A Transgender Athlete Reader

Remember this old thing?

Rationality Rules was so confident nobody would take him to task, his “improved” video contains the same arguments as his “flawed” one. And honestly, he was right; I’ve seen this scenario play out often enough within this community to know that we try to bury our skeletons, that we treat our minorities like shit, that we “skeptics” are just as prone to being blind followers as the religious/woo crowds we critique. And just like all those other times, I cope by writing words until I get sick of the topic. Sometimes, that takes a while.

In hindsight, “a while” turned out to be seven months and about seventeen blog posts. Why on Earth would I spend so much time and effort focused on one vlogger? I don’t think I ever explained why in those posts, so let’s fix that: the atheist/skeptic movement has a problem with transphobia. From watching my peers insinuate Ann Coulter was a man, to my participation in l’affair Benson, I gradually went from “something feels off about this” to “wow, some of my peers are transphobes.”

As I picked apart the arguments made by transphobes, I started to see patterns. Much like with religious and alt-Right extremists, there’s a lot of recycling going on. Constantly, apologists are forced to search for new coats of paint to cover up old bigoted arguments. I spotted a shift from bathroom rhetoric to sports rhetoric in early 2019 and figured that approach would have a decent lifespan. So when Rationality Rules stuck to his transphobic guns, I took it as my opportunity to defuse sports-related transphobic arguments in general. If I did a good enough job, most of these posts would still be applicable when the next big-name atheist or skeptic tried to invoke sports.

My last post was a test of that. It was a draft I’d been nursing for months back in 2019, but after a fair bit of research and some drastic revisions I’d gotten Rationality Rules out of my system via other posts. So I set it aside as a test. If I truly was right about this shift to sports among transphobes, it was only a matter of time until someone else in the skeptic/atheist community would make a similar argument and some minor edits would make it relevant again. The upshot is that a handful of my readers were puzzled by this post about Rationality Rules, while the vast majority of you instead saw this post about Shermer and Shrier.

The two arguments aren’t quite the same. Rationality Rules emphasizes that “male puberty” is his dividing line; transgender women who start hormone therapy early enough can compete as women, according to him, and he relies on that to argue he’s not transphobic at all. Shermer is nowhere near as sophisticated, arguing for a new transgender-specific sporting category instead. Shrier takes the same stance as Rationality Rules, but she doesn’t push back on Shermer’s opinions.

But not only are the differences small, I doubt many people had “women are inherently inferior to men in domain X” on their transphobe bingo card. And yet, the same assertion was made at two very different times by three very different people. I consider this test a roaring success.

One consequence is that most of my prior posts on Rationality Rules’ arguments against transgender athletes still hold quite a bit of value, and are worth boosting. First, though, I should share the three relevant posts that got me interested in sports-related apologia:

Trans Athletes, the Existence of Gender Identity, … / … and Ophelia Benson: The first post proposed two high-level arguments in favour of allowing transgender athletes to compete as the gender they identify with. The second is mostly about calling out Benson for blatant misgendering, but I also debunk some irrational arguments made against transgender athletes.

I Think I Get It: My research for the prior two posts led me to flag sport inclusion as the next big thing in transphobic rhetoric. The paragraph claiming “they think of them as the worst of men” was written with Benson in mind, but was eerily predictive of Shermer.

And finally, the relevant Rationality Rules posts:

EssenceOfThought on Trans Athletes: This is mostly focused on EssenceOfThought‘s critique of Rationality Rules, but I slip in some extras relating to hemoglobin and testosterone.

Rationality Rules is an Oblivious Transphobe: My first crack at covering the primary factors of athletic performance (spoiler alert: nobody knows what they are) and the variation present. I also debunk some myths about transgender health care, refute some attempts to shift the burden of proof or argue evidence need not be provided.

Texas Sharpshooter: My second crack at athletic performance and its variance, this time with better analysis.

