This is a joint article written by CIFRS' Head of Communications, Kat Fuller and Senior Fellow, Dr. Quinnehtukqut McLamore
The biggest concern we have for Canada’s healthcare for the transgender community is the influence of the far-right movement and how credentialed “experts” collude with the far-right to obstruct medical transition–be it through excessive gatekeeping, discrediting transgender medicine, outright bans on youth care, or advocating refurbished forms of conversion therapy (i.e., “gender exploratory therapy”). Efforts to discredit transgender medicine and legitimize conversion practices are particularly significant in Canada for two key reasons.
First, Canada instituted a ban on conversion therapy that took effect in 2022. This matters because right-wing allied, anti-trans groups such as the Society for Evidence Based Gender Medicine (SEGM) and Genspect campaigned for years against the conversion therapy ban, and decried its passage and claimed it could not be applied to trans youth. For instance, Dr. Debra Soh not only wrote in opposition to such ban for years, but insinuated that transition care was conversion therapy aimed at gay youth. The U.K. has notably not passed such a ban because it would obstruct efforts at forcing trans children to stop being trans–and recent worldwide anti-trans activism is up in arms over attempts to ban conversion therapy for (adult) trans people even there. Such opposition to the conversion therapy ban in Canada is fronted by credentialed “experts” such as Dr. Soh, psychotherapists affiliated with Genspect and SEGM, and ideologues such as psychologist Jordan Peterson, an emeritus professor from the University of Toronto at risk of losing his license for unrepentant transphobia in the public eye. Peterson, incidentally, first gained international fame for bad-faith, legally illiterate readings of Canada’s 2016 C-16 bill, which extended basic legal protections for the rights and dignity of trans people. The far right, co-opting academics such as Peterson and Soh, cloaks their blatant transphobia in academic and legalistic sophistry.
Second, the University of Toronto in particular has a troubled history with respect to trans rights, as infamous anti-trans sexologists Ray Blanchard and James Cantor are longstanding affiliates of the institution. The university was the locus of CAMH’s gender identity clinic, otherwise known as “Jurassic Clarke,” infamous among trans people for its formulation of “autogynephilia,” and infamous for the work of Drs. Susan Bradley and Kenneth Zucker. These two formulated the now-antiquated criteria for the DSM-IV and DSM-IV-TR Gender Identity Disorder, and were best known for attempting to force trans children to stop showing gender deviant behavior, an approach called “take away the barbies.”
Gender was aggressively policed in youth submitted to their care in an effort to make them stop being trans–transition related care was used only if coercive force to make them stop failed. CAMH’s gender identity clinic was later closed down as it could not be proven to not be in violation of Toronto’s local conversion therapy ban–and Zucker and Bradley have since aligned with the far-right. Zucker may claim–because the University of Toronto settled out of court with him over a wrongful termination case and apologized to him–that he has been exonerated of the charge of conversion therapy. However, he has only been exonerated of the claim that he referred to a patient as a “hairy little vermin,” and the closure of CAMH’s gender identity clinic was upheld. The closure–and Zucker’s lawsuit–formed the onset of Jesse Singal’s fixation on the transgender community. The aforementioned Debra Soh is also connected to CAMH; James Cantor was on her dissertation committee. This core group has brokered close alliances with multiple far-right, religiously motivated hate groups in the United States.
Susan Bradley cosigned a letter with a known American hate group, American College of Pediatricians, calling upon the Trump administration to remove civil rights protections from trans people and define them out of existence–which Trump did, in what was called the “cruelest thing” his administration did to trans people. Bradley and Blanchard both also were members of the Pediatric and Gender Dysphoria Working group, alongside key ACPeds and Alliance Defending Freedom (ADF) membership, whereas Zucker has since laundered SEGM publications through his journal, Archives of Sexual Behavior, and named Lisa Littman of ROGD fame to its editorial board despite her complete lack of expertise on any relevant subjects. Cantor, in the intervening time, has been directly employed by the state of Florida to produce a pretext for banning gender-affirmative care for youth, and as an expert witness by several Republican administrations aiming to ban transgender care for youth, despite having no relevant expertise.
