Calgary Physician Calls Transgender People “Demented, Distorted”

Below is the result of an investigation that was originally commissioned by a Canadian news publication. The piece was killed two days ago. I believe the findings to be important enough that it is in the public’s interest to be reported regardless. I discuss further after the piece.


 

A Calgary pediatric surgeon employed by Alberta Health Services has taken to social media to call transgender people and their supporters “soft headed” and “dangerous,” among numerous other inflammatory remarks.

Between November 18, 2018 and December 21, 2018, Dr. Jacob Edward Les wrote several articles at length on his website, during which he described being transgender as “identifying as a cucumber” and compared them to The Man Who Mistook His Wife for a Hat, an anecdote by neurologist Oliver Sacks on a patient with visual agnosia. In another post, he wrote that teaching children about the existence of transgender people amounted to “indoctrination,” and that androgyny occurs “as a civilisation is starting to unravel.” Responding to a January 9, 2019 article from the Daily Mail about a transgender man giving birth, Les described support for the man as “blithering idiocy” and said that the child would be born into “distorted transgender reality.”

Shortly after I attempted to authenticate the social media profiles, Les deleted his Twitter and several blog posts. His Twitter was restored on Jan. 28, 2019, along with a new blog post stating “How dare you impugn my integrity and professionalism?” after characterizing the Canadian Medical Association’s findings on gender dysphoric youth as “conjecture.” He also included several remarks directed at me after I wrote that I was looking into medical ethics governing bodies in Alberta that can receive complaints. “[Trans activists] seem unable or unwilling to make their points without hurling F-bombs or insulting their interlocutors in the most vile manner possible,” wrote Les.

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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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Siobhan in Rewire.News: The Rejection of ‘Conversion Therapy’ Isn’t Motivated by Politics—It’s Motivated By Science

The former chief psychologist of the gender identity program at one of Canada’s largest mental health facilities was catapulted into headlines in 2015 when a complaint prompted a review of his now-closed clinic by the Centre for Addiction and Mental Health (CAMH) in Toronto.

The review occurred at the same time as a law was passed in the Ontario legislature banning so-called conversion therapy for minors, a discredited practice that falsely claims to change someone’s gender or sexual identity. The center’s report stopped shy of characterizing Dr. Kenneth Zucker’s practice as conversion therapy, but it did conclude his methods were “out of step” with the latest research findings and that they warranted sweeping reforms. Zucker’s clinic, which was housed inside CAMH but operated largely independently, closed later that year; the decision was met with support from nearly 1,400 stakeholders, including clinicians and researchers in the field of transgender health.

Read more on Rewire.News.

-Shiv

Siobhan in The Edmonton Quotient: The first Pride was a riot

When most people hear the phrase “police brutality,” the images that come to mind are typically from the United States. In 2015, nearly 1200 people were summarily executed by American law enforcement, according to a conservative estimate by PLoS Medicine; if anything, that trend has only accelerated. But Canada is hardly exempt from the phenomenon despite its polite facade and spit-shined public relations. After taking population into account, Canada still experiences half as many police perpetrated homicides, even if they aren’t as widely publicized or recognized. It’s a fact — among many others — I have seldom seen mentioned in the debates following this year’s protest against police participation at the Edmonton Pride march.

To briefly recap, a grassroots collection of local members of the LGBTQ+ community, most of whom were also people of colour, held up this year’s Pride march in protest for about 30 minutes. They issued demands specifically to the organizers of the Festival to reject the participation of the Edmonton Police Service, the RCMP, and the military as institutions. Individuals in these institutions were invited to participate next year — out of uniform — but there would be no official representation from any of the organizations themselves. The Edmonton Pride Festival Society’s board of directors accepted the demands, the protest disbanded, and the march resumed. The protesters were profoundly successful in starting a conversation, but many responding to the event have charged forward with their perspectives, evidently unaware of the context that informed this protest.

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Siobhan in Shadowproof: “Prosecutors Invoke Union Memberships to Criminalize Inauguration Day Protesters”

In prosecutions against Inauguration Day protesters, the government contends some of the defendants’ union memberships qualify as evidence of a conspiracy to commit a crime.

Hundreds of thousands of protesters converged for the Inauguration Day protests in 2017. One of the demonstrations, an anti-capitalist and anti-fascist march dubbed Disrupt J20, commenced in Logan Circle before heading out into the streets. Protesters marched in the streets carrying banners and signs, and chanting against Donald Trump. During the march, a handful protesters broke off from the main group and smashed the windows of a few store fronts, including a Starbucks.

Police, who monitored people involved in the protest for months before the demonstration, responded indiscriminately with stingball grenades and a deluge of pepper spray. Over 200 people were kettled, including protesters, journalists, legal observers, and street medics.

