Friday, November 23, 2018

Two major federal actions against transgender rights in the US - Nov. 23, 2018

On Friday, Nov. 23, 2018, the Trump administration made two major moves against transgender rights.

Proposed U.S. ban on transgender soldiers may jump over appeals court and go directly to Supreme Court

On Friday, the administration "asked the Supreme Court to bypass the usual legal process to take on...President Trump’s decision to ban transgender people from military service." (Washington Post, Nov. 23, 2018) Trump proposed the ban in July 2017 via Twitter. He ordered Secretary of Defense Jim Mattis to develop a plan for implementing this ban, which Mattis did. The ban was challenged, however, in part on the basis that Trump's directive was groundless ("the result of discrimination, rather than a study of how allowing transgender personnel affects the military"). Jennifer Levi of GLAD said that "the open service policy that was thoroughly vetted by the military itself and has been in place now for more than two years. Lower courts upheld those challenges. Trump administration "Solicitor General Noel J. Francisco asked the justices to consolidate the challenges to the ban," the Washington Post article said, "and rule on the issue in its current term."

"The Trump administration has taken an aggressive posture when lower courts have ruled against it on important issues. It has asked the Supreme Court — with varying degrees of success — to accept the cases before they have run through the normal appeals process. ... The effort has drawn criticism from those who say such requests puts the Supreme Court in position to be seen as doing the administration’s bidding."

The New York Times reported the same day that "The Supreme Court does not ordinarily intercede until at least one appeals court has considered an issue, and it typically awaits a disagreement among appeals courts before adding a case to its docket." The ban on transgender soldiers has not yet been ruled on in an appeals court, although arguments have already been heard in the Ninth Circuit in San Francisco which has not issued a ruling yet, and another appeal is scheduled to be heard in the District of Columbia Circuit next month. Cases from federal trial court may jump the line, without being first heard by an appeals court, and go directly to the Supreme Court, if the case is shown to be of "imperative public importance as to...require immediate determination in this court.” Solicitor General Francisco claimed in his brief that the ban on transgender soldiers indeed meets that standard. Joshua Matz, a lawyer who filed an amicus brief for challengers, wrote: “Trump’s lawyers fail to understand that the government is not entitled to play leapfrog whenever it loses in federal court.”

Detailed guidance about the rights of transgender federal employees is removed from the Office of Personnel Management

Also on Friday, it was noticed that information had been removed from the Office of Personnel Management's website sometime earlier in the week. The Office of Personnel Management oversees all federal employees. The website "still state[s] that discrimination on the basis of gender identity is prohibited — consistent with an executive order President Obama issued that is still in effect." However, all the previous detail, "ensuring that trans workers could dress according to their gender identity, that they were called by their preferred names and pronouns, and that they were allowed to use restrooms and locker rooms consistent with their gender identity," is gone, unannounced, according to an article in ThinkProgress.

Climate change will reduce U.S. GDP by 10 percent by the end of the 21st century

In the New York Times on Nov. 19, 2018:

"Reports of the threats from a warming planet have been coming fast and furiously. The latest: a startling analysis from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change predicting terrible food shortages, wildfires and a massive die-off of coral reefs as soon as 2040, unless governments take strong action."

And the New York Times on Friday, Nov. 23:

"A major scientific report issued by 13 federal agencies on Friday [today] presents the starkest warnings to date of the consequences of climate change for the United States, predicting that if significant steps are not taken to rein in global warming, the damage will knock as much as 10 percent off the size of the American economy by century’s end.

The report, which was mandated by Congress and made public by the White House, is notable not only for the precision of its calculations and bluntness of its conclusions, but also because its findings are directly at odds with President Trump’s agenda of environmental deregulation, which he asserts will spur economic growth."

* * *

"...in direct language, the 1,656-page assessment lays out the devastating effects of a changing climate on the economy, health and environment, including record wildfires in California, crop failures in the Midwest and crumbling infrastructure in the South. Going forward, American exports and supply chains could be disrupted, agricultural yields could fall to 1980s levels by midcentury and fire season could spread to the Southeast, the report finds."

CNN reported the same day about the same publication, saying that it "delivers a dire warning about climate change and its devastating impacts, saying the economy could lose hundreds of billions of dollars — or, in the worst-case scenario, more than 10% of its GDP — by the end of the century."

"Coming from the US Global Change Research Program, a team of 13 federal agencies, the Fourth National Climate Assessment was put together with the help of 1,000 people, including 300 leading scientists, roughly half from outside the government.

