Tuesday, June 24, 2014

Oh The Dumbf ...

Over at "Crosswalk.com" (no, it's not a site about crossing roads), we find a Dr. White going off on gender identity in the wake of Time's June 9 article "America's Transition"  (hiding behind a paywall, a copy has appeared on Scribd here).

It's a somewhat appalling excuse for writing, especially considering that Dr. White holds a PhD.

Not surprisingly for Time, the author’s bias was thinly veiled:  “Almost one year after the Supreme court ruled that Americans were free to marry the person they loved, no matter their sex, another civil rights movement is poised to challenge long-held cultural norms and beliefs.” 
That certainly sets a tone. 
But she’s right.  Mainstream acceptance of homosexuality and the legalization of gay marriage virtually demand the acceptance of almost any other lifestyle. 
Why yes, being trans is something that people wake up and decide to be one morning for giggles.
In 1980 the Diagnostic and Statistic Manual of Mental Disorders of the American Psychiatric Association listed transsexualism as a mental disorder. That entry was later replaced by what psychiatrists called “gender identity disorder. In 2013, it was later modified to mere “gender dysphoria,” which is simply discomfort with the gender a person is living in. Quite a progression in just over three decades, moving from something to be cured to something to be enabled.
Wow... just wow.  In one paragraph, Mr. White has completely misunderstood the DSM, the purpose of it and the evolution of the diagnostic categories in it with respect to transgender people.  First, one has to recognize that the DSM is a descriptive document.  It describes a series of recognizable psychological conditions.  It does not provide any kind of statement as to what objectives treatment should pursue.

Second, Mr. White quite ignoring the work of WPATH over that time, which has evolved considerably from dealing with the polar extremities of masculine and feminine identities, having learned that a simple "transsexual / not transsexual" model simply did not describe the breadth and depth of this tiny community of people.

However, White's argument rests quite firmly on a more serious misunderstanding, and one which depends on a particular understanding of gender identity.

All seemed to be well. 
Time magazine called the case “strong support” for the view that masculine and feminine behavior can be altered.  A 1979 textbook used the case to discuss how human gender identity was flexible and plastic, and how being male or female was the product of social learning and conditioning.  Numerous psychology and sociology texts cited the case as proof that sex roles are basically learned. 
But people didn’t follow the case through to the end.  
Even with the injection of female hormones, the absence of male hormones coming from testicles, and being raised as a female, Brenda did not turn out as Brenda.  In the early 1990’s, a team of researchers caught up with the boy who had been turned into a girl to see how “she” was doing.They found that “she” was no longer Brenda.  “She” was now David – working in a slaughterhouse, married to a woman, and the adoptive father of three children. 
At the age of 14, Brenda decided to start living as a male, and at 15, was told that was indeed what “she” had been born as.  She then announced that “she” had always felt like a male and wanted to become one again.  Brenda was given a mastectomy, male hormones, and constructed genitalia.When researchers dug further, they found that the first time Brenda had been put in a dress, he pulled it off.  
When given a jump rope, he wanted to tie people up with it or whip them with it. 
At nine, he bought a toy machine gun when he was supposed to buy an umbrella. 
His toy sewing machine went untouched because he preferred to build forts and play with dump-trucks. 
He was never interested in make-up, but instead wanted to shave with his father. 
On a trip to New York, he found himself attracted to the Rockettes. 
He even felt the urge to urinate standing up. 
From this, researchers at Johns Hopkins felt they should go back and study other children who had undergone similar operations; boys who, for whatever reason, were born without full male organs, had then been fully castrated, and raised as girls.  Of the twenty-five they were able to locate, ranging in age from five to 16, every single one exhibited the rough-and-tumble play more characteristic of boys than girls. 
Every single one. 
Even at their early age, fourteen of them had already declared themselves to be, in fact, boys – against everything in how they had been raised.  
From this, and scores of other studies, Rhoads concludes that instead of thinking that the difference between the sexes is something learned, or imposed by society, it is rather something larger, something deeply rooted, in our very nature.  It’s part of who we are. It’s not a role that we take on; it’s the very nature of our being.
I get quite angry when I see these people attempting exploit the tragedy of John Reimer's life story to make claims that the case simply does not represent.  Reimer's story is a tragedy on many levels, not just its conclusions, and it offends me deeply that the religious right wing keep dredging it up to imply that transgender people are "deluded" or outright "wrong" in their self-perception.  I have addressed this in considerable detail in past posts here and here.

What the argument Dr. White is making fails to recognize is that during development, the differentiation of the body between male and female physiologies is not a singular event.  We know that genital differentiation takes place quite early in gestation but the brain differentiates takes place at a different time.
However, since sexual differentiation of the genitals takes place in the first two months of pregnancy and sexual differentiation of the brain starts in the second half of pregnancy, these two processes can be influenced independently, which may result in transsexuality. This also means that in the event of ambiguous sex at birth, the degree of masculinization of the genitals may not reflect the degree of masculinization of the brain. There is no proof that social environment after birth has an effect on gender identity or sexual orientation.
Knowing this well established fact, the wrap-up of Mr. White's argument is almost laughably sloppy reasoning:
This isn’t about what might truly be, to use the term no longer in vogue, true Gender Identity Disorder.  That would be something to be treated.  It is about maintaining that gender and sex, in a healthy psychology, is not something simply between our ears, but between our legs.  Sexuality is not like a favorite color – something to be chosen, or a preference – it is hardwired into our being.  
But that is precisely what our culture wishes to ignore. 
One of the great questions in all of human thought is “who am I?”  The answer is fast becoming, “I don’t know.”  It is as if our embrace of plastic surgery has led to a sense of being plastic ourselves, stripped of any sense of innate worth or identity.  If human beings have no fixed or permanent essence, if we are “plastic” – subject through technology to alteration, enhancement, mutation, control - then we may do what we will with ourselves. 
It's funny that with all of the evidence we have that White fails to see that it is entirely conceivable that someone may well be born with a feminized brain even if their genitalia appears to be perfectly normal.   In fact, I would go so far as to argue that in fact the transsexual is doing everything possible to maintain a healthy psychological state.

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