On the One Hand, I Don't Want to Call Attention to This
On the other, I want to point out what's really going on
Really, you shouldn’t read this utterly bizarre article, promising to expose “a playbook for how anti-trans organizations operate and a compressed history of how the TERF movement joined forces with the Christian right to create the current moment.”
Here’s what’s really happening: Good people, who are trying to get complete information to parents, kids, teachers and clinicians, are painted as bigots, or the sources of grand conspiracies and plans. I assure you, many of those working on this issue, so that kids with gender distress get the best possible care, are not participating in some coordinated plan. The truth is, a whole bunch of different kinds of people have now realized that articles like this promote untruths, and know that entire narratives of those getting hurt have been ignored. They feel drawn to try to make that right. That’s not an anti-trans conspiracy, it’s righting the ship which has gone frighteningly off course.
This article notes that “multiple studies show that transition significantly reduces suicidality among trans and non-binary youth, with different studies giving rate reductions ranging from 40 percent to a staggering 73 percent.”
But they don’t show that. They suggest a correlation, and the studies’ methodologies were so crappy that multiple European countries marked these studies as “very low quality,” meaning their conclusions can’t be applied widely, and in fact outcomes could be the opposite. That is, a common issue with articles about trans kids and gender-affirming care is that the reality is often the opposite of that they’re asserting.
And I’d say that’s on full display here. The bulk of the article is about a person now calling herself Elisa Rae Shupe.Shupe figures prominently in my series on trans widows and autogynephilia, which I’m publishing here next week. When I first spoke to him in 2021, he was James, after having had a series of gender identities and medical interventions.
At the time we talked, Shupe was struggling mightily with his mental health. He had gone from being the darling of the trans activism community to a darling of right wing and feminist groups opposed to that activism; by 2021, he had pretty much had it with everyone. He had come to accept his biology, reject the notion of gender identity, and work on dealing with various sexual fetishes that had overtaken his life. He seemed to be doing pretty well when we talked.
I sympathetized with Shupe (and still do), and offered my ear, as well as to help him get his story out. When he reached out to me at the end of last year, he said he wanted to try to collaborate on a piece about “how alt-media and extremist groups are manipulating and using unwell people like me.” He insisted it be neutral, neither team gender-critical nor team trans.
Of course, I said, that’s a fascinating topic, and I’m neither one of those teams. My goal is to be team complexity and team truth. We didn’t end up talking, because he was having mental health issues. I told him I understood, adding that I have struggled my entire life with emotion regulation issues, and had recently gone on a new medication that was really helping me, for the first time in my life. (Since my emails have been exposed, I may as well admit this.)
I didn’t hear about Shupe again until last week, when this odd article came out, which purports to show how the Right and feminists “weaponized” Shupe’s story, “how her narrative was established, edited and eventually taken out of her control,” and how “she could lend credence to other people’s theories by claiming they accurately described her.”
[UPDATE: Shupe wrote to me the following:
I want to ensure you understand that I exaggerated my sexual behavior in that essay and peddled Blanchard's autogynephilia stuff to benefit the gender-critical community. That essay, which as you should recall, you helped edit, was authored to be a weapon against the trans community on Quillette.
My spouse, Sandra Shupe, was shocked when it all blew up after Karen Davis attacked me. Sandra had no idea that I was writing that stuff on the Internet, which drew her into it without permission. And I misused photos she took of me when we had previously engaged in consensual BDSM activities.
Sandra Shupe released this video statement quite a while back, warning anyone claiming she was mentally, physically, or sexually abused that she reserves the right to take legal action if they do it.]
Let me assert that I believe the bulk of the portrayals in the article—of Lisa Marchiano, Lisa Littman, Katie Herzog and others—are just plain wrong; Herzog already insisted on and received one correction, and I suspect there will be others.
But the other important thing I want us all to note is that this article is doing just the thing it critiques: using Shupe to lend credence to the theory that concern about gender-affirming care is due to some grand Right wing/feminist alliance that is about hatred and nothing else.
This should be a story about the ethical quandary of giving sex changes to people with severe mental health problems and unstable identities. By her own account, Shupe has been diagnosed with PTSD and borderline personality disorder (full disclosure, this has been my diagnosis at times in my life, too, though I am not sure if it’s accurate and I am doing quite well now, thank you very much). She has legally changed her name multiple times. She has declared different identities—both in terms of gender and political affiliation—multiple times. And this article is clearly manipulating and using an unwell person.
This piece not only needs to be fact-checked, it needs to be ethically checked. I don’t want my newsletter to be entirely focused on the media, even if my project is ultimately about getting the media to report more accurately. But I did find this article egregious enough that I wanted to point it out here.
I have had really good talks with Shupe. I wish her well, and I still think her story idea is a good one. And I’m sorry that someone took her up on her idea—of exposing how the media misuses mentally ill people to promote partisan conspiracies and talking points—only to do that very thing to her.
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FYI, I’m going to use the pronouns Shupe used when I spoke to him, and the ones she uses now—their identity has been ongoing and unstable, which is an important part of why I’m bothering to send this newsletter out, and I’ll use the ones associated with the identity at different times.
This is key : “This should be a story about the ethical quandary of giving sex changes to people with severe mental health problems and unstable identities”.
My #1 goal is to stop medicalizing distressed young people your statement above is #2. And near the end of Affirmation Generation you spoke eloquently about one way we do that is hold space and support gender, and sexually diverse people. There is so much underneath all of this that needs to be understood
This is incredibly sad. Some of the first interviews I found when trying to understand what was going on with the sudden increase in teen trans identities were interviews with Shupe, both in their male and female identities. I knew basically nothing then, but I was struck even then by how deeply unhappy, unwell, self-destructive, and unstable Shupe was based on the stories Shupe told and their own self-analysis. One theme that came up in those interviews was that when Shupe was not on hormones, they were overwhelmed with AGP, destructive and dangerous sexual behaviors, and wanting to be a woman. When on estrogen, the intense sex drive was gone, but so was the desire to be a woman, and they would become unhappy, so it was a terrible catch 22. It seems like this is a perfect example of why scientists need to be allowed to research alternative treatments for gender dysphoria. Even without the struggles of someone like Shupe (and I doubt Shupe is an isolated case), not everyone can physically tolerate hormones and surgery. Isn’t it just cruel and inhumane to not allow the development of different treatment approaches?