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Jake Silverstein vs. transgender people

Jake Silverstein is an American author and anti-transgender activist. Silverstein was responsible for a 2023 anti-trans feature about gender diverse youth by Emily Bazelon in The New York Times Magazine.


Jacob “Jake” Silverstein was born on October 14, 1975 and grew up in Oakland, California. Silverstein earned a bachelor’s degree from Wesleyan University, a master’s degree from Hollins University, and a master’s degree from the University of Texas at Austin in 2006.

After working in local news, Silverstein was editor of Texas Monthly from 2008 to 2014, then was named editor of The New York Times Magazine.

Silverstein and spouse Mary Jillian LaMotte Silverstein (born 1970) have two children.

Anti-trans activism

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In the fall of 2021, Silverstein conceived of and assigned a story to Emily Bazelon, telling On the Media (OTM):

We understood that an interesting moment in the field of transgender care was coming up, and that was the release of this new Standards of Care which had last been published I believe it was 2012. So almost a decade ago. That was one of the original motivations for the story, to try to understand what process was going into that and get ahead of the publication of those new Standards of Care. As Emily began looking into it, we had access to this working group that was working on the chapter about adolescence. And we began to understand that there were some not only debates and discussions happening within that group, but also there was a really intense complexity to them doing their work, in the context of a proliferation of really draconian legislation restricting trans rights in various states around the country. 

Silverstein OTM 2023

Their key access point was psychiatrist Scott Leibowitz, who along with Laura Edwards-Leeper is also a key source for Jesse Singal and other anti-trans activists framing trans people as having a medical and/or psychiatric problem (“gender dysphoria,” etc.). Leibowitz leads off the article in Bazelon’s “cisgender person under siege” framing long favored by the Times when covering gender diverse people. Leibowitz and Edwards-Leeper served on the WPATH chapter on “Assessment, Support and Therapeutic Approaches for Adolescents with Gender Variance/Dysphoria.” Also serving were Annelou de Vries, Jon Arcelus, Gayathri Chelvakumar, Stephanie Roberts, and John Strang.

OTM pressed Silverstein about context.

That’s right, I think you’re quoting from Emily‘s story there. The politicization in certain state legislatures around the country around this issue has created a political debate around something that has ended up distorting a lot of the reception of articles like Emily’s.

Silverstein PTM 2023

The phrase patient zero was one of the examples of bias cited in the open letters to Times management.

This term was introduced to Emily during her interview with the patient in question, a Dutch trans man who we refer to in the story as F.G. Emily tracked him down and interviewed him at length. And he said to her, “I was patient zero.” The term also appears in a book that is cited in Emily’s story about the history of the Amsterdam clinic that uses the term patient zero to describe the same person. And in both cases the meaning was clear to Emily in these interviews and in reading this book. It described the first-ever recipient of this treatment. That’s what it meant, and I think it was pretty clear that’s what it meant from the context. Like I said, it’s not used in quotation marks. He is quoted, saying other things, and he’s quoted saying this treatment saved his life. And Emily didn’t realize that it was going to have another connotation for other people.

Silverstein OTM 2023

The phrase patient zero was removed from Bazelon’s article and replaced with the phrase first patient. The Times made the change after On the Media made an inquiry and before Silverstein came on their show.

We’ve been talking about making that particular change. Changing something to a story that we published for reasons other than a factual correction is never something that we take lightly. It’s not something we do very often. As you can imagine it’s something that requires a lot of conversations and deliberations internally. So it took a little bit of time for that to work its way through the process. But we felt it was the right thing to do. I wish we had immediately understood how some readers might take that term. 

Silverstein OTM 2023

Times coverage was quickly cited in anti-trans legislation, which Silverstein feels is beyond the Times’ control.

I don’t believe that there’s anything in this story or any other news coverage that supports banning gender therapy. I believe, and I can’t say for sure, because I obviously had nothing to do with this amicus brief, that these pieces were cited to show that there is a debate among providers about how to best perform gender care for minors. And that is what these stories document with their reporting. Once we hit publish, we don’t control how readers of any kind are going to use our stories. And I don’t know that we should. 

