Trans kids aren’t being fast-tracked to anything

I’ve written many times about the “detransition myth”, the oft-repeated and thoroughly debunked claim that most trans kids who go through medical transition then change their minds. The short version: anti-trans groups tell you that 80% of trans kids detransition; the actual numbers show that 80% of gender non-conforming kids aren’t trans. Those kids aren’t given any medical treatment whatsoever.

It doesn’t stop the bullshit, unfortunately. The weekend papers were full of it once again this week, prioritising scaremongering nonsense from anonymous “concerned parents” over actual facts.

Wouldn’t it be great if the newspapers had some real numbers to work with?

Over the weekend, the various medical experts that comprise the World Professional Association for Transgender Health (WPATH) had a conference. This is important, because it’s the WPATH guidelines that (eventually) inform the healthcare trans people are given. They’re a serious bunch.

One presentation analysed detransition rates in the Nottingham gender clinic, a very large provider of trans-related assessment, counselling and healthcare. Of the 303 trans kids studied, how many do you think detransitioned?

It should be easy. If there’s an 80% detransition rate, you’d expect to see 242 people detransitioning.

The actual number?


From the study:

Only one person of the 303 reviewed made a detransition (0.33%). They later transitioned again.

There were two other detransitioners, but they withdrew before ever attending the clinic. But even if you take them into account, the real world detransition rate was 0.99%.

The “why” is as interesting as the “how many”. Detransition wasn’t because the patients realised they weren’t trans. The patients said they couldn’t continue because their families were unsupportive: things were just too difficult.

Unlike the newspapers, I’m going to point out the flaws in the numbers I’m using to make my point. It was a study over one year, it’s just one gender clinic, and over time you’d expect more people to revert to their original gender presentation because as I’m the first to admit, this shit is hard. Forums are full of stories of people who came out and attempted transition only to retreat because their lives were so spectacularly shit due to lack of familial acceptance and the prejudice of others. Eventually they re-transition, but it’s often many years later.

I would expect the actual numbers over a longer period to be higher than 0.99%.

However, the numbers do correlate with others: the numbers from private trans health providers, many of whom can’t name a single case of permanent detransition; the surgical regret rate of 2% among gender confirmation surgery patients (that’s the kind of regret rate many surgeons can only dream of. It’s much higher among, say, cosmetic surgery providers); the many studies that show trans kids with supportive families living happier lives and the ones with unsupportive families living miserable ones.

One of the reasons detransition rates are so low is because we already have a cruel but effective way of weeding out people who aren’t serious or who aren’t strong enough to cope. It’s called the NHS. The system is so overloaded and waiting lists are so long that the supposed “fast tracking” you read about in the papers is a process that can take two or three years just to get to an initial assessment, with another couple of years of assessments.

What’s fast about that?

The threat of white nationalism, and what law enforcement isn’t doing about it

We haven’t quite reached this stage, thank God. In the US, Nazis like these yahoos in Georgia are still a fringe group. Neo-Nazis are much more subtle, and much more dangerous.

The New York Times has brought forward its planned cover story for next week to coincide with the US midterm elections. It’s a horrific story about the rise of neo-fascism and the real threat posed by white nationalism.

White supremacists and other far-right extremists have killed far more people since Sept. 11, 2001, than any other category of domestic extremist.

And yet as the NYT details, it’s been almost entirely ignored by law enforcement.

Data compiled by the University of Maryland’s Global Terrorism Database shows that the number of terror-related incidents has more than tripled in the United States since 2013, and the number of those killed has quadrupled. In 2017, there were 65 incidents totaling 95 deaths. In a recent analysis of the data by the news site Quartz, roughly 60 percent of those incidents were driven by racist, anti-Muslim, anti-Semitic, antigovernment or other right-wing ideologies. Left-wing ideologies, like radical environmentalism, were responsible for 11 attacks. Muslim extremists committed just seven attacks.