Rationality Rules is “A Transphobic Hack“: This is mostly commentary specific to Rationality Rules, but I do link to another EssenceOfThought video.

Special Pleading: My second crack at the human rights argument, correcting a mistake I made in another post.

Rationality Rules is a “Lying” Transphobe: I signal boost Rhetoric&Discourse‘s video on transgender athletes.

“Rationality Rules STILL Doesn’t Understand Sports”: A signal boost of Xevaris‘ video on transgender athletes.

Lies of Omission: Why the principle of “fair play” demands that transgender athletes be allowed to compete as their affirmed gender.

Begging the Question: How the term “male puberty” is transphobic.

Rationality Rules Is Delusional: Rob Clark directs me to a study that deflates the muscle fibre argument.

Cherry Picking: If transgender women possess an obvious performance benefit, you’d expect professional and amateur sporting bodies to reach a consensus on that benefit existing and to write their policies accordingly. Instead, they’re all over the place.

Separate and Unequal: I signal boost ‘s comic on transgender athletes.

Rationality Rules DESTROYS Women’s Sport!!1!: I take a deep dive into a dataset on hormone levels in professional athletes, to see what would happen if we segregated sports by testosterone level. The title gives away the conclusion, alas.

That takes care of most of Shermer and Shrier’s arguments relating to transgender athletes, and the remainder should be pretty easy. I find it rather sad that neither are as skilled at transphobic arguments as Rationality Rules was. Is the atheist/skeptic community getting worse on this subject?

A Good Start

It certainly didn’t seem like that at first blush, though.

Further, we wish to make it clear that Dr. Hall still remains an editor of SBM in good standing. She has worked tirelessly to promote SBM and its principles, contributing over 700 articles to SBM since 2008, all without any compensation or possibility of reward beyond public service. However, at SBM quality matters first, and so we have to remain open to correction when necessary.

Hold on. Harriet Hall has repeatedly shared medical misinformation and lied about the scientific evidence, on a website that claims to promote “the highest standards and traditions of science in health care,” and it hasn’t impacted your view of her at all? Both Steven Novella and David Gorski are not concerned that her flagrant disregard of the science here might spill over to other topics she’s discussed? You’re fine with being used to launder medical misinformation, so long as the actors “remain open to correction?” Yeeesh, I just lost a lot of respect for Science-Based Medicine.

Their response to Hall’s article is also hyper-focused on the scientific literature, with only a few exceptions. That can be quite dangerous, as Allison points out.

Frankly, for a trans person, there’s something surreal and erasing in seeing cis people feuding with cis people over whether we exist. I mean, I am grateful that there are cis people being allies for us … But the fact that people have to come up with logical arguments and “evidence” that our transness is “real,” thus keeping the question alive of whether we do, in fact, exist, keeps giving me the creepy feeling that maybe I’m just a figment of my own imagination. […]

I was just reading HJ Hornbeck’s post about trans athletes, which has all kinds of “scientific,” “objective” evidence that gender dysphoria, gender identity, etc. are real. The problem with going down that path is not only that it concedes the possibility that it could be “disproven,” but also that trans people who don’t fit into the definitions and criteria in those “proofs” are then implicitly left out of the category “real trans.”

When writing about issues at the core of someone’s identity, you need to prioritize humanism over evidence. Hence why I went out of my way to point out the scientific literature is not the final word, that it is not prescriptive. If you doubt me, consider one of the after-effects of ACT UP:

The upshot of all this: “What they were able to revolutionize was really the very way that drugs are identified and tested,” says France. This included scrapping the prevailing practice of testing drugs on a small number of people over a long period of time in favor of testing a huge sample of people over a much shorter period — significantly speeding up the time it took to conduct drug trials.

Similarly, ACT UP insisted that the researchers and pharmaceutical companies that were searching for a cure for AIDS also research treatments for the opportunistic infections that were killing off AIDS patients while they waited for a cure. In the process, says France, “ACT UP created a model for patient advocacy within the research system that never existed before.”

