Saturday 28 February 2015

Poor science journalism and a bias against the current scientific consensus on transsexualism

Heya everybody,

This week I came across an article on the news website Ozy, called A Case Against Sex-Change Surgeries. The article was announced as Immodest proposal and sub-titled Why You Should Care: Sex-change surgery might offer only a physical fix for complex psychological problems.

I don’t think Ozy has a large impact, but it seems partnered with some serious news media outlets that had linked to this article. The article itself is poorly mixed-together old news, starting with transphobe Walt Heyer and continuing with a selective, out-of-context citation of a Swedish study, and then linking to a 2004 (!) article by Paul McHugh, full of sexism, autogynephilia and outdated views. Most of the issues have been discussed already at my news blog, and it’s not particularly interesting to me to rehash them again.

The article annoyed me, of course. Initially, it was also sub-titled as a provocative view, but this claim seems to have been deleted. After all, it’s not really provocative to dig out conservative, sexist, patriarchal, transphobic stuff that was mainstream 50 years ago, and to use it to attack one of the most discriminated-against minorities on the planet. What amazed me, though, were the comments. Pretty much every comment was knowledgeable, quoting evidence, tolerant and empathic. Author Melissa Pandika got a well-deserved bashing. This really gives me hope! Go and read the comments, if you have the time. Here’s one example pointing out the problem:

Dear ‘journalists’ like Ms. Pandika: stop. Just stop. Stop spewing nonsense about topics you know absolutely nothing about, backing up the conclusions you've already come to with half an hour of googling. […] Your tone, Ms. Pandika, sounds so reasonable. But articles like this are dangerous. Opinions like yours directly contribute to violence against, to the suicide of, and to the discrimination against trans people. So please, please, please do further research. Please talk to some actual trans people. Real journalists have real sources, after all.

Saturday 21 February 2015

Medical treatment for transsexualism found to be beneficial in the long term and more

Heya everybody,

Even though I’m still struggling with my cold, I managed to add thirteen new studies today, some of them highly relevant! Here is a summary of the most important points:

  • Ulrike Ruppin and Friedemann Pfäfflin (the doyen of gender dysphoria research in Germany) have published a new study in the “Archives of Sexual Behavior”, 2015. Called “Long-Term Follow-Up of Adults with Gender Identity Disorder”, it is one of the follow-up studies with the longest period covered. 71 participants were assessed an average of 13.8 years (10 to 24 years) after gender change. Because of the significance of this study, I quote from the abstract at length (emphasis mine): “Participants reported high degrees of well-being and a good social integration. Very few participants were unemployed, most of them had a steady relationship, and they were also satisfied with their relationships with family and friends. Their overall evaluation of the treatment process for sex reassignment and its effectiveness in reducing gender dysphoria was positive. Regarding the results of the standardized questionnaires, participants showed significantly fewer psychological problems and interpersonal difficulties as well as a strongly increased life satisfaction at follow-up than at the time of the initial consultation.”
    These findings are naturally very important when it comes to assessing the current medical treatment for transsexuals, but it also helps counter one of the current arguments used by transphobes (or more politely, people sceptical of the current scientific consensus). Since the overwhelming evidence points to gender role transition, hormone treatment and surgery having beneficial effects on the quality of life of transsexual individuals, people with an anti-transgender agenda have criticised the relatively short periods covered by high-quality follow-up studies, and hypothesised that any benefits of conventional treatment might be short-term only. Ruppin’s and Pfäfflin’s study certainly provides evidence to the contrary.

  • Turan, Poyraz, et al. find (in the “Journal of affective disorders”, 2015) that female-to-male transsexuals differ significantly in temperament from female cisgender controls. This probably adds more evidence to transsexualism having a biological basis.

  • Deutsch, Bhakri and Kubicek publish a study in “Obstetrics & Gynecology”, 2015, which finds that hormone therapy for transsexual women lowers blood pressure, and hormone therapy for transsexual men increases weight (I’m glad I’m a transsexual woman! 😏).

  • In the “Journal of psychosomatic research”, 2015, Colizzi, Costa, et al. find that hormone therapy is linked to a small increase in metabolic syndrome. This study somewhat contradicts the 2015 study by Deutsch, Bhakri and Kubicek, finding similar weight gain and also blood pressure increase in male-to-female and female-to-male transsexuals (naturally the results can only be compared if adjusted for age, psychological situation, etc.)

