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Navigating the media minefield: supporting gender expansive youth with confidence

parent gender expansive teen discuss life

In the face of widespread misinformation and media bias, the need to shine a light on the overwhelmingly positive experiences of gender-expansive youth and adults is more needed than ever.

Parents of gender expansive youth are pressed from every side. Gender-affirming healthcare is under attack in 22 states and counting. Bills are put forward to take trans youth away from their families. And you’d be forgiven for thinking that gender exploration is the path to misery for today’s youth, given the way it’s presented in the media.

Pieces like Pamela Paul's opinion in the New York Times are disingenuous at best, framing the narratives of the featured de-transitioners in a way that presents their stories as the uber-story, the story of all who transition. This could be your child! it shouts in late-night infomercial energy. It’s designed to sow fear and deepen uncertainty, to turn the public’s questioning eye onto gender and youth, to make parents question themselves and their children. And, of course, it works.

When the mainstream media publishes pieces like that one without emphasizing that these are small voices in the louder crowd of happy gender expansive folk, it legitimizes fear. It lends credibility to the angle that transitioning leads to misery. And all without mentioning that it leaned on an awful lot of retracted studies to support its assertions.

The recently released data from the 2022 U.S. Trans Survey showed that 94% of respondents are pleased with their transition. That's the number the media should be leading with. Instead, the media amplifies voices like Pamela Paul’s, ones with a known anti-gender expansive bias. And this choice by the media creates harm for families with gender expansive youth. And, as witnessed by the recent death of Nex Benedict, can directly damage the children themselves.

By framing the conversation this way, the media positions gender and transition as a choice and one with potentially negative outcomes. But unlike medicine ads, where pharma companies bury those possible negative outcomes in 3-point font and speakingsuperfast, here they’re blown up, presented as the whole message. But wait, there’s more – here’s another unhappy detransition story!

That’s wrong. I’m not saying these stories don’t exist – they do, of course – but to only show their stories, over and over, is to say these are the only stories worth telling. Its impact is to negate the stories of the positive experiences. The 94% who are happy.

Instead of giving parents the room to discover what their children need, showing only negative stories scares parents into second guessing themselves. In law, this is called a chilling effect - and it’s precisely the goal.

Parents will start pulling back from supporting their child, push their children into the shapes that are accepted by society, and narrow the path of what is acceptable for their children. And this is when gender expression and exploration gets throttled. When we, as parents, close off paths to happiness for our children, when we force them to be miserable for the sake of society, for our own comfortable lives.

The fact is, and unfortunately, it’s not backed by any retracted studies; most parents with children who are exploring their gender take a very cautious, measured approach. They have help from experts in the field. They do not rush into anything. They are aware that this is a “big deal” and they want to get it right. They want to make sure that their children are happy.

As the founder of a non-profit that supports families of gender expansive youth, I talk with a lot of parents. I hear the nervousness in their voices when they start on this path. I see their hands twisting as they explain how they’re trying to help their child, how worried they are that they'll do the wrong thing. How they don’t even know what the right or wrong thing is anymore, but they know their child. Their stories touch me, daily – I know they’re not rushing into anything, because they tell me how long it took them to understand their child.

Most parents I speak with say I wish I'd listened to my kid sooner. They say once they see the positive impact that transitioning has had on their child, they wish they had let their child feel that joy, that happiness of being themselves, sooner.

I don’t write this to say that parents should immediately transition their child if they so much as mention gender. Not at all. I believe giving children time and space to explore, to try things out, is important. Children – everyone! - should have room to figure out who they truly are – which may be gender expansive, and may not be.

For those children who are trans, when they get to express themselves as they truly are, they often experience gender euphoria – positive emotions when their gender is affirmed. When parents see that happiness in their child’s eyes, and happiness that was within their power to grant, it’s natural that they wish they had given their child more time with joy.

Gender exploration will not be eliminated. Transgender, non-binary, or gender expansive people will not be eliminated. But free expression of gender? That can be eliminated. And with it, the chance at joy.

Tina Neal is the founder of Tertium Quid, a camp providing a safe space for gender expansive youths and their families. Visit to learn more.

Views expressed in The Advocate’s opinion articles are those of the writers and do not necessarily represent the views of The Advocate or our parent company, equalpride

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