‘The Anti-Trans Hate Machine: A Plot Against Equality’ Season 2, Episode 4 transcript and replay.
If you regularly turn on the news, tune into a topical podcast or read a national paper, you’ve certainly been exposed to fear mongering about trans youth. It’s inescapable. And it’s just getting louder.
Rogan: And if you’re a parent and you’re not aware that this
is happening to your kid while your kids are at school. Like, what? What are we doing to children? Has this been vetted?
INGRAHM: What do Americans need to know right now about the power of some of these state governments to take kids away from parents, or undermine their values?
CARLSON: these numbers are kind of astounding, but they they don’t suggest a natural cause of born that way, cause they suggest a social influence cause
Now these ideas didn’t just fall from the sky and into the mouths of Fox News hosts and conspiracy theory podcasts. Anti-trans rhetoric takes up so much space in the right wing media because of a deliberate process.
In this episode we will show how trans disinformation made its way from obscure corners of the internet to the most dangerous voices in Christian Nationalist media.
This is a story of just how much damage a single person can cause. We’re going to go deep on someone who’s arguably the most responsible for spreading the myth that transness is a social contagion. And who, with the right backing, would take this myth to its widest audience ever.
Hi I’m Imara Jones. Welcome to Part 2 of the second season of The Anti-Trans Hate Machine: A Plot Against Equality. In these final episodes we’re going to pick up where we left off, and trace the ways that fears about social contagion have gone from far right conservative talking points, to becoming mainstays of the right-wing media universe, ultimately driving the way that trans people are covered in pivotal outlets like The New York Times.
In order for these ideas to proliferate and grow, they needed both a vast network and the perfect sales person.
Someone who appears to have reputable credentials.
Glenn Beck: She’s an investigative journalist for the Wall Street Journal
Shrier (Rogan Podcast): Look, I’m a journalist, so I talk to everybody, and I explore every side of every issue.
Someone who appears to support trans people.
Shrier: I personally don’t have any issue with adults transitioning and in fact I’ve known enough transgender adults that I can say I honestly believe some of them have been greatly helped by it
Someone who appears to be just asking questions for the sake of the children.
Shrier: My book is about a medical mystery. Why all of a sudden, in the last decade, we were seeing an incredible spike in teenage girls suddenly deciding that they’re transgender, often with their girlfriends and pushing for hormones and surgeries and easily obtaining them.
That someone is Abigail Shrier. She’s the author of Irreversible Damage: The Transgender Craze Seducing Our Daughters. She’s built her entire brand around spreading the lie of social contagion. Shrier’s taken Dr. Lisa Littman’s debunked theory of rapid onset gender dysphoria that we explored last episode and popularized it. Now Shrier uses her carefully curated public persona to stoke fear in the minds of parents across the country.
Following her media appearances is actually a masterclass in how the right-wing packages disinformation for a mainstream audience. She’s excellent at using language that resonates with moderates and even progressives.
But her agenda is clear as day for anyone who takes the time to look.
Shrier: They are completely committed to recruiting revolutionaries, they are completely committed to disrupting and attacking the nuclear family. They want to sow chaos and they’re really effective at doing it.
Today, I’m going to explore how Abigail Shirer, someone hardly anyone had ever heard of, with no scientific or medical expertise has become a go-to source spreading anti-trans hate across the media landscape.
Much of Shrier’s life is shrouded in secrecy and she has a very buttoned up public image. Shrier wouldn’t talk to us for this episode, but there’s plenty that we do know If you look at the basic facts of Shrier’s upbringing, you might be surprised that she’s become such a force in the anti-trans hate movement.
In fact, when Shrier gives a talk to a room of conservative Ivy League students that’s the point that she makes too.
Shrier (Speech): I grew up not so different from many of you. I grew up in a multiracial suburb in Prince George’s County, Maryland, and attended a community Jewish Day school, which I loved.
Prince George’s County is right next to Washington D.C. Shrier grew up with the most influential civic institutions like the Capital and the White House as a background.
And civics were a family tradition. Both of her parents were judges appointed by the democratic governor of Maryland. Her grandmother was also a judge.
Shrier had a deep respect for her father, which she carries to this day. He instilled in her three things that would help propel her to become the force she is today.
The first is ambition.
