Graphic: Jim Cooke (The Atlantic)

If you must know one thing about journalist Jesse Singal, it’s that he loves reporting on trans issues—trans kids, in particular. If you must know another thing, it’s that a lot of trans people, myself included, loathe his coverage of trans issues with a once-fiery passion that has since cooled into a dormant rage.

On Monday, The Atlantic revealed that they are the latest mainstream publication to play host to Singal’s bullshit, publishing “When Children Say They’re Trans,” the cover story for their upcoming July/August issue.

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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.

The detransition narratives, while real and valid, will be familiar to anyone who’s read any of the bigger features on detransitioning published over the past few years like The Stranger’s “The Detransitioners” or The Outline’s “A Story About Discovery.” The interview subjects are female-assigned at birth. They thought they were men or non-binary but now see themselves as women. They often attribute their transition to one of five things:

  • overly accommodating medical practitioners who didn’t think twice about approving hormones or surgery
  • the unprocessed trauma of sexual assault
  • a lack of adherence to traditional gender roles and stereotypes
  • a deep, existential crisis over being a woman under patriarchy, often triggered at the onset of puberty
  • seeing a trans man on YouTube or on TV

…or a combination of all of these things. Again, these stories warrant reporting—but, by their own admission, these women in The Atlantic piece are not trans. So why are they the focus of a story about adolescent transition? Why has The Atlantic decided to publish as its cover story a cis writer’s article about trans people who aren’t trans—during Pride month, no less? Why is this the only detransition narrative that most media seems interested in covering? It’s a familiar narrative to anyone who has already read the aforementioned detransition features published by The Stranger and The Outline, and I mean that literally; one of the subjects, 36-year-old Carey Callahan of Ohio, appears in more than one of these articles.

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We almost never hear about the people who detransition because no one will hire them, or because they can’t afford treatment or locate an affirming doctor. These stories always push a narrative like the ones collected in “When Children Say They’re Trans,” one that paints transition as a mistake that a person regrets for the rest of their life. And why did The Atlantic consider Jesse Singal uniquely qualified to cover something like adolescent transition at all, given the fact that he has publicly admitted to misinterpreting a study on trans kids that informed his work for years. “I done goofed,” he tweeted of the error.

Why does someone like Jesse Singal keep getting paid to write about trans shit? I reached out to a number of editors and other staffers at The Atlantic on Monday in an attempt to find out. Emily Lenzner, Atlantic Media’s SVP of Communications sent me a glowing press release about the cover story and told me that she’d be “happy to answer questions.” So, I called the phone number in her emailed signature and left a message with her assistant. She never called me back, and by Tuesday morning she seemed less than happy to answer questions. “I’m not sure how productive getting on the phone will be given your social media feed and unprofessional approach and language in your emails to the author,” Lenzner said in an email. She’s probably referring to these tweets I posted in response to Singal’s article:

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…which are very funny and true. She’s also probably referring to the questions I’ve been trying to ask Singal on Twitter and over email since his Atlantic article was published Monday morning. One question, really: What’s your fucking deal?

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Why does this guy have such a vested interest in reporting on trans issues, even when so many trans women—including Julia motherfucking Serano, author of the seminal transfeminist text, Whipping Girl—keep telling him to stop? Why does he insist on covering these stories for no discernable reason? Seriously! What’s his fucking deal???

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Since he won’t tell me himself—my tweets and emails have gone unanswered—here’s what I think Jesse Singal’s deal is: He’s a reactionary with a deep mistrust of the informed consent model of trans health care that has allowed a lot of trans people, myself included, to get on hormones in a matter of weeks. (In decades past, I would’ve had to undergo a two-year “real-life test” before a doctor prescribed me hormones. Thankfully, I live in a place like New York where I have Callen-Lorde, Apicha, and Planned Parenthood at my disposal. Many trans people are still forced to grapple with such gatekeeping practices in other parts of the country.)

Singal’s reporting also suggests a cultural anxiety about the growing number of trans people who self-identify as trans without an official diagnosis of gender dysphoria, which would explain why he’s so interested in reporting on trans people who get it wrong. Without delving into personal, perhaps even perverse, speculation, I’d say that he so frequently writes about trans kids as a smokescreen for his anti-trans sentiment. By writing about trans kids instead of trans adults, he can express his concern over the ways we live our lives by framing his concern as a parental one, thus looping parents into the conversation. It’s a children’s issue, not a trans issue, which gives any reader, cis or trans, permission to weigh in on the subject with authority. It’s that classic “think of the children” strawman. I draw similar conclusions from his repeated interest in writing about cis people who thought they were trans because they deviated from traditional gender roles and behavior, a focus that conjures the trope of the binary-obsessed, stereotype-driven trans person without naming her directly.

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His perplexing success as an authority on trans issues can be attributed to a combination of personal and structural transphobia. Few trans people are able to build and sustain careers in media, and those of us who do usually have some form of privilege (whiteness, wealth) helping us do so. This leads to a small, homogenous handful of trans journalists in our newsrooms, on staff or otherwise, which leads to even fewer trans people making their way up the editorial ladder to decision-making roles. Without any trans people in the room (writers, editors, copy editors, fact-checkers…) to say “Hey, you guys, this story about trans people sucks,” someone like Jesse Singal is able to become one of the most prominent and successful journalists covering trans issues today, despite the fact that every trans person I know takes issue with the way he does it. Most maddeningly of all, this success and prominence brings him opportunities that most trans journalists can only dream of, like a fucking cover story of The Atlantic. Does he feel weird about that? Do his editors at The Atlantic? Why does this keep happening? What’s his fucking deal?

Do you know what Jesse Singal’s fucking deal is? Reach out to us via email at tips@jezebel.com, tips@gizmodomedia.com, or anonymously and securely using Gizmodo Media’s Secure Drop system.