Spelling it out for Jesse Singal

On October 9, 2017, the CEO of a UK charity called Mermaids released a statement regarding her support of gender variant youth, reproduced below. Just a day later none other than Jesse Singal chimed in claiming that this supportive charity was not being roasted for saying the same thing he said. Now Jesse Singal is one of the regular subjects on this blog due to the combination of his wide reach and his stunning incompetence when it comes to covering trans issues. That he continues to be paid to write on them is certainly a detriment to my health.

The particularly annoying thing about Jesse Singal’s type of wrong is that there are layers to it. I could just throw up my arms and say “no” but he makes an illustrative example of the overlapping assumptions most people carry with them while they are uninitiated on trans topics. So I’m feeling generous. Despite the fact that Jesse Singal is extremely unlikely to ever encounter these words or engage with them seriously on account of my “trans hysteria,” I’m going to spell it out for him.

Let’s start with the trans support charity called Mermaids. This is their October 9 statement, and we’re interested in the first paragraph. I’ve added the bold emphasis:

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Trans Activism and the Success of the Victim

If you’re on social media and separated by no more than one degree to trans media spaces, you’ve likely heard about the days-long continuous charity livestream of video essayist Hbomberguy. He promised to host an uninterrupted livestream of a 101% completion of the Nintendo 64 game, Donkey King 64, while collecting donations for a peer facilitator group for trans and gender questioning youth in the United Kingdom called Mermaids. When I started drafting this post, he had raised over $150,000 and streamed 38 hours uninterrupted.

Why now? Hbomberguy admits that he doesn’t know much about trans issues (which in the internet age of rewarding confident but wrong punditry, is something to be applauded), except that trans people should be supported and that that support shouldn’t look like calling us frauds or trying to change our minds. But another reason is that a former comedy writer turned full-time anti-trans activist, Graham Linehan, has been repeatedly defaming both Mermaids and its CEO, Susie Green, with his latest stunt being a social media campaign to revoke the charity’s funding earmarked by the National Lottery Fund (it’s currently “under review,” presumably a second time, since you have to be “reviewed” to be earmarked in the first place). Hbomberguy wanted to perform the stream in part to spite him, as evidenced by a donation incentive jokingly titled “Erase Graham Linehan From History”

His last motive, which is that he never completed the game as a child and wants to do so now as part of his enthusiasm for video game speedrunning, is self-explanatory.

Months prior to Hbomberguy’s tremendous success, an incident circulated among journalists that was significant for its explicit detail. Harron Walker reported for Jezebel on leaks that proved the existence of a secretive listserv populated by nearly 500 journalism insiders, in which several conversations were held to workshop Jesse Singal’s slanted and ethically questionable coverage of trans issues, alongside at least one confirmed attempt to defame a trans journalist. If the listserv contains any trans journalists, they’re closeted, as known trans people are excluded by design. In other words, the media’s frequent inability to cover trans issues fairly isn’t merely convergent incompetence and arrogance, but is at least in part the result of an explicit conspiracy to discredit us as authorities on ourselves while simultaneously privileging cissexist coverage as reliable. However, there was one particular line from Jesse Singal that came to mind from this incident during Hbomberguy’s livestream that’s bothered me enough to write about it.

Singal’s privileging of cissexism is no better demonstrated than his first foray into writing about trans issues, when he wrote a fawning apology for Kenneth Zucker in New York Magazine. As part of his piece he contacted three trans women, including Dr. Julia Serano (whose PhD is in biology, and whose published work includes numerous contributions to gender variance as a topic). All three of his trans sources informed him as to what the research actually says and where he should look to get a complete picture of the problem. He used none of them in the final article. And that brings me to my bother.

The leaked conversations revealed by Jezebel include the line from Singal seared into my brain ever since I saw it:

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Distinguishing between unaware, suspicious, and antagonistic

One of the ways Julia Serano and I diverge, apparently, is our positions on linguistics. I’m an extreme descriptivist, which means I acknowledge that individual words will take on different meanings for different people. This is what facilitates miscommunication, and my position is to always abandon the loaded terminology and say what we mean every time. Although I disagree with the conclusion of this article (that we should police our application of the label “TERF”), there was one piece in it I wanted to share that I thought had merit:

Upon considering this, as I was writing the essay Detransition, Desistance, and Disinformation: A Guide for Understanding Transgender Children Debates, I used three different terms to differentiate between underlying sentiments or motives that often drive expressions of transphobia. I have found them useful on subsequent occasions, so I recently added these terms to my online trans, gender, sexuality, & activism glossary. That new entry reads as follows:

