Thursday, July 02, 2009

Lies, Damned Lies and Lousy Research

I'm a little late coming to this story - others have covered it before me, mostly because I haven't had time to give it the analysis it so richly deserves.

Entitled Legalizing Deception: Why “Gender Identity” Should Not be Added to Anti-discrimination Legislation, this article from Catholic Exchange comes as no real surprise, given the utterances from Pope Ratzinger.

However, this article is sufficiently awful as to deserve being examined in some detail. Superficially, it almost appears to have been researched fairly well and only on closer inspection do the problems with the foundations become apparent.

Such legislation is designed to give legal protections to those who reject the sex they were born with and want to be publicly accepted as the other sex -– the so-called ‘transsexuals,’ ‘transgendered,’ ‘gender queer,’ transvestites, and others. Such persons deceive themselves, deceive others, and are being deceived by mental health professionals and surgeons. The public is being deceived by the media and activists into believing that so-called ‘transsexuals’ were born with biological problems that are remedied by surgery and that it is possible to change your sex.

As an opening thesis, this sets the tone for the rest of the argument - essentially it is the often used claim that the transsexual is "deceiving" others. It also takes a gratuitous swipe at the treatment professionals that assist transpeople with the challenges that they face.

Let's see what else they have to say, shall we?

One lie leads to another. A clearly male person presents himself in public as a woman. He has had surgery and hormone treatments to perfect his impersonation and he demands that we pretend this makes him a woman. He wants us to use female pronouns when speaking of him and to allow him to use the ladies’ restroom. He also wants to change his birth certificate and driver’s license. While some persons who present as the other sex are obviously not the sex they pretend to be, others are able to deceive their sexual partners without informing them of their true sexual identity.

Persons who present themselves in public as the other sex say they need such protections because they are afraid of violence. This fear is real. When someone is deceived — particularly in such a personal matter has the sex of an intimate partner or potential spouse — anger is an understandable reaction. Violent acts can never be condoned, but if such legislation is passed those who have been deceived will be denied any legal recourse and the deceivers will be portrayed as victims.

If one were to blithely accept the thesis that transsexuals are "deceptive", this tautology makes sense. However, that is precisely the kind of reasoning that the defense in the Angie Zapata case tried. This "blame the victim" logic is wrong - no matter the circumstances. It has been tried repeatedly over the years, whether we are talking about rape, gay bashing or trans bashing.

However, the author is just warming his audience up at this point, before delving into his attempt to render transsexualism irrelevant or invalid as a condition. To do this, he turns to a particularly debatable bit of hypothesis:

Some males are autogynephiles, who began in adolescence to engage in paraphilic transvestite fetishism. A paraphilia is a sexual attraction to something other than another person. In this case a man is sexually aroused by to the image of himself as a woman.

The whole notion of autogynephilia is the invention of Anne Lawrence and Ray Blanchard. I know that Anne Lawrence self-identifies as autogynephilic, and she has written extensively about the concept. Many in the transsexual community disagree strongly with the very notion of autogynephilia - especially as a broad diagnostic notion.

My own thoughts on the idea have undergone some changes recently. I don't accept the idea as describing all transsexuals - it may describe a subset of those who seek transition and surgery, but I doubt that it describes very many. However, as a conversation I had a couple of weeks ago revealed, the notion of autogynephilia should not be used to exclude someone from access to surgery, since the post-surgical results for these people is generally positive. In other words, even if a transsexual is autogynephilic, that is far from fully describing the situation that individual is dealing with. (This conversation was with someone in the research/treatment community, and he had some very interesting things to say)

Those who are obsessed with the idea of being the other sex often resist therapy. They refuse to look at the psychological reasons for their desires. Some mental health professionals, frustrated by their inability to treat this disorder and concerned about their clients’ obvious dysphoria, are willing to go along with this deception. They give in to their clients’ demands and recommend a surgical solution to what they as therapists know is a mental health problem. They deceive their clients into believing that a “sex change” is possible.

The “sex change” surgeons know they can’t change a persons’ sex, they can only create a non-functional appearance of the other sex, but they also know they will be well paid for their skill and so go along with the deception.

These paragraphs grossly malign the treatment professionals who work with transsexuals. It characterizes them as "giving up" or worse being in it "just for the money". This is a gross misrepresentation of a group of professionals who came up with the WPATH Standards of Care, which are so carefully structured to ensure that the right steps are being taken.

Transsexuals are not typically resistant to therapy, but transsexualism in general doesn't respond to the therapy techniques used for other conditions such as OCD. There's decades worth of evidence for this. One cannot even call it an obsession and be correct in understanding what is going on.

This is not atypical when someone writes about transsexualism without actually understanding the condition itself, or worse, has a political agenda firmly rooted in perpetuating ignorance.

Lawrence also points out that when autogynephiles are not accepted as the sex they want to be they can be vulnerable to narcissistic rage, which is defined as the “disproportionate, compulsive pursuit of revenge that seeks to obliterate both the offense and the offender.”[6] ...
If you want to understand the full potential of such wrath, consider the case of John Michael Bailey, whose book The Man who would be Queen provoked retaliation from a small group of persons who didn’t like being labeled autogynephiles. They used the Internet to make outrageous accusations against Bailey, attacking his children, trying to turn colleagues against him, and to have him fired from his job.[8] Attempting to connect two, dramatically unrelated topics in this kind of manner is beyond irresponsible.

First of all, Bailey was castigated for publishing a book based on arguably awful research.

The broad base of the transgender community is rightly upset by that book, and seriously question both the validity of Bailey's work as well has his motives. Far too many people who have read Bailey's book have concluded that it doesn't describe their experience of being transsexual to accept it as being even remotely descriptive of the condition overall.

