December 21st, 2016

The exploitation of the transgender child

You may have heard the news that a 9-year-old child who was born a boy but who identifies as a girl has been featured on the cover of National Geograhic:

Avery’s family only ever refer to her as ‘she’, and her mother said it would be ‘wrong’ for anybody else to do otherwise.

She has said Avery will take hormone blockers when she reaches puberty, and that if she wanted surgery in the future it would be something the family would consider.

National Geographic’s Gender Revolution issue, which is out on December 27, explores different aspects of gender identity through various stories – including Avery’s.

The magazine’s editor in chief Susan Goldberg tweeted: ‘So proud of our @NatGeo Jan issue. 100% devoted to exploring gender. We’re grateful to all who let us into their lives. #GenderRevolution.’

Here’s more on this particular child and the parents of the child, and why they made the decisions they made about the gender identification.

My views on the entire transgender question can be found here and here, and can be briefly summarized by saying I think it is a real and yet very poorly understand phenomenon (probably occurring somewhat less often than claimed), and that especially when dealing with children one must go very slowly and carefully because children are very suggestible and vulnerable.

But the purpose of this post today isn’t to discuss the transgender phenomenon. What I want to talk about is the cover of the magazine. To me, simply put, I don’t think it’s okay to use a child this way. Children cannot be properly thought of as giving informed consent to a photograph or a revelation about themselves that is ordinarily so private (I wrote about that question here). So it’s irrelevant whether Avery Jackson wants to be on the cover of National Geographic. It is my opinion that the adults involved here are exploiting the child or at least crossing some boundaries, whatever they may think they’re doing for her, for themselves, and for the world. And although I don’t think that such a form of exploitation involves doing anything illegal or technically abusive—it doesn’t—I still think it is inappropriate and a failure in judgment.

Gender reassignment is a very private thing, and parents who want to make it so very public for their underage children are somewhat out of line. Adult transgendered people are free to do whatever they want, of course, and to seek and win whatever publicity they desire. That’s a completely different thing.

And National Geographic is also at fault for publishing this cover. There are plenty of young adults able to give informed consent, and it might have featured any of them instead. So there was no need for this except sensationalism. And indeed they have gotten attention for it.

What’s more, the picture is strange for reasons having nothing to do with the transgender state of this child. Imagine, if you will, that this was a photo of a female child who had never been a male and is not transgender. There’s still something wrong with publishing it, in my opinion.


I realize that now I’m in iffy territory, but it is arguable that the choice of this photo may have an undercurrent of sexualization that is inappropriate. It’s the stare and the pose, particularly the right hand. And that would be true no matter what the history of this particular child is.

To give you a little background as to why I say that, the photo reminds me of the famous book jacket photo of the 23-year-old Truman Capote on the cover of Other Voices, Other Rooms. It caused a sensation when published in 1948 because of its suggestive, seductive nature, although Capote was an adult of 23 when it was taken and he was free to consent to put it on that book jacket.


To take it several steps further, it is also at least somewhat similar to a classic pose in art, used by Manet in his controversial painting “Olympia,” which caused a scandal in 1865 when it was first exhibited in Paris. The reaction was not because of the subject’s nudity, since nudity was commonplace in art. It was her bold and confrontational stare at the observer, and certain objects around the room that suggested she may have been a prostitute:


Of course, that’s a far cry from the National Geographic cover, which does not feature nudity. Nor am I saying that any suggestive nature of the National Geographic photo was purposeful on the part of the child or the parents. I actually don’t think it was. But I fault the photographer here, who probably took many photos of Avery and chose to select and publish this particular one, which probably had a more edgy quality than many of the others.

Of course, it’s no longer 1865 or even 1948, and times have changed. But I don’t think that has done away with the need to protect children from those who might exploit them in various ways, even if they get their cooperation in that exploitation.

33 Responses to “The exploitation of the transgender child”

  1. betty Says:

    your take on this issue is so rightly considered. I must agree.

  2. Wry Mouth Says:

    (1) I can only hope that in the future, the societal exploitation of those afflicted with body dysmorphia will be regarded as a shameful chapter in civilization’s history. It is anti-science, in the worst way — a way that negatively impacts those rare individuals afflicted with a very real psychological illness. I’m going to side with the personnel at Johns Hopkins on this one.