Today it seems natural that people suffering from a disease — whether that’s breast cancer or diabetes — should have a voice in how it is researched and treated. But France says this was decidedly not the norm before ACT UP.

By just reciting the scientific record as if it is a holy book, you roll back the clock to a time when scientists acted as gatekeepers rather than helpers. Instead, start from a patient-centred care perspective where patient rights are placed first. The quality of the science will improve, if anything, and you won’t condescend or impose on the people effected. Novella/Gorski do make some attempts at this, to be fair, but I thought they were easy to miss.

At the same time I was filing away that objection away, though, Novella and Gorski’s follow-up article was really starting to grow on me. It calmly and patiently shoots down a number of arguments made by Shrier and Hall, and the meat of the article doesn’t hold back. They earn their conclusion:

Abigail Shrier’s narrative and, unfortunately, Dr. Hall’s review grossly misrepresent the science and the standard of care, muddying the waters for any meaningful discussion of a science-based approach to transgender care. They mainly rely on anecdotes, outliers, political discussions, and cherry-picked science to make their case, but that case is not valid. […]

At this point there is copious evidence supporting the conclusion that the benefits of gender affirming interventions outweigh the risks; more extensive, high-quality research admittedly is needed. For now, a risk-benefit analysis should be done on an individual basis, as there are many factors to consider. There is enough evidence currently to make a reasonable assessment, and the evidence is also clear that denying gender-affirming care is likely the riskiest option.

I could have used some more citations (shock surprise), but there’s enough there to establish that Novella/Gorski have done their homework. Also, did I mention this is only part one?

Part II of this series will include a far more detailed discussion of the key claims in Abigail Shrier’s book and where she goes wrong by an expert in the care of trans children and adolescents.

Giving a front-line expert a platform to share their insights will do wonders to counter the misinformation. Until that time, we still have a solid takedown of Shrier and Hall’s views on transgender people’s health. Despite my objections, it’s well worth a read.

Slavery in Canada

What’s a Canadian to do in honour of Juneteenth? In school I learned we were the end point of the underground railroad, which ferried slaves out of the USA in the decades before their Civil War. And, well, that was about it. Yay Canada! I guess we never engaged in slavery.

A moment’s thought suggests that is nonsense. Britain did indeed ban slavery before the USA, but even my decaying history knowledge tells me that happened in the 1800’s, about two hundred years after the Brits landed. The Atlantic parts of Canada were heavily engaged in shipping, so there’s a non-trivial chance slave ships landed there in passing at least. If only we had some historical documentation about the subject.

[Read more…]

Fundraiser: Stardew Valley

My thought process for choosing this game was pretty straightforward: fall is a time of harvest, some sort of game where I’m harvesting makes sense, so why not play Stardew Valley? I’ve fallen head over heels for sandbox games, yet never played Harvest Moon. And Stardew Valley is an indie game originally made by one person. It ticks every box.

Alas, it also ticks one more: colonialism. The game gives you a farm once owned by a grandparent, for free, and allows you to develop the place into whatever farm or mining business you want. The context and location sound very North American, which implies there were once First Nations people on that land (though apparently the game actually takes place in Russia?). In reality, if you’re stuck in a soul-sucking job there’s no shortage of options to wiggle out, like starting up an art collective or striking for improved work conditions; in game, though, your “choice” is either to remain in stasis or move into someone else’s place. The game never gives you that choice, though, the moment you gain control of your character is the moment after you’ve taken over this new space. To add insult to injury, you’re still not free of capitalism; oh no, you’ll spend a fair bit of time finding ways to earn cash to trade for goods and services, planting the seeds of your old society in this new space.

