Tuesday, August 29, 2023

Bailey’s Baaaack … and He’s Pissed

Apparently, J. Michael Bailey is “back”, and he wants to make himself out as another Jordan Peterson - beset by the onslaught of “woke” attacking his work.  Bailey’s the same researcher who tried to define transgender people based mostly on his interviews of drag queens in a book titled “The Man Who Would Be Queen”.  

Now he’s gotten all hot and bothered about “Rapid Onset Gender Dysphoria” (ROGD).  A “diagnosis” proposed by Lisa Littman, and has about the same amount of intellectual validity as “Autogynephilia” (AGP) - a diagnosis proposed by Ray Blanchard years ago.  (If you’re interested in the background here, I’ve written a few pieces on Bailey’s work here)

His latest piece (it’s an editorial article, not actual academic research) is titled “My Research on Gender Dysphoria Was Censored, But I Won’t Be”.  Apparently, he’s upset that a paper he co-authored was retracted. 

What was that paper about, again, Michael?  ROGD you say?  So that would be the bizarre concept that Lisa Littman dreamed up after talking to a bunch of Gender Critical parents, and not a single transgender youth?  That concept?  

Yup, sure sounds like it.  Littman’s 2018 paper was trash too - for the fundamental reason that it failed to actually explore what was happening with transgender youth, and for massive sampling bias.  What answers did you think you were going to get when the primary avenues of soliciting responses was through web forums full of Gender Critical parents?  

The Littman paper also made the assumption that “social contagion” was a valid construct when talking about gender identity, but never even made so much as an effort to look at it and validate the construct either through other literature, or as part of the research.  No, Littman just assumed it was valid the same way that Blanchard decided that transgender women “get aroused by the idea of having a vagina”, and that’s why they transition. 

Uh - no, Michael - that wasn’t “activist outrage”.  That was plain bad science, and anyone with a reasonable amount of understanding of the fundamentals of study design would pick up on.  It was striking that Littman’s paper was based on information from the parents, and not once did Littman talk to the teens being described.  Further, did Littman go to websites where people were trying to figure out how to support their children? No - she went to some of the most rancid websites on the internet and posted it there.  I can’t imagine how that would turn out (snark).  

I don’t know the full story behind the parting of ways between Littman and Brown University. I can only presume that when actual experts weighed in on the 2018 paper, and Littman’s refusal to do more than publish a minor revision to the title that perhaps things didn’t exactly go in Littman’s favour.  Universities are more than a little sensitive to having their names associated with Junk Science.

Here we also get a hint as to where Bailey is going.  Note the use of the word “progressive community”.  Now, I don’t know exactly what he means here, but it sounds a lot like he’s basically saying “OMG, look what’s happening over there!”, while he tries to claim some moral higher ground.  The problem is that he’s trying to imply some kind of “social contagion” is going on with groups of adolescent girls.  

Now we start getting into the particulars of this latest paper.  We have an “anonymous” author who just happens to have a transgender child that they think is experiencing ROGD.  At that point, didn’t it occur to you Michael that you have all sorts of problems with bias in the fundamental design of the study?  Did it not come to mind that perhaps this was repeating the mistakes that Littman has made in her study? You, of all people, with decades of academic experience should know how to identify flaws in the study design and approach that this person was taking.  

Oh wait - so not only did you repeat the fundamental error of the original Littman study (only talking to parents of transgender youth), you repeated the second error of recruiting only from sources where parents already believed the idea of ROGD?  That doesn’t “limit the research”, it all but invalidates it.  Those are such fundamental flaws that any objective review of the study design should have resulted in it being thrown in the wastebin. 

Which is exactly what other researchers demanded be done a range of concerns:

Here’s a link to the open letter.  Yes, it’s as bad as you might expect at this point, and the authors of the letter point out additional aspects of the “research” that are enormously problematic, not only for the paper itself, but for the general issue of ethics in research.  

Bailey goes on in his tirade to extoll the great wisdom of Ken Zucker, but let’s also remember that he has long acted as a skeptic of transgender youth in particular.  Ultimately, he was pushed out of Toronto’s CAMH gender clinic for using therapeutic strategies that were looking increasingly like conversion therapy techniques.  Zucker unquestionably made significant contributions to research on transgender people - in the 80s and 90s.  That’s a long time ago now.  For the last number of years, he has been part of  an increasingly isolated group that continue to promote constructs like AGP and now ROGD, while being considerably out of step with where the bulk of the literature has been pointing. 

