A Recent “Scientific” Report is Harmful to Trans People

| Aug 29, 2016
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gender-spectrumIf you are a trans person, meaning for our purposes that you fit somewhere on the wide spectrum of gender behaviors and expression outside the accepted range, then you know that your feelings are real and you are exactly who you are. Sure, it can take a while to sort things out and establish your spot on that spectrum but once you’re there you know you’ve arrived home. Since society has for the most part condemned any cross gender expression there is guilt, fear, and shame that must be overcome. Part of the mission of TGForum is to let people know that their feelings are normal for them and there are many others across the gender spectrum who feel the same, or similar, feelings.

I’ve been delivering this message for over 20 years. I first became active with a support group in the late 1980s and the most powerful support we could give people was being there when they walked through the door the first time and saw other people like themselves. Since helping to found that group, Renaissance, I have spread the word that being on the trans spectrum is not a bad thing. It’s not something that makes you strange or weird. It’s as natural as being left handed, or having hazel eyes, or being gay. It’s something we’re born with and not a perversion or mental illness. I spread this message since I have observed it in others and felt it within myself.

This ongoing effort to educate both trans people and the general public that there is nothing to fear from people with different gender identities has put me in touch with many experts in the field of transgender studies. The vast majority of those experts, in psychology and related fields, understand that the only mental illness associated with being trans is due to the abuse, isolation, paranoia over discovery, and rejection by family and friends that trans people are subjected to while in the closet of after coming out. That is the reason that more and more news outlets and the Federal government are spreading the word that trans people are fully entitled to all the benefits of citizenship, and that trans people deserve equal rights in all areas. Respect helps a lot toward making trans people healthy and lets them live full, good lives.

There are those who oppose transgender rights. They are social conservatives who often identify as Christians. They push the narrative that trans people are mentally ill, perverted, a danger to women and children. They do this with no actual facts. They use the fact that trans people are often prone to suicide as supporting evidence to their assertions that we are mentally ill. Of course trans people are given to suicide. If they have been rejected by everyone in their life, fired from their jobs, and can’t get jobs or medical care because they came out as trans — how could they not help but be deeply depressed? But the suicides don’t happen due directly to being transgender.

These trans deniers seem to be motivated by political considerations. They demonize trans people to get right wing conservative voters stirred up. When the Federal government saw the evidence that trans people were being mistreated and started to take actions to deal with that situation the right wing political types saw another thing they could scare their voters with and get them to the polls to vote against liberal candidates. Their cruel choice was making where people get to pee into a political issue for the benefit of conservative candidates and elected officials. That’s what has been going on with the Restroom Wars for the past year or more.

Conservative voters have become convinced that trans people are going to attack them or their loved ones when they are using public restrooms. They view anti-discrimination laws as license for perverts to prey on their daughters. They say the laws will let men walk into any lady’s facility, including locker rooms, and do whatever they like. Of course these allegations are not true but they serve the purpose of those who need an issue to get out their voters on election day.

Know you enemy: Paul McHugh.

Know you enemy: Paul McHugh.

The right wing relies on its “experts” who will spread lies and non-facts about the transgender condition. They quote Dr. Paul McHugh, a psychiatrist who worked at Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine and was the psychiatrist-in-chief at Johns Hopkins Hospital. He is a noted opponent of gender reassignment surgery and promoter of the idea that trans is the result of mental illness. His acolyte helping to spread his anti-trans rhetoric is the Fox News talking head Keith Ablow. He studied under McHugh at Johns Hopkins. These two men along with a small number of “failed transsexuals,” people who hadn’t sorted out their spot on the gender spectrum and mistakenly went ahead with surgical transition, are the people the right wing uses to justify their denial of transgender identities.

What motivated me to write this editorial was seeing an item on my Yahoo newsfeed headlined “Nearly Everything the Media Tell You About Sexual Orientation and Gender Identity Is Wrong.” The article was on the CNS News website, a conservative website that advocates for conversion therapy. The story is about a report from The New Atlantis, a conservative leaning publication affiliated with the anti-LGBT Ethics and Public Policy Center, titled “Sexuality and Gender: Findings from the Biological, Psychological, and Social Sciences,” which is co-authored by Dr. Lawrence Mayer and Dr. Paul McHugh. Despite hundreds of experts who recognize transgender people as valid, and despite many studies that show trans people need to be treated with respect McHugh and Mayer state that there is no “scientific evidence” to support the existence of trans identities. They state that discrimination does “not account for the entire disparity” between the incidence of depression and suicide in the trans community as opposed to the general population. The editor of The New Atlantis describes McHugh as “arguably the most important American psychiatrist of the last half-century.” We argue that he is the most deluded and most dangerous to trans people’s rights. (For more information on McHugh read the TGF article by Dana Bevan from June 2014.)

Why do we need to know about these un-scientific assumptions and ginned up findings by McHugh and his ilk? Because they are the tools used by our enemies. Right wing conservatives see their world changing and the people who provide them with negative information about the nature of the trans community need to be pointed out. When someone says they saw an article saying that trans children are “just going through a phase” or that trans people are “mentally unstable” we need to be able to say the “experts quoted” are biased and prejudiced and that the publication printing their assertions is not credible. As more of this bad information gets pumped out onto the internet it will be picked up by things like the Yahoo newsfeed and quoted by more people at more mainstream media outlets just because it is there. Be aware that while things are moving in our direction and more and more trans people are gaining rights and recognition the conservatives are scared and fearful and they will continue to deny that we exist.

For an in-depth analysis of the Mayer/McHugh “report” and exposure of the cherry picking and straw man arguments read Cherry Picking is Not Science by Dr. Dana J. Bevan in today’s New Content.

Update: Of greatest concern with something like this report is how it spreads like a virus. Right after the initial publication of the study in The New Atlantis the Heritage Foundation released a video report on it. Then other right leaning publications picked it up and spread it further. Fortunately some sites have begun to report on the true purpose of the original study. You can find an in-depth look at the Mayer/McHugh study on the Think Progress website.

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Category: Transgender Opinion, Transgender Politics


About the Author ()

Angela Gardner is a founding member of The Renaissance Transgender Association, Inc., the former editor of that organization's newsletter and magazine, Transgender Community News. She wrote the Diva of Dish column for TGF in the late 1990s and was the Editor of LadyLike magazine until its untimely demise. She is currently the Editor of TGF. She has appeared in film and television shows portraying TG characters, as well as representing Renaissance on numerous talk shows. In her idle hours she keeps busy producing her monthly TG parties, Angela's Laptop Lounge.

Comments (3)

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  1. KoolMcKool KoolMcKool says:

    You are trying to convince the unconvinceable(Mayer/McHugh)
    The progress that has occurred is the result of working to persuade the middle, who really have little interest in these scientific studies that prove or disprove the GLBT.

    I have never met anyone who said, “I was against gays and transgenders until I read a study that said it is genetic or ingrained at birth”. They are/were persuaded by meeting GLBT folks in everyday situations and receiving a good impression.

    • angela_g angela_g says:

      Convincing the haters is not the goal of this editorial. It’s meant to inform the trans community about who their enemies are and what weapons they have in their arsenal. You are absolutely correct that we must meet people in “everyday situations” so they see that we put our pantyhose on one leg at a time, just like all the other women.

      • KoolMcKool KoolMcKool says:

        >we put our pantyhose on one leg at a time, just like all the other women.

        This is really the last thing people need to know about any of us.

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