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VICE’s Gianna Toboni Spotlights The Unseen Struggle Of Trans Youth

Culture
Photo by Madeleine Peters, VICE

“These kids have to confront these questions every day”

Thanks to actions taken by the Trump administration, last week saw a swell in nationwide support of transgender youth, whose freedoms are being threatened thanks to the government’s rollback of Obama-era policies that allowed trans people to use the bathrooms of the genders they identified with. And while the bathroom issue is at the center of the public debate over trans youth, the reality is that young trans people and their families are facing questions far more profound and life-changing than where they can go to use the toilet. 

This Friday, on the second episode of VICE on HBO in a story called "Trans Youth," journalist Gianna Toboni explores those questions by profiling four young trans people who are facing controversial medical decisions that will alter the course of their lives. Toboni visits eight-year-old Max, 15-year-old Stevie, 16-year-old Charlotte, and 5-year-old Kai, each of whom is at a different stage in their transitioning, with different family and geographical situations that will have a significant impact on their lives going forward. With the national rate of suicide for a trans person at 40 percent, the decisions Toboni spotlights in her segment are often life or death. We spoke to her several days before the Trump administration’s announcement about telling this story and what she learned from it. 

What is your journalism background?
I worked with ABC news for a bit. I was a digital correspondent-producer for Katie Couric's show on ABC. I was at ABC News before that, doing some field producing and booking. I then worked for AL-Jazeera for a bit. Then I quit and raised money on Kickstarter for a film that I cared about, which I didn't think any of the places I was working for were interested in. It was about UN Peacekeepers who had been raping and assaulting women in Haiti and around the world and the UN's handling of it. VICE caught wind of that, and that's how I started working with them.

What was your role in conceiving the segment on trans youth that you did for VICE?
It's different for every story. Sometimes I'll pitch and develop the stories, sometimes it would be a different producer. In this case, it was my really great producers. They'll bring me on board, we'll all kind of chat, we'll go through a pretty rigorous development process, figure out what the story is, put it in front of Shane [Smith, founder and CEO of VICE]. He'll approve it, and then we just start calling people and figuring it out, finding the families, getting all the background information together, refining exactly what it is we were going to film.

A lot of the country see trans people through the prism of Caitlyn Jenner or Transparent, that is to say, older. Was part of your goal here in working with younger people to show a different side of the trans struggle?
Definitely. We wanted to show what was happening around the country that people weren't paying attention to. It's the agony that these families and these kids are going through when deciding whether or not to transition. I think what was really important to us, too—that we weren't just showing kids in urban environments. We were showing kids whose parents are ordained ministers and live in the most conservative parts of the country, and then people who live in more liberal parts of the country. Showing that range of families allowed us to represent what's happening in the country now.

How long did this story take to develop and shoot? 
We'll produce pieces simultaneously. One weekend we're in Boston shooting with Max's family, and the next week I'm in Kuwait doing a different story, and the next week in Russia and then back to the trans story. We started shooting trans youth in June all the way up to October, but we're doing many other stories in between. 

I was amazed by the maturity of these kids. I'm wondering if that is a product of what they're going through, or are they mature and that's why they're able to handle everything so well?
I think you grow up fast when you're dealing with that internal conflict at such an extreme level. One of them said in the segment, "What you're seeing in the mirror doesn't connect with what you're feeling on the inside." There's no other way to describe it. I think when you have to have those conversations at such a young age, you begin paying attention to what's happening in the country, and your parents are talking to you about it much more. When I was their age, there's no way I was reflecting on this type of stuff. I didn't know who the fuck I was. These kids have to confront these questions every day.

When you spoke to former Attorney General Loretta Lynch, she came off a very compassionate and was on these people's sides. Do you imagine a similar conversation with the current attorney general?
I'd be really interested. We tried really hard not to make this a political story because we felt like the science of it was not being represented in media. Right now, when you look at any print or broadcast pieces about transgender, for the most part, it has to do with the political battle and the bathroom laws. To us, what's more important is what these families go through on a day-to-day basis, the conversations that they've having. So we tried to focus on that.