Wrapping up his tirade, Bailey swears that he’s going to launch this huge, long term study.  Until such times as he publishes the study’s design, I’m going to assume he’s going to repeat the same errors.  His past track record doesn’t give me much reason to believe otherwise, and frankly collaborating with both Littman and Zucker on this study is hardly making me optimistic.  

Just to put my $0.02 in on study design, I don’t see one study here, I see a need for several studies that need to be done, and a lot of deep, detailed research in order to make it all fit together. 

First, a study needs to be undertaken to explore the notion of “social contagion” and to validate whether or not it is even applicable to gender identity.  I’ll be quite blunt, as it has been used to this point, the construct comes across as very similar to “tabula rasa” (blank slate) theory which led John Money to advocate that David Reimer be raised as a girl.  The outcome of that experiment was tragic indeed, but it’s also indicative that gender identity is not some easily mutable trait that is going to be influenced by peer pressure in school. Just about every transgender adult’s story seems to back that up - the peer pressure to conform with social expectations was crushing, and still they ended up transitioning. 

Second, once you have some sense that “social contagion” has a reasonable degree of validity, then you can set about designing a study that examines the distinction between “onset” of gender dysphoria (e.g.  when a person starts talking about it) and the actual experience of gender in the individual.  This applies just as much to adults as it does to youth.  Developmental psychology research shows quite clearly that children have a working understanding of gender somewhere between the ages of 3 and 5.  Such a study will help you design tools to assess the experience of the person. 

Third, once you have designed your tools for assessing traits, you will need to execute studies to demonstrate that they have appropriate levels of construct validity (that is to say that they assess what they’re supposed to), and that they are reasonably reliable.  

Then, and only then, do you have the fundamental materials you need to execute your longer term study.  Any reasonable version of such a study will need to:  

Recruit participants broadly. Recruiting participants solely from websites with specific biases isn’t anywhere near acceptable. 

Researchers will need to do more than just talk to the parents of transgender youth.  You MUST talk to the youth directly

Researchers will also need to assess the dynamics within the families, as well as those within the social circles of the youth.  In other words, are the youth reporting what they think they want their parents to hear; are they being given certain messages at home; etc.

The concept of “desistance” is going to come up here.  It will need to be carefully defined for the purposes of the study, because it has been grossly misused in the past, and if not carefully considered will become a serious problem in the analysis of any data gathered. 

If, after all of that analysis, you can find a considerable pattern of “peer influence” resulting in gender dysphoria being expressed, then you might have a credible basis for proposing an explanation like ROGD.  

I do not expect Bailey’s proposed study to be anywhere near this level of complexity and clarity.  He, along with Littman, have already demonstrated that they have an axe to grind.  I fully expect to see a repetition of the same errors that launched so much criticism of Littman’s original paper. 

Saturday, August 26, 2023

Alright - One More Post About Jordan Peterson

Okay - all the wagging mouths are going off about the latest ruling in the ongoing Jordan Peterson court drama.  Over at Runkle of the Bailey on YouTube, Ian Runkle has posted a lengthy discussion of the ruling and his concerns that it represents an overreach on the part of the College of Psychologists of Ontario Psychologists (CPO).

Back here, I spent some quality time examining the statements made by Peterson and how they relate to the CPO professional conduct standards, and the Canadian Psychological Association (CPA) Code of Ethics.  Please read that post first, as I think you will find it enlightening as to how CPO is likely analyzing the situation. 

The first point I need to bring out here is that this has absolutely nothing to do with whether or not Dr. Peterson's conduct meets thresholds that are applied in the Criminal code.  In fact, those thresholds are irrelevant to the matter. The bar here is the one laid out in the CPO Professional Conduct Standard, and the CPA Code of Ethics. 

At one point in his discussion, Ian Runkle says "well, this doesn't meet the standard for hate speech".  If this were a criminal complaint, that's a valid claim to make - and I would agree with it.  However, criminal law is a very blunt instrument compared to professional conduct ethics.  Professional conduct isn't about whether a given act rises to the level of criminality, it's about whether or not the behaviour is appropriate for a person who is a part of that profession.  