  • Jennifer M. Birnkrant researches the “Psychological functioning in families of gender variant youth” in her master thesis (Case Western Reserve University, 2015) and seems to find the families are doing okay.

  • Only just now (nine years later!) I came across an Internet survey about the “Attitudes Towards Transsexual and Intersexed People” by Rachel Heath (Technical Report, University of Newcastle, Australia, 2006). She finds that 61 % of her 413 respondents considered transsexualism to have a biological cause (initially I thought, yay – I can stop the work on this website; but then I realised the 61 % are of course heavily affected by sample bias: the study includes only people who know and care enough about transsexuality to take part in an online survey). Interestingly, “a social origin for transsexualism was supported by religious people who were regular churchgoers” which clearly shows that these people stick to prejudice rather than facts – after all, none of the revealed religions says anything about gender dysphoria in their holy books.

  • Wang I. Wong (I love that name) and prolific researcher Melissa Hines have published a new study on toy and colour preferences by gender (Archives of Sexual Behavior, 2015). It seems that toy preferences by gender are innate (as has been shown before), but colour preferences are more social, possibly influenced by the different colouring of gendered toys.

  • More from the innate gender differences front: Sharova, Shendyapina, et al. find (in “Human Physiology”, 2015) that magnetic resonance imaging showed differences in brain responses of healthy, cisgender male and female subjects.

So, that’s all for now… I still have a ton of exciting stuff to write about, but probably I won’t be able to do that today. Peace and Light ✨

Friday 20 February 2015

Open letters, free speech and religion

Heya everybody,

In an incredibly stupid and insensitive move, the British newspaper “The Observer” has published an open letter, signed by 129 people, against the “intimidation and silencing of individuals whose views are deemed ‘transphobic’ or ‘whorephobic’”.

Naturally, freedom of speech is necessary for democracy, one of the most basic human rights and also essential to prohibit the mistreatment of minorities. Few sane people would argue against that. Transgender people need free speech to be heard, and it would be hypocritical to deny this right to others. However, asking organisations and institutions to not give a platform to haters is part of the marketplace of ideas. Free speech comes with responsibilities and consequences, and if what you say is stupid or bad, you have to live with people calling you out on it. This is how free speech works.

XKCD cartoon – Free speech

Apparently, asking that people like Germaine Greer[1] or Julie Bindel[2] are not being given public platforms to spout their hateful, ignorant and inane views is “censorship”.

The power imbalance ignored by the signers of the letters could hardly be more breathtakingly large. Here we have Prof. Dr. Greer, along with columnist and political commentator Bindel, both white cisgender women, and the 129 signers of the letter, who apparently have no problems of getting published, against one of the most discriminated-against, weakest and powerless groups on earth. The difference is literally that transgender kill themselves (and not in small numbers!) over being bullied and discriminated against, while the poor letter supporters are being made to cry at night over the mean harassment they experience at the hands of those cruel transgender advocates.

Pff … okay – in order not to be misunderstood: Harassment, threats, trolling and especially threats of violence are completely and utterly wrong and can’t be defended. This has to stop. I feel sorry for all victims.

However, I believe the facts do prove that views against medical treatment for transsexuals as held by Julie Bindel cause despair and suicide. Consider this: if the former is correct, then people attempting to limit the public exposure Julie Bindel gets are actually trying to save lives.

Couldn’t the people writing the letter have been at least so sensitive to acknowledge the dire situation our society places transgender people in?

Okay, I won’t spend more time on this… smarter people than me have written on this issue: See here and here for some pro-transgender views and here and here for some views of the people who signed the letter.

Aaaand … to continue with free speech: Have a listen to Sam Harris’s podcast about the sad Chapel Hill murders in the US, exposing the dishonesty of Reza Aslan and Glenn Greenwald. The podcast also contains an audio recording of the Copenhagen shootings, where a gunmen opened fire during an event talking about freedom of expression. It sent a shiver down my spine! This is the kind of “silencing of individuals” we have to fight against.

