Big Issues

How To Identify Dangerous Anti-Trans Disinformation

Disinformation is information that is produced with the intention of misleading readers.

Want more Junkee in your life? Sign up to our newsletter, and follow us on Instagram, Twitter and Facebook so you always know where to find us.

Disinformation: Disinformation is information that is produced with the intention of misleading the reader by misrepresenting data, drawing unsupported conclusions, or omitting important context or details.

Over the last few years there has been a rapid escalation in the amount of anti-trans disinformation being platformed by mainstream media outlets in Australia.

From attacks on trans health care and challenges to our right to access public facilities like bathrooms, to conspiracy theories about young people being taken in by the ‘trans agenda’ — it seems like every transphobe with an axe to grind is getting their moment in the spotlight.

Unfortunately, unless you are familiar with the discussions around trans health, it is incredibly hard to decipher what is disinformation and what is healthy debate. This is made even harder by the fact that very few people in Australia know someone well who is trans — making the general public all the more vulnerable to targeted disinformation that puts the lives and wellbeing of trans people at risk.

I personally understand just how damaging disinformation can be, because it held me back from affirming my own gender for years.

Although I knew I was trans from my early 20s, I was also terrified of what that would mean for me. Growing up in the ’90s, we were fed endless portrayals of trans people as perverts, serial killers, the butt of the joke, or a shameful family secret. We were told that trans people were mentally unstable and unworthy of love.

As I was coming to terms with my gender I remember reading anti-trans material to test out if I might somehow be faking it. On the day I went to get my letter to start hormones, I watched YouTube videos of people who had decided to detransition while I waited alone outside my psychiatrist’s office.

I was looking for proof. Trying to talk myself out of what was staring me in the face. 

I thought perhaps I was just confused, or depressed, or maybe I just needed to find the right job, or partner, or hobby, and then everything would click into place.

Of course, none of that was true. The only thing that has ever helped me to live a full and happy life was affirming my gender. And that has helped a hell of a lot. 

Disinformation doesn’t just skew political decisions, it has a profound impact on trans people as they grow up and find who they are.

The wave of anti-trans disinformation we are seeing now will not only have a profound impact on trans young people; it has the potential to undermine the strong community support that trans people have won over the last 10 years. 

It’s All Lies, Damned Lies 

To illustrate just how diabolically sophisticated some of this disinformation can seem, let’s unpack just one example.

The other day, The Australian published another anti-trans article by Claire Lehmann titled “Acceptance, not surgery, solution to teen trans anxiety”.

The article only consults one expert source, Professor Riittakerttu Kaltiala. While it is true she is ‘Finland’s top expert’ in Paediatric Gender Medicine, what the article fails to mention is that her opinions are at odds with the vast majority of those held by the international medical community — not to mention, some of the statistics that she cites have been widely discredited. 

In particular Kaltiala became notorious in the press for recycling a bunk statistic that “four out of five children who identify with the opposite gender stop doing so by the time they reach adolescence”.

It sounds very concerning right? Yeah — that’s because it’s not true.

Jack Turban, a prominent US psychiatrist, is just one of the highly esteemed medical professionals who have debunked this stat. He explains that this was not actually a study on trans children because 90 percent of the children in the study were not trans to start with.

That’s because the study used an outdated method of diagnosis that bloated out their numbers.

“… one could meet this diagnosis without being transgender. The old criteria largely focused on gender expression (think a tomboy or a cisgender boy who likes “feminine” toys). Those kids aren’t transgender, so it’s not surprising that most of them weren’t transgender at follow-up. This problem with the “gender identity disorder” diagnosis from the DSM-IV was fixed for the DSM-5.

Wild, I know.

There’s an overwhelming consensus in the medical community that gender-affirming care is essential, and that it improves the lives of trans and gender diverse people. Disinformation like this is designed to undermine this consensus and mislead the public.

Unfortunately, Professor Kaltiala is just one of a number of medical practitioners working to undermine the healthcare of trans people. It’s deeply concerning that many media outlets in Australia are platforming people like Kaltiala as if they are credible experts.

To help make sure that you, your loved ones, and families do not get taken in by articles like this, I want to offer some guidance for how you can begin to identify and dismantle anti-trans disinformation more easily.

1. Look for these organisations

Health Liberation Now has been tracking disinformation and conversion groups for years. These organisations are not recognised scientific bodies, do not have working relationships with the trans community, and provide advice that is well outside of the established standards of care. However, they are having a dangerous influence on political decisions in the US and the UK. 

For example, organisations like Science for Evidence-Based Gender Medicine are being used as part of the ‘scientific’ rationale for the bans on gender affirming care in the US.

2. Look for this terminology 

Disinformation groups avoid using the term ‘trans people’ and  will instead talk about ‘gender dysphoria’. They do this to frame trans people’s care as an issue of managing a mental health condition, rather than helping us to live our best lives.

Look for terms like: 

  • Gender-dysphoric
  • People with gender dysphoria, 
  • Trans-identified 
  • Gender-confused 
  • Gender-questioning

3. Be aware of these tropes

Social contagion theoryA widely debunked and discredited idea that says that the growth of the trans community in recent years, is not due to society’s growing acceptance of trans people, but rather the influence of social media

A preoccupation with detransitionThe weaponising of detransition stories to argue for tighter restriction on gender affirming care. (The fact is that people are more likely to regret having kids than regret accessing gender affirming care.)

Questioning if gender-affirming care is “too affirming”: Anti-trans lobbyists argue for increasing ‘gatekeeping’ turning back the clock to when trans people had very little power to make decisions regarding their own lives and care. This argument has been used in the US and the UK as an entry point to discussing bans on gender affirming care overall.

Treating ‘being trans’ as a mental health issue: Conversion practices are any practice which aims to ‘cure’ or coerce someone into repressing their sexuality or gender. Clinical conversion practices often treat gender or sexual diversity as a mental health issue that should be ‘treated’ and not embraced.

4. Check for connections to the trans community

As trans people, we have had to fight to be able to make decisions about our own bodies and care. We struggled for decades to get a seat at the table, working together with lawmakers, researchers, and the medical community to advocate for our needs and ensure we have access to good quality health care.

Look into if a researcher or organisation engages collaboratively with the trans community, for example via  organisations like AusPATH, to get an idea if their engagement is actually in good faith.

Follow Jackie Mae Turner on Twitter and Instagram.

Jackie is passionate about community power, developing the leadership of LGBTQIA+ people, and building movements that can win. She is the Director of Trans Justice Project, an organisation working to push back against the anti-trans lobby and fight for freedom and equality for all trans and gender diverse people.