Monday 19 December 2016

Jerry Coyne on sexual dimorphism and the “Gender” issue of National Geographic

Heya everybody,

After a long hiatus (work and private life tends to get in the way of my interests and hobbies), a gentle prodding by my friend Alexandra and some articles on Prof. Jerry Coyne’s website finally got me back to look after my blog and website.

Jerry Coyne, of course, is of new atheism fame, host of the "Why evolution is true" website and one of my favourite web personalities. I have been following his website (he doesn’t like it when you say blog) for years, and generally agree with his opinions, since they are fact-based and well reasoned.

He just published two short website articles on sexual dimorphism (here and here), which I found a very good summary on the public discussion about gender differences.

He argues that sexual dimorphism (differences between men and women), which exists clearly when you compare male and female bodies, also extends to behavioural differences. This is of course, the old nature or nurture debate – are we born a blank slate, and our behavioural traits, our personality, the things that make us an individual, are completely culturally and socially induced, or do they have a basis in our biology, in the way our brains have evolved? From the evidence I have seen, I firmly believe it’s a mix of both, and common sense seems to agree with that.

However, this causes problems for some who insist that men and women must be exactly alike in all respects, and that behaviour and psychology of human males and females are identical. Any differences we notice in everyday life is only a result of society and culture. This often goes along with blaming men or the patriarchy to create and enforce gender differences to keep women in their place. Unfortunately, this view sometimes goes hand in hand with a rejection of transsexual people, for they are seen as somehow misguided and enforcing the gender dichotomy, or worse.

Like I said before, from a scientific view, the debate has been settled – there are many studies on human newborns and on animals that show behavioural gender differences. Have a read at what Jerry Coyne says about this topic and the social discourse about it.

In a separate article called National Geographic publishes “gender” issue, still doesn’t satisfy SJWs, Prof. Coyne writes about the January 2017 of National Geograpic, which is about gender. I haven’t read it, but I will!

In the article, Jerry Coyne argues that the gender spectrum is not much of a spectrum, as more than 95 % of people fall in one of the two categories male and female (the rest being homo-, bi- or transsexual).

I think this is wrong for two reasons. Firstly, he makes a category error in conflating different aspects of human sexual identity, namely gender and sexual orientation and secondly, I think it’s largely a question of definitions or semantics.

If you class people into categories, then naturally the vast majority will fall into either the "male who is sexually attracted to females" or the "female who is sexually attracted to males" classification. If that wasn’t the case, then evolution by sexual reproduction would have done a pretty shoddy job, I think. However, this doesn’t mean there can’t be a gender spectrum.

If we measure sexually dimorph characteristics, i.e. the differences between men and women, including psychological and behavioural traits, and try to quantify them (very easy to do with height, for example), the result will be a normal distribution or a bell curve that has different peaks for men and women.

But this is true for every sexually dimorphic trait, and there are many of them. Any individual is made up from a combination of such traits, which make up his or her sexual identity. It’s this combination that makes up the gender spectrum as I see it. There is probably not a single person whose sexually dimorph traits all register at exactly the average value for the female population, and the same goes vice versa for men, of course. I don’t think the word spectrum implies an even distribution of parameters, it simply means there is a range between two extremes.

I fully agree with Jerry Coyne on the rest of the article, where he is taking some "social justice warriors" to task for having problems with the two covers of the magazine. Have a read, it is quite symptomatic for the challenges transsexuals face, even in a feminist and liberal culture. Transsexual women are still not seen as women and individuals can still not wear what they like. We still have lots of work to do to make this world a better place!

Have a merry Christmas and a happy and healthy new year! Peace and Light ✨

Monday 4 January 2016

Gender dysphoria in children and Kenneth Zucker

Heya everybody,

To start off the new year with some good news, here is a link to Brynn Tannehill’s article The End of the Desistance Myth in the Huffington Post.

In her usual concise and hard-hitting style, she addresses two topics, which are separate, but linked together.

The first one is the question of persistance versus desistance when it comes to gender-queer children, i. e. the question of whether a gender-non-conforming child will grow up to be transsexual, or become content living in the gender role assigned at birth.
This is a vital question, of course – if it was known for sure that gender-queer children turn out to be transsexual later in life, therapy and transition could start as soon as possible, minimising the upset to the life of the child and increasing the quality of life.

However, one should err on the side of caution when it comes to irreversible procedures, and that’s why transsexual children are typically not medically treated. Only in adolescence, transsexual teenagers receive puberty blockers (with reversible effects) and later on, if the diagnosis persists, permanent treatment in terms of hormone therapy and surgery.

Unfortunately, the longer treatment is delayed, the less effective it becomes, and the waiting time robs people of living vital years in harmony with their body and gender role. In addition, transition later in life typically causes more distress. Early treatment has the potential to cure transsexualism, i.e. to allow people to live a normal life not negatively affected their by gender dysphoria.

Transphobes are still trying to deny treatment to transsexuals outright, or to at least delay it as much as possible. To cover their real motivations, they had a number of studies to point to which show that a large number of gender-queer children will not turn out to be transsexual later in life (the desistors). Studies do show that a large share of gender-queer children becomes homosexual, with only a minority suffering from gender dysphoria in adolescence and adulthood. So, does this mean that gender is fluid at a young age and that gender identity felt by children is not a reliable marker for gender identity later in life?

Well, the answer is both yes and no. As is usually the problem with transgender studies, definitions of what transgender or genderqueer means are varied, and that affects the decisions on who to include in a study. When looking more closely, either by using a more stringent definition of transsexual or by arranging study subjects on a continous spectrum from cisgender to transgender, the picture changes. The "more" transsexual a child is, or the more strongly gender identity is expressed, the more likely is the gender dysphoria to persist.

Transsexual children actually know who they are, and they feel their gender identity in the same way cisgender children do.

Of course, one should err on the side of caution – and we do have to weigh the potential negative impact of treatment on desistors versus the positive impact of treatment of persistent transsexuals. However, the chance that a child who strongly identifies with the other gender will remain transsexual is very high, and this knowledge should be taken into account when considering what’s best for an individual.

The second topic Brynn Tannehill is covering is the firing of the controversial psychologist Kenneth J. Zucker and the closing of his infamous clinic in Toronto. Kenneth Zucker was one of the last public figures promoting “reparative” therapy for gender-queer children, meaning he tried to enforce gender conformity and “convert” his patients to become cisgender and heterosexual.

I think Kenneth Zucker is of retirement age, so his life presumably will not be hugely negatively affected by this development. I hope the same is true for the impact of his treatments on his former patients!

It would be great if an attempt was made in the future to statistically evaluate the success of his treatments, to at least derive something good from this situation.

Let’s hope the year continues with positive news!

Great article about the differences found in transsexual brains from the Scientific American

Heya everybody,

Happy new year to everyone! Peace, freedom and happiness to the whole world!

I’m trawling through the roughly one thousand unread e-mails I have (😳), and I’m happy to say that I’ve managed about half so far (😥), which added six studies to my other references section. I’ll add short summaries later.

The magazine Scientific American has published a nice and short article summarising some of the latest findings about transgender brains. One of the studies mentioned is the 2014 study by Sarah M. Burke et al. showing the brain differences in reacting to odours, another one is the 2014 study, also by Burke, about the inner ear response to clicking noises. A great article to show to people new to the topic, as it’s brief, understandable, and lists study results from different, unexpected areas.
See: Is There Something Unique about the Transgender Brain?

Take care, peace and light ✨