The latest round of controversy to engulf the environmental lawyer, activist, and Democratic presidential candidate Robert F. Kennedy, Jr. was provoked by his speculation that Covid-19 could have been an ethnically targeted bioweapon. But not long before that, Kennedy was in hot water over another of the crankish-sounding assertions for which he is notorious: that endocrine-disrupting chemicals found in plastics and pesticides may be playing a role in the recent rise in “gender and sexual confusion” among young people. In a June 5 interview with Jordan Peterson, he stated: “I think a lot of the problems we see in kids—and particularly boys—it’s probably under-appreciated how much of that is coming from chemical exposures, including a lot of the sexual dysphoria that we’re seeing.” Children, he went on, are “swimming through a soup of toxic chemicals today and many of those are endocrine disruptors.”

YouTube took down the Peterson interview, and both liberal and conservative outlets published takedowns in which a slew of “experts” were brought in to counter Kennedy’s claims. However, the chemical-gender theory is more of an open question than this response suggests. Although published research on the subject remains scant, credible scientists have stated that it deserves investigation. More surprisingly, while the mainstream LGBT movement vehemently rejects the idea as stigmatizing, some academic queer theorists have enthusiastically embraced it.

Even dismissive media accounts of the controversy offered some indication that the matter is more complex than the outlets wanted readers to think. Axios’s report describes the chemical-gender theory as “fringe” and a “conspiracy theory” but goes on to quote Shanna H. Swan, a leading reproductive epidemiologist at Mount Sinai Hospital, who states that she “doesn’t rule out the potential for [endocrine disruptors] having some gender impact,” although the “link between the chemicals and human gender is highly uncertain.” For that matter, even Tyrone Hayes, a pesticide researcher who denounced Kennedy after the latter cited his research, acknowledges that “chemical impacts on gender identity have not been researched.”