Trans Kids or Gay Kids?

A fault line should be developing between those who advocate defining pre-pubescent children with gender dysphoric behavior as transgender and starting them down the road to transitioning (including hormones to block puberty), and those who believe it’s way too early to make that call—and that if left alone, many of these kids will grow up to be healthy gay or lesbian adults.

In a Wall Street Journal op-ed (firewalled; try googling The Transgender Battle Line: Childhood), Debra W. Soh writes:

How best to deal with [children who identify with the opposite sex] has become so politicized that sexologists, who presumably would be able to determinine the helathiest approach, are extremely reluctant to get involved. They have seen what happens when they deviate from orthodoxy.

She gives as an example the experience of Kenneth Zucker, a psychologist in Toronto who was charged with practicing conversion therapy, which aims to change a patients’ sexual orientation. Writes Soh:

But he had not been trying to dissuade anyone from being transgender. Instead his therapy facilitated exploration of gender identity. For example, in addition to thinking about transitioning, gender-atypical males could consider being boys who simply liked female-typical things. One doesn’t necessarily need to be a girl to enjoy nail polish or bedtime stories about fairy princesses.

Pointing that out to a gender-dysphoric child isn’t the same as practicing conversion therapy…. Of the boys and girls seen in clinics like Dr. Zucker’s, a high percentage—up to 80% in a study of 44 gender-dysphoric boys—grow up to be not transgender, but bisexual, gay or lesbian adults. Thus, helping prepubescent children feel comfortable in their birth sex makes more sense than starting a lifetime of hormonal treatments and surgeries that will in all likelihood turn out to be unnecessary and unwanted.

Soh concludes:

The silencing of those who oppose this sends the message to parents that early transitioning is the only valid and ethical approach for a gender-dysphoric child. This message—pushing children to transition at increasingly younger ages so that they will fit neatly into one of two gender categories—is false and unscientific. It is more progressive to offer them the time and the space they need to figure out who they are and what is ultimately best for them.

Similar points are made in a recent New York Magazine article by Jesse Singal, Why Some of the Worst Attacks on Social Science Have Come From Liberals.

Allowing effeminate boys and masculine girls to develop and decide (after puberty kicks in) whether they are, in fact, transgender or gay/lesbian is the least we owe these children.

More. Tweet by Alice Dreger (@AliceDreger): “I’m getting a lot of mail from gay and lesbian adults who say they believe they would have been pressured to transition gender if then=now.”

Furthermore. In a critical letter to the editor, the Human Rights Campaign Foundation, an affiliate of the nation’s largest LGBT lobby, predictably dismisses Dr. Zucker’s efforts and Ms. Soh’s commentary:

By relying on “data” produced by Dr. Kenneth Zucker, a psychologist whose gender-identity clinic closed last year after an external review found it “out of step with current operational practices,” Ms. Soh thoroughly undermines her own nonscientific musings.

Note the scare quotes around “data,” and the fact that being “out of step with current operational practices” means that attempts to explore whether or not children with gender dysphoria are actually transgender is now out of bounds (and, in some places, illegal).

HRC continues:

What’s really happening here is that doctors and parents are finally supporting our [transgender] lives, even the youngest among us. To do otherwise dangerously denies transgender children their very humanity—and their safety and well-being.

The real threat to “safety and well-being” seems to be directed at gay kids at risk for being put on a premature and unnecessary path to sexual reassignment. As another letter puts it, a child’s gender identity is “a difficult and complex issue that needs serious attention and should not be decided on the merits of gender-identity politics.”

And finally. From the New York Times Magazine, How the Fight Over Transgender Kids Got a Leading Sex Researcher Fired.

Dr. Zucker encouraged effeminate boys and butch girls to be content with their gender. For that, he was fired. The progressive line is now is that you can’t be an effeminate male or butch woman (and if so, you must gender transition). Once again, the progressives show just how reactionary and authoritarian they truly are.

Conversion Therapy Bans: Some Considerations

Update. Breaking Ranks: From The Right Therapy for LGBT Youth:

[Legislative] Bans could have the unintended consequence of deterring therapists from engaging with children who have questions or even of ensnaring good therapists when they do. … Psychotherapy is inherently private and complex, and for some individuals, sexual orientation and gender identity can and do evolve in the course of legitimate treatment.

