VICE claims that coronavirus is transphobic

March 21, 2020 • 11:00 am

I heard about this article in a tweet from Titania (below), and while the issue she mentions is concerning to some, it’s not sufficiently serious to be immune from mockery. At any rate, you can read the article on VICE by clicking on the link in Titania’s tweet or on the screenshot of the VICE headline below that.


On the news last night, I watched a report on how people with serious medical conditions were having their treatment delayed by the coronavirus pandemic. One woman with inoperable cancer was scheduled for treatment with an experimental drug, but it was delayed for several months. She was distraught (she had a young child) because she hoped the drug might help her, but now she’s forced to abandon her last hope.. Another woman with breast cancer (or so I recall) had her X-ray treatment delayed by a considerable period, and was upset because she didn’t want the disease to progress without treatment.

These are heartbreaking matters of ethics, as are the decisions by doctors in Italy about which serious Covid-19 cases to treat and which to allow to die with palliative care.  All this puts into perspective VICE’s kvetchy piece about how “life-saving” trans surgeries are being put off because of the virus. (I tried without success to find any article in VICE about the general delay of medical treatment to people who are seriously ill.)

Let’s have some perspective here. While people awaiting transsexual surgery will naturally be distressed when that surgery is postponed, those surgeries are “life-saving” only in the sense that if some patients doesn’t get them in a timely manner, they may commit suicide. But although statistics show that the suicide rate is higher for transgender people than cisgender people, it’s just as high for non-binary people; and I can’t find hard data on whether delays in transsexual surgery increase the suicide rate—or even if the surgery itself reduces the suicide rate.  Here’s some stats from Human Rights Campaign:

More than half of transgender male teens who participated in the survey reported attempting suicide in their lifetime, while 29.9 percent of transgender female teens said they attempted suicide. Among non-binary youth, 41.8 percent of respondents stated that they had attempted suicide at some point in their lives.

So when we say that the delay in trans surgeries is life-threatening, we have to assume that surgery itself reduces the risk of suicide, and that the delays in surgery (which the article notes could be a few weeks or months) also increase that risk. As far as the first point goes, the article says “research has suggested that gender-affirming surgery. . . has a notable and long-term impact on mental health.”  It adds that “. . . but far too often, trans people already wait far longer than is safe or healthy for this care. Further delays can be dangerous and even life-threatening.”

TVO, in the first link, adds this:

“Trans people are at the highest risk of suicide and self-harm between the period that they’ve mentally decided to transition and when they complete their medical transition,” said N. Nicole Nussbaum, former president of Canadian Professional Association for Transgender Health and staff lawyer at Legal Aid Ontario.

But in the absence of actual data on relative risks and their connection with temporal delay, we can’t assess this claim. (Nonbinary people differ in not having elective surgery—or not having it as frequently—and the risk to them can be mitigated only by therapy.)

But you’ll have noticed an important difference between this risk and the risk of people with advanced cancer: the latter group will certainly die without treatment, and will almost surely have a much higher risk of mortality due to delays. More important, seriously ill patients with Covid-19 have a huge risk of death, which is why they are taking precedence over “elective” surgery like gender reassignment procedures.

The VICE article gives the impression—despite admitting that hospitals are doing their best to insure “continuity of treatment” of patients scheduled for or having already had gender-reassignment surgery, and the explanation by concerned doctors that the delay is necessary to allow hospitals to care for seriously ill Covid-19 patients and protect transgender patients from infection—that this delay is causing discrimination and unnecessary harm to those scheduled for gender-reassignment surgery. There’s a serious undercurrent in the piece of accused bigotry against transsexuals, which isn’t at all justified by the article. Here’s some of what I take to be implications of mistreatment of the transsexual patients:

But in the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic, trans communities on Reddit and Twitter are being flooded with reports of postponed and canceled surgeries in the U.S., U.K., SpainThailand, and elsewhere, leading to enormous stress and disappointment on top of a global health crisis.

. . . Riley Cooper, a 23-year-old trans man in St. Louis, had his top surgerypostponed, with no reschedule date. He says COVID-19 was the reason behind this cancellation, but it isn’t the first time. “This is the third time it’s been postponed. It’s getting more and more heartbreaking to keep getting so close to something that will make me feel better and feel like I’m in the right body for once,” he said. “Every time I feel like I’ve gotten close, something has to come along to take it away.”