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Taking the work in a different direction

As all two of you may have noticed, the blag went silent for a bit. There’s nothing wrong in my meatspace, thankfully, but I recently concluded that a lot of the discourse on gender variance hasn’t been rewarding for me. The same myths continue to be stubbornly peddled, even in respected media outlets, and the material I’ve written to debunk them remains relevant. There just isn’t much point in constantly re-litigating the same lies over and over. At this stage I can just link to the work that’s already done, and can likely continue to do so until there is some major development that shifts scientific consensus. The discourse is stale, and giving me nosebleeds.

The bottleneck for progress now isn’t typically that the research hasn’t been conducted–instead, it’s how willing you are to look for it. Dedicated antagonists to trans rights have an entire industry that creates the trappings of a scientific veneer while selling the same snake oil, and I know no amount of fact-checking will get through to them because it’s not the consensus they’re motivated by. As for the on-the-fencers, the only success I’ve had reaching them is in meatspace, where it is harder (possible, just harder) to dehumanize someone face to face. It seems to be a waste to try over the internet.

In combination with that, I’ve started to receive some traction getting non-fiction work published. This is partly the work I’ve figured out I want to pursue. While I don’t mean to disrespect FTB, it’s certainly nice to do the same work and get a fat cheque at the end. I can paint a picture of what pursuing this work full-time might look like, which makes it all the more tempting to set it as a goal. But it also means my blag has become superfluous as I originally conceived it.

It’s not that I’ll never discuss gender variance again, it just seems that there is more fertile ground on applying existing theory rather than further developing it. I’ve got some preliminary findings that suggest ways to marry labour organizing to minority liberation, for example, and that seems to me more interesting than rehashing Sarah Ditum’s repeated lies and also too niche for corporate media. Anti-authoritarianism has been the north star in my political activity for the past year, so it seems more fruitful to discuss prison abolition or widespread surveillance or questions about the sales pitch you received on law enforcement in your history class.

I’m under no illusions that these issues, too, will likely be subject to the same lies over and over. Perhaps when I’ve hit that point I’ll need to re-calibrate again. But for the time being it’s more interesting to me, and there’s no point to investing this much time in a blag covering a topic that has ceased to satisfy me. It doesn’t pay enough to do something that feels onerous.

Aside from that, I’ve had a fiction project I’ve been sitting on for too long, and publicly announcing it might nudge me into being accountable for finishing it. So look forward to that in the near future, too.

New content to come soon.

-Shiv

Canlit, harassment, retaliatory defamation

Canada has had its own blow-up around Tarana Burke’s #MeToo–recently in Canadian literature academia, similar allegations of misconduct had been leaked and circulated despite being initially intended as an informal network. Emily Kellogg has a good review of the legal situation:

The consequences for going public with accusations like these varies. In her New York essay, Donegan writes about the toll administrating the list took on her mental health, as well as her professional and personal relationships. After publishing the essay, she faced online harassment, including threats of doxxing—in which trolls release private information, like someone’s home address or bank account information, online.

In Canada, Spry’s essay ignited controversy, especially from those who felt he glossed over his own complicity in perpetuating an abusive culture at Concordia. Still, both Spry and Koul’s pieces have started urgent conversations about sexual abuse in CanLit.

These can be difficult conversations to have, and, because of Canada’s strict defamation laws, going public can have serious legal repercussions—even if you’re doing so solely to protect other people from harm.

“Many women who have accused their perpetrators have had to face retaliatory defamation claims,” Dr. Constance Backhouse, a law professor at the University of Ottawa and co-author of The Secret Oppression: Sexual Harassment of Working Women, explains. “These are often brought with inflated dollar demands—for example, a claim for one million dollars in damages…  I believe it is very rare for these lawsuits to actually go forward, but they are certainly effective as an intimidation tactic.”

Read more about it here.

-Shiv

Larry Nassar and transformative justice

Larry Nassar–the now infamous gymnastics coach with literal hundreds of victims of sexual assault–was given a harsh sentencing hearing back in January. The judge’s commentary during the hearing resulted in some interesting responses, including the bizarre notion that an ordinary day in a punitive law system somehow constituted “transformative” justice. Survivors of sexual violence who are themselves prison abolitionists responded thusly:

Amid our society’s current cultural upheaval around sexual violence, Aquilina struck a chord with many survivors who want and need to believe that justice under this system is possible. By offering the mic to survivors, and by aiming violent, vindictive language at a widely loathed defendant, Aquilina has been rewarded with the status of instant icon. Unsurprisingly, she is also reportedly considering a run for the Michigan Supreme Court. The case launched numerous think pieces, including a misguided, misinformed praisesong entitled, “The Transformative Justice of Judge Aquilina,” by Sophie Gilbert.

