The harm caused by radiator installation at Oberlin College

October 20, 2021 • 9:20 am

This has been reported by the right-wing media, of course, but I’d prefer to go to the source itself: the student newspaper of one of the wokest colleges in America: Oberlin College in Ohio. You may remember that Oberlin tried to destroy Gibson’s Bakery because the bakery’s owners called the cops on some students for shoplifting. Gibson’s won a huge judgement against the College—over $30 million including attorney’s fees. But the case, which began in 2016, is still going on, and even has its own Wikipedia page (Oberlin had to post bond for the judgement, but hasn’t paid up).

Today, however, we have an Oberlin student living in a dorm named Baldwin Cottage, of which two floors are devoted to people with particular genders and sexual preferences. As the letter writer notes in an op-ed published in The Oberlin Review (click on screenshot):

Baldwin Cottage is the home of the Women and Trans Collective. The College website describes the dorm as “a close-knit community that provides women and transgendered persons with a safe space for discussion, communal living, and personal development.” Cisgender men are not allowed to live on the second and third floors, and many residents choose not to invite cisgender men to that space.

This means that some cisgender men, at the residents’ invitation, can be on the second and third floors. And thereby lies the issue:

The trouble begn when John Mantos, the area coordinator for Multicultural and Identity-Based Communities, emailed the residents of Baldwin Cottage that there was an imminent installation of radiators before winter began. From the op-ed:

“I am reaching out to you to give you an update on the radiator project,” Matos wrote. “Starting tomorrow (Friday, 10/8) the contractors will be entering rooms between 10 a.m. and 8 p.m. to install the radiators. This will mean that they will be in your room for a period of time to complete the work.”

I had not been contacted about any sort of radiator installation before this email, so right away the word “update” stood out to me as untrue. I grew concerned reading the second line, which informed me that I had less than 24 hours to prepare for the arrival of the installation crew, and I was further perturbed by the ambiguous “for a period of time.”

In general, I am very averse to people entering my personal space. This anxiety was compounded by the fact that the crew would be strangers, and they were more than likely to be cisgender men.

Would Fray-Witzer be happier if the crew were women or transgender men? Peter doesn’t say, but goes on for a full page kvetching about the lack of warning, the fact that the Cisgender Radiator Men returned the next day to check the installation, how harmed he was, and so on. The author would have preferred this:

I was angry, scared, and confused. Why didn’t the College complete the installation over the summer, when the building was empty? Why couldn’t they tell us precisely when the workers would be there? Why were they only notifying us the day before the installation was due to begin?

The accusation of misbehavior by Oberlin and the harm done to Fray-Witzer goes on and on. One more excerpt:

I couldn’t help but think that, though there were other dorms affected by the installation, Baldwin Cottage was one of the worst places for it to occur. There are myriad reasons to want to be housed in Baldwin Cottage, but many people — myself included — choose to live there for an added degree of privacy and a feeling of safety and protection. A significant portion of students choose to live in Baldwin because they are victims of sexual assault or abuse, have suffered past invasions of privacy, or have some other reason to fear cisgender men.

You can read the rest for yourself. All I can say is that I sympathize with those residents who have experienced sexual assault and abuse, but those people have to live in the real world, and that world is full of cisgender men, even including some who install radiators. If the students can’t tolerate an hour’s worth of work by such men in their dorm room—Peter left for class and they were gone when he returned (I’m not sure of the right pronoun here)—then they need therapy.  After all, if they feel unsafe from a radiator crew, they can surely leave for an hour.  What kind of adults will these students grow up to be if they’re afraid of the whole world and get no therapy to deal with that?

Netflix employees and many civilians criticize Dave Chappelle’s “The Closer,” Netflix executives stand by the Chappelle and the show

October 15, 2021 • 11:00 am

I still haven’t seen Dave Chappelle’s Netflix special “The Closer“, so I can’t weigh in on whether what he said was in horrible taste or not. Those of you who did see it can (and should) weigh in below. As you know, given that it dealt with transsexual issues, it caused an uproar, much of it is already reported on WikipediaThe unusual thing is that a big and lucrative corporation is standing firm against a social-media onslaught.

All I can say about Chappelle is that I’ve seen some of his other shows, or parts of him, and see him as a latter-day Lenny Bruce, who deals frankly with topics about which people have strong feelings. And I think he’s funny and provocative as hell.

But I will neither defend nor attack him about this issue till I see the show. I’ll just reprise the reaction given by the New York Times, which reports that the company is melting down internally after presenting Chappelle’s show. Chappelle allegedly made comments that were “transphobic”.  Both co-executives of Neflix, however, are defending both the show and Chappelle.

Click on the screenshot below to read:

The accusations (all indented material are from the NYT piece):

That’s all changed. Internally, the tech company that revolutionized Hollywood is now in an uproar as employees challenge the executives responsible for its success and accuse the streaming service of facilitating the spread of hate speech and perhaps inciting violence.

At the center of the unrest is “The Closer,” the much-anticipated special from the Emmy-winning comedian Dave Chappelle, which debuted on Oct. 5 and was the fourth-most-watched program on Netflix in the United States on Thursday. In the show, Mr. Chappelle comments mockingly on transgender people and aligns himself with the author J.K. Rowling as “Team TERF,” an acronym for trans-exclusionary radical feminist, a term used for a group of people who argue that a transgender woman’s biological sex determines her gender and can’t be changed.

“The Closer” has thrust Netflix into difficult cultural debates, generating the kind of critical news coverage that usually attends Facebook and Google.

Several organizations, including GLAAD, the organization that monitors the news media and entertainment companies for bias against the L.G.B.T.Q. community, have criticized the special as transphobic. Some on Netflix’s staff have argued that it could incite harm against trans people. This week, the company briefly suspended three employees who attended a virtual meeting of executives without permission, and a contingent of workers has planned a walkout for next week.

. . .Terra Field, a software engineer at Netflix and one of the three employees who were suspended for joining a quarterly meeting of top executives that they were not invited to, said on Twitter last week that the special “attacks the trans community, and the very validity of transness.” (Ms. Field and the other suspended employees have been reinstated.)

Jaclyn Moore, an executive producer for the Netflix series “Dear White People,” said last week that she would not work with Netflix “as long as they continue to put out and profit from blatantly and dangerously transphobic content.”

On Wednesday, GLAAD criticized Mr. Sarandos’s claim that on-screen content does not lead to real-world violence. “Film and TV have also been filled with stereotypes and misinformation about us for decades, leading to real-world harm, especially for trans people and L.G.B.T.Q. people of color,” the organization said in a statement.

The critics:

The critical reaction to “The Closer” has been mixed, with most reviewers acknowledging Mr. Chappelle’s comedic skills while questioning whether his desire to push back against his detractors has led him to adopt rhetorical tactics favored by internet trolls. Roxane Gay, in a Times opinion column, noted “five or six lucid moments of brilliance” in a special that includes “a joyless tirade of incoherent and seething rage, misogyny, homophobia and transphobia.”

I looked up the ratings of the show on Rotten Tomatoes, and here they are. This is one of the biggest disparities I’ve ever seen between critics’ reviews and the public’s reviews.  Clearly, the media is much more on the “transphobe” side than is the public:

The defense. Surprisingly, given its dominance of the media, both of the company’s chief executives mounted a robust defense, though the company didn’t have a comment (nor did Chappelle).