Aaand … I’ve come to expect a lot of nonsense and immoral statements by the pope, but this one definitely topped my imagination: “Pope Francis says trans people destroy creation and compares them to nuclear weapons” (or here). What the pope doesn’t seem to understand (probably wilfully) is that with his position comes moral responsibility. This would include informing himself first about topics he expresses an opinion on. What the pope doesn’t realise is that transsexual people claim their brain, their mentality, is of one gender, while their body is of the other. This claim is supported by persuasive evidence. Transsexual individuals are not saying they are fully one gender, and wish to change themselves into the other gender. We only want to live the way we have been made! If the pope takes a subset of gender indicators and proclaims these to be the absolute, unchanging definition of gender, he at least has to provide some arguments.

So anyway, if I feel helpless and small again, I’ll try to remember that I’m apparently comparable to a nuclear bomb. ☺

Okay, and finally … I watched a video by Robert M. Spencer talking about Islam. I think his speech unfortunately includes a number of tendential political and religious opinions, which I don’t agree with, but I assume the facts he gives are straight. In the video, he talks about the crusades, which he calls a late and small-scale response to 450 years of the Muslim conquest and subjugation of a large part of the Christian world (including North Africa, Syria, Lebanon, Turkey, and Palestine). The crusades ultimately failed, but they stopped the Islamic expansion to Europe for 200 years, thus possibly enabling the development of modern civilisation including enlightenment and humanism. I thought that was common knowledge, but learned this was not so when an acquaintance of mine countered me expressing disgust at Muslims killing people after a particular (probably accidental) burning of the Koran by saying that my ancestors participated in the crusades. Even if ancestors of mine were involved in a crime a thousand years ago, what possible bearing could this have on my views of morality today? Question upon question …

I wrote the above rather quickly, and I have a stupid cold (which is probably to blame for the rather opinionated nature of this post ☺), so I apologise for any mistakes or if anything was incoherent. Take care, and make sure you give yourself enough time to relax and enjoy yourself!

[1] The same Germaine Greer who has stated that trans women are not truly women because they don’t know what it is to have a big, hairy, smelly vagina (see here). I mean, this stuff is so childish and bizarre and stupid that it angers me that this apparently passes for public discourse. Oh, and it’s repudiated by Weyers, Verstraelen, et al. in Microflora of the penile skin-lined neovagina of transsexual women.

[2] The same Julie Bindel who states, against all evidence that the diagnosis of GD needs to be questioned and challenged and sex-change surgery is unnecessary mutilation, thus contributing to more suffering and pain of the transgendered community. There is so much evidence on the table that views such as hers lead to suicides. How many more Leelah Alcorn cases do we need? I’m sorry, I think it is fair to say that Julie Bindel does have indirectly have blood on her hands.

Wednesday 11 February 2015

An article that might contribute to more teenage suicides

Heya everybody,

A friend of mine has pointed out an article in the “Federalist” called “Here’s What Parents Of Transgender Kids Need To Know”. The article is written by Walt Heyer, who maintains a website about sex change regret. I don’t know much about this person – he seems to have been falsely diagnosed with gender dysphoria, changed gender roles and had sex reassignment surgery only to be later reverting back to his old male gender role, being diagnosed with dissociative identity disorder. Well, the article has attracted 112 comments so far, so I thought it merits a response.

Walt Heyer quotes two studies that didn’t find a link between a few specific gene sequences they researched and gender dysphoria. From this body of evidence he concludes – wait for it! – that “your child was not born in the wrong body”. Clearly, this person has malicious intent (I know – “never ascribe to malice that which is adequately explained by incompetence” – but surely nobody could be this stupid?).

Science is researching pathways that can lead to transsexualism, and certain specific gene sequences have been ruled out. That’s great – it narrows down possible causes. What it does not do is prove that there is no biological cause of transsexualism. The most likely explanation is hormonal influence in the womb. For some sound science, see my pages listing studies on the causes of transsexualism, listing 135 scientific articles.

On the question of whether transsexual people have been born into the wrong body or not, have a look at my “What is transsexualism” reference pages, listing 78 scientific articles, including 26 studies that find brain structures of transsexuals resembling those of their experienced gender. Here is just one example, showing that transsexual “children possess certain sex-atypical functional brain characteristics and may have undergone atypical sexual differentiation of the brain”.

PS: Have you heard of the web service called “donotlink”? It lets you link to websites without improving their search engine status, and can be used for sites containing scams, pseudoscience, misinformation, alternative medicine, conspiracy theories, racist or sexist blog posts, etc.

PPS: The studies mentioned in the article by Walt Heyer are listed on my other references pages – I try to collect and publish all scientific articles about transsexualism to allow readers to see what the scientific status is. Collecting and citing only articles that support a certain point of view is dishonest.

Monday 9 February 2015

Suicide, lies and statistics

Heya everybody,

it is so easy to spread falsehoods and rumours – and so time-consuming to diligently set the facts straight. A friend of mine has pointed out an issue mentioned by Walt Heyer (see also my 2015-01-11 blog entry) in one of his YouTube videos. Just as a a reminder, Walt was apparently falsely diagnosed with gender dysphoria, changed gender roles and had sex reassignment surgery only to be later reverting back to his old male gender role, being diagnosed with dissociative identity disorder.[1]

In his video, Walt talked about that infamously high suicide attempt rate of 41 % for transgender people continuing after transition. At the same time this was pointed out to me, I was also made aware of an article on the website “RenewAmerica”[2], called “An appeal to Bruce Jenner”. In the article, author J. Matt Barber writes “There is a reason that after ’sex reassignment’ surgery, so-called ’transgender’ people commit suicide at a rate 20 times higher than normal, and, despite rationalizations to the contrary, imaginary ’transphobia’ is not that reason.”[3] The 20-times-higher claim is linked to an article by Paul McHugh, already discussed in my 2014-06-25 and 2014-07-05 blog posts.

I believe the source for these claims is two statements from page 82 of the US national transgender discrimination survey from 2011[4]:[5]

  • “When asked ‘have you ever attempted suicide?’ 41 % of respondents answered yes. According to government health estimates, five million, or 1.6 % of currently living Americans have attempted suicide in the course of their lives.”

  • “However, there are a number of attributes that align with an increased rate of attempted suicide. High risk groups include visual non-conformers (44 %) and those who are generally out about their transgender status (44 %). Those who have medically transitioned (45 %) and surgically transitioned (43 %) have higher rates of attempted suicide than those who have not (34 % and 39 % respectively).”

On the face of it, it would appear that the transgender respondents of the study were at a risk of suicide attempts that’s a staggering 25-times higher than that of the general population. In addition, it seems that people who are accepting and open about their transgender status or transitoned medically or surgically have a higher suicide risk than closeted transgender persons before transition.

Okay, that’s two quotes in isolation. Now to the context:

First of all, the study asked “if respondents had ever attempted suicide”. This is vital for the interpretation of the data. Immediately, this poses a problem of comparing numbers, as is stated in the report directly on page 82: “most federal studies refer to suicide attempts within the last year; accordingly it is difficult to compare our numbers with other studies.” So, all we know is that 41 % of transgender people have attempted suicide at some point in their lifes prior to responding in the study. This figure is “shockingly high”, of course, but it’s hard to quantify the difference to the average population.

I think three main points are relevant when interpreting the data:

  • A full 25 % of people in the study are not transsexual; these 25 % are gender-queer or crossdressers (some used non-standard terms for self-description such as “princess” or “bender”). People of the transgender spectrum who do not meet the definition of transsexualism are typically not going for transition or for medical treatment. If this group of people is less prone to suicide than full transsexuals, the figures showing suicidal tendencies for pre-transition individuals would be skewed, i.e. too low. The study is not comparing apples with apples here. One group (post-transition) has only full transsexuals in it, the other group (pre-transition) is a mix of full transsexuals, crossdressers and gender-queer people – it’s fair to assume these people suffer less psychological strain.

  • The study doesn’t mention the average ages of the pre- and the post-transition groups. My guess is that the post-transition group is older. This is relevant, because if you ask the question ‘have you ever attempted suicide’, you will get, all other things being the same, more yes answers in the older group.

  • People forced to take the drastic step of medical transition probably suffer, on average, from more severe gender dysphoria. Often, the biography of transsexuals includes a tipping point when the gender dysphoria becomes so unbearable that help must be sought. If having experienced high psychological strain correlates positively with transition, we would naturally expect this group also to have the most ‘yes’ answer when asked whether have ever attempted suicide.

This is what the authors of the study say themselves:

  • “Our questionnaire did not ask at what age the respondents made suicide attempts and therefore it is difficult to draw conclusions about the risk of suicide over their life spans.”

  • “In terms of age group risk, the highest rates of suicide attempts in this study were reported among those in the 18–24 age group (45 %) and 25–44 age group (45 %), with only 16 % of those over 65 reporting a suicide attempt. These rates are inverse to the general population, which shows a higher incidence of attempts among older Americans than youth.”

