How did Twitter addict Jesse Singal become the anti-transgender spokesgoblin of his generation? When a Child Says She's Trans continues his creepy fixation on gender-nonconforming minors. The "ex-trans" movement, similar to the discredited "ex-gay" movement, can always count on axe-grinding coverage that vastly over-represents their numbers and POV.
Jeffrey Goldberg, the same edgelord who hired a guy who wants to execute 25% of American women, greenlit Singal's latest op-ed dressed up as journalism, something The Atlantic last put on their cover in 2008. Goldberg knows this will generate a lot of revenue; no one has ever gone broke publishing anti-trans hit pieces. Singal scoured the country to find people who regret their decisions around gender expression when they were minors, similar to the way pro-life zealots seek out those who regret their teenage abortions. Fifty years ago, pro-trans psychiatrist Ira Pauly noted that both gender transition and abortion were "sex and tabooed topics" that caused similar responses in people who want to control the lives and bodies of others.
The heart of Singal's anti-transgender ideology is his strong convictions about etiology, or "motivation." Transgender isn't some all-or-nothing binary; it exists on a spectrum where people can identify and express every possible degree and combination of gendered traits and behaviors. In fact, the end game of the transgender movement is to transcend restrictive gender roles so everyone can express themselves without fear or shame.
The transgender rights movement is also a reproductive rights movement. Both movements must navigate the medical and legal definitions of sex, sexuality, consent, and personal responsibility. Trans people and experts who compassionately work with us have been enumerating reasons for gender identity and its expression since last century.
The rare cases of regret are nothing new. Dr. Mildred Brown outlined her therapeutic observations of motivations in True Selves a quarter century ago.
Some of Brown's language reflects how long ago she made these observations. Here's her list of reasons someone might seek medical and legal transition options that fall outside more common reasons for transition:
- Gay men and lesbians who confuse their sexual orientation with the desire to change sex.
- Cross-dressers who discover that they enjoy the clothes of the other sex so much that they want to become the other sex.
- Men and women who are uncomfortable with the gender-personalities and sex-roles assigned by society because of their sex.
- Men with severe erection problems: Because they cannot have sex as men, some want to become women.
- Victims of sexual assault or abuse, who therefore want to distance themselves as much as possible from the bodies in which they were victimized. If one result of the sexual abuse is that they cannot function sexually as the sex in which they were born, they hope that becoming the other sex will put all the trauma behind them.
- Persons who dislike the behavior they have fallen into in their original sex —e.g. rape, child-molestation, exhibitionism, and other anti-social or criminal behavior. They want to get rid of the parts of their bodies —usually penises—that have led them astray.
- Criminals who wish to change their identities to escape capture by the police.
- Munchausen syndrome: People who crave medical attention, even though there is nothing wrong with them.
- Individuals with psychiatric disorders, who have delusions that they are the other sex.
- Individuals with multiple personality disorder. At least one personality believes it is the other sex. But a sex-change could create serious problems for the other personalities.
Every person quoted in Singal's story describes one or more of Brown's reasons. At the heart of these debates is whether these young people take personal responsibility for their decisions as minors. Can a minor legally consent to control over their body? In many cases, people in the ex-trans movement see themselves as victims who had something done to them by others: their parents, doctors and lawyers, the media, or peer influence aka "social contagion," rather than as people who actively sought out medical and legal options. I regret not transitioning as a minor, so I understand and empathize with those who made decisions they later regretted. Mainstream transgender regret stories like Singal's are always focused on the tiny "ex-trans" movement, even though nearly every trans person will say they wish they transitoned at a younger age. The "ex-trans" movement is an anomaly, a rounding error, a tragedy to be sure, but ultimately a fringe movement embraced and amplified by bigots.
Singal's trans-suspicious ideology is based on two faulty conceptualizations of gender expression: desistance and detransition. The concept of "desistance" emerged from eugenic criminology and has been incorporated into legal and medical conceptualizations of sex offenders. Because anti-transgender sexologists often linked gender transition with pedophilia, those same sexologists began describing gender conformity as "desistance" when describing non-conforming children. This is closely linked to the belief that one can desist from being gay or transgender. As others have noted, the debate about transgender children and “detransitioning” is really about transphobia.
The people who love Singal's writing on trans people are (in order) anti-transgender sexologists, conservative crossdressers and lesbians with pregnancy fetishes, pro-lifers, and other political and religious conservatives. Singal's only accurate observation in his piece: "A similar motive seems to animate much of the media coverage of transgender young people. Two genres of coverage have emerged." His falls into what he calls "a steady stream of horror stories." If you want to read it, go find the link. I'm not linking to Singal's contribution to the steady stream of horror stories.