Applaud their courage, and take heart

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Heretic TOC presents a guest blog by Explorer, who has contributed many excellent comments here including a recent one that briefly introduced us to an interesting new organisation called Heart Progress. Today he delves deeper, exploring (well, he is Explorer!) the strengths and weaknesses of Heart Progress, and how heretics here could help it develop its potential as a force for good. Explorer is a young Russian from an intellectual home background, who enjoyed the benefits of growing up in the briefly libertarian atmosphere of the 1990s that followed the collapse of the Soviet Union. Qualified as a lawyer, he has a non-legal professional role which has brought him into lively discussion and debate with scientists and technicians, from whom he has learned much. He contributes to a range of online forums, sometimes taking people out of their intellectual comfort zone by presenting challenging ideas on a range of topics, such as parapsychology and anarchist politics, as well as intergenerational sexuality.

 

HEART PROGRESS COMMUNITY: A CASE FOR SELECTIVE SUPPORT

We live in interesting times, full of surprises; most of them, however, are unpleasant ones, like the regular news of the next stage of escalation of some military conflict, or yet another governmental decision to impose even more censorship, surveillance and persecution than we already have. Yet, thanks to the new Heretic TOC commenter Hypersonic, I learned something which has surprised me in a positive way. A very positive way, I would say!

Heart Progress Community: A Bright Side

Now we have a new activist community which holds not just a pro-paedosexual, but a pro-contact position: Heart Progress. This group of people openly aims to bring about the legalisation and normalisation of consensual child-adult sex. This is not another sad VirPed bunch begging society to accept them as human beings because of their promise to condemn and suppress their sexuality. Neither it is a therapeutic circle providing some help yet still insisting that its members should forever give up any hope of their sexual needs being actually satisfied. These are people who publicly claim that children are sexual beings who can consent to sexual relations with adults, and not get harmed in the process; and, therefore, there is no objective reason to forbid intergenerational sexual contact.

So, we are witnessing the birth of the first activist community to defend consensual child-adult sex in many, many years. We definitely haven’t seen such initiatives since the 1970s, the times of PIE and NAMBLA; and the organisations founded in this remote epoch either were destroyed by the authorities (as PIE was) or forced to remain largely silent and inactive, formally existing yet not being able to do anything noticed by the general public (the current state of NAMBLA). The only remaining activity has been the internet “paedosphere” – a network of websites where unrepentant paedophiles and their supporters have gathered. And this activity has generally been confined to its original circle of participants, unable to reach a wider audience.

And now, Heart Progress is concentrating its efforts on doing exactly this, taking the message beyond the confines to which it has until now been restricted by public opinion. This requires real nonconformity and courage, especially in view of the fact that the community’s list of participants is open and visible, with members who are active on social networks such as Twitter and Google+ (where it has a community page). Apparently many of these people are not paedophiles themselves, but activists in open solidarity with them, without hiding their identities. Such public support is a remarkable achievement.

Nor does Heart Progress limit its activity to online advocacy: it has already organised a public, real-life demonstration called “Breed Out the Hate”. This event was not dedicated to paedosexuality but to interracial marriage, intercourse and childbirth. The demo was apparently quite small; yet, a primarily pro-paedosexual organisation visibly engaged in real-life activism is something unseen since the 1970s (or, at best, the early 1980s).

This is laudable… but, for a balanced view, some unpleasant aspects of Heart Progress must also be taken into account.

Heart Progress Community: A Not-So-Bright Side

With all my sympathy for their paedo-activism cause, here I’ll have to criticise: Heart Progress people are, essentially, “social justice warriors” (SJWs), with all the notable negative traits these mainly left-wingers possess.

Like all SJWs, they have a tendency to dogmatic thinking, operating by slogans and clichés rather than reflective thought, and parroting currently fashionable Left positions without analyzing them critically. They often are overemotional and angry; they expect people to agree with them, and become furious when they don’t. They tend to overvalue their supporters and undervalue their opponents. They are unresponsive to constructive, non-hostile critique and persist in mistakes.

They easily fall for the temptation of reverse discrimination, and of accepting inverted versions of discriminative ideologies of the past. Let’s return to the Breed Out The Hate demonstration I mentioned above: according to some of the movement’s leading figures, the purpose of interracial couples is dissolution of white people’s genetic inheritance – inheritance, which, in their opinion, makes white people innately prone to violence, oppression, genocide and racism. They think that white people, because of their “evil” genes, have been the primary villains since the dawn of history; only by mixing their genetic lines with intrinsically peaceful and tolerant non-white genes, will they allow their progeny to become better. Such “biological pacification” would be manifested not only in genes, but in looks: with all people being of interracial heritage, everyone will look the same and so there would be no place for racist sentiments, which, according to their ideas, requires “whiteness” to begin with.

I think it is pretty obvious that such assertions have no basis in historical scholarship, biological science or simple life experience. It is an inverted version of the classic racist ideology of white American slave-owners of the past. This ideology was born out of the conflict between culture and society: exalted principles of personal freedom and ethical rejection of slavery clashed with the harsh political and economic needs of colonial imperialism and unrestrained capitalism. The result was an ugly, pseudo-scientific ideology that claimed non-white people are lower beings compared to white ones; they are “bestial”, “dangerous”, unable to control their aggressive impulses and thus in need of “benevolent” rule by their masters. Nowadays, we can see their faulty justifications of oppression turned on their heads and thrown in whites’ own faces.

As any person with some decent historical knowledge may attest, non-white civilizations committed atrocities as eagerly as white ones, and proclaimed their own superiority above everyone else just as easily. The Chinese Empire, founded on bloody warfare, bound together by merciless repression, and describing itself as the only civilized nation in the world (with everyone else, including white Europeans, demeaned as savages), is a good example. 20th century genocides and tyrannies were not exclusively white activity either: Mao Zedong was as willing to slaughter millions as Stalin and Hitler were; Japanese militarists were as prone to committing atrocities as German Nazis; the modern North Korean regime is hardly less totalitarian than any of its Western predecessors. So, there is no reason to claim that white people have done more cruel deeds, historically, than non-whites – and that their genetic inheritance is somehow tainted.

Here I need to emphasise that I have nothing against interracial marriage: if two people of different races are in love with each other, they should marry – or just live together without formally being spouses, if they want – and have as many interracial kids as they like, without fear of societal condemnation. But if a white man and a white woman love each other and want to have children, they should do it without being blamed for perpetuating their “evil” genes, or for being innately prone to violence themselves. Racism, like any other oppressive ideology, does not require “whiteness”; what it requires is a lust for power and wealth on the part of the elite ideologues and the willingness of the masses to believe them, feeling satisfied by their illusory superiority; and these elites and masses can be of any skin colour and genetic inheritance.

Selective Support and Why We Need to Give It

So, what should we do? Should we support Heart Progress? Yes, we should. It is vitally important to understand that we have to start our public activism in our actual situation, in the current circumstances that we cannot simply wish away. If we want to re-enter the Libertarian Left movement, we’ll have to deal with the SJWs who, whether we like it or not, are still apparently the leading faction.

Yet, our support shouldn’t be uncritical – while participating, we can and should raise our voice against the ideas and practices of Heart Progress in particular, and the modern Libertarian Left in general, which we find to be baseless, fallacious or counter-productive.

By doing it, we would be able to add a necessary diversity of ideas and approaches to the rebirthing of paedosexual activism and ensure that its supporters are not limited to SJWs. This is important for our public message: the general populace must see that intergenerational sex is defended by people with a range of ideological backgrounds. It must see that not all defenders of consensual intergenerational sex subscribe to nonsensical SJW notions.

This will also help to ensure the preservation of the pro-paedosexuality message when SJW ideology hits a crisis, which may happen sooner than we think. With all the emerging critical voices from within the Libertarian Left milieu, voices that justly point to the current absurd excesses of identity politics and “political correctness”, we would be able to continue our activism inside the future Libertarian Left scene, which will overcome SJW faults.

And it will help to restore the culture of critical thought and open dialogue which is sadly weak in our authoritarian times, when Left seems to compete with the Right in its censoriousness and rejection of complex rational analysis in the favour of simplistic emotional dogmas.

