Thursday, 1 December 2011

My “Sneaky” Response to Mish

Mish seems to engage in what many people do when they can’t win an argument; putting words into their opponents’ mouths. This is similar to Dreger’s manufacturing of a mythical group of trans people who are apparently trying to force children to become transsexual against their will. Mish also appears to deliberately obscure issues;

“These researchers are refuted by positing there is a significant number of proto-trans kids who never reveal themselves as children, or are not brought to the attention of researchers (while it is only kids who are not who do, apparently…). Really? Is this like all the adults who were really happy with genital surgery as kids, but never actually come forward to confirm this?”

…and in doing so appears deliberately and highly disingenuously to confuse trans children with intersex children. She also fails to mention that the other reason I have suggested that this “research” is questionable in its validity.

She continues in the same vein;

Or, maybe they just found evidence for something that a lot of people who aren’t transsexual seem to be well aware of – that most kids who go through this kind of thing do not end up transsexual. But because of who they are, and because we don’t like their conclusions, we are going to put them all in the transphobic bucket and ignore them – and call anybody who dares cite any of their findings a transphobe too. Wow! Neat system dude”

…providing no evidence whatsoever that the implications of my empirical research are not true. I suspect she intends to suggest from this that I am accusing the researchers, which Dreger doesn’t actually quote, of being transphobes. This is another example of her putting words into my mouth, as I have said, a classic strategy for people who are unable to make a coherent argument to support their case. I have suggested, as have many others, that these “researchers” use psychological torture in the form of “reparative” therapy on trans children, and that they have a pecuniary interest in the outcome of their research, which, in my view, significantly undermines the validity of their findings. 

In fact Shannon Minter (1999) carried out a detailed study of the “research” carried out by the psychiatrists comprising the Invisible College and demonstrated that their research findings contradict both each other and themselves. Their data has never, to my knowedge, been made available to any kind of external audit; indeed there is quite a wide variation in the percentages they claim as if they are grabbing numbers out of thin air.  As such Dreger’s claims are based on unvalidated data from people whose research has been shown to be muddled and who may benefit financially from demonstrating that most trans children become non-trans adults. That is the point I made. Others have also questioned the validity of this data, suggesting that these trans children may well have not been “cured” but have simply decided to pretend that they have to avoid more “treatment”. To suggest that I accused these researchers of transphobia, however, is a lie.

Mish continues;

“you repeated what Dreger said herself – sneaky.”

So, quoting someone else is “sneaky”. I guess the whole output of pretty much every academic and journalist over the last few centuries must be “sneaky” in that case. Once again these are the tactics of someone whose argument fails to stand up.

“You see, another writer might say “Dreger makes clear that the analogy is weak, because people cannot be trains, and do grow up transgender, and do have gender identities” – but you don’t do that, you say Dreger is transphobic, because people cannot be trains, and do grow up transgender, and do have gender identities – so she is transphobic for saying what you said, except that she said it first.”

Again my mouth is full of Mish’s words. I did not say that Dreger is transphobic because, after she wrote about the boy wanting to believe he is a train, she said that this was a false analogy. I am saying she is a transphobe because she included the story about the train. If the story of the boy who wants to be a train is not relevant why did she include it? However, and this is important, and I am glad Mish brought this up; she has missed a crucial difference between what I said and what Dreger said about this analogy. This is what Dreger said;

“let me be clear that I don't think being a transgender adult is like being a child who imagines he is a locomotive.”

Read it carefully, Dreger is NOT saying that a child who wants to be a locomotive is different from a child who says he or she is a different gender. She is saying that the child who wants to be a train is different from an ADULT trans person. In other words she is not comparing like with like. IMO this is significant and represents a deliberate attempt to avoid being labeled transphobic whilst being transphobic. The only way this can be read is that she is therefore equating a child assigned female at birth but who says he is a boy with a child who says he is a locomotive. I am saying that Dreger is a transphobe because the only inference that can be made from this section is that she equates train-boy’s desires with those of trans children. She may be attempting to disguise it with carefully-chosen words but this woman has a PhD, and people with PhD’s are used to being very careful with words. 

Incidentally Mish later accuses me of generalizing from the particular to the general (which I don’t, read it carefully), whereas Dreger is clearly doing just that by using this anecdote.

In fact Dreger quite obviously uses the analogy to suggest that trans children’s desires are the same as the fantasies of the train-boy, only she chooses to do that in a particularly underhand way.

