Hundreds of contributors on Wednesday The New York Times Officially expressed their displeasure with the paper’s coverage of transgender, non-binary, and gender-nonconforming people, publishing an open letter condemning the paper’s reporting as hostile to those people. “The times has treated gender diversity in recent years with an all-too-familiar mix of pseudoscience and heightened, accusatory language,” it reads, “while publishing reports on trans children that omit relevant information about its origins.”
The claim is made against the backdrop of an ongoing debate over how, and if, those who identify as transgender—particularly minors—should be allowed to relocate. But at its core, the letter is about a different debate: What questions are members of a free press allowed to ask?
central times Contributors’ Arguments is a comprehensive piece written by Emily Bazelon, a staff writer for the magazine. (For the sake of clarity, Bazelon is on the board of directors of the Law and Justice Journalism Project, an organization through which I’m doing a fellowship this year.) That article, “The War on Gender Therapy,” highlighted the evolution of medical care for transgender youth and the doctors who currently practice such. Treating patients how they grapple with changes in science, as well as changes in politics, increases demand for their services.
“The natural destination of poor editorial judgment is the court of law,” The times Contributors write in letters. “Last year, the Attorney General of Arkansas filed an amicus brief in defense of Alabama’s Vulnerable Child Compassion and Protection Act, which would have made it a felony, punishable by up to 10 years in prison, for any medical provider to administer sex-specific–minors (including puberty blockers) Ensuring medical care that separates them from the sex assigned at birth.” According to the letter, people like Bazelon are partly to blame, as he outlines a history and brief controversy. By this logic, it would only be ethical for journalists to cover controversial issues if they were prepared to come to a predetermined conclusion. It reverses the mantra that journalists “shouldn’t show and tell” and instead tells and doesn’t show.
A primary flaw in Bazelon’s article, according to times Contributors, she writes that “she uncritically uses the term ‘patient zero’ to refer to a trans child in need of gender-affirming care, a phrase that denigrates transness as a disease to be feared,” they write. “This is the same discourse that transphobic policymakers have recently reintroduced into the American legislative apparatus, quoting Emily Bazelon. times article.” The man Bazelon calls “Patient Zero,” also referred to as FG, is a transgender man who as a teenager in the 1980s was the first recipient of a new treatment protocol at an influential gender clinic in Amsterdam. That would revolutionize medical science.
In context, it seems that the word bazelon means benign. He used it single time; Two words in an 11,000-word piece, as a means of communicating that FG was the first to receive a course in medical care that was—and, to some extent, still—was nascent and experimental and one that remains front and center. Conversations as clinicians how to best help transgender youth. Importantly, FG is presented as happy in his transition and post-transition life.
That outrage extends beyond “patient zero” and is a broader debate about journalism is reflected in the backlash after Bezelon’s piece was published in June. an article Texas Observer A summary of that response: “There is no legitimate ‘debate’ over gender-affirming health care,” reads the headline.
The medical community disagrees, as evidenced by the in-depth reports provided by Bazelon’s article. The piece painstakingly outlines the real debate among physicians — many of whom are transgender themselves — about how to proceed while remaining faithful to their “do no harm” ethos. Among the questions explored: How do doctors determine if a child is ready for change? What is at the root of the influx of trans-identifying youth, and how are doctors considering what may sometimes be social pressure or concurrent mental illness as opposed to gender dysphoria (or excess)? How do doctors decide when to start puberty suppressants versus hormone treatment and surgery?
Reading times Because of the letter, as well as the elaborate objections on Bazelon’s part, readers might assume that he simply platformed skeptical quacks. But Bazelon’s interviews included leading doctors in the field who are sympathetic to treating transgender patients in a way that usually draws strong reactions from conservatives. There are differences and nuances between these doctors, as expected in medicine, and Bazelon puts them in conversation, as expected in journalism. He includes, for example, a long interview with Colt St. Amand, a physician at the Mayo Clinic, who said: “People are what they say they are, and they can evolve and change, and that’s all normal and okay. So I’m a certainty about identity.” Less concerned with, and more concerned with listening to, the person’s embodied goals. Do you want a deeper voice? Do you want to have breasts? You know, what do you want for your body?”
Marcy Bowers, a transgender woman and reconstructive surgeon, has observed, in contrast, that transgender girls who stop male puberty and thus prevent the development of a full penis, may struggle to orgasm in their adulthood after bottom surgery. “Sexual satisfaction is a huge thing,” she told Bazelon. “You have to talk about it.”
Some of the country’s elite journalists, however, seem reluctant to talk about it. They want to treat these issues as black and white in a profession that is supposed to be devoted to gray investigations.
Fortunately, leadership times Agreed, at least in this case. “Our journalism seeks to explore, interrogate and reflect society’s experiences, ideas and controversies — to help readers understand them. Our reporting has done just that, and we’re proud of it,” said Charlie Stadlander, director of external communications. times‘ newsroom, said in a statement. and a Memo In a letter to staff, top editor Joe Kahn condemned the staff effort, writing that the paper “will not tolerate participation in protests by Times journalists organized by advocacy groups or attacks on colleagues on social media and other public forums.”
There’s a line from Bazelon’s piece about the negative reception doctors sometimes receive from their own camp. “This reaction hurt them even more,” Bazelon wrote, “and often criticism from your peers and allies.” I imagine he might feel the same way after reading the letter times Contributor