Sunday, 31 December 2017

4%: Burying the Desistance Myth

The fact that Flat Earthers still exist centuries after Gallileo suggests that myths can take a long time to die. That is one of the reasons that the Desistance Myth (the notion that the majority of trans children do not become trans adults) is still propagated. The main reason however, is because it is in the interests of people who hate trans people for it to be allowed to continue.

The problem for the transphobes is that, as the result of a court case in Australia, the desistance myth has been well and truly buried. The proportion of trans children being treated by the Royal Children’s Hospital in Melbourne who desist is not 85% as the transphobes prefer to shout loudly, but just 4%.

Obviously this is a statistic that confounds the received “wisdom” of the anti-trans establishment in the UK, many of whom have been struggling to contrive more anti-trans news stories to feed their campaign against trans people’s human rights. For them this information has come as such a bullet from the blue that, despite searching every nook and cranny of the internet for stories about trans people, have actively and deliberately ignored this one. So despite this being a real piece of very significant news it has been censored, probably under pressure from the new transphobic hate groups that have popped up in the last few months, by those who captain our mainstream media.

For those of us who were trans children or who have worked with trans children the statistic comes as no surprise at all, of course.  As reported by the outstanding blog Growing UpTransgender, one of the world’s leading specialists in trans children’s health, Dr Michelle Telfer submitted an affidavit to an Australian court as part of a court case called “Re: Kelvin”

The witness statement says;

“Since its commencement in 2003, the Gender Service has received 710 patient referrals including 126 between 1 January 2017 and 7 August 2017. 56. 96 per cent of all patients who were assessed and received a diagnosis of Gender Dysphoria by the 5th intervenor from 2003 to 2017 continued to identify as transgender or gender diverse into late adolescence.” (Page 8)

Not only is this much more in line with what parents of trans children have come to experience, it is based on a very large sample size indeed. The data is from 710 children making it a massive study, and one that beats the much criticised study by Steensma et al (2013) that reported a 63% desistance rate from a sample of 127. This has obviously got some of the old guard rattled, such that, along with the suppression of the Australian data it seems to have felt the need to row back on it’s more extreme claims. So gone are the oft-cited wild claims of an 80-85% desistance rate, beloved of the trans haters and instead out comes James Cantor with his, apparently more “reasonable”assessment of Steensma. It appears that he has come to accept the criticism put forward by many trans people, that study participants who left before the end of the study should not be counted as desisting, to claim a desistance rate of 54%:

“Regardless of whether one agrees with that, the irrelevance of claim is clearly seen simply by taking it to its own conclusion: When one excludes these 24, one simply finds a desistance rate of (56/103 =) 54% instead of 63%.  That is, although numerically lower, it nonetheless supports the very same conclusion as before. The majority of kids cease to feel transgender when they get older.”
(Cantor 30.12.17)

What is interesting of course is that The Australian data has not been referred to at all, despite representing a much larger, more longitudinal, and more recent sample than the study he cites. In my opinion this outbreak of apparent reasonableness may serve a number of purposes; either it is an attempt to make Telfer look extreme, something that would be impossible with the previous extreme statistics, or it constitutes an attempt to maintain the majority status of the desistance statistics, or its function is to refocus the narrative on Steensma in the hope that Telfer will be ignored, in the way that the UK media has been doing; a kind of “look over there!” strategy.

In my opinion, this article, its contents, its timing and the way it is phrased suggest that the Australian stats constitute a real threat to some people; especially people in the UK who have used these most Churchillian 80-85% figures so regularly, and whose credibility now hangs by a single thread.

The desistance myth has long been used as a club with which to beat trans children, as a threat to parents who treat their trans children with the love and care they need. In my opinion these people have engaged in child abuse by proxy and it is time they were shown up for who they are. What has to be remembered is that there is only one human and officially recognised way to respond to trans children, and that is to respect their choices and let them take the lead. Treat them as the gender with which they identify. Anything else is effectively amateur Conversion Therapy (a mixture of psychological torture and bullying) of the kind that killed Leelah Alcorn. Whatever the desistance stats turn out to be, anything other than treating trans kids this way is unethical, abusive and harmful.

Wednesday, 27 December 2017

Playing Jo Johnson's Game

Like his Brother Boris, Jo Johnson, the higher education minister, is in the habit of talking hogwash. The idea that not inviting a handful of transphobic bigots to spout their repetitive and disingenuous hate in universities around the country amounts to a threat to free speech is as nonsensical as brother Boris's pronouncements of Brexit (or just about anything else for that matter). None of the transphobes so far disinvited from speaking at events organised by university student societies is under threat of having their "ideas" suppressed or censored. The drivel produced by the likes of Germaine Greer, for example, is widely distributed in mainstream neoliberal media.

