Wednesday, December 30, 2009

I've Said It For Years Now...

The ReformaTories aren't about democracy.

This makes the third time that Harper has prorogued Canada's Parliament for political reasons since 2006, not to mention a snap election in fall of 2008 - just to avoid an economic meltdown.

Harper likes to whine and moan about how the opposition won't let things get through the process in the house, and then he turns around and prorogues parliament (killing every bill that is in the house), and forcing Parliament to waste more taxpayer time and money re-engaging the same damned process over bills that he's going to have to re-introduce as first reading bills.

I won't say that I'm impressed with Canada's Governor General right now - she granted Harper a prorogation last year before Christmas so he could avoid a confidence motion, and now she's granting him one this year for what reasons? Because he can't stomach the idea that his legislation is getting amended in committee? Mme Jean should have told Harper to man up and go back and do his job. This is an unnecessary, uncalled for prorogation.

Parliament will be prorogued for two months until after the Vancouver Winter Olympics, the Prime Minister's Office announced Wednesday.

Prime Minister Stephen Harper's spokesman Dimitri Soudas said a speech from the throne will be delivered on March 3, followed by presentation of the budget the next day. The session had been scheduled to resume on Jan. 25 after the holiday break.

Soudas said the prime minister spoke with Gov. Gen Michaëlle Jean over the phone earlier Wednesday.

The move to prorogue, or suspend, Parliament is widely seen as a strategic move by Harper to gain a majority on Senate committees while possibly also avoiding criticism over the Afghan detainee issue.

Give Harper a majority, and I think you'll see a side of the man that is only fit to bay at the moon.

Monday, December 28, 2009

Saying It Doesn't Make It So...

Sure enough, one of the organizations that claims to be affiliated with al Qaeda has claimed responsibility for the nutcase who tried to blow himself up on a plane.

Anyone familiar with terrorist organizations will recognize that the claim of responsibility often has little to do with actual involvement. This was a common tactic in Northern Ireland, and I have no doubt that the same thing is going on here. Unless they have video of this idiot "training" with them, or there is other evidence linking him to another organization, I am inclined to assume that the incompetent boob is another Richard Reid.


Okay, another incompetent moron decided to try blowing up an airplane. Somehow, I fail to see how this response by the US has any effect at all:

Frustrated passengers were searched not just at the usual security checkpoints, but also at the gates before boarding their flights.

Passengers said they were also barred from using any electronic devices and weren’t allowed to get out of their seat, even to go to the washroom, for the last hour of their flights.

Okay - more thorough searches I can understand. But restrictions on using electronics? Really? Just what does that have to do with the price of tea in China?

Or, come to that, banning people from using the washroom during the last hour of flight. That isn't just ridiculous, it's unsanitary. This guarantees that accidents will happen, and they'll happen in the cabin. (young children in particular, but also adults who are prone to air sickness come to mind) I fail to see what restricting washroom access has to do with anything security related. The only thing it does is get passengers on edge, uncomfortable and cranky.

This kind of response is a fear reaction with roots in any reality that I can think of. It doesn't make anyone safer than they already are. It isn't about security.

Sunday, December 27, 2009

Revisiting Anne Fausto-Sterling's 'Sexing The Body'

I read this book a couple of years ago, but recently some of her writing has come up in various discussions I've been having. I'll admit that when I reviewed my notes from a few years ago that I didn't entirely agree with her arguments when I read Sexing the Body at the time.

However, it was in reading this response to the book, I found myself re-examining my notes and re-evaluating things in the light of what I know and understand today.

At the time I read "Sexing the Body" a couple of years ago, I was well immersed in reading a bunch of somewhat unrelated work by Judith Butler, and my disagreements with Butler appear to have significantly coloured my understanding of Fausto-Sterling's work at the time.

However, looking at it today, I find myself thinking that there's a fundamental point that I agree with Fausto-Sterling on - namely that the current models for describing physical gender are far too limited for the realities that we are gradually, but persistently uncovering. Gender is about the only part of medicine which is absolute - we are categorized as "male" or "female" at birth and so it must remain for all time.

The clinician's response is to suggest that a model of gender that is a continuum removes any meaning from the term Intersex, rendering it unusable for diagnostic purposes. I agree that this will be a significant problem for clinicians - when an entire spectrum of variation arguably describes the notion of Intersex, the term Intersex ceases to be terribly meaningful.

But, this is hardly a new phenomenon in the world of diagnostics. The concept of gender identity has changed dramatically in the psychiatric literature since Harry Benjamin started researching transsexuality in the 1940s. Over 3 editions of the DSM, we have seen the concept evolve from describing fetishistic crossdressing, eventually to include transsexuals, and in the DSM IV, the GID diagnosis is surprisingly broad - providing diagnosis covering a wide range of cross-gender experiences.

However, Fausto-Sterling is not entirely arguing from a clinical, or biological standpoint. She is integrating in significant amounts of social and political discourse into her position. While the clinical categorization of someone's gender may become significantly complicated by a model which describes physical gender as a spectrum, we must also recognize the social and political aspects of gender, and that is where a spectrum is a much more important and powerful tool.

What a spectrum model does to clinicians is force the use of objectively correct language for each individual case. Someone who has Klinefelter's Syndrome, and someone who has Congenital Adrenal Hyperplasia cannot simply be categorized as "Intersex". This means that a more precise level of diagnosis and tracking will have to be undertaken - not a bad thing in the least.