Lawrence applies the following clinical description of narcissistic rage to Bailey’s opponents:

…need for revenge, for righting a wrong, for undoing a hurt by whatever means, and deeply anchored, unrelenting compulsion in the pursuit of all these aims… There is utter disregard for reasonable limitations and a boundless wish to redress an injury and to obtain revenge… The fanaticism of the need for revenge and the unending compulsion of having to square the account after an offense…The narcissistically injured… cannot rest until he has blotted out [the]… offender who dared to oppose him, to disagree with him.

Even if only a small number of autogynephiles are prone to narcissistic revenge, they could cause incredible harm to anyone who speaks the truth. They would see injury everywhere, file complaints, and institute lawsuits.

Has Anne Lawrence interviewed even a reasonable number of the people outraged by Bailey's book? That isn't a clinical description, it's conjecture. In this, I respect Ms. Lawrence's choice to defend someone whose work she respects. However, I do not think that it is even remotely reasonable to make such projections without actually doing some kind of sensible study of the people you are attempting to describe.

The laws adding “gender identity” to anti-discrimination legislation would allow men and women with serious psychological disorders, some of whom are prone to narcissistic rage and revenge to use the law to persecute business owners who are attempting to protect the privacy of customers in restrooms and locker rooms.

Oh yes, the "freak in the locker room/washroom" argument. This is nothing more than a sadly inadequate attempt to excuse discrimination and bigotry. While Ms. Lawrence has connected Narcissistic Rage to non-passing autogynephiles, I think that such a connection is at best debatable. I would like to see some population studies to investigate such claims. For now, I think it's important to note that the diagnostic criteria for Gender Identity Disorder make it quite clear that such a diagnosis should only be made in the absence of other significant disorders.

Further, most transsexuals are considerably better able to cope with adverse situations after transition than before. Also, the article is attempting to falsely characterize transsexuals as unstable and suffering from serious mental illnesses beyond their gender identity issues. Again, this is rarely the case, and the diagnostic criteria in the DSM IV TR safeguard against such situations.

And it gets worse. In some places, at age 11 these children who think they are the other sex are given puberty-blocking hormones so that secondary sexual characteristics do not appear. Then they are given hormones proper to the other sex, so that at age 18 they can be surgically mutilated. In other words, the entire educational, psychological, and medical establishment is conspiring to see that these children never receive proper treatment. There is no research on the long-term effects of these hormone treatments on developing the bodies and brain. Do we really believe that 11-year-old children have the judgment necessary to decide to permanently surrender their sexual identity and reproductive potential?

Worse? Obviously the author has no idea that the Endocrine Society has drafted treatment guidelines for transsexual persons - based quite strongly on the WPATH Standards of Care I referenced earlier.

... and yes, an 11 year old in the early stages of puberty (Tanner Stage 1 or Stage 2), may well have more than enough awareness of their inner gender being at odds with their body. Far too many transsexuals report awareness of something being awry long before any social gender awareness would have started to develop to ignore. While not all youth who experience cross-gender identity become transsexuals as adults, the interesting thing about the puberty stalling drugs is that once they are taken out of the picture, puberty can proceed normally (if a few years late, perhaps)

The interesting counter point is that even though a smaller fraction of childhood GID patients go on to pursue GRS as adults, the author has failed to note that by far the majority used to end up living as gay males. (At least in Dr. Richard Green's study). What would happen with these individuals if they had the option to transition during their formative teenage years? We do not know yet, but I suspect that we will find out in the years to come.

Sadly, the author of the column at Catholic Exchange appears to have gone out to find literature to support his preconceived notions about transsexuals, rather than bothering to educate himself about the topic as a whole. In doing so, his article rests almost entirely upon the heavily disputed works of Bailey, Blanchard and Lawrence.

To be perfectly honest, I would like to think that Anne Lawrence would be horrified to find her work being used in such a ham-handed manner to justify denying transsexuals protection from discrimination.


VĂ©ronique said...

Excellent rebuttal. You are much more qualified to do it than I. "Late" just means "well considered." :)

Anonymous said...

I am way too apoplectic to even consider picking apart this facile attempt at journalism, this is not journalism, it is hate speech masquerading as considered writing.

Dale O'Leary though seems unable to get his head out of the Papal ass, he even goes so far as to state that science is on the side of the Pope when he condemns condom use in Africa's fight against AIDS.

O'Leary would seem to be a dangerous public influence who will undoubtedly be used in defence trials after trans people, specifically women (these men always pick on trans-women don't they?)suffer violence and rape.

It is sickening to think that these kinds of views can still be passed off as anything near factual and it it is astounding that an institution as medieval as the Catholic church (small c) has so much influence in the 21st century.

I have a very dear friend who has suffered terrible harassment and prejudice due to her supposed gender identity AND sexual orientation. It is this tenuous link between gender presentation and sexual orientation that causes the problems as evidenced by the amount of men who have issues with trans-women.

Why would a man want top become a woman for heaven's sake? These men who complain on this subject are not transphobics. They are misogynists, and I would dearly love to see the kind of language used by O'Leary made a hate crime. In fact, over here in the UK, if he attempted to publish something so vicious and hate-filled, he would be turned down. I dearly hope an pray that the US clears its bigoted decks and puts a stop to the public degrading of other human beings in such an uneducated, immature and openly hostile manner. Even his so-called references are biased and lack objectivity.

Thanks MgS for your keen critique and let's hope that everyone else who reads this can se through O'Leary's lies and suppositions just as easily.