First, law school requires a lot of effort, and so does building a family, so there were a few years when I legitimately didn’t have time to go around reading much on the internet. What turned up on Pharyngula constituted a large percentage of that. But more importantly, I spent years addressing this stuff back when the world was less connected and there were fewer noted cis supremacists who bothered writing about trans* people. Seriously, as far as critiques of written work or audio/video appearances went, I spent a decade speaking mostly about Janice Raymond, Mary Daly, and Germaine Greer. I’ve read so. fucking. much.
Now you have people like Peterson and Burchill and Singal, and when I’ve bothered to read them at all, what’s struck me is that despite citing different specific pieces of evidence, the actual arguments are all still the same. It’s maddening. While, yes, there have been great advancements for trans* communities over the last 3 decades, I find it entirely disheartening to come up against people who argue, in effect, “While, yes, people were wrong when they argued that trans* adults should be discharged from the military under the assumption that they’re mentally ill, we should assume trans* teenagers are mentally ill and deny them treatment, at least until they’re 18 and prove that they aren’t mentally ill.” What the Freud?
Really, if a presumption that gender-nonconforming behavior was evidence of ignorance, confusion, or mental illness turned out to be insufficient to justify barring people from holding a job (in or out of the military), then maybe starting from the presumption of ignorance, confusion or mental illness is the problem and shouldn’t be used to justify *anything*. It wasn’t the case that oh, it turned out the presumption was valid, but that mentally ill people are more job capable than generally thought (though we probably are). The presumption was invalid. So why are people using it in new arguments?
And yet, they’ll cite some fucking study and just to do due diligence, I feel compelled to go read the damn study to make sure there’s not some robust, empirically well-justified conclusion in there supporting the cissexist jerk’s point. And there never is. Either the methodology is crap or the studies data and conclusions are simply not nearly enough to support the writer’s conclusions. Their entire collection of arguments is a herd of spherical cows.
People still don’t get that there’s no such thing as a random sample of trans* people. I had to face that reality 20 years ago when attempting to study how domestic violence affects trans* folks. I came up with data, but it was all self-reported and I realized that my ambitions of providing any real, quantitative figures were misguided. The best part of that study was the qualitative bits, but they’re never validly generalizable.
So people like Singal come along and act as if there’s such a thing as a study of trans* folks from which we can generalize to an entire national or international trans* population and what can I say? You haven’t caught up to where I was twenty fucking years ago? I mean, it’s much worse than that. At that point I hadn’t been to grad school and I was teaching myself statistics while waiting for enough responses to the survey to trickle in and had to come to my own conclusion that none of the methods for generalizing from a sample to a population were going to work. People like Singal and Peterson have been to grad school. They’ve been trained in when to generalize from a sample and when not to do so. And so I have to wonder: are they fundamentally and consciously dishonest? I was highly motivated to use my data to come to conclusions and although I was trying to work with academics (and got advice from them), I had no one above me with authority to tell me to end my attempts at unjustified generalization.
And yet, I stopped. I stopped before publication. I stopped because I had a modicum of honesty, even when I thought that the numeric results I was getting had good reason to be considered reflective of trans* communities as a whole. I stopped even though the relationship between my numbers and the numbers for other populations were similar enough, with deviations predicted by my hypothesis and explainable through known mechanisms, that anyone familiar with the work on domestic violence at the time would have been entirely unsurprised had I reported my findings in a journal.
I stopped generalizing because it was the right thing to do.
But now, you have awareness of trans* folks vastly increased and people like Burchill and Singal and Peterson keep on generalizing. To fight it with the same integrity I fought earlier incarnations, I would have to do a huge amount of new reading, but I have every confidence that it would all come down to the same thing: No one has the data to generalize conclusions on a national level. Not the Singals and not the people I would support.
Why is this true? Because such a large percentage of trans* folks exist closeted, and there is no scientific mechanism to compare a known group to an unknown group. We can’t gather up trans* folks who aren’t out and compare their demographics and characteristics to out trans* folks so as to try to do the math that would appropriately correct for variations between the two. We can’t do it because they aren’t out.
This doesn’t mean we should do research on what’s working or not at an individual clinic or with a localized sub-population. The things that keep someone from coming out might be different in Lisbon than they are in Toronto than they are in Quito than they are at the Subic Bay Naval Base. What brings an 8 year old to the attention of researchers might be dramatically different than what brings a 15 year old to the attention of researchers. We can pay attention to these things – and should – but they don’t tell us anything about the 8 year old who doesn’t come to the attention of researchers.
And so if I were really to take these stupid fuckers on, I would have to make the argument that the fact that they’re right that uncertainty exists doesn’t mean that they’re right to advance the same presumptions and rationalizations to support new policies that clearly failed when supporting old policies. Just as we are justified in taking note of the fact that supernatural explanations have never been later found to be justified and use that set of observations to set “no supernatural activity caused this phenomenon” as our default or null hypothesis, we are justified in saying that despite how much we don’t know, “denying or at least delaying treatment should be the reasonable first option” has never yet been later determined to be empirically justified and thus providing active help upon first presentation should be our default stance, providing active help is better than not providing active help should be our null hypothesis.
I am bothered by how often trans* advocates (researchers and lay persons) generalize results beyond what is practically, empirically, and mathematically justified. But I don’t want to concede that shit to the SPBs of the world because their consistent misrepresentations of important truths, including the historical context in which research has never justified a deny/delay first approach as best for trans* persons, makes me quite certain that those fuckers will distort that concession to make it appear that they aren’t themselves guilty of the same, but many times over.
I am not comfortable with how some pro-trans* folks report or discuss individual papers, but the trans* advocates’ position that responses to trans* people need to be centered on what trans* individuals assert is best for themselves has been borne out any number of times, and as far as I know, deceptive, denying, delaying and non-collaborative responses used from the time of Alan Hart to today have never been empirically validated as good for trans* people.
When cissexists come up with a new thing to deny or delay, with a new treatment that should be decided by experts or providers and not collaboratively with trans patients or clients, I don’t want to read their arguments. We shouldn’t have to read their arguments. Even when they cite new data, an individual study, non-generalizable as it must be, simply has no power to challenge the massive body of research acquired over decades that justifies responding, “Whatever new study you might cite, the premises and structure of your argument have been proven to be unjustified. Unless you can break entirely with the past, unless you can develop new premises, or unless you accrue a large body of non-generalizable but highly repeatable research that shows we’ve finally reached the limits of the applicability of the patient-first model, just fuck off.”
I hate that it’s so complicated. I hate that honesty compels a truly complex and nuanced response. I hate that in order to make my argument I have to cite not one particular study, but the massive weight of decades of evidence, of hundreds of studies. Burchill, Peterson & Singal have the same advantage as Ken Ham: they can cite single studies or a specific few by name. Read superficially, these might even highlight uncertainty about trans*-related best practices (PBS) or evolutionary biology (Ham), and that uncertainty might seem to someone less than expert to raise a reasonable doubt.
It’s a trick that embraces ignorance. It’s a trick that sells short the capacities of children. It’s a trick that harms us all. And yet, leaping at the opportunity to smack down another PRATT with your 1,001st rebuttal reaches a point of diminishing returns. (After his history opposing the nonsense of Ham and similar, I’d be unsurprised if PZ happened to agree.)
No, I can’t be bothered to put up a rebuttal every time the next SBP writes a new piece attacking the autonomy, capacities, or treatment of trans* people. But it’s not because I don’t care.
If you feel, as a trans* person, that I should be writing more articles debunking this shit, I hope that this helps you understand why I don’t do as many responses to the newest cissexist pseudo-intellectual crap as I once did.