‘The Anti-Trans Hate Machine: A Plot Against Equality’ Season 2, Episode 2 transcript and replay.
Ky Schevers: A trans person, under the right conditions, especially if they’re in a vulnerable space, like, can come to believe that their transition was this like horrible, horrible damaging thing and feel like they have to like go out and share their story and stop other people from doing it. And now I look back and was like, that wasn’t true. Like my transition did not ruin my life. It didn’t hurt me. But believing that caused me immense suffering. And I regret, like you know, going out there and, you know, spreading what I now see is like misinformation about, you know, transition and promoting what I now see as conversion practices. You know, I was calling it alternative treatments for gender dysphoria, but now I’m like, no, that was just like anti-trans conversion practices.
Imara Jones: I’m Imara Jones, and this is the Anti-Trans Hate Machine: A Plot Against Equality.
In our last episode we learned how the gears of this machine kept conversion therapy going in the United States, allowing a practice which should have died out to endure and thrive.
Conservation therapy persisted because it was essential to deny LGBTQ+ people their rights. If queerness was not real, because it could be cured, then there was no need for legal acceptance and protections.
And even though, the legalization of gay marriage eventually undermined their case, Christian Nationalist leaders saw how effective conversion therapy had been in spreading misinformation, drawing out that argument for decades. So, they decided to take the conversion therapy template and apply it to trans people specifically, using pseudoscience and individual stories to make their argument.
Right now, with hundreds of pieces of anti-trans legislation, we’re actually seeing the impact of all this methodical work. And Ky Schevers, the person whose voice began this episode, was an essential ingredient to this plan until just a few years ago.
[sounds of cars and sheep]
Unknown speaker: [far away voice greeting]
Ky Schevers: Hey!
Unknown speaker: [muffled] Oh my gosh, it’s Ky!
Ky Schevers: Hey!
Unknown speaker: Hi! [muffled]
We were in Greenfield, Massachusetts. Ky came to work on a farm here after being a prominent voice in the anti-trans conversion therapy movement. After breaking ties with that hateful world, she needed somewhere quiet to get away.
Ky Schevers: Yeah, there are…
Unknown speaker: [screams in excitement] We’re making a greenhouse project!
Ky Schevers: Yeah, that’s what it looks like. Wow.
Unknown speaker: It’s great to see you.
Ky Schevers: Yeah, it’s good seeing you too
Unknown speaker: Oh my god this is such a treat.
Connecting with the land like this is one way that Ky gets grounded. See Ky’s been farming and taking care of the earth for as long as she can remember. When she was 9 her family moved to a rural part of Illinois. Ky and her mom spent years restoring their land. Her mom taught her how to plant native grasses, get rid of invasive species, and more.
Ky Schevers: We burned the prairie some years. That’s a part of, part of how that works. That was a, I always liked that — playing with fire. But yeah, I mean, sometimes at the time it seemed like a chore. But now I look back and I was like, That’s pretty neat.
Ky’s was a conservative community, where her masculinity and visible queerness made her an outsider.
Ky Schevers: I remember one day in, in gym class, like this, this girl in my class just like, she asked me if I was a dyke and then she asked me if I had a dick. *laughs*
She didn’t have any queer or trans role models around. Ky felt isolated and misunderstood.
Ky Schevers: And I was like, How am I supposed to live in this world as this? I kind of felt like I was this mythological creature almost.
But when she was 15, she learned what trans men and butch lesbians were. So she started reading everything she could about gender and sexual orientation. Eventually, she started experimenting to find her own gender expression. She cut her hair short, and began shopping in the men’s section. She still remembers the first time that someone thought she was a boy.
Ky Schevers: Someone just, like, stopped me when I was trying to go catch my, my bus after school. And they’re like, Oh, you’re the cutest little boy I’ve ever seen. And it kind of started happening more after that. And I was like, Huh, this is kind of interesting. I kind of like this.
For the rest of her teenage years into early adulthood, Ky continued to move further and further into her transmasculine identity, eventually going on hormones. However at 21, Ky experienced a major shock. Her mom died. And it was a trauma that created an understandable instability.
Ky Schevers: It just like it changed my life in like so many ways. Like it just, it seemed like something that could inspire all sorts of other, like, really intense actions and response.
Ky was able to go on and create a new community and sense of family for herself with other queer people. But then that living situation fell apart.