Some final remarks

The Libertarian Left movement is in a sad, I may even say “fallen”, state nowadays – especially if compared with its thriving mid-20th century version. But, with all its current faults, it is still better than its main rival, Alt-Right. With all its mistakes, the fundamental basis of the Libertarian Left ideal – an intent to create an egalitarian society, capable of progress wilfully driven by the people themselves, diverse and yet united in solidarity as regards respecting fundamental humanistic values, cooperative and yet supportive of individuality – is both viable and desirable. The Alt-Right, by contrast, based on a decisive rejection of equality, progress and everyone deviating from an arbitrary “traditional norm”, is unviable and undesirable from the start.

It is worth remembering that sometimes, somewhere, in some specific cases, Alt-Rightists do have valid points – in their critiques of SJW excesses, for example – but the basic principles on which they base their politics are still, in my opinion, fundamentally wrong ones. On the other hand, the Libertarian Left have made, and keep making, many mistakes, ones which have to be identified and criticised as such; but their basic principles are fundamentally correct. That’s why I’ll prefer to remain with the Libertarian Left, trying to repair, reform and renovate it, rather than bitterly abandon it because of its multiple current faults, such as pervasive SJW-ism.

And in the changeable and flexible society led by the Libertarian Left-led, paedosexuals and children alike may have a chance of liberation. In the rigid and normalcy-enforcing Alt-Right society, children can never be free and paedosexuals will be forever persecuted.

So, as I said before, and will repeat here, Heart Progress people are remarkably courageous, and are doing important work. They are the first ones in many years to do it. And as for the absurd ideas which some of their leading figures support, unfortunately, they are not the only ones supporting absurd ideas now. If we support them, we will be able to point them to their mistakes, and maybe even persuade some of them to give them up. Or, at least, we will make their community more diverse – with the benefits I described above.

LSM interviews Yours Truly

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Leonard Sisyphus Mann, distinguished guest blogger here at Heretic TOC, has interviewed me for his own blog, Consenting A̶d̶u̶l̶t̶s̶ Humans, focusing on my book Michael Jackson’s Dangerous Liaisons – how it came to be written, for instance, and the high drama over its publication, including a ferocious and sustained attack against the book from thousands of Jackson fans around the globe, even before its appearance.

The first part of the two-part interview is scheduled for publication tomorrow evening, so you might want to watch out for it. Also included is a Special Offer – a bargain price for Michael Jackson’s Dangerous Liaisons, exclusive to readers of Consenting A̶d̶u̶l̶t̶s̶ Humans. The second part is due to follow a week later, on Wednesday 19 April.

So, that’s it for now, just the above brief news item: short, but sufficient, I trust, to pique some interest.

No easy way to say this…

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There’s no easy way to say this, so I guess I’d better just dive in. Heretic TOC is going to be taking a sabbatical, probably for at least six months.

I need the time. A whole heap of stuff I should be doing has been long neglected and I feel I really must give myself a chance to catch up. In “Heretic TOC gets its mojo back” late last year, I was honestly able to report that the blog seemed to be going very well after a difficult patch. However, I also said time was a problem: “I would love to be spending time on writing books, and articles for academic publications, in addition to time spent on the blog. Right now, though, it just ain’t happening.”

It still ain’t. I don’t propose to take up space regaling you with details of all the projects I have languishing on the back burner – not just writing, but much more. I went into all that with an old friend of this blog, the estimable Leonard Sisyphus Mann, in an email exchange yesterday, and I can tell you my summarised sins of omissions pushed up towards 600 words.

And now, having mentioned LSM, it would be reprehensible not to add that he has a fabulous new blog post fresh out this very day, called “Dr Cantor & the Case of the Extrapolated Equivalence”, a title sure to whet the appetite of the many heretics who have followed the career of Jimmy the Screamer.

I nearly said I would be letting Heretic TOC lie fallow for a while, until it dawned on me that fields are left fallow when the crops are not growing too well and the land needs time to recover. But the “land” is still very fertile at the moment, judging by strong visitor numbers and encouraging feedback in terms of published comments and private emails. I also like to think some of my best work has been recent. Perhaps that is the root of the problem. Back in 2012 I started off with short top-of-the-head opinion blogs, doing one every day with what now seems ridiculous ease. But as you go on you tend to become more ambitious, probing the chosen topics ever more deeply. And that eats up more and more time…

So, after over 200 blogs in a little over four years (this is the 202nd) I need to change course, with almost immediate effect. A while ago, though, I said I would be tackling Ancient Greece as a theme, and I hope to do that soon as a final project before the sabbatical starts. It should be something very special as it will take the form of an interview with a leading scholar who has kindly agreed to grace Heretic TOC with his presence.

All I would add at this stage is my heartfelt thanks for your interest and often wonderful comments (of which 8,644 had been published as of yesterday), plus the suggestion that this would be a good time to think about becoming a regular subscriber to H-TOC, if you are not already signed up, so that future blogs will go straight to your email inbox. This will save the hassle of checking in from time to time to see whether anything new has appeared. That’s fine when there is always something new but could be irritating when there is a long gap between one blog and the next.

As for whether I will eventually return to blogging as regularly as I have until now, I rather doubt it. It’s not that I am running out of things to write about, quite the contrary: there are more and more, not least on account of the turbulent times we live in. On the plus side, my love of writing probably guarantees I will not be able to resist holding forth here again at least occasionally; guest blogs will still be welcome, too, and likewise lots of comments, of course. I will still be here to moderate and chip into the discussion. Also, I hope I will now be able to find time to bring out a Best of Heretic TOC book, with an e-book edition. This is one of those many projects I should be able to switch from the back burner to the front.

 

NEWS ROUNDUP

My blog last time about Milo Yiannopoulos, “Milo gives good (talking) head – usually”, coincided with one of those crazy spells when on-topic news is suddenly fizzing and exploding all over the place like a spectacular fireworks display. Lots of items would be worth a blog on their own, but – consistent with my intention to bow out for a while – I will settle for just acknowledging some of the main British ones briefly here.

  • Towards the end of last month the much heralded hearings of the massively overblown, unwieldy “Independent Inquiry into Child Sexual Abuse” (IICSA) finally got under way under its fourth chairwoman, having already frittered away well over £20 million of taxpayers’ money in the two and a half years of its existence. Totally in accordance with this disastrously dysfunctional background, the first hearings focused on events thousands of miles away, decades ago, with the allegedly guilty parties all dead and so unable to defend themselves, and the institutions they represented no longer engaged in the complained of activities, so there are no continuing wrongs that must urgently be put right. The events in question have in any case already been the subject of a massive investigation on the far side of the globe. Could there possibly be any more utterly pointless exercise than expensively going through the entire process again? Some of the survivors (of what admittedly do seem to have been some horrible cases, primarily of callous child exploitation and neglect) said they wanted to see the guilty parties “named and shamed”, even though they were dead. Shamed? Someone should tell them the dead cannot so much as blush. They are quite literally shameless. The barrister Barbara Hewson wrote a good piece for Spiked on how an inquiry should be run.
  • Meanwhile, the police chief in charge of Operation Hydrant, which is supposed to be coordinating a whole string of other named police operations investigating allegations of “non-recent” child sexual abuse, has been showing signs of being just as overwhelmed as IICSA. So overwhelmed, indeed, that instead of redoubling his efforts in the face of hopeless odds, he has done a remarkably sensible thing by admitting defeat. But not on the “non-recent” aka ancient history front. No, apparently we can expect the police to keep on performing more “operations” than the NHS for the foreseeable future. Much more interestingly, the police chief in question has reiterated his remarkably liberal view that mere downloaders of child porn should not be jailed. Simon Bailey, who is the chief constable of Norfolk and lead on child protection for the National Police Chiefs’ Council, said forces were operating beyond capacity because of the sheer volume of reports. This follows an NSPCC report claiming as many as 500,000 people in the UK could be involved with sharing illegal images of children online. Bailey said “we cannot arrest our way out of the situation…we must make prevention and rehabilitation a priority”. But this change of tack is surely far too humane and rational for the government to accept.
  • Not strictly news any longer, having been reported last August and somehow been neglected here, the extensive new statistics on sexual, physical or psychological abuse experienced before age 16 in England and Wales, published by the Office for National Statistics, are nonetheless important. This is because, unlike other surveys, these figures have been touted as “the first official estimates of their kind in the world”, conducted by a reputable survey body and based on a properly representative sample of adults aged 16 to 59, rather than a self-selected group, who were recalling their childhood experience. However, it has to be said that, in line with the spirit of the times, the questions asked seem designed to obscure rather than reveal the quality of the experiences in question. It appears to be assumed, for instance, that any sexual touching or penetration by an adult must have been unwanted. Table 9 is quite interesting in this regard, showing reasons why the “survivor” did not tell anyone about the sexual event. Although a number of reasons are set out their meaning is opaque, including quite a lot of responses categorised as “Some other reason”. What you will not find, but which is a definite possibility, is that many respondents did not regard the activity as “abuse” at the time. Another sign of the times is that genuine abuse – physical and psychological – is passed over very briefly in the report.

