Brynn Tannehill

Lies, Damn Lies, and Lies About Transgender People

Filed By Brynn Tannehill | June 26, 2014 3:00 PM | comments

Filed in: Media, Transgender & Intersex
Tags: anti-trans stereotypes, anti-trans talking points, debunking, fear mongering, myth-busting, talking points

bigstock-Metal-whistle-on-a-white-backg-16977014.jpgIn the wake of Time magazine's cover story about the "Transgender Tipping Point," right-wing commentators have been out in force. This includes the National Review, the Wall Street Journal, The Federalist, and others. All of them operate off of the same set of talking points, which are based on groundless assumptions, poor science, discredited research, and straw-man arguments.

The Federalist's Joy Pullmann takes all those talking points, mashes them together, and adds a bit of libertarian-sounding philosophy and Christian persecution myth for good measure. These are intellectual bullies, however. They seem to expect that no one will stand up and actually check their "facts."

But that's exactly what I'm going to do. Let's start with the Federalist blog post. No straw-man arguments here, just their own words.

Lie #1

"Unlike President Obama, who is preparing to issue an executive order imposing a directive similar to these ordinances on federal contractors, the Billings city council isn't a bunch of hardened liberal activists."

There has been a long history of presidents issuing executive orders that address the civil rights of employees of federal contractors. This includes "hardened liberal activists" like President Eisenhower. Additionally, 150 other cities have added similar provisions protecting gender identity, many of which are in deep-red states like Utah, Texas, and Arizona.

Lie #2

"Except for a tiny number of people with gene disabilities, every human being has either XX or XY chromosomes embedded in every cell of his or her body. That makes each of us biologically male or female, no matter how we feel about that fact."

Unless you have Complete Androgen Insensitivity Syndrome (CAIS)... or 5-alpha-reductase deficiency. Or Swyer syndrome. Or genetic mosaicism. Or 17-?-Hydroxysteroid dehydrogenase III deficiency. Or Progestin-induced virilisation. Or prenatal exposure to diethylstilbestrol, or any of a wide range of endocrine-based disorders that cause a person to experience an intersex condition in which a person has chromosomes that don't match their primary sexual characteristics.

Other times, people have both XY and XX cells in their body. A woman with XY chromosomes developed physically as a woman, underwent spontaneous puberty, reached menarche, menstruated regularly, experienced two unassisted pregnancies, and gave birth to a 46,XY daughter with complete gonadal dysgenesis.

Chromosomes do not necessarily equal sex.

Lie #3

"For that matter, do women typically start sprouting facial hair...? Not without heavy unnatural intervention..."

Actually, yes -- women can sometimes grow beards without any medical intervention whatsoever.

sikh-woman-facial-hair.png

Lie #4

"[E]ach of us [are] biologically male or female, no matter how we feel about that fact. To believe otherwise is essentially a psychiatric disorder."

No, it's called reading the medical literature. The organization responsible for defining what is and is not a psychiatric disorder -- the American Psychiatric Association, via the DSM-5 -- has this to say about the matter:

"It is important to note that gender nonconformity is not in itself a mental disorder. The critical element of gender dysphoria is the presence of clinically significant distress associated with the condition."

In short, the people who wrote the definition of "psychiatric disorder" categorically reject the statement that a transgender identity is intrinsically disordered.

Lie #5

"Dr. Paul McHugh, retired from psychiatry at Johns Hopkins Hospital..."

Yes, let's talk about Dr. Paul McHugh.

He's an octogenarian, self-described orthodox Catholic whose anti-LGBT bias is well documented. He spent years defending the Catholic Church from sexual abuse allegations. In his role as part of the USCCB's Review Board, McHugh pushed the idea that the Catholic sex abuse scandal was not about pedophilia but about "homosexual predation on American Catholic youth."

McHugh refers to homosexuality as "erroneous desire," filed an amicus brief arguing in favor of Proposition 8 and making the erroneous claim that homosexuality is a "choice." Additionally, McHugh defended forcing a pregnant ten-year-old girl who'd been raped by an adult relative to carry the pregnancy to term. He describes post-surgical transgender women as "caricatures of women."