Voice Actor: My father never hid that he had high expectations of me…
That’s a voice actor, who will be reading excerpts from Shrier’s writing throughout this episode.
V.A.: He admired smarts less than grit, found surface beauty less enchanting than charm.
The second thing Shrier’s father taught her is how to argue effectively.
V.A.: My father never let me get away with self-pity. Never allowed me to win an argument with tears. He regarded unbridled emotion in place of reason as vaguely pathetic.
The third was how to write.
V.A.: My father taught me to write. Tomboyish and awkward, frightened or full of rage, through every stage I knew—because he made sure of it— I would always be his girl.
When it came time to go off to college, Shrier left Maryland for New York to study philosophy at Columbia University, a prestigious Ivy League school on the Upper West Side of Manhattan, that boasts of former students like President Barack Obama, US Supreme Court Justice Neil Gorsuch and New York Times Executive Editor Dean Baquet.
At Columbia, Shrier spent time discussing life’s big questions. She reflected on that time during her talk at Princeton University.
Shrier (speech): As an undergraduate studying philosophy. I spent an inordinate amount of time wondering whether my will was free. This is the metaphysical question, of course, whether anyone can be said to have acted freely. And most philosophers seem to agree that our will wasn’t at all free.
After Columbia, she was awarded a fellowship to continue studying philosophy in England at Oxford University, the oldest university in the English speaking world. The university has an alumni list that includes at least 72 Nobel Prize winners, 30 British Prime Ministers and 170 Olympic medal winners.
Not surprisingly, given that her parents are both judges, she ultimately ends up at Yale University in Connecticut, one of the top law schools in the country. It’s where four current Supreme Court Justices went to school. And one of Shrier’s classmates at Yale was anti trans right-wing Senator Josh Hawley, who played a prominent role in trying to overturn the 2020 presidential election. In fact, Shrier spoke highly of him in a tweet.
V.A.: I’ve known Josh Hawley since our days at Yale Law School. Few students were as widely respected for their intellect or seriousness. He was also very well-liked, no mean feat for an openly Christian conservative.
As part of her law education, Shrier clerked for both a justice on the Supreme Court of Israel and a Clinton nominated judge.
Shrier (speech): At the beginning of my clerkship, I accepted a set up with a guy from Los Angeles, and by the end of that year, I followed my then boyfriend to L.A., took a job with a very prestigious L.A. firm, whose daily tasks nearly anesthetized me with boredom.
But Shrier wasn’t all about climbing the legal ladder like her parents and grandparents anyway. She met and fell in love with Zachary Loren Shrier. They got married in 2007 and moved to the West Coast.
Around this time, Shrier had converted to Orthodox Judaism from the more liberal Jewish community that she was born into—called Conservative Judaism.
Now if you’re not familiar with different Jewish movements these names might be confusing. But the important point here is that Orthodox Judasim is a more theologically rigid tradition of the two. And a major feature of Orthodox Judaism tends to be a focus on fixed gender roles.
And this emphasis on family, and her role as a mom, became a major focus for Shrier.
Shrier (speech): I struggled to hold on to pregnancies, quit law firm life and had three children. I taught them to read and sang them songs very badly and wrote a series of unpublishable novels. Most people who had known me before wondered what the hell I was doing.
Shrier was still searching for something. And after failing as a novelist, she came up with a new outlet. She would go on to say that it “rescued” her from obscurity.
In 2014, Shrier started to slowly write the very occasional freelance column for small publications like the Jewish Journal and the right-wing web magazine The Federalist.
V.A.: I’ve been nervous about these devices for years and haven’t permitted my kids to use them. I operated on a simple theory: Anything that absorbs children completely and causes them to wail like junkies for a crack pipe when it is pried from their hands just can’t be good for them.
Her concern about the impact of technology on children ultimately lands her a big break.
As Shrier tells it, an editor at The Wall Street Journal noticed her writing and asked her to submit a column.
Now The Wall Street Journal is one of the three most influential papers in the country, alongside The New York Times and The Washington Post. It characterizes itself as a mainstream news organization. But as a property of Rupert Murdoch, owner of Fox News, the Journal is well known for actually having one of the most right wing editorial pages around, with strong connections to Christian Nationalist organizations like the Heritage Foundation.
And Shrier would fit right in.