That’s not the opinion of right-wing homophobes. It’s from a May 2, 2015 Washington Post op-ed by Stewart Adelson, an assistant clinical professor at Columbia University medical school and principal author of the American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry’s practice guidelines on LGBT youth, and Kyle Knight, a researcher in the LGBT rights program at Human Rights Watch.

—–
The White House, in response to an online petition that cites LGBTQ+ youth suicide in calling for a federal ban on all conversion therapy, responded with a statement saying, “While a national ban would require congressional action, we are hopeful that the clarity of the evidence combined with the actions taken by these states will lead to broader action that this Administration would support.”

Over at reason.com, Scott Shackford risks opprobrium, writing:

It’s absurd to say that the transgender experience is all in somebody’s head or that it’s not real, or cling to the idea that it’s a mental illness out of hand. I have known transgender people both before and after their transitions and have seen them leading much happier lives.

But it’s also equally absurd to never push or poke at any individual’s claim to a transgender identity. A gender transition is a huge, huge deal, and therapists need to be able to make sure their clients hammer out their concepts of who they are before they make some very major decisions. A small number of those who pursue surgery to change their sex regret it. …

We should be more concerned that therapists would become afraid to challenge how their patients see themselves out of fear of running afoul of a government regulation telling them how to go about treatment.

The position of LGBT youth is different from that of adults, and there is a necessary role for the state in protecting youth against abusive parents (although this role, too, is often handled badly by government). As regards protecting LGBorT youth, there are some issues to be addressed. The petition states, for instance, “Therapists that engage in the attempt to brainwash or reverse any child’s gender identity or sexual orientation are seriously unethical and legislation is needed to end such practices that are resulting in LGBTQ+ deaths.”

As Shakeford suggests, the matter isn’t always so simple, particularly concerning the need to be certain of a young person’s transgender identity before life-altering changes are made. There is some convincing evidence, for instance, of prepubescent males regarded as “effeminate,” and who then self-identify as transgender, being put on hormonal therapy to stifle male sexual development by obliging parents. There is also evidence that post puberty and into adulthood, many “effeminate”-regarded (and self-regarding) boys, including some of those who had identified as transgender, maturing into gay men who are not, it turns out, transgendered and are most happy to have their male sexuality intact.

From a conservative magazine (the Weekly Standard); and no, I don’t endorse everything here, but I do find this point worth considering:

Critics of puberty blockers, now administered in at least 37 locations in the United States according to Spack, point to the expense, the numerous side-effects associated with Lupron and its pharmaceutical relatives, and the possibility that parents and physicians might be pushing children who would otherwise grow out of their transgender identities into a lifetime of painful and costly surgery, dependence on daily doses of estrogen and other hormones, and the difficulty of finding a place for themselves in a world in which their femininity will always be questioned. On top of that, taking large doses of the hormones of the opposite biological sex almost invariably renders the taker sterile.

One of the leading critics has been Kenneth Zucker, a psychologist and former colleague of Blanchard who heads the gender-identity clinic at Toronto’s Clarke Institute. “One controversy is, how low does one go in starting blockers?” Zucker told the Globe in 2011. “Should you start at 11? At 10? What if someone starts their period at 9?” Zucker prefers a therapy regimen of trying to ease transgender girls into accepting that they will be happier in the long run by accepting their genetic maleness, since most of them will grow up to be gay men anyway.

[Transgender activist] Andrea James, as might be expected, has repeatedly attacked Zucker on her website as promoting “reparative therapy for gender-variant youth”—likening him to the often religiously motivated advocates of “curing” a gay sexual orientation.

Should Zucker’s therapeutic approach be illegal?

Some forms of conversion or reparative therapy are indeed destructive when inflicted on minors. But if conversion therapy should be illegal, when does religious counseling become therapy, and at what point should the state and its social welfare network step in and override parents? Is there a risk that these practices where be driven “underground,” where they might be even more destructive?