Socially, however, this presents a much stronger foundation upon which to rest the conversations about the social and political aspects of gender that are ongoing parts of our cultural evolution. First of all, it takes the notion of biological determinism out of the picture. It removes the weapons of exclusion from all of the interested parties in gender discussion. The radical feminist that argues that MtF transsexuals aren't really women because they cannot bear children (I'm vastly oversimplifying the argument here, but I do find it ironic that the RadFem argument against transwomen boils down to the same biological determinism that feminism has fought for decades) Fundamentally, biology is then recognized as sufficiently plastic to accommodate a wide range of gender experiences and behaviours - and none of those should be seen as erasing anyone else's experience.

By taking biology somewhat out of the discussion, we can then move into a world of discussion social gender in its own right without the noise in the background of the internecine warfare that goes on between the various factions. It has always been clear to me that Feminist theory is on very solid ground when it is working from the context of the social constructs that are a significant part of our gendered life experiences - it has typically fallen apart quite badly when it has attempted to describe the underpinnings of gender at the level of biology and identity.

The real issues with gender in our society today exist as social issues - whether it is roles, expectations or demands placed on members of either sex. Feminism as a movement was born out of the recognition that our society had developed along patriarchal lines for centuries, and how that evolution was marginalizing half the population.

The treatment of both Intersex and transgender people in our society has arisen in part on the heels of feminism, and in part out of a recognition that there are groups where the imposition of "normal" as it applies to most of the population doesn't work so well. Marginalization and discrimination are rampant, and ill-informed treatment at the hands of medical professionals is all too common for both of these groups.

Appropriate treatment remains a problem for both IS and Trans communities. A more precise sense of diagnosis and classification will in fact work to the advantage of both groups. A more broadly based model of gender should permit greater individual autonomy with respect to treatment decisions, since each case must be examined individually. Hopefully, this will also have the benefit of making it easier for parents to move beyond the often panic/worry related treatment decisions that are so often made before an IS child is ready to make their own decisions.

I've argued before that when we are talking about humanity, it is important to view our attributes along the lines of spectrums - primarily because absolutes inevitably seem to encounter problems with exceptions. Where I disagree with Fausto-Sterling is in the interaction between mind and body. I am not at all convinced by the two constitute an "indivisible whole", which implies that they are distinct, but intertwined entities. Somehow, I'd rather leave this particular conversation open ended until we have a better understanding of how DNA and the complex chemistry that we all carry within us interact - to assume that mind is distinct from body feels a little too "pat" an answer, especially in light of the growing body of evidence that has raised the whole notion of transsexualism as being a subset of IS - a concept that a mere few years in the past would have seemed quite laughable. Then again, I haven't seen the bulk of neuroscience in the last decade or two that might lead towards a clearer understanding of the interaction of the body and the mind (or the intersection of). There is no doubt in my own experience that the chemistry of the body influences our minds in surprising and unique ways that should not be overlooked.

Wednesday, December 23, 2009

Is There An Intersection Where Transgender and Intersex Meet?

Over at A Word To The Wise, a thread is developing about whether there is any validity to the claim that Transsexual and Intersex conditions intersect with each other. This essay is intended to explore the implications of some "eureka" discovery being published that showed an unequivocal relationship between the two groups of conditions.

Allow me to open by clearly stating my own thoughts before I dive into the implications of some discovery drawing a clear line between transsexualism and some collection of intersex conditions. Personally, I find the idea intellectually appealing. The notion that transsexuals are a result of various biological factors resolves the issue of rationalizing some of the more difficult aspects of the transsexual narrative - such as the knowledge of being different long before any sense of social gender would be emerging. That said, as intriguing as the various bits of research are out there that suggest physiological factors at play are, they remain inconclusive to date. Inconclusive does not imply negation of the hypothesis however.

Intersex is an extremely broad term today - it covers everything from ambiguous genitalia (what used to be called "hermaphroditism") to an emerging array of chromosomal and genetic variations that result in various forms of sexual ambiguity. In fact, about the only thing it doesn't encompass yet are conditions which are seen as primarily psychological in nature.

The implications of subsuming transsexualism under the Intersex umbrella are enormous - but not necessarily bad.

(1) Shattering of the "Gender Binary"

I would argue that this change would all but destroy the concept of gender as a binary along "male/female" lines. The very existence of Intersex people on this world already calls into question the idea that there are only two physical genders. Including transsexuals would clearly demonstrate that physiological variations occur in ways that affect brain function and/or structure as well.

(2) Evolution of Gender (and Sexuality) Models

If the intellectual construct of the gender binary is rendered invalid, what replaces it? Ideally, some kind of "gender as a spectrum" model which recognizes that there are more than just two genders out there. This leads us back into the world (at least temporarily) of variations on the Kinsey scale - more likely loosely based on The Harry Benjamin Gender Disorientation Scale (which is modelled somewhat on Kinsey's).

When one views humanity as existing on a series of continua (for different attributes), it becomes a lot easier to accept as normal the presence of the unusual.

(3) Normalization of the Abnormal

The language of gender and sexuality that we have today tends to work primarily on the notion that there is "normal" and everything outside of that is "abnormal" (and hence, implicitly bad).

Both Intersex and Transsexual individuals suffer the negative consequences of this on a daily basis. Whether it is an over-eagerness to perform surgery on Intersex people to "normalize" their appearance, or the discrimination that anyone who appears gender variant can experience in using public washrooms.

