Friendly fire

I mentioned in my last “real” published piece that a lot of self-declared left leaning media outlets were seriously shitting the bed in their coverage of trans issues. As it turns out, one of the mother’s anonymously interviewed for one of the pieces I criticized–Katie Herzog’s “They Were Transgender–Until they Weren’t”–has echoed many of my concerns.

I didn’t pull this two-in-one-hundred ratio out of nowhere. I got it from the articles themselves, which both quote a Swedish study in which just 2.2 percent of transgender people experienced “transition regret.” That means the other 97.8 percent didn’t. Herzog cites a therapist who had worked with transgender clients for more than 20 years, who “knows of only one client who fully transitioned and then later detransitioned.” (Let me just restate that: One client in twenty years.) The program manager of the Seattle Children’s Hospital Gender Clinic told Herzog that they have “never had a patient fully transition and then transition back.” (Never? Never.) And both articles point out that the number of people who regret their nose jobs is eight times greater than transgender people who regret their medical transitions. It’s actually kind of bizarre how these authors carry on about the perils of transition while simultaneously citing statistics and quoting experts that illustrate the rarity of both transition regret and detransition.

Perhap the most troubling feature of both of these articles is that they are, strictly speaking, largely “true” (with the notable exception of the bogus 66-80 percent statistic). Yes, some people change their minds. Yes, peer pressure exists. Yes, transition is not without its risks and complications. These are all important points to make. What’s wrong here is that the choices the authors have made about what to include and not to include add up to a highly misleading whole, one that makes transition look a lot scarier and more controversial than it actually is. When you’re telling a story, everything hangs on which details you include and which ones you leave out. For example, Herzog and McCann both highlight the potential health risks of taking cross-hormones, but make no mention of the far greater health risks that transgender people face: The widespread lack of access to any kind of quality medical care, let alone health care that is responsive to the particular needs of transgender patients. They also makes no mention of the alarmingly high rate of suicide attempts among trans people (upwards of 40 percent; but this rate goes down when people are able to transition). I’d call suicide a pretty significant health risk, wouldn’t you? Nor do either of them mention the fact that research shows children who transition exhibit levels of psychological health indistinguishable from their cisgender peers. In pieces that purport to be represent balanced presentations of the pros and cons of supporting the transition of young people, surely this kind of information merits inclusion, no?

It’s a long read (cis journalists come up with a lot of bullshit!), but there is more here.



  1. Allison says

    Call me cynical, but I don’t consider any person or group a friend or an ally until they’ve demonstrated it. Words mean nothing. Mainstream reputation means nothing.

    The mainstream press has never been particularly trans-friendly. Historically, it has ignored us except when they want to pander to people’s prurient interest. Most major publications have been happy to give a platform to famous transphobes and to spread transphobic memes. In particular, the Economist is socially as well as politically conservative, and The Stranger features Dan Savage, a notably misogynistic and transphobic columnist. But the others are no better — the BBC recently did a transphobic “documentary,” the NY Times is actually rather openly right-wing these days, etc., etc.

    So many so-called “liberal” groups turn out to be misogynistic and racist in actual practice (and it was already that way back in the 1960’s.) So-called “LGBT” groups turn out to be misogynistic and bi- and transphobic. The two “LGBT” centers in my area have turned out to be primarily for the cis gay male community, and often just the white cis gay male community. The HRC likewise. I’ve actually gotten more support from the mainstream communities I spend time in than from any of the organizations that are supposedly there for the “LGBT” community.

    Heck, even the National Center for Transgender Equality was willing to throw us under the bus when the (cis white gay male) Gill Foundation dangled some money in front of them.

  2. Siobhan says

    Heck, even the National Center for Transgender Equality was willing to throw us under the bus when the (cis white gay male) Gill Foundation dangled some money in front of them.

    Good times, good times.

  3. silverfeather says

    There are a lot of details I still don’t grasp all the nuances of (because I have the luxury of not being forced to do all the research to defend my own existence and humanity), but what keeps being striking to me is the lack of care in the transphobic positions across the board.
    They seem to be consistently willing to look past all the murder and suicide statistics, the science that confirms the complexity of sex (there aren’t “just two” wrapped in a neat little bow), and the experiences of trans people with their gender identities who are basically asking to just be able to live authentically in the world. All the evidence of fellow humans in pain… all hand waved away so that they can ask some version of the question “but are trans people really, really, real?”
    Meanwhile, the trans community and their advocates are doing their best to care for individuals on a case by case basis. The discussions I see on this side are thoughtful, ethical, nuanced, and focused on how to help. They are light years ahead of these mainstream articles in both content and morality.

  4. Raucous Indignation says

    Is that what’s being written? Really? That some transition back? I am so sorry. I couldn’t get through that article you linked. Maybe it’s obvious to me from my medical training that the only questions that matter are these: what are the short and long terms benefits from transition therapy and how to ameliorate the risks associated with the drug therapy. Everything else is worthless or harmful punditry.