Jamie Reed at home in Missouri. (Photo by Theo R. Welling.)

Jamie Reed: The Courage to Admit You’re Wrong

When I blew the whistle on a transgender clinic, some suggested I had been ‘brainwashed by the right.’ No. I’m a progressive who follows science.

Jamie Reed became a lightning rod in our pages earlier this year after she blew the whistle about the mistreatment of minors at The Washington University Transgender Center at St. Louis Children’s Hospital, where she’d worked as a case manager for four years. Her revelations sparked an investigation of the clinic by the Missouri Attorney General, and this helped lead lawmakers in Missouri and other states to pass bans on gender transition of minors.

In early November, Reed was invited to speak in Golden, Colorado, at the first U.S. conference for Genspect, an organization that discourages gender transitioning of minors. We felt her remarks—about questioning authority, even if it’s the deeply held beliefs of one’s own political party—were an important reminder of our own mission, both as journalists and as citizens. So we have published an edited version of her speech below, in the hope it might inspire you, too. We look forward to seeing your thoughts in the comments.

After I became a whistleblower in February, revealing the appalling medical treatment of minors with gender dysphoria, I had some confounding responses from members of the public. The most shocking was that I was somehow a traitor to my progressive beliefs.

So many critics and media outlets tried to paint not just me but the entire issue of transgender youth as a showdown between the right and left. As a lifelong member of the left, a queer woman married to a transman, I’d clearly been brainwashed or paid off—or probably even both—by conservatives. I had a “clear ideological bias.” Even my hometown’s left-leaning newspaper was more interested in the political affiliations of my attorneys than the substance and science of my claims.

When I met with New York Times writer Azeen Ghorayshi, who wrote a story about the controversy after The Free Press first broke the news, she kept insisting that I’d changed in some fundamental way. Her piece, which was published in August and mostly confirmed my account, portrayed me as someone who’d left her core values behind. Since joining the clinic, my views had, in Ghorayshi’s words, “hardened and become political.”

I respectfully disagree. I’m no more or less political than I’ve ever been, and my views certainly haven’t hardened. What changed was my realization that I—along with so many other smart, well-intentioned, compassionate people like me on the left—was wrong.

It sucks to admit that you’re wrong. It’s not just humbling; you also have to take a closer look at how you were complicit in misleading others. I’m not proud of my eager participation in the pediatric gender industry, which has led thousands of youths astray, medically treating their dysphoria when many of them mainly needed counseling. But my progressive beliefs aren’t what led me down the wrong path. In fact, those beliefs are what helped me finally see the light.

I was raised to believe in the core principles of the Democratic Party, which includes the willingness to sacrifice one’s individual needs for the good of the collective society. In college, I became a radical. I was anti-capitalist and anti-globalization. I read books by left-wing heroes like Noam Chomsky, Howard Zinn, and Derrick Jensen. I lived in an anarchist collective and was pepper-sprayed at protests for everything from the Bush-Gore presidential debate in 2000 to the Iraq War invasion in 2003. I remained firmly embedded in the radical left for decades. For as long as I can remember, I believed in and fought for transgender rights. My peers and I rebelled against the idea of strict gender roles and gender conformity. The old ideas of what a man and woman had to be were outdated and repressive. But we attacked these problems by trying to change the culture, not by irrevocably changing our bodies.

When I became a mother in 2008 at 27 years old, I started to veer away from extremism and toward a more centrist, mainstream liberalism. But I never let go of those original ideals. 

My convictions are what brought me to work at the St. Louis Children’s Hospital in 2018. I firmly believed that what the center was doing was important and that we were preventing needless suffering, helping young people become their true selves at last.

The road to hell, as they say, is paved with good intentions.

We had good intentions, but we were misinformed. We didn’t really understand the Dutch studies, published between 2011 and 2014, and like many leftists, we thought they proved that the use of medical interventions for gender-dysphoric youth would vastly improve these children’s lives. We weren’t aware of what was happening across the pond at Tavistock, the UK’s only gender identity clinic for children, which will close its doors permanently next year after reports that they fast-tracked medical procedures

We weren’t aware of the irreversible medical harm we were doing. But when we started to wise up, it didn’t mean my entire liberal worldview evaporated. If anything, it just reinforced my views.

When I realized I was wrong, I didn’t instantly conclude that everything I’d been taught throughout my life was a lie. Instead, it just stirred in me the desire to be more vigilant and informed. I educated myself. I read the research—not just skimmed, but studied—and I started to listen to people, smart people, outside of my bubble. 

The left I know believes that science is real. We accept scientific evidence even if it contradicts our political talking points. The left I know doesn’t cower in the face of bullies, which is why whistleblowers like me exist. It’s why Anna Hutchinson exists; it’s why Dr. Riittakerttu Kaltiala exists. 

I went back to my roots. I became that anarchist punk again, who was willing to question authority when authority was clearly wrong. I went back to the core values that had guided me from such a young age—which isn’t, by the way, “assume those on the left are always the good guys.” I wanted to make the world a safer, saner place for everyone.

Being an adult means accepting responsibility and realizing that you never stop learning. It’s not about finding one political extreme or another and holding your ground. We all need to be better at listening. The moment you’re convinced that you have it all figured out—trust me, you don’t.

I want the same thing for my boys—I have five between the ages of two and 15. Maybe not my exact journey, but I want them to be passionate about their beliefs, to find the ideals worth fighting for and the willingness to keep looking for answers. I hope my children explore the world, question everything, and read books that shake them to the core. Above all, I want them to make mistakes and have the courage to say, “I was wrong. I’ll do better.”

Imagine a world where we all had the grace to say that—and mean it.

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