Left-brain, right-brain

You’ve been dating for three months, and it’s fantastic, but a question gnaws at you- Are we in a relationship? You want to know where you stand. You ask her, and she leaves you, because she does not want to be pinned down.

Certain things have to remain implicit, and I have to accept that, however uncomfortable I find it. I have a model of my spiritual growth where I become my true self, living in the moment, responding to reality as it is. Rather than worrying about the future, I see something I can do in the present to make it better, and do it. Instead, I am trapped in ego, attempting to propitiate the insatiable critical parent, where facing what I have to do is too painful so I do not do it however much I worry about it.

Iain McGilchrist, in “The divided brain and the search for meaning”, explains: the right brain deals with perceiving the world as it is, and the left brain manipulates it, so divides it into discrete concepts, a map not the territory. To the left brain, a table has no meaning or existence except when I need to use it. So I use it then forget it again. To the right brain, it can be a thing of beauty and as if on an LSD trip I can be transfixed by the detail of the wood grain.

For McGilchrist, Zeno’s paradox shows how a left-brain attempt to codify the world is a delusion. The arrow must first go half the distance to the target, then half the remaining distance, and so on, so that it never reaches the target. When we observe the real world, the arrow travels as fast at the end of its flight as at the start, and hits the target rather than slowing down before getting there. The “paradox” shows that privileging logic over perception can mislead us.

The spiritual practices I spend most time with seem to encourage right-brain thinking. I sit in silence, seeking awareness in the moment of myself in my surroundings. The surroundings are kept as non-distracting and non-triggering as possible to make this easier. So there are rules- no knitting, for example, in the Quaker meeting, as it means you are not “centring down” properly. And I am now analysing with left-brain- I do this to achieve that- rather than simply sinking into that right-brain mode of being.

In reality, the left and right brain are both involved in anything I do. McGilchrist writes, “The meaning of an utterance begins in the right hemisphere, is made explicit (literally folded out, or unfolded) in the left, and then the whole utterance needs to be ‘returned’ to the right hemisphere, where it is reintegrated with all that is implicit – tone, irony, metaphor, humour, and so on, as well as a feel of the context in which the utterance is to be understood. To achieve meaning in the world requires what linguists call the business of pragmatics, which comes from the right hemisphere.”

When I cook, I chop things up and put them in a pot, manipulating, left-brain, then use judgment of smell, taste, appearance- right-brain.

On the twelve steps, I seek serenity to accept the things I can’t change, and ACA defines this as other people. In making amends I would concentrate on the things I did wrong: any wrongs by another are irrelevant. Seeing someone as a cipher without an internal reality, whom I could manipulate, sounds to me like left-brain thinking. Attempting to relate to a whole person sounds more like right-brain.

McGilchrist says that in Western culture, “the ideal, theoretical world began to triumph over that of experience”. We think in terms of manipulating the world. As tax or benefit law gets more complex, with each rule getting more defined, any exceptions precisely delineated, there is a hunger for control which collapses on collision with messy reality. Yet “the left hemisphere sees truth as internal coherence of the system, not correspondence with the reality we experience”.

If my culture emphasises left-brain manipulation, and so my spiritual practices emphasise right-brain perception, I seek taijitu balance. But Right-brain good, Left-brain bad is classic left-brain thinking. I never understand sufficiently to formulate an iron law.

Teeth and positivity

Why are things as they are? Is it because they are good and beautiful, or is it because they are a bit useless?

When positivity ignores problems or threats to maintain a “positive” mood, of “positive” feelings, it becomes toxic positivity, a problem. It creates blind spots blocking out reality. The threats and problems remain undealt with, so fester and metastasise. The toxic positivity becomes harder and harder to maintain, taking energy away from dealing with real world problems.

Worthwhile positivity- I might call it “realistic positivity”- finds all that is beautiful or worthwhile in a situation. It values emotions which toxic positivity finds unwelcome- fear, anger, perplexity- because they give useful information, as well as energy to deal with problems.

I want to preserve my rear right wisdom tooth, despite much of it being lost to decay. Reptiles and sharks replace teeth which break. Why don’t mammals? My understanding was that during the long Mesozoic reign of the dinosaurs, mammal ancestors became tiny, stayed out of the way, and didn’t do much until the Chicxulub meteor killed the dinosaurs. Because they were so small, they only lived one or two years, so lost the need to regrow teeth. One set of baby teeth and one set of adult teeth sufficed.

Our ancestors lost an advantage because they were small and insignificant, was the idea.

Steve Brusatte, in The Rise and Reign of the Mammals, explains it differently. Mammal jaws can chew. They move side to side. Reptile jaws take bites and swallow. Mammal teeth grind food down, so the stomach acids work more efficiently on small chunks of food. Just the right amount of wear on the teeth produced flat panels with sharp edges (p70), working like scissor blades. But, teeth which chew need to fit together. Mammal ancestors sacrificed the ability to regrow teeth in order to be able to chew, so process food better.

