2017-12-03

Junk science that needs to desist

Sometimes it seems like we, as a people, are incapable of discussing anything rationally, and it always seems to get worse when the discussion involves those who are in some way different from the majority. Heated accusations are frequently thrown around whether or not they have any basis in fact, or even make sense at all. And even when claims come across as calmer and more reasonable, they often end up being widely shared with little thought given to their accuracy or relevance.

One of the more popular of such claims is that most supposedly transgender[1] children—80% according to 1995 findings by openly trans-antagonistic Zucker and Bradley, or 84% according to an oft-cited 2011 Steensma study, or even "as many as 95%" in the words of the president of a misleadingly-named fringe group—will naturally desist, that is to say, that they will end up being perfectly fine with their assigned-at-birth sex once they grow up. They're just going through a phase, or aren't mature enough yet to understand such things, or are even being pressured into assuming a nonstandard identity, the argument goes, so there's no reason to humor them. Those using this argument may additionally be trying to imply that even the remaining 20% (or 16%, or 5%) aren't really transgender, if such a thing even exists, but just want attention or are suffering from some kind of delusion. And even those among the desistance-allegers who concede that transgender people may be real would seem to be pushing the viewpoint that there's no way of telling who's going to grow up to be transgender and who isn't, so it's counterproductive or at best pointless to try treating transgender children accordingly.

There are several fairly obvious problems with this line of argument, even before getting into the many reasons the 80% figure (or whatever other number) is meaningless. If children who think they're transgender are just going through a phase, then they're just going to grow out of it regardless, so why not humor them? If they just don't understand, why not let them find understanding, and perhaps learn something valuable in the process, through harmless experimenting? If they just want attention, why aren't they instead using any of the innumerable easier, safer, and far less inconvenient ways of getting it? If they're facing pressure that leads them to claim that they're transgender, what about the far more prevalent pressure to not be transgender, often from the same clinicians who ran these studies? Speaking of which, considering the prevalence and intensity of said pressure, can we truly say that any observed desistance occurs naturally, or even be sure that the presumed desisters haven't merely gone into the proverbial closet?

Additionally, even if 80% do desist, this also means that 20% don't. Should we just ignore them? That seems callous and shortsighted. Furthermore, while a rate of 20% may seem low, it's significantly higher than the less than 1% estimate for trans people in the general population. So is even the apparently-made-up 5% figure. That suggests a meaningful correlation. If such a correlation exists, then apparent transgender tendencies in children cannot simply be dismissed as meaningless, which doesn't seem at all like something that the people making this claim would want to concede.

Worse, people sometimes treat studies that started with young children as though their results applied equally when considering teenagers already going through puberty. It should be obvious why this makes no sense, but leaving out important details can go a long way, especially when it results in something that appears to support already-decided opinions.

And while the argument is already problematic enough in and of itself, its central claim that most transgender children desist doesn't stand up to scrutiny, either.

To begin with, the studies cited to argue desistance suffered from very small sample sizes that limit any ability to draw any meaningful conclusions from them at all. The Steensma study, for example, included only 53 total children, and that was one of the larger ones. Given the dubious selection criteria (as explained below), it's unlikely that even ten of these children were properly gender dysphoric (which is still more than the total number of subjects in some studies that are cited). While that may be enough to suggest possible patterns that may call for further study, it's not nearly enough to generalize anything[2]. Furthermore, the fact that the studies typically selected subjects from the children already being brought to their clinics may also have biased the study populations, and therefore the results. Parents, one would expect, would be more prone to going out of their way to bring children with non-conforming behaviors to a clinic if they viewed these behaviors as something that needed to be fixed, potentially by coercion or force if need be, than if they regarded these as harmless quirks. This would presumably have been particularly true in the case of clinics like Zucker's—before finally coming under scrutiny and eventually being shut down, it had engaged in something that at the very least strongly resembled the discredited practice of conversion therapy, which attempts to force people into normative behavior by any means necessary.

However, even if these had been large, highly representative samples, and even if we could be certain that every single child in every one of these studies was actually gender dysphoric, the 80% figure would still be misleading at best. That's because these results assume desistance for all of the subjects who didn't come back for follow-up years later, based on the reasoning that if they didn't return, they must not be having further issues. It's unthinkable, apparently, that they might have moved, or found a more supportive or just different clinic, or had second thoughts about participating in the study, or been dealing with related or unrelated issues that took priority, or died to assault or suicide or random chance, or that they did transition and found that it resolved their dysphoria (which I'm fairly certain is basically the point of transitioning). Assuming that no-shows must have desisted is a bit like assuming that anyone who stops going to one specific mechanic for service must have desisted from owning a car. This is compounded by just how large the affected portions of the study populations often were. In the Steensma study, for example, 24 of the 53 subjects never returned. That's nearly half! It would make just as much sense to assume that all of these subjects ended up transitioning and never looking back, which, just by itself, would instantly drop that supposed 84% desistance figure to a mere 40%. It would be more honest to simply exclude them from the results, though that, of course, would make the already problematically small sample sizes even smaller[3].

The returning subjects who were seemingly not dysphoric don't necessarily mean much, either. After all, they were typically checked on only once, most often as young adults, and not repeatedly evaluated over time, much less followed on an ongoing basis for the rest of their lives. It's easy to find examples of people who, whether out of fear of rejection, financial concerns, lack of information, or any of a number of other reasons, don't transition until their thirties, forties, fifties, or even later in life. It doesn't seem that any of these studies attempted to explore what caused the apparent change of mind in the subjects in this group, either. They might have simply grown out of a phase, yes. But, assuming that they were dysphoric to begin with, they might just as easily have gotten better at pretending not to be, and at giving people the answers they wanted to hear—especially if dealing with a clinic like Zucker's—without having meaningfully changed otherwise. They might have repressed their cross-gender tendencies, perhaps convincing even themselves, at least for a time, that they were better off that way, yet still been just as dysphoric as ever on the inside. They could easily have been faced with enough hostility that they went into outright denial as a survival mechanism. Anecdotally, at least, such experiences seem to be fairly common among trans people. Olivia K. Maynard, for example, reports that she "compartmentalized myself very rigidly" in response to facing "violence for being a sissy" from family members, and kept her identity buried until she was nearly forty. Similarly, activist Julia Serano "experienced intense gender dysphoria as a child" but "learned to deeply repress those feelings in order to survive" before ultimately transitioning in her early thirties. In any case, all that can honestly be claimed about this group is that they weren't openly dysphoric and hadn't undergone a transition at that time. That isn't enough to conclude desistance in any meaningful sense.

All that is little more than nitpicking, though, next to a more fundamental problem: the way the studies decided which children were transgender. Even the most recent of the studies that are cited as supporting desistance used the criteria in the fourth edition of the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-IV) for assessing gender identity disorder in children. With the release of the fifth edition (DSM-5) in 2013, these criteria have been officially rendered invalid (though they had come under criticism long before then), and the gender identity disorder classification has itself been discarded as problematic and superseded by a new gender dysphoria classification (which emphasizes that it's the distress often associated with a cross-gender identification, not the identification itself, that needs addressing). Under the old, defunct criteria, a child would be considered to have gender identity disorder for expressing discomfort with their expected gender role, plus any four of five other criteria. Merely showing some preference for friends of the other sex and for clothing, roles, and activities typically associated with the other sex was enough to cover four of those five and lead to a diagnosis. That describes quite a few people who would never think of themselves as transgender in any sense (much less in the other-sex-identified sense being focused on here), including most tomboys, who don't generally claim to or even want to be boys. This massive loophole—which also represented a fundamental and inexplicable divergence from the adult criteria—was very deliberately closed in the DSM-5. For a childhood diagnosis of gender dysphoria in the current standard, a child must exhibit a desire or insistence to be the other sex, for its own sake and not just because of any perceived social or cultural advantages, in addition to any five of seven other criteria.

An insistent, persistent, and consistent cross-gender identification is now considered the key distinguishing trait between children who just have unexpected interests or are unsure of themselves or are playing or are going through a phase, and those who are recognizably dysphoric. Few of the subjects in question met that standard. Review of such studies has found that in the cases where the children were actually asked whether they considered themselves to be boys or girls, the vast majority, around 90%, gave answers that agreed with their assigned-at-birth sex[4]. This disqualifies them from a diagnosis of gender dysphoria under the DSM-5. Worse, significant numbers of those included in some studies didn't even meet the then-current broader criteria of gender identity disorder in the DSM-IV. Singh's 2012 study, for instance, outright admits in section 2.1.4 that over a third of its subjects were "subthreshold" with only "some indicators" of gender identity disorder. Their inclusion is rationalized with the unsupported assertion that "some"—not necessarily all or even most—"would have met the complete DSM criteria at some point in their lives prior to assessment". That's astonishingly brazen for something that's supposed to be an objective, evidence-based, scientific study. In any case, if most subjects in these studies were never really gender dysphoric to begin with, how is it in any way remarkable that most of them didn't end up gender dysphoric and didn't go through a gender transition, which is recommended only in cases of gender dysphoria and is almost never sought out otherwise?