The authors state themselves, right there on page 82 of the report, that no conclusion can be drawn from their data about the risk of suicide attempts over the course of the life of the respondents. As a result, one cannot draw any conclusions about the effectiveness of interventions during the lifetimes of the participants. If anything, medical intervention seems to help, since the risk of suicide attempts is actually decreasing with age, in contrast to suicide attempts among the general public (assuming that the post-transition group had a higher average age than the pre-transition group).

I believe that any other interpretation of the data presented in the study is either poorly understood or dishonest.

It is notoriously difficult to measure suicide rates. Maybe I’ll do a blog post on that issue in the future. Simple assessments of well-being, quality of life, living standards and mental health are probably magnitudes more reliable. For the “What helps?” section of my website I have collected 141 studies that use varying measures to analyse the effectiveness of medical intervention for transsexualism. Have a read and you can see for yourself why the scientific consensus agrees on the benefits of medical treatment.

To give just one example of a study that looks at suicide in particular, have a read of the British study by Bailey, Ellis and McNeil (2014)[6], using a large sample of 889 transgender individuals:

“The study revealed high rates of suicidal ideation (84 % lifetime prevalence) and attempted suicide (48 % lifetime prevalence) within this sample. A supportive environment for social transition and timely access to gender reassignment, for those who required it, emerged as key protective factors. Subsequently, gender dysphoria, confusion/denial about gender, fears around transitioning, gender reassignment treatment delays and refusals, and social stigma increased suicide risk within this sample.” “The study found that trans people are most at risk prior to social and/or medical transition and that trans people who require access to hormones and surgery can be left, in many cases, unsupported for dangerously long periods of time. The article highlights the devastating impact that delaying or denying gender reassignment treatment can have and urges commissioners and practitioners to prioritise timely intervention and support.”[7]

Peace and light ✨

[1] This post isn’t the place to discuss this, but it should be common knowledge that medical interventions are typically not 100 % effective, and medical diagnoses can not be absolutely error-free. If sex reassignment surgery has, for example, a success rate of 97.8 % (see Dhejne, Öberg, et al., 2014), we still have two people in a hundred whose lifes were not improved by the measure.

[2] The “about” section of the website says: “RenewAmerica is a grassroots organization that supports the self-evident truths found in the Declaration of Independence, and their faithful application through upholding the U.S. Constitution, as written. Its purpose is to thoughtfully and courageously advance the cause of our nation's Founders.” However, the articles seem highly partisan christian to me, in apparent contradiction of the secular values of the US constitution and its founding fathers?

[3] There is so much wrong with this sentence – I won’t have time today to discuss all of it. Just a few points: The word transgender is in scare quotes (I don’t think its meant to be a citation) – I guess this means Mr. Barber doesn’t approve of the word as a description of people who believe they straddle conventional gender divides? What word would he suggest for this phenomenon? Another term in scare quotes is sex reassignment – again, what word would be better or more descriptive for a process that changes the appearance and function of the external genitalia? And finally, transphobia is also in quotes. Again, I’m unsure as to why … does he see an issue with the word or with the concept? To give just one example, the US national transgender discrimination survey from 2011 reports that 51 % of transgender people were harassed/bullied in school, or were the victim of physical assault (61 %) or sexual assault (64 %).

[4] There is another study that Paul McHugh referenced in his original article; I might write about that in a future blog post.

[5] Study listed on the “Other references/Reference list of scientific articles and studies (2013 and older)” section of this website.

[6] Study listed on the “What helps?/Sex reassignment surgery helps” section of this website.

[7] Emphasis mine.

Saturday 7 February 2015

New studies and evidence

Heya everybody,

I managed to go through 19 studies today, and added them to my master files. I’ll upload them shortly, I promise! Again, there is quite a bit of additional evidence for a bioloigcal cause of transsexualism. Here’s a summary of the important points:

  • Kang, Imperato-McGinley, et al. study the effects of 5a-reductase-2 deficiency (a disorder of sex development) and find that most persons affected by the disorder raised as females transition to a male gender role later on (in “Fertility and sterility”, 2014). This adds further weight to the hypothesis that gender identity is biological, and not merely formed by socialisation.