As a newly minted columnist, she’s essentially at odds with the many ways that the world around her is changing. Shrier takes aim at Facebook and self driving cars and the #MeToo movement. Then she lands on a topic that would become her brand. She writes a column called “The Transgender Language War.”
V.A.: Without permitting parents to opt out, public schools across the country are teaching children that “gender” is neither binary nor biological. It’s closer to a mental state: a question of how girllike or boylike you feel.
For those with a religious conviction that sex is both biological and binary, God’s purposeful creation, denial of this involves sacrilege no less than bowing to idols in the town square.
After this article, Shrier receives a letter from a mother concerned about her non-binary child coming out in college. Shrier then talks to other parents worried about their kids being trans.
And she writes a column about it called “When Your Daughter Defies Biology.”
Here’s an excerpt:
V.A.: Within a year, the lawyer’s daughter had begun a course of testosterone. Her real drug—the one that hooked her—was the promise of a new identity. A shaved head, boys’ clothes and a new name formed the baptismal waters of a female-to-male rebirth.
This is the phenomenon Brown University public-health researcher Lisa Littman has identified as “rapid onset gender dysphoria.”
Lisa Littman is the researcher at Brown who gave a name to the theory of social contagion amongst trans kids. We focused on her in the last episode. Now even though Littman’s theory was widely debunked, Shrier ran with it.
This article about social contagion took off like none of her others had. It spread like wildfire on Twitter, where she thanked her editor James Taranto. Taranto is a former employee of The Heritage Foundation, a key organization in the anti-trans hate machine we investigated last season.
With all of this energy behind it, conservatives, anti-trans feminists and transphobic parents praised and retweeted Shirer’s piece. The ensuing controversy on social media between Shrier’s supporters and the trans community, caught the attention of a Conservative publisher, Regnery. And Regnery offered Shrier a book contract that would push her voice to the next level.
Now Regnery is not a household name but it is a longstanding, powerhouse book imprint for the Christian Nationalist movement. And they choose authors who they think will legitimize and garner attention for right wing principles. Here is Regnery’s former publisher Marji Ross talking on C-SPAN.
Marji Ross: Regnery has become a — I think the leader in using earned media to sell books. And by that, I mean we think organically from the very beginning of a book’s life about how that book is going to become part of the news cycle
Regnery is the go-to for conservative authors. They’ve published Donald Trump, Texas Senator Ted Cruz, Missouri Senator Josh Hawley, and many many others, including conservative commentator Ann Coulter.
Coulter lauded the company’s history at its 70th anniversary party, recorded on C-SPAN.
Ann Coulter: The distinguishing characteristic of Regnery has always been famously that authors would take fantastic books, no New York publisher would publish them. Regnery would publish them, and they would become massive bestsellers
But in her speech, Coulter leaves out the more troubling parts of Regnery’s past. The founder of the company, Henry Regnery, was a Nazi sympathizer. Yes you heard that right.
Regnery created the publishing company in 1947 because he believed that the mainstream media was too critical of the Nazi movement during World War II and wanted to elevate that perspective. Today, Regnery’s Christian Nationalist ideals are just a continuation of the principles it began with.
Published by Regnery in the summer of 2020, Shrier’s book about social contagion is just part of that legacy.
When Shrier’s book is published, its provocative cover really stands out. Against a yellow background, the words Irreversible Damage are printed across a vintage drawing in red block letters. The image is of a young girl, only four or 5, with a blonde bob, baby blue romper, and Buster shoes.
This old fashioned imagery of a preschooler stands out, because the book doesn’t look like something remotely written in the 21st Century.
And that brings us to the weirdest thing about the cover: a giant empty circle over the girl’s stomach and genitalia.
What’s strange is that this symbolism immediately reduces this child to an object for future reproduction. And that’s at the heart of the book’s agenda. It’s designed to spread fear and panic about transness as the enemy of fertility.
Here is Shrier talking about her book on The Ben Shapiro Show.
Shrier on Shapiro: Teenage girls fall for every hysteria. I mean, it’s the population most susceptible to social contagion, whether it’s anorexia, bulimia or multiple personality disorder.
And that seems to be what’s going on with gender dysphoria. They’re convincing themselves that their problem is their gender. They’re encouraging each other to try testosterone. And gender dysphoria is clustering in friend groups of teenage girls. So we know that there’s a strong social component.
