Thursday, April 2, 2015

Alice Dreger’s disingenuous campaign against transgender activism

an introduction added September, 2015:

This post started out as “Alice Dreger and making the evidence fit your thesis” (which can be found in its original form below). Dreger’s new book Galileo’s Middle Finger had just come out, and it contained her critical portrayal of the backlash against J. Michael Bailey’s trans-misogynistic book The Man Who Would Be Queen. Most people outside of certain transgender and/or sexology circles are probably unaware that this particular part of Dreger’s book first appeared in 2009 as an article in a research journal along with numerous peer commentaries—one of which was written by me, and most of which criticized Dreger for being highly selective with the evidence she presented and/or for blatantly misrepresenting trans activists’ concerns and motives in the process. So I initially penned this post to inform potential readers about those past critical reviews of Dreger’s depiction of this particular matter.

And I thought that would be it. I had no reason to believe that she had any kind of vendetta against transgender people or trans activism per se (although some trans activists certainly did think this). Frankly, my impression at the time was that she had a story that she wanted to tell about “activism gone awry and constituting a threat to scientific freedom,” and that her narrative would be easiest to sell if she played down the trans community’s legitimate concerns and played up a handful of incidents that seemed to bolster her case.

But now I believe that I was wrong. Not about Dreger’s disingenuous portrayal of the backlash against Bailey’s book—I stand by that assessment. Rather, now I do think that she has a vendetta against transgender activism, as she has since penned a series of articles wherein she repeatedly 1) criticizes ideas and policies that are forwarded by, and generally accepted amongst, transgender activists, 2) presents selective and/or distorted evidence (usually via “straw men” and false dichotomies) to bolster her argument, 3) points to instances where some trans activists have supposedly “gone too far” (in her mind, at least) in order to paint us as unreasonable and/or extremist, 4) ignores all reasonable and knowledgeable trans activists and advocates whose view points would illustrate that the topic is way more nuanced and complicated than she is presenting it, and 5) inevitably drops in a few comments to make it seem like she is “trans-positive,” or an “ally” or “advocate” of the trans community, when in reality the only trans people she seems to respect are those who buy into psychopathologizing theories about trans identities and sexualities.

Lots of people say negative things about trans people, or make arguments that I disagree with, and I don’t bother to respond in almost all of such cases. But I am expanding my original post here (to include critiques of her subsequent anti-trans-activism pieces) because of the disingenuous nature of Dreger’s approach—she repeatedly positions herself as an “expert on” or “friend of” trans people, while at the same time completely ignoring or undermining the perspectives of the trans community at large. As someone who is both a scientist and knowledgeable about transgender people and issues, I feel compelled to set the record straight on these matters.

What follows is my original post followed by brief “follow ups” addressing Dreger’s subsequent (and likely future) attempts to caricature and undermine trans activism.

Alice Dreger and making the evidence fit your thesis
(original post, 4-2-15)

So last week I found out that Alice Dreger's new book, Galileo's Middle Finger: Heretics, Activists, and the Search for Justice in Science, has recently been released. I have not personally read it [*note, I have subsequently read it, see here, and please read this whole post before complaining!*], but I am well aware of one aspect of the book: the part where she describes the ensuing controversy surrounding psychologist J. Michael Bailey's book The Man Who Would Be Queen. And while I don't know precisely what Dreger says (or more pertinently, fails to say) about that controversy in her new book, I am very familiar with her views on the matter, as I am one of the numerous scientists, academics, and knowledgeable parties who contributed peer commentaries to her book-length article on this very matter, which appeared in the sexology journal Archives of Sexual Behavior in 2008. (For those with access via academic institutions, her article and all the peer commentaries can be found here.)

If you were to suddenly develop a strong interest in this story and/or found yourself with an inordinate amount of free reading time to pour over those essays, you would find that most of the peer commentaries argued that Dreger's retelling of this tale was horribly one-sided, focusing almost entirely on how Bailey was bullied by a few "out-of-control trans activists," but with almost no serious discussion about 1) the history of psychologists holding (and often abusing) institutionalized power over trans people (e.g., via the DSM & gatekeeper system), 2) how Bailey's book peddled anecdotes and conjecture as though they were science, and 3) the very real problem of pseudoscience being used to reinforce the discrimination and delegitimization of marginalized groups. As I say in the last paragraph of my peer commentary:

As a scientist myself, I feel that it is important that we defend scientific freedom of expression. But we must also recognize that with that freedom comes the responsibility not to abuse our positions as scientists. Unfortunately, there has been a long history of dubious research that has lent scientific credence to prejudiced beliefs that already exist in the culture: studies that have claimed to show that people of color are inherently less intelligent than white people, that homosexuals are more criminally-inclined than heterosexuals, or that women are biologically ill-suited for leadership positions. Often, such studies are embraced by the public despite their methodological flaws because they reaffirm and reinforce presumptions and biases that already dominate in the culture. Bailey’s book claims to provide a scientific basis for three of the most commonly repeated sexualizing stereotypes of trans women: that we are either perverted men who “get off” on the idea of being women, gay men who transition to female in order to pick up straight men, and/or that we are “especially well suited to prostitution” (Bailey, 2003, p. 185). Like most research that merely confirms popular stereotypes, the data supporting Bailey’s claims are weak: He relies primarily on Ray Blanchard’s correlations and his own impressions, speculations and anecdotes. The cavalier way in which Bailey forwards these sexualizing stereotypes with no concern for the profound negative impact they have on trans women’s lives is scientifically irresponsible and a misuse of the institutionalized power that he holds over trans people as a psychologist. The fact that Dreger does not consider this institutionalized erasure of trans women’s identities, perspectives and concerns to be ethically important is troubling its own right.

You can read my entire peer commentary, A Matter of Perspective: A Transsexual Woman-Centric Critique of Alice Dreger’s “Scholarly History” of the Bailey Controversy, by clicking on that link.

Also, in 2010, two peer-reviewed review articles were published (here and here) detailing the overwhelming evidence demonstrating that Ray Blanchard's theory of autogynephilia (the one Bailey's entire book is centered upon) is scientifically invalid. Despite the fact that those reviews were published five years ago, I suspect that Dreger did not bother to cite them at all in her book. I suppose this because, in my experience, Dreger is someone who prefers to make the evidence (or the omission thereof) fit her thesis. And this concerns me as both a trans woman and a scientist.

[note: If you appreciate this essay and want to see more like it, please check out my Patreon page]


Galileo believed in science, Alice Dreger seemingly does not
(a follow up to the original post)

In response to my previous post (“Alice Dreger and making the evidence fit your thesis”), Alice Dreger tweeted me offering to have a copy of her book sent to me. I appreciated and accepted the offer.

My hope was that Dreger would have taken seriously the criticism from many of the aforementioned Archives of Sexual Behavior (ASB) peer commentaries (such as those of John Bancroft, Ben A. Barres, Talia Mae Bettcher, Nicholas L. Clarkson, John H. Gagnon, Riki Lane, Robin M. Mathy, Charles Moser, Margaret Nichols, Elroi J. Windsor, Madeline H. Wyndzen, and my own) which pointed out the numerous ways that she unfairly dismissed and misrepresented trans activists’ concerns about Bailey’s book and autogynephilia theory.

For instance, this is how I put it in my peer commentary:

Nowhere is Dreger’s trivializing of trans women’s perspectives more pronounced than in the way she frames the ‘‘autogynephilia’’ debate. Specifically, she creates a false dichotomy between trans women who buy into an overly simplistic ‘‘woman trapped inside a man’s body’’ model and psychologists like Bailey who simply reject that ‘‘feminine essence’’ narrative. Framing the issue this way dumbs down transsexual perspectives of gender. In my experience, most trans people recognize that gender identity, sexual orientation, and gender expression all vary from one another and interact in different and sometimes confounding ways from person to person. Those of us who reject causal theories of autogynephilia typically do so, not because we believe that we are ‘‘women trapped in men’s bodies,’’ or that sexuality plays no role in our explorations of gender, but because such theories naively conflate sexual orientation with gender expression, gender identity, and sex embodiment in a way that contradicts our personal life experiences and that is inconsistent with the vast diversity of trans women that exist. In fact, most trans critiques of autogynephilia center on the fact that this scientifically unsubstantiated theory forces all trans women into one of two rigid categories, nonconsensually defines us in ways that contradict our own personal sense of selves, mistakes correlation for causation, handwaves away nonpathological alternative models that better explain the data, unnecessarily sexualizes and delegitimizes our identities, and has the potential to jeopardize our access to sex reassignment and our social and legal status as women (e.g., Barnes, 2001; Johnson, 2001; Roughgarden, 2004; Serano, 2007; Wyndzen, 2004). Dreger’s false dichotomy invisibilizes this body of work, thus enabling her to overstate the validity of Bailey’s claims without ever seriously considering the real negative impact they might have on trans women’s lives

Upon reading Galileo’s Middle Finger, I was disappointed to find that Dreger did not reexamine her original presentation of the subject matter. The general narrative (Bailey = provocative but scientifically justified; trans activists = Overly Sensitive Unreasonable Science-Deniers™) remains unchanged.