Gilbert’s article highlights how this moment challenges those committed to transforming our carceral system — including people, like us, who are committed to justice for survivors of sexual assault and who also believe that prisons are the wrong answer to violence and should be abolished. We decry the system and advocate for change that is long overdue. Yet when that system ensnares people we loathe, we may feel a sense of satisfaction. When we see defendants as symbols of what we most fear, and that which we most greatly despise, we are confronted with a true test of our belief that no justice can be done under this system.

Yet like all tests of faith, this moment calls on us to recommit ourselves to true transformative justice. And to do that, we must remind ourselves what transformative justice is, and why it looks nothing like the civil death that Aquilina delivered last month.

Read more here.

-Shiv

The Toronto Village

Among the many other pieces of news coming out of Toronto’s police and their treatment of queer people there is a serious story about institutional neglect–a serial killer, permitted to operate by police inaction.

It is mid January, 2018. I am sitting in the press conference for Andrew Kinsman’s family. We are in the 519 Community Centre; above the lobby bulletin board hangs a sign: “FAMILIES DEFINE THEMSELVES.” The conference is in the ballroom on the second floor. The last time I was here it was full of steamy bodies—the humid rain had moved the TreeHouse Party inside, and we danced in the microclimate of our sweat. I remember a friend’s hand in the small of my clammy back that made me wriggle and slap them away.

Now it is cold. Journalists and equipment personnel sparsely laugh and chat, milling near a hastily erected coffee station. One behind me loudly barks: “There’s probably a book in this!” The family is huddled, watching them. Watching us, I guess. They have just learned an arrest has been made. They have just learned, for certain, that their brother was killed. They are waiting for the body to be found.

They speak imperfectly, as all of us would. They think aloud of the child that Andrew was. Shelley Kinsman takes no questions after her statement. I watch her anxiously clutching and persistently rubbing a small black stone with both hands throughout. I never find out what it was. She looks like my mother, fretting at her rosary beads.

Andrew’s sister Karen tells a story about how her brother wanted to be a paleontologist, and how the family once hid a cow femur and convinced him there must be dinosaurs buried in the yard. He dug and dug until, ecstatic, he found the bones.

The room shifts uncomfortably and moves quickly past the infelicitous image.

I could have posted any of the news outlets just publishing basic facts, but it’s so devoid of the context that this piece brings in that I preferred this one instead.

Read more here. And ready some tissue.

-Shiv

Did they even check?

(The answer is “no.”)

One of the more annoying rhetorical sleights-of-hand deployed by anti-trans feminists is their tendency to claim they “speak for women.” One brilliant Scot decided to test that theory by contacting every women’s crisis resource in Scotland to query their policy on trans women. As it turns out, antagonistic positions are far from guaranteed to be the norm, or even represented at all:

It was stated that Scottish Women’s Aid don’t speak for individual Women’s Aid services, so unless we somehow managed the impossible task of ringing round all 40 to check if they were trans inclusive, we couldn’t possibly know. Spoiler alert: the only reason that’s impossible is because there’s actually 36, but more on that in a bit.  I had a midweek day off and my maw got me unlimited minutes for Christmas, so I rang them and asked.

Catriona ‘We Simply Don’t Know’ Stewart is a senior journalist at the Herald & Times Group.  To me that means she’s got a fancy desk, a big salary and every contact under the Scottish not sun at her fingertips.  But rather than try and find out so she didn’t give ground to the misrepresentation of services and instill fear in women who might need to one day present at their local Women’s Aid and might also be trans, she sent a pointed and scary tweet, then logged out.  Brass neck points for pulling us up for not speaking to individual services, while choosing to imply something more than a bit dodgy without… speaking to individual services.  (Just ring them, Catriona, and if you can’t be arsed surely there’s an underpaid intern somewhere who’s fed up shredding Iain Macwhirter’s draft novellas).

We weren’t surprised that frontline workers and specifically support and refuge workers were the people this mibby, mibby not but probably transphobia was being attributed to.  No one is else going to say it so I will because none of you know my real name: that’s because those workers are more likely to be working class women. And of course the implication is that while national officers might understand the ever so complicated dance of being sound to trans women, workers on the ground have been caught in a whirlwind of confusion and outright rage, turning up to work head to toe in trans panic alarms for the last 10 year. Gies peace. And let them do their job.

Antagonistic positions are still taken elsewhere in the world, and they’re devastating when they happen because a person in crisis is pretty much, by definition, going to lack the resources to combat that. But it’s worthwhile to remind anti-trans feminists that they represent a minority, and not “women.”

Read more here.

-Shiv