Meanwhile the US President vilifies muslims and describes white supremacists as “good people”. But this isn’t just a problem with the current administration. As the NYT notes, it goes back decades and its anti-semitism goes back further still. It’s just that a toxic mix of right-wing politics, shockingly negligent journalism and institutional incompetence has created the perfect storm for it to flourish. Some 22 million Americans currently believe that neo-Nazi or white supremacist views are perfectly acceptable. And there are multiple credible reports of white supremacist groups deliberately targeting law enforcement jobs, moving what’s already a largely conservative workforce much further to the right.

As I’ve written many times before, social media has played a significant role in normalising and spreading neo-Nazi propaganda. The NYT again:

alt-right memes, while dripping in irony, were also, in essence, hate speech, part of a propaganda war arguably intended to spread terror just as much as any ISIS execution video.

The so-called debates we see, the platforming of the likes of Steve Bannon or various alt-right “shitlord” trolls, are playing into their hands. They’re amplifiers, enabling extremists to reach enormous audiences. What liberal media types (yes, people like me) seem unable to understand is that they’re being played. The alt-right aren’t interested in debate. For them, there really is no such thing as bad publicity.

We’re living in very frightening times, I think, and things are going to get worse before they get better.


Even The Guardian reckons The Guardian is scaremongering

In the final days of the Gender Recognition Act consultation, the (UK) Guardian newspaper published a one-sided string of anti-trans pieces culminating in an editorial regurgitating a lot of bigots’ tropes about dangerous predators. The latest criticism of it comes from an unlikely source: most of the US edition’s writers and editors. For journalists to openly criticise their colleagues in such a fashion is incredibly unusual.

The piece, published yesterday, is credited to three writers but is apparently representative of almost all the US editorial team’s opinion. Reporter Sam Levin on Twitter:

The @Guardian published an editorial about trans rights that many @GuardianUS staff felt was transphobic. Nearly all reporters and editors from our US offices wrote to UK editors with our concerns.

Senior reporter Lois Beckett:

Nearly all reporters and editors on @GuardianUS staff wrote our UK editors with concerns about a recent @guardian editorial on trans rights, which we believe promoted transphobic viewpoints.

The article has also been shared approvingly on social media by a number of women journalists, some of whom are Guardian contributors.

It doesn’t pull its punches.

The editorial’s unsubstantiated argument only serves to dehumanize and stigmatize trans people. Numerous academic studies have confirmed that trans-inclusive policies do not endanger cis people. On the contrary, there is overwhelming evidence that trans people, particularly women of color, are victimized at disproportionately high rates and suffer abuse in places of public accommodations. Levels of HIV and depression are at crisis levels, all brought about through extreme prejudice and social and economic marginalization.

…Cis women’s intolerance should not be a legitimate reason for limiting the rights of trans women. The idea that all trans women should be denied civil rights because a trans woman might someday commit a crime is the essence of bigotry and goes against feminist values.

The UK edition has occasionally featured positive trans voices, albeit sparingly: Juliet Jacques’ transition diaries in 2012, for example, or one-off pieces by trans writers such as Shon Faye more recently. But the editorial appears to be the final straw for many of those voices.

It’s a final straw because there’s a difference between having a columnist put forward a point of view and having the newspaper’s leader column do it. The former is “this is what one individual thinks”. The latter, “this is what the newspaper stands for.” By nailing anti-trans colours to its mast, the UK edition has told its trans contributors as well as its trans readers that it doesn’t value them, that it doesn’t respect them, and that it has no interest in speaking for them.

The Guardian likes to quote its former owner and editor, CP Scott. It’s less keen on mentioning that he was on the wrong side of history on several issues, most notably the “misguided fanaticism” of the suffragettes. The Manchester Guardian was on the wrong side then, and the UK edition of The Guardian is on the wrong side now.

Three times three minutes of joy

I’ve been trying and failing to persuade one of my friends that Carly Rae Jepsen’s Call Me Maybe is one of the greatest pop songs ever made, which of course it is.

I was genuinely dancing to this when I played it this morning. Given that I was in a dressing gown at the time I resembled an asylum escapee, but that’s fine. It’s the power of pop!

This song’s great too, and the video has Tom Hanks, making it twice as great.

