It Was 50 Years Ago Tonight, at a House in Berkeley

1968 was a hard year for me.  A year made survivable by the people of a loose knit hippie cadre, which I was part of.
Some were deserters from the military, others were hippie men and women.  Generally politically left or at least anti–war.

One was a handsome hippie boy from Montreal named Maurie Bowman.  I had met him in the Haight during December of 1967.

I adored him.  Others could see how much I was in love with him, including another friend who might have been more appreciative of my adoration.

As I said this group of friends helped me make it through 1968, but by the closing days of the year I was in deep depression.

I had left home in order to come out, but I was afraid that if I came out to these people they would disown me in disgust, the way my parents had disowned me.

I had taken a number of LSD trips during the year leading up to this night, including some really intense ones that had allowed me to go very deep into myself.

We all hit that wall one way or another.  The point where if you don’t come out and live your life honestly  you will explode.

For me it was a matter of overcoming my fear of telling them what I needed to do or going and jumping off the Golden Gate Bridge.

That evening I wound up taking some bad acid and freaking out.  I broke down in front of Maurie and the rest of my friends.

They talked me down and asked what was wrong.

I told them that I had to do something, that I couldn’t go on living with out doing it, but that I was afraid I would lose their friendship if I did.

Maurie told me that if they no longer wanted to be my friends then they were never really my friends to begin with.

Later, I learned they assumed I was going to come out as Gay.

Over the next few weeks I let them see me dressed as a woman.

I got on welfare.  Through the Berkeley Welfare Department I was able to connect with other Social Services.  By the end of February I had come out as transsexual.

Before the end of March I was on hormones and having a harder and harder time passing as a boy.

In May, Berkeley erupted in the People’s Park Riots. I took part in those events in spite of the risks.

By mid-June I could no longer pass as a boy and had gone full time.

Several members of the commune including Maurie left in mid-summer to go to Woodstock.  The others were deserters looking to use the massive crowds of people crossing the border for Woodstock to slip into Canada through the loosely controlled northern New York border.

The Grateful Dead sing, “What a long Strange Trip it’s been…”

A Long Strange Trip, Indeed.

I would be lying if I said I had any idea what so ever where my coming out would take me or how I would manage to live my truth.

In the 1950s and even into the 1960s I was the only person like me that I knew.

Fifty years ago there were a handful of us.  Very few sisters I knew then are still alive.

But whether or not we were activists we changed the world for other trans-folks just by living our truth.

Jacob Hale once said to me, “Trans lives were lived, therefore trans-lives were livable.

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LGBT Seniors Grapple With End-of-Life Issues

From The Bay Area Reporter:  https://www.ebar.com/news/news//269128/lgbt_seniors_grapple_with_end-of-life_issues

by Matthew S. Bajko
Wednesday Dec 5, 2018

While enjoying her seventh decade on the planet, Donna Personna knows her remaining days are numbered. Yet the prospect of her demise doesn’t scare her.

“The end question. ‘The end.’ It’s not a touchy subject for me. I’m irreverent,” said Personna, a transgender woman who grew up in San Jose and now lives in San Francisco. “I have been on the planet for 72 years. I learned long ago this was going to come.”

Personna, a beloved drag performer, playwright, and hairdresser, credits her Mexican heritage with teaching her that death is a part of life. She pointed to the annual Dia de los Muertos holiday — the Day of the Dead in early November — as one example of how, from an early age, she was taught to embrace one’s mortality rather than fear it.

“I am not worried about it. It doesn’t scare me,” said Personna, who graduated with honors from San Jose State University and, for years, owned her own hair salon in Cupertino, which she sold a while back but continues to cut hair at once a month for longtime clients.

Born into a large Baptist family with 16 siblings, Personna remains close with several of her older brothers and their families in the Bay Area. She is confident she can rely on them in the case of emergencies or if her health deteriorates.

“Some of my nieces said, ‘You can live with us,'” said Personna, who has designated one of them the beneficiary of her estate.

Her Plan B, however, is to move into a pueblo outside Guadalupe, Mexico where her Social Security check and personal savings will be worth more.

