Monday, July 31, 2023

Gender Affirmation Is Care - Not Ideology

Over at “”, we find this steaming pile of verbal dung: “How Gender Ideology Imposes A Dangerous Political Agenda In Our Schools”.  

As is common with such articles, it is deliberately alarmist, designed to terrify people, not inform.  In particular, it treats the concept of “gender ideology” as a given, while never actually providing a meaningful definition of it.  In other words, like a lot of these articles, the term has become something of a “straw man” which the reader is then encouraged to direct their fears and worries into. 

What is “gender ideology”?  In today’s right-wing discourse (which is pretty much the only place you will see the term in active use), it pretty much boils down to anything that involves recognizing transgender identities as real and valid, any steps taken to acknowledge transgender people’s legitimate rights to move through society safely. They throw in a nice dash of “predator fear” for flavouring, and then dump it about in great quantities.  It’s the intellectual equivalent of cheez puffs - lots of volume and energy, no real substantive value. 

Where schools are concerned, we get the “protect the children” nonsense rolled out, with claims made that children are too young to understand this stuff, and therefore “Gender Ideology” is harming kids.  They go on to argue that social contagion (aka “Rapid Onset Gender Dysphoria (ROGD)” - debunked over here) is going to cause their kids to be forcibly “transed” (sic - their term, not mine) by schools and doctors.  

Pay close attention to the wording of this last sentence here. It is loaded with misconceptions, misunderstandings, and generally false ideas about what transition means, the nature of medical treatments involved, and the ability of trans people of any age to understand and consent.  

First, let’s talk about the notion of “highly experimental surgeries”.  Male to Female gender reassignment surgeries have been around since the 1950s (and arguably sooner than that by some accounts), and in many ways are really little more than a variation on the seemingly less controversial surgeries performed on intersex children.  Female to Male genital surgeries are newer (60s or 70s, I think), but any surgery that’s been around that long is hardly “experimental” at this point.  Likewise, hormone therapy has been around since before the 1950s, and puberty blockers have been actively used to treat precocious puberty since at least the 1970s - hardly “experimental” in any meaningful sense of the term.  The risks and consequences are well documented and well understood. 

As for “taking pills for the rest of your life”, I challenge anyone over the age of 40 to look at their medicine cabinet and the prescriptions that they get refilled every few months.  Kids who have asthma often require inhalers for the rest of their life; Type 1 diabetics often need insulin for the duration of their lives, and so on.  I’m not seeing a major issue here.

Let’s talk briefly about the developmental issues that get raised - namely that “kids are too young to understand”.  First, this infantilizes students who go through some of the most significant stages of development while in school.  

By the time a child is in grade 1, we already expect them to understand “boy” and “girl” - and frankly the vast majority do.  Who is to say that a grade 1 child cannot also understand the idea of “I have a boy’s body, but I don’t feel like a boy”?  In fact, when you talk to a lot of transgender adults, stories of being aware of the incongruence of their body, the social cues they were getting, and how they felt internally is common, with awareness of being transgender happening somewhere between pre-school age and the end of elementary school.  Whether they had the language to express that or not is irrelevant.

If the boy that was Johnny is grade 1 comes back the next year and is going by Jane, with long hair now, that’s simply not a problem.  We know from experience that most of their classmates will shrug and carry on as normal.  Children are, at this age far more flexible than their parents often are.  

Middle School (or Junior High as it is called here), is the point in time when most kids go through puberty. Anyone who doesn’t think that transgender youth don’t understand what’s happening to their bodies has never talked to a transgender youth.  It is not uncommon for transgender youth to find themselves painfully isolated, both physically and socially at a time when social development is just as important as what’s going on in the body. 

By high school, the damage is done for many trans youth, and they’re hanging on until they can transition as adults, free from whatever strictures their parents may have imposed.  You cannot tell me that by their teenage years a person is incapable of understanding gender both in physiological and social terms.  If you’re going to argue that, then I’m going to ask how it is that person is deemed able to work, operate machinery, and ultimately vote?    

What about those for whom “it’s (trans identity) is just a phase?”.  Sure, there’s going to be some of that.  That is why in general irreversible treatments don’t happen until the individual is old enough to understand the consequences of their decision (mid-teens for cross-sex hormones, and 18 or so for surgeries).  Puberty blockers are reversible, and are used as an instrument to buy the person time to experiment and adapt socially without experiencing the often traumatic experience of “the wrong puberty” - and trust me, unwinding that experience as an adult is brutally painful work in therapy.  

