Read Siobhan

Siobhan has a very well-constructed and sourced takedown of some people who are trying to claim trans activists are opposed to science. I really have jack shit to add at this point, but a reminder to those looking at the science on trans issues: Beware of cisgender people constructing theories about transgender people. Eyes to the sides y’all.


  1. Bronan says

    No doubt there are some people who try to claim a false dichotomy between activist and academic, but that is patently absurd. It is plain that one can be both, either or neither.

    However, we are still a long way from either side being able to claim proper science is being done, and I suspect that trans-theory will go through several updates in the next few decades. As far as I can tell, the biggest problem will be doing proper empiricism, and teasing out the effects that various causes have on our gender identities – since “feelings” are notoriously subjective.

    It seems pretty clear that the trustworthiness of subjects is a big problem for scientists when interpreting the data, so its probably not reasonable to conclude wholesale bias as a result. Scientist/activists do well when they hold up studies that have good methodology, and where they accept and attempt to resolve issues which confound good methodology. They do badly when they simply reject a conclusion on spurious grounds. The scientist wasn’t even trans, I mean WTF.

  2. Great American Satan says

    Presuming wholesale bias (and doing what you can to measure and correct for it) can sometimes be the most scientific way to proceed. Harvard’s Project Implicit is about showing people who participate how they may have many unconscious biases that they should strive to be aware of and if necessary overcome.

    Also while feelings are something to be careful in trying to measure, they have to be treated with some humane care and consideration in addition to whatever science one is doing. Here’s the number one problem with these cis sexologist’s theories, in my barely educated but personally involved opinion: trans people are strongly encouraged their whole lives to doubt their own experience, to wonder if the way they feel is valid.

    That holds them back from getting the care they need, often for a dangerously long time. Theories that reinforce those doubts cause real harm, and so – if they really are true and scientifically accurate, can help us move toward better help for trans people – need to be triple-vetted and very carefully parsed and published, so as to minimize the damage.

    I dunno. It’s all above my pay grade.

  3. AMM says

    As far as I can tell, the biggest problem will be doing proper empiricism, and teasing out the effects that various causes have on our gender identities – since “feelings” are notoriously subjective.

    It seems pretty clear that the trustworthiness of subjects is a big problem for scientists when interpreting the data, so its probably not reasonable to conclude wholesale bias as a result

    There is definitely an issue here. But it isn’t because trans people’s (or cis people’s) self-reported feelings are so unreliable. It’s because of the unconscious (and in many cases conscious) transphobia, cisnormativity, and transmisogyny on the part of researchers and society.

    Many areas of psychology and social science rely on people’s self-reported feelings and mental states. To use a trivial example, if scientists want to study stamp collectors, they would simply ask whether the subjects like to collect stamps, and maybe whether they do collect stamps, and maybe how they feel about it, etc. They would simply assume that those who say they like to collect stamps do, in fact, like to collect stamps, and those who say they don’t, don’t. They would not, for example, assume some underlying pathology that makes them say they like to collect stamps when in fact they don’t care at all about stamps and are really simply getting back at their mothers.

    The situation is very different with people on the transgender spectrum. There is a presumption that people reporting transgender feelings or identities are deranged, so that they don’t actually feel the way they say they feel, or that their feelings arise from some underlying pathology, and those feelings will go away as soon as that pathology is “cured.” (If this sounds a lot like how same-sex attractions were viewed 50 years ago, or how dissidents were treated in Soviet Russia, it’s because it is.) The problem (as others, such as Julia Serano have better described) is that since cis people, by definition, don’t feel those feelings and cis people are the measure of all things, transgender feelings must be somehow twisted to fit cis people’s experiences and, if they can’t be made to fit them, then they must therefore be different from what their subjects say.

    The idea that there must be “objective evidence” of people’s trans nature stems from this attitude.

    This is even before you deal with researchers who have an axe to grind, of the “I know the truth, don’t bother me with evidence.” People such as Paul McHugh, Kenneth Zucker, Blanchard, and Bailey fall into this category. Their research is about as reliable as “creation science.”

    There’s the additional complication that telling the truth about one’s transgender identity and feelings can have serious consequences. On the one hand, until recently, the only way to get transition treatment or official support was to tell officials and medical providers exactly what they wanted to hear, regardless of how one actually felt. On the other, people who are known to be trans are routinely disowned by family, ostracized by friends and community, likely to be victims of violence, lose their jobs and their homes, and face injustice and violence from government and law enforcement. Most of us learn at a very early age to be very circumspect about what we say and who we say it to. If the researchers are the same people who will provide transition treatment, or who will provide documentation so they can use the correct bathroom or change their names, as is true for most of the research in the past, then it’s no wonder the results are unreliable.

    Julia Serano’s Whipping Girl goes into this in more detail. BTW, also see her post on Medium, which Shiv links to in her next post.

  4. Bronan says

    Project implicit is awesome, and it is probably safe to assume that everyone has some kind of bias.

    However, while scientists are not immune, a huge part of their job is to monitor and correct for bias, which makes them one of the most likely subgroups of humans to be less biased. I think it is extremely problematic to ascribe bias to the scientific community at large, *particularly* when the subjects they are trying to study have been taught to doubt their own feelings and to squeeze into policed gender roles.

    There is a lot to tease out with this subject matter, and since huge parts of it are meta-self-perception-with-reference-to-perceived-external-locus-of-evaulation (there is probably a german word for it) we will need scientists and activists trusting each other and working in tandem. Personally, I believe that a huge subset of trans-pain could be neutralised if we could all get together and just agree to stop gender-policing. The deeper understanding of the neurological and sociological causes/mechanisms of gender identity will take time, but we already know where the latter-stage exacerbating factors come into it – from people trying to make other people fit into their stupid little mind-boxes. That shit stops, we can start to make progress.

    Its not above anyone’s pay grade! Truth is the lodestone. Go as deep or as shallow as you like, just follow the lodestone.

  5. Great American Satan says

    Holy smokes. Those are some big comments. It’s good to add reading on the subject for the interested, especially when my OP was so skimpy, but these would probably be more appropriate to have on Shiv’s article.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *