Free Speech

Can The New York Times resist the trans backlash?

When emotional campaigns displace rational debate, we are in dangerous territory, reversing back into a world of superstition, religious fervour, and witch hunts

The paper is facing internal dissent over its gender coverage

When even The New York Times publishes an op-ed defending J.K. Rowling, perhaps the game is up for the activist lobby.

Until recently, the NYT had turned a blind eye to science and reality (i.e. that human beings cannot change sex) and instead churned out inflammatory and dangerous nonsense, some of it catalogued by UnHerd. Transphobia is Everywhere in Britain wailed the Gray Lady in 2020. The following year NYT readers were led to believe that, here in the UK, there was “an active attempt to dehumanize trans people”. It’s just not true — and I say that as a trans person in the UK — but when ideology eclipses reason, inconvenient truths can be quietly ignored. 

However, it seems that things have shifted and for the better. Over the last year, the NYT appears to have changed its tune: “The Battle Over Gender Therapy, published June 2022, explored critically the treatment of transgender-identified youngsters. Last month, a feature article considered the issues that arise When Students Change Gender Identity, and Parents Don’t Know”.

Rather predictably, not everyone is pleased. On Wednesday, hundreds of writers sent an open letter to the associate managing editor for standards at the NYT. In short, they were outraged that the newspaper was reporting issues in a way they did not like. To justify their censorious approach, they asserted that “a tiny percentage of the population is trans, and an even smaller percentage of those people face the type of conflict the Times is so intent on magnifying.” Nothing to see here, in other words.

Those that called themselves “cis” launched into an emotional appeal: “We have seen those we love discover and fight for their true selves, often swimming upstream against currents of bigotry and pseudoscience fomented by the kind of coverage we here protest.” But trans people don’t need their pity: I’d rather they treated us as human beings, just like everyone else. We do not need to be recast as special or different, and certainly not used as a stick with which to beat the NYT.

If that was not enough, GLAAD jumped on the bandwagon. The once proud Gay & Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation parked a truck outside the Times building demanding that the paper stop “questioning trans people’s right to exist and access to medical care”. This was a cheap ploy.

If the NYT was concerned by these attacks on the freedom of the press, the paper went ahead with this week’s piece “In defense of J.K. Rowling”. In the most measured of tones, opinion columnist Pamela Paul concluded, “You might disagree — perhaps strongly — with Rowling’s views and actions … But nothing Rowling has said qualifies as transphobic”. Quite right. But Paul went further, warning:

“This campaign against Rowling is as dangerous as it is absurd. The brutal stabbing of Salman Rushdie last summer is a forceful reminder of what can happen when writers are demonized. And in Rowling’s case, the characterization of her as a transphobe doesn’t square with her actual views.”

Pamela Paul, New York Times

Rushdie was demonised by one kind of fanatic; Rowling has been demonised by another. When emotional campaigns displace rational debate, we are in dangerous territory, reversing back into a world of superstition, religious fervour, and witch hunts. Will the NYT hold out? We can but hope.

Debbie Hayton

* This article was first published by Unherd on 17 February 2023: Can The New York Times resist the trans backlash?

By Debbie Hayton

Physics teacher and trade unionist.

3 replies on “Can The New York Times resist the trans backlash?”

First, let me say that I haven’t cared for the New York Times for a very long time because they used eminent domain to kick sixty-eight land owners off their land so they could build a new building in midtown Manhattan. They simply chose the block where they wanted their building to be, and the government cooperated by evicting all the property owners from that block. That happened a couple decades ago.

What worries me about this entire incident is the sheer number of people who have ganged up on the New York Times. I looked at the list, and all I could think was, “Are there really that many stupid influential people in the country?” Us anti-trans people (meaning anti-trans ideology) have been around for a long time now, but still the liberals in Western societies are smitten by all the bad ideas. At what point do they wise up? I’m beginning to think that it may take half a century for the trans trend to be brought under control. I don’t expect to live long enough to see it.

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That letter was ridiculous and full of outright lies. Like this:

In a similar case, Katie Baker’s recent feature “When Students Change Gender Identity and Parents Don’t Know” misframed the battle over children’s right to safely transition. The piece fails to make clear that court cases brought by parents who want schools to out their trans children are part of a legal strategy pursued by anti-trans hate groups. These groups have identified trans people as an “existential threat to society” and seek to replace the American public education system with Christian homeschooling, key context Baker did not provide to Times readers.

It’s the usual reframing of concern, often from a scientific viewpoint, as “anti-trans hate.” The link the “existential threat” part is referring to actually says, “Confusing a generation about biological reality is an existential threat to society.” If someone reads that and reports it as saying “trans people are an existential threat to society,” they just demonstrate how confused they’ve become, or how stupid they are. I get the sense it’s rarely genuine confusion, it’s often just blatant obfuscation.

Who the hell is daft enough to take seriously the idea of a school “outing” a kid’s “gender identity”?! If their gender is a genuine thing, the school ought to invite parents to help support them in it, and if a kid says they don’t want their parents to know, it should be explained that they all need to work together, school, kid and parents, not tell lies and hide information from each other. Traditionally, being open and honest and facing up to things is one of the qualities we try to encourage in our children, not hiding stuff, aided by competing authories.

What message does this give to children? There are things about you that are potentially frightening or that your parents will dislike, so we’ll help you hide it while we all pretend you’re the opposite sex to what your body is. If you have any further problems with your parents, do let us know.

It’s maybe not an existential threat to society – society can survive a sub-population of confused people (although maybe it’s getting too large if we add in all the other confusions) – but it’s potentially one to the child (as we know, affirmation and transition INCREASE suicidality), and it’s very damaging to society as a whole.

Imagine, as a parent, not knowing what information your school is hiding from you about your child? That must be the case for parents living in those states that decree this, not to mention the fear of having your kids removed from you for blocking their transition as minors. It’s monstrous.

It’s not just one-sided; I don’t advocate complete parental power to dictate all educational activities, parents can be wrong about things too, but there needs to be openness. This subterfuge among schools is one of the worst features of gender ideology.

Anyway, sorry to rant at length – and thanks for the bit of good news. Things will change. I suspect it won’t take all that long either, as the mood is changing by the week on this.

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