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The NYT Circles Back to Normalize Deadly Trans Panic Journalism

A sign colored like the blue and pink transgender flag is placed outside on a city sidewalk reading "platforming hate speech is not impartial"

Last Sunday, The New York Times published another article legitimizing transphobia. Titled “When Students Change Gender Identity, and Parents Don’t Know,” the article—the latest in a string of transphobic NYT articles—focuses on parents whose kids are openly trans at school, but not at home. This piece could have been a really great exploration of why kids make the wrenching decision not to tell their parents they’re trans. Instead, it puts transphobic parents at the center, giving them a national platform to wring their hands over other peoples’ lives and bodies.

Here are a few selected quotes from the article. Right off the bat, it puts the spotlight on parents who believe they should be able to control their children.

“It felt like a parenting stab in the back from the school system,” [one parent] said. “It should have been a decision we made as a family.”

No, it shouldn’t have! The only person who gets to make a decision about their gender is that person! Not their mom and dad, not the rest of their family. No one in your life gets to weigh in on your gender except you.

The article does quote some trans people, but it keeps reverting to the parents’ points of view instead of centering trans people themselves.

But dozens of parents whose children have socially transitioned at school told The Times they felt villainized by educators who seemed to think that they — not the parents — knew what was best for their children. They insisted that educators should not intervene without notifying parents unless there is evidence of physical abuse at home.

An absence of “evidence of physical abuse” is such a bad-faith, disingenuous threshold for notifying potentially transphobic parents about their children’s genders. It implies that emotional abuse is inconsequential or even tolerable, for one thing—and it fails to acknowledge that not all physical abuse leaves corresponding physical evidence.

The article includes interviews with members of a support group for parents, many of whom go to great lengths to describe how liberal they are—legitimizing the false idea that transphobia is an acceptable worldview on the left. It also repeats debunked myths about transitioning being risky.

“It’s just been such a hard thing to navigate, because on the one hand, I’m dealing with my very extreme liberal values of individuality, freedom, expression, sexuality, wanting to support all of this stuff,” said a tearful mother. “At the same time, I’m afraid of medicalization. I’m afraid of long term health. I’m afraid of the fact that my child might change their mind.”

Again, the article does quote trans people and trans rights advocates. However, the majority of the piece is devoted to anti-trans rhetoric disguised as concern for parents’ peace of mind, and as trans rights lawyer Chase Strangio pointed out last November, there’s a direct line between anti-trans reporting and violence against trans people.

At a time when trans people are under assault from all sides, the last thing we need is yet another effort to shift control over trans people’s bodies to someone else.

(featured image: Hollie Adams/Getty Images)

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Julia Glassman (she/her) holds an MFA from the Iowa Writers' Workshop, and she consumes massive amounts of Marvel media, folk horror, science fiction, fantasy, and nature writing. She lives in Los Angeles, where she reads tarot and makes yarn on her spinning wheel. You can check out more of her writing at https://juliaglassman.carrd.co/, or find her on Twitter at @juliaglassman.