Check Out How Much Effort It Takes To Respond To A Single Lie-Stuffed Tweetstorm Distorting My Work On Youth Gender Dysphoria

A response to Dianna E. Anderson

I’m presently experiencing a bit of a Twitter pileon that is slightly hard to explain. The short version is that a bunch of people are mad that I am making solid money writing for Substack (this post is free, but most of my posts are paid), given that I am known — known — to want trans people, particularly trans kids, to be humiliated and to kill themselves, and that I am known — known — to have acted creepily toward far too many trans women to even count. (Update, 3/20/2021: Jon Kay published a long and comprehensive account of the online smear campaign against me that you can read here if you want more background than what I provide in this post.)

I am not exaggerating. Here’s Jude Ellison Sady Doyle, a longtime feminist writer who transitioned to nonbinary fairly recently (EDIT: I originally said ‘male,’ but Doyle identifies as nonbinary and uses he and they pronouns — apologies), laying out the case against Substack, in part by laying out the case gainst me:

Those are just the assholes. Increasingly, Substack is tolerating and funding extreme trans-eliminationist rhetoric: They host Jesse Singal, a high-profile supporter of anti-trans conversion therapy who is also widely known to fixate on and stalk trans women in and around the media industry. I would list Jesse’s targets, but at this point, I don’t know a trans woman in media who doesn’t have a story.

Doyle’s piece was just one outburst from perhaps a week’s worth of anger centering largely on the cash advances Substack gave some writers to launch their newsletters, and the feeling that some of the writers in question are morally and/or ideologically impure. (I wasn’t offered any money, didn’t receive any, and have built up this newsletter since 2019 — it’s only become something I can call an unqualified success since last August or so). But that claim, that I am a stalker, is so fucking irresponsible and so fucking unfair that I have to admit it launched me into a bit of a Twitter-tizzy:

This likely didn’t help matters, though who knows. (Side-note but I am obviously not in favor of conversion therapy, and naturally the piece Doyle links to makes no such claim.)

Anyway, I’ve been through this before and have written about it. A friend of Doyle’s, Nicole Cliffe, announced on Twitter a couple years ago that she has so many trans friends who have been creeped out by my attempts to meet up with them in person. So many! In that case, too, there was apparently just too much evidence to provide a single example. Nary a screenshot. I mean, do we ask for evidence that the sun rises in the east, or that if you let go of a pen it will fall to the floor? It is known.

Before I get to the main point of this post, I just need to vent for one paragraph: These people are evil liars. That is the only accurate way to describe what they are doing. They are terrible, immoral, awful people. There’s a reason thousands of years’ worth of human legal and moral codes warn against this type of behavior. What they are doing is so, so inexcusable, and it has robbed so many hours from me, between the anxiety and anger it has caused, the time I’ve spent responding to their bullshit, and my unfortunate (but I think human) tendency to get drawn into Twitter fights, sometimes years later, when their garbage claims are regurgitated for the 800th time. It gets exhausting. To be clear, they haven’t won — I’ve been really lucky to see my platform expand so much in the last few years, and even got a bit of a “Doyle bump,” if you could call it that (please let’s call it that), after his nonsense popped off, in the form of a surge of Substack and Patreon subscriptions. But this is still quite harmful: I don’t want to just do stuff for Substack and Patreon. I want to continue writing for mainstream outlets like I’ve been doing for almost a decade and a half. I want to write another book for a mainstream publisher, if I can come up with a worthy idea. How many editors out there now know — KNOW — that I am a terrible, creepy harasser because of these awful, shitty people endlessly repeating these lies and never providing anything like sufficient evidence to justify such claims? Once more: How is this acceptable? 

Okay, venting done. The main goal of this post is really to point out just how much time and energy it can take to debunk a single drop of online misinformation during a downpour of it, which is what I’m presently experiencing. I’m going to focus on one tweetstorm by a nonbinary writer named Dianna E. Anderson that is getting a lot of attention and which is being seen by some, at least according to one correspondent, as the definitive takedown of my work. It has gotten almost 800 retweets as of when I’m writing this. (I’m seeing random Google-scraps suggesting we may have had Twitter interactions at one point or another, but I don’t remember ever corresponding with Anderson on any platform.)

