Tuesday, July 4, 2017

why my piece won’t be appearing in The Stranger

On Wednesday, June 28th, the Seattle news outlet The Stranger published an article called The Detransitioners: They Were Transgender, Until They Weren't. Amongst its numerous flaws, it gave credence to the notion that there is a “social contagion” to become transgender, and that this is a cause behind why some people eventually decide to detransition.

Back in 2016, I detailed both the biased thinking behind, and the potential harm caused by, this notion, in my lengthy and nuanced essay Detransition, Desistance, and Disinformation: A Guide for Understanding Transgender Children Debates (and in this follow up). Herzog reached out to interview me for her The Stranger article, saying she had read my essay. I was open to it at first, until it became clear to me that she was planning to legitimize that “social contagion” theory in her piece. When Herzog's article came out last week, I penned a blogpost called Stop pitting detransitioners against happily transitioned people, in which I pointed out the skewed framing and several (albeit not all) of the misconceptions that Herzog's article forwarded.

On Friday, June 30th, an editor from The Stranger contacted me and said that they were interested in re-publishing my blogpost. By this point, there had been significant backlash to Herzog’s article from trans communities due to the piece’s skewed framing. These days, when people hear the phrase “backlash,” they immediately conjure up images of “internet trolls” and “snowflakes” and “sensitive millennials” who get upset about the slightest misplaced word, and who want to complain about anything and everything. So to be clear, the backlash in this case came from a marginalized community (i.e., trans people) who have a set of experiences in the world that allow them to see shortcomings and biases in Herzog’s article that other people may not readily perceive. And trans communities are highly aware of how notions of “social contagion,” “trendsgender,” and “cisgender people being turned transgender because of peer pressure” are routinely used by those who wish to rollback transgender rights and access to healthcare.

Anyway, The Stranger editor thanked me for my blogpost and asked if they could re-publish it. The way they reached out to me seemed to indicate that they realized (in retrospect) the faults with Herzog’s article and wanted to offer their readers a counter point of view. Over the weekend, we (the editor and I) worked out the logistics, and I was told my piece would likely be published on their website on Monday (July 3rd).

Then on that Monday, I received an email from the editor mentioning that they would be running my piece first, followed by Katie Herzog’s response to the reactions she received to her article (including her response to my blogpost). This was the first that I had heard of any of this, and frankly I felt a bit blindsided by this news. I was led to believe that they wanted to publish my blogpost in recognition of the flaws in Herzog’s article, but now it seemed like they might just be setting my piece up for Herzog to knock it back down.

When I expressed my reservations about this arrangement, the editor said that instead Herzog’s piece would come out first, after which point I could decide whether to allow them the right to re-publish my blogpost.

Late on Monday, Herzog’s piece came out. It was most certainly not a thoughtful response from someone who was open to listening to marginalized voices and willing to admit to the shortcomings of their piece. On the contrary, it was an extremely vindictive retort, most of it focused on personally undermining Danni Askini and Ijeoma Oluo, two activists/writers/people who I greatly respect. Herzog is obviously free to say what she wants about other people, but I question The Stranger’s decision to allow their large news/media platform to be used to trash individuals who pen Facebook posts that critique their articles and publishing decisions.

At one point, Herzog mocks Oluo’s claim that she cited a “discredited” doctor in her article, and presumes that Oluo was referring to James Cantor (although it could just as easily have been Ray Blanchard, who Herzog also quotes); then Herzog gives Cantor several paragraphs to reply to this charge. What Herzog doesn’t mention is that both Cantor and Blanchard are considered (by both trans people and most trans health professionals) to represent the far pathologizing/conservative wing of thought on these matters. Herzog does not provide this context in her article, which contributes to the overall skewed framing. I believe that Oluo and others have every right to critique Herzog for such decisions.

Herzog’s response to my post is short—it does not at all address any of the substantive points that I make in my piece. Instead, she simply tries to dismiss me for not quoting people who detransitioned in my pieces. Of course, I don’t quote happily transitioned people, or trans health professionals, or parents of trans kids either, for the simple reason that I am an essayist, not a journalist. But I have read/listened/talked to all of these parties at length over the years, including people who have detransitioned. I personally know people who have detransitioned, and have also received emails from people who have detransitioned thanking me for my writings. Not a single one of these individuals expressed feeling pressured into becoming trans—on the contrary, most state that they detrainsitioned because of family or social pressure to *not* be trans (and some of these individuals later re-transitioned). Others detransitioned for personal reasons (e.g., shifts in identity, the changes didn’t suit them), but do not feel aggrieved by the trans healthcare system (and often keep a low profile because they do not want their stories to be misused by those who wish to rollback trans rights/healthcare). I have never once, in any of my writings, claimed or insinuated that these are the only detransition experiences and perspectives that matter. Rather, I have simply pointed out that the recurring exclusion of such voices from sensationalistic “detransitioner” articles like Herzog’s paints a distorted picture for trans-unaware readers.

As I said, Herzog is free to write whatever she wants. But I am disappointed that The Stranger—who initially seemed to want to republish my piece in recognition of the flaws and skewed framing of Herzog’s article—decided instead to double-down on it, while trashing two activists/writers in the process. As much as I would like my piece to reach a wider audience, I do not feel that The Stranger is genuine in its desire to address the numerous problems with the article they published, nor do I believe that they are taking transgender communities’ concerns about the article seriously. For this reason, I will not be allowing them to republish my piece.

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