In the long term, a broader understanding of gender than is currently typical will go a long ways towards removing the stigma of being different - regardless of the reason.

(4) Clarification of Gender Debates

Ironically, this would also be to the benefit of gender studies overall. Right now, we have a situation where theorists studying topics such as feminism are obliged to attempt to answer the "but what is gender?" question in order to have logically consistent models. This has produced some truly execrable results (such as Butler) which deny evidence already available. A more generalized view of gender would move those debates back into the world of the study of the social implications of gender - where people like Butler are much more able to form coherent arguments.

(5) Access To Treatment

Whether one is transsexual, or Intersex, accessing appropriate medical treatment is horrendously difficult right now. Most practitioners are ill-equipped to deal with such marginal populations, and the stigma that is associated with either is such that many practitioners are unwilling to even provide referrals to appropriately qualified peers.

Again, a more broadly defined view of gender would go a long ways to making it easier to shed the stigma that is associated with either condition. Normalizing a condition's existence goes a huge distance to making it easier for the professionals to be directly involved.

Sunday, December 20, 2009

And Then There's Reality

As if to further demonstrate the extent of the HarperCon$ lies to Canadians, the following turd falls from the sky and lands on Mackay's shoulder:

Three federal cabinet ministers and a senior government official met the head of the International Red Cross in the fall of 2006 as the humantarian organization tried to focus Canada's attention on alleged abuses in Afghan prisons, The Canadian Press has learned.

Precisely what Jakob Kellenberger told Peter MacKay, Gordon O'Connor, Stockwell Day and Robert Greenhill, then the president of the Canadian International Development Agency, in the Sept. 26, 2006 meetings is blanketed by diplomatic secrecy.

McKay was then Foreign Affairs minister, O'Connor was at Defence and Day was Public Safety minister overseeing Corrections Canada officers in Kandahar.

From my point of view, this is no surprise. Harper and his band of thugs have been so intellectually dishonest since they were elected, no amount of lies is really shocking. However, this Afghanistan prisoner transfer issue is a serious black eye for Canada on the world stage.

Along with Harper's obstructionist approach to the discussions in Copenhagen this past week, it can leave little doubt that under Harper, Canada's credibility as a significant, sincere player on the world stage has been seriously undermined...and it will only get worse the longer Harper is allowed to reside at 24 Sussex Dr.

Saturday, December 19, 2009

A Transgender Critique of Butler's Notion of Gender

This essay is a response to the the following question raised here:

I think I might grasp what you're alluding to here -- especially with regard to the social dimension of gender, and the interaction between biochemical input and gender realization -- but I'd very much like to hear what I assume will be your much more articulate assessment of what the Butlerian gender model leaves out.

I draw my understanding of Butler's view of gender primarily from her book "Gender Trouble" (available as an e-book), and "Performative Acts and Gender Constitution". (and yes, I have read her more recent book "Undoing Gender" as well)

In Performative Acts and Gender Constitution, Butler argues as follows:

Further, gender is instituted through the stylization of the body and, hence, must be understood as the mundane way in which bodily gestures, movements, and enactments of various kinds constitute the illusion of an abiding gendered self.
(* an aside - this will not be a detailed dissection of Butler's paper *)

This is significant to me because it foreshadows Butler's view of gender as primarily existing as a social construct, to some extent influenced by biology.

Significantly, if gender is instituted through acts which are internally discontinuous, then the appearance of substance is precisely that, a constructed identity, a performative accomplishment which the mundane social audience, including the actors themselves, come to believe and to perform in the mode of belief. If the ground of gender identity is the stylized repetition of acts through time, and not a seemingly seamless identity, then the possibilities of gender transformation are to be found in the arbitrary relation between such acts, in the possibility of a different sort of repeating, in the breaking or subversive repetition of that style.

There is a surprising irony in Butler's position. On the one hand, she dances around the concept of Gender Identity as having an individual reality, and then settles in a place where she ultimately ends up rejecting the concept, subsuming it under the social and biological aspects of gender.

Because there is neither an “essence” that gender expresses or externalizes nor an objective ideal to which gender aspires; because gender is not a fact, the various acts of gender create the idea of gender, and without those acts, there would be no gender at all. Gender is, thus, a construction that regularly conceals its genesis.

The problem I have with Butler's model is that it fails to successfully encompass a few key aspects of cross-gender (and in particular transsexual narratives).

First, there is a common dimension to many transsexual narratives (not all, but enough to be significant) that includes an awareness of being "built wrong" from an exceedingly early age - often before any socialization or 'gendered behaviour' is evident.

Second, is the dyssonance that transsexuals express with regard to their lives in their pre-transition gender roles. If gender were solely a matter of social construct informed by physical biology to some degree, it becomes extremely difficult to square the model with the expressed dyssonance. In Butler's model, there is no room for dyssonance. In some respects, Butler appears to try addressing the issue as one of 'discontinuity', but she fails to appreciate that while a transsexual's pre-transition identity may be externally continuous, that is not the internal experience.

Third is the situation of David Reimer. I do not claim that Reimer was a transsexual - such was unquestionably not the case, but his case is important and revealing of some key aspects of transsexual narrative.

