Busting Myths About Gender-Affirming Medical Care

Much of the furor about trans health care isn’t grounded in reality. Rather, it’s propped up by cherry-picked studies, fringe “experts,” a handful of political operatives.

Whether it’s a parent’s right to access gender-affirming care for their kid or to request a teacher refer to their child by the name and pronouns aligned with that child’s gender identity, these anti-LGBTQ+ bills only protect parents whose ideologies align with certain politicians and out-of-state extremists. 

A recent example, House Bill 1080 that was signed by Gov. Noem during the 2023 legislative session, prohibits doctors from providing life-saving gender-affirming care to transgender South Dakotans.

Much of the furor about trans health care isn’t grounded in reality. Rather, it’s propped up by cherry-picked studies, fringe “experts,” a handful of political operatives from outside of South Dakota, and fearmongering. 

Let’s cut through the conspiracy theories and get to the facts about the care that transgender youth receive in South Dakota.

Being transgender isn’t “catching”

Proponents of anti-trans bills claim a rise in the number of youth who identify as transgender is evidence of a “social contagion.” In other words, they think that kids are suddenly identifying as trans to be cool. 

The reality is that increasing acceptance of gender differences makes it safer for young people to be open. There aren’t suddenly more trans people, there are just more trans people who feel comfortable being themselves.

More trans people is not a bad thing. Transgender South Dakotans are part of the fabric of our society and deserve to be welcomed.

South Dakota hospitals aren’t doing surgeries on the genitals of minors

Proponents of anti-trans bills also use loaded terms such as “child genital mutilation,” completely ignoring the undisputed fact that no surgery center anywhere in the state performs such surgeries on minors, and that such surgeries are not recommended by the standards of care followed by doctors. 

This language is chosen to shock the public and demonize people who provide care for trans youth. In fact, for very young children, there is no medical intervention. Affirming care for pre-pubescent kids means working with mental health professionals and allowing freedom to express themselves as they come to terms with their gender. 

Care isn’t handed out casually

To listen to anti-LGBTQ+ extremists, you’d think this care was handed out without question. That couldn’t be further from the truth. These are difficult decisions that are made carefully and collaboratively by doctors, mental health professionals, parents, and their kids. No clinic in South Dakota is passing out drugs and surgery to children without parental consent, and no evidence supports this misleading claim.

Puberty blockers aren’t experimental

As puberty approaches, trans youth may be offered puberty blockers. These are reversible drugs that delay the onset of puberty and have been widely used, for many reasons, for decades. These drugs aren’t dangerous and are by no means “experimental.”

Ban proponents say trans youth are too young to decide to make this decision. The cruel irony is that these treatments exist to give teens the space and time to decide for themselves whether they want to pursue further treatment as adults.

Regrets related to gender-affirming care are extremely low

The fear mongering may cause some to ask, “these are kids, after all. What if they change their mind?” But this framing misunderstands the reality of what it is to be transgender. A diagnosis of medically significant gender dysphoria requires evidence that a young person’s expressed gender is “persistent, consistent, and insistent.”

The claim that there is a very high “desistence” rate among youth, otherwise described as youth “changing their mind,” is false. Most of these grossly inflated numbers trace back to one flawed 2013 study of an extremely small population that failed to differentiate between kids who simply didn’t conform to traditional gender norms, and kids diagnosed with medically significant gender dysphoria. That is – the study authors did not determine which kids in the study were actually trans. Worse still, the authors failed to follow up with roughly 40% of respondents and marked them as “desistors” by default.

More recent studies, like the one published in the New England Journal of Medicine in January, confirm the existing scientific and medical consensus that the rate of desistance is small and outweighed by the benefits of treatment. 

A total ban would forcibly detransition many trans youth who’ve never known any other life but the gender they happily live in today. That is inhumane.

Real South Dakota families are harmed by this, and other anti-LGBTQ+ proposals

Here in South Dakota, parents and youth – as well as doctors who treat them – have spoken clearly. Affirming care is safe and necessary for some youth.

By continuing to scapegoat this small but vulnerable group, anti-LGBTQ+ politicians put South Dakota children directly at risk. At risk of being denied potentially lifesaving treatment. At risk of being bullied at school and demonized in their communities. Even at risk of having to flee their homes to continue treatment.

They deserve dignity and respect, not the hatred being piled on them.