Cherry Picking is Not Science

| Aug 29, 2016
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Dr. Dana Bevan Dismantles the anti-trans “report” by Mayer and McHugh

By Dana J. Bevan, Ph.D.

Part I

It is hard to know where to begin in reviewing the transgender part of this article so I will do an overview now with Part II later. The article is important because it could form the basis for anti-transgender amicus briefs in the current bathroom discrimination cases. McHugh has written several previous amicus briefs seeking to influence court cases.

The article pretends to review the scientific research about being transgender but nothing could be further from the truth. Mayer and McHugh (M&M) cherrypick the science that they include, do not include relevant science and make judgments based on their biases. We will examine their overall conclusions in this blog post with more detail later.

First their conclusion about the biological basis of being transgender:

The hypothesis that gender identity is an innate, fixed property of human beings that is independent of biological sex — that a person might be “a man trapped in a woman’s body” or “a woman trapped in a man’s body” — is not supported by scientific evidence. Studies comparing the brain structures of transgender and non-transgender individuals have demonstrated weak correlations between brain structure and cross-gender identification. These correlations do not provide any evidence for a neurobiological basis for cross-gender identification.

Science has come a long way from the old “nature versus nurture” false dichotomy that an “innate fixed property” terminology would have us believe is one of two possibilities. Science now recognizes several factors that influence gender behavior. In the case of being transgender several factors seem to be involved: genetic predispositions, epigenetic blocking of genetic expression, early learning about gender and cultural construction of gender behavior categories. The introspective experiences they cite about being trapped in the wrong body cannot objectively be confirmed by science, that is why I rely primarily on behavior. All we really know is that the observable behavior of transgender people is in a gender behavior category that is incongruent with the one they were assigned at birth. Biological correlates of being transgender do not have to resemble the biology of the opposite sex, although many do show this. All they have to do to show that being transgender involves biology is different from that usually associated with a person’s birth sex.

There are a host of biological studies which do indicate that transgender physiology and anatomy is more like the opposite birth sex but M&M do not cite these studies, which I have done in my previous blog posts. They are either ignorant of the biology or deliberately constructing a biased case. I can suspect but do not know exactly what is going on in their heads; I can only make judgments based on their behavior. But whatever they are thinking, they do not accurately reflect the evidence.

The next conclusion which cites the recent Williams Institute is a nearly correct replay of the results of that study:

According to a recent estimate, about 0.6% of U.S. adults identify as a gender that does not correspond to their biological sex.

The authors of this paper fail to cite the Lynn Conway series of studies which show that the lower statistical bound for just trans women is at least 1% based on behavior, not survey data. The Conway studies clearly provide better scientific evidence than the Williams studies which are based on rehashing survey data that was collected for other purposes (e.g. smoking incidence). Other surveys have produced even higher frequencies. The most recent Williams study was a rehash of a CDC survey using questionable statistical procedures, relying on census and other data to project the number of transgender people rather than measure them. Acknowledging these non-standard procedures, statistics in the Williams Institute study for ages 18-25 indicate that the frequency is closer to .7%. This estimate should be closer to the actual biological frequency because younger people are less likely to hold their transgender behavior as a secret because the subculture of young people in the U.S. is more accepting. Previous Williams’s studies indicated .3 and then .35% so with .7% they are getting closer to Conway’s estimate made 12-15 years ago. I am ignoring the psychobabble of “gender identity” as opposed to “gender” for now.

Their conclusion about transsexual genital plastic surgery:

Compared to the general population, adults who have undergone sex-reassignment surgery continue to have a higher risk of experiencing poor mental health outcomes. One study found that, compared to controls, sex-reassigned individuals were about 5 times more likely to attempt suicide and about 19 times more likely to die by suicide.

In their conclusion, the M&M boys did not quote the overall conclusion of the larger study (Murad) from which the data was drawn which said that:

Pooling data across studies showed that, after receiving sex-reassignment procedures, 80% of patients reported improvement in gender dysphoria, 78% reported improvement in psychological symptoms, and 80% reported improvement in quality of life.