Children may not have as much life experience as adults, but they do tend to understand themselves better than they're often given credit for. "By age four," the American Academy of Pediatrics explains, "most children have a stable sense of their gender identity". Findings from more recent studies agree that gender dysphoric children strongly identify with their professed gender, and continue to do so, to an extent that, as one 2015 study put it, is "statistically indistinguishable from cisgender children of the same gender identity". Steensma, too, observed results in a later follow-up study that found such previously unconsidered factors as "cognitive and/or affective cross-gender identification" (emphasis added) and the intensity of early dysphoria to be good indicators of later persistence. Predicting how children are likely to turn out with regard to gender, though certainly not an exact science, is far from the blind guesswork that the desistance myth strives to portray it as. Nor is gender dysphoria something that most people can simply grow out of, or be coaxed out of. The results of early studies demonstrated not that most transgender children desist, but rather that the DSM-IV's criteria for evaluating children were flawed to an extent that made them functionally useless.

Current guidelines for care advise proceeding in ways that fit the more recent findings. Regardless of what some alarmists claim, even the easily-reversible and not particularly drastic step of social transition (which involves such things as dressing as and using the pronouns of the identified gender) is recommended only for those who meet the DSM-5 criteria for gender dysphoria, not for those who are more ambivalent or simply non-conforming. Medical intervention, on the other hand, even of the kind with no permanent effects, is not so much as considered at this age even for those who are most strongly and undeniably dysphoric. If anything, current practice may be overly cautious; one criticism is that it forces adolescents who clearly have no intention of backing down to wait longer than can be justified before starting hormone therapy, leaving them in limbo while their peers all proceed through puberty.

In any case, even for those who are not gender dysphoric, the American Psychological Association now flatly rejects efforts to force conformance as "not helpful", and the AAP similarly calls it "important to allow children to make choices" about their activities. Even if the desistance myth were true, stifling gender non-conformance in children would still be the wrong approach.

Perhaps the older studies shouldn't be blamed for their failure to make a distinction between non-conforming behavior and cross-gender identification. They used the criteria they had available, and, as far as I can tell, didn't attempt to hide their reasons for selecting the subjects that they did, even when the reasons were as flimsy as Singh's for including subthreshold subjects. However, when attempting to point to a study as a demonstration of whether children with cross-gender identification persist or desist in having cross-gender identification, it's critical that the study starts with children who actually have cross-gender identification, or at the very least that it clearly distinguishes between those who do and those who do not. Otherwise, it makes as much sense as claiming that a tree once observed as an apple seedling, as opposed perhaps to an orange seedling, later desisted from becoming a Granny Smith tree when it grew up to produce Golden Delicious apples. How can anyone either desist from or persist in something that never applied to them in the first place?

Any one of these factors on its own would make the results suspect at best. Combined, they make the results almost completely worthless. Here's what's left: After observing a small, and likely unrepresentative, sample of children, some unknown number of whom may or may not have been gender dysphoric, then making some limited attempt to follow up on them at a single later point in time, the studies judged only a fairly small portion of them to have persisted, but there were a sizable number of subjects who just never came back and so there's no telling what happened to them, and the reasons for apparent desistance in the rest went undetermined, as did whether they might go on to transition or otherwise discredit their classification as desisters in the future. There aren't many valid conclusions one can draw from such flawed data—except, perhaps, that there are people, too many to ignore, who do persist.

Note also that these results indicate nothing at all about whether transgender adolescents desist in adulthood, as that wasn't the question addressed.

The desistance myth is worthless as an argument and worse than useless for dealing with children (much less adolescents or adults) or determining policy of any kind—unless the policy involves the responsible use of data in its proper context!



[1] Vocabulary can get fairly problematic in this sort of discussion. "Transgender" is generally treated as a broad umbrella term that, roughly speaking, involves a disconnect between designated sex and experienced gender, and encompasses a wide variety of related ways to be human. It's a fuzzy category with no clear boundaries and no objective tests that can determine definitively whether any given person falls in or out of it, and there's some disagreement about whether certain subgroups, such as people who might not experience pronounced dysphoria as such, or who "only" crossdress or are otherwise gender non-conforming, should be included or not (the American Psychological Association's official position is essentially "yes, unless they don't want to be included"). Accordingly, credible studies (or even, in most cases, less credible studies) will be careful to explain what specific criteria they use for classification. Conversely, arguments against transgender rights are at least as likely as not to encourage a lack of clarity, especially when doing so makes their position seem stronger than it actually is. Improperly conflating distinguishably different populations is, in fact, one of the critical failings in the desistance claim, as I go on to explain.

(Discussions of sexuality, a somewhat related though fundamentally different topic, have similar problems with ambiguity, which is why, for example, the Kinsey Reports do not say about 10% of the men he studied that they were gay, but rather that their sexual behavior was "more or less exclusively homosexual for at least three years between the ages of 16 and 55". I wouldn't doubt there are men who fit that description yet would insist that they are totally straight and that it was just a passing fling that didn't really mean anything. And if they want to call themselves heterosexual, well, that's fine by me, but it's no more helpful when it comes to objective discussion and analysis than calling them homosexual would be.)

In any case, studies of desistance are typically concerned specifically with the flavor of transgender found in presumed boys who regard themselves as girls and presumed girls who regard themselves as boys, using the clinical definitions of gender identity disorder or gender dysphoria to pick them out. As such, this is the type of transgender identity that this piece primarily refers to. Though it might be more precise in this context, I hesitate to use the term "transsexual" due in part to its emphasis on physical transition, which doesn't normally apply to children and isn't necessarily pursued even in adulthood by everyone who is this flavor of transgender. On the other hand, rephrasing the desistance argument as "80% of children who may be transgender in some sense don't specifically end up as transsexual adults" helps highlight the false equivalence at its core. It's no more insightful or meaningful a claim than pointing out that most children who toss a football around don't grow up to become quarterbacks, or that most children who prefer salad to steak don't end up as vegans.



[2] With a sample size of ten, the margin of error is approximately ±31 percentage points when using the 95% confidence level that is the general standard. In other words, if half of the subjects had a certain result, the only conclusion we could make with 95% certainty is that this same result would apply to somewhere between 19% and 81% of the overall population that the sample represents. That isn't much better than having no data at all! For comparison, a ±10 margin of error requires a sample size of almost one hundred, and the ±3 margin of error that surveys often favor calls for over a thousand people.



[3] Pruning from the results those who never returned gives us a sample size of 29. That leads to a margin of error of about ±18 percentage points. Since about 72% of this smaller group was deemed to have desisted, this means that the results should properly be reported as a 54% to 90% desistance rate with a 95% confidence level, which is far less definitive and quite likely substantially lower (though potentially slightly higher) than the 84% figure that the study is generally claimed to have demonstrated. And remember, that difference comes just by addressing only the issues caused by small sample size and unfounded assumptions about those lost to follow-up, while leaving other, almost certainly larger, problems still in play, most notably the questionable inclusion criteria (as explained later in this piece).



[4] As earlier portions of this piece explain, the data, on the whole, is too poor to make any meaningful conclusions. However, there may be a hint of something interesting here. If 90% of the subjects identified with their assigned-at-birth sex, then just 10% of them, at most, could have qualified for a childhood diagnosis of gender dysphoria. Yet it's only 80% desistance that is claimed, which would mean that 20%—twice as many as could be diagnosed with gender dysphoria as children—did end up with a transgender identification. In other words, it seems as though quite a few more people end up transgender as adults than are discernibly transgender as children, the opposite of what the desistance myth claims! Which should come as no surprise, considering that it's often puberty that brings gender dysphoria to the fore, and that many trans people just don't understand what they're going through, or hide or repress it, until decades later. That's why it's better availability of information and improved acceptance that will do the most good, not denials.



Additional references, which are also good for further reading, many of them full of further links:
- Detransition, Desistance, and Disinformation: A Guide for Understanding Transgender Children Debates
- The pernicious junk science stalking trans kids
- The End of the Desistance Myth
- Are Parents Rushing to Turn Their Boys Into Girls?
- Methodological Questions in Childhood Gender Identity 'Desistence' Research
- Gender nonconforming youth: current perspectives

2017-08-25

It's time to relegate history to the past

If I'm going to mention social issues on my blog at all, I'd be remiss if I didn't say something about the events in Charlottesville and their fallout.