I will refer you to the following editorial which provides an intelligent, clear-headed overview of why gender affirming care - including recognizing transgender identities in schools - is so important.  I won’t bore you with a ton of academic papers which also support that position.  Suffice it to say that a few minutes with a decent academic search engine turns up plenty of evidence that supports the author’s claims. 

This is a particularly sly bit of sleight-of-hand.  Suddenly we go from “gender ideology” to “woke”, so the author can pivot to complaining how recognizing a student’s gender identity in class is somehow an infringement on their right to disagree.  We’ve heard this before, from Dr. Jordan B. Peterson (Dr in that he holds a PhD, not that he has any medical expertise).  The problem with positions like this is that it is basically telling the students that “as your teacher, I know you better than you know yourself”.  This is arguably backwards to begin with, but it’s particularly offensive when you are in fact condescending to the students in your classroom. 

As for scrutiny, it’s next to impossible to “scrutinize” a position like this when the concepts of “gender ideology” are not grounded in reality to begin with.  Instead it is a mashup of random fears and claims by people who clearly have little or no direct experience with transgender people, their needs and concerns, and the realities of treatment they face.  It is one thing to be concerned about something you don’t understand, it is quite another to use those “concerns” to try and erase an entire segment from society because they “scare you”.  

On a closing note, I encourage all of you to go read the article “Bathroom Battlegrounds and Penis Panics” for a clear-headed, social perspective on all of this.  

Thursday, July 27, 2023

Anti-Trans Protests, Gender Criticals, and Groomers

It’s a little difficult to miss the torrent of anti-transgender hatred spreading about these days.  Whether it is street preachers organizing “protests” over transgender people existing, or failed political candidates trying to whip up a mob on Twitter, it seems as though they are everywhere.  

The lie is always the same - ‘they’re coming for your kids’.  They inevitably conflate issues, linking the existence of transgender people to the content of sex education curriculums.  Or complaining that frank and direct material talking about sexuality is somehow “grooming kids”.  Anyone with half a brain and a bit of reason understands that is nonsense, but that doesn’t stop the propagandists from continuing their lies. 

Then something like this pops up:

So, for a decade, this guy is literally grooming and sexually assaulting youth.  Meanwhile, even when the Stampede Board became aware of it, they turned a blind eye to it. Not for a year, but for multiple years. Sit with that for a moment. 

The offender was convicted in 2018 and sentenced to a decade in prison.  Five years later, we finally get an admission from the Stampede that they knew about this for years? 

If you’re worried about “groomers” and pedophiles, I’m going to suggest that the problem isn’t trans people, it’s elsewhere.  Hardly a day goes by where my various news feeds don’t have a headline about someone in a position of power over youth abusing their charges. 

Do you know what I never see in those articles?  Evidence that the person is transgender. They can be anything else - coaches, pastors, priests, youth group leaders, and on the list goes.  These are often respected members of society.

One might come to the conclusion that the motives of the people going after transgender people aren’t as pure as they claim. 

Monday, July 10, 2023

A Quick Speculation On Titan Submersible

I’m mostly putting this up as a way to keep a record of my own own speculation on the sequence of events that happened with the Titan Submersible when it imploded.  I expect the final report is going to be months, or even years away.

To be absolutely clear, I have no special knowledge, or even qualifications here, everything I have to say is purely speculative based on the bits and pieces that have come to be known in the public domain through news media.

At some 4000-5000 psi, there’s a ton of pressure on the hull of the Titan.  While the pressure is evenly distributed, it only takes a very small flaw in any one part of the hull to allow ingress.  The points we know of where that’s most likely on the Titan were: 

The interfaces between the carbon fibre tube and the titanium rings that the end caps connect to.

Any points where power and control wiring harnesses enter the hull

Additionally, any flaw in the carbon fibre matrix resulting from repeated compression / decompression sequences could become a point of ingress for water into the craft. 

First, I am going to go to the obvious conclusion that the ultimate point of failure was the carbon fibre tube. I don’t think this is particularly controversial. 

I will assert that a flaw in the glue binding the titanium ring to the carbon fibre tube allowed one or more small streams of high pressure water to enter the carbon fibre matrix of the hull. This likely started several dives before the failure, and small amounts of water had already begun to disrupt the polymer structures that hold together the carbon fibre tube.

Over the course of the dive, the submersible began to take on more water, and by the time they realized they were in trouble, the effective mass of the craft had increased substantially with the addition of water which was weakening the carbon fibre matrix.  Once that reached a critical point, probably when the “acoustic monitoring” of the hull started issuing alarms, it was too late.  Any actions taken were “too little, too late”, as water had taken hold of the craft and was introducing the inevitable flaws that would result in the implosion.

