Science says…


The National Organization for Marriage decided, for reasons unfathomable to me, that YouTube comment sections are precisely the sort of thing that ought to be spray-painted onto the side of a hideous orange bus to be toured around the country in the name of Science! Gawd! Biological reality! Privacy! Safety! “free speech.” I’ve wanted to write about this for a while and honestly, the one thing I was stuck on is that NOM didn’t really… argue… anything.

Their messaging is ridiculously scattershot, the sort of rambling I’d expect from a freshman who accidentally wrote the same essay for four different classes while nibbling on marijuana brownies. It’s utter nonsense from start to finish, a manic conspiracy theory scribbled in crayon on the back of a diner napkin. So for a while I didn’t even know where to start, until I figured that my complete bafflement at whatever the fuck they were trying to say was a good way to lead as any.

Content Notice for seven degrees of transantagonistic eliminationist bullshit:

But Grabowski said that people in progressive cities shouldn’t stay silent if they see a transgender person using a restroom that matches their gender identity.

“One of the purposes of the bus tour is to have people speak up if they feel uncomfortable and let the business owner know,” Grabowski said. “This can’t be considered transphobic or bigoted.”

The groups hope the rolling spectacle can grab the attention of lawmakers and the public, convincing them that opposition to transgender rights is grounded in science, not animus.

Asked if transgender women are women, Grabowski said, “No, we believe if you’re born a man, you’re a man.”

“They are a small segment of the population, with a disorder, that has quite a big megaphone for the demographic it represents,” he said. “This is not about live-and-let-live,” he added, saying transgender people pose an threat to norms of sex and procreation. “This is about what is best for the common welfare of society.”

Instead of making one coherent argument, NOM flip flopped from comfort to bigotry to “science” to argumentum ad populum to conclude that it’s for the “common welfare of society.” Seriously, that statement is impressive in how much information it doesn’t contain.

The scattershot arguments put forth by NOM are neither clever nor sophisticated, frustrating only in how rapidly they’re blurted in succession. Zinnia Jones already dismantled them on her take. There is only one point I care to elaborate on, because it is commonly held by transantagonists outside of NOM’s incoherent alarmist position: The notion that “science” defends the transantagonistic position that gender variance doesn’t exist, or alternatively is a disorder to be “fixed.”

I suspect people holding this position are unaware that gender variance is hardly a new area of study–Europeans began formally examining the phenomenon as far back as 1919, in the Institut fur Sexualwissenschaft. In addition to its explicit study by Magnus Hirschfield, there are scattered records of American asylum victims who were interred specifically because of their gender variance dating to the late 19th century. At least in terms of written European and American record, fairly explicit evidence exists as far back as the 1850s, to say nothing of the accounts recovered by anthropology of various pre-colonial cultures that acknowledged multiple genders such as the berdache (now Two Spirit) of some First Nations bands or the hijra in various South Asian cultures or the kathoey of Thailand.

Something occurring across multiple continents, in multiple cultures, some developing in isolation from one another (Europeans and Indigenous Americans were, after all, isolated from one another for tens of thousands of years). That’s pretty convincing evidence that this isn’t some kind of modern fluke of Tumblr, and I would certainly challenge those insisting this is the case to account for the above listed phenomena. There is a rich body of history one would have to ignore–dare I say, deny–to “disagree” with the existence of gender variance.

Perhaps the biggest nail in the coffin of this gender variance denialism is what Allison Washington coined the “trans history dark ages.” The Institut fur Sexualwissenschaft, having no military applications for its research (not to mention threatening the idea of Hitler’s volk), was subject to Nazi censorship. Dr. Hirschfield’s successors either ended their own lives during the course of World War 2 or simply withdrew to fates unknown. Between the end of World War 2 and 1966, virtually nothing advanced on the subject until sexologist Alfred Kinsey referred one of his interviewees to Harry Benjamin, whose work would contribute to the world’s first Standards of Care for transgender patients years later.

Despite the fact that professing a gender variant identity was at times criminal or at least extremely taboo, and despite the fact that the words “transgender” and “transsexual” had not yet been coined, despite the fact that what little knowledge on gender variance had been struck from the history books, patients were still going to the doctors disclosing struggles with what we now know is gender dysphoria. Even in the complete absence of a theoretical framework to describe or articulate what they were experiencing, patients were still experiencing gender variance. This ought to dispel any notion that people can be “convinced” to be transgender–even when the knowledge had been successfully censored, people still sought help for gender dysphoria (although many medical establishments were at best unhelpful, let’s not forget that lobotomies and the trans dark ages have ~40 years of overlap).

Although Dr. Benjamin was arguably the only compassionate care provider for transgender patients, it was a matter of medical policy within his Standards of Care to specifically integrate in society following the “end” of one’s transition. We were required by this SoC to abandon our families, our jobs, and our homes. We literally had to show up in a new city and never proclaim “trans” as an identity, with rewritten histories to match. As Washington states, the idea was to be a “former” transsexual. She calls it “being woodworked,” as in “disappearing into the woodwork.” This medically mandated invisibility extended the trans dark ages until approximately the 1990s when the mandated isolation began to relax, and more trans people could be open about their experience.

This medically mandated invisibility is also why I suspect many people, especially people outside of the LGBTQ+ communities, have been seemingly blindsided by trans activism, giving the impression that we’ve spawned out of nowhere. No, we’ve always been here–only now we’re finding each other and organizing. But if it took until now for you to notice, that does not imply our work is speculative or new or inadequate, it just means you personally haven’t yet encountered the knowledge.

All this is to say that whatever skepticism may have been healthy upon one’s first exposure to the notion of gender variance, it ceases to be reasonable in the mounting pile of evidence that people were and are experiencing it, even if we were isolated from one another, regardless of where we lived or in what time we lived. Research has since developed at an incredible pace since the 1990s, producing a number of valuable observations that inform modern practices. We now know the ingredients to make a happy, healthy, resilient transgender adult. Skepticism of the mere existence of gender variance, one of many scattershot underlying premises of NOM’s foolish venture, is at this point completely unjustified. As Zinnia Jones phrases it, “what they call biological reality is neither biological nor real.”

-Shiv

Comments

  1. anat says

    People who talk about being born as men or women have no business talking about science or facts. As far as I know, no human was ever born as a man or woman. We are all born as infants.

  2. Pierce R. Butler says

    … the accounts recovered by anthropology of various pre-colonial cultures that acknowledged multiple genders …

    Not to mention the old Greek stories of Teiresias (scroll down), Hermaphroditus, et alia.

    Even for the totally cisgender, the idea of sexual variation/combination/transformation has an alluring resonance.

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