I disagree with Dreger’s narrative, but it is her narrative—the way she makes sense of a particular series of incidents. Narratives can differ from person to person (although some are no doubt more rooted in reality than others). In contrast, autogynephilia is a scientific theory of transgender taxonomy and etiology, and as such, it can be either substantiated or disproven via scientific research. And between 2008 (when Dreger’s original Archives of Sexual Behavior article was initially submitted) and 2014 (when she most likely was completing her book manuscript), four research studies and three critical reviews were published in peer-reviewed journals, all of which individually, and especially taken together, clearly demonstrate that the theory of autogynephilia does not hold true (these papers are listed and briefly summarized via that link).

So perhaps Dreger stopped caring about the theory, and did not bother updating her thesis during those interim years? Could be, but that wouldn’t make for good science journalism. Especially when your thesis portrays trans people as being Overly Sensitive Unreasonable Science-Deniers™ regarding the theory, yet the subsequent scientific evidence on the matter demonstrates that they were actually right!

Another relevant point: Dreger responded to my “Alice Dreger and making the evidence fit your thesis” blog-post (i.e., when she offered me a copy of her book). And in that post, I linked to two of those critical reviews that thoroughly demonstrate that autogynephilia is incorrect as a theory of transgender taxonomy and etiology. So even if Dreger hadn’t bothered researching the topic in recent years, she has (at the very least) been alerted to the existence of such research.

Then on June 15, 2015, (several months after my aforementioned blog-post), Dreger penned a blog-post called “Answers to Some Questions about Autogynephilia,” which yet again pretends that we are living in a make-believe world where scientific research and reviews published after 2005 do not exist: She only shares the opinions of Blanchard, Bailey, and Lawrence (all die-hard proponents of the theory), and never once mentions any serious criticisms of the theory. She also takes a page out of Bailey’s playbook and condescendingly pretends that trans women who are opposed to the theory merely suffer from “phobias” regarding discussing their sexuality.

The truth is that most of us who are opposed to autogynephilia theory do so because 1) it is scientifically invalid, and 2) some people use this pseudoscience to invalidate us.

When Dreger, today in 2015, talks about autogynephilia theory as though it is valid, with no serious consideration of the numerous lines of evidence that disprove it, then she peddling pseudoscience, plain and simple.

[note: If you appreciate this essay and want to see more like it, please check out my Patreon page]


The big problem with Alice Dreger’s Wired article about (or not about) gender conversion therapies
On June 4, 2015, Wired published Alice Dreger’s article “The Big Problem With Outlawing Gender Conversion Therapies.” The timing of the article seemed designed to influence debate over the Ontario legislature’s Bill 77 (called the “Affirming Sexual Orientation and Gender Identity Act”) that would outlaw gender conversion therapies—i.e., where gender non-conforming children undergo regimes designed to make them gender conforming. (Bill 77 passed nevertheless.)

The overwhelming majority (we’re talking like 99%, if not more) of transgender people are for banning such gender conversion therapies for reasons that are rather obvious if you click on any of those three links. And it’s not just trans people: The World Professional Association for Transgender Health (WPATH, who are health care providers, not trans activists) in their latest Standards of Care (version 7) clearly state:

Treatment aimed at trying to change a person’s gender identity and expression to become more congruent with sex assigned at birth has been attempted in the past without success (Gelder & Marks, 1969; Greenson, 1964), particularly in the long term (Cohen-Kettenis & Kuiper, 1984; Pauly, 1965). Such treatment is no longer considered ethical.

So the largest and most long-standing trans health organization, and the transgender community at large, both think that gender conversion therapies are unethical. Those are the facts. But you wouldn’t know this if you read Dreger’s article, as these highly relevant points are never mentioned at all. And miraculously, her article titled “The Big Problem With Outlawing Gender Conversion Therapies” never once discusses actual gender conversion therapies! So readers never learn about the real-life horror stories detailed in those three previous links.

Being a Dreger essay, what we get instead is one giant “straw man”: She tries to make the case that the bill will somehow shuttle young children into transgender identities, puberty-delaying hormone regimes, and eventual surgeries. But the bill doesn’t do or say anything of the sort. It simply says:

“No person shall, in the course of providing health care services, provide any treatment that seeks to change the sexual orientation or gender identity of a person under 18 years of age.”

