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Much of the journalism about trans people isn’t telling a complete story.
Sargam Gupta for Vox

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Trans people deserve better journalism

How the anti-trans movement took over legacy media.

Aja Romano writes about pop culture, media, and ethics. Before joining Vox in 2016, they were a staff reporter at the Daily Dot. A 2019 fellow of the National Critics Institute, they’re considered an authority on fandom, the internet, and the culture wars.

It’s true that conversations pertinent to trans people and trans identity are ongoing and evolving, and yes, often confusing. One of the downsides of living in a society that’s built around a pretty rigid gender binary is that it’s often extremely hard for anyone, sometimes even trans people, to push beyond that binary and see the possibilities of a world of many vast and varied expressions of gender. Doing so requires a paradigm shift, a sort of human software upgrade.

Now add to this murky existential territory all of the insidious myths that circulate about the modern trans movement: that trans kids are transitioning at alarming rates, that trans activists are pushier and angrier than ever, and that doctors with a scary agenda are forcing risky, dangerous medical care on unsuspecting children and parents. It might be easy to believe such reports; after all, major, reputable media outlets like the New York Times have been publishing journalism arguing these very concerns.

As far as trans health care is concerned, however, the medical consensus is well-established: Nearly a dozen major medical associations, including the World Health Organization, the American Medical Association, and the American Academy of Pediatrics support and recommend gender-affirmative care.

Yet the specific arguments about this care that make it into many mainstream media outlets result in stories that undermine the experts, stemming not from legitimate concerns but from a larger orchestrated push by the far right to mainstream transphobia.

Journalists are failing at more than just reporting on the science. Mainstream publications like the Times increasingly follow the lead of anti-trans agitators, treating what should be understood as a fundamental human rights battle more like a semantic “debate,” fixating on terminology and labels and medical minutiae, instead of humanizing trans and nonbinary people and their experiences. In fact, this has become such a contentious pattern at the Times that this February, contributors and members of the Times’s staff posted an open letter protesting the paper’s escalating bias toward anti-trans talking points and pointing out many of these tactics.

When reached for comment, a Times spokesperson told Vox in an email, “As an independent news organization, The Times’s newsroom does not advocate for or against the passage of any policy or legislation. Rather, we produce unbiased journalism driven by a pursuit of the truth and a mission to inform our readers. We cannot and do not try to control how others cite our work.” Yet as an in-depth examination shows, the Times’s recent coverage of trans issues arguably suggests an ongoing fear and concern over trans identity that does not align with reality.

So what’s at the root of this problem? What’s causing many of our most prestigious and trusted media outlets to get this so wrong, so often?

Myths about trans kids and health care were strategically spread

One of the most troubling recent trends in legacy media is that of allowing bad actors to weaponize the research around transgender identity. Eric Llaveria Caselles is a sociologist who analyzes neuroscience research about trans brains, and the author of an article examining biases in such research. His work concluded that “the historical oppression of trans people as epistemic agents” — that is, the refusal to listen to trans people as arbiters of their own lived experiences — was an underlying problem. But still — “I see how my article gets thrown around in social media from totally opposite positions in the debate,” Caselles said in an email. He told Vox that as a trans person and a trans studies scholar, he believes trans issues are sociocultural rather than a matter of science — but he sees little room for nuanced arguments in the current cultural conversation surrounding trans identity.

“The problem with this whole debate on the science on trans identity is that it plays into an instrumentalization of trans people’s existences,” Caselles said, “in order to mobilize a conservative anti-liberal sentiment.” He professed ambivalence about engaging with the debate on those terms, “but sadly, there is no other choice, since trans lives are at stake here.”

Many of the arguments the anti-trans movement uses are deeply emotional, summoning uncertainty, indignation, and worry both about and for genderqueer people, even among people who might otherwise be supportive. Most of those arguments boil down to questions of granting trans people agency: When and how should people be “allowed” to self-identify as trans?

