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Mom’s Interview With Anti-Trans Media Draws Criticism After Teen Responds

Mom’s Interview With Anti-Trans Media Draws Criticism After Teen Responds

Teen’s Twitter Avatar and somebody typing on a laptop

The nonbinary teen claims their mother’s story was false and that the reporter who wrote it acted unprofessionally.

The mother of a teenager in Missouri who received gender-affirming care is receiving criticism online for allegedly misrepresenting her child's experience with the care to a right-wing reporter.

The parent told the reporter, Emily Yoffe, that her child was bullied into agreeing to treatments detrimental to the child’s health. In addition, the reporter who wrote the piece and the publication that ran it have been criticized for not following journalistic best practices after the teenager called the article out via Twitter.

After the article was published, the teen claimed the mother’s and reporter’s accounts were false, resulting in a public intrafamily spat.

On Monday, an article titled “’I Felt Bullied’: Mother of Child Treated at Transgender Center Speaks Out” began making its rounds. Emily Yoffe’s piece was shared widely by right-wing personalities and transphobes who continue to attack trans and gender-nonconforming individuals.

The nearly 4,000-word report published by The Free Press claimed to tell the story of Caroline, a Missouri mother whose child “Casey” (their real name is Alex) received care at the Washington University Transgender Center at St. Louis Children’s Hospital. Her concern includes the teen’s use of an implant that slows puberty called Supprellin.

“Instead of providing relief, Caroline told The Free Press, her [child] experienced a devastating decline in [their] mental and physical health after this intervention,” the report states.

The author misgenders the teenager, who now identifies as nonbinary, throughout the piece. After more than 1,000 words, Yoffe reveals that Alex is nonbinary and uses they and them pronouns. However, the author attempts to justify the misgendering, writing, “Because Caroline calls Casey her son, and for the sake of clarity, we are using male references for Casey.”

The Associated Press Style Guide describes using they and them pronouns for anybody who does not identify as either male or female as a journalistic best practice. However, should there be any questions of clarity, the author is responsible for explaining the situation.

NBC reporter Kat Tenbarge noted that fact in response to a tweeted question about misgendering.

The article describes a family in turmoil being forced by a medical facility to accept dangerous treatments with little information or counseling provided to them. In the piece, the facility comes across as more concerned with convincing kids that they suffer from gender dysphoria than with treating their depression and anxiety.

After reading a Free Press story her sister sent her about the hospital where her child received treatment, Caroline became concerned about medical staff agendas, according to the site.

In February, The Free Press published an article by a former staff member at the gender-affirming care clinic, Jamie Reed, who claimed malfeasance at the medical center, prompting the state’s attorney general to extend whistleblower protections to her as she submitted an affidavit alleging staff wrongdoing at the clinic.

There has been widespread debunking of Reed’s assertions by parents and patients who said their experiences did not match her assertions. Others said Reed's actions interfered with patient confidentiality.

On Tuesday, Alex revealed themself as “Casey” online and authored a Twitter thread about the article and how they were treated by the reporter and their mother.

“I have reinstalled Twitter to respond to this story and make sure my voice is fully heard. I am Casey. My real name is Alex but my mom decided it would be best to hide it for anonymity. But this is my story, not hers. This is not the free press’s story,” Alex wrote.

Alex explained that their mother contacted Yoffe without their knowledge last week and shared “false perceptions that my mom has about the doctors and clinic.”

Alex explained that they didn’t learn of the article until speaking with their mom, who asked if Alex would be OK with The Free Press publishing the piece. Alex says they were given access to a draft of the article and that what they read was shocking.

“When I read the draft I was disgusted with what the reporter and my mom had made my experience out to be,” they wrote.

When they contacted Yoffe about not publishing the article since Alex had no input, they said Yoffe told them, “That’s not how these things work.”

Alex wrote, “The article makes it out that my mother had no say in the implant of the Supprelin. This is completely false.”

They continued, “My mother claims that she was pressured into saying yes by the doctors. A big issue they point out is that the doctors quoted suicide statistics in transgender adolescents. I do not deny that these statistics were quoted, but I also sustain that the doctors didn’t say that I was at substantial risk of this.”

Moreover, Alex explains that the article exaggerated the drop in grades from A and B averages to D and F averages, and that their grades fell not from gender-affirming care but from the global pandemic’s lockdown period.

“The article claims that my mental health issues can be attributed to the Supprelin implant, however, my personal experience shows that this is not the case,” Alex wrote.

“I was in counseling with the Washington University transgender care center in which I was treated amazingly by my counselor. She was a friend to me and offered a great amount of support. This was taken away when my mom revoked consent for the Supprelin,” the teen revealed.

“After she revoked consent, my father and I, along with the university, attempted to set up a meeting with my mom. She did not attend this meeting, claiming that she was not contacted. Later, she admitted that she was,” Alex concluded.

Tenbarge explained why the article was not only problematic but potentially harmful. In addition, she authored an extensive thread addressing the publication’s shortcomings.

“As a journalist who often writes about teenagers — and can only print a sensitive interview with a minor with their parent’s consent — if I had a parent tell me the story of their child’s identity without including, let alone consulting, their child, that would be a red flag,” she explained.

“First of all, it’s not normal. I’ve interviewed a bunch of parents about their kids and they almost always have their kids by their side during the interview, letting them speak up and give their perspective. Why? Because you don’t dictate your kid’s thoughts and identity,” she wrote.

Tenbarge explained that most writers, particularly queer ones, understand the nuances of telling stories about LGBTQ+ matters.

“I’m also gay so I would have known immediately what was going on with a parent trying to say their kid isn’t actually trans, because we were almost all that kid at some point or another. It’s sadly part of the LGBTQ experience to be invalidated by people who love you,” she wrote.

Lastly, Tenbarge expressed gratitude to the young people and parents who speak to journalists despite significant personal risk.

“If I had a kid ask me not to publish intimate details of their life and medical history — let alone if they said it was inaccurate — I would be really hard-pressed to come up with a justification to do it anyways that doesn’t go against journalism ethics like ‘minimize harm,’” she wrote critically of the author and the publication.

Caroline attempted to defend herself from criticism on Twitter but mostly raised more questions.

A reporter contacted me about my experience after I had contacted an attorney. I gave an interview, she wrote a first draft, which I sent to Alex. There were things they wanted to address, so we all sat in a Zoom call — Emily, myself, and Alex — before it went to press,” she wrote. “I can’t help that Alex isn’t happy with the final product. They wanted more of a say about their experience, and this wasn’t an op-ed article. It doesn’t mean it’s lies OR that I betrayed my child.”

But again this assertion was countered deftly by Tenbarge.

“If this is what happened — an attorney representing an anti-Wash U agenda provided a reporter with a source sympathetic to that agenda, and that source was given a copy of the draft before publication — that reporting is going well outside journalistic norms to push an agenda,” she said.

Tenbarge added, “We already know the article’s choice to use non-preferred pronouns for a subject goes against the top industry style guide and corresponding ethics.”

The Free Press was started by Bari Weiss and her wife, Nellie Bowles. A former New York Times op-ed columnist, Weiss now pushes back against the mainstream media, arguing it suppresses certain voices and positions. Previously, Bowles worked as a technology reporter for the Times.

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