They need it to be true: Bad science as a shield against self-examination

by Penny Robo

Penny Robo

While many outlets and pundits trumpeted the same idea, it was perhaps the Wall Street Journal’s coverage of Littman’s ROGD “study” that encapsulated the ridiculousness of it all, of the concept that the backlash was a fight between noble researchers and ideological censors. It’s true, of course, but they managed to get the entire battle backward, quietly ignoring that those opposed to the paper were endlessly citing its scientific failings as its supporters threw personal insults back in response. The reason the WSJ op-ed was particularly head-scratching was because the writer had been in contact with Zinnia and had been given a full rundown on how Littman’s work was bad science done in bad faith, and they still managed to get the whole damn thing ass backwards.

Almost like they didn’t want the study to be a fraud.

I get it, I truly do, but honesty is important here. You have to be able to acknowledge that the reason you’re defending Littman’s paper isn’t because you think it’s true, or that you think it posits a credible hypothesis, but that your defense of it has been earned entirely by your desire to have it be true.

You don’t like trans people. A lot of people don’t, you’re not alone in that. But while many people write us off as simply sick or crazy or confused and don’t bother to give it a second thought, you’re too smart to enjoy such blissful ignorance. You’re smart enough to have an uncomfortable twisting in your stomach when your knee-jerk feelings about trans people come to the surface. You’re smart enough that you need reason to back your feelings, otherwise you’re left with the simple reality that you’re a bargain-basement bigot.

So off you go. The terf community would wax faux-philosophical but that wasn’t sufficient, so the boundaries were drawn in new ways: science would support you. Science would provide you with an unbreakable foundation to lay your discomfort upon, safe from assault. It made perfect sense, you only now needed to find that science. The old papers had been thoroughly debunked and the new research wasn’t helping either; the damned studies kept finding that HRT and other affirming treatments were effective and improved the quality of their lives. Trans people were, for lack of a more comfortable word, “legitimate”.

So what to do? As you look around for data to bolster your position, you come across the “transtrender” concept… that amongst the few “real” trans people there are scores of people looking to get into the cool kids club by joining the hip, newly-publicized minority that everyone’s talking about! Forget the crushing social stresses and disturbingly high rates of sexual assault and murder victimhood, it’s all about being the coolest mofo on the block. And that’s it, that’s your angle! You don’t hate trans people, far from it, you’re open and tolerating and accepting and a legitimately good person, your issue stems entirely from all these posers just looking for something to make the feel special somehow.

Alright, so that’s settled… you are cool with trans people, but most self-proclaimed trans people aren’t actually trans, and those are the ones you dislike, so that knot in your stomach has been adequately loosened for now. Of course, the show must go on and you’ll need to find research to back this up before the discomfort returns. And in rolls Littman. She looks great on paper: good job, good access, good potential spokesperson for your crisis-alleviating theory on the “truth about trans people” that is under the banner of Rapid Onset Gender Dysphoria. ROGD will be the solution to all your woes. You won’t be a bad person, as a matter of fact you were insightful and prescient, so not just good but also great!

Even the old-school terfs that don’t think we’re legitimate in any form recognize the power this holds, that by giving a single concession to us they’ll be setting up the dominos that will knock us all down. So you did it. The community collectively rallied behind the new paper on the block, proof positive that most trans people aren’t actually trans people and you’re able to hate on them with abandon, and all you had to do was concede that trans people were real.

That was all you had to do! Admit that trans identities are valid, and you’re given all the ammunition you’ll ever need to question the validity of trans people you don’t like or wish to be around, all under the guise of intellectual and ethical superiority. You gave an inch and you’re getting a mile in return! The sinking feeling has vanished and you are in the eyes of the world, not to mention your reflection, a bona fide Good Person™.

Then the nitpicking starts. You expected a pushback against this, but you’ve already got a checkmate no matter what they do, you just need to hold out till they realize they’ve got no way to counter you. Then the nitpicking starts to pick up speed and begin scaling up… information is shown to have been selectively edited, the author appears to be completely unaware of one of the most common mental illnesses in existence, and ignorant of even the DSM itself. She’s completely clueless about the history of medical gatekeeping, despite being documented in published papers for decades. And not a single trans person was involved in her study on trans people.

You’re scrambling for explanations but none are to be found. Institutions are backpedaling as they realize what you can’t accept. The author gives no reasons or excuses for the major lapses in knowledge and methodology. Your friends counter the pushback by lobbing personal insults instead of confronting the accusations. Your defensive line is buckling. To accomplish the feat that was promised to them, the old-school terfs had to give up their sacred ground that was “trans women aren’t women”, and they are absolutely pissed.

What do you do? You can’t argue the facts, because the paper provides none. So you buy yourself time to figure things out. If this isn’t real then you’re not a Good Person™, and you have to be a Good Person™. You can’t not be.

And thanks to the efforts of a million other people just like you, you come to a defense that’ll help you hold the line till you can figure out your next strategy. That this is all a fight between noble researchers and ideological censors.

Unfortunately, the WSJ’s argument wasn’t the only thing that managed to get completely twisted around from the reality of the situation. As you’re now discovering, yet terrified of acknowledging, that checkmate you were so proud of was also not yours. It was ours. No matter the moves you make, you can’t stop it from happening. The science doesn’t agree with you. History will not agree with you either.

And that sinking feeling will not go away, not as long as you refuse to accept that you’re just straight up wrong. You don’t wanna be a bigot but you are. You can embrace that or reject that, it’s your decision, but there’s no paper waiting in the wings, no earth-shattering study assembling over the hill, there’s absolutely nothing coming along to save you by telling you there’s a scientific basis for your discomfort.

Because that discomfort is your conscience.

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About Zinnia Jones

My work focuses on insights to be found across transgender healthcare, public health, psychiatry, and history of medicine, integrating these many perspectives and guided by the lived experiences of trans people. I live in Orlando with my family, and work mainly in technical writing.
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