To the Parents of Trans Kids: Lobotomies Were Once a Fad, Too

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In the 1930s and 40s, if you had an overactive child who was a disruption in class, didn’t listen at home, and could never sit still, many family doctors would refer the parents to a psychiatrist. Chances are good that the psychiatrist would bring up the idea of performing a lobotomy on the child to address their problems.

Lobotomy was one of a series of invasive physical therapies developed in Europe in the 1920s that signaled a cry of desperation from the psychiatric community. At that time, it was believed that mentally ill people could not be treated and that they should be locked away. In the days before Ritalin and Adderall, children who exhibited hyperactivity were sent away and housed in communal homes.

In the early 1930s, a neuroscientist named Egas Moniz began to experiment on humans by cutting the nerve pathways in a lobe or lobes of the brain, severing them from those in other areas. This made the human subject docile — if not nearly catatonic. More than 40,000 Americans underwent the procedure, including Rosemary Kennedy, the sister of John, Bobby, Kathleen, and Joe Kennedy. She was a mildly mentally impaired woman who would have easily fit into society today, but in the world of the Kennedys of the 1930s, she was lobotomized and hidden away.

Soon hundreds of psychiatrists were performing the procedure to “treat” all kinds of mental illnesses, including severe depression, schizophrenia, paranoia, and ADHD. The completely untried and untested brain surgery had gone mainstream.

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Moniz received the 1949 Nobel Prize for medicine for popularizing a procedure that no doctor today would recommend. There has been a movement underway to rescind Moniz’s prize because of all the damage his lobotomy procedure has done.

Fifty years from now, will we look back on this fad of medically treating transgender children with equal skepticism and outrage?

Hot Air:

Schizophrenia, depression, chronic headaches, and children with behavior problems are all real and obviously it’s important to address the problem. Scrambling people’s brains is not the correct way to do so. Yet tens of thousands of people went through the procedure because it had a stamp of approval from doctors and the establishment.

That’s a lot of preface to the point I now want to make: the current transing fad is due to a social contagion and the treatments being used are barbaric. Transitioning to something else is a “thing;” it allows people to gain attention and sympathy. It gives people an explanation for why things aren’t going as they like. It elevates social standing. It helps people create a community of people who share something with you.

And it’s incredibly destructive. People who are suffering are getting quack treatments. Sometimes they’re suffering something serious and real, in which case the treatment should be intense and appropriate to the condition; other times it is the result of a teenage phase and should be seen as a teen experimenting with Goth culture. Instead, we are medicalizing the problem and literally sterilizing children and surgically altering their bodies. For profit.

I do not envy parents who have a child with genuine gender dysphoria. But diagnosing the illness is extremely problematic — especially in pre-teens. If I had a young child and was approached by a doctor claiming that the answer to my child’s problems was treatment for gender dysphoria, I would look long and hard at that doctor’s possible motivations. There are dozens of gender health clinics opening nationwide with more being built all the time. Are the doctor’s motivations mixed up with his own business interests?

The UK recently closed the country’s only transgender youth clinic after numerous complaints of quackery. The Times of London reported that the Tavistock Clinic was “rushing children into life-altering treatment.” Transgender medical professionals are even denouncing this “affirmative care”.


Critics of affirmative care in the United States and Britain, including some of the leading voices in gender medicine who are, themselves, transgender, have begun to argue that affirmative care has been misdiagnosing some young people as gender dysphoric, when, in fact, they suffer from serious mental-health problems that then go untreated.

In England, the National Health Service will now move forward with regional clinics that offer more “holistic care with strong links to mental health services,” The Times reports.

There should be no debate about children undergoing gender alteration surgery, and quacks who recommend it should have their license stripped from them. But as long as the transgender lobby controls the debate, there’s not much chance of that.

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