Let's talk a little bit about the jurisdictional issues here.  Peterson would like us all to believe that his commentary on Twitter is entirely political, and therefore stands apart from his professional credentials.  Yet, on his Twitter Profile, we clearly see the regulated title "Clinical Psychologist".  We'll come back to this in a bit. 

Professions like Law already have broad statements in their codes of conduct that pretty much say that your actions outside of the practice of law can be examined as part of a review.  In fact, we already have several former Justice Ministers in Alberta whose "personal" actions are being reviewed because of complaints about their behaviour outside the practice of law. 

So, we already have a fundamental point here that even if Peterson's commentary was not connected to his professional work, it can be considered in the context of his professional status.  So, yes, the college certainly has some right to step in here.

I think previous, I established that there are aspects of Peterson's tweets that cross the line into being matters of professional comment, where he has stepped into a discussion using his credentials to bolster his opinions.  I think it's important to recognize those specific topics as being well within the College's purview to review and comment on.  

Other comments, such as implicitly suggesting that someone kill themselves if they are so worried about population are still troubling.  Here is where we have to look at the realities of the ethics of belonging to what is broadly a "caring profession" (one in which we care for the health and wellbeing of others).

There are important principles in the ethics of psychology that are both very broad, and very relevant to the conduct of a psychologist in all aspects of their life.  The CPA code of ethics states 4 broad principles that provide a framework within which the rest of their ethical code rests: 

Principle I:  Respect for the Dignity of Persons and Peoples

Principle II:  Responsible Caring

Principle III:  Integrity in Relationships

Principle IV:  Responsibility to Society

Most of Peterson's questionable online activity falls under the rubric of Principle I: Respect for the Dignity of Persons and Peoples

Is telling someone to "go kill themselves" respecting their dignity?  Remember, you can contextualize all you want about sarcasm or whatever, but it's how the person the comment was directed at sees it that matters.  Is referring to a person who has declared their personal pronouns to be they/them as "it" respectful of that person? No, of course it isn't. 

Now, let's come back around to these comments and how a regulating college might see it.  In full context, the college might well look at it as not merely harmful to the persons at whom the comments are directed, but in fact injurious to the profession as a whole, as well as injurious to society.  

Injury to the profession would occur if one could reasonably argue that these kinds of statements would cause the "reasonable person" in the public to start questioning the integrity of the profession at large.  In other words, the question that needs to be ask here is "did Peterson's comments call into question the general character of the profession?"  I won't address that directly here - that's a big question.  

Injury to society is more concerning.  Peterson has a large following on a variety of social media platforms, and his comments are taken seriously by a significant number of people. In particular, Peterson's often violent comments regarding transgender people and how he feels care providers should be dealt with are troubling.  Transgender people are recognized as a small, vulnerable population in our society and they have been subjected to an increasing level of hate over the last few years. Could Peterson's commentary be considered corrosive in that regard?  Part of a larger campaign of what arguably is a form of stochastic terrorism, perhaps? 

Again, I'm not trying to answer those questions here, but rather pointing out that from the perspective of the CPA Code of Ethics, his statements certainly should cause anyone examining them through a lens of professional conduct to be concerned.  Certainly the college would see those statements as within their purview even if Peterson wasn't opining on matters that are common reasons that people may seek out the services of a psychologist. 

If we look at this through a purely constitutional lens, we have to ask if the limits that come from membership in a regulating college are in fact "reasonable limits" as set out in S1 of the Charter.  

In general, the principle behind a self-regulating profession is that the members of the profession are the most qualified people to guide the expected behaviour of the members of that profession.  Membership in a given college is only sort-of optional. You cannot practice as a lawyer without being admitted to the Bar, and being a member in good standing of the Law Society.  This gives a regulating college a fair bit more weight than a voluntary organization that we might lose our membership from for any number of reasons.

If the Supreme Court of Canada (SCC) were to find that the CPO code of conduct and the CPA code of ethics were somehow either over-reaching, or that the CPO is overreaching relative to Mr. Peterson, it would call into question the entire construct of a self-regulating profession.  I doubt that the SCC would make such a sweeping finding here.  I would expect that they would fall back on the limits in behaviour that result from membership in a regulating college are saved by S1 in general, citing the basic principle that a regulating college exists to protect the public from potential harm done by unscrupulous members of those professions. 

