cis-centrist fearmongering; a poignant archive of the bottomless pit
Welcome to Digestable, your mouthful of things happening in the world.
I’m in this blissful and strange time of my life where it isn’t totally necessary for me to read the news ever. My job used to rely on me whiling the hours away on Twitter trying to flag down the constantly fading attentions of journalists and the other soul-crushed internet folks in the Movement. Now, I just listen to Democracy Now! once a week while driving vegetables around, and occasionally scroll through news landing pages while drinking coffee before heading outside to be dirty all day.
It was during one of these morning perusals that I came across an archetypical NY Times article about the danger of giving gender-affirming puberty blockers to trans kids. The Times loves to publish garbage like this - using supposed care for publishing diverse opinions as a shield for criticising efforts to protect people from the brutality of late neoliberal extractive capitalism.
I barely made it through this article, which you can read if you really want to have a bad time. It questions the safety and effectiveness of giving trans kids, who are at disproportionate risk of suicide and other mental health crises, drugs that make them less likely to have these experiences.
Puberty blockers, if you are not familiar, delay the effects of developing secondary sex characteristics like breasts and facial hair. Generally, these are given to young people who express anxiety at going through puberty towards a body that will feel dangerously incongruous with the identities they are developing. Blockers can be thought of as ‘pushing the pause button’ on puberty, and can save people the time, money, and exhaustion that comes with gender-affirming surgery. If folks on puberty blockers arrive into adulthood and decide to continue transitioning, they’ll start a course of hormones to help them do so. If you decide that actually, you want to go ahead with the puberty process written into your genes, you stop the blockers, and that’s that.
If language for gender deviance had been widely shared and discussed with me as a child, it’s very likely I would have expressed interest in puberty blockers as a pre-teen. If someone had given me an out for the decade of street harassment and worse that followed, often as a direct byproduct of the secondary sex characteristics I never asked for, I would have accepted with gusto.
You know what, please don’t read that article. There is just no need to poison your brain with cis-centrist fearmongering. Read this instead—a thoughtful rebuttal to the thoughtless question of the “costs” of giving trans kids life-affirming care. The author explains that after she started hormones, she spent years in fear of having a stroke after her doctor kept aggressively warning about risks of stroke. She explains:
“I stayed extremely worried about strokes until another trans woman gave me something closer to the full picture: Women in general have a higher risk of stroke than men, and those on certain kinds of birth control—essentially another form of hormone therapy—have an even more elevated risk. The greater stroke threat wasn’t some unique punishment for being trans; it was just part of the territory of being a woman in this universe.”
Remember when everyone freaked out about the tiny fraction of people who got the J&J vaccine and had blood clotting? There were more tweets making fun of how those risks pale in comparison to those of say, contraceptives, than there were people with blood clots from the vaccine.
All medication has risks. Not taking puberty blockers also comes with risks. Being a person on this planet shot through with toxins has risks. Having a human body, prone to malfunction at any time, has risks. This is just part of being alive.
Beyond the false-alarm concern about the medical risks of puberty blockers in the Times piece is the central placement of a girl who says she was given blockers too soon. Detransition happens, but not often. The framing of the article implies that if kids are not offered puberty blockers, they are not exposed to ideas of gender. This is, in short, a dirty lie—from before a child is born, parents are purchasing color-coded attire.
The way that people hold babies they perceive to be girls and boys is different. From the first words we say to children, gender expectations are affirmed, telling babies they are pretty or strong (which…are pretty weird things to choose to tell a baby about themself, anyway). Forest fires are set in celebration of parents thinking their child’s gender is knowable. At school, kids are separated into lines and activities based on their perceived gender.
Which raises this question: if gender identity is supposedly so tied to sex, why must it be constantly reinforced? If boys will be boys, why are they constantly told to hide their feelings and break things, even if inclinations lean other ways? Why are girls defiant until this ferocity is encouraged out of them?
I’ve got my money on the experiment of not insisting young people behave in a particular way, and all of them acting differently as a result, adherent to the guidelines of identity and behavior that best suit them.
The Second Look
Half-baked cultural criticism from Gabriel Coleman.