It's the second of two volumes. The first, released in November 2017, concluded that there is "no convincing alternative explanation" for the changing climate other than "human activities, especially emissions of greenhouse gases.""

Thursday, November 15, 2018

On Jewish, Black, and transgender hate crime statistics

About this new statistic that's floating around. Here it is in a recent article in the New York Times:

"Contrary to what are surely the prevailing assumptions, anti-Semitic incidents have constituted half of all hate crimes in New York [City] this year, according to the Police Department. To put that figure in context, there have been four times as many crimes motivated by bias against Jews — 142 in all — as there have against blacks. Hate crimes against Jews have outnumbered hate crimes targeted at transgender people by a factor of 20."

- "Is It Safe to Be Jewish in New York?" by Ginia Bellafante, New York Times, Oct. 31, 2018

This statistic excites some people, perhaps because they like to show that their group is more oppressed than others. But, of course, we should not perceive hate crimes statistics as a competition; the desirable rate for all groups is zero. As someone who is both transgender and Jewish, I do not feel better—neither more assured of my own safety nor more righteously outraged—knowing that there are more crimes against one of my identities than another.

It's also important to unpack various possible meanings of these numbers before we rush to interpret them.

First of all, there are 20 times more Jews than transgender people in New York City. New York City has a population of 8.5 million, including (on a low estimate) 1 million Jews. Transgender people are currently estimated to make up about 0.5% of the total population of the United States, which would predict about 50,000 transgender people in New York City. One possible explanation of why 20 times more hate crimes are reported against Jews than against transgender people is that there are 20 times more potential Jewish individual targets than potential transgender individual targets.

Then again, it may not be especially relevant how many individuals there are in the targeted group. What might matter more is how many haters there are, because they are the ones committing the crimes. This would require an analysis of active hate groups. It may indeed be true that hate groups focus more on ethnic/racial/religious identity than on gender/sexual identity.

I do not know what to make of Bellafante's report of the NYPD statistics that four times as many anti-Jewish crimes were reported than anti-Black crimes, since there are twice as many Black people as Jewish people in New York City. Many black people fear interacting with the police even to report crimes against them, or they expect that it's at minimum a waste of their time to do so because they believe their reports will not be pursued. Many of the Black people in New York City are recent immigrants, so they may be even less likely to report hate crimes, or, when they do report them, these crimes may be categorized — I am speculating — as representing bias on the basis of nationality or religion rather than race.

It's also important to note that hate crimes do not always target individuals. Sometimes they target institutions. There are far more visible Jewish institutions (synagogues, community centers, non-profits, political action committees, Israeli-American or Zionist organizations, Judaica stores) than transgender institutions, so it is (sadly) predictable that the visible institutions might be targeted more often.

Furthermore, once a hate crime has occurred that affects multiple members of an organization, it seems that is more likely to be reported than if it had occurred to an individual. When the janitor finds hateful graffiti on the door of a synagogue, she reports it so that the synagogue members can be aware and feel that the issue is being properly addressed. The janitor does not necessarily report graffiti on the door of her own home, for any number of reasons: she is too busy to speak to the police in her "free time," she needs to use her "free time" to clean up the graffiti and once she cleans it up it won't be there anymore to show to the police, she rationalizes it as being "just kids" and not a real threat, she worries that it is a real threat and that she will endanger herself more if she reports it, she is battling intense emotions (shame, anger, sadness, fear of more attacks, anxiety about not being believed) that reduce her available energy for reporting it, she doesn't have a witness to corroborate her account and help her with the administrative task of reporting it, she worries that she knows who did it and that she'll need to take them to court and she can't afford a lawyer, etc.

Many transgender individuals — unlike most Jews — also worry about being "outed" to their family, friends, neighbors, and coworkers — and to the police. Even if they are comfortable stating their transgender identity, their gender may be complicated to explain to others, and they may find it a hassle to explain why they believe an incident was a hateful attack on their gender. This may reduce their willingness to report hate crimes against themselves to the police. And, due to pressures they face from their other identities — their race, nationality, language, immigrant status — they may be further reluctant to interact with the police to report encountering hateful attacks based on their gender.