There is certainly a case to be made that the CPO has an interest in Mr. Peterson's conduct.  Whether the CPO's processes are reasonable and just may be a different matter.  If Mr. Peterson and his lawyers wish to challenge the ethical frameworks involved, I wish them luck in doing so - as those ethical frameworks have decades of study behind them. 




Friday, August 25, 2023

The Price of Dispensing With The Monarchy

Over on Musk's Xitter site, I spotted the following post basically arguing that we should dispense with the Monarchy in Canada. 

Let me start off by saying that I'm sympathetic to this position in general.  The Monarchy is at best an anachronism, and frankly the Royal Family has been more than a little annoying with its infighting the past few years. I grew up with Queen Elizabeth II as the monarch, and frankly I always admired her as a wonderful symbol of the state. Her children? Well ... somewhat less impressive. 

That said, Canada is already one step removed from the Monarchy. Let's face it, the role of the Monarchy in Canada is already delegated responsibility in the form of the Governor General's office.  It's not like King Charles flies to Canada to carry out duties as our titular head of state with any regularity, nor have any of his predecessors. Effectively, the Monarchy is a symbolic head of state in Canada already, with limited powers at best. 

If that's the case, why have it?  Lots of countries have successfully implemented other political structures that don't involve a monarch, so why shouldn't we? I'm not going to argue that we shouldn't, but I will argue that whatever we choose to do, we must consider it very carefully. 

There are actually some benefits to having a symbolic head of state with at best limited political powers. First, it creates a personage whose role is to carry out the "pomp and circumstance" aspects that come with being a state, and separates that role from the day to day grind of politics. 

In particular, Governors General like Adrienne Clarkson and Michaëlle Jeanne took it to heart that their role was to promote Canada on the world stage.  Both spent significant time and energy being very visible all around the world, to the irritation of some politicians who complained loudly about the costs (and largely because they were seen as upstaging the political leadership of the Prime Minister).  

However, the flip side to this is that it fundamentally frees Canadians to criticize their government and its leadership without running into the odd inconsistency of having such criticism turning into a "criticism of the nation".  We see this in the United States all the time.  Even a truly terrible president gets a very careful treatment in that country because he is the head of state as well as a political leader. 

I will point out that the Canadian legal system has similarly done an interesting job of separating itself from the Crown as a discrete entity.  In our legal system, the Crown exists as an anonymous representation of "the nation", and somehow that has done a great deal to moderate the content and enforcement of our laws.  Judges see themselves as interpreting the "will of the crown as expressed in law", and aren't so interested in personal reputation or getting re-elected. 

Now, let's consider a couple of possible scenarios where we might end up if we dispense with the Monarchy entirely. 

Scenario #1:  Traditional Republic

If we switch to a traditional republic with an elected president, we have several considerations.  First, what powers should that elected president have?  For the most part, I would expect that such a role would be expected to carry significant power, and we would end up rewriting our constitution to reflect that.  The powers might be as far reaching as those of the US president, or they might be somewhat more constrained.  

Make no mistake, any elected presidency is going to introduce partisanship and that's problematic.  (I've expounded on blowing up the party system for a long time). Allowing partisanship into our head of state has potentially serious consequences, and without a carefully considered set of powers and checks on those powers, I would be very cautious here.  We've already seen what happens when a President puts personal gain ahead of the interests of the state (*cough*Trump*cough*). 

Scenario #2:  Roll The Powers of the GG Into The Privy Council 

In Canada's system of government, Cabinet is the senior political executive arm of government.  It is the body which advises the Governor General directly, and the Prime Minister is its head.  

At first glance, it would seem fairly trivial to collapse the role of Head of State into that body.  That runs into a problem though.  As we saw with Harper, there's a strong temptation for a Prime Minister to assert a presidential role.  We already have problems with too much power in the hands of the Prime Minister, so I am very uncomfortable with this idea.  The potential for even greater abuses of power is huge.

Scenario #3: A Republic With A Ceremonial Governor General 

This is the "minimal change" model.  We decouple the Governor General from the Monarchy entirely, but otherwise leave the role as-is.  In terms of general familiarity, this is probably the least disruptive option, as it involves little fiddling with existing power structures. 

However, it's not ideal either.  The murky world of so-called "reserve powers" needs to be clarified considerably, as well as the limits of the GG's role as head of state.  A process would have to be created to formalize the appointment of the GG - possibly through the Parliament as a whole, rather than the Privy Council "advising the King". 

