Best Reasons To Tell Suicide To Fuck Off

Hanne Blank Boyd wrote a good piece the other day, The Best Reason I Have Ever Found Not To Kill Myself. It’s a righteous rant and a good read. However her reason doesn’t work for me, and of course it won’t work for many people. Each individual is different, and though we can help each other and Blank Boyd’s (thanks, Hanne!) reason will work for some and is therefore worth sharing, it won’t be a useful answer for the majority of us. That realization instantly made me think that we should collect the best reason from as many different people as possible. For that reason, I encourage you to put yours in the comments below. In a while I’ll run an OP with a list of as many “best reasons” as I can find. I expect these reasons to come from you, so if you have ever seriously contemplated suicide, get down in the comments or write your own post somewhere (and link it) telling us what your best reason is or was.

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Lordamighty: PZ’s e-mailer’s errors

Back in the day men who wished to dress as women regarded themselves as being cross-dressers, or transvestites. What they never claimed to be was a ‘woman.’

This is fantastically wrong, and as the saying goes, fractally so. There are errors on a literal reading, errors the become apparent in context, errors implicit hidden in the spaces between words, errors with the steelmanned version of the statement, and errors with an interpretation that allows for nonliteral readings that translate farcically nonsensical and internally inconsistent cissexist approaches to writing about trans lives into meaningful assertions. Shall we have a go?

Let’s address the second sentence first. While its clear from context that the writer is wishing to make a point about the ontology of trans people (whether or not trans folk exist and what “being” trans means), it is correct on neither a literal level nor on the more generous interpretation abstracted from the words used. There is an implicit premise here that trans people are masculine or male trending toward feminine or female (commonly abbreviated “MtF”). But of course there have been many men who claimed to be women. Not trans people who claimed to be women, actual cis men. To escape a police warrant or a military draft, to play a joke, or for any of a million reasons, men have claimed to be women.

If we allow the very stupid and bigoted writing to take on another meaning less facially absurd we must understand that “men claiming to be women” is the author’s description of trans women. Qualified by the previous sentences “back in the day” this is an assertion that prior to some uncertain date trans women did not exist. If you’ve got the spoons and are seeking giggles, go ahead and ask them to name that date. It’s hilarious.

Unlike the second sentence which was wrong both literally and in context and abstracted (or steelmanned), on its face the first sentence is true, “men who wished to dress as woman” did sometimes in some places use terms like “cross-dresser” and “transvestite”. Of course the saving grace here is that “men who x did y” does not logically require that ALL men who x did y. If any two men who x did y, even if they never knew each other and lived in completely different eras, then “men who x did y” is technically true. So kudos there, I guess? But in its context this isn’t a claim that “at least 2 men” called themselves either cross-dresser or transvestite. In its context this is a claim that all men who desired to cross-dress called themselves by one or both of those terms. And that’s just laughably untrue.

Moreover, trans women are not a group of “men who wished to dress as women”. There is a vast category error here. The existence of oranges does not disprove apples. In their determination to cling to hateful, reductionist, and dismissive language, they’ve failed to properly state a claim about trans women at all. Clearly they would like us to believe that trans women did not exist until recently, but they are too staggeringly ignorant to make the claim in a way that even presents as true.

Let’s mention again that the writer dismisses the existence of FtM people implicitly: it does not even occur to them at any point in what they wrote to PZ that people society assigned to the role of girlhood might at any point in their lives lay claim to the roles of boyhood or manhood. That’s important because it is revealing of their cissexism, what many would call transphobia. Other assumptions in this bit of nonsense are as well, but we should not lose sight of the fact that in addition to the explicit claim that trans women never existed before some recent moment, there remains the parallel but implicit claim that trans men never existed before some recent moment. To think that the author is more hatefully contemptuous of MtF people than FtM people would be a mistake.

Having disposed of that, let’s examine “back in the day”. That period includes an awful lot of time to claim no black swans existed in, and we have quite a lot of evidence for black swans going back continuously for quite some time (and discontinuously for many centuries before that). Medical transition with modern, sterile surgical intervention is testified to for more than 100 years. This includes a subsequent identification with a gender not assigned at birth by both the surgical recipient and their society.

Prior to modern sterile surgical techniques, there were also similar cases in many societies. Some are not (permit me to be metaphorical) homologous, but merely analogous — persons who during life shift to a gendered role their society did not previously consider them to occupy, but which isn’t considered opposite to their previous genders in the way that woman and man are frequently considered opposites. (Wrongly and stupidly, of course, but still popularly so considered.) This included societies in which a person transitioned into a separate, sacred gender reserved for rare individuals. But there were also many societies in which a transition to an “opposite” gender occurred, which we can consider homologous (in our metaphorical way) to the category our delightfully cissexist writer asserts does not exist in the past.

The scholarship of persons such as  Ifi Amadiume and Will Roscoe (but don’t stop at just those two) convincingly demonstrate a variety of social understandings of gender that have included the possibility of transition to the opposite for at least several hundred years. Moreover, there is no reason to think that these phenomena popped into being the moment Western writers showed up in a location to record them.

Any argument you have with someone asserting that transition to the opposite (a term of art for the phenomenology, not an ontological concession that opposite is a factually correct description) did not exist until recently is certain to be with someone who was born not only long after transition to the opposite with associated modern medical intervention had become Western reality, but also someone who makes up facts rather than studies the science. Anthropology is clear: gender is multifaceted; gender roles are not generally binary (though they might be in specific, constrained local use cases) and gender expression, identification, and attribution are never so; and transition to the opposite is a long-attested fact.