    (2) The homosexual / transsexual / LGBTQ etc. lobby adds more and more categories to itself, trying to get over the 5-10% mark, whether or not persons in those categories have anything in common with, or want anything to do with, lesbian or male homosexual political concerns. It would be laughable, were it not so uncontested and thereby effective.

  3. Sergey Says:

    Young children often have rather weird fantasies about themselves, like imagine that they are pirates or dragons, but no normal parent should encourage such fantasies. It is better to ignore them completely until they fade away, as usually happen. Or even ridicule them as obvious nonsense. There is no such thing as transgender prepuberal child. This is a pure fiction.

  4. Ray Says:

    I say sex is biology and gender is language. Back in the 1960s a quack psychiatrist, Dr Money, was promoting gender fluidity and it looks like this quackery is becoming government policy. In Fairfax, VA, a school transgender policy paper was quickly passed by the school board. What was funny was that gender and transgender were never defined. Now sex is based on chromosomes and has a physical manifestation as male and female. I have been unable to find out what gender is based on and what is the physical manifestation.

  5. T Says:

    My criticism is slightly more basic. The title of the periodical is National Geographic.

    What is it about that title that its publishers themselves do not understand? It seems that everyone wants to jump on the transgender bandwagon. Is Popular Mechanics next?

  6. parker Says:

    We are told those afflicted with this mental illness should be encouraged and venerated. A sad and damaging social ‘experiment’ that has become a cult.

  7. CapnRusty Says:

    It is commonly reported that suicide attempts among transgendered persons is 41 percent, which vastly exceeds the 4.6 percent rate of the overall U.S. population. Some say the high rate is due to discrimination by persons whose gender identity matches their physical configuration. Others say the high rate is a natural consequence of the fact that transgenderism is a mental disease.

    Regardless, I wonder to what extent the parents of the child on the cover considered this statistic. I am suspicious of the motives of any parent who makes his or her child into a poster child.

  8. neo-neocon Says:


    Did you read the links I provided? This child is reported to have been actively suicidal prior to being allowed to identify as a girl, and is reported to have been happy and well-adjusted after the reassignment. If that is the case, of course the parents considered it, and it was part of the reason they decided to allow it to happen.

    I am not saying they made the wrong decision about that, either. I simply don’t have enough information to have an opinion on it. I believe that sometimes it can be the right decision, based on a lot of reading I’ve done on the subject, pro and con.

    However, as you rightly put it, “I am suspicious of the motives of any parent who makes his or her child into a poster child” and I would add “for a very private issue such as transgenderism or anything to do with sexuality at all.” There have long been poster children for diseases such as polio or muscular dystrophy or that sort of thing, and I don’t think that’s exploiting the child, although I suppose an argument can be made that it is.

  9. Irv Says:

    As a retired teacher of 13 to 16 year old children I can’t consider this cover anything less than child exploitation and abuse. There is simply no excuse to use a child this way no matter what the subject. Children have no idea how something like this might come to define them in others’ minds for the rest of their lives.

  10. Lizzy Says:

    In these cases of transgender children going public I get a Mundchausen by Proxy vibe. I do wonder if the parents are getting something out of playing the caring, open-minded parent.

    In regards to this particular kid being suicidal, it reminds me of the show “I Am Jazz,” where there was an episode that centered on the stress caused by the mother forgetting to get Jazz his/her “happy pills” (anti-depressants). Transgenders have a very high suicide rate (over 40%), and many of those who have completed the operation have reported that it doesn’t resolve the unhappiness. Not sure thrusting them into the spotlight is good for them.

  11. mollynh Says:

    It will be very interesting to see what happens to Shiloh Pitt the daughter of Brad and Angelina. She (a very lovely looking child with a strong resemblance to grandpa Jon Voight) has displayed Tom Boy behaviors for all her 10 yr life. She hangs with her older brothers, dresses like them, goes for slicked back gelled
    hair style, & never, in photos, is she in the company of her sisters. Of course Angelina does not *interfere*, (Not saying she should BTW) It will be fascinating to see what evolves there.