Milo gives good (talking) head – usually

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Father Michael, we were told, was young and hot. He was a “great priest”, too, but the gay 13-year-old boy, as he sucked the cleric’s cock with relish, probably had little head-space left over for pondering the Catholic teacher’s spiritual and pastoral qualities.

He just wanted flesh. Firm, handsome man-flesh. And nothing was going to stop him getting it, least of all the conventional scruples of an innocent young priest. So, barely into his teens, the boy made himself the predator, aggressively determined to corner his quarry into sizzling, sinful submission.

The name of that boy, that dazzlingly confident young moral, or immoral, entrepreneur, will be obvious enough to anyone who has been following the news lately. Long since all grown-up, but still with boyish good looks and a tongue so lively he could charm the cassock off the Pope himself, he was of course the wickedly iconoclastic Milo Yiannopoulos.

Yiannopoulos, or simply Milo to millions on both sides of the Atlantic since shooting to superstar one-name status, just like “the Donald”, on the back of his fame as a flamboyant political provocateur, scourge of political correctness and darling of the alt-right, was riding high only a couple of weeks ago. He had just made a glamorous appearance on Real Time with Bill Maher, had a six-figure advance on a book deal and was due to give a prestigious keynote speech at the American Conservative Union’s CPac conference, where the Donald himself would be in attendance. The US president, indeed, had personally tweeted at the start of the month in favour of free speech after Milo’s scheduled appearance at the University of California’s Berkeley campus had to be called off following a  night of violent protesting against him being given a platform.

How ironic, then, that the high-flying Milo would soon be brought crashing down to earth by the same alt-right forces that had sent him soaring, and whose commitment to free speech was suddenly seen to depend entirely on what was said. As long as he was trashing Muslims and feminists, and mocking trans people, they were happy to defend his right to do so and cheer him to the rafters. But appearing to “condone paedophilia” was another matter entirely.

It was Milo’s casually risqué reminiscences with a chat-show outfit called the Drunken Peasants that did it. The offending section was lifted from a three-hour podcast that had been sitting on YouTube for a whole year, and tweeted via the Reagan Battalion as a short clip by outraged traditional conservatives on the eve of the CPac event. Within hours, the CPac platform was withdrawn, the publishers Simon & Schuster pulled out of the book deal and Milo was forced to resign his post as an editor at Breitbart in the UK, the far-right news operation to which he had been recruited by President Trump’s right-hand man Steve Bannon.

For Milo to talk jokingly about a 13-year-old enjoying sex with a priest was anathema to conservatives. In a single salvo it shot down in flames the most insistently unchallengeable social dogma of our age: that any child in sexual contact with an adult must necessarily be a victim. The  taboo against such contacts could not be more fierce, as heretics here are all too well aware. So the slightest hint of subversive scepticism could not be tolerated.

It was far worse than slight, actually. The jokey stuff about enjoying oral sex with Father Michael could perhaps have been explained away as a victim’s black humour, a way of psychologically surviving a bleak experience. But he had also been unequivocally serious. He was entirely clear that there are young people capable of consenting to sex below the age of consent, saying he had been one of them. Especially in the gay world, he said, there were “coming of age” relationships between younger boys and older men, “in which those older men help those young boys to discover who they are, and give them security and safety and provide them with love and a reliable rock if they can’t speak to their parents.” He added:

In the gay world, some of the most enriching and incredibly life-affirming and shaping relationships, very often between younger boys and older men, can be hugely positive experiences for those young boys. They can save those young boys from desolation, suicide and drug addiction, all sorts of things, providing they’re consensual.

It is hard to see how anyone could have been much clearer or more seriously positive than that – except that, sadly, he quickly recanted once he came under attack and his world began to fall apart. In a humiliating press conference, he showed himself to be lacking the courage of his convictions, willing to say anything to save his skin. Not that it did.

So, can we take seriously anyone so utterly spineless and possibly insincere, a person who tosses outrageous assertions into the public arena simply to stir things up, get himself noticed and make a career for himself? Already, it has been suggested in comment here at Heretic TOC that we should not. It is a view shared by journalist Laurie Penny, who has come to know Milo better than most, having encountered him at the Republican National Convention last year and who reported extensively on his subsequent four-month Dangerous Faggot speaking tour of US university campuses, even sleeping on the tour bus.

She feels he has a very elite British approach, characterised by the view that debate is just debate: it doesn’t matter what you actually believe as long as you put up a stylish performance, with bags of confident swagger. She wrote:

Milo peddles a pageant of insincerity that is immediately legible to fellow Brits. Americans understand irony differently, and sometimes not at all. The crowd of excitable young and young-ish people gathered to hear him pontificate believe what he’s saying, even if he doesn’t. Which he doesn’t. And it doesn’t matter. It doesn’t matter that he doesn’t mean it. It doesn’t matter that he’s secretly quite a sweet, vulnerable person who is gracious to those he considers friends. It doesn’t matter that somewhere in the rhinestone-rimmed hamster wheel of his mind is a conscience. It doesn’t matter because the harm he does is real.

Make no mistake, his words are sometimes seriously harmful, especially when he attacks named individuals. It was mentioned here last time that on his campus tour he singled out a particular male-to-female trans woman for mockery. He announced her original male name and projected an image of her for the audience to see. Basically, he said, it was obvious that this was just a man in a dress – a man who looked so manly he could see himself having sex with “her” himself.

My guess is that he failed to understand how cruel this was. He might even have thought he was being complimentary by implying the “guy” was good-looking. To be honest, that is what I thought myself. He was right: “she” the trans woman, appeared not to be a somewhat masculine-looking person in transition to womanhood but straightforwardly a handsome man. What Milo totally failed to comprehend or care about was the crippling, devastating, humiliation he had inflicted – a horrible, traumatic consequence that will be understood by anyone who takes the trouble to read the 4,000-word email poured out by this unfortunate student in a keening howl of pain and rage over the incident, directed at the university principal.

What matters in a wider context, though, is not whether Milo is or is not capable of empathy and sincerity. What counts more than his merits or shortcomings as an individual is the impact he has made. Suddenly, in one brief, brilliant burst of publicity, the unspeakable was spoken; for the first time in decades the relentless propaganda of the victim narrative was stopped in its tracks and a fresh new voice was heard: the voice of the consenting juvenile.

No wonder there was a huge outcry of panic and alarm, not just from the conservative right but also from the “liberal” (which these days means illiberal and censorious) left. This noisy response demonstrated beyond doubt that the political and cultural establishments, left and right, on both sides of the Atlantic, had heard loud and clear; the left, though, while immediately trashing Milo just like the right, did its best to muffle his message by relegating what he actually said in favour of man-boy sexual relationships to relative obscurity deep down in their stories – the Guardian managed to cover several angles on the affair, over thousands of words, while barely mentioning Father Michael and Milo’s consensual sex with him.