Layered on top of, and exploiting the “scientific” work of these Canadian experts is the so-called feminist movement known as ‘gender criticals’ is a movement proclaiming to protect [cisgender] women’s rights through ‘sex-based’ from affirmative actions for the transgender community, such as protesting against transgender women in sports, bathrooms, or even dating cisgender women. Called trans-exclusionary radical feminist (TERFs) by academics and activists, as their ideology is inherently hostile toward the transgender community, by claiming that being transgender roots in misogyny, like British writer Kellie-Jay Keen-Minshull AKA ‘Posie Parker’ was interviewed by white nationalist YouTuber Jean-François Gariépy, just as Meghan Murphy, the founder of Feminist Current, a website known in publishing works on transphobic beliefs, just as TERF organizations already exists in Canada, including Women’s Declaration and Canadian Gender Report. These groups refer to trans women as “autogynephiles,” drawing, once again, from the legacy of CAMH–specifically, Ray Blanchard.
The TERF to the far-right pipeline has been given the name T-Anon, like QAnon, referring to the conspiracy theories on the alleged ‘trans agenda’ that young people are ‘converted’ into being transgender. Conspiracy theories are a known theme in the TERF movement, as some people believe that the transgender community exists to limit the human population, to even anti-Semitism, depending on how far the rabbit hole will go for trans-exclusive beliefs. The idea that transgender women are ‘mocking’ womanhood ignores how womanhood is unclear and rooted in Christian values. The idea that womanhood is under attack is a known theme in ‘gender critical’ spaces, just as the construction of womanhood is subjective. The concept of womanhood as ‘adult human woman female’ ignores questions rather than answering them. especially since the argument roots in gender essentialism by two factors: the body’s purity and Christianity.
The idea that your assigned gender at birth determines your personality and abilities ignores intersex traits that we cannot simply label as less or more than man or woman. The idea that a body must not be ‘tainted’ with chemicals ignores the reality of technology, as we are affected by the changes in the present technology, with advantages and disadvantages. We have surgeries, we have medical treatments or cures for certain illnesses. We also risk ignoring how our bodies are permanently altered in ways we don’t realize or reflect much. We have dentistry to remove wisdom teeth, to prevent harmful or fatal outcomes of the wisdom tooth coming out incorrectly, as our jaws are getting smaller through evolution. The problem is believing that natural is ‘good’ in a moral or objective sense, without understanding the definition of morally good, hence believing that the ‘unnatural’ is immoral in some ways. The naturalistic fallacy and dualistic mindset is a common and problematic mindsets in Western countries, rooted in Christian values that affect us, regardless if we are religious or secular. The French philosopher Michel Foucault expounds in his book The History of Sexuality (1978) about the ‘confession of flesh’ in Christianity, as Christianity focuses on purification in the body to purify the soul. Confession of sins is a custom to get rid of and prevent anything from tainting the mind and body. The impact of Christianity led to the Victorian era incorporating religious values into laws and medicine, such as criminalizing anything non-procreate sex and medicalizing masturbating as an illness.
We risk Canada heading a similar path that the United Kingdom and the many American states like Oklahoma or Texas already headed for transgender and non-binary rights, due to the mass fear that a ‘trans agenda’ is influencing youth, such as the rising popularity of journalist Abigail Shrier’s Irreversible Damage–which, incidentally, relied extensively on both Zucker and Bailey–without understanding how right-wing fascism is behind ‘gender critical’ movement nor the complexity of gender and sex. Already, Canada is considering laws that could revert progressive changes for LGBTQIA+--beneath the veil of academic and scientific legitimacy provided by both known bad actors and their new proteges stemming from Jurassic Clarke.
This is why we need more actions done to make the lives of transgender people easier without fearing transphobic regulations that prevent them from transitioning, like consulting firm Wisdom2Action. Through communal and individual actions, we can stop and prevent further damage that the far-right movements create.