Jan 23Liked by Jesse Singal

Great piece! As a parent of three kids, two of whom are leaving the most turbulent phase of the teen years and one of whom is entering, I can't tell you how much this subject, and the Times story, affected me. I bet if you surveyed all of the donors to, say, the Human Rights Campaign who also have kids, roughly 99% of them would be disturbed, if not outraged, by the thought that a school would actively HELP their child hide something important from their parents. I'm going to limit myself to a few thoughts form a parents' perspective:

1) Look, I'm a graduate of public schools, a believer in public schools, and a supporter of public schools. My wife and I picked where we currently live in large part because it has a good public school system, because we both thought it was important to send our kids to public schools. We've been pretty happy with the education our kids have gotten and certainly don't regret our choice. And let me tell you: we would NEVER trust those teachers, or administrators, to make decisions like this for our kids. We'd listen to their advice, but they don't know our kids nearly as well as we do and, honestly, the vast majority of them just aren't qualified to be substituting their judgment for ours on this issue, any more than they are on the question whether our kids should go to a therapist. It's a real problem the Ed schools seem to be teaching younger teachers that it's fine for them to displace kids' parents on anything LGBTQ-related.

2) A common reaction from the activist community, seen in both the article and on Twitter yesterday, was "any kid who wants to hide this from their parent obviously has a good reason to do so." And, my God . . . were you never a teen? Have you never met a teen? A typical teen developmental stage is withdrawing from their parents emotionally. This is often accompanied by an incorrect belief that their parents wouldn't understand, or approve, or whatever; the classic bubbly and happy 12 year-old who turns into a sullen and resentful 14 year-old who only grunts at her parents. This has NOTHING to do with the parents in many cases; it's a normal psychological stage, a way the kids build independence. To simply assume that teens would only lie to their parents, or want to avoid difficult conversations with their parents, only if they had good cause to do so is insane.

3) Which leads to the big problem with the "lie to the parents" approach that I'm not seeing many people discuss: schools might be irrevocably damaging parent-child relationships that would otherwise be healthy. Most sullen and resentful 14 year-olds snap out of it by the time they're 17 or so, and rebuild their relationship with their parents on a more adult and sustainable emotional footing. But with other adults in their lives encouraging them to just cut their parents out? That can do lasting damage. That is, seriously, how cults work. It's nuts to me that people are being so cavalier about the possibility of doing real damage to family relationships like this.

4) As for the "outing the gay" comparison: another problem with it is that schools aren't really involved in the sex life of a gay kid, whereas the whole issue here is that schools are actively "transing" the kids in question. So the analogy isn't "should schools who know a kid is gay tell his parents?" It's "should schools who know a kid is gay make a classroom available for him to mess around with his boyfriend after school, and then tell the parents that the kid was really at band practice" or something like that.

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"Gender identity refers to a person’s internal sense of being male, female or something else"

I'm sorry if this gives offense, but I'm curious what others think of this: I truly don't understand the concept of "internal sense of being male, female or something else."

I know I'm a woman for obvious anatomical reasons, but I don't have an "internal sense of being female." As a commenter on another thread said, "I don't know what it's like to be a woman; I only know what it's like to be me."

Now, an internal sense of being a woman makes a lot more sense in a society with rigid gender roles: "I want to do x (go to university, join the military, be a priest, own property in my own name), but only men are allowed to do x. I must be a man!" But our society, with a few exceptions, just isn't like that. Let's look at some examples from my life right now. Would I still be able to do these things if I were a man?

Work as a scientist --> check

Practice a martial art --> check

Watch "Love, Actually" --> My husband is a man, and he openly and unashamedly loves this movie. It's adorable. So, check.

Cook delicious food --> check

Call my parents and tell them I love them --> check

Be a loving parent to my son --> He would call me Daddy rather than Mommy, but other than that, check.

Comment on Substack threads --> check

I mean, of course I get that some things (especially pertaining to fashion/makeup/hairstyle) continue to be strongly associated with a given gender in our culture, but is this an argument for "gender identity" or for broadening our idea of gender norms? Should we, as a society, tend toward "If you are biologically male but want to wear makeup, you must be trans or nonbinary" or "Some men want to wear makeup and still remain men, and that's okay"?

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Jan 23·edited Jan 23

These trans fights are going to destroy what's left of this country, I swear it.