These concerns don’t mean that states shouldn’t be scrupulous about how they license potentially harmful and abusive therapeutic practices, or that the federal government shouldn’t weigh in. Or that there are no transgendered youth. It just suggests the issues involved aren’t always so clear cut and that it will be useful to see how these state bans play out, and if they are demonstrated to be protective of at-risk youth.

More. From the comments, “Jesse” writes:

I think here, as elsewhere, the idea that T and L&G are the same issues leads to a number of problems. A very strong argument can be made that sexual orientation is inherent and thus therapeutic approaches are destructive, unscientific and should be banned. But to say that someone who hasn’t gone through puberty can be certain that they are transgender and thus should have their puberty blocked just is not the same thing. …

With so much hostility toward gay youth, I’m not surprised some find it easier to say, I’m transgendered; fix me so I fit in. And if the transgender activists say that counseling to see if maybe they are not transgendered, just gay, should be barred, that’s a problem. Fear of offending transgender activists could actually be putting gay youth at risk.

Numbers Racket

A report last week from the Department of Health & Human Services/Centers for Disease Control finds that only 1.6% of Americans identify as gay or lesbian and 0.7% identify as bisexual, meaning just 2.3% of the population identifies as LGB (T’s were not included). The findings are based on data from the 2013 National Health Interview Survey.

In past years, such low numbers would result in considerable pushback from LGBT activists, who have long bandied about the figure of 10% for gay America, citing Kinsey’s research in the 1940s, to the consternation of social conservatives. Others have put the number at around 5%, and indeed exit polling typically places the self-identified LGB vote around that figure.

Maybe because the new stats come from the Obama administration, the response has been…crickets. Or maybe with victories coming so quickly on marriage equality and given Obama’s new executive order on nondiscrimination among federal contractors, the numbers game just isn’t that important.

But 1.6% seems way out of whack with everyday experience, even with the expectation that gay people gravitate to larger cities in big numbers. Are people lying to government survey takers? Or to themselves despite their sexual behavior? And do we in fact go to the polls in numbers far out of proportion with Americans overall? Perhaps better analysis will be forthcoming.

More. The Washington Post quotes a few spokesfolk at second-tier and regional LGBT groups who take issue with the survey’s low LGB count, while the Human Rights Campaign says the number isn’t important.

Furthermore. I just came across these lessons about sex from big data at Time online:

3. “Most men lead lives of quiet desperation and go to the grave with the song still in them.”
Like any good data scientist, Rudder lets literature—in this case, Thoreau—explain the human condition. Rudder cites a Google engineer who found that searches for “depictions of gay men” (by which the engineer meant gay porn) occur at the rate of 5% across every state, roughly the proportion of the world’s population that social scientists have estimated to be gay. So if a poll shows you that, for instance, 1% of a state’s population is gay, the other 4% is probably still out there.

4. Searches for “Is my husband gay?” occur in states where gay marriage is least accepted.
Here’s a Big Data nugget you can see for yourself: Type “Is my husband” in Google, and look at your first result. Rudder notes that this search is most common in South Carolina and Louisiana, two states with some of the lowest same-sex marriage approval rates.

Haggard is not a “Gay Father,” but Regnerus is Still Wrong

A few weeks ago I—like many others—wrote a criticism of Mark Regnerus’s study of child-welfare outcomes in different family structures. He claimed that his study debunks the idea that children in same-sex households do just as well as children in traditional heterosexual households; I argued (and still maintain) that it does no such thing.

My criticism prompted a rebuttal from Maggie Gallagher, which prompted a rejoinder from me and then another from Gallagher.

It turns out that Gallagher is right in one detail, and I want to set the record straight.

Our disagreement was about who counted as a “Lesbian Mother” or “Gay Father” in Regnerus’s study. I argued that Regnerus’s criteria were so loose that even, say, Ted Haggard would count as a “Gay Father.” Section 2 of Regnerus’s report states that the survey asked the following question:

“From when you were born until age 18 (or until you left home to be on your own), did either of your parents ever [emphasis in original] have a romantic relationship with someone of the same sex?” Response choices were “Yes, my mother had a romantic relationship with another woman,” “Yes, my father had a romantic relationship with another man,” or “no.””