He also describes the Lilliput effect, whereby smaller animals may be more likely to survive a mass extinction, having shorter generations so adapting more quickly to changing conditions, and being able to burrow so avoid temperature swings. That helped our ancestors survive Chicxulub, and the end-Permian mass extinction.

The book was published in 2022. It helps to have the most up-to-date understanding. It also explains that mammal colour vision is poor because our ancestors were nocturnal. This resulted in other senses being heightened. Human colour vision is better, with three colour receptors, though other animals may have four. I see better if I avoid a solipsistic understanding.

I had thought there were five mass extinctions, but plants have suffered only two.

In the mid-20th century, extinct synapsids (from which mammals came) were called mammals if they had a particular kind of joint in the jaw. This century, mammals are defined as those creatures descended from the common ancestor of all surviving mammals. Other lineages are called mammaliaforms, though they may have had hair and warm blood, even a dentary-squamosal joint in the jaw. I notice Brusatte does not mention mammary glands until the Jurassic period: they are so important in Western culture.

There is a risk Boris Johnson may return as PM, though in July 57 ministers resigned from his government to force him from office, after he trashed ethics in government with his lies and lawbreaking. I am tempted to return repeatedly to the Guardian website, to find the latest developments. I could, thereby, maintain a feeling of horror and outrage. It is reassuring to feel as others do. I experience a heady sense of the rightness of my feelings. It distracts me from my immediate circumstances and concerns. I am probably better, then, to keep informed without continually returning to a source of inebriation. If there were an election, common feelings would help with common endeavour. I can’t link that to positivity, but it does fit to my desire to make my understanding of the world best fit my objective needs, and the continual temptation not to.

The picture is FunkMonk’s life-restoration of Morganucodon, a late-Triassic early Jurassic creature. The animal was warm-blooded, furry, able to chew, and as its young had a toothless stage, possibly it lactated. Not being a descendent of a common ancestor, palaeontologists call it a mammaliaform rather than a mammal. As Brusatte says, “nature doesn’t put labels on things, people do”.

Talking to the vax-hesitant

I know people willing to listen to anti-vaxxers. I support vaccination. How should I argue? Well, whom do you trust?

I trust us spiritual types, people who are on a spiritual journey, or who take our personal growth seriously, to understand what it means to be human. We’re in touch with the Ineffable. We’re the guys! But, generally I trust people to mean well. We’re all doing our best under difficult circumstances, which can mean doing some pretty shoddy things if we don’t know better or are in trouble, but generally we do our best. So I trust people unless shown I should not.

I trust the scientific method. People imagine what might be going on, then test their hypotheses. With new information they understand better. Sometimes they get things badly wrong, but generally knowledge improves. Generally, I trust scientists attached to universities to seek the truth because they are competitive, and it is a huge risk for someone to say something provably wrong.

These researchers are human. They proclaim their successes as loudly as they can and minimise their mistakes. But there are others around who will point it out when they are too full of themselves.

There is misinformation about. On climate change, all the misinformation is by “climate sceptics”. There is no-one spreading myths that climate change is worse than it actually is. On 29 June, Lytton in British Columbia, a village of 250 people, reached 49.6 °C. On 30 June most of it was destroyed by wildfire. Now, British Columbia is suffering catastrophic floods. I don’t think there’s a conspiracy, just people know they can make money by casting doubt on global warming, or by minimising it, or saying it is too costly to do anything about it. So they lie and twist.

There is misinformation about vaccines generally. There is the claim that vaccines cause autism. Autism is a gift. I have autistic friends. Any disability they suffer is because of society not meeting their needs properly. Like most people, if their needs are met they will flourish and contribute to society.

There is misinformation about covid. The idea that 5G phone masts cause covid, for example, leading people to attack masts. Well, viruses and bacteria cause illnesses. I knew that in primary school. It comes back to trust. Generally I trust primary school teachers to mean well. It’s a job you go into to improve children’s lives. Now it’s personal for me, as my father was a primary schoolteacher.

Some of the false information about covid is unintentional. People who mean well get things wrong. Part of the problem is politicians and journalists wanting immediate answers because this disease is serious. It killed a thousand people a day in England in January. But often there are no answers, because it is a new disease. So scientists give their best guesses.

Vaccines are not a perfect solution. They might only have a 60% efficacy against symptomatic infection. Variants come along, and the vaccine becomes less effective. But I understand how they are supposed to work- by injecting bits of the virus, which cannot infect you, but which the immune system will recognise. I am glad of my TB jab because my grandfather died of TB, and I have spent time with a TB sufferer. I understand vaccines make infecting others, or needing hospital treatment, less likely, and I trust the sources that tell me that.

There is wrongdoing around vaccines. The CIA used a vaccine campaign in Pakistan to try and find Osama bin Laden, setting back the fight against polio. But I know that Bill Gates is not injecting trackers into people, because a tracker would have to be much larger.