That’s it! But somehow Dreger morphs the bill into hypothetical horror stories about gender non-conforming children who might otherwise turn out to be happy non-trans gay people, instead becoming transgender people who ultimately physically transition. Here’s an example of her handiwork:

So, under this bill’s current form, if a seven-year-old male said he feels he’s a girl, then the clinician would have to effectively accept that he’s a girl. If the child indicates a belief that s/he’s a straight girl, then even if the clinician thinks the patient might be a gay boy—that the child might, with good familial and social support, grow up to be a well-adjusted gay man without the need for sex-altering surgeries or lifelong hormone replacement therapy—the clinician must not “change or direct” the child’s understanding.

But by not “changing or directing” the child’s understanding—by “affirming” a “transgender” identity as soon as it appears—the clinician might actually be stimulating and cementing a transgender identity.

There are so many things wrong with this passage. First, it presumes that “well-adjusted gay man” is a far better outcome than “well-adjusted trans woman.” (Presumably the latter is not even a possibility in Dreger’s mind.) As a "well-adjusted trans woman," it is hard not to take offense to this sort of value judgment. On top of that, I think what is most important is that the child be well-adjusted period, and that is most likely to happen if the child is allowed to non-judgmentally explore who they are and ultimately make their own decisions about their eventual gender and sexual identities. And I’m sorry, but gender conversion therapies are not conducive to well-adjusted outcomes!

Second (and crucially), Dreger remarks that “. . . even if the clinician thinks the patient might be a gay boy . . .” without mentioning that this clinician cannot possibly know whether the child is “really a gay boy” or “really transgender.” Indeed, this is a main point of her article—no one can know a child’s eventual gender identity or sexual orientation because “gender is complicated.” So what Dreger really means is that this clinician *thinks* he can turn this child “gay” rather than “transgender.” And that involves therapies like this, which Dreger never shares with readers, presumably because then they wouldn’t ever side with her.

Which brings up an important question: What "side" is Dreger actually on here? Well, it's hard to read the aforementioned passage from her article without coming to the conclusion that she is pro-gender conversion therapies, at least in some cases (i.e., when the result is "gay man" over "trans woman"). But that position has become so overwhelmingly unpopular, not only with trans people, trans health providers, LGBTQIA+ communities, and feminists, but increasingly with the straight mainstream public as well (which is why politicians are now calling for bans on it). However, she wrote the article in what seems to be a purposefully duplicitous manner that leaves her wiggle-room to claim that she is not *for* gender conversion therapies, but rather simply *against* bills banning the practice. Well played . . .

Finally, it wouldn’t be an Alice Dreger article without her reminding readers that she is a Friend of Trans People™ (and therefore, cannot possibly be anti-trans). Here are the highlights:
  • The article opens with praise for progress in transgender acceptance in the wake of Caitlyn Jenner’s coming out.
  • Dreger has a genderqueer friend named Jess, who was never subjected to gender conversion therapies, yet somehow managed to become the central figure in an article purportedly about gender conversion therapies.
  • In the most convoluted argument in an article chock-full of convoluted arguments, Dreger expresses concern about how the passage of Bill 77 might have hypothetically harmed transgender teenager Leelah Alcorn, who tragically committed suicide last year, in large part due to her parents' non-acceptance (which included them sending her to gender conversion therapy).
[note: If you appreciate this essay and want to see more like it, please check out my Patreon page]


How to be an ally to Alice Dreger
September 6, 2015 brings us another Alice Dreger blog-post. It begins:

I’m getting lectured lately on how I am “failing to be an ally” to transgender people, especially transgender women.

Yes, I would imagine so. Perhaps Dreger is *finally* starting to reflect on how her disingenuous campaign against transgender activism might legitimately upset quite a few trans people?

Well, apparently not. These are the three reasons why she believes that “This charge has been leveled at me”:

I have (a) referred to a girl-identified child as having been “born with a male body”; (b) pointed to data showing that most gender nonconforming and gender dysphoric children do not grow up to be trans

Yes, of course, be sure to list (a) a relatively minor semantic infraction, and (b) transgender people complaining about scientific data. That way, (1) readers will have no choice but to come to the conclusion that transgender people are Overly Sensitive Unreasonable Science-Deniers™ whose opinions can easily be dismissed, and (2) you don’t have to address the main complaint about your “The Big Problem With Outlawing Gender Conversion Therapies” article (which incidents a & b were both responses to), which was that it blatantly misrepresented an issue that is very important to the trans community.

