Ok, so first things first – There is a study out there that if you don’t know how to read a scientific study, seems to claim that there is no evidence that a transgender person, or a gay person, or a lesbian, were born that way. News media outlets of the conservative nature are touting it as a banner-ralley that they were right all a long, and that ‘we’ the LGBTQ community are a bunch of predatory nutjobs; while liberal media outlets are pointing to it with ‘matronly concern’ worried that this study may invalidate other human rights pushes, as if its a forgone conclusion that the study will end the argument over LGBTQ rights. Then further, some outlets (the more extremist ones) are calling either, for repeal of rights already granted (because of said study) or for those rights to be pressed on and furthered, because ‘hey, born this way or not, we exist, we are human, we deserve rights’. That last bit? If you are reading my blog regularly, you know I call them ‘extremist’ not because I think they are… but because the other side will.
So, what does this study mean? What does it say?
Here is a link so you can brows the study yourself. http://www.thenewatlantis.com/publications/number-50-fall-2016
Done reading it? Good, now lets go over it…
First off, the language in the study’s brief suggest that they are looking to tread carefully. The aknowledge that science isn’t the -only- method for understanding LGBTQ identity. Second, they are clear that while -SO FAR- they havn’t found any scientific evidence to support the idea that people are born into LGBTQ identity – that science in that regard has so far been limited, and that there still is more to do and learn. Second, they are also clear that simply because science doesn’t prove definitively positive, it cannot definitively prove negative either. Then there are the quotes from some of the LGBTQ persons interviewed elsewhere and looked at for this study – such as the following (quoted directly out of the text of the brief)
“A prominent recent example of a person describing sexual orientation as a choice is Cynthia Nixon, a star of the popular television series Sex and the City, who in a January 2012 New York Times interview explained, “For me it’s a choice, and you don’t get to define my gayness for me,” and commented that she was “very annoyed” about the issue of whether or not gay people are born that way. “Why can’t it be a choice? Why is that any less legitimate?””
In fact, they basically say that scientific evidence points to sexual and gender identity being very fluid in many peoples adolescence, before becoming firm as they grow older. And, to summarize in the extreme, they basically spend the sexual orientation section breaking down the concept of sexual desire… Were you to read the brief only slightly differently, it could be an expose stating how amazing it is that so many people turn heterosexual when sexual desire is so fluid and difficult a concept. They point to a prior study of the brains of gay men that had a difference from those of heterosexual men – which basically found that there is a difference, but its unknown if its genetic or developmental. They also spend a great deal of time talking about obstacles to research in certain directions. You can read this, and take snippits out of context to fit almost any conclusion you want – which is what the media is doing on all sides. Or, you can read the whole thing, and see it for what it really is… a long winded, scientific, ‘We don’t know, not enough research exists to conclusively point to anything, but we do acknowledge the phenomenon exists, and likely has many different causes’
Then, you have part two on mental health outcomes… the section the conservative media points to and says ‘see, they say that transgenders are wrong by pointing out how much more they commit suicide’ while completely ignoring the breakdown of probable causes for such high rates of mental/emotional issues. What it in actuality says, is that the most commonly pointed to ‘probable cause’ of social stigma and lack of support cannot fully account for the increase in poor mental health outcomes. Instead; there are many other factors there, not all of them explored. In fact, the brief concludes section two with the following statement; which I quite like.
“Just as it does a disservice to non-heterosexual subpopulations to ignore or downplay the statistically higher risks of negative mental health outcomes they face, so it does them a disservice to misattribute the causes of these elevated risks, or to ignore other potential factors that may be at work. Assuming that a single model can explain all of the mental health risks faced by non-heterosexuals can mislead clinicians and therapists charged with helping this vulnerable subpopulation. The social stress model deserves further research, but should not be assumed to offer a complete explanation of the causes of mental health disparities if clinicians and policymakers want to adequately address the mental health challenges faced by the LGBT community. More research is needed to explore the causes of, and solutions to, these important public health challenges.”
Summary? Its a disservice to LGBTQ populations to assume we have it figured out, and therefore to stop looking for causes of the poor mental health outcomes. More research IS needed.
Next, lets do a brief look at part three. This part deals entirely with gender identity, and goes back and forth between genetic-biological-sex roles, and societally based concepts of gender. What it does not do, is say that they’ve found a smoking gun pointing to the idea that biologic sex is, and should always be, gender. What it does do? Aknowledges that Gender is different from biologic sex – if you look at gender as a societal role. Then goes further, and talks about therapeutic intervention. ((Which is NOT always the best choice; as anyone who’s dealt with it will tell you, hormone therapy, and even surgery, was NOT for them, as well as others who will tell you that it was either the therapy and the surgery, OR death. The scale is clearly varied)) The conclusion of this section, is essentially that we shouldn’t look at therapeutic and surgical intervention as the final solution; as evidenced by many poor mental health outcomes even despite of those interventions. It also points out that some trans-identifying children and adults go back on their identity, reverting (This does happen, there really is no point in denying it; beyond trying to force your own personal worldview on someone else) The conservative media is happy to call it transregret; but in actuality, its likely more the fluidity of gender and sexuality that many people experience. Genderfluid is a thing, a beautiful thing.