To recap, a controversy over a statue of a Confederate personage turned into an excuse to hold a white supremacist rally with an alarmingly Nazi bent ("Jews will not replace us", they chanted, as though it had anything to do with anything). As generally happens when people go looking for a fight, there was fighting, escalating to the point of a white supremacist deciding to drive a car through a crowd of counter-protesters, killing one and injuring several others. In the ensuing backlash, the alt-right has since leveled farfetched false flag accusations against both the organizer of the event and the driver of the car.

President Trump made things worse by ascribing responsibility to "many sides"—which a former KKK leader publicly thanked him for—and characteristically making false claims such as that the counter-protesters didn't have a permit (they had two, and permits weren't necessary for many of the gatherings anyway). He did eventually condemn white supremacy, but only after being pressured to do so, and later reverted back to his original equivocating stance of blaming "both sides" anyway, also asserting that there were "very fine people, on both sides" (I have to think that any "very fine" people who find themselves marching with Nazis and the Klan ought to go home and rethink their position) and bringing up an "alt-left" that doesn't really exist (at least, not in the same sense that the alt-right movement does). He's since doubled down on his position, and has additionally criticized the "foolish" removal of monuments to the Confederacy. In a Phoenix rally, he even misquoted himself while lashing out at the "damned dishonest" news media for disapprovingly reporting what he actually said. I'm not sure whether to be more alarmed by all that, or by people who, as far I can tell, genuinely can't comprehend why it's problematic.

In short, the whole thing has been a mess.

Meanwhile, he's not the only one trying to blame everything on the efforts to remove the statue. So let's discuss those statues for a bit. This is another one of those things that I don't think ought to be so controversial to begin with. Yet no small number of people are stepping up to defend such monuments with arguments like...

"Stop trying to sanitize history!"

It's important to note that the majority of the statues in question were not erected while the Confederacy existed or even shortly thereafter, but more than a generation later, in the early 20th century, decades after the war ended. In other words, deep in the Jim Crow era, in a time when the Ku Klux Klan was at the height of its power. The Robert Edward Lee Sculpture in Charlottesville's Emancipation Park (formerly Lee Park) is one such statue, commissioned in 1917 and forged in 1924. Another spike in Confederate monument construction occurred in the 1950s and 1960s, as a resurgence in the Klan helped lead the fight against the Civil Rights Movement. The timing alone at least strongly suggests that these symbols of the Confederacy had far less to do with memorializing history than with rallying white supremacists and intimidating minorities. In some cases, they were more obvious about it, such as the Battle of Liberty Place Monument that stood in New Orleans until just earlier this year, with its inscription added in 1932 that called the post-war government "usurpers" and cheered the end of the Reconstruction Era (over half a century in the past at the time) with the proclamation that this "recognized white supremacy in the South and gave us our state".

A statue or other monument may be less dramatic and not so blatant as a burning cross, perhaps, but the intent and the message behind them certainly seem to be much the same. To ignore this is to attempt to sanitize history.

There's a huge difference between remembering history and revering it, between acknowledging what happened and celebrating it. We have museums, battlefields, graveyards, and history books, not to mention lingering racial tensions that may take centuries more to fade away. We don't need monuments glorifying icons of a failed nation dedicated to defective ideals. Remembering the past doesn't mean letting it stare us in the face.

Besides which, even Lee himself thought it better "to follow the example of those nations who endeavored to obliterate the marks of civil strife, and to commit to oblivion the feelings it engendered." If that's any indication, he would have been appalled to find statues being erected in his honor in the first place.

"Who's next, Washington or Jefferson?"

Ah, the familiar slippery slope fallacy. Jefferson and Washington and others did hold slaves, that much is true. They could even be hypocritical about it, speaking out against slavery in the abstract while doing nothing to free their own slaves. They, however, are known for their role in forging a republic that, at least in principle, is founded upon liberty and equality. They never led a rebellion that was expressly about protecting and preserving slavery. They never became symbols of slavery itself, or, by extension, of white supremacy and bigotry in general. The difference should be obvious.

"But the war wasn't about slavery!"

Try telling that to the people who fought the war. Henry Massey Rector, governor of Arkansas at the time, framed the situation as a choice between "the Union without slavery, or slavery without the Union", and the state ultimately decided to put slavery first. The formal declarations of causes that South Carolina, Mississippi, Georgia, and Texas issued specifically cited their apprehension of northern anti-slavery sentiments and ideas of equality between the races as primary factors in deciding to secede. Confederate Vice President Alexander Stephens proclaimed "the great truth that the negro is not equal to the white man; that slavery—subordination to the superior race—is his natural and normal condition" as the very cornerstone of the new government. That statement was met with applause when he spoke it, so it's reasonable to conclude that his audience emphatically agreed.

While the Union shrank back from admitting the role of slavery and racism in the war to avoid alienating border states and others who wouldn't have considered slavery worth fighting against, the rebel states had no such reluctance. The Confederacy (and, as a direct result, the war) was, as its leaders and member states proudly and repeatedly declared, always about slavery and white supremacy, from the very beginning. There were other factors to the war, of course, but none were ever so central to the conflict, and regardless, most or all of them (such as the south's lack of industry and dependence on imports) stemmed from a stubborn refusal to adapt and insistence on clinging to slavery even as it made progressively little sense to do so. Even what wasn't directly about slavery was still ultimately about slavery. Theirs was a movement led by people who boldly proclaimed not only that the white man was inherently superior, but that slavery was the natural order of things and in the best interests of the enslaved—and who felt gravely threatened when they had to face the fact that other people thought differently. To claim otherwise is a retcon, a revisionist attempt to, well, sanitize history. And that's a bad thing, right?

"But it was really about states' rights!"

It sounds almost noble when put like that, which is surely why so much effort goes into insisting that it be put it like that. Except that the rights that the south tended to champion all revolved around slavery. Numerous historians, including James M. McPherson, Henry Brooks Adams, Manisha Sinha, and Leonard L. Richards, agree that the southern states cared about states' rights only inconsistently, using them as a justification for opposing policies they didn't like. This was never a defining principle, just a means to an end when convenient.

Regardless, when states' rights conflict with human rights, states' rights must give way. But there's an important question to answer even before getting to that point: what rights of the states are we talking about here?

As I've mentioned before, claiming a violation of rights, though a popular argument, means nothing if you can't identify what rights you mean or how they've been violated. So, which are the rights that were in danger? I've yet to find a convincing explanation of how the federal government supposedly infringed upon the rights of southern states prior to the war. In particular, despite what their own statements indicate that southern leaders feared, there was never so much as an attempt to abolish slavery in the southern states by law until Lincoln's Emancipation Proclamation, over a year after the war was already underway. Sadly, many northerners were just as racist as their southern counterparts and simply didn't care, so long as slavery kept its distance.

Contrast that with, for example, the Fugitive Slave Act of 1850, which required free states to assist in the capture of alleged runaway slaves, on minimal evidence and without a trial (predictably, this encouraged claims of dubious validity, particularly since officials were paid better if they sided against alleged escapees), and never mind that slavery was outlawed within their borders. Even leaving aside that people aren't property—and that's a point that must not be forgotten—if your property winds up in a jurisdiction where possessing it is illegal, under normal circumstances, it becomes contraband, you don't get it back, and there's a good chance you'll find yourself under arrest (or so I'd assume; law isn't my specialty, and it presumably varies from place to place). If nothing else, I can't imagine that you'd be able to expect anyone to help you reclaim what was seized.

Or take 1857's disastrous Dred Scott decision, in which the Supreme Court nullified laws restricting slavery in US territories and held that slaves could be brought to free states for extended periods, yet still remain in slavery and even be hired out. Among other things, that gave northerners who otherwise would have been content to turn a blind eye to slavery in the south reason to fear that anti-slavery laws in their own states could be struck down. Slaveholders expressing confidence that they could now take slaves anywhere in the nation with impunity didn't help matters, especially when some went as far as to proclaim their expectations of slave auctions on Boston Common within a decade (a particularly egregious boast considering that Boston was a center of abolitionist activity).

So it's hard to escape the conclusion that the slave states were the ones misusing federal authority to violate the rights of the free states, not the other way around. Yet, somehow, anti-slavery states opposing the imposition of slave codes upon themselves has been twisted, in the minds of some, both then and now, into a violation of states' rights.

Similar inversions remain all too prevalent even today. But neither personal rights nor states' rights give you any leverage to demand that others live by your rules.