A discussion this week on an internal Netflix message board between Reed Hastings, a co-chief executive, and company employees suggested that the two sides remained far apart on the issue of Mr. Chappelle’s special. A transcript of the wide-ranging online chat, in which Mr. Hastings expressed his views on free speech and argued firmly against the comedian’s detractors, was obtained by The New York Times.

One employee questioned whether Netflix was “making the wrong historical choice around hate speech.” In reply, Mr. Hastings wrote: “To your macro question on being on the right side of history, we will always continue to reflect on the tensions between freedom and safety. I do believe that our commitment to artistic expression and pleasing our members is the right long term choice for Netflix, and that we are on the right side, but only time will tell.”

. . .Replying to an employee who argued that Mr. Chappelle’s words were harmful, Mr. Hastings wrote: “In stand-up comedy, comedians say lots of outrageous things for effect. Some people like the art form, or at least particular comedians, and others do not.

When another employee expressed an opinion that Mr. Chappelle had a history of homophobia and bigotry, Mr. Hastings said he disagreed, and would welcome the comedian back to Netflix.

“We disagree with your characterization and we’ll continue to work with Dave Chappelle in the future,” he said. “We see him as a unique voice, but can understand if you or others never want to watch his show.”

He added, “We do not see Dave Chappelle as harmful, or in need of any offset, which we obviously and respectfully disagree on.”

In a note to employees this week, Ted Sarandos, Netflix’s other co-chief executive, expressed his unwavering support for Mr. Chappelle and struck back at the argument that the comic’s statements could lead to violence.

I’ll try to watch this soon, and the questions I’ll be asking myself are these:

a. Does Chappelle really seem to express transphobia or homophobia?

b. Is the show in bad taste?

c. The show is said to include a memoriam by Chappelle of his late friend Daphne Dorman, a transgender comedian. Others say it was disrespectful. Which was it?

d. Do I think the show is likely to incite violence? (That’s just a guess, of course.)

e. Does this look like it will hurt Netflix?

f.  Do I think that Chappelle is through—permanently cancelled. I doubt it given that Netflix is defending him pretty strongly, and if they keep airing his shows, well, that’s not cancellation.

The topic of transsexual people is perhaps the hottest political button there is for those on the Left. Certainly Netflix and Chappelle had the right under the first amendment to say what they wanted, but of course that right comes with the consequences of what you say. Normally the consequences from what I hear from the critics and opponents would be cancellation, but this is Dave Chappelle, and pushing buttons is his business.

The Times of London defends Kathleen Stock’s freedom of expresson, and so should we

October 13, 2021 • 12:00 pm

So what if the Times of London is a Tory paper? Gender-critical feminist Professor Kathleen Stock of Sussex needs a stalwart defense and they gave it to her. There was NO defense from the Guardian, of course, just a new article about how Stock’s own union (the University and College Union) is investigating her for transphobia, and that Stock feels that her teaching career is “effectively ended”. The Guardian loves that, and they would get rid of Stock if they had the power. They are reprehensible, especially on issues of freedom of speech.

On October 10, in the Hili News, I summarized the campaign against Stock:

Kathleen Stock, a feminist professor of philosophy at the University of Sussex, is the subject of a cancellation campaign over her views on gender. Wikipedia has characterized her views thusly:

Stock has expressed gender critical views on proposed reforms to the UK Gender Recognition Act and trans self-identification. She has called for trans women who have male genitalia to be excluded from women’s changing rooms, characterising them as “still males” who may be sexually attracted to women. She has denied opposing trans rights, saying, “I gladly and vocally assert the rights of trans people to live their lives free from fear, violence, harassment or any discrimination” and “I think that discussing female rights is compatible with defending these trans rights”.

For this some of her colleagues and students have started a campaign to get her fired, hyperbolically characterizing her as a transphobe whose views cause “harm”:

In January, hundreds of academics criticised the decision to give Stock an OBE for services to higher education in the New Year honours list.

In an open letter, they condemned academics who use their status to “further gender oppression” and said they denounced “transphobia in all its forms”.

The letter said: “Trans people are already deeply marginalised in society, facing well-documented discrimination, ranging from government policy to physical violence. Discourse like that Stock is producing and amplifying contributes to these harms, serving to restrict trans people’s access to life-saving medical treatments, encourage the harassment of gender-non-conforming people, and otherwise reinforce the patriarchal status quo. We are dismayed that the British government has chosen to honour her for this harmful rhetoric.”

This is what happens when you try to philosophically discuss the issues of rights when people are changing genders. The Guardian article reports that Stock is subject to concerted intimidation and harassment. To its credit, the University of Sussex is defending stock’s right to say what she wants, saying it won’t tolerate “threats to academic freedom.” The discourse on gender has gotten so polarized that even talking about it is taboo unless you agree with the most extreme construal of gender rights.

This article from Today’s Times (I have to use a screenshot because it’s paywalled, but click to enlarge) says what I would say: her views are “hardly inflammatory” and “even if Professor Stock held opinions that were less obviously defensible, she would have an unqualified right to express them.” But you can read it for yourself:


There is of course no constitutional principle in the UK like our First Amendment, but that is no excuse to promulgate censorship in a university. All universities should, I think, abide by the tenets of free expression that the University of Chicago (a private university not required to adhere to the First Amendment) holds as one of its foundational principles.

The Times also recounts the harassment Stock has endured, including threats of violence. She has been advised not to go to campus and to install closed-circuit television in her home. The University of Sussex is still defending her, though hedging it a bit (from the Guardian):

University of Sussex spokesperson said: “We have acted – and will continue to act – firmly and promptly to tackle bullying and harassment, to defend the fundamental principle of academic freedom, to support our community and continue to progress our work on equality, diversity and inclusion. We care deeply about getting this balance right.

“There are a range of very strong views and opinions held across the university on a whole variety of issues and topics, including how we support our trans and non-binary community particularly at this time.

“As a community, we need to come together and talk about what is happening at the moment and to look at the way forward.

“We will be doing this in the coming weeks and this will be led by our newly appointed pro-vice-chancellor for culture, equality and inclusion.”

Given that Stock is not a transphobe, they should have stopped the statement after the first paragraph.

The Guardian has not and will not defend Stock; they censored one of their columnists for expressing similar views, forcing her to resign. The important thing to remember is that Stock is by no means a transphobe; her views are expressed above and in her Wikipedia article. But because she questions the complete equivalence of transwomen and biological women (ditto for transmen and biological men), she’s being mercilessly hounded. Every university, much less Stock’s own union, should be united in defending her right to express opinions on this matter.

The discussion (or rather, lack thereof) about trans issues has gotten completely out of hand. And so it is up to us to defend whatever views we hold with reason, not with threats, but also to defend the right of our opponents to express their views openly and without fear and intimidation. We should all be behind Stock’s freedom of expression.


h/t: Simon, Luana

Two taboo articles to read

October 10, 2021 • 11:30 am

If you’re following transgender issues, and aren’t afraid to question the view that transwomen are women in every sense and likewise for transmen, and also feel that there’s a rush to affirm transgender identity in children or teens without proper guidance, then you should read these two articles.