Their conclusion about GPS was based only on a smaller group in the larger study. The general consensus about transsexual transition and GPS is that transsexuals still need counseling help to deal with residual social problems.

Their conclusion about whether transgender children become transgender adults:

Children are a special case when addressing transgender issues. Only a minority of children who experience cross-gender identification will continue to do so into adolescence or adulthood.

This conclusion is based on the clinical notes of Zucker who claimed that only 3 of 26 transgender kids continued to be transgender. Would you deny that you admit you were transgender in later childhood if it meant going to back to Zucker’s clinic (which has subsequently been closed down for inappropriate treatment approaches)? There are better attempts at longitudinal studies but they have serious flaws. In one study over half of the 10-year-old transgender children responded to a follow up examination at age 20 years old. If you were 20 years old would you return, given the possible rejection for being associated with being transgender? All of the attempts at longitudinal studies, so far, have had problems principally because they used transgender children who were taken to gender clinics. One estimate was that 40% of children in clinics typically have mental health problems in addition to being transgender. Clinical studies are often misleading because of selection bias.

The next conclusion involves treatment of transgender children and adolescents:

There is little scientific evidence for the therapeutic value of interventions that delay puberty or modify the secondary sex characteristics of adolescents, although some children may have improved psychological well-being if they are encouraged and supported in their cross-gender identification. There is no evidence that all children who express gender-atypical thoughts or behavior should be encouraged to become transgender…. We are concerned by the increasing tendency toward encouraging children with gender identity issues to transition to their preferred gender through medical and then surgical procedures.

M&M embed two straw man arguments and an ad hominem attack in this conclusion. I am sure that none of the clinicians who help these children and adolescents would say that they have enough data to make definitive, statistically significant scientific conclusions. Such treatments only started about 8 years ago on a pilot basis and the number of children involved is still very small. The clinicians do say that the treatments look promising so far but longitudinal and larger studies are needed to be totally sure. The other straw man is that the clinicians do not encourage being transgender but instead do all they can to be sure that the treatments are appropriate. They are scrupulous to be sure that no one is forced to be transgender if they are uncomfortable with such behavior. This is a clear slur on the clinicians that help these children and adolescents.

Finally, the authors seem to encourage future scientific studies:

There is a clear need for more research in these areas.

Now what do you suppose will be the effect on research funding of this and other papers which question the legitimacy of being transgender? One might conclude from their writings, including this paper, that research on being transgender is useless because the phenomena is not real and based on a pathological delusion. This is particularly true of many U.S. legislators that already rely on anti-transgender arguments to act as “red meat” for their constituents who fear/hate transgender people or changes in the culture.

To be continued in Part 2.


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Category: Transgender Body & Soul, Transgender Community News

danabevan

About the Author ()

Dana Jennett Bevan holds a Ph.D. from Princeton University and a Bachelors degree from Dartmouth College both in experimental psychology. She is the author of The Transsexual Scientist which combines biology with autobiography as she came to learn about transgenderism throughout her life. Her second book The Psychobiology of Transsexualism and Transgenderism is a comprehensive analysis of TSTG research and was published in 2014 by Praeger under the pen name Thomas E. Bevan. Her third book Being Transgender was released by Praeger in November 2016. She can be reached at [email protected]

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  1. says:

    Dana: “Sexual arousal is learned and can be unlearned.”

    You mean via such treatments as abstinence only for teens, aversion therapy for homosexuals, years of psychoanalysis for societal disapprovals of all sorts? Sexual desire is hardwired into us by evolutionary demands and is the most powerful emotion/drive/instinct we have that manifests itself in our daily lives. This is why the recidivism rate for sex offenders is so high and treating their ‘thoughts’ is so futile.

    But even if I could ‘get rid’ of my erotic attraction to femininity by one means or another, why would I? Why would I banish a source of great sensual and sexual pleasure, a pleasure that hurts absolutely no one.