It is very significant that when John was being raised as Brenda, he fought against being treated as a girl at every turn. Physically, and to the best of his knowledge, John had always been Brenda - and yet refused to be Brenda - not just in respect to social aspects of gender, but was also horrified by what puberty would bring. (artificially induced or not)

From a transsexual's perspective, Reimer's narrative is undeniably consistent with the 'built wrong' narrative so common among the transsexual population. There is no doubt in my mind that this should be seen as independently validating the notion that gender identity may exist and is not fully informed by either social or physical cues. (as an aside, I suspect that where there are some interesting phenotype variations that are being identified among transsexuals in more recent years.

If, as Butler proposes, gender is defined primarily in the context of social and physical cues, then one might imagine that the John Reimer story would have had a much different outcome. As it is, eventually Brenda learned the truth of her history and chose quite consciously to transition to living as John. A train of events that substantially calls into question a model of gender which is based solely upon social and physical factors. (* Butler attempts to address John Reimer's story in Undoing Gender, however my reading of her on that matter leads me to believe that she fails to understand some key aspects of the situation. *)

Similarly, I do not believe that Butler's model explains the dissonance that so many transsexuals describe as overwhelming their pre-transition lives. Butler's model suggests strongly that if one's body is physically of one gender, and the social signals received are consistent with that gender, then everything should be good, right? So why is that transsexuals so consistently report something dramatically different? Further, why is it that therapists have found that transsexuals are generally not responsive to the kinds of corrective therapy techniques that work well in other situations where cognitive dissonance is reported?

Where I fundamentally disagree with Butler is in her rejection of the notion of an abstract, but essential attribute of 'gender identity' as distinct from our physical and social gender behaviours. The problem that Butler's model faces is in the narratives of thousands of transsexuals - and those narratives reveal a significant incompleteness which leads many radical feminist thinkers to engage in tactics such as erasure in order to sustain the perceived validity of Butler's model in the dimensions where it has greater strengths - namely in the understanding of the socially constructed aspects of gender.

One More Step Back To The Dark Ages

Good grief, is it possible for the Alberta Government to be any more malicious?

Mental-health patients at Alberta Hospital will no longer get free toothbrushes, face soap, sanitary napkins, coffee or snacks after Alberta Health Services stopped covering the cost.

For those unfamiliar, the Alberta Hospital is the provinces primary mental health hospital. If somebody's mental health issues are serious enough to require hospitalization, then chances are they have very limited - if any - resources at all.

Tadra Boulton, spokeswoman for Alberta Health Services, said Alberta Hospital Edmonton was the only hospital in the province supplying patients with personal hygiene items and with slippers or sunscreen for comfort. That cost the system $70,000 each year.

Cutting that was "part of aligning and standardizing our supplies across the province," Boulton said. "In other hospitals and care facilities, patients bring in their own items or they have their own family bring in their own items."

Do I really need to point out that there are significant differences between mental health hospitalization and acute care hospitalization? If I go into hospital for surgery, chances are that I will be released within a few days. If I'm hospitalized for mental health issues, chances are that it isn't a well defined "few days" to stabilize the situation.

Even more distressing is that mental health issues often result in long term poverty for the afflicted because of a combination of inability to work consistently (or at all) and the collective misconception society has about mental illness in general.

"They're such a vulnerable group and frequently they are folks who lack financial resources to support themselves in the community, let alone when they're in the hospital," Harrison said. Often, their families have broken apart because of the burden of mental illness.

"Gosh, this seems like one more stress and pressure for the families and patients who are already stressed due to their illness and the burden on the family but also about the uncertainty about the future of Alberta Hospital Edmonton," Harrison said.

Once again, the Stelmach government is balancing its budget by attacking those who are among the most vulnerable in our society, and those who have little or no political voice.

Thursday, December 17, 2009

That Was Predictable

The next group to bear the brunt of the Alberta PC government's mendacity has just been revealed.

Alberta's plan to cut about $12 million from its People with Developmental Disabilities program is scaring disabled people and their families.

Mary Anne Jablonski, minister of seniors and community supports, blames the cuts — which amount to about two per cent of the program's $604 million budget — on the economic downturn.

There's a pattern at play here - and the pattern is firmly rooted in a combination of mendacity and cowardice. The Stelmach government picks target populations with little or no political voice to be the front line of their agenda to cut, cut, cut. All the while refusing to examine seriously consider how the government could improve its cash flow.

So ... who's gonna be next? You?

Defeatism - Harper Style

Not so long ago, Harper opened his trap and accused people who live in Maritime Canada of a culture of defeatism.

Then we have Harper's Subterranean Profile in Copenhagen - which bespeaks an attitude of his own defeatist attitude towards the climate portfolio.

Mr. Harper has staked out a difficult position at Copenhagen – arguing there is little room for Canada to toughen its commitments to reduce emissions, insisting that China and other emerging economies agree to binding targets; rejecting the 1990 base year against which emission reductions would be measures, and refusing to make a specific pledge of financial aide for the developing world.

In short, Harper has talked Canada into a position where Canada is now fundamentally an isolated nation on the world stage - all because our Prime Minister is neither able or willing to actually consider positions beyond whatever he has decided.

About that secure transmissions thing...

Insurgents tapping Predator Drone video

I don't know if I should laugh or cry. Frankly, it's quite hilarious to realize that the insurgents know precisely what kind of surveillance the Americans are using - and the fact it can be done with a $26 piece of software is just added irony.

