An Open Letter to GLAAD About their Open Letter to The New York Times About Their Coverage of Kids with Gender Dysphoria
We agree! And we disagree.
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I agree with you. As you stated in your open letter yesterday, The New York Times has indeed published “irresponsible, biased coverage of transgender people.”
But I differ from you on how I think they’ve been biased and irresponsible. For instance, you implore the Times to “Stop questioning science that is SETTLED,” and you assert that “Every major medical association supports gender-affirming care as best practices care that is safe and lifesaving and has widespread consensus in the medical and scientific communities.”
The science is not settled. When you say “every major medical association,” you might mean most medical associations in America, which are not non-partisan, nor basing their policies on systematic evidence reviews. But when the UK, Sweden, and Finland did conduct systematic evidence reviews of the science, they found it was of very low quality, and didn’t cover the current cohort of kids with rapid-onset gender dysphoria seeking gender medical interventions, or account for the rising numbers of detransitioners who’ve been gravely injured by gender-affirming care. Journalist Jesse Singal—whom you’ve mistakenly accused of spreading misinformation—has dismantled the misleading claims behind several much-hyped studies in the US, finding they do not actually show that puberty blockers, cross-sex hormones, and chest or genital surgeries prevent suicidal ideation or attempts, or vastly improve mental health in gender-distressed youth.
The American Academy of Pediatrics released a policy statement in 2018 entitled “Ensuring Comprehensive Care and Support for Transgender and Gender-Diverse Children and Adolescents,” touting the affirmative model and accompanying medical interventions, which is oft-cited by the media and nonprofits. But almost no one paid any heed to a paper published by psychologist and sex researcher Dr. James Cantor, refuting much of the evidence in the AAP’s policy statement. “These documents simply did not say what AAP claimed they did,” Cantor wrote. “In fact, the references that AAP cited as the basis of their policy instead outright contradicted that policy.”
Even Annelou deVries, author of the two Dutch studies that form the basis of gender-affirming care in the US—studies that are also based on questionable methodology with questionable outcomes—admitted that “we have always acknowledged that results stemmed from only one sample and clinic, and that further research and replication are needed.” Yet the one study which tried to replicate their findings failed to do so.
Science, at any rate, is rarely settled, and if it is, it can withstand scrutiny. If it can’t, it gets updated. Only when it cannot survive under scrutiny do activist organizations demand that we all look away. Imagine if Newton had claimed not only that there was no more to know about gravity, but that it was hateful to ask questions about it. Einstein would have been shit out of luck.
You claim that The New York Times’ reporting on, say, the real risks of puberty blockers, or the complexity of trans women competing against biological women in sports, negatively impacts mental health “which is a contributing factor to the high suicide rates for LGBTQ youth.”
If that’s the case, that’s really hard, and I’m sorry. But the job of journalism is not to make people from certain social categories feel good. The job is to tell the truth. The New York Times has no commitment to any one social group. They have a commitment to the truth, whatever it may be, whatever it exposes. That doesn’t mean they don’t have to be sensitive in their reporting. That doesn’t mean they don’t have to explore how what’s true for one group—gender affirming care hurt me—might not be true for another: gender affirming care improved my life.
With gender issues, there are often multiple and competing truths, and The New York Times has an obligation to explore them all. Objectivity and nuance—or the attempt to embrace them—are not bigotry. They are inconvenient for people who want only part of a story told. For, as Lizzo reminds us, sometimes truth hurts.
Meanwhile, the suicide narrative promoted by groups like GLAAD, and oft-repeated by reporters who haven’t properly scrutinized the science, is also incorrect. Children and adolescents with gender dysphoria may have a higher rate of co-morbidities than the average population, and a higher than normal rate of suicidal ideation or attempts (scary, but very different from completed suicides). But we don’t know if gender dysphoria, or minority stress, or co-morbid conditions like autism cause that increase. The data we have is so biased that we can’t map it onto the general population, but we do have some older, prospective data that suggests that suicidality in some cases was still unusually high after transition. Indeed, in the recent New England Journal of Medicine study, two out of 315 participants committed suicide, an incredibly high rate. And they had medically transitioned!