Therefore, in repeating the New York City statistic that appeared in the New York Times, I would be wary of misusing it to downplay the occurrence of hate crimes that are motivated by bias against Black and transgender people. We can combat anti-Semitism while also combatting other forms of racism and bigotry. In fact, we have to combat all kinds of hate simultaneously. Hate groups have multi-faceted agendas out of which their attacks grow. Deciding selectively which kinds of attacks are more important to each of us personally is missing the broader threat. We can't bat down visible, reported anti-Semitism without also batting down what those same hate groups are doing to other groups. If we don't care about all of it and support each other, we will still find ourselves targeted on whatever basis "they" come up with.

Wednesday, November 14, 2018

Zayn Malik doesn't identify as Muslim: "I don't believe any of it"

In the British Vogue, Giles Hattersley writes of Zayn Malik:

...it’s a simple “Zayn” these days, ever since the 25-year-old boyband survivor from Bradford with perfect hair and poptastic falsetto dispensed with his surname and went fully Cher. That was a year after he fled One Direction, in March 2015, when the world’s most successful group was at the hormone-addled apex of its fame. For a brief moment, Zayn was the YouTube generation’s answer to John Lennon (or Geri Halliwell, at least), devastating millions of fans across the globe with his shotgun exit, then thrilling them a year later with a record-breaking, Billboard-topping debut album. He moved to the States, clocked up billions of streams, dueted with Taylor Swift, shot campaigns for Versus and endured the peculiar menace of having a dozen paparazzi camped outside his door every day. He also became an international figurehead for biracial success and anti-Islamophobia. And I mentioned the hair, right?

While he's "routinely touted as Britain’s most famous Muslim," he told the interviewer that he believes in God, but not in Hell, and that he prefers to keep his beliefs private and wouldn't call himself a Muslim today. He simply wants to be "a good person" and "behave well," and he hopes that this will result in his being "treated well" so that "everything is going to go right" for him.

He says: "I don’t believe you need to eat a certain meat that’s been prayed over a certain way, I don’t believe you need to read a prayer in a certain language five times a day. I don’t believe any of it."

Some may see this as lending new meaning to the lyrics to his song "iT's YoU" (you can listen to it on Apple Music or buy it on iTunes):

I won't, I won't, I won't
Cover the scars
I'll let 'em bleed
So my silence
So my silence won't
Be mistaken for peace

That is, we cannot consent to let others continue to hurt us, and if they do hurt us, they cannot expect us to take it silently. When we acknowledge what is hurting, we may be seen arguing (not keeping the peace), but that argument is essential to honesty and survival. For some, this may describe how they feel affected by religion.

Saturday, November 10, 2018

LGBT people struggle to survive a purge in Tanzania

In Tanzania, the Dar es Salaam regional commissioner has asked the public to report gay people. "Give me their names," he said on Oct. 29. "My ad hoc team"—a committee of 17 police and media officials—"will begin to get their hands on them" in just one week. The next day, he reported that he'd already received over 100 names in over five thousand messages. Although the Tanzanian government clarified that this regional effort does not represent the national government's official policy, it was not clear if the national government intended to stop the Dar es Salaam regional purge.

The organization Jinsiangu, supported by the International AIDS Alliance (donate), has helped people relocate internationally to Nairobi, Kenya for their personal safety.

Background

Tanzanian law, an inheritance from British colonialism, punishes men who have sex with other men with 30-years-to-life in jail.

CNN reported:

"According to 2014 UNAIDS data, 17.6% of men who have sex with men in Tanzania are living with HIV — a rate more than four times higher than the 4.5% in the nation's general adult population. * * * Being forced into hiding also means people do not want to engage in any way with health services and will not test for infections or go to collect HIV treatment. People will avoid anything that will link them to being LGBT and subject to identification, [International HIV/AIDS Alliance executive director Christine] Stegling said."

Recently, LGBT organizations have been shuttered. In February 2017, Tanzania's deputy health minister claimed that homosexuality is not found among animals, only exists among people who live in cities, and is a social construct. The health ministry prohibited HIV/AIDS clinics from running their programs, and then arrested 13 people—including deporting three South African lawyers—who met to discuss how to challenge that new policy. The shutdown of the clinics and the arrest of the activists was done on the grounds that it is illegal to promote homosexuality.

According to a Guardian article: Geofrey Mashala, an activist who is "making a documentary about the Tanzanian LGBT community," said that, considering “all the steps we made as LGBT activists" over the past several years, "it’s like we have to start over again.” Erin Kilbride of the human rights group Front Line Defenders interviewed 80 LGBT people and sex workers earlier this year; "all but two said they had been sexually assaulted or raped by police in custody."

