NYT Centers Trans Healthcare Story on Doctors — Not Trans People

NYT: The Battle Over Gender Therapy

New York Times Magazine (6/19/22)

Right-wing media are whipping up a dangerous anti-trans frenzy in this country, as evidenced quite clearly by the rash of anti-trans laws being passed by GOP-controlled states, and recent violent white nationalist attacks on Pride and drag queen events. But “liberal” media are also culpable for this shift against trans people and their very right to exist.

In the latest example, the New York Times Magazine‘s cover story “The Battle Over Gender Therapy” (6/19/22) wondered if gender-affirming care for trans kids shouldn’t be so easy to access. In doing so, it laundered far-right views for a broader audience, making hostility to trans people’s basic rights more acceptable.

The Times‘Emily Bazelon wrote that she interviewed “more than two dozen young people and about the same number of parents” for her story. On the magazine’s cover, a young fair-skinned person’s hand, wrist encircled with flowers, rests on a lightly stubbled leg.

But those young people are not at the heart of the story, which opens with a cisgender doctor, Scott Leibowitz, who works with trans youth and is helping to revise international guidelines on care for trans adolescents. After publishing a draft of the revision for public comment, Leibowitz and his co-authors, Bazelon explains, were prepared for backlash from “opponents of gender-related care,” but they

also faced fury from providers and activists within the transgender world. This response hit them harder, as criticism from your colleagues and allies often does.

It’s explicitly framed as a compromise position: the reasonable path between extremes. Later, Basel points to another medical professional who “worries that the loud voices on all sides are the extreme ones,” and says:

In our society right now, something is either all good or all bad. Either there should be a vending machine for gender hormones or people who prescribe them to kids should be put in jail.

Limiting transition

But as trans historian Jules Gill-Peterson (Sad Brown Girl, 6/15/22) pointed out, just because doctors offer gender-related care doesn’t mean, as Bazelon suggests, that they are allies to trans people. “Transgender medicine was deliberately intended by its architects to prevent and limit as many trans people as possible from transitioning,” Gill-Peterson explained:

It has primarily done so by establishing the narrowest of eligibility criteria possible. And the great expense of transition has kept it out of reach for most trans people, regardless of whether or not they might be able to qualify under any medical model.

No matter how often trans advocates explain this central issue to journalists, “liberal” media continue to churn out stories taking doctors as the foremost and neutral experts on the matter, and centering “tricky questions” —Bazelon’s words — about potential regret on the part of those transitioning.

In other words, while the right and the medical establishment may see themselves as being on very different sides of this issue — and justifiably so, in many ways — both still seek to control whether or which trans people get to exist. By placing doctors in the center of the story of trans healthcare, acting as the “balance” between trans judges and the right, is to misrepresent the playing field, and to stack the deck against those who should be centered: trans people themselves.

‘Clear claim to being marginalized’

Them: Dear 60 Minutes, There Is No “Both Sides-Ing” Trans Healthcare

Them (5/25/21)

Basel quotes several trans actors who are critical of the medical profession. She notes that trans people have “often been failed by healthcare providers.” She also notes that “there is often no gender clinic and sometimes no therapist or doctor to help transgender kids — who often still face bullying and harassment — navigate the process of coming out,” such that “states like Arkansas are banning care where it is already rare. ” But none of this changes her basic story and its assumptions.

Nor does her acknowledgment that rates of regret for trans adults are “very low” (as in around 1%) and rates of suicide attempts for trans kids are “terribly high” (35%) stop her from, at the same time, highlighting several stories of regret.

Bazelon describes stories of multiple adolescents who announced they were trans, but later backtracked before starting medical treatment, as what can only read as “dodged a bullet” stories, with references to the way [internalized] misogyny affected their thinking, ”or the supposed allure of the chance to“ join a community with a clear claim to be marginalized and deserving of protection. ”

She writes of Grace Lidinsky-Smith, who “has written about her regret over taking testosterone and having her breasts removed in her early 20s,” and “wished she’d had the kind of comprehensive assessment of the last Standards of Care endorsed for adults. ” (Bazelon does not note that Lidinsky-Smith is an activist who leads a group that supports strict limits on transition, arguing that “desistance is common.”)

At the same time, only one story of an attempted suicide is told — in the voice of a parent Basel found through an anti-transition online group, and who claims her child, who had previously attempted suicide, became “more volatile” after starting puberty suppressants.

Elevating stories of detransition is very popular in centrist media (see, eg, FAIR.org5/5/22; Them, 5/25/21), but it creates the illusion that the risk of changing one’s mind about transition is much more common than it is, and that the risk of young people not being able to access care is much lower than it is. In a political environment that is putting trans youth in the crosshairs, the New York Times‘failure to listen to and center trans people in their coverage is criminal.


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