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Culture War Roundup for the week of February 20, 2023

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Jesse Singal gets gaslit

Also, a more neutral take:

Brief recap:

  1. NYT shifts its coverage of medical concerns for trans issues from 100% supporting transition in all cases to a more questioning stance, particularly with minors

  2. An open letter is sent to NYT laying out "serious concerns with editorial bias" in response to this shift

  3. Jonathan Chait posts a critical response to the open letter at New York Magazine (no relation to NYT)

  4. Chait gets dragged on twitter for being anti-trans, with a highlighted passage

  5. Jesse Singal posts in support of Chait, showing the highlighted passage is directly in accordance with WPATH guidelines and explains what it means

  6. E. Kale Edmiston, a trans man, posts in response that he, Edmiston, wrote the WPATH guidelines posted by Singal, and that Singal is misinterpreting them

  7. Liberal media pundits and reporters pile on, when Singal defends the straightforward interpretation, demanding that Signal accept Edmiston's (frankly bizarre) interpretation of the quoted passage

  8. Singal has done his homework and contacts several other WPATH authors, who all confirm Singal's interpretation of the passage and reject Edmiston's

  9. Eventually this reaches Scott Leibowitz, overall head of the WPATH guidelines document, who says that Edmiston definitely did not write the highlighted passage, and later severely admonishes this lying and false attribution from within academia

  10. Singal performs several victory laps on Twitter, demanding from the media pundits and reporters the apologies and corrections they had demanded from him

Good guys: Jesse Singal, Jonathan Chait, Scott Leibowitz

Bad guys: E. Kale Edmiston, Madeline Leung Coleman (NYMag editor), Michael Hobbes, Jeet Heer, Marisa Kasabas (MSNBC Columnist), David Perry, Eric Vilas-Boas (Vulture staffer), Miles Klee, Siva Vaidhyanathan

The most interesting, dire, and relevant info is from Eliza Mondegreen, linked near the top. Apparently there is a wink/nod system with the WPATH Standards of Care document, where the words are written a certain way because they must be, but they are interpreted much differently.

She concludes:

Theory and practice—the Standards of Care and what actually happens in the exam room—have nothing to do with one another. Everything in the Standards of Care that sounds cautious and responsible comes with an understanding that’s supposed to go unspoken: We don’t really mean it. We just need to say this. If a patient shows up with serious comorbidities, of course we have to say that they must undergo a “comprehensive” “assessment” and that the clinician must remain open to the possibility that the patient might not really have gender dysphoria and maybe shouldn’t really transition. But you know how important the work we all do is.

In other words, the Standards of Care are a lie that everyone involved in gender medicine pretends to believe. When reporters like Singal and Chait try to hold gender clinicians to WPATH standards (something I think is worth doing, by the way!), savvy clinicians will respond: Yes, of course we “assess” patients very carefully, what do you think this is, the Wild West?

Among other, more obvious mistakes, Edmiston’s most grievous error was not pretending to believe the lie.

EDITS: Signal, Single, Liebowitz. added Cast of Characters, Eliza Mondegreen quote

Among other, more obvious mistakes, Edmiston’s most grievous error was not pretending to believe the lie.

This is something that has seemed obviously true to me for a while, but of course you can't prove it unless you are deeply inside the system. You express concerns about children being casually, almost instantly, referred for "gender affirming care" up to and including surgery, and clinicians and trans activists say "Don't be ridiculous, of course we don't think doctors should just write blank prescriptions everyone's needs are carefully assessed they get a comprehensive evaluation it's all very cautious and evidence-based blah blah blah..."

Every bit of anecdotal evidence I have ever read - but it's still anecdotal! - is that in practice a trans-identifying kid will be "confirmed" as trans basically on their say-so. I've never actually heard of a doctor at one of these clinics saying, "Well, actually, have you considered you might not be trans? Let's work on some of your other mental health issues and then revisit this."

I'd love to find out I am wrong, that the typical clinician is in fact cautious about going along with every child who presents as "trans" and pursues other avenues of care first. But I have yet to see any evidence that this happens... anywhere. Rather, it seems increasingly like anything other than immediate and unreserved validation of any child who presents as trans is treated as transphobic and life-threatening.

Jesse Singal does the lord's work, and he has two problems.

The first is that his work is very wonky. Like, he does deep dives into statistics, he actually reads the charts in the papers cited (and mis-cited) by activists, and points out all the errors, but it's not something easily summarizable if you really want to have an understanding of what he's saying. All his opponents see is "There goes Jesse Singal, known transphobe, obsessively bullying a marginalized community again." Who actually reads and parses his work in detail?

I'll admit while this whole thing was happening on Twitter, I didn't quite get the back and forth the first few times until I finally sighed, dug in, and reread the entire comment chain to figure out who said who said who said what about what when. And I'm fairly current on the issues, reasonably intelligent, and sympathetic to Singal. Meanwhile, everyone else is just posting dunks and high fives and "yikes!" And even after this fairly comprehensive vindication of Singal, I doubt a single person on the other side actually had their mind changed or their priors shifted an iota. What I have seen in response has been a lot of tepid "Well, obviously it's a very complex topic mumble mumble but jeez why does Jesse Singal care so much anyway?"

