On the Science of Changing Sex

Don’t Shoot the Messenger

Posted in Editorial by Kay Brown on May 30, 2013

Cloudy♫♫Did Galileo pray?♫♫  – Ellis Paul

I’ve received a number of emails from a number of folks who have read and understood the implications of the science that I report on here, many of whom thanked me for writing about it in such a way as to allow it to be accessible and understandable.  To them, I’m glad you found the material of use.

On the other hand, nearly everyone one of them also reported that they had noticed that when discussing the science, they find that many disagree with the theory, and often deny that the phenomena that led to it even exists!  I will never be able to reach outright denialists.  If one does not even acknowledge that there are male  individuals who are autogynephilic, then one can’t begin to consider a theory of how that leads to gender dysphoria and transsexuality, and even less to the observation that exclusively androphilic MTF transwomen do not experience autogynephilia!  But, I do think it would be instructive to catalog, deconstruct, and respond to many of the objections to the two type theory.

{NOTE:  If you are coming into the middle of this and are not familiar with the two type theory please start with my FAQ}

The most common objection that I have heard is that “everyone” has rejected this theory.  Of course, by “everyone”, when queried, turns out to be most MTF transwomen on their discussion board.  This is the weakest argument one could imagine.  Consider that when Nikolai Kopernik (Nickolaus Copernicus in Latin) first proposed the heliocentric model of what we now call the “solar system”, and when Galileo Galilei’s observations supported it, it was vehemently rejected since “everyone” knew that the Earth was the center of the universe.  Truth by Popularity is  a common logical fallacy.

One commenter on a Reddit discussion had the temerity to pronounce that the scientific community and examined the theory and shown it to be wrong.  Fortunately, a very world wise lesbian woman answered simply, “Liar!”.  The scientific community that has any interest in the field has been steadily testing and showing that the data supports the theory and has been suggesting further studies to test Blanchard’s prediction concerning brain morphology.  {See my essays on Brain Sex}  Lying about the science isn’t considered a valid debating tactic.

Another common gambit is to say that their own personal story, their narrative, proves the theory is wrong.  Sorry, but sexology scientists aren’t terribly interested in what individual people’s narratives are, but what they, collectively, actually do.  Fans of the TV show “House” will recognize the eponymous character’s favorite catch phrase, “Everyone lies.”  Science depends on data; the plural of anecdote is not data.  The data clearly shows that the majority of non-exclusively androphilic MTF transwomen readily admit to having experienced autogynephilia while the majority of (self-reported) exclusively androphilic do not.  {See my essay on Social Desirability Bias for further info on unreliability of individual narratives}

Another tactic I’ve seen is to call into question the character and motivations of those who are doing the research or those that are writing about the science, or even resort to character assassination and false claims of professional misconduct.  {See Alice Dreger’s research into the disgraceful persecution of Prof. J. Michael Bailey}  This is a combination of the ad hominem attack and the Genetic Fallacy, wherein one attempts to refute an augment based on who supports it.  Sorry, but shooting the messenger won’t change the reality underneath the science.  Once a hypothesis is known to the scientific community, the proposer is given credit for having done so, but after that, s/he no longer “owns” it.  Anyone can attempt to refute it, test it, and even modify it to fit reality.  That is exactly what has been happening the past three decades.  The Kurt Freund/ Ray Blanchard two type hypothesis has met every test that has been conducted to date.  {See my essays on supporting the Two Type Hypothesis}

An odd comment made on one of the Wikipedia pages regarding the theory made much of the language that Blanchard used in describing the process by which a scientist makes observations of a phenomena, makes a hypothesis, and then submits it to tests, perhaps by themselves, but certainly by others, and how that develops into a theory.  But the commenter deliberately distorted Blanchard’s acknowledgement that in science, ALL hypothesis and even theories are considered tentative, subject to ongoing tests and modifications, and even outright replacement, if found wrong, as somehow evidence that Blanchard was backing away from the theory, as though he may no longer support it.  Nothing could be further from the truth.  He believes that the theory is solid.  However, this is actually another example of the Genetic Fallacy, one arguing (if wrongly in this case) that the originator no longer supports the argument’s premise.  Again, once a hypothesis is proposed, no one “owns” it.

