 80s–all rely on secretive cabals sacrificing children under cover of night. But it’s actually an ancient fear even older than that.

One of my favorite reads this year was @annamerlan‘s deep dive into the state of conspiracy theories today. She does a wonderful job finding the common threads through 9/11 trutherism, anti-vaxxers, and many more to discover what makes these absurd ideas so appealing to so many.

On PizzaGate, she notes the fear of child sacrifice is an anti-Semitic trope dating to the Middle Ages. Such “nocturnal rituals” are used to justify violence against other groups (namely Jews)

You can find the same myths in anti-native writings of European colonialists, anti-Roma sentiment throughout the last few centuries, and anti-Semitism up to the current era.

The primary purpose of these myths is playing into parental fears. They hope to animate a protective instinct against a ghostly “other”, unleashing an animalistic rage that will excuse any violence against the targeted group.

…By animating fears of child abduction, ritual abuse, and sexual exploitation, anti-trans activists are–knowingly or not–following a very old roadmap for justifying oppression. The goal is to build so much fear that the cost trans people pay will be deemed a worthwhile bargain.

They also try to fudge the other side of the equation–are trans people really oppressed? How suicidal are they? Are they really facing *that* much violence?

It’s a two-pronged strategy: you tell people that trans people are dangerous even though you know they are not. And you tell people that trans people do not face any victimisation or discrimination, even though they do.

…If trans people are a cult–dangerous and deranged–and the potential cost is your own children, then such framing justifies oppression of us by any means necessary. All the violence and rape and poverty and suffering trans people face is, in their eyes, an acceptable cost.

Its important to note that the exchange posed by them is, of course, completely imaginary. Nothing about trans people, our rights, or our health care is a danger to anyone. Period.

You’ll find that the majority of anti-trans hate groups claim to care about “real” trans people. But they don’t. That’s why they offer no solutions, accept no statistics, believe no experts. They are motivated not by a desire to help anyone, but to hate and hurt people.

And if you don’t believe me, ask yourself: What is the conservative solution to anti-trans discrimination? How would these activists end anti-trans violence, raise trans people out of poverty, or stem the public health crisis taking trans children by suicide?

Their solution, of course, is to deny that any of these issues exist.

They don’t have an answer because they don’t care–and they need you not to care, either. They need you to believe trans people are a sickly cult of perverts unworthy of your empathy, let alone equality. They need you to believe the price is just too high to pay.



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