Trans-antagonistic, Trans-suspicious, Trans-unaware: terms I have increasingly used since the mid-’10s (e.g., see here) to make distinctions between various types of anti-transgender attitudes or positions. Some expressions of transphobia stem from people simply being “trans-unaware” — i.e., uninformed (or under-informed) about transgender people and experiences. Other individuals may be downright “trans-antagonistic,” in that they are fundamentally opposed to transgender people for specific moral, political, and/or theoretical reasons. From an activist standpoint, this distinction is quite pertinent: Trans-unaware individuals tend to be “passively transphobic” (e.g., only expressing such attitudes when they come across a trans person, or when the subject is raised), and may be open to relinquishing those attitudes upon learning more about transgender lives and issues. In contrast, trans-antagonistic individuals often actively promote anti-trans agendas (e.g., policies, laws, misinformation campaigns) and are highly unlikely to be moved by outreach or education (unless, of course, they undergo a more comprehensive philosophical transformation). The “trans-suspicious” position acknowledges that transgender people exist and should be tolerated (to some degree), but routinely questions (and sometimes actively works to undermine) transgender perspectives and politics. For example, a trans-suspicious individual might treat me respectfully and refrain from misgendering me, yet simultaneously express doubt about whether certain other people are “really trans” or should be allowed to transition. While they often consider themselves to be “pro-trans” (on the basis that they tolerate us to some degree), their strong cisnormative and cissexist biases lead them to spread much of the same misinformation, and push for many of the same anti-trans policies, as their trans-antagonistic counterparts (e.g., see here). In a world where trans-antagonistic and trans-unaware attitudes are pervasive, trans-suspicious arguments tend to strike the average cisgender person as relatively “objective” or “reasonable” by comparison (although trans people readily see through this veneer).

The distinction between the trans-antagonistic and trans-suspicious positions was central to my “Detransition, Desistance, and Disinformation” essay, as I was attempting to articulate (to a largely trans-unaware audience) why trans-suspicious views from the likes of Jesse Singal and Alice Dreger (both discussed in that essay) are so invalidating from a trans perspective. While these writers tolerate trans people to some extent (e.g., they are not calling for us to be entirely excluded from society), they clearly value cisgender identities, bodies, and perspectives over transgender ones, and they are inherently suspicious of anything transgender people say about our own lives (unless, of course, it aligns with their cisnormative presumptions). Hence, they push for many of the same policies (e.g., pro-gender-reparative therapies and anti-gender-affirming approaches to healthcare) and spread much of the same misinformation (e.g., psychological theories that have been rejected by most trans health professionals) as their trans-antagonistic counterparts, despite the fact that they seem relatively benign to outsiders.

You can read the rest here.


A misogynist by any other name would smell just as putrid

On August 10 earlier this year, I concluded that the weakly supported theory of autogynephilia (AGP) remains popular among a certain subset of sexologists because of its utility for dismissing trans women. A careful look at the methodology that produced the theory quickly demonstrates its fatal flaws, and yet the theory is, to this day, occasionally cited as a reason to dismiss a trans woman’s opinion as unreliable. In brief review, the theory posits that there are two (and only two) etiologies by which gender dysphoria is produced in trans women: The first, the bizarre and easily falsified notion that it is easier to be a trans woman than an effeminate gay man; the second, sexual arousal at the thought of oneself as possessing culturally female attributes. The former are confusingly named “homosexual,” (as in women attracted to men), the latter “heterosexual” (as in women attracted to women). Science!

Ray Blanchard was only able to propose this conclusion by ignoring vast portions of his data and framing his subjects as liars, thus rendering his theory unfalsifiable when tested with his own methodology. The theory, naturally, doesn’t pan out when investigated by Blanchard’s peers.

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Seriously, the conveyor belt of transition is not a thing

Shortly after BBC did their dog-awful anti-trans hit piece on trans kids, I contacted a gender affirmative practitioner to hear from her directly as to what her clinic’s treatment methodology is like. For those of you just coming in, “gender affirmation” is a method of clinically approaching gender questioning, gender role non-conforming, and transgender youth in a way that is more likely to produce resilient adults for all three populations. They’ll all have differing needs, but one of the biggest differences between this practice and the gatekeeping systems of, for example, Kenneth Zucker, is the abandonment of “Doctor Knows Best.” The client leads the way, the clinician listens rather than interrogates.