Which brings me to my second point: Jesse Singal does himself no favors fighting these things out on Twitter. I get it - I understand his mindset. "People are lying about me on the Internet! People are saying I said things I clearly did not say! They're also wrong about the facts! They're saying things that aren't true, just read this damn paper right here that proves it!"

He cannot shake the conviction that if he yells this often and loudly enough, he will make them see. And he won't. Ever. So he ends up looking like deranged Reply Guy who is obsessed with this topic and wants to fight everybody. Meanwhile, his enemies, who don't actually care whether he's right or not, only that he's on the wrong side, see that they can keep winding him up by saying "Look at Jesse Singal being transphobic again."

"Well, actually, have you considered you might not be trans? Let's work on some of your other mental health issues and then revisit this."

One of the most sensible things that Jordan Peterson said recently was pointing out that body dysmorphia is normal among women with mental health issues. So, if society links body dysmorphia closely to transgenderism and doctors put zero inquiry into whether the dysmorphia is symptomatic of the woman's other mental health problems, then overdiagnosis of transgenderism among women will result.

Anecdotally, detransitioning does seem to be more common among ex-transmen than ex-transwomen, but I don't have stats. The common pattern seems to be "Autistic or otherwise unusual woman develops depression/social anxiety/socialising issues as an adolescent, starts transitioning, maybe develops dysmorphia AGAIN (now wanting to be a woman) and detransitions, often with permanent or long-lasting damage to her body." Both before and after she started transitioning, the real problem was her socialisation and mental health challenges, not that she was in the wrong body. You can't solve such issues with surgery, but that is the impression that many such women are getting.

Anecdotally, detransitioning does seem to be more common among ex-transmen than ex-transwomen

Completely spurious reasoning but I feel like a lot of this would be down to transmen having more to lose by opting to be a male and thereby losing out on 'the sisterhood'/social connections versus low-status men essentially going from nobody giving a fuck to a built-in social network when they opt to transition. I also feel like men are more likely to actually achieve something approaching what they want out of the transition, whilst in my own experience of Transmen there's a lot of very garbled logic about essentially wanting to be a top 1% guy to experience those perceived advantages without realizing they're renouncing female privilege and moving onto... petite feminine male non-privilege.

petite feminine male non-privilege.

Especially not good if they are interested in men, especially long-term relationships. AFAIK, it's hard enough for gay men to find committed partners, and even worse if you're playing in a crowded field (feminine gay men).

The rather brutally honest evaluation of this I've seen is that they don't realise before transitioning that being a short guy with wide hips and no muscles is not going to do them much good.

It's like the geographic cure for dealing with problems - "if I just start afresh someplace nobody knows me, it will all work out better". For some people, be it FTM or MTF, transitioning will fix their problems. For others, swapping genders is not going to fix their depression or loneliness or other problems.

Transition is tough. Whether it’s worthwhile seems to depend somewhat on whether you have a viable alternative positive identity.

I listened to a fascinating interview with a butch lesbian who transitioned and then detransitioned. (I believe she may have even done so in order to have children, hope I’m not misremembering.)

She described the difficulty, not of living as a woman under patriarchy, but of finding respect and acceptance as a masculine woman. She grew up being treated as a failure at femininity. In young adulthood, she found lesbian spaces where “butch woman” was a positive identity. As those spaces evolved and more and more of her friends transitioned or identified as non-binary, that positive butch identity became less and less available. When she was older and more confident, settling down with a wife and wanting to start a family, “butch woman” started to feel comfortable again, and HRT became burdensome and no longer worth it.

She didn’t seem the least bit naive about her likely physical results, coming or going. Nor did she seem to regret her time on hormones. She just had changing social incentives and available identities over her life course.

detransitioning does seem to be more common among ex-transmen than ex-transwomen, but I don't have stats

According to this article, the number of subscribers to /r/detrans has risen from a few hundred to 44,000 in the space of five years. Allowing that not every subscriber is a detransitioner themselves, it's still a striking increase.

Absolute numbers aren’t exactly the best here, given that pro-trans awareness has also skyrocketed in that time. It’s also compatible with boring subreddit life cycles. Or even dramatic ones, like a flood of activists looking for rage bait.

It also…doesn’t address the gender ratio question at all.

given that pro-trans awareness has also skyrocketed in that time.

Are trans people really substantially more visible now than they were in February 2018? Back then we already had Caitlyn Jenner, Jazz Jennings, Laverne Cox, Sophie, the Wachowskis. The Danish Girl came out in 2014.

It also…doesn’t address the gender ratio question at all.

Yeah I know, I just happened to have encountered a statistic pertaining to detransitioning this week so I thought I'd mention it.