This created additional instability in her life, and it coincided with her decision to go off testosterone for a while. Going on or off hormones for trans people is not unique to Ky’s story. Trans individuals do so for a host of reasons as they decide what’s best for them.
But all of this change: loss of community and family and trying to figure out what was best for her gender identity left Ky feeling vulnerable. And it led her to seek out connection on the internet. That’s how she ended up on a Yahoo! Group called “No Going Back.”
Ky Schevers: And at that point it was like fairly dead.
But Ky decided to keep posting anyway.
Ky Schevers: And then, unfortunately, one of the only people who replied was, was Devorah.
She and Ky started talking a lot. Emailing back and forth. Having some pretty intense conversations.
Devorah became something like a mentor to Ky. Someone who had figured out all of this gender stuff. And Ky really took what she said to heart.
Ky Schevers: Sometimes, like, something would feel off. But overall, I felt like it was just really nice to talk to someone who’d already like, who’d had some similar experiences.
Devorah wasn’t just helping Ky process her transition, she was giving Ky a ready-made answer for everything she felt was wrong. Those answers could be found in the dark world of ideologically motivated “detransitioners.”
Now, anyone who stops hormones or living openly as trans could possibly be considered a detransitioner. And people can detransition for all kinds of reasons, including discrimination from society and concern about physical safety. But what we’re talking about here is different. Ideologically motivated detransitioners are a tiny group of people who believe that transness isn’t real. And Devorah herself was a prominent leader among them. Gradually, she pulled Ky into this ideology. With all that Ky had been through, she was open to it.
Ky Schevers: So we both ended up starting like blogs talking about our experiences like detransitioning.
Ky slowly came to believe not only that she’d transitioned because she was afraid of turning into her mom but that the key to healing that trauma was to actually accept herself as a woman. In 2013, Ky started writing about all of this under the name CrashChaosCats alongside Devorah, who was Redress Alert.
Ky Schevers: I think one of her first blog posts, she just was basically coming out and saying that she thought, like, all transmasculine people like transitioned because of trauma or internalized misogyny, or she was very skeptical that anyone transitioned for any other reason than that.
Their blogs weren’t huge: Ky had maybe a thousand followers, Devorah had around two thousand. But they were incredibly influential to the people who were following them. Detransition wasn’t even a term that people were searching for on the Internet then. In fact, the ‘detrans’ internet culture had seemed to be going nowhere. But now, with Ky and Devorah’s savvy and dedication, it started taking off.
Ky Schevers: There was just a handful of us at first. But then as we started talking about our experiences, like more people started like kind of joining on. I mean, some of them, you know, basically like converted to the form of like radical feminism we were selling and detransitioned even.
Today, Ky knows that what her and Devorah were doing was incredibly harmful. They were single handedly discouraging people from using hormones and pushing others to detransition. Ky says that even though they were practicing conversion therapy, it was exciting, even intoxicating.
Ky Schevers: We felt like we were creating something new. We like, felt like we were creating this whole new subculture. And like we were coming up with like, yes we were drawing on like, you know, these radical feminist theories, but we were also like making up our own. Like we were making up our own interpretations of them and applying it to our lives.
Essentially, they’d become experts, in a theoretical field that they’d invented.
In 2014, Devorah received a consequential message. A group of TERFs had found her blog and started reaching out.
Now, TERF stands for trans exclusionary radical feminist. TERFs — a fringe group of feminism — argue that only those who were assigned female at birth can be women, and are the only ones who can speak to women’s oppression. They believe that trans people are either trying to escape gender oppression by being somebody who they are not or are wearing womanhood like a costume.
TERFs were excited by Ky and Devorah’s work so much so that asked they Devorah to present her ideas at an annual festival called the Michigan Womyn’s Music Festival — Michfest. Devorah insisted that Ky go too.
Ky Schevers: So when some lesbians from that community like I guess found Devorah’s blog, they were like, Oh wow, this is really cool. This lesbian who transitioned, came to her senses, this is great. And one of them, invited her like, Hey, why don’t you come to, to Michfest and do a workshop. Present about like detransitioning and going from being, you know, a trans man to a lesbian. And Devorah was like, Well, I’m willing to do this, but I won’t do this by myself. And so she asked me to do it with her.
Michfest, now defunct, was an annual, week-long, women’s only music festival that ran for 40 years on 600 acres in the forests of Western Michigan. Thousands of women, predominantly lesbian, attended every year. It was a powerful cultural gathering.
