Thursday, October 27, 2011

Don't Cheer Just Yet

Canada's Transgender community is being a little too quick to celebrate the tabling of Bills C-276 and C-279 in the House of Commons.

Don't get me wrong, I fully support what these two bills represent.  I just happen to think that this is the wrong time for this legislation.

Why do I think it's the wrong time?  Because the Harperites are a form of nastiness that I don't think many people have understood yet.  They've shown time and again that they are willing to do the wrong thing for ideological reasons.

Whether that is ramming through an ill-considered "omnibus" get-tough-on-crime bill which will drive Canada's costs through the roof, or giving the government unfettered rights to snoop on all kinds of communications, the Harperites have one thing on their mind - imposing their will upon Canadians.

As we discovered in Alberta in 2009, the "social conservative" faction of the current "Conservatives" are plain old malicious.  What happened at the provincial level at Ron Liepert's hand can happen again at the federal level - and it will be all the worse then.

This government can act out of malice, and right now attracting attention from them is bad news - the extreme right wing in both Canada and the US has already decided that the transgender community is a far easier target than the much larger GLB community.  If the HarperItes move against trans people, they'll move against GLB as well.

I wouldn't be the least bit surprised if Harper's backbench are working hard right now to pass legislation repealing Gay Marriage, and just for fun any protections that are currently in the civil or criminal laws of this country for GLBT people.

We've got four years of these goons to get through, and I don't think it's going to be the least bit pretty.

Thursday, October 6, 2011

Paper Genders: Taking Down The Arguments Part 2

Heyer's next brainstorm argument is to claim that you can't make a woman out of a man with a scalpel.

Just the statement "A surgeon and a knife can change a man into a woman" is a bit presumptuous on its own.  When you realize it cannot be done, you can only laugh your way into hysteria, except it is not funny when so many die.  ...
It's easy to point out that DNA tells the true story of male or female.  In a court of law, you can convict a man of rape and murder just on the strength of a DNA test alone.  But a DNA test is never permitted to determine male or female sex gender for transsexuals in court.  Why is this?  Because a DNA test would prove with absolute certainty the transgender hormone therapy and surgery had failed to change a male to a female or a female to a male.
 There are more issues with Heyer's assertion in this set of statements than I care to count.  However, let me enumerate some of the more obvious points:

Wednesday, October 5, 2011

Paper Genders: Taking Down The Arguments - Part 1

I've already given an overview of Walt Heyer's book Paper Genders in the Book Review: Paper Genders post.  These posts will delve into the details of the specific arguments and themes that Mr. Heyer relies on in making his case.  The problems in his arguments come in many flavors - some of them simple factual errors, others are more serious issues that need to be addressed.

Monday, October 3, 2011

Book Review: Paper Genders

I recently read through Walt Heyer's book Paper Genders.  What follows is a summary of my impressions of the book itself, and the validity of its arguments with respect to the treatment of transgender people.

To be nice about it, Walt Heyer is a man in a great deal of pain.  He’s been through a lot, and he bears the scars of some unfortunate choices.  Anyone reading his books should recognize this, and weigh his arguments accordingly.

Heyer wants to raise some serious questions and issues related to the whole process of transition and gender reassignment as it is carried out today.  Unfortunately, raising serious questions by making bold accusations of professional misconduct and “activist conspiracy” doesn’t exactly make for a compelling argument. 

For example,  the book starts off by borrowing heavily from a relatively recent study that talked about the high rates of suicide ideation and attempts within the transsexual / transgender community.

Heyer’s own interpretation of this seems to be that the suicide rate is a consequence of dissatisfaction with the results of treatment that went down the transition and surgery path.

The gender change activists would argue the suicides are a direct result of bullying, a popular scapegoat these days.  The advocates also say the lack of transgender acceptance and the difficulty of being gender variant in a society of heterosexuals lead to suicides, but as the last transgender support site disclosed, transgenders harm themselves either by cutting or self-mutilation which points to deep unresolved psychological issues.