If you want a detailed analysis of how Dr. McHugh has misrepresented data, rigged studies, left out significant details in his research, and is nothing more than a poorly-regarded fringe element in his own field, you can read about it here, here, here, here, here, and here. No secular medical or mental health organization agrees with him, because every other available study shows that access to health care improves outcomes for transgender patients.

Even McHugh's own (former) academic department denounced his anti-trans stance in testimony before the Maryland Senate this past year, stating that they follow the WPATH Standards of Care. Court cases looking at transgender medical issues have consistently found his work unpersuasive.

In short, Paul McHugh is the Mark Regnerus of transgender issues.

Lie #6

"Billings' draft LGBTQ ordinance participates in this anti-science view of the human person. For one, it extends its protections to people who fantasize they are neither male nor female, but 'non-binary,' or "other.'"

The science behind the origins of transgender identities shows that they have biological origins and are very much real, in the sense that a transgender person's identity has hard-coded, biological origins. Study after study show the same things:

"Gender-dependent differentiation of the brain has been detected at every level of organization--morphological, neurochemical, and functional--and has been shown to be primarily controlled by sex differences in gonadal steroid hormone levels during perinatal development." -- Chung and Wilson, European Journal of Physiology, 2013

"Gender identity (the conviction of belonging to the male or female gender), sexual orientation (hetero-, homo-, or bisexuality) ... are programmed into our brain during early development. There is no proof that postnatal social environment has any crucial effect on gender identity or sexual orientation." -- Swaab and Bao, Neuroscience in the 21st Century, 2013

"There is strong evidence that high concentrations of androgens lead to more male-typical behavior and that this also influences gender identity." -- J├╝rgensen, et al., Journal of Pediatric Endocrinology and Metabolism, 2010

In short, the "anti-science" view belongs to those who suggest that a transgender identity is a delusion that can be cured, rather than simply a biological mismatch between primary sexual characteristics and neurological phenotypes during development.

Lie #7

"The council attempted to relieve some obvious harm their ordinance would inflict upon residents by including this provision in the ordinance: 'In places of public accommodation where users normally appear in the nude, users may be required to use the facilities designated for their anatomical sex, regardless of their gender identity.'... Either we should treat people as they think they are, or we should treat them as biology reveals them to be. It makes no sense to do one sometimes and the other at other times. This reveals the council members, at some basic level, realize biology is important."

No, it's because council members realize there's a difference between bathrooms and showers, and are at least attempting to find reasonable compromises where they think they're needed. Generally, one does not wander about public bathrooms in the buff. Personal business there is conducted inside little stalls with doors.

Lie #8

"Women have been voicing fears about finding men in their bathrooms and locker rooms."

BathroomBill.jpgWhile some women may be voicing concerns over this, unsubstantiated fears are not sufficient justification for excluding trans people from public spaces. This statement is pure fear-mongering, and is absolutely baseless.

Victims' rights advocates and law enforcement have repeatedly gone on the record to say that these attacks are nonsense. Toni Troop, spokeswoman for the statewide sexual assault victim organization Jane Doe Inc., states:

"The argument that providing transgender rights will result in an increase of sexual violence against women or men in public bathrooms is beyond specious. The only people at risk are the transgender men and women whose rights to self-determination, dignity and freedom of violence are too often denied. We have not heard of any problems since the passage of the law in Massachusetts in 2011, nor do we expect this to be a problem.

"While cases of stranger rape and sexual violence occur, sexual violence is most often perpetrated by someone known to the victim and not a stranger in the bush or the bathroom."

Lie #9

"Further, accommodating people's delusions does not help them. In sane areas of human relationships, we call doing so 'enabling.' We even call it enabling when the troubled person we love has a genetic excuse for bad behavior, as do alcoholics and gambling addicts."