. . .Violet Jones, a 29-year-old trans woman and assistant professor in New York, has a procedure scheduled for May that hasn’t been cancelled yet, but she feels it’s imminent. NYC is a national leader in transgender care, but Mayor Bill de Blasio has issued an executive order delaying all non-emergency surgery for the next few weeks.

Jones said she’s doing everything possible to prevent illness, which would force postponing her procedure. “A change to the date would pretty radically alter my plans and overall security around the procedure. The surgery was scheduled to allow recovery during [my school’s] summer months without a gap in pay.” She said that rescheduling may result in lost pay, as her recovery from surgery would conflict with the school year.

Let me be clear. I sympathize with these people, and don’t feel that their distress is unwarranted, or should be dismissed. But, like all of us, and especially those who, as in Italy, can’t get respirators, or who are on the brink of death in intensive care, or those cancer patients whose treatment is delayed—the delay of gender-reassignment surgery is a much smaller problem.

And it’s not as ethically pressing, or as medically serious, as how to triage seriously ill Covid-19 patients or how to delay the treatment of cancer patients. Why, then, did VICE choose to focus on the woes of the relatively few gender-reassignment patients and neglect on their site those whose deaths are surely more probable when delays happen? Why? Because VICE, like many other liberal media, is becoming so woke that it’s losing perspective.  In their view, I suspect, the delays for transgender patients are somehow more wrong than the delays for cancer patients.

Maybe Titania’s post wasn’t that mean-spirited after all. In the end, mockery may be one way to dispel such distorted perspective.

34 thoughts on “VICE claims that coronavirus is transphobic

  1. I’m not a great proponent of sex change surgery, it is kinda messy, and destroys some of our most neurologically sensitive parts.
    There is no evidence whatsoever, as our Host correctly points out, that sex change surgery reduces suicide rates (which are high indeed) among transgender people.
    In times of crisis, this kind of iffy surgery should be shelved (if not altogether).

  2. I largely agree that this type of surgery is not as pressing as surgery for people with serious, life-threatening illnesses. On the other hand the Vice article is pretty reasonable and talks about a serious issue.

    So why is this post titled ‘Vice Claims The Coronavirus Is Transphobic’?

      1. Apologies for being late to the discussion but the best science based description of “non-binary” I have heard is an individual who falls outside of the major groups in the bimodal distribution.

  3. Maybe they are writing about this and not cancer because it is something not a lot of people think about? Maybe it isn’t supposed to be some comprehensive story covering every single person? Maybe there are going to be thousands of stories out there already covering those issues? Maybe you are just triggered by any talk of trans concerns?

    1. I believe you missed the point of the commentary. I think the piece was about perspective. Your last sentence was wholly unnecessary and, frankly, obnoxious.

    2. Nope, Mr. Gilbert. It’s about the oppression hierarchy, increasing wokeness in journalism, and implicit but unsupported accusations of bigotry.

      And maybe you’re a meathead. On second thought, omit the “maybe”.

    3. If you were a regular here, Mr. Gilbert, you’d know that Jerry is as even-handed about trans concerns as he is about free speech on campus and other hot-button issues. As it is, I have to surmise that you’re the one who’s “triggered by any talk of trans concerns.”

  4. As we will see around the country as this thing continues to get worse, doctors and administration will be making life and death decisions on a daily and hourly basis. Clearing the hospitals as much as possible for the masses of patients that will be coming. The scenes already showing from Italy are just around the corner. Only a few states are taking action to increase capacity to handle this. Meanwhile Trump looks for the miracle medicine that will save us and pretty much refuses to take responsible action.

    If I recall from right wing conservatives regarding single payer govt. medical care for all, they claimed we would have death panels that would determine who gets care. Now they may get to see it taking place in our private health care system.

    1. There are a lot of memes revolving around health care and end-of-life that can be weaponized to make a political point. The dollar value of a life is one. Obviously insurance companies and others have to make that calculation but woe comes to anyone who admits it. Similarly for “death panels” where someone is put in a position of deciding who lives or dies. I wish regular folk had sufficient critical thinking skills to avoid being victimized by these thought bombs.

      1. Yes, and even in the best medical system in the world, wherever that might be, there will always be a limit to the health care. However, in this country it is mostly about money.

  5. Doctors and hospital staff worldwide are desperately fighting for the lives of corona patients. In Bergamo/Italy the dead are taken away by the army and brought to crematoria in other cities.

    I do not understand at all why postponing a sex reassignment surgery, which is not vital, should be more important than postponing a hip surgery.

    It may sound harsh, but at the moment everyone has to make sacrifices to get through the crisis as quickly as possible.