All three of these scenarios have trade-offs, and I won't advocate for any one of them at the moment.  I personally believe that our political systems need major change in order for the principles of Peace, Order, and Good Government to be renewed, so a minimalist approach may not be ideal given our current circumstances.  Similarly, the last thing we need is more populist politicking.

Tuesday, August 22, 2023

Meta’s Temper Tantrum Is Partisan Politicking

So, if you use Facebook and reside in Canada, by now you’ve noticed that anything resembling news articles are being blocked.  At first, you might look at it and say “oh, that’s just Meta having a temper tantrum over Bill C-18”.  

You wouldn’t be wrong. It is a corporate temper tantrum, and it’s one that makes no sense superficially. 

Sunday, August 20, 2023

The Failure of Biological Essentialism Arguments

There is an entire class of argument that we see in discourse that basically relies on the idea that “physical attribute X means that Y can never be true”.  Often, these arguments are built around the idea that there are fundamental attributes that are so central a person that they cannot be changed, and that they somehow define the person in some global sense. 

It might seem at first that such arguments are somehow a slam-dunk.  After all, who can ignore the "absolute truth" of something as fundamental as chromosomes, right? Well, not so fast - we are far more complex than such a reductive claim really acknowledges. 

Chromosomes are not some deterministic piece of computer code.  At best, chromosomes, and the sequences of DNA proteins that they contain are guidelines that play key roles in the development of cells in the body - but, because everything in the body is a result of series of complex biological signals in the body, you can't look at a piece of DNA and say "well, this will result in the following attribute" with absolute certainty.  Instead we get a whole lot of sentences like "the following genes are associated with the following attribute" - probabilities, in other words. 

Why probabilities?  In part because those biological signals that influence the development of people are highly variable, and while some are generally predictable, others are responses to external stimuli.  For example, we know that ingesting tobacco smoke contains a myriad of chemicals which can cause the development of cancers.  It's not 100% guaranteed that a person who smokes will develop cancer, but enough do that we are quite certain that interaction with those chemicals triggers the development of cancerous cells. From a DNA perspective, those cancer cells are still very much the cells of our own bodies. 

All of this is to point out the fundamental logical fallacy of trying to treat anything in the human body as an absolute.  It clearly is not.  If it were, things like cancer wouldn't really be a thing, would they? 

Today, we are seeing a lot of arguments aimed in at invalidating transgender women in particular.  Mostly these arguments boil down to "Your chromosomes are XY, therefore you are a man".  Yes, there are a few variations on this, but at their core, this is what it comes down to.

It's simplistic thinking to argue that humans are simply "male or female" based on chromosomes.  The reality is that we form a bimodal distribution, with the vast majority of people being phenotypically male or female, but a few outliers who exist in between for any number of reasons. 

It's the outliers that are important here, because if we ignore them, we end up with an incomplete picture.  The exceptions that they represent are why we cannot simply assert a simple binary, and any theory which ignores exceptions inevitably fails when those exceptions are examined more closely. 

Mosaicism in genetics is an important part of the story here because it demonstrates that there are a range of conditions where chromosomes are far from clear in defining the development of the individual.  

Consider for a moment a rare condition called Complete Androgen Insensitivity Syndrome (CAIS). Here, the person has a karyotype of 46X,Y but develops in a typical female phenotype.  If we take it as a given that "chromosomes define the person", or even (slightly) more accurately, "chromosomes define the sex", we have a problem. We have a person with a normal female appearance, and yet their chromosomes are clearly male. So much for the essentialist claim that you can know a person's sex based on their chromosomes. 

It's easy to look at these conditions and say "well, yeah, but those are so rare as to be irrelevant".  Actually, no.  They're very relevant because their existence demonstrates the key point of my argument, namely that biology is much more complex than any reductive argument accounts for. 

Let's move on to the issue of transgender women (in particular, because they are so often the targets here). 

Years ago, I read a book called "Brain Sex" by Moir and Jessel (1991).  It postulated that a lot of the differences between men and women in society could be explained by structural and functional differentiation in the brain. At the time, it was an interesting hypothesis, but at best qualified as "pop science", as it really wasn't grounded in good evidence. As the 90s and early aughts rolled on, the dramatic differences between masculinized and feminized brains simply didn't pan out in the way that book anticipated. 