This doesn’t make the game any less fun, but it also lingers over it like a faint smell. On Saturday December 5th, at 10:00 AM MDT, I’ll be both enjoying and dissecting this game on my Twitch channel. If you like the concept, consider donating to our fundraiser. It’ll help pay off the legal fees we’re still paying thanks to Richard Carrier. Alternatively, toss some money at Skepticon to pay off their Carrier-related bills. No funds? Not a problem, though you might want to read this to get into the spirit of things.

Fundraiser: What’s So Scary about Climate Change?

There’s a sort of inevitability that’s common to all horror. When watching Jason or the xenomorph, you’re already certain people will die. The real question is who, when, and how. Sometimes its fairly obvious, for instance that lone person in the vent is a goner, in which case the focus is more on how everyone else copes with the loss. Other times, the death comes out of nowhere; Annie Phillips steps into a car on a sunny day and chats up the driver, only to have her throat graphically slit a few minutes later.

This is a lot like climate change. The basic physics has been known since the 1890’s, so there’s no debate over whether it’s happening (unless you’re the Mayor, of course). The focus is on who, when, and how. Desert regions will get hotter, but maybe plants will also get more poisonous? Tinkering with an entire planet will inevitably lead to unforeseen or odd circumstances, most of which will be unwelcome.

So Abe Drayton has joined with PZ Myers, Joshua Johnson, and a sacrificial lamb (me!) to discuss the spooky side of climate change. It’ll be premiering in 45 minutes over on my YouTube channel. It’s just one of many things we’re doing to help pay off our legal bills, so if you have some spare candy please consider donating it to us or Skepticon.

The View from The Street

Whenever mass protests arise, I’m always indebted to the people and protestors who stand right in the thick of it. Hunter Walker, for instance, gave me quite a bit of insight into the Washington, DC. protests. For the Portland, Oregon protests, I got lucky and someone on this very network has been covering them.

1. yes, we’ve always had a few asshats in the crowd doing asshat-y things like throwing fireworks.

2. We actually didn’t have any of that last night, to the point where there was not even a single instance of coordinated banging on the fence to make noise (and not to damage the fence). Like, this shit was peaceful. 100% peaceful. No excuses peaceful. I was actually surprised we could get more than 1500 people down there for a protest like this, with real, legitimate grievances that would anger any caring heart, and have no one engaging in any of the behaviors that they’ve used to justify past attacks. No one at all. I was so fucking proud of us before the tear gas flew and chaos came down. This shit wasn’t even 1% on the protesters. This shit was all on the feds. All of it.

and,
3. Holy fuck, those assaults last night were BAD. Really bad. Mega bad. Even, if you’ll pardon the pun, MAGA BAD.

Crip Dyke has been on the case, which is amazing when you realize her ‘nym is quite literal.

And now we’re back where we started, with me telling you about the decision I had to make to stay and possibly be pushed away from the car, and because of my slower ability to flee inevitably coming into contact with cops that I **know** assault crutch users as if they were armed. If I fell, would I even be able to get up? Especially if the club was aimed at an arm or wrist?

I talk with BFF and she’s scared. We haven’t been together, but she has her own scary stories about how aggressive the cops have been tonight. She convinces me to get in the car. We’re sitting. We’re talking. We make the decision. We leave.

I felt bad retreating with others still facing the Feds’ rage, but it was the right decision.

Tonight was so bad.

If you’re listening to me, if you’ve been listening to me the past 11 days, I’m telling you, however bad the other nights have been, however much you thought those nights sounded scary, they weren’t tonight. Tonight was its own thing, a category to itself.

She has an extensive series on the protests, in fact. You can learn that expired tear gas was fired, watch as she ponders discomfort, cringe as she reveals the Feds were poisoning the air, enjoy a few flowers, witness a police-induced stampede, dream about glitter, observe people getting tear gassed without warning, sigh as people fall short, see the change that happens when Portland gets national press coverage or when the Mayor is nearby, listen to a detailed account of police violence, rewind back to when she was first tear-gassed as well as a first set of photos from the protests. It’s well worth your time.