Shrier draws on the post-World War II obsession with parents losing control over the social development of their kids. This hyper-focus on parental control was a response to the rise of mass media culture in the 1950s. For the first time marketers were going straight to kids, and over the heads of their parents. Shrier just modernizes this anxiety by exploiting new fears about cell phones and social media.
V.A.: Nearly every novel problem teenagers face traces itself back to 2007 and the introduction of Steve Jobs’s iPhone. In fact, the explosion in self-harm can be so precisely pinpointed to the introduction of this one device that researchers have little doubt that it is the cause.
However, Shrier doesn’t only identify the problem, that trans social contagion is accelerating because of new technology. Like any parenting advice book, Shrier prescribes a long list of solutions to this supposed crisis. Answers that she says can help parents prevent the transgender craze in their kids. Like taking away cell phones, separating kids from their friends, and making sure that schools don’t teach anything beyond the gender binary.
Shrier basically argues that parents need to wrest authority over their kids from a changing society and bring it back into the home. A place where moms and dads can provide the right examples for the appropriate gender roles.
Now these themes are certifiably retro. Irreversible Damage is practically a manual for Leave it to Beaver; that 1950s show about the perfect white American suburban household where the gender binary was sacrosanct.
Given that it was published by an extreme printing house to middling reviews, and pushes both discredited and throwback ideas, Shrier’s book would have likely been a footnote, without a vast right-wing media network. A network which saw an opportunity.
By elevating Shrier’s book on ever-expanding platforms, the largest media ecosystem in the country flexed its muscle to popularize her bogus ideas. By moving from channel to channel and program to program, the buzz around the book got louder and louder, and eventually became impossible to ignore.
To see how this unfolded, we have to spend time in the media universe where half the country lives. This parallel realm of Christian Nationalist platforms is arguably the most powerful megaphone in the country. It’s where a lot of our current public conversation actually starts.
In Shrier they not only had an author, but the perfect salesperson.
Abigail Shrier’s first major appearance in right-wing media was on The Ben Shapiro Show in 2020, just after the release of Irreversible Damage.
Now you might have heard about the various outrageous things that Ben Shairo has said on his podcast or YouTube channel, like the time he attacked the song “Wet Ass Pussy” by Cardi B and Megan the Stallion and it went viral.
Ben Shapiro: Wet ass p word make that pull out game weak, yeah you f-in with some wet ass p word, p word is female genitalia, bring a bucket and a mop for this wet ass p word
He called WAP the sign of a “serious gynecological condition.”
Bizarre eruptions like these can give the impression that he’s just another crank on the right with an ax to grind like Glenn Beck, Bill O’Reilly or the late Rush Limbaugh.
But this masks the fact that he leads a vast media organization.
In fact, Shapiro runs some of the most highly trafficked websites in the country and publishes some of the biggest names in far-right media.
Names like Matt Walsh, who stoked the “What Is A Woman” craze with a documentary of the same name. Michael Knowles, who called for the “eradication of transgenderism” at CPAC in 2023. Or Candace Owens, who regularly attacks the Black Lives Matter movement.
Shapiro and the collection of voices on his platform, The Daily Wire, regularly occupy the top spots for the most visited pages on Facebook.
Here’s part of Shrier’s anti-trans exchange on Shapiro’s program:
Ben Shapiro: I foresee a future here where there are going to be Child Protective Services calls being made if your kid goes to school, says they’re a member of the opposite gender, and then you say at home, no, you’re not.
Shrier: That’s already happening. I mean, the sanctity, autonomy and integrity of the family is so under assault on this issue. And I have had calls from parents who say I’m terrified of losing custody. But listen, I know my kid. I only spent, oh, I don’t know, 100000 hours raising her. I know her. I’m a political progressive, but this doesn’t seem right. It came out of nowhere. And I’m supposed to trust the judgment of a therapist who spent 1 45 minute session with her and claims to know her better than I do. It’s really horrifying what’s going on.
Shrier’s name has been featured in over 80 Daily Wire articles. You can even buy her book there. With nearly a quarter billion visits to the site per year, Shrier being in article after article sends a powerful signal to the rest of right-wing media about the importance of her work and her voice. This provided Shrier with a powerful media ally.
But Shrier didn’t stop there. She was just getting started.
After becoming embedded in the online world of The Daily Wire, Shrier was embraced by one of the most influential podcast hosts in the world.