“I want to spend the rest of my days in Mexico. I don’t want to die in San Francisco,” said Personna. “I am longing to go there.”

Confronting the end of one’s life isn’t easy for the majority of seniors, whether LGBT or straight. Most have not declared an executor for their estate, let alone discussed with their physician what sort of care they want in their dying days.

“It is rooted in the death phobia that North American culture has,” said Brian de Vries, a gay man and professor emeritus of gerontology at San Francisco State University who is a leading expert on end-of-life issues among LGBT seniors.

There are an estimated 2.7 million Americans who are LGBT and 50 years of age or older. Of that age group, 1.1 million are 65 and older. By 2060 LGBT elders in the U.S. are expected to number more than 5 million.

This generation of LGBT seniors differs from its heterosexual counterpart in significant ways, according to aging experts. Most of the LGBT seniors experienced discrimination not only in their day-to-day lives but also in medical settings due to their sexual orientation or gender identity.

Continue reading at:  https://www.ebar.com/news/news//269128/lgbt_seniors_grapple_with_end-of-life_issues

 

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Transgender Activist Judy Bowen Recalls the Stonewall Riots

From Broadly:  https://broadly.vice.com/en_us/article/wj3dkx/judy-bowen-transgender-survival-stonewall-riots-history

“Back in those days, GLB did not really care much about the T part. … Hasn’t changed much, either.”​ Transgender activist Judy Bowen recalls growing into her advocacy in 60s New York alongside Marsha P. Johnson and Sylvia Rivera.

by Zackary Drucker
Nov 29 2018

I’m so proud of you” were the first words Judy Bowen spoke to me, affirming me before we even got to names. We met at the The LGBT Community Center in New York, where we were both being filmed for a documentary. I was captivated by her dynamism and self-effacing beauty as she unravelled stories about life on Christopher Street, the home of the Stonewall Inn, in the 60s, and later in Queens as a (mostly) non-disclosing trans woman. When telling stories, Judy has an exciting tendency to spontaneously change directions mid-stream, and in listening, I felt that I was always being transported somewhere unexpected.

Judy was raised in the South in a religious home, and worked as a reporter for an evangelical newspaper. She was unable to conceal her transgender identity in her youth, and moved to New York after witnessing racist and transphobic violence in Knoxville. In New York, Bowen lived in Greenwich Village before the Stonewall riots, and became an organizer and community activist. In the years following the riots, she started two transgender support organizations in New York City. Today, at 74, she is a active member of The Center in Las Vegas, which supports the needs of LGBTQ people, as well as a champion of the Safety Dorm for transgender individuals at The Salvation Army, which houses and provides professional support for homeless transgender people in Las Vegas.

Ms. Bowen’s story is one of the many remarkable and unique journeys of a 20th century trans pioneer, who survived by always following her instincts and, when necessary, blending seamlessly into cis society. “You should have the right to be who you are and not be ashamed of it,” she landed on in our interview. Indeed, trans people’s lives are shaped by the shame of difference—of existing on the fringes of dominant culture, or outside of it all together. Judy exclaiming her pride in me, and our collective pride as a community, feels like magic conjured in a vacuum, against all odds.

ZACKARY DRUCKER: How did you find your way to a trans identity, into your true self?

UDY BOWEN: I was always me. I can never, never not remember being me mentally. But of course, physically, I was not happy with myself. I grew up in a religious environment in Virginia and Tennessee —church three times a week—and you know what? I think it was because of my beliefs in a greater spirit that I’m here today. My whole progression is basically a tribute to my faith, and believing in myself. Of course I had to be very careful, because those were not good times, it still isn’t good times. I had a lot of horrific things happen to me because I’m me, but I somehow overcame it.

What were some of those obstacles for you?

Well, in high school, I had to go to boy’s phys-ed, and I hated it. So eventually, because I had asthma, I was able to get a doctor’s permit to get out of it. And what’s really, really wonderful is a lot of my high school and college friends are now friends with me on Facebook! It’s kind of nice, they come to Vegas and they visit me sometimes. And they’re proud of the fact that I did progress, and are kind of shocked that I’m so active. I’ll be 75 in September.

