6/28/2018 2 Comments
In response to a recent Atlantic piece on desistance and regret in trans children, Jezebel has published what I suppose is meant to be a damning article about "cis journalist groupthink."
But really, all they've done is reveal what we already suspected: that left-of-center journalists, authors, and academics are afraid to publicly reveal their science- and evidence-based opinions in public, because they don't want to crucified on social media.
The Atlantic piece, When Children Say They’re Trans Hormones? Surgery? The choices are fraught—and there are no easy answers, explores a super important question: "How can parents get children the support they might need while keeping in mind that adolescence is, by definition, a time of identity exploration?"
The author, Jesse Singal, is a leading public intellectual and prominent journalist. He covers trans issues -- much to the dismay of those who worship at the temple of identity politics and believe that only trans people should write about trans issues.
Singal addressed this concern in one of the leaked "emails," which are actually posts on an "off-the-record discussion forum for left-of-center journalists, authors, academics and wonks," (the group has 403 members, including New York Times best-selling authors, Ivy League academics, magazine editors, and other public intellectuals) he addresses this criticism:
There should, of course, be more trans writers and artists. But…trans people, like members of any other group, have their own prevalent forms of groupthink. If I had listened to what the highest-profile trans activists told me when I started reporting on this subject, I would have been convinced desistance isn't a real phenomenon, and I wouldn't have investigated the Zucker clinic closing because Everyone Knew it was the right thing to do. The idea that desistance is a myth is a harmful and completely bunk idea that has spread far and wide in the trans community, not because there is anything uniquely anti-sciencey about the trans community, but because that's how insular communities forged by marginalized work, sometimes...
Well said, Singal!
On the day of the article's publication, Singal posted to the group:
This one was a journey! It’s long, and it covers a lot of the stuff I’ve been endlessly posting about on this listserv... I think what stuck out at me the most was the extent to which the complexity clinicians themselves are grappling with hasn’t trickled down to the public—some very smart, thoughtful psychologists and psychiatrists with impeccable bona fides when it comes to helping kids and teens transition are concerned that we are not approaching this issue with the rigor it demands. I’m just hoping to carve out a space so that both young people dealing with gender dysphoria (or more general gender questioning), as well as their parents, have access to the best, most complete, evidence-based understanding of this very tricky subject.
Sounds reasonable -- and responsible, and super important! -- to me!
The writer of the Jezebel article is apparently mad that Singal dismisses much of the criticism of his piece as “over the top and exaggerated and clearly not pegged to anything in the piece itself." But, like... it was. YOUR EMOTIONS are not a valid criticism of REAL SCIENCE or OTHER PEOPLE'S EXPERIENCES. As a writer who has seen plenty of people respond emotionally to a scientific article, I get it.
What else can you do? Tell people you're sorry they feel that way, but facts are facts?
Next, he talks about how anyone who writes about trans issues with any kind of nuance or skepticism gets "completely shellacked" -- including Alice Dreger, an activist who spent her whole medical career defending the rights of intersex and trans children, but eventually said something scientific the social justice mob didn't like in her book, Galileo's Middle Finger: Heretics, Activists, and One Scholar's Search for Justice. He writes about how Twitter is "hellacious, but you need to learn to ignore it if you're going to write about controversial issues."
Then, the thing that this Jezebel writer seems to think is bad happened -- people supported and agreed with the heretic!
Many of the listserv’s other members were similarly dismissive. “I see the Twitter reeducation process has begun, Jesse,” wrote the editor of a progressive news site. “I’m sorry you are dealing with the Twitter crowd once again,” wrote a Washington Post opinion writer. “Most people I know will not write about this subject any more because no matter how hard you try to represent the issues accurately and without bias against trans people, you will be accused of not doing so,” wrote a published author. Another member, an award-winning journalist and Washington Post editor, agreed: “Jesse is the most thoughtful person on this beat right now, pro-trans and pro-science at once. It’s very hard to write about this without being attacked by bludgeons.” One of the listserv’s most frequent posters, an award-winning essayist and poet, wrote: “I value [J]esse’s reporting on this—and other—topics. He made me more empathetic and sympathetic to trans people… The attacks on him on twitter and in jezebel seem completely over the top to me.”
Singal continues to emphasize his point that giving kids surgeries and hormones could be really dangerous:
The combination of the newness of the treatment, the lack of long-term outcome data, and the high and rising social costs of exhibiting nay skepticism about the idea of putting young teens on powerful hormones -- it all sounds like Chapter 1 in a story we've heard before that could have a bad ending. And I saw that as someone who is utterly convinced that hormones are right for some teens, as I wrote in the piece.
That anyone could disagree with him on this is stunning.
But, clearly, the group seems overwhelmingly in support of Singal's work... privately.
To me, that's the thing that is most unfortunate and alarming about this whole psychodrama.
A journalist defending his work in a private discussion with colleagues isn't "groupthink." And, like, why would he have written something he thought was wrong in an Atlantic cover story? Of course he defends what he wrote, after getting quotes and research and information from real experts, and not just emotional Twitter mobs.
It's sad that journalists on the left only feel free to express certain ideas in private.
It's sad that Jezebel apparently thinks that in public and in private, Singal has some kind of responsibility to reinforce and represent their dogma -- and that it's unreasonable for his article to mention counter-evidence to that (clearly biased) view. It's like they think a journalist's job is to reinforce dogma, rather than report the news and science and facts and research.
That worldview... is frightening. But the Twitter mobs are "hellacious" enough that many of these 403 highly-influential thinkers are afraid to support facts and science in public.
But... there's also good news. The left might not be as extreme and crazy as you think. In the media, there will always be an overrepresentation of extreme views. But we mustn't forget about the silent moderates.
Oh, and PS: before you accuse me of being an alt-righter or whatever... I'm definitely not saying the left has a monopoly on anti-scientific and emotional viewpoints. As Alice Dreger wrote in Galileo's Middle Finger: Heretics, Activists, and One Scholar's Search for Justice, both sides are equally guilty when it comes to putting feelings ahead of facts. They only differ on what they're anti-scientific about.