When Children Say They’re Trans By Jesse Singal

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In July 2018, Journalist Jesse Singal wrote an article for The Atlantic, a left leaning US magazine with a long history and a good reputation. It caused outrage to pro-affirmation lobby groups, clinicians and individuals. Singal was accused of transphobia and bigotry for his carefully thought out coverage of the surge in numbers presenting to gender clinics across the western world.

When Children Say They’re Trans describes the all too familiar story of a young teen who was unhappy with the onset of puberty, her discomfort with her own body, her social anxiety, her immersion in transition videos on social media. The result of this confusion was the declaration of a transgender identity and the request to begin gender transition.

Jesse Singal explores the suicide narrative around transgender teens, the approach of medical professionals and rise in positive and celebratory media portrayals of trans teens and how these may miss the nuance of the still unfolding situation we as parents find ourselves in.

For his efforts, Singal was rounded on by many LGBT groups who champion the affirmation only approach to young people with gender dysphoria. In this four part essay, one trans identified young person accuses Singal of dehumanising trans people, rejecting young people’s autonomy by suggesting parents have a role in their children’s lives, and of being wholly ignorant of what it means to be transgender. GLAAD, the US LGBT media monitoring organisation criticised Singal for not including trans teens for whom transition has made them happier, and go into great depth about why he is ‘problematic’ on their website.

If you Google Jesse Singal’s article, it appears as the first listing but is followed by many pages of negative critiques. We found the article compassionate, sensitively written and raised much-needed questioning on whether the current trend for affirmation is really as beneficial as its proponents claim. Laura Edwards-Leeper, the clinical psychologist responsible for bringing the Dutch Protocol (see our A to Z) to the US, was interviewed for this article and is concerned that affirmation has been taken too far. She said:

…treatment practices are trending toward an interpretation of affirming care that entails nodding along with children and adolescents who say they want physical interventions rather than evaluating whether they are likely to benefit from them.

She is not alone in this concern. It is one we share at Bayswater Support, and many more clinicians in the UK are starting to see and experience the same blind following of the affirmative approach.

This article is a must read for any parent who is beginning to question, or who already has doubts that the current clinical approach to children who are distressed about their gender is to set them on a pathway to permanent medicalisation.