As Dr. Ehrensaft explains, gender role non-conforming children mostly need counselling to deal with the inevitable bullying, but there is no inherent pathology to non-conformance–nothing needs to be “fixed,” and there is no intervention except for the effects of bullying. Gender questioning children may need vocabulary and informed consent on what their range of options are to help them explicitly articulate their internal goings-on. Minors who have persistently and insistently identified with a gender not in correspondence with their assigned sex are given the option of puberty blocking and hormone replacements. For these populations (questioning, insistently transgender) the intervention may be halted or stopped altogether.

You wouldn’t know that, though, if you only got your information from Jesse Singal or Sarah Ditum, who have hand-wrung and grieved over all the cis children being erroneously transed at the first sign of nonconforming behaviour. This isn’t a thing that happens but don’t let that stop your imagination.

Zinnia Jones reviews some of the literature on puberty blocking.

But in recent years, some anti-trans advocates have claimed that puberty blockers should not be considered reversible, alleging that all youth who take blockers will inevitably go on to transition. Others have speculated that these medications may in some way affect the natural development of a child’s gender identity, making it more likely that they will transition when they otherwise would not have done so. Michelle Cretella, president of the transphobic American College of Pediatricians activist group, has asserted that “There are no cases in the scientific literature of gender-dysphoric children discontinuing blockers”, and Paul McHugh coauthored an article in The New Atlantis making this developmental argument at length:

The lack of data on gender dysphoria patients who have withdrawn from puberty-suppressing regimens and resumed normal development raises again the very important question of whether these treatments contribute to the persistence of gender dysphoria in patients who might otherwise have resolved their feelings of being the opposite sex. As noted above, most children who are diagnosed with gender dysphoria will eventually stop identifying as the opposite sex. The fact that cross-gender identification apparently persists for virtually all who undergo puberty suppression could indicate that these treatments increase the likelihood that the patients’ cross-gender identification will persist.

Such concerns are heavy on questions, but short on answers. As it turns out, these claims range from unsupported to outright false, and have already been extensively addressed in the literature on treatment of trans youth.

I’m really not trying to be melodramatic here, but seriously, the anti-trans crowd lies. A lot.

Read more here.


Updated comments policy

Howdy folks.

In the interest of fairness I decided to spruce up my comments policy to be a bit more detailed and explicit. Regulars have more or less already been following these conditions anyways, but I also decided to explicitly document the Points Refuted a Thousand Times. This is to help make more available the myth-busting information, and also to point out that I’m under no obligation to repeat myself when my previous work stands, a demand which has occasionally cropped up in the filtered comments.

Everything below is listed here.

The first comment you post on Against the Grain is automatically sent into moderation. This is to bring your commentary to my attention. There are a number of things I have little patience for on this blag, detailed below, and if you run afoul of them your comment may be edited, filtered out, or your account banned altogether. Your participation is contingent on the following:

1. Stay on topic

If your first instinct is to change the subject, you’ll likely be called on it. If I start a conversation about the angles Jesse Singal employs in his trans-antagonistic journalism, braying on about this obscure murder committed 30 years ago by a trans woman is not relevant.

2. Make disagreements about the argument

Attack the argument. Question its premises, or question the logical construction. I am not generally fond of attacking the arguer as opposed to the argument. On a related note…

3. Definitely no hate speech

Ad hominems usually net you warnings, unless you employ language that singles out a person’s immutable characteristics as inherently inferior or undesirable, in which case I toss you out. This includes but is not limited to language demeaning gender identity, sexual orientation, ethnicity, ability, sex, etc.

4. No Points Refuted a Thousand Times

My material on trans issues is occasionally repetitive because the opponents to trans rights offer repetitive discourse. If something was wrong six months ago, it remains wrong today unless new information has been produced. So no, I am not going to tailor-suit a refutation to something that has already been shown to be bunk nonsense, and reciting these points uncritically will not impress me.

Some PRATTs relevant to this blog include:

Yes, this tedious, fact-free nonsense tends to repeat itself.

Note that bringing up a PRATT doesn’t necessarily disqualify you from the comments, if and only if you can introduce new information that wasn’t discussed the first time.

5. Breaking these rules on other blogs on the network will also get you banned.

I regularly read the works of my colleagues, so even if you aren’t accountable to my conditions on their blog, you’re still subject to them when you come to mine. A history of violating the above conditions elsewhere will generally burn any goodwill I might otherwise assume when you pop up in moderation.