In effect, the media paedophiled Milo, as writers Joseph Fischel and Gabriel Rosenberg inventively put it in Slate magazine. In other words, the distorted “liberal” presentation of the story contrived to make it look as though Milo was a paedophile trying to excuse “child abuse”, rather than an adult-oriented gay man with favourable memories of a supportive relationship with an older man when he had been only 13. No interpretation could be more perverse and fundamentally dishonest. But this is what our most cherished “quality” newspapers and broadcasters have done. So the Milo affair may just turn out to be a seven-day wonder, soon fading in the memory and vaguely recollected by most of those who heard about it as just another case of a celebrity paedo who got his comeuppance.

There will also be those, however, who heard the truth and will remember – including the millions out there who have been growing increasingly sick of victim-feminist PC bullshit in its myriad manifestations, and whose understanding of its dishonesty is high among the factors that have energised the current widespread rejection of “elite” discourse by ordinary people. It is the reason, for instance, that plenty of women voted for Trump despite his self-confessed enthusiasm for groping any woman he fancies. Despite the shrill reaction of the victim-feminists, a lot of women simply saw him as a guy who might get useful things done, rather than being overly fussed by his private behaviour.

There will be those, too, who will remember an interview given by Star Trek actor, Twitter pundit and gay activist George Takei, in which he also spoke approvingly of his sexual initiation as a 13-year-old, in his case by one of the leaders at a summer camp. This interview languished in relative obscurity for many years but  was given new life by Milo’s outspokenness, and Takei has repeated what he said in further interviews. While these revelations have been played down by the mainstream media, they have been all over Twitter. And now the cat is out of the bag, who is to say Takei will be the last? Celebrity “first love” revelations might even become a fashionable rebuke to feminist censorship.

What does seem incontrovertible is that Milo and George between them have had a bigger impact in giving consenting juveniles a presence in the public consciousness than has been achieved by decades of low-level activism and intermittent academic research on the subject in the dark long decades that followed the brief radical spring we saw from the late 1960s to the late 1970s (and somewhat beyond in continental Europe, into the 1980s). The work of figures such as Theo Sandfort, Bruce Rind, Judith Levine and latterly Marshall Burns with his Consenting Juveniles project, has been important, but the far-reaching penetration of the public mind by less “serious” contributors is not to be despised.

I would go further. Milo Yiannopoulos has his faults, but listen to him for five or ten minutes and what comes across is the eloquent, fluent articulation of ideas that have plainly been thought out in some depth and are probably underpinned with more than a touch of erudition. This guy, despite his excesses, is a thinker worthy of our attention, not some crude neo-fascist shock-jock. Even Laurie Penny admits it, and she describes herself as a “radical queer feminist leftist writer”. She is quite a stylish one, too, but she has refused to debate Milo in public. Why? On this, too, she is candid: “Not because I’m frightened I’ll lose, but because I know I’ll lose.” And why would that be? Because Milo has genuine ability as a speaker, with valid points to make.

Penny calls Milo “a charming devil and one of the worst people I know”. It is a comment that echoes Lady Caroline Lamb’s famous remark about Lord Byron, who was said to be “mad, bad and dangerous to know”. Lady Caroline, it turns out, was arguably madder and badder than Byron himself. So we need to be wary of seductively sonorous character assassination; it may be false. But let us take from it, by all means, the romantic inference that to be “dangerous” or a “devil” is to be a figure of significant stature. Milo, in other words, is worthy of that Byronic echo. Bill Maher compared him to a danger man of our own times, the maverick radical Christopher Hitchens. Others speak of him in the same breath as Oscar Wilde, another dandy with a biting wit.

What we should take from Milo, I suggest, is a valid attack on the censorious nature of the present left: we need a genuinely liberal left, one that encourages language that is polite but not policed. We should not be in any hurry to sign up for the trendy but divisive alt-right that gave Milo his short-lived platform. We should have no truck with that movement’s racism, its gay-bashing, its misogyny, its economically illiterate nationalist protectionism and its science-hostile climate-change denial. Milo’s critique of the left is a refreshing and necessary corrective to its very real faults. But we should not throw out the progressive baby with the PC bathwater.

Trans kids 2: The intersex brain

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The very large differences between one trans person’s needs and another, which were made clear via the resource guide  Families in TRANSition, at the end of the first part of this blog on transgender youth – and were later commented upon knowledgeably by Peace in the course of some excellent exchanges between readers – draw further attention to the question of what being transgender really means.

For this, that we have to ponder what constitutes gender itself. As Robin Marantz Henig wrote for the National Geographic’s special issue, gender is an amalgamation of several elements, including our biological sex: chromosomes (those X’s and Y’s), anatomy (internal sex organs and external genitals), hormones (relative levels of testosterone and oestrogen), psychology (self-defined gender identity), and culture (socially defined gender behaviours).

What gender includes can be very confusing, though, because it depends on the context. Sexologist John Money introduced the terminological distinction between biological sex and gender as a role in 1955 (long before his now discredited recommendation of surgical sex-reassignment on David Reimer in his infancy). However, Money’s meaning of the word did not become widespread until the 1970s, when feminist theory embraced the concept of a distinction between biological sex and the social construct of gender. For the purpose of today’s discussion, we definitely need to engage with the biological side.

Intersex model Hanne Gaby Odiele is genetically male but was born with ambiguous external genitalia. At age 10 she had undescended internal testes removed and transitioned to live as a female. But she now feels this surgery was unnecessary. She says, “I am proud to be intersex, but very angry that these surgeries are still happening… It’s not that big of a deal being intersex … it became a trauma because of what they did.” According to the UN, up to 1.7% of the world’s population is born with intersex traits, about the same as the number of people with red hair.

Intersex model Hanne Gaby Odiele is genetically male but was born with ambiguous external genitalia. At age 10 she had undescended internal testes removed and transitioned to live as a female. But she now feels this surgery was unnecessary. She says, “I am proud to be intersex, but very angry that these surgeries are still happening… It’s not that big of a deal being intersex … it became a trauma because of what they did.” According to the UN, up to 1.7% of the world’s population is born with intersex traits, about the same as the number of people with red hair.

The necessity of bringing in biology becomes clear once we begin to drill down into the detail of where gender dysphoric feelings are coming from. Research into foetal growth has implicated pre-natal brain development in the womb. People who want to change their assigned gender usually have completely normal genitalia at birth in accordance with their assigned sex. In these cases there is no reason to suspect a genetic abnormality or any other unusual physical condition.

Intersex, as usually understood, is different.  An intersex person has any of several variations in sex characteristics including chromosomes, gonads, sex hormones, or genitals. Such variations may involve genital ambiguity at birth. These intersex people are the ones who used to be called hermaphrodites, a term that was dropped as it was thought stigmatising. A second type of individual has typical-looking genitals but with internal intersexed features that are not apparent. These are known medically as “occult” intersex conditions. The point is that intersexed persons have, in the same body, both male and female biological characteristics that are typically found only separately in each sex. Well-known conditions of this kind include Turner syndrome and Klinefelter syndrome. Congenital adrenal hyperplasia (CAH) is associated with a specific defective gene. There are even mosaic situations in which the same individual possesses both XX (female) and XY (male) cell types. Bizarrely, as reproduction expert Milton Diamond puts it “a person might have an arm considered male because its cells are all XY while the same person’s leg might be considered female because its cells are all XX”. Bet you didn’t know that!

It is hardly surprising that people with these clearly fundamental intersex conditions may be unhappy with their assigned sex and seek sex reassignment surgery, SRS, later on.

However, Diamond has also made the striking claim that there are significant natural in-born sex differences found between the brains of trans people and others that are sufficient “to conclude that persons with a transsexual condition are intersexed. Simultaneously it is recognized that many intersexed persons will switch from their assigned gender, yet many will not. Transsexual people are persons now also commonly referred to as… transgender persons.” Here is his explanation:

It is known that the genitals and brain develop at different times. The genitals develop early prenatally during the first 6 – 12th week and they may develop in masculine or feminine form. If the genitals develop under the influence of the androgen testosterone they are masculinized. If they are not, female genitals develop. In comparison, the brain, it is believed, develops during the latter period of pregnancy and also is subject to the influence of androgen. If there is significant androgen present at that time there will be brain masculinization, if not, there will be brain feminization. It thus is clear that the brain and genitals can develop independently and under different forces.

