HomeLatest newsThe Mainstream Media’s Fearmongering About Trans Kids Is Nothing But Clickbait

The Mainstream Media’s Fearmongering About Trans Kids Is Nothing But Clickbait

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It was always an awkward feeling, waiting to pick my kids up from school as a visibly transgender person. This was a middle-class school, with mostly liberal-minded parents. Nobody was rude or hostile, more like uncomprehending. I was outside their frame of experience—and maybe too much of a reminder that, given the size of the school, the odds were that somebody’s kid would turn out to be trans like me, too.

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While only the latest in a series of bad-faith journalistic interventions on this “debate,” a recent New York Times feature examined the “wrenching tension” school districts face in deciding whether to disclose students’ transition to parents. As a parent, I know what it’s like to worry about one’s kids. As a middle-class parent, I know the kinds of worries middle-class parents have, about the future success of one’s offspring, and the possible impediments to that success. One thing we can probably all agree on is that being trans—and being unable to hide it, as I was when my children were school-aged—is very likely a huge obstacle to success in this relentlessly transphobic world.

As a trans person, I know so many trans people whose families of origin could not deal with their transsexuality at all, reacted aggressively to it, or took a very long time to even start listening and accepting. Even with a lot of supposedly progressive-minded families, the sad reality is that when they realize their kids will not be the kind of success they’d imagined, they’d rather not have them as kids anymore at all.

This is why it is important that trans kids are able to figure out their gender at school without fearing that the school will inform on them to their family. They need somewhere they can try to find the names, the pronouns, the presentation that will let them stay alive and hopefully happy enough to study and play, make friends, do all the stuff kids do. Schools are far from perfect institutions, however, and I’m not sure that as a trans person I would trust a lot of schools to actually be the kind of safe space that trans kids need.

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I’m not alone in my anxiety about schools. Middle-class parents like me, with time and resources, often want to be very involved in our kids’ schools; this cuts across the liberal/conservative divide. The obsessions may be different, but the worry, the skepticism about schools, the surveillance of them, are much the same. Middle-class parents think they know better than teachers what’s best for their kids. The devaluing of teachers is part of this, too.

Less charitably: Some parents think that schools, like their own kids, are their property. In well-heeled school districts, parents often raise a fair chunk of the school budget and that gives them leverage. Principals have to negotiate with parents who feel a lot of entitlement. It’s very hard to make the case that schools should keep some things about a child from a parent. It’s an easily exploitable issue with ostensibly liberal parents. Which is exactly what the far right is doing when it makes “concern” about trans kids in schools a wedge issue. There’s both a parental anxiety and a sense of entitlement, which is all too easy to manipulate.

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