So what is the third (no doubt superfluous) reason why trans people feel that Dreger has let them down? Apparently, it’s that she has:

(c) written about autogynephilia which, if you’ve read my latest book, you know is a no-no among certain circles.

Yes, play the Overly Sensitive Unreasonable Science-Deniers™ card yet again. That way, you don't have to acknowledge the fact that *in reality* trans women are not upset that you are simply raising the subject of autogynephilia per se, but rather that you blatantly misrepresent autogynephilia theory, and consistently dismiss trans activists' and advocates' legitimate concerns and critiques of it.

Now that Dreger has completely let herself off the hook for failing to be an ally to trans people:

So I’m thinking it is my turn to provide transwomen some advice about how to be an ally to cis-women, particularly those of us who are feminist.

[for those unfamiliar with "cis," it basically means "not trans"—here is a detailed introduction about the origins, uses, misuses, and misconceptions regarding cis terminology.]

Yes, because trans women are in dire need of a lesson about feminism from Alice Dreger! You know, because she is an impeccable feminist on the basis that . . . well, um . . . she is a woman and trans women aren’t women? Of course, Dreger would never actually say such a thing, although it certainly seems to be insinuated in the way that throughout her piece “cis-women” is repeatedly hyphened (because cis modifies the noun “woman”) whereas trans women are repeatedly referred to as “transwomen”—as though, rather than being a type of woman, we are a species unto ourselves.

If Dreger ever were to respond to this post, she would likely complain that, “Julia Serano is upset because I spelled trans women wrong.” So allow me explicitly state: No, my main beef is not over a “relatively minor semantic infraction.” In my mind, the main problem is with the overall tone of the piece, which (in classic Dregerian fashion) creates the impression that trans people are unreasonable and completely out of control, whereas she is the reasonable “expert” who is well positioned to lecture us. Here is (yet again) the how she does it:

1) create a false dichotomy!

The article seems to suggest that there are two types of trans women: selfish ones only concerned with transgender-specific issues, and good ones who already understand “How to Be An Ally to Cis-Women.”

So what gets erased by this false dichotomy? I can think of several things:
  • Transphobia/cissexism and trans women’s concerns, which are repeatedly dismissed or ignored throughout the entire blog-post (as I detail below).
  • The long history of feminists who have been antagonistic toward trans people, trans people who are feminists, and the many cis feminists who are trans-inclusive. For those who don’t know about this history, here’s an entire encyclopedia entry about it. Of course, if Dreger acknowledged this history, it would have undermined her false dichotomy.
  • I know Dreger self-identifies as a feminist, but a crucial part of feminism that is well established these days is intersectionality—how different forms of sexism and marginalization intersect with, and exacerbate, one another. Which means that we can actually have a conversation about transphobia/cissexism and misogyny/traditional sexism simultaneously! Wow, imagine that.
  • Hey, wait a minute. If we acknowledge that intersectionality exists, then that means that trans women experience the intersection of transphobia and misogyny (i.e., trans-misogyny), which is likely to shape psychiatric/sexological theories and depictions of trans women as well. Criminy, that might make Dreger’s portrayal of autogynephilia seem . . . um, what’s the word . . . oh yeah, sexist. Best not bring that up at all . . .
2) ignore trans women’s perspectives while simultaneously making them seem as unreasonable as possible

Now that Dreger has established her false dichotomy (focus on being a cis ally = feminist; focus on trans issues = unfeminist), it’s time to make trans women seem as Overly Sensitive and Unreasonable™ as possible. And that’s where her ten-point list comes in. Perhaps the most disingenuous aspect of this list is that it's presented as though it is advice intended for trans women. By this point, Dreger has burned any bridges that may have existed between her and trans women’s communities by virtue of her repeated history of dismissing and demeaning us (as I have chronicled throughout this series). She knows that trans women are not going to take her claims of wanting to help us seriously. Given all this, it seems clear (from a trans woman’s perspective, at least) that Dreger penned this list primarily for cisgender audiences to accomplish one or all of the following goals: (a) portray trans women as largely unfeminist, and by implication, illegitimate women, (b) create the general impression that trans women en masse are going around oppressing cis women (which ignores the reality that trans people are the marginalized minority here, not cis people), and (c) provide a Litmus Test for Trans Women™, so that in future encounters with her trans female critics, she can cite her blog-post as evidence that the critic in question is acting unfeminist/not being an "ally to cis women"—this would be a convenient way to deflect any said future criticism she receives. All of this feeds into her overall strategy of demonstrating how reasonable she is and how unreasonable her trans critics are.