The most amazing argument that I’ve heard tell is that the theory is “pseudo-science”.  Most of those that utter this do not actually have a clear idea how to define what is and is not good science much less what would constitute “pseudo-science”.  But for the reader that wants to seriously consider this question, I strongly recommend the Wikipedia entry on the subject.  In it not only will one read what philosophers have suggested as solutions to the “demarcation problem”, one will also read the observation that many times when this accusation is made, it is groundless and motivated by a desire to devalue real science that is unacceptable to the accuser.  This clearly applied here as many who would be recognized as fitting the typical profile for autogynephilic transsexuality vehemently deny both being autogynephilic and the theory that describes how it operates to motivate non-exclusively androphilic males to seek somatic feminization.  However, the accusation can and should be directly refuted.

The most popular marker cited to argue that the Freund/Blanchard two type theory is “pseudo-science” is Karl Popper’s test that valid scientific hypothesis should be refutable.  Popper pointed out that Sigmund Freud’s theories of mind couldn’t be refuted because by definition his subconscious mind’s parts could never be directly accessed.  But the Freund/Blanchard hypotheses are based on directly observable phenomena, namely sexual arousal behavior.  Autogynephilia, gynephilia, androphilia, etc. are all observable sexual arousal patterns that may be observed both internally, and externally.  We can refute the theory (in theory) by simply finding that it isn’t true that most non-exclusively androphilic MTF transwomen experience autogynephila and/or that exclusively androphilic transwomen do experience autogynephilia.  This has been tested by a number of investigators and found to support the hypothesis.  But even if these investigators had not found support for the hypothesis, the mere fact that they can attempt to refute it puts the lie to the accusation of it being pseudo-science.

Addendum 6/4/2013:

I find it interesting to learn that researchers and educators in other fields have had similar experiences.  You may wish to read a wonderful blog entry by another scientist and educator, Steven Novella M.D., “Science by Intimidation

Many researchers get out of or stay away from controversial topics to avoid such attacks. These thuggery tactics have an effect – they stifle research and public discourse.

At the very least when people do engage in such activity they should be called on it. They should be made to answer for their thuggery and intimidation. Further, institutions need to recognize what is happening and stand by their scientists and educators.

I also hope that by discussing this phenomenon people will understand the psychology better and perhaps be less susceptible to being sucked into such groups.

(Addendum 3/28/2016:  Lately I’ve been seeing a new meme bandied about, as though it actually refuted the two type taxonomy, that this “theory” is “out of date”.  Ummm… No.  Scientific theories don’t ‘sunset’.  They can be shown to be wrong or incomplete with new data, but they don’t ‘grow old and die’.  Consider, Copercicus’s heliocentric theory of the “solar system” is some 400 years old… and Einstein’s theory of General Relativity is now one hundred years old… and just now we have yet more observational support for it with graviational waves.  Back to the two type taxonomy.  The basic data, the correlation between sexual orientation and autogynephilia… Well, science depends upon repeatability, and these results have been replicated by Buhrich (1977), Freund (1982), Blanchard (1985), Doorn (1994), Smith (2005),  Lawrence (2005), and Nuttbrock (2009), in separate studies spanning four decades, collectively involving over a thousand transsexuals to date.  The latest, the Nuttbrock study involved nearly 600 alone!  It showed that 82% of gynephilic transwomen acknowledged that they experienced autogynephilic sexual arousal to cross-dressing, while of the group with the least number of gynephilic transwomen, the group that had begun transition as teens, only 14% said that they experienced such…  The Nuttbrock data is only seven years old as of today.  No, the data keeps pouring in and certainly is not “out of date”.)

(Addendum 9/7/2016:  I read another meme going around trying to discredit me in particular, to wit:  That what I write is simply a “biased narrative”, not a fair&balanced exploration of all of the “real theories” since I don’t give the feminine essense, brain sex, and “women are autogynephilic too” models equal weight.  That sounds almost reasonable… until one recognizes that this is a call for what’s known as “false balance“.  I do discuss each of these hypothesis in various essays.  But, having examined the evidence, found them totally without evidentiary support and thus am free to explore more likely explanations of the phenomena.  Science education, which is what I am attempting here, is under no obligation to give “equal time” to unsupported hypothesis.  A geography textbook doesn’t give equal weight to flat earth nonsense, an astronomy textbook doesn’t give equal weight to a geocentric model, a chemistry textbook does not give equal weight to alchemy, a biology text does not have to give equal weight to creationism or “intelligent design”.  Science bloggers don’t have to give equal weight to science denialism and I am under no obligation to give equal weight to popular, but wrong, models of transsexuality and transgender sexuality.)

Further Reading:

List of Silly Objections to the Two Type Taxonomy


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