    1. Exactly, this is crap for many, many people. But critical Covid-19 cases and those denied cancer care or other actually lifesaving treatments are who we should have most sympathy and concern for. Those people and their families must be traumatised by all this. Not only do they have to cope with the unprecedented upheaval the rest of us are dealing with, many have a high likelihood of dying in the very near future.

      Having sex reassignment delayed, while upsetting, doesn’t come close. Whining about this sort of thing when thousands of people are dying doesn’t do them any favours at all. Those quoted strike me as selfish, self-absorbed and desperately searching for their next claim to victimhood. All while giving not a toss for anyone else. But it’s maybe not that surprising – people in ‘oppressed’ groups are told so often that they are held down by the patriarchy and attacked by the system that they probably genuinely believe it!

      We are all suffering to some extent. Here in the UK my daughter has been studying for her GCSEs for the last three years. It has been drummed into her by the school and the family how important these exams are. How important it is to plan, be disciplined and work hard towards a goal. She has worked incredibly hard and has picked the pace up more and more as the exams get closer, she has revised on her own, we have revised together, it’s been a huge goal for her.

      On Thursday it was all taken away. The exams that were in eight weeks have been cancelled. She is distraught, angry, frustrated and feels utterly let down and abandoned by the education system. She is going to a sixth form college, so yesterday, with just one days’ notice she had her last day at high school, had to say goodbye to friends, teachers that she loves etc. That’s a lot for a kid to deal with over a couple of days, and the same or similar has happened to millions of others recently.

      I feel like screaming after what has happened to her. But we are not victims, my daughter is devastated at the moment, but she realises that sacrifices have to be made to save lives. I won’t lose my job, nor will her mum (front line NHS, so no chance of that!) but many will. None of us are seriously ill, but many are. The only way through this is to concentrate on the positives and accept sacrifices. The alternative would be overloaded healthcare systems, millions dead, serious civil unrest, and god knows what else!

      This is how serious it is, and these people grumbling about delayed sex-resassignment surgery need to realise that. My advice would be grow up, think yourself lucky, stop whining and get in line.

  6. This does raise the issue of which surgeries are “elective” and which surgeries are not. I read of a case here in Seattle where a woman with early stage uterine cancer has to wait. That certainly does not sound elective to me.

  7. I have an early stage non-aggressive form of lymphoma, and had a bone marrow biopsy at a local hospital last week. I would have been ok if the hospital had cancelled the procedure, because of the risk of catching the virus there. The nurse there told me that they were cancelling procedures for people who have heart conditions, unless a person was currently having serious symptoms that required immediate treatment.

    I was also due to start several months of chemotherapy in April, but I’m deciding to put that on hold until this virus situation is under control.

    I haven’t heard from my oncologist about delaying anything, though I’ll discuss it with her when I see her in 2 weeks. There’s nothing on their website about delaying treatments or surgeries.

    If I had a more aggressive form of the disease, this would be a different calculus, and I’d have to make difficult choices.

    Myself, I agree that delaying elective procedures/surgeries in hospitals is appropriate. I also agree that delaying routine cancer screenings is appropriate.

    At the same time, I am sympathetic towards anyone who has had any sort of treatment or surgery delayed, particularly if they have waited a long time for it and it had been scheduled. I read the Vice article, and found it well-balanced. It certainly didn’t give me the impression that they felt transgender individuals should out-rank other types of patients.

    Anyone who is under the care of a doctor, and who has had scheduled treatments/surgeries postponed, is deserving of sympathy, and they have mine.

    1. ….Best wishes too by the way – things must be particularly stressful for anyone in your situation.

    2. Lots of luck for the treatment when the world lets you get around to it. I was due to have a bone marrow transplant for relapsed CLL this summer, once the current chemo has the tumour somewhat controlled. I shan’t be able to make antibodies against the coronavirus (or any other, even if a vaccine is developed I shall not be able to respond to it, until I can have the assistance of someone else’s bone marrow. This may turn out to be a long summer, and at least in one sense I hope so.

  8. If people who have life threatening cancer are having their treatments delayed, people who want gender reassignment surgery can just get in line. I’m afraid that right now, I have zero sympathy.

  9. I think the facilities performing these surgeries (within the sphere of western law) are eventually going to find themselves deluged with malpractice suits, as more and more trans people discover that the surgery did not solve their problems. I suspect quite a few mental health professionals will be included.