I thought I was done for now, but then another opinion piece by one of my least favorite editorialists left me stunned. To summarize, she equated Planned Parenthood with the deadly rally, and criticized progressives as hypocritical for not showing the same outrage against both. Because its founder Margaret Sanger believed in eugenics, in a time when much of the country did (the idea didn't fall out of favor until the Holocaust). And also because abortion, which I'm not exactly thrilled about either, but which has nothing to do with most of what Planned Parenthood does.

I... I don't even... what did I just read...? And why would anyone even bring up Planned Parenthood in this situation? I've seen her shoehorn the things she's decided to complain about into unrelated discussions before, but this is ridiculous. Between that and some of her previous writings, I'd have to count myself among the readers she predicted would "dismiss these claims as the ravings of a mad bigot." That, or a professional troll. We've reached Poe's Law territory, I'm afraid. Maybe I just don't want to believe it could be sincere.

The funny thing is that, despite all that, even she still acknowledges that the president's "weak and anemic" "pale criticism" has emboldened extremist groups. Which makes the people who can't recognize that all the more puzzling.

2017-08-13

Here we go again...

It's bad enough coming from assorted strangers online or newspaper editorialists who have made no secrets of their biases. Somehow, though, it's just worse when it comes from people you know and want to respect. It stings, it feels like a betrayal, and... it's just disappointing. Especially since this is someone I've tried to get through to before and hoped I'd met with at least a little success. Especially since this is one of those people who ought to be spreading God's love, choosing instead to parrot ignorance and propagate hatred.

What set things off this time were the unsympathetic remarks that were shared with the following link: Private School Sued for Making 8-Year-Old Transgender Girl Wear Boy's Uniform and Use Boys' Bathroom. The article itself is worth a read and maintains a respectfully neutral tone (though, as is unfortunately typical, the user comments don't get anywhere near either respectful or neutral, or reasonable, for that matter). Here, though, I'll be quoting the remarks (the ones posted with the link to the article, not the comments on the article itself), piece by piece, in their entirety, and addressing my responses to the poster as "you".

I don't get the impression that there was any deliberate malice or intent to harm behind it. That's better than nothing, I suppose, but that's never been enough to make such things harmless. Just as obsession doesn't necessarily produce curiosity, age doesn't necessarily produce wisdom.

I was wavering about whether to actually post this, and I'll keep it anonymous, but there are things that need to be said, and besides, I need to vent.

I'm sorry, people, but this is getting way out of hand.
I can't dispute that something is getting way out of hand. I just don't agree with you on what it is. My version has more to do with people going out of their way to get upset about things that don't affect them, especially when they spread harmful misinformation in the process.

First of all, it's a PRIVATE school. They can send him home and refund the tuition and not accept him.
Well, no, they can't. A private school—particularly a for-profit, non-religious private school like this one—is a business, which, at least in California, means that baseless discrimination is, in addition to being the wrong thing to do in any case, quite explicitly illegal (though I tend to think things like "equal protection under the law" ought to cover that already). Not to mention that the school reportedly advertised itself as "nondiscriminatory" regardless.

Of course, there's more to not discriminating than simply refraining from kicking people out for no good reason. According to the lawsuit, the school's failings included denying Nikki's request to wear a girls' uniform and refusing even to use her preferred name or pronouns (a refusal, I've noticed, that you seem to have decided to imitate). Aside from being flat-out disrespectful, that's a failure to follow California law. It really is that simple.

Second of all, his "feeling" like a girl does not trump the rights of the actual girls who ARE girls. They should not have to share their bathroom, lockerroom or sports with someone who just "feels" like a girl.
If anything, they shouldn't have to share their bathroom, locker room, or sports with people they can't get along with. That has a history of causing problems. Trans kids, though? Not so much.

Regardless, it's unfortunate that we don't really have the language to describe gender identity properly. Calling it a "feeling" isn't entirely inaccurate, but it is woefully inadequate. A "conviction" or "knowing" might come closer, but those aren't quite right, either. Whatever it is, though, it is. Transgender girls are "actual girls who ARE girls". The only distinction from non-transgender girls, other than the unjustifiable excess of hostility they face, is some anatomy kept out of sight that simply doesn't come into play when interacting with other people in a public setting. Particularly with puberty still a few years away.

And even if you assume it's the "just a phase" that detractors like to claim for kids at that age, so what? If it is, they'll grow out of it, no harm done. Trying on different identities is part of how kids explore the question of who they are. Denying them the ability to do so, whether deliberately or just by allowing them to internalize the idea that gender is sex is destiny is absolute, is a good way to produce discontent adults who still don't know the answer but have forgotten how to ask the question. I should know. I've been there.

Huh. I had no idea admitting that would sting so much. I guess I'm more bitter than I realized, even if it's not really anyone's fault except society at large. But that's exactly why it's so important to counter these wrong ideas.

Third of all, I would call Child Protective Services and ask them to look into child abuse.
What for? What kind of abuse are you trying to suggest might be happening? Not being jackasses to their kid? From where I'm sitting, that's kind of the opposite of abuse. And I'd have to guess you didn't click through to the linked Orange County Register article that mentions Nikki's mother lost a transgender student to suicide and wanted better for her own child. If not wanting a dead child makes her a bad parent, then being a good parent isn't worth aspiring to.

It perplexes me that some of the people most prone to shrieking "think of the children" would rather try to beat the queer out of their children, or send them to be tortured in what are euphemistically called "reparative therapy" camps, or throw them out in the streets, or, yes, even see them dead, than let them be who they are. I wouldn't accuse you of this, and I doubt that you'd do the same if you were actually in that situation, but it happens. All too often, it happens. That's not love. That's not even humane.

Regardless, making indirect accusations of abuse and threatening to sic the authorities on them comes across as a peculiarly extreme reaction to a situation you have no connection to and know hardly anything about. Borderline slanderous, even, and if someone actually made that call, that would strike me as harassment. I doubt the authorities would appreciate having their time wasted, either. So what gives?

It might make more sense to ask you directly instead of just venting to an anonymous blog that you'll probably never read. Maybe I don't know how to bring it up without it sounding like an accusation and a personal attack. Maybe I'm still more afraid of confrontation than I'd like to admit. Or maybe I'm apprehensive of getting an answer that would just erode what respect I still have for you.

Fourth of all, there are many 8 year olds who don't know nor understand transgenderism, and many parents who don't care to teach it to their kids.
This is a complete non-argument, and it's not difficult to see why. Just try replacing the word "transgenderism" with, oh, let's say, "music" or "history". That's no justification for dropping them from the curriculum. Or consider "adoption". Should the school not accept any adopted children because of parents who don't want to talk about it? How about "diabetes"? Surely, some parents not caring to teach their kids about insulin shots isn't a valid reason for keeping them out of school.

Besides, anything they don't know or understand, they can learn. Should learn, even. That's the whole point of school. Isn't it?

In any case, though, there's really very little they actually need to understand. They have a classmate who wants to be called Nikki, referred to as she/her, and wear customarily feminine clothing. Therefore, they should call their classmate Nikki, refer to her as she/her, and not give her crap about wearing customarily feminine clothing. It's that simple. This really isn't that different from how they (ought to) know better than to call little Bobby "Blobby", or "Fred", or "Sally", or even "Robert" if that upsets him, or to dress him up in tutus or overalls unless he's agreed to it.

Of course, children at that age tend to follow the examples of authority figures, and even if they're certain an authority figure is dead wrong, it's not going to be easy for them to stand up against that. So if the faculty and staff refuse to call Nikki by her name, insist on referring to her as he/him, and force her to wear a boy's uniform, they're causing a difficulty that wouldn't otherwise have existed. There's no excuse for that, particularly in a school that claims to have accommodated older transgender students without incident.
They have rights, too, and should consider a suit against his parents.
What would the basis of this hypothetical lawsuit be? What rights of theirs are being violated? Their convenience isn't a right. Living in a bubble of ignorance isn't a right, nor is making their children live in one (not to mention that it sounds more like abuse than anything Nikki's parents might have done). Neither is forestalling questions from their children that they might find awkward. Or forcing other people to live only in ways that they approve of. Or being sheltered from anything that might conflict with their worldview. There's no right that guarantees people won't experience situations that make them feel uncomfortable, either. Just consider every election campaign ever for proof of that.

It's easy enough to claim, and even to believe, that your rights have been violated. But it's meaningless if you can't explain which rights or how they've been violated.

Come to think of it, it also troubles me that, while I doubt you're aware of this or doing it deliberately, many of the insubstantial talking points you're repeating come right out of straight-up hate groups that misappropriate the name of "Christian" to feign legitimacy. That doesn't automatically invalidate the arguments (it's the lack of merit in the arguments themselves that does that), but it is worrisome and worth being wary of.