I largely agree with what you have said, Jesse, but I'd like to throw in my take. When the first person I knew who transitioned asked for a different name and pronouns, I was happy to comply, and, by and large, I did so successfully. However, I don't know how successful I would have been if I'd had to call her "Darla" in some situations and "Don" in others. (Names changed to protect the innocent.) I am sure I would have fouled it up, most likely many times.

According to these policies, teachers are required to use these pronouns in school, but NOT in front of parents (if the child has indicated this), so what happens if they make an honest mistake? What if Mr. Gormley the Science Teacher says, "Janice--uh, I mean, John's--grades are good, and she--I mean, he--really applies himself." This teacher has just violated the policy, however unwillingly, and now that cat's out of the bag. The student's parents now know about the alternative name/pronouns, AND they know that Mr. Gormley has been keeping secrets. Are those parents likely to trust *anything* they are told by a teacher at that school?

(I don't know if this hypothetical has ever really happened, but if it hasn't, I am sure it eventually will.)

These sorts of policies, well-intentioned as they are, set up an adversarial model, in which parents are assumed to be cruel and teachers required to be dishonest. This is not a sustainable model, to say the least. I don't propose that teachers run around reporting student's every move, but there's a mighty mile between choosing not to reveal information irrelevant to pedagogy--as in the case with gay kids--and deliberately concealing something parents likely need to know.

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Jesse made a remark on one of the B&R episodes last week along the lines of: "there's a category of people for whom something does not exist or happen if it isn't in the NYT." I have to confess that I'm in that category for this issue.

I simply assumed that the idea that teachers would even attempt to conceal something like this from parents of a public school student over the long term was progressive tick-tok LARP spun in to libs of tick tok rage bait. I am astounded by this coverage.

Jesse points to the psychological harm of splitting one's identity between home and school, but I think destruction of trust in the parent-child relationship is even more troubling. Ultimately, regardless of "I'm your mom now" non-sense, children really only have their parents and maybe extended family to rely on in moments of crisis, and teachers are potentially damaging relationships in ways that may perhaps take decades to undo. God forbid one of these kids runs away from home and gets into serious trouble.

The exposure to potential legal liability here is astounding. Someone with an MA in education really just isn't qualified to make these determinations, and probably does not have the time in the day to manage this deception. I live in one of the states mentioned in the article (MD). Last fall our local papers covered some "parents right's" groups around the election, but were pretty vague about what the groups' complaints were (other than complaints about 1619-type curriculum or something). Well I understand now. The teacher summarily caned in MA for informing the dad of the 11 year old has to be one of the most brutal ideological firings I've ever heard of.

Let me close by saying that I really feel for kids who don't feel like they can trust their parents in situations like but. That's tragic. But, perhaps, announcing a policy of "I'll keep your secret" promotes the notion that there's a secret to be kept.

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If someone had asked me about my identity when I was the same age of these kids who "know" they are trans, I would have "known" I was heterosexual...and folks, I was was *very much attracted exclusively to other males* while I was knowing this! But societal prerogatives being what they were, and social influence being pervasive, I assumed this was just some odd kink, that I was straight. In the end, I didn't look under the hood of *any* of that until college, when my straight friends (!) had to tell me, "Dude you're totally gay, and none of us even care..."

Although you could say I'm making the same mistake Jesse is warning against by comparing being gay to being trans, I'm making a different point here: that I know from experience a freshly-pubescent young person *can indeed* be secretly fantasizing about George Wendt on "Cheers," and still be convinced that he is *totally into the ladies y'all,* nothing to see here.

And if that's true (and I know it is) then there are a great many other things young people can be wrong about. Especially if they have been socially incentivized to be that way.

I feel terrible for these kids. I wish I were wrong, but I have that sinking feeling that many of them have chosen a path that does not serve them, and the schools who promise this alternative world where they are endlessly supported and affirmed are just talking about the internet--the real world will not give them what they need once the backlash to all of this becomes mainstream.

Society, collectively, will not have their backs when this is all over.

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The most insidious—and most successful—ploy of trans rights activists has been to convince the general public that being gay and being trans are the same kind of trait. Using this analogy, they have convinced most progressives that providing counseling services to gender-nonconforming youth is "conversion therapy" and that these vulnerable youth need to be protected from being "outed" to their potentially abusive parents.

