Social Affirmation Is NOT Controversial

The GLAM Doc
4 min readJan 24, 2023

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The New York Times’ latest attack on trans people, When Students Change Gender Identity, and Parents Don’t Know, is rife with misinformation and fearmongering. It is another in the line of failed attempts to present balance.

Social transition, or affirmation, should be one of the least divisive steps a trans person takes to step into their identity, yet it is framed here as upsetting and controversial. The article centers on a mother who claims to be liberal and finds out that her son has been using his correct name and pronouns at school but does not want anyone at home to know. She resents the school for making her “feel like a bad parent” and maligns the lack of a “forum for someone like me.” There are, in fact, tons of forums for parents of trans youth. Conversations frequently happen with parents and not the trans child or adolescent, and research has even been conducted about trans youth by only talking to parents. In fact, later in the article, the author mentions a network of “internet support groups for “skeptical” parents of transgender children, some with thousands of registered members”! She then dismisses those who oppose these groups, who have had active roles in legislation against trans youth, as “detractors.” Yet there are no bones to pick here: these groups are actively transphobic.

If a student comes out at school and desires to be affirmed in their identity and expressly asks that the family doesn’t know, shouldn’t that bring up questions about that student’s safety at home? This particular student notes that he had tried coming out at home before but wasn’t taken seriously, and school was the one space he could be himself.

The article claims there are “wrenching new tensions over how to accommodate transgender children.” However, it comes on the heels of a new study in NEJM, which yet again confirms that the mental health of trans youth improves with support and gender affirmation. The only “tensions” are from those who would stop trans children from existing.

The article mentions that the socially transitioned child has autism, ADHD, PTSD, and anxiety, as if these diagnoses somehow trivialize his trans identification. His mother says that he “seemed not to know exactly who he was yet,” as if this calls into question his gender identity. These are some of the exact questions that anti-trans activists have built a platform on. The article’s author states that the number of young people in the U.S. who identify as transgender has nearly doubled; she neglects to inform her readers that increased visibility and social acceptance are the likely forces driving more young people to feel comfortable to come out as trans.

The author claims that “both sides warn that one wrong step could result in irreparable harm.” Let’s be very clear: there is no fair and balanced approach here, despite what The New York Times tries to claim. There are no “both sides” when one side is science-based and medically accepted, and the other plays on conservative issues and anecdotal fear tactics. Interviewing Erica Anderson, whom many of us in the field have warned about and seen cause express harm in the community over the past couple of years, is another indicator of the right-wing tilt of this article.

The author states that “dozens of parents” feel villainized by educators and that schools “forced the process to move too quickly.” Let’s be clear: we are talking about names and pronouns, not medications, not surgeries. We are talking about a process that is 100% reversible and well-documented to be beneficial. No one is forcing youth to change their names and pronouns. Students who are comfortable talk to their schools and guide the process.

As the young 16-year-old says, “When you’re trans, you feel like you are in danger all the time.” The end of the article is troubling, as it sees the mother of the socially transitioned youth feeling that being “completely supportive” is “jump(ing) on the bandwagon” and asserting that her child’s affirmation steps should be her decision. Why is it ok to take autonomy away from trans youth? How is no one seeing the harm here?

The New York Times constructs a false narrative where public schools are vilified for supporting youth in their identities. This entire article is about the struggle of a mother who claims to be liberal but is not supportive of her child knowing his own gender identity and asserting it. She then feels betrayed that her child seeks support where he feels safe. What is the controversy here? That the child is lucky enough to have support systems that will help affirm him in who he is, something he lacks at home? No, to the New York Times, it’s that those support systems even exist. This should not be a debate. Basic human decency and respect are not a debate. Our lives are not a debate. We live in a time when it is terrifying to be trans, and supports are far and wide. Let’s ask the real question: why the fuck is The New York Times actively contributing to the piling-on harm of our trans communities with reporting that is so far from benign?

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The GLAM Doc

AJ Eckert (they/he) is Connecticut’s first out nonbinary trans doctor and Medical Director of Anchor Health’s Gender & Life-Affirming Medicine (GLAM) Program.