Monday, October 29, 2018

Ways one oughtn't respond to anti-Semitic domestic terrorism

On Saturday, Oct. 27, 2018, eleven Jews were murdered while worshipping in a synagogue in Pennsylvania. The President tweeted this:

Later that evening, the President appeared at a self-promotional rally and joked about nearly having canceled it — not because he believed the morning's tragedy warranted more attention or solemnity from him, but because standing in the rain to give a news conference about the attack had caused him to have a "bad hair day."

To cap off the evening, he tweeted:

By Monday, Oct. 29, the President returned to his usual authoritarian line that the media is the "enemy of the people." His press secretary, Sarah Huckabee Sanders, came up with a "both sides" explanation: "I think the president has had a number of moments of bringing the country together. Once again, I'll remind you that the very first thing the president did was condemn the attacker. And the very first thing the media did was blame the president." Kellyanne Conway, an advisor to the president, suggested that late-night television comedians in particular bore responsibility for triggering anti-Semitic violence. She Christian-splained that the Jews "were there [in the synagogue] because they're people of faith," that comedians have unfortunately made a culture in which it's usual "to make fun of anybody of faith, to constantly be making fun of people that express religion," and that what is needed is more religion in "the public square." (Diaspora Jews, on the whole, have always been really quite skeptical about religion in the public square.)

The President, for his part, took a different tack in claiming that he had not meant to generalize about "the media," but had only meant to refer to the media that is "fake."

Meanwhile, the Vice President invited clergy of the Messianic Jewish religion — a religious movement that most Jews recognize as Christian and that they resent for being culturally appropriative and theologically deceptive in their deliberate mimickry of Judaism — to publicly speak about the matter. The Messianic Jew prayed for Republican victory.

Friday, October 12, 2018

Logical errors in 'Gender Identity and the Invisible Pasta God'

Some words about Stephen Measure's satirical short story Gender Identity and the Invisible Pasta God.

Measure currently sorts his writing into three topics on his website.

  • "Same-sex sexuality," further explained thus: "Sexual identity is an anti-moral weapon, nothing more."
  • "Gender identity," defined as "a religious belief that I don't believe in."
  • "Dehumanization," or, what he fears the people he opposes will do to him.

If these sentences are a little difficult to parse, just use the takeaway that his position is basically anti-LGBT. He maintains that everyone (or nearly everyone) is physically either male or female, that people cannot or should not claim a gender identity based on their subjective feelings rather than their physical sex, and that people should not engage in sexual activity with members of the same sex. He doesn't seem especially interested or curious in LGBT people's beliefs or lives, and his main concern is that he should not be accused of bigotry for holding this position.

Had I known this, I might not have paid three dollars for his eBook, Gender Identity and the Invisible Pasta God. But his stance was not obvious from the book description, so I pressed the button and read the book, and here we are.

The book is a brief discourse (about 40 pages) against the idea that people should respect each other's gender identity. It begins as a fictional story focusing on a character so juvenile, awkward, and obnoxious that my burning question from the very first page was not "What will happen next in this story?" but rather "Can anything possibly redeem this character, or at least help me relate to him, over the course of this story?" The answer to the latter question turned out to be "no." There really wasn't a story anyway. The characters's existence is a mere plot device because he sits in a chair for the entire book — wearing a colander on his head — and is lectured to, along with an audience full of passive people wearing the same headgear, by two unnamed white men.

If the lecture were good, that would count for something. It is not. It is a straw man. It has enough material for a weak op-ed, but that is painfully stretched across dozens of pages. Its talking points are simply repeated and they do not gain force. One of the two lecturing men seems to fatigue from the repetition and he essentially drops out of the argument, so the other man (the one with whom Measure sympathizes) wins by default.

The anti-transgender proponent is "Goatee man" (a manly man, you see) and the pro-transgender devil's advocate is "Ponytail man" (a hipster fop). Each of their arguments is undeveloped, both on a philosophical level and in lacking personal history (after all, the author didn't even bother to name the characters). Goatee man has at least mastered his own argument, rudimentary though it is, perhaps on about a high school level. Ponytail man is thoroughly inarticulate and, upon being questioned, quickly decompensates into cursing, complaining about being tone-policed, and then babbling idiocy. He even drools on himself.

