Something very telling happened to my piece, "Gay People Aren't the Only Ones Hurting," at the Federalist between submission and publication. I mentioned the suicide of Leelah Alcorn, a transgender young woman who committed suicide by walking into oncoming traffic. In my original draft, I wrote:
And it takes a pretty stony heart not to shudder at the suicide of 17-year-old Leelah Alcorn last year, the transgender girl who threw herself in front of a moving semi to escape the anguish she felt trying to find her place in the world.
I have done my absolute best to understand transgender people and issues. I'm not an expert and don't claim to be. Walt Heyer, who writes for The Federalist, is himself a ex-transgender woman who transitioned back to man. He writes that underlying what he thought was being transgender were really his psychological issues, which, once resolved, revealed his identity as a transgender man to be a mislabeling. He advocates that being transgender is not physical, but psychological, and maintains a sex reassignment surgery regret website.
Surgical regret is actually very uncommon. Virtually every modern study puts it below 4 percent, and most estimate it to be between 1 and 2 percent (Cohen-Kettenis & Pfafflin 2003, Kuiper & Cohen-Kettenis 1998, Pfafflin & Junge 1998, Smith 2005,Dhejne 2014). In some other recent longitudinal studies, none of the subjects expressed regret over medically transitioning (Krege et al. 2001, De Cuypere et al. 2006).
I've read articles by Dr. Paul McHugh, former psychiatrist in chief at Johns Hopkins University, who advocates that being transgender is a mental defect that requires compassion and counseling, not surgery.
I've read statements by the American Psychiatric Association refuting Dr. McHugh's claims.
I've read articles about biological conditions that would explain being transgender. From the U.S. National Library of Medicine:
Androgen insensitivity syndrome (AIS) is when a person who is genetically male (who has one X and one Y chromosome) is resistant to male hormones (called androgens). As a result, the person has some or all of the physical traits of a woman, but the genetic makeup of a man.
My prayerful conclusion -- and this is only my opinion, so don't take it as gospel -- is that there is a range of truth behind what people call being transgender.
There are individuals like Walt Heyer who have underlying psychological issues they are mislabeling as being transgender. There are individuals with biological conditions like androgen insensitivity syndrome who have rational reasons for feeling trapped in the wrong body.
Because I don't know who falls into which category, I, as a courtesy, use the gender preference and name of the individual, as I did in the case of Leelah Alcorn.
The Federalist has an editorial policy whereby they use biological sex when referring to transgender people based on their understanding of the science that transgender people as a whole still either have XY or XX in every single cell in their bodies.
The editors at The Federalist changed my paragraph to read:
It takes a pretty stony heart not to shudder at the suicide of 17-year-old Josh Alcorn last year, the transgender young man who threw himself in front of a moving semi to escape the anguish he felt trying to find his place in the world.
I didn't even notice the change until someone pointed it out to me, and probably for those outside the trans community, either pronoun would have passed by unremarkably.
When I contacted The Federalist about the change, they graciously apologized for not informing me of their policy beforehand and offered to take the article down if I disagreed with the language.
I prefer to leave it up and talk about it instead.
I know there are good guys and bad guys out there. I know there are good and bad Christians, good and bad gays, good and bad transgender people, good and bad writers. What I also know is that most of us do the best we can with what we have.
To hearts that are tender to the experience of transgender people, changing Leelah Alcorn's name back to Josh and using the pronoun that she eschewed is experienced painfully, even cruelly.
To editors at an online journal, transgender issues are a minefield, and editorial decisions are not made lightly. With the roster of experts above who disagree with each other, it is not inexplicable that The Federalist would agree with one side while I agree with the other.
As shocked as I was to learn The Federalist had changed my language, I gained so much from the discussions I have had about it with their editor, with Brynn Tannehill and with Zack Ford at ThinkProgress.
It's ironic that the whole point of my "Gay People Aren't the Only Ones Hurting" article is that we are all stumbling around, all trying to sift out the complexities of 21st century living hurtling past us. We're all learning, and finding a new normal is excruciating. And "new normal" does not equal unified agreement.
The experts above may continue to disagree until the cows come home. I've diligently reached my position, and it is the position from which I will think, write and speak about being transgender unless and until I learn something that causes me to shift.
I don't think there's a villain here. There is a subject most of us had never heard about 10 years ago, and humans that we are, we learn through trial and error, and painful personal experience.
I consider myself one of the most sensitive, kind, thoughtful, nonjudgmental people on the planet (oh, do go on), and I recently hurt a good friend of mine by being thoughtless about her dad, a transgender woman. It was not my intention to hurt her but because I don't deal with transgender issues in my personal life; it didn't even occur to me that my joke would be hurtful to her family.
So, I cut everyone a little slack. Better, I think, to talk about it than to react. I learned a lot. I offer it up for whatever benefit it may be to anyone else.