The actual study makes no such inference at all, and in fact is much more clear on the probable causes of suicide ideation and attempts among transgender people than Mr. Heyer’s conjecture:

Actual Study:
Those who were bullied, harassed, assaulted, or expelled because they were transgender or gender non-conforming in school also reported significantly elevated levels of suicide attempts (51% compared with 41% of our sample as a whole). Most notably, suicide attempt rates rise dramatically when teachers were the reported perpetrators: 59% for those harassed or bullied by teachers, 76% among those who were physically assaulted by teachers and 69% among those who were sexually assaulted by teachers. These numbers speak to the urgency of ending violence and harassment of transgender students by both their peers and their teachers. 
Education and income both correlate with suicide rates, with those earning $10,000 annually or less at extremely high risk (54%), while those making more than $100,000 are at comparatively lower risk (26%), while still astronomically higher than the general population. Those who have not completed college attempted suicide at higher rates (48% among those with no high school degree, 49% for those with a high school degree only, and 48% for those with some college education) while those have completed college (33%) or graduate school (31%) have sig- nificantly lower rates. 
Those who had survived violence perpetrated against them because they were transgender or gender non-conform- ing were at very high risk; 61% of physical assault survivors reported a suicide attempt, while sexual assault survi- vors reported an attempt rate of 65%.
It is disappointing to note that although Mr. Heyer has spent some time pulling his information from a couple of reasonably good community websites (Laura’s Playground, and other Transgender community websites mostly), but does not seem to have been willing to find the actual report itself and reflect upon its contents.

Perhaps somewhat unique is Heyer doesn’t spend his entire time trying to accuse transsexuals of being deluded people.  Instead, he seems to reserve much of his ire for the “treatment community”, and engages in a wholesale attack upon the mental health practitioners, surgeons and doctors who provide treatment to transsexuals.

He attempts to discredit some key people in the early days of clinical research into transsexuals by tying them to Alfred Kinsey, and using a rather sloppy 'guilt by association' argument, tries to imply that these people were all pedophiles or supporters of pedophilia and therefore should not be trusted at all.
The pedophile connection is very difficult to ignore with Dr. Alfred Kinsey followed by Dr. Harry Benjamin, then Dr. John Money, the co-founder of the Johns Hopkins Gender Identity Clinic.  All three men, it appears, did not advocate for any other therapies, only for the freedom to switch genders.  They set out to redefine how men and women were made and for them it was not in the womb.  ...
As the Kinsey Institute has pointed out in its refutation of the attacks on Kinsey, he was not a pedophile.  Since it appears that he derives his idea that Kinsey was a pedophile from Dr. Judith Reisman, I'll point out what happened when she tried to sue the Kinsey Institute after they refuted her claims that Kinsey was some kind of sexual predator.  Further, "guilt by association" arguments don't exactly make for terribly convincing reading.  They tend to lead me to suspect that someone was desperately reaching for it. 

Heyer also draws upon Dr. Paul McHugh's arguments related to transsexuals as expressed in McHugh's First Things opinion piece a number of years ago.  The problems with Dr. Paul McHugh's claims are addressed on this blog in an article called "Debunking Dr. Paul McHugh".

Overall, the arguments that Heyer makes in his book come across more as an expression of rage and frustration rather than a coherent call for meaningful changes in the diagnosis and treatment of transsexuals.

I respect that Mr. Heyer has been deeply traumatized by his experiences, and that this book, along with Trading My Sorrows is a sincere effort on Heyer’s part to give voice to what he has experienced and how it affected him.  However, much of what Heyer has said in his book, as I will discuss in more detail later, is almost pure allegation lacking any meaningful grounding in objective evidence.

His accusations against the treatment professionals are profound and troublesome, as he does little to provide concrete evidence to back up his claims.  Inference and innuendo are his primary tools of attack, with a healthy dose of borrowing from the standard religious right-wing book of accusations against Alfred Kinsey.