It’s incredibly dishonest. It gets the most basic stuff wrong. It’s stuffed with lies. So of course it’s going viral! And now 5,000 or 10,000 or 30,000 or whatever-the-number-is-more-people will be completely misled about my work. Maybe another barrista will tell Reddit I frequent their coffee shop, leading to more people suggesting I be poisoned or have coffee thrown in my face. Misinformation’s a blast. Pileons are great. This is true, meaningful social justice at work.

I’m not going to respond to every single possible tiny little point Anderson makes, but here’s most of their tweetstorm — I left out an irrelevant tweet here or there — with numbers corresponding to the points I do want to respond to (typos in the original):

I wanna talk about this Jesse Singal stuff for a minute, and how to spot transphobes who claim they are not tranpshobic, as is his claim. Singal is a cisgender journalist who, without much knowledge or expertise, managed to become a “go-to” for covering trans issues for a lot of big magazines. This was because, as trans women have pointed out, he seems to be singularly obsessed with trans issues.

Singal would claim that having an interest and a beat is different from an “obsession” and would object to my characterization. But trans women who encountered him disagree it. (1) Julia Serano outlines her experiences with his behavior on her blog from 2017: http://juliaserano.blogspot.com/2017/12/my-jesse-singal-story_11.html

It’s totally *fine* to have an area of interest. Lots of journalists specialize in particular issues. But Singal’s focus seems to have started around 2016/2017, when he started speaking to trans women for articles and began working on stories on trans kids.

At that time, (2) a lot of trans women flagged creepy/boundary crossing behavior that felt, to them, dehumanizing. They quickly flagged this up through the whisper network of trans women - most women have had similar experiences where a man seems to see you as an object. But this kind of behavior is squishy and hard to pin down and if you’re disinclined to believe trans women about themselves, it is fairly easy for Singal and his followers to dismiss such things as hysteria and cancel culture. So let’s look at his actual work.

One thing to note when reading a journalist’s work on the trans/GNC community is to see who they speak to, and what they highlight as important. (3) In a 2016 article in The Cut, Singal told us that an important part of the “debate” around trans kids was missing: detransitioning. He insists that medical doctors are rushing ahead, quoting critics of transgender identity, andpurposefully making trans affirming doctors sound extreme by suggesting they want to perform surgery on 12yos.

These are *classic* transphobic talking points. (4) His most controversial piece, a cover story in The Atlantic about transgender kids, repeats this same focus on detransitioning, and speaks to almost no transgender people or people friendly to trans affirming health care.

This is a red flag. When anti-trans people want to deny the depth and breadth of transgender identity, they argue that people decide they aren’t trans all the time. They highlight desistors, argue that their experience is actually the norm, and focus largely on their stories.

Instead of talking about trans identity as valid and persistant and undeniable for people, transphobes focus on the very small percentage of desistors, and insist that their existence invalidates trans identities and is “not talked about” or “ignored” by establishment activists.

This leads many gender critical feminists and journalists like Singal to argue for conversion therapy. You see bits and pieces of this in Singal’s work, though he never outright says “I support conversion therapy for transgender kids.” He doesn’t have to.

(5) All he has to do is lay out his claims that 80% of trans kids desist (a much criticized statistic:https://juliaserano.medium.com/reframing-transgender-desistance-debates-68648a4fd01a), defend Kenneth Zucker, and quote desistors who believe conversion therapy would have helped them. Singal wrote a “story of a martyr” profile on Zucker for NY’s The Cut, in which he mentions the WPATH Standards of Care only in that Zucker was part of the committee that put them together, not that Zucker caused great controversy within WPATH himself. He also neglects to note that Zucker was protested at WPATH, was contemporaneously seen as out of step with the standards of care he helped craft, and that his therapeutic method was condemned by Gay and Lesbian associations as well as trans ones. Singal discounts trans voices.

These are all red flags. He consistently fails to balance his articles about desistors with voices from trans adults in the field. (6) He persistently leans into the idea that trans kids are being “mutiliated.” He focuses on young trans boys while creeping out adult trans women.

In order to argue that Jesse Singal only has concern for the trans community, you have to ignore a multitude of actual, real trans people who have said that his focus on desistance in the name of trans kids is suspect. A big red flag.