The debate is over people who assert gender identities different from the genders originally assigned to them based on their physical sex. Ponytail man's premise is that everyone should respect everyone else's asserted gender identity, including by allowing everyone to enter the bathroom (men's or women's) of their choice. Ponytail man insists that he is secular and that his opinion is based on science. The science to which he refers is "brain scan" studies that have shown that some transgender people exhibit brain activity more typical of the gender with which they identify and less typical of the gender assigned to them at birth, suggesting that gender has a scientifically demonstrable reality in the mind or perhaps that the brain has a sex.

Goatee man, for his part, says that he sometimes maintains beliefs based on science "because they can be proven to me" and other times based on religion "because I choose to believe them." Later, he says: "Science is shared through proof. Religion is shared through persuasion." These two descriptions of religion are potentially contradictory. If religion is something one believes by choice and without proof, that seems like belief on a whim — and then how is one ever supposed to persuade anyone else of this belief? If Goatee man maintains that there is a way to persuade others of one's own religious beliefs, then he needs to explain why he is not willing to listen to Ponytail man. Perhaps he would say that he finds Ponytail man an inarticulate and ineffective champion of his own cause. Fine, then, but then the readers of this story deserve to hear from a better representative, and perhaps Goatee man ought to seek one out. It really isn't fair or consistent for Goatee man to say that people can (in principle) be persuaded to adopt someone else's religious belief, but that Goatee man personally will never and indeed no one else should ever adopt Ponytail man's religious beliefs simply because they are religious. It is self-contradictory for Goatee man to take those positions.

An early concern I must raise is that I see no reason to think that there are only two options here. Whether our truth-claims ought to be called "science" and "religion" is debatable, but we must also debate why we would limit ourselves to only two categories. Having set up this false dichotomy, Goatee man claims to be more expert than Ponytail man at embracing and analyzing both types of truth-claim. He seems interested in championing science as preferable to religion, but other times he claims he does religion better than his interlocutor insofar as he (Goatee man) is at least conscious of when he is doing religion and not science.

Also, Goatee man bases his inquiry more on his consciousness of his own positions and on his own self-assessed coherence, and not at all on empathy or respect for others (neither on his own claim to have it, nor on anyone else's testimony that he has it), which makes his argument rather narcissistic. He's talking about being smart without even trying to be attentive to how his words affect others. And, insofar as there's no peer review process (he hasn't asked anyone for critical feedback), his philosophy touting the importance of science isn't ultimately very scientific, either.

Goatee man points out that we do not use brain scans to determine everyone's subjective gender identity and that even Ponytail man would never use a discordant brain scan to disallow anyone from enjoying the gender identity of their choice. The counterargument should have been that science can show trends and probabilities, and not necessarily unwavering correlations. So if, for example, studies show that Bolivians and Malaysians are on average shorter than Dutch and Canadians, in the real world this does not mean that we must either be willing to inform all tall people that they are Dutch or Canadian and all short people that they are Bolivian or Malaysian and that our only alternative to this blanket assumption would be to discard all height measurements so that we don't know anything about average heights by group. But this world of false alternatives is Goatee man's position. He sees no way to reflect the incontrovertible reality that some Bolivians and Malaysians are tall and some Dutch and Canadians are short. Following his logic, it would be unscientific to say so, because the results of a scientific study must work for everyone and be able to prove or disprove what any given individual is.

Also: Goatee man doesn't explain why he sometimes chooses science and other times religion. Does he flip a coin or follow a whim? Or is there a meta-rule by which he decides what beliefs require scientific reasoning? If he lacks scientific evidence, does he form a religious belief, and if he gains scientific evidence is he obligated to abandon that belief?

Goatee man compares gender identity to doctrines of "resurrection or reincarnation" or to being a "prophet." This is not a good comparison. Gender identity — considered as a personal belief, state of mind, language, or behavior that can be successfully lived out in the real world especially if others support it — is very much unlike a factual claim about something supernatural that cannot exist and cannot even be coherently described. As a secular person, Ponytail man should have responded that bodies can't be raised from the dead, souls can't be put in new bodies, and people can't prophesy the future, but that individuals really can live in more than one gender role over the course of their lives. That's one reason to think it isn't "religious" to acknowledge others' self-asserted gender identity.

Goatee man keeps trying on this point. He says: "The word 'prophet' is a real word with a real meaning — just like the words 'man' and 'woman' are real words with real meanings." But the question is not whether words have definitions. All words — at least the ones used in debates, the ones we encounter in life, the ones we encounter in this book — are real. All words have meanings. It's not useful to compare randomly selected Word A with Word B just because they both have entries in the dictionary. A better question is what kind of words they are and how they are used. And what I see is that the word "prophet" is unlike the words "man" and "woman" in various ways. If their similarities amount to "hey, these are both words!" and no inventory is taken of their dissimilarities, I see no reason to proceed further with this line of inquiry.