H/T: Canadian Cynic

Wednesday, December 16, 2009

Colvin Testimony Part II

That's going to leave a mark. Essentially, Colvin takes every single talking point that the HarperCon$ have played and turns it inside out with facts.

Minister of Foreign Affairs Lawrence Cannon has suggested that I “availed myself of the prerogatives of a whistleblower,” and that the government accordingly granted me whistleblower protections.

I am not a whistleblower. Rather, I am a loyal servant of the Crown who did his job in Afghanistan to the best of his abilities, working through internal and authorized channels.
Contrary to Minister Cannon’s suggestion, I testified in Parliament because I was summoned by the Committee and legally compelled to speak the truth. I feel it is my duty as a public servant, when commanded to appear before the Parliamentary Committee, to give evidence that is full, frank and fair. I feel duty bound to be frank and thorough in responding to the Committee’s inquiries.

It's not as if this is any real surprise, but it is refreshing to see a member of the civil service not being cowed by Harper's thuggery.

Colvin's Letter ... all of it.

Tuesday, December 15, 2009

Harper The UnAccountable

It's not like it's a secret - Stephen Harper's secrecy and heavy handedness makes him by far the most overbearing Prime Minister that Canada has had. (at least in this writer's memory)

To date, he has prorogued parliament twice, called a snap election once - all in a bid to continue clinging to power.

Rumours flying around Parliament Hill suggest that another prorogation is in the works - until after the Olympics - which would conveniently let the Afghanistan prisoner issue go quiet, and give the government more time to dispose of potentially embarrassing documents by declaring them "matters of national security".

“I can't imagine what reason they would have to prorogue the House,” she said, “especially when it's the Conservatives who make such a big deal of their legislation and their crime agenda and things being held up.”

Bills that have not received Royal Assent die when Parliament is prorogued. That means legislation, including the consumer protection act that the Conservatives have urged the Senate to pass without amendments, would have to be reintroduced in the new session.

Yes, therein lies the rub. The Con$ keep disrupting parliament, and then they turn around and whine that they can't get their legislation through. I think that tells us a lot about what they would do if they weren't limited by their minority status in the House of Commons - and it isn't good for Canada.

Just consider what the HarperCon$ are doing in Copenhagen, especially in response to this little gem, which simply proves that they are going to continue to play denialist, and allow one of the biggest contributors in Canada to run unchecked.

After the business in Afghanistan, and now this, it's hard to see how Harper's actions on the world stage are in any way "in Canada's national interest".

Saturday, December 12, 2009

Hmmm...So It's A Good Thing To Lie?

Apparently, Tony Blair thinks so. After all a pack of lies is what he used to justify participating in Bush II's invasion of Iraq.

In light of recent revelations of our own government's handling of the situation in Afghanistan, I'm beginning to think that there's a sense of entitlement among the neoCons in general - one that justifies lying to the public as long as it fills their needs.

Friday, December 11, 2009

Dear Mr. Gold: Shut Your Pie Hole

I was traipsing through The Bilerico Project, and found what has to be one of the most offensively ignorant things I've ever seen posted about transsexuality posted by Ronald Gold.

Given that Bilerico is a GLBT forum, I'm more than a little surprised to find something so blatantly ill-informed about transsexuality posted there. I would have thought that any writer for that site would at least do a smidgen of research before yammering on in a manner I would normally expect from the likes of Peter LaBarbera.

Let me state it categorically. There is no such thing as a male or female personality. Personality is not a function of gender.

So where does that put the concept of transgender? In my view, down the tubes! And that leaves the further questions of how transsexuals got to think the way they do, and what to do to resolve their dilemmas. I hope I'll be forgiven for rejecting as just plain silly the idea that some cosmic accident just turned these people into changelings. What happened, more than likely, is that, from an early age, when they discovered that their personalities didn't jibe with what little boys and girls are supposed to want and do and feel, they just assumed they mustn't be real little boys and girls.

Unfortunately, Mr. Gold is playing armchair therapist here - and disappointingly has absolutely no idea what he's talking about.

When a transsexual talks about 'feeling like a woman' (or vice versa), that is an articulation of something that comes from the same fundamental aspect of our being that makes up personality. It's not about "a male personality" or a "female personality" per se - it's about the relationship we have with our bodies, and more subtly how we experience our interactions with the world.

Mr. Gold's misunderstanding appears to be rooted in the notion that personality (in its core) is some kind of monolith, rather than a series of discrete attributes which intersect and interact with each other.

He gets even more ignorant though:

As for adults struggling with what to do about their feelings, I'd tell them too to stay away from the psychiatrists - those prime reinforcers of sex-role stereotypes - and remind them that whatever they're feeling, or feel like doing, it's perfectly possible with the bodies they've got. If a man wants to wear a dress or have long hair; if a woman wants short hair and a three-piece suit; if people want romance and sex with their own gender; who says they can't violate these perfectly arbitrary taboos?

This reads like it comes from someone with no experience at all with therapists, much less those rare specialists that care for transgender people. Mr. Gold's understanding of transsexualism is rooted in the physical and external and does not address the devastation that living with severe cognitive dissonance can cause. Transsexualism goes far beyond such a simplistic, externalized perspective. Transsexuals don't have GRS just so they can have sex with someone "in a socially acceptable manner" - it is far more important that body and soul be congruent. What happens between the sheets is a completely different discussion.

