Jun 19, 2018
On June 19, 2018, I published a post (at this link, and with the same title) in response to the then recently released Jesse Singal article When Children Say They’re Trans. It would later become the cover article for The Atlantic's August 2018 print magazine, bearing the moral-panic-inducing headline: “Your Child Says She’s Trans. She Wants Hormones and Surgery. She’s 13.”
My original post is archived for posterity's sake. Basically, it started out as a few links to Twitter threads about the article, followed by periodic updates whenever new critiques or developments arose. It made for very messy reading! So in this rendition, I've reorganized things in a (mostly) chronological bullet-point fashion. So here we go:
- The Atlantic piece came on the heels of several previous articles Singal had penned about trans healthcare and children, which many trans people and advocates felt were unnecessarily one-sided. I discuss the specifics (plus some of Singal's tactics) in this lengthy post. More recently, I penned two Twitter threads (see here and here) in an attempt to more succinctly articulate this bias.
- On June 18, 2018, I did a "live tweet" of "When Children Say They’re Trans," highlighting its disproportionate emphasis on desistance, detransition, and the manufactured fear of "transgender social contagion."
- In the days after the article was published online, numerous critiques appeared in media & news outlets – two examples include Alex Barasch's Sacred Bodies, and Noah Berlatsky's The Trans People Are Coming, Lock Up Your Children. More critiques are cited below.
- The Atlantic itself felt the need to formally publish four responses to Singal's piece: I Detransitioned. But Not Because I Wasn't Trans; Why Is the Media So Worried About the Parents of Trans Kids?; My Parents Still Struggle to Know Me After I Transitioned Late; The Loaded Language Shaping the Trans Conversation. This is not something The Atlantic routinely does with its cover stories, and thus serves as tacit acknowledgement that the original article had significant shortcomings.
- One of the most thorough critiques – Zack Ford's Atlantic cover story is a loud dog whistle for anti-transgender parents – uncovered evidence that one of the mothers who appeared in the piece ("Jenny") was a member of the anti-trans parent group 4thWaveNow. In 2019, in my own investigation, Origins of "Social Contagion" and "Rapid Onset Gender Dysphoria", I found further evidence that 1) the concept of "transgender social contagion" was invented on 4thWaveNow in February 2016, and 2) 4thWaveNow's spokesperson Brie Jontry said that many of the families Singal consulted were 4thWaveNow families, and that "censors" (The Atlantic, perhaps?) removed "any mention of 4th" from the article. (Verifying links can be found in the entry dated June 20, 2018.)
- In April 2021, Ky Schevers, who had been very active in detrans communities (see here and here) published Telling the Whole Story: A Closer Look at the Detrans Women in When Children Say They’re Transgender. The essay reveals that 1) the three detransitioned women Singal interviewed for his article were all quite active in anti-trans feminist circles, and 2) for many such individuals (including at least one of the three interviewees), an embrace of anti-trans feminism was a precipitating event that led them to detransition. Singal did not share either of these pertinent points with readers.
NOTE: the previous two bullet points provide evidence that Singal didn't merely seek out random detransitioners and parents of trans kids (as most journalists would do if they were hoping to write a balanced story), but rather he specifically recruited individuals from anti-trans activist communities, then purposely withheld their affiliations with such groups from readers.
- In May 2019, Gillian Branstetter reported that Singal's Atlantic article was cited as evidence in a federal court case intended to undo transgender legal protections.
- In April 2021, Emily Gorcenski published Jesse Singal Got More Wrong Than He Thinks, a deep-dive into Singal's misinterpretations of studies on desistance, which he cites in several of his trans-themed articles, including the Atlantic piece.
- Also in April 2021, GLAAD (Gay & Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation) created an entry for Singal as part of their accountability project, much of it centered on false, misleading, and unsubstantiated claims he made in his Atlantic article.
- Finally, in September 2020, an article was published revealing that The Atlantic cover photo for Singal's desistance/detransition-heavy article was of a happily transitioned trans man. I'm sure Singal had nothing to do with the cover photo, but I mention it here because many have found it profoundly ironic given the thrust of his article.
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