Breaking Down the "Anti-Trans Hate Machine" | Crooked Media
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February 13, 2023
What A Day
Breaking Down the "Anti-Trans Hate Machine"

In This Episode

  • For years, transgender activists and journalists have criticized the New York Times and other mainstream news organizations for their inadequate – and harmful – coverage of trans issues. Some of that reporting and opinion writing is now being cited in anti-trans state legislation across the country.
  • Journalist Katelyn Burns, co-host of the Cancel Me, Daddy podcast, breaks down how it has a direct impact on trans livelihoods.
  • And in headlines: tens of thousands of Israelis demonstrated against bills that would overhaul the country’s judicial system, Ukraine’s military will bar aid groups from the city of Bakhmut, and Barney the Dinosaur is making a comeback.


Show Notes:



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Josie Duffy Rice: It’s Tuesday, February 14th. I’m Josie Duffy Rice. 


Tre’vell Anderson: And I’m Tre’vell Anderson. And this is What A Day, the only podcast written exclusively with conversation hearts. 


Josie Duffy Rice: Yes, all day we’ll be communicating with kindergarten level Valentines for everything is a loving pun. 


Tre’vell Anderson: I’m going to go buy my own Valentine’s Day cards because they’re probably on sale by now. [music break]


Josie Duffy Rice: On today’s show, parts of a Georgia grand jury’s report on alleged election interference by Donald Trump will be released this week. Plus, the purple dinosaur everyone loved to hate in the nineties is making a comeback. 


Tre’vell Anderson: But first, The New York Times keeps publishing anti-trans reporting and editorials. And I’m fucking tired of it. And no, it’s not just The New York Times. Many other outlets are similarly proving themselves to be tools of what journalist Imara Jones calls the anti-trans hate machine. But The New York Times just might be the biggest and most consequential perpetrator of this issue. So let me catch y’all up. You already know that we are living through an unprecedented legislative assault on LGBTQ people, especially trans folks. In state legislatures across the country, conservative politicians are passing health care bans, restricting which sports teams trans youth can play on and otherwise, minding the business of trans people when you know they could be addressing legitimate issues of health and safety for their constituents. At the same time, we’ve seen a lot of outlets aim to cover these developments as well as the quote unquote, “transgender issue”. But time and time again, they prove they just don’t have the range, by which I mean the reporting ends up parodying and emboldening the very anti-trans rhetoric that undergirds the transphobia that folks like myself deal with on a daily basis. 


Josie Duffy Rice: Right. And as we’ve talked about before, these two things are connected, very connected. This assault on trans rights, trans autonomy, and the kind of coverage we see in, quote unquote, “mainstream media”. 


Tre’vell Anderson: Yeah. And we know, for example, right, that at least two New York Times articles that have normalized anti-trans sentiment have actually been cited in state legislatures as they’re debating the rights of trans folks. So– 


Josie Duffy Rice: Right. 


Tre’vell Anderson: -what we actually have is a self-fulfilling cycle of transphobia on our hands, right? Outlets like The Times say they’re just reporting on issues or that they are, quote unquote, “investigating the impact of trans related health care on youth”. But because of quote unquote, “objectivity”, which absolutely is a machination of white and cis supremacy and will always ensure that the experiences and perspectives of the most marginalized never get their due. Anti-trans voices are being uplifted right alongside trans voices. That creates this idea that there’s this huge debate going on which politicians then use to justify their anti-trans policies, all under the guise of allegedly protecting women and girls, which then outlets like the New York Times report on, often using the exact same voices that they shouldn’t have used without proper vetting and interrogation in the first place. 


Josie Duffy Rice: Right. While saying, they’re just asking questions. 


Tre’vell Anderson: Right. 


Josie Duffy Rice: So talk to us a little bit about what doesn’t get covered as a result of this. We know what does get covered is this sort of one sided bias, really harmful perspective, but what doesn’t get covered? 


