The best of the year in “show, don’t tell”
The Gay Frogs Election
The question of our poisoned environment is moving into the political mainstream.
It’s now been eight years, believe it or not, since Alex Jones unleashed his “gay frogs” rant on the world, securing a place for himself in the annals of meme history. Jones had been talking about secret government plans to create a “gay bomb” that would feminize the male population and reduce the birth rate. “What do you think tapwater is? It’s a gay bomb, baby,” he said calmly. And then, just like that, Jones was the bomb exploding. “I don’t like ‘em putting chemicals in the water that turn the friggin’ frogs gay! Do you understand that!?” he bellowed, smashing the desk with his fist and sending his papers flying. “Aargh! Crap!”
This wasn’t the first time Jones had brought up the relationship between chemical exposure and sexual confusion. Five years earlier, he had suggested that the government was deliberately putting estrogen-mimicking chemicals in the water and in consumer products such as beverage cans and processed food.
In 2015, though, Jones was talking specifically about the effects of the herbicide Atrazine, a chemical that has been sprayed in enormous quantities all over the U.S., but especially in the Midwest Corn Belt, where it’s used to treat corn and soybeans. By the early 2000s, 76 million pounds of the chemical were being applied annually in the U.S., making Atrazine the nation’s second-most, widely-used herbicide after glyphosate, another chemical that Jones has singled out for criticism—quite rightly, I should add—for its negative effects on health.
Jones was gesturing—or gesticulating, rather—toward a 2010 study by Hayes et al. which found that Atrazine exposure at levels typical of U.S. waterways could chemically castrate male frogs and even cause them to become hermaphrodites. Hayes and his colleagues exposed male African clawed frog larvae to the chemical in a laboratory setting and found that as much as 10 percent of the larvae became “atrazine-induced females” that grew into “completely feminized” adults: these transgender frogs would mate with control males that had not been exposed to Atrazine and would even produce viable eggs. As a result, the researchers hypothesized that Atrazine is a potent endocrine disruptor that causes the “male” hormone testosterone to be converted to the “female” hormone estrogen (I’ve used scare quotes because both hormones have important roles to play, in the correct proportions, in male and female bodies).
Hayes et al.’s frog study was heavily publicized upon its release, including by National Geographic and Science magazines, which took the findings deadly seriously. But when Jones repeated the study’s conclusions, in his own inimitable way, he was roundly mocked and condemned in the media for spreading yet another “conspiracy theory.” A video excerpt of the “gay frogs” rant went viral on Twitter, receiving half a million views and thousands of comments, and so too did the hashtag #gayfrogs. The rant even became a song. Never one to let a controversy go to waste, Jones would go on to dress as a gay frog on his show, in a full-body suit with green facepaint and a pink tutu. “Thanks to Atrazine there will be no more frogs but we are gay so that’s cool,” he cooed, sipping from a bottle labelled “Atrazine.” “I’ll never have children and I’m sterilized, but the media says I’m totally cool. I’m a gay frog!”
Of course, this isn’t just about frogs. It’s about people. If Atrazine and other similar chemicals are having these effects on amphibians, then they’re probably doing bad things to us too, at the very least. Maybe they’re even having the same effects.
Back in 2015, transgenderism wasn’t quite the live issue it is today, but the implications of what Jones was saying were clear enough to his liberal detractors, or so they thought. In the intervening years a slew of articles with titles like “White Genocide and Male Extinction in the Rhetoric of Endocrine Disruption” tried to convince us that fears about the effects of exposure to chemicals like Atrazine are rooted in patriarchy, racism, and something called “white extinction anxiety.” “White extinction anxiety,” for those who don’t know, is the fear that the future of the white race is imperilled by falling birth rates, changing demographics, and the new political realities that they bring. What Jones’s rhetoric really amounts to, on this view, is a “greening of hate,” or “ecofascism,” “in which concern for the environment is co-opted as a ruse for increased control over women’s reproductive capacities, surveillance of racial minorities, and securing the borders against immigration.”