I don’t trust Big Pharma to act in the interests of all of humanity. It may charge too much when it has a monopoly on a drug. It ignores medical problems where it can’t make a profit. But I do trust it to try to reduce suffering and prolong life, because that is where it makes its money. It is not wholly trustworthy. Vioxx was introduced in 1999 as a painkiller for arthritis, but increased the risk of heart disease. Eventually the risks were found, the drug was withdrawn, thanks to researchers independent of the drug companies. Victims are suing.

But that doesn’t mean that I take on trust the word of every independent researcher who proclaims covid a hoax. In my view the preponderance of the evidence I can assess is in favour of vaccination generally, including against covid. I don’t trust social media because I know it amplifies climate sceptics, Donald Trump’s big election lie, anti-trans campaigners, and all sorts of falsehood. I know the Guardian, the BBC and the New York Times get things wrong. Whenever you know about a subject and a journalist introduces it you hear all they get wrong. But I trust them generally to mean well.

The question is the balance of trust, when people can make mistakes (including us, oh wise ones. You’ve made mistakes, haven’t you?) On balance, I trust universities and their researchers.  I do reiki, I trust my immune system, and I trust the vaccine improves my chances against covid.

We are human beings. We see in a riddle, dimly: sole judge of truth in endless error hurled. We aren’t capable of full knowledge. But we are social animals who generally mean well, because that is the way to get on in societies that prosper. I trust my primary schoolteachers who told me viruses cause disease. I trust those clever [people] at Oxford. I trust vaccines to give me and my society some protection from covid.

Olympic committee supports trans women in sport

The Olympic committee has made clear rules favouring trans women’s participation in women’s sport.

The 2015 Olympic rules required a reduction in T levels for a year before competition. This proved that someone was genuinely trans. I don’t believe a male athlete would pretend to be a trans woman in order to beat women rather than come middle of the pack racing men, but he certainly would not take T suppressants in order to do so. Then, trans women could compete with other women.

Now, the IOC says each sport’s governing bodies must make its own rules. It has ten principles, to be read as a whole, including fairness and human rights.

How could sport make one rule for fairness in elite sport and grassroots sport? If I, at 55, considered doing my first 5km park run, how is that like an exceptionally talented twelve-year-old sprinter, starting a male puberty, who knows she is a girl?

There are women who are taller, stronger, more muscular, with better aerobic fitness than I have, even at my age. If I could win that park run, or win an over-50s category, I might not want to, because I feared transphobic reactions. But running does not reduce the safety of other competitors. Contact sports might. If a trans woman bowled faster than a cis woman, might that endanger a cis woman at the wicket or home plate, enough to ban the trans bowler?

Anti-trans groups argue that a male puberty gives advantages even after testosterone is suppressed or removed, in height and strength. They say they want to see the best a female body can achieve. But all elite sports competitors have exceptional bodies, talent and aptitude as well as training. XY androgen insensitive competitors are over-represented in women’s sports.

The principles, which should be read together, are Inclusion, prevention of harm, non-discrimination, fairness, no presumption of advantage, evidence-based approach, primacy of health and bodily autonomy, stakeholder-centred approach, and the right to privacy. There should be periodic reviews.

Under fairness, criteria should “prevent athletes from claiming a gender identity different from the one consistently and persistently used”. I don’t think that should mean T suppression. Requiring medical treatment conflicts with my human rights. T suppression might make someone infertile, and that might be too high a price to pay to compete at elite level, and certainly at grassroots level. Change of name and title, styles of clothes and hair, should be sufficient. Nor should there be a year before someone can compete. Someone AMAB nonbinary might not enter women’s competition, but women’s competition is clearly binary.

This is an improvement. Trans women need not go a year without competing. We can preserve our fertility. The basic principle is that trans women are women, unless there is evidence we “consistently and persistently” present male, and so should be entitled to be in women’s sports unless this is unsafe for other competitors.

World Rugby says trans women cannot play women’s rugby. Rugby is a contact sport, where strength, speed and weight matter, but they might find their blanket ban falls foul of the IOC’s new code.

The rugby men’s B team will not all take women’s names so they can beat women. If someone changes her name and expression “consistently and persistently”, she is a trans woman. Fairness includes a risk to physical safety, but rugby women are big and strong.

There has to be an evidence-based approach, with no presumption of advantage for trans women. The evidence has to be about “consistent athletic engagement” with the sport to be regulated, and must demonstrate disproportionate advantage or unpreventable risk exists for the specific sport.

If someone is excluded she must be able to challenge the decision (Fairness; 6.2b).

There are powerful arguments in the rules for trans inclusion. The first principle is Inclusion. Sports should be welcoming to all gender identities. Sports bodies should prevent discrimination, harassment and abuse, taking into account the particular vulnerabilities and needs of trans people.

2: Prevention of Harm- this specifically includes the mental wellbeing, impliedly including mental wellbeing of trans people who need to be recognised in our true gender.

3: Non-discrimination. There should be no systematic exclusion of trans women. Disproportionate competitive advantage might exclude some individual trans women.

7. Primacy of health and bodily autonomy. There should be no pressure to medically unnecessary treatment. If a trans woman wants to preserve her fertility, she can.