Tre’vell Anderson: Yeah, well, the result of all of this is that people end up thinking that trans issues start and stop at the health care some of us need and where we go to pee. We never get to talk about how housing and homelessness is also a trans issue, just like unemployment. We never get to talk about the toll on our mental health that this moment is having on us and the lack of resources to support the community. But even beyond all the trauma and strife, we end up not hearing the stories of trans folks that are out here experiencing joy beyond– 


Josie Duffy Rice: Right. 


Tre’vell Anderson: –and in spite of all the foolishness, we have to deal with. 


Josie Duffy Rice: Right. 


Tre’vell Anderson: You know to kind of put it plainly, there is a concerted political strategy unfolding before our very eyes that’s been dressed up as a social issue in order to exploit the fears and lack of knowledge of cis-people. And that’s cis folks across the political spectrum, which in turn has created a situation where we as trans people have to not only be wary of politicians who seek to do us harm, but also, quite frankly, many of you likely well-meaning liberals listening to this podcast right now, because we can’t even trust that the news you’re getting that’s supposed to help you understand what the hell is going on has been written with the care, safety and humanity of trans people in mind. But don’t just take my word for it. I recently spoke with journalist Katelyn Burns about this issue. She’s a columnist with MSNBC and Extra magazine and was the first openly trans Capitol Hill reporter. She’s also a member of the Trans Journalists Association and co-host of the podcast Cancel Me Daddy. I started by asking her about the faults of a recent article The Times published about kids coming out as trans to their teachers rather than their parents and their parents feeling, quote unquote, “betrayed”. Take a listen. 


Katelyn Burns: Well, I’m going to start with the fact that the story was written by a cisgender person, and it was written very much for cisgender perspective, which isn’t on its own, I think problematic, because obviously the vast majority of readers of the New York Times are going to be cis, so they’re going to relate more heavily to a parent than a trans kid. But it didn’t really bother interrogating the perspective of trans kids who might be in danger from being outed by parents. It didn’t mention at all that 40% of all homeless youth are LGBT and that a large portion of those kids are trans and it’s because of parental rejection. We know that being outed to unaccepting parents is a safety risk. And The New York Times just like didn’t even grapple with that question at all. And what you had instead was this reporter who may make a big deal about it in the article itself, where they’re like, we interviewed 50 people for this story. [laughter] So, you know, we’re good on it. But then, like, you actually do research into who’s quoted and they’re all like members of this anti-trans parents group, and you get a little mention of it in the article where they’re like, this parents group has been criticized for saying that all trans kids are mentally ill, but they make like a mention of this and they’re like but do they have a point? And it’s like, no, not really. 


Tre’vell Anderson: No. 


Katelyn Burns: I mean. 


Tre’vell Anderson: Right. [laughter] 


Katelyn Burns: Like um you’re not being honest about who these people are. And that inherently biases the article. But if you don’t if you’re not in the fight every day, there’s no way for like an average media consumer to even realize that they’re being misled. And we see this over and over and over again, particularly with The New York Times. They had a story a few months ago that quoted extensively from this particularly heinous, anti-trans organization. And there’s no like grappling with who the organization is like there’s mention of here’s how this organization has been criticized. But then all of the sympathy in the piece goes to the members of this organization, just like in the parents piece with the school teachers, all of the sympathy is supposed to be with the parents and it’s like you are really shortchanging your readers by not even bothering to ask, am I asking the right questions? 


Tre’vell Anderson: Right. You talked on your podcast about how anti-trans articles across a variety of outlets have a lot of things in common, particularly in regards to the perspectives that they choose to highlight when it comes to trans issues. Very few of them center trans youth, for example. Another example. There are a lot of articles out there that focus on people who detransition or regret transitioning when we know that that is such a minuscule percentage of trans folks. But the coverage kind of makes it seem like there’s–


Katelyn Burns: Yeah. 


Tre’vell Anderson: –all these trans folks who regret going through that particular part of their identities. Could you talk about some of those tropes that we see popping– 


Katelyn Burns: Yeah. 


Tre’vell Anderson: –up in reporting on trans issues and and how they contribute to the misconceptions about our community? 


