The first time I remember reading a story about parenting trans kids was in 2011, the same year a nurse at Fenway Community Health Center in Boston gave me my first injection of testosterone. An hour after my appointment, I was back at my desk at the Boston Phoenix. My job at the paper was to think and write about culture and, as one of very few out trans journalists working in media at the time, I was both personally and professionally captivated by the stories told about trans bodies. I clicked link after link that summer, surfacing ostensibly anthropological, yet ever-more-breathless coverage of this new (to journalists) trans “phenomenon.”
I found that these stories, by reporters who inevitably were not trans, fell broadly intro three genres: tabloid stories that highlighted trans people who “pass” particularly well; transphobic crime reporting from metro desks the country over (“The body of a man in a dress was discovered this weekend…”); and, with greater and greater frequency, what I came to call the Parenting Story.
The Parenting Story irked me in its purported sophistication. It had a few key hallmarks. A cisgender reporter would find a “way in” by centering a parent’s sympathetic plight. More often than not, the Parenting Story focused on a middle-aged, middle-class white couple who were stand-ins for a very particular kind of “average Joe-and-Jane” Americans who were just trying to make sense of their child’s “condition.” Usually, the stories betrayed an underlying anxiety about technology, genitals, and gender roles, as if trans people were the Dr. Frankenstein’s monster of the 21st century. The child’s role, meanwhile, was mainly to frame trans bodies in the simplest biological terms—these children asked about their missing penises as soon as they could talk, making clear that they weren’t the product of faulty parenting.