I was originally going to present just one long quote from Andrew Sullivan’s take on the issue, as his analysis this week is good, but he also relies on a new article by Abigail Shrier published on Bari Weiss’s site. You should read that one first by clicking on the screenshot below.  And do remember to subscribe to the Substack sites that you read often.

Shrier is the demonized author of the book Irreversible Damage, which warns of the dangers of premature transitioning as an early teen or child without proper medical and psychological guidance. She is not a transphobe, nor is she opposed to gender changing. She is just worried about the dangers of rapid “affirmation” without caveats as well as the possibility that social pressure forces young people to transition instead of, for instance, becoming gay or changing their minds. The medical consequences of transitioning are irreversible, and you have to have all possible information before you start —usually by taking “puberty blockers.”

Shrier is not a transphobe, though the trans activists call her one. I suggest you read her book and decide for yourself.

Her new piece, which I won’t dwell on, as you should read it, is about two doctors who help young people (mostly girls) transition. Both doctors are trans women. One, Marci Bowers, is a world expert in vaginoplasty: creating an artificial vagina from a penis. Such surgery is often, but not always, chosen by biological males transitioning to the female gender. The other, Erica Anderson, is a clinical psychologist at UCSF’s Child and Adolescent Gender clinic.

Neither of these women are transphobes, of course, but both express caution about changing gender from male to female without proper advice. The main issue is loss of one’s sexual side. Transitioning starts with taking puberty blockers, which stops puberty in its tracks and according to trans activists is allegedly completely reversible (we don’t really know that!), so that a candidate can ponder their decision while in sexual stasis.

The problem with the drugs is that most people taking the blockers go on to full transitioning, often involving later genital surgery. And this causes two problems. First, puberty blockers prevent not only development of full erotic sensation, but also leave the penis at such a small size that it’s very hard to convert it into a vagina facsimile. The alternatives, using tissue from elsewhere like the colon, are very unsatisfactory. Second, this surgery pretty much prevents transsexual women from ever having an orgasm. So unless they’ve experienced one before beginning puberty blockers, they’ll never have the full experience of sex with a partner. This isn’t often emphasized, leading to Anderson’s quote:

Anderson agreed that we’re likely to see more regret among this teenage-girl population. “It is my considered opinion that due to some of the — let’s see, how to say it? what word to choose? — due to some of the, I’ll call it just ‘sloppy,’ sloppy healthcare work, that we’re going to have more young adults who will regret having gone through this process. And that is going to earn me a lot of criticism from some colleagues, but given what I see — and I’m sorry, but it’s my actual experience as a psychologist treating gender variant youth — I’m worried that decisions will be made that will later be regretted by those making them.”

What, exactly, was sloppy about the healthcare work? “Rushing people through the medicalization, as you and others have cautioned, and failure — abject failure — to evaluate the mental health of someone historically in current time, and to prepare them for making such a life-changing decision,” Anderson said.


Andrew Sullivan’s own Substack column this week is largely about transsexuality, and mostly about comedian Dave Chappelle’s new (and last) Netflix show, which I haven’t seen, called “The Closer”. Click on the screenshot to read (and subscribe if you’re so moved):

Sullivn calls Chappelle “the greatest living comedian”, and after having seen a couple of his pieces, I think he’s right up there. He also pulls no punches, saying, like Lenny Bruce and other controversial comics, exactly what he thinks, not worrying about saying what he sees as true will damn him forever. The “truth” in this case, comprises Chappelle’s views on transsexuality, drawn in particular from his friendship with a trans woman comedian, Daphne Dornan. (She killed herself not long ago.) Dornan turned her transsexuality into humor, sometimes laughing at herself, and Sullivan calls Chappelle’s remembrance of her “a moving account.”

But of course Chappelle being Chappelle, he makes shocking statement like one I’ll quote below—things that have gotten him called a transphobe (Sullivan gives links to several hostile reviews). Yet to me, Chapelle’s message, at least as filtered through Sullivan, is redolent of truth.  I just don’t have the guts to say it like he does. And so I’ll give a long quote from Andrew (emphasis is mine):

And, through the jokes, that’s what Chappelle is celebrating: the individual human, never defined entirely by any single “identity,” or any “intersectional” variant thereof. An individual with enough agency to be able to laugh at herself, at others, at the world, an individual acutely aware of the tension between body and soul, feelings and facts, in a trans life, as well as other kinds of life. Assuming that marginalized people cannot tolerate humor at their own expense is as dehumanizing as assuming they have no agency in their lives. It is a form of bigotry — of the left.

And the capacity for laughter — the target of every fundamentalism, left and right — is integral to being fully human. To remind us that a trans person can laugh at herself is to remind us that she too is brimming with the kind of complex self-awareness that every mature human has. We laugh, above all, at the absurdity of our reality. And yes, that’s the second point Chappelle makes: there is something called reality. We can deny it; or we can accept it. Comedy’s key role is that it helps us accept it.

Whatever else this is, it seems to me to be the opposite of transphobia. Like Rowling, Chappelle supports every law protecting trans people from discrimination; and believes in the dignity and equality of trans people, as he insisted in the show. But he also believes that it is absurd — absurd — to say that a trans woman is in every way indistinguishable from a woman. Because she isn’t.

The current debate, in other words, is not about being pro or anti-trans, in the lazy formula of woke media. In the US, trans people are already protected under the Civil Rights Act of 1964, thanks to Justice Neil Gorsuch. And I literally know of no one who insists on the reality of biological sex who would disapprove of or reverse this.

The debate, rather, is about whether a tiny group of fanatics, empowered by every major cultural institution, can compel or emotionally blackmail other people into saying things that are not true. This, in Chappelle’s words, is what they are trying to force people to deny:

Gender is a fact. Every human being in this room, every human being on Earth, had to pass through the legs of a woman to be on Earth. That is a fact. Now, I am not saying that to say trans women aren’t women, I am just saying that those pussies that they got … you know what I mean? I’m not saying it’s not pussy, but it’s Beyond Pussy or Impossible Pussy. It tastes like pussy, but that’s not quite what it is, is it? That’s not blood, that’s beet juice.

Yes this is shocking, funny, wild. But not wrong. And this seems to me to be exactly what a comic is supposed to do: point out that the current emperor has no clothes. A transwoman cannot give birth as a woman gives birth. She does not ovulate. Her vagina, if it exists, is a simulacrum of one, created by a multiple array of surgeries. Sex in humans is binary, with those few exceptions at the margins — mixtures of the two — proving rather than disproving the rule. Until five minutes ago, this was too obvious to be stated. Now, this objective fact is actually deemed a form of “hate.” Hate.

This means that the debate is no longer about 0.2 percent of humanity. It’s about imposing an anti-scientific falsehood on 99.8 percent of humanity. It means that we have to strip all women of their unique biological experience, to deny any physical differences between men and women in sports, to tell all boys and girls that they can choose their sex, to erase any places reserved exclusively for biological women, like shelters for those who have been abused by men, and to come up with terms like “pregnant people” to describe mothers. Yes — mothers. The misogyny buried in this is gob-smacking. Is Mothers’ Day next for the trans chopping block?

And the key thing is: absolutely none of this is needed to protect trans people from any and all discrimination.

The question of trans rights has been settled by the Supreme Court. I’m delighted it has. What we’re dealing with now is something very different. It’s an assault on science; it’s an assault on reality; it’s an attempt not to defend trans people but to cynically use them as pawns in a broader effort to dismantle the concept of binary sex altogether, to remove any distinctions between men and women, so that a gender-free utopia/dystopia can be forced into being.