Even 8, the Stakeholder-centred approach, which says athletes must be consulted about the rules and allowed to raise concerns, may be to the advantage of trans women. Some women athletes speak out loudly against trans inclusion, and are amplified by anti-trans publications and organisations. A consultation would reach past these, to some who might be trans-inclusive.

I can’t comment about how general sporting rules affect the right to privacy, principle 9, and trans or DSD status is often notorious, energetically circulated by phobes and rubberneckers, but I am glad privacy is one of the principles.

10. There should be periodic reviews reflecting ethical and scientific developments.

Transition is not a choice. Trans is part of who we are, just as being gay is part of a gay person. We should not be excluded, and sporting bodies should recognise that.

From the Guardian’s report I am pleased to see Joanna Harper, visiting fellow for trans athletic performance at Loughborough university, is trans. I am less pleased to see her saying there should be restrictions without clear evidence. She says trans women are on average taller, bigger and stronger. But elite athletes are on average taller, bigger and stronger and at the last Olympics there was just one trans woman in competition, out of 11,656 athletes. I wish they would not refer to “women’s campaign groups” when they clearly mean from context anti-trans campaign groups. If a group’s main activity is to campaign against trans rights, it is not a women’s or LGB group, it is an anti-trans group.

The IOC announced the guidelines, which you can download.

Norwich cathedral

Norwich Cathedral is filled with Dippy the diPLODocus, and ropes, barriers and closed doors to distance it from the rest, which still has church-like aspects. My train was delayed, so I went to see the cathedral. Everywhere there are signs saying “No entry to Dippy here”. Gawpers are directed to a specific entrance at the south west corner of the cloisters, then through a guide with pictures of dinosaurs and parallels with the climate catastrophe, and finally into the nave. I associate the DIploDOcus (?) with Roman arches, because of the Natural History Museum.

I wanted my picture with it, and the man left out the head.

Initially I had no idea of the illustrious guest, and found a way in through the South door. Why can’t I get into the nave? I want to see the cathedral, not some dinosaur. A volunteer on guard at a closed door into the nave reluctantly let me through, telling me he should not really. The effect is to divide a museum, the nave, from the holy bit, transept and choir, which is normally big enough for any Sunday services. Yes the nave should be a public space for the city and landward areas, but why close off the worship bits? The restrictions inhibited my relaxation into timelessness. I went out into the cloisters, and there was another barrier, aimed at shooing the pilgrims to Dippy’s relics out. Again, the man there allowed me to step over the rope.

This is what a cathedral is for: commemorating important people.

This is a very important person indeed. His crest has a helm, meaning that he went out slaughtering peasants, and a coronet, meaning he told mere barons what to do. I have no idea who he was. I prefer the roof bosses:

The cloisters could be timeless, a place for aware contemplation. See, there is a labyrinth. There are also Dippy-seers, and photographers. I did not quite get in the mood. I feel a bit resentful.

Here are some dark works about refugees:

This one is trans- breasts, but no hips. Jesus was crucified at “the place of the Skull”.

I like this art work, an engraved door with lines from Eliot. It is hard to see the whole thing, but I take it by the handle, and move it back and forth to examine it. In the chapel I find some contemplation.

Rapid onset gender dysphoria

The concept of ROGD is deeply harmful. No professional body takes it seriously: the Coalition for the Advancement and Application of Psychological Science published a statement signed by the American Psychological Association and the American Psychiatric Association, saying ROGD lacks evidence and has a “significant potential for creating harm”. The concept is being “misused” to affect policy and bolster anti-trans campaigners’ sense of self-righteousness. So I decided to go back to the original survey.

Lisa Littman of Brown University published her open access article in PLOS One in 2018. In that article, she does not claim this shows a condition exists, only that the data she gathered allows hypotheses to be crafted, which could be tested by further research. No further research has given any further basis to her hypothesis. Michele Moore, editor of a hateful and discredited book claiming trans is an “invention” gave feedback on the manuscript and helped with data analysis. I am aware of Moore’s revulsion at the thought of a trans boy transitioning.

To claim that the parents were not biased against transition, Littman records the professed belief of 225 of the parents “that transgender people deserve the same rights and protections as others”. The thirty who do not profess such a belief are shocking, but were not excluded from the survey. And hate sites encourage the interpretation of this statement that trans women deserve the rights of “other men”. So they oppose our human rights and legal rights, but casuistically deny that.

Littman asked parents the survey questions, rather than the children themselves. She found those parents through hate sites. Her description of one of those sites, called “transgender trend”, quotes its about page, which says it is a group of “concerned” parents, and alleges a “trend” to diagnose gender non-conforming children as transgender. In fact it is a hate site, which facilitated the bullying of trans children by publishing stickers claiming “children confused about their sex usually grow out of it” and published “guidance for schools” stating that children should be told no-one can change sex, and schools should prevent trans girls using girls’ facilities, contrary to law and those trans girls’ human rights. Littman only contacted hate sites, but a facebook group for supportive parents became aware of her questionnaire and publicised it.