Katelyn Burns: Yeah, well, we know through research that the regret and detransition rate for trans people in general is extremely low. What you end up with in the coverage is five like celebrity detransitioners I don’t know another way to like explain this, but like these people are only known because they are detransitioners and they go out and campaign against transition care for youth. Like none of them actually transitioned as youth. They all transitioned in like their late teens like 18, 19 or early twenties, and then later came to regret it. And like the anti-trans movement has tried to like force this narrative that these are former trans youth that were wronged by the medical system, when in actuality they did all of their transition decisions as adults. So like they should have some personal responsibility with this. And so what you end up with is this class of four or five detransitioners who all get quoted by Reuters, New York Times, the AP, when they’re writing detransition stories, they travel around to these statehouses of these states that are trying to ban transition care for minors, and they’re all testifying and it’s the same five names every single time and credulous journalists will just treat them as if this is a larger phenomenon when it really isn’t. As a trans person who has spent a lot of time sort of around media, there’s a narrative that has been built and all of the coverage must reinforce this narrative, and if it doesn’t fit the narrative, these outlets aren’t really interested in it. 


Tre’vell Anderson: Some of those particulars, right, of the specifics of this issue don’t get teased out. In my experience in a lot of this reporting, allowing for so much room for misinformation. And so the impact then is not only is it harm for us as a trans community, but for me, as somebody who is like deeply connected to the title of journalist, it also to me seems to be a betrayal of these, you know, foundational tenets– 


Katelyn Burns: Yeah. 


Tre’vell Anderson: That we say our industry is supposed to be based on. 


Katelyn Burns: I think you’re absolutely dead on. But it also tells a story about society’s anxieties over gender in general. All of these stories that sort of center the detransitioner are asking cis people to imagine themselves being forcibly put through a transition and no one ever stops and actually thinks about if you force a trans girl to go through her natural male puberty, you are doing the same thing to this child. Like there’s no consideration for the reverse scenario. So you have all of these now cis women who are were detransitioners who are like, my body was irreversibly damaged by testosterone. I’m sitting over here like, yeah, me too. Like–


Tre’vell Anderson: Right. 


Katelyn Burns: You should let my people also have the option of not being damaged by testosterone, right? But I’m not allowed to say that. Like, I must be like, you know some sort of perverted freak, because that’s the other narrative about trans women, right? 


Tre’vell Anderson: Right. Such a salient point there. I mean, it also gets me thinking about the fact that, you know, it’s not just The New York Times, so many of the outlets that we look to. Right. Many of them don’t have trans people on their staff at all. And if they do have one– 


Katelyn Burns: Yeah. 


Tre’vell Anderson: It’s one, you know. But one of the things I wanted to talk about is, you know, amid this chorus of anti-trans articles that we see coming, it’s also at a moment of legislative attacks against our community, an unprecedented amount of anti-trans bills in state legislatures across the country right now. For those who don’t know the direct connection between these anti-trans articles that we’re seeing in a place like The New York Times and what’s happening across the country legislatively. Can you paint that picture? 


Katelyn Burns: Yeah, I mean, the things that are being written about trans people in the Times are the things that are being legislated. So we started this conversation off talking about a reported piece about whether teachers should be outing children to parents. And then you look in these state legislatures and you see a whole host of conservative states proposing bills that would require schools to notify parents if their child is expressing doubt about their gender identity or they want to be referred to by a different name. We also talked about the coverage of like detransitioners and whether or not gender transition for youth is an effective treatment, which we’ve seen multiple articles about. There’s uh a couple a dozen gender affirming care bans. It’s all conservatives pushing their own political agenda. And one thing you get when the media is entirely controlled by people who aren’t trans you don’t have any trans voices to counterbalance is you never actually get a discussion that’s kicked off by trans people. It’s always a conservative frame where you have a conservative claim and then you have either trans people or liberals like butting back against it, but you never have trans people talking about what would make their own lives better beyond just like, please leave us alone and stop sicking the state between us and our health care. Even if you had a trans person on staff, you have to give them the freedom to like write about the things that they want to write about and not necessarily just responding all the time to whatever conservative attack is coming down the road. As somebody who has been doing this for years, I can tell you the most boring, tiresome type of article that I write is responding to something that a conservative did. I don’t get to write about like being a trans parent and raising two cis kids. I don’t get to write about being a transgender sports fan, which I think would be a really interesting perspective to hear about. 