There’s a lot more to the piece, including Sullivan’s contention that the woke Left uses gays in a way that ensures their “continued marginalization”, and most important, his contention below (my emphasis):

To be clear: I don’t favor crude bans on healthcare for kids with gender dysphoria. I favor much greater caution, care, and concern — for the sake of trans and gay kids, and their families. The most prominent LGBT groups have no interest in preventing gay kids from being swept up in this, and deny that is even possible — and are now in the forefront of erasing the very existence of same-sex, as opposed to same-gender, attraction. Any engagement with biology is deemed a form of “hate.” And the more potent the evidence of mis-steps in this revolutionary moment, the more furious and intense the urge to suppress it. The trans movement is now, tragically, the vanguard of the postmodern left’s goal of dismantling science itself because they believe that science is, in fact, merely an instrument of “white supremacy.”

I think he’s right here. When three scientific societies involving evolutionary biology issue a joint statement that biological sex is a “continuum” rather than binary, you know that ideology is trying to obscure scientific truth. And when a university simply fabricates an ideology supposedly held by Thomas Henry Huxley, turning him into a racist when he was not—all in the cause of taking his name off an academic unit—you know that scientists are no longer seeking truth but trying out of fear to adhere to an ideology they see as prevalent.

Ex-editor of Science-Based Medicine chews the site’s tuchas for its treatment of Abigail Shrier’s book

September 26, 2021 • 12:15 pm

On June 22 I reported on a sort of “cancellation”. The respected website Science-Based Medicine (SBM), at the urging of editors David Gorski and Steve Novella, removed a review of a book by one of the other editors, physician Harriet Hall. As I wrote at the time:

So much the worse, then, that the site removed a book review written by another respected physician, Harriet Hall, known for being one of the Air Forces’s first women flight surgeons as well as a notable advocate for science based medicine and a vociferous debunker of quackery.  And—get this—Hall is one of the journal’s five editors.

Hall’s “mistake” was to write a fair and objective review of Abigail Shrier’s new book, Irreversible Damage (see my post here)  about the sudden increase in transgender males drawn from teenaged girls. (The numbers have increased 4,400% from 2008 to 2018!) Shrier and Hall, who admittedly note that there are very few studies about why these transitions have skyrocketed, and involve nearly all girls who want to transition to males rather than the other way round, call for more research and argue that transitions should be done under “a research setting”.

I read Shrier’s book and thought it was fair, empathic, and certainly not transphobic. But because Shrier was unfairly accused of transphobia for simply calling for more research on a topic that deserves it, it seems like SBM got cold feet. They replaced Hall’s review with three negative articles about Shrier’s conclusions, saying that Hall’s analysis failed to meet SBM’s standards for “high quality scientific evidence and reasoning to inform medical issues.” I’ve written a fair bit about this controversy, which does debase SBM quite a bit for promoting science because it conformed to a preferred ideology; see my collection of posts here.

Jesse Singal, who knows this literature well, has spent a fair amount of time taking apart SBM’s behavior in this case as well as the criticisms leveled at Hall and Shrier (see here and here, for example). Singal:

SBM has, in the wake of this retraction, published three articles about Shrier, Hall’s review of her book, and the broader controversy over youth gender medicine: “The Science of Transgender Treatment” by Novella and Gorski themselves, “Abigail Shrier’s Irreversible Damage: A Wealth of Irreversible Misinformation” by Rose Lovell, who as of February was finishing up a medical residency, and “Irreversible Damage to the Trans Community: A Critical Review of Abigail Shrier’s book Irreversible Damage (Part One)” by AJ Eckert, who serves as “the Medical Director of Anchor Health’s Gender and Life-Affirming Medicine (GLAM) Program” in Connecticut. Part Two is presumably on the way and I’ll read it when it’s published. (For what it’s worth, neither Lovell nor Eckert had written for SBM previously — they appear to have been brought on specifically for the task of responding to Irreversible Damage.)

Yet according to Kimball Atwood, a former editor at SBM as well as a physician and clinical professor, the articles that replaced Hall’s were laden with their own problems—philosophical, biological, and logical.  Atwood wrote a letter to Gorski and Novella and gave Singal permission to publish the letter on Singal’s own website. So here it is in all its glory. Click on the screenshot to read. PCC(E) gets a brief mention at the end.

The first bit is my favorite (I’ve added a link to “DSD”):

Hi Steve,

Harriet has told me that you stated that her article “dragged SBM into a raging controversy.” She feels, and I agree, that it was your retracting that article and replacing it by very bad articles written by advocates of “gender affirmation” that dragged SBM into a raging controversy. I’ve attempted to explain why previously, but here I’ll mention a couple of the most obvious reasons.

You claimed that Harriet’s article was below SBM’s minimal standard for “high quality scientific evidence and reasoning to inform medical issues.” Yet you replaced it with articles stating things such as the following:

  • “Biology is a binary and differences of sex development (DSDs) are vanishingly rare”. False. DSDs are as common as 1 in 5,000 births, and increase to 1 in 200 or 1 in 300 if you include hypospadias and cryptorchidism. Biology is very, very well known to be a spectrum.

[Lovell attributes the sentence in quotes to Shrier; I’ve been unable to find it in her book]

Do you, Steve, think that sex is a spectrum? Yes, I know Lovell wrote “biology is a spectrum,” but that is an incoherent claim. Her implication is that sex is a spectrum. If that were true, it would upend all that we know about sex in mammals and many other life forms, including sexual dimorphism, reproduction, and selection. Do you think that Lovell’s statement constitutes “high quality scientific evidence and reasoning”? OMG, apparently you do. What’s happened to you?

Do you think that hypospadias and cryptorchism are DSDs? They are not, and to suggest that they are does not meet SBM’s minimal standard for reasoning about medical issues.

The citation is to a paper that discusses real DSDs, not cryptorchism or hypospadias, and makes no claims about a “spectrum.” It supports the very statement that Lovell claims to be false (even though Shrier seems never to have made that statement). Where was the editor here?

There’s more, and the letter is short but sweet. I still think Gorski and Novella stepped in it by ditching Hall’s review. There’s no explanation other than the fact that Hall generally liked Shrier’s book, that the book has been attacked (wrongly) as “transphobic,” and that Gorski and Novella were afraid of backlash for being insufficiently attentive to the Zeitgeist of trans-activism.

The ACLU alters an RBG quote to avoid “transphobic” implications

September 22, 2021 • 9:30 am

It’s a sad day when the American Civil Liberties Union has to alter a quote by Ruth Bader Ginsburg (one of our mutual heroes) to placate the potentially offended. Here’s one of their recent tweets:

Here’s the original quote from Ginsburg:

“The decision whether or not to bear a child is central to a woman’s life, to her well-being and dignity. It is a decision she must make for herself. When the government controls that decision for her, she is being treated as less than a full adult human responsible for her own choices.”

― Ruth Bader Ginsburg

There are six changes, five in brackets, getting rid of “woman” and “her” (substituting “persons” and “people” for “woman” and “they” or “their” for three “hers”).  The missing part of the quote, which is “It is a decision she must make for herself”, could have been altered to “It is a decision they must make for themselves,” but that would add two more sets of brackets and make the whole quotation look really weird.

