Support First Things by turning your adblocker off or by making a  donation. Thanks!

There are many memorable moments in Matt Walsh’s provocative new documentary What is a Woman? But perhaps the most chilling is when Walsh sits down with Scott (Kellie) Newgent, a biological woman who underwent sex-change surgery at age forty-two. Today, Newgent is fiercely outspoken about her transition regret. Her voice trembles with rage as she tells Walsh about her tireless uphill battle against a propaganda campaign that is sweeping away a generation of troubled youth. “We have five children’s hospitals in the United States,” she says, and then she pauses to pull up her sleeve, “promoting that.” “That” is a hideously long scar where her left arm was flayed to create a phalloplasty. Newgent suffers from regular vaginal infections, which she predicts will lead to a premature death.

One such hospital provided a double mastectomy to Chloe Cole, a young woman who was fast-tracked through a sex transition from ages thirteen to fifteen. By age sixteen, less than a year after the surgery, she realized she had made a terrible mistake. Today, she joins a courageous band of other “detransitioners” who hope to save other young people from the same fate. The New York Post recently profiled her together with Helena Kerschner, who first began her own transition as an adult. To obtain testosterone, all Kerschner had to do was book an appointment at Planned Parenthood. Meanwhile, in Scotland, Sinéad Watson tells a similar story of adult transition, after a string of mental health crises that her gender clinic showed no curiosity in exploring before hormone treatment.

Detransitioning men’s stories have received less attention, but they are no less harrowing. One of them recently went viral on Twitter. Ritchie Herron began his transition as an adult, but like Newgent, Kerschner, and Watson, he was vulnerable and criminally under-informed. “No one told me any of what I’m going to tell you now,” he begins his Twitter thread. He then details the excruciating, irreversible damage caused by his own “bottom surgery.” Today, he is suing the NHS for damages

Understandably, the discourse around gender transition tends to focus on cases like Chloe Cole—minor boys and girls who are socially brainwashed into making catastrophic, self-harming decisions. A new bill co-sponsored by congressmen Tom Cotton and Jim Banks specifically targets surgeons who offer sex-change operations to underage teens. It promises to attract wide bipartisan support not just from conservatives, but from liberals and libertarians who draw a line at trans “medical” experimentation on children. 

But for adults, a more hands-off rhetorical approach prevails. Even Daily Wire’s Ben Shapiro, in a 2019 interview with David Berlinski, has suggested that adult sex-change ops have “no externalities” and should thus be free from government intervention. Surprisingly, Berlinski pushes back, arguing that “society has a duty to enforce certain taboos” for “the health of the whole.” This may mean some individuals can’t satisfy all their desires, but “we’re all in that position.” When Shapiro asks him to clarify if he’s proposing that the state enforce a blanket ban, Berlinski answers succinctly, “At once.” 

One wonders whether Shapiro would consistently apply his reasoning to someone like Jewel Shuping, a woman who “identified” as blind and found a psychologist willing to pour drain cleaner in her eyes. She later insisted that she had no regrets and referred to the procedure as “treatment” for her BIID (Body Integrity Identity Disorder). Should her “doctor” face charges? It seems only just. But how are his actions different in kind from those of the surgeon who amputates healthy breasts or male genitalia? 

Jordan Peterson has provocatively broached the same question on Twitter, deliberately “deadnaming” transitioned actress Ellen Page and calling her mastectomy surgeon “a criminal physician.” In response, Twitter has reportedly suspended Peterson’s account for “hateful conduct.” Douglas Murray, commenting on the suspension, dryly asked, “Can someone confirm what the permissible terms are for voluntary, wholly medically unnecessary double mastectomies? It looks like we need to know.”

Some sex-change “specialists” themselves seem to think there’s a great gulf fixed between their patients and the “transabled.” When Matt Walsh proposes this comparison to Marci Bowers in What is a Woman?, the self-identified trans-female surgeon dismisses people who fantasize about losing other body parts as “kooky.” Of course, Bowers has to insist as much in order to maintain the façade under which he operates. Other voices should be free of such constraints. These aren’t cases of “plastic surgery.” We are talking here about the full removal of healthy sex organs, which is if anything a deeper physical and psychological trauma than the amputation of a healthy limb. 

Shapiro may be a rare libertarian purist in this regard, in which case he should reconsider his position. But most liberal voices in this conversation take a laissez-faire approach to adult sex changes because they do not, in fact, regard “transgender” and “transabled” as metaphysically equivalent medical conditions. And so, inevitably, such an approach will not be strictly limited to adults, however “moderate” the liberal. Witness, for instance, Andrew Sullivan’s defense of the recent positive Fox News story on a transitioning teen girl, which I critiqued in National Review. “True” transgender people are rare, Sullivan admits, yet he implies perhaps young Ryland is one of them. But one can’t imagine Sullivan earnestly insisting that a girl who sought a double arm amputation might be one of those rare “true” amputees whose body doesn’t match her self-image. 

Moderate liberal co-belligerence has its utility, but that utility proves more limited by the day. True maverick voices like Berlinski and Peterson have sounded first solo notes that should swell to a choir. The time has come for conservative-thinking people to take a forward position in the transgender debate, grounded in metaphysical sureties and animated by a passion for the common good. While adults who regret their sex changes may themselves tend to libertarianism, their stories testify to a hidden horror: vulnerable, disturbed individuals of all ages hastily ushered into procedures that are nothing short of medical malpractice. Justice demands a reckoning in the form of penalties and strictures, for their sakes and for the sakes of others like them who may yet be saved from this Hippocratic Oath-breaking. We must not be silent. We must open our ears to the anguished cry of a Kellie Newgent, when she tells Matt Walsh through tears, “It got me at forty-two. Your child doesn’t have a chance.”

Bethel McGrew is an essayist and social critic.

First Things depends on its subscribers and supporters. Join the conversation and make a contribution today.

Click here to make a donation.

Click here to subscribe to First Things.

Dear Reader,

Your charitable support for First Things is urgently needed before July 1.

First Things is a proudly reader-supported enterprise. The gifts of readers like you— often of $50, $100, or $250—make articles like the one you just read possible.

This Spring Campaign—one of our two annual reader giving drives—comes at a pivotal season for America and the church. With your support, many more people will turn to First Things for thoughtful religious perspectives on pressing issues of politics, culture, and public life.

All thanks to you. Will you answer the call?

Make My Gift

Comments are visible to subscribers only. Log in or subscribe to join the conversation.



Filter Web Exclusive Articles

Related Articles