Are Questions About Hormone Therapy and the Nashville Shooter Transphobic? Newsweek Writers Disagree

Tamara Lush

When you ask ‘where does the GOP get these crazy ideas?!’ make sure first you are not the source.

In the wake of any tragic shooting, the second thing to be victimized is decorum. Self-control and waiting for all the facts are seemingly never options in the mad rush to be the first news outlet or politician with a salient hot take on the event. That these instant commentaries are rarely salient is a given, but things were remarkably bad in the press in the wake of the Nashville Covenant Christian School shooting.   


This goes for both sides, as many times Republicans and conservatives are just as eager to storm forward before the cameras before they have all of the facts. The day after the shooting, we saw a convergence of these realities, and in the process, we watched as Newsweek rushed out with a critique of those on the right making a critique, and it became an example of reactionary inception. In its desire to scorch conservative critics, the outlet displayed a level of obliviousness.

It began with coverage of Republicans’ reaction to the revelation that the killer was a trans individual. As we have seen repeatedly, the press is off-balance with that reality, and they resent anyone accurately pointing out that fact, so it is with no surprise that we get critical coverage of the comments. 

”Prominent conservative commentators have questioned the role of gender-affirming drugs in Monday’s mass shooting…without providing any evidence,” starts the piece by reporter James Bickerton. This was followed by the rote listing of all the states with trans-centered legislation; so, according to Bickerton, it is daft to suggest medical involvement could be a factor, but legislative activity is a valid influence. Then later Bickerton gets into the condemnation portion of his piece.

House Republican Marjorie Taylor Greene said: “How much hormones like testosterone and medications for mental illness was the transgender Nashville school shooter taking? Everyone can stop blaming guns now.”

Similarly, on her Fox News show, Laura Ingraham commented: “We also don’t know the extent to which drug therapy of any sort, transgender-related or non-transgender related, also might have come into play…a lot of doctors will just throw out prescription medication at young people—we found this with some of the other killers and then we find out there could be psychotic effects of that as well but again we don’t know this yet.”


He then closes out the piece with boilerplate content on gun control and President Biden’s desire to pass stricter gun laws. In this clearly slanted approach, Bickerton rushed his piece out without stepping back. In citing how “conservatives” are saying this (all two of them), he declared that they “blame” the shooting on gender drugs, when what they actually did was ask questions. That is, they speculated on the matter. But if this is some sort of affront, maybe Bickerton should also list his own outlet among those who “blamed” these drugs for the shooting.

Nashville School Shooting
AP Photo/John Amis

Posted by one of the outlet’s tech/science writers the very same morning was a lengthy piece about scientific studies regarding the effects transgender hormone therapy might have on the brain, and some of the findings make the questions from the conservatives not only less hysterical but actually reasonable. It is enough of a divergence that you have to wonder about the editors at this outlet not being in communication with each other. Granted, Bickerton is a London-based writer, but he is not lending an op-ed; he is a reporter on national news. Wouldn’t the nature of the shooting incident provoke a level of in-house vetting on the topic?

This second article leads off by acknowledging that there had been public questions about the role of potential hormone therapy and specifically referenced Marjorie Taylor Greene’s comment, so there should have been even more reason to have things flagged and maybe gather the troops to coordinate a message. Instead, contradictory entries were posted at the same hour. In this report, a number of studies – albeit limited in scope – looked at what hormone therapy provokes within the brain once administered, and it seems more than valid for anyone to start asking questions.


One study published in the journal Psychoneuroendocrinology in 2016 looked into how hormone therapy for transgender people affected subcortical brain areas related to memory and emotion. The results found that the hormone treatment did result in some changes to the brain: in the MtF trans people involved in the study, their taking of estradiol (artificial estrogen) and anti-androgens (testosterone blockers) was found to have reduced the volume of the hippocampus region of the brain. The hippocampus is a small part of the brain that is involved in regulating learning, memory, and spatial navigation, and also plays a role in anxiety and avoidance behaviors.

And there could be another component worth exploring. In the case of a female transitioning to a male – which would involve the process of the shooter in Tennessee – there is a factor of testosterone being a component in hormone therapy.

Testosterone itself has long been known to cause increased aggression in men, with one study published in the International Journal of Endocrinology and Metabolism in 2012 stating that there is some evidence that testosterone levels are higher in individuals with aggressive behavior, including violent criminals. Some other studies have found that trans men taking testosterone hormones may experience increased aggression, including a 2018 study from The Journal of Sexual Medicine and a 2021 study in Hormones and Behavior.


Now, none of this is conclusive. There are competing studies, as well as issues of sample sizes and the amount of study in these areas still needing more research and data. But these current findings still show there is validity in looking into the matter. That is, asking these questions, as seen by the dastardly conservatives willing to do so, has a measure of validity.

It is just striking that within the editorial confines of a news outlet, they would both impugn the character of those discussing the hormonal influences and also provide evidence showing there was a basis for such concern. So as Newsweek essentially posed the rhetorical, Where do these conservatives get these nutty ideas?! – the answer they did not expect to receive was, Well, they cited your very outlet.


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