  • In “The journal of sexual medicine”, 2015, Japanese researchers Nakachi, Iseki, et al. look at gene expression in female mice after being treated with testosterone shortly after birth. Following the hormonal administration, they found that 334 (!) genes were expressed differently. This suggests that “many gender-dysphoria-related genes are upregulated during female brain masculinization”. The massive number of differences found shows the large impact hormones have around birth in differentiating the two genders, and provides further clues to better understand gender dysphoria.

  • Pasterski, Acerini, et al. find “evidence for neurobehavioral effects of the postnatal androgen surge in typically developing boys” (Hormones and Behavior, 2015). “[…] prenatal androgen exposure […] and early postnatal androgen exposure […] were significant predictors of increased masculine/decreased feminine behavior, with each accounting for unique variance”. So, again, sex hormone levels around birth are found to influence sex-typed behavior.

  • Researchers Colizzi, Costa and Todarello are looking into the very important question of whether transsexuals people really do have more psychological problems than healthy controls (Psychiatry Research, 2015). They find that 29.6 % of their focus group had dissociative disorders (also, sadly, and underlining the misery many transsexuals experience, 45.8 % had a major depressive episode, 21.2 % had attempted suicide and 45.8 % experienced childhood trauma). Hormonal treatment was found yet again to lower dissociative symptoms and improve mental health. However, the question of whether the elevated occurrence of dissociative symptoms in gender-dysphoric individuals is real could not be answered, due to the inability to differentiate between symptoms of gender dysphoria and separate pathological dissocative experiences.

  • The Dutch group of transsexual researchers (Hoekzema, Schagen, et. al., in “Psychoneuroendocrinology”, 2015) have measured brain volumes and volumetric distribution of grey matter in brains of gender-dysphoric individuals. Overall, brains of transsexuals resemble their birth sex, but in some regions of interest differences from birth sex controls were found. This further contributes to findings that transsexuals have undergone sex-atypical differentiation of the brain.

  • Jacobs, Rachlin, et al. write in “LGBT Health”, 2014, that autism spectrum disorders should not disqualify from gender transition, since “individuals with high-functioning ASDs are capable of making informed decisions regarding their medical care and life choices”.

  • The Belgian team of researchers of transsexualism report on the current prevalence of gender dysphoria in Flanders. Apparently, around 2 % of people are gender-ambivalent, with roughly 0.6 % being gender dysphoric (van Caenegem, Wierckx, et. al. in the “Archives of Sexual Behavior”, 2015).

  • Birkett, Newcomb and Mustanski (in the “Journal of adolescent health”, 2015) have been testing whether Dan Savage’s “it gets better” claim can be supported scientifically. After studying 213 LGBT-adolescents, they found, indeed, that it does get better: “both psychological distress and victimization decreased across adolescence and into early adulthood”. Yay!

  • Navarro, Larrañaga and Yubero sadly find that gender-variant children fall victim to bullying (in “Child indicators research”, 2015).

  • Aitken, Steensma, et al. (in “The Journal of Sexual Medicine”, 2015) find that in samples taken from gender identity clinics in both Toronto and Amsterdam, the sex ratio has reversed in recent years. In the past, male-to-female transsexuals used to be in the majority, whereas female-to-male individuals now provide the larger share. Listed among the authors of the study is the dubious and discredited sexologist Ray Blanchard, who used to believe transsexualism is caused by a misdirected male sex drive. This finding further discredits his old theory. I wonder whether he’s changing his mind to match the facts in his old age, or whether he’ll come up with yet another unsupported just-so story to explain away his cognitive dissonance. 😏

So, that’s it for now … I’m exhausted ☺ Peace and light ✨

Sam Harris and the pope

Heya everybody,

So much to write and so little time... I have tons of new studies to add, and hope to do that this weekend... my last weekends were so busy, I couldn’t really update things... so much to do and so little time. ☺

Just to get a few things out of my head:

The pope has returned to the normal intolerant, immoral positions that seem to come with the job. In Manila, he compared the fight against LGBT rights with the fight against colonialism. Also, gay marriage threatens the family, society is “tempted by confusing presentations of sexuality, marriage and the family”. Apparently, gay rights are “powerful forces which threaten to disfigure God’s plan for creation and betray the very values which have inspired and shaped all that is best in your culture”. (For examples, see here and here.)

