Is Biological Sex a Social Construct? It’s Complicated — New Paste Magazine Article

Much has been said already about YouTube sex educator Laci Green’s supposed “taking the red pill,” so I don’t want to rehash everything. I do, however, want to bring up one of her latest Twitter threads regarding the phrase “biologically male/female.” Teen Vogue recently published an article about anal sex where they used the terms “prostrate owner” and “non-prostrate owner” instead of “male and female.” Green criticized the article’s use of the terms on her Twitter feed,where she said, “’Female’ and ‘male’ are not identities or genders. They are biological sexes and refer to someone’s literal body parts (for reproduction).” This, along with her latest videos debating whether or not there are more thantwo genders, led many to criticize Green for being transphobic. Although she does affirm trans and gender non-conforming people’s gender identities in her latest video, the debate sparked by her recent tweets brings up a question I often hear from my fellow trans people: Is biological sex a “social construct?”

According to another YouTuber, Riley J. Dennis, the answer is yes. In a video she did back in February of this year, she explains biological sex is a social construct because not everyone experiences secondary sex characteristics the same way. “Some people with penises don’t develop much if any facial hair,” she says, “while some develop beards, and the amount of facial hair that they have doesn’t make them more or less male. The same goes for people with vaginas. Some of them will develop large breasts, some will develop small breasts, but neither of those is more or less female.” She also points out many trans people have genitals, hormones and other secondary sex characteristics altered during transitioning, so how would “biologically male/female” still apply? Ultimately the biggest criticism towards the term “biologically male/female” is that, according to Dennis, “when people say that a trans woman is ‘biologically male,’ they use that as a way to attack trans people. They use it as an excuse to exclude us from bathrooms, locker rooms and other women’s spaces. It’s just a more subtle and more socially acceptable way of discriminating against trans people.”

Biologist Jerry Coyne, on the other hand, disagrees. For example, he writes, Dennis’ example of medical transitioning “irrelevant to the argument from biological sex as a reality at birth. I could use lasers to remove the sex combs of Drosophila males (stiff tufts of bristles on the forelegs that males use to grasp females during copulation), but that doesn’t mean that sex in Drosophila is a social construct.” Coyne later clarifies that he affirms transgender people’s identities, and acknowledges bigots often use biological sex as an excuse to discriminate against trans people. However, he continues, “The concept of biological sex has been extremely useful in biology—it’s a linchpin of a ton of research in evolutionary biology and other fields, and, with very few unclassifiable cases, it’s an objective reality.”

While both Dennis and Coyne made good points, I decided to ask trans activist and biologist Julia Sereno for her take. It turns out that, like with most science, it’s complicated.

Click here to read the rest.

The Dangers of Antipsychiatry — My Latest for Paste Magazine

If you spend as much time as I do on Facebook, you’ve probably seen the meme that shows a picture of a forest with the words, “This is an antidepressant” and a picture of Prozac with the words, “This is shit.” The meme comes to us from the folks at TruthTheory.com, which “offers alternative news, documentaries and much more.” It sounds interesting at first, until you look at some of their other memes, which include 9/11 conspiraciesanti-GMO memes and a claim that the government is using Snapchat filters to create a database. Naturally the anti-Prozac meme met with a large amount of backlash, and for a good reason: claiming psychiatry is a “pseudoscience” is deadly.

But where did this idea come from? The main source is psychiatrist Thomas Szasz’s 1961 book The Myth of Mental Illness, where he argued mental illness is just a “metaphor,” and that psychiatry is no more legitimate than alchemy. The book became an instant classic, and the American Humanist Association named Szasz Humanist of the Year in 1973. And to be fair, Szasz was right about a few things, like the overuse of electroshock therapy. However, his main argument—that mental illness is just a metaphor—is just plain wrong.

Click here to read the rest.

Can Science “Prove” Bisexuality? Studies Suggest Yes — My Latest for Paste Magazine

I first realized I was bisexual in high school but didn’t come out until fifteen years later because I thought it was just a phase. As a teenager during the late ‘90s, most coming out stories I saw on TV involved gays and lesbians, so I didn’t think I was “queer enough” to come out. When I did come out a few years ago, though, I found that not only did the mainstream LGBTQ rights movement still focused exclusively on gays and lesbians, but also that some gay people don’t believe bisexuality is a thing. Sex columnist Dan Savage is known to respond to young bisexuals with, “I was, too, at your age.” The TV show Glee, despite its positive portrayals of gay and lesbian teens, had a few episodes that suggested bisexuals are either liars or cheaters. Even my first boyfriend was convinced he could end my “addiction to pussy.” I know Carl Sagan once said, “Extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence,” but I didn’t think being able to love people regardless of gender was too extraordinary of a claim.