Are these parents worried about what this administration means for their kids?
We filmed all of this before Trump got elected, so we didn't talk to them on camera about it, but we definitely kept in touch with them. For a lot of these families, not much changes. At least right now. We'll see what happens with Obamacare and those type of [changes happen], but in terms of the bathroom laws, some of their states were already suing the federal government over their directives, so their kids weren't able to use the bathroom to match their gender identity as it was. In that sense, nothing's really changed. This five-year-old who we started the piece with, she wasn't able to use the bathroom even when the Attorney General Loretta Lynch had issued that directive. 

You spotlight some children who are blessed with accepting parents, and some who are not. Which did you find to be more common in putting this story together? 
I don't know. I think probably what's common is parents who are scared and don't know what the right decision is, and have to find therapists for their kids themselves, and have to work through these decisions and have to agonize over these decisions. Even the doctors don't know what's going to happen in 15 to 20 years. They don't have long-term data on whether people change their mind. Or when it comes to cross X hormones, what the effects on one's body are going to be. I'm not sure, but I think Rachel O'Brien, Max's mom, said it best. She said, "This has been incredibly difficult, but I'd rather have a son than no child at all." They're contending with a 40 percent suicide rate if they don't allow their child to transition. 

Was this making this story a learning experience for you? How much about this subject did you know going in? 
This is maybe the only story I was afraid to take on and I think that the reason I was afraid to take it on is because I didn't know how I felt about it, and I knew that the doctors didn't have the answers, so there was something about it that was undiscovered, which I think is a good thing because that means there's a lot to explore, and you really have to sort of dig and feel and explore how you feel about the issues. It was completely enlightening for me. 

What stories have you done that have profoundly changed your view on something and how does this one compare? 
We did a story a couple years ago on international surrogacy in India and on the last day of that shoot we sort of stumbled across the underground, like the black market of surrogacy, and we found ourselves sitting across the table from someone who was trying to sell us a baby that was 15 days old, who was also at the table, and that fucked me up. That is a really heavy situation to be a part of because you realize that the person who is trying to sell you this baby doesn't even know your name. They don't know if you're a pedophile, they don't know if you're involved in some trafficking ring. They don't know anything about you, and they're begging you to put, as they called it, a down payment and just take the baby. So I think that was completely enlightening—that this stuff exists in the world and it's not that hard to find. It's a different kind of enlightenment than what you get with the trans story, which is that you realize how difficult this is for people, especially when the criticisms and some of the misconceptions of trans kids are that, "oh, they just want attention, they're choosing to be this way." And in reality, it is so hard for these families, it is so emotional. It is no condition to envy. 

“Trans Youth” premiers at 11pm this Friday, March 3, on HBO.

Photos by Jesse Grant/Getty Images for WE Day, Emma McIntyre/Getty Images

He also thought Lana Del Rey telling him he would be guillotined was a compliment, so we don't think he understands women

In a new memoir called Then It Fell Apart, singer Moby alleged he had a relationship with actress Natalie Portman when he was 33 and she was 20. But, in a new interview with Harper's Bazaar, Portman set the record straight, saying that his description of their relationship is false and contains other factual errors, that makes his behavior seem even grosser than it already did.

Not only did Portman say that the two didn't date, but that he also misrepresented her age. "I was surprised to hear that he characterized the very short time that I knew him as dating because my recollection is a much older man being creepy with me when I just had graduated high school," she said. "He said I was 20; I definitely wasn't. I was a teenager. I had just turned 18."

She says that they met when she went to one of his shows: "He said, 'let's be friends'. He was on tour and I was working, shooting a film, so we only hung out a handful of times before I realized that this was an older man who was interested in me in a way that felt inappropriate."

