May 22, 2021

Science and Transphobia: Ray Blanchard is Now Assisting White Supremacists. Why?

Ray Blanchard, the man behind the "autogynephilia-"theory, recently took part in in a YouTube livestream hosted by the  British racist and white supremacist Edward Dutton. Needless to say, doing so effectively destroyed what was left of Blanchard's reputation as a researcher. But why would he do such a thing?

In case you have never heard about Blanchard's two-type model of male to female transgender people, here is the su twitter version: Blanchard argues that androphilic transgender women (who are attracted to men) are effeminate homosexual men, while gynephilic trans women (who are bisexual or attracted to women) are fetishistic straight men (autogynephiles).

Very few experts on trans identities believe that trans women are mentally ill these days, so his position clearly makes him an outlier in the scientific community. His model does have an effect on the lives of trans people, though, and not in a good way.

I will not spend time on bunking the Blanchardian typology in this article. That has been done here, herehere, herehere, here, here and here. Instead I will look at how Blanchard's actions can help us gain a better understanding of the role of science in society, and especially how it can be harnessed by bigotry.

Hiding your transphobia in plain sight

Ray Blanchard managed to a certain extent to "pass"  as a serious modern scientist, as long as he restricted himself to publishing  in science journals, hiding his real intentions behind  paywalls and science sounding jargon.

Most people do not read academic journals. Moreover, the arguments, statistics and terminology used in such publications are often impenetrable to outsiders. It is therefore hard for them to see the what lies behind the insider terminology and the complex tables.  

The fact that he has been presenting  a new variant of the more than a century old "sexual inversion" theory under a new name has therefore not been obvious to those who do not read science journals or have studied the history of medicine and psychology. 

And since his typology ("effeminate gay men" vs. "transvestic fetishists") reflects the prejudices of many, he has often gotten away with it, even if he has never had the data needed to support the model, and even if he himself has called it an hypothesis, and nothing more.

But he made a mistake. When journalists and anti-trans activists approached Blanchard and asked him about the theory, he started talking about his model of transgender women in plain, colloquial, terms. 


Asked about his use of the term "sissy" he replied:
"I mean, what are you going to do? Nobody says you throw a ball like a cross-gender identified boy."
Funny guy!

In that interview he also insisted that homosexuality should be reintroduced into the American psychiatric manual, the DSM, as a mental illness.

In other words: It became blatantly clear that this was not someone driven by compassion and a desire to help (as were sexologists like Hirschfeld and Benjamin), but someone who basically looks down at trans women or, at best, thinks of them as fascinating specimens.

Blanchard's theory is weaponized by anti-trans activists

When the current generation of anti-trans activists started using the term "autogynephilia" to harass and invalidate trans women, he did not criticize them. 

Indeed, in 2017 Blanchard and his friend J. Michael Bailey actually wrote two blog posts for the anti-trans site 4thWaveNow, a haven  for trans-exclusionary radical feminists (TERFs), where the two of them  even managed to come up with more transphobic terminology (with no research underpinning it). 

In these posts they also supported the widely debunked "Rapid Onset Gender Dysphoria" diagnosis, a term actively used by TERFs to invalidate young trans men. 

The two of them also tried to dismiss the fact that the extremely high attempted suicide rates found among trans youth is caused by transphobia. Blanchard probably felt a need to undermine this accepted explanation, as it makes the negative effects of his own activism far too clear. 

Quite a few of 4thWaveNow's readers are transphobic mothers we are looking for excuses to erase the identities of  their own kids. Many of them have therefor embraced the message found in these blog posts, as they seem to give them an ethical get-out-of-jail free card. I suspect there are a lot of trans youth out there now who suffer the consequences.

In other words:  Blanchard and Bailey deliberately feed anti-trans activists misinformation that is now  used to invalidate and harass transgender kids and adults.

Helping a white supremacist

Angry White Men, a site that tracks white supremacists, has revealed that Blanchard has also talked about his theory with Edward Dutton, a  British racist and white supremacist. 

Dutton has made appearances on multiple white nationalist shows where he has claimed that white people have higher IQs than non-whites and where he has complained about declining white birthrates.