One of her suggested hypotheses was that parent-child conflict might explain the data. 6.8% of the “AYAs” (adolescents and young adults) tried to run away, and almost half withdrew from family. As Littman says, parents might be coping maladaptively with their child’s disclosure. Many of the AYAs had been diagnosed with mental health problems before saying they were trans: of the 256 AYAs, only 94 did not have some mental diagnosis before the disclosure. 99 were diagnosed with depression, 117 anxiety, 20 Autistic spectrum disorder. As Littman says, any study of “ROGD” should assess family dynamics and parental coping.

So, the survey shows nothing surprising. Parents recruited through hate sites cope badly with their children’s gender dysphoria. However, Littman suggested another hypothesis which propagandists like Abigail Shrier treat as revealed truth: that children imagine they have gender dysphoria because of trauma and the stress of normal puberty, influenced by friends and the internet, and then demand transition, imagining it is the solution to all their problems. Littman’s third hypothesis was that the desire to transition was a maladaptive coping mechanism. She says seeking weight loss is a similar maladaptive coping mechanism in anorexia nervosa. This is now a core part of the ROGD myth pushed by its adherents.

In order to be diagnosed with Gender Dysphoria in Children, you need “a strong desire to be of the other gender or an insistence that he or she is the other gender” and five out of eight other indicators, which include play and clothing preferences. 205 of the parents reported that their child exhibited none of these before puberty. Only three said their child had shown four of the indicators.

The hate sites seem particularly concerned about trans boys receiving treatment. That might be the reason that 212 of the 256 AYAs were assigned female at birth. In 2018, 2519 children were referred to the Tavistock Gender Identity Development Service, and 76% were AFAB, rather than 83% in Littman’s survey.

In 2019 161 of the Tavistock patients were referred for puberty blockers, after several appointments. That’s 6% of the 2018 intake. By contrast in Littman’s survey 92 AYAs got to the gender clinic, 17 of whom got a prescription for puberty blockers on their first visit. That’s 18%, three times higher. One possible explanation is that the habitual users of hate sites include fantasists who made up a survey response. At least, it shows the self-selected survey respondents were not a representative sample. It is particularly difficult for children whose parents are unsupportive to get to the gender clinic in the first place.

At the time of the survey, 213 of the AYAs were trans-identified, and 14 had taken no steps towards transition- not even changing name, hairstyle or style of clothing. Perhaps their parent does not know them, or exerts inappropriate control over them; or perhaps their speculation that they were trans was a child’s exploration, rather than a settled conviction. Those 14 make the percentages in the data more unreliable. By coincidence, 14 were said to have “desisted”, but if any of those had taken no steps to transition there is little evidence they were trans. The shortest duration of trans identification was less than a month, and that parent too could provide no useful answers- but was still included.

In 22 cases, the parent did not know if the AYA still identified as trans. That shows a complete breakdown of the parental relationship. The median duration was 11 months, which is normally too short a time to get to the GIDS.

The survey shows that some children identify as trans despite the extreme opposition of their parents, nothing more. No conclusions can be drawn about the proportion of children so identifying who transition, or who receive medical treatment. As Littman admitted, it gives no evidence for a diagnosis of ROGD, which she called a mere hypothesis, needing further research. That does not stop anti-trans campaigners treating ROGD as an article of faith.

It also shows that adolescent exploration, aimed at self-discovery, may harmlessly include cross-gender behaviour. If parents are unduly terrified of such behaviour, they may prevent children maturing in a healthy way. The parent’s terror harms the child.

Helen Joyce, “Trans”

Birds swim, fish fly, mammals lay eggs. Nothing natural comes in nice, clear categories. However precisely we define them, every concept has fuzzy edges which challenge our understanding of it. Most or all women are indeed “adult human females”, whatever that means, and some women are trans.

I only did not chuck Joyce’s book across the room because it was on an e-reader. Every paragraph contains falsehoods or inaccuracies or simply misses the point. “This is a book about an idea”, she claims, which she calls “gender identity ideology”, which is simply not the way I see myself or any other trans person.

According to Joyce, “gender identity ideology” is a wide-ranging philosophical system which defines and describes everyone. It “sees everyone as possessing a gender identity,” she claims. However, many women, especially anti-trans campaigners, say they have no particular sense of a gender identity. Therefore gender identity ideology vanishes in a puff of logic. But, since it is her ideology rather than ours, trans people don’t vanish with it. We’re still here.

As a quasi-scientific explanation of humanity used to justify the argument that trans women are women, gender identity ideology only exists in the minds of the anti-trans campaigners. What we have instead is stories. I wanted to transition more than anything else in the world, but the thought terrified me. So I needed stories to justify this decision to myself and fortunately the word “transsexual” was there to help with that. I was a transsexual. There is fiddling with language since- transsexual, transsexual person, transgender, trans woman, whatever- but it made enough sense to me for me to transition. And I wanted stories to tell other people, to explain myself. This is my identity. It feels like who I am. And others observed how much happier and more relaxed I was, expressing myself female.