Tre’vell Anderson: Right? There’s a much more expansive slate of stories that are trans stories that don’t get told when everyone’s hyper focused on bathrooms or health care or, you know, it ends up–. 


Katelyn Burns: Yeah. 


Tre’vell Anderson: –limiting the broader understanding and narratives about how we already exist and move through, right, space alongside cis people. Before I let you go, I want to talk, I know you’re a member of the Trans Journalists Association. I’m a member as well, also a member of NABJ and its LGBTQ task force. And we’re always talking about how publications like The Times can be better, can cover trans issues more responsibly. What are some of those things that are in your head that these publications should be doing to, like, accurately reflect what life is like for trans people? 


Katelyn Burns: I think the biggest thing is just have more trans people on staff. 


Tre’vell Anderson: Higher us. Absolutely. 


Katelyn Burns: Yeah. Like uh more trans people on stuff, even if it’s not necessarily in a direct writing role, have them as editors. You know, a trans person can edit stories that aren’t about trans issues, believe it or not. You know, trans writers– 


Tre’vell Anderson: Absolutely. 


Katelyn Burns: –could write about things that aren’t trans issues. You know, really trust them when you’re publishing something and they’re giving advice on how to cover it, or if they’re giving feedback on an article like you trust the lived experiences of all of your journalists and editors who are not trans, you should give that same respect to trans people. I hate that it’s so simple and yet so unobtainable, but I think that’s just the reality we live in. 


Tre’vell Anderson: That was my interview with journalist Katelyn Burns, co-host of the podcast Cancel Me Daddy. We’ll include a link in our show notes to Katelyn’s work, as well as the Trans Journalists Association. Time for a quick break. We’ll be back after some ads. [music break] [AD BREAK]


Josie Duffy Rice: Let’s get to some headlines. 


[sung] Headlines. 


Josie Duffy Rice: Over 100,000 people protested in front of Israel’s parliament building yesterday to oppose President [correction: Prime Minister] Benjamin Netanyahu’s plan to weaken the country’s Supreme Court. Israel’s legislative committee, the Knesset, held its first vote on a law that would allow the current governing coalition to override Supreme Court rulings by just a simple majority. It would also give the government more power to choose judges. This could be very bad news because, as we’ve discussed on the show before, Netanyahu leads the most far right government in Israel’s history. So the proposed reforms could jeopardize its democratic foundations. Netanyahu is also facing criminal corruption charges, and his critics say the overhaul may also be an attempt to get him out of trouble. The situation has even led Israeli President Isaac Herzog to say on Sunday night that Israel is, quote, “on the brink of constitutional and social collapse.” 


Tre’vell Anderson: And now for an update on the war in Ukraine. Ukraine’s military yesterday said it will bar aid groups and civilians from entering the eastern city of Bakhmut. The move comes as Russian troops have reportedly surrounded the city and started to block access roads. Bakhmut has been under siege for months. And while Ukraine says it is holding control, experts warn it could fall in a matter of days. The U.S. State Department also issued a high level advisory on Sunday urging American citizens to cancel any travel to Russia and to leave the country immediately if they’re still there. All this comes ahead of the one year anniversary of the invasion next Friday and the possibility that Russia could escalate its attacks around that time. 


Josie Duffy Rice: The College Board is pushing back against what it calls slander from Florida officials over its AP African-American studies course. It’s the latest salvo in the battle over the pilot program and its proposed curriculum, which Governor Ron DeSantis and his administration forcefully rejected last month, saying the course, quote, “significantly lacks educational value”. Hmm. Interesting. The nonprofit, which also oversees the SAT exam, issued a forceful statement over the weekend saying it should have denounced those remarks sooner and that, quote, “Our failure to raise our voice betrayed Black scholars everywhere and those who have long toiled to build this remarkable field”. You may remember the board unveiled the final framework for the course two weeks ago, but omitted several key topics such as intersectionality, the Black queer experience, and contemporary movements like Black Lives Matter. The board maintains it did not make those changes due to any political pressure from Florida. 