When Goatee man says, "Gender identity is either a religious belief or it is a delusion," is he inadvertently drawing a parallel between religious beliefs and delusions? As previously mentioned, "religious belief" isn't well defined in this book. It is taken to mean, vaguely, things we choose to believe for unscientific reasons. Delusions, then, seem to fit the bill. That makes this sentence potentially more of a comparison than a contrast.

Goatee man acknowledges the existence of intersex people, but dismisses them as having "a really crappy birth defect." This, clearly, does not display willingness to learn something about gender from those people.

Ponytail man, in perhaps his most articulate moment, says that gender is a "social construct." This is the right direction in which to take his argument so that he can begin to answer Goatee man's concerns. Unfortunately, he, as an inarticulate character, is unable to take it any further.

Even if we were to grant Goatee man's claims that someone's gender identity is an unprovable assertion (thus a "religious belief") while their physical sex is easily provable (thus a "scientific belief"), that doesn't in itself provide any justification for the social agenda of sorting people in public bathrooms by their physical sex. Why not let them self-sort by their gender identity? Alternatively, why do we bother sorting at all? The presumed importance of the sorting, since it is not argued for at all, is certainly unproven within this text — and, therefore, the presumed importance of the sorting seems to be a religious belief, according to Goatee man's own definitions. This is not minor. This is foundational to the entire purpose of the book. If there is a debate about how people decide who is allowed to use men's and women's bathrooms, and if we are asked to seriously entertain the possibility that people's ideas about their own gender are full of unproven or unprovable nonsense (simply because we haven't been shown a decent explanation of gender identity within this book), it seems we must also consider that our assumed need to strictly gender the bathrooms and to control other people's access to them is itself unproven or unprovable nonsense (as we haven't been shown a decent argument for why it's important to control bathroom access, either). If regulating bathroom access is a "religious belief," can people who don't want to regulate or be regulated go ahead and ignore those who persist in such religion? Can we ask them to keep their religion to themselves?

Goatee man says: "Strip off everyone's clothes in this room, and I'll wager I can identify each and every person's gender." There are two problems here. First, this imagery is violent and it may be an ad baculum fallacy (appeal to force) or perhaps an ad verecundiam (appeal to authority). I have no doubt that, if Goatee man saw me naked, he would quickly issue an opinion (correct or not) about my sex/gender. That he is capable of forming instant judgments in service of whatever argument he wants to make is not a question in my mind. I would prefer, rather, to respond but there is no situation in which it is OK for you to strip me naked and pass judgments on my body; in delivering that response, however, I expect that he would, if I am to be realistic about the situation, somehow interpret my refusal to submit to his judgment as my conceding his point. If it works that way, he is committing some fallacy based on his own presumed authority to make violent threats to win arguments. Second, since Goatee man has acknowledged that intersex people exist, from a scientific perspective he does need to consider the implications of his inability to identify literally "each and every person's gender." If there is even one person whose physical sex is confusing or unapparent to him, he has encountered a problem for his argument. Plus, sometimes the "really crappy birth defect" is not in the person at whom one gazes but resides rather in one's own eyesight. I believe there is a Bible verse about that.

This, too, is a significant point. It's not just that one sentence is phrased in a crass manner. This is a proposal that if we could examine others' naked bodies then we could make an authoritative answer about how we think they should behave, and this wrong-headed idea opens the heart of how and why a social construct does what it does. Reality: It is never appropriate to order strangers stripped naked so that you can determine what gender you think they are or tell them what they should do about their gender. Because of this social agreement, we do not use information about strangers' apparent physical sex to tell them what bathroom they should enter. Instead, we let each person decide for themselves. The person who enters the bathroom is the person who decides, in that moment, where they best fit — men's or women's room. We allow the social construct of gender to perform its function. The social construct operates more gently than a forced visual or tactile inspection of someone's anatomy. The social construct works reliably well; people sort themselves into genders that are, on the whole, reasonable for them, and there are not problems in public bathrooms caused by the gender self-selection. So it is a non-starter for this book to attempt to shut down the idea of gender identity as a social construct and to attempt to dismiss it as non-scientific or anti-scientific. In fact, we can demonstrate how the social construct works. We can also, via thought experiment, see that a more "scientific" approach (if it involves treating people as specimens to be examined and classified) would likely produce social conflict and negative feelings and furthermore that it is not obvious what problem it would be intended to solve or what purpose it would serve.

