Media Avoid Acknowledging Medical Controversy Over Transgender Surgery

May 23rd, 2017 1:45 PM

Gender “confirmation” surgeries are becoming more popular in the United States, according to a May 22 report. However, based on media coverage of the news, you wouldn’t know that the procedures are medically controversial.

On Monday, the American Society for Plastic Surgeons (ASPS) reported 3,200 facial, chest and genital reassignment surgeries in 2016 – a nearly 20 percent jump from 2015. This is the first year that this statistic has been published, Time public health writer Alexandra Sifferlin noted.

In addition to Sifferlin, reporters from USA Today, The Washington Post, and covered the news, but none quoted doctors, policymakers or citizens concerned with the development. Instead, the journalists cited comments from pro-transition medical professionals, focused on personal anecdotes from transgender people and noted the increasing societal support for transgender rights.

In her story, CBS reporter Ashley Welch began with the anecdote of transgender woman Gearah Goldstein, who found her “freedom” after “feminization” surgery. Welch then quoted two physicians who noted the importance of “trans-related health care benefits.”

Several journalists quoted ASPS physician Loren Schechter, who told Sifferlin that the “medical community now recognizes the importance of these procedures and the impact they can have on people’s lives.” 

ASPS President Dr. Debra Johnson weighed in, explaining that “our goal as plastic surgeons is to help get transgender patients to a place where they feel the most comfortable.”

But what if surgery doesn’t get them there?

On that note, none of the prominent media stories mentioned Johns Hopkins University Distinguished Professor of Psychiatry Paul McHugh. In the 1960s, Hopkins pioneered the practice of gender reassignment surgery, but in 1979, as Chair of the psychiatry department, McHugh ended the practice.

The decision wasn’t based on a whim, religious conviction, or political pressure. It was based on data. When McHugh and his colleagues examined the results of a longitudinal study that compared recipients of surgery with those who were not “reassigned,” they came to a disturbing conclusion.  

“Most of the surgically treated patients described themselves as ‘satisfied’ by the results,” McHugh reflected in a Wall Street Journal op-ed, “but their subsequent psycho-social adjustments were no better than those who didn't have the surgery.”

“Producing a ‘satisfied’ but still troubled patient,” he rationally continued, “seemed an inadequate reason for surgically amputating normal organs.”

“Policy makers and the media are doing no favors either to the public or the transgendered by treating their confusions as a right in need of defending rather than as a mental disorder that deserves understanding, treatment and prevention,” he stressed.

Yet, McHugh, despite his extensive experience and status, is now considered an enemy by many in the LGBT community. Even Johns Hopkins, which opened the Center for Transgender Health in 2016, clarifies that it does not reflect the views of the doctor. The liberal media also largely discount him, just like they ignore the population of men and women who no longer identify as transgender.

Grace Harley is one of those. After living as a man for eighteen years, she eventually returned to her faith and embraced her true female biology. However, if she’d had the funding to get a full sex change in the 1970s, she would have done it. Now, she’s beyond thankful that she didn’t have that option.

In Harley’s opinion, gender reparative therapy and prayer are the only ways out – not affirming therapy or “reassignment” surgery.

“It’s unfortunate,” she told MRC Culture. “I don’t believe people are getting sound counseling or advice before getting surgery.”

“When people are in the wrong body, they’re in the wrong body. We are not faking it,” she added. “But our minds are not our own.”

Even still, as McHugh noted in his op-ed, several state governments have sought to ban psychiatrists from providing reparative therapy to minors, even when parents ask for it.

“Claiming that this is civil-rights matter and encouraging surgical intervention is in reality to collaborate with and promote a mental disorder,” he concluded.

If only liberal media outlets would lend people like McHugh and Harley an ear, maybe they’d present a more balanced look at transgender issues.