If “Trans” is a book about an idea, as the first sentence of the introduction says, then it can be put in the bin. It refutes a straw man so ridiculous that no-one need pay any attention to it. So what if Magnus Hirschfeld, Harry Benjamin and John Money had ridiculous ideas. They helped a huge number of people find our true selves. Unfortunately it is a book about people, which seeks to change how trans women are seen and treated, to expel us from the women’s spaces we have been in for decades, officially and as of right since 2010. Yes, all of them: her chapter “We just need to pee” sternly expels us.

Trans people, mostly harmless eccentrics, are portrayed as the great threat, to women and children. She claims studies show children with gender dysphoria mostly “grow out of it”, but such studies were flawed, based on the idea that being trans was a “disorder”, and some children were referred to clinics because they had a few cross-gender behaviours- boys liking dolls, for example- not a consistent, years-long conviction that they were of the other sex.

Rather than ordinary people trying to live our lives, she claims there are “trans activists”, funded by billionaires. The funding is on the other side. Someone I knew got money from a billionaire, paid through an intermediary- but she is an anti-trans campaigner. There was around £20,000 for a Times full page advert, and there are oodles of more or less hopeless cases against trans rights.

“Gender clinics have come under activists’ sway”, she claims, and the result is the mutilation of children! Help! Murder! Polis! What could we possibly gain by transing cis children?

However, in case her hate is showing, she distinguishes “ordinary trans people who simply want safety and social acceptance” from those nasty trans activists. Who are they? They have not had surgery, because people coming out as trans don’t usually “under[go] any sort of medical treatment”, (her claim is untrue) even though those cis children are “fast-tracked to hormones and surgery”.

She discusses David Reimer, whose penis was damaged when he was a baby, so he was brought up as a girl. His parents and teachers maintained the fiction that he was a girl, but he was unhappy and unfeminine, gaining the nickname “Cavewoman”. This is evidence of an innate gender identity, which survives despite socialisation. Joyce denies that. She claims his biology made him a boy. This contradicts much feminist thought, which claims that femininity is the oppression of the patriarchy, and that women have “masculine” characteristics which get suppressed by socialisation. But Joyce claims that being a biological male made him masculine despite his upbringing.

It’s all a ridiculous fantasy, belying Richard Dawkins’ cover quote: “Frighteningly necessary, thoroughly researched, passionate and very brave”. So he’s a transphobe: trans is frightening, restricting us is necessary. Did he even read it?

Listening to the transphobes

The Nuffield Council on Bioethics has launched an open consultation on treating gender dysphoric children and adolescents, to which anti-trans campaigners may easily respond. The working group does not include a single trans person. Dr Ruth Pierce has written a detailed critique of the project and its inadequacies. I had a look at the questions.

Nuffield produces reports on ethical issues in bioscience and health. It is funded by the Nuffield Foundation, the Medical Research Council and the Wellcome Trust. This page has links to its work on gender identity. This is its call for evidence.

They start by asking what gender dysphoria is, explaining that some people think it is a medical condition- genetic, hormonal, neurodevelopmental or psychiatric; some think it a social construct, and some a “normal variant of gender expression”. They don’t want a single agreed view, but want to understand how different views affect the approach to care and treatment.

Trans is what some people are, just as gay is. Attempts to suppress our personality fail. Attempts to prevent us from expressing ourselves through transition may succeed, though at the cost of great psychological distress.

Gender dysphoria is the distress at having to conform to the wrong gender, or at living with transphobia including internalised transphobia.

Those anti-trans campaigners who imagine they are left-wing feminists conceive of transgender as a threat to AFAB children: to those who want to transition, whom they call girls, threatened by infertility and physical changes preventing them from living their lives as “adult human females”; and to cis girls generally, from trans girls, whom they characterise as a threat to privacy or even a sexual threat. They cannot believe that transition could ever be right for someone.

However, trans people exist. Transition benefits us. Medical treatment with hormones and surgery at the very least helps us pass better, so to function better in a transphobic society, and at best cures the gender dysphoria arising from our bodies being wrong. Before transition I hated my body. Now I love it.

Anyone asserting that transition is always or mostly wrong is therefore denying reality, and their views should be discounted. However as Ruth Pierce shows the Nuffield press release quotes the approbation of extreme anti-trans campaigners.

Nuffield then asks what social factors are most relevant to the discussion on gender identity, and names a number of possibilities. On “intense sexualisation and objectification of women” I would add rape culture and pervasive sexual violence, but not primarily as having an effect on the trans boys but on the anti-trans campaigners. Many who once were feminist have been traumatised by that sexual violence, and they imagine that trans boys are fleeing it rather than expressing their true selves. It blinds them to the phenomenon of the trans boy who benefits from transition.