What the TERFs do like to do however, is to claim victimhood and then to weaponise it against trans people campaigning for human rights. They need to do this, because otherwise they have no arguments against trans people's rights, at least none that are not PRATTs (Points Refuted A Thousand Times).

Anyway, Johnson seems to be getting his knickers even more in a twist over what is clearly a stupid idea, and one that, like Brexit, falls apart if you even ask elementary questions. However, we should not despair at the possibility of hate-groups like A Woman's Place attempting to organise their hate-fests in a university, in an attempt to make their hate look respectable, to weaponise faux-victimhood or engage in Provoke and Publicise actions like the racist desegregationists of the American deep south whose methods they have recruited. The logic can be reversed.

The Times, amongst other neoliberal mainstream media (MSM) platforms, has operated a policy of no-platforming the voices of trans people or our allies arguing for trans people's human rights. The Times has selectively published dozens of articles  intended to undermine trans rights, many of which are both misleading and dishonest. However they have refused to publish any opposing points of view, like the New Statesman, and even worse than the Telegraph, the Mail and the Express, who have at least allowed small amounts of opposing viewpoints.

What is therefore not unreasonable is for this measure to be applied to the media as well as universities. The right for those who hold differing points of view to those of the editor to be published, and in a reasonable position and quantity, is now something that, as a consequence of Johnson's project can be argued without serious opposition. Pandora's box is opening. Obviously challenging this media bias by selection should not just apply to the deliberately misleading portrayal of trans people, but to other issues where the media has been selectively biased, such as Brexit, immigration and refugees, poverty, indeed the way Jeremy Corbyn (or indeed any other Labour leader) has been portrayed in MSM should precipitate an equivalent right to respond, and this should include minority parties like the Lib Dems and the Greens who are deliberately excluded from MSM.

If Johnson is going to insist that universities must give a platform to transphobic haters, homophobes and other such undesirables, then trans people and others should have the right to be published in the neoliberal MSM arguing our case for the human rights against which they campaign, and those who want to stop Brexit, oppose NHS cuts, tax cuts for the rich etc should also be given a platform in MSM. Occasionally standing in a lecture theatre with my back to a bunch of TERFs while playing video games on my mobile is a small price to pay for that.

Sunday, 19 November 2017

“SHUT UP! You’re Silencing Me!”

In the last three months there have been literally scores - possibly even hundreds - of articles by anti-trans people, published in pretty much every media platform, from the New Statesman to The Times. Indeed the Times now seems to be publishing one anti-trans piece per day on average. In contrast I have seen only a couple of articles written by trans people in response. There have even been a number of “debates” in broadcast media about trans people from which trans people were excluded echoing that infamous conference in Saudi Arabia about women, from which women were excluded.

Now even the Guardian has joined in with Catherine Bennett’s deeply disingenuous article accusing trans people of using the term “TERF (meaning "Trans Exclusionary Radical Feminist”, a term that describes people who describe themselves as "radical feminists" who campaign to exclude trans people) to “silence women”, an argument which she then develops to suggest that ANY alternative term that might be applied to people opposed to me, and people like me, having full human rights would also be as bad. The argument is simply that oppressed people should not have the right to name their oppressors or that someone who wishes to produce journalistic propaganda material intended to harm me should be given a free pass, and be regarded as nothing more that "a concerned individual with genuinely acceptable views" or something like that. In essence she is arguing that trans people should simply shut up and be silent in the face of the current media onslaught about trans people. 

Bennett’s dishonesty is to equate a few tweets by trans people who have no access to media platforms, with the tidal wave of media output against trans people. A tweet from someone like me (3,170 followers) is equivalent to an article in the Guardian or any other media platform. After three months of intense media output, which has put the anti-trans (Am I allowed to use that term Catherine?) side of the argument, almost entirely to the exclusion of any other point of view, she is still claiming , in a national newspaper,  that she is being “silenced”. Catherine Bennett, unless you are trans, right now you really have no idea what it means to be silenced.

In the midst of a media onslaught against trans people, to claim that those who express views that oppose trans people are being silenced is simply not credible once you start to think about it and examine the numerical balance of media output. Bennett claims that one of Janice Turner's equally disingenuous and one-sided articles in the Times is "brilliant" yet I have written to the editor of the Times, as, I'm sure have many others, to request the opportunity to put a different point of view, and been ignored. Who is being silenced Catherine? 

