On the Science of Changing Sex

Stereotypes are Dangerous

Posted in Science Criticism, Transsexual Field Studies by Kay Brown on December 27, 2011

critical-thinkingEveryone knows that… yet we still develop and use them.  In a 2008 letter to the editor regarding a paper purporting to compare the sexuality of autogynephilic and non-autogynephilic transsexuals by Veale, et al., Anne Lawrence and Michael Bailey challenged the conclusions of the paper,

We argue here that Veale et al. reached erroneous conclusions, as a result of significant methodological problems in their analysis. Specifically, we contend that: (1) In performing their cluster analysis, Veale et al. inappropriately employed two variables that were unrelated to autogynephilia, in addition to two variables that were genuine measures of autogynephilia; (2) consequently, both transsexual groups defined by their cluster analysis displayed substantial autogynephilia: They are best described as the ‘‘autogynephilic’’ and ‘‘even more autogynephilic’’ groups, not the ‘‘nonautogynephilic’’ and ‘‘autogynephilic’’ groups; (3) because Veale et al. failed to recognize that both transsexual groups were autogynephilic, they mistakenly concluded that their results were partly inconsistent with Blanchard’s. Despite these limitations, the Veale et al. study provided valuable confirmation of another phenomenon that is widely recognized but that until now has been poorly documented: MtF transsexuals who are active on the Internet appear overwhelmingly to be autogynephilic.

Bailey and Lawrence held forward as part of their explanation as to why all of Veale’s transsexual subjects were autogynephilic was their assertion that transsexuals that were using the internet were exclusively autogynephilic because AGP transsexuals are geeky and especially drawn to computers, while transkids are not.

In our opinion, the principal value of this study lies elsewhere.  Specifically, the Veale et al. study provides important confirmation of a phenomenon that is widely recognized but that until now has been poorly documented: MtF transsexuals who are active on the Internet appear overwhelmingly to be autogynephilic (nonhomosexual).  We have observed, based on interviews we have conducted with hundreds of MtF transgender persons, that nonhomosexual MtF transsexuals are often intensely interested in computers, tend to gravitate toward computer-related occupations and hobbies, and often spend much of their free time using the Internet (see Bailey 2003, pp. 168, 196; Lawrence 2007, p. 514). Hints concerning these tendencies appeared in the academic literature over 30 years ago, when Laub and Fisk (1974) remarked that many of their MtF patients with gender dysphoria displayed a notable ‘‘interest in mathematics and computer sciences’’ (p. 399). Some 20 years later, MtF transsexual activist and author Rachel Pollack commented matter-of-factly that the dual occupations she assigned to the MtF transsexual protagonist in one of her fiction series–prostitute and computer programmer–’’were deliberately chosen from the main occupations of [MtF] transsexual women’’ (Gabriel & Pollack, 1995, p. 48), as though this were common knowledge. But these observations have not been confirmed by formal empirical research, as far as we can determine.

One of the two references they cited, as being examples to demonstrate that Veale’s study subjects were likely to be exclusively autogynephilic included Rachel Pollack creating a character who is a prostitute and computer programmer.  This was cited as evidence that computer programmer was one of the two most likely occupations of MTF transsexuals.  They were citing the use of stereotypes as though that use proved that they were true, a classic tautology.  Held up as true was the supposition that AGP MTF trannsexuals were geeky and especially drawn to computers, while transkids are likely to be prostitutes, as they are especially promiscuous and drawn to sex work.

These stereotypes, for both AGP and transkids, are just as pernicious as those involving other groups; the dumb blonde, the greedy jew, the lazy black man, the bad woman driver, the bitter and humorless dyke… all wrong and insidiously malicious.

There may be a grain of truth to the observations that many of the AGP transsexuals have been computer programmers, but is it because they are especially draw to such work, or to computers in general?

Sadly, for MTF transkids, there is also a grain of truth to the assertion that they are more likely to be or have been “prostitutes”.  But this is not because they are promiscuous, etc.  It is because our society leaves them few other options, just as the high unemployment found among young black men is due to fewer opportunities, especially in our present jobless economic “recovery”.