And it was another key step in solidifying her as an expert in the field of social contagion.
Rogan: Here’s the thing. I’m not a doctor. I’m a fucking moron. And I’m a cage fighting commentator who’s a dirty standup comedian who just told you
Before he was a podcast host, Joe Rogan was a commentator for UFC fighting, and host of Fear Factor, a popular show in the early 2000s where guests competed in stunts like eating live bugs.
On his podcast, The Joe Rogan Show, Rogan originally found broad appeal by portraying himself as a curious everyday guy, just trying to learn stuff. Rogan routinely called himself a moron. And this approach got him big numbers.
On the backs of that success he was offered a $200 million Spotify contract. Today his podcast has an audience of at least 11 million listeners, making it the number 1 podcast on that platform.
But as the popularity of his show grew, following its launch in 2009, it lurched more and more to the right.
As conspiracy theories became mainstream in the GOP with the election of Donald Trump, they also found a home in Rogan’s counter-cultural skepticism. By promoting ideas like “if you’re healthy you won’t get COVID,” Rogan’s show shot to fame.
So when Shrier lands an interview with Rogan, to talk about social contagion and to promote her book, she gets a powerful boost. And she rises to the moment, putting on a performance.
Shrier: Thanks so much for having me on.
Rogan:Irreversible damage, the transgender craze, seducing our daughters. Boy, that’s a hot button subject, this is a minefield.
Shrier’s appearance on The Joe Rogan Experience helps brand her as a nonpartisan thinker whose work isn’t grounded in any particular ideology. Because that’s the way that Rogan positions himself.
On his show, she even packages herself as a trans ally.
Rogan: I think we should probably establish some things like up front, right? Some people, surely, as adults, are transgender, of course.
Shrier: Yes, of Course. I interviewed a lot of them.
Rogan: And…We fully support that.
Shrier: Absolutely. Okay. I have friends who fall into that category.
But this is not an uncommon strategy on the right. Many people who are anti-trans say that they support trans adults, as a way to lend credibility to their attacks on trans kids.
Rogan: Why are there so many teenage girls that are going in this direction?
Shrier: So these are the same girls that would have been anorexic. They are high anxiety, very precocious girls, but they don’t really fit in. and They’re in pain, but they decide that their problem is that they’re supposed to be a boy and the fix is testosterone.
And she just keeps going.
Shrier: So it delivers euphoria and it suppresses anxiety. It makes their period go away and it redistributes fat. So now these girls feel like I just beat puberty. I feel amazing. I want to tell everybody how great I feel.
With appearances on ever larger and more influential platforms, Shrier’s influence grows and grows.
Not surprisingly, this process of elevation eventually gets her noticed by the most powerful platform on the far right: Fox News’ Tucker Carlson Tonight.
Tucker Carlson: In the last decade, there has been a huge spike in transgender identification among teenage girls. What is this about exactly? Well, one author and journalist called Abigail Shrier wanted to know. So she wrote a book about what may be causing the increase in identification.
Until his abrupt dismissal in April of 2023, Carlson was the biggest and most influential Christian Nationalist pundit in America with not one but two shows on Fox News, as well as documentaries.
His primetime show Tucker Carlson Tonight regularly railed against wearing masks, electric vehicles, and the declining virility of men in America.
In line with these and other fringe obsessions, Carlson constantly harped on gender identity. He routinely portrayed trans people as an existential threat to everyone.
Carlson: That’s the sexual mutilation of children for no medical or scientific reason, simply because right now it is fashionable and consistent with a cult that has taken over a lot of the leadership of this country.
But the fact remains, children are being destroyed by this. It should be a crime. The people who commit it should be in jail.
And Carlson’s weekly, at times almost daily complaining about the latest transgender craze had a big impact.
That’s because Tucker Carlson’s show was the most watched program on any cable news channel in America, and drew the youngest audience of any cable network. Larger than any program on CNN, MSNBC, or even FOX itself.
So when Abigail Shrier started to appear there it represented a quantum leap in the power of her reach. And she immediately enmeshed herself in Carlson’s core themes.
Shrier: A 15 year old without her parent’s permission and without so much as a therapist note, can walk into a gender clinic and walk out that day with a course of testosterone.
Carlson: Seriously? What are the long term effects of that on teenagers?