Speaker 1 [archival tape of Michfest]: “It’s a women’s thing, you know, just being here and with all these amazing women, I’ve never in my life experienced anything like it.”
Speaker 2 [archival tape of Michfest]: “The energy was so dynamic, I had to come back the next year.”
Speaker 3 [archival tape of Michfest]: “It’s absolutely the embodiment of lesbian culture.”
Speaker 4 [archival tape of Michfest]: “Pride, because we created this wonderful place. We are Amazon women.”
But it wasn’t just some lesbian, feminist utopia. Michfest had a long and contentious history within the feminist movement.
In the early 1990’s, the founder, Lisa Vogel, adopted a ‘women-born-women’ only policy, as a way to exclude trans women from attending the festival.
Ky Schevers: I mean, yeah, I went there partially because I was like, Well, maybe this will like help me like heal my trauma or, you know, accept my womanhood or, or whatnot.
Devorah and Ky took to the stage of the detransitioning panel that they had organized.
Ky Schevers: And the women there just loved us and ate it up. It really was like all of a sudden, like we were like instant celebrities. I mean, it felt good at the time. And now looking back, it’s a very surreal thing, just how like plugged in we were, like almost immediately.
Ky and Devorah were stars. And they started to meet some of the most important leaders in the TERF community, including the pagans.
Ky Schevers: Ruth Barrett and Falcon River, they were these Dianic witches and priestesses.
You heard that right. Dianic Witches and priestesses. Diana is the Roman goddess of wild animals and the hunt. If you paid any attention in your Greek Mythology class, you might know her as Artemis.
Ky Schevers: A lot of feminists and pagans and lesbians are really into her because they see her as this like, this symbol of like female strength. She was like a huntress and didn’t really like men and mostly just hung out with women.
These Dianic witches were thrilled to meet Ky and Devorah.
Ky Schevers: Falcon River, this, this, she was this older, older butch dyke. She was, she basically said, Oh, we’ve been calling you. Like we’ve been doing magic and rituals to try to call young women like you home, like including call people who, you know, had transitioned back, back home to, to the lesbian mother culture. Which, I mean now, now looking back, that sounds really creepy, but at the time it felt really good to be told by this like this older, like butch lesbian, like, Oh, we’ve been, we’ve been watching out for you. We’ve been like, you know, feeling your absence and trying to call you back to us.
At Michfest, Ky finally found a place where she felt like she belonged. Where she was adored, even.
And it had a big impact. When Ky returned home, her blog doubled down.
Not surprisingly, she and Devorah were invited to come back to Michfest the following year, this time to present at an even bigger detransition workshop. This time hundreds of women would show up.
Ky Schevers: So I got like some special privileges because I was presenting an intensive workshop. So like I, like there is, thousands of women went to Michfest. So there’s like a long line of cars to like get in there, like miles long. I got to like skip all that and like go right in. Felt, felt like a rockstar doing that.
They presented their ideas, again. They were celebrated and adored, again.
Ky Schevers: The first Michfest I feel like kind of like draw, drew me in more to kind of the TERF ideology. The second one really, really fired me up.
After Michfest, Ky and Devorah’s new friends — the Dianic witches — invited them to take part in a ceremony.
In the spring of 2016, Ky spent her weekend with 8 women in a ritual to break ties with their transmasculinity.
Ky Schevers: The first part of the ritual was we could burn, like ritually burn, pieces of paper where we had written like stuff we wanted to like leave behind, like aspects of our past or, or past selves we wanted to get away with, get away from.
The ritual was being led by two Dianic priestesses in a pool house at a campground in Southern California.
Ky sat down on one of the many couches in the room to write down the things from her past life that she wanted to sever.
Ky Schevers: My past as like a trans person. My past transition. My relationship to this, this radical queer community I had been a part of for years.
When Ky finished writing, she looked up.
Ky Schevers: Some people were like crying a lot or just like, like people got really into it. I mean, I got really into it.
At the front of the room, the high priestess stood by a fire, holding a curved blade. One by one, the women came forward to throw their papers into the fire. When they were done, the priestess slashed the air around them, cutting off any lingering connection to their past as trans men.