For better or worse, I consume a lot of YouTube content. The past months I’ve strayed towards longer-form video essays, ranging from 45 minutes to almost three hours. I’m not exactly comfortable with this kind or volume of media consumption, but I do it anyway. Jenny Nicholson is a regular in my watch-habits, a YouTuber who recently made the internet rounds for her three hour and forty-eight minute video detailing the trials and tribulations of Utah’s Evermore Park. Jenny is a genuine and funny individual, the kind of person that can keep you engaged in learning about a failing and exploitative LARP-centered theme park for almost four hours. Her videos make guilty-pleasure topics like Star Wars, Disney World, and niche fanfiction feel genuinely interesting to engage with. But the thing about Jenny that leaves me completely perplexed is her humongous collection of toys and stuffed animals.
Your standard Jenny Nicholson video consists of Jenny sitting on the side of her bed or on a desk in some kind of quick costume or themed outfit. The camera looks down from slightly above her, revealing an assortment of stuffed animals, novelty pillows, and toys that fill the rest of the frame. The toys change from video to video and sometimes throughout the video to complement the subject. For her Star Wars content, the bed will fill with Rey dolls and droids; for her deep dive on the 2011 fantasy teen drama Beastly she is surrounded by Beauty and the Beast and Pokemon plushes. Some of her content actively engages with the toys, like a video where she goes on a COVID road-trip to purchase a huge Aragog spider from Craigslist or one where she ranks her collection of porg dolls, but mostly they are just there, watching.
Jenny has eighteen porgs. As far as I can tell from looking through all her videos this morning she has 61 Star Wars toys in total, including seven different versions of BB8. Jenny has at least 37 individual My Little Pony dolls, plushies and pillows, eleven snakes, and twelve vegetables. When you first watch just a couple of Jenny’s videos their scale doesn’t make such an impact, but after so many hours absorbing her content, shamefully putting a video on as I go to bed so Jenny can lull me to sleep while reads aloud from about Kylo Ren fanfiction, it starts to become kind-of unnerving.
I was able to count 204 toys total that appear and disappear from her bed, floors, and shelf throughout her library of 111 videos. When I watch her videos now I try to imagine what lies behind the camera. Is she performing her monologues to a huge chaotic mountain of Land Before Time dinosaurs and squishable Disney characters or is the collection packed into several meticulously labeled space-saving bags in a closet somewhere? I try to pick out where her preoccupation with toys begins and ends, listening critically to the tone she uses when talking about buying so many strange and expensive things from the Avatar theme park gift shop, or studying the way she handles a doll of Remy from Ratatouille.
I don’t like owning a lot of stuff so it stresses me out to think about all of these frivolous decorative pillows. It’s especially freaky to think about all the polyfill and synthetic fur constantly shedding microplastics into the air of Jenny’s bedroom and the world beyond. This discomfort makes me want to psychoanalyze Jenny, determine whether she’s a texture person or if the toys are an extension of her preoccupation with the weird, malformed products of late-stage capitalism (both seem somewhat true). Going through her videos to take inventory I tried to determine if there was a starting point for her plush accumulation, if it’s the product of her YouTube virality, making ever larger purchases of porgs and spiders to drive ever larger numbers of clicks.. But these toys, in some number at least, seem to predate Jenny’s internet notoriety. In her video about BronyCon she talks about collecting My Little Pony dolls as a kid and one of her first videos is an unnarrated encounter with a haunting dog doll whose batteries have run down.
And this brings me back to questioning my own semi-obsessive content consumption. Collectively, I’ve spent several days of time listening to Jenny’s insight into topics that I have no interest or prior knowledge of, not to mention the other YouTubers whose voices fill my free time. I love hearing these individuals think through and come to conclusions about topics they evidently care about, regardless of their profession or expertise. Maybe Jenny just finds a similar joy in holding a strange looking stuffed animal in your hand, knowing that someone purposefully designed it to look so weird and another person sewed it together, doing their best to realize its awkward design.
That isn’t really much of a conclusion. I didn’t really have a profound statement in mind, really I just wanted to count up all the toys Jenny Nicholson has and share it with you all. I don’t know if that’s a waste of time or energy or server space. I don’t know if watching her videos has been wasting time I could have spent writing and researching. I don’t know if Jenny Nicholson should be written off as making unnecessarily long content on frivolous corporate media or lauded for creating an incredibly poignant archive of the bottomless pit that is media criticism and consumerism. I do know that Jenny has 2 Thanos hands, an Enchanted Tiki Room pillow, a plush of Hello Kitty dressed as Sonic the Hedgehog, and this mysterious creature that seems to be some kind of goat.