Thus we have a clear biological explanation for trans children’s insistence that they are a girl trapped in a boy’s body, or the other way around. They may well truly have a girl’s brain – and mind – trapped in a boy’s body or vice versa.

But this is not to say that biology is destiny. As we have just heard Diamond say: “many intersexed persons will switch from their assigned gender, yet many will not.”

This takes us straight from a biologically fundamental point to an equally profound socially grounded one. Whether anyone wants to make the switch will be hugely influenced by what is socially acceptable in any specific culture. Half a century ago in many developed countries including the UK and US, gay sex was a criminal activity and just being gay was heavily stigmatised. In that atmosphere it made sense for many gender non-conforming children to grow up thinking they might be better off if they could change sex. In those days, though, this was a choice open only to a rare few: usually wealthy, independent-minded people who could find a surgeon, perhaps in another country, willing to risk their own reputation by undertaking what was then pioneering and highly controversial surgery.

Nowadays, however, in countries where homosexuality is still stigmatised, sex changes have become an accepted way of avoiding open homosexuality. The homophobic regime in Iran, for instance, is a big fan of transsexuality. It’s a thought that should give us pause. Do we really think we should be in a rush to emulate such a country?

Why should we be leaping to accept the fashionable view that changing sex is such a great idea, bearing in mind that it requires risky measures such as hormone replacement therapy (HRT), which has potentially dangerous long-term side-effects, and extensive, difficult surgery, when for many gender dysphoric people there is an increasingly viable alternative that does not mean rejecting your body? What I mean is that people, especially the millennial generation, are coming to accept the idea that there is a “gender spectrum”. We do not need to make the binary choice of being either male or female. While it is undeniable that only a tiny proportion of the population is transgender (0.3% of adults in the US, according to one scholarly estimate, with a further 3.5% who identify as lesbian, gay, or bisexual), what matters is that there is  growing public acceptance of gender variance.

Geneticist and paediatrician Eric Vilain –  another sexnetter, by the way, like Bailey, Blanchard, Diamond, Green and Zucker – has a vision for liberating gender expression without going to all the trouble and risk of changing sex. He sees us moving towards a society that thinks beyond gender stereotypes. “I am trying to advocate for a wide variety of gender expressions,” he told National Geographic writer Henig, “which can go from boys or men having long hair, loving dance and opera, wearing dresses if they want to, loving men, none of which is ‘making them girls’—or from girls shaving their heads, being pierced, wearing pants, loving physics, loving women, none of which is ‘making them boys.’ ”

Other cultures have shown that we humans are perfectly capable of such gender flexibility.  One solution adopted by many non-western cultures is, as Henig wrote,  “where a formal role exists that is neither man nor woman but another gender: South Asia (where a third gender is called hijra), Nigeria (yandaudu), Mexico (muxe), Samoa (fa‘afafine), Thailand (kathoey), Tonga (fakaleiti), and even the U.S., where third genders are found in Hawaii (mahu) and in some Native American peoples (two-spirit).”

That said, the right course for some young people will be the fullest possible social and bodily transition. There probably should be an element of pushback from parents and the medical profession in order to test the reality and intensity of their feelings. But not too much. How much is too much? This is a question that would tax the wisdom of Solomon. But if kids pass the “insistent, consistent, persistent” test, it should be good enough, provided that the decisions in question are in accordance with the child’s maturity and ability to make informed decisions.

As I said at the outset, it is not like sexual expression, where simple willingness may be enough. A young child should have free gender expression (without having to face harsh pushback), but it would be mad to let them choose SRS at this stage. Ironically, though, as Richard Green noted in his recent London talk, referred to last time, just a few decades ago there was nothing controversial about sexual reassignment surgery for intersex children from birth onwards – as long as doctors and parents were the ones doing the choosing, which they did with sometimes disastrous results, as in the notorious case of David Reimer, who was called Bruce at birth, surgically changed (with loss of penis and testicles) after a botched circumcision to become Brenda, but reverted to living as a male called David in adulthood before eventually killing himself. This was widely blamed on his traumatic unwanted sex change; but,  as Green has pointed out, Bruce’s twin brother Brian also committed suicide, without having suffered any such trauma.

Green considers that doctors such as John Money, widely vilified for his part in the Reimer case, acted from good intentions because it was considered vital for a child’s welfare that they should appear normal, which meant they had to fit in with the only two choices available, male or female. Also, it was believed in those days that kids would accept the gender they were brought up in. The controversial element at that time was confined to sex change operations on adults: grown-up were not supposed to have such surgery: it was thought freakish and perverted. It was almost as though there was an age of consent for SRS but you were required to be below that age, not above it!

As puberty approaches, a big decision comes into view. To block, or not to block? Puberty blockers can be used in order to slow the growth of sex organs and the production of hormones. Other effects include the suppression of facial hair, deep voices, and Adam’s apples for boys and the halting of breast growth and menstruation in girls. Temporarily halting the advance of puberty in this way is a hugely important option because it gives time for youngsters to mature and think deeply about their future without finding themselves saddled with irreversible bodily developments that would make later SRS less successful. Puberty blockers, like HRT, are a form of hormone treatment, but unlike the former there seems to be little risk attached to their use. In response to a safety scare earlier this month, the US Food and Drug Administration said it was reviewing the situation but was “not aware of any new documented safety concerns with this class of drugs that should change prescribing practices or warrant discontinuation of these medications.”In fact the safety issue seems to be the other way around: not having access to them involves a substantial risk of leading to unnecessary distress that might well result in suicide or a lifetime of regret over lost opportunities.

In Britain, children can be given hormone blockers to stop puberty at the age of nine, male-to-female or female-to-male sex hormones (HRT) at 16, and can undergo a full sex change at 18. I’d say that’s more or less right in appropriate cases.

But a lot of them will not be appropriate. Where kids have been “insistent, consistent, and persistent” since early childhood that they are in a body of the wrong sex, the case for allowing puberty blockers seems overwhelming. Most gender dysphoria (GD) arises much later, though, in adolescence. In these circumstances, in the absence of any evidence of “intersex brain” or another intersex condition, caution is indicated, based on the time-honoured fundamental medical principle “First, do no harm” (Primum non nocere), as reflected in the Hippocratic Oath. It is psychologist Mike Bailey’s view that adolescent-onset gender dysphoria in natal females, especially, “has a strong social/iatrogenic component”.

This last type is being studied by yet another sexnetter, Lisa Littman, of the Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai, New York, who is currently researching “rapid onset gender dysphoria”. As part of her introduction to a survey she conducted, she wrote:

We have heard from many parents describing that their child had a rapid onset of gender dysphoria in the context of increasing social media use and/or being part of a peer group in which one or multiple friends has developed gender dysphoria and come out as transgender during a similar time frame. Several parents have described situations where entire friend groups became gender dysphoric. This type of presentation is atypical and has not been studied to date.  We feel that this phenomenon needs to be described and studied scientifically.

Quite so. The is precisely the sort of social contagion (which can reverse itself as quickly as it starts) that doctors such as Ken Zucker are very wise to investigate with their patients before undertaking pharmaceutical interventions.

Bailey has identified four types of gender dysphoria, only one of them being early onset with “intersex brain” implicated.  These are: child-onset GD associated with marked gender nonconformity (both natal sexes); adolescent-to-adult onset GD associated with autogynephilia (natal males only); late-onset FTM associated with unusual sexual/gender fantasies (natal females who want to have sex with/as gay men…); and adolescent-onset GD in natal females that has a strong social/iatrogenic component.

Autogynephia is a can of worms I’d rather not open today, as it is both highly controversial and mind-bogglingly confusing. Suffice it to say that it takes us into complex interactions between gender identities and sexual orientations. The idea that sexual motivation could be the underlying driving force for wanting to change sex in some cases tends to be hotly denied. It is seen as a slur. However, for those of us who take a positive view of sex, there is no reason why it should be: a sexual motivation can be as legitimate as any other.

Finally, the future for trans youth is not just about what the medical profession recommends or the law allows. It should be about accepting and celebrating gender diversity, so that youngsters are not put under social pressure to conform to outdated gender stereotypes.