Ky Schevers: I was sort of like seeing it as like calling back this wild, primal female self. So I was like making sort of these like animalistic or even like guttural, demonic, like, kind of fierce, you know, like a fury or a gorgon or something like that. You know, making these noises and sort of like working myself up into like a trance state. Like, I really did get into like an altered state of consciousness after a while.
Ky and the others undergoing the ritual were here to renounce any trans identity that might still exist inside of them.
And they were using pagan magic to do that.
As another high priestess stepped forward, holding a horn that looked like it was made from the skull of a bull, she started to speak.
Ky Schevers: We’ve destroyed this illusion that you were trapped in and we’ve burnt it or had it cut off or whatever. And now we’re going to, like, use this magical horn to call back your, your real self.
After all of these experiences, Ky was ready to preach the gospel of anti-trans feminism.
Ky Schevers: I was in such a like fired up headspace. I kind of, I mean, I even thought it was like doing the work of the goddess or something like that.
Clearly Ky had gone to a strange world, one totally unrecognizable to the reserved, Midwestern prairie of her youth.
But it was about to get even stranger. That’s because TERFs, who say that they are radical feminists, were increasingly making common cause with Christian Nationalists.
And what brought Dianic priestesses, TERFs, and the right wing together? It’s an anti-trans ideology grounded in the idea of detransition. Because to all of these groups, trans people aren’t real.
Julia Serano is a biologist, writer and activist who got her start back in 2003 when she participated in Camp Trans, an annual protest of Michfest. A few years later, she wrote Whipping Girl, the formative work on transmisogyny and the centrality of trans people to feminism.
Julia Serano: During the early 2010’s, there were definitely a small faction of feminists who were called TERFs because of their anti-trans views. But they were a fairly small group who if you weren’t a trans person yourself, you probably didn’t have many interactions with them.
But this fringe group had gained notoriety over the past several years by making common cause with key components of the anti-trans hate machine like the Heritage Foundation, Family Research Council and Family Policy Alliance.
Julia Serano: There were actual arguments within conservative circles that they should reframe their anti-trans agenda in terms of being pro-woman. And so ever since then, there has been an alliance between social conservatives and some anti-trans feminists.
So, they all had a common interest in manipulating the public against trans people.
Julia Serano: It’s more socially understandable or respectable to say, Oh, well, I don’t have anything against trans people, but I am worried about what happens with women. Or I am worried about what will happen to little kids.
And stories like Ky’s were exactly the ones that both TERFs and Christian Nationalists had been searching for, even encouraging.
But Ky did not know that she was being used this way. And it came as a total shock when Ruth Barrett, the Dianic priestess who ritually severed Ky’s connection with her trans self, revealed that Ky’s story was embraced by Christian Nationalists.
In fact Ruth had compiled a book of essays called Female Erasure, which featured Ky’s personal essay. And the far right celebrated the book, using it in its attacks against trans people.
Ky Schevers: Her book came out and she was very excited to tell us that it had gotten endorsed by Michelle Cretella from American College of Pediatricians.
Ky was stunned.
Ky Schevers: It was very disturbing for this, this woman I had trusted to be like, Oh, isn’t this great? We’re building bridges with these conservative Christian women. And like, What are you doing? Why do you think this is a good idea?
So we went to Ruth to ask why she thought it was a good idea to be celebrated by Michelle Cretella and the American College of Pediatricians, which is an important pillar of Christian Nationalism.
Ruth Barrett: I, I mean, that’s funny. I, I’m just laughing because I had no idea who they were.
Even though she didn’t know who they were, Ruth says, it didn’t matter. She was looking for anyone in the medical field to legitimize her book.
Ruth Barrett: I had no idea at the time, until after the fact. That I, at the time of putting the Female Erasure anthology together, it was so difficult to get doctors and psychologists and you know, other professionals, attorneys, whatever, to have, to talk about this issue. That I found these folks, I had no idea at that time that they were like super right-wing whatever folks.
Ruth claims that she had no idea how her book and Ky’s story were being weaponized.
Ruth Barrett: First of all, someone taking something from my book and using it for their own purposes, I mean, people do it, unfortunately, all the time. I’m hearing about this for the first time.
She professes ignorance, but knowing what she knows now, Ruth told me, that she has no regrets.
Imara Jones: Looking back, I mean, do you, how do you feel about Female Erasure? I mean, would you have still put it out? Would you still have put out these stories?