    If my kid starts to think he is Napoleon, I would not expect his therapist to supply him with a brigade of cavalry and a map to Moscow, and to refer him to a physician to have his legs shortened

    1. That’s a pretty dubious comparison. And the Vice article isn’t about children having procedures – it’s about adults. I don’t understand this tendency to bring children into this discussion even when it has nothing to do with them.
      I’d wager the number of children who have any kind of procedure is extremely, vanishingly small by comparison with adults, but from listening to conservatives you’d think every child of liberal parents comes out of the womb dressed like Liza Minnelli and singing the Rocky Horror soundtrack

        1. Thanks, interesting piece. Perhaps ‘vanishingly small’ was overstating it. The humbers are nevertheless, as the article admits, small.

          1. Small, but unconscionable. This kind of surgery is highly invasive and irreversible. I would not do that on children, never ever.

            1. Sure. I agree. But the number of these cases is extremely small. They are reported on by the media in a disproportionate fashion and it thus gives the impression that the numbers are high.

              1. I have read your comments and it seems to me you are missing some significant aspects of this discussion.
                Ambiguous genitalia noted at birth is where gender identity issues frequently start. Just one cause is Klinefelter’s syndrome which has an incidence of at least 1 in 2000. Add in congenital adrenal hyperplasia at 1 in 20,000, androgen insensitivity syndrome at 1 in 20,000 and it should become apparent where the majority of these issues originate. And I have not even mentioned those who are genetically mosaic which deserve a whole separate discussion.
                Gender identity disorder has an incidence of around 5 per 100,000 in adults which is comparable to two of the causes listed above and an order of magnitude less than one when it is considered separately.
                The difference is that children have no voice except through those of us who advocate for them.
                Children are treated as second class citizens in the U.S. and if you doubt that, just compare Medicare vs Medicaid reimbursements.
                Please stop contributing to this disparity by making a serious and nuanced lifelong medical problem sound trivial through inaccurate number inferences which are devoid of actual data.

      1. Not sure it’s an apt comparison either, but, gotta admit, there were times when my kids were growin’ up, I’d’ve liked to exile their asses to Elba for a few months. 🙂

      2. This is an issue that I have some unwilling familiarity with.
        I definitely don’t think the politics of the parents are an issue at all.

        But a person, even an adult, getting sex change surgery is the result of a process, which usually starts when the person is much younger.
        Often, it starts when the young person is experiencing puberty, and starts to feel uncomfortable in their body. There is some chance that the young person will speak to a counselor or therapist who will tell them not that such feelings are perfectly normal, but that it is a likely sign that they are “trans”, and that after the transition, they will be happy.
        Very few therapists or counselors these days will offer that child anything but affirmation, and likely a referral to a therapist or physician who will take them to the next phase of the process.

        But none of the steps ever actually lead to the promised happiness. I does not exist. They don’t want to live as the opposite sex lives. They want to live as they imagine the opposite sex experiences life. There is a huge difference there. It is not the reality of life as a real man or woman.
        Certainly the puberty blockers and hormone treatments that many of the kids are taking end up really messing with their emotions and bodies. And once you start the surgeries, there is no way back. Just more surgeries and hormone treatments forever.

        To me, it seems a lot like Scientology. There is always one more course to take before you will be really “clear”. Nobody is ever clear, but each person secretly thinks they are the only one who the process does not work for, and with so much invested, the only way is forward.

        I am not talking about the minuscule number of people with true intersex conditions. The majority of these kids have nothing objectively wrong with them, and nothing in their history that would lead a person to predict that they would adopt a trans identity.

        I think the Napoleon comparison is imperfect, but not terribly off.
        I wonder what happened to all those therapists who brought “repressed and recovered memories” of horrific sexual abuse which destroyed so many families not so very long ago.
        Of course dissociative disorders exist. Actual trans person probably exist as well. But both groups seem to appear in peer clusters, which is just not credible.

  10. This is a time when we can leave our platforms behind and merge for the greater good… so much for the woke seeing a big picture, even showing how it effects the life of transgenders is just on the same line as someone who needs eye surgery to save their sight.

  11. Much as I dislike the fact that all headlines are about coronavirus, it has been a relief to have some abatement of the hectoring holier-than-thou “journalists” telling me how sexist, racist, misogynist, homo/xeno/islamo/trans -phobic we all are. In fact the few who have no other kinds of thoughts bouncing around inside their otherwise empty heads who have managed to write articles about how Covid-19 is a disaster for feminism, a major cause of racism, and is now targeting the urgent needs of the trans community, have succeeded only in making themselves look silly and completely out of touch with ordinary people. That’s a small consolation.

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