So, no, he’s not outright promoting conversion therapy for kids. He’s just writing cancel culture profiles of a guy who promotes it, and making his focus  about trans kids who aren’t really trans which gives him the right to be *concerned* about The Tranzez taking over.

An hour later, I remembered a thing that’s also worth watching for! (7) Singal is also a big, BIG fan of finding some little mistake and pouncing on, or casting any “errors” as immediate imprecations on the person’s entire point, which is what you see him doing with Jude Doyle.

(8) He does this CONSISTENTLY with trans writers, proclaiming, for example, that Grace Lavery’s piece on the Tavistock ruling was “full of falsehoods,” nitpicking on a couple of grammatical points. It is his go-to.

My responses, item by item, with quotes from Anderson in bold:

(1) Julia Serano outlines her experiences with his behavior on her blog from 2017: http://juliaserano.blogspot.com/2017/12/my-jesse-singal-story_11.html

Anderson, like so many others, points out that everyone knows I’m creepy around — and obsessed with — trans women, but only provides this one example. I have had almost no interaction with Julia Serano, ever, so this is a strange one to pick. If you read Serano’s post, and setting aside the Katelyn Burns thing (which I’ve already spent hours responding to here and here), you will see that Serano is upset that one time I wrote the following in a NY Mag article:

And when I emailed Serano for the Zucker story, she made the same argument (as an aside, you should read her Daily Beast article about navigating the dating scene as a trans woman in San Francisco). I didn’t end up quoting from Serano’s response, but she posted it online afterward, and it reads, in part: “These children [at Zucker’s clinic] are not necessarily brought in for “gender dysphoria” but for gender non­conformity. I’ve already conceded (as most trans activists & advocates would), many of these gender non­conforming kids will not grow up to be cross­gender-identified.”

In other words: I disagree with Serano on a technical matter involving desistance from gender dysphoria (see here and here for far more information than you need on that subject), but I did enjoy an article she wrote about dating while trans in San Francisco. Had I had any idea how she would have reacted, I never would have complimented her. Because Serano, through a logical process I cannot explain or understand, decided that in complimenting an article she wrote while disagreeing with or ignoring the rest of her vast oeuvre, I was “slut-shaming” her. She also suggests in her piece that maybe, what this (‘this’ meaning a brief complimentary aside) really comes down to is that I am sexually attracted to trans women, and specifically to her. 

(Update, 3/15/2021: A few people have pointed out that Serano explicitly denies this in her post: She writes:

But over the course of my life, I’ve met quite a number of men who have a sort of love/hate relationship with trans women, where they are intrigued or fascinated by us, while simultaneously being resentful or repulsed. And I’m not implying sexually here—there is no evidence of that in this case, plus even if there was, I would never slut-shame or deride a person for that. No, what I’m talking about is men (and it’s typically men) who want to both interact with or be close to trans women, while also displaying a compulsive tendency to disparage or hurt us. (I suppose that some men treat cisgender women in similar ways, so I’m not claiming that this is some kind of a trans-woman-only experience; all I’m saying is that this is a phenomenon that I, and other trans women I’ve shared conversations with, have observed.) [bolding mine] 

Serano continues, “I have no desire to psychoanalyze Singal from afar—I have never met him in person, and I have no idea what goes on in his brain—but I honestly wouldn’t be surprised if he fell into this category.”

I understand the argument that because she denies she is implying sexual interest, she’s not implying sexual interest. But I don’t know, in context, what else she could mean by “intrigued or fascinated,” especially in the full context of an essay geared largely at presenting the idea that I spend a lot of my time thinking about Julia Serano and trans women in general — claims she is able to discern by peering deeply into a single parenthetical coupled with the fact that I didn’t quote her on one particular issue where I didn’t find her credible. (As I said on Twitter in 2017, “Serano told me stuff about the clinic that clashed wildly with my actual reporting about the clinic. Couldn't echo those claims.”) I think it’s clear, in context, what Serano is trying to say about me. That was my interpretation. If you disagree, feel free to replace my mentions of sexual interest with something like ‘fascination.’ None of this detracts from the broader point that treating any of this as an ‘incident’ or a ‘story’ proving anything is insane. I should have noted that she denied she was making a sexual claim, though, just for transparency’s sake — I apologize.)