If you’re a cisgender person — that is, someone who fits comfortably into the gender you were assigned at birth — it might be hard to conceptualize that someone else could have a completely different experience. But trans identity has always existed; many trans and nonbinary people throughout history lived their lives instinctively, even when the language we now use for their identities didn’t yet exist. For many people, blurring the gender binary isn’t a choice, or something they are “allowed” to do or not do — it’s simply how their brains work. Neurological research has shown that trans people’s brains are more closely aligned to the gender with which they identify. They’re experiencing the world and their own gender differently than cisgender people.

This reality applies to trans children as well as adults. Trans children often know they’re trans from very young ages, often by age 7, according to a study from Cedars-Sinai, and even as young as age 3. While there’s some debate over how early such children should begin socially transitioning (publicly expressing one’s gender through things like clothing choices and name changes), in the US medical experts generally encourage early social transitions, which have been found in study after study, including at least one large-scale study published by the Journal of Adolescent Health, to lead to improved health and happiness. In 2013, in keeping with this growing medical consensus, the American Psychiatric Association officially changed its diagnostic manual to clarify for the first time that “gender non-conformity is not in itself a mental disorder,” formally acknowledging for the first time that trans identity is not a mental illness that requires fixing or curing.

The anti-trans movement likes to frame these issues as concerns, particularly for trans children. If more people understood and accepted that being trans, even at a young age, is a valid, legitimate thing, that framing might make fewer inroads with the mainstream. But unfortunately for trans kids, instead of validation, there’s confusion and pushback over trans identity. The handwringing, combined with the rapid rise over the last decade in teens who are openly exploring their gender identities and the media’s willingness to air transphobic fearmongering, has opened the door for a well-orchestrated moral panic.

Beginning around 2014, far-right social conservatives began to strategically attack trans rights on multiple fronts. They partnered with ostensibly leftist women’s rights organizations to try to spread fear and divisiveness toward trans people among feminists and the LGBTQ community. They peddled transphobic alarmism that the trans rights movement was inherently a threat and a danger to children. Transgender ideology was invading classrooms. Inclusive school programs were a dark gateway toward sexual exploitation of children, while other inclusive programs were running “a social engineering experiment on children.” Trans children were threatening cisgender children by seeking to use bathrooms and changing rooms alongside them.

In the mainstream conservative sphere, these early organized anti-trans efforts focused on things like bathroom bills. Online, however, a different anti-trans animus was brewing over trans health care. Three different websites appeared between 2015 and 2016, all serving as anonymous clearinghouses allegedly for the concerned parents of trans kids, but really spreading misinformation about medical best practices. “The purpose of this blog is to give voice to an alternative to the dominant trans-activist and medical paradigm currently being touted by the media,” one blog, the still-online 4thWaveNow, stated. The theme of the sites was resisting, not supporting, a relative’s transition, and the blogs catered to transphobic biases and fears.

These sites spread several key tropes that still form the core of the anti-trans movement’s concern over children. First, the “detransition” myth: That trans kids will regret their decision later on and detransition. Research overwhelmingly shows that teens who transition rarely regret their decisions. Multiple large-scale studies have found that trans kids know they’re trans from a young age; nearly 95 percent remain committed to their transition years later. One large, 50-year study conducted in Sweden found that only about 2 percent ever express regret.

Many trans teens also detransition not because they want to, but because they feel pressured to: One large-scale study of nearly 28,000 trans people in the US found that about 8 percent of the respondents detransitioned to some degree; the majority did so temporarily, many citing reasons such as “societal, financial, or family pressures.” A separate analysis of the same data set further confirmed that external pressures were a major factor, and found that detransitioners often decide to retransition later in adulthood. Overall, the process of detransitioning is typically “non-linear.” The argument these sites made that detransition was common was a false narrative that distorted and reversed the conclusions of the scientific studies it used as backing.

At minimum, the presence of a small number of kids who detransition is irrelevant to most medical concerns — they shouldn’t prevent affirmative care for the ones who do want to transition. Yet somehow, detransition has become such a major part of the narrative around transitioning that it’s not uncommon to find detransitioners taking up more space in articles devoted to trans teens than do actual, happy trans teens.

