I Have An Idea For An Experiment
It's about the MAGA Teens. Wait, where are you going? Come back
(If I have to look at those MAGA kids one more time I swear I am going to freaking lose it but luckily Against Me! also comes up in this newsletter so here’s an image from one of their shows that was posted to YouTube.)
As a result of what I can only assume is some sort of jinx or curse, I keep making errors when I mention incompetence or human frailty. Here’s a correction I posted to my last newsletter, at the bottom of the quick item on that ESPN article about the hapless Cleveland Browns organization: “This paragraph initially mentioned Dee Haslam, Jimmy’s wife and co-owner, rather than Jimmy — the guy who actually made the handshake remark. I also linked to an article aggregating and reacting to the ESPN piece rather than the ESPN piece itself. Both errors have been fixed.” Sorrysorrysorry.
This will be the last Singal-Minded until Monday or Tuesday. I’ll probably settle into a Monday-Wednesday-Friday routine, but that didn’t happen this week because of travel, and I’ve got a bit more travel coming up on Friday. But keep an eye out for the first in a series of sizzling West Coast dispatches Monday or Tuesday. It’ll be a lighter, warmer, sunnier Singal-Minded a bit less bogged down in I-95-corridor ennui and self-loathing. Until I get back, that is.
Some people told me their spam filter is eating this newsletter like a confused and ravenous beast. If you’re one of them, you’re probably not reading this! But spread the word, I guess, that this article contains instructions on how to unspam non-spam for a bunch of the major email clients. If you use an email client not on there, try googling “[your email client] prevent marked as spam.”
A Detransitioner Has Some Followup Thoughts on My Critique of That Slate Article About "Whack-A-Mole Dysphoria"
A detransitioner who goes by Crash ChaosCats on her very worthwhile Twitter and YouTube accounts — check out “Genderfuct” in particular — tweeted some thoughts in response to Tuesday's newsletter and, with her permission, I'm collecting them into paragraph form here, with very minor tweaks:
I 100% agree that we need a lot more research on gender dysphoria and how to treat it. It would be really good if people on all sides let go of ideology and recognized that there’s still so much we don't understand about it. In researching GD, I’ve come across so many clinicians in the past who complained about the quality of data they that had. Their patients didn’t trust them, lied to them, disappeared after they got the medical procedures they wanted and so on. That was definitely one of the drawbacks of the older “gate-keeping” model.
People with GD were more likely to say what they thought they needed to to access transition. How can you get a clear understanding of GD in those circumstances? It makes sense to look at how medical discourse, past and present, and social norms in communities formed of people with GD impact how people view and attempt to treat their dysphoria. We’re only just beginning to understand gender dysphoria, what causes it and how to treat it. We’re still figuring out what biological, psychological and social factors come together to produce that condition. We’re not going to get anywhere if people are only allowed to come to certain conclusions about what gender dysphoria is and how to treat it. Accepting that our understanding of it might change as we learn more about it is a better approach.
As Crash indicates, for a long time, there has been a dysfunctional relationship between many trans people seeking healthcare and their clinicians. That’s because trans people often believe and are told by other trans people that unless they show up at a therapist’s or doctor’s office broadcasting a very particular kind of transness, a very particular story about their dysphoria and their means of expressing it, they will be denied the help they need. There’s good reason for this belief: It has often been true, and often still is.
One sad example comes in Against Me! frontwoman Laura Jane Grace’s excellent memoir Tranny: Confessions of Punk Rock's Most Infamous Anarchist Sellout, which I was lucky enough to interview her about for a Vulture Q&A. Grace had severe gender dysphoria but had little desire to present in a traditionally femme manner — that’s not her style — and she encountered a clinician who, like many others, had trouble grasping this distinction:
[The pressure to act in a particularly macho manner Grace encountered in the punk world before she transitioned] ties into a story you tell in the book, of when you went to a conservative Floridian psychiatrist to try and get on hormones. They wanted you to perform the flip side of that — to present this very particular version of effeminate womanhood before they were comfortable prescribing you hormones, right?