But, over time, as neuroscience developed and we got greater insight into the structures of the brain, we started to identify places where human brains do differentiate along masculine / feminine lines.  This doesn't mean that we have "male brains" or "female brains", in part because we know relatively little about how these differences might affect brain function.  A difference in gross size of a region of the brain, or perhaps a difference in the density of neurones in a particular region indicates something, but even tools like Functional Magnetic Resonance Imaging (fMRI) really don't reveal much about the mechanisms at work when those regions are active. 

So, as the authors of the book Brain Sex hypothesized, there is evidence for brains to differentiate along sex lines.  What the book didn't predict was that those differences would be often quite small, and the precise role in differences in function are unclear. 

Remember my mention of Mosaicism earlier?  Well, it comes back here as a conceptual metaphor courtesy of Nguyen and colleagues (2018):

The point that this makes which is really relevant is twofold.  First, that brains in particular develop along a spectrum between masculine and feminine, and second that transgender people frequently have structures that lean towards their expressed identity even before the introduction of hormone therapy.  

It's this last point that I want to emphasize.  Not only do we have evidence that transgender people have brain structure differentiation that leans in the direction of their expressed identity, but that those differences exist prior to the introduction of gender affirming hormones.  Not only does this seriously challenge the assumptions around transgender people in general, but it raises problems with the characterization of transgender women as "a bloke wearing a dress" (which is often the kindest of the insults hurled at transgender women).  It actually provides a framework from which it is much easier to understand that transgender people are a normal part of human experience.

If, as in the example of someone with CAIS, someone with 46XY chromosomes can develop apparently normal female physical features, then why would we blindly assume that there aren't those who for any number of reasons develop attributes that fall somewhere between the extremes of biologically masculine or biologically feminine?

Many in the Gender Critical world take the position that if you have (or ever had) a penis, you're simply a man and that's all there is to it.  Such positions ignore the reality that human development is far more complex than that. 

*Note:  Links to Wikipedia are used here for accessibility.  Genetics and neuroscience papers are extremely dense reading.  If you want to pursue the details of a particular subtopic here, I suggest starting with the papers cited in the various Wikipedia bibliographies.

Thursday, August 10, 2023

Of Sovereign Citizens and Their Ilk

They operate under a number of different names - Sovereign Citizens, Freemen on the Land, Auditors, and so on.  Largely, it’s all built on a series of conspiracy theories and outright nonsense which are used to suggest that the government and social structures we live within are invalid, and therefore can be ignored. 

The reality is, of course quite different, but they can make quite a headache for anyone who comes in contact with them - whether that is landlords, banks, utility companies, law enforcement, or even just general business interactions.  

I’ve spent a bit of time on YouTube watching some of these people in their interactions with law, as well as having read Justice Rooke’s delightful 2012 ruling in Meads v. Meads.  If you haven’t read Rooke’s ruling, I suggest you do so - because he does a wonderful job of tearing the gibberish these twits spout apart and forming it into nice, digestible pieces before pouring a big dollop of “not in Canada” all over it. 

But, that’s not the purpose of this post.  I wanted to spend a little bit of time digging through the somewhat bizarre looking constructs that you see when these people get in front of a court because they reflect a worldview that is itself oddly twisted.

“Travelling” and “Driving”.  To the latest incarnations of Sovereign Citizens (SovCit), there’s a difference here.  When they get pulled over for a routine traffic stop, one of the things you will often hear them spout to the officer is that they were “travelling” not “driving”. 

To most of us, that’s a distinction without a difference.  You’re sitting behind the steering wheel of a motor vehicle, and therefore directing it down the road - therefore, “driving”.  Not to a SovCit.  In their worldview, “driving” is commercial - so in many ways, their conceptualization harkens back to the days that led to the formation of the Teamsters as a union, when the job was literally to “drive” heavy loads drawn by a team of horses or oxen.  They argue that going from “point A to point B” as a private person is merely “travelling”.  

Why the distinction?  Well - in the bizarre world these people think they are living in, everything is a “contract” - a commercial transaction.  So, by accepting a driver’s license, you are “contracting” with the state.  They then reason that if they don’t have a driver’s license, that they are not subject to the conditions the state places on “driving”.  