Next, the myth of “social contagion.” These anonymous anti-trans communities also spread the bizarre idea of a transgender “social contagion,” in which kids were picking up the idea that they could be gender-nonconforming from seeing other genderqueer kids on various social media sites like Tumblr. There’s no empirical evidence that this exists and plenty of evidence, including from the journal Pediatrics, that it doesn’t. Yet, buoyed by a 2016 survey that found the number of people identifying as trans had doubled from 2006 to 2016, the users on these websites seeded the idea that kids were picking up gender-nonconformity from their friends online. “Children now have access to reddit, Tumblr and Youtube sites which promote transgender [identity] as a lifestyle choice,” one blogger wrote, linking to a dismissive post on 4thWaveNow about trans-allied Tumblr users.

This myth is entangled with another idea that grew out of these websites: “rapid-onset gender dysphoria,” or “ROGD.” The term was popularized via a single, methodologically flawed study: The researcher, Lisa Littman, polled parents on at least some of these anti-trans sites and drew conclusions from their responses, without verifying whether these parents or their children even existed — or considering whether anonymous internet users posting on transphobic websites were the best judges of children’s trans identities.

When Littman’s study was published in 2018, it drew so much backlash and criticism that it was retracted and republished with a disclaimer that ROGD was “not a formal mental health diagnosis.” Two years later, the Journal of Pediatrics published a study definitively debunking the idea that “ROGD” was ever a real thing. By then it was too late. The anti-trans movement ran wild with claims of the false phenomenon Littman had “found.”

The media uncritically allowed these anti-trans myths to proliferate

Once the anti-trans movement had successfully created the narrative that transgender identity was some sort of alarming fad that children were succumbing to, it was easy to systematically question every aspect of treatment designed to help them transition. The understanding of medical experts for how to provide gender-affirming care — often using hormone replacement therapy, puberty blockers, surgical treatments, and/or social transitioning — has evolved over decades and easily rises to the level of a firm medical consensus. However, all of these methods are now under increased scrutiny. As with the anti-abortion movement, anti-trans agitators try to undermine an individual’s right to bodily autonomy and decisions over their own health care. Just as it had with abortions, the narrative runs that doctors with agendas are aggressively pushing medical procedures and “gender ideology” onto vulnerable patients.

In 2018, the Atlantic published a now-notorious cover story pushing a transphobic regret narrative. The story, by Jesse Singal, shared its subjects with at least one of those anonymous websites, and kicked off with the story of a teen exploring their gender and ultimately settling back into their assigned-at-birth gender. (Notably, the magazine initially misgendered the model in the cover photograph depicting the story.) The piece was roundly denounced by trans people, parents of trans kids, journalists, and scientists.

A 2021 op-ed in the Washington Post urged the need for more mental health assessments for transitioning teens. The piece was co-written by two psychologists and controversial conservative members of the trans medical community, Laura Edwards-Leeper and Erica Anderson. Edwards-Leeper serves on multiple committees for the World Professional Association for Transgender Health, or WPATH, the organization that creates the global medically established standard of care for trans people. Anderson was serving as president of USPATH, the US sub-branch of WPATH, at the time the op-ed was published. Despite both women’s direct involvement with the organization responsible for creating affirmative health care standards, the Post op-ed reads like a bingo card for anti-trans talking points, conflating trans identity with mental illness, quoting Singal, and decrying “the messages that teens get from TikTok.”

As an alternative to what they argue is premature transitioning, the authors promote the idea of “gender exploratory therapy,” a mental health assessment they argue is necessary to ensure a child is fully committed to transitioning. This method has been compared to conversion therapy; opponents argue that its long-term goal is to delay transitioning indefinitely. (In an email to Vox, Edwards-Leeper pushed back on claims that any of her work supports conversion therapy, citing support from the American Psychological Association, and saying that providers who fail to follow WPATH standards of care are the real danger.) Anderson ultimately resigned from her roles in WPATH and USPATH in 2021, stating she could “no longer continue in good conscience to support the direction of USPATH,” after the two organizations jointly authored a statement opposing her numerous appearances in conservative media, in which she criticized gender-affirming standards of care. Maddie Deutsch, a clinical therapist who succeeded Anderson as president of USPATH, told Vox the organization had been blindsided by Anderson’s claims to the press, which were concerns she had chosen never to raise internally or address formally during her tenure as president.