The Edward Dutton Wikipedia page start with the following colorful description:
Edward Croft Dutton (born 1980) is an English anthropologist and YouTuber known for authoring controversial racialist articles for fringe far-right journals such as Mankind Quarterly and OpenPsych. Dutton is associated with the white nationalist group Patriotic Alternative and has authored books for Washington Summit Publishers operated by neo-Nazi Richard B. Spencer.

For more about Dutton's connections to Nazis and racist eugenicists, see this article.

In Dutton's  February 25 livestream Blanchard was invited to present his debunked narrative. Talking to Dutton, and responding to questions from the audience, Blanchard used male pronouns when referring to trans women, reduced trans identities to a "psychopathology", and referred to androphilic (man-loving) trans women as “drag queens who take their work seriously.”

This time he also complained about trans women who do not want to talk about their genitals. "Normies" (his term) are interested in their genitals, so why shouldn't they answer, he asked. 

This is how Blanchard put it:

“As far as them being touchy about people asking questions about their genitals, all I can say is there are many shibboleths around that transsexuals impose because they have a fragile story that they want maintained, And if people ask too many pointed questions it becomes threatening.

“In reality, 99.99% of normal, straight normies who meet a transsexual are wondering ‘Gee, what’s between their legs?’ That’s what’s going on in the head of most people. But transsexuals don’t want this question raised, and so they act as if it’s some gross breach of etiquette that only you and your stupidity were ignorant of.”

"The fragile story" obviously refers to trans women's argument that they are women. As Blanchard sees it a penis proves that they are not, so it is only fair and square that transphobes should be allowed to ask about their genitals. 

The term "shobboleths" refers to a  "belief distinguishing a particular class or group of people, especially a long-standing one regarded as outmoded or no longer important." The insights of trans people are shibboleths, while the 19th century arguments made by Blanchard are  – as he sees them – based on up to date science. 

The fact is, of course, that the great majority of sexologist and medical experts in the field are not reducing  gender dysphoria and transgender identities to fetishes and perversions. They see them  as  natural expressions of a real incongruence between experienced and assigned gender. The leading health organizations no longer see gender incongruence as a mental illness.

The "disinterested and objective" scientist unmasked

Is a scientist who actively feeds anti-trans activist to the left (the trans-exclusionary "radical feminists") and to the right (white supremacists) unfounded theories aimed at invalidating trans people neutral, objective or disinterested? 

Of course not. The very fact that he wants to address their audiences directly tells us that Blanchard is a man with a political and cultural mission. He is actively trying to invalidate trans people world wide. 

It seems to me that he finds it very hard to relate to the suffering of trans people in any meaningful manner. They become theoretical abstracts to him, dehumanized and "othered". 

It is as if he feels that he is the one who is truly suffering (because of all the trans people who are defending themselves against his attempts at erasing their identities), and not the trans girl who is called a "sissy" in the school yard, addressed with the wrong pronouns by the teachers, banned from the right bathroom and continuously abused by her TERF mother.

The transgender Wachowski-sisters  clearly based the main villain of their TV-series Sense8, Whispers, on Blanchard, and precisely for this reason. For Blanchard, in the same way as for Whispers, some people are fascinating abnormalities that need to be studied and labelled – not accepted or helped.


This lack of empathy gives us one possible explanation for his alliance with transphobic extremists. They need to dehumanize trans people in order to make their own hate activism palatable to people who are able to feel emphaty. He needs to dehumanize trans people so that he might pass as a decent human being.

The ethics of science

Blanchard's supporters seem to believe that as long as something is  science, it is OK. But it is not. The scientific community as well as society at large have been through long debates about the way biased science can harm people. 

This debate intensified after the second world war, and the atrocities committed by German and Japanese scientists against prisoners. This debate is not over. A lot of work has been done in fields like the ethics of science and responsible research to understand the interplay between science and society.

I live in a country where state funded researchers developed statistics that once "proved" that the Nordic "long sculls" were more intelligent, innovative and refined that the "Alpine broad sculls".  

But they went further than that. Inferior people – like vagabonds, criminals, prostitutes and "the feebleminded" – should be stopped from breeding, these scientists argued, urging on politicians with the same approach to "racial hygiene".  

Not all eugenicists were Darwinists, but most of them used evolutionary arguments to defend their positions. They might say, for instance, that by protecting the weak society was undermining the strength and the purity of the superior Nordic race.

