Friday, March 20, 2009

Check The Quality of Your Sources ...

I ran across this article which attempts to explain transgenderism in terms of homosexuality.

On first glance, it seems as though the author has made a sincere effort to do some serious research to build his position. As usual, when one starts digging through a paper like this more seriously, you quickly realize that the author doesn't really know what they are talking about.

Consider the following:

Transsexualism: A subset of transgenderism where the affected person desires to be the opposite sex and seeks sex-reassignment surgery and cross-hormone treatment. Transsexuals tend to cluster into two groups: those with straightforward opposite-sex identification and a more variable group consisting of those with opposite-sex identification in conjunction with autogynephilia.

Hmmm...I've read this before. Oh yes, it's a recycle of Blanchard's autogynephilia model, which Michael Bailey, Ray Blanchard and Anne Lawrence keep pushing. (and mercifully, only a handful of others)

And whom does the author cite?

1. ^ R. Blanchard, J Nerv Ment Dis 177, 616 (Oct, 1989).
2. ^ S. J. Bradley et al., Arch Sex Behav 20, 333 (Aug, 1991).
3. ^ R. Blanchard, J Sex Marital Ther 17, 235 (Winter, 1991).

Why, Dr. Blanchard himself. The use of the term autogynephilia might have existed in the DSM-IV, but I do note that my copy of the DSM IV-TR which is a more recent edition mysteriously does not contain 'autogynephilia' at all.

Thus passes the first mistake in the writing. Not only has the author chosen a poor classification model, but he seems to have chosen one that isn't exactly in widespread use.

The next mistake arises in what appears to be a quote lifted from another source (not one that is cited, sadly):

A number of transsexuals do not like being labeled homosexual. To address this issue, one should distinguish sex from gender identity. A person with male sex who has a female gender identity and is attracted to men would self-classify as a heterosexual because he believes that he is a woman. However, the standard conceptualization of a homosexual is based on biological sex, not gender identity. This is a very poor description of the distinction between a transsexual and a homosexual. The first point of error here is the anchoring upon "biological sex". The second point of error is to conflate someone's sexual identity with their gender identity.

Consider the following. A Male-to-Female Transsexual that identifies as heterosexual is attracted to men, as a woman. That is to say, she wants to interact with those men as a woman, and that includes in her intimate engagements with them. That is quite different from a homosexual male who is attracted to men, but wants to interact with those men as a man.

This is important, because it draws out a key distinction between gender and sexual identity. Further, it breaks the author's attempt to combine two distinct subjects. An additional consideration that needs to be examined is the fact that there are transsexuals who identify and live quite openly as homosexuals, and some bisexuals as well. The point being that one may transition gender roles, and still end up with an atypical sexual identity.

You might argue that because the author is building his argument up on the basis that sexual identity is based on biology that his argument holds. What I am bringing up here is that in fact it does not hold, especially when we are talking not so much about the physical aspects of sexuality, but the social aspects of sexual attraction. Further, as I have asserted above, gender and sexual identities are arguably quite distinct and deserve to be treated as such.

After making these mistakes, the author leaps into a series of arguments that fall into the "coincidence does not equate to causality" category.

Psychiatric morbidity, specifically of personality, mood, dissociative, and psychotic disorders is especially elevated among individuals with sex-identity disorders, and sex-identity disorders often occur as secondary to some other mental disorder.14 For instance, delusions about one’s physical appearance and a desire to drastically alter one’s looks are not unusual among schizophrenics;15, 16 about 25% of schizophrenics experience cross-sex identification at some point in their life.17, 18, 19, 20 The association between schizophrenia and increased odds of homosexuals interests is well-documented.

I love the use of terminology here. "Psychiatric Morbidity" - such a worrisome sounding bit of clinical language. All it really means is that some has a psychiatric condition of some sort or another. Given the breadth of what is contained in the DSM IV, that is hardly an indication of anything serious.

However, that is not my point here. The author is inferring that there is a direct relationship between atypical sexual or gender identity and various forms of mental illness. What he quietly ignores is the understanding that many of the co-existing conditions that occur in GLBT people are a direct consequence of the stresses of a hostile social context, not of being GLBT.

As for an increased probability that someone with schizophrenia will exhibit homosexual tendencies, that strikes as neither here nor there, since it doesn't follow from that reasoning that there is an increase in the chance of developing schizophrenia as a result of being GLBT. (although I'm sure the author would love for us to infer that, he fails to provide the evidence to make such a claim, and I dare say any such evidence would be very weak indeed)

Perhaps one of the funnier bits is the following attempt to link handedness to sexual and gender identity:

Left-handedness is associated with prenatal developmental disturbances, as evidenced by a higher incidence of first trimester-originating minor physical defects among left-handers.30 Behaviorally feminine boys who wish to be girls manifest elevated left-handedness/non-right-handedness.31 Both homosexuals32 and transsexuals33, 34 manifest elevated left-handedness/non-right-handedness.

Okay, so there is an increased number of left-handed people who are GLBT. Even if there is such a correlation, what of it? That's like looking at the department where I work, and wondering how it is that so many left-handed people wound up in our company's research department.

Left-handedness may or may not in fact have anything to do with prenatal development. To this point, we do not know, and to assume that there is any relationship between handedness and gender identity is going to be amazingly weak without serious amounts of corroborating data.

Lastly, through the entire article, the writer constantly combines sexual and gender identity related characteristics as if they are one in the same. In doing so, he tells us a great deal about how little he truly understands of the distinctions. There are some very good reasons why the relationship between the broad GLB community and the T community is very tenuous at times. Not the least of which is the reality that cross-gender identity is just as unsettling to GLB folk as it is to the straight community.

The author's credibility with me is already weak. Basing an argument heavily on the work of Bailey and Blanchard in particular is suspect indeed. Constantly confusing gender and sexual identity issues further erodes what little credibility he starts with. The reality of the writer's obvious bias shows up in this little bit of apologetics for Paul Cameron, a man whose research has long been discredited because of sloppy logic, and horrible methodologies - not to mention the man's blatant biases.


Stephanie said...

I notice on the website's "About This Site" page it says "The former name of this site is".

Says a lot about their angle, IMO.

MgS said...

Yes, yes it does.