In June 2022, the New York Times published a lengthy piece wondering whether children should have access to gender therapy at all, even though most of the medical experts writer Emily Bazelon spoke to were in agreement that it was necessary. Still, “could some of the teenagers coming out as trans today be different from the adults who transitioned in previous generations?” Bazelon wrote. There’s no real evidence to suggest that trans teens today are markedly different from trans teens of yesteryear. We do know that more people in general are exploring more aspects of their gender identities, but that seems to suggest a societal shift rather than internal change.

A Times spokesperson told Vox that nothing presented in the story supports the idea of banning gender therapy, saying the piece “was about the debate among gender-affirming providers, all of whom help teenagers physically transition, and several of whom are trans themselves, over what kind of assessment to do when young people seek medical treatment.” (Anti-trans lawmakers, however, saw the piece differently; more on that later.)

The Times exhausted 6,000 words a few months later in November, litigating the use of puberty blockers, a well-established medical therapy that’s been in use since the ’80s for both trans and cisgender kids. Rather than examine the existing science and the medical consensus around puberty blockers, the Times instead did its own survey of relevant medical literature and commissioned a private analysis, which WPATH found so flawed that it issued a statement eviscerating the research, pointing out that the analyst is a physician with “no experience in clinical medicine, child and identity development, bone density, or any aspect of the field of transgender health.”

It’s well-established that providing trans teens gender-affirming health care lowers their rates of depression, suicide, and hopelessness, among countless other benefits. That didn’t stop the Times from opining that there could be a vague, unspecified “cost” to allowing trans teens to access puberty blockers. The cost, we learn, is a reduction in bone density over time — the same side effect found in common acne treatments for teens, like Accutane. Yet, as journalist Tom Scocca notes, “the Times isn’t publishing multiple front-page stories about whether teens are endangering their bodies by getting treated for cystic acne.”

The Times article also downplayed the fact that eventually introducing sex hormones as part of the normal course of gender therapy typically causes bone density to increase significantly; as WPATH put it, “Bone density loss is generally not a concern once hormone therapy has begun.” Yet the Times piece seems unable to move beyond the worry that all of this is unwarranted medical risk-taking. Indeed, a Times spokesperson insisted to Vox that “A full accounting of blockers’ risk to bones is not possible.”

The Times spokesperson refuted characterizations of the piece as harmful, noting that no one quoted in the piece disbelieves gender dysphoria exists. “Instead, it illuminated debate among those who provide medical care to these adolescents on how to best use puberty blockers as a first line of treatment, while highlighting the experiences of young people who took the drug. The use of blockers on adolescents with normally timed puberty has not been approved by the FDA and there is little research on it.” Yet as many people have pointed out, “off-label” or unapproved use, “when supported by scientific evidence, as is the case here, is extremely common in medical practice and especially in pediatrics.”

The truth is that none of this should be viewed as a problem unless you view transitioning itself — i.e., more trans people — as a problem. Puberty blockers aren’t permanent; people who transition are allowed to change their minds, as a small number do. Most doctors support social transitioning well in advance of any physical transition. These early decisions are not fixed in stone.

“I found that story to be a bit reckless,” Kelly McBride told Vox. McBride is the public editor for NPR, as well as the senior vice president and chair of the Craig Newmark Center for Ethics and Leadership at the Poynter Institute. She described the piece as “a fairly sophisticated false equivalency, because it suggests that there is an equal level of both support and doubt about puberty blockers among the medical experts with the most knowledge about treating children with gender dysphoria.” When in fact, she noted, “there were many more people quoted in the article who support the use of puberty blockers than who expressed doubts. But the views of the people who expressed the doubts were presented with equal weight.” She noted this is a longstanding problem in journalism, something we’ve seen in coverage of everything from climate change to tobacco use.