And the list includes numerous extreme examples of trans people being unreasonable. For instance, I personally don’t know any trans women who would call a heterosexual woman “transphobic” for not staying with her partner if that partner transitioned from male to female. Similarly, I personally don’t know any trans women who want to prevent cis women from talking about their “vaginas, vulvas, clitorises, breasts, periods, menstrual blood, birth experiences, hysterectomies.” Are there instances when an individual trans woman may have claimed such things? Sure, I'd imagine that someone somewhere has done this. But including such instances in a blog-post primarily intended for cisgender readers makes it seem as though most trans women are going around doing such things. So once again, without fail, Dreger has painted us as unreasonable people who have “gone too far.”

But then, buried within the list are a number of items that trans people have every right to take issue with. For instance, immediately after suggesting that trans women are out to censor cis women who talk about their own anatomy and reproductive capacity, Dreger says:  

Allow us, without harassment, to write and perform plays, make jokes, sing songs, and work for clinics that are about women like us.

Sounds reasonable on the surface, until you think about “clinics that are about women like us” (i.e., cisgender women specifically). This seems to refer to women’s clinics that have trans-exclusion policies (as some have). So if a trans woman were to raise complaints about such a policy, according to Dreger such complaints would now qualify as “harassment”?

Or how about this one:

If you hit on us and we’re not interested, don’t tell us we are transphobic

For starters, “hit on us” seems to purposefully invoke the idea that queer-identified trans women are really just “dude-bros” constantly on the prowl—well done Dr. Dreger, ten extra autogynephilia theory bonus points for you! Second, I don’t personally know any trans women who automatically assume that people who are not interested in us are by default transphobic—this is one of those lies that has been perpetuated by TERFs (trans-exclusive radical feminists). But let’s change this scenario to something that many trans women (including me) have experienced: Say there is mutual flirting going on, and both women find one another attractive and interesting. And then, one of the women mentions she’s transgender, and upon doing so, the other woman immediately flees. Doesn’t that seem to be a manifestation of transphobia? I mean, it involves actual fleeing! Is this something that trans women are now not allowed to ever talk about?

Here’s another example:

Don’t get upset with straight, bi, and lesbian cis-women who tell stories of having been gender nonconforming as children

Yes, I completely agree with this, and don’t personally know any trans women who would do such a thing. Unless . . . it is one of those numerous occasions I have encountered where cis women have brought up their experiences with gender non-conformity in order to equate their experiences with trans people, or to deny that they experience any cis privilege. TERFs do this all the time. And according to Dreger, trans people now have no right to refute such claims?

And yet another example:

Don’t keep telling us how we are failing specifically to work to further your rights when we are working on advancing the rights of some other group, including our own.

Yes, how selfish trans women are to constantly put the focus on themselves! Except, when you think about it, every single marginalized group you can possibly imagine has some trans women in it. This includes women! So isn’t this just a fancy way of saying that trans women are not allowed to talk about instances when an activist group or movement ignores or excludes its trans constituents?

Final example:

Don’t make us refer to ourselves as “cis-gendered” if it is irrelevant to what we are talking about. In other words, don’t require us to always label ourselves in opposition to your identity.

This sure does sound like trans women are forcing cis women to constantly walk around with big awkward signs that say “cis-gendered” on it—how annoying! But then again, some women (most notably, TERFs) refuse to use the term at all. And other women may find it “irrelevant” in a conversation (e.g., about access to health care) in which trans women (who are often denied such access due to societal cissexism) find it highly relevant. So according to Dreger, any time a cis woman claims that “cisgender” is irrelevant, trans women should simply accept that?

Dreger ends her list with “Stop labeling as ‘TERF’s . . . every cis-woman who asks for these kinds of things.” Well, I definitely do not believe that Dreger is a TERF—her politics are significantly different. After all, no radical feminist would be caught dead aligning themselves with a psycho-pathologizing scientist like Bailey who is patently sexist, promotes hetero-male-centric theories of sexuality, and  . . . ooops, I forgot about this, my bad . . .  

In any case, I do not believe that Dreger is a TERF. But she sure does sound like a TERF apologist.

3) don’t forget to remind readers that you are a Friend of Trans People™ (as that's the easiest way to shield yourself from accusations of transphobia!).