Some of my friends in high school went on to be college professors and famous musicians. But my whole being was geared towards community service. Of course, you know, there was Stonewall—a whole era of nightclubs—and my focus then was making lots of money.

When I was like 22 years old, I started buying real estate. Most all the clubs I worked in were mafia [owned], and I had to be very careful, but one of my dear friends, who was an attorney, he finally told me one day, “You’ve got to get out of here. The FBI’s closing in. You’re going to be called to FBI headquarters because you’ve been around these people for a long time.” So he suggested that I go into some other kind of business, so I found a restaurant and catering business, which I purchased for very little money.

Continue reading at:  https://broadly.vice.com/en_us/article/wj3dkx/judy-bowen-transgender-survival-stonewall-riots-history

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The New Censorship

From The Tablet:  https://www.tabletmag.com/jewish-arts-and-culture/culture-news/276879/the-new-censorship

Is this the return of the Thought Police?

By Phyllis Chesler
December 12, 2018

In 1984, George Orwell wrote: “The two aims of the Party are to conquer the whole surface of the earth and to extinguish once and for all the possibility of independent thought. When people ‘disappear’ no one is allowed to mention it, no one is mourned, no one person is important, only the Party and Big Brother are important.”

Today, Orwell’s Thought Police are, rather ominously, everywhere. There is a definite intellectual chill in the air. Reason and civility are all but gone in the public square. In its place, we have insults, shaming, censorship and self-censorship that is meant to “pass” for thought. Hotly internalized propaganda rules the day online. We have met Big Brother, and he is us.

In my view, people seem to develop some kind of psychoanalytic transference to their Listserv groups. In a way, the connection is an umbilical one. The darker side of this connection isn’t hard to find. Internet Listserv groups bully and purge dissident members—this has happened to me and to many others. Sometimes, a small group of people (teenage “mean girls” and their mothers, academics, journalists,) attack the same person over and over again, day after day, for months, even for years. Meanwhile, hundreds of onlookers remain silent. No one stops the attacks or calls for a more civilized fight.

Unlike in-person mobs, attackers on social media attack and instantly disappear. Often, people attack one by one, one after the other, in sequence, even when there are hundreds of them. As a result, individuals in cyberspace may continue to see themselves as individuals rather than as members of a lynch mob or as contributing to an atmosphere in which people are systematically demoralized or silenced.

This New Intolerance and the New Censorship that online mobs zealously enforce is narrowly focused, in ways that are hard to miss when you are a member of a targeted group. In my experience, being the object of mob opprobrium has everything to do with where one “stands” on ethnic bigotry towards the Jewish people, on Israel/Palestine, and on Islam. Meanwhile, Sunni-Shia fratricide, African genocides, worldwide sexual slavery, war-zone atrocities, the persecution of dissidents and infidels in the Islamic world go largely unremarked upon. This is by design. The only events that matter are those that might feed pathological obsessions with the Jews.

Once you’ve taken the “wrong” stand on Israel or Islam, your reputation precedes you. No matter what other subjects you may be talking or writing about, (gardening, cooking, grandchildren, feminism, the Crimean War), these positions will forever haunt you and block your path. This too is by design; it is a deliberate strategy to inhibit argument and free thought by directing the mob to attack those who dare to step out of line. This is why so few people take such stands. They can clearly see what happens to those who do.

Last week, I was being interviewed by a genuine, not a faux, feminist, who praised my work but then said: “Yes, but now I must ask you to explain your position on Israel.” Israel had nothing to do with our conversation, but it was now an important subject of the interview. What I was expected to “explain” was my failure to conform to a party-line norm. Until I did so, nothing I said on any other topic could legitimately be heard or praised.

About a month ago, the editor of a left-wing magazine said that the only reviewers he could find for my new book, A Politically Incorrect Feminist, insisted on using my memoir of feminism in New York City in the 1960s and ’70s as an opportunity to challenge my position on Israel/Palestine.

“But I don’t write about it in this book,” I said.

“It doesn’t matter. I cannot get anyone to review you without taking this into account.”