There’s a larger false equivalence at work here as well: the idea that letting people transition is equal to the harm of preventing their transition.

Any concern that teens might be mistaken about whether they’re trans, as my former colleague Emily St. James has argued eloquently, is nothing compared to the far greater risk of deep unhappiness and suicidal ideation that trans teens face when they’re prevented from transitioning.

So, yes, much of the science is difficult, and debate persists about exact methods and timelines for transitioning teens and pre-teens. But that science is also overwhelmingly clear on one important point: We lose nothing by simply letting trans people, including trans kids, be who they say they are.

The harm of “just asking questions”

What all of these pieces have in common is a form of “just asking questions.” On its face, “just asking questions” might seem like the fundamental role of a journalist. It often is — journalists may walk us through explorations of important issues by getting us to ask questions alongside them. But context is crucial; some questions might seem innocent, but what ends up happening is far more problematic and leads to undermining, derailing, or even distorting our understanding of the subject.

“There is, of course, nothing wrong with asking questions on behalf of the audience,” McBride told Vox. “That’s what journalists do. But there is an ethical obligation to find the best sources to answer those questions and then explain to the audience why those are the best sources. And, when sources disagree, it’s important to include the context of their connection to the issue as they disagree.”

“I too am concerned about the way that we deliver trans care to youth, including making sure that assessments are done appropriately by qualified physicians,” Deutsch said. “And I don’t think you’re gonna find too many US path or WPATH board members who disagree.”

Deutsch pointed out that ideally, the trans medical establishment should be treated like every other medical establishment and allowed to police itself — to root out problems and issues within the community without undermining the community itself. If, for example, a medical practice was found to be ignoring the standards of care established by WPATH, “then the answer should not be ban care,” she told Vox. “The response should be [that] we need to make sure they follow the standards of care,” or else determine why they aren’t. The issue, then, is ensuring trans kids are treated well — not that they aren’t treated at all.

“There’s a public health emergency with trans kids,” Deutsch emphasized. “When you have sat in a room with a 15-year-old kid or a 13-year-old kid who is melting down because any day they’re gonna start menstruating or their voice is gonna start changing and they’re suicidal … You just can’t understand what it’s like for these kids until you’ve sat in the room with them and listened to them tell you the urgent, burning need that they’re having.”

The constant battle over the right of trans people to exist playing out at national media outlets has a human cost. Much of this coverage happens in newspaper opinion sections, where pieces may receive less fact-checking and editorial scrutiny than they do in news sections. Op-ed columnists who traffic in anti-trans views are therefore able to dominate discussion about trans identity, uncritically promoting debunked science and platforming agenda-driven views.

The missing element of such pieces isn’t simply information, but also an acknowledgment that transitioning matters: that it’s a huge aspect of trans identity and that delaying or forestalling it does harm. When journalists do acknowledge this, such pieces read very differently.

For instance, Reuters ran a story similar in scope to Bazelon’s New York Times article that raised questions about gender therapy, but it raised those questions while centering them on a happy transitioning teen and her supportive parents, showing her living her best life without ever undermining her right to transition. It’s not about simply portraying positive stories about transitioning, it is about asking questions and providing full context. The Washington Post’s transgender teen FAQ acknowledges the risk of bone density loss but also immediately contextualizes this risk and then reaffirms the rights of teens to weigh their own health care options. This framing stands in stark contrast to the many other articles devoted to handwringing over trans agency and trans health care.

That so many editors and journalists at legacy media outlets are willing to cede points to extremists, allowing their worry about trans issues to dictate coverage, speaks to the difficult nature of the conversation. Journalists who would otherwise find the nuance in the debate too often settle for a superficial claim to even-handedness on trans issues, without ever having to acknowledge that both “sides” of the debate are drastically unequal.

