Shoddy journalism…

Several days ago I had an article appear in my newsfeed via The Transgender Project. The article had been posted to gather opinions; mine was overwhelmingly negative. I took journalism in college and shoddy research irritates the crap out of me.

I was taught that you research an article then write your opinion based on your research; Barbara Kay does the exact opposite in this article. She came in with a strong opinion then squashed her research to suit it, ignoring everything that didn’t fit. One of her first opinions is this…

The transgender movement is supported by mainstream feminists. But some more radical feminists argue that transgenderism is not always immutable. And they are correct, as many apparently transgender children accept their biological identity at puberty, and many adults express regret over their surgeries.”

Many? Many??? What exactly does many entail? One? Ten? One hundred? Five thousand? I don’t know and she doesn’t say. But I do know how to Google and what I found was this, via the website HowStuffWorks:

The International Journal of Transgenderism cites a 1992 study that found postoperative regret was less than one percent in female to male transitions and between 1 to 1.5 percent in male to female transitions.

Many is still too high but a lot less than I expected.

Then she goes on to quote an opinion piece by a Wall Street Journal writer named Paul McHugh who wrote, “when children who reported transgender feelings were tracked without medical or surgical treatment at both Vanderbilt University and London’s Portman Clinic, 70% – 80% of them spontaneously lost those feelings. Some 25% did have persisting feelings; what differentiates those individuals remains to be discerned.”

My problem was that I could not find this study. Google coughed up several articles quoting the study (studies) along with those statistics but not the study itself. I did, however, find an article on the CBC website where they interviewed Dr. Norman Spack the director of the gender identity medical clinic at Children’s Hospital Boston, who published a report on his findings.

The report details 97 girls and boys treated between 1998 and 2010… Only 1 of the 97 opted out of permanent  treatment.

Now I’m going to give some completely anecdotal information. I’ve read several stories where a children insisted they were one gender during childhood only to reverse in their teen years. All the stories have one common thread; the children, once fully grown, did not regret their parents listening to them. They did not regret being raised as the opposite gender during childhood. Instead, they grew up feeling supported and respected. They felt they had a voice. So whether the statistics for teens reverting back to their biological gender is close to 1% or as high as 80%, what difference does it make? No one is doing anything permanent to eight year olds. This isn’t as a problem.

Kay goes on to report via McHugh again:

According to a 30 – year old longitudinal study at Sweden’s Karolinska Institute, cited by McHugh, mental problems increasingly began to emerge 10 years after sex-reassignment surgery. Of the 324 surgical patients studied, the suicide rate was 20 times the non-transgender population. McHugh hypothesizes the explanation may be the increasing sense of isolation felt by aging transgendered people.

McHugh worries that sex-ed courses contribute to the misleading notion that drastic physical change will bring happiness. He therefore comes down firmly against (potentially growth-stunting and sterilizing) hormones and firmly for family therapy. True sex change, he says, is simply not possible; you end up as a “feminized man” or a “masculinized woman.”

One huge issue is that Kay did not look up the study herself, instead she depended on McHugh’s research and his hypothesis. The study was dead easy to find too, it took me less than half a minute to call it up.

Long-Term Follow-Up of Transexual Persons Undergoing Sex Reassignment Surgery: Cohort Study in Sweden

The researchers claim:

Persons with transsexualism, after sex reassignment, have considerably higher risks for mortality, suicidal behaviour, and psychiatric morbidity than the general population. Our findings suggest that sex reassignment, although alleviating gender dysphoria, may not suffice as treatment for transsexualism, and should inspire improved psychiatric and somatic care after sex reassignment for this patient group.

Inpatient care for psychiatric disorders was significantly more common among sex-reassigned persons than among matched controls, both before and after sex reassignment. It is generally accepted that transsexuals have more psychiatric ill-health than the general population prior to the sex reassignment.

I did not see anything in the report that said psychiatric issues began to emerge a decade after sex reassignment surgery. The authors were very clear that these were long standing issues (they mentioned depression specifically) that had been present before the study began and that therapy and other help should be continued after surgery.