The scientific evidence says just the opposite. Living in a supportive environment has been shown over and over again to produce superior outcomes to environments that deny transgender people affirmation and medical care. This includes peer-reviewed, large-scale studies of transgender students across the U.S., where transgender students in supportive environments were quantitatively shown to be more successful than in environments where their gender identity is not recognized or supported. (Kosciw, et al. 2012)

In a controlled, randomized study on gender reassignment surgery (GRS), one group of transsexual women received genital surgery early while another group remained on the ordinary wait list. Those who had surgery showed significant improvement in psychiatric symptoms and social and sexual function, while those who had not yet had surgery showed no improvement. (C. Mate-Kole et al. 1990)

The available peer-reviewed medical literature has overwhelmingly demonstrated that affirming medical care is effective and of material clinical benefit to individuals with gender dysphoria. Follow-up studies have shown that sex reassignment surgery has an undeniably beneficial effect on postoperative outcomes such as subjective well-being, cosmesis, and sexual function (DeCuypere et al., 2005; Gijs & Brewaeys, 2007; Klein & Gorzalka, 2009; Pfafflin & Junge, 1998). GRS has also been found to lead to a quantitative decrease in suicide attempts and drug use in post-operative populations. (C. Mate-Kole et al. 1990)

In short, socially and medically affirming people's gender identities isn't encouraging "bad behavior" -- it is doing what is best for them based on years of qualitative and quantitative research.

Lie #10

"More successful therapies have counseled similarly confused people into accepting biological reality... It's now completely taboo to suggest such a thing for other sex-confused people, but given the extraordinarily high amount of self-harming behaviors they exhibit, the compassionate thing to do would pursue any and every therapy that could give troubled people peace. The cruel thing to do is to participate in and perpetuate their fantasy world."

First, science says just the opposite about affirming medical care and its effects on self-harm. Research over the past 20 years has consistently shown that without it, sexual functioning, self-esteem, body image, socioeconomic adjustment, family life, relationships, psychological status, and general life satisfaction are all negatively affected. This is supported by the numerous studies (Murad M., 2010, DeCuypere, 2005, Kuiper M. 1988, Gorton 2011, Clements-Nolle K., 2006), all showing that access to GRS reduces suicidality by a factor of three to six (between 67% and 84%).

Second, it is accepted within the medical, mental health, and sociology communities that these adverse statistics reflect a combination of minority stress and lack of access to affirming health care. When given access to supportive environments and medical care, quality of life for transgender women (including mental health) is not significantly different from the general population.

In short, if you really want to bring down the self-harm statistics, the research says to stop discriminating and denying medical care.

Then there's the offer of therapy to "fix" the problem. The foremost body of medical and mental health experts on transgender care (WPATH) has this to say about changing people's gender identities:

"Treatment aimed at trying to change a person's gender identity and expression to become more congruent with sex assigned at birth has been attempted in the past without success (Gelder & Marks, 1969; Greenson, 1964), particularly in the long term (Cohen-Kettenis & Kuiper, 1984; Pauly, 1965). Such treatment is no longer considered ethical."

The American Psychoanalytic Association issued the following position statement in 2012 on attempts to change a person's gender identity as a result of past failures, and the harms observed:

The American Psychoanalytic Association affirms the right of all people to their sexual orientation, gender identity and gender expression without interference or coercive interventions attempting to change sexual orientation, gender identity or gender expression.

As with any societal prejudice, bias against individuals based on actual or perceived sexual orientation, gender identity or gender expression negatively affects mental health, contributing to an enduring sense of stigma and pervasive self-criticism through the internalization of such prejudice.

Psychoanalytic technique does not encompass purposeful attempts to "convert," "repair," change or shift an individual's sexual orientation, gender identity or gender expression. Such directed efforts are against fundamental principles of psychoanalytic treatment and often result in substantial psychological pain by reinforcing damaging internalized attitudes.


Courts are recognizing that changing people's gender identity has been every bit the damaging failure that changing sexual orientation has been. This makes sense, given the deeply-rooted neurological origins of gender identity. Federal courts in New Jersey and the Ninth Circuit have agreed that the idea of "reparative therapy" for gender identity and sexual orientation is not supported by science. The district court in New Jersey is also allowing plaintiffs to sue for damages as a result of harm caused by "reparative therapy."