Portman also stated that she was not contacted to fact check this information, noting that "it almost feels deliberate." "That he used this story to sell his book was very disturbing to me. It wasn't the case," she said. "There are many factual errors and inventions. I would have liked him or his publisher to reach out to fact check."

Another part of his memoir describes a conversation with Lana Del Rey, in which she joked about how wealthy he was. "You're a rich WASP from Connecticut and you live in a five-level penthouse. You're 'The Man.' As in, 'stick it to The Man.' As in the person they guillotine in the revolution." His response: "I didn't know if she was insulting me but I decided to take it as a compliment." This only further proves that Moby doesn't understand women at all, which may explain how he took a couple of hangouts with Portman to mean that they were dating.

Moby has since responded to Portman's statement in an equally creepy Instagram post with a photo of him shirtless with the actress, calling the interview a "gossip piece." "We did, in fact, date. And after briefly dating in 1999 we remained friends for years," he said. "I like Natalie, and I respect her intelligence and activism. But, to be honest, I can't figure out why she would actively misrepresent the truth about our (albeit brief) involvement. He also said that he backs up the story in his book with "lots of corroborating photo evidence, etc." He then ends with this: "I completely respect Natalie's possible regret in dating me(to be fair, I would probably regret dating me, too), but it doesn't alter the actual facts of our brief romantic history."

Among many other things that are questionable about his claims, if you have to have "corroborating evidence" to prove a relationship that one person claims didn't happen, you're doing the whole "dating" thing wrong.

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Photo by Jerritt Clark / Stringer / Getty Images.

She's been wonderfully honest about the ups and downs of her procedures

There is a good chance that, right now, Cardi B is wearing really something really tight. I'm not talking about one of the pieces from her Fashion Nova collection, either. Instead, she's probably cooing at baby Kulture while swaddled in a compression garment, a necessary part of the healing process after certain cosmetic surgery procedures.

As reported by E! News, Cardi B has had to cancel several performances after her doctor ordered her to rest and allow her body to recover following cosmetic surgery. A rep for Cardi explained to E! that "Cardi was overzealous in getting back to work" and that "her strenuous schedule has taken a toll on her body and she has been given strict doctor's orders to pull out of the rest of her performances in May." This followed an admission by Cardi herself, at the Beale Street Music Festival earlier this month, that she should have canceled her performance because moving too much would mess up her lipo.

Cardi's transparency about plastic surgery is nothing new for her. She has opened up in the past about her underground butt injections, including the financial pressure she felt and the risks she took to get them. She's been open about both of her breast augmentation procedures as well, most recently getting them redone after giving birth to her daughter. But Cardi's transparency about the ups and downs of plastic surgery is still rare amongst celebrities and is therefore refreshing.

And it's not just celebrities who keep quiet about these procedures. The first person I knew to get a butt augmentation was a friend from high school. We reconnected as adults, and I remember going to her apartment after her surgery, and seeing her pace the floor in her compression garment, since it was still too soon to sit and put pressure on her backside. But even in the comfort of her own home, she seemed to speak in a hushed tone about having had the surgery. Before I'd arrived, she just told me she'd had a "medical procedure," and didn't say anything more. This has been the case for other women I've met who have gotten "work" done, including my aesthetician, a colleague who got a nose job, a darling YouTuber with whom I had the pleasure of having dinner; all of them would only acknowledge their enhancements in secret—the shame was palpable, and unfortunate. It's clear that women who get plastic surgery might be celebrated for the results, but there's an expectation that they should keep quiet about it, and feel bad for having made a choice about their own bodies.

So it's no surprise that, in the pop culture realm, people like Cardi are exceptions to the rule. Thanks to the internet, we can easily track the fullness of a celebrity's lips or backside over the course of time without them ever explicitly acknowledging the medical intervention that took place. And while people, of course, have the right to privacy, and should be able to do whatever they want with their bodies without offering explanations, it would still be nice if they opened up, if only to take away the attached stigma that affects so many people. Which is why I hope Cardi's willingness to lay it all out there becomes a trend. No one should have to harbor shame for investing in having a body that looks the way they want it to.