Oh, the slightest criticism, obviously equivalent to being burned alive

You know whose breathless histrionics I haven’t enjoyed in a while? Jesse Singal’s.

I’ll share a little bit about Singal’s background here, because there’s a lot to unpack in Singal’s latest masterwank, “This is What a Modern Day Witch Hunt Looks Like” (a decidedly not burned cis white woman, apparently).

Back when Singal first started cluelessly meandering into trans issues, virtually every trans feminist academic I read approached him with kiddie gloves. Julia Serano gave an interview with him to help orient his slant on a Ken Zucker piece in relation to empirical evidence–he declined to use any of the information she provided. Same thing with Parker Molloy, who goes to great lengths to avoid calling Singal transphobic despite his omission of Molloy’s attempt to introduce the evidence to him. A blogger by the pseudonym of Cerberus has meticulously documented Singal’s foray into trans issues, and spends several years trying to patiently explain the sheer amount of denialism necessary to maintain the opinions Singal defends. Kelley Winters has tried to inform Singal (multiple times). Cristan Williams has tried to inform Singal. Zinnia Jones has tried to inform Singal. Casey Plett has tried to inform Singal. I’ve tried to inform Singal.

So I want to make it abundantly clear that Jesse Singal has had ample opportunity for respectful dialogue with trans feminists and gender psychiatrists, multiple offers of delicate hand-holding from advocates across multiple platforms of media, and dozens of attempts to offer clearer information for the purposes of his journalism.

It’s only under this context that I am now certain in saying Jesse Singal has exhausted any claim to good-faith argumentation. Singal is lying. More importantly, he knows he’s lying.

That brings us to Singal’s “witch hunt,” notably absent of any fires and show-trials constructed through Catch-22s and loaded misogyny. Rebecca Tuvel managed to get a dubiously sourced-and-argued article published in Hypatia comparing Rachel Dolezal’s bastardization of “transracialism” to gender variance (“transgenderism,” as the cis insist on calling it). Tuvel has, not without reason, taken some flack for it. Trans academics–you know, the people that actually study and live this stuff–still struggle to have our work taken seriously, especially in academic contexts, but hey, if you’re cis and have the right stamp on your certificate, you can coast straight through the uncritical editorial vision of (also cis) feminist editors. But Jesse Singal thinks our objections to Hypatia‘s publishing of Tuvel’s piece to be a witch hunt.

Cue my esteemed colleague, Crip Dyke, emphasis added by me:

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Four Signs Your Trans Healthcare Opinion is Cissexist Claptrap

At some point during my career of fact-checking the trans-antagonistic self indulgent wankery that passes for journalism these days, things started to blur together. I could play a game called “Who Said It: Transphobic Radical ‘Feminist’ or Catholic Priest?” when examining the statements and sometimes mix them up, their tangled logic and moralistic aggression seemingly borrowing from one another to the point of being difficult to tell apart. In this morass I began to notice a number of repeated rhetorical tricks frequently present in these anti-trans hit pieces, tricks which I’ve documented below. These rhetorical devices often obfuscate the increasingly-clear evidence to their hypothetical questions, which are themselves posed to give the impression of being unanswerable–so just go with your gut. You know, the gut that’s more willing to accept a conspiracy theory than some statistics.

And so, here we are, four red flags common in cissexist healthcare op-eds.

1. It positions “trans” and “healthy” as mutually exclusive.

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BBC’s “Transgender Kids: Who Knows Best?” p3: My old friend, eighty percent

This series on BBC’s “Transgender Kids: Who Knows Best?” is co-authored by HJ Hornbeck and Siobhan O’Leary. It attempts to fact-check and explore the documentary’s many claims concerning gender variant youth. You can follow the rest of the series here:

  1. Part One: You got Autism in my Gender Dysphoria!
  2. Part Two: Say it with me now…
  3. Part Three: My old friend, eighty percent
  4. Part Four: Dirty Sexy Brains


Eighty percent is tired. Eighty percent has had thrust upon its back the concern trolling of every clueless media pundit from Sarah Ditum to Jesse Singal. And the exterminationists, the “transsexuals will sort themselves out later” types, they too abuse my poor poor friend eighty percent. Eighty percent is the one and only quote the antagonists will reliably provide. Eighty percent is the crux of hundreds of thousands of very, very concerned words printed in very, very concerned columns.

Eighty percent is just exhausted, being expected to carry all this.

Eighty percent deserves a rest.

Recall from part two:

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