Regnerus goes on to explain that a “Yes” answer to these questions trumped other categories for the purpose of the study. (The categories divide children as follows: 1. Intact Biological Family (IBF), 2. Lesbian Mother (LM), 3. Gay Father (GF), 4. Adopted, 5. Divorced Later, 6. Stepfamily, 7. Single Parent, 8. All others.) Here’s the part that misled me:

Together these eight groups account for the entire NFSS sample. These eight groups are largely, but not entirely, mutually exclusive in reality. That is, a small minority of respondents might fit more than one group. I have, however, forced their mutual exclusivity here for analytic purposes. For example, a respondent whose mother had a same-sex relationship might also qualify in Group 5 or Group 7, but in this case my analytical interest is in maximizing the sample size of Groups 2 and 3 so the respondent would be placed in Group 2 (LMs). Since Group 3 (GFs) is the smallest and most difficult to locate randomly in the population, its composition trumped that of others, even LMs.

Regnerus’s explanation implies that GFs and LMs trumped all other categories. But in fact, they trumped all of the others except IBF. Had I looked up the survey instrument (which I should have) rather than relying on the above narrative, I would have spotted this.

So while the substance of my criticism stands—this study is not a study of same-sex parenting at all—my examples need to be altered. For example, Ted Haggard (who is still in an “Intact Biological Family”) would have to be replaced, with, say, Jim McGreevey, or some other person who divorced before his children reached eighteen.

None of this should be much comfort to Regnerus, who, failing to find a statistically significant random sample of such households, went ahead anyway and framed his study as one about same-sex parenting. But only 23 percent of those in the “Lesbian Mother” category reported living with their mother and her partner for at least three years, and less than 2 percent of those in the “Gay Father” category reported living with their father and his partner for at least three years.

It should not surprise us that these children’s outcomes look like those of children of single parents and divorced parents—because the overwhelming majority of them are the children of single parents and divorced parents.

Comparing them to “Intact Biological Families” for the purposes of drawing conclusions about same-sex parenting was, is, and will continue to be bogus.

 

The Sin

I am unqualified to criticize the theology in Robert Gagnon’s hefty essay on the biblical errors in Alan Chambers’ leadership of Exodus International.  But what’s at stake here is pretty considerable, and more than just theological.  Chambers is president of Exodus, the group that assists Evangelical Christians with “same-sex attraction.”  Exodus had famously supported the notion that gays could change their sexual orientation, but Chambers – a gay man who is satisfactorily married to a woman, though he does not deny he continues to be sexually attracted to men – says now that he doubts such change in orientation is possible.

His change about change is important, as the sheer length of Gagnon’s critique (35 pages, with appendices) suggests, because it lets us see what Maggie Gallagher and the NOM Choir try so furiously to obscure: all that is left of the debate over homosexuality is the vestigial tail of a religious question about sin.

Gagnon starts out with religion (the entire first three pages are devoted to the writings of the Apostle Paul), but it’s soon clear he is quite exercised about the fact that Chambers may be removing Exodus from the political playing field.  Chambers’ comments have made “homosexualist” groups “smell blood in the water.”  They will take advantage of Chambers’ naïve attempt to be apolitical.

Religion vs. Politics is now the gold standard for discussing gay equality, and Gagnon’s invocations of that framework show how closely he has been listening to his brothers and sisters in Christ who don’t wear their theology on their sleeve.  Gagnon explicitly adopts Maggie Gallagher’s “they’re out to get us” mentality (perfected by Frank Schubert), charging that Chambers’ abdication threatens “foisting on us laws that will attenuate our own civil rights and coerce acceptance of homosexual unions in the civil sphere.”