Again, it might make more sense to ask you about your reasoning directly. But, again, I'm not entirely sure I want to know the answer.

Before anybody flames me (and I'm sure I'll get a couple folks unfriending me, your loss, BTW), I get it. It must be HORRIBLE to grow up living in the wrong body.
I can't imagine that you do "get it". Especially since you're consistently calling her "him". And especially given how dismissive you just were of "someone who just 'feels' like a girl". Do people have to go through a laundry list of surgeries before you'll consider taking them seriously? Because, aside from that being kind of personal and none of your business, that's not what it means to be transgender. The "trapped in the wrong body" trope is just an oversimplification that has had the misfortune of being incorrectly taken as a universal truth.

Actually, let's make this a little more personal. I know you've struggled with depression. I also know that there are no small number of people who would dismiss that as "just 'feeling' sad". Or say that you should stop whining about it when there are people with "actual" reasons to be upset. Does that invalidate your experience? Does that make depression any less real and legitimate? Of course not. And merely acknowledging in passing that it must be horrible doesn't do anything to excuse that kind of rhetoric.
I feel very sorry for all of them (except Caitlyn who I think did it for the publicity that he no longer got for athletics)...
She may not have minded the publicity, but to call it the only or even the primary reason seems like a massive stretch, particularly considering that your reaction is positively supportive compared to many. At least you didn't call her "Bruce" or use insults.
...but we can't change every school, every college, every restaurant, every public place for the feelings of a few.
I fail to see how simply letting people be involves such a problematic change. In many cases, literally all you have to do is nothing. And the fewer "a few" are, the less likely it is to affect you at all, so that argument doesn't hold any water, either.

Besides that, we absolutely can change "every school, every college, every restaurant, every public place". I know this because it's happened before. Remember the Americans with Disabilities Act? Accessibility ramps and handicapped parking and, yes, accessible bathrooms, too, used to be unheard of. Now we mostly take them for granted, even in places where fairly drastic changes had to happen to make that possible.

Growing up, I knew guys that acted like girls and wore pink, and yes, they got bullied. Back in the day, it still wasn't right, but it happened, and my generation will own that. But few of my generation want to change our entire society just for the "rights" of the few.
To start with, there's a significant portion of your generation—and mine too, to be fair—that's not showing any signs of willingness to "own that", much less learn from it.

In any case, what (some of) your generation wants doesn't actually matter. It simply isn't relevant to what's right and wrong. Dare I remind you that, not so long ago, there was a generation that tore the nation in two when it didn't want to "change our entire society" by giving up slavery, even though the institution would not likely have survived much longer anyway at that point?

Or, on a lighter note, how about the Internet? I'm sure there are many in your generation who didn't want to "change our entire society" with all this online and networked stuff. And, yes, there are legitimate concerns about security and privacy that shouldn't be ignored. But the Internet is here, like it or not, and it's not going anywhere any time soon. It's here, and we have to take that reality into account. The naysayers are free to avoid it as best they can, but they can't take it away from the rest of us, and they would be wrong to try.

In any case, rights are rights, no scare quotes needed, and it doesn't matter how few people they impact. And like I've already said, you're drastically overstating the scope of this change. All the average person needs to do is to refrain from giving other people crap, which is nothing more than they ought to be doing in the first place.

Too many schools have bent over backwards by giving them their own bathroom, and they're still not happy.
Well, no, children generally aren't happy when they're singled out for unusual treatment, particularly when it isolates them from their peers. And giving people "their own bathroom" isn't necessarily a good thing. Some might prefer it, but it reminds me more of a time and place when bathroom signs read "ladies", "men", and (as far away from the ladies as possible) "colored". I hope you can appreciate why that's problematic.

Regardless, the way things more typically go, assuming they go at all, tends toward "you may must use the out-of-the-way staff bathroom (and don't you dare be late to class even though we've just tripled your travel time)", which hardly amounts to having "bent over backwards".

I don't want my grandson going to the bathroom with a girl, nor a girl going to his bathroom.
Why not? I don't mean this as a rhetorical question, either. Take some time to think about why you don't want that, then put some serious consideration how much validity your reasons have.

We didn't have gendered bathrooms in the states in the first place until shortly after the first World War, when men tried to force women out of the workplace, specifically factories, by designating all the indoor plumbing as "men only" and directing the women to outhouses. Courts and lawmakers didn't stand for that, but what we got in the aftermath were separate but (often not) equal facilities. Today, they're a relic of a time when it was often still considered scandalous for men and women to mingle in any public areas. Seriously, men and women even had separate entrances to businesses and separate public parks. It was nonsensical then, and it's nonsensical now. Even if you won't consider the people for whom a stark choice between "men" and "women" is problematic, we're well overdue for the widespread availability of unisex restrooms. That's especially true for children who don't yet have the sex drive or more pronounced differentiation that comes with puberty.

Based on what you said, though, you ought to be upset with the school for wanting Nikki to use the boys' room, shouldn't you? If your grandson were a student there, the school would be telling him to go to the bathroom with a girl, and a girl to go to his bathroom. Only you evidently can't see it that way, because you refuse to see her as anything other than a confused boy.

However, there's a more serious issue lurking here. "I don't want my grandson going to the bathroom with a gay kid, nor a gay kid going to his bathroom." "I don't want my grandson going to the bathroom with a Mexican, nor a Mexican going to his bathroom." "I don't want my grandson going to the bathroom with a poor kid, nor a poor kid going to his bathroom." Are you starting to see the problem? Or do I have to add, "I don't want my grandson to have to interact with, or even look at, his inferiors"? Because it feels like that's what's really behind that kind of sentiment, more often than not.

Besides which, I've gone over this before. The paranoia over the bathroom issue is a red herring. Despite how much people get worked up over it, there's nothing there. Anything you're afraid of is just as illegal, immoral, or both, no matter how law or custom treat transgender people. Anyone already willing to defy law and conscience to do something nefarious isn't going to care where trans people are allowed, and any attempt to claim otherwise is just an empty, if disturbingly effective, scare tactic.

I don't care what anybody says, gender is binary.
This is objectively and demonstrably false. Just to begin with, there are countless societies that have recognized (at least) a third gender (and often more). You might as well say, "I don't care what anybody says, the only two colors are red and blue." That wouldn't stop orange and yellow and green and violet from existing, even if you decided to categorize them as shades of red and blue. And how would you explain black and white, not to mention infrared and ultraviolet?

Besides, even insisting on a strict binary doesn't do anything to rule out switching sides. There are plenty of binary-identified trans people.
God made it that way...
Says who? The Christian Bible doesn't even touch on gender identity, unless the people described using terms that are generally translated as "eunuch" count. And if they do, that would seem to contradict your point, not support it.
...and the very, very few instances where a child is born with the physical characteristics of both...
See, now you're either mixing up (mental or sociological) gender with (anatomical) sex, which suggests that you just don't know what you're talking about, or, worse, that you're deliberately ignoring the difference, which smacks of a malice that I would prefer not to attribute to you. Either way, you've already contradicted your own "gender is binary" claim. Besides which, research into brain structure suggests that being transgender has an objective biological basis, making it also a case of being "born with the physical characteristics of both", just in a way that's less readily observable than ambiguous genitalia, which is itself more common than you seem to think.
...the doctors will ask the parents to make a choice as to what to cut out.
That's a problem in and of itself, and not just because any surgery carries risks, or because it would mean brain surgery for some people.

Perhaps you've heard of the David Reimer case? The short version is that, after one of a pair of twin boys suffered a botched circumcision, psychologist John Money convinced the parents to remove the rest of his boy bits and raise him as a girl. The theory was that if he was given girl-like anatomy (and eventually hormones) and treated as a girl, he'd identify as a girl, just as if he'd been born that way. But he never did, no matter how they tried to force the issue. Gender identity, we've since realized, is largely fixed by the time of birth, and trying to impose a change simply doesn't work. Money's interventions traumatized not just David, but also his twin brother, and they each ended up dying to suicide before reaching the age of 40.

While David wasn't intersex, intersex people (usually) have gender identities, too. But it's not as though the doctors or parents can ask them about it at birth. So what happens if they make the wrong choice? How are they supposed to have any idea how to choose? Why should they have to choose?

Which reminds me of a comment I once saw on a Cracked article. User GothSpice wrote, in part...
My friend Arcy was born intersex. She identifies as a woman, though she was born with various degrees of both genitalia. She went through hell, and still does. The doctor at her birth told her mother to "choose".

