Signal boosting: A Guide for Understanding Transgender Children Debates

A brief preamble before I give you today’s recommended reading material.

Julia Serano–yes, that Julia Serano–penned a piece on Medium called Detransition, Desistance, and Disinformation: A Guide for Understanding Transgender Children Debates. Before I give an endorsement of her piece, I’ll reiterate a few important points for you to consider as a presumably trans ally:

The first is that because Serano is discussing transphobic “debate” tropes in the media, she is using the same rhetorical technique that I frequently use–she is accepting the premise of her opponent’s argument in order to demonstrate that the reasoning itself is flawed. The premise that she argues from is rather unsettling, and it has been pointed out to me by self-identifying cisgender gender non conformists (whew, that’s a mouthful) that classifying gender nonconformity per se as trans has unsettling applications for Othering children with uncommon gendered interests. In addition, she accepts another premise–that it’s necessary to separate those who seek medical intervention in their transition from those who don’t–only for the sake of argument. She tears that premise apart later on in the article, but it could be distressing to see someone try to argue by accepting that point, even if it’s to demonstrate why it’s problematic to believe.

The second is that Serano does take time to point out why it’s a superbly bad idea to conflate GNC with trans, but that comes after she tries using the premise in an argument. So please don’t panic–a highly influential trans feminist hasn’t gone full TERF, she’s just demonstrating how misinformed these debate tropes are and how they’re not even internally consistent.

The third is that I have a largely semantic disagreement with Serano on her use of the word transphobia. She recognizes that deliberate actions manifesting an anti-trans bias could easily be called transphobia, but then uses the same word to describe things like “the assumption that cis identities are valid while trans are not.” I preferably delineate this with the term cissexism to differentiate it from actions. “Cissexist beliefs inform transphobic actions. All people are cissexist, however we can interrogate that prejudice and reduce the likelihood we manifest transphobia.” Serano does not subscribe to this model. Cissexist is a word that shows up at no point, despite describing multiple instances where the word popped in my brain.

C’est la vie. This does not take away from Serano’s fantastic work.

Anyways, the intro to her post:

But lately, as transgender people have become more visible and have garnered increasing media scrutiny, trans-unaware politicians, pundits, and journalists have suddenly swooped in to weigh in on these important issues — issues that (conveniently) they themselves are not personally invested in. Some of these people have very clear anti-trans agendas. Others are (perhaps well-meaning) interlopers who believe that by simply reading a few research papers and interviewing a few people here and there, they can acquire an “objective understanding” about this complex subject that spans a half-century of history. And sadly, they often center their op-eds and think-pieces on an especially vulnerable segment of our community: transgender children.

You’ve probably seen some of these articles. They raise concerns about “80% desistance,” and offer examples of trans people who have since “detransitioned,” and they will leave you with the impression that trans health practitioners are engaging in some kind of reckless sociological experiment. Whenever transgender people object to these misrepresentations or the old gatekeeper ideologies, these pundits and journalists will decry “transgender activists are attacking science!” without ever acknowledging the countless trans advocates, researchers, and health providers who actually agree with us on many of these matters.

Rather than write a short pithy critique or rebuttal of the latest “children are at risk!” or “activists are out of hand!” article-du-jour, I decided to write this lengthy nuanced piece. It is intended to be a step-by-step guide for anyone interested, one that fills in all the holes, reads between the lines, and unpacks the many assumptions that riddle the typical op-ed or think-piece about transgender children.

Many of the aforementioned problems begin with an over-simplification of either trans terminology and/or the breadth of transgender experiences, so that is where this guide will begin. I will also provide necessary background regarding gender transition in adults before addressing the more controversial topic of transgender children.

Go check it out. (Don’t read the comments).



  1. anat says

    Serano is so right when she says the main difference between gender affirmation and the ‘gender reparative’ approach is defining what is considered a good outcome. I am the parent of a transgender young man. I was fortunate that long before my son started questioning his gender I had the opportunity to work with a transgender colleague. I was better prepared than most parents. Also, as it happened, my son’s questioning started when he was about 16, so it was much easier to skip the whole ‘what if it isn’t real’ thing. I imagine it would have taken me a bit longer to affirm my son’s gender if he had come to us as a small child. But through my reading I ran into some cis-sexist sites that couldn’t stop with ‘but if you affirm your kid’s gender they’ll grow up trans ZOMG!!1111!!’ And all I could think of was ‘so?’ My son is the same quirky SJW he was before I knew he was my son, only a bit happier and with more friends. What is the downside to that?

  2. Siobhan says

    What is the downside to that?

    Careful now, that sounds an awful lot like a reasonable conclusion. Can’t have that.

    I’m glad your son is happier.