About all that this proves is that the GLB community is just as baffled by transsexuality as the straight world is. It is disappointing indeed that Mr. Gold could not be bothered to engage in dialogue with one of the many trans writers that contribute to Bilerico. Many of whom could have set his thinking straight long before he published such an ill considered screed.

Wednesday, December 09, 2009

Get Smart On Crime, Get Tough On Tories

*Sound not needed.

H/T: Sabina

Replacing Lie #1 With Lie #2

Having been soundly beaten about for lying about prisoner transfers, we now find Harper spewing more BS:

The Prime Minister said the facts have been clear for several years. He said in 2006 the military suspected abuse of an Afghan prisoner and steps were taken to correct it.

This bunch changes their stories more often than their underwear. A few days ago, they were swearing up and down that there was "no credible" evidence to Mr. Colvin's allegations. Yesterday, they had the good General spouting the party line - even when there was evidence to the contrary in the public sphere. Today, Harper's trying to claim that they did the right thing?

I don't know how anybody can possibly believe the lies coming out of this government - lies that are being told at the expense not just of Canadian soldiers, but at the price of Canada's reputation abroad.

Tuesday, December 08, 2009

Credibility Test

Who are you going to believe? The soldiers that were on the ground and recorded the events at the time they happened, or a General who wasn't anywhere near the scene?

Gen. Walter Natynczyk, Canada's chief of defence staff, told a parliamentary committee on Tuesday that Canadian troops questioned the man who was picked up during operations in Zangabad. But it was the Afghans who took him into custody, Natynczyk said.

"We didn't take this person under custody," he said.

Funny, that's not what the soldiers who were present claim happened:

In one well-documented case in the summer of 2006, Canadian soldiers captured and handed over a detainee who was so severely beaten by Afghan police that the Canadians intervened and took the detainee back. Canadian medics then treated the man's injuries. The incident is documented in the field notes of Canadian troops, recounted in a sworn affidavit by a senior officer and confirmed in cross-examination by a general.

I'll take the troopers on the ground for credible evidence, thank you. Natynczyk wasn't there, so he's working from a politicized, sanitized version of the situation, and was no doubt ordered to make his statements to lend credibility to the crumbling façade of Peter Mackay's lies on this subject.

So, not only is the government lying to Canadians about this situation, they are failing to explain the lack of action when it was clear that there was evidence of Afghan officials mistreating prisoners - regardless of who captured them.

Monday, December 07, 2009

Last Week's Lies Are Inoperative

Remember Harper & Co. swearing up and down that there was absolutely no evidence to support allegations of prisoner abuse?

Not so much.

So ... I wonder what this week's lie will be to cover up last week's that has been disproven?

Sunday, December 06, 2009

25 Years Ago

Marc Lepine murdered 14 women at École Polytechnique in Montreal. (Antonia Z. @ the Star has a great piece on this)

Twenty five years later, the Conservative government is trying to dismantle the long gun registry in this country. Completely ignoring the fact that legal guns in the home are among the most common tools of domestic homicide, and denying law enforcement personnel access to the best possible knowledge as to whether a gun may be in the home when answering a domestic violence call.

On page 33 (Pdf Pg 39) of this StatsCan report, it's quite clear that women are disproportionately at risk of being murdered by their partners or former partners.

Hardly surprising - this is a government which has been hostile to women needs from day one; has a very vocal and active group of MPs who are hostile to women's health issues and so on. Do you want to go back to the 1950s (or earlier)?

Think about it...

Thursday, December 03, 2009

Proving (or Disproving) Gender Identity

One of the complaints that are often levelled at transsexuals (and other transgender people) is that the claim of cross-gender identity is not verifiable (or falsifiable).

Superficially, there is a considerable amount of truth to this. Gender identity, like any other form of identity is essentially expressed only in the form of what an individual can articulate. This is particularly thorny when transsexuals assert an essentialism to their identity, and separate that essential aspect from the social and physical aspects of gender.

As a line of reasoning, it's not a bad tactic - in large part because it is hard to refute with the kind of absolute observation that it implies. But, we can also draw a few interesting lessons from the science of physics. Almost every subatomic particle we know about is understood not from direct observation, but from inference. Observations that confirm larger particles contain small anomalies that aren't quite predicted by the original model. Eventually someone comes along and comes up with a model which describes a new subparticle and the mathematics of that describe the anomalies seen previously.

I will take as a given that there is at least some agreement that gender itself contains multiple axis which intersect with each other. The three that are fairly obvious to me are as follows:

- Physical Gender: This is nothing more than physical sex characteristics - primary and secondary - the contribution of biology.

- Social Gender: The social context in which we each live. Some of us live as men, others as women; and a few live their lives somewhere in between - often adopting the label 'genderqueer'.

- Gender Identity: This is what is between our ears. It is about how we experience the physical and social aspects of gender, and ultimately our emotional response to that treatment.

Clearly, none of these three exists in a vacuum with respect to the others. Social gender is driven by how others perceive us - and first impressions are often the result of observed physical gender. Lastly, Gender Identity impacts how an individual responds to the physical and social aspects of gender.

So, on what basis do we infer the existence of gender identity as distinct from the physical and social aspects of gender?

First, allow me to point out that there is no precise definition of 'man' and 'woman' in our society. There are women who are drawn to behaviours we would often consider to be masculine; and there are men whose behaviours are surprisingly feminine. In other words, their behaviours do not fit what is considered "typical" for someone of their physical gender. This is the first point of anomalous data.