Predictably for someone who appears not to have read the article or my response to it very closely, Mish also lectures me about listening; “It is time you started listening to people like Dreger, and dealing with what they actually say, when they have something reasonable to say – instead of just demonising them as transphobic and hoping that will get you off the hook of having to actually deal with what they are saying.”

I have engaged closely with what Dreger is saying, and my accusation of transphobia is not made lightly. I have explained exactly why I think she is transphobic above and also because of the way she considers transsexual surgery to be the worst possible outcome, whilst any other outcome is OK. This is remarkably similar to the thinking of Raymond/Jeffries.

Here Mish contradicts herself;

“She considers an outcome that involves surgery is not the best possible outcome – hey, guess what, so do I.”

“Saying there are people who do not have to have transsexual sex reassignment surgery in order to deal with gender dysphoria is not transphobic. It is not saying one is better than the other.”

She also comes out with this;

“It is saying that people are different – diversity, remember?
… whilst at the same time suggesting, in a kind of sweeping generalization that;
“non-surgery is preferable to surgery, if at all possible.”

 Again there are plenty of trans people who would disagree with this. I know one who is awaiting surgery right now and is desperate to have GRS so that she can get on with her life. How much longer, under whatever Mish system she would like to see created, would she have to wait before assorted shrinks have a go at making her change her mind? One “therapist”, Az Hakeem, recently suggested that “years” of psychiatric therapy could “cure” transsexuals. I fail to see how years of messing with someone else’s mind is better than a relatively short time in an operating theatre. If I was given the choice I would rather people do things to my body than to my mind any day.

Mish again;

“– because surgery is surgery, it involves putting people under anesthetic and cutting them up, as opposed to leaving them alone.”

A disingenuous assertion. The alternative to surgery is usually years of psychiatric treatment, not “leaving them alone.” She goes on…

“It is like thinking that liposuction is not the best approach to losing weight, but that does not mean I’m ‘fattist’, far from it.”

Words fail me; gender reassignment surgery is equated with liposuction.

Mish adds the following;

“At no point does she imply these surgeries are being forced on children against their will. So, it seems it is you who is being disingenuous.”

Dreger’s article however says this;

“I am also sick and tired of trans-rights advocates acting like a certain current-day endocrinologist is ever-so-progressive because he essentially starts prepping genderqueer kids for surgery the moment they are presented by their distraught parents.”

On this subject Mish has this to say;

“The only people I hear arguing they should be medicalised and given endocrine disrupting drugs in preparation for a delayed puberty which will be induced using sex steroids in alignment with SRS, are some transsexual adults & activists, some physicians, and some parents. I do not hear many cis-gendered people demanding kids be treated – normalised – this way”

A desperate argument. Why should anyone who is not involved in trans activism, a physician dealing with trans children, or the parent of a trans child, be arguing for this treatment? However I particularly find problematic the way she uses the word “normalized” here. This seems to be done in the same way that pathologizing psychiatrists did as they positioned trans children in particular, and trans people in general, as passive objects with no preferences, agency or desires of their own. The inference being that trans people are passive objects being subject to and manipulated by others. Something Sandy Stone demonstrated as long ago as 1992 to be the fiction of certain “radical” feminist transphobe. This really does show how much further trans people have to go, before the rest of society considers us people rather than objects.

What my research, as well as that of Shannon Wyss, Surya Monro and the writing of Cris Beam, does is show that trans children are active agents who make decisions about their own lives, usually in very difficult situations, they are human beings with agency, their own minds, and their own feelings.
But the most dishonest aspect of both Dreger’s article and the response to it is the elephant in the room, which she finally can’t resist mentioning; hormone blockers. That is the difference between my position and that of Dreger. When she says “let the children alone” she isn’t just talking about 5 or 6 year olds, which might appear to be the case from the story of the locomotive-boy with which she starts the article. No , what I suspect she really means, and the article makes no sense otherwise, is; “Don’t give trans adolescents hormone blockers.” I am particularly glad Mish made this connection; it brings everything out into the open.

Teenagers and toddlers are very different. One of the particularly misleading things opponents of hormone blockers tend to infer is that they somehow have an inevitability about them. They do not. Hormone blockers are entirely reversible, and are given to trans adolescents, after the start of puberty, in order to give them the breathing space they need. This can save transboys from suffering the trauma (and physical discomfort) of developing breasts, and having periods, and transgirls from having to deal with unwanted erections, wet dreams, a deepening voice and facial hair. If trans teenagers change their minds they simply stop taking them and puberty in the gender they were originally assigned at birth commences.