    Why do crossdressers need a “session” or two to eliminate a natural fetishistic desire? Crossdressers aren’t the only males who have fetishes. My source: an internet full of porn of every conceivable description, not this or that ‘study’.

  2. says:

    Angela, you’ve said it beautifully. I don’t see any disagreement between our points of view.

  3. says:

    Dana: “Transgender people start out getting aroused to opposite gender stimuli that they have learned to respond to with arousal.”

    I disagree – “transgender” people don’t get aroused – transvestites get aroused, transsexuals are just being their natural feminine selves.

    I don’t think for a moment that a young transsexual like Jazz Jennings who is into her teen years finds wearing feminine clothing at all sexually arousing. Nor do genetic girls – they enjoy clothes, makeup, etc but they don’t put on panties and masturbate. That’s a male thing.

    Caitlin Jenner, on the other hand: I would like to put her under oath and ask if 13 year old Bruce got turned on when he discovered the appeal of girl’s clothes.

    Nothing I’m saying is to deny the reality of transsexualism, it’s to differentiate between the two subsets of transgenders – they are not the same! I don’t see what is served by lumping tv’s and ts’s together. Certainly truth is not served.

    And of course I wish we lived in a society where even your ordinary crossdresser like myself could have lived a woman’s life for all these years. But I’m under no illusion that I was born with a “female soul” – I’m just not particularly masculine but I have that male brain Angela mentioned.

    ‘Til my next reincarnation. 🙂

  4. says:

    “…painted with this false axiom that CDs only dress for sexual arousal. It’s BS ladies and shame on those that promote this fiction.”

    Tasi, I, for one, never said that. But it is absolutely true that young males who become transvestites find their early experiences intensely arousing. And that continues throughout their lives, time and place permitting.

    Let’s take a poll of Angela’s tv readers – how many of you read the thousands of sexy stories on Fictionmania, or follow the hundreds of Tumblr accounts that are soft (at least) porn by any definition?

    Of course, in our society, one learns that public displays of one’s personal arousal aren’t acceptable.

    I’m 70 years old and have been your garden variety crossdresser since puberty and I still find the sensuality of femininity quite stimulating. Of course, only in private, I’m not a pervert!

    If a transgender male is not, and NEVER has been, sexually aroused by feminine clothing, presentation, etc then that person is, by definition, transsexual. Those that have been, and are, are transvestites.

    What is so controversial about that?

  5. tasidevil tasidevil says:

    I think Angela made a very valid point. Sexual arousal is rapidly diminished as CDs come out of the closet and interact with others in more public settings. My unscientific results (too small sampling) on Sister House (www.sisterhouse.net) indicates that 60% of my readers (30-35K per mo) are still in the closet, so more than half are candidates for strong sexual arousal which makes sense from my own personal experience. The internet is certainly not short of pics of CD girls showing their penis but I don’t see why the rest of us need to be painted with this false axiom that CDs only dress for sexual arousal. It’s BS ladies and shame on those that promote this fiction.

    • danabevan danabevan says:

      Sexual arousal is learned and can be unlearned. There are several scientific studies that demonstrate this. Transgender people start out getting aroused to opposite gender stimuli that they have learned to respond to with arousal.
      Both during a session and over several sessions, those responses become extinguished.

  6. says:

    “Conway estimated the frequency of transsexualism as being at least .1% of the population or 10% of transgender people.”

    Well, now that is very interesting! If 10% of trans people are transsexual (born in the wrong body, desires to correct nature’s error), then 90% are the ‘other’ transgender category, ie crossdressers, who don’t share that ‘female soul’ characteristic.

    This is about what I would have expected the ratio to be, maybe somewhat more, but in any case transsexualism is quite rare.

    I do take issue, as a crossdresser, with the characterization of transvestism. The word became out-of-favor for some other reason than reality. Crossdressers, previously known as transvestites, are absolutely defined by their initial (and continuing if not always present) sexual arousal, ie a fetishistic response to feminine clothing when the budding tv hits puberty.