  12. mollynh Says:

    BTW we have a transgendered person who comments here, maybe that person will weigh in.

  13. Ann Says:

    Mom seems to be making a living out of the situation — Debi Jackson: Transgender Advocate/Speaker/Trainer:

    Debi Jackson is an advocate for transgender youth. Debi is an experienced writer and public speaker, and she has extensive media experience, with interviews for TV, radio, newspapers and magazines.

    She also offers parenting resources through and transgender cultural competency training through

    As an in-demand speaker at conferences and corporate events, she is ready to lead workshops, moderate panels, or be your next keynote speaker.

  14. expat Says:

    I hate the pink princess phenomenon. Maybe if our culture rolled this back a bit, young kids would be less confused. Maybe they should give this kid a dog to take care of so he could learn a bit about responsibilty. I always enjoyed being with puppies more than playing with dolls.

  15. Roy Says:

    This isn’t the first time National Geographic has exploited children.

    I remember an issue from the late 70’s that was about a tribe of people on New Guinea. The women went topless routinely. In the article, not the cover, here was a photograph of a group of school girls about ten to twelve years old. By today’s standards it would have been considered child porn.

    I remember they got a lot of push back in the letters section about that one.

  16. parker Says:

    Mrs parker was a tomboy until she reached puberty. We have pictures of her at 8 wearing a frilly dress and a cowboy hat brandishing cap guns with a snarl on her face. When I first met her at physics 101 she was a very feminine, petite beauty that I fell in love with instantly. People, especially children, change as they mature.


    I just wanted to thank you for your comment about what is going on, on the ground, in Germany that you posted a couple of days ago. I do realize I do not have a open window on everything that is happening in Germany (or elsewhere, including here at home). I hope Germany and the rest of the West wake up and realize we are at war. I suppose it is islam phobic of me to say so, but so be it.

  17. Jim Miller Says:

    I’ve used species dysphoria — yes, there is such a thing — to mock the idea of gender dysphoria.

    Here, for example, is a joke most people seem to like.

    But I have decided that the implicit argument is too indirect for most people, and that I will have to use the joke in context, add a hint, or even change the joke to be explicit.

    (Incidentally, it isn’t just humans who get confused about which species they belong to. In one famous example, a male panda in Moscow ignored female pandas — but “presented” to a female zookeeper.)

  18. Oldflyer Says:

    National Geographic is clearly cashing in on a “hot” topic. The motives of the parents are less clear.

    It is a bit hard for me to comprehend how, even today when sexuality seems to evolve much earlier than it did 70 years ago (for instance), a child of that age would have reached such a level of certainty that his biology did not fit his psychological perception. Unless, of course, there were outside influences. Suicidal? Really? I missed references to any actual attempts in the article.

    I know of one surgical transformation that was apparently successful (the father, my friend, died and there have been no updates in quite awhile.) I know that action was initiated only after long and intensive contemplation.

  19. Geoffrey Britain Says:

    For those who missed it, this article by an MD sheds some factual light on the topic: “The Facts about Transgenderism”

    Unless the NG article mentioned the above facts, it’s transparent propaganda in service of their agenda.

    Anytime parents use a child to advance an agenda, it’s abusive.

  20. miklos000rosza Says:

    Charlotte Free is the pink-haired supermodel whose look the photographer and stylist may have been seeking to emulate, beyond the pose — though Charlotte has an Alice in Wonderland series in which she is featured in a similar pose.

    There’s actually a highly successful modeling agency which only features transgender models, most of whom are, whether m-to- or f-to-m, amazing. The only problem, of course, is the genitals. As of yet, there is no genital transplant surgery, and

  21. miklos000rosza Says:

    Haha, I got cut off!

  22. miklos000rosza Says:

    I know rather a lot about this topic, and could go on for some time, but I think I’ll try to shut up.

    One thing, though, to keep in mind: the exhibitionism is a major part of the thrill. It’s what it feels like on the inside. Orgasm or ejaculation may be quite rare.