Let’s see, what if, just before Dreger’s condescending list lecturing trans women and making them sound unreasonable, she added the following disclaimer:

Let me note that a lot of the transwomen I know don’t need this list—in fact, they could write it because they live by it

Perfect! It (a) reminds everyone that Dreger knows *lots* of trans women (aka, more than just Anne Lawrence), and (b) suggests that, if all her awesome “transwomen” pals were to write about feminism, it would be an almost identical bullet-point list chock full of advice about "how to be an ally to Alice Dreger," rather than a more nuanced and inclusive essay about the intersection of trans activism and feminism.

[note: If you appreciate this essay and want to see more like it, please check out my Patreon page]


  1. Thank you, Julia! Our getting trashed by these so-called "scientists" has to be stopped, which can only be done by calling them out and exposing them. If that is out-of-control "political correctness" in their eyes, then too bad for them.

    1. Thanks. But for the record, I do think that a few of the things that happened to Bailey during the backlash were unfair or beyond the pale. However, most of the backlash was completely justified and reasonably carried out (i.e., in the form of debates, critiques, and protests regarding how his book was (mis)presented to the lay public as "science").

      My objections with Dreger is that she does what most people who decry "political correctness run amok" do: She dwells on the most extreme instances of backlash, and in doing so, dismisses the very real and legitimate concerns of the marginalized group in question (in this case, trans folks). For those who haven't seen my Facebook page link, I talk about this problem more generally (and in a different context) here:

  2. Now this is disconcerting. I didn't realize that Dreger was involved in that too. She has played a problematic role in the renaming of "intersex" as "disorders of sex development/DSD". I tended to give her the benefit of doubt because it *seemed* like the Intersex Society of America saw her as an ally, but now I wonder--

  3. Your comment section is "open to dissent" huh? Laughable at best, not a single comment seems to dissent with your obviously slanted views. You know, I was willing to give you the benefit of the doubt but you literally wrote a smear article about a book(s) you admittedly haven't even read! This is literally the poster child article for an example of someone who utterly lacks integrity. You are writing an article and fanning outrage against someone over nothing more than mere anecdotes. Ironically, this is what the author of the book you so casually smear and lie about is actually writing about, people like you.

    1. So you are the first person to offer a dissenting view. And I normally don't post purposefully angry/dismissive responses like yours (and I won't ever again), but for the record I do want to address several misconceptions you obviously have, in the event that other readers may share them:

      1) It helps if you read through the whole post. The first part - "Alice Dreger and making the evidence fit your thesis" - was written before I read her book. But the second installment (also above) - "Galileo believed in science, Alice Dreger seemingly does not" - was written after I received the book and read it.

      So I have not only read her book, but I also a) have read her book-length Archives of Sexual Behavior article, and wrote a peer commentary in response (linked to above), and b) have read numerous Alice Dreger articles over the years (two of which I critique above) as well as her book Hermaphrodites and the Medical Invention of Sex (which I do not remember having any issues with when I read it quite some time ago).

      2) I have been following and writing about the issues Dreger tackles in her book (autogynephilia theory, J Michael Bailey's book, and community responses to it) for many years prior to Dreger's involvement in these matters (e.g., my 2007 book Whipping Girl, plus numerous articles archived on my website's trans/TS psychology page). Two of the articles I wrote on these issues (one of which is the Dreger commentary) have been published in research journals. So I am not simply some hack complaining on the internet.

      And it's not just me. In the "Galileo believed in science, Alice Dreger seemingly does not" section above, I mention other peer commentaries by John Bancroft, Ben A. Barres, Talia Mae Bettcher, Nicholas L. Clarkson, John H. Gagnon, Riki Lane, Robin M. Mathy, Charles Moser, Margaret Nichols, Elroi J. Windsor, and Madeline H. Wyndzen, which all (in different ways) came to a similar conclusion as me (i.e., that Dreger's retelling of this tale was one-sided, ignoring both the science and legitimate trans community concerns).

      [to be continued]

    2. 3) You accuse me multiple times of writing a "smear" article. I am not in any way trying to "smear" Dreger - I don't go around complaining about every single things she writes. There have been numerous things she has written that I do not take issue with and have not commented on. The reason why I have intervened in these specific instances is because a) she has positioned herself as a an authority/pundit on a matter that I am highly knowledgable and passionate about, b) in my view, she is misrepresenting this matter to readers who are unlikely to know any better, and c) she has subsequently written additional essays that dismiss transgender perspectives on related matters, which suggests that she may have an agenda or ulterior motives. Which leads me to . . .

