Lost in Transition
Regarding Chip Alfred's story about transgender activist Jayden Sampson:
Thanks for this story featuring this beautiful transgendered man’s life. I strive to survive as an FTM that is older and may not be perceived of as male yet. At this point in my transition it’s essential to me and scary to keep trying to be myself with my male and female self. Being super-short, old, fat and worried about losing a job doesn’t help, but still I move on and it’s nice to keep the momentum by feeling some courage from a good news story like this.
I'm happy to see PW highlighting the experiences of transgender people. So often, media coverage of trans issues only reinforces existing stereotypes about trans people, and at first glance it was refreshing to see a piece simply profiling a Philadelphian who is trans and active in trans activism about his life and work.
However, the piece was not without flaws. I think the paragraphs explicitly describing some of the surgical options for trans people were an unnecessary part of the piece, and including information on whether the subject, Jayden Sampson, had chosen to have them, was inappropriate. Cis-gender (non-trans) people never have information about their genitals included in public profiles on their lives and work, and trans people deserve the same respect and privacy.
I was also confused by Chip Alfred’s use of both “she” and “he” to refer to Sampson, as it is clear that Sampson identifies as male. Most trans people see themselves as having been their post-transition gender their whole lives, but until transition were being misidentified by society because of their bodies. In other words, trans men are not women who one day became men, they have been men their entire lives but the people around them (and, for portions of their lives, trans people themselves) did not realize it because their bodies were labeled as female when they were born. Using language such as “he said goodbye to the woman he once was” and using “she” to refer to Sampson can lead to the misunderstanding that trans people formerly identified with the genders they were assigned at birth.
Chip Alfred responds: As a writer of LGBT profiles, I start every interview with the same question. “Is there anything you don’t want to talk about?” In Sampson’s case, there wasn’t. In a social environment, I concur that it’s an invasion of a transgender person’s privacy to ask what’s below the belt. But as a journalist, it’s a different story—because Sampson wanted to talk about it. We both agreed there was an opportunity to educate people about hormones and surgical options—to make the public aware of what trans people endure and to help anyone considering transitioning to understand the options. As for your confusion about the proper pronoun to use, my originally submitted story referred to Sampson as “she” and “her” until age 35, when she decided to transition. This was confirmed by Sampson as correct. On the issue of perpetuating stereotypes, you write “trans men are not women who one day became men, they have been men their entire lives.” For Sampson that wasn’t really true. “I wanted to bring together my male and female energies,” he explains when asked about his decision to transition. “Each trans person has their own story and their own way of describing how they felt before and after transitioning.”
In last week’s issue, an editing error stated that Jayden Sampson transitioned from male to female. Sampson has transitioned from female to male. We also wrote that Sampson said he stressed the importance of not being defined by sexual orientation. He stressed the importance of not being defined by gender representation. We regret the errors.
Letters to the Editor