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Photo by Dimitrios Kambouris/Getty Images

"In my head I thought, This is how it ends"

Kit Harington almost lost a lot more than the Iron Throne while filming the final season of Game of Thrones. According to an interview with NowThis News, the actor almost lost one of his balls while riding a mechanical dragon.

Harington revealed that the incident took place when he was filming the scene where his character, Jon Snow, takes a ride on Rhaegal for the first time in the Season 8 premiere. Since dragons aren't real (sorry), Harington was filming the scene, where Jon almost falls off the dragon and then swings around to pick himself back up, on a mechanical contraption.

"My right ball got trapped, and I didn't have time to say, 'Stop,'" Harington said in an interview. "And I was being swung around. In my head I thought, This is how it ends. On this buck, swinging me around by my testicles, literally." We see shots of the fake dragon he's riding in front of a green screen, and it does look pretty terrifying.

Luckily, his testicles remained intact through the near-disastrous event, and he's survived with quite the story to tell to unsuspecting journalists.

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Photo by Phillip Faraone/Getty Images for goop

"I had to create a harder shell about being a woman"

In a panel discussion during Gwyneth Paltrow's In Goop Health summit, actress Jessica Alba revealed that she "stopped eating" to avoid unwanted attention from men when she was first starting her career in Hollywood.

According to People, Alba said that she "had a curvy figure as a young girl" and, as such, was made to feel as though her body was the reason that men may be inappropriate toward her. "I was meant to feel ashamed if I tempted men," Alba said during the panel discussion. "Then I stopped eating a lot when I became an actress. I made myself look more like a boy so I wouldn't get as much attention. I went through a big tomboy phase."

She continued, "In Hollywood, you're really preyed upon. They see a young girl, and they just want to touch you inappropriately or talk to you inappropriately or think that they're allowed to be aggressive with you in a way."

Alba also noted that she was raised in a conservative household. "My mom would say, 'You have a body, and it's very womanly, and people don't understand that you're 12,'" she said. "I wasn't allowed to have my nalgas out, which is butt cheeks [in Spanish], but I was born with a giant booty, and they come out of everything. So, I didn't get to wear normal things that all my friends wore."

She said that these reactions to her body really affected her attitude. "I created this pretty insane 'don't fuck with me' [attitude]," she said. "I had to create a harder shell about being a woman."

According to her, her relationship to her body only changed when her first child, Honor, was born in 2008. "[After she was born,] I was like, Oh this is what these boobies are meant to do! Feed a kid!" she said. "And that was the dopest shit I'd ever done. So, I came into my body as a woman finally and I stopped being ashamed of myself."

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Photo courtesy of Teva

Because of course

Teva, the most obvious lesbian footwear brand since Birkenstock, really knows its customer base. In time for Pride, the brand has teamed up with Tegan and Sara for a gay shoe to end all gay shoes. In other words, your Pride footwear is on lock.

The shoe isn't just your average Teva sandal. Tegan and Sara's design, the Teva Flatform Universal Pride sandal, is a 2.5-inch platform shoe with a rainbow sole. Tegan and Sara noted in a press release that they have been Teva wearers for pretty much their whole lives. "We got our first pair of Teva sandals when we were 16," they said. "This rainbow Flatform collab is like full circle LGBTQ+ Pride validation."

What's better, with each sandal sale, Teva will donate $15 to the Tegan and Sara Foundation, up to $30,000. The funds donated will go toward scholarships which will give young members of the LGBTQ+ community the chance to go to summer camps which will "help develop self-confidence and leadership abilities in a safe and nurturing environment." Tegan and Sara added, "Teva's generous support for our foundation will allow us to help even more LGBTQ+ youth."

Available today at Teva's and Nordstrom's websites, the sandal retails for $80.

Photo courtesy of Teva

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