  23. Geoffrey Britain Says:

    “The only problem, of course, is the genitals. As of yet, there is no genital transplant surgery” miklos000rosza

    Even were genital transplant surgery available, it would not change the more fundamental reality:

    “So-called “transgenders” have no way of changing their chromosomal makeup. Although they can take hormones to change their outward, physical appearance, dress as they wish, use makeup, let their hair grow (or cut it) as they wish, and even undergo gender reassignment surgery, they will still remain chromosomally either XX or XY, depending on the genetic makeup they had when they were born.” Dominic A. Diorio, MD, “The Facts about Transgenderism”

  24. charles Says:

    Neo: “I don’t think it’s okay to use a child this way.”

    Neo, that was my thought exactly when my copy of the magazine arrived in my mailbox a couple of days ago.

    I’ve been a subscriber for over 35 years; and, this is the first time I’ve considered cancelling my subscription. However, I’ll wait to see what the next issue is and how they respond to letters which no doubt will pour in. Also, it will be interesting to see which letters they choose to publish.

    Shame on the parents – and more shame on the National Geographic Society for doing this.

  25. Lorenz Gude Says:

    Since I didn’t notice anyone mentioning it in the comments i have to agree emphatically with your observations about pose and hand placement and the use of the earlier photographs and art works to substantiate the point. As a retired professional photographer and media academic that is a superb visual critique.There are two channels of communication on that cover obviously – the verbal and the visual and often the visual contains the stronger and/or the real message which may or may not have any connection to the left brain verbal narrative. Take away all the cover type and what does the photo say on its own? Provocative direct look from attractive pubescent girl featuring shapely leg and hand on genitals. Reminds me of my niece when she asks if I want to have a game of chess.;-0

  26. Sergey Says:

    Shrinks usually are not expected to promote, encourage and accept their patient’s delusions. While some cases of body dysmorphia, like anorexia, are practically untreatable, real prevalence of gender dysmorphia is much less than usual children fantasies.

  27. Janet Says:

    As an earlier commenter said, my first thought when viewing that cover was what does transgenderism have to do with the mission of the National Geographic Society? My second thought was if there was a publication called Altar Boy Quarterly and that photo was on the cover, some people would be going to jail.

  28. artfldgr Says:

    Feminists have hated men so much that boys get early realized they have to get rid of their penis not to be persecuted and to be successful… Just think… This boi will sit being the white racist responsible for all the ills in the world and has to be exterminated

    Of course targeting it S natural shows women his to avoid being responsible for that level of gender hatred and punishment

    Remember those teachers that were caught discussing how to damage boys… Well here is a boy who gets a ticket out of that hell and into an everyone lives you and supports you heaven

    Note all those free school programs are available and SBA8a and more… Even churches seeing help boys unless they suck other men and love buggery… They dont help hereto normal boys with food and shelter…

    Keep treating it as a norm and those Islamic will just out breed the collapsing white population… It’s already dead… The of and infertile just haven’t left the stage yet…
    Petty pace..

  29. Esther Says:

    What is it with pink already?

  30. CapnRusty Says:

    Neo: Yes, I did read the articles to which you linked.

    I am skeptical that children as young as eight can determine that they are of a different gender than what is indicated by their physique. I think a child would at least have to have gone through puberty to be capable of determining that he or she did not “fit” his or her physical gender.

    My skepticism increases in Avery’s case in light of the fact that her mother decided that Avery will, briefly, be a “celebrity” — at a very tender age. It would probably have been better for Avery if the family could have – quietly – moved to a new place, where Avery could start over as a girl.

  31. neo-neocon Says:


    Some adults report knowing as early as 2 or 3. Some children do know very early on. I think, however, it is correct (as I said in the post) to err very much on the side of caution with children and not commit to transgenderism because children go though a lot of stages. Only adults can really make the decision, and they need to make it for themselves, and not as children. And these parents have hopped on the bandwagon very hard, and IMHO have exploited their child with all this publicity.

    The issue with children in the physical sense is that there apparently is a huge advantage (in the physical sense) to giving hormones that block the secondary sexual characteristics of puberty. But of course, that is a huge intervention. Therefore this is an enormously controversial subject. Here’s one of many many articles you can find on the subject, pro and con.

