Opinion: Can we see past our own cultural blind spots?

Michigan is set to become the 26th state to join the federal government in criminalizing female genital mutilation, even as two Detroit area doctors and one of their wives await trial for inflicting the procedure on a number of young girls. FGM, which is common in some parts of Africa and the Middle East, involves using a razor to remove all or part of a girl’s clitoris and parts of the vulva.

By Western standards, this amounts to child abuse and criminal assault. FGM defenders claim that the practice makes girls feel “clean;” that it helps them to fit into their subculture; and that it promotes good marriages.

We’re not swayed by such rationalizations — but can we see past our own cultural blind spots?

Our clinics are performing their own mutilations on perfectly healthy people — delaying puberty in boys and girls with “gender dysphoria.”

While adults are free to make their own decisions about their bodies, the rapid adoption of puberty-blocking hormone treatments for children — with a view to facilitating sex reassignment surgeries at age 18 or above — is nearly as disturbing as FGM. Children, after all, are not capable of making irrevocable decisions about their own welfare, and, as Drs. Paul Hruz, Lawrence Mayer and Paul McHugh object in the spring edition of The New Atlantis (“Growing Pains”), the use of puberty-blocking hormone treatments is “drastic” and highly experimental.

These drugs have been in use only since 1993 for rare cases of “precocious puberty.” The use of such drugs to delay puberty until a normal age, Hruz, Mayer and McHugh argue, is justified because doctors understand what causes “precocious puberty.” They do not have a comparable grasp on the causes of gender dysphoria, and for that reason among others, the resort to puberty-blocking hormones is not good medicine.

The physical effects include retarding growth (which may or may not be reversed by later cross-hormone treatment), reduced bone density, possible increased susceptibility to cancer, obesity in natal males and, if followed up by sex reassignment surgery, permanent infertility. If such drugs were proposed to treat anything other than a sexual complaint in children, the medical community would be in an uproar.

Whereas the normal protocols for medical interventions include careful testing, clinical trials, and follow-up studies, the medical establishment is heedlessly plunging into “affirmative treatment” for gender dysphoria. Rather than helping the child to align his or her identity with his or her biological sex, the model encourages affirmation of the child’s delusion.

But that benign interpretation is dubious. The Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders claims that somewhere between 2 and 30 percent of males and 12 and 50 percent of females experiencing gender dysphoria will persist in their nonconforming gender identity post-puberty. Dr. Michelle Cretella estimates that between 85 and 90 percent of gender dysphoric children outgrow it when they pass through puberty.

As Hruz, Mayer and McHugh note, there are no large-scale studies that have tracked patients who withdrew from treatment and then progressed through normal puberty. Nor is it clear that delaying puberty helps a child through the psychological terrain of evolving identity. Normal sexual development very likely helps that process in most cases.

Before resorting to dire and irreversible “treatments” on otherwise healthy children, we ought to remove our own cultural blinders.

Support real journalism. Support local journalism. Subscribe to The Atlanta Journal-Constitution today. See offers.

Your subscription to the Atlanta Journal-Constitution funds in-depth reporting and investigations that keep you informed. Thank you for supporting real journalism.

Writes for Creators Syndicate.

X