Tre’vell Anderson: Sure, Jan. 


Josie Duffy Rice: Mm hmm. Just a coincidence. 


Tre’vell Anderson: If you need some time to mentally prepare yourself for more news about Donald Trump, mark your calendar for Thursday. That’s when a judge in Georgia will release parts of a special grand jury report on Trump’s alleged interference with the 2020 election results in the state. According to the eight page order issued yesterday. We’ll only get to see the report’s opening and closing remarks, along with the section outlining the grand jury’s concerns about some witnesses who lied under oath. Everything else in the report will remain under seal for the time being, including any recommendations over possible criminal charges. It will be up to Fulton County D.A. Fani Willis to take those recommendations to a regular grand jury to actually issue any indictments. Willis said last month that if decisions over who to charge and for what were imminent, but argued that the report should be kept secret for now to ensure that any future defendants will get a fair trial. 


Josie Duffy Rice: To quote Jurassic Park, life finds a way. Barney the Dinosaur is officially making a comeback. Mattel announced yesterday that the annoyingly iconic purple and green T-Rex will return next year as an animated TV series, along with a whole new look. Let’s just say Barney took the time off from the show to get some work done. The cheekbones are simply snatched. This is just the latest development in what we’re calling the Barney Cinematic Universe. So help me God. It was announced in 2019 that Daniel Kaluuya was set to produce a live action remake of Barney and Friends. And just last year, Peacock released a two part documentary series called I Love You, You Hate Me. Chronicling the backlash from the original show, including testimonials from two actors who received death threats for donning the dinosaur costume. For any Barney haters out there we’ll just say, you and what asteroid? 


Tre’vell Anderson: If you’re looking for just the thing to get your malformed composer boyfriend who haunts the underground lake of the opera house this Valentine’s Day, look no further. For one night only, Airbnb is offering an overnight stay at Paris’s historic Palais Garnier, the theater that inspired author Gaston Leroux to write his 1910 novel Phantom of the Opera. Two lucky guests will stay overnight in the theater’s box of honor, normally reserved at performances for visiting dignitaries. The experience also includes a private ballet lesson, an exclusive opera recital, dinner in the ornate dance rehearsal hall and even a tour of the Palais’s underground lake, the stomping grounds of the fictional Phantom. The price, a casual $40. In this economy? Booking opens on Airbnb’s website March 1st at 9 a.m. Central Standard Time, with only one reservation available. And you thought getting Beyonce tickets was hard. 


Josie Duffy Rice: I hate this. [laughter] As Black people [laughter] this is not what we do. It’s all I’m going to say. I just think that this is not our style. I’m not going to tour an underground lake like that’s not– 


Tre’vell Anderson: Yeah. 


Josie Duffy Rice: This is what Ron DeSantis doesn’t understand about us. This should be in AP African-American studies. And those are the headlines. [music break] That is all for today. If you like the show, make sure you subscribe. Leave a review. Invite your crush to your haunted basement leak and tell your friends to listen. 


Tre’vell Anderson: And if you’re into reading and not just love letters from your many admirers like me, What A Day is also a nightly newsletter. Check it out and subscribe at I’m Tre’vell Anderson. 


Josie Duffy Rice: I’m Josie Duffy Rice. 


[spoken together] And won’t you say you love me too. 


Tre’vell Anderson: They don’t make hits like this anymore. 


Josie Duffy Rice: Yeah. They don’t make bops like Baby Bop anymore either. [laughter]


Tre’vell Anderson: What A Day is a production of Crooked Media. It’s recorded and mixed by Bill Lancz. Jazzi Marine and Raven Yamamoto are our associate producers. Our head writer is Jocey Coffman and our executive producer is Lita Martinez. Our theme music is by Colin Gilliard and Kashaka.