And now there’s a new one, Party For One. And guess what? It’s great! (and mildly unsafe for work)

I hate people who pretend to like pop music ironically, or call it a guilty pleasure. Good pop music is one of the greatest art forms, an expression of pure joy and so much more.

Facebook needs a new broom

Facebook is currently running an ad campaign telling you that it’s against hate speech.

Facebook was simultaneously enabling advertisers to target people with an interest in “white genocide” just days after the Pittsburgh massacre.

This is horrific.

After selecting “white genocide conspiracy theory” as an ad target, Facebook provided “suggestions” of other, similar criteria, including interest in […] far-right-wing news outlets…

Other suggested ad targets included mentions of South Africa;  a common trope among advocates of the “white genocide” myth is the so-called plight of white South African farmers, who they falsely claim are being systematically murdered and pushed off their land. The South African hoax is often used as a cautionary tale for American racists — like, by all evidence, Robert Bowers, the Pittsburgh shooter — who fear a similar fate is in store for them, whether from an imagined global Jewish conspiracy or a migrant “caravan.”

You may recall that this time last year Facebook enabled advertisers to target “jew haters”. To enable one group of white supremacists is unfortunate. To do it again suggests incompetence.

This wasn’t a mistake, or a computer error. Joe Osborne is a spokesperson for Facebook:

Osborne also confirmed that the ad category had been used by marketers, but cited only “reasonable” ad buys targeting “white genocide” enthusiasts, such as news coverage.

Facebook is an ongoing example of the law of unintended consequences. It didn’t set out to enable hate groups. But it’s made tools that enable hate groups to flourish.

I’ve previously linked to articles suggesting Facebook is Dr Frankenstein, deliberately making a monster it (wrongly) thinks it can control. But I think it’s more like Mickey Mouse in Fantasia, so impressed by its own cleverness that it doesn’t see the mess it’s making until it’s too late to fix it.

In Fantasia, a grown-up (Yen Sid, the sorcerer) comes along and fixes everything. Facebook, clearly, needs some grown-ups too.

Writing For Social Media, by me

The second of my British Computer Society books was published as an ebook today.

The print editions of the series (there are four books in total) will go on sale in a couple of weeks.

Here’s the info:

Writing for social media is different to standard business writing and it can be difficult to get right. Even big brands can get it very wrong. This book walks you through how to deliver maximum benefit for your business through your social media writing. Topics include how to develop a consistent online persona, how to tailor your messages across different social media platforms, how to appeal to your core audience, and useful tools to help you craft and monitor your posts. The dark side of social media is also explored, with examples of social media writing gone wrong, tips on how this can be avoided and advice on how best to handle online criticism.

The right side of history, and of science

Dozens of companies, including Microsoft Corp., Google Inc. and The Coca-Cola Co., pushed back against recent attempts by the Trump administration to reduce protections for transgender people under federal civil rights laws. They instead stressed the importance of equality in a public statement released Thursday.

The 56 companies include major financial institutions, tech companies and retail giants, among other household names, such as JPMorgan Chase & Co., Deutsche Bank, IBM Corp. and American Airlines.

It’s notable that Twitter and Facebook are on the list: their support doesn’t seem to extend to doing anything about the widespread, vicious abuse of trans people on their services.

Still, it’s good to see such important organisations making such public support – although in the long term, we’ll see it as a “well, of course they did” thing because despite what you might read online, the science is firmly on our side.

It’s hard to see many positives to the Trump administration’s war on trans people, but one little bit of sunlight is the horrified response from the scientific community.

At the time of writing some 1,642 scientists, including 8 Nobel laureates, have written an open letter to politicians about Trump’s anti-trans plans. The list includes “Biologists, Geneticists, Psychologists, Anthropologists, Physicians, Neuroscientists, Social Scientists, Biochemists, [and] Mental Health Service Providers”.