By extension, they then reason that if you aren’t subject to those conditions, the state has not jurisdiction over you as long as you are “travelling” in your private vehicle.  They also justify driving an unregistered, uninsured vehicle by arguing that it’s “private property”, and they are entitled to do with it as they please.  

The logic is beyond irrational.  They will spout an amazing amount of gibberish, even demanding cash before they will give out their name (because everything is a transaction, you see).

It all stems from a misguided idea that if the government exists solely as a contractual entity, that an individual can separate itself by merely “refusing to contract with the government”. While governments certainly need limits on their power, it is laughable to think that the world we live in can be reduced to simple transactional contracts.  

Friday, August 04, 2023

On The Fetishization of Fertility

From the comments in an earlier post

Honestly, how does a child who has never experienced orgasm give informed consent to the risk of never having one, let alone the guaranteed infertility resulting from the removal of genitals? Especially when faced with affirming parents and doctors.

I’m really not sure where the myth of “trans people don’t have orgasms” comes from.  While it is possible for any number of reasons that a post-operative transgender woman might not have sufficient clitoral sensitivity to achieve orgasm, by far the majority certainly do.  I’m not aware of any specific studies in this regard for those who begin their transition before puberty, but there’s little reason to suspect it’s different. 

However, it’s the last part of that same sentence that I want to explore further.  This arises from a number of social and cultural phenomena that ironically have been very much central to the fight that feminists have been having with society and governments in general.  

Central to the feminist cause from the beginning is the idea that women are more than their ability to bear children.  Women have historically been sidelined when they are deemed “infertile” {although we now know that infertility in couples has just as much to do with the man as the woman}; they were forced to leave their careers the moment they became pregnant; even today, women face barriers in the workplace where management is often reluctant to hire or promote women because they “worry” that the woman will become pregnant.  All of this stems from old religious hang-ups, where women are both fetishizes for their ability to bear children and demonized for being sexual creatures at the same time. 

Now, let me turn to the topic of transgender people and fertility.  Yes, transgender women are generally infertile.  After a couple of years on hormone therapy, that’s the case even without surgery, and yes, without question, current surgical approaches finalize that entirely.  But, we also have to recognize that plenty of natal females live with the reality that for one reason or another they cannot become pregnant. 

While I know full well that plenty of transgender women would absolutely want the ability to become pregnant and bear a child, current medical technology simply cannot achieve that.  (I’ll leave aside the considerable discussion around uterus transplants from a couple of years ago - I do not believe that approach is widely available at the time of writing, and its status for transgender women is even more unclear)

However, it is also enormously unreasonable to point to the consequence of infertility as an issue here.  It is among the many conundrums that transgender people face in the complex matter of their relationship with their bodies.  

It is not uncommon for therapists to hear statements like “I want to claw myself out of my skin every day” as part of the description of their pre-transition experiences.  This is not a universal experience, but for the purposes of this essay, I wish to use it as a starting point because it illustrates the sense of discomfort that so many transgender people express about their pre-transition bodies. 

Now, someone experiencing that level of distress about their body is likely to experience a whole host of other issues.  Do you really think that person is going to be able to be emotionally available to their partners, or to any children they might have to be a “good parent”?  A lot of transgender people I know have said in absolutely blunt terms that they were utterly unable to be effective in the birth-assigned role because their relationship with their body was so discordant.  

Does that sound like a recipe for a functional parent?  Not to me.  It sounds like a recipe for a positively miserable experience for the individual, their partner, and any children that might be brought into the world in that context.  It’s well understood in psychology that an essential aspect of being a good parent is that the person is fully secure in themselves as a person.  

What’s more interesting is that transgender people are often profoundly aware of this.  Even as children, they were painfully aware of the need to feel integrated as a person taking precedence over having children of their own at some point.  

To sit there and say “well, you’ll never have children, and that’s a terrible thing” is to speak from a position of privilege.  In relative terms you have the luxury of being fairly comfortable in your own body, and the question of whether you can be available to others emotionally may have never crossed your mind.  Meet the transgender person where they are at for a moment, and try to understand where they are coming from.  They already know the consequences - often well before most “adults” understand the consequences of getting pregnant.  

I’d much rather see someone be comfortable in their own skin than trying to be a parent while suffering with the discomfort of not being congruent. As for the argument that transgender youth can’t possibly appreciate the implications of those decisions, I suggest to you that you are not giving them credit for their understanding and ability to understand. 