She chose wrong, and to this day steadfastly denies that my friend was born with a vagina as well as a penis, even though she bears the scars of her surgery to seal her vagina to this day.
"She chose wrong". Her child is still paying for both her mistake and her refusal to own up to it. If you don't find that tragic, I don't know what to say to you.

There's a good reason the United Nations has condemned genital surgery performed on intersex children as a medically unnecessary human rights violation that causes "terrible physical, psychological and emotional pain".

I get the impression that you made that remark in passing and weren't thinking about the implications of it. But I want to be absolutely clear about this, and so I won't mince words or try to spare your feelings here. To claim that it is good and proper to "make a choice as to what to cut out", at birth, when the person most affected has no say in the matter, is to advocate child abuse.

But let's get back to what was stated outright and not just accidentally implied.

And if you think I'm a complete cad, I say let HIM grow up wearing rainbows, unicorns and pink socks...
If nothing else, it does seem arrogant of you to presume to know a complete stranger better than her family or therapist or even herself. Additionally, the unnecessary emphasis on the pronoun comes across as petulant, petty, and just plain mean. Look, whether you agree with the correctness of calling her "her" or not, you know Nikki doesn't like being called "him", yet you insist on doing it anyway, and worse, on doing it belligerently. So much for deciding to "own" that bullying "wasn't right". You're also completely missing, or deliberately ignoring, the distinction between identity (who a person is) and expression (how a person behaves).

Also, it feels like you're taking this strangely personally. Why does it matter so much to you that Nikki be a boy? What drives you to insist, without knowing anything about her situation beyond a few lines in a news article, that she must be wrong about being a girl?

That said, it's at least a step in the right direction to "let [her] grow up wearing" whatever she wants, but do keep in mind that the school, allegedly, wouldn't even do that.
...and when he's 21, he can do whatever he wants to do with his body.
By then, it's... I don't want to say "too late", because I don't want to crush anyone's hopes, and it's never too late for anyone to be themselves. People have successfully transitioned late in their lives, and the available options keep improving. However, there's no question that withholding care in adolescence, in cases when the need is already known, makes things a lot more problematic. Without hormone blockers, puberty's not going to hold off until 21, or 18, or even 16, and I'm not getting the impression that you'd be fine with those, either. It's far less trouble to get puberty to go right the first time than it is to try to reverse its effects and go through another puberty in adulthood.

This isn't even about what she wants to do with her body, though, and you seem to be unable to recognize that. For now, Nikki just wants to be treated as a girl. That's it.

I'm getting the impression that you think of "transgender" (a broad term that, roughly speaking, involves a disconnect between body and self) strictly in terms of "transsexual" (a narrow term focused specifically on going through feminizing or masculinizing surgery; due to the state of one's private parts being generally none of anyone's business, and to it not being a necessary part of being transgender, the use of this term is generally discouraged, though some people to whom it applies do prefer it). That would at least explain why you seem to scoff at the idea of a transgender child. But it's just another clue that you don't actually understand what you're talking about. Maybe it's the Dunning-Kruger effect in action: The less people know about something, the less likely they are to realize how little they know.

Come to think of it, though, didn't you say something about...
...the very, very few instances where a child is born with the physical characteristics of both the doctors will ask the parents to make a choice as to what to cut out.
Yeah, that. It sounds alarmingly like you're trying to say that it's perfectly fine to "cut out" parts of a newborn, and hope that everything works out just fine, well before they're able to understand what's going on or communicate their preferences... while, at the same time, acting as though a simple pronoun is too much to ask before someone turns 21 and finishes doing "whatever [they want] to do with [their] body". Or, more likely, whatever you've decided they're supposed to want to do with it. I'm afraid it's sounding uncomfortably like you have an unhealthy obsession with other people's genitalia.

On the other hand, you also referred to Caitlyn as "he", and she's been through all the surgeries you could possibly expect and then some (I think? Like I've said, it's really none of my business), not to mention what I'd assume is the best plastic surgery money can buy. After that, I'm left wondering whether anything's good enough to convince you to extend a little courtesy, or if you'd rather just keep coming up with excuses instead. Typing, and saying, "she" and "her" instead of "he" and "him", or vice versa, isn't difficult and doesn't cost you anything. If anything, I'd assume it would take more effort to use pronouns that don't match a person's presentation.

At this point, I'm really not sure what to think. So let's just wrap this up by briefly revisiting some things you said in passing earlier.
Before anybody flames me (and I'm sure I'll get a couple folks unfriending me, your loss, BTW)...
And if you think I'm a complete cad...
That reads as though you're aware, on some level, that what you're arguing is problematic at best, even if you wouldn't admit it and can't understand why. So let me end with a simple suggestion, assuming that you don't want people to think you're a "complete cad". Consider avoiding this subject until you've made at least a token effort to understand it. And show people a little respect even if you disagree with them.

2017-07-30

This is why celebrities have handlers

I'd imagine that anyone who's at all interested has seen the tweets by now:
After consultation with my Generals and military experts, please be advised that the United States Government will not accept or allow......
....Transgender individuals to serve in any capacity in the U.S. Military. Our military must be focused on decisive and overwhelming.....
....victory and cannot be burdened with the tremendous medical costs and disruption that transgender in the military would entail. Thank you
Yeah. Those tweets. Where do I even begin?

Let's start with the first line, I suppose. Who are these "Generals and military experts"? The Pentagon was taken completely by surprise. The existing policy to include transgender service members incorporates input from military leadership as well as medical and personnel experts. Former Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff and retired Admiral Mike Mullen testified before Congress, less than a week earlier, that "inclusive policy for transgender troops promotes readiness" (emphasis added). Even current Defense secretary James Mattis, who is on record as opposing military inclusion of not just LGBTQ of any kind but also of women, and was apparently on vacation anyway when the tweets came, had only gone as far as pushing inclusion back six months (less than a month ago) to further study the issue, as though it hadn't already been repeatedly studied. So who, if anyone, was actually consulted?

How about those "tremendous medical costs", then? It turns out they're negligible, especially taking into account how large the military budget is. Even the largest credible estimates project a cost of under $9 million annually, an increase of, at most, 0.13%. Another study estimates a cost of under $6 million annually, which it characterizes as "little more than a rounding error". To put that in perspective, the military already spends over $84 million annually on erectile dysfunction drugs. That's not to say those shouldn't be covered, but that calling the cost of transgender care "tremendous" is simply nonsensical. Besides, the bulk of the health care costs for transgender personnel would be for the same things as any other personnel. In any case, health care isn't even a particularly large part of the military budget overall. The F-35 combat aircraft, which still doesn't work quite the way it's supposed to and has been called "flawed beyond redemption", has a projected total cost of over $1.5 trillion. And let's not forget entire weapons programs, like the C-27J cargo plane, M-1 Abrams tank, and Global Hawk drone, that the Pentagon would prefer to cut if Congress would allow it. If you're worried about expenses, maybe start by taking a look at things the military doesn't even want. And fighting off the inevitable lawsuits, assuming this shortsighted policy actually goes into effect, won't come cheap, either.

On a related note, there's the numbers argument. The fact is, no one is really sure how many transgender personnel there are in the military. Most estimates are in the tens of thousands, but it's not really tracked, and with the amount of hostility that still exists, it's not something people would necessarily be willing to be open about anyway. Regardless, the argument I see strangely often, both in this case specifically and in complaints about nondiscrimination in general, is that there aren't enough such people to bother caring about. If there are so few, though, wouldn't that make any hypothetical problems even less of an issue? And if there are too few to bother arguing for, shouldn't that also mean there are too few to bother arguing against? Either way, I've never known the size of a group to be the determining factor in whether that group has the same basic rights as anyone else. All in all, it's a silly angle to take.

As for "disruption", the military has had plenty of time to prepare for integration. They're ready for it. They even have a 72-page implementation handbook, because of course they do. What they're not ready for is a sudden reversal. These tweets took the Pentagon by surprise, remember? No one saw this coming, and now there are likely tens of thousands of service members whose status is suddenly in limbo. And that's not even counting how many might have hoped to enlist, all while the military is struggling so much to meet recruitment goals that they're looking at relaxing their standards. So, who's causing a disruption, again? Meanwhile, take a look at the eighteen countries, including Australia, Canada, Israel, and the United Kingdom, that already allow transgender personnel to serve openly. There's been no evidence of any effect on readiness, effectiveness, or cohesion.

So, at this point, I'd really like to see some tweets that go something like this:
After consultation with common sense and PR experts, please be advised that the United States Government will not accept or allow......
....President Trump to tweet in any capacity about the U.S. Military. Our military must be focused on decisive and overwhelming.....
....victory and cannot be burdened with the tremendous costs and disruption reckless tweeting about the military would entail. Thank you 

2017-07-22

How is Charlie Gard an excuse to criticize transgender issues?