So, to recap: I am being accused of being creepy because someone I never met and have only fleetingly emailed with decided that the one time I complimented them about their work, that compliment constituted slut-shaming, and also, oh, by the way, maybe I am secretly into her. To repeat: I am the creepy person in this exchange. Me. Of course, Anderson provides none of this context. We just know that Julia Serano had “experiences with [my] behavior,” as it is summed up. ‘Experiences’! That sounds really bad.

Intermission: Note that it’s taken me hundreds of words to add what I view as sufficient context to one misleading claim in Anderson’s tweetstorm — a claim that only took 14 words to communicate. You see how impossible this is, right? How long the odds are of ever successfully corralling a bunch of misinformation once it’s out of the barn? 

(2) a lot of trans women flagged creepy/boundary crossing behavior that felt, to them, dehumanizing. 

This never, ever happened. It’s a lie. I don’t know if Anderson themself is lying, or is credulously relaying other people’s lies — in other cases I’ll point out that Anderson themself is certainly lying, so I’m not discounting the possibility — but it’s a lie. Again, no evidence. You’d think there’d be a single screenshot!

(3) In a 2016 article in The Cut, Singal told us that an important part of the “debate” around trans kids was missing: detransitioning. He insists that medical doctors are rushing ahead, quoting critics of transgender identity, and purposefully making trans affirming doctors sound extreme by suggesting they want to perform surgery on 12yos.

There’s one article of mine from 2016 that matches this description — “What’s Missing From the Conversation About Transgender Kids.” That article, a deep-dive into the desistance research (not ‘detransition,’ which isn’t mentioned once in this article — they are two different, albeit overlapping subjects) and an explanation of why I believe critics like Serano are generally incorrect about it, quotes zero “critics of transgender identity,” and makes no reference to anyone performing surgery on a 12-year-old. 

Here, there’s no ambiguity: Anderson is lying. When you point to an article and you say “This says X,” when it doesn’t say X, that’s a lie. And not only are they lying, but they are doing so in a particularly misleading way with this whole “making trans affirming doctors sound extreme by suggesting they want to perform surgery on 12yos.” Guess what? A famous gender clinican at a major youth-gender clinic — Johanna Olson-Kennedy at The Center for Transyouth Health and Development at Children’s Hospital Los Angeles — refers 13- and 14-year-olds for double mastectomies. We know this because JAMA Pediatrics, a top journal, published an article coauthored by Olson-Kennedy which says so:

So yes, kids 13 and 14 are getting surgery at a major clinic. I don’t know about 12. But then again, I never, to my knowledge, claimed otherwise. But of course it’s doubly misleading to say “Look at this jerk claiming kids are getting surgery at 12” when 1) the jerk in question didn’t say it, and 2) kids are being referred for top surgery, at a very mainstream clinic, at 13!

(Hundreds of more words just to debunk one more item. I wish I had coffee but I’m too lazy to make or get more.)

(4) His most controversial piece, a cover story in The Atlantic about transgender kids, repeats this same focus on detransitioning, and speaks to almost no transgender people or people friendly to trans affirming health care.

Anderson is lying. Here is the piece. I’m not going to reread it in full right now, but of course I am intimately familiar with the reporting process, and — rough count based on a quick scrollthrough — the piece quotes six transgender people. “Six,” in one long article, is not “almost no.” So this is a lie. Similarly, I would argue that every single clinician quoted in my story is “friendly to trans affirming healthcare,” as are, of course, the trans individuals quoted (two of the clinicians are also trans). But even if you quibble about the nuances a couple clinicians express and decide to knock them out of that category as a result, the idea that the story features “almost no... people friendly to trans affirming health care” is, once again, sorry to repeat myself, a lie. Just a complete fucking lie. Moreover, I quote Diane Ehrensaft and the aforementioned Olson-Kennedy, arguably the two most famous trans-affirming clinicians in the country. It’s a lie, what Anderson is saying about this article. You understand how this gets frustrating?

(5) All he has to do is lay out his claims that 80% of trans kids desist (a much criticized statistic:https://juliaserano.medium.com/reframing-transgender-desistance-debates-68648a4fd01a), defend Kenneth Zucker, and quote desistors who believe conversion therapy would have helped them. Singal wrote a “story of a martyr” profile on Zucker for NY’s The Cut, in which he mentions the WPATH Standards of Care only in that Zucker was part of the committee that put them together, not that Zucker caused great controversy within WPATH himself. He also neglects to note that Zucker was protested at WPATH, was contemporaneously seen as out of step with the standards of care he helped craft, and that his therapeutic method was condemned by Gay and Lesbian associations as well as trans ones. Singal discounts trans voices.