Although he claims to be an advocate for “better” treatment paradigms, Mr. Heyer fails utterly to even begin the process of exploring what form those treatments might take, a flaw in his overall approach that leaves one wondering just what it is that he has in mind for transsexuals beyond squelching the current treatment paradigms.

It is very much my opinion that while Heyer may have set out to raise some significant questions and issues related to the treatment of transsexuality, he ended up seeking an externalized justification for his own actions over the course of his life.  Instead of taking responsibility for his own actions and the outcomes thereof, his book reflects an attempt to make someone else responsible for what he has experienced.

Sunday, October 2, 2011

Walt Who?

Recently, I came across someone who seems to have become the latest darling of the anti-transsexual crowd.  His name is Walt Heyer.  Mr. Heyer appears to be one of those unfortunate enough to have attempted gender transition, only to discover that it was the wrong path for them.  Unfortunately, Mr. Heyer has decided that blame for his misfortune lies at the feet of the treatment community, and now he has set out to discredit the treatment community.

In the last few years, he has published a couple of books that I will be discussing in some detail on this blog:  Trading My Sorrows, an autobiography of his transition and detransition, and Paper Genders which is his first attack on the treatment community that deals with Transgender people.

I'm going to spend more time on Paper Genders in a subsequent series of posts, as the nature of the book requires a substantially more in-depth treatment to adequately address.

However, I am profoundly concerned with Mr. Heyer putting himself forward as a spokesman for the treatment of transsexual people.  There are a few problems with his story that lead me to suspect that while he may be transgender to some degree, he attempted transition in one of the most dangerous ways that is possible.

Consider the following from his book Trading My Sorrows:
Alcoholics can be baffling and incomprehensible in their way of thinking.  I formulated a simple plan for living my life after surgery.  I would live as two people, living simultaneous lives.  The male, Walt, would continue to work as a male after the surgery, using a male identity.  Off-work time would be reserved for the female persona known as Andrea West.  This way I thought both the female and the male could each reign supreme, and my conflict would be resolved.  This seemed very logical and workable.  I thought that I would finally be at peace.

It’s hard to describe how the desire for surgery takes over, especially when combined with abuse of alcohol.  It took on the appearance of an obsessive-compulsive disorder, like a bulldozer pushing me relentlessly and single-mindedly toward surgery, while destroying every obstacle in its way.  Lying, cheating, and manipulating were my tools of the trade.  I became expert at persuading everyone that surgery was the treatment I needed.  In my compulsion to have surgery, I plowed right through and over everyone and everything that stood in my way.  Too bad hindsight always comes too late for us to see how truly stupid our process is.

In preparation for the surgery, I underwent a series of plastic surgeries, such as breast implants, buttocks implants, a nose job and removal of my facial hair through the painful process of electrolysis.  People at work were starting to look at me funny.  They knew something was changing with me, but they were mostly silent.  I anyone asked, I made up something in my usual cover-up behaviour
Okay, so, by Heyer's own admission he was struggling with alcoholism, was clearly not living full-time in role prior to surgery, and more distressingly had no apparent plans to live full time as a woman post-surgery either.  Even more important, we find Heyer admitting to engaging in deceit to get to surgery in the first place. 

To my understanding and experiences of the subject of transition, this is a recipe for disaster.  Not only does the candidate have significant comorbid conditions which are arguably likely to impair their judgement (in particular alcoholism), but it's also quite debatable just how honest the individual is being with themselves. 

A key aspect of a successful transition requires the person undertaking the transition to be brutally honest with themselves throughout the process.  Further, it is vitally important that the patient be very frank with their psychotherapist about what they experience, especially when it comes to living in the chosen gender role.  If, as Heyer says, his "tools of the trade" became Lying, cheating and manipulating, it is hard to believe that he was being completely honest with himself or the treatment professionals he was working with.

