This study promotes the irreversible genital mutilation of impressionable children and suggests that it might alleviate their depression. Media coverage of this study could influence parents to seek out these procedures for their children, and it convinces medical professionals to keep their concerns private. This sets up patients for possible failure, prevents honest inquiry into what the data says, and can unduly influence laws under debate. The inaccurate press release has real-world consequences.
Amid contentious debates over gender identity, the University of Washington Medicine, or UW Medicine, proudly and eagerly alerted the press of a study in mid-March indicating that transgender teen patients saw rates of depression “plummet” because of so-called “gender-affirming care.”
The study earned nationwide praise. As Texas and Idaho were debating bans on allowing children to receive cross-sex hormones, this was the perfect research to show the heartlessness of conservative lawmakers and pundits who declared puberty blockers and surgical intervention as a dangerous and potentially irreversible gamble.
But the study didn’t actually say what was initially claimed. Some voices now accuse the researchers of purposefully misinterpreting data to promote the irreversible.
UW Medicine’s communications department seemingly unintentionally misinterpreted the study. But their unwillingness to proactively correct the record was part of a concerted effort to downplay their errors because they had already received positive press, according to emails I uncovered through a public disclosure request.
The original press release was sent on March 11 and claimed that “gender-affirming care for transgender and nonbinary adolescents caused rates of depression to plummet.”
Independent journalist Jesse Singal started posing questions about the study to UW Communications staff, and one of the study’s authors, who agreed to speak on background, confirmed that some of the data the researchers presented, along with their claims, did not add up.
“Among the kids who went on hormones, there isn’t genuine statistical improvement here from baseline to the final wave of data collection,” Singal wrote on his Substack. “At baseline, 59% of the treatment-naive kids experienced moderate to severe depression. Twelve months later, 56% of the kids on GAM [gender-affirming medicine] experienced moderate to severe depression. At baseline, 45% of the treatment-naive kids experienced self-harm or suicidal thoughts. Twelve months later, 37% of the kids on GAM did.”
In other words, there was no statistically significant improvement. At best, the authors could argue that wrong-sex hormones and trans surgeries did not make these children’s depression worse than it already was.