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.

[Read more…]

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.

[Read more…]

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

Depersonalization and gender dysphoria

Zinnia Jones recently identified a gap in research on gender dysphoria: The co-morbidity of GD with depersonalization, and more mystifying, Hormone Replacement Therapy’s capacity to alleviate it.

Since experiencing this completely unexpected shift in my consciousness, I’ve been deeply interested in what the physical basis for this change could be. While research on HRT in trans people consistently indicates that it can relieve depressive and anxious symptoms, very little information is available on the biological basis of depersonalization symptoms, let alone the specifics of how depersonalization disorder can affect trans people. Medical transition, particularly HRT, is associated with a reduction in depersonalization and derealization – but how? Intriguingly, estrogen itself modulates NMDA receptors, and some of its effects can be blocked by NMDA antagonists (implicated in the effects of dissociative drugs). Estrogen has also shown some success in treating the negative symptoms of schizophrenia, which have a degree of phenomenological overlap with experiences of depersonalization. There are many pieces that seem relevant here, but as of yet very little to fit them together into a more complete model of how the action of estrogen can treat depersonalization (and even less to explain how testosterone treatment is equally successful at reducing depersonalization in trans men).

In short, these phenomena fascinate me, and there is an urgent need for more research into these areas given the severe impact of this syndrome on those trying to bear this living death. Depersonalization wrecked my life, draining it of all the promise it supposedly held. It stole my soul without the courtesy of killing me. If there is anything that can help us fight back against this condition, that matters.

And that’s why I decided to try lamotrigine.

(She does so under medical supervision, so Don’t Try This At Home, Kids.)

Read more here.

-Shiv

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.

-Shiv