Dr. Ablow Launches Inaccurate, Transphobic Attack On J. Crew Advertisement
April 12, 2011 10:36 am ET by Carlos Maza
Psychiatrist and Fox News contributor Dr. Keith Ablow wrote a scathing column Monday, criticizing J. Crew’s online catalogue for including a picture of designer Jenna Lyons painting her son’s toe nails pink:
[JCrew.com, accessed 4/11/11]
The column, entitled “J. Crew Plants the Seeds for Gender Identity,” attacks J. Crew for encouraging society to “abandon all trappings of gender identity”:
Yeah, well, it may be fun and games now, Jenna, but at least put some money aside for psychotherapy for the kid—and maybe a little for others who’ll be affected by your “innocent” pleasure.
This is a dramatic example of the way that our culture is being encouraged to abandon all trappings of gender identity—homogenizing males and females when the outcome of such “psychological sterilization” [my word choice] is not known.[emphasis added]
If there is a silver lining in this unfounded rant, perhaps, it's that we can take some comfort in Ablow’s admission that he has no clue about the "effects" of this kind of “sterilization,” because Ablow fails to provide even a shred of evidence to support any of the claims he goes on to make.
To be clear, whether a boy decides to paint his nails pink has absolutely nothing to do with one’s gender identity. It seems strange to have to correct a professional psychiatrist on such an obvious point, but many children behave in ways that might be considered atypical of their gender without growing up to identify as transgender, and vice versa.
That glaring issue aside, however, Ablow’s post is a hodgepodge of misinformed and offensive claims about transgender people that contradict empirical studies about how parents should approach their children’s gender identities.
Ablow claims that allowing children to explore their gender identity inflicts a “psychological penalty” and causes them to “grotesquely amputate” their bodies:
[E]ncouraging the choosing of gender identity, rather than suggesting our children become comfortable with the ones that they got at birth, can throw our species into real psychological turmoil—not to mention crowding operating rooms with procedures to grotesquely amputate body parts? Why not make race the next frontier? What would be so wrong with people deciding to tattoo themselves dark brown and claim African-American heritage? Why not bleach the skin of others so they can playact as Caucasians?
Why should we hold dear anything with which we were born? What’s the benefit of non-fiction over fiction?
Well, the benefit is that non-fiction always wins, in the end. And to the extent that you take flights of fancy into masquerading through life, life will exact a psychological penalty.
Ablow suggests that being transgender is a choice that people make as a result of not fully learning their gender roles as children -- a theory was largely contradicted by a 2004 study documenting the gender identities of children who underwent gender-reassignment surgery at birth.
More importantly, Ablow’s assertion that allowing children to define their own gender identity causes “psychological turmoil” is exactly backwards. Several studies have found that transgender children with accepting parents experienced remarkably higher levels of physical and mental health than transgender children with parents who attempt to “correct” their gender identities. Transgender children who face rejection from their parents are more likely to be depressed, attempt suicide, and become substance abusers.
Without citing a single study or report, Ablow instructs parents to “suggest” that their children “become comfortable” with their birth genders, despite a mountain of evidence demonstrating the debilitating impact these “suggestions” can have on children struggling to understand their gender identities.
Dr. Ablow goes on to attempt to connect images like J. Crew’s picture with a spike in girl-on-girl violence, a decrease in child-raising, and the decline of the American military:
The fallout is already being seen. Increasingly, girls show none of the reticence they once did to engage in early sexual relationships with boys. That may be a good thing from the standpoint of gender equality, but it could be a bad thing since there is no longer the same typically “feminine” brake on such behavior. Girls beat up other girls on YouTube. Young men primp and preen until their abdomens are washboards and their hair is perfect. And while that may seem like no big deal, it will be a very big deal if it turns out that neither gender is very comfortable anymore nurturing children above all else, and neither gender is motivated to rank creating a family above having great sex forever and neither gender is motivated to protect the nation by marching into combat against other men and risking their lives.
If you are baffled by the logical progression of Ablow's diatribe, you are not alone. Ablow quite astoundingly attempts to connect the deterioration of American culture with the failure of parents to chastise their children for not behaving like their birth sexes. And did I mention that he doesn't provide one shred of evidence for any of these claims?
It’s columns like these that add to an unfortunate amount of animus, persecution, and discrimination that transgender people experience every day. As a licensed psychiatrist, Ablow should be especially cautious about the way he advises parents to treat some of the most vulnerable children in America. Instead, he chose to pander to Fox’s right wing audience by repeating baseless and hurtful myths about transgender people and transgender youth in particular.