Sunday, 30 December 2007

Today's Battle

"Some came to sing, some came to pray, some came to keep the dark away..."

Ok, this little candle goes under the seat of one Naomi Scaheffer Riley, author of this piece in the prestigious Wall Street Journal.
Not all experts agree with the APA. Paul McHugh, a former director of the department of psychiatry at Johns Hopkins University, notes that the transgendered patients he has come to know were no happier after sex-change surgery than before. He writes in "The Mind Has Mountains": "I concluded that to provide a surgical alteration to the body of these unfortunate people was to collaborate with a mental disorder rather than to treat it."

In certain quarters, the findings of Dr. McHugh and a few like-minded professionals have been met with outrage. To question the narrative of the transgendered--all that is wrong, they say, is our society's "social construct"--is to invite a ferocious response. Michael Bailey, a psychologist at Northwestern University, published a book in 2003 suggesting that some men who want to change genders are living in a kind of fantasy. They are motivated by an erotic idea of themselves as women. He was met with a campaign of harassment--one critic even posted pictures of Mr. Bailey's children on the Internet with sexually explicit captions under them.
When officials in Port Ewen, N.Y., decided to let a school principal stay on even after a sex change, most parents didn't protest. But one resident of a neighboring town told a reporter: "God makes things perfect and people want to screw it all up." It's a passing remark but it raises an interesting question. What does it mean that, once conceived, a person was somehow given the wrong body? Should we hold God responsible? And what bathroom does he want us going into?

Etc Etc. Always with the bathrooms. Those in Australia have cubicles, by the way. No doubt it must be different in the US, she says sarcastically.

OK, get out my trusty teaspoon, and while we're at it, light a single candle against the darkness.
The following letter has been submitted via the OpinionJournal article response feature.

Article URL:

Contents of response as follows:

Name: Zoe Brain
City/State: Canberra, Australia
Date: Sat, December 29th, 2007

Re: Crossing Over

Dr McHugh's work was conducted 30 years ago. By his own admission, he's not a specialist in the area. Also by his own admission, he became director at Johns Hopkins with the aim of shutting down the sex reassignment program. He's not seen any transgendered patients in 30 years. He's not a member of WPATH - the World Professional Association for Transgender Health, nor does he read the journals.

PubMed has some 280 peer-reviewed articles, each showing significant improvements in between 80% and 97% of post-operative Transsexual people. Those who do not improve are almost universally those whose surgical results were poor, or even dismal.

His remarks were not published in a peer-reviewed medical journal, but in a religious magazine.

All of this would have been obvious given as much as 30 minutes research by the kind of professional journalist usually employed at the Wall St Journal.

Michael Bailey - a psychologist - wrote his book after interviewing half a dozen sex workers at a bar. I won't go into the extensive critiques of his work, but even his friends deny that his book is in any way "science".

Oh yes, the "sexually explicit captions"? They were directly from Bailey's book itself. They were an .. idiotically is the word that comes to mind.. misguided attempt to show how Bailey's words, words which he had applied in lectures about transgendered children (again something some research on the subject would have found) were "beyond the pale" and deeply hurtful to any child, anywhere.

Should the author wish to do some superficial research on the subject to correct their article, may I suggest the following as a good beginning:

Zhou J.-N, Hofman M.A, Gooren L.J, Swaab D.F (1997)
A Sex Difference in the Human Brain and its Relation to Transsexuality.

Kruijver F.P.M, Zhou J.-N, Pool C.W., Swaab D.F. (2000)
Male-to-Female Transsexuals Have Female Neuron Numbers in a Limbic Nucleus

Deakin Law Review 2004 V22 "Re Kevin in Perspective"

Here, I'll quote what the Full bench of the Australian Family Court found after an extensive review of the Scientific evidence, rather than articles by fringe non-specialists in pop-sci books and religious magazines :

At paragraph [247]: ‘In my view the expert evidence in this case affirms that brain development is (at least) an important determinant of a person’s sense of being a man or a woman. No contrary opinion is expressed. All the experts are very well qualified. None was required for cross-examination, nor was any contrary evidence called’.

At paragraph [248]: ‘In my view the evidence is, in essence, that the experts believe that the brain development view is likely to be true, and they explain the basis for their beliefs. In the circumstances, I see no reason why I should not accept the proposition, on the balance of probabilities, for the purpose of this case.’