Well, not much to say there, except for the standard answers: Gay marriage seems to me to strengthen the idea of family, not to weaken it; if the pope is confused about sexuality, marriage and the family, it’s only natural since he’s an unmarried virgin – but I’m sure if he was willing to look, he could find a kind person who explains it all to him; and as to god’s plan – I’m glad he seems to know it, but what I’d like to know is how same-sex orientation, and gender dysphoria fit into god’s plan – why did god create things only to condemn them? Seems a little weird to me.

Oh, and for good measure, the pope used the “wife-beater’s defence” to rationalise the terror attack on Charlie Hebdo: “One cannot provoke; one cannot insult other people’s faith; one cannot make fun of faith.” Apparently, “if [a good friend] says a curse word against my mother, he can expect a punch. It’s normal. It’s normal.” Well, it certainly isn’t “normal” in my book – and I don’t think the comparison of a massacre of defenseless people to punching someone shows great moral aptitude.

Well, that’s the pope... and now for something completely different: One of the scariest things I have read recently was Sam Harris’ blog entry “Can We Avoid a Digital Apocalypse?”, a response to the 2015 question of the magazine “Edge”. Reading Sam Harris, I often feel this mix of awe about his insight and clarity and hope that what he says is not true or at least won’t come true.

Anyway, so much more to write... but I should do my homework first and add those scientific articles I’ve collected over the past weeks!

Monday 2 February 2015

Withholding medical care from children – the tragedy of Leelah Alcorn

I have thought for a while about whether I should write an article about the suffering and death of Leelah Alcorn, born Joshua Ryan Alcorn. On New Year’s Day, Google news had 2.1 million hits on her name, today it’s 3.0 million hits. A lot of people have written much smarter and much more insightful things than I ever could. I had to wait for a few days anyway, because this tragedy made me too emotional – but from reading Leelah’s suicide note, I think it’s good if as many people as possible speak up.

I just want to add a couple of things.

From Leelah’s suicide note, it appears that her parents

– withheld necessary medical treatment from her and

– discriminated against her and severely psychologically abused her.

There are some facts that are vital to get across to everybody:

  • Transsexualism exists. Transsexual people suffer, and have a very high risk of suicide. Medical treatment and social support can help.

  • Transsexualism is a part of one’s identity. It is part of who we are. This part of the self is nothing that can be changed.

  • If you don’t accept or respect a person for her transsexuality, you are discriminating against her. Shaming and punishing people for their identity is severe abuse.

Some of the cruel effects that often accompany gender dysphoria are low self-esteem or self-hate, social anxiety and depression. That’s why it’s so dangerous when friends or family stigmatise, punish and shame someone for her transsexuality. It creates a vicious circle, a negative feedback loop, making things worse.

Based on the above, I agree with Dan Savage (I love him for the advice he gives and his clear-sighted humane moral stance) who thinks that Leelah’s parents should be “charged with child abuse, neglect, reckless endangerment and manslaughter”.

Religion …

According to Leelah, her mother, Carla Wood Alcorn, stated that “god doesn’t make mistakes”. I can’t even get my head around what her mother might have meant by this declaration. I guess all victims of disasters and accidents, like people dying in tsunamis and plane crashes, were meant by god to die this way? Okay, fine, if you believe in a cruel god. But what does that mean when it comes to illness? Does every individual case of illness, every ailment happen with the approval of god? If so, why have medicine, doctors, nurses and hospitals? If you are born with a cleft palate, or if your hearing fails in old age, or if you have cancer, you get medical help. But god doesn’t make mistakes, does he? He clearly wants you to suffer. Well, I won’t expand on this issue here… but if you believe that god doesn’t make mistakes, what do you think about birth defects? Do you deny they exist, or do you really think god is consenting to this suffering? What kind of support are we supposed to or allowed by god to give to suffering people? And who decides?

I don’t understand where religious people get their morality from, how their moral framework functions. It’s so much simpler to base your morality on compassion, empathy and the aim for a better world.

Interacting with children/teenagers …

Just from that suicide note, Leelah Alcorn appears to be an intelligent, insightful, sensitive, rational and self-aware human being. She diagnosed herself, provided that diagnosis to her parents and was looking for help. She is to be commended for her brave, honest and sensible behaviour. I’m not sure parents can ask for more.

So, no smilies today. But let’s try to have a good year, a year in which we try to ‘fix society’ and try to live up to the wishes and hopes that Leelah expressed in her final letter.