The first bit is not a lie, per se, but seriously misleading: I’m not going to re-re-re-re-re-litigate the 80% statistic thing, other than to say that I no longer use that figure, think it is likely an overestimate, and have written thousands of words about why I find certain criticisms of the desistance literature to be overheated (I’m starting to recycle links at this point but see here and here and here, among plenty of other things I’ve written on this).

Also misleading: I don’t know what “story of a martyr” is supposed to mean, but as my reporting showed, Kenneth Zucker was, in fact, smeared. Everyone admits this. In part as a result of my work, the hospital in question paid out a settlement and apologized for said smearing. The biggest ‘victim’ to come forward during the ‘investigation’ told me he was incorrect when he identified Zucker as the clinician, and himself apologized for getting it wrong. Anyone who reads this tweetstorm will think I am defending some indefensible goon, rather than the truth, which is that I found and reported on flaws in the investigation that everyone subsequently accepted as true.

As for “He also neglects to note that Zucker was protested at WPATH, was contemporaneously seen as out of step with the standards of care he helped craft, and that his therapeutic method was condemned by Gay and Lesbian associations as well as trans ones,” everything other than the first clause (I don’t think I mentioned that particular protest) is a lie. The piece goes to great length to explain exactly why Zucker was seen as controversial and to quote his critics (though at times I disagree with their analysis). To take one of many relevant examples, I write that “Many activists see [Zucker’s] approach as a rejection of young children’s transgender identities, and Zucker as its regressive standard-bearer.”

Anderson is lying. I know you are sick of hearing that word ‘lying’ by now, that things are getting repetitive. But if you claim that someone didn’t note, in an article, that a figure is controversial in a given community, but they did in fact explain why that figure is controversial in the community in question, what you are doing is lying. You are a liar. Anderson is a liar, is what I’m saying.

(6) He persistently leans into the idea that trans kids are being “mutiliated.”

Show me where I said that. Never happened once, anywhere. Anderson is lying. 

(7) Singal is also a big, BIG fan of finding some little mistake and pouncing on, or casting any “errors” as immediate imprecations on the person’s entire point, which is what you see him doing with Jude Doyle.

I mean, it could just be me and my naive understanding of, like, justice and morality and the law, but I think there’s a pretty big difference between “Jesse Singal stalked a bunch of people,” which is Doyle’s claim, and “Jesse Singal stalked no one,” which is my claim. “Some little mistake”!

(8) He does this CONSISTENTLY with trans writers, proclaiming, for example, that Grace Lavery’s piece on the Tavistock ruling was “full of falsehoods,” nitpicking on a couple of grammatical points. It is his go-to.

I think this is the last time I will have to type this particular unfortunate phrase, but — shout it out loud with me — Anderson is lying. I did not “nitpick[] on a couple of grammatical points.” I pointed out major errors in the piece, which is why if you scroll to its bottom, you will see multiple corrections, most of which came about because I nagged FP (though to be clear, the magazine didn’t make all the corrections I suggested). Obviously major magazines do not run corrections for “grammatical points.”


So, excluding the introductory scene-setting and rant, that was almost 2,000 words just to respond to most of the key falsehoods or misinterpretations or distortions in one viral tweetstorm about me that is a fraction of that length. Not even as bad as I thought it would be, but I feel like I’ve made my point about how Sisyphean this gets? I bet while I was working on this, a dozen even worse and more dishonest tweetstorms popped up. Am I going to do the same thing with those, just respond point by point? Of course not. I’d like to, at some point, do actual ‘journalism’ and ‘commentary’ rather than just angrily respond to lie after lie after lie. But because so many people simply retweet those lies without checking them, and because a lot of writers and journalists seem to have shockingly few qualms about telling and spreading lies themselves, here we are (again).

This is exhausting. My view — a surprisingly controversial one — is that maybe people should stop lying so much? Sorry, sorry. That’s ridiculous.

(Image source.)