Continue reading at:  https://www.tabletmag.com/jewish-arts-and-culture/culture-news/276879/the-new-censorship

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Don’t Sponsor Hate: Women’s March Leaders Must Resign

From Change.org:  https://www.change.org/p/don-t-sponsor-hate-women-s-march-leaders-must-resign-farrakhanfour-enoughisenough-womensmarchleadersresign

*UPDATES*

 11/19/2018: “The founder of the Women’s March is calling for the movement’s current co-chairs to step down for allowing bigotry into their mission.”

11/12/2018: “The think tank for the German social democratic party withdrew its Human Rights Award to the Women’s March USA on Thursday: ‘We believe that the Women’s March USA does not meet the criteria of this award, as its organizers have repeatedly attracted attention through antisemitic statements, the trivialization of antisemitism and the exclusion of Zionists and Jews since Women’s March USA establishment in 2017. Women’s March USA does not constitute an inclusive alliance.’”

11/09/2018: Alyssa Milano and Debra Messing are both no longer supporting the Women’s March due to its anti-Semitic leadership. 

6/11/2018: Tamika Mallory has been kicked out of a major social policy conference in Australia after her recent statements which called the creation of the State of Israel a “Human Rights crime.” 

“Tamika Mallory’s enthusiastic public praise for Louis Farrakhan, a notorious anti-Semite … makes her a dubious choice to speak about inclusion and social justice,” he said.

5/15/2018:  Tamika Mallory has now joined Linda Sarsour in defending terrorist group Hamas and their deadly use of human shields. When responding to a tweet which said, “It takes a special kind of evil to sacrifice your people for the camera,” she tweeted: “Or bravery! Depends on how you look at it!” 

4/27/2018: Due to the attacks by Women’s March leaders below, ADL has been bullied into no longer leading the Starbucks anti-bias training. NAACP, Equal Justice Initiative, and Demos are now the only organizations leading the training.

4/18/2018: New anti-Semitic attacks by Women’s March leaders! Tamika Mallory and Linda Sarsour are now attacking the Anti-Defamation League (an international Jewish non-governmental organization) with the following false statements, continuing to spread their anti-Semitic hate far and wide: 

“The ADL is CONSTANTLY attacking black and brown people. This is a sign they are tone deaf and not committed to addressing the concern of black folks. Be clear about what’s happening here!” – @tamikadmallory

“Starbucks almost had me on their anti-bias training for all employees UNTIL I heard ADL was enlisted as one of the orgs to build their anti-bias curriculum. An anti-Arab, anti-Palestinian organization that peddles islamophobia and attacks America’s prominent Muslim orgs and activists and supports/sponsors US law enforcement agents to travel and get trained by Israeli military.” – Linda Sarsour via Facebook

“I don’t know which one is more disappointing, @Starbucks bringing on @ADL_National or @ADL_National agreeing to do the anti-bias training when this directly impacts black folks! There R great black organizations & people who can conduct this training! @ADL_National not good!” – @msladyjustice1 (Carmen Perez)

***

We demand that all sponsors of Women’s March Inc. remove their sponsorship until the organization’s current leadership is replaced by leaders who are not affiliated with and do not defend those associated with any organization classified as a hate group. Sponsors and/or partners include Planned Parenthood, SPLC, ACLU, and Emily’s List.

