The Times Assigns A Guy With a Gross History Towards Trans People to Review a Book By a Woman With a Grosser History Towards Trans People

The Times Assigns A Guy With a Gross History Towards Trans People to Review a Book By a Woman With a Grosser History Towards Trans People

One of the more concerning social movements percolating in the United Kingdom is the disingenuous and hateful campaign against transgendered people. A combination of factors—the right-wing tendencies of the established press, the historic decentering of intersectionality in British feminism, and the lack of will from legislators to enshrine basic protections —have created a social climate where trans rights are very much up for debate. Transphobia spreads by an aloof press fooled into platforming bigoted TERFs, bolstered by a network of unhinged activists and commentators, and enabled by mealy-mouthed politicians on both the right and left. As the Conservative government barrels forward on denying liberiszation of gender self-identification laws, the opposition Labour Party remains preoccupied with readopting the failed and socially conservative stances of the Blair years. It’s a grim time for the British trans community.

America is by no means a safe haven for transgendered people1, but culturally it often lacks the outwardly violent and deranged tenor that the issue has in the United Kingdom. Conservative lawmakers and individuals still use the marginalized as punching bags, but much of the mainstream media currently treats the trans community with some degree of compassion. Yet, America has many of the same tendencies that have allowed transphobia to become so malignant in the United Kingdom media culture. It’s imperative that the media critically reviews the false narratives espoused by anti-trans activists, newly emboldened by their success across the Atlantic. That’s what makes the New York Times’ decision to have Jesse Singal review “Trans: When Ideology Meets Reality” so disappointing and inexplicable.

Singal is an interesting figure in the media: a self-proclaimed and media-anointed expert on transgender issues who is almost universally loathed by the community he covers. Numerous through-lines can be drawn from Singal coverage and the lines of attack taken by anti-trans activists in the UK: the centering of the statistically rare practice of gender detransitioning, the cynical weaponization of women and girls to question protections towards transgender people, and the focus on minute scientific classifications rather than pressing issues of equality and liberation. By constantly choosing to focus to on these issues in the deeply underreported genre of trans issues, Singal’s body of work actively works against trans equality.

It’s a deeply strange way to make a career…unless you are disengiously trying to make money as a tortured truth teller suppressed by a woke mob, which Singal has certainly had success framing himself as. He’s particularly adept at turning the criticism he receives into greater notoriety; co-hosting a popular podcast called “Blocked and Reported” (barf) and landing a writing deal with Substack. Since he enjoys support significant support from an entrenched editorship, Singal remains able to supplement this work with high-profile assignments. A trans person has never written a cover story for The Atlantic, but Singal has written one oddly fixated on the small subset of children who later regret transitioning.

It’s in this context that one fails to understand the decision by the Books desk at the Times to assign Singal a review of Helen Joyce’s new book, Trans: When Ideology Meets Reality. Joyce, a longtime staffer at The Economist, has written something of a manifesto for the contemporary UK anti-trans movement. By doing so, Joyce’s book has been something of a blockbuster in the United Kingdom, pairing an impressively credentialed author with a topic that’s inspired significant grassroots energy. It’s received astonishing praise by the conservative press, and even glowing reviews in traditionally liberal publications like New Statesman and The Guardian. In many ways, Joyce’s book feels like the anti-trans movement ascending definitively into the British mainstream.

The ideological foundation of this movement are based in a slimy misrepresentation of its true motives. “We aren’t opposed to trans people”, supporters often claim, “we simply are opposed to trans activists.” These activists demand that, in Singal words, “liberal institutions not only embrace their ideas unquestioningly but also, increasingly, punish dissident.” While they may bristle at a transwomen who “understands themselves to be a woman because of their gender identity and expects everyone else to agree”, Singal and Joyce are theoretically fine with such people existing. Yet by fixating on the supposed “anti-scientific” argument of transgender activists in favor of conservative classifications of gender based on sex, Joyce and her allies are inherently defining who can or cannot be a woman.

The inherent conflict here is mostly justified away by the pressures of surviving in a hostile media climate. Getting yelled at on Twitter is deeply formative to the “trans-skeptical” mindset. Singal writes favorably of Joyce’s absurd demand for “freedom to reject and oppose gender-identity ideology, and in return gladly accept that others have the right to preach it and live by it.” 2 He sees himself and Joyce as kindred spirits standing against not just an illogical media but a manipulated medical establishment, drawing attention in his review to an updated AMA guidance calling for the removal of assigned gender on birth certificates. Of course, therein lies the incoherency of the entire project: if the scientific community is turning against your beliefs, and your entire argument is based on science, then what exactly is the point of all of this?

Here, again, Singal and Joyce are cynical and disingenuous. Drawing upon the most arbitrary and antiquated conceptualizations of feminism, they claim to be protecting children and “true” women from predators. Again, it’s a fixation that ranges from the bizarre—the preemptive outrage towards a hypothetical trans athlete winning a competition because of their biological composition—to the downright hateful; the latter represented most viscerally by the constant insinuation that trans woman cannot be trusted with access to the same facilities as biological women and girls. To this point, Singal expresses admiration for Joyce’s advocacy for “truly single-sex spaces in some settings, such as rape shelters.” The reality that this excludes potentially thousands of female survivors from shelter does not seem to pass his mind.

Singal‘s entire thing is deeply tired at this point. He’s either a useful idiot for social reactionaries, a bigot himself, or an insincere opportunist. The answer doesn’t really matter, all you need to know is that he’s dutifully served the message of trans-skepticism to a large audience and been handsomely compensated for doing so. Yet, his positioning as the arbitrator of Joyce’s work in the American paper of record is deeply concerning for what it reveals about the resilience of the American media’s acceptance of the transgender movement.

To our publishing world’s credit, American book-houses rejected Joyce’s book, leaving the British publisher to import the work itself. A truly liberal newspaper would treat a release like this with at least a cursory attempt at critical analysis. It would presumably commission a critic who has not “corresponded sporadically over the years” with the author, as Singal generously discloses. Perhaps it would end up publishing a review with more criticism than a perfunctory ding on the book’s “very thin” citations.

This is not what the New York Times has done. They’ve given a stupid, dangerous book to a stupid, dangerous critic. It’s a meeting of the minds, and it sucks.

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