We might ask if it is a "religious belief" to acknowledge and respect anything anyone says about their identity. Someone might claim to be Christian, left-handed, straight, introverted, to have grown up in a certain cultural background, to prefer apples over pears, and so forth. Normally we wouldn't call such claims "religious"; after all, no appeal to God is made. And while these identities may involve social constructs, the issue I care more about at this moment revolves around simply believing what people say about themselves and trusting that you will all be happier if you respect each other. This objection — that the topic of "religious beliefs" or "social constructs" isn't specific to gender, but is really much broader, and that the author's argument (via the character of Goatee man) seems to break down when it is broadened — is never considered in the book.

Another way of phrasing this: Is the belief that "gender identity is a religious belief" itself a religious belief? This is a meta-question, but it's not purely academic. It is important and needs to be central to considering this book's arguments. Goatee man is using the label "religious" to mean scientifically unproven and/or adhered to for no particular reason; he is using it, it seems, to partially devalue the beliefs he labels "religious," maintaining that religious claims carry little or no weight with someone who simply chooses not to believe in them. So we need to pay attention to whether there is a regress of things we don't have to believe. Goatee man says "gender identity is a religious belief." But why should I believe that? Is he making a scientific claim with those words, or a claim that all rational people are bound to accept? And if his claim about gender identity (that no one else should be socially obligated to acknowledge or respect one's asserted gender identity) is true, then why doesn't it apply to other asserted identities such as the ones I mentioned earlier? Goatee man is using the accusation of "religion" to justify not listening to certain bracketed beliefs of Ponytail man. Goatee man needs to consider the possibility that someone will put brackets around some of his sentences (specifically, the things Goatee man says about Ponytail man), label Goatee man's pronouncements "religious," and then not listen to him. This is a real problem for a book that amounts to a sort of manifesto predicated on waving one's hand and thereby dismissing other people's frameworks and worldviews as nonsense. Someone is going to try waving their hand to dismiss the entire manifesto as nonsense. The manifesto has to be ready for that. It has to have a response. It doesn't. It is a "religious" manifesto, to use its own language against it. And it is weakly religious, to use its own assessment standard against it, as long as it remains unconscious of its own religious nature. That is to say, it would be more robust if it were at least aware that it doesn't have rational support for its position.

If you go back far enough to investigate the foundation of any belief, you find that, at some point, you don't really have and can't get justification. That's because, if you go back far enough, you must question your standards for justification. There's no way to justify the method by which you justify other things. Everyone has to start somewhere. We pick our starting line and move on from there. Regarding sex and gender, one has to observe that some people actually do modify their bodies and/or choose gender roles other than that which their parents or the rest of society has assigned to them. Then a question presents itself: Should these people's choices and self-identity be respected and affirmed or disrespected and denied? Should we allow people to tell us what gender they are, or should we tell them what gender we want them to be? There may not be a way to fully and solidly justify one's approach here, but there are some good reasons to prefer the first approach; they are the same general reasons why acknowledgment and respect are usually better than their alternatives. More specifically in this case, the first approach allows everyone to use a public bathroom without argument or fuss because each person worries about himself/herself/themselves, pees, and ignores the rest of the world, while the second approach involves multiple people trying to manage one person's behavior in contradictory ways with complicated arguments within a very short timeline because the people who are arguing (especially the one who's being argued at) have to pee, and the argument can easily be construed as harassment of, incite assault against, and cause social damage for the gender-variant person who is the most vulnerable person and the only intended target in this situation. That may not be a full justification for choosing the first approach, but it's certainly a decent reason. I'm saying it's unfair to accuse the first approach of being unconsciously "religious" (insofar as it lacks justification) and to praise the second approach as being more "scientific." Both may lack some kind of ultimate justification. Supporters of each may have varying degrees of awareness of that. The author's defense of the second approach, unfortunately, seems unconscious of the second approach's own frailty, limits, and risks. He is not fully owning the underlying agendas and consequences of deliberately disrespecting other people's gender identity. Those agendas and consequences, in my view, have little to do with science.