The first paragraph of the conclusion is as follows.
“Accurate, replicable scientific research results can and do influence our personal decisions and self-understanding, and can contribute to the public discourse, including cultural and political debates. When the research touches on controversial themes, it is particularly important to be clear about precisely what science has and has not shown. For complex, complicated questions concerning the nature of human sexuality, there exists at best provisional scientific consensus; much remains unknown, as sexuality is an immensely complex part of human life that defies our attempts at defining all its aspects and studying them with precision.”
They then go on to point out that there is no scientific evidence to conclude that people are born into LGBTQ’ness, but they also re-state that not enough evidence exists to rule out the possibility that some are. They accept that choosing to be that way is valid as well. Then they talk about the use of extreme interventions on children, and how some have discussed surgery, or other interventions on children as young as two. Or the ‘more reasonable’ six…. They state that no one can know the gender identity of a two year old… and I agree. For that matter, I don’t think anyone can really know the gender identity of a six year old… beyond how they identify in -that- specific moment. Children are wonderful, resilient, creative, and fragile beings…. making decisions for them is both necessary… and risky.
They lastly conclude with this…
“Thoughtful scientific research and careful, circumspect interpretation of its results can advance our understanding of sexual orientation and gender identity. There is still much work to be done and many unanswered questions. We have attempted to synthesize and describe a complex body of scientific research related to some of these themes. We hope that this report contributes to the ongoing public conversation regarding human sexuality and identity. We anticipate that this report may elicit spirited responses, and we welcome them.”
My conclusion? Its a massive paper saying ‘this is what we know, this is what we don’t know, this is where we need research. Lets DO it.’
The journal it was published in is known for having anti-LGBTQ leanings (being a judeo-christian leaning journal) however, I don’t see any real bias in the study itself.. In-fact, as this was really just a research into past studies to determine what we do and don’t know, I’d hardly call it a study, so much as a call to arms. What arms? Research, to really help nail down more about the complexities of human sexuality and gender identity. Research that sorely needs doing, but still by and large, remains wholly taboo.
Is it possible that the journal published it with the intent of it being a smoking gun? Maybe, but not likely. Is it possible that the authors sought it to be? I dare say not. Is it the smoking gun conservative media outlets are calling it? Absolutely not. Is it anti-LGBTQ as the liberal media outlets are calling it? Absolutely not.
The brief is decidedly neutral, in fact… with more language calling for more research and study, and scientific due-diligence, than it has saying ‘we know this’
This has been an exercise in going beyond the news media, to figure out what they are really on about… because often, they don’t even know. I can guarantee that the majority of articles referencing this study didn’t do more than skim it… if even that.
Edit: Watching the video for the study, which many claim clearly have conservative leanings…. you can hear that the scientists and doctors involved, are not anti-LGBTQ, but rather, concerned for the long term health of their patients. On the subject of trans children, one even states ‘This is a vulnerable population, and there are no long term studies done… we don’t have that data.’ (paraphrasing slightly)
My conclusion – to all the LGBTQ groups looking at this as an attack on them, and calling for science to ‘just talk and learn about them’ DO IT. Go, be a part of these studies. Be A PART of the study of the human sexuality and gender identity. Will it invade your privacy? YES. Will it be beneficial to others like you in the future? VERY YES. Stop looking at science and studies as attacks on who you are, and start looking at it as a necessary thing that must be done to help those in fear of us understand us. Seriously, science isn’t attacking you…. its trying to understand you. Let it.
And to all the conservative groups who are looking at this as final scientific proof that you were right all along? To quote the video, “The science is never done. There is always a better study to do, a better experiment. To say anything is conclusive, is idiotic.”
You don’t get to ignore the scientific research you want (EG: In favor of young-earth creationism, or Climate Change) and then point to other scientific research and say ‘Science proves me right!’ especially when its clear you ignored it too, except for snippits that you could take out of context to support your pre-concieved-conclusions. Do better, read the material, all of it… and read it neutrally – the way scientific papers and research is meant to be done. Good science WILL change your worldview. If it doesn’t, you are either not open; or it wasn’t good science. 99% the former. That 1%? Bad science, like the vaccines/autism thing. Yeah… Get your kids vaccinated please. I’m sterile, I’ve -been- sterile… I won’t ever have a kid of my own to be vaccinated. But I don’w want my friends who have kids to have them at risk for shit because you thought Mumps wasn’t as big a deal as a false risk of autism.