I know it may not seem that way. Click on the first link to her blog, and you’ll see I’m only getting around to sharing these links a month after they were written. Why on Earth would I link to stale news, surely the protests stopped when the Feds pulled out?

The worst nights follow the same script: A large group takes to the streets calling for an end to police violence and systemic racism. A small fraction commits low-level crimes — often lighting small fires, graffiti-ing buildings and throwing fireworks or water bottles at officers. The police respond with force against the entire crowd.

Over the last month, demonstrators have been battered with batons as they left protests. Police have charged at crowds until they’re pushed deep into residential neighborhoods. Journalists have been shoved and arrested. Tear gas, while used more sparingly than in the early days of the protests, is threatened near nightly. And police regularly shut down protests by declaring them riots. That happened twice over the weekend, though police declined to intervene as far-right activists, some brandishing firearms, brawled with counter-protesters for hours on Saturday afternoon. […]

The mayor recognizes the problem with these scenes that play out on the streets of his city every night: non-violent protesters facing force as police respond to the misbehavior of a few. He just hasn’t found the answer.

“the weekend” referred to above is the weekend of August 22nd. The protests didn’t stop, we just stopped paying attention to them when the level of violence dropped to an “acceptable” level. As I type this, lawsuits are being launched against the US federal government over their behaviour in Portland. The events Crip Dyke documented continue to have resonance, and are due to be replicated elsewhere.

In fact it’ll probably happen this week. Jacob Blake was shot in the back seven times by the police of Kenosha, Wisconsin, as his three children watched on in horror. On day three of the protests against the incident, a gunman opened fire on peaceful protestors, killing two and wounding a third. By now, you shouldn’t be shocked at what happened next.

The apparent shooter, meanwhile, was seen on video walking away from the scene — his AR-style rifle clearly visible, his hands above his head. But Kenosha police who were responding to the reports of gunfire showed no interest in arresting or even questioning the man. Instead, they asked him for directions. “Is someone injured, straight ahead?” an officer asks him via loudspeaker. “Get out of the road,” said another.

He even approached an idling police car, going up close to the window, but then appeared to change his mind and walked away.

Brent Ford, 24, a photographer, witnessed the entire scene. “He had his hands up and they told him to get out of there, even though everyone was yelling that he was the shooter,” Ford told VICE News. “The police didn’t seem to hear or care what the crowd was saying.”

Yep, the police protected a murderer. After all, he was one of their own.

His connections to law enforcement, however, go beyond his vocal support of police on social media. In a statement to BuzzFeed News on Wednesday, the Grayslake Police Department confirmed that [the shooter] was a former member of the Lindenhurst, Grayslake, Hainesville Police Department’s Public Safety Cadet Program. According to a description that was recently removed from the department’s official website, the program “offers boys and girls the opportunity to explore a career in law enforcement” through “hands-on career activities,” such as riding along with officers on patrol and firearms training.

Along with the page describing the Public Safety Cadet Program, the organization’s official Facebook account was deleted after images from 2018 of a boy in a police uniform [resembling the shooter] began to circulate online.

Before he killed two people, he was apparently being thanked by the police for being there. Even as first-degree murder charges were announced against him, his actions were being obfuscated in order to make them easier to defend. And while I’m not aware of any Republican amounting an explicit defense, this is a party that celebrated two white people who brandished weapons against peaceful protesters, headed by a person who views all protestors as terrorists and fantasizes about torturing people he hates. They have innocent blood on their hands, and they’re likely to get a fresh coat of it.

We will NOT stand for looting, arson, violence, and lawlessness on American streets. My team just got off the phone with Governor Evers who agreed to accept federal assistance (Portland should do the same!) TODAY, I will be sending federal law enforcement and the National Guard to Kenosha, WI to restore LAW and ORDER!

Portland could easily become the new normal in the US. This makes Crip Dyke’s series all the more vital to read.