Transphobic Times

The New York Times Posts Another Misinformed, Deranged Story About Trans Youth

This morning, the New York Times released yet another irresponsible story on trans youth, this time concerning the gender-affirming practice of top surgery. And boy, is it a doozy.

Here’s how to tell that an article about trans people was written, and edited, by a series of cis people. First of all, look at the headline. Is there a word or phrase that you know to be in common conversational use found in quotes (i.e. “queer” or “trans”) as if some weirdo just made it up yesterday? Is the story—ostensibly about trans people—accompanied by an image of a cis person? Are the trans subjects within described at length but rarely quoted?

Well then, we’re off to the races, because today’s story contains all three red flags. But again, who’s surprised. The thing to be more worried about, perhaps, is the trend on the part of Times writers to lean on a few coded phrases and tactics to sew doubt in a cis reader’s mind.

First, there’s the use of cis medical professionals standing in contrast to the few trans subjects of the piece. Rather than letting trans folks speak for themselves, the Times prioritizes the voices of community outsiders to solidify the fears of cis readers that any kind of gender-confirming surgery is radical, scary, and full of risks.

Secondly, we’re got the “think of the children” angle used by the religious right to enact so many of these anti-trans policies in red states, combined with the “lack of studies” argument that blames the trans community for being ignored and looked over by medicine for years.

Finally, there’s the Bill Maher “there are more trans people now than ever before” argument, which implies, once more, that transness is a new and somehow infectious identity that young people must be protected from at all costs.

If you want to see how the use of coded language works at an even deeper level, I’ll provide you with a glossary of terms:

  • Irreversible: Implies that transness is probably just a phase that kids will grow out of in time, makes the assumption of regret after top surgery appear more frightening.
  • Breast Removal: The medical term is “double mastectomy.” Patients with the Bracha gene often opt to have the same surgery for their own survival, but using the term “breast removal”, again, is a dogwhistle for transphobic readers convinced that what trans folks do to their bodies is mutilation.
  • Regret: The focus of the story is not on the trans experience of the surgery, but on cis fears around what the surgery might mean, or how they might feel about it personally.

Framing the need for top surgery as a whimsical decision made on the part of teenagers who have been seduced by what the right calls “transgender ideology,” the story goes on to center cis doctors, citing a “lack of research” regarding the benefits of top surgery, and using as a source the president of a “destransition advocacy” organization.

Which would all be damning enough, if the paper’s history of transphobic reporting wasn’t already in the mix.

As usual, the New York Times, in choosing to cover the trans community, focuses on its cis readership by implying that a double mastectomy— a common medical procedure without serious risk attached– is somehow a shady experimental surgery that’s bound to cause regret down the line.

What they would have known, had they taken the time to interview a single trans person rather than detransitioners and cis medical professionals, is that the “regret” they’re warning about doesn’t exist.

Luckily, trans Twitter got to work immediately:

Tone deaf, lazy, and completely ill-informed as usual.

Because as all trans folks know, the real risk lies in not being who you are.

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