That kind of talk, in an essay that purports to be almost exclusively about what proper theology has to say about the sin of homosexuality (and sin, in general) is telling.  Chambers’ comments about sexual orientation and change would not be all that consequential but for the fact that they undermine the entire religious foundation of the remaining phantoms about homosexuality.  Gagnon frets about “serial-unrepentant homosexual practice,” and sees acceptance of that as sending us all down the slippery slope to committed homosexual unions.  To Gagnon, this is a moral disaster in the making because it erodes the moral superiority that religious believers so love to lord over ignorant or vicious homosexualists:

. . . my main concern is that Alan’s comments to those living a homosexual life are ultimately unloving and ungracious. I don’t doubt that Alan intended his comments to “gay Christians” to be otherwise. Yet the actual result is to leave such persons deceived by giving them a message of “peace and security” when instead danger hangs over them (1 Thess 5:1-11). Who is gracious and loving? The parent that assures a child that crossing a busy intersection without looking both ways will produce no harm or the parent that does everything in his or her power to warn the child about the potential harm? Obviously the latter, for the warning is part of the makeup of a loving parent. In fact, state social services agencies count the former as abuse.

The arrogance of such christianity is what drives many truer Christians mad.  Lesbians and gay men are not the only ones who have been so lovingly parented by christians who claimed to have only the best interest of fully adult “children” at heart.  This is the same brand of tender love that christian men were expected to exercise over their wives (and all women), and that christian whites had toward blacks.

But the toxic paternalism is not just for christians.  That reference to “state social services agencies” is another slip where Gagnon reveals that while his concern is religious in concept, he intends it to be civil in application.  His religious critique shows that his real interest is secular politics.

It’s certainly fair for religious people to participate fully in American politics.  But there is a disconnect between arguments believers find religiously persuasive and those that will change the minds of non adherents.  Sin, in particular, has always been a tricky notion in interfaith contests, and leaves nonbelievers cold.

But it’s not just in the political realm where Gagnon overestimates his own brand of expertise.  He acknowledges Chambers may be right that homosexual orientation might not be entirely changeable, but says even incremental changes could still be valuable:

It is not necessary that reparative therapy achieve complete transformation from “gay” to straight in order to be helpful. One or two shifts along the Kinsey spectrum or a change in intensity of homosexual impulses can be beneficial.

I don’t know what is known about how or whether sexual orientation can be changed, but I’m pretty confident that no one yet has studied whether something as inherently subjective as sexual attraction can be moved – or measured – fractionally.  In any case, I’m not persuaded that theological scholars are the ones best suited to be pronouncing on the prospect.

Gagnon’s primary point is that social acceptance of homosexuality “regularizes the sin.”  I can’t judge the merits of his theological case, but this is, in the end, only a theological case, and only one of those.  Other theologians obviously disagree, as do other non-theologically inclined Christians.

But that divide within Christianity itself, endangers the monopoly that the fundamentalist brands of christianity demand, and in their worst moments have tried to foist on the general public.  While Christian thinking has been all over the map on so many other issues, the more fundamentalist tribes have generally been able to hold the line on homosexual sin.  But for them, too, that line is fading, and Chambers exacerbates the problem.  If sexual attraction can’t be changed, and if homosexual attraction in particular can’t be stamped out or ignored, then the case for just accepting gay people within the civil law is not just strong, its opposite is inhumane.

This is the turning point for religion today.  The possibility that lifelong heterosexual marriage may not be exactly at the center of the moral universe is as threatening to Gagnon as the location of the earth itself was to Pope Urban VIII when Galileo was sentenced to prison.  Gagnon is fighting every bit as hard (with more limited resources) for the status quo.

Galileo and Copernicus did not eliminate the earth, they just noticed – and said — that it was located somewhere other than where the Vatican had always placed it. That’s a religious problem only if you are under the impression that earthly religious leaders are as inevitably correct in their scientific thinking as they are in their theology.  But the Bible isn’t an authority on everything, and sometimes people use the Bible’s words to make moral issues out of things that aren’t properly moral.  The earth is no less important because it circles a larger body, and heterosexual marriage is no less important because it is not in every human’s nature to be attracted to the opposite sex.  There is plenty of room in the universe for God, still, and morality — even sexual morality.  And maybe God approves when humans acknowledge their errors.

Chambers isn’t Galileo, just as Gagnon isn’t Pope Urban; but today’s evangelical Inquisition is every bit as vainglorious as its Catholic predecessor, every bit as contemptuous of unbelievers, and every bit as likely to expose the sin of its own excess of hubris.