— Philly Inquirer (@PhillyInquirer) January 29, 2016
Thomas and Nyr Medina-Castrejon are best friends, brother and sister. They share many things — an interest in computers, a penchant for languages, a fondness for animals — but only one makes them an “anomaly.”
Seventeen-year-old Thomas and 13-year-old Nyr are both transgender.
The siblings’ story was told in detail Friday in the Philadelphia Inquirer, their hometown paper. A profile chronicled how Thomas and Nyr each came out about their gender identities at different points in their childhood and how their parents reacted.
According to Norman Spack, a specialist in pediatric endocrinology speaking to the Inquirer, a case like theirs is extremely rare. While numbers on the prevalence of transgender individuals in the United States are far from definitive, the most-cited statistic comes from UCLA demographer Gary Gates, who estimated in 2011 that 0.3 percent of American adults (about 700,000 people) are transgender.
“There were days when I was 6 or 7 where I would have what I called ‘boy days,'” Thomas told the Inquirer. “I felt stronger, more robust on those days. I played with other girls, but I knew I wasn’t like them. I hated shopping and I didn’t like princesses or dolls. I felt isolated.”
He was 14 when he saw a video on transgender people that resonated with him. “For a long time,” he said, “I had pretended to be a boy. I just didn’t know I was one.”
While Nyr had always sensed that she was a girl, she also said it “clicked” for her after watching a video with a transgender character.
The siblings’ mother, Emma Medina-Castrejon, wasn’t surprised to learn that Thomas is transgender, but she wondered at first whether Nyr was “just going through a phase.”
“When she first told me, I thought it was just a game, maybe that she was following her brother,” Medina-Castrejon told the Inquirer. “I didn’t want to believe it because it was so scary. You hear about how much rejection there is out in the world. You hear about so many being murdered. That’s not what you want for your child.”
Eventually, Nyr’s continued insistence and a consultation with a gender and sexuality clinic helped her to “accept that this was for real,” Medina-Castrejon said.
With the prominence of Caitlyn Jenner and the Amazon series “Transparent,” among other transgender cultural milestones, trans issues have garnered increasing attention in the past few years. But many transgender people, even when they cooperate with stories about themselves, have been frustrated by how they are portrayed.
That was the case here.
On Sunday evening, Thomas wrote a lengthy Facebook status condemning the profile of him and his sister.
“We feel extremely disappointed with its content,” the post read. “Not because it ‘focuses on the bad stuff’ or because it’s ‘not perfect’ (to say the least), as some have thought, but because of the overall tone and vocabulary used throughout.”
He preemptively countered the idea that the article’s mere existence should be considered progress: “Before you comment saying that I ‘don’t realize how huge this is because 5 years ago this article would’ve never been written’ or that I’m ‘pushing away potential allies,’ please read all the way through, and consider that you as cis people (cisgender means that you’re 100% all the time the gender that the doctors put on your birth certificate) shouldn’t talk over actual trans people because you don’t and never will experience life as a trans person.”
One of Thomas’s prime objections to the Inquirer story is that it “pathologizes” him and Nyr by exploring their gender identities as a medical condition.
“Calling anyone an ‘almost unheard-of phenomenon’ and going so far as to call them an ‘anomaly’ is incredibly hurtful and insensitive,” Thomas wrote. “Those words mean ‘You’re a freak. You should not exist.'”
He further disputed Spack’s claim about how rare of a pairing they are, saying he personally knows at least five families with more than one transgender sibling. What’s more, the article quoted medical experts who speculated about whether children become transgender through “random chance” or a “family dynamic,” or whether there is a transgender gene.
Thomas said that confronting being transgender as a syndrome in need of a cure paves the way for “eugenics and forced institutionalization of all LGBT+ people regardless of whether they’re disabled.”
All in all, the article was deeply personal. It touched on Nyr’s bouts of depression, the siblings’ separated parents and their relationship to the body parts with which they were born. Nyr takes puberty-inhibiting medication; Thomas started getting menstrual periods when he was 11 years old, and he doesn’t mind them. He sees his breasts and vagina as “just another variation of the male body.”
What bothered Thomas was not that their struggles were made public (after all, they agreed to cooperate for the article) but rather that transness was posed “as the root cause of all the suffering that trans people go through.”
To end, he wrote:
My conclusion is that this article, coupled with the following one which actually presents conversion therapy as a successful therapy for ‘treating’ trans kids, will do more harm than good. I do not regret participating in it, but I’m greatly saddened by the result. … And lastly, please don’t talk over trans people, even if you might know some of us, you will never walk an inch in our shoes.
Gloria Hochman, who reported the Inquirer’s story, wrote in an email to The Washington Post on Monday that she and her editors stand by the article.
More from Morning Mix