Shrier:Well, it puts fertility at risk, at very serious risk. After five years, doctors usually recommend a prophylactic hysterectomy. It, of course, permanently changes your voice, your facial features. You can end up with a permanent 5:00 shadow and it alters private anatomy as well.
Carlson: So many cowards have stood by and let this happen. So many. And you were brave.
This exchange shows what would become the hallmark of a growing on-air partnership between Carlson and Shrier. She provided him a voice for his fixation with trans people, giving him a ready-made way to talk about gender identity with someone who portrays themselves as a rational expert.
In turn, Carlson gave Shrier not only a platform, but the stamp of a courageous truth teller who will do whatever it takes to protect kids.
Their partnership is a great way to launder dangerous ideas under the guise of rationality and acceptability.
In fact, Shrier became a go to source for Carlson, appearing on his show on average every other month in 2021; the year before the explosion in anti-trans bills. And she continued to be featured on this program over and over.
Shrier: Well, you know, in one of the videos I watched put out by the California Teachers Association, the teachers instructed other educators that children as young as seven need support in their sexual identity,and they believe it is their job to provide that.
As the most powerful show on Fox News, for years Carlson set the tone for the rest of the network. In fact, in just a three week period of 2022, Fox aired 170 segments discussing trans people, according to a report from Media Matters.
Brennen Suen is an expert at Media Manners, a watchdog group focused on extremism’s growing influence on public conversations. Before Carlson’s ouster at Fox, he observed that Carlson’s influence went way beyond his Fox News overlords.
Brennan:He’s setting the priorities for their audience. Whatever Tucker decides to talk about is something that they and then in turn, the right and the Republican Party and the right wing media are going to follow. He’s really setting not just the tone of conversations, but the priorities.
Fox News is at the apex of the larger Christian Nationalist media ecosystem. It both reflects and amplifies by an order of magnitude the conversations taking place in this parallel right wing world.
Brennan: So the cycle and the ecosystem are absolutely key. It is just this self-reinforcing area in which there may not always be a straight line from, you know, 4chan or 4th Wave Now narrative to a bigger platform to Fox News. Sometimes it may come from above, it may come from an operative, but the result is the same. It’s spreading like wildfire on the Internet, on social media platforms, in private groups. And unfortunately, across online and offline, whether it’s Fox News compared to the other cable networks or whether it is social media content or right wing websites, the right’s infrastructure on this is so much stronger.
But it’s not just about the number of people reached by the Christian Nationalist, anti-trans, media hate machine.
This is about the right wing media’s potential to shift all media, especially mainstream journalism organizations.
TJ Billard is an assistant professor of Communications at Northwestern University who studies the way right wing movements use media to undermine trans rights.
TJ:There is a business effort to make this happen. They are paying money to make sure that ads disguised as news content appear in front of people. So right wing and Christian nationalist media are currently, as we all know, playing an outsized role in our media system. So it’s become such that for most people, if they are seeing something about trans people, especially online, it’s very likely that it’s coming from a far right perspective in that it is hand wringing over trans people. They’re kind of dominating the Internet, then dominating online conversations and in turn seeping into the way that journalists at a variety of news institutions are talking about trans people.
The pivotal nature of Abigail Shrier’s reach is undeniable. She is a perfect voice, with the right background, and the perfect message for Christian Nationalist media to popularize its years long disinformation campaign about trans people. What’s happened since the publishing of her book makes this clear.
But the question remains: Why? Why would someone so proud of her Jewish heritage find common cause with echoes of the American Nazi movement and those who want Christian values to be the law of the land?
This is essential to understand. And there is no one who can answer this for us but Shrier herself.
She tells us why in a 2018 column for “The Wall Street Journal” called “The New Jewish Christian Amity.”
V.A.: “Year by year I watched with dismay as traditionalism and Torah too often gave way to political progressivism. There are still religiously committed Jews of liberal denominations—but too few. Most are dissolving into the waters of a secular America that, by and large, describes itself as having no religion at all.
Orthodox Jews may one day become the majority of all affiliated American Jews. And, according to a 2015 Pew Research Center report, they “more closely resemble white evangelical Protestants than they resemble other U.S. Jews.”