The explanation is simple and obvious; they are removing RBG’s reference to women having babies since the ACLU, whose mission now includes a substantial amount of transgender activism, is onboard with the idea that transmen, who are now given the pronouns “he” and “men”, can have babies. And indeed, transmen have given birth.

I have no quarrel with asserting that transsexual men can have offspring while using male pronouns.  What bothers me is the alteration of RBG’s quotation, which strikes me as disingenuous, as it alters what somebody actually said with the purpose of conforming to an ideology that didn’t exist during most of RBG’s life. Would it cause harm if people were to read the actual quote?  Would the quote really be considered transphobic given that RBG was not a transphobe?

I doubt it; we know that usage has changed in the past decade. And if we can go ahead and alter quotes any way we want so they are seen as less offensive and less “harmful”, well, we’re in trouble.

As I’ve said for a while, the ACLU is circling the drain. If they were offended by the original quote, they should have either used it as it was spoken, or not used it at all.

To be fair, I’ll link you to a defense of this kind of usage (which to me still doesn’t justify altering RBG’s quote), in this article by Emma Green in the Atlantic.

Are your letters of recommendation gender-biased?

September 15, 2021 • 10:45 am

It was pointed out to me that Lehigh University in Pennsylvania has a website from 2016 that discusses the content of letters of recommendation written by academics. Part of our job is to write recommendations for our students or technicians—letters to go to graduate school, to medical school, for industry, for jobs as technicians, and so on. These are quite hard to write, especially if the applicant isn’t a star but is decent.

My policy has been that if a student is hopeless, I tell them that I simply cannot write a letter (without saying, “because I don’t want to ruin your career if others feel differently”). For borderline students who have both virtues and problems, I will agree to write a letter, and try to be as honest as possible. For uniformly excellent people who I really want to get the position, I’m famous for my long letters of recommendation that go into great detail about the person’s accomplishments, figuring that the length demonstrates how well I know the person. (It’s not unusual for such a letter to run six single-spaced pages, and of course nobody reads them in their entirety because there are always many applicants.) I think many faculty have a policy like mine.

Until now, I never worried about the specific words I used in my letters, but then I saw this website (click on it):

It says, and there’s research to show this, that some adjectives are associated with letters written females, and others for males. As you’ll see, adjectives about “competence” or “diligence” are female-associated words, while indications of “excellence” or “intelligence” are associated with letters for male applicants. This much we know. The Lehigh site says this:

Have you wondered if the letter you are READING- or the letters you are WRITING – are inadvertently perpetuating implicit biases that could reduce the likelihood of the candidate getting a fair chance at the new opportunity?  This one pager summarizes some facts and ideas about letters of recommendation. You can also put your own letters through this online gender bias calculator.The calculator was inspired by presentations on research organized by AWIS; several articles and blog posts share personal reactions to learning of this phenomenon as well as the tool.

It’s worth taking this into account, with three caveats. But it does helps to know what words are perceived in what way by recipients, so the “one pager” is useful to read.

The problems are these. First, given that academia is now preferentially looking for female applicants (this will change as the proportion of male students in college keeps shrinking), a letter with female-biased words may not “perpetuate implicit bias”.  More important, suppose you run one of your letters thorough the linked “gender bias calculator”,  which you can find at the link above or by clicking on the screenshot below. It was made by Tom Force:

As a test, I ran through it a long letter I wrote a while back for one of my female undergraduate research assistants, who wanted to go to medical school. I got this result:

Here you can see the kind of words associated with female letters of recommendation (left column), emphasizing diligence and reliability. On the right are the words associated with letters for male applicants, and they’re about smarts and curiosity and high ranking. This bespeaks sexism, as far as I’m concerned. But I was happy to see that in this letter, for a women, I had roughly equal numbers in each column, with slightly more of the male words. (They don’t say whether letters with more female-associated words reduce the applicant’s chance of getting the position.)

And here’s from a letter in which I recommended a female technician for medical school (again an acceptance); most of the words are male-associated.

Again, what is the recommendation? Is this what you want for a letter for a female, or should I have added some more words about diligence which, after all, is an important characteristic for a future doctor? I don’t know, but she’s now an excellent doctor as well.

The second caveat is this: What are you supposed to do if the letter is imbalanced? For example, in the above letter, should I have cut out some of the female-associated words? (It turns out that the undergrad did get into medical school and is now a fine oncologist.) Are you supposed to ensure that the male-associated words are the predominant ones for either sex?  They don’t tell you.

That leads to the third issue: what if you’re writing for a male whose prime virtues are diligence, reliability, and responsibility. There are some science jobs, like a technician, where some of the most important qualities are showing up, following orders properly, and doing the job diligently and well. Initiative is desirable, too, but that’s a bonus. In fact, one of my colleagues wrote a letter for a guy applying for a technician position, ran the letter through the calculator, and found out that it was imbalanced in favor of female-associated words. (This was after the fact, just like my letter.) What was my colleagues supposed to do: insert more “male associated” words? At any rate, this guy got the job, turned out to be a great technician, and improved in the “male associated” traits.

The main issue is this: what are we supposed to do about “balance” in such a letter? Is imbalance bad? Are “male-associated” words good? That’s the implication. But here we have a woman applicant with male-associated words.

I realize that these lists are based on data, and that one has to be cognizant of how adjectives are perceived with respect to sex. But I think there are some problems with this method that weren’t explicated.

If you write letters of recommendation yourself, you may try running one of them through the calculator, and letting us know how the result came out (the letters of course should not be shown).

Should schools hide children’s issues about gender and transexuality from their parents?

August 31, 2021 • 12:30 pm

There must be tons of people who have Substack sites that I don’t know about. Reader Steve just acquainted me with the site of Abigail Shrier, called “The Truth Fairy.” Shrier, of course, is the person most demonized as transphobic by transgender activists, but unfairly so, for she is not in the least transphobic.

Rather, she became persona non grata because of her book Irreversible Damage: The Transgender Craze Seducing Our DaughtersIf you’ve read that book, and I have, you’ll see that it’s about questioning the narrative of teenage girls who desire to transition to the male sex while they’re still very young.  Some of these people, say Shrier, are sincere, while others may succumb to social pressure to transition (this pressure is often very strong) rather than ride out the pervasive angst of teenage years or, if they’re lesbian, go that route. It seems that wanting to change gender is seen as a heroic act, while not doing so, if you have doubts, is denigrated. And saying you’re a lesbian gives you no points.

This valorization of transitioning among teenage girls—and also boys, but Shrier’s book is mostly about girls—is the basis for “gender affirmative” treatment, which is basically a one-way push towards transitioning. Without proper therapy, counseling, or parental discussion, girls may be socially pressured into making irreversible decisions, including getting hormone therapy and surgery. For raising these questions, and suggesting that in some cases “gender affirmation” may not be a healthy way to go, Shrier has become Public Enemy Number 1 to transgender activists, replacing J. K. Rowling. (There will be another.) An ACLU official suggested that her book be banned, and it was briefly removed from at least two book-selling venues, including Target.

In her latest post (click on screenshot below), Shrier takes up another contentious issue, another one that cries out for public discussion.