  32. n.n Says:

    National Geographic comments on class diversity in human populations, geographical features, etc.

    Once they normalized debasement of human life (e.g. life unworthy of life), channeling Mengele (e.g. Planned Parenthood) for profit, reconstitution of class diversity (i.e. “skin color”-based diversity), progressive had reached critical mass. The Pro-Choice quasi-religion or philosophy of selective principles (informed by gods in the twilight zone) is a first order cause of catastrophic anthropogenic gender corruption.

    Progressive (i.e. monotonic) pedophilia is a symptom of an evolving population with a dysfunctional fitness function.

    Feminists? Once, perhaps. Today, they are their own audience. They serve at their pleasure. They are, more correctly, female chauvinists.

  33. Liberty Wolf Says:

    Yes, I think many of us do tend to know at a very young, age. I certainly did. My earliest memories are of thinking I was a boy and playing with boys and feeling like we were basically the same. At some point, my parents and the world intervened to disabuse me of this belief, and oddly — later in life, when you add in radical feminism (which has often, in its second wave, been very anti-trans) — it took awhile for me to realize again what I had known when I was younger. I was a radical feminist and that discouraged me from ever having a sex change. Radical feminism was against me being trans, make no mistake. To this day, some (not all but some) feminists are the worst, though things have changed a lot. This is NOT a left wing thing even if things have changed now, and it is being actively co-opted by the left. That story, the story of leftist co-optation, is more complicated than this comment allows but things are not so simple here as this as an outrageous leftist intervention. It is beyond left or right.

    In any event, as I have said here before, I certainly knew at a young age, and wish I could have had this intervention. Or at least, had the option. I would have taken it with joy. Being able to transition or cross live so young would have felt natural instead of what I had to do, which was instead pretend to be something I was not. I mean try and pretend to be female when I felt male. So these kids are lucky but I must also add, that caution is always in order.

    It does seem that the these kids have shrinks and guidance every step of the way and nothing permanent happens till they are much older, well into puberty — not at the age of the child in the photo.

    Obviously, my chromosomes and so on are xx, but that is not what this is about. I don’t deny that obvious reality. This is an anomaly that occurs and the dysphoria or discomfort, the “mental illness” is the discomfort — and the cure is exploring the whys and wherefores of that and coming to a treatment. That treatment for most of us is medical/social and legal transition or sex change. It is not only or even the genital surgery. This is a more complex process that takes years and it should not be taken lightly and usually is not.

    To be honest, I didn’t see anything sexual in this child’s pose but if you did Neo or other folks, I guess you could say it is there. She seemed defiant to me. I am not entirely sure that it is the best idea to have her on the cover of National Geographic since it creates a lot of attention, and for any trans person that attention is hard. Having to read these comments can be hard, though I am now 59 years old and transitioned 27 years ago to male. But I am an adult and most of the time, I don’t even think about this any more… To my mind, I am less trans and more just a man. That’s how I live each day and basically — no one knows any better.

    In any event, I am not sure that putting the kid on the cover was wise but it is also true that in some ways, this should not be that different than a case of polio or something else. There should not be this stigma and drama, but there is, and so — I would have been more cautious with putting a child out there.

    My issue with this article is painting anything as a “gender revolution”. It is not a revolution, this is about people finding their way in life and — pursuing happiness. The revolution may be a broadening of understanding in society, that is good, but I also think this is not a “movement” but a sex change and a very individual thing. I frame my journey in a classic liberal way and not in a Marxist way, since to me it is about individualism and not about a collective identity.

    The best part children getting earlier attention and some kind of treatment is kids not having to struggle or cope with being someone they feel they are not, and — later, in puberty, being able to take the hormone blockers to delay certain changes. Those changes can make their later lives much more difficult, particularly for trans women (Male to Female). So it is good they can delay as teens and choose what they want from that position.

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Previously a lifelong Democrat, born in New York and living in New England, surrounded by liberals on all sides, I've found myself slowly but surely leaving the fold and becoming that dread thing: a neocon.

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