Recently, the journalist Jesse Singal – who has a well-earned reputation for being anti-trans – made an error that he thought was understandable, but to many people – me included – seemed ridiculous. He came across an interview with a trans girl and her mother, during which the mom said:
“So the pediatrician at the time talked to Cam for maybe 10 minutes and then said, Well, I think Cam knows what she needs and let’s get her an appointment with an endocrinologist to move forward with treatment.”
Singal – who has written multiple articles and blogs implying that there is an epidemic of young people being pushed too fast into transitioning without examination, although he’s never documented an actual example – then tweeted:
“Pediatrician with no specific training in gender/developmental issues approves hormones after a *10-minutes* assessment.””
Virtually any trans person – and for that matter, anyone who knows trans people and has listened to their stories – would hear that quote and assume that there was more to it than that ten minutes. And they’d be right. Indeed, the patient herself, understandably annoyed, responded to Singal:
“A substantial amount of time passed between coming out to my mom and that doctor’s visit. I actually had been seeing a therapist for years, and the doctor had those notes indicating my experience with dysphoria.”
“During those *months of waiting* I met two separate psychologists and spoke to them about dysphoria. There aren’t details in the interview about that because it was traumatic, but if Singal wanted to ACTUALLY hear about my experiences he could have asked me…”
“I wasn’t “approved for hormones” as Singal claims. I was referred to THRIVE for an *informational session and evaluation* at their endocrinology clinic. A majority of patients at these clinics don’t receive HRT.”
So why didn’t Singal – who considers himself an expert on all things trans – double check with anyone before running with an obviously implausible “ten minutes” narrative?
Singal lives and works in a bubble of anti-trans misinformation, which has given him a warped misunderstanding of how the transitioning process works – so warped that, despite years of writing on this subject, he can’t even recognize an obviously implausible story, if the story aligns with his misconceptions.
This cartoon wasn’t inspired by Singal alone. There’s nothing special about Singal’s mistake; so many anti-trans people share his misinformation bubble they’re gonna have to build new high-rise housing.
This one was a challenge to write. I wanted to have nine panels of how gender affirming care works in reality. Nine panels is simultaneously a lot of panels – necessary because I wanted to emphasize that a lot goes into this – and also not nearly enough room to give more than a gloss on a process that for most people is long and complicated, and really isn’t the same for everybody. I ended up rewriting those nine panels a whole lot of times.
The other difficulty with those first nine panels is trying to avoid nine panels of the same character talking at the reader. Panel five is my favorite; I’ve heard multiple people who came out as kids talk about how amazing it felt to finally be supported in having the right hair and clothing, and I always find it touching.
TRANSCRIPT OF CARTOON
This cartoon contains ten panels; the left half of the cartoon is a three-by-three grid, containing nine panels, while the right half is a single large panel.
A big caption above the left half of the cartoon says, in large friendly lettering:
HOW TRANSITIONING HAPPENS FOR KIDS
A young man is speaking directly to the reader. He has hair that’s carefully combed on top and buzz-cut on the sides, a short beard, and is wearing a reddish tank top and a black leather wrist band. He’s smiling and friendly. Let’s call him “Bob,” because why not.
BOB: The process isn’t always the same, but here’s how it went for me.
In the foreground, we can see a child with hair in a ponytail. The kid is sitting across a table from two people (presumably Bob’s parents), who both look stunned.
BOB (in a caption): When I was ten, I finally told mom and dad I’m a boy. They were, um… surprised.
Bob is again speaking directly to the reader, smiling, hands on hips.
BOB: But eventually they got me an appointment with a trans-friendly therapist.
Bob raises one hand in a classic “cartoon explaining hands” motion.
BOB: After months of sessions with the therapist, my parents agreed to the next step…
A shot of kid Bob, in a short boy’s haircut, wearing an Elmo t-shirt, jeans shorts, and red high-top sneakers, grinning and glowing with pride, with his chest puffed out.
BOB (in a caption): A new name, new clothes and a new haircut!
A hand is sticking into the panel, holding up a letter. The letter says “Dear Doc, YUP! HE TRANS! yrs, Therapist”
BOB (in a caption): Armed with letters from two therapists, we contacted a gender clinic…
Bob – narrator Bob now, not kid Bob – is sort of emerging from a calendar, leaning his head on one arm. He looks a bit sad.
BOB: But there was a waiting list… I lived as myself over a year before I got in.
A hand is holding a prescription bottle, although it looks a bit more complicated than most pill bottles do, with an oversize cap, and we can see it has a big stopper. (This is because it contains injectable liquid, not pills.) We can see that the bottle is labeled “Leuprolide.”
We’re now seeing Bob from head to toe, as if the camera is backing away. He’s continuing to talk, but each successive word balloon has slightly smaller lettering, as if it’s fading into the distance.
BOB: That was only the start! It was years before I began hormones.
BOB: So next I…
BOB: And then…
This is a huge panel, taking up the entire right half of the cartoon. A small girl, with her hair in pigtails and holding a teddy in one hand, is in what’s obviously a medical office of some kind, standing in front of the counter and talking to the person behind the counter. Her eyes are wide.
The woman behind the counter is leaning forward, almost over the counter, and looks rather predatory. She’s wearing blue scrubs over a black shirt.
A big caption at the bottom of the panel says “HOW THEY IMAGINE IT HAPPENS.”
LITTLE GIRL: My teacher says I’m a tomboy.
WOMAN BEHIND COUNTER: That means you’re a boy! We’ll start you on hormones right now!