All of the other criticisms of the design and implementation of Titan aside, once water started to make ingress into the hull, it was doomed.  How could this have been mitigated?  Some kind of scan of the hull after each dive might have helped identify the emerging failure.  Are monitoring systems like the acoustic monitor that they dreamed up adequate?  Clearly not.  Current technologies on that front are clearly inadequate in terms of detecting problems early enough to be able to take corrective action.

Please remember, this isn’t definitive, and the final report could come along and prove my speculation here completely wrong.  I’m writing this so I don’t lose track of my current thoughts, and so that we can see what the analysis shows when the professionals doing the analysis are finished with it. 

[PS - July 14]:  A couple of additional thoughts regarding the Titan submersible.  

The more we see about the way this thing was constructed, and the risks and shortcuts taken in so many areas, the development of the Titan strikes me as a failure of fundamental engineering principles that stem from the Tacoma Narrows bridge collapse. 

It was well known that carbon fibre vessels do not do well under compressive load, yet the developers of Titan chose to use that material without doing any kind of prototyping and destructive testing.  (Yeah - costs money - I know - too bad) 

Mixing different materials in a design intended for a high compression load environment has enormous risks associated with it.  Again, destructive testing would have been more than justified - and feels like basic materials science stuff that should have been done. 

"Acoustic Monitoring System" - sounds like a good idea, but I suspect it was nowhere near sensitive enough to provide anything more than a "you're fucked" alarm.  Again, a lot of prototyping would be necessary to make this viable.  I would also think that sensors embedded throughout the carbon fibre matrix to detect water ingress would be absolutely necessary.  I'm not sure how feasible such a design is - I know the technology around the sensors, but I lack the knowledge of carbon fibre materials to know if such a sensor network would compromise the carbon fibre.  

So many aspects of this craft feel like "quick and dirty" solutions to problems that ultimately are somewhere between inept and professional negligence.  Yeah - sure you can buy a bunch of hardware off Amazon or Ali, but that doesn't make it fit for purpose ... and buying "time expired" carbon fibre from Boeing?  Seriously?  What the heck are you thinking? 



Tuesday, July 04, 2023

On The Limits of Victim-Centred Justice

 With Paul Bernardo’s name back in the news (this time over a move to a new prison cell), it’s time to spend a few moments discussing the role of victims of crime in the justice system, and how far it should really go. 

Criminals like Bernardo are notorious, and their names evoke strong emotional reactions in the public.  Of course, we should be aware of, and compassionate towards the victims and their families.  But, should the victims be “in the driver’s seat” around decisions regarding the punishment (and rehabilitation) of the offenders? 

I’m old enough to remember the wailing and gnashing of teeth that happened every so often when Clifford Olson would apply for parole. It was ridiculous then, and that was long before legal constructs like “dangerous offender” existed.  It was clear for Olson that this was a game - a way to get some attention in the news as the families of his victims were once again in front of cameras going on about the injustice of him even applying for parole. It was no secret that Olson was never going to get parole.

Likewise with Bernardo. He’s been locked up since 1995 - some 28 years at this point.  With a dangerous offender designation attached to his file, the odds of him ever getting parole are vanishingly close to zero. He isn’t getting out of custody, even if he applies for parole. 

Here we are today, with him being moved to a “medium security” prison, which really just means he has some freedom to move about within the walls of the prison.  He’s not getting out, nor is he eligible for the so-called “Club Fed” treatment of a minimum security institution.

The uproar here is wildly out of place, but predictably, the families are front and centre complaining about how they weren’t consulted, and how they’re being traumatized again.  Fair enough. There is nothing that will bring back their children.  But we shouldn’t confuse their distress with having an automatic right to dictate how the offender should be handled by Corrections Canada. 

The natural reaction they have is to demand that the offender be locked up and never allowed to see the light of day.  That isn’t justice, it’s revenge.  Yes, they have every right to be angry - but there is a careful line to walk between what they as victims may see as “just” and justice in the broader sense of the term. That is why complex structures like sentencing guidelines exist - what the victim may think is “just” and what is justice in the more complex context of society may well differ considerably. 

One of the points of the current system is to put a certain amount of distance between offenders and the victims.  This is important from a number of perspectives, including that of the victim. You need time and space in order to heal from whatever trauma has been inflicted upon you.  To be fair, healing is not a linear process, and you may need considerable amounts of professional help along the way.  

Should your concerns be heard when matters such as parole are discussed?  Yes, of course they should.  On the other hand, those opportunities should not be used as the sole criteria for deciding if a given offender should be granted parole.  