Fertility isn’t all that there is in life, and idolizing it does nobody any favours in the long run. 

Wednesday, August 02, 2023

A Little Note On Evidence

This is particularly for the Gender Critical types that have been appearing in the comments a fair bit lately.  

You all seem to be a little confused about the concept of what constitutes evidence to support your positions.  

For example, somehow one article about a trans person acting like a horrible person in public somehow is supposed to be evidence that all trans people are “bad” somehow, or at least this is sufficient to tear fundamental civil rights away from all trans people.  

This is actually a generalization error.  You are using one, or even a small number of individual cases to malign the entire transgender population.  Unless you live on an island with a tiny population (like 10 people), one or two individual cases simply doesn’t provide a statistical basis that you can use to generalize to a larger population.  

If you want to generalize to a larger population, you’re going to need to cite a study that actually asks the question you’re really driving at.  In the case of the example above, the question would be something along the lines of “Are transgender women likely to be sex offenders at the same rate as cisgender men?”.  Then you’re going to need to look at that study and understand not only the size of the data sample, but also the strength of any correlations drawn.  Yes, there are actual statistical techniques for such things.  

Coming into the comments and dropping a link to some random news article is going to get shown the door - especially when you try to hang the entire transgender population on the basis of that one individual case.  

Similarly, twisting studies that aren’t designed to support your position is simply an abuse of the results of that study.  For example, pointing to the unusual characteristics of the transgender population currently incarcerated in Canada, and saying that it tells us that transgender women are as dangerous as cisgender men, is simply ludicrous … especially when you later cite the perverse incentives that exist in the prison environment as a motive for some to attempt to transition in prison. 

Prison populations are distinct from the general public for a whole host of reasons, but in particular because every person held in the Canadian Federal prison system have been convicted of serious crimes that carry extended ( > 2 year ) incarceration penalties.  That intrinsically distorts the picture of risk that you claim means that transgender women (in particular) have to be excluded from society. 

From this writer’s perspective, since you are claiming that transgender women are such an inherent risk to the safety of any and all that might encounter them, it falls to you to provide actual evidence which supports that fundamental claim.  Your feeling that there’s a risk is not the same thing as actually demonstrating it. 

Likewise, going off about possible side effects from a particular medication without actually bothering to cite sources that tell us the frequency of those side effects is nothing more than scare-mongering to me, and indicates that you are more interesting in spreading fear than having an intelligent conversation.

It’s one thing to say “we don’t know what the probability of that side effect is, only that we have some anecdotal evidence that it happens”, quite another to simply argue that the presence of that anecdote is sufficient reason to ban a particular path of treatment.  No medical intervention is risk-free.  There are always people who have negative responses to any treatment.  The question is one of frequency.  One example in 100 is quite different from one case in 10,000,000 isn’t it? 

If you want intelligent discussion, I’m up for that.  What I’m not interested in is wild claims being made without adequate evidence to support them, or huge generalizations made based on what is at best case study level evidence.  Make your claims, but expect me to come back and insist on quality evidence to back them up.

Tuesday, August 01, 2023

Not A Trans Person … Again

Last week, it came out that The Calgary Stampede _KNEW_ about, and did nothing to stop a child molester working in their midst. This isn’t a couple of middle managers “knowing about” and dropping the ball, it’s the board - the senior executives.   Then this morning, I awoke to the following headline out of Australia: “Childcare worker charged with sex abuse of 91 children”.

It’s been like this for a while.  Every day there are headlines about child molesters appearing.  They’re often people in positions of trust and authority - group leaders, coaches, pastors, priests, and so on.  Ten minutes with any reasonable search engine turns up a plethora of cases in the headlines - all of them recent.  I shudder to think how many cases don’t make it into the headlines - because media still only prints the most salacious of cases. 

What do these cases have in common?  It is almost never someone who is transgender (ie - in my quick look this morning, I found exactly zero cases involving trans people or drag queens).  While such cases may exist, they are vanishingly rare.  So rare as to suggest that the uproar over transgender people living their lives is clearly vastly overblown. 

Letting Your Biases Get In Front Of You

Yesterday, I ran across this essay on X(itter), and it annoyed me because the author makes all kinds of errors of both fact and reason.  Si...