Ruth Barrett: Sure, I would have put, I would have put out Female Erasure. When I put together this anthology, I didn’t need, it wasn’t important to me that even everyone like agreed with each other. I did it to foster discussion. The fact that I’m hearing that people on the right have taken the book and done something with it. I, you know, I don’t have control over where it goes. I don’t regret at all doing it.
Even though Ruth is unapologetic, Ky was shaken by the connection between her story and the American College of Pediatricians. That’s because they often use narratives like Ky’s to legitimize attacks on LGBTQ rights. It’s one of the reasons why this group is so dangerous.
Here is Emerson Hodges. He’s a researcher at the Southern Poverty Law Center who follows anti-LGBTQ groups.
Emerson Hodges: The American College of Pediatricians formed specifically for anti-LGBT reasons. They broke away from the American Academy of Pediatricians over the American Academy of Pediatricians’ endorsement of gay adoption.
The American College of Pediatricians sounds like a reputable medical group. In fact, its name is eerily similar to the American Academy of Pediatrics, the largest professional association of doctors for kids, which boasts 70,000 members. But the American College of Pediatricians, with its self-reported 700 members, explicitly attacks the idea that trans, and other queer people, are real. And despite its size, it has outsized influence on the conversation about gender identity in the US and around the world.
Emerson Hodges: Because of their low profile up until this point, and their official sounding name, they get quoted quite a bit and fairly easily in local publications, which is very frustrating.
And they are particularly effective at spreading anti-LGBTQ misinformation.
Emerson Hodges: They perpetuated anti-LGBT junk science, claiming that the LGBTQ community was a threat to children. It put children at a higher risk of health and developmental danger, essentially.
But the American College of Pediatricians’ pseudo-science has an even darker impact. So much so that the Southern Poverty Law Center has labeled them a hate group.
Emerson Hodges: So seeing this anti-trans sort of rhetoric and
The current leader of the American College of Pediatricians is Quentin Van Meter. Since he became president, the organization has leaned even deeper into hate.
Emerson Hodges: He is a big proponent of basically trying to mischaracterize gender affirming care for children, to demonize and de-legitimize it.
Dr. Van Meter is a traveling salesman for anti-trans legislation. He’s essentially on speed dial for anti-trans legislators across the country.
Under the guise of being a folksy, relatable doctor, who leads an innocuous sounding organization, he’s always at the ready to lend credibility to hate.
Quentin Van Meter: Thank you for the opportunity for me to testify before this committee.
He testified in support of Idaho’s anti-trans medical care ban in 2021.
Quentin Van Meter: First of all, I want to state that I am completely and utterly driven by compassion for children, regardless of what they feel and in terms of their, their own self, that my job is to heal them and above all, follow my Hippocratic Oath of first do no harm. And this legislation allows those children to be protected from interrupting the natural process of puberty, which is not a disease state, but which is an important way for the immature individual to mature into a fertile adult and a productive life. And I support the bill.
And this is the point. Legislators use his title of pediatrician to whitewash what they are doing.
Legislator at hearing: And that Dr. Van Meter, you know, that do no harm. Do no harm. This bill protects the harm that will be caused to our children if we allow these things to go on. That’s a pretty deep resume that he has out of Emory University, 42 years as an endocrinologist.
But Van Meter and his organization were only lending credibility to anti-trans efforts.
In 2016, just months before Ky’s story was bearhugged by the right wing, the American College of Pediatricians issued a defining document in the anti-trans movement.
This manifesto, called “Gender Ideology Harms Children,” is an attack on the very idea of trans identity. It quote “urges healthcare professionals, educators and legislators to reject all policies that condition children to accept as normal a life of chemical and surgical impersonation of the opposite sex” closed quote.
Adding ironically, “that facts, not ideology, determine reality.”
After this statement was issued, the number of narratives platformed in right wing news sources and organizations skyrocketed.
The American College of Pediatricians is so complicated both as an idea and an organization that I felt compelled to talk to Van Meter. Because I couldn’t believe what I was learning about them. Could pediatricians really believe that they were helping kids like this?
I really wanted to know. So I was glad he agreed to talk.
Imara Jones: So Dr. Van Meter, before we go into our conversation about the medical conversation around trans people, I’m going to do some really tedious things that you’ll be like, why? Why am I being asked these things? It’s just so that we can get everything on the record and clear and make sure that we have your name spelled correctly and all of that. So I hope that you can bear with me on that.
