For the Daily Mail, one anecdote defeats mountains of data

Zinnia JonesThe Daily Mail’s overt hostility toward trans people, and LGBT people broadly, is nothing new. From opposing efforts against anti-trans bullying in schools, to claiming falsely that a convicted murderer is a trans woman, to attacking two gay men for having a child, to outing a trans schoolteacher who then committed suicide as a result of the “sensational and salacious” coverage, the Mail has established itself as an outlet for essentially any coverage that can be slanted to paint queer and trans people in a negative light.

Calling out the bias in the Mail’s coverage of trans-related topics could easily be a full-time job – but one particularly sensational story from a few days ago certainly deserves a closer look.

Such personal stories of regret and detransition, highlighted by media outlets eager to cast doubt on the efficacy of affirming care for trans people, aren’t a recent phenomenon. If anything, these rare personal stories are just about the only lens through which regret and detransition are covered in the media – and that’s a problem.

The Mail’s latest article offers all sorts of irrelevant details about the particulars of various transition surgeries, the processes of surgical reconstruction, their cost, and assertions from the individual in question that transitioning “mutilated” her and that trans people seeking transition treatments should “seek talking therapy before surgery” – with no mention of the pre-surgical requirements already recommended by WPATH’s Standards of Care. The story uncritically repeats her claim that “I’m sure a lot of transgender men feel the same too but I’m the only one honest and brave one to come out and say it.”

Stories like this are a shameless exercise in intellectual dishonesty. For the moment, let’s say that we genuinely believe that the phenomena of regret and detransition are in fact a problem on a massive scale meriting overwhelming concern. Let’s say that we can hardly think about anything other than this, and must cover these happenings daily, until this issue is decisively addressed. Is the content of this article worthy of the standards demanded by such a supposedly pressing and widespread social issue with such an allegedly severe impact on so many people?

Absolutely not.

Consider what little relevant substance the article actually contains:

  • One woman regrets transitioning.
  • She says there are a lot of other people who also regret transitioning.
  • The other people who also regret transitioning are conveniently invisible.
  • She believes more therapy should be necessary prior to transitioning, before noting that she attended therapy sessions prior to transitioning.

If you or I honestly believed that transition regret was so extraordinarily concerning, would we be willing to settle for this as our case for why our readers ought to be extraordinarily concerned about this as well? I, personally, would not be satisfied with this at all.

What would make a stronger case than this? Here, the bar is so low that just about any attempt at science would suffice: Decades of clinical experience with those who regret transitioning or choose to regret transitioning. Studies illuminating any key differences between those who regret and do not regret transitioning – personal factors, social factors, comorbid psychiatric conditions, time spent in therapy prior to and during transitioning. Epidemiological data showing whether the rate of those who regret transitioning is increasing, decreasing, or staying the same over time. Anything about anything that would help us understand and usefully answer concrete questions about the population of those who regret transitioning so that we can help them as effectively and as early as possible.

Really, anything more than “there’s at least one, and we’re told there’s actually very many of them, and no, you can’t see them” would have made this a more robust article. But it offers none of that – nothing that would be worthy of how extremely worrisome we’re supposed to believe this phenomenon is.

So those are the Mail’s standards for why detransitioning is notable, deserving of extensive coverage, and supposedly quite commonplace. This is the very definition of sensationalism, and a transparent display of bias. Suppose one trans person were to approach the Mail, declare that transitioning has been all-around fantastic for their life, and that it’s been a most excellent experience for very many of their friends, who do not feel like coming forward, but rest assured that there are quite a few of them and they definitely exist.

Would that then compel the Mail to execute an immediate 180 and declare that transitioning is actually so awesome that we should all be aware of how great it is? It seems doubtful – the dozens of peer-reviewed studies finding strongly beneficial outcomes of transitioning for trans people in many areas of life didn’t even rate a mention in this article about an outcome of transitioning. Neither did the finding that approximately 98% of trans people do not regret transitioning.

Would any quantity of published data of the highest quality suffice to convince the Mail to, if they do decide to cover individuals who detransition, at least place this in the full context? Truly caring about those who regret transition demands that we take this seriously. The Mail cannot even offer them that – only exploitation.

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About Zinnia Jones

My work focuses on insights to be found across transgender sociology, public health, psychiatry, history of medicine, cognitive science, the social processes of science, transgender feminism, and human rights, taking an analytic approach that intersects these many perspectives and is guided by the lived experiences of transgender people. I live in Orlando with my family, and work mainly in technical writing.
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