The issue is “Gender Support Plans” used by many secondary schools, in which a child’s name, desire to change gender, preferred pronouns, and so on are kept on record and used in schools, but hidden from the parents. Here’s one example given by Shrier:

Last week, I spoke with another mother who discovered her 12-year-old daughter’s middle school had changed the girl’s name and gender identity at school. The “Gender Support Plan” the district followed is an increasingly standard document which informs teachers of a child’s new chosen name and gender identity (“trans,” “agender,” “non-binary,” etc.) for all internal communications with the child. The school also provided the girl a year’s worth of counseling in support of her new identity, which in her case was “no gender.” Even the P.E. teachers were in on it. Left in the dark were her parents.

This duplicity is part of the “plan”: All documents sent home to mom and dad scrupulously maintained the daughter’s birth name and sex. But Mom noticed her daughter seemed to be suffering. Although far from alone in declaring a new identity – many girls in the school had adopted new names and gender pronouns – this girl’s grades fell apart. She became taciturn and moody.

When the mother failed to uncover the source of the girl’s distress, she met with teachers, hoping for insight. Instead, she slammed into a Wall of Silence: no teacher was evidently willing to let a worried mom know what the hell was going on. (Finally, one did.)

I’ve heard of such incidents many times. A very important decision by a student is not only supported by the school, but hidden from the parents. That seems to fly in the face of what being a parent is all about. Shouldn’t parents know this stuff at least at the same time as the school, at the very least? And what right does a school have to hide such a momentous change from the parents? It is the school usurping a parent’s right. (Of course, if the student wants to hide a gender change from both the school and the parents, that is also her right. Further, if the child wants to discuss it only with a therapist, that is also fine, as therapeutic sessions are confidential.) But I know of no other case in which schools keep such information from parents. As Shrier says, “For Pete’s sake, the state requires that teachers ask parental consent before they offer a child Tylenol.”

The schools, of course have their reasons, but they don’t seem to be good ones:

Teachers and activists who support this policy typically make two arguments in its favor. The first is that the very fact that a teen would want to keep her new gender identity a secret from parents is proof that home is an “unsafe” place for her; that is, her parents, if they knew, would abuse her. The second is that this gender declaration is a deeply held and personal decision of the child’s. The school, in this scenario, is merely a polite bystander—at most, a kindly chaperone. It’s not the school’s job to ask mom and dad for their approval.

The first is absurd; the second, dishonest. Why would a teen agree to keep a secret from her parents, if not for the presence of abuse? Well, as one sharp Twitter user pointed out in response to the documents I posted, one can think of a few things a teen might want to keep secret from mom: an eating disorder; her decision to join a religious cult; her dabbling in drugs; a decision to send or post nudes; or have sex with a much older boy. Teens tend to keep from mom and dad a wide variety of healthy and unhealthy teenage experimentations—sometimes to avoid parental protest; sometimes, just for the pubertal frisson.

And in virtually none of these cases is the primary motivation to keep secrets from parents necessarily fear of abuse. Sometimes it’s to avoid—groan—another lecture or even a conversation. Other times, teens keep something a secret just to avoid a “No.”

I think Shrier is right here. How many of us can say that we didn’t keep secrets from our parents in secondary school because it might upset them, or lead to “discussion”? When I was in high school everyone was smoking weed or taking hallucinogens, but I would never mention that to my parents. (My dad finally caught me smoking once, and hit the roof!) Why would it be okay for the school to know this but not my parents?

The fact is that growing up is a process in which parents guide their children by their own best lights, and sometimes that involves difficult conversations. But why are parents not as good as teachers and principals at trying to understand and deal with a child’s transitioning? Shrier’s thesis (and that of other people) is that in many cases gender transitioning is a symptom of mental distress rather than a genuine feeling that you need to be transformed into a member of the opposite sex, and that perhaps parents would understand a child’s behavior better than school officials (though not necessarily better than a good therapist). Plus, as Shrier says, once a kid leaves middle school or high school, the teachers move on to a new batch of kids, but the parents have a lifetime interest in the child.

A peculiar power imbalance has arisen between public school teachers and the parents for whom the necessity of work renders them too dependent on these schools to question them.  Parents discover radical materials pushed on their children by accident, like passersby happening on a crime scene. They are treated as interlopers, trespassers; they are made to understand they have no right to be there; information on the ideology pushed on their kids is revealed on a strictly need-to-know basis. When parents do object to classroom gender ideology, they’re treated as morally obtuse or child abusers.

The contempt shown parents would be inexcusable even if teachers stuck to reading, writing and arithmetic. In a time when so many public school teachers are properly described as activists, that arrangement strips children of their families’ protection. And families must indeed protect them from an ideology that would turn students against any adult who suggests that a seventh grader suddenly jonesing for hormones and surgeries slow down. I have more than once wondered whether public schools that would openly pit students against their families, turn them against themselves and each other, aren’t doing more harm than good.

Shrier’s solution? A federal law that would allow parents access to their children’s public-school records.

Actually, there is such a law, but schools can get around it simply by not keeping the records “in a centralized location”.  While grades and courses may be kept centralized, schools are apparently careful to keep records about gender and the like in other places. (I have no idea what a “non centralized location” might be.) This kind of end run around the law is unconscionable.

At the end, Shrier gets a bit apocalyptic about the issue, but remember that it is her main interest as a journalist now, and, importantly, she has children.

This is where the most critical cultural battle will be fought. Not with reckless doctors, for whom lawsuits are coming. Not even with the therapists—in many cases, a luxury, parents can walk away from. It will be fought with America’s activist teachers. Will we allow the activists among them unaccountable access to the next generation of America’s children?

If conservatives and liberals hope to save this country, this is where they will place their energies: campaigning for federal legislation to grant parents full access to all curricula. And no, granting parents’ review over sex-education materials alone wouldn’t solve this problem, since the SOGI (Sexual Orientation & Gender Identity) curriculum, for instance, is often inserted into other areas of the curriculum or disguised as “anti-bullying” education. We need legislation that grants parents a right to opt out of any instruction regarding gender and sexuality and stops schools from changing a child’s name, gender marker, or pronouns without the approval of a parent or legal guardian. This has nothing to do with “outing” students and everything to do with whether a school should be permitted to hoodwink the primary locus of love and responsibility in her life.

I’ve thought about this for a while, and I can see no reason for schools to keep this secret from parents unless there is a genuine danger to the child if she tells her parents. And how would you know that without telling the parents? If things become so bad that a parent becomes abusive about the issue, the child needs to be moved out of the home and given proper care (no not necessarily a regimen of “gender affirmation”).  But I can’t imagine that most parents wouldn’t be sufficiently concerned about the issue to try to help their child or get help for their child (the right kind of help: not “rah rah, cut off your breasts and take hormones” kind of help but help from an empathic and thoughtful therapist).

Do any readers feel that schools have a right to keep this information secret from a child’s parents?


UPDATE:  Bari Weiss announced in her newsletter that she will have a discussion (“cocktail hour”) with Shrier this week, so if you subscribe look for a link.