Quentin Van Meter: Well, first of all, I want to express my appreciation for you taking the time to, to, to begin the dialogue. I mean, this is, this warms my heart.
Dr. Van Meter’s relatable charm even disarmed me initially but I kept going because there is a particular part of their “Gender Ideology Harms Children” manifesto which really stood out to me.
The manifesto states that “ human sexuality is binary by design.” By design? That phrase signaled to me that the group’s actions were not fueled by science, even a bad interpretation of science, but something else.
The phrase “intelligent design” is right out of Christian Nationalist ideology. They’ve used it for decades to undermine the theory of evolution.
So I went there.
Imara Jones: You know, one of the other key parts of the declaration is that, you know, it, it states very clearly that human sexuality is binary by design. And what’s interesting is that that language doesn’t sound scientific. It sounds like a religious ideology. And so what do you say to that? Because that does not, quote “human sexuality is binary by design” closed quote, by design is, is usually a religious phrase.
Quentin Van Meter: Well, it, it, just think from the scientific basis, okay, if a species is to survive in the long run, they have to reproduce. The purpose of, you know, of the male and the female sex coming together to procreate is that the male donates the sperm and the, and the female donates the egg and a conception occurs and, and, and that’s biologic. And I would assume it to be planned, I mean, if you.
Imara Jones: Who plans it?
Quentin Van Meter: Well, it’s, you know, in every other aspect of survival of a, of a species, reproduction is very necessary. And functional reproduction comes from the, the opposite sex is sort of creating the, the new, the new offspring. And so that, that is I guess that was, it’s a, it’s a scientific design. It’s a design, you know, that does not and, and basically include religion as the background, it happens to be the background in religion. But it’s a background in science as well.
His response is cloudy at best. I mean, Dr. Van Meter both affirms and denies the religious underpinnings of the manifesto’s statement. So why won’t he just clearly state what it is? His answer comes across as sheer obfuscation.
But beyond the influence of religion, there is another reason why Dr. Van Meter says that trans people are not natural. He believes trans people are the result of a social contagion that’s aided and abetted by the mainstream medical establishment.
Quentin Van Meter: Something is going on. And it’s the interest in this that has kind of opened it up and, and kind of made it something that it wasn’t 10 or 12 years ago. And that doesn’t seem to be science. That seems to be sort of social pressure. And that’s, that’s a dangerous way to practice medicine.
Imara Jones: So you think that doctors are responsive, are responding to social pressure? Who do you think the social pressure is coming from?
Quentin Van Meter: Oh, heck, it’s, it’s everywhere. You look at what’s online and, and you know, the sort of the celebration of, of the transgendered individuals and television programs and in children’s literature, it’s, it’s sort of a cause célèbre.
You heard that right: being trans is a fad, a “cause célèbre” he calls it. What’s interesting is his breakaway group is using some strange cherry picking of religion and quack science to erase trans people. To be clear, the medical establishment that he’s referencing — organizations like the American Academy of Pediatrics, the American Medical Association, American Psychological Association, and the Endocrine Society — pull from decades of research to affirm that transness is real, that being trans is indeed natural.
Additionally, with respect to media and entertainment, there are just as many people outright condemning trans people as there are those in support. Comedians Dave Chappelle and Bill Maher, and Harry Potter author JK Rowling among them.
But Dr. Van Meter just keeps going.
Quentin Van Meter: And so we have all these kids now who in two years of being at home at, at COVID, who are, you know, literally living online, searching for, for acceptance. And, man, they find it in the transgender community and sort of a recruiting, Hey, if you’re unhappy, this is a possible answer. Come, come snoop around over here on our website and come look at our blogs. It’s a recruitment from within the group.
By now Dr. Van Meter is just echoing talking points from the darkest corners of the Internet, again cloaked in a fatherly, professinoal tone. He is now saying that trans kids are coming out more, because they were recruited by other trans people during COVID lockdowns.
He is now just in full conspiratorial rhetoric at this point.
But then Dr. Van Meter takes it to an even more disturbing place.
Imara Jones: Just to clarify, I mean, you all characterize it as child abuse. Is it child abuse? I mean, if it, if it isn’t, then I would imagine you would take it out and not say it.