Similarly, we have to also recognize that there can be perverse consequences to ever harsher approaches to punishment (so-called “lock them up and throw away the key” thinking) - most offenders are serving finite sentences, and will be released when those sentences are completed.  If we deny parole in the name of assuaging the victim’s sense of being wronged, then the offender has fewer opportunities to develop the skills needed to function outside of the prison environment, and is more likely to re-offend upon release. Being vengeful here ends up meaning that someone else is likely as not to be harmed. 

That is the balance that the Corrections system has to walk - and it is far from an easy one. 

It might seem “easy” to say in the case of an offender like Bernardo, whose crimes are so egregious, that we should weld the door to his cell shut and leave it at that. But it isn’t that easy - Bernardo might be the worst possible offender, but even there, we have an obligation to ensure that punishment is proportional.

Where we fail in this balance of correction and punishment is that we do comparatively little for victims. Sure, the courts will talk about restitution, and fines can be levied, etc, but so what?  We don’t make a concerted effort to help the victims heal from the traumas that they have experienced.  Long term supports, including access to therapists, should be a part of the story here.  We need to spend as much effort on helping victims heal as we do on determining and administering punishment.

I’m not talking about “helping the victims understand the process” stuff here, I’m talking about processing trauma and learning to live with the reality of what has happened.  Far too often when notorious cases come up in the news, we get the victims on the news as well, and it’s quite clear that they are reliving the traumas of the past, and it’s worse than it was the first time around.  They need help too, and we aren’t providing it. 

Lastly, politicians and news media need to quit doing the “there’s blood in the water” routine with these cases.  Characters like Paul Bernardo make easy political fodder for politicians who want to seem like they’re “tough on crime”, but by making victims relive their trauma for political points, the politicians become part of the cycle of abuse that the victims experience. 

Bernardo’s name shouldn’t come so easily to our lips - he should be ignored, shunned, and ultimately forgotten - and our politicians and news media need to learn that lesson too. 

Saturday, July 01, 2023

About That “Anti-Trans Movement” …

So, semi-regular commenter on this blog “Lungta” posts the following as a reply to the last post: 

I’m not going to publish this bit of drivel in the comments - it simply isn’t worthy of publication, but I do want to take apart the ridiculous assumptions that it is built upon.  

First, transgender identities are not based in “fantasy”.  There is far too much clinical evidence that undermines that conceptualization entirely.  This claim is a variation on the hoary old claim that transgender people are suffering from “delusion”. 

Clinically speaking, delusion has a specific meaning:

A delusion is a belief that is held with strong conviction despite evidence disproving it that is stronger than any evidence supporting it.

When applied to transgender people, this falls apart on the very fundamental point that transgender people are absolutely aware of the contradiction that they are experiencing.  It isn’t a case of “with enough evidence” you can change it - decades of experience going back to German sexologist Magnus Hirschfeld have shown that transgender identities do not fit the clinical idea of delusional.

Delusion requires a belief that is not tempered by a grasp on objective reality.  Transgender identities don’t fit this because most transgender people are aware of their identity, and fully aware of their bodies.  A transgender person will stereotypically say something along the lines of “I feel like X inside, but my body says something quite different”, reflecting a degree of awareness that is not found in clinical delusion. 

Second, arguing that being transgender is a "mental condition" is trivially reductive, and frankly is incorrect. Yes, it has psychological dimensions to it, but it is incorrect to reduce it to "it's all in your head".  Part of the reason for saying this is the fact that the usual treatment approaches for things like delusion simply do not apply, and in fact medications that would normally address major psychiatric symptoms doesn't do anything to alleviate the distress transgender people feel. 

If transgender identities are not actually major mental illnesses, then the simple fact is that transgender people are in fact part of social reality. It is unreasonable to demand that a group of people simply "disappear" to make you comfortable. The fact is, transgender people have existed throughout history and across cultures. There is likely no culture that has never experienced at least one transgender person in its midst - including those cultures who insist that it’s some kind of personal moral failing rather than a normal developmental phenomenon.

Lastly, the people at the forefront of the current wave of anti-transgender sentiment are a collection of grifters - street preachers, demagogues capitalizing on notoriety, hate mongers, etc. When men like Calgary's street preacher Artur Pawlowski are surfacing in the movement, you have to know that it's a grift. 

PS: @Lungta:  after reading your snivelling, passive aggressive temper tantrum comments, you can kindly get lost.  As stated on the blog, comments are moderated and I am not obliged to publish your opinions here.  You can set up your own blog and comment there all you like.  

... and trans women are not "taking away" women's rights. That argument assumes a whole bunch of things that are simply not true, nor is there so much as a shred of evidence to support the claim. 

The Cass Review and the WPATH SOC

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