They flatly state:

It is therefore important to note that the current study is only informative with respect to transsexuals persons health after sex reassignment; no inferences can be drawn as to the effectiveness of sex reassignment as a treatment for transsexualism. In other words, the results should not be interpreted such as sex reassignment per se increases morbidity and mortality. Things might have been even worse without sex reassignment.

They also say multiple times that all of their research, from crime rates to mortality, improve after 1989, due to “altered societal attitudes towards persons with different gender expressions”. And they point out that increased mortality rates could be due to the possibility “that transsexual persons avoid the health care system due to a presumed risk of being discriminated.”

Pretty much the only parts McHugh got right were the number of people studied and the length of the study. Even the suicide risk was iffy considering he missed their caveat stating other studies had not shown the same risk.

I have no idea what he’s talking about when he claims sex-ed classes are teaching youths that drastic physical changes will bring happiness. And I’m not touching his last statement even with a 10 foot pole, mostly because I’d be likely to take the pole and smack him with it and I have a feeling that’s illegal.


6 thoughts on “Shoddy journalism…

  1. This is how anti gay and anti trans anything—okay, anything held by neocons and fun dies—are done. They come up with the conclusion first, then find “facts” to support it. There is also little difference as to what is mere “opinion”, vs evidence-backed “theory”; from my experience (maybe this is selective confirmation and stereotyping, IMHO), to these groups the words are mere synonyms. They believe in certain ideas from the get go and have “proof”, not have an idea, go through data gathering, and see if it’s conclusive or not (this is why I dig Buddhism, you are to always test an idea or philosophy before you adopt it as your own).

    As much as other try to point to research journals and others’ accounts about their transitions and journeys, I am not interested in famous case studies or celebrities. They have access to stuff we don’t, but also don’t have intimate journeys that they themselves share, like with us who blog here on WordPress and sometimes Tumblr. I like reading things in real time, in snippets, and that are casually written, without editing or the goal to sell as much money as possible. I also don’t see eye-to-eye on how others, especially the big groups like HRC and GLAAD, say things should be, or how they should be explained. I’m explaining things to local doctors and case workers in ways that make sense to them, that most of the published works out there don’t. I have always been an oddball, and even with a community I can finally identify with—well, I have a rebellious streak and don’t like being a sheep. 😀

    I don’t know what the social science and stats are on stuff; yes, I suffer depression and anxiety, partly from gender dysphoria and body dysmorphia, and yes it had led me to attempt suicide when I was younger. I don’t know how common or unique that is, but if my story helps humanize us, and has doctors see us as humans and not as freaks of nature or subjects of scientific curiosity, so be it.

    And, yes, journalism as a whole is getting shoddier. It’s either comes with an agenda, or is meant to shock and being in viewership.

  2. They seem to think that any person on the street can check themselves into a hospital for sex-reassignment surgery if they feel like it. They don’t seem to realise the years and years of screening that comes before it, the anxieties, the troubles people will have to go through to get the body that matches their minds. To me the article of Mx. Kay just screams sensationalism targeted at conservatives to make them feel justified in their transphobia.

  3. I suspect that the largest factor on mental health is whether the child has a supportive family and group of peers.
    Obviously yours does. 🙂

  4. There’s a very interesting Dutch study on children who lost their gender dysphoria as teens and those who didn’t. They said that earlier follow-up studies had found that 84% of the kids overall lost their gender dysphoria (they put together a bunch of studies to get this number).

    I found the results of the Swedish long-term follow-up study discouraging, although it’s important to remember that most trans people did not commit suicide or develop mental health issues. They are at an increased risk compared to the general public, but the risk is low. I think it should be seen as a call to look for ways to improve care after transition, as they say.

  5. It’s also worth noting that many of those who regret having the surgery feel that way because of medical complications or because of loss of sensation, rather then the actual fact of transitioning per se. As the technology continues to improve, these kinds of regrets are becoming less common. Having said that, transition regret is still definitely a real thing, even if some people in the trans community would like to pretend otherwise.

    I didn’t read the whole article, but just in the passage you quoted it’s very telling that she uses the term “biological identity” to refer to cis identities. Obviously both cis and trans identites form out of a complex interaction of biological and societal factors. To suggest that one is biological and the other non-biological is absolutely galling.

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