They are not a lunatic fringe. More:

Scientific American: The Trump Administration’s Proposed “Redefinition” of Gender Is Scientifically Absurd
Nature: US proposal for defining gender has no basis in science
Wired: Trump’s plan to redefine gender makes no scientific sense
The Union of Concerned Scientists: Trump Administration Proposal on Gender is Discrimination, Not Science
Center for Biological Diversity: Statement on Reported Trump Memo Targeting Transgender People
STAT: Scientists see a problem with Trump plan on defining sex: biology
STAT: CDC’s Redfield on Trump’s transgender proposal: Stigma is ‘not in the interest of public health’
New Yorker: The Trump administration’s plan to redefine gender recalls an earlier rejection of science
TIME: The Idea of a ‘DNA Test’ for Transgender People Is Part of a Long, Dark History
TIME: If the Government Redefines Gender to Exclude Trans People, It Could Worsen an Urgent Public Health Crisis
NYT: Anatomy does not determine gender, experts say
The Scientist: Trump Administration’s Definitions of Sex Defy Science
Mashable: The Trump administration says there are two sexes. The science says they’re wrong
Psychology Today: Trump administration’s definition of gender is not science
Healio: Rolling back transgender protections would endanger patients, experts say
Washington Post: The Trump administration is trying to tell people they aren’t who they are
Washington Post: Powerful gay rights groups excluded trans people for decades — leaving them vulnerable to Trump’s attack
Kaiser Health News: Defining A Person’s Sex At Birth And Making It Unchangeable Would Be ‘An Insult To Science,’ Biologists Say
Truthout: Right-wing fantasies about gender are killing trans people
Esquire: Trump’s new attack on transgender people is another sign it’s about the cruelty itself With lie-filled ‘nationalist’ war on caravan, transgender people, Trump moves US toward tyranny

It’s interesting to compare the UK and the US. In the US, the politicians are scaremongering about trans people and the press is largely pro-science. In the UK, the politicians are largely pro-science and the press is doing the scaremongering.


Image from Reddit.

Two years ago today, I began coming out as trans. I say “began” because while the initial announcement is an event, it’s merely the beginning of a process. I come out all over again every time I walk out the door, every time I pick up the phone, every time I meet someone new.

Not everybody chooses to come out. On a forum I frequent, one trans woman has decided not to come out. She fears losing her relationship with her family, fears her ex making it hard to see her kids, works in an environment where she has reason to believe coming out would cost her her job.

“It really feels like a step too far,” she says, “especially with attitudes towards trans people being what they are in the UK at the minute. I’m not sure I could take the abuse if it came.”

Her decision is the opposite of mine: better to live a miserable life than to lose family, friends, job and everything else. And for her it’s clearly the right decision.

I can understand that. In very many ways the last two years have been the worst two years of my life. They’ve definitely been the hardest. I lost my marriage, moved out of the family home and see much less of my children. I lost most of my friends and have had many close relationships stretched to breaking point. Maybe beyond breaking point. I spend two hours a week getting stubble torn from my face in an ultimately futile attempt to make me appear more feminine, my face sore and swollen for days afterwards, while the hormones that make me feel better have made me put on so much weight I can’t bear to see myself in photographs. People stare, and talk about me. Some days I’m so sad I can’t function. I have no doubts that I’ll die alone.

I was asked the other day: was it worth it?

And I honestly can’t answer that, because I don’t feel it was a choice. I didn’t come out because I wanted to. I came out because I had to. I’m certain that if I hadn’t, I wouldn’t be here. And sometimes I wish I’d taken that option instead.

Don’t worry. I’m fine. I have good friends now, reasons to be cheerful. But sometimes I think we need to stop fixing a smile for just a little while and say: you know what? Being trans is incredibly, unbelievably shit sometimes. I’m amazed that so few people detransition (that is, go back to living in the gender they were assigned at birth): to be looked at and often stared at every time you go anywhere, to be constantly misgendered, to be attacked by politicians and pundits, to see a body you didn’t want in the mirror, to spend a significant amount of your time feeling scared… who would choose that?

I chose that. But it wasn’t really a choice.


Jair Bolsonaro: Image by Wikipedia

Another day, another horrific right-wing despot is elected to office. Today it’s Brazil.