An opinion piece by Christine Flowers in a recent edition of the local paper takes a perplexing detour. While the piece mainly deals with the Charlie Gard controversy, which I don't feel that I understand well enough to comment on, it suddenly swerves midway through into arguments about abortion, a matter not truly related to the initial one and a far more nuanced issue than she gives it credit for. That's not what we're here for, though. I'm focusing on when she ultimately shifts, quite abruptly, into bashing care for young transgender people, devoting around a quarter of the piece to this, despite how obviously little she understands the subject and despite it having no discernible connection to the original topic.

The writer, I belatedly realized while putting together this response, is one whose name I recognize. It turns out I've felt the need to refute her before, after she implied she had a right to know about the genitalia of everyone who might use a public toilet, then proceeded to launch into a tirade of fallacious objections to the concept of transgender (refer to the "Paying Too Much Mind to Other People's Business" section of my previous Toilets Still a Battleground Somehow post). Now, here, she goes out of her way to attack the same concept all over again, with similarly shallow complaints, shoehorning it into an unrelated piece. Perhaps it proves an idea I recall from Fred Clark's commentary, made in reference to the Left Behind series and Tim LaHaye's evident fixation on the United Nations, that "obsession need not produce curiosity" and that some people may spend decades "obsessing over and dreading and opposing" what they "never bother to learn even the most basic facts about".

She kicks off this farce by referring to the entire concept as a "gender game" (and, on that note, if it is just a game, why does she even care?). I can't agree. I've witnessed the inordinate amount of vitriol often directed at anyone who dares to even mention the word "transgender"—some of it coming from Christine Flowers herself, as it happens. I've seen the news about the distressingly widespread legal efforts to not only sanction but to enforce treating transgender people, from students to senior citizens, as "less thans". I'm all too aware of people who ought to be spreading God's love but instead choose to parrot ignorance and propagate hatred. I know about many, more than I want to believe could possibly be real, who have been murdered for who they are, including an eight-year-old child who three years ago in Brazil was "Beaten to death by father for refusing to cut hair, liking women's clothes, and dancing". I've read a personal account of someone who recalls, at the age of five, pleading with any higher power that might be listening to "fix my body or allow me to die in my sleep". I've personally experienced some of the turmoil and disorientation that can result from trying to ignore a part of yourself, and I'm not even particularly dysphoric. For many, this is no "game".

She also comes across as contradicting herself about whether children should be allowed to be their own people. On the one hand, she seems critical of people who treat their children like property, or, when it comes to abortion, like "non-viable appendages of unwilling women". On the other, she insists that children are too young to "really understand the consequences" of exploring their gender, and that allowing them the freedom to try is giving them "an autonomy they neither want, nor can safely handle" (never mind that this is an autonomy that many children desperately want and that isn't particularly dangerous to handle). So, are kids able to think for themselves, or not? Should their feelings, preferences, and human dignity be respected, or not? There are kids who express cross-gender tendencies at one point and later grow out of them, it's true. But the ones who will, will, whether they're allowed to experiment or denied at every turn, and allowing it does no harm. Why make things more difficult for everyone by turning it into something to fight over?

Meanwhile, she demonstrates an appalling ignorance1 of the standards of care for transgender people, youth in particular. No legitimate doctor wants to take children and "pump them up with hormones". Before puberty, there's little point to it anyway, and, accordingly, the most a young person who expresses transgender inclinations can expect medically is hormone blockers, with ongoing supervision, once it starts becoming an issue and they've satisfied the gatekeeping requirements. Of course, that's only if they have any idea that such a thing is possible, can find someone with the authority to issue the prescription, and aren't prevented from doing so by feared or actual familial rejection or financial concerns. Far from rushing anyone into anything, hormone blockers delay puberty, specifically to make doubly certain that everyone understands what they're getting into and truly wants to go down this path. Actual hormone treatments demand more stringent requirements and additional oversight, and generally aren't even an option until later into the teenage years, well after anyone not on blockers would normally be awash in the hormones their own bodies "pump them up with", ready or not, like it or not. "We want to steal their future", she complains of those who would allow the possibility of transition, but how can temporarily holding back some of the most drastic changes a person will ever experience possibly be worse than forcing a child to go through an unwanted puberty just because that's what their body defaults to? It's not a coincidence that gender dysphoria often manifests at the onset of puberty. This is a turbulent enough time for most young people, but consider how much more difficult it must be for someone to go through a puberty that's all wrong for them, only to be left struggling to try to undo its effects later on. If she's honestly worried that these young people are making rash decisions that they'll regret later, I'd expect her to support taking measures to put the decision off.

What galls me the most, though, is her claim to champion "science and empirical evidence" over "our personal view of what is good, what is efficient, what is compassionate, and what is ethical" while making these arguments. Science has plenty to say on the issue, though, with more empirical evidence every year, and the bulk of it is simply not on her side. There's good reason so many "respectable doctors and psychologists" agree that people, children included, should be allowed to live their gender. Being transgender is an objectively real phenomenon. Brain scans have even demonstrated a biological basis for it, for those who like to appeal to biology. And, moving from theory into practice, letting people transition works. Trying to "de-trans" (or "de-gay", for that matter) people not only doesn't work, but tends to traumatize them instead, even if the attempt doesn't use literal torture as a tactic. For children in particular, empirical evidence tells us that transgender children who receive love, support, and affirmation turn out as mentally healthy and well-adjusted as anyone else. Those whose identity is denied and rejected, on the other hand, tend to grow up with resentment, depression, and an alarming tendency toward suicide instead. Yet she mocks the idea of acceptance, "reality and science be damned", to borrow her words.

Even ignoring the facts, though, it takes a strange sort of perversity to think that there's something more abusive about letting children play and explore—what she calls "putting little boys in tutus and turning tomboys into actual boys", as though parents were doing this over the protests of their children—than trying to force them to stop. No. What's abusive is refusing to let children be, or even try to discover, who they are, and refusing to give them access to the support they may need, because you're so certain you know better that you won't listen.


1 (note added 2017-08-12): I'd like to clarify that I don't mean that such ignorance is necessarily appalling in itself. No one can possibly know all there is to know about everything, and there are plenty of things that the average person has no need to know. For example, I am completely ignorant of the principles of museum curation. And that's fine—provided that I don't discuss museum curation as though I were a knowledgeable authority, or attempt to criticize museum curators despite my ignorance. What appalls me is that she continues to come back to this topic over and over again, presenting her word as absolute fact, yet shows no signs of having done even the most basic research on it.

2017-05-17

Pokémon GO types rant

I want to start by saying that I do enjoy the game overall. The data usage is basically negligible as long as you get game updates through wifi. It helps motivate me to do some of the exercising and exploring I ought to be doing anyway, and honestly enjoy doing anyway once I actually start moving instead of making excuses. There's just something about seeing these creatures from my childhood coming to life... more or less, anyway. And it's free to play!

That said, it definitely has its problems. There's no interaction between players except indirectly through king-of-the-hill-style fighting over gym locations. Status ailments don't exist. Monster spawns are often poorly distributed outside of urban areas. Eevees show up constantly instead of being rare enough that you can only get a single one in many of the games. A number of special monsters remain completely unavailable so far (though maybe that's better than if everyone were overusing them). The app chews through battery charge like no one's business. The interface's responsiveness always seems to stutter at the worst possible times. I've recently been having an annoying problem where all the nearby monsters sometimes vanish for a few seconds before coming back, sometimes several times in a row. Stability remains an issue months after the initial release, especially in the busier areas that would otherwise be the best places to play. The positioning sometimes gets so flaky that it thinks I'm driving too fast even when I'm on foot, or not moving at all. And let's not forget the cheaters.

None of those are my main gripe, though.

Pokémon makes extensive use of a fairly complicated elemental rock-paper-scissors system. Picking the right matchup gives a substantial advantage, while picking the wrong one does the opposite. This, along with the 150+ monsters and the gotta catch'em all slogan, is what the game has always been known for, and it makes up the heart of the battle system. Even the anime references this constantly, though Ash's Pikachu in particular sometimes defies it when the plot says so.

To explain the mechanics in a little more detail, let's pretend for simplicity's sake that all the monsters have the same stats and that all attacks have the same power, so that if both monsters have neutral matchups against each other, they both inflict 100 damage per attack. Striking a weakness doubles that, so if one does that while the other doesn't, that's a 200/100 ratio. Resistances halve damage, so if the attacker with an advantage also has a resistance to the other one's attacks, that's 200/50, for a net 4x difference in damage output. There's also a mechanic called the same-type attack bonus (STAB) that adds an extra 50% damage when the user's type matches the attack's type, so that would be a 150/100 ratio if one has it and the other doesn't in an otherwise-neutral matchup, or 300/50 (6x difference!) when the one with STAB also has an offensive and defensive advantage. Even when the opponent gets STAB too, that's still 300/75, for a 4x difference.