Apparently it is, though, because in 2005 three researchers published a paper that casted doubts on bisexuality in men. For this study, the researchers picked 30 straight men, 33 bisexual men, and 38 gay men to measure how they reacted to erotic visual stimuli. First the participants filled out a form where they described how they identify sexually, and then the researchers attached sensors to their penises and showed them porn. Some of the porn featured two women, and some featured two men. According to results, the majority of bisexual men shared the same reactions (i.e. amount of erections) to the male-on-male porn as did the gay men. Thus, as many interpret, most bisexual men are really just gay.

However, as bisexual blogger Sue George pointed out, the study had flaws. The sample group was too small, only 22 out of the 33 bisexual men in the study had “sufficient genital arousal for analyses,” everyone has different reactions to porn, and the study didn’t look at romantic attraction. So why did people take the study as “proof” that bisexuality in men doesn’t exist? “It’s so popular because it says what people want it to say” George wrote. “Huge swaths of society seem to have a vested interest in implying that no men are really bisexual and all women are. Society (specifically, but not exclusively, straight men) is frightened of bi men—who are a bit too much like them—but they can push gay men over to one side and think of them as ‘other.” They can even allow them a few rights now and then.”

Click here to read the rest.

New Paste Magazine Article and Two Podcast Guest Appearances

Hey y’all!

Last weekend I was at the 76th American Humanist Association conference, so I forgot to share my latest Paste Magazine article and two podcasts I was on.

My latest Paste Magazine article is “Can You Really Change Someone’s Mind?” It goes into the science of changing people’s mind (spoiler alert: it’s complicated).

I was also on The Gaytheist Manifesto last week in a panel discussion on Pride Month, and the Inciting Incident to read two blog posts I wrote last year about the Pulse shooting.

Enjoy!

Do Fidget Toys Work? — My latest for Paste Magazine

I got my first fidget toy a couple of weeks ago at my friend T’s birthday party. We were at their kitchen table playing Munchkin when I suddenly started experiencing sensory overload. I never played Munchkin before, so between trying to learn all the rules plus everyone talking, I felt anxious and fidgety. (I’m not autistic, but I do have ADHD, and some people with ADHD experience sensory processing problems.) I started playing with T’s fidget toy, and I started feeling calmer. T noticed this, so they gave me a simple green-and-white wooden spinner with four rings that spin in different directions. I became so immersed in the fidget toy that I forgot I was supposed to be learning how to play Munchkin.

Three weeks later, I still have my fidget toy (in fact, I’m playing with it right now as I think of what to write next). It helps center me when I’ve got too much sensory stimuli around me, like when I’m listening to a podcast while trying to do other projects (not something I recommend). However, being a good skeptic, I know very well that personal anecdotes don’t prove anything, so I decided to do some research. What I found was that with most things in science, it’s complicated.

Click here to read the rest.

Meet the Science Moms — My newest article for Paste Magazine

In 2015, a group of bloggers wrote an open letter to celebrity moms Gwyneth Paltrow, Sarah Michelle Gellar and Ginnifer Goodwin—criticizing their stance on the anti-GMO Safe and Accurate Food Labeling Act. The letter explained what GMOs actually are, how they are safe to eat, and how they require fewer pesticides. “When GMOs are stigmatized,” they wrote, “farmers and consumers aren’t able to benefit from much-needed advancements like plants with increased nutrients, or plants that can adapt to changing environmental stresses.”

The letter caught the attention of several people, including Natalie Newell, who discovered it while feeding her then-infant son Zeke late at night. “I was so impressed to see this group of intelligent, relatable and reasonable moms standing up for science and against the fear-based culture that seems to have infected the world of parenting,” she said. Shortly after that, she contacted one of the letter’s writers, Jenny Splitter, about possibly making a short documentary about science-based parenting. Splitter then contacted a few other science-based mothers she knew, and thus Science Moms was born.

Science Moms is an upcoming documentary that profiles five mothers—Splitter, Kavin Senapathy, Alison Bernstein, Anastasia Bodnar and Layla Katiraee—who advocate for science-based decision making when it comes to children’s nutrition and health. “Through interviews with ‘science moms’ who are on the front lines of this struggle,” the film’s website states, “we’ll dissect the bogus claims of these celebrities one by one and explain in simple language what the science really shows about GMOs, vaccines, homeopathy and any of these topics that are often in the headlines, yet even more often are misunderstood.”

Click here to read the rest.

Is The Bell Curve Scientific Racism? — My Latest for Paste Magazine

Sam Harris is no stranger to controversy. Known as one of the Four Horsemen of New Atheism, critics have accused the neuroscientist and author of being racist and Islamophobic for his comments, including suggesting we should profile Muslims at airports. He also raised eyebrows in a 2015 when he laughed along with gay conservative Douglas Murray’s transphobic comments during an episode of Harris’ podcast “Waking Up.” Most recently, Harris interviewed Charles Murray, co-author of the infamous 1994 book The Bell Curve, which suggests Black people are genetically predisposed to low IQs. According to Harris, the controversy surrounding the book is due to political correctness:

People don’t want to hear that a person’s intelligence is in large measure due to his or her genes, and there seems to be very little we can do environmentally to increase a person’s intelligence — even in childhood. It’s not that the environment doesn’t matter, but genes appear to be 50 to 80 percent of the story. People don’t want to hear this. And they certainly don’t want to hear that average IQ differs across races and ethnic groups.