Indeed Bennett’s article can ultimately only be regarded as an attempt to silence trans people, I don't know the number of people who will get to read Bennett’s article but it will be hundreds of times the number of people who will see this blog or any of my tweets. When the media consensus is so one-sided, when trans voices are being deliberately and systematically excluded from the debate about us, to claim hat the use of a particular term on twitter is silencing those who oppose trans people’s is not just profoundly dishonest, it is an act of calculated oppression.

Sunday, 29 October 2017

Reports of a rad fem violently attacking non-trans woman in vendetta against trans people.

There have been wildly conflicting tweets about an incident that occurred at an Anarchist Bookfair event yesterday, but I have just been contacted by someone who was present there, when some anti-trans "feminists" started distributing transphobic material yesterday, including flyering in the toilets. This is then, what happened, according to my informant, who has told me a much more coherent version of events than anyone else so far. The two anti-trans "feminists" who had been doing this;

"were eventually found and a confrontation ensued - it's really important to state that the majority of the confrontation happened not between the TERFs and trans people, nor between TERFs and even the Bookfair Collective, but other people there."

A member of the Anarchist Collective organising the event was described as; 

"simply trying to move them out of the building, and particular out of the way of the disabled access lifts." 

... when one of the anti-trans "feminists" was reported as calling the hosts "fascists", it was clear that this individual;

"was escalating the conflict with any and everyone there, it was about to turn it physical." 

and so this member of the Anarchist Collective (who is cis, incidentally, not that it really matters); 

"tried again to move her out of the building because a fight in the school could lose the Bookfair the venue in the future, at which point the TERF in question with the rolled up remaining leaflets and newsletter from the Feminist Library (effectively acting as a rolled up newspaper) proceeded to hit her in the face."

Obviously at this point, having apparently harassed stall holders and physically hit one of the organisers;

"there was enough cause for them to be thrown out and kept out." 

The organiser;

"needed to decompress outside for a bit herself" 

... with my witness who then reported the following 

"and when we came back to the building, ANOTHER confrontation had started, which involved someone from the feminist library."

My informant then reported that they didn't see most of the second confrontation, although someone else has reported that a man with a shaved head punched a woman who had objected to the presence of TERFs at the event, but they do report that; 

"the number of trans people involved was minimal, it was almost entirely random people who simply wanted the TERFs out. Much as I suppose I'm grateful for the fact they stood up to transphobes, they did so in the way of disabled people simply trying to get out. We were there, hoping to see the situation de-escalated, or at least moved outside, but to limited avail." 

One of the TERFs had reportedly claimed to have been a victim of "violence against women" although my informant said;

"what she meant is still anyone's guess. Nobody touched her when I was there. It was simply a large standoff as far as I saw between TERFs and others.  It was almost entirely cis people."

They said that these anti-trans "feminists" seem to have the ability to; 

"accuse anyone who opposes them of being trans women. And anyone who opposes them of being a "trans activist""

"The "trans activists" were exceptionally few and far between - it was largely a bunch of cis folk who didn't want bigots at their Bookfair."

In my opinion this all seems to suggest that there were anti-trans feminists using what was otherwise a peaceful event, that the organisers had worked hard to make peaceful, to stir up transphobic hatred, and that those present to enjoy this event did not want such people there. It also seems to me that this group are trying to concoct a story that attempts, falsely, to blame trans people for this incident when all the violence came from non-trans people, including these anti-trans "feminists" themselves.

Thursday, 5 October 2017

Vanishingly small: "regret" statistics interrogated.

In a world dominated by post-truth politics even apparent hard figures can be misleading, and, for a general public that is relatively ignorant about statistics, it is easy to mislead while not technically lying. A headline like "Football violence doubles in three months!" may sound alarming but if that is an increase of 0.0001% to 0.0002% of supporters then it is very different from an increase from 5% to 10%. The headline would be true in both cases yet we would be looking at an epidemic in the second scenario but the statistical effect of possibly only one incident in the first.

Likewise with statistics about trans "regret".

The number of trans “regretters” is vanishingly small and difficult to ascertain as a percentage, so any kind of statistics about them are automatically going to be problematic. Statistics do not work with very small numbers, that is why opinion polls take a four-figure sample, and then they still usually get it wrong. So forensically examining any figures is what any responsible journalist should do before publication. The problem is that, in the current heavily biased anti-trans media onslaught, they are not doing this and consequently anything that is biased against trans people is automatically treated as true.