Just to pile it on, monsters can have two types, combining the strengths and weaknesses of each type. Now, if one type resists what the other type is weak against, those cancel out and it takes the same damage as in a neutral matchup, and if both types resist the same thing, the monster only takes a quarter of the usual damage. But if both types have the same weakness, that means quadruple damage. A Tangela (Grass type, resistant to Ground) using Grass moves against a Rhyhorn (Rock/Ground, both types weak against Grass) that for some reason insists on using Ground moves, with our all-base-damage-is-100 assumption, is looking at a 600/75 advantage (since they both get STAB). That's 8 times the damage of the opponent. That should mean an easy win, even if the Tangela is significantly weaker than the Rhyhorn.

From this, I think it's safe to make these statements about the game mechanics:
  • Type matchup is easily the single most important aspect of combat, overpowering even fairly sizable differences in stats.
  • STAB is nice, but if you have to pick one or the other, choosing attacks that strike the opponent's weaknesses matters significantly more. Therefore, you generally want a monster to have a variety of move types, even if they don't all match its type.

But that's in the core games. Pokémon GO works very differently, and not just because the battles are real-time instead of turn-based.

The battle system in Pokémon GO substantially dumbs down the type system. A weakness means only 25% extra damage (instead of 100%), while a resistance gives only 20% reduction (instead of 50%). That's better than nothing, of course, but the effects are small enough that it's not too hard to make up for a disadvantage with better stats. The ideal matchup for single-type monsters without STAB goes from 200/50 to 125/80, or a 1.56x net damage advantage instead of the 4x in the core games. STAB counts for a 25% bonus, so it's also nerfed, but not by nearly as much. STAB on one side gives a 125/100 ratio in an otherwise neutral matchup, or 156/80 when combined with weakness and resistance, still only a 1.95x damage advantage instead of the 6x we're used to. Even hitting dual-type monsters where it hurts isn't especially impressive. The same Tangela and Rhyhorn example as above ends up with a 195/100 ratio—no better than an optimal matchup against a single-type monster, thanks to the Rhyhorn's STAB effectively canceling out its disadvantage of a doubled weakness.

So, in Pokémon GO:
  • Raw stats can easily overpower type disadvantages. Type can give you a slight edge, but it just isn't that much of a big deal.
  • STAB helps just as much as striking a single weakness does. More, actually, since it applies no matter what you're facing. Therefore, moves that don't match a monster's type are more or less useless, and more often than not you want both moves to have the same type.

That turns the whole concept upside down. The core idea of effective Pokémon battling is supposed to be building up a varied team and shuffling them around to suit what you're facing. But in Pokémon GO? Just get a few good attackers, and a few blobs of health for holding gyms, and you can almost ignore the type system entirely. Any monster that doesn't make it into the higher stat tiers barely matters at all. The underemphasis on the type system even makes some entire types effectively obsolete, since monsters of other types with worse matchups can make up for it and then some with raw stats. Take the Grass type, for instance. It should be the best choice against both Water and Ground, thanks to having both offensive and defensive advantages against both, but in practice, a good Electric monster does better against Water, and a good Water type does better against Ground, despite lacking appropriate resistance, since even the strongest Grass types just don't have as much in the way of raw stats as fairly common higher-end Electric and Water monsters. They can't balance things out by inflicting any of the status ailments they often could in the core games, either, since Pokémon GO doesn't implement those at all.

On the one hand, I kind of understand dumbing down types a bit, since the game gives you less control over your monsters' moves and less flexibility to pick what they do in combat. It's not very informative when it comes to helping you figure out which types work best, either. On the other hand, though, I can't help but think they took it too far. Maybe something more like +50% / -33%, leaving STAB at +25% where it is, might work as a decent compromise, and make my poor Venusaurs, Victreebels, Vileplumes (and one Bellossom) feel useful again.

But that's not even the part that bothers me the most.

In the core series, some defender types are flat-out immune to certain attack types. In Gen 1 alone, Normal and Fighting moves pass right through Ghost monsters, Ghost attacks can't touch Normal types either, Ground attacks can't reach Flying monsters, and Electric attacks won't conduct through Ground types. Later generations add to that a Steel type that's impervious to Poison attacks, a Dark type that blocks out Psychic moves, and a Fairy type that... scares off Dragon moves, I guess? Pokémon GO takes those deliberate and meaningful aspects of the type matchup system, shrugs indifferently, and treats them all like simple resistances. Not that the balance was ever perfect, but that's easily enough to throw it off completely, especially since monsters with immunities often have lower overall stats to even things out a bit. Dugtrio, for example, is honestly kind of pathetic for an evolved form, but between ignoring Electric attacks and inflicting triple damage thanks to weakness and STAB, it can still wreck a Pikachu's day. With a heavily nerfed damage bonus and no immunity, though, the only thing it's good for in Pokémon GO is filling in a space in the Pokedex. Similarly, all those underpowered Murkrow I keep struggling to catch exist almost entirely to give Psychic types a hard time, but they're virtually useless in Pokémon GO except to build up your catch count for Dark.

Let's use an Espeon (Psychic) vs. Umbreon (Dark) battle as a specific example. In the core series, the Espeon's best moves won't work thanks to the Umbreon's immunity, so it had better hope it at least has a non-Psychic attack to work with. The Umbreon, on the other hand, will have no trouble beating up on the Espeon's weakness to Dark attacks. The best case for the Espeon, then, is 100% damage (unless it's lucky enough to have Dazzling Gleam from a TM, and even then, that's still only 200% since it's not getting STAB), against the Umbreon's 300%. Realistically, the Umbreon will win that fight without even trying.

In Pokémon GO, though, that's not how things work. Espeon can only get Psychic moves, while Umbreon can only get Dark moves, so weakness, resistance-that-should-be-immunity, and STAB all automatically come into play. But since Pokémon GO eviscerated the relevance of types, the Umbreon can only inflict 156% damage to the Espeon's full 100%. The Umbreon still has the upper hand, yes, but it's not such a sure thing, and nowhere near the curbstomp it was meant to be.

It gets worse, though. Since Pokémon can have two types, some will have one type with an immunity and one without it. Immune is immune, though, whether the other type has resistance, weakness, or neither. At least, that's how it goes when the game respects immunities. But Pokémon GO doesn't. So when an immunity and a weakness collide, they just cancel out. Let me repeat that. A monster that is supposed to take no damage whatsoever from an attack will take just as much damage as a monster that has no resistance whatsoever to it. I can't make any excuses for that. It's just bad.

This wasn't as obvious before the Gen 2 rollout. With just Gen 1 monsters, the only attack type affected this way was Ground, and the only defenders affected were Zubat and Golbat (Poison/Flying), Moltres (Fire/Flying), Zapdos (Electric/Flying), and Charizard (Fire/Flying). The bats are too weak to realistically bother with anyway, and the legendary birds aren't available even now, so unless you're a big fan of Charizard, you probably never even noticed.

But Gen 2 more than doubles the list. Crobat (another Poison/Flying), Skarmory (Steel/Flying), and Ho-Oh (another Fire/Flying unobtainable legendary) all have the same weak/immune combination against Ground attacks. Girafirag, one of the oddball creatures that doesn't evolve, is Normal/Psychic, leaving it with the same problem against Ghost attacks, even though the immunity is the entire point of pairing Normal with Psychic (its only other effect is canceling out the usual Psychic resistance to Fighting). Gligar has an improbable Ground/Flying type combination, which ought to leave it immune to both Ground and Electric, but instead it takes full damage from Electric moves and only gets a small reduction against Ground.

And then we have Wooper and Quagsire, a family sporting a Water/Ground type combination. They look obviously watery, so I kind of get the impression they're meant to bait you into trying to electrocute them, only to find your moves have no effect while their Ground attacks wreck your poor monster. If nothing else, it at least should make no sense to use anything but Grass attacks against them thanks to that juicy 4x weakness. But not in Pokémon GO! Electric won't work quite as well as Grass, sure, but it gets the job done just fine. It shouldn't.

That's a problem. Again, given the differences in gameplay from the core games, I can understand not wanting to negate damage entirely. But immunity can't be treated as no better than resistance, and it can't be allowed to disappear just because the monster's second type has a weakness that ought to be ignored in this situation.

Maybe the gym overhaul that's reportedly in the works will change things.

(cross-posted to http://kwhazit.ucoz.net/blog)