Unfortunately, Harris must have missed the memo that the truth is more complicated than that.

For starters, critics are quick to point out Murray and co-author Richard Herrstein’s scholarship is shoddy at best and outright political propaganda at worst. In a 1995 Scientific American article, psychologist Leon Kamin noticed that one of their sources was a 1991 paper by Richard Lynn comparing the average IQs of people of different ethnicities which, according to Kamin, “reported only average Matrices scores, not IQs; the other studies used tests clearly dependent on cultural content.” He also claimed that Murray and Herrnstein ignored social and economic factors that lead to individual success and instead just focus on IQ. Then there’s the fact that Murray and Herrnstein devote two chapters of The Bell Curve criticizing affirmative action, which led Kamin to believe the book was politically motivated (Wikipedia refers to Murray as a “libertarian conservative”).

Click here to read the rest.

Oh boy, this is gonna piss a lot of people off!

Was Syd Barrett an Acid Casualty? On Psychedelics And the Psyche — My Latest for Paste Magazine

Syd Barrett is one of the most tragic stories in rock and roll. As the founder and lead singer/guitarist/songwriter for Pink Floyd, he revolutionized rock and roll and spearheaded the burgeoning psychedelic sound of the 1960s. However, shortly after the release of the band’s 1967 debut album The Piper at the Gates of Dawn, something changed. Barrett’s friends and bandmates claim he became more withdrawn, started playing only one chord during concerts, and even becoming catatonic. After Floyd replaced him with David Gilmour, Barrett recorded two solo albums and then left the limelight altogether until his death in 2006. Most people believe his excessive LSD consumption led to Barrett’s demise, but recent studies suggest psychedelics can perhaps improve mental health, not ruin it.

The most recent study comes from Brazil and tested the effects of a hallucinogen called ayahuasca on people with treatment-resistant depression. Fourteen people were given the hallucinogen while 15 people received a placebo. Within one week, more people who took ayahuasca claimed their depression went from severe to mild than those who took the placebo. Of course, as David Mischoulon of Massachusetts General Hospital points out, we need studies that follow patients for longer periods to see whether these effects are sustained.” However other studies that examined the effect of psychedelics on mental health found similar results.

Click here to read the rest.

Don’t Take Medical Advice from Gwyneth Paltrow — My latest Paste Magazine article

Launched in 2008 by Gwyneth Paltrow as a personal newsletter, Goop has since evolved into a lifestyle blog and online store. The website features a wide variety of recipes, travel tips, expensive clothing (seriously, $1,500 for a dress?), detoxes and “holistic” health advice. Recently, for example, Goop did an interview with “earthing” expert Clint Ober, who claims that walking barefoot in the grass can cure depression and insomnia. “The earth has an infinite supply of free electrons,” he explains, “so when a person is grounded, those electrons naturally flow between the earth and the body, reducing free radicals and eliminating any static electrical charge.”

There’s just one problem: there’s no evidence for Ober’s claims. “Our cells don’t need an infusion of electrons,” wrote Dr. Harriett Hall in a 2016 Skeptic article. Hall also explains that there’s “no evidence that EMF [electromagnetic fields] disrupts communications in our body or that grounding protects us from any hypothetical ill effects of using cell phones and other technology,” or that you can absorb elections through the ground. Plus, although feeling grass between your toes feels great, you’re more likely to absorb parasites from the soil than electrons.

Sadly this is just the latest example of Goop trying to pass pseudoscientific woo as legitimate medical advice. Not only are these tips not based on science, but they can also be dangerous.

Click here to read the rest.

The Anti-Vaxx Movement: Where Pseudoscience Meets Ableism — My Latest Paste Magazine Article

In 2015, Sesame Street announced they were introducing a new character with autism named Julia. She first appeared in the 2016 digital storybook “We’re Amazing, 1, 2, 3!” and made her official television debut on April 10th of this year. While many believe Julia will help autistic children feel less alone, some aren’t too pleased. According to the anti-vaxx website Natural News, “The rollout of autistic Julia is Sesame Street’s attempt to “normalize” vaccine injuries and depict those victimized by vaccines as happy, ‘amazing’ children rather than admitting the truth that vaccines cause autism in some children and we should therefore make vaccines safer and less frequent to save those children from a lifetime of neurological damage.” The article further claims that Elmo is “exploited as a literal puppet by the vaccine industry to push a pro-vaccine message” using “social engineering propaganda.” With its debunked claims and disturbing rhetoric, Natural News sums up why the anti-vaxx movement is dangerous: it’s based on both pseudoscience and ableism.

Read the rest here.