Lisa Selin Davis is an American author and “gender critical” activist involved in anti-transgender extremism. Since 2013, she has become a key anti-trans voice in American media, part of the movement’s “parental rights” faction.

Davis’ attacks on the trans rights movement center on several gender critical tactics:

Davis claims “there is a dominant narrative about trans kids that the media is promoting.” According to her, this alleged narrative is merely “mantras by activists” and based on “feeling over fact.” Davis says she has concerns about the affirmative model of care and is troubled that she and others can no longer publish their conservative beliefs without consequence.

Davis claims she is a liberal who is part of the “silenced center.” She says she is not part of the gender critical world or the gender affirming world and simply wants to “diversify the media narrative.” So far, her “viewpoint diversity” efforts have largely been the promotion of extremist clinicians, cultural critics, and activists who share her gender critical beliefs.

Background

Davis was born January 18, 1972. Davis’ father Peter is a musician who plays in a group called Annie and the Hedonists. Davis spent most of her early life in a Massachusetts suburb with her mother, librarian and author Helaine Selin (born 1946).

Davis graduated from her mother’s employer Hampshire College in 1993 with a bachelor’s degree in film studies. She then moved to New York City and lived with her brother, musician Benjamin Lazar Davis. She built props at Nickelodeon for a few years, then earned an MFA in writing from Arizona State University in 2003.

Davis has edited a number of publications and websites, including Upstate House magazine, Senior Planet, KGB Bar, upstater.net, and brownstoner.com. She is the author of young adult novels Belly (2005) and Lost Stars (2016). She stopped writing in the genre because she claims she could not write about characters who were different than her identity. Her non-fiction writing has appeared in several publications, including Grist, The Wall Street Journal, Time, the New York Times, Quillette, and Quartz.

Davis and husband Alex F. Sherwin live in New York with their two children, Enna and Athena. Her 2020 book Tomboy is dedicated to them.

2013 Parenting article

In 2013, Davis wrote a piece for Parenting just before the magazine closed, titled “My Daughter Wants to be a Boy!” The title was stealth edited in 2017 to “My Daughter Is a Tomboy!” and the article was edited to remove some identifying information. The article was removed from the Parenting.com website in 2018, though the site remains online as part of a 2021 asset transfer from Meredith to Dotdash. The original version describes her child:

She insisted on being Spiderman for Halloween, and on getting light-up superhero sneakers “like my friend Luca’s” when she needed new shoes. They told us at school that she gravitated toward the boys, and though she is quite small for her age, and not particularly hearty, they told us she could hold her own with the rowdy bunch of them. 

And again, I thought, “How great is she?”

Well, okay, 90% of me said that. The other 10% thought, “uh-oh.” As she started to announce in ways both subtle and direct that she’s a boy, and ask me questions like “Why can’t boys have vaginas and girls have penises?” the ratio of heartwarming to heart-sinking has shifted.

Let me say that I don’t hold particularly conventional views about gender or sexuality. There are so many lesbians in my family that I fully expect either or both of my daughters to be gay (though of course I will love and accept them if they turn out to be heterosexual). But there is something about having the only girl who won’t play princess, the only girl in the school who thinks and says she’s a boy, that has shaken me a bit. Dressing like a boy? Cool. Thinking you actually are a boy? Way more complicated. […]

Some of my fears for Enna-as-boy are rooted in reality. It’s a much harder way to move through the world, identifying with the gender you weren’t assigned at birth.

2017 New York Times op-ed

In 2017, Davis wrote an op-ed in the New York Times insisting that her child is not transgender, but instead a “tomboy.” Davis says author Jennifer Finney Boylan gave it the thumbs up, and Davis claims the whole community on Twitter then gave it the thumbs up.

Following its warm reception among conservatives and anti-trans thought leaders, Davis was given a book deal and turned the piece into the 2020 book Tomboy. Despite a book deal and many subsequent writing gigs and media appearances, Selin claims she was “cancelled” for the op-ed. She met with Chase Strangio and Kate Bornstein about her “concerns about the dominant narrative” that affirming care benefited gender diverse youth.

Drawing parallels to the response to Jesse Singal’s transphobic 2018 piece in The Atlantic, Davis has said she is part of a group of “left wing” people who meet surreptitiously to plan strategies that undermine affirming care and promote the Dutch protocol for gender diverse youth, a type of gatekeeping sometimes called “watchful waiting.”

2020 book Tomboy

In an expansion of the 2017 op-ed, Davis’ thesis is that masculine girls have recently disappeared from the cultural landscape. This erasure narrative about “tomboys” and lesbians is a major talking point among gender critical and trans-exclusionary separatists.

Cultural criticism

The narrative Davis puts forth is permeated with metaphors of disease and impairment. She describes some gender diverse youth as being influenced by peers and having “comorbidities” that should be cured before they are approved for gender affirming health services. Davis has concerns that medical transition is being used “as a panacea for other mental health issues.”

