The Weirdness of This Washington Post Piece
The sideways coverage of detransition
I’ve been trying to write about detransitioners for mainstream and liberal news outlets since 2020. When nobody took those pitches, I tried writing about why we needed to write about them. No takers, either. As far as I can tell, most publications have taken to heart the Trans Journalists’ Association’s recommendation, and not used the word at all:
There are a few exceptions. The first was Jesse Singal’s very well-reported 2018 piece in The Atlantic. The objection to it was so over-the-top that, in my opinion, it signaled to editors not to bother broaching the subject, or at least not to apply much pressure to it if they did. Since then, The Atlantic has mostly ignored the subject, until this year, when it published a piece by a trans man who studies detransition.
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60 Minutes aired a story in 2021 that was supposed to focus on detransitioners. But activists so vociferously objected to it before it aired (not to mention after) that it ended up including their activist voices in the segment. Representatives from HRC and others didn’t want any sunlight on detransitioners, because they literally embodied the poor outcomes of gender affirming care—and might make it harder for others to access it.
Reuters tackled the topic just over a year ago, calling detransitioners “crucial to the science of gender care.”
The Washington Post recently published its second piece on detransitioners—well, sort of. It wasn’t about how bad the bad outcomes are, or how blue states have blocked the passage of laws that would ensure detransitioners could access health care, or about how the science is so politicized that we can’t make good policy. As I always say, you can’t perform cost-benefit analyses if you can’t acknowledge the cost. Rather, the piece was about Carey Callahan, a woman who detransitioned and denounced gender-affirming care for youth, and has since changed her mind—not about her own detransition, but about her own contribution to the backlash against youth gender medicine and the laws banning it.1
Now she was busy trying to prevent Ohio from passing such a law, in part because she had visited an Ohio clinic that seemed to be practicing careful medicine, in contrast to what she received. (I admit I was curious if marrying and moving to the suburbs had changed her mindset some—I wonder if she felt some social pressure to denounce her past denouncements?)
This essentially describes Callahan’s journey:
Callahan had worked with some of the country’s most prominent anti-trans researchers and personalities. She’d disappeared for a while, but now she was on TikTok, denouncing health-care bans.
Ten years earlier, when she first started talking about her detransition experience, the piece notes, she was practically the only detransitioner around. But since then, the author of this piece writes:
Detransitioners now headlined conservative rallies. They spoke on Capitol Hill and on Tucker Carlson’s show, and billionaires flew them across the country to beg legislators to ban gender-affirming care. Earlier this spring, detransitioned women had come to Ohio from California and Michigan to describe themselves as mutilated.2
Huh, well that’s interesting. A decade ago there were hardly any detransitioners and now there are a bunch? I wonder what happened, and if maybe somebody should investigate?
“She had never been as famous as the current wave of detransitioners,” the piece asserts about Callahan. But how famous are any detransitioners? I regularly meet people in my liberal bubble who don’t know such people exist. The Washington Post has almost never mentioned them beyond these two pieces!
Meanwhile, why do detransitioners, whatever their politics, go on conservative media? Because conservative media will listen to them, and take their concerns seriously. Why do they partner with Republicans? Because Republicans will listen to them, and take their concerns seriously. That is, in fact, what everyone involved in this issue needs to do. If Democrats would listen to them, and mainstream and liberal media would report honestly and accurately about them, the narrative would be completely different.
Instead, they write things like this: “One [politician] even suggested Callahan had had it ‘easier’ because she still had breasts.” Why is easier in quotes? In fact, yes, for those who regret transition, losing your breasts is harder.
But even if you’re lucky enough to keep yours, you may feel seriously damaged by the very care others call life-saving. Here, for instance, is a story people who don’t know much about detransitioners might do well to watch:
I like to think that I am still open-minded. Show me the data, the long-term positive outcomes, the proof that those who were approved for meds and partook of them fared significantly better than those who were approved for meds and refused them, and I’ll report that. I will treat anyone who shares their story with me with respect, and I will try to empathize and understand and relate your point of view—even if I push back on it.
But I admit that I am biased in certain ways. And one of those ways is that I find Corinna Cohn—who wrote a piece for The Washington Post about how, at 19, she was too young to consent to a “sex reassignment” operation—to be compassionate and credible. Thus, I don’t recognize the way she is described in this current piece, as some kind of sniggering villain savoring the pain inflicted on kids and families because of Ohio’s ban, which she testified in favor of. Cohn is a libertarian, for crying out loud. She has got to think there is something terribly wrong with youth gender medicine if she’s going to urge lawmakers to ban it.
In fact, she probably felt the same way Callahan is described as feeling: “…she didn’t think she’d be able to forgive herself if she stayed quiet.”
Oh boy, do I know that feeling well. When I decided to speak up, I had no idea how hard it would be to get editors to listen to me. I have had friends who work in the media literally cover their ears when I talk about this and say “I don’t want to hear about it. I don’t want to know.”
Callahan has every right to speak up. So does Cohn. The important thing is for lawmakers, editors, and providers of care to listen to all these relevant voices. If they’re going to include pro-childhood sex change activists in pieces about detransitioners, they can include heterodox transsexuals like Cohn. The important thing is for reporters to not decide beforehand who is good and moral and right.
It would have been great to have had Cohn’s voice in this piece—that would have strengthened it. It would have been great to explain, to the many readers unfamiliar with the idea of detransitioners, that they are shunned by the trans community and often have nowhere to go for healthcare. That was, in fact, the situation most trans people in America faced until recently: discrimination, vilification, lack of access.
You’d think, then, that trans people, and those who provide them medical care, would have the utmost compassion for such an experience. Instead, they see detransitioners as traitors and apostates.
Apostates often have the most important stories to tell. They can pour sunlight on the dark corners of narratives. We should take them seriously. We should make sure liberal Americans—all Americans—get the whole story.
Here’s to better media coverage in 2024.
A few days after this piece was published, Ohio’s governor vetoed the ban.
I’m not sure about the billionaires, and most detransitioners I’ve talked to prefer not to refer to themselves as mutilated, but since there are no links with these claims, we can’t fact check