#WomensMarchLeadersResign

***

EVERYTHING YOU NEED TO KNOW ABOUT ANTI-SEMITISM IN THE WOMEN’S MARCH MOVEMENT

  • Now more than ever, women need to unite against hate. The Women’s March, Inc. organization has become an essential part of the feminist movement. As feminists, we are passionate about the force behind this movement and its significance. More than 2.6 million people participated in what was the largest protest in US history on January 21, 2017. We built it. We should decide who steers it. We are aware that many separate grassroots groups participated on that day who are not connected to Tamika Mallory, Linda Sarsour, Bob Bland, or Carmen Perez. However, the march itself was organized under the umbrella of Women’s March, Inc. and we must purge it of hate.
  • President of Women’s March DC, Mercy Morganfield released the following statement on March 10, 2018: “If the actions of our leaders are not aligned with the Unity Principles, then the leaders should reassess their leadership roles in Women’s March and the greater women’s rights movement.”
  • Leaders of an organization which, according to its Unity Principles, claims to “believe that Women’s Rights are Human Rights and Human Rights are Women’s Rights”  MUST NOT support or defend those who support someone like Louis Farrakhan, who is not only a rabid anti-semite but also has a history of misogyny, homophobia and transphobia.
  • Recently, we have become aware of three of these four Women’s March, Inc. leaders’ reprehensible affiliations with the Nation of Islam and Louis Farrakhan.
  • Upon receiving backlash regarding the Women’s March co-President Tamika Mallory’s recent attendance at a Farrakhan rally where she personally received a shout-out, co-President Bob Bland, along with treasurers Carmen Perez and Linda Sarsour have been defensive of Mallory.
  • All four leaders will not directly condemn Farrakhan’s extremely anti-semitic speech or disavow any relationship with him.
  • Mallory, Sarsour, and Perez have publicly praised and been photographed with Farrakhan; Mallory has admitted to attending Farrakhan’s hate-filled speeches for the past thirty years, including this year.
  • We have yet to hear from the Women’s March, Inc. sponsors listed below in regards to funding an organization run by leaders who are morally bankrupt. How can SPLC sponsor an organization made up of leaders who are affiliated with the Nation of Islam, which SPLC classifies as a hate group?  It’s time for these sponsors to take a stand and separate themselves from an organization that has been tainted by hate. Until these leaders step aside and allow new leaders to take their place, sponsorship should be removed.
  • We demand to have true leaders who believe in all women’s rights; perhaps Mercy Morganfield, who has proven to be a truly inclusive leader (see above), would be a good candidate.

 #WomensMarchLeadersResign

Many feminists refused to join the Women’s March because they did not feel comfortable with the current leadership. Now, Women’s March participants also no longer feel represented by this organization due to the behavior of its current leadership. We, as supporters of women’s rights, donated to this organization, promoted it, and went on to march once again on January 20, 2018.

We REFUSE to march behind leaders who support an open anti-Semite.

We REFUSE to march behind leaders who defend those affiliated with an open anti-Semite.

We DEMAND new leadership.

“That the group refuses to be accountable for a high-level alliance with an open anti-Semite disqualifies it from ranking among today’s movements for social justice.”

https://www.theatlantic.com/politics/archive/2018/03/womens-march/555122/

“A liberation ideology that rests on the demonization of other marginalized groups should be, and is, unacceptable to most contemporary activist movements….Mallory’s unwillingness to see Farrakhan for what he is will surely cost the entire Women’s March organization its credibility among many Jewish people, LGBTQ people, and those who see themselves as allies to those communities.”

https://slate.com/news-and-politics/2018/03/the-womens-marchs-embrace-of-louis-farrakhan-betrays-its-most-essential-principles.html

“If the Women’s March continues to count [Mallory] as a leader, the organization deserves to fail.”

http://www.nydailynews.com/opinion/tamika-mallory-disqualifying-embrace-louis-farrakhan-article-1.3863177

Please sign this petition & reach out to any of these  550 organizations and insist that they terminate their sponsorship of the Women’s March, Inc. until new leadership is in place.

#WomensMarchLeadersResign

These sponsors include:

Planned Parenthood
@PPact

Natural Resource Defense Council
@NRDC

Emily’s List
@emilyslist

NARAL
@NARAL

ACLU
@ACLU

American Federation of Teachers
@AFTunion

Human Rights Campaign
@HRC

Peace is Loud
@peaceisloud

Move On
@MoveOn

Jews for Racial & Economic Justice
@JFREJ

Keshet
@KeshetGLBTJews

Southern Poverty Law Center
@splcenter 

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There’s Nothing Unscientific About Gender Identity

From Huffington Post: https://www.huffingtonpost.ca/florence-ashley/gender-identity-conservative-convention-ford_a_23598650/

The Ontario Progressive Conservative Party should take its own advice and heed science, recognizing gender identity as science has for decades.