So the material produced in the media about a surgeon doing more trans reversals needs to be examined carefully. When we look at the figures provided in the press we can see the following;
Over 5 years he has had 13 trans people contact him about so-called reversal surgery (two are mentioned as being “in surgery” but it is not clear as to whether they are additional to the existing 13 or included in that number). That is approximately three a year. The first six are described as coming from “all over the “Western World” The “western World” presumably including most of Europe, north America and Australasia. For the other 7 it is not clear where they come from. One of the claims made in the article was that the "average" age of his clients had come down to 21. I find this to be a very spurious use of statistics. When you are talking about 13 people over 5 years, then just getting two 21-year-olds would be enough to change the "average". Of course we are not told the timescale for this "average" but if he gets two this year, or even just one, that could produce an "average" for this year of 21. we have also not been told whether it is a mean, mode or median average too, which could skew the stats. This is what I mean that using stats when the numbers you are talking about are tiny is totally meaningless and open to abuse, without technically lying.

Over the last year in the US, there have been 3,250 gender reassignment surgeries, in the UK there were 172 operations in 2014, with 280 on the list for surgery in 2017. Numbers are difficult to ascertain for other countries but we are probably looking at a higher figure than the 3,250 in the US for 2016 in Europe so we are probably looking at a figure of around 7,000 a year for the “Western World”. If we go beyond that to the Middle East, South Asia, the Asia-Pacific countries, Africa and Latin America, where the populations are larger, but whose access to surgery is restricted by poverty, the number of surgeries is probably running at well over 20,000 a year globally, it is probably difficult to tell exactly, but these are almost certainly conservative figures. Now there have been lots of stories about transgender surgery increasing exponentially, at least in the “Western World” so let us assume that the number was around 10,000 five years ago and has increased by around 2,000 a year in the intervening period. That means at least 80,000 people globally have had gender affirmation surgery in the last five years.

If we also remember that at least some of the patients in this surgeon’s figures must have had surgery more than 5 years ago then his clinic is probably dealing with a subset of patients from a group that exceeds 100,000 people. If this is the case then we are looking at 1 regretter for every 7692 people having gender affirmation surgery. In other words for every 7691 successful gender affirmation surgeries there is one unsuccessful one. This would give us a regret rate of less than 0.013%.

Now obviously I have to heed my own warning about statistics, so let us assume, for the sake of argument, that the global number of surgeries is half what I have estimated for the period in question; 50,000, that would mean that there is one regretter for every 3845 successful surgeries, still a vanishingly small regret rate. Even if we halve it again the regret rate comes out at 1922 successful surgeries for every regretter, a figure significantly less than 0.1%. Even if we then double the number of regretters there are still 960 successful operations for every regretter. Double it again and the ratio of successful operations to unsuccessful ones is still 480:1 a vanishingly small percentage. Let us remember that this figure is achieved by quadrupling the figures for this doctor and reducing the estimate for GRS by 75%, even doing this gives us a tiny percentage, well under 1%.

Of course one of the statistics we do not know is how many of those 100,000 successful operations would have resulted in death by suicide if they had been denied access to surgery. This is a statistic we can never obtain ethically of course. What is clear from those who are responsible for the gatekeeping processes for surgery is the way they consistently refer to the risk of suicide for their patients. The death of 15-year-old Leo Hetherington earlier this year, he after was told he could not have GRS, and from the people I know, especially young people, suggests that this figure would be very high indeed.

So media articles that talk about a rise in the numbers of “regretters” are effectively being dishonest and transphobic because they are not contextualising these figures. There is obviously going to be a rise in regretters because there is an increase in the number of surgeries. What matters is the proportion of regretters to successful surgeries and here it would appear that, if anything the percentage of them compared to the total number of surgeries performed, is getting significantly smaller. Without contextualising these figures they become meaningless at best and profoundly dishonest at worst. What journalists also need to do to contextualise these figures is to look at regret rates for other types of surgery. The lowest regret rate I could find was for LASIK eye surgery, which is described as having a “very low” dissatisfaction rate of 4%. Many other forms of surgery have dissatisfaction rates that are well into double figures. One of the types of surgery that many trans-haters try to liken to gender affirmation surgery, in order to delegitimise us, is cosmetic surgery. However the difference between the two is a whopping 65% regret rate for cosmetic surgery compared to a tiny fraction of 1% for transgender surgery.

The truth is that surgery for trans people is one of - if not the most - successful surgeries that is carried out on this planet with a regret rate that makes pretty much anything else look irresponsible and which saves countless lives. Some of those lives saved at the time will probably also include people who subsequently become regretters. As psychologist Diane Ehrensaft put it when talking about the risk of regret;

"Is it a risk? Let us call it a possibility. If that is a possibility we think that the most important thing is the same exact idea, find out who you are and make sure you get help facilitating being that person then. We have one risk we know about; the risk to youth when you hold them back and hold back those interventions; depression, anxiety, suicide attempts - even successes. And, if we can give them a better life I weigh that against that there may be a possibility of a change later, but they won’t be alive to change. That’s how I weigh up the scales."