A Lesser Worn Path

By Penny Robo

Realizing that you’re trans comes with the additional realization that the path your life is to take is not as well-worn as what most find themselves on. Fewer feet have tamped down the earth and tamed the grass, less resources have been expended to smooth and pave, and many forks are devoid of signage to help you navigate forward. Many of the maps were burned away long ago and the current offerings are as likely to offer you correct directions as they are to admonish you for even considering this path in the first place.

And heaven forbid that you should openly share the route that worked for you.

These recent attempts to cull our numbers – by segregating many of us as trend chasers or desperate people looking for a magic cure-all to their woes – has greater effect than the most immediate, that is to provide a “plausible rationale” for invalidating the identities of trans youth. “Stemming the tide” so to speak in the face of increased awareness leading to increased recognition. It also serves to cut a link in the chain of what is largely a verbal history for our community. Literature has been burned (quite literally) and mountains of intellectually dishonest and ethically dubious material clutter the discussion, and maneuvering around the trash can be tedious and taxing on even the best of days.

Till the last several years, I found myself struggling with trans research online, finding that the most open and upfront information I could come across was in support groups – physical locations I had to travel to and from on specific days of the month, with little guarantee it’d be worth my time – and it wasn’t always within my means to attend. But since then the internet has become a dependable and vibrant replacement, where fact-checking is par for the course and discovering people with whom you truly connect is easier than ever before.

So of course they want to harm that. By drawing these distinctions, by inventing forms of “lesser transness” with which to undermine these widespread methods of support and learning, they can reintroduce the paradigm they so enjoyed before: forcing us to seek counsel and education in dim, claustrophobic rooms once a month, where the validation we find cannot be taken out with us. Where children must have the express permission and support of their parents just to dip their toes into their own community.

The latter was already difficult enough a decade ago; imagine how hard it’d be for a child to overcome a parent’s hesitation today when the phrase “rapid onset gender dysphoria” has been burned into their brains. Were it to be accepted, Littman’s paper must have seemed like the best of all possible worlds to the gender critical crowd, simultaneously diminishing the credibility of online resources while adding additional hesitance in parents to attending real world groups, and hopefully introducing a generational gap in those real world groups that would amplify any reticence on the part of any trans youth.

Fortunately, the pushback from virtually everyone has been severe. The bulk of the responses to counter-arguments has been firmly ad hominem. The journal is looking into the veracity of the study’s findings, her university has pulled the already meager advertisement of having simply noted its existence, and the author is under fire from every conceivable angle for her personal monument to intellectual dishonesty, factual misrepresentation, and advocacy for child harm.

Make no mistake, the failings of her work were intentional. Someone wishing to trade in objective truth does not distort the findings of others to cement their claims, end of story. The only reason to do so is if their position sits in opposition to the data, obliterating any value to their proclamations of truth-seeking.

To quote Jean-Luc Picard, “… a lie of omission is still a lie.”

Of course, it’d be silly for me to claim to know the inner workings of another’s mind. While it is plausible that this was all intentional, ultimately undermined by a supreme overestimation in her abilities to twist a believable narrative from clearly compromised information (or the belief that her “enemies” were playing the same game as her and was legitimately unaware that the other team is actively concerned about demonstrable reality) it is also feasible that she was not conscious of what she was doing. There may have been phenomenal dissonance in play, an overwhelming unconscious need to marry her personal discomfort with trans people as a whole – and trans youth in particular – with some version of reality so as to not have to consciously face the idea that her instincts are harmful.

The same way that a racist will wrap themselves in a security blanket of context-deprived statistics that ignore even the most common of common sense in order to provide something resembling an objective anchoring to their own personal failings, people like Lisa Littman may also be attempting to alleviate discomfort over their shortcomings of character by tethering their harmful beliefs to studies and papers that mimic the appearance of proper research and science, permitting them to continue believing themselves to be moral, ethical, and rational people. This would go a long way toward explaining why, when faced with evidence of a study’s failures, these crowds are content to resort to slut-shaming those calling it into question instead of presenting evidence and debate: a deep-dive into the facts would eviscerate their position, so they don’t even bother.

The cognitive dissonance is strong in this crowd.

It is a great fortune that the premiere exhibit of this supposed condition, the ostensibly fact-based cornerstone of a dangerous and inhumane stack of beliefs, is so very, very flawed. Being based on bunk would have ultimately buried it, but were it not so patently absurd at first glimpse it may have stood a chance at staking itself into academia and entering the general public’s awareness. If it could have withstood a casual glance without setting off klaxons then its numerous shortcomings may have been ignored long enough for real damage to have been done. As it stands, all it seems to have accomplished right now is place a harmful group of people under a microscope. Ultimately, their hoped-for saving grace may have actually killed the unearned and misplaced legitimacy of their fictional disease in the present or future.

It’s almost enough to make one believe in a just universe.

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About Zinnia Jones

My work focuses on insights to be found across transgender sociology, public health, psychiatry, history of medicine, cognitive science, the social processes of science, transgender feminism, and human rights, taking an analytic approach that intersects these many perspectives and is guided by the lived experiences of transgender people. I live in Orlando with my family, and work mainly in technical writing.
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