The second aspect of gender that is surprisingly diverse is the physical. As we are learning, just because someone is born with a penis and testes, they aren't necessarily male with respect to chromosomal sex; and a vulva and vagina similarly don't guarantee that the individual is explicitly female when chromosomes are examined.

The third piece of the picture is the very existence of cross-gender identified people - whether we are talking about crossdressers, genderqueer people or transsexuals is quite irrelevant. The fact is that we have a small but significant number of people whose personal narratives fall outside of the man/woman binary even if they are otherwise male (or female) with respect to their physical and social genders.

These three dimensions are key to my argument, for the represent the kind of anomalies in experimental data that led scientists studying physics to suspect that the particles which make up atoms were themselves made up of other, smaller particles. We have a small, but significant group of people who claim identities which do not align with what their physical and social gender experiences would suggest.

In the spirit of other branches of science, we can't just discard evidence because it is inconvenient. This evidence in part leads me to infer that there is a dimension to gender that exists outside of the observable physical and social aspects of the topic. If there wasn't, it's hard to effectively describe the existence of cross-gender identity. The existence of people who fall outside of the binary in the physical and social dimensions further suggests that these attributes exist along a continuum.

For the purposes of this discussion, I will assert that gender identity as an axis of human experience that interacts with the physical and social aspects of gender provides an interesting and significant completion of the model.

The problem of verifying this attribute is non-trivial. Until we take a look at the experience of successful transsexuals (by successful, I mean those who transition and live a balanced, healthy life in their chosen gender).

That I know of, there is no objective test that can be applied that will unequivocally show someone to be transgender. But then again, there is no objective test that proves that someone is innately homosexual, heterosexual or for that matter any other attribute of our personalities really.

So, to understand it, we must use inference, and in particular I turn to the narratives of transsexuals who transition successfully. A reasonably common feature of many transsexual narratives is a lengthy struggle with a crushing sense of dissonance resulting from the disjoin between their physical, social gender experiences and their identity.

As they progress through the process of therapy, hormones and real life experience (RLE), most transsexuals report significant improvements in their experience of the world as the dissonance that they had previously experienced is alleviated. Many describe a state of euphoria once they cease experiencing the dissonance that has been a part of their lives for as long as they can remember. (and it is not uncommon for cross-gender identity to be known and understood by the individual among their earliest memories)

If we can take these narratives at face value, then the experimental evidence is before us - namely that by taking steps to address the dissonance experienced on a daily basis, the dissonance is gradually relieved.

Again, applying a little bit of inductive logic, we can infer the existence of an unseen, but all too real, attribute that is influencing the individual's experience of the social and physical aspects of their gender. Not only is there evidence of an attribute having an impact on the person's experience of the world, but we can alter the nature of that impact for the individual.

Remember, that because we are dealing with an attribute that is not subject to objective examination, it is necessary to do examine it through subjective and inductive means. Consequently, the standards of care that WPATH publishes recommend a cautious, measured approach to treating people who present with gender identity related symptoms. For many transsexuals, transition periods of a decade or more are not unusual. This length of time speaks to a persistence and sense of purpose that cannot be overlooked, for it gives the therapists a great deal of time to evaluate the integration of the person throughout the process. There is research out there that makes it quite clear that for transsexuals, there is great benefit in transitioning.

The strongest evidence for the existence of gender identity comes in the form of how well transsexuals adapt to life in their chosen gender. While it may be true that a few are simply highly adaptable people, it is hard to believe that this would apply to all. Further, the fact that some people approach the notion of transition and then back away leads me to suspect that gender identity occurs along a spectrum, just like most other aspects of being human. (which is why I cited Intersex conditions earlier on in this essay - to make the point that even "absolutes" like male and female aren't necessarily as concrete as we might initially hope)

Further, if gender had purely social and physical attributes, then the tragic story of David Reimer would never have happened. Unfortunately it did, and in doing so, more or less destroyed the validity of any model that addresses gender purely as a social construct. The fact that David refused to be a girl, even when all of the social cues provided said otherwise, tells us a great deal about the persistence of underlying gender identity in individuals.

Have I demonstrated the existence of Gender Identity as an attribute separate and distinct from the physical and social aspects of gender? Not completely. What I have done is described the shape of the theoretical hole that gender identity fills, and pointed out that there is consistent - if somewhat subjective - evidence that the attribute's impact on an individual can be altered, although the attribute itself seems surprisingly difficult to alter.

Dear Mr. Adler: PFO

Charles Adler published a particularly noxious screed in the National Post the other day - presumably at the behest of the knuckle-draggers in the PMO that want to silence critics of the government's handling of of Afghan prisoners.

The fundamentals of Adler's tirade are nothing more than the usual "you don't support the troops" line.

This is incorrect. The issue isn't the troops. It's the orders that they have been given - and those come from command and the politicians. Let's be absolutely clear on that matter. The decisions about the handling of individual detainees happens on the ground, in the context of the moment and the standing orders the troops operate under. The orders they are given come from the command structure, and ultimately are directed substantially by the politicians.

So ... the issue here is the orders that told troops to turn over prisoners to a questionable regime. We already know that Mr. Colvin's e-mails made it to the Department of Foreign Affairs ministerial offices (then occupied by Peter Mackay).

It's apparent that at several points in time the military's command hierarchy put the brakes on those transfers over the course of 2006-2007, but subsequently resumed them.

