We warned The Atlantic about Jesse Singal, but they ignored us

Photoshop by Kati Ennis

UPDATE: Human Rights Campaign tonight issued a statement regarding the publication of transphobia by The Atlantic, at my request. I’ve also reached out to GLAAD and I’ve added tweets they posted in response to the article. The HRC statement appears below. — Dawn Ennis, Wednesday, June 20, 2018

It’s been exactly four months since we rang the transphobia alarm bell, and it appears nobody empowered to act paid much attention, if any.

So today, I’m lighting up what you might call a TransBat Signal, in order to call out Jesse Singal and the editors who published this offensive screed.

I am one of a large group of LGBTQ journalists, activists and public relations folks who, back in February, first got wind of Mr. Singal’s intent to write the cover story that appears in the July/August issue of The Atlantic. I’ll explain the actions we took in just a moment.

The eminent trans writer Harron Walker expertly summed up the problems in Mr. Singal’s work in an article published by Jezebel Tuesday afternoon:

“At first, the article appears to be about trans kids, and how these kids and their parents navigate the sometimes murky waters of adolescent transition. A press release for the story claims that it probes one of the “most complex subjects facing Americans today,” calling it a “deeply reported, nuanced, and humane exploration of the process of transition for children experiencing gender dysphoria, and the challenges parents face as they try to guide and support their children through that process.” But read on, and you’ll see that most of the transitioners Singal interviewed for his article have since detransitioned and no longer think of themselves as trans, save for a couple of trans boys buried towards the bottom. One of the detransitioners didn’t even dabble in transmasculinity until she was living on her own as an adult. In other words, her parents played no direct role in the process of her transition, which calls into question her inclusion in a piece about young people thinking they might want to transition and how they navigate that with their parents.”

Unfortunately, what’s almost as bad as his article is the egregious cover showing the face of what we are supposed to believe is a transgender boy, who is misgendered in the lede sentence. Originally, the headline misgendered him, too: “Your Child Says She’s Trans. She Wants Hormones and Surgery. She’s 13.”

The editors, after being lambasted in social media by writers Roxane Gay, Julia Serano, iO Tillett Wright, Parker Malloy and leading LGBTQ advocates, as well as regular folks like me, changed the headline to say “When Children Say They’re Trans.”

Original art by Maciek Jasik, photoshopped to include Singal photo via Twitter

And in sharing it here, I’ve fixed The Atlantic’s cover photo art, so as to obscure this boy’s face, whoever he is, and instead show you the face of Mr. Singal, the transphobe who wrote the offending article. Suffice to say, Mr. Singal is a repeat offender.

Don’t believe me? Ask Julia Serano.

Roxane Gay, a leading feminist author and scholar, engaged in a Twitter argument with a supporter of Mr. Singal’s.

Trans man and author iO Tillett Wright tweeted that The Atlantic offered to print a rebuttal… but the offer was less than what Wright saw as fair:

Parker Malloy, another famous target of Mr. Singal who wrote about their interaction here on Medium, also weighed-in. Note: her tweet contains both the original headline and the photograph that I obscured above.

My own minor contribution was to stop following The Atlantic on Twitter, and to say so, publicly.

And here’s a tweet by the TransAdvocate, where journalist advocate Cristan Williams holds court. This was posted in February.

Cristan and I teamed up to urge The Atlantic to hit the pause button four months ago: she launched a public campaign on Twitter and at her site, which was widely shared… while I reached out to both editors and the magazine’s backers at The Emerson Collective via email. Emerson is an organization led by philanthropist and investor Laurene Powell Jobs, the widow of the famous Apple founder. Her organization promotes and advocates for policies involving education, immigration reform, social justice and environmental conservation.

I also wrote to Reed Jobs, Maria Barr, Ame Duncan, and others at Emerson.

But I never received a single response from anyone at Emerson, or the magazine’s editors; friends within our LGBTQ community of journalists made sure my efforts were seen by top brass at the magazine. Again, that was back in February.

Tonight, I received a statement from HRC’s national spokesperson, Sarah McBride. Sarah and I exchanged emails about this back in February, as did Nick Adams of GLAAD.

Here is HRC’s statement in full, via email:

“There is a growing body of research and medical consensus around the importance of affirming transgender youth who is are insistent, consistent and persistent in their gender identity. Young people deserve the space and support to make these critical decisions in consultation with their families and medical and mental health professionals, which is what the current standards of care ensure. Cherrypicking two experiences, including one where the young person was never diagnosed with gender dysphoria, while glossing over the thousands of youth whose lives have been saved through medically necessary transition-related care, does a disservice to the ultimate goal of ensuring that all young people have the support they deserve and the care they need.” — Sarah McBride

Sue Yacka-Bible at GLAAD shared these tweets that GLAAD posted in response to Singal’s article:

The question remains: what did the editors do, if anything? Did they provide extra oversight? Did they delay publication? Did anyone consider consulting a single transgender person before publication?

We do not know. We may never know. But for the first time, I’m going to share the letter that was forwarded to the editors and emailed to the Emerson Collective on February 19th. I’m sharing it as a Google Doc… so that if you wish, you, too, can add your name to the document below, as a comment.

Click here to do so.

An Open Letter to the Emerson Collective and the Editors at The Atlantic

We are writing to you on behalf of a group of concerned transgender Americans and our allies because we fear that an incalculable amount of damage will be wrought if The Atlantic goes forward with its plans to publish a report by Jesse Singal, regarding what’s come to be known as the “desistance myth,” and “rapid onset gender dysphoria.”

While the editors at The Atlantic have heard that we are concerned, they cite editorial policy in refusing to talk with us prior to publication. We’re not arguing The Atlantic doesn’t have the right to publish what it sees fit; we’re confident that even sight unseen — based on his prior work and his negative interactions with us — that this author intends to cause harm to our community.

The “science” Mr. Singal has relied upon in the past has been widely debunked and used as propaganda to arm the enemies of transgender and gender nonconforming youth and adults.

Yet another mainstream article supporting the fallacies and falsehoods he has previously reported surely will do us even further harm, in this time of growing opposition to our limited civil rights and the Trump administration’s and religious right’s ongoing attempts to reverse the few hard-fought liberties we have gained in recent years.

We ask that the Emerson Collective intercede on the behalf of the 1.4 million transgender Americans, to at least pause The Atlantic’s plans to publish, to review this planned report, and to hear our valid concerns before considering going forward. We have experts at the ready, hoping to avert what we fear Mr. Singal will do to misinform The Atlantic’s readers, with data that can best be described as “junk science.”

We may not have the numbers to be counted by some as a significant population, but we are still people whose only goal is to be treated just like every other American.

Thank you for your consideration.


The undersigned transgender Americans and our allies

Dawn Ennis

Cristan Williams