Simultaneously, a new Williams Institute study on mental health counseling for sexual minorities shows that those who sought mental health counseling from a religious or spiritual adviser -- who was, of course, more likely to urge them to "change" -- were more likely to subsequently attempt suicide than those who sought no treatment at all.

Again, academic and legal analysis of the science does not support the claim that the best thing for transgender people is therapy to try to change their gender identity.

Lie #11

"The problem with this is that discrimination is not just good, it is necessary for life... We're all food discriminators, car judgers, kiss gatekeepers, and more. And we should be. There is no way to live without discriminating, except in utter chaos."

facepalm.jpgThere is a world of difference between discriminating against a food item and discriminating against a class of human beings. In this case, transgender people do you no substantive harm, yet you are perfectly willing to harm them and their families. Discrimination against a food or a car does not need a rational basis to be ethical. Discrimination against a class of people does.

Your religious beliefs in and of themselves are not a rational basis.

The Civil Rights Act of 1964 prevented people from discriminating on the basis of race, color, religion, sex, or national origin. Chaos did not ensue. The Americans with Disabilities Act and Age Discrimination in Employment Act of 1967 made discrimination on the basis of disability or age illegal, and the Union has not collapsed. Over 150 localities have added sexual orientation and gender identity to their anti-discrimination ordinances, and the predicted civic apocalypse has yet to occur.

Lie #12

"Right now, leftists demand that churches, business owners, schools, and everyone who holds to certain disadvantaged religions be required to implicitly condone behavior their creeds condemn--in many ways, but prominently by being forced to hire folks whose behavior disgraces their employers' beliefs."

Laws protecting classes of people from discrimination already have broad religious exemptions. For example, Houston's recent ordinance states:

Employer means a person who has 50 or more employees for each working day in each of 20 or more calendar weeks in the current or preceding calendar year, and the person's agent. The term does not include the United States, or a corporation wholly owned by the government of the United States; a bona fide private membership club which is exempt from taxation under Section 501(c) of the Internal Revenue Code of 1954; the state, a state agency, or political subdivision; or a religious organization.

Even if it wasn't specifically stated in the laws, the Supreme Court long ago ensconced protections for religious organizations into case law with the decision in Corporation of Presiding Bishops vs. Amos, 483 U.S. 327 (1987). In this case, the Court ruled 9-0 to uphold a provision of Section 702 of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 exempting activities of religious organizations from the religious discrimination protections of the Act.

Churches and church-owned organizations, regardless of denomination, will not be forced to hire LGBT people. Period.

Lie #13

"Even a 'non-discrimination' ordinance discriminates, by conveying what city council members consider acceptable behavior and what they do not. All such ordinances do is substitute one judgment about what is appropriate sexual behavior for another, far older, judgment. The LGBTQ lobby sneaks their new judgment past everyone by labeling their discrimination 'non-discrimination.' That's an old trick, called 'lying.'"

The same argument was made in Loving v. Virginia, Bowers v. Hardwick, Perry v. Hollingsworth, and Windsor. It has also been made repeatedly in cases involving transgender employees like Glenn v. Brumby and Macy v. Holder. The courts weren't buying it then, and the public isn't buying it now.

Lie #14

"When leftists force homosexual business owners to hire people who attend Westboro Baptist Church, we'll know they're following the rules they want to force onto everyone else."

We already do. Sirius XM's CEO is a transgender woman, and there are undoubtedly Christian conservatives working for the company. She, and her company, are subject to the Civil Rights Act of 1964. The Civil Rights Act of 1964 has long protected people from adverse workplace action based on religious beliefs.

Someone from Westboro can absolutely work at Sirius, and they are legally protected. It's when you bring your "God Hates Fags" sign to work that there's a problem, just the same as if you brought a "God Hates " sign.

Lie #15

"Until then, the only logical thing to acknowledge is that the sex-confusion lobby is a bunch of reality-denying hypocrites, and they want to make us all hypocrites whose actions contradict our beliefs rather than fessing up to the truth that theirs don't fit reality."

Funny, I seem to remember your beliefs saying something about bearing false witness, and wow, there's a lot of it here. The actual academic and legal facts are on our side.

That's why we're winning.


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