Writing for Buzzfeed News, Ryan Broderick retraces a fairly well-worn path about how the internet became such a toxic political force. But the fact that it’s well worn doesn’t mean it isn’t worth repeating.

[Bolsonaro’s] victory tonight isn’t a surprise. He’s just one more product of the strange new forces that dictate the very fabric of our lives.

…The way the world is using their phones is almost completely dominated by a few Silicon Valley companies. The abuse that is happening is due to their inability to manage that responsibility. All of this has become so normalized in the three years since it first began to manifest that we just assume now that platforms like Facebook, YouTube, WhatsApp, and Twitter will exacerbate political and social instability. We expect they will be abused by ultranationalist trolls. We know they will be exploited by data firms. We wait for them to help launch the careers of populist leaders.

We have social networks implicated in lynchings, murders and attempted genocide. And it’s going to get worse before – if – it gets better. Broderick makes an important point:

In most countries, reliable publications are going behind paywalls. More services like Amazon Prime and Netflix are locking premium entertainment behind subscriptions. Which means all of this — the trolls, the abuse, the fake news, the conspiracy videos, the data leaks, the propaganda — will eventually stop being a problem for people who can afford it.

Which will most likely leave the poor, the old, and the young to fall into an information divide. This is already happening.

…There are deserts of information where normal people are algorithmically served memes, poorly aggregated news articles, and YouTube videos without any editorial oversight or regulation. Fact-checkers in Brazil complained this month ahead of the election that most voters trust what their friends and family send them on WhatsApp over what they see on TV or in newspapers.

This is one of the reasons why voting results – the election of Donald Trump, Brexit in the UK – continue to surprise some of us. It’s because we’re living in a completely different world: a world not just with different voices, but with completely different stories. £350 million a week for the NHS, lurid tales of migrant caravans, the supposed silencing of Tommy Robinson, liberals coming for your guns, feminists wanting to put all men in prison, LGBT people coming for your children.

All bollocks, of course. But plausible bollocks, convincing-sounding bollocks that isn’t questioned in the world I don’t inhabit, a world of right-wing newspapers and conservative commentators and trashy tabloids and dark money funding shady Facebook advertising.

Rather than drive the debate, traditional media is merely amplifying sections of it. Where it used to aim to educate and inform its readers, all too often it now chooses to pander to them, reinforcing the beliefs they already have.

And that brings us to here, where a pathetic caravan of migrants is seen as more dangerous than racist, anti-semitic white men shooting up synagogues, where white men sending pipe bombs is dismissed as “fake news” or a false flag operation.

As Broderick puts it in his intro:

The era of being surprised at this kind of politics is over. Now we have to live with what we’ve done.

Update: More, from Bella Caledonia (warning, some gruesome content in the linked piece):

The lack of street presence is partly explained by Bolsonaro running an almost exclusively social media campaign. He has come into conflict with election rules after it was found that an elite network of the super-rich were funding a massive fake news campaign on WhatsApp, triggering literally millions of messages to the phones of Brazilians. He has 7.5 million Facebook likes on his page, compared to 1.5 million on Haddad’s.

…The propaganda is fake. Photoshop images portray the left and progressive artists and other figures as sub-human. As social engineers who want to force all children to be gay, or some other such tropes falling under the rubric of “cultural Marxism.” This plays well with a substantial component of the Bolsonaro coalition – the Christian Right. Pastors urge huge congregations to vote for Bolsonaro to “restore dignity.”

The wrong kind of visibility

There’s a superb column in the New York Times by Thomas Page McBee about something I’ve been thinking about for a while: the problem of visible trans people in the media.

Very few of the people who so enthusiastically celebrated our stories of “finally being ourselves” showed up at the rallies that took place across the country, in the wake of news that the Trump administration aims to define us out of existence. And even as trans people on television are increasingly beamed into living rooms across the country, we’re also seeing an uptick of violence against the most marginalized members of our community.