“Most people aren’t trans and have nothing at stake here,” Zinnia Jones told Vox. Jones, an independent trans researcher, co-founded the blog Gender Analysis in order to dissect and critique anti-trans talking points within the media and government. In 2017, she was one of the first people to point out the significance of anonymous blogs like 4thWaveNow underpinning the rise in transphobic rhetoric around teens transitioning. “This could be two sides of a chessboard,” she said. “To them, this is something to idly debate, and the outcome either way won’t be particularly concerning to them. But these are our lives. And there’s also this, this drive from the New York Times to try and make it seem like there’s two legitimate sides to this.”

Once you begin questioning the wisdom of letting trans people transition at all, it becomes easy to question everything else — as many media outlets have. Should trans people be allowed to teach kids? Should trans kids be allowed to use the internet? Should trans athletes be allowed to compete? Should trans teens be allowed to have top surgery? Are trans women somehow predatorily forcing lesbians to sleep with them?

“When trans people do anything, it’s pathologized and it becomes an offense,” Jones said. “We can’t do anything without it being treated as something conniving, something nefarious, something that must be causing a problem,” Jones said. “There seems to be this assumption that there’s no way that us going about our lives could be inherently benign. So [the media has] to find all of these ways that this must be objectionable in some way. Like, are you sure it’s okay when these people go to the bathroom? Are you sure it’s okay when these people have children? It is dehumanizing. It removes from us these basic amenities and expectations and dignity that other people are entitled to.”

That kind of constant undermining of the rights and dignity of trans people ultimately forms a rhetoric that effectively questions whether trans people should exist at all.

Where all this leads: to the state-sanctioned endangerment of trans people

This type of media coverage inevitably gets used to bolster anti-trans legislation, at a moment when conservative lawmakers across the US are targeting trans people through a wave of dehumanizing, transphobic laws at a state level, designed to restrict them from public life. The notorious Atlantic piece was cited by seven state attorneys general in 2019 in support of anti-trans health care legislation in Texas. Last year, the state of Texas cited Bazelon’s Times article in direct support of its unsupported claim that “there exists enormous controversy and disagreement among experts” about how to treat trans kids as part of its ongoing legal battle to investigate families with transgender children. A Times spokesperson insisted, “The Texas litigation did not reference the reporting in the piece, which made clear that many young people benefit from gender-affirming medical treatment and indeed find it critical to their well-being. Instead, the litigation simply cited the headline and subheadline.” Still, both the headline and subheadline served to question and undermine the medical consensus around transitioning.

In other words, such journalism directly and literally harms trans people, particularly when it relies on distorted and disingenuous readings of science and medical opinions.

Meredithe McNamara is an assistant professor of pediatrics at the Yale School of Medicine. She was so frustrated by the disinformation of the anti-trans movement, and the use of it in lawmaking attempts to criminalize transgender identity, that she co-founded the Yale Integrity Project, which has issued thorough responses and rebuttals to many of the inaccurate claims used in anti-trans legislation.

McNamara told Vox that although she spoke to the Times extensively for a piece about Florida’s ban on trans affirmative health care, explaining the disinformation that underpinned it, the paper ultimately declined to make room in its article for that context — context that, McNamara argued, was crucial to understanding the ban. A Times spokesperson responded to Vox that the article “reported on the medical board’s decision fairly and accurately, while providing readers with key context on other states’ restrictions of gender-affirming care and the wider medical debate over such care for minors.”

Some outlets are working to contextualize the insidious bad faith behind the legislation. For example, Vice’s dissection of the intentionally distorted research that went into the Florida ban stands out for both its thoroughness — Vice spoke to 10 scientists whose works were misused for the health department memo underpinning the ban — and its singularity. That sort of fact-checking and crucial context rarely makes it into the reporting on trans people.

Jones speculated that outlets like the Times not only give their sources the benefit of the doubt, but expect their readers to do so as well, even though journalists should always question where their sources’ ideas have originated, and what motives might lie behind them.

Indeed, in early March, Mother Jones published a feature uncovering a widespread anti-trans network across a range of legal, medical, and political professions, including major national organizations like the conservative legal advocacy and lobby group Alliance Defending Freedom (which the Southern Poverty Law Center has designated a hate group). Members of these groups, per Mother Jones, appeared to be working together to advance the cause of transphobic legislation across the US.

