Picture credit: Vuk Valcic/SOPA Images/LightRocket via Getty Images
Artillery Row

All roads lead to WPATH

How the strange, dark history of the gender movement built our strange, dark modern world

No organisation has played a greater role in the adoption of the pseudo-science of so-called “gender affirming healthcare” globally than the World Professional Association of Transgender Health. That’s why this week’s release of leaked discussions between some of its leading figures suggesting possible medical malpractice could prove a pivotal moment in the Gender Wars. It’s been a long time coming.

The truth is WPATH is little more than a pressure group made up of a mixture of saucer-eyed trans activists and self-professed experts in disciplines like endocrinology, psychiatry and surgery. “Experts” who just happen to pocket huge profits from the mutilation and sterilisation of deluded people who are convinced they were born in the wrong body. 

Yet by a combination of external bullying and internal feeble-mindedness, some of the world’s top medical authorities from the BMA to the American American Academy of Pediatrics have given WPATH the stamp of approval, citing its regularly updated Ethical Guidelines and Standards of Care as clinical best practice

Once even the NHS was happy to genuflect to the organisation. No longer. The revelation that the latest version of the Standards of Care (SOC8) included a new chapter asserting that being a eunuch is a gender identity has led the NHS to distance itself from WPATH. It didn’t exactly help that one of the key movers in adding eunuchs to the list of gender identities was revealed to be a member of an online group that shared porn fantasies about boys being castrated. 

The leaked documents from WPATH’s own private message forum and a video recording of an internal panel discussion were released by the noted journalist and whistle blower Michael Shellenberger and his team at the campaign group Environmental Progress. The WPATH Files, as they’ve been dubbed, were refreshingly light on castration porn but when it came to medical ethics were almost as jaw-dropping.

Clinicians were revealed to be allowing adolescents to dictate their own treatment plans such as hormone dosage despite the fact they knew these kids had no clear goals and often changed their minds. Girls were effectively being encouraged to masculinise their bodies and boys feminise them in real-time experiments, even though cross-sex hormones have powerful effects on emotions and states of mind meaning these patients risked being trapped in a pharmaceutical maelstrom. One in which they could not possibly be expected to take rational decisions in their long-term interests. Nor meaningfully consent.

That was nothing compared to the fact that some young people were diagnosed as psychotic. In one discussion clinicians considered how to gain consent for life-changing surgery from a teenager with multiple personalities. The multiple personalities could not agree. Nor could the clinicians who weighed in with suggestions. With this level of unethical behaviour perhaps it’s unsurprising WPATH doctors dismissed concerns about regret for genital surgery as “part of the journey” and promoted treatments to parents as a way to lessen the risk of their youngster’s suicide despite two recent studies in Denmark and Sweden suggesting suicide can be up to 7 times higher among those who undergo “gender affirmation surgery” than the general population. 

All this is shocking enough but it’s even more so since the origins and history of WPATH are so insane that no serious medical organisation should ever have given them the time of day.  

Its founder Harry Benjamin began his career in the late 1930s in New York promoting quack hormone cures based on the work of the now discredited German medic Eugen Steinach who, among other things, claimed he could cure homosexuality by implanting tiny grafts of a heterosexual men’s testicles into gay men’s bodies. Ironically, this attempt to turn confused, self-loathing gays straight may be the only consistent thread in WPATH’s shameful history.

Harry Benjamin became obsessed with transsexuality in the late 1950s and in 1963 treated a fabulously wealthy lesbian heiress called (Rita/) Reed Erickson who believed she was a man. She was so pleased with the results of her mastectomy and testosterone injections she helped Benjamin set up the predecessor of WPATH, the US-based Harry Benjamin Foundation and its later global equivalent the Harry Benjamin International Gender Dysphoria Association. She then poured vast sums of money into both. Without her largesse it is inconceivable that today’s gender affirmation colossus would have taken root. She funded support groups, international conferences, films and lectures. She also worked with Benjamin on his first Standards of Care. It was through Benjamin and his good friend the distinctly creepy scientist John Money that Erickson paid for the first gender identity clinic in the States at John Hopkins University. 

If this sounds like an uplifting story of private wealth enabling medical innovation it requires important context. Erickson saw her gender identity funding as just a small part of her commitment to all sorts of New Age ideas that she hoped would “expand our understanding of human consciousness”.

Among the recipients of barrow-loads of her moolah were all sorts of cranks from the parapsychologist Stanley Krippner, who claimed to be able to communicate telepathically, to the marine laboratory of neuroscientist John Lilly who claimed he was on the brink of being able to communicate with dolphins. His research programme was shut down after local papers revealed a female scientist had been regularly masturbating a male dolphin. As you do. Lilly was also by then a ketamine addict as was Erickson herself. Did I mention she poured yet more of her money into ketamine research? If only she’d realised it’s never a good idea to get high on your own supply.

The point is that none of these projects was considered less important to Erickson than that of Harry Benjamin’s. The bank transfers continued for all of them even as Erickson had to take refuge from drug charges in a huge estancia in Mexico. It was there in 1976 that the “writer” Helen Schuman was flown by private jet to meet Erickson and her pet leopard. Schuman convinced her to pay for the publication of A Course in Miracles, a book Schuman insisted had been dictated to her by Jesus himself. You may scoff at Schuman, and I do, but on the upside she hasn’t been responsible for the castration of thousands of boys or the mutilation of thousands of girls.

A Course in Miracles still sells. Krippner, who is in his dotage now, is still researching. Lilly, long dead, still has his fans. But only the gender pseudoscience that Erickson helped establish and funded for three decades has managed to sink its tentacles into public life and medicine. The reason it alone was able to do this was because it tapped into the language of social justice and identity politics. There was no community of angry dolphin-communicators to cancel those who denied their delusion. No bands of telepathic activists who claimed they would commit suicide if we didn’t use their newly invented pronouns. We would never accept Ketamine devotees picketing medical meetings to try to enforce prescribing the drug to children.

The leaks from WPATH should mark the start of a long overdue re-assessment of this dodgy lobby group by medical regulators. But that’s not enough. It’s time they explained why they fell for the rebranding of an organisation set up by a pill-pushing fraudster and funded by a drug-addled crank. The harm caused by serious institutions embracing its pseudo-science and magical thinking has been incalculable.

Enjoying The Critic online? It's even better in print

Try five issues of Britain’s newest magazine for £10

Critic magazine cover