    Just ask any crossdresser! Of course be prepared for them to say “oh, that’s in the past, when I was young.” So 40 years into dressing, we’re to believe no sensuality exists?

    Let’s just all be honest, here in this safe space. 🙂

    • angela_g angela_g says:

      The thing about sexual arousal and crossdressing is, it’s just like sexual arousal from other stimuli. When you first put on a pair of panty hose or see yourself in makeup your sexual arousal is strong. (Particularly so for teens.) Staying in the closet and not interacting with other people keeps your dressing as a secret pleasure that almost assures every time you get dressed up you are seeking arousal and get it. When you open the closet door and come out into the world socially the sexual aspect of our “hobby” diminishes and you are able to interact with people enfemme without being aroused every second. But, like all things sexual, you can use the sensual feelings of your attire and persona to achieve arousal when it is appropriate to the situation.

  7. says:

    Thanks for the additional info, Dana.

    I do wonder how those questioners define ‘transgender’. In the minds of most non-trans people these days, transgender equals ‘transsexual’, iow ‘born in the wrong body/have always been female’.

    I have to believe that the surveys are not making the distinction between transvestite and transsexual, which “we” in this community universally did in prior decades.

    If traditional crossdressers/transvestites are indeed included in those surveys then the higher numbers ‘might’ be valid, but I cannot believe that 1% of the American population is transsexual. For that to be true, there would be half as many ts’s as gays and that is not likely.

    I can believe that a half a percent could be transsexual – that’s 1 in 200 and seems reasonable.

    In any case, the numbers aren’t the important factor – people should be able to live their lives as they desire in this free country. I do think we’re moving quickly towards that worthy goal (take heart, Angela!).

    • danabevan danabevan says:

      The survey people left the definition of transgender people to the respondents. My definition includes anyone who behaves in a gender behavior category to which they were not assigned by sex at birth. That includes transvestites, transgender and transsexual, although the word transvestite as defined by Magnus Herschfeld connotes a pathological condition in which cross presentation is motivated by sexual arousal. It is regarded as a pejorative word by most transgender people. There are studies which show that sexual arousal is not what motivates transgender people.

      Conway estimated the frequency of transsexualism as being at least .1% of the population or 10% of transgender people. The frequency of transexuals getting gender plastic surgery is about 25% of all transsexuals.

      I agree that no matter how many transgender people there are, that they should be able to live as they prefer but accurate population frequencies are important for interpretation of the results of other studies such as genetic twin studies.

  8. says:

    For those various estimates of the transgender population (.3, .6, .7, 1.0), how is ‘transgender’ defined? The term has become muddled, imo, fairly recently but I’d appreciate knowing how the Williams Institute and Lynne Conway define it.

    • danabevan danabevan says:

      The .3, .35 estimates are from state health random phone surveys in which they asked if the person answering was transgender or transsexual. Because they were typically “cold call’ surveys, these estimates are probably low. I do not think that I would provide answers to such a phone call. It is not clear how the Williams folks arrived at these estimates based on this data. They have never published the details.

      The .6 and .7 estimates come from a rehash of a CDC wellness survey in which the transgender questions were optional and at the end of the survey. Again, they asked if the person was transgender or transsexual. The Williams folks report that they used a “novel” estimation technique to project this data to the entire US, because several states refused to have the survey done for their residents. This technique has been used before but it is unproven.

      Lynn Conway’s estimates were based on behavior, either support group membership or capacity to treat transsexual people or capacity for genital plastic surgery. In the latter case, she estimated the output of GPS surgeons.

      Estimation methods in other surveys have asked “are you unhappy with your gender” or “would you change your gender if you could”. One methodology even counted transgender people on the streets of Bangkok, Thailand using trained observers. In all these cases the frequencies were considerably higher than for the Williams estimates.

      It does make a difference as to what one asks and how one asks it in surveys. Collection of transgender frequency data is usually an afterthought and not given its own survey or attention.