Now, eight years later, in 2023, a candidate for the presidency is also talking about gay frogs. Like Alex Jones he isn’t joking, but this time there’s no room for doubt: the frog suit and tutu are nowhere to be seen. In a recent podcast appearance with Jordan Peterson, Robert F. Kennedy, Jr. carefully linked the explosion of gender dysphoria in America to environmental pollution and our massively increased exposure to endocrine-disrupting chemicals. In doing so he explicitly referenced the Hayes frog study. He also made it clear that he believes these chemicals are having serious negative effects that go well beyond gender and reproductive health. The podcast has since been removed from YouTube for unspecified terms-of-service violations, but you can watch a clip of the relevant moment from the interview here. Kennedy then repeated the claims in a three-hour appearance on Joe Rogan’s podcast, which so far has managed to avoid being taken down.
Environmental pollution and its role in the growing crisis of reproductive health were already having something of a moment, largely due to the Tucker Carlson documentary The End of Men, which RFK Jr. featured in, alongside right-wing bodybuilders like myself, and the book Count Down by Professor Shanna Swan, which makes a truly apocalyptic prediction about the future of human fertility. According to Swan, by 2045 we could be unable as a species to reproduce by natural means. The median man will have a sperm count of zero, meaning that one half of all men will produce no sperm whatsoever, while the other half will produce so few as to be functionally infertile.
Swan is well placed to make such a prediction: she’s one of the world’s foremost reproductive health experts, with a lifetime’s experience studying the effects of various chemicals on the sexual development and fertility of boys and girls and men and women around the world. All she’s doing is extrapolating current trends in male sperm counts, which have been declining precipitously for decades, and applying her knowledge of a huge body of scientific literature about the wide-ranging effects of endocrine disruptors on animals and humans. Documented effects range from falling testosterone, declining sperm quantity and quality, and shrinking penises in males to rising numbers of miscarriages and conditions like polycystic ovary syndrome and uterine cancer in females. Many of the chemicals that have these effects are also obesogens and encourage weight gain, another serious risk factor for infertility, and they’ve been linked to other serious health conditions as well, like heart disease, auto-immune disorders, and brain damage.
If this is “white extinction anxiety” at work, then white supremacists must dominate the scientific community now as well. New studies appear almost daily. For example, a study out of Singapore has just revealed that women’s chances of conceiving and bringing a live baby to full term decrease by as much as 40 percent when they are exposed to per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances (PFAS), a class of ubiquitous endocrine disruptors that are used in personal care products, plastics, greaseproof paper, non-stick cookware, and fire retardants. A study by Swan and others, published after Count Down, has established for the first time that the dire trends in fertility we’ve seen in the West are indeed being repeated in Latin America, Asia, and Africa. So this really isn’t just a “white” problem: it’s a species-wide catastrophe. What’s more, the trends appear to be accelerating. “Spermageddon,” as it’s dubbed, may arrive even sooner than predicted.
On paper, we have every reason to believe that exposure to harmful endocrine-disrupting chemicals could be behind the startling rise of gender dysphoria. After all, hormone therapy is a central part of the medical process of transitioning, just as much as surgery to reconfigure genitalia and remove tell-tale physical signs like a prominent Adam’s apple and masculine facial structure. If you’re a man who thinks he’s a woman, hormone therapy means administration of significant doses of synthetic estrogen. (Some men with gender dysphoria who can’t get a hold of estrogen sometimes boil plastic bags and drink the liquid as a kind of homebrew knock-off.) Nobody can deny this. And it’s really not that hard to imagine how, say, a boy born with an improperly formed tiny penis and an excess of estrogen in his body might grow up thinking he’s not a boy, especially as other boys around him develop normally and he just doesn’t. The truth about exposure to endocrine-disrupting chemicals is that it’s happening at every stage of development, from conception right through puberty and beyond, interfering with the delicate natural hormonal balance that is responsible not only for sexual differentiation in the womb—boy or girl—but also the much longer and no-less-crucial process of maturation that takes place over decades. It’s entirely possible that endocrine disruptors could contribute to gender dysphoria at any point in life.