It makes me angry just to hear the term "LGBTQ community," as if lesbians and autogynephiles are all part of the same happy rainbow family (and don't even get me started on the now-meaningless term "queer"). This conflation of sexual orientation and "gender identity" is a misunderstanding that is going to be very hard to eradicate. Until people realize that it's a dangerous oversimplification at best (and a cunning political maneuver at worst), any nuanced discussion about "trans youth" will be seen as bigoted and harmful.

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Jan 23·edited Jan 23

I wonder if the gender extremists know how much damage they are doing to liberal causes with all this. There are so many people repulsed by Trump and the moral bankruptcy of the Republican party who see stories like this and think "well the right is bad.....but at least they aren't advocating that schools let 10 years old's transition and not tell parents."

Now to be clear, that still doesn't justify voting for Trump or his lackeys, but it flips enough people to keep the margins thin. If the left could just NOT BE CRAZY for an election cycle or two they'd have supermajorities in congress.

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“Parents should be instantly notified whenever a young kid says they might be trans” is the correct policy.

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This whole issue is a slippery slope and boundaries need to be made clear. And quick. Because today it's gender but it really can be anything.

Case in point, my white mother truly felt she was black since childhood. Probably because she was socially inept compared to her debutant sisters and since my grandfather was a jazz musician (albeit a conservative republican) she felt more "herself" at jam sessions with black musicians and reading black literature. But hey, it was the 50's and 60's so who knows. My mom grew up, as one does, and the feelings persisted. She married a black man, had 2 halfrican american kids (im one), and eventually officially changed her identity to black... tanning creme, Kente cloth and all. Yeah it was fucking weird! But also it was the 80's and no one in NYC gave two shits. She was eccentric but she was also cool and literally no one questioned it. Of course, she didn't work for the NAACP....lol. She wasn't that crazy, she just FELT black. Would a teacher be OK with socially transitioning a white kid to black in school? Hell no! Did my mother turn out just fine? 100%! Should she have had some therapy that she didn't get? Maybe. Should there be an easier avenue for therapy for teens? Absolutely.

The biggest problem here is consent. If a child cannot consent to therapy by a licensed provider without a parent authorization, an untrained educator should not be able to provide those services without parental consent either. Period. They are children! I mean we have to sign a waiver for an aspirin in school for God sake!

If a kid wants to try pronouns and other names with her friends, even in school, then go for it! If it's disruptive in class, then knock it off. But it is beyond the purview of teachers and admin to, for all intents and purposes, "officially" change a child's identity without a parent consent.

Does anyone else feel like our society has been hijacked by Borderline teenagers??? When I was 16 I certainly identified as 21... in fact my near perfect fake ID said as much. Did any school teacher pull a beer for me from the teachers lounge? Uhhhh... no

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Jan 23·edited Jan 23

I have a teen daughter who started going by male pronouns and a different name in middle school (California public school). It came out of nowhere and within the first 6 months of lockdown. I have my reasons for being extremely skeptical of the ideology. For my child, I am supportive and honest about my feelings and we are very close. I have tried to hold it lightly and just stay connected and see where things go. Not on board the train, per se, but just being there for my kid.

I can tell you: the school just started using new name/pronouns etc and never notified me. I already knew, and as a long-time volunteer at the school who was well known to many teachers, they had zero reason to think I would not be supportive. But no one told me. However, I find it weird that, they changed the online school / homework parents portal to reflect the new name (which I have complete access to) and also, one teacher called me to discuss missing assignments and used the male name and pronouns the whole time, even though I did not. It begs the question, if the entire idea behind not telling the parents is to "save" the kids from parents who would shun them, I guess....then why be so damn careless about using the name with parents?

I think it comes down to: a). it is very hard to keep two identities compartmentalized and despite the hero-complex, the schools do not have the time or energy to be good at the compartmentalizing, and b). most school employees don't actually care enough beyond just the virtue signaling angle of it. So they get to go home at night feeling good about themselves for affirming my child while I spend an insane amount of time and brainpower doing the very hard and slow work of steering my child towards loving and accepting herself .

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Jan 23·edited Jan 23

Turns out, parents do not like when schools assume that the values of a student's family are inferior to the values held by the school/teacher/district, and therefore should be supplanted. This is actually a huge grievance listed by parents of nonwhite students when asked about their feelings about schools, exacerbated further based on income status.

The activists who are on the pro-trans-kid train are probably very sensitive to anything that could be perceived as 'white supremacy' or heaven forbid, not centering BIPOC voices, etc. etc. So I wonder if this controversy would play out differently if the key demographic of trans schoolchildren was not overwhelmingly among upper middle class white girls- because then the activists would have to contend with telling minority students that the values held by their parents were problematic.... and well, see how that could be a bit tricky?

