Summary: Response to “When Children Say They’re Trans”

Among a crowd, two people stand facing away from the camera. One has the transgender pride flag draped over their back and the other has the LGBTQ+ flag. The capitol building can be seen in the distance.
Image credit: Tim Eytan via flickr

7/9/18: A Summary

This is the reader-friendly summary of a four part series I wrote in response to Jesse Singal’s article, “When Children Say They’re Trans.” While this might seems like a lot to write about one article, the original piece was about 12,700 words, and there is a lot wrong with it. If you a particular topic piques your interest as your read through the summary, I encourage you to follow the links to read about it in more detail.

Hello, I Wrote a Long Thing

After reading Jesse Singal’s cover story on the supposed increasing accessibility of gender-affirming care for teens, I knew I would have to write a response essay. I got down to work laying out my critiques and familiarizing myself with what other writers thought about the piece.

Once I had put down all I wanted to say, it became clear that this would not be a post of reasonable length. For the sake of manageability for me, and readability for you, I broke my dissection of the article into four parts. Then, as I hashed out my ideas, these separate sections threatened to become too long themselves. So, instead of drastically cutting down my thoughts, I created this reasonably-long summary.

I am proud, surprised, and frustrated that I devoted so much time and energy to breaking apart a single article by a cisgender man. Part of me questions, why does he deserve my attention? Then I remind myself that the article, because of its very visible place of publication, has been read by a lot of people. Though Singal does not deserve all this attention, the reality is he has it.

So, instead of focusing my frustrations exclusively on the author, I have taken the publication of his article as an opportunity to express my opinions on the harmful stereotypes about trans people that the popular media tends to cover.

I recommend reading Jesse Singal’s original piece before diving into this summary and/or my in-depth essays. But, as a quick primer, Singal’s main argument is that making gender-affirming care available to teens is dangerous because at that age their conceptions of their gender may still be in flux.

Each of the first three headings is a fault I find in Singal’s argument, with a brief explanation below. I hope you find this summary of my critiques useful and that something intrigues you enough to dive into one (if not more) of the full-length essays. You can click the link in each of the headings to go to that part of the series.

Part One: Dehumanization

Singal’s piece casts out trans people in a way that makes it hard for cisgender readers to connect to us. Just look at the cover image; that does not look like a person you’re meant to relate to. He also paints us as sick by legitimizing the theory of social contagion, which asserts that teens are pressuring each other into identifying as trans. Distancing trans kids from the reader makes it easier to argue that they cannot be trusted with their transitions.

Additionally, it is no small problem that Singal focuses so much on cisgender detransitioners: people who once identified as trans, medically transitioned, but now identify as cis and regret transitioning. Using these stories to illustrate how trans identity can be a “mistake,” only fuels skeptics who think being trans is just a phase or sign of mental illness.

Part Two: Disparaging Teens’ Autonomy

Another thing Singal gets wrong is presenting that it’s a parent’s duty to figure out whether their child is a boy or a girl. First of all, it is never possible for anyone else to define one’s gender for them. This means that youth should have the freedom to decide, in conversation with care providers, how best to feel comfortable in their bodies. The job of the parent(s) is to affirm and respect their child by doing their best to provide gender-affirming resources, including healthcare and/or therapy.

Notice how in the first sentence I only included the binary choices of boy or girl. Singal fails to give adequate attention to trans people who may not go through a binary (male to female or female to male) transition. Young people are capable of contemplating who they are with much more complexity than Singal gives them credit for. Overcautious parents can create harmful barriers to teens embodying their own identity.

Part Three: Ignorance

Based on his pattern of out-of-touch reporting, trans people have been demanding Singal stop writing about us for years. And yet, he continues. As with his past work, Singal focuses on medical transitions (surgery, hormones, puberty blockers) and neglects to discuss social transitions (changing name, pronouns, clothing, etc.) and their benefits, such as decreased suicidality.

Then, in discussing the state of gender-affirming care, Singal writes as if it is common for parents to pressure their kids to transition and for doctors to provide hormones without proper precautions. The fact is that familial transphobia and hesistant providers are still huge barriers to trans youth receiving the care they need. By inaccurately depicting of the lives of trans youth, Singal distracts readers from the ways medicine and society are still working against their well-being.

Part Four: A Lesson From Singal

Yes, Jesse Singal, doctors can’t throw hormones at every confused teen and expect good results. If a boyish girl is depressed, it doesn’t necessarily mean they are trans and/or need to transition. The experiences of the cisgender detransitioners Singal interviews illustrate that gender affirming care can go wrong if teens (and their parents) push to medically transition out of the belief that it is the singular key to their happiness.

Part Five: Media To Pay Attention To

For this short section I chose to highlight two articles that do a good job complicating who trans people are and what our lives are like. I wanted to contrast my dismay towards Singal’s article with examples of responsible media coverage about the trans community.

You can follow Alix on Instagram and Twitter @_transing_.
Click the links to donate to
Trans Lifeline and/or Ingersoll Gender Center.

white, trans/agender, femme often disguised as masc, NW-based. exploring gender beyond traditional narratives.