Right, yeah. And unfortunately, there just aren’t a lot of resources, especially where I was at at the time, living in St. Augustine. And in Miami, there were more resources, but that was a four or five hour drive for me. So even the closest I could find was still like an hour-and-a-half drive from where I was at, and that’s just the one option, you know?
And with the therapist you saw, it was this aesthetic thing where until the therapist saw you dressed as a woman, they were like, “Eh, I’m not sure that’s who you really are.” I mean, that must have felt sort of demeaning, to be forced to conform to a particular stereotype.
It just kind of felt like it was all bullshit. That being said, when I’m traveling around and meet other people who are going through similar things and they ask for advice, I still recommend they find someone to talk to, and oftentimes the best person to talk to is a trained professional like that. And often, it’s not necessarily the advice that they’re gonna give you, it’s just really just being able to hear yourself actualized — to hear what you’re thinking said out loud and to bounce that off somebody even if they can’t give you anything helpful in return.
Do you get the sense that it’s fairly common for young trans or gender-questioning people to feel like they have to lie to their therapist to fit a certain mold of a trans person to get the treatment they need?
For sure. And beyond that, what’s even more alarming is the actual health care for trans people once you’re on hormones, of finding someone who actually gives a shit in doing that right and helping you to manage something like that in a healthy way. The health-care industry is really discriminatory when it comes to that, and trans people are notoriously marginalized and not given good care. It’s like a constant fear you live with, whether I’m going to a dentist or just like a doctor for whatever normal health checkup that anyone else would go to, that if they discover you’re trans, you’re gonna get biased, subpar health care.
Questions like this one — whether clinicians who work with gender-dysphoric patients exhibit compassion and open-mindedness — matter a great deal to anyone with gender dysphoria, whether or not they end up identifying as trans. Crash’s point, that people with gender dysphoria shouldn’t have to feel as though they need to lie to therapists and doctors to be taken seriously, is so common sense, and is important to the entire universe of people who have, or who will develop, gender dysphoria, whatever path they take.
To the extent I have a specific “agenda” in continuing to write about this issue, this is one of my key talking points: Everyone who currently has, will have, or used to have gender dysphoria has a certain set of shared needs. They need to be taken seriously, they need to be listened to, and they need to not be shamed or ridiculed for failing to adhere to deeply entrenched gender norms. All too often people act as though trans people are on a different “team” than detransitioners and desisters — an unfortunate side effect of how polarized, how quickly this entire discussion has become. Not so: Everyone who experiences GD has a lot in common.
Other than that, all I can say to Crash’s response is Amen.
Here's a Great Tweet
There are so many bad tweets, but sometimes a tweet is great. When a tweet is great, I will highlight it in a sporadic feature called “Here's a Great Tweet.”
This one's pretty self-explanatory. Here's Keith Humphreys, a psychologist and public-policy professor at Stanford University (and a great Twitter follow), on a major scandal percolating within academia and poised to explode at any moment:
That's a great tweet! Even if I am now paralyzed with outrage.
Someone Please Conduct and Publish This Study I Just Came Up With
There's a fascinating study that was published in the Journal of Experimental Psychology: General in 2014 by a trio of New York University professors, working with a fourth researcher at Yale. The authors had a bunch of people watch a video of a hectic physical altercation between a police officer and a suspect in which it was genuinely unclear who was at fault. Prior to watching the video, each participant’s level of identification with police officers in general was gauged through simple survey questions, and while they watched the video their eye movements, unbeknownst to them, were tracked, allowing researchers to record and analyze where their gaze was fixed as the on-screen action unfolded. They were then asked questions geared at revealing their interpretation of the event, like how much they would agree with the idea of convicting and punishing the police officer if his conduct led to a criminal court case.
In another experiment in the same study, participants were told their results of a personality test meant they identified more with either "the blue group" or "the green group" (in fact participants were randomly assigned to one or the other), and then watched a video of two white men, one in a blue shirt and one in a green one, engaging in a (staged) fight. Again, culpability was ambiguous, and again, the respondents were asked questions about guilt and punishment after having had their eye movements surreptitiously tracked.
