Signal boosting: Some red flags in trans issue “debates”

I’ve not had the spoons to dive into anti-trans nonsense as of late, so I’ve been plundering the interwebs for trans commentators who have. I recently discovered Singularly Bizarre, a blog that has discussed Jesse Singal at length. The author is considerably wordier than I am (and that’s saying something) but they’ve also documented a pretty thorough inventory of well-cloaked dishonesty employed by anti-trans pundits.

One in particular I’ll signal boost is the tendency to start a conversation about trans children, and then make the illogical leap to discussing surgery. Undermining this trope–which does crop up a lot in Singal’s work–is this basic fact: No trans kids qualify for surgery under the prevailing standards of trans healthcare set out by the Worldwide Professional Association of Transgender Health. In fact, if we want to talk about subjecting children to “mutilation,”* we ought to be discussing the egregious human rights violations enacted on intersex children virtually everywhere in the world.

Yes, it’s this peculiar double standard that should immediately be recognized as a red flag. The idea of trans people voluntarily seeking changes to our body seems to reliably get a chorus of hoary-throated screams, but when you point out that the one of the epidemics of genital mutilation happening to children in mature Western democracies is on intersex children and infants, you get nothing but crickets.

Non-consensual and unnecessary genital surgeries on children are happening, but it’s not to trans kids. Nobody following the WPATH is performing surgery on children. Maybe we can direct the horror that we attribute to a near non-existent phenomenon and instead apply those efforts to something that is actually happening–the “normalization” of intersex bodies before intersex people are old enough to consent. Yet the never-ending parade of trans-suspicious outrage can only ever comment on procedures not actually being performed on trans kids.

The author of Singularly Bizarre discusses the leap between trans kids and surgery more here.

That shit massively impacted my life when my family was in the process of disowning me for being trans and trying to force me into reparative therapy at the careful coaching of a TERF piece of shit. Both my uncle and father lamented over my penis and its future fate, because to them that’s all a trans person is.

Their genitals and “the surgery” which, let’s not kid ourselves, to cis people there is only ever one surgery and that is bottom-surgery. It’s fucking everywhere.

And it’s in the creepy way trans folks talk about trans kids, obsessing about their junks like a child molester eyeing up a victim to groom. SecretGamerGirl had a really good deconstruction of that shit here.

To them, that’s all we become. And our humanity is subsumed into that automatic trigger. And this happens to the point where writers writing about us from a position of bias can’t stop flicking their tongue against that wound as they write, freaking out about the poor penii and uterii of the world and lamenting the idea of a cis person ever going through the horror we regularly expect trans folks to go through.

It’s the reason for the careful framing of hiding behind “just being against unnecessary ‘medicine’”, because it makes their actions seem noble in the same way that homophobes reframe their attacks on gay people’s private lives as “standing up for religious freedom” for the same reason.

Because it’s not like just avoiding giving a kid antibiotics because hey, it might not be a bacterial infection. It’s like denying a kid any form of antidepressant because you don’t want to risk ever giving an undiagnosed bipolar kid experiencing depression an antidepressant that might not work. So all the kids need to suffer without ever even trying the drugs and starting that process.

And it ignores what the kids are asking for. The first medication in all this isn’t those much feared surgeries. It’s not even the hormones and blockers that purity-fetishizing assholes try and demonize as somehow super scary, because they deep down realize that obsessing about surgeries with kids who may never get them is kinda really creepy***.

Hell, the first medication isn’t even names and pronouns.

It’s hair. It’s clothes.

This is where trans kids first fight with their parents. To have the right to look how they want, to reduce that dysphoria sartorially. It’s a bitter fight and it’s often hard won, at best.

Hell, even supportive parents balk at this first medication. Feeling pressure from society to try at least a little to enforce some semblance of gender-congruence.

The second medication is the names and pronouns. Fights to be recognized as who they are, allowed to explore pronouns and see what fits. Find what reduces that dysphoria.

Everything else comes way later. Even for folks who figure it out later in life. I know, I’ve mentored a lot of trans college spaces and I’ve seen a large number of folks who came out as trans in college. Every time, years over appearance. Years over name. Then maybe hormones. Surgery a potential speck on the horizon, frequently reduced in importance once folks see just how magical hormones can be in reducing a lot of dysphoria.

Trans folks think about this shit. A lot. They don’t just go waltzing into a pharmacy and ask for everything on the top shelf. They agonize over this shit, analyze it from every angle, and seek out trusted professionals or close friends.

No transition is chosen willy-nilly.

And that’s kind of the unspoken boogieman in all this. The idea that some cis person could “transition” as a lark and by that they almost always mean surgery. Which doesn’t happen.

Even the scant few ex-trans folks they can pull out who didn’t detransition because of social stress (the majority of names transphobes like to trot out to try and make “desistance” and “detransition” seem like huge issues affecting hundreds of folks are well… folks who had to fight for years to transition in the first place. Folks who spent years lying to doctors and ignoring their own dysphoria and probably still lying to themselves (like honestly, people have we learned literally NOTHING from the whole ex-gay malarky). Folks who weren’t at all pressured to do surgery or else, rather the opposite. Who’ve now conveniently fallen in with folks eager to use their confusion and pain to deny the rights of trans people everywhere.

Because no matter what we do to show how little we’re asking for, they’ll nonetheless try and couch their actions in concern.

Because this is a repeat of the same old shit we went through with gay rights and still go through with gay rights to this day. The same automatic assumptions, the same effect of “liberal” folks using their personal antipathy and feelings of unease to try and demonize or cast “reasonable doubts” on the rightness of letting kids explore gender or sexuality in spaces without prejudice. Even the same organizations forming to oppress us (let us not forget that their used to be a homophobic batch of second wave feminists just as strident as TERFs have been about trans folks).

And being a veteran of a lot of those gay rights battles, I’m tired of all of it.



*This, incidentally, is one of the talking points that comes up in FGM that makes me cringe. “Genital mutilation doesn’t happen in the West” is patently false, in one part because the people engaging in these practices sometimes leave the country for a few weeks to subject their kids to it and in second part because you can count on one hand the number of countries that have actually banned intersex genital mutilation. I’m all for advocating against unnecessary, non-consensual normative procedures that harm people, just not when we erase intersex folks to do it.


  1. anat says

    One of the most ridiculous argument is about denying kids blockers because they may desist. That is actually a point in favor of blockers. That they allow one to desist without permanent physical changes to undo.

    But then denial of social transitioning is probably even more ridiculous.

    My kid gave himself a series of ever-shortening haircuts long before he became aware he was questioning his gender. (But then I wore my hair short-ish for his first 12 years or so, thus didn’t think the changing styles meant anything other than impatience with lazy parents who wouldn’t take the kid to a stylist.)