Goatee man complains that "you decided that with gender — and only with gender — magical words can overrule physical reality itself. What gives you the right to make that declaration? Who do you think you are? God?" There are a couple problems here. First, Ponytail man didn't initially say that gender is the only example of this kind of social construct. That's a straw man trap that Goatee man set for him, a coercive Socratic interrogation to which he succumbed far too quickly and easily. The claim that Goatee man makes here — that allies of transgender people treat gender identity as a social construct like no other social construct — may not be true. Considering gender identity as a unique type of social construct is not, in fact, essential to the concept or behavior of respecting transgender people. Ponytail man outwardly agreed with Goatee man's accusation, basically saying sure, OK, gender is unique among all social constructs, but Ponytail man is a poor advocate for his position. Second, everyone uses labels and constructs, and that doesn't mean we think we are God. Making clear, strong assertions should not result in a charge of hubris. (After all, from a scientific perspective, it's preferable for a hypothesis to be worded clearly so that it can be confirmed or disproven. It actually can be less arrogant to make a firm declaration because in doing so you are leaving yourself vulnerable to being disproven, rather than equivocating and hedging your bets.) Ponytail man makes hardly any coherent declarations and is drooling on himself, and Goatee man still accuses him of hubris. This is unfair as an interpersonal matter between the two fictional characters, and more significantly from the philosophical perspective it does not amount to a persuasive argument in favor of Goatee man's position or, indeed, about anything.

It is hopefully apparent by now, but remains important to explicitly point out, that no transgender characters were allowed to speak for themselves in this book. That would violate Goatee man's ethic of goatee-splaining. Of course, if there had been a transgender character representation in the story, it would simply be the author Stephen Measure's idea of a transgender person, so that would hardly amount to real transgender people speaking for themselves. It would, however, be a step toward the acknowledgment that transgender people's voices ought to be considered in philosophical or political arguments about them. If one is uncomfortable writing a transgender character, one probably shouldn't be writing a story that argues how such people should be interpreted and treated in real life, either.

Nor does it take atheists seriously. Setting the Goatee man/Ponytail man debate in a Pastafarian (atheist) gathering hall, and having the fictional atheist leadership in the room behave ridiculously and side with the obviously useless Ponytail man, is just a dig against atheism within the context of the story. This story proves nothing about real atheists' beliefs or reasoning capabilities.

To wrap up: This isn't a serious book. In the positive sense of "unserious," the tone is playful. In the negative sense of "unserious," it's impossible for me to entertain the author's arguments. If this were an essay, it would fail. Dressing it up as a story doesn't save it.

By now, I have surely expended more than three dollars' worth of effort in analyzing these problems, in addition to having spent my literal three dollars. (Someone now is likely imagining that he wants to strip my wallet out of my pants and have a look before he believes me about what I've spent.) I don't know if I've proven, or at least been persuasive about, my points. After all, I'm surprised I had to make these points in the first place; they seem blazingly obvious to me. But, at the very least, I think I've demonstrated that I can respond to an argument without "dehumanizing" the author, so perhaps I shall not wind up on the third topic section of his website. I did indeed point out that one sentence was phrased in a way that might be interpreted as a bit violent, but this was not an attempt to place a blanket label of bad-personness on the author, but simply a call-out of one concrete instance of writing/argumentation. If he wishes to maintain (as he does on his website) that it is fair game for him to criticize others' behaviors of which he disapproves, then he should grant that it is fair game for me to criticize his behavior in writing this book. If he does not even see himself as dehumanizing other people when he tells them what he thinks they really are, then he should have no reason to think that I am dehumanizing him when I tell him what I hear when he tells me what he thinks I really am. I am not even telling him what I think he is. I am telling him how I hear and interpret his words about me. That is not dehumanization of him. That is telling him how to avoid injuring or offending others.

It might, you know, be considered a low blow — but certainly not a dehumanizing blow — to mention that I spotted four instances of the noun "identity" as a typo for the intended verb "identify." It is not enough to rely on automatic spellcheck; writers should hire a transgender human whose eyes can see what their own eyes might not. I tend to identify (not identity) typos when I read. If the writer is going to strip me down and say, hey, I see a Transsexual where I expected to see a Female and it makes me unhappy, then I reserve the right to reply that, yes, I, too, see a 't' where I expected an 'f' and it is similarly disconcerting. If I am supposed to pretend not to notice typos in the very words I paid three dollars to read, then I expect that other people will keep their judgmental eyes out of my pants into which, by the way, they haven't paid me bubkis to look. Anyway, in case I haven't made it clear, it wasn't the recurring typo that irked me about the book. It was everything else.