McNamara believes that more accurate coverage of these laws, framed as the anti-science transphobia that they are, could actually make a real impact in combating such large-scale organization.

“With the right kind of media coverage, these issues don’t really have legs,” she told Vox.

She pointed out that some Republican lawmakers have expressed reluctance to join the anti-trans bandwagon, and that reporting that bolsters the science and upholds the medical establishment could assist them in shutting down what is essentially manufactured debate. After all, as Jon Stewart recently noted in exasperation, GOP lawmakers spending more time legislating drag queens than, say, gun control look like hypocrites, which arguably hurts them politically. Rather than framing the moral panic around trans people as the nonsense it is, McNamara said, “this both sides-y journalism is really fueling the ideologues and pigeonholing politicians into untenable positions.”

Compounding this problem is one of scarcity: There are so, so few trans people — only about 1.6 million Americans over 13 identify as trans, or a bit over one-half of 1 percent of the total US population — and they are frequently completely left out of the public discourse about their own identities. This imbalance nearly always favors anti-trans agitators like J.K. Rowling (a very rich, very powerful person) over trans people (one of the smallest, most vulnerable minority communities). It makes it more difficult, just statistically, to find qualified trans journalists who are willing to try combating the overwhelming, endless deluge of disinformation about their identities. The onus is on all journalists, not just trans journalists, to understand these issues and represent trans people fairly.

The burden of this journalism, furthermore, should not fall primarily on trans journalists, who often also have to deal with the exhaustion of the soul that comes from having to repeatedly debunk the same bad arguments, only to see them pop up in ever-larger, ever-more influential news outlets.

Again, it’s not that “just asking questions” is inherently bad. But when journalists ask those questions by undermining the established scientific research, the standardized medical practices, and especially the dignity and lived experiences of trans people, they cater to those who would deny basic rights to trans people. And attacks on trans people, as many have eloquently argued, aren’t “just” attacks on a tiny minority.

Even if one isn’t moved by the alarmingly high (and rising) rates of hate crimes, violence, depression, and death that trans people face as they struggle for acceptance, most people would be alarmed at what critics like Judith Butler have deemed a form of cultural fascism — the systematic use of propaganda and disinformation to seed hate and resentment from a majority group against a perceived enemy. As history teaches us, such violent rhetoric rarely rests with a single target.

Trans people deserve to live safely, to live lives of joy — a state many describe as trans euphoria, the opposite of dysphoria. That joy needn’t be siloed away; our concept of gender needn’t be frightening or intimidating. In fact, what if more journalism framed gender exploration as wondrous? As a marvelous opportunity to evolve our humanity, to explore and understand the self?

What if we are all, even the raging angry transphobes among us, genderfluid, futuristic, transhumanist, Steven Universe gemstones, Ursula Le Guin aliens, hot dog-handed quantum entities? Trans people perceive gender and identity in wild and wonderful ways. What isn’t exciting about that? What isn’t exciting about a trans kid undergoing a joyous self-discovery? What isn’t exciting about our expanded awareness of gender, and all the things we have yet to discover?

Nearly all of the headlines about trans identity right now are headlines born of ostracism, fear, oppression. Imagine how much more vibrant, how much more joyful, this American era might be if we were telling a different story about the trans experience — a story of love and wonder, of human evolution in the making.

Who better than journalists to elevate that story instead?

Correction, March 31, 2:30 pm ET: This article has been corrected in light of the fact that the Atlantic article includes stories of successfully transitioned teens, and that misgendering occurred in the cover photo accompanying the story. It has also been updated to clarify that the Atlantic article quotes a source who wrote for 4thWaveNow.

Correction, April 14, 6:15 pm ET: A previous version of this article mentioned two large-scale studies of trans people and detransitioning; the same data set was used in both instances, analyzed independently. The article has also been updated to clarify a statistic quoted by GenderGP and sourcing for Littman’s study.


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