What we really need is direct scientific research, but there’s virtually none at the moment. Go ahead and search Pubmed, one of the largest online databases of scientific research, for papers about possible links between gender dysphoria and chemicals like BPA, phthalates, and PFAS. I managed to find one paper which mentioned, in passing, that endocrine disruptors are “involved in sexual differentiation of the brain” and therefore may help “determine our gender identity or sexual orientation.” That was it. There’s absolutely nothing of substance—no epidemiological (population) studies, no case studies, no review articles suggesting potential new avenues for research in light of the massive body of existing data on endocrine disruptors. Nada. Zip.
Instead, if people try to explain the growth of transgenderism as anything other than a spontaneous and sincere development (i.e., the result of a more accepting society allowing people, finally, to be what they really are), we see explanations involving social factors, and in particular social pressure of various different kinds, whether from “well-meaning” parents and educators, or among young people themselves. This is transgenderism-as-social-contagion, and it’s not much different from explanations for earlier crazes like self-harm, eating disorders, glue sniffing, or, if we go much further back, bizarre occurrences like the medieval St. Vitus’s dance. A study in the prestigious journal PLoS ONE in 2018 suggested that novel factors were to blame, especially social media and belonging to friendship groups that already had transgender-identifying people in them, usually in conjunction. There are also attempts to explain the rise of transgenderism in relation to the growth of mental illness more generally, like this 2014 study, which found that nearly 63 percent of sampled patients requesting gender reassignment had “at least one psychiatric comorbidity.” A third of patients suffered depression, 20.5 percent suffered a specific phobia, and 15.7 percent suffered from adjustment disorder.
I have no doubt that social pressures and the descent into pervasive mental illness are at least partially to blame here. The data are extremely compelling and, again, the basic mechanisms are plausible at the common sense level: it’s easy to imagine how social pressure, magnified by social media, could combine with mental illness, again magnified by social media, to create an epidemic of young people who think they’ve been born the wrong gender and are desperate to convince others they’re the same too. But if we really want to get to the bottom of it all—indeed, if we want to get to the bottom of why we’re so unhealthy and unhappy, full stop—we’re going to have to get serious about environmental pollution. The evidence is compelling. Overwhelming, even.
And yet—something has been stopping us from turning over this stone. Maybe what it will take is the appearance of a charismatic outsider, just as it took such a man to make immigration, so long ignored, the defining issue of the 2016 election. Robert F. Kennedy, Jr. certainly possesses a number of advantages that someone like Alex Jones doesn’t, not least of all the fact that he’s a member of one of America’s great political dynasties and that he’s been a lifelong Democrat. These things will make it harder to smear him as a “dangerous white supremacist right-wing conspiracy theorist”—although his opponents are already doing their best, especially with regard to his stance on vaccines and the pandemic. Mehdi Hasan, for instance, a man who called Joe Biden “the most impressive president of my lifetime,” likened Kennedy to a Holocaust denier in a recent interview with vax-peddling bowtie-wearer Peter Hotez.
What’s undeniable, at the very least, is that Kennedy is changing the terms of the 2024 agenda in a positive way. His influence is surely behind Trump’s decision to announce a presidential commission into chronic disease. “In recent decades, there has been an unexplained and alarming growth in the prevalence of chronic illnesses and health problems, especially in children,” said the former president in a video released on Rumble. “We’ve seen a stunning rise in autism, auto-immune disorders, obesity, infertility, serious allergies, and respiratory challenges. It is time to ask: What is going on?” Trump sounded particularly Kennedy-esque in his declaration that Big Pharma is too close to public health institutions, and that government money would be better spent seeking the underlying causes of ill health rather than paying for ad hoc treatments.
This isn’t standard Trump territory. It’s not clear whether he genuinely wants a new approach to the massive burden of chronic disease or whether, as seems more likely, he’s just trying to head off potential defectors to the Kennedy camp, especially those who’ve been unhappy with his ongoing support for the COVID vaccines. Trump’s record on fulfilling campaign promises doesn’t inspire confidence. Of course, Kennedy could actually win the election—the events of 2016 should tell us not to discount his chances—but even if he doesn’t, he will have done the American people a great service if he can force them to confront with fresh eyes the sickness that is plaguing them. Maybe, just maybe, 2024 will be the year the gay frogs finally come home to roost.
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