 

Trans kids 1: Insistent, consistent, persistent

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This is the first part of a two-parter on transgender youth. Heretic TOC’s tentative conclusions on trans kids’ rights and well-being, including the right to puberty blocking, will be deferred until part two. By all means send comments straight away, but it would not make sense to judge my opinions until you know what they are. As for the conclusions being “tentative”, I think that as an outsider parachuting myself into this difficult issue for the first time, that’s the way they should be. My view is offered with due humility and I welcome reasoned dissent, not least from one or two people here whose knowledge goes far beyond my own.    

 

What is best for transgender youth? Noisy militants demand the “right” of even little children to adopt the gender of their choice, so that every Stephen can become a Stephanie, start wearing dresses, long-hair and makeup, use the girls’ toilets at school and require everyone to call her “she”.

And every tomboy Stephanie, it is asserted, should be free to do the opposite. Thus the path may be cleared, or so it is hoped, for a smooth transition at adolescence and beyond to a more complete reversal, if so desired, of young people’s originally assigned sex, through hormone treatments and surgery.

Heretic TOC has always keenly advocated children’s rights, so cheerleading for the right of youth with gender dysphoria to change their gender may seem an obvious choice. What is definitely a no-brainer is that we should favour policies and practices aimed at securing their dignity and well-being – aims which should include promoting both a happy childhood and long-term flourishing in adult life.

These welfare aims are not necessarily best advanced, however, simply through declaring and implementing a child’s right to transition. This is because, unlike children’s sexual expression and self-determination, gender transition involves setting out on a path that becomes increasingly harder to reverse as time passes; and irreversible changes of a profound nature, especially sex reassignment surgery (SRS), are sometimes profoundly regretted.

ng-trans-cover-pic

On its Facebook page, the American Family Association posted about this magazine cover: “BE WARNED PARENTS AND GRANDPARENTS!!! National Geographic shakes a fist at God and biblical authority on their radical mission to advocate gender confusion…” The nine-year-old trans girl in the picture, Avery Jackson, and her parents, Debi and Tom, have received an outpouring of public support following the appearance of this very high-profile publicity, but also lots of internet trolling.

This is not to say there should be no early start to transition. Some children make their feelings very clear, very early. From as soon as they learn in infancy about the traditional dress codes and gender roles, they will begin telling their parents they have been assigned to the wrong gender. They just know, from as early as age two or three, that they are really a girl not a boy, or vice versa. In the mantra of therapists approved of by the trans community, if these children are “insistent, consistent and persistent” in such beliefs, then it makes sense to start treating them as belonging to their chosen gender, with a first name and clothes, etc., to match, perhaps just at home to begin with and later at school.

There is nothing irreversible about these symbolic changes, and for that reason there can be no strong reason for making a child’s life miserable by sternly ruling them out. But there are hazards, even at this stage. “Being” a girl instead of a boy, or a boy instead of a girl, may be relatively easy if your mum and dad are relaxed about it and they are the only ones to know; and so will changing back again if so desired. At this stage, there is no commitment beyond the level of any other “let’s pretend” game.

It is much more of a commitment to go to school with a new name and gender though. And a vastly bigger commitment if – as is increasingly happening now that transgender is suddenly such a fashionably high-profile phenomenon – your life as a trans child is featured on a TV reality show such as I Am Jazz, or if your photo is featured on the front cover of National Geographic magazine, as happened to nine-year-old Avery Jackson last month. Once things have reached this stage changing course could be as psychologically tough as getting to the altar with the dreadful sinking feeling that your betrothed is not going to be Mr or Mrs Right after all, but you are already caught in a trap.

The psychiatrist Richard Green, a pioneer in the field of transsexuality since the 1960s, expressed a dim view of transgender children being exposed to the full glare of the media when I heard him speak in London last month on the development of transsexual surgery for adults from its beginnings in the 1930s.

“I’m not convinced that going on TV to announce your child is dysphoric is the best way to ensure their development,” he said. “It might even be considered child abuse. Better if it’s under the radar: allow the child to go to a new school. You test the water. Being on the cover of National Geographic is not necessarily in that kid’s best interests.”

I agree. The high-profile route is a sign not of children being legitimately insistent, consistent and persistent, but rather of militant activism by adults who have shown themselves all too willing to use ruthlessly dishonest tactics. Think of the aggressive noisiness we hear all the time from “victims” of “historic child sexual abuse”: the pushiest ones tell the most sensational yarns and grab the most media and political attention. In this post-truth era, few seem to care whether their stories – with lurid “Satanic abuse” and improbable conspiracy theories based on “recovered memories”, or outright lying – have any basis in reality.

It’s the same, unfortunately, with some trans activists. On BBC’s Newsnight last month, for instance, an activist called Shon Faye made swingeing allegations against Dr Ken Zucker, one of the world’s most eminent clinicians in the transgender field. He falsely claimed that Zucker’s peers, in a  review of his clinical practices, found he had a habit of taking unnecessary photos of his young patients “in various states of undress” and he was “asking them very lurid sexual questions”. Zucker’s long-time colleague Ray Blanchard, also on the programme, intervened to say the allegations were untrue. The presenter stopped Faye from going any further, but by then the damage had been done. The allegations appeared to have been an attempt to recycle an earlier one. A former client, now an adult, claimed Zucker asked him to remove his shirt in front of other clinicians present, laughed when he complied, and then referred to him as a “hairy little vermin”. The accusation was subsequently retracted by the accuser. The resurrected form of the accusation on Newsnight was potentially even more damaging; its vagueness hinted at the possibility of a sexual motive on Zucker’s part – and we need no persuading as to how destructive that can be.

What is certainly true, as H-TOC has reported previously, is that there has been a long-term campaign against Zucker, who is seen by some as a monster who practised a brutal form of “conversion therapy” in which he tried to make kids’ gender identity “normal”, otherwise known in the terminology as cisgender. All this agitation led to a highly critical external review last year of Zucker’s work at his clinic, Toronto’s Centre for Addiction and Mental Health (CAMH), as a result of which he was sacked. Investigative journalist Jesse Singal wrote an in-depth series of articles about this, and concluded:

…the truth about Zucker and his clinic is a lot more complicated. Many of the claims activists have made about him are false or seriously overblown, and the “external review” that led to his firing… was absolutely riddled with errors and falsehoods. CAMH itself quickly decided it couldn’t stand by the review it had commissioned; after we reported that the single most damning allegation in the review was completely false, CAMH yanked the document off its website entirely, replacing it with a toned down “summary.” Zucker has since sued CAMH for releasing what he and his lawyer claim was a defamatory report, and that suit is ongoing.

Zucker had a great chance to put the record straight last month in a BBC 2 documentary called Transgender kids: Who knows best?, and to a significant degree he succeeded – despite a vigorous censorship bid in the shape of a the petition aimed at stopping the show going out, and Shon Faye’s libellous trashing of Zucker, broadcast as part of a Newsnight preview of the show. The programme as a whole was generally well-received by mainstream reviewers, who judged it “cautious”, “well worked out”, “even-handed” and “sophisticated”.

Crucially, it considered the controversial and all-important question of what gender dysphoria actually is. There are those, including clinicians and activists, who believe it always reveals a key aspect of an individual’s innermost, stable identity, by showing there is mismatch between their gender identity and their assigned gender, as traditionally determined by their visible genitalia at birth. Thus until they transition they will never feel at ease with who they are. Arguably, they feel a bit like a gay person before liberation or a Kind one now – forced to hide and deny a fundamental aspect of themselves, and hating the idea that the medical profession wants to wish them out of existence through a “cure”.

Zucker does not deny the importance of the fundamental identity question, but as a clinician he is also aware that people are very complicated and that any particular case may actually be driven by other factors. “Taking any behaviour in isolation when thinking about gender dysphoria is not the way that I think about it,” he says. You also need to know about the child’s family and life history. He gave the example of a girl whose mother had been murdered when she was four. The child wanted to be a boy, he said, in the belief that a boy would have been better able to protect her mother and look after himself too.