I can’t think of anything more irresponsible than wielding this suicide narrative to try to get the most important news outlet in the world to cover up truths. Oh, actually, yes I can: Sometimes clinicians pressure parents to let their kids transition by touting the “you can have a live trans kid or a dead cis one” line, often in front of the distressed child. I’ve heard that same story from multiple sources, but The New York Times keeps such narratives under wraps. Irresponsible and biased? I’d say so.
I’ve talked to several families that were absolutely destroyed by these external pressures to transition children. I’ve talked to families investigated by child protective services for not affirming their kids. I’ve talked to people who lost body parts and/or sexual function and felt profound regret, who rejected their parents (not the other way around), whose complex mental health issues were overlooked. I’ve been carrying these stories with me for years now, trying and trying and trying to get The New York Times to let me tell them, so that we can all know the whole messy story, so that we can operate with the same set of facts, so that we can figure out how to best reform youth gender medicine and help kids with gender dysphoria. I essentially tried to whistleblow on the media, to the media; it didn’t work. I’ve met with editors who simply did not believe me, or who commissioned me to write pieces that they wouldn’t print, or who read my submissions and then published pieces arguing or reporting the opposite. That is what I’d call irresponsible, biased reporting.
You ask that they stop printing “anti-trans” stories immediately. But I disagree that it’s anti-trans to explore, for instance, how males who transition and play in female sports affect women. I disagree that it’s anti-trans to talk about how social media may be causing a spike in gender dysphoric girls.
You ask that they hold a meeting with trans leaders within two months. That sounds fine. In fact, one reason I’ve been doing my Heterodox Trans People interview series is to get the media to consult more trans people who disagree with the ideas expressed in GLAAD’s letter. You want to know what trans people think? Ask Buck Angel. Blaire White. Corinna Cohn. Stillman Cray. Zander Keig. Debbie Hayton. Erica Anderson. Aaron Kimberly. Aaron Terrell. Scott Newgent. (Other suggestions? Leave in comments, please.) And since you want the Times to hire “at least four trans writers and editors within three months,” I’d say select from above. Buck has an op-ed written and waiting for a mainstream publisher to take it. Just because someone has transitioned doesn’t mean he or she or they see the world, or this issue, the same way. It’s irresponsible to assume that social category and worldview are one and the same.
More than 100 people and organizations signed your letter, including Chelsea Manning, Lucy Sante, Roxane Gay, Feminist Bird Club, Peppermint, and The Rt. Rev. V. Gene Robinson, IX Bishop of New Hampshire (ret.), The Episcopal Church. I wonder how many of those signers have listened to the stories of those who’ve been hurt, and silenced, and dismissed as bigoted. The Times’ coverage, until very recently, has presented this complex issue as a simple one of left and right, good and bad, and ignored so many nuanced voices in the middle. I would be happy to meet with folks at GLAAD, to try to find some common ground, if they’d be willing to listen to some of those voices.
One can only hope that the Times doesn’t kowtow, as they have in the last six years; only in the last few months have they even started to complicate the narrative. So far, they seem to be standing firm. Director of External Communications Charlie Stadtlander released a statement yesterday:
“We received the open letter delivered by GLAAD and welcome their feedback. We understand how GLAAD and the co-signers of the letter see our coverage. But at the same time, we recognize that GLAAD’s advocacy mission and The Times’s journalistic mission are different.
“As a news organization, we pursue independent reporting on transgender issues that include profiling groundbreakers in the movement, challenges and prejudice faced by the community, and how society is grappling with debates about care.
“The very news stories criticized in their letter reported deeply and empathetically on issues of care and well-being for trans teens and adults. Our journalism strives to explore, interrogate and reflect the experiences, ideas and debates in society – to help readers understand them. Our reporting did exactly that and we’re proud of it.”
The Times has only just begun dipping its toes in the 300-foot-deep lake that many of us have been nearly drowning in, some since 2015. I say: Welcome. Come on in. The water’s warm, and there is room here for swimmers of many different viewpoints and life—and gender—experiences.
NYT Director of External Communications Charlie Stadtlander's identifying the difference between advocacy mission and journalism mission is crucial. Let's lean on that! How can we thank him for it?
Excellent again!! Other concerned trans people - Aaron Kimberly, Aaron Terrell and Scott Newgent. Thanks for your continued amazing coverage, Lisa!!