Explaining Horizontal and Intra-Community Hostility: An Introduction by way of the FAE

So, over on Mano Singham’s blog, our resident physics expert wonders about a question outside his beam-control house:

[Given support for some aspects of the struggles against oppression targeting LGBTQIA folks for their gender, sex, or sexuality] what factors exist that are so strong that they can overcome the natural desire for solidarity with all the communities under the LGBTQIA umbrella[?]

Mano’s a smart guy, as are both my readers, so he already has some potentially informative analogs in mind: immigrant communities and nativist/colonial forms of oppression:

It is the case that on other issues such as xenophobia, some people may view some immigrant minorities as ‘worthy’ and others as ‘unworthy’ and favor the former over the latter

but this is only helpful because it establishes that such distinctions are possible and are not unique to LGBTQIA folks. It doesn’t answer the specific question about what forces divide what some might expect would be a [more] unified LGBTQIA community. So let’s work on answering that. I’m not exactly sure how many posts we’ll do in this series; I’ve not got it all mapped out. But it will be several, I’m sure, each trying to break off of this larger topic one manageable chunk.

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Overused Statistic #738: Mental Illness and Violent Victimization

So there’s a particular bit of overused truth whose use I want to challenge. Again, it’s not that it’s not true. AND it’s not that we shouldn’t be telling people that it’s true, BUT it seems to only ever be used in contexts where it doesn’t mean what people think it means.

Persons with mental illness are more likely to be victims of violent crime than to be perpetrators of violent crime. This is true.

Persons without mental illness are also more likely to be victims of violent crime than to be perpetrators of violent crime. This is also true.

But wait! How is that possible?

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Hunter/Gatherer Serial Killers: Guess who hunts their victims & who gathers them…


There’s a new paper out by Marissa Harrison (of Penn State) et. al. collected historical data on the crimes of 112 murderers who killed 3 or more people with at least one week between each murder (killing more quickly did not disqualify one so long as there were at least 3 periods of single/multiple murder that were separated from all other periods of single/multiple murder by a full week on each side). 55 of the killers were women. This is the all but 9 of the women serial killers in the US from 1821 to 2008 – at least that they could find. From the men serial killers during that period they selected “matches” of the women subjects. “Matches” here means that they were approximately equivalent to their women counterparts on certain variable which the researchers wanted to control.

Then they ran some criminological statistics on the gender-separated populations & looked for differences. The resulting research was published in the Journal of Forensic Psychiatry & Psychology. NewAtlas, reporting on the study, tells us that:

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Andy Lewis’ Gendered Gotcha

I rarely do this outside of classrooms, but I’m going to give folks here some definitions that are in common use among people that seriously study gender. Why? In part because Andy Lewis seems to think that there is no coherent definition of gender generally and woman specifically because gender is an inherently incoherent concept while sex is an inherently coherent concept and that to the extent that we use the words gender or woman or man we should use them only in reference to underlying, coherent categories of sex. The Andy Lewises of the world appear to believe that this definitional challenge – and the poor response most people give when asked to meet it – proves the fundamental rightness of an anti-trans*, pro-TERF feminist philosophical position.

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Andy Lewis Is A Stable Genius Who Wishes You Morans Would Get A Brian

So, I deliberately stayed out of PZ’s When humanists go bad thread. But y’know, I didn’t realize it had gone on quite this long. When I saw a spate of comments all directed to that thread, however, I had to check in again just to know what is keeping that thread alive.

The answer? Andy Lewis.

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Science Magazine is Failing Us

Science journalism is failing us in important ways. This post will be far shorter than I might like it to be, but I want it to be readable, and in any case I plan on following up soon with more information and also, I hope, a detailed action plan.

Here I simply want to point out a single article. In another post, I’ll also be discussing an article on the dismissal of Francisco Ayala from UC Irvine and the pattern of sexual harassment that led to that dismissal. But right now, let’s tackle an interesting article with a headline that is … terrible, in ways we will investigate later. The headline reads thus:

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Autism = Violence in England Gay Bar Threat? Why not? asks Associated Press

A number of news outlets are carrying a brief Associated Press story on the sentencing of a man arrested in connection with a terrorism threat against the gay community in the smaller Brit town Barrow-in-Furness. You can read it here, if you like.  The story is mostly uninteresting. The man arrested, Ethan Stables, never got the chance to make the spectacular “kill all the gays” attack he’d been threatening, and when time came for his sentencing, the judge assigned him an indefinite term in a psychiatric facility.

What’s odd here, however, is that you don’t go to a psych hospital instead of jail if there’s no psychological or psychiatric problem that led to your crime. Now, it may be that you had a condition from which you’ve since recovered, but you had to have had a condition at the time. So when the Associated Press’ description of Stables lists precisely zero conditions known to have a mechanism that can cause violence but does list “autism spectrum disorder” readers not aware of the state of psychological research might assume, wrongly, that autism spectrum disorder is associated with an increased risk of violence.

This description of Stables originally came from the defense, but we should not allow that to grant the Associated Press a free pass here. In order to prevent crazy-blaming, the AP has a responsibility to avoid dropping any disorder into a story in this context unless they are certain that the disorder has a known correlation with an increase in violence and a plausible explanation of how that disorder might have played a causal role in the behavior at issue. It may be that the records of any court ordered psych examination are sealed, but in that case the AP should not mention any particular disorder, whatever the defense contends. It may also be that the court believed that autism spectrum disorder could explain Stables’ threats of terrorism, but in that case the AP should clearly report that this is contrary to the best scientific evidence we have to date, and absent an explanation of how aspects of autism spectrum disorder played a role in a unique causal chain, the court’s judgement should be clearly labeled questionable. The AP took neither tack. The relevant part is entirely contained in this quote:

Defence lawyers said the 20-year-old, who has an autism spectrum disorder, had been brainwashed by right-wing extremists. But he was convicted in February of preparing an act of terrorism.

Journalism of this recklessness should always be called out for criticism.