Discover more from The Distance
We Used To Just Call It 'Being A Parent.' Now It's Called 'Conversion Therapy'
Another conversation about Genspect and the PITT Parents book
On Sunday, I joined Christina Goeke, one of the activists who helped organize the recent protest against the American Civil Liberties Union in Washington, DC, and her friend Edwina, to discuss the new book by Parents with Inconvenient Truths about Trans (PITT).
The entire discussion is on YouTube. (You can also watch a livestream of the protest that took place on 11 August. My review of the book is here.) During the conversation I noted that the PITT parents are not doing anything unusual to their ‘trans’-identifying children, that in fact they are simply reasserting their role as parents.
“We used to call it just ‘being a parent,’” I told them. “Now it’s called ‘conversion therapy’” whenever a parent fails to affirm their child, no matter how sudden the announcement. No one is allowed to question it because all ‘gender identity’ claims are unfalsifiable truths, i.e. woo.
It was a good discussion because both women have formed strong opinions from their research and experience, but as activists, we are in a very different place from these parents. We are free to defy pressures that they cannot afford to ignore, raise hell and draw harder limits. A good example of this came up in our conversation when someone asked about Genspect, the organization recieving all the proceeds of the PITT parents’ book sales.
“How can we support Genspect when they propagate the ‘true trans’ narrative?” A channel viewer asked. It was not the first time I had encountered this question, but I was not prepared for it.
So without trying to speak for Genspect, I tried to explain something important about the difference between activism and science. After all, we are now dealing with the consequences of activism run amok within ostensibly scientific organizations.
For example, suppose you are a PITT parent caught in a horrifying divorce situation. Your estranged spouse is trans-affirming, the child could go either way, and hope hangs on a slender thread. Would you want that spouse to enter the courtroom armed with your membership in a ‘hate group’ that ‘denies trans people exist’, asking the judge to cancel your parental rights? No. But as we shall see, if the same spouse wants to argue that Genspect is a ‘hate group,’ they are going to have a very hard time making that case because there is no hard organizational line against ‘trans’.
Activists like us (Christina, Edwina, and I) enjoy the luxury of calling out contested terms like ‘trans’ and ‘identity.’ We can get away with embracing the labels applied to us, such as ‘TERF’ and ‘transphobe,’ to say what we really think and feel. ROGD parents usually do not have this luxury. Genspect must work with parents across a whole range of experiences, with children all over the metaphorical map, making allowances for possibilities that we, the change agents, might reject.
But again, this was my own answer, not theirs, so I decided to ask Genspect for comment and let them speak for themselves.
Turns out that Genspect have no idea what this fuss is even about. Really.
“The idea that some kids are ‘truly trans’ is not something that Genspect has ever stated — or agreed with — as far as I know,” says ‘Alex,’ "an ROGD mom who runs the organizational Twitter account.
Alex is not able to speak for the entire organization. However, “I’ve been in the gender wars for almost 8 years now and tweeting for Genspect since they launched. From my perspective trans children are made — not born.”
Personally, Alex agrees with the activist critics of ‘gender’ that children are not born ‘transgender,’ but “become trans through affirmation and medicalisation.”
Children may be naturally gender non-conforming — or experience distresss about their bodies, sex, or the cultural expectations “assigned” to their sex- for an endless number of reasons which make a lot more sense than “true trans” / “innate gender identity” / “opposite sex brain” or any other similarly pseudo science concepts.
I also reached out to the organization by email and received a detailed answer.
As you’ll see from our website, Genspect is an international, non-partisan, interdisciplinary professional and educational organisation devoted to advancing a healthy approach to sex and gender. Our team and members strive to promote high-quality, evidence-based care for gender-nonconforming individuals all around the world.
We envision a world where people are free to present and express themselves in a manner that is healthy, safe and not constrained by gender stereotypes. We accommodate and respect, diversity of belief and freedom of expression, and we base our standards upon the principles of civilised debate, evidenced analysis and human rights.
Note how this is all phrased: Genspect supports “gender-nonconforming people,” not ‘transgender identities.’ Individual freedom is the core value. Where is the ‘hate’? Remember, our notional divorce judge will want facts about them, not feelings.
Rather than dogmatic answers, Genspect is open to everyone, each person having their own answers to their own situation. That makes Genspect resistant to organizational capture by any dogma, let alone ‘true trans.’ You actually cannot pin them down on any single agenda — which is the whole point.
Consider their stated objectives as an organization. Nothing on this list seems to endorse a ‘true trans’ narrative of innate gender identities. On the contrary, Genspect have left as much room as possible for a child in distress to get away from such narrow conceptions.
Just like the PITT parents who succeed in deprogramming their children with basic parenting skills, this is not a program of persuasion. It is about opening up to exploration past the singular, monolithic ‘trans’ explanation. They want:
To promote a comprehensive understanding of sex and gender.
To champion a healthy model of care for gender-related distress.
To encourage clinicians to employ the least-invasive approach as the first treatment intervention when working with gender-related distress.
To disseminate high quality research to serve as a foundation for evidence-based laws, policies and practices.
To understand and communicate the social, cultural, and medical implications of gender-related distress and gender-based stereotypes
To help educational establishments and other institutions to address gender diversity and gender-related distress in healthy ways.
To offer guidance, information and support to individuals and their loved ones who have been impacted by gender-related distress.
Even the title of Genspect founder Stella O’Malley and Sasha Ayad’s podcast, Gender: A Wider Lens, reflects this anti-dogma, free speech approach.
The irony here is that Genspect is just about the only entity in the United States collecting the data that, in the fullness of time, will vindicate Lisa Littman and her groundbreaking research into ROGD. They don’t have to denounce ‘true trans’ in order to demolish its evidentiary foundations.
They do that just by holding a conversation that is open to all.
In an essay last year, “Why Genspect talks to everyone,” O’Malley wrote of her childhood in an Ireland wracked by violence. Factionalism led to “guilt by association: the accusations were not of complicity, but of ‘dirt’ rubbing from one person’s shoulders onto the next,” she wrote.
“It wasn’t criminality that was alleged but proximity. This is strikingly familiar to anyone who has dared to speak up about gender politics today.” True, and it is why the PITT parents remain anonymous.
“We need as many voices as possible arguing for better healthcare for young people, and they don’t need to agree on gay marriage. Or abortion. Or climate policy, Brexit, veganism, or star signs,” O’Malley says.
“Placing such a condition upon the conversation weakens us.”
“Interestingly, those in favour of paediatric transition rarely place such conditions on their allies, maybe explaining why they’ve been so successful until recently.” O’Malley has a solid point here: the ACLU is happy to platform homophobic Christian parents who ‘affirm’ their ‘trans child’. Only one side of this debate is ever held to such standards of purity, or holds itself to them.
O’Malley ends her essay calling for open debate instead of animosity. “When we have improved the healthcare afforded to young people questioning their gender, we can, if necessary, part company: for now, other battles can wait.”
For while we may be waging a war against the same enemy, we are all fighting different battles. With so many fights going on at one time, it is too easy to mistake friend for foe. Let us not replicate the culture of cancellation which got us here, or waste time trying to convert one another to our own ways of thinking. Victory in this endeavor is too important.
The Distance is a reader-supported publication. To receive new posts and support my work, consider becoming a free or paid subscriber.