In this Era of Fascist Threats, Let's End Disruption for Disruption's Sake

Hard as it may be to believe, real life is continuing in some parts of the country. Here's a report about a trans health conference that occurred this past weekend in LA.

WPATH, the World Professional Association for Transgender Health, is the global organization composed of health professionals and scientists working on transgender health and scientific research into human sexual development and gender variance. The U.S. contingent is in the process of creating a distinctly American version, to be called USPATH, as Americans make up 80% of WPATH's membership. The overwhelming North American majority often gives the global organization an American flavor, to the occasional distress of the European and Asian members.

This conference was very rapidly staged, just eight months after the last WPATH conference in Amsterdam, which I covered in my columns in detail. The rules for accepting papers, posters and panelists remained the same. My sources tell me the conference was highly successful on virtually all fronts, that organizer Dan Karasic, a leading supporter of gender-affirming approaches for the past two decades, did a remarkable job, and the health professionals in attendance were very pleased with the quality and quantity of offerings. Most importantly for the trans community, all the offerings were gender affirming. So why is there any news for me to report, since the controversial issues were dealt with very successfully in Amsterdam?

A group of activists, led by Luna Ruparia, disrupted a panel discussion with Dr. Ken Zucker as one of the attendees. Note that Zucker wasn't invited, paid, or a keynote speaker; his proposals to join two panels were accepted under the rules. This was the core of their protest, though there was also a minor concern with conference security, and others had their own list of grievances. The protesters were completely oblivious of the Streisand Effect, and their action will probably have negative consequences, which does not concern them. When you act to forcibly remove your adversaries, you end up creating martyrs.

First, some background. I've written a great deal about Zucker and his now outmoded and increasingly ignored theories, brought to a scientific conclusion at last spring's WPATH symposium in Amsterdam. Ken Zucker is not the only sexologist to have been marginalized by the progress of science over the past half-century. First John Money of Hopkins, who brought genital reconstruction surgery to America at Hopkins in 1966, but ended his career in ignominy after defrauding science in the case of David Reimer, because of his unassailable belief that gender identity was a social construct. Reimer ended up committing suicide. Then, again at Hopkins, Paul McHugh was brought in to kill Money's program in 1976 but has continued to live on in retirement, without peer review, as the leading opponent of the science of gender identity because of his extremely conservative Catholic beliefs. Michael Bailey was called out after publishing a pseudo-scientific book with the Institute of Medicine in 2003, an act which sparked the creation of the trans activist scientific community, led by Lynn Conway, a major founder of the digital revolution.

Now we have Ken Zucker, who in being no-platformed is being shoved into the non-scientific realm as an opponent of gender-affirming therapy for children. He was fired two years ago, and his clinic shut down, because activists had brought the latest academic and clinical research to the attention of the Ontario government.

After reading multiple Facebook threads, and speaking with some of the players and interacting on Facebook, I feel it comes down to one issue - not that Zucker's words are hate speech, but that allowing him to speak is in and of itself an act of violence against certain members of the trans community.

This is a problem. Scientific inquiry depends on the open and free flow of information, with research being peer reviewed. Silencing is not peer review. Scientists become convinced of the truth of their positions by defending against all comers. A classic example of the negative consequences of silencing dissent happened with Drs. Robin Warren and Barry Marshall, who posited that peptic ulcer disease was caused by a bacterium, Helicobacter pylori, and not by stress or stomach hyperacidity. Warren and Marshall were ostracized and had their careers trashed (Wikipedia grossly minimizes this as "an extensive effort was required to convince the medical community of the relevance of their work"). The truth won out, however, and patients benefitted. Warren and Marshall were rewarded with the Nobel for Medicine and Physiology in 2005.

Fortunately, Dr. Zucker will not be awarded a Nobel Prize. He is following down the path of Money, McHugh and Bailey, fundamentally unable to break free of the assumptions that have limited and perverted his research for decades, the most prominent being that living as determined by your brain sex, rather than genital anatomy, is a horrible fate.

The professional scientific trans activists worked both within and without the system, got the DSM 5 changed, and have helped create a health care community that is overwhelmingly gender affirming for all ages. Were their feelings hurt? Yes. Did they lobby and rally because they wanted their feelings to be considered? No. They worked to change the organizations - WPATH, American Psychiatric Association, American Psychological Association, American Medical Association, etc. - from within and without, using the tools that scientific professionals use to create change. That meant meetings with the professionals and trustees, as well as the occasional demonstration to highlight community support.

I am happy to join in and ask WPATH to evolve. I, for one, would love to see membership fees lowered for those who cannot afford to join or attend the conferences. I would love to see a Speaker's Bureau of instructors to teach the current generation of medical students about trans health. The complaints of trans persons, particularly women of color, regarding access and cultural competence, will be addressed by training the next generation of professionals, not by attacking the organization that has done so much to create the friendly environment from which we all benefit today.

We live in desperate times. The fascists are baiting us, as is evident with the college tour of the gay Nazi, Milo Yiannopoulis. Let's not rise to the bait. And trans professionals, please don't encourage disruption for the sake of disruption. This is a mode into which the trans community has fallen in recent years. Targeted disruption with a productive goal in mind - of course. Disruption due to hurt feelings or a desire simply to be heard, without consideration of the consequences - not.

Please drop the disruptions over microaggressions. We are living in a 24/7 macroaggression and we must stand together.