Silverstein OTM 2023

How they covered Genspect:

We’ve heard this criticism about not identifying Genspect. Some of the people who criticized Emily’s story wanted us to refer to Genspect as a hate group. We can’t say that without evidence, right? We can characterize groups up to a point, unless we’re going to dedicate reporting time to investigating a particular group, we can’t characterize it a certain way without evidence. 

Silverstein OTM 2023

Masha Gessen thought Bazelon’s piece was excellent, Andrew Sullivan

It’s certainly not the position of the journalist in question here, of Emily. Part of what Emily is doing in the story is she’s trying to gather in a sense of what that conversation is and what that commentary is, and the context in which these folks are doing their work. That process of doing that, of gathering in this commentary doesn’t mean that Emily endorses every single thing that she’s citing. She’s trying to give readers a sense of the atmosphere in which these gender affirming clinicians are doing their work. 

Silverstein OTM 2023

On including ex-trans activist Grace Lidinsky-Smith of Gender Care Consumer Advocacy Network, who regrets top surgery requested and received as an adult.

Sure, I mean the question of how to identify people quoted in stories comes up a lot, and sometimes the decision is based on the footprint that they occupy in a story: how much the story is about them, how significant their part of the story is, and in this case, in a very long story in which the subject was a very small part, it seemed to us that we were giving the reader the information that was most relevant. 

Silverstein OTM 2023

When pressed about including an adult ex-trans activist associated with groups seeking to restrict trans healthcare. tagential to the purview of the piece, and “we didn’t get a lot of context about where she was coming from.”

Mm-hm. Yeah, I understand that.

Silverstein OTM 2023

Is there anything you wish you did differently in your coverage or your editing process?

As you can see from the fact that we changed the term “patient zero,” I certainly wish we had changed that before we hit publish on the story. But other than that, I would say no. I’m really proud of this piece. Emily‘s piece is a finalist for the National Magazine Award in the category of public interest this year. A jury of her peers said it’s one of the six most important pieces of public interest journalism published in any magazine last year. And I think that’s correct. This kind of reporting is very difficult to do. It takes a kind of focus, it takes a kind of fortitude, and it also takes the commitment to the principles of journalism that not everybody has. And Emily does. 

Silverstein OTM 2023

On June 18, 2022, Silverstein tweeted “This weekend’s @NYTmag cover is a deeply-reported story by @emilybazelon on debates among providers within the field of transgender health care over how to treat teenagers. Emily spent 8 months on this piece, and interviewed and quoted many transgender providers who have a variety of perspectives, as well as cisgender providers who have spent their careers in gender-affirming care. Reporting on subjects that are highly politicized is challenging. That’s why Emily’s methodical, principled, & deeply journalistic approach was important. I hope you’ll read her story.”

ACLU lawyer Chase Strangio noted that Silverstein’s work was immediately used to attack Texas families with gender diverse children:

This is from an expert report filed by Texas in defense of its policy of directing the “child welfare” agency to investigate medical treatment for gender dysphoria as child abuse. It is hard to watch this all unfold with such devastating harms.

Lee Leveille and Ky Schevers of Health Liberation Now! also described their involvement and reaction:

Genspect and Stella O’Malley

  • multiple Genspect members are active in clinic protests 
  • the group’s extensive collaboration with faith-based lobbying groups for SOGICE in order to undermine efforts to ban conversion therapy. 
  • training conferences held by the NHS being canceled 
  • “make sure that children are, if- if at all possible, are stopped from medical transition”

GCCAN and Grace Lidinsky-Smith

Health Liberation Now! concludes:

Media portrayals on de/retransition, particularly in the framing of regret or mental health assessment, have aggravated the very political battle that Bazelon references in the article. In doing so, the New York Times feeds into the ongoing disinformation campaign we caution about in When Ex-Trans Worlds Collide.


Migdon, Brooke (February 15, 2023). NYT contributors blast paper’s coverage of transgender people. The Hill

(June 22, 2022). Response to NYT Article “The Battle Over Gender Therapy.” Health Liberation Now!

The New York Times Company (March 28, 2014). The New York Times Names Jake Silverstein Editor of The New York Times Magazine.

Loewinger, Micah (August 11, 2023). Go Woke, Go Broke. On the Media

Deprang, Jo (April 27, 2010). Fact over fiction. Texas Observer


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