Florence Ashley
11/27/2018

On November 17, the Progressive Conservative Party of Ontario passed a resolution for debate at the next convention, according to which “gender identity theory” is “[a] highly controversial, unscientific ‘liberal ideology’; and, as such, that a Conservative government will remove the teaching and promotion of ‘gender identity theory’ from Ontario schools and its curriculum.”

Even though the resolution was later rejected by Premier Doug Ford, with little explanation and without clarifying whether he can block it from being debated at the next convention, the fact that the party proposed this debate invigorates proponents of the dangerous belief that trans people are delusional and shouldn’t have their gender identities recognized.

Moreover, they play into the myth that the growing inclusion of trans people is being pushed by ideologically-motivated activists with no regard for science, even though scientists are very much in favour of trans inclusion.

Gender identity didn’t emerge out of activist communities, but was coined in 1963 by psychiatrists Robert Stoller and Ralph Greenson, both professors of psychiatry at UCLA Medical School. The term allowed them to put into words the psychological experiences of trans people.

As explained in the Yogyakarta Principles, a leading international human rights document, gender identity refers to a deeply felt internal and individual experience of belonging to a gender, whether male, female or non-binary.

It was also the work of healthcare experts which led to the recognition of trans people as a protected group under anti-discrimination law in the late 90s.

The expert testimony of Dr. Richard Robinow, a psychiatrist for the Centre for Sexuality, Gender Identity and Reproductive Health, was integral to the B.C. Human Rights Tribunal’s 1999 decision to establish the right to access to bathrooms according to gender identity.

As the Tribunal explained, society assumes that sex is binary and unchangeable, but the medical profession better recognizes the complexities of gender, which is neither binary nor fixed.

Recently, more than 2,600 scientists including nine Nobel laureates, signed a letter condemning the Donald Trump administration’s decision to redefined gender as biological and assigned at birth. According to the group of scientists, such a proposal is “fundamentally inconsistent not only with science, but also with ethical practices, human rights, and basic dignity.”

Many prestigious institutions have also opposed the proposed redefinition, including the journal “Nature”, writing in an editorial on behalf of the publication that, “Political attempts to pigeonhole people have nothing to do with science and everything to do with stripping away rights and recognition from those whose identity does not correspond with outdated ideas of sex and gender.”

Continue reading at:  https://www.huffingtonpost.ca/florence-ashley/gender-identity-conservative-convention-ford_a_23598650/

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Being Trans Is Not a Mental Disorder

From The New York Times:  https://www.nytimes.com/2018/12/06/opinion/trans-gender-dysphoria-mental-disorder.html

When will the American Psychiatric Association finally stop treating it like it is?

Roy Richard Grinker
Dec. 6, 2018

Forty-five years ago, members of the American Psychiatric Association decided, by a slim 58 percent majority, to remove “homosexuality” from the list of mental disorders in its Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders. In his old age, the great gay rights activist Frank Kameny recalled Dec. 15, 1973, as the day “when we were cured en masse by the psychiatrists.”

In a single stroke, the A.P.A. helped transform homosexuality from a medical condition to a social identity. It would take another 27 years for the World Health Organization to eliminate homosexuality from its own classification of mental disorders in the International Classification of Diseases, the comprehensive manual of some 55,000 diagnostic codes that doctors everywhere use for diagnosis and insurance reimbursement. But this summer, the W.H.O. beat the A.P.A. to the punch on another issue — transgender rights — by moving “gender incongruence” from its chapter on mental health to its chapter on sexual health. On its website, under the heading “Small Code, Big Impact,” the W.H.O. says that gender incongruence is a sexual health condition for which people may seek medical services, but that “the evidence is now clear that it is not a mental disorder.”

The A.P.A. should now do the same by eliminating its category of gender dysphoria, a technical term for people unhappy because of their gender incongruence. It would be an important step in advancing transgender rights and reducing the stigma and prejudice that people experience when, because of nothing they or anyone else did wrong, they cannot abide the sex they were assigned at birth.