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Jan 23·edited Jan 23

Another point to add to this article: not only are gender identity and sexual orientation very different things, but gender ideology (especially in the 11-18 year old crowd) absolutely leaves no ideological room for sexual orientation. Kids are being rushed into a trans identity rather than coming to terms with probably being gay. I see this ALL the time, especially among my child and her friends. Where have all the lesbians gone? They don't seem to exist, they are all Miles or Alex or Jesse and they are "boys". There is a resurgence of gay jokes, calling something "gay" as a burn. The kids kind of act like gay is something to be ashamed of, whereas calling yourself trans is untouchable in the world of making fun of stuff. It all seems very homophobic, and I cannot wrap my brain around how people can lump the LGB with the QIAT++ and act like it is all the same civil rights fight when in fact the QIAT++ is actually trying to erase the next generation of LGB youth

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I am super tired of people constantly suggesting that anyone who isn't trans who is asking questions about youth gender transition is creepy or weird or shouldn't be covering the topic, but I do wonder about whether Michael Hobbes or David Roberts have children, because the speed with which they dismiss parents concerns suggests to me people who have only considered this issue very abstractly. As a parent who has navigated the issues Katie Baker was raising in her piece in the NYT I am very aware of how isolating it is to know that you are not a bigot or a transphobe but to feel deep in your gut that what is happening to your child is at least as likely to be the result of social contagion as some inherent immutable characteristic that can only be resolved through body modification surgery and lifelong hormone treatments. Just the other day my husband remarked on how humbling this experience has been and that he is not sure what he would think about these issues if we weren't deeply involved in them. I feel pretty sure that I would have been skeptical no matter what because the science of gender dysphoria is still pretty young, but I also realize that if my child had expressed gender dysphoria before puberty and before social contagion and the Dr. had recommended puberty blockers I might well have agreed to them and that also humbles me. Maybe I am wrong and Hobbes and Roberts have teenagers and still feel that there is no controversy and nothing to worry about in this massive rise in AFAB trans youth, but it makes me have a little less contempt for them to think that they just aren't that familiar with what is happening with teenagers these days. I was watching Fleischman is in trouble last night and it features a storyline where a tween girl is sent home from camp for sharing a nude with a boy who shares it widely with his friends and is allowed to stay at camp. It really hammered home the humiliation for the girl, and it was yet another reminder of the myriad reasons why pubescent girls might want to opt out of being female.

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To add to this issue, I think there is (will be) a growing body of evidence that some state level "teacher's unions" have been on the forefront of state legislation that permits schools-teachers to withhold a student's gender transition from parents. In WA, a 13-year-old can request a name and gender change for school use without informing parents/guardians. I've heard union colleagues claim such legislation necessary for "safety" reasons. I think this puts teachers and other school personnel in a precarious legal position, not to mention an ethical one. I'm waiting for the lawsuits to start.

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If a student was showing signs of any other form of body dysmorphia with an increased risk of suicide/self-harm (e.g. anorexia), it would absolutely be considered the height of negligence to not inform the parents. No reason gender dysphoria should be treated differently*

This seems to be yet another case of activists forgetting that slogans aren’t reality. “A (wo)man is anyone who says they are a (wo)man” is a nice rallying cry for trans acceptance, but a terrible way to set policy when you actually have to get down to the business of treating a complex psychological condition.

*As you note, “gender nonconforming” is not necessarily “gender dysphoria”, but at the point where the child is demanding a full social transition, I think that should at least be the default assumption until you go do the hard psychological work to show otherwise).

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Jesse, thank you. Just thank you.

How about a middle ground like this: hey kid, you think you are trans? That's fine, think about it, maybe talk to your parents. In any case, I - the teacher - am going to keep calling you by your given name and your sex-based pronouns unless your parents tell me they are ok with you changing it. Dress however you want (but I won't provide you with a wardrobe!), ask your friends to call you whatever you want, but the school is going to stick to what's on the parent-provided documents unless they say otherwise. Meanwhile -really, think about talking to your parents, they will most likely be able to help you sort things out. I'm not going to "out" you, that's for you to do. I'm just going to keep teaching you math/social science/creative writing.

As a parent of a gender questioning kid (who seems to have desisted after 3 years), I would hugely appreciate this approach.

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