Heyer made a couple of feints at getting Gender Surgery, and for one of them he relays the following story:
Depending on whom you talked to, I was going on a “business trip” as I told my family, or taking a “vacation” as I told my employer.  Lying came so easily to me now.  There’s a saying:  “How can you tell if an alcoholic is lying?  His lips are moving.”  My true destination was Trinidad, Colorado.  My true purpose was surgery.  I shared the details with you earlier:  how I panicked and walked the streets of town, torn apart by the conflict raging in my head, and finally I backed out, and returned home to tell my wife what I had almost done.
So, not only did Mr. Heyer lie through his teeth to his employer at this stage, but he also lied to his family.  This does not sound to me like someone who is setting the groundwork for a supportive environment as they move into a new gender role.  If you are lying to everybody around you, how honest are you being with yourself?  More distressingly, Mr. Heyer freely admits to experiencing significant concerns about having the surgery done.  This is another sign of someone who is neither ready for Gender Reassignment Surgery or for that matter even living full time as a woman. 

In mid-October, six months after my surgery, my boss Tom and I met for one of our regular evening meals together.  Somehow I managed to get  the words out:  that I had undergone gender reassignment surgery and my new name was Laura Jensen.  As he gasped for air, I thought I may need to call 911 to revive him.  He was more than stunned.  He asked me to clarify what I had said.  I told him again.  "I have no idea how to handle this," he said.  "I'll need to take this to the president."  That seemed reasonable.  Having an employee undergo this kind of radical surgery was hardly an everyday occurrence.
About noon the following day, Tom asked me to go home until they could work out the details.  I could understand that.  They needed to work out the details of how they would handle it with the other employees.  Maybe they would move me into an inconspicuous office, away from intense scrutiny.
So, when Mr. Heyer finally did screw up the courage to undergo surgery, he still wasn't living full time as a woman.  Nor did he set the stage at his workplace prior to undergoing surgery.  This was the early 1980s, and at the time most formal gender treatment programs would have been exceptionally strict about the idea of a one to two year "Real Life Test" (RLT).  How he managed to side step this requirement is a bit of a mystery to me, but I don't have his clinical history at my fingertips, so I'll take it as a given that he found a way to do so.
It wasn't a birthday party.  They had their ducks lined up.  In return for six months' severance pay, I was to go away quietly.  I wasn't ever to tread on Honda property again or discuss my termination with anyone.  If I resisted or fought them, they would justify their decision to "lay me off" by saying that my position had been eliminated.  They had a document they wanted me to sign.  They assured me that fighting the termination would not be in my best interests, and promised that they would make my life miserable if I didn't go quietly. ...
Dropping the idea of GRS on your boss after the fact is not a tactic that is going to win you any friends in the workplace.  A successful transition includes workplace transition, as that is a place that we spend a significant chunk of our lives.  I don't find it particularly surprising that Heyer found himself in deep trouble work wise after that.  Not only had he dropped a significant bomb on his boss's desk, but his boss would also find himself feeling that his employee had been lying to him for an extended period of time. 

I picked a lady who specialized in dissociative disorder and met with her in her elegantly decorated office on the top floor of a plush Beverly Hills office building for many weeks in order for her to evaluate me.  When her evaluation was complete, she called me to come in.  Sitting there in her office, she began to tell me I indeed had a dissociative disorder and for the first time, I wanted to know what it meant.  She said it was the latest name for multiple personality disorder.
In her view, the combination of the discipline by my mom and dad, the cross-dressing in the purple dress by Grandma, and the molestations by Uncle Fred, all together, were the ingredients for the development of the dissociative disorder, or multiple personality disorder, that I had been suffering from and dealing with all my life. ...
Tragic as this is, we have to recognize that Mr. Heyer admits earlier on that he was not being wholly honest with himself and those around him.  It is entirely likely that his interactions with the therapists who ultimately gave the recommendation for surgery in the first place that his deceptiveness was sufficient to hide the symptoms of his conditions from his therapist(s).

Mr. Heyer seems to have failed a key aspect of transition - namely that of being honest with yourself and your treatment team.  The results of that dishonesty, while tragic, cannot be attributed solely to the treatment team.  Mr. Heyer needs to take responsibility for his own role in the tragedy of his attempt at transition.