McBee argues that while we’ve never been more visible than we are today, we’re still seen by most as mysterious others, not friends and neighbours. And when there’s a backlash to our sudden media profile not just “from conservatives or the ignorant and uninformed” but also in the form of “decades-old talking points from women calling themselves feminists”, it makes our lives even harder.

The triumph you see on television only happens if there is a welcoming world to greet us on the other side. This past week, for me, raised the question once again: Is there?

…the didactic, often body-focused framing of those stories and the gender-war timing of that visibility has also rendered us into symbols, metaphors, pawns and boogeymen.

That’s how I feel about it.

The current obsession with us isn’t helping. We’re facing incredibly dangerous threats to our human rights (and in the US, our healthcare); instead, the papers run with tales of how everybody’s upset about an offensive Caitlyn Jenner hallowe’en costume. Believe me, most of us don’t give a shit. Similarly the well-intentioned but wrong-headed use of the world “menstruators” by The Guardian in a piece about women’s reproductive health: it was a clumsy attempt to include trans men (people assigned female at birth who now live as men) but was instantly portrayed as the sinister trans lobby perverting language to erase women.

To use the Scots phrase, it wisny us.

I don’t give a shit. I’m too busy filling out yet more documents about my name change over a year since it actually changed, trying to persuade Equifax that no, I haven’t been a victim of fraud, I’ve just changed my name. I’m too busy trying to solve the problem with my prescription where the doc prescribed a hormone the NHS won’t pay for and I can’t afford to source privately. I’m too busy wondering whether I’ll get yelled at when I go for a piss. I’m too busy working to pay for the electrolysis that often leaves my face bleeding and swollen for days afterwards.

I don’t recognise the caricature of trans people I see in the newspapers, discussed on TV, shared on social media. I know quite a lot of trans people now (as the joke goes, everybody assumes you know every other trans person, and that’s not true, but then they mention Natalie and Katharine and of course you know them), and none of us are spending any time whatsoever fussing about language, worrying about stupid hallowe’en costumes or trying to destabilise the very fabric of society. We’re just doing what you’re doing: trying to get on with our lives.

But there’s a narrative, and once you notice it you see it everywhere. Trans people as dangerous, intolerant others, a sinister force to be resisted by all right-thinking people. It’d be laughable if it weren’t causing real-life misery for trans people.

As I’ve said before, there are so few of us the Girl Guides could totally take us in a fight. There are no trans MPs, MSPs or MEPs in the UK, no trans people with weekly newspaper columns, no trans judges or trans newspaper editors or trans talk show hosts or trans bosses of FTSE 100 companies.

The coverage of us, the obsessive coverage of our supposed threat to all that’s right and good, is massively disproportionate and completely unrepresentative. Of course it is. Almost all of the coverage is about us, but without us.

Again and again I see stories purporting to be about what trans people are like, what trans people think, what trans people want. Number of trans people spoken to: none.

Here’s my reality, over and above the usual stuff: working, trying to be good for my kids. It’s getting stared at everywhere you go. It’s being afraid to use a toilet. It’s being tired of correcting people about your name. It’s about being called the big man when you’re sitting there in a nice dress. It’s clothes that don’t quite fit, no matter how hard you try. It’s taking a deep breath every time you open a door. It’s scraping off the gel from your nails and making sure there isn’t a trace at your child’s birthday party for fear of what the other parents may think. It’s asking your friends if the gig they’re inviting you to is going to be safe for you. It’s seeing a photo of yourself when you thought you looked quite nice and realising you’re a laughing stock.

It’s shit.

I just want a quiet life: I’d much rather spend my time thinking about guitars and girls, not gender politics. But to be trans right now is to be a very visible foot soldier in a war other people are fighting.

McBee again:

But reducing trans people into a symbolic vanguard is not only dehumanizing — it’s dangerous. True progress happens when all of us are released from the realm of “other” — which means allowing trans people to captain our own stories, where we can depict ourselves as fully fleshed-out people: not just brothers, mothers, neighbors and friends, but also reflections of an aspect of humanity as old as time. We’re not metaphors; we’re who you would have been if you’d been born trans.

I can’t put it better than that. We’re who you would have been if you’d been born trans.