“Intellectual no-platforming”: Ken Zucker pushes back on the latest attempt to discredit desistance-persistence research

by Marie Verite and Brie Jontry

Dr. Kenneth Zucker, recognized as one of the world’s top experts in childhood gender dysphoria, penned the following paper (released today).

Zucker, K. J. (2018). The myth of persistence: Response to “A Critical Commentary on Follow-Up Studies and “Desistance” Theories about Transgender and Gender Non-Conforming Children” by Temple Newhook et al. (2018). International Journal of Transgenderism. https://doi.org/10.1080/15532739.2018.1468293

Dr. Zucker has offered to provide a PDF of the full-text article if readers contact him via email.

Multiple trans-activist journalists and “affirmative” gender clinicians have (rather successfully) propagated the meme that desistance from a trans identity is a “myth”; that Zucker (former director of the Toronto clinic), Thomas Steensma, Peggy Cohen-Kettenis (of the Amsterdam team which pioneered the use of puberty blockers for gender-dysphoric children), and others have wrongly conflated merely gender nonconforming children with “true trans” kids. Therefore, their entire body of research is essentially worthless. These critics have gone further, accusing some clinicians (like Zucker) of forcing harmful reparative therapy on “trans kids.”

Dr. Zucker’s detailed rebuttal to the Temple-Newhook et al article is well worth reading in its entirety.  Be forewarned: The paper is densely argued and referenced, such that understanding it requires a decent working knowledge of the clinical literature on childhood gender dysphoria, the nuances/changes in the DSM diagnostic classifications (e.g., DSM-IV “gender identity disorder” vs. DSM-V “gender dysphoria”), as well as the trans-activist reactions to all of the above.

In a series of tweets today, Dr. Zucker emphasized one of the key points in his paper.

 “…that pre-pubertal gender social transition is itself a psychosocial treatment, which Temple-Newhook et al ignore.”

The context for this tweet can be found on page 7 of Dr. Zucker’s article:

Thus, I would hypothesize that when more follow-up data of children who socially transition prior to puberty become available, the persistence rate will be extremely high. This is not a value judgment – it is simply an empirical prediction. Just like Temple Newhook et al. (2018) argue that some of the children in the four follow-up studies included those who may have received treatment “to lower the odds” of persistence, I would argue that parents who support, implement, or encourage a gender social transition (and clinicians who recommend one) are implementing a psychosocial treatment that will increase the odds of long-term persistence.

And later, on page 10:

Temple Newhook et al. (2018) go on to state that “It is important to acknowledge that discouraging social transition [with reference to the Dutch team’s putative therapeutic approach] is itself an intervention with the potential to impact research findings…” Fair enough. But Temple Newhook et al. (2018) curiously suppress the inverse: encouraging social transition is itself an intervention with the potential to impact findings. I find this omission astonishing.

An astonishing omission, indeed.

As regular readers of this website will know, most parents in the 4thWaveNow community are particularly concerned about the recent increase in teens (particularly females) presenting to gender clinics, with a sudden onset of gender dysphoria around the age of puberty.

Although the characteristics and clinical course of early-onset gender dysphoria (the primary population discussed in Zucker’s paper) are different from that of adolescent-onset, an underlying question pertains to both: Does “affirmative” treatment increase the likelihood that a cross-sex identification will persist?

We must point out here that trans activists consider it “transphobic” for anyone to believe that a child’s desistance from trans-identification would be preferable to persistence. (In fact, this accusation is leveled by Temple Newhook et al in their paper, in so many words. This helps to explain why so many trans activists object to the very idea of studying persistence vs. desistance in the first place.)  Yet, we find it mystifying that a preference for desistance is even controversial.  Surely, if a child can find peace in his or her unaltered body–and happily avoid becoming a sterilized medical patient dependent for life on drugs and surgeries–that is a positive outcome. To leverage an analogy popular with trans activists, many say that “gender affirming” medical treatment is analogous to treatment for children with life-threatening cancers. Yet who would not feel happy for the cancer patient who goes into remission, thus avoiding the ravages of chemo and radiation?

Furthermore, is it not possible to support young people in their gender atypicality,  while at the same time encouraging bodily acceptance?

Central to this discussion is the trans-activist conflation of psychotherapeutic methods with conversion therapy.  Zucker addresses this problem head-on on page 9:

Now, of course, it would not come as a surprise if Temple Newhook et al. (2018) took umbrage at the mere idea of a treatment arm designed to reduce a child’s gender dysphoria via psychotherapeutic methods. They might, for example, offer up the following from the seventh edition of the Standards of Care:

Treatment aimed at trying to change a person’s gender identity…to become more congruent with sex assigned at birth has been attempted in the past without success (Gelder & Marks, 1969; Greenson, 1964)….Such treatment is no longer considered ethical.” (Coleman et al., 2011, p. 175)

Yet, on the very same page of the Standards, one finds the following: “Psychotherapy should focus on reducing a child’s…distress related to the gender dysphoria…” (p. 175) or “Mental health professionals…. should give ample room for clients to explore different options for gender expression” (p. 175). The lack of internal consistency between the first statement and the second and third statements is rather astonishing.

“Reducing a child’s…distress related to the gender dysphoria” should be the primary goal of all treatment methods. Quite a few 4thWaveNow parents have observed that upon social transition, their children’s dysphoria actually increased. This is another aspect related to the different populations (early-onset vs. adolescent rapid-onset) that needs to be clarified but still remains unknown. Dr. Zucker explains that he “prefers the following summary statements about therapeutics with regard to children with gender dysphoria”:

Different clinical approaches have been advocated for childhood gender discordance….There have been no randomized controlled trials of any treatment….the proposed benefits of treatment to eliminate gender discordance…must be carefully weighed against… possible deleterious effects. (American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry, 2012, pp. 968–969)

Very few studies have systematically researched any given mode of intervention with respect to an outcome variable in GID and no studies have systematically com- pared results of different interventions….In light of the limited empirical evidence and disagreements…among experts in the field…recommendations supported by the available literature are largely limited to the areas [reviewed] and would be in the form of general suggestions and cautions… (Byne et al., 2012, p. 772)

…because no approach to working with [transgender and gender nonconforming] children has been adequately, empirically validated, consensus does not exist regarding best practice with pre-pubertal children. Lack of consensus about the preferred approach to treatment may be due, in part, to divergent ideas regarding what constitutes optimal treatment outcomes… (American Psychological Association, 2015, p. 842)

Here at 4thWaveNow, we have repeatedly stated that we seek to support—not “eliminate”–our children’s “gender discordance” although we resist the idea that gender atypicality is a sign of bodily incongruence. More than anything, 4thWaveNow parents seek to help our children minimize the discomfort that accompanies their nonconformity to gender norms. Since many of our children only experienced dysphoria upon reaching puberty, we call for (much) more evidence that social and medical transition are better at alleviating dysphoria than psychotherapeutic methods.

And as Dr. Zucker has made clear via his life’s work (and in this paper), the jury is still very much out on that question–despite the many attempts by trans activists to deplatform those who study the matter of persistence and desistance.

zucker intellectual no platforming