Gus Kenworthy
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60 Minutes Adds to Medical Disinformation About Trans Bodies

Trans woman applying makeup

Last Sunday, 60 Minutes aired a 15-minute segment on the recent proliferation of state legislation undermining access to trans-affirming health care for youth. Unfortunately, rather than discussing the intense mental and physical repercussions for trans youth as the anti-trans evangelical right coalition succeeds in its disinformation campaign, 60 Minutes and host Lesley Stahl fell for the same disinformation, platforming members of that coalition without proper identification or scrutiny. 

As the evangelical right groups Heritage Foundation, Alliance Defending Freedom, and Family Policy Alliance push their Promise to America’s Children, they are supported by and in turn amplify anti-trans medical associations, anti-trans feminists, anti-trans parents, and anti-trans detransitioned people. All of these are part of the broader coalition against trans-affirming care, and anti-trans detransitioners help push specific medical misinformation and disinformation. By platforming members of these coalitions without proper identification or scrutiny, 60 Minutes simply did this coalition’s work for it.    

During the 60 Minutes segment, Lesley Stahl spoke with Grace Lidinsky-Smith, who told a harrowing tale of her transition, regret, then detransition. What 60 Minutes failed to share was that Lidinsky-Smith is the president of GCCAN, a small organization that purports to represent a coalition of trans and detransitioned people united in their demand for more competent gender-affirming care. It is not. 

Lee Leveille (an author of this piece and a medically detransitioned trans person who goes by s/he, him/her, and his/hers) was a founder of GCCAN with Lidinsky-Smith (and others). S/he cofounded the organization when feeling deep loss, isolation, and confusion after his/her detransition. Leveille soon realized that Lidinsky-Smith and other members were actively reaching out to and partnering directly with staunchly anti-trans groups like Rethink Identity Medicine Ethics and 4thWaveNow. Lidinsky-Smith connected the group to Lisa Littman in order to promote Littman’s newest study on the supposed harm of youth transition. 

By emphasizing Lidinsky-Smith’s personal experience without the context of her anti-trans advocacy, 60 Minutes joined the ranks of the right-wing media supporting the current surge in anti-trans legislation. “What this amounts to is taking information that may have had a context, but turns it into disinformation through its mode of presentation,” Jules Gill-Peterson, associate professor of English and gender, sexuality, and women's studies at the University of Pittsburgh, told us. Suddenly, “the ideas of one discredited gender-critical troll are [seen as] somehow as valuable as decades of collective trans organizing, critique, and activism.”

By placing detransitioned people as the “opposite” of trans people, 60 Minutes reinforced a false dichotomy and silenced the voices of trans-affirming detransitioned people and detransitioned people who still identify as trans. Keeping the two groups isolated and in opposition to each other despite our connected survival makes it that much harder to unite against our collective enemy — the networks trying to eliminate our right to exist.

This is not hypothetical. In 2017, the evangelical right advocacy group Family Research Council hosted an anti-trans parent at its annual Values Voter Summit, who laid out a road map for anti-LGBT advocacy. “For all of its recent success,” said Meg Kilgannon, parent and director of the anti-trans, anti-sex-ed Concerned Parents and Educators of Fairfax County, “the LGBT alliance is actually fragile, and the trans activists need the gay rights movement to help legitimize them. Gender identity on its own is just a bridge too far. If you separate the T from the alphabet soup, we’ll have more success.” The effort has been startlingly successful. And it continues. On Monday, the day after the 60 Minutes segment aired, Tucker Carlson lauded the program. Far-right website Breitbart News soon followed. And the consequences are dire: “Fringe disinfo all tends to pathologize trans people and treat them as so dehumanized that it justifies their continued oppression by would-be cis gatekeepers,” said Gill-Peterson.

Rather than uncritically platforming the leaders of anti-trans advocacy groups, 60 Minutes would have better served its audience by sharing a real diversity of trans people collectively demanding that the U.S. do better for trans people. And the easiest way to do that would have been to hire trans staff to produce and review the segment before it aired. Trans people need the opportunity to be able to name when media pieces will harm us and change course proactively.

And we trans people, detransitioned people, and our accomplices and allies must do better as well. We must platform and amplify the voices of those among us most deeply impacted by the attack on trans-affirming care in our country and across the world. We must build bridges of listening and connecting that bring us toward our collective liberation. And we must find common ground when challenging failures in health care while respecting each other’s autonomy.

Control over our bodies is not the answer. Freedom is. Freedom to express ourselves, explore our experiences and the complex emotions that come with them, and pursue the care that fits our needs whatever they are. Only then will we all have the chance to embrace our full selves, no matter how that looks or changes over time.

Lee Leveille is a Jewish disabled transmasculine butch who has served as a self-liberation and professional health liberation advocate for over a decade. Heron Greenesmith is an attorney, author, analyst, and advocate whose work has been published at Political Research Associates, Teen Vogue, Bitch, Rewire.News, TruthOut, and elsewhere.

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