It sounded very plausible, but I note that Mike Bailey, one of the top research scientists in the field, is sceptical. Addressing him on Sexnet, Bailey said:

Ken, this mantra that there are many ways to gender dysphoria is possibly true, but it is also possibly false. That your clinical team comes up with various formulations about family dynamics that make sense to the team and that the child gets better when problematic dynamics are treated are not very convincing to me as evidence. (I think a plausible alternative is that the passage of time and a shared commitment to helping the child desist are the active ingredients.) Clinical formulations of this general type (family dynamics) have virtually no evidence supporting them.

What does have strong evidence going for it, though, is a connection between gender nonconformity and autism spectrum disorder (ASD), which can definitely be a profound mental health issue at the severe end of the spectrum. According to paediatric neuropsychologist John Strang, children and adolescents on the autism spectrum are seven times more likely than other young people to be gender nonconforming. And, conversely, children and adolescents at gender clinics are six to 15 times more likely than other young people to have ASD. Zucker has himself pointed out this connection; pro-trans activists play it down.

James/Jasmine, are you reading this? Our brilliant, geeky, teenage male-to-female transgender contributor here at Heretic TOC a couple of years ago also identified as autistic, but at the mild end of the spectrum, such that she felt it was not a mental health problem but a valid and positive aspect of her identity. If you see this, Jasmine, we’d love to hear your reaction!

Even more convincing evidence on Zucker’s side came in the programme from “Lou”, who was born female and had a double mastectomy as part of transitioning to a man. Now she feels “freakish” and regrets it deeply. She says it is a decision that “haunts” her and she feels her gender dysphoria should have been treated as a mental health issue. The identity that now feels truest to her is as a cisgender lesbian.

And yet when she was a girl entering puberty she was desperate to be a boy. Distressed by her unwanted periods, she attempted suicide. She was told by the trans community she really had no choice: it was transition or die. She did not think he had a mental health problem.

Also on Who Knows Best? was trans therapist Hershel Russell, who is based in Toronto, like Zucker, and was one of the people who helped get him sacked. Russell  tried to talk Lou’s case away as a rare exception. But even one exception is enough to prove that matters are not as simple as the more gung-ho activists would have us believe. They also have a problem with the widely-touted claim (albeit the figures are disputed) that around 80% of children and adolescents diagnosed with gender dysphoria do not in the end go through with transition: they desist, sticking with their sex as assigned at birth.

In the Q&A session following his talk on transsexual surgery, I asked Richard Green about the reasons for this desistance. I was particularly interested to know whether he thought the persistors were mainly people with a potentially diagnosable gender-related biological condition underpinning their gender dysphoria, whereas perhaps the desistors had become transgender for socially-motivated reasons.

He favoured a biological explanation for persistence, especially when it was really insistent and consistent. As for those who desist, he said a lot of them become gay or lesbian. And nobody knows better than Green, who wrote a classic book on the subject, that gender non-conforming boys tend to be homosexual later on. It appears to me that gender dysphoria and sexual orientation probably have a connected common origin. Given the present scientific consensus that sexual orientation has pre-natal biological origins, it also seems a good bet that gender dysphoria is triggered further back in an individual’s development than any social influences.

For yet another Toronto angle on all this I can thank Peace, who has guest-blogged and commented here. Transitioning from female to male, Peace has chosen not to guest-blog about his personal journey, but responded instead to my request for general information, thoughts and resources on the subject. One such resource I found particularly helpful was Families in TRANSition: A Resource Guide for Parents of Trans Youth, published by Central Toronto Youth Services.

What struck me most from this publication was its calmly reasonable tone – a million miles, one might think, from the militant, angry activism that sees Ken Zucker libelled and branded a monster. Bizarrely, however, one of those pleasant, sensible contributors turns out to be none other than Hershel Russell, one of Zucker’s most strident critics. He confesses he worries a bit about parents who seem immediately very accepting of their child’s wish to transition. Zucker himself could have written that!

A point I feel Peace would particularly agree with is this:

Trans people often describe puberty, the point at which their bodies begin to change and visibly betray their inner experience, as traumatizing – “nature’s cruel trick” – and a time of true despair. It is a time when feelings of depression or thoughts of suicide may emerge or worsen.

But the guide makes clear that being transgender is not always about heading towards radical anatomical change:

Some youth are clear that their survival depends on fully transitioning from one gender to another. Other youth find that they only need to change one aspect of their bodies, or need no medical interventions at all but rather wish to express their unique gender identity through clothing and behaviour. Whatever the case, these needs come from inside the child and, for better or worse, are unlikely to be changed by pressure or persuasion.

 

The next part of this two-part blog will go deeper into the question of what being transgender really means. It will introduce the scientific basis for a striking claim: that there is such a thing as an intersex brain. It will also discuss transgender choices in relation to wider cultural issues.  

 

Jimmy the screamer caught in VICE racket

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Jimmy “the screamer” Cantori, notorious hit-person of the Toronto mob, has gone to ground after a dramatic shoot-out last week when he was sensationally injured in a verbal battle with “heretic” Tommaso Caroli and “sex queen” Judith Levine, goodtime girl and slayer of child-protection racketeering. Cantori is thought to be nursing a badly-wounded ego.

The rumble broke out in a seedy speak-easy called Sexnet, where clients claim to “exchange information and ideas” about so-called “sex research”. Hostilities began after Cantori had bragged of an ambitious scheme to beef up the mob’s muscle by recruiting thugs on the street to press-gang men into “therapy”.

Seriously! James Cantor, a research psychologist whose hissy fits, dubious science, egotistic self-promotion and evangelical moral entrepreneurship in “support” of paedophiles have featured previously on Heretic TOC (see “Scientific egos as fragile as eggs” plus here, here and here for my engagement with him on his research), has now come up with a wheeze to use a vigilante outfit called Creep Catchers to “persuade” their victims – guys looking for sex who are tricked into a meeting they think will be with a minor – that they should seek treatment.

This came to light when James – which I will call him from now on because I’m a hopeless hater and he may well actually be sincere in his misguided aims – alerted Sexnet to a TV documentary about Creep Catchers by the appropriately named VICE News. James, who was interviewed on the programme, said he thought VICE did a great job, and I readily agree it was very slick and totally compelling.

J. Michael Bailey, moderator of Sexnet and himself a leading academic psychologist, also agreed, but then added that he thought James’s contribution had been “very, very good”. Usually, I find myself in agreement with Mike (it helps to agree with a moderator! 🙂 ), but not this time. So I said as much, although Judith Levine got in first with a fine one-liner, saying she thought the vigilante was the one who needed therapy – meaning a bully calling himself “Justin Payne”, a name possibly intended to evoke the idea of meting out pain in the name of justice. He was the guy actually confronting his entrapped victims, taunting and shaming them while his partner in a two-man team captured the confrontations on video.

My response was to say that:

…yes, James is very, very good at fulfilling a culturally assigned role, which is why the media lap him up.  Where paedophilia is concerned, he is the velvet glove masking the iron fist. He makes it possible for educated, civilised liberals to believe that essentially coercive therapies are necessary.

That alone would have been a red rag to a bull on Sexnet, where a substantial chunk of the membership are paid to develop and implement such therapies: most of them are well-meaning but their careers are built on oppression, including “therapy” within “civil confinement” prisons in the US from which there is virtually no prospect of release, despite treatment courses designed to make offenders safe for life outside.

What would have enraged James even more, though, was my response, and Judith Levine’s, to news he gave about a further development. He posted to say he was scheduled to be on a panel discussion with Justin Payne in February and was “hoping to use the opportunity to call on Creep Catchers to funnel victims into therapy instead of harassment”.

I replied saying “Not sure how encouraging thugs to bully and press-gang people into treatment would play with a medical ethics board. If something else is intended, what would it be? Is complicity with the leopards expected to change their spots?”

Judith posted swiftly in support:

…does Cantor really want to wave a magic wand & combine entrapment with enticements to therapy? How about just getting rid of mandatory reporting?

