Dead Son or Living Daughter? Not So Fast

The Trevor Project and Greene's Study
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It is a common refrain among gender activists that parents of gender dysphoric children have a choice between “a dead son or a living daughter” or vice-versa. The “dead son or living daughter” narrative is pushed by radical gender groups, such as the Trevor Project, who claim childhood transition is necessary to prevent suicide. Due to its moral clarity, it is an effective slogan–what loving parent wouldn’t choose transition for their child if the alternative is death?

Unfortunately for those who would champion this narrative, new research by Jay Green, Ph.D. published by the Heritage Foundation, is showing it for what it is: emotional manipulation.  

In his research report, he postulates that the incidence of suicide may actually go up as a result of using gender transition drugs. As stated in his summary of findings: “Lowering legal barriers to make it easier for minors to undergo cross-sex medical interventions without parental consent does not reduce suicide rates–in fact, it likely leads to higher rates of suicide among young people in states that adopt these changes.”

The narrative, it turns out, is based on faulty methodology to begin with. According to Greene, there is no long-term, randomized data on the effects of medical transition as treatment for gender dysphoria. Because of this, the information we have on the effects of blockers or hormones is based on inferior correlational research designs; these correlational data are typically not sufficient for the U.S. Food and Drug Administration to approve use of a drug. 

Importantly, there has never been a causal link identified between the use of gender transition drugs and a decrease in suicidal ideation. The claim that not allowing a young person to medically transition will all but guarantee their death by suicide, a claim which guilts many parents into going along with it, is based on, at best, inconclusive research.

Relying on recent data, Greene focuses on persons 12 to 23 in states which allow minors to begin medical transition without parental consent. Looking at data from 2010 on, a trend emerges which shows once puberty blockers and cross-sex hormones become widely available to minors without parental consent, the suicide rate goes up. As Greene states, “this pattern indicates that easier access by minors to cross-sex medical interventions without parental consent is associated with higher risk of suicide.” 

As a “placebo test” of this effect, Greene also analyzes data for the age group 28-39 effectively controlling for age and nullifying the issue of parental consent. He concludes his report on the research by pointing out that the placebo test indicates that minors’ access to these interventions has a causal link with increased suicide “because no similar increase was seen by those slightly older.” 

In summary: when controlling for factors such as age, availability of treatment, and presence or lack of parental consent, the data suggests the picture is muddier than trans-activists would have you believe. It’s not as simple a proposition as “if kids transition they live; if they don’t they die” and, in fact, it may be the opposite.

With states seeking to ease the pathway to gender transition treatments, the White House explicitly coming out in support of transition, major news organizations backing these changes, and schools everywhere encouraging youth gender transition, this research points to the need for more caution. This, along with the halting of these sorts of policies in other countries, and the growing number of detransitioners claiming they were rushed into transition, should be enough to give anyone pause. 

Based on Greene’s analysis, at the very least we should not pass any law which lowers minors’ legal barrier to gender affirming treatment. The phrase “living son or dead daughter,” though it taps into a parent’s deepest emotional need to protect their child, can no longer be used for the ideological ends of those who use it.

Jason A. Furey
Jason A. Furey is a high-school English teacher from Wisconsin. He is a regular contributor to Chalkboard Review and has been published in City Journal and National Review.