Per the study's press release:
[The] results showed that frequently looking at the police officer exacerbated discrepancies in punishment decisions among participants. For instance, among participants who looked frequently at the police officer, the degree to which they identified with his social group predicted biased punishment decisions. Participants punished the officer far more severely if they did not identify with his group than if they did. By contrast, among participants who looked less often at the officer, group identification did not affect punishment decisions. Attention shifted punishment decisions by changing participants' interpretations of the legal facts of the case.
Consistent with the first two experiments, the results [of the blue/green experiment] showed that close visual attention enhanced biased interpretations of what transpired and influenced punishment decisions. For instance, those who fixated more on the outgroup member (blue or green) were more likely to recommend stiffer punishment than those who looked elsewhere. Again, attention shifted punishment decisions by changing the accuracy of participants' memory of the behaviors that the outgroup member performed.
The takeaway from this study, and of others like it, is that because ideological and attentional factors and biases color the way we view the world, it's possible for different people to extract very different things from the same video.
I was reminded of this study yesterday, and it immediately brought me back to the recent kerfuffle over the “MAGA teens” at the Lincoln Memorial (whose innermost morality and worth, you may recall, cannot be ascertained on the basis of their smiles). Wouldn't this be an utterly fascinating event around which to build a social-psychological experiment premised on ideology and attention and eye-tracking?
There are a million directions one could go with this, but if I were a researcher, I'd edit together some footage to produce a single video that shows the Native American activist Nathan Phillips wading into the group of teens, which then cuts to one of the pan shots of a bunch of the teens whooping and jumping along with his drumbeats, and which concludes with that infamous close shot of Phillips drumming and singing while Nick Sandmann just stands there grinning at him.
First I'd ask study participants various questions about their ideology, the extent to which they view racism as an ongoing problem in the U.S., whether they think the media or society treat Donald Trump supporters fairly, and so on. Then I'd have them watch the video as their eye movements are secretly being tracked, and then I'd ask them some factual questions about the video to see whether they could answer correctly: Did any of the kids do the tomahawk chop, which is seen as an offensive gesture?" (Yes.) Did Phillips enter the circle of kids, or did they encircle him? (The former.) Did Sandmann move toward Phillips in a menacing or threatening way? (No.)
As I type this, I realize that one potential obstacle to this study is that this was such a thoroughly publicized and discussed and dissected news event that it would be hard to find all that many subjects for the experiment who aren’t already familiar with it, and who haven’t already made up their minds about various aspects of it, which could contaminate the findings (you could simply add a pre-video question or three related to this, I suppose, to see how familiarity with the event mediated responses to the video). But setting that aside — wouldn't this be cool? It would be fascinating to discover the extent to which participants' ideology affected what they focused on and which details they picked up, or failed to.
My rather commonsense prediction is that all else being equal, conservatives would interpret the video as indicting Phillips, and that liberals would do the opposite, indicating they found the teens to be the more culpable party. I could see the attentional issues going either way, given how confusing the situation is to watch in real-time: Maybe people would focus more on their "side" in search of evidence affirming their belief the kids or Phillips did nothing wrong, or maybe they'd do the opposite, scouring the "bad guys" for signs of misbehavior. Either way, if past research — and, uh, one or two fights I got into about this — is any indication, some conservatives would undoubtedly miss the fact that a handful of the kids did do the tomahawk chop, and some liberals would undoubtedly miss the fact that Phillips kicked off the interaction by wading into a mostly closed circle of teenagers already riled up from the chants they were doing.
In short: We are an interesting species, and it would be useful to learn more about just how interesting.
Questions? Comments? Lengthy explanations about how, if you zoom in on the upper corner at exactly 1:27:38 in the longer video, you can see that really, it was the Saudis who were responsible for this whole controversy? I'm at firstname.lastname@example.org, or on Twitter at @jessesingal.