James is actually on record as being against mandatory reporting laws, which require doctors and other professionals to report to the authorities anyone coming to them for advice or therapy if they disclose any offence. His objection is that such laws deter paedophiles from seeking help – a very strong point because some people are genuinely desperate or even out of control and really do need it. Nevertheless, Judith was right to propose focusing on the reporting issue rather than going down the maverick route of colluding with thugs. As I said in a follow-up, the police wouldn’t touch Creep Catchers with a bargepole and neither should he – though the forces of law and order would do well to challenge the vigilantes over their harassment and intimidating behaviour.

Back to the VICE documentary itself. In one of James’s televised interview points he claimed, as he has done elsewhere, that paedophilia is characterised by crossed wiring in the brain. He said that  instead of having parental or avuncular feelings towards children, paedophiles identify them as sex objects.

Where, I asked, was this  “instead of” coming from? Why would it be one or the other rather than both? I pointed out that at least 20-25% of “normal” men show significant sexual arousal to children in lab-based psychological tests. Most of these guys would presumably be family men, with nothing to suggest they are anything other than loving parents in the socially approved sense of loving. If they can be kind, caring, and affectionate, with an element of erotic attraction in the mix, why would this double response not also apply to preferential paedophiles?

Unfortunately, Mike Bailey seemed blinded by the hostile tone of my post, saying he had been “taken aback” by my attack on James Cantor, whom he described as a humane person who just wanted to stop paedophiles’ lives being ruined.

Right! Sure! As someone whose experience of James’s humane concern has been experienced through nothing but his icy refusal to acknowledge anything I have ever said on Sexnet, through to his cold, dismissive references to “O’Carroll’s” lack of professional standing and expertise, to screaming fits of outright abuse and demands that I be kicked off the forum, I begged to differ. After seven years of this from him since my forum membership started in 2010, I had concluded that nothing would make him happier than to see this particular paedophile’s life ruined; or, better still, terminated! I suspect I must have been murdered in his dreams a number of times and I’d rather not dwell on the methods he might have come up with.

And not just me: any other Kind person on the forum who dared to utter so much as a squeak of modest dissent against his self-enforced towering authority would face a blast of withering scorn. He must have verbally murdered half a dozen of us over the years, leaving me as the last man standing. All the others have either wisely kept a low profile (two or three continue to do useful work through private contacts with key forum members) or else retaliated by giving  James a defiant blast of their own, followed by their swift demotion to non-posting status for failing to know their station.

I have huge respect for Mike and I could see no mileage in antagonising him by pursuing a vendetta on the forum against a colleague he has known for decades without, it seems, being troubled by his obvious volatility. Far better to row back a bit, then try a careful re-casting of my argument, this time without ruffling feathers. So, I apologised for my hostile tone but continued to maintain my original scientific point about “normal” men’s sexual response to children in lab tests. The information I had given was not only correct, which Mike admitted, but also relevant, which he had denied. This time, after my further explanation, he conceded I had a point, albeit he felt James did not really believe paedophiles never feel parental-type love for children. My reaction: no, maybe not, but that is effectively what he said in public and it is pure poison because it suggests that Kind people are wired up to be unkind – selfishly interested only in their sexual expression and callously indifferent to children’s feelings and best interests.

I carefully spelled out that the “crossed wires” analogy presents paedophilic mental experience as a polar opposite of the norm, rather than part of a continuum in which most paedophiles have a great deal in common with others. Thus “the paedophile” is presented in a dehumanising way as a freakishly different being. This, I said, seems to me to be on a par with the equally false and damaging claim (now largely corrected in the literature) that paedophilic “offenders” lack empathy.

It was hard to gauge what other sexnetters were thinking at this point. Posts by established academics on less controversial topics, such as a thread today on “copulatory vocalisation”, tend to be followed up quickly with colleagues chipping in further information, often with friendly banter and jokes thrown in. My posts used to be met with brusque dismissal or patronising little lectures on where I was going wrong – until both types of response were met with clear evidence that I know my way around the literature and can back up my arguments with facts. After that they tended to shut up, except for James as the ranting voice of determined hostility on one side and a few brave souls on the other who have broken ranks occasionally to offer respectful dialogue on friendly first-name terms, or even support.

Mike has always been one of these. And now he came to the rescue again. Pleased by my change of tone, he turned his mind to my argument, and this time readily agreed I had a point. Most of the others maintained what I take to be a grudging, resentful silence. Someone started a purely theoretical discussion with Mike as to whether paedophilia is or is not taxonomically distinct; two or three others called for a halt to the personal spat. James got a bit of support for his efforts to “help” paedophiles, notably from Dan Watter, president of the Society for Sex Therapy and Research; but these were very brief contributions that neither attacked me nor addressed my arguments. And that was about it. Except for Judith Levine.

She had said vigilantes such as Creep Catchers tried “to scare the living bejesus” out of people and their activities could not be condoned. James disagreed, saying “Whether we here like it or not, their actions have great public support and attention.” Opposing them directly would not work: “This method, history has shown time and again, will only fuel the fire and add to the anti-intellectual fervor of the day.” Judith came back strongly. She wrote:

…as a political tactic, every movement needs radicals to stand not only for what we might get now but what we really want & really believe in. Current “sex offender” policies and practices are not only ineffective and counterproductive…. They are wrong. Legal hyper-punishment is unjust, and vigilante violence is immoral. No one should condone them, even obliquely.

This prompted Richard Green to enter the fray in support of Judith’s record, citing not only her well-known book Harmful to Minors: The Perils of Protecting Children From Sex, discussed in comments here last time, but also her service as a Director of the National Center for Truth and Justice, which campaigns against what he called “problematic sex laws” and supports those falsely accused of child sex abuse.

Now into his eighties, Richard has a long and distinguished record of radicalism of his own as a leading academic psychiatrist who successfully campaigned against homosexuality being treated as a mental illness, and who made a bold bid to do likewise for paedophilia in a far less sympathetic political climate. As president of the International Academy of Sex Research he even stuck his neck out by inviting me as his guest speaker at the academy’s annual conference in 2000 – which is where I first met Mike Bailey.

Amazingly, by the time of Richard’s intervention on the Creep Catchers thread, it looked as though peace was breaking out. James posted in a remarkably emollient tone, even calling me Tom, which he has never done before. Wonders never cease! Alas, it didn’t last long. Like so many tactical ceasefires in so many conflicts, it would only take a single disaffected sniper to wreck the prospects of peace.

This time it was Nick Devin, Virtuous Pedophiles founder, who weighed in with a highly personal attack on me, saying I had always been mean to him despite his best efforts to hold out the hand of friendship. He had a point. I do not possess an effigy of Nick, but if I did it would be stuck so full of pins it would look like a hedgehog. Have I been unreasonable towards him? Maybe. But it’s hard to see clearly through a miasma of visceral loathing and contempt. Did I say I am not a good hater? Perhaps I should think again. Or maybe not. My view of Nick is not set in concrete, whereas a good hater’s would be.

Be that as it may, Nick’s “contribution” seemed to set James off again. Certainly, I cannot otherwise explain why he unexpectedly came back into the fray, like one of those horror-film monsters you think has just been despatched but suddenly stirs…

I won’t dignify what he said by repeating any of it. It was all utter crap, which I rebutted immediately, calmly and in detail, in a 2000-word volley that included reference to the opinions of sexnetters who have commended my contribution to the forum, including this, from transsexuality expert Anne Lawrence: “If Sexnet gave an award for clear, eloquent, well reasoned analysis, Tom O’Carroll would get my vote.”

The last word went to Mike Bailey:

There is no thought to excluding Tom O’Carroll from SEXNET. He knows a lot about some important topics, and SEXNET would be poorer intellectually without his presence.

That said, both Tom and his critics sometimes–too often–can’t keep themselves from digging/insulting each other. This is to their own detriment. The only people that appeals to is themselves (for retributive purposes) and the people who already agree with them. It is mostly annoying to others, and keeps others from reading their reasoning carefully. Which is a shame, because all are very thoughtful and taking important, mostly reasonable, positions.

I would be a fool to argue against any part of this, which is why, despite one or two ceasefire-breaking little salvos of my own, here, I do not rule out reconciliation with both Nick and James. But it has to be on a basis of intellectual and personal respect. Mutual, of course. They have both been invited to comment and will be treated courteously by me if they do so and, I hope, by other heretics.

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