Her binary view about transitioning to “the opposite sex” presents trans rights as a moral dilemma that could harm cisgender people: “Do we want to make decisions that are worse for the majority of people but they benefit a small group?”

Davis has criticized Stanford University School of Medicine psychiatrist Jack Turban for asking the media not to use the term “detransition.” She was offended when he criticized her after she called Turban for an interview. Davis uses the term “activist” as a thought-terminating pejorative for anyone who does not share her views, even subject matter experts like Strangio and Turban.

Meanwhile, Davis supports numerous controversial disease models of sex and gender diversity, including Ray Blanchard‘s sex disease “autogynephilia” and Kenneth Zucker‘s diseases like “gender identity disorder” and “gender dysphoria.” She has spoken with ex-trans activists like James Shupe and supports conservative trans people such as Aaron Kimberley and Scott Newgent.

2022 Quillette profile of Erica Anderson

Davis complained after The Nation noted that gender critical publication Quillette was deemed transphobic for promoting “rapid-onset gender dysphoria” and other conservative beliefs about gender diverse youth. She told Benjamin Boyce, “I don’t read Quillette, but I know they have a more diverse media narrative around this issue.”

A couple of months later, Davis profiled conservative transgender clinician Erica Anderson in Quillette. Anderson began litigating her conservative clinical views about trans and gender diverse youth in the press in 2021. Because USPATH had specifically stated that clinical disputes should be discussed among professionals and not litigated in the lay press, Anderson resigned from USPATH in a move to get more attention for her conservative clinical views from people like Davis.

2022 Newsweek op-ed

In a classic case of false balance and “bothsidesism,” Davis made the case against affirmative care in a Newsweek piece titled “What Both Sides Are Missing About the Science of Gender-Affirming Care.” As usual, one of the best ways to analyze Davis’ bias is via the proportion of text and links. These pieces always start of with a veneer of journalism, then quickly make a case for one position. Unlike the infamous 2018 Atlantic piece by Jesse Singal, at least this one is labeled opinion.

Davis cites 3 neutral sources. She cites 7 sources that reflect expert medical consensus. She cites 35 sources that dispute expert medical consensus and support her gender critical view, which could basically be summarized thus: being trans is a rapidly spreading disease that should be monitored and controlled by a state-run healthcare system overseen by conservative clinicians and legislators, where even one bad outcome must be prevented at all costs. Even if the cost is 100 good outcomes. Others with her cis-centric point of view would add even if the cost is prosecuting the families and doctors who work toward good outcomes.

2022 San Francisco Chronicle op-ed

This piece purports to condemn extremist anti-trans legislators. It also suggests that mainstream medical consensus is the extremism at the other end of the political spectrum. Davis once again praises federal healthcare systems that require children to travel to centralized clinics run by state-funded gatekeepers in hopes of receiving medical care capped by a federal budget. Despite extensive evidence about the drawbacks of such systems for minorities seeking health services, like the US Veteran’s Administration or Canada’s CAMH, Davis is convinced that systems like Sweden’s, or worse, the UK’s will prevent rare cases of regret.

 2022 Skeptic special edition

Michael Shermer paid other members of the gender critical faction in the skeptic community to present their version of “the debate” about trans people. No trans contributors were invited. Joining Shermer in this attack were Harriet Hall, Carol Tavris, and Davis, whose piece is titled “Trans Matters: An Overview of the Debate, Research, and Policies.” She bristles at those who label people like her as “conservative, transphobic bigots” and claims support for affirming models of care “is now a test of loyalty” among its supporters.

April 2022 Quillette piece

It was inevitable that Davis would become a regular contributor to Quillette’s steady stream of anti-trans articles. Her efforts continued with a dogwhistle piece about “the encroachment of ideology on medicine by activists” and the “propaganda surrounding medical literature.” While the piece seems to condemn the national deluge of anti-trans legislation criminalizing trans healthcare, her real point is to claim that the government has gone too far in supporting trans youth. She cites several examples gleaned from anti-trans parenting forums.

September 2022 Boston Globe piece

Davis continues to place the same article in any outlet that will take it, in this case repurposing a Substack piece in the Boston Globe, whioch was then reprinted in the New York Post as “Kid gender guidelines not driven by science.” Davis blames WPATH for bomb threats against trans-affirming children’s hospitals, because they did not publish better Standards of Care. She quotes her anti-trans allies including Julia Mason, of Society for Evidence-Based Gender Medicine and James Cantor, formerly of CAMH. She once again holds up federally controlled conservative gatekeeping as her ideal protocol.