Nuffield names “increased visibility of trans individuals in public life”. Well, yes. Rather than trying to conform to the assigned gender, we realise transition might be possible. I felt I could not transition, because the trans women I knew seemed to be having awful lives. When I met some who seemed to prosper, it seemed possible that I could make a go of life as a trans woman, and so I decided to transition.

It does not mention the public transphobic campaigns of the Republican party in the US and the Conservatives and their allies here. That terrifies trans children, and makes them attempt to conform to their assigned gender. It causes mental anguish and even illness. We live in an atmosphere of extreme transphobia. That Nuffield names homophobic bullying but does not explicitly name transphobic bullying shows that they are trying to find a mid point between trans people and the anti-trans campaigners, rather than finding what is right for the children.

Nuffield then asks whether the evidence base justifies the use of puberty blockers and gender affirming hormones (which they call “cross-sex hormones”). I don’t know. There are great difficulties with producing evidence that these treatments are beneficial- the privacy of the trans people involved, the rarity of treatment, and the reasons why treatment is given. Trans children want PB and GAH because they want the right sex characteristics and not the wrong ones. Gender clinics justify treatment as a way of alleviating distress at the time of treatment, not anticipated problems and benefits in the future. That fits Nuffield’s next question- what should be the purpose of PBs?

How should trans children be treated? Before asking this, by way of context, they refer to “desisters”. I would draw attention to people who detransition under the extreme transphobia of society, and later transition again.

Nuffield asks, “Should children be encouraged or supported to transition socially?” Of course. It is the only way to find whether they will prefer life transitioned. But look what Nuffield has to say. Social transition “makes it difficult for young people to change their minds, and in fact increases the likelihood of later medical transition”.

Social transition of cis children is torture. It does not work. This way of presenting the issue makes transition look like a bad thing. The point is, for trans people, social transition makes our lives better. We do it under the pressure of worse transphobia than in Britain now. Nuffield is echoing transphobic talking points.

Nuffield then asks about a range of harms, even those which might be seen as harming those who do not desist, such as, loss of fertility. Stem cells can be made to develop into gametes. That is the way to address loss of fertility. They posit “the negative consequences of disrupting physiological puberty, given the role it might play in the formation and development of a consistent gender identity”. That is mere speculation, simply a more formal way of saying “Don’t indulge them. They’ll grow out of it.” BUT WE DON’T.

This is what Ruth Pierce means about the distress of facing these endless questionnaires, surveys and consultations. I want to cry. Why can Nuffield not see?

Then they ask about consent. They go into detail on the doubts expressed by the judges in the Bell case. They ask, “Do you think that children and adolescents have the capacity to consent to PBs and CSH?” No, scream the anti-trans campaigners. Trans people don’t say there are no risks, just beg the cis gatekeepers to consider the risks of not treating.

Again, the questions make the anti-trans case. “Is there anything distinctive about PB and CSH that they warrant a different standard of consent?” No, not really. All treatment has risks. Should a fifteen year old girl have an abortion? What if she regrets it, and is incapable thereafter of becoming pregnant? There is nothing distinctive, because this is treatment which can have great benefit. Many claims of risk are fearmongering and evidence-free speculation. But transphobes are so wise, and disinterested, in their calls for “transparent public debate”.

My sarcasm is a defence mechanism.

Nuffield asks if there’s anything else you want to say. Getting the distinctions and similarities clear in your mind, clarifying why phobes’ objections are irrelevant, is a particular skill. Not all trans people have that skill. Facing demands for explanation, we might just give up. Nuffield will produce a report over many pages, with many considerations weighed and taken into account, but for us it’s quite simple.

Transition saved my life. It may save others.

I am not going to answer this consultation. I dare to hope someone will express the potential benefits of PB and GAH in such a way that it will be clear to any disinterested person that they should be given, and that only considering the alleviation of current distress to justify treatment is unethical.

How many trans people?

Are 3% of Belgians really trans or nonbinary?

Eva Van Caenegem, Katrien Wierckx and others asked about 4600 people from Flanders whether they agreed with the statements “I feel like a woman” and “I feel like a man”. 1832 answered on a five point scale from 1, totally agree, to 5, totally disagree. They considered a person gender ambivalent if they gave equal responses to both, and gender incongruent if they gave a higher score for the opposite sex. They found 2.2% of men to be gender ambivalent and 0.9% gender incongruent, and 1.9% of women ambivalent, 0.6% incongruent.

The research team tried to find LGB people who did not identify as lesbian, gay or bi, by asking who people had sex with, and about whom they fantasised.

When 2472 lesbian, gay and bisexual people answered the same questions, 1.8% of men were ambivalent, 0.9% incongruent, and 4.1% of women ambivalent, 2.1% incongruent.

Unfortunately the question can mean totally different things to different people. If you think gender stereotypes are merely oppressive, you might totally agree that you feel like your assigned sex, because you belong to that sex, even though you don’t fit the stereotypes. Alternatively you might totally disagree, asserting that you simply are of one sex or the other, and feelings are irrelevant. If you do not fit stereotypes at all, you might transition, or you might assert your sex and campaign against stereotypes- or you might pretend to conform, try to fit in, because the challenge was too difficult.