The politicians involved did nothing to correct the situation - or if they did, it was so slowly as to be meaningless in terms of dealing with the issues.

The issue today is simple - why were our politicians so slow to address the issues of prisoner handling? AND - why are the Conservatives being so obstructive about getting the facts out?

Make no mistake, the war in Afghanistan is a war of occupation. We (NATO forces) are the invaders, and what is happening on the ground there has happened repeatedly in the past - not just the Soviet occupation, but every attempt to control that region over the millenia of recorded history. Canada is paying a high price in 'blood and treasure' to prosecute this war of occupation, and nobody has ever put forward a convincing case that Canada's security is truly benefiting from our presence over there. (Lots of jingoism, no substantive facts)

The issue is not about "supporting the troops" - it's about a government that doesn't understand why we are there in the first place, and has clearly lost its moral compass.

Tuesday, December 01, 2009

It Was A Matter Of Time

I figured sooner or later someone from the right wing would start commenting about Mike Penner (fka Christine Daniels) suicide.

Sure enough, someone over at "Opine Editorials" took up the cause.

Even if we were to all agree that "gender reassignment" was generally a good and legitimate thing, could it ever be possible... possible... that every so often, a person who seeks such a change could be doing so out of some problem that could be addressed in some way other than gender reassignment?

What an opening argument. It starts off with a bad assumption and goes downhill from there.

What's the bad assumption here? That people who pursue gender transition do so on a whim, and the treatment professionals involved just say "yeah sure, go ahead". Even the tiniest smidgen of research would have turned up this Wikipedia overview Sex Reassignment Therapy, and Standards of Care for Gender Identity Disorders which links to an online PDF copy of the WPATH SOC which most North American practitioners follow.

In other words, the treatment community is already aware that only a small fraction of transsexuals need to transition. This why steps like Real Life Experience (RLE) are an essential part of the process. I'll come back to this in a few moments, after I address the next bit of flawed logic in the argument.

I'll choose a less politicized situation as an analogy. A guy goes to a doctor and says, "I have back pain. I need pain pills." But maybe that specific patient doesn't need pain pills. Maybe the patient just needs a massage, or a chiropractic treatment. Maybe the patient is sleeping in a chair and should be sleeping in a certain kind of bed, instead. Even though the pain pills may dull the pain, would it be good to the doctor to continually write the patient prescriptions for the pain pills and not address the other things?

Providing treatment for Gender Identity issues is a little more complex than treating back pain. Among the myriad issues is the difficulty in confirming someone's stated gender identity in an objective sense. This is why it is very important that the treatment team and the client work very closely together as each step is taken.

Then the logic train comes completely off the rails:

... If any of them took Penner aside and implied that perhaps his identity as a male or female wasn't the heart of what was ailing him, and reassignment wasn't the way to go and that he should get some other help, that could have easily been the end of their career.

The fact is that very few people would know what was going on in Mike Penner's head. I would imagine that Mike/Christine had a lot going on, and it would have been difficult if not impossible for anyone except for a trained professional to pick up on some of the themes in his mind. Certainly, if any of my peers tried to play "armchair psychologist" with me, I can imagine I might be tempted to tell them exactly where to go and what to do when they got there.

Gender transition is no trifling matter, and certainly not something that should be taken lightly.

Clearly, Penner wasn't happy. Happy people do not kill themselves. I didn't know the guy, but perhaps that unhappiness has been there a long time, and Penner thought he'd be happier as "Christine". Apparently, he wasn't happy as Christine, since he reverted back to Mike. The gender confusion activists will want to deny that the "gender reassignment" trial was a symptom of something that was wrong with Penner.

There are so many things that this paragraph misses about this story that it more or less negates its own meaningfulness. Among the questions that it fails to ask - was Mike Penner socially isolated after transitioning from being Christine? What kind of support was his treatment team providing him? What other comorbid symptoms did Mike/Christine exhibit in therapy? Was he receiving treatment for those conditions?

The reality is that from several perspectives, Mike's decisions to transition not once but twice represent a key reason why the RLE aspect of the SOC are in place. Not everybody who experiences cross-gender identity needs to transition fully, and not everybody who explores the idea of transition stays there. Mike walked a long distance down the path of transition, and for reasons I don't know, decided that he was in the wrong place living as Christine.

It is a shame he didn't get whatever help he really needed. This could very well have been a death by political correctness.

Around about this point, I find myself getting quite angry with the false inference here that Mike's suicide is the fault of his attempt to transition and the support that he received as Christine.

Identity is a tricky thing to pin down. Many transsexuals spend decades of their lives trying to understand themselves - a fortunate few seek help . Transition itself is a path fraught with peril - both external and internal. It is critical at every step of the way that the client be as aware of their circumstances as possible, and that their treatment team be working with them every step of the way - precisely to avoid the unfortunate outcome that Mike Penner arrived at.

The author of the column over at "Opine Editorials" has really demonstrated much of the misinformation and ignorance that embody much of the public understanding of transsexualism and how it is treated.

Mike Penner's death is a tragedy, and every transsexual who has heard about it must feel the loss all the more poignantly for having walked through their own dark places to get to where they need to be. To infer that Mike's suicide has anything at all to do with the support of those around him when he transitioned to living as Christine and back to Mike is disingenuous, and ultimately disrespectful to both Mike and those around him.