Quentin Van Meter: Well, I believe that it is abusive to a child to remove their healthy organs and to create a disease state that would not otherwise exist. The justification for this is the mental health improvements. And the problem is that all of that is manufactured and is not, is not proven to be true.
To be honest, reducing kids to their genitalia, rather than considering them whole people, is the abuse here. And he goes on.
Quentin Van Meter: If we are doing that with the driving ideology is that it saves their lives and that at least they’ll, they’ll live a little longer if we do this as opposed to taking their own lives, the taking their own lives part is a miserable lie.
But, according to the Trevor Project, trans teens and young adults who receive gender affirming care are less likely to commit suicide or be depressed.
But when it comes to gender identity there is actually one group of people that Dr. Van Meter is prepared to listen to: it’s those who say that they are no longer trans. In fact, it’s those stories that the American College of Pediatricians and other right-wing organizations platform. That’s because they need them to make their case. And Dr. Van Meter is happy to talk about them.
Quentin Van Meter: The thing is the people that aren’t better don’t get on the Internet. Until recently, they have been very much in the shadows. And all of a sudden they are starting to come out of the woodwork and say, Oh my god, it was the worst thing I’ve ever done, please don’t do it. And some of them are, they’re just spokespeople that say, you know, we have been in the shadows and we are no longer going to stay there.
Ky Schevers was one of the detransitioning people that Dr. Van Meter cites and whose story he relies upon. But Ky says that the idea that there are legions of trans people who regret transitioning is total bunk.
Ky Schevers: Those communities aren’t that big. Like we always overinflated our numbers. Or always like said that there was a bunch of us. But like, our community included both people who had, you know, medically transitioned and then detransitioned. But there were also like a whole lot of people who had just identified as trans for a while without ever medically transitioning. And there was actually like more of them than people who had actually medically transitioned. Which is a nice way of inflating the numbers too.
This narrative isn’t only the handiwork of Dr. Van Meter and the American College of Pediatricians.
Another component of the anti-trans hate machine, in fact one of its most influential parts, is also central to this effort. It’s the Heritage Foundation.
A central player there was Ryan T. Anderson. He helped develop a range of anti-trans policies that were implemented during the Trump Administration.
And in 2018, he seized upon Ky’s story as an example that gender is a “bodily reality.” He did so in a book called When Harry Became Sally: Responding to the Transgender Moment.
Not surprisingly, he cites the American College of Pediatricians to make the case that being trans is a mental illness. In fact, parts of the book read like their manifesto we talked about.
There’s a whole chapter of Anderson’s book devoted to cataloging stories from detransitioners.
Ryan T. Anderson: My book introduces readers to people who transitioned, but found themselves no better off, and then detransitioned. Especially troubling is the suffering felt by adults who were encouraged to transition as children but later came to regret it. The most helpful therapies focus not on achieving the impossible, changing bodies to conform to thoughts and feelings, but on helping people accept and embrace the truth about their bodies and reality.
Like all authors, Anderson went on a book tour, ending up on innocuous platforms, like C-SPAN, and right-wing ones, like Fox News, as well as on a variety of Christian Nationalist news sites. He was riding high on Ky’s story.
But Ky was totally blindsided by her inclusion in his book. Even though she held transphobic beliefs at the time, she still considered herself to be a feminist. And Heritage stood against every other feminist ideal that she’d ever held.
Ky Schevers: Like, you know, I thought I had transitioned because I lived, you know, in a homophobic sexist society. And I thought, you know, people like the Heritage Foundation were one of the root causes of that.
And then, after Ryan used her story without her consent, it began spreading throughout the conservative media ecosystem.
Ky Schevers: Places like Life Site News and other Conservative Christian websites started taking quotes from our, our blogs and I was not happy about that at all. Like I was like, Oh, this is not the attention that I want. I, I’m kind of, that, that was a very rude awakening and definitely the beginning of me starting to question like all kinds of stuff.
Her story was being used, by Ruth Barrett, by Michelle Cretella, by Quentin Van Meter, and by Ryan Anderson, and by countless others. Not because they cared about Ky as a person but because they cared about her as a tool. She was a means to an end for them. And sadly, there was something tragically familiar about all of this.
Ky Schevers: I mean, like, some of the ways that transphobic feminists and lesbians were, were talking about me or talking about, like, transmasculine people in general, it, it literally reminded me of how people had treated me when I was growing up, you know, when I was younger, you know, in, in elementary and middle school and high school.