Some who are gender incongruent might be in denial. Many trans women have fought to make men of ourselves before accepting we are trans, and transitioning. When in the Army, my friend might have claimed to completely agree that she felt like a man. Now transitioned, she would say the opposite.

I want the question to find out how many people have a trans or gender nonconforming nature. Finding those in denial, or who conform because of social pressure, is difficult. They are the most oppressed by the stereotypes.

The figures for gay and lesbian people seem low. In my experience they fit the stereotypes less than straight people do, but fewer gay men presented as ambivalent than straight men. This could be the gay men feeling more oppressed, and less willing to admit to ambivalence.

I wonder why more than twice as many queer women as queer men were ambivalent or incongruent. It could be different effects on men and women of the stereotypes. Male privilege is desirable. You lose it if you present as unmasculine. In Britain, gay men who were camp had precarious acceptance, in times of worse homophobia. Amused contempt is a better reaction from your community than widely condoned violence. Some feminists find feminine gender stereotypes merely oppressive and don’t believe anyone fits them comfortably.

A small minority of those incongruent people might transition. It is a great effort, and takes courage. I found the social rejection terribly painful, and my own internalised transphobia made it far worse. Others might cross-dress. Some might find partners and social groups where they could be gender nonconforming.

Science and politics

What can science tell us about Covid? What should politicians decide, and what else should influence them? How are politicians helping, and how making the situation worse?

When the first casualties were dying of a new kind of pneumonia in Wuhan, science had a body of settled knowledge which would help humanity through the pandemic. This included knowledge about the immune, circulatory and respiratory systems, an understanding of what a virus was, how epidemiology could track an illness, how studies could give evidence of the effectiveness of treatments, how to assess evidence, and how to create and test vaccines, including a new kind of vaccine first used on covid. There was engineering knowledge of how to build ventilators and PPE, and medical knowledge of how to treat patients. There was behavioural science on how people might respond to the disease and to rules to combat it, and economic theory on how to mitigate the economic effects. By contrast the virus that caused the 1918 influenza pandemic was not discovered until the 1930s.

Scientists then began amassing useful knowledge about the pandemic. The virus’ genome was sequenced, and mutations have been sequenced since. Precise mutations can help show whence the virus is spreading. Studies showed how long viral DNA might last on particular surfaces, but also that infection via surfaces was rare, unlike with rhinoviruses. Infection was more likely through virions in aerosols or droplets exhaled. Tests were developed to test for current infection, or for past infection by testing for antibodies.

Common symptoms were found early: a fever, and a continual cough. Less common symptoms were documented later. Knowledge of how covid can affect people is growing.

Apps could show where people had been and when they might have had contact with an infectious person. There were the phones to run those apps, and the skills to write them.

Whether we should attempt to achieve herd immunity through mass infection is a moral issue. It is not acceptable to infect so many as would be necessary, when 1% of those infected die.

The rest is politics. Whether schools should be closed to restrict the spread of the virus is a matter of weighing different interests against each other. What businesses should close, and which remain open, is a political decision.

In London in December, people could go to the gym or the pub. That seems too risky to me, with people panting for breath, or talking loudly, and so spreading the virus, but it is a political decision to allow dangerous businesses to remain open, rather than compensating them for ordering them to shut, or forcing them to bear that loss. The pubs are shut, now.

It was a political decision whether people could meet in the open air. At one point, people could not meet their parents in their gardens, though it was outside and infection was unlikely.

Left wing politics is best for counteracting a pandemic. We need common action for the common good. It is unconscionable for the extremely rich to make money from such a natural disaster. People who lose wages should be supported, up to a certain level. Left wing politicians are better able to see how people will act for the common good: left wing politicians imposed a requirement to wear masks earlier, knowing that people would comply, for their own good and the good of the whole community.

The hard right Nationalist government in Britain was too selfish to govern well. When Dominic Cummings broke the lockdown rules, the Prime Minister should have sacked him, in order to preserve respect for the rules. They also had a craven desire for popularity, so promised we could celebrate Christmas together from about July, and kept making that increasingly dangerous promise until Saturday 19th December. As a result our borders are closed, and supermarkets are showing shortages in some goods, even before their catastrophic Brexit would have achieved the same result on 1 January. Their ideological desire that all testing should be done by private companies rather than public employees, and their corrupt enrichment of their chums, made the situation worse.

The sociopathic President Trump was only capable of seeing his own short-term interests, and Paul Krugman suggests he delayed action hoping the stock exchange index would reach the magic figure of 30,000, improving his re-election chances. His suggestions of injecting bleach may have been to get attention. Republicans used the pandemic to stoke a culture war, on the new Republican doctrine that doing anything which is not entirely selfish is Socialism, and Un-American. Their science denial, developed for so long, on Creationism, acid rain, the ozone hole, and the climate catastrophe, continued on Covid. The result is 300,000 deaths. This is the result of politics. Science can only achieve so much.