First let’s examine that other reference cited by Lawrence and Bailey that AGP transsexuals are geeky and drawn to computers and especially to computer programming, in which Laub and Fisk reported that their SRS candidates included a high number of those who were interested in “mathematics and computer programming”.  Frankly, having been in the Stanford program as a teenager, having grown up quite literally (not figuratively) blocks away from both Laub’s and Fisk’s houses, riding my bicycle past them for years… I would be very much surprised if that had not been the case; For Stanford University is the very epicenter, the beating heart of Silicon Valley.  If one were to climb to the top of Hoover Tower, one could see the garage where Hewlett and Packard, both Stanford grads, started HP.  In another direction, one could possibly just make out the garage where my high school classmate Steve Jobs started Apple.  From that tower you can literally see the headquarters of Cisco, Ebay, Google, Facebook, Intel, Adobe, etc.  Thus, their report that there were a high number of computer programmers in their program is easily explained as a “sampling error”.

What I can accept as true is that AGP transsexuals will have had more highly paid, traditionally masculine, jobs before transition.  For a mid-life candidate, transitioning successfully is expensive, what with electrolysis, hair transplants, tracheal shave, breast implants, facial feminization, and finally SRS.  Further, losing straight male privilege may entail loss of opportunities for further career advancement, and likely losing a wife and children to divorce.  Thus, I believe, that there is a selection effect that occurs for AGP transsexuals in that those who feel that they can “afford” it, are more likely to transition.  We can see that in the already clinically observed higher IQ in AGP transsexuals.  Intelligence is highly correlated with high Socio-Economic Status (SES).  Thus, we can expect to find that AGP transsexuals are more likely to have high SES… and the types of jobs that high SES men have.

Looking at one list of top paying jobs, we note that of the top jobs, Anesthesiologist (at #2; Paging Dr. Lawrence?), Lawyer, College Professor, Airline Pilot, and yes, Computer Scientist, are all very high on the list.  These are all jobs that we have seen AGP transsexuals holding prior to transition.  It is not that AGP transsexuals are especially drawn to “mathematics and computer programming” it is that those individuals from the larger pool of potential AGP transsexuals, who have higher SES and are in occupations that are most friendly to transsexuals, are more likely to transition.  Computer programming has one of the best return on education investment ratios of all of the jobs listed above.  Computer programmer is the only job that it is possible to get without either a graduate degree or extensive (and expensive) training.  One can even become a computer programmer as a college drop-out (e.g. Bill Gates, Steve Jobs)!  It also has the advantage of not requiring public contact, and thus one’s employer is more likely to accept an employee in transition.  Thus, it should be no surprise that computer programmer is a likely job for an AGP transsexual.  But I assert that autogynephilic males in general are not especially drawn to computers.

But if this is the case, why are Veale’s transsexual subjects all AGP? (I do agree with Bailey and Lawrence on this point.)  This is most likely to be a sampling effect of a given social network.  Veale readily admits that this is not a random sample.  She reached out to the transsexual community through a limited set of venues, all of which were dominated by AGP transsexuals.

Bailey and Lawrence have asserted that interest in computers leads to heavy use of computers, and thus more likely to use the internet.  But this is a non sequitur.  Today, everyone is using computers on the internet, especially for social media.  One such venue, facebook, is so popular that I personally tallied over 25% of my graduating high school class had a facebook page!  When we add up all of the possible other venues, the percentage of the U.S. population using the internet is very, very high… 77.3% at the moment.  Could there be some reason transkids don’t use the internet?  With SmartPhone availablity, I doubt any but the very poorest and most desperate street trannie is without some internet connection.

“Birds of a feather, flock together.”  It may be a tired old saw, but contains a very powerful sociological truth.  In this case, AGP and early transsexuals have very little in common save HRT and SRS.  We live different lives and have different concerns.  Plus, a very pugnacious minority of AGP transsexuals are extremely antagonistic and even vengeful, when early transitioning transwomen, truthfully, point out the difference.  Thus, our social networks, in person and on the internet, are largely mutually exclusive.  So, Veale failed to include very many, if any, early transitioned subjects.

Turning back to transkids:

Transkids are often viewed by their families as a deep embarrassment.  Their obvious gender atypical behavior and “homosexual” orientation (pre-transition) are viewed as culturally and religiously impermissible.  Such kids may experience antipathy that may range from emotional neglect, emotional abuse, to life threatening physical abuse.  In such cases, a transkid may believe, and act on that belief, that running away is the safer course of action.  For other transkids, their families may ask or tell them to leave.  These kids are literally thrown away.  Although transkids aren’t the only kids to be so treated, the percentage of them that are is extremely high, far, far higher than average.