Even after Ky had cut ties with her trans identity, Ky’s supposed allies still saw her as something else — something strange and weird.
That feeling, combined with a growing sense of guilt as she watched her words being weaponized by Christian Nationalists, encouraged her to leave the movement.
Afterwards, in 2019, Ky disappeared from the internet. Her blog posts became infrequent and then stopped altogether. She removed her YouTube videos. And she cut off ties with Devorah. The community that she’d been part of for so long just felt hostile to her.
And now, Ky was all alone.
But at this low moment, someone new came into Ky’s life. A trans person named Lee Leveille.
Like Ky, Lee had questions about his gender identity and ended up in the movement too.
Ky and Lee started to chat online. For Ky, here was someone who had also seen the inner workings of the online anti-trans hate machine. She finally had a person in her life who could understand what she’d been through and help her understand her complicated relationship with gender. With Lee’s support, Ky was able to embrace her own transness again, and start to heal from the trauma of being weaponized by anti-trans hate movements.
Ky Schevers: Hanging out with Lee was like the first time hanging out with a trans person who knew about the stuff that I was, you know, had been involved in. It was also sort of like, Oh, wow, like, you’ll accept me no matter what I am. And it was just, I wasn’t used to that.
Ky and Lee fell in love and eventually moved in together. Holding each other as they started healing from the movements that had used their stories.
Ky Schevers: I mean, there’s nothing like being in a very restrictive, controlling subculture to make you appreciate freedom and self-determination and like getting that back. And, you know, getting to be around someone who really does just like want, you know, Lee just wants me to be happy.
But there was a lingering feeling that they had: that they needed to do something about the world that they had just left.
So they started the website Health Liberation Now to expose how the anti-trans hate machine works to undermine the humanity of trans people.
From their home in Massachusetts that they now share, Ky and Lee both devote themselves to working against the movement which had ensnared them both. It’s proved a powerful and healing partnership.
Ky Schevers: Yeah, we both are kind of trying to like turn our experiences into something positive and, you know, take, take what we learned, like what, what worked and what didn’t, and, you know, do what we can to sound the alarm about like different groups that are trying to pass themselves off as, as caretakers or resources, but actually aren’t, actually are, you know, you know, promoting conversion therapy or, you know, some kind of ex-trans subculture or something like that.
But beyond their work, Ky finds the love and acceptance she was always searching for. It’s the kind of deep bond which arises from someone who knows what you’ve been through, and what your life has been like.
Here’s Lee reflecting Ky back to herself.
Lee Leveille: I’m so, I am so incredibly proud of you and everything that you’ve been doing to, to try to turn these things around and turn your story into something that’s going to be able to, to heal the hearts of others. And I just…
Ky Schevers: You know, hearing about helping you, like, process your own stuff, like, also helps me. Like not trying to impose anything, just having like, like love and compassion for each other and just, like, listening to each other and, like, trying to, like, take care of each other. And just like being like, whatever you need, like whoever you need to be, like, whatever you need to do to be happy and, like, be whole and be free. Like we just try to give, give that to each other so we can, like, try to create a world where everyone can have that.
Lee Leveille: Loving each other gives us that, that space and the rejuvenation that we need to be able to spread that love to everybody else.
Ky will spend the rest of her life recovering from what happened to her. And even though Ky has embraced her transness, the harm she endured is the result of a political agenda. One that seeks trans people out at their most vulnerable moments and then exploits them for its own end.
Next time on the Anti-Trans Hate Machine, we will show how the right-wing weaponizes both stories like Ky’s and junk science to actively promote misinformation online in order to convert an even wider audience to their views, especially parents.
The Anti-Trans Hate Machine: A Plot Against Equality is hosted and executive produced by Imara Jones. Oliver Ash Kleine is our senior producer and Nicole Kelly is our editor. Our producers include Josephine Jaye McAuliffe, Ann Marie Awad, and Mara Lazer. Our associate producers are Vera B., Wren Farrell, R. Robinson, Nicole Richards, and Tiler Wilson. Fact-checking for this season comes from Steven Crighton. This series is sound designed by Xander Adams. Zak Lanius helped with audio production. Our social media team includes Daniela “Dani” Capistrano, head of Digital Strategy, as well as Brennen Beckwith, our social media producer.
Help spread the word about #AntiTransHateMachine by accessing our Season 2 social media toolkit.