References

Ira, Stephen (April 24, 2017). What Lisa Selin Davis Got So Wrong In Her New York Times Essay About Her “Tomboy” Daughter. NewNowNext http://www.newnownext.com/lisa-selin-davis-new-york-times-transgender/04/2017/

McNamara, Heather (April 25, 2017). Lisa Selin Davis’ Child Is (Not) Transgender. Gender Analysis https://genderanalysis.net/2017/04/lisa-selin-davis-child-is-not-transgender/

Urquhart, Evan (April 21, 2017). In Our Gender Diverse Era, Parents Should Practice Humility With Their Kids. Slate https://slate.com/human-interest/2017/04/parents-of-gender-diverse-kids-need-to-embrace-humility-not-certainty.html

Damour, Lisa (October 7, 2020). ‘Tomboy’ Looks at Gender Roles, and Role-Playing, Through the Ages. New York Times https://www.nytimes.com/2020/10/07/books/review/lisa-selin-davis-tomboy.html

Selected articles by Davis

Davis, Lisa Selin (2013). “My Daughter Wants to be a Boy!” [retitled in 2017 as “My Daughter Is a Tomboy!” and removed in 2018] Parenting http://www.parenting.com/article/tomboy [archive]

Davis, Lisa Selin (April 18, 2017). My Daughter Is Not Transgender. She’s a Tomboy. New York Times https://www.nytimes.com/2017/04/18/opinion/my-daughter-is-not-transgender-shes-a-tomboy.html

Davis, Lisa Selin (April 3, 2017). For 18 years, I thought she was stealing my identity. Until I found her. The Guardian https://www.theguardian.com/us-news/2017/apr/03/identity-theft-racial-justice

Davis, Lisa Selin (2020). Tomboy: The Surprising History and Future of Girls Who Dare to Be Different. Grand Central Publishing, ISBN 9780316458290 

Davis, Lisa Selin (December 19, 2021). Tomboys, trans boys and ‘West Side Story.’ Los Angeles Times https://www.latimes.com/opinion/story/2021-12-19/tomboys-west-side-story-anybodys-gender-nonconforming-trans-people

Davis, Lisa Selin (January 6, 2022). A Trans Pioneer Explains Her Resignation from the US Professional Association for Transgender Health. Quillette https://quillette.com/2022/01/06/a-transgender-pioneer-explains-why-she-stepped-down-from-uspath-and-wpath/

Davis, Lisa Selin (February 22, 2022). What Both Sides Are Missing About the Science of Gender-Affirming Care. Newsweek https://www.newsweek.com/what-both-sides-are-missing-about-science-gender-affirming-care-opinion-1681396

Davis, Lisa Selin (March 4, 2022). Texas investigations into gender-affirming care for kids aren’t just cruel, they hurt science. San Francisco Chronicle https://www.sfchronicle.com/opinion/openforum/article/Texas-investigations-into-gender-affirming-care-16975929.php

Davis, Lisa Selin (March 4, 2022). Gender-Transition Decisions Should Be Made by Families, Not the State. Quillette https://quillette.com/2022/04/25/gender-transition-decisions-should-be-made-by-families-not-the-state/

Davis, Lisa Selin (Volume 27 Number 1). Trans Matters: An Overview of the Debate, Research, and Policies. Skeptic https://www.skeptic.com/magazine/archives/27.1/

Davis, Lisa Selin (May 11, 2022). Investigative Issues: The Shaky Foundation of ‘Gender-Affirming Care.’ Via Year Zero Substack by Wesley Yang. https://wesleyyang.substack.com/p/the-gender-affirming-house-of-cards/

Davis, Lisa Selin (May 13, 2022). These parents didn’t embrace gender-affirming care. Texas investigated them. Dallas Morning News https://www.dallasnews.com/opinion/commentary/2022/05/15/texas-parents-investigated-for-not-embracing-gender-affirming-care/

Davis, Lisa Selin (August 30, 2022). How to treat gender dysphoria. UnHerd https://unherd.com/2022/08/how-to-treat-gender-dysphoria/

Davis, Lisa Selin (December 10, 2022). Liberal media refuses to tell full truth about transgender kids. New York Post https://nypost.com/2022/12/10/liberal-media-refuses-to-tell-full-truth-about-transgender-kids/

Resources by Davis

Lisa Selin Davis (lisaselindavis.com)

Instagram (instagram.com)

LinkedIn (linkedin.com)

Substack (lisaselindavis.substack.com)

  • BROADVIEW

Medium (medium.com)

Muck Rack (muckrack.com)

Selected media appearances

Big Think: Should parents de-emphasize gender norms? https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Mf52XWX27kU

Benjamin A. Boyce: Tomboys & Other Untold Tales


To the Contrary on PBS: Woman Thought Leader Lisa Selin Davis https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=QtnKjA48Uvc

Gender Dysphoria Alliance: Tomboy: with Lisa Selin Davis https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=2Ip7R8znFyw

Gender: A Wider Lens: Who Gets to Decide What’s Normal: A Conversation w/ Lisa Selin Davis, hosted by Stella O’Malley & Sasha Ayad