      4) You accuse me of having "obviously slanted views." Well, I definitely have views (we all do), but I believe they are well reasoned. And when I wrote my main critique of autogynephilia theory ("The Case Against Autogynephilia"), I made a point of seriously addressing all the major points that proponents of the theory have made (even the ones that are frankly rather absurd, if you ask me (and care to read)).

      But this is the thing about Dreger that I find patently offensive: She never shows the other side of the story. She never discusses *any* of the scientific studies that I cite in "The Real Autogynephilia Deniers" (linked to above, and which Dreger is aware of). And she never in any of her work on this matter seriously considers trans women's opinions regarding why we find these pseudoscientific theories so harmful (as I address above and in the previous link). All she offers are straw men, false dichotomies, and other logical fallacies (as I detail above) that strong-arm readers into accepting her narrative.

      I have always been upfront about where I am coming from and what the other side of this debate believes. Dreger is the one only showing one side (the side she prefers) of the argument. She is the one who is slanted. At least on this particular issue.

  4. postscript on the last comment: Predictably, that commenter (forrosailor) sent me another angry/dismissive response (which, as I warned them, I will not post). In it, they lectured me about how I clearly am biased about, and do not understand, "transgynophilia." And it wasn't a typo, they used "transgynophilia" throughout their entire response. I swear, you can't make this stuff up...

  5. "So last week I found out that Alice Dreger's new book, Galileo's Middle Finger: Heretics, Activists, and the Search for Justice in Science, has recently been released. I have not personally read it, but"

    And that's where I stopped reading, since you just openly admitted you're just talking out of your ass.

    1. Well, if you actually kept on reading, you would realize 1) this is multi-entry post, 2) in subsequent posts I talk about the book, 3) I read her ASB article in which she based her book on.

      So in other words, you are the person who has not done the actual reading.

  6. This was a really interesting article about a topic I knew nothing about.

    I do think that your objections to Dreger's ally piece are a bit wishful.

    You said, "Similarly, I personally don’t know any trans women who want to prevent cis women from talking about their “vaginas, vulvas, clitorises, breasts, periods, menstrual blood, birth experiences, hysterectomies.” Are there instances when a. individual trans woman may have claimed such things?"

    The thing is, I don't follow trans issues but even I heard about the renaming of the Vagina monologues to something else because not all women have vaginas.

    It was idiotic and it's out there. It grabbed headlines. It struck me as akin to a Black Lives Matter activist come out strongly against the NAACP for still using the word "colored" in their name.

    Maybe there was some bad blood between the Vagina monologues and the trans community previously that I don't know about. It just seemed so fratricidal and pointless when the Vagina monologues have been a very positive force for feminism.

    Your refutation said you personally didn't know anyone who did x, but that's the same way Dreger argues where she just omits the dissenting view. She doesn't personally know of anY academic who disputes autogynophelia so she can say it's not an issue.

    The Holyoke thing exists. Saying you don't know anyone personally isn't an excuse not to engage with the issue.

    It's one black mark in a post I agree with otherwise.

    1. Thanks for the comment, I'm glad you liked the post, if not that particular statement.

      To clarify, I said: 'I personally don’t know any trans women who want to prevent cis women from talking about their “vaginas, vulvas. . .' etc.

      What I mean by that is that, of all the trans women I know personally, none of them are going around telling women not to speak about such things. I conceded in my piece that there are likely *some* trans individuals who do this. But from my perspective as someone in the community, such people clearly make up a minority. And my beef with Dreger was that "including such instances in a blog-post primarily intended for cisgender readers makes it seem as though most trans women are going around doing such things."

      I heard the news story you referred to about a college deciding not to perform the Vagina Monologues because of trans students' concerns. People like to cite that story because without any additional context it makes trans people seem unreasonable or anti-woman. But here is that missing context: *Many* trans people have performed in the Vagina Monologues over the years. I am one of them: in 2003, I was invited to write & perform my own monologue for a showing at my university - I've heard of this happening in other places, even though it is not officially allowed. A few years ago, Eve Ensler even added a new piece for the Vagina Monologues called “They Beat The Boy Out Of My Girl” that was created from trans women's actual stories. If you google “They Beat The Boy Out Of My Girl” you will find *lots* of YouTube videos of this piece being performed at various Vagina Monologues.

      Trans people many differ in their opinions of the Vagina Monologues (just as cis people do). But it is clear that the trans people who want to prevent showings of the play are far outnumbered by the trans people who have taken part in the play over the years. So I stand by my claim that Dreger's assertion misrepresents trans people and perspectives.