The 1973 decision on homosexuality taught us that we shouldn’t expect too much too quickly. Indeed, Frank Kameny overstated the A.P.A.’s power for sarcastic effect. Most of the 42 percent who objected clung to the psychoanalytic view articulated by Sigmund Freud in 1914 that homosexuality was a developmental problem. Nor did the A.P.A. immediately excise homosexuality from the D.S.M. As a compromise, the organization retained diagnoses in subsequent editions to denote people unhappy about being homosexual — ego dystonic homosexuality, for example — and eliminated homosexuality completely only in the 1987 revision.

History is now repeating itself. Echoing the compromise on homosexuality, the A.P.A. decided in 2013 not to remove gender incongruence entirely from the D.S.M. but to change “gender identity disorder” to “gender dysphoria,” just a slight tweak of the equivalent word “ego-dystonic” that had been paired with homosexuality in the 1980s. The worthy aim of coining this new diagnosis was to lessen the stigma of gender incongruence. But as was the case with the short-lived “ego-dystonic homosexuality,” the A.P.A. is just delaying the inevitable.

Continue reading at:  https://www.nytimes.com/2018/12/06/opinion/trans-gender-dysphoria-mental-disorder.html

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Can We Finally Stop Talking About ‘Male’ and ‘Female’ Brains?

From The New York Times:  https://www.nytimes.com/2018/12/03/opinion/male-female-brains-mosaic.html

Recent research is making it clearer than ever that the notion that sex determines the fundamentals of brain structure and behavior is a misconception.

By Daphna Joel and Cordelia Fine
Dec. 3, 2018

In 17th and 18th century Europe, the rise of egalitarian ideals created the need for a scientific account of women’s inferior status. Thus was born gender biological complementaritythe notion that, as historian of science Londa Schiebinger explains in The Mind Has No Sex, “Women were not to be viewed merely as inferior to men but as fundamentally different from, and thus incomparable to, men.” It has been with us in one way or another, roping in science to explain the gender status quo, ever since.

At its core is the persistent belief that men’s and women’s natures can be usefully and meaningfully carved into two categories or “natural kinds,” that are distinct, timeless, and deeply biologically grounded. Today’s version of this idea continues a centuries long quest to find the source of this hypothesized divergence in abilities, preferences, and behavior in the brain: You can find this notion at work, for instance, in popular books like John Gray’s “Men Are from Mars, Women Are from Venus” in the 1990s, Louann Brizendine’s “The Female Brain” and “The Male Brain” the following decade, and last year’s “Results at the Top: Using Gender Intelligence to Create Breakthrough Growth” by Barbara Annis and Richard Nesbitt.

But a version of the same assumption is also sometimes subtly present in scientific research. Consider, for example, Cambridge University psychologist Simon Baron-Cohen’s influential Empathizing-Systemizing theory of brains and the accompanying “extreme male brain” theory of autism. This presupposes there is a particular “systemizing” brain type that we could meaningfully describe as “the male brain,” that drives ways of thinking, feeling, and behaving that distinguish the typical boy and man from the typical “empathizing” girl and woman.

Or consider studies that report sex differences in brain structure in terms of two different classes of brains. Thus, a globally publicized study by Madhura Ingalhalikar and colleagues on the human connectome — that is, the enormous set of connections between the different regions of the brain — which concluded that “male brains are structured to facilitate connectivity between perception and coordinated action, whereas female brains are designed to facilitate communication between analytical and intuitive processing modes.”

The problem with these approaches is the implicit assumption that sex differences, whether in brain structure, function, or behavior, ‘add up’ consistently in individuals to create “male brains” and “female brains,” and “male natures” and “female natures.”

In 2015, one of us, Daphna Joel, led an analysis of four large data sets of brain scans, and found that the sex differences you see overall between men’s and women’s brains aren’t neatly and consistently seen in individual brains. In other words, humans generally don’t have brains with mostly or exclusively “female-typical” features or “male-typical” features. Instead, what’s most common in both females and males are brains with “mosaics” of features, some of them more common in males and some more common in females.

Continue reading at:  https://www.nytimes.com/2018/12/03/opinion/male-female-brains-mosaic.html

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