I’m excited that on Thursday at 8pm EST/5pm PST we’re going to host an event for subscribers only.

h/t: Steve

The transgender/prison dilemma

August 12, 2021 • 9:15 am

I find that writing about transgender issues is difficult, for I want to both adhere to liberal tenets that respect people’s identities ensure moral and legal equality as far as possible, yet also ensure a kind of fairness that comes from realizing that while, for gender labels, a “transwoman is a woman and a transman is a man”, there are a couple of exceptions because transitioning involves modifying one’s biological (natal) sex. My solution has been pointing out a few areas in which inequality of treatment of trans- verus cis-people is useful in the interests of fairness (some sports participation, prison occupancy, rape counseling, halfway houses, and the like), but to hew to equality in all other areas (pronoun use, bathroom occupancy, etc.)  But even carving out a few exceptions gets one called a “transphobe”. Well, I can live with the opprobrium so long as I think I’m right.

The latest flare-up in this matter involves the transfer of prisoners from men’s to women’s prisons, and vice versa, as outlined in the articles below from the Los Angeles Times (first piece) and the Associated Press. Click on the screenshots to read.

There’s also this article from WOLF (the Women’s Liberation Front), which is more tendentious and uses more anonymous sources. But it shouldn’t be ignored. I believe WOLF is one of those feminists organizations branded as TERF (trans-exclusionary radical feminists), which seems even more restrictive of trans “rights” than I am. But their claims might well be right.

The backstory: last September, California governor Gaven Newsom signed a bill allowing people to occupy prisons conforming to their gender identity (with the exception of any “management or security concerns” by the state). Gender identity is determined solely by asking prisoners to name theirs when they enter prison (some of these are sexual offenders), and are based solely on self-identification—not on anatomy, chromosomes, or other markers.  There are similar laws in Connecticut, Rhode Island, Massachusetts, and New York City.

One can envision problems with this, even if one used markers other than self-identification by gender. But going with the self-ID criterion alone, the possible problems for trans men who want to transfer to men’s prisons is that they are biological women, though they may have undergone hormone or surgical treatment (some prisons pay for that), and thus possible targets for harassment and rape. You can imagine the kind of flak such a prisoner would get given the rough nature of prison life. On the other hand, a trans woman who requests transfer to a women’s prison creates two kinds of problems. The first is that, if they still have the sexual equipment and urges of men, as well as the superior body strength of that sex, they could sexually assault cis female inmates. Or sexual congress could be unforced, with cis female inmates getting pregnant through voluntary sexual intercourse, creating the problem of pregnant prisoners which sex-segregation of prisons is meant to avoid.  (One can imagine that in both cases, someone of the opposite biological sex thrown into an institution of voluntary celibacy would create “issues.”) These issues should not arise, though, with those whose identity is not a ruse, and whose reasons for requesting transfer, is genuine.

The WOLF article, and their tweets below, reports that at least one California cis-woman inmate has gotten pregnant “after being housed with a male (i.e., trans-female) felon.” The implication is that this was rape, but it’s not at all clear what happened. What is clear is that the problem will increase. With the recent exponential rise in adolescent natal girls wanting to become trans-men, and laws (in my view misguided) that regard self-identification alone as an unchallengeable marker of both gender and sex (this is creating problems for sports as well), we have a recipe for trouble.

I thought the requests for transfer would be few, and the problem small, but the AP report says that there have been 261 requests for transfers since the law took effect on January 1 of this year. (1% of California’s prisoners, according to the AP, “identify as nonbinary, intersex, or transgender.”) Even without these transfers, the problem is acute, as they report a 2007 study that 59% of prison inmates in these gender categories experience sexual assault: a rate 13% higher than cis people.  It’s expected that, for example, if you identify as a woman in a man’s prison, and act or dress like one, you’re making yourself liable for assault by sexually deprived (and criminal) inmates. That is not the fault of the nonbinary or transgener prisoners, of course, but it’s a predictable problem that, like prison transfer, needs a solution.

Another issue, mentioned by the AP as a concern of prisoners and staff, is that prisoners may try to game the system. An untreated biological male may say he’s a transgender woman simply to get into a women’s prison where he might have access to women—and sex. Indeed, the LA Times article reports that one transgender woman incarcerated in a men’s prison knows of five biologically male inmates who have applied for transfer to women’s prisons “under false pretenses”.  Again, most of the reporting in these articles by inmates is hearsay, as names cannot be used.

Advocates of the California policy say the problems are few, but so far there have been few transfers. And those transfers that have occurred between prisons have attendant problems (not always—some prisoners report improved conditions after transfer), problems involving bad treatment of transsexual inmates. While it’s not fair for transsexual people to be treated differently in prison than on the outside, it’s understandable given the conditions of prison life.

As for the WOLF article; it’s summarized in part by the tweets below (indeed, the whole organization’s Twitter feed seems devoted to the California issue):

They add that women’s prisons have started informing inmates about abortion, adoption, and prenatal care, and making both condoms and the Plan B pill available to inmates.  I can’t confirm this from any other article. The article also makes the following claims, some of which are verifiable (but which I haven’t verified):

Women’s prisons across the state appear to be making final preparations such as these for a massive wave of transfers after nearly 300 requests were initiated following SB 132 going into effect in January of this year. So far, only about 20 of the transfers have been processed (and exactly zero transfer requests have been denied) — leaving hundreds of men, many of whom are sex offenders, awaiting entry into the women’s estate.

. . . The facilities are also increasing security measures in preparation for potentially hundreds of new dangerous and violent men living alongside the vulnerable female inmate population. Women’s prisons have traditionally been lower-security and afforded more privileges to inmates since incarcerated women are less violent than men and pose a lower risk to Correctional Officers (COs) and each other. CCWF’s prison yard, for example, had been home for over three decades to trees which provided shade from the desert sun and a home to local birds. Once the men started coming, the trees were cut down, as they were seen as a security risk. (CCWF denies this happened, despite the first-hand accounts from incarcerated women). The security level of individual male inmates is otherwise completely disregarded once they enter the women’s facility, as prisons opt instead to remove privileges from all inmates.

. . .The prison has been unable to prevent or stop sexual activity between male inmates housed with incarcerated women, though. Sources tell us there have been incidents of sexual assault, as well as illicit sexual activity between the male inmates and women, putting the women at risk of pregnancy and disease, including HIV, as well as increased risk of disciplinary actions that can affect chances of parole. Avoiding the negative consequences of sex between males and females is, of course, one reason why prisons are single-sex to begin with.

As more men arrive at the women’s facilities, the crisis will only worsen. In just six months since the enactment of SB 132, the number of incarcerated people self-identifying as trans or non-binary (thus becoming eligible to request a facility transfer) has increased from 1,088 to 1,237. The nearly 300 pending transfers are only the beginning of the invasion of women’s prisons by violent male inmates, including convicted murderers and rapists.

“You might as well declare the prison is co-ed and ship us off to Pelican Bay!” one devastated woman currently incarcerated in CCWF said.

As I said, there is no substantive documentation of the anecdotes or verbal assertions of inmates in California from WOLF, though, as in the penultimate paragraph, there are checkable statements.

The good news is that this is not an insoluble problem. One solution is to have special wings for transsexual prisoners segregated from other cis-sexual inmates. That, however, would violate the trans-activist claim that “trans women are women and trans men are men.”

Sadly, that isn’t always the way they’re treated in prison, and all the activism in the world can’t prevent rapes, sexual congress in supposedly single-sex prisons, or violence. What is clear is that there is a problem, that it will grow more serious, and that adhering to the mantra above will do nothing to solve it.