When SS leader Heinrich Himmler came to Norway during the German occupation of my country, one of his main aims was to use this research to improve the German race (the insane Lebensborn project) and to legitimize the murder of Jews, Roma, homosexuals and people with inherited disabilities.
19th-century illustration by H. Strickland Constable presenting science that "proved" that Black, Spanish and Irish people belonged to a inferior category of human beings compared to the higher "Anglo-Teutonic".  Ray Blanchard's categorization of trans women is partly based on cultural stereotypes of feminine looks.  (Via Wikipedia)


In hindsight it is easy to see that the race typologies of the eugenicists were based on racist prejudices and that the researchers interpreted their data in extremely biased ways, but they truly believed they had managed to find a way to sort the "normies" from the "abnormies," to elaborate on Blanchard's terminology.

To my knowledge none of these racist researchers  worked in German concentration camps, but there is no doubt that their research contributed to the narrative that made those camps possible. So yes, they were co-responsible for the biggest crime in human history.

Nor is this a European phenomenon only. The German Nazis learned a lot from American eugenicists. 
Indeed, the US has produced racist science for a long time.  Samuel A. Cartwright had come up with pseudo-scientific diagnoses to justify slavery, as early as back in 1851. "Drapetomania" was the "autogynephilia" of the day: A mental illness that caused the slaves to escape their slaveowner. "Dysaesthesia Aethiopica" referred to a partial insensitivity in the skin of Black Americans, which was associated with "so great a hebetude of the intellectual faculties, as to be like a person half asleep."

(For an excellent review of how racial theory was used to keep America "white", see Nell Irvin Painter's book History of White People.)

Ignoring the social and cultural context

As we can see from the example of Cartwright, bigoted researchers normally ignore the social and cultural context of a phenomenon. 

The "hysteria" diagnosis represented an efficient way of keeping troublesome women in check. The doctors dismissed what most often the real reason for their psychological distress: The understanding that their Patriarchal society ignored the abilities,  ambitions, feelings and needs of these women, and that that was often a sufficient cause for their distress,  was not considered.

We know that Black American men are more likely to be put in prison because the police and the legal system is racially biased, and because Black people have been actively excluded from education and well paid jobs over a long period of time. That does not fit the narrative of benign white power, however. The systemic aspect of oppression has therefore been ignored by racists and racist scientists. The problem is reduced to genetics and/or mental illness. In other words: It is the oppressed person that is the cause of the "problem", not their oppressors. 



Turning being trans into a mental illness

Am I saying that Blanchard is a racist? I don't know if he is. There is no reason to think that he is a Nazi, that's for sure. But that is not the point here. The point is to document how scientists have often hidden their bigotry behind bad science, and that the activism of 19th and 20th century racist scientists is very similar to the transphobic activism of Ray Blanchard and his allies today.

Blanchard has turned "autogynephilia" into a "thing". He fails to see, for instance, that erotic crossdreaming is one of the few outlets available to trans people who stay in the closet because of external as well as internalized transphobia. He is unable to see that the unexpected ways some trans and queer people may behave are responses to the way the system treats them.  Indeed, Blanchard and his supporters have helped uphold the transphobic cultural conditions that stop so many trans people from exploring their identities and sexualities in open and life affirming ways.

The same thing happens over and over again. Existing power structures use medicine and science to sort the "normies " from the ones who threaten their given world order their very existence. Black people are seen as oversexed and intellectually inferior, radical women are suffering from hysteria, gay men and lesbian women are mentally ill sexual predators and – these days – trans kids are perverts and/or victims of political correctness run wild. 

Context is everything, and Blanchard's collaboration with right wing extremists and TERFs gives us the context needed to understand this way of thinking.

An important part of that context is found in the fact that right wing extremists in the US are now trying to terrorize trans kids back into the closet through a barrage of transphobic legislation, helped by "gender critical" TERFs and religious fanatics. Blanchard may not agree with all of this law making, but he must understand that he, by helping the same actors, is contributing to the overall narrative of trans kids as a threat to civilization. He clearly does not care.


But why does he help a white supremacist?

Blanchard helps transphobes because he himself is a transphobe. This much is clear. But that does not fully answer the question asked above, however. Since he must know how bad it looks to be seen with a right wing racist extremist like Dutton, he must have thought that discrediting himself in this way is worