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Fact-checking the fact-checkers

Reasserting a transgender falsehood does not make it so

Vivek Ramaswamy speaks during the Sept. 27 Republican presidential primary debate in Simi Valley, Calif. Associated Press/Photo by Mark J. Terrill

Fact-checking the fact-checkers
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It is more than a little ironic that fact-checkers need to be fact-checked, and this is often the case when it comes to journalists who fact-check political debates. The ideological commitments of the fact-checker too often skew the accuracy of their fact-checking. And it happened again after Wednesday’s GOP presidential debate.

During the debate, Vivek Ramaswamy made the following statement, “Transgenderism, especially in kids, is a mental health disorder.” Ramaswamy argued that this is why no children should be subjected to medical interventions that render them infertile for life and otherwise destroy their healthy reproductive systems.

New York Times journalist Azeen Ghorayshi followed this statement with a breathless fact-check alleging that Ramaswamy’s statement is “false.” She explains, “Being transgender is not a mental health disorder. Many transgender people experience gender dysphoria, or psychological distress as a result of the incongruence between their sex and their gender identity. Gender dysphoria is a diagnosis in the psychiatric Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders and can be given to children, adolescents or adults.”

The fact-checker’s statement may seem a little odd at first. She claims that trangenderism is not a mental health disorder and then immediately points to Gender Dysphoria as a diagnosis in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM). What’s going on here? Is it a pathology or not?

In this case, the fact-checker is splitting hairs over the terms transgender and gender dysphoria. The word transgender has never appeared in the DSM as a diagnosis, but the transgender experience has. The word transgender is a catch-all term that refers to the many ways that persons might feel their “gender identity” to be out of sync with their biological sex. Until relatively recently, the DSM labelled this experience as “gender identity disorder” and described it as “an incongruence between anatomic sex and gender identity.”

It was only in 2013 that the DSM eliminated “gender identity disorder” and replaced it with “gender dysphoria.” It did this in part to remove the stigma of “disorder” from the transgender experience while at the same time maintaining the ability of physicians to give a billable diagnosis. So before 2013, the DSM treated anyone having transgender feelings as having a disorder. Most therapists would treat gender identity disorder by helping patients to accept their biological sex as who they really are.

Treating transgenderism as a disorder was the norm until just ten years ago when—for ideological reasons (not medical reasons)—the language of “disorder” was removed.

Treating transgenderism as a disorder was the norm until just ten years ago when—for ideological reasons (not medical reasons)—the language of “disorder” was removed. Nevertheless, many clinicians today still believe the transgender experience to be a psychological disorder. For example, the former psychiatrist in chief at Johns Hopkins Hospital, Dr. Paul McHugh writes,

“This intensely felt sense of being transgendered constitutes a mental disorder in two respects. The first is that the idea of sex misalignment is simply mistaken—it does not correspond with physical reality. The second is that it can lead to grim psychological outcomes.”

As Ryan Anderson has observed in his watershed book When Harry Became Sally, “The older clinical guidelines reflected the fact that the incongruence itself—the disconnection between bodily reality and subjective self-understanding—is properly a matter of concern.”

In this case, the New York Times fact-checker reflects the bias of current transgender propaganda. This ideology insists that there is nothing wrong or unhealthy about the transgender experience and that we should affirm a person’s gender feelings even when those feelings don’t align with biological reality. Indeed, this ideology insists that it is better to conform a healthy body to a broken mind through destructive surgeries than to help a broken mind to accept its healthy body. Every voter, no matter where they fall on the political spectrum, ought to recognize this for the absurdity that it is.

Even if the fact-checkers prove themselves captive to this ideology, there is no reason for serious-minded voters to follow them. We must recognize that even though transgender affirmation has emerged as fashionable among elites, it is an ideology that is wreaking havoc in the lives of real people—especially gender-confused children, who would be best served by medical authorities committed to preserving their healthy bodies rather than destroying them. That is the point that the candidate was making during the GOP debate, and it also happens to be the opinion that aligns with the facts.

Denny Burk

Denny Burk serves as a professor of Biblical Studies at the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary and as the president of the Council on Biblical Manhood & Womanhood. He also serves as one of the teaching pastors at Kenwood Baptist Church. He is the author of numerous books including What Is the Meaning of Sex? (Crossway, 2013), Transforming Homosexuality (P&R, 2015), and a commentary on the pastoral epistles for the ESV Expository Commentary (Crossway, 2017).


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