At paragraph [252]: ‘The traditional analysis that they are "psychologically" transsexual does not explain how this state came about. For example, there seems to be no suggestion in the evidence that their psychological state can be explained by reference to circumstances of their upbringing. In that sense, the brain sex theory does not seem to be competing with other explanations, but rather is providing a possible explanation of what is otherwise inexplicable’.

At paragraph [253]: ‘In other words (as I understand it) the brain of an individual may in some sense be male, for example, though the rest of the person’s body is female’.

At paragraph [265]: ‘In my view the argument in favour of the “brain sex" view is also based on evidence about the development and experience of transsexuals and others with atypical sex-related characteristics. There is a vast literature on this, some of which is in evidence, and I can do no more than mention briefly some of the main points’.

At paragraph [268]: ‘It seems quite wrong to think of these people as merely wishing or preferring to be of the opposite sex, or having the opinion that they are’

At paragraph [270]: ‘But I am satisfied that the evidence now is inconsistent with the distinction formerly drawn between biological factors, meaning genitals, chromosomes and gonads, and merely "psychological factors", and on this basis distinguishing between cases of inter-sex (incongruities among biological factors) and transsexualism (incongruities between biology and psychology)’.

At paragraph [272]: ‘In my view the evidence demonstrates (at least on the balance of probabilities) that the characteristics of transsexuals are as much “biological” as those of people thought of as inter-sex’.

At paragraph [136]: ‘I agree with Ms Wallbank that in the present context the word "man" should be given its ordinary contemporary meaning. In determining that meaning, it is relevant to have regard to many things that were the subject of evidence and submissions. They include the context of the legislation, the body of case law on the meaning of "man" and similar words, the purpose of the legislation, and the current legal, social and medical environment. These matters are considered in the course of the judgment. I believe that this approach is in accordance with common sense, principles of statutory interpretation, and with all or virtually all of the authorities in which the issue of sexual identity has arisen. As Professor Gooren and a colleague put it:-

“There should be no escape for medical and legal authorities that these definitions ought to be corrected and updated when new information becomes available, particularly when our outdated definitions bring suffering to some of our fellow human beings”.’

That a paper as prestigious as the Wall Street Journal should publish an article as this, an article that will be used by the equally ignorant to quite literally persecute people with a rare medical condition is regrettable. I hope that you intend doing something to ameliorate this blot on your credibility.

Zoe E Brain
(address redacted)

So raise the candles high
'Cause if you don't we could stay black against the night
Oh raise them higher again
And if you do we could stay dry against the rain.

Lyrics (c) Copyright 1970 by Kama Rippa Music, Inc. and Melanie Music, Inc.
1650 Broadway, New York, New York 10019.

But as you might have guessed, I'm not exactly taking this lying down. I have no illusions that I won't get soaking wet either. But what makes me a neo-con rather than a Kumbayah-singing feelgood Hippie is that I believe in personal responsibility, and actually doing something to keep the dark of ignorance away rather than singing or praying. Not that I can do much. Write articles, letters, talk to politicians, fight my own personal battles, give help on support sites where "we are so close we bleed in each others wounds" and try to live my life too without this dominating my blog or my life too much. I loathe being an "activist", it is so, so Not Me, but what else can I do and remain true to my principles?

And in the meantime, a nuclear-armed power is descending into anarchy, a brave woman has lost her life, in the long term there's a decreasing likelihood that the majority of denizens of the solar system will speak English or live under a Democracy in 300 years time, and I should keep my sense of proportion.


Anonymous said...

Miss Riley's articles are nearly all written from the religious perspective. When the WSJ uses a logo for the columns (which they didn't for this week), De Gustibus shows a crucifix surrounded by other objects - implying that Christianity is the center of the whole.

As to the quote that "God makes things perfect and people want to screw it all up.", I'm fairly sure that those people who are born with congenital defects (cleft lips, missing limbs, heart valves not closing, blindness, etc.) would signficiantly disagree that they are perfect. Are these people denied the ability to have their medical issues resolved by medical means?


Anonymous said...


Thank you for responding to this article. When I read it, I was at a loss as to how to respond. I admire you energy and refusal to allow such obvious bias and misinformation to pass unchallenged. I also admire that you always back up your objections with facts, not merely emotion. This type of education, as tiring as it may be at times, is exactly what we need to do if we ever hope to truly live as free and equal citizens of this world.


Anonymous said...


I too must thank you for your education and down to earth remarks to this once great publication. With your knowldge, understanding, and willingness to get involved I see a brighter future for our brothers and sisters. I am glad you are on our side.