The importance of recognizing natal sex in healthcare

August 7, 2021 • 1:00 pm

The mandatory disclaimer applies here: this post is not about disrespecting transgender or transsexual people, nor about resisting their insistence of what gender or sex they may be. I think I’ve made my position on the humane treatment of such people clear: with a very few exceptions, they should possess all the rights of everyone else.

Rather, I want to evince my surprise that an article like this got published in the respected science magazine Nature, which so far has hewed pretty close to the woke agenda. The piece implies in its title that it’s going to be one of those articles arguing that, medically, transwomen should be treated like natal women (my term for birth sex, with sex defined biologically) and transmen like natal men. But no, the point of the article is not that. Instead, it argues that recognizing the binary nature of sex at birth can make a big difference in people’s healthcare and in preventive measures. In other words, there are times when you have to treat based on birth sex rather than asserted sex or gender. What the article means by “expanding the definition of ‘women’s health'” is to recognize the biological differences between the sexes when they are relevant for medical diagnosis and/or treatment. That is not exactly something amenable to gender activists.

Click to read:

The authors implicitly use the biological definition of sex (women = big gametes or the equipment for making them, men = small gametes or the capacity to make them).

They begin with the problem of fibroid tumors of the uterus, which can occur only in biological women—except for males with developmental disorders like persistent Müllerian duct syndrome.  The authors’ point is that, in medical research, such conditions have been understudied because they affect women—biological (“natal”) women:

More than one-eighth of the world’s population has a condition that can cause pain, heavy bleeding and reduced fertility, all potential consequences of benign tumours called uterine leiomyomas, or fibroids. Fibroids can be debilitating, and are a common reason for surgical removal of the uterus.

Yet fibroids have received relatively little attention from scientists, either in academia or at pharmaceutical companies. The root cause of the condition — and how to reduce its impact on fertility — has been a matter of debate for decades, leaving physicians unsure how best to treat people.

Unfortunately, fibroids are just one of many understudied aspects of health in people assigned female at birth. (This includes cisgender women, transgender men and some non-binary and intersex people; the term ‘women’ in the rest of this editorial refers to cis women.) Clinical and pre-clinical studies alike tend to focus on men: only one-third of people participating in clinical trials relating to cardiovascular disease are women, and an analysis of neuroscience studies published in six journals in 2014 found that 40% of them used only male animals. Two studies and a feature published in Nature on 5 August spotlight the achievements of research into women’s health — and the need for much more.

Asserting that “transgender men are men” won’t help with this issue; you must recognize that the biology behind the syndrome is the biology of women. (Again, I’m happy to call transgender folk whatever gender/sex they wish; we’re talking about treatment here.)

Other issues discussed are diseases like type 2 diabetes, Alzheimer’s and, especially heart disease, which affect men and women differently.

Now it’s clear that if you’re a transgender person you should tell that to your doctor (presumably the doctor can tell, but that hasn’t always been the case). But the point is that even so, you might not be treated exactly as a member of the sex to which you’ve transitioned. There are three other areas where natal sex can make a difference:

Heart attacks, for example, are a leading killer of both women and men, but women don’t always experience the ‘typical’ symptoms usually seen in men. Women are also more prone to blood clots after a heart attack, yet less likely to be prescribed anti-clotting medication by their doctors. Women are 50% more likely than men to receive an initial misdiagnosis after a heart attack, and are less likely to be prescribed medicines to reduce the risk of a second attack, according to the British Heart Foundation.

When it comes to sport, women face a risk of serious long-term injury if we continue to model training and head-injury management on data from men. As our News Feature reports, it’s becoming increasingly clear that women experience and recover from head injuries very differently from men. Research from across many disciplines will be needed if we are to understand why women are almost twice as likely as men to suffer a concussion in sports such as soccer and rugby — and to understand why women take longer to recover from such injuries.

The sports issue here is more about research that’s been neglected in natal women, but that research may lead to differential treatments or preventive measures, as noted below.

And here’s a real argument-igniter:

So far, the evidence is sparse, but preliminary data point to structural differences in the brain. Axons in women’s brains are wired up with thinner microtubules, which rupture more easily; hormonal fluctuations are also thought to contribute. Biomechanics, too, could be playing a part — in rugby, for instance, it seems that women fall differently when tackled, which could raise the risk of concussion. Training regimes designed specifically for women might help to mitigate these injuries.

If these brain differences persist through transition, and evidence shows they seem to, then this will lead to differences in training regimens between biological men and transmen.

At the end, the article reiterates that most studies that have been done, whether on humans or animals, have been done on the male sex. Their conclusion—that studies need to be done on women—implicitly assumes a binary of sex at birth:

But the clear message from those researching the sport is that it is no longer acceptable to use data solely from men in these studies. And when women are included, the data need to be disaggregated by sex and involve a sufficient number of women. A recent study looking at MRI images from elite rugby players did include women (K. A. Zimmerman Brain Commun. 3, fcab133; 2021), but of the 44 elite players only 3 were women.

But the relative dearth of women on grant review panels and scientific advisory boards has meant that few of these decision makers have direct personal experience of women’s health needs or research gaps. This makes it all the more important that funding bodies consult the public when they come to set research priorities.

Since 2016, the US National Institutes of Health has required researchers to carry out pre-clinical studies in both male and female animals, tissues and cells, or to provide an explanation for why it is not appropriate to study both sexes. Now it is up to other funders, researchers and journals to amplify the impact of this change by taking care to report sex-specific data in publications. Funders should also bolster the resources given to support studies of health and disease in women, and track how much money goes to supporting such research across all domains, not merely gynaecological conditions. That which gets measured gets done.

These are important and valuable points, and ones that have been made many times before. Women constitute half the world and deserve to be half the reserach subjects for diseases that affect both sexes.

So when they’re talking about “male and female” animals here, or the “relative dearth of women”, they are talking about biological sex, not the sex to which someone has transitioned. In the second paragraph, for instance, then they’re discussing “decision makers who have direct personal experience of women’s health needs or research gaps”, those will nearly all be biological women.

It’s clear that transsexual people will have their own unique medical issues, and these too need to be studied. All I’m saying here is that Nature published an article in which they assume a sex binary at birth that can affect medical outcomes and treatment down the line (by “binary”, I mean “almost complete bimodality”). This runs counter to the trans-activist narrative that “transwomen are women” and “transmen are men”. So I’m surprised that this article hasn’t yet been attacked.

Perhaps it will, but it still makes several good points, and if you have a clear vision, you’ll see that it’s actually a form of social justice to recognize any differences between biological women and men that obtain at birth, could have medical relevance, and then to ensure that medical issues that differ between the sexes are studied in both biological men and women—not just in samples that are mostly male.  As always, recognizing differences like this implies absolutely nothing about inequality.

And while we’re dealing with the thorny issue of differences in brain structure between men and women, something repeatedly denied by sex and gender activists (again, we have the fallacious assumption that differences should not be studied because they imply ranking), here’s a new thread about the brain that has references (h/t Luana):

There are 15 tweets in this thread on brain differences, and I won’t reproduce them all, as you can access them by clicking on the first one:

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It goes on, and you can read and check the references for yourself. It’s a bit left-bashing, as this Twitter site is wont to be, but just check the data for yourself. Given that natural and sexual selection have been going on in our species for millions of years, while civilization is only about ten thousand years old, it would be surprising if brains did not show differences between the sexes the way that other morphological traits do.