Mish’s suggestion that they are given hormone blockers to help them pass better as adults is, of course only a small part of the story, but I am sure readers are getting used to this sort of distortion by now. In fact, other than saving young trans people from the trauma of puberty in a body with which they do not identify, hormone blockers are also prescribed because they can result in transsexuals having less surgery (something one would have expected Mish, from what she has said, to support). Transmen may not require double mastectomies, transwomen will not need extensive hair removal and are much less likely to need any facial feminization surgery or treatment to prevent scalp hair loss.

However the assumptions she makes in the statement “The argument is that otherwise healthy kids will be given hormone blockers” represents everything which appalls me about her arguments. This statement effectively dismisses the feelings of trans children. Children who are tormented or traumatised by being born in the wrong body may appear physically well but are unlikely to be having a good time mentally. A sound physical body does not necessarily make a healthy child. This effectively represents an erasure of trans children’s lived experience. Trans people are usually born with bodies that have nothing physically wrong with them; trans people manifest no physiological signs that they are trans, that is the problem. Convincing adults that they are trans represents their only option. If the adults around them are constantly equating their self-perceptions with much younger children who think they are trains their problems multiply. The way these children’s feelings are dismissed in this way is something I find particularly unacceptable.


  1. I will definitely agree that there's a level of operative essentialism among some strands of the community that regards the non-operative as being not-quite-female, and it's irritating, and it's upsetting and I'd like to make sure that never again is a woman's chief reason for surgery because she has been taught to gender her genitalia as inherently male (especially after HRT) or because it will smooth things out socially, but rather, simply body-map issues are the ones being corrected.

    Somehow I don't think that kind of inclusion and trans acceptance is what Mish is talking about... As you've already shown, they're trying to talk trans people out of transition.

  2. One of the things that Mish, Dreger and even rad fems are trying to say is that society is significantly to blame for the problem for force feeding gender expectations from birth. It is a view I have more or less shared for ten years, while accepting that it is almost certainly not the whole issue.

    Envisage a society which is accepting of diversity, whether it be because the child is black, ASD, gay, trans, intersex, left handed, and does not try to insist that the child fits in one of the neat ready labelled boxes set out for it and does not try to 'cure' it.

    It is hard for me to believe that the proportion of trans people seeking surgery would not fall.

    To that extent I agree with what the demonised commentators are saying and with Valerie's first paragraph on 1 December.

    However, it takes a long time to change society's views...even now, there is still no true equality for women, for example. And while this change is going on, surgery remains a partial solution (here, I am referring to those without body map issues).

    I don't think Mish is trying to talk people out of transition. I think she is trying to redefine it. Many people who transition jump from one box predefined by society to another box predefined by society. I think Mish is suggesting jumping to a box that you define for yourself. By my calculations, this would have saved me 5 years of discomfort. If society had changed, so that I would not have been in the wrong place to start with, it would have saved me 50 years of core identity discomfort.

    It wouldn't work for everyone, as valeries mentions with body map issues, but for me it has to be the holy grail.

    Polly Conroy

  3. Yes Polly, I am not trying to talk anybody out of transition, I have explicitly said that I understand the issues people have to deal with and fully support people for whom that is the only way they can deal with their dysphoria. What I reject that this is the determinism that promotes this sort of approach as the 'norm' for people with gender dysphoria - because people do deal with their dysphoria in different ways.

    My response to Natacha...

    Leave the kids alone part II

  4. We are surely all agreed that there should be no social pressure or coercion of children who do not conform to gender norms. Most transsexual people I meet these days agree that this would have made their childhoods infinitely more easy and would have de-obfuscated their own need for medical therapy from all the 'sissy-boy' theories and the 'most gender non-conforming children grow up to be gay' meme. If it were socially acceptable for all gender non-conforming children to present in their own way, I'd suggest that the children who needed medical therapy would stand out starkly because their GD would not go away. They would still not be comfortable and this distress would become ever more apparent as puberty approached.

    What primarily concerns me is that transsexual people are not being made the scapegoat for social pressure which they themselves have had to fight constantly. If I say, as I was at pains to make clear in the past, that physical medical transition was clearly going to be the only solution for me … the result of a neurological anomaly if you like. If this has since been abundantly vindicated and I make that clear also … am I putting pressure on people who feel this is not their solution? I have had this suggested to me simply for talking about my experience of surgery positively and saying how infinitely more at ease with myself I feel now than ever in the past.

    I feel incredibly fortunate that my solution was so straightforward and I genuinely feel for those who feel their solution is more complicated or that their comfort in their gender expression is constantly being challenged by ideas of social conformity. However unless we stop blaming each other for our problems instead of trying to change society so that all are accommodated, we'll never get anywhere.