If a teenaged MTF becomes a runaway, or throw-away, she is faced with very limited choices to survive.  She will have few job skills, and even fewer legitimate prospects.  What employer is going to hire a homeless “street trannie” over a “respectable” teen from a “good” family?  Under such circumstances, she will often meet up with other “street trannies” (or “transsies”, as we were called when I was a teen), who have already turned to survival sex.  Survival sex is when one exchanges sex, or other erotic favors, for food, shelter, or other necessities.  If she is unlucky, what begins as survival sex spirals into commercial prostitution that for a few years, becomes a way of life, a life that is very difficult to leave once caught up in it.  In the U.S., studies show that about 27-43% of all street kids aged 11-23, not just street transkids, have experienced such survival sex, while 6-20% engaged in transactional sex (for money, drugs, or material possessions).  My point here is, runaway and throw-away transkids are no different than other street youth in being at risk of sexual exploitation by adults.  I believe that in the U.S., one out of three transkids has engaged in survival sex.  The Tsoi study of Singapoorean MTF transkids shows the pattern.  One third of them will be “prostitutes” at some point in their lives.  Although the study did not distinguish between survival sex and street prostitution, I’d be willing to bet that they are describing a mixture of survival sex and commercial prostitution.  The majority of those in the Tsoi study who became “prostitutes” did so if they transitioned as teenagers, likely after leaving their natal home, supporting my assertion that such prostitution was not sought out by young transitioners, but was merely a means of survival because they had few if any other opportunities.

If transkids’ families are emotionally and financially supportive, in the normal manner as they would any other loved and valued child, transkids do not become “prostitutes” in any sense!  These kids will not be visible to the public or law enforcement.  They will quietly transition and live invisibly in their communities.  Remember, two out of three MTF transkids do not become “prostitutes”.

Thus, we have sampling error effect in that the only transkids that are visible to the public are those unfortunates who have fallen into commercial prostitution, reinforcing a false stereotype.

If I can share a personal note here?  On my 18th birthday, just a week before I graduated from high school, my father came over to my mother’s house, with whom I had been living after my parents divorced a year before, and gave me a combination birthday and graduation gift of an inexpensive clock radio, the only such gift any family member proffered.  He also delivered the news that I had been expecting for months.  He told me that I was not welcome at my mother’s house, nor his nearby apartment.  I would have to leave home after graduation.  As the family did not want me to further embarrass them, they required that I move away some distance.  To enforce that distance, I would be given a small allowance, to become a “remittance man” (defined here)  My father encouraged me to attend a community college, which made me even more bitter, in that six months earlier, I had been accepted to a four year college in another part of the state, but my folks had shown no inclination to support that ambition; so I had had to decline the acceptance.  That allowance amount was NOT enough to live on as I soon discovered.  I was in essence, a throw-away kid.  But I feel I was one of the lucky ones, in that I was above average intelligence, resourcefulness, and was not without some skills.  I survived.

References:

Jaimie F. Veale, Dave E. Clarke and Terri C. Lomax, “Sexuality of Male-to-Female Transsexuals”
http://www.springerlink.com/content/bp2235t8261q23u3/

Anne A. Lawrence and J. Michael Bailey
Transsexual Groups in Veale et al. (2008) are “Autogynephilic” and “Even More Autogynephilic”
http://www.springerlink.com/content/u473w370g11vx758/

Jaimie F. Veale, David E. Clarke and Terri C. Lomax
Reply to Lawrence and Bailey (2008)
http://www.springerlink.com/content/cm2531l3m3148377/

MyPlan.com, “Top Ten Lists / Highest Paying Jobs”
http://www.myplan.com/careers/top-ten/highest-paying.php

Internet World Stats
http://www.internetworldstats.com/am/us.htm

National Alliance to end Homelessness
“HOMELESS YOUTH AND SEXUAL EXPLOITATION:
Research Findings and Practice Implications”
http://graphics8.nytimes.com/packages/pdf/us/20090919_alliance_draft_report.doc

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