At a time when kindness and common cause can seem so hard to come by in America, this growing fellow-feeling is something to celebrate. Evangelical Christians and Orthodox Jews send our children to religious schools, attend regular prayer services, are leery of secular universities that would teach our children to deplore our values, and fear government intrusions into our religious life.
It is, one might say, a match made in heaven.
To be clear this is not a universally held view amongst Orthodox Jews. But it underscores the affinity that Shrier herself has for right-wing Christians.
And Shrier is part of a growing political shift.
Elad Nehorai is a Jewish writer and researcher focused on extremism, antisemitism, and how tech is used to spread both. During former President Trump’s rise to power, he noticed that the ultra Orthodox community around him was becoming more political than he expected and in ways that concerned him. He says this shift reflects how successful Christian Nationalists have been at courting Orthodox Jews.
Elad: The right has made really strong strides within the Orthodox world to convince them that they are under existential threat, because that’s always been a concern for the Jewish world.
And Elad says that the reframing of these groups as historically aligned and naturally allied is itself part of a disinformation effort.
Elad: The disinformation machine that’s happening around anti-Semitism right now, where the danger of white nationalism, the danger of the mainstream Republican Party to Jews is being constantly underplayed.
And the focus on trans people is used as a unifying element between these two seemingly at odds traditions.
Elad: The people who are becoming vocal attackers of the trans movement are more likely to be people who have now entered the stage where they are indoctrinated by Christian nationalists and Christian white nationalists. And I think that distinction is a little bit important, actually, because that’s the movement that’s leading this. And so really it’s more that you kind of have these few useful tools who are able to kind of provide the cover that also hides the fact that there’s a lot of anti-Semitism around this as well.
While there are larger forces at play, Shrier is still actively choosing to engage in a widespread effort to demonize and erase young trans people using massive media platforms.
But the consequences of her work are playing out in individual communities and families across America.
Families like that of Mimi Lemay, who lives in a suburb of Boston with her family.
Mimi: I am the mother of three fantastic children, two of whom are gender diverse. I have my trans son Jay and my non-binary child Eli, as well as a third child, and I am raising them as best I can while also being an advocate for LGBTQ youth, specifically for transgender youth.
Fighting for trans equality is a big part of their family life. Because of the current anti-trans backlash, they travel to DC to lobby for trans rights on Capitol Hill, go door-knocking in local political campaigns, and sometimes even attend fancy events like the annual gala of the Human Rights Campaign, where she sits on the Parents for Transgender Equality National Council.
Mimi: I am also an author. I’ve written a memoir called What We Will Become a Mother, A Son and a Journey of Transformation, which details the experience of coming to understand what my son Jacob was telling us about his gender at a very young age, all the way through to his transition at the age of four, his social transition.
Mimi fought hard to build a community of support around Jacob. She educated family members and friends about Jacob’s gender identity. Like most parents, she wanted her kid to be celebrated, not just tolerated. The same was true for her other child Eli.
But that cone of acceptance that Mimi felt that she had constructed around her family was punctured in the summer of 2020, when a trusted relative brought Abigail Shrier right to her doorstep.
Mimi: So I got this text from a member of our immediate family, who has always loved and supported our kids in every way. Saying, Have you seen this book? I think that the author makes a really important point.
The book was Irreversible Damage.
Mimi: And after having to take several deep breaths, because my immediate reaction was. Anger. Like, how could you look at this title and subtitle and think that there was going to be anything in this book that would support it? These kids that you love so much. I felt a fear
Now Mimi was familiar with Shrier’s work. But she hadn’t focused on its potential danger until that moment. While Mimi hadn’t been paying attention, Shirer had broken through in ways that couldn’t be ignored.
Mimi: this was a test case in a sense of how far Abigail Shriver’s reach could potentially be. If this family member had been so taken. And not even realizing what she was reading had eagerly shared it with me. I realized that whatever we were doing in terms of spreading data and information that was correct was not able to combat the emotional work that the book was doing. And the fear that it was. Promoting among parents and grandparents in our communities.
After realizing how effective Shrier was, Mimi grabbed her own copy of Irreversible Damage. As an author and intellectual herself, she needed to find out what Shrirer was doing that had worked so well.
The words on the page scared her.
Mimi: Even reading myself, knowing how incorrect and just seeing so clearly the disingenuousness of this story she’s creating around this contagion. I almost felt that fear myself, even though I knew better, because she’s actually quite gifted at evoking emotion, that sense of fear. of this is what your child’s life could be like. She was very good at painting a visceral image of a child or a young person with a mangled body
Mimi was particularly disturbed by this.
Mimi: I think for me, the moment where I felt most physically repulsed by the book was when she was talking about the bodies of trans people who had gone through affirmative care and the language she uses particularly about a trans male being a broken husk. And I said, I hope they see the extent of her hate because I felt it when I read that and it made me feel sick.
And Shrier’s writing made Mimi feel sick for another, personal reason. Initially Mimi and her partner had tried it Abigail Shrier’s way. They had engaged in “watchful waiting” to see if Jacob’s gender identity would just magically disappear. It didn’t.
Mimi: When I really looked at him. He wasn’t there. And I think that I. I knew that. I knew that look. It was the look of someone who was trying really hard. To be good in the way that their community and their parents tell them is good. But on the inside. They are dying there. They’re moving further away from engaging in the world. Living authentically, feeling seen.
So Mimi and her partner decided to reverse course. She gathered the courage to support her trans child.
Mimi: But it was kind of like a Hail Mary. We’re like, please come back. And. If you ever want to see a genuine resurrection. Look at a trans youth whose parents have turned to support them. Because that the joy in his eyes and the coming to life was remarkable and immediate.
So Mimi was offended by the scorn Shrier has for parents who support trans kids.
Mimi:I think that the book reads as a self-flagellation for the anxious parent who feels that they’ve done something wrong and needs someone else to correct the course for them. She is very openly disdainful of parents who have ceded authority. In her earlier articles about masculinity and parenting and how we need more masculine parenting. She’s talking about authoritarian parenting. Parents used to be in charge. And now we’re not. We’ve given up.
And Mimi came to understand that this focus on parents’ fears, that they are somehow failing their kids, is Shrier’s secret power.
Mimi: Every parent can understand that when our children go online, we have concerns and we try to put guardrails and we know those guardrails don’t work. And so no matter what side of the aisle you sit on or no matter what your views are on social issues. You’re going to be afraid that your child will be exposed to things that will harm them, give them a false view of what the world is like. You worry about the time they spend online and the fact that they’re not you know, engaging as much in person. That’s something almost every parent has concerns about. I think that. Abigail Shrier has hijacked that conversation and made it about gender.
That’s why Mimi believes that what Abigail Shirer is doing is so harmful.
Mimi’s story and that of so many explored in this season show the power of the appeal to do nothing when kids say that they are trans. It’s a tactic that Shrier has used, elevated and weaponized like few others. The problem is that it is based on junk science, faulty assumptions and flawed understanding.
But just because it’s wrong doesn’t mean that it’s not effective. And we have seen how the popularization of trans social contagion has altered the discourse in America about the very worthiness of trans life.
But disinformation can only take and hold spread through a credible voice that has broad reach and appeal.
And Shrier is the perfect voice. She was trained at some of the most prestigious universities in the world. She uses her image as a concerned parent to legitimize her views. And as a trained lawyer with Wall Street Journal credentials, Shrier has the perfect resume to be listened to by large, well educated audiences.
It was almost as if she had been tailor made.
So I asked Mimi if she had any insights…
Imara: Do you think that the movement targeting trans youth would be as effective as it is if it wasn’t for Abigail Shrier?
Mimi: The answer is no. It would not have been. As impactful the anti-trans movement without somebody who came along and looked really credible and had all the right degrees. And, you know, wasn’t foaming at the mouth and waving a Bible. And said, we’re in danger of losing a whole generation of girls. And when you talk about you know, like that The Simpsons episodes when the town can do anything and get involved in any kind of wrongdoing, as long as somebody screams, think of the children. That’s what’s happening here. She’s touching a button. She found the button. That can have the most impact, which is making parents fear for their children’s well-being and future. And in doing so, she’s endangered a whole generation of trans youth.
And she’s even beginning to find her way onto even ever-larger stages.
Bill Maher: It’s medical. Weighing tradeoffs is not bigotry. Yet when a book questioning the sudden uptick in transitioning children was released…
On the season finale of The Anti-Trans Hate Machine…. We’re going to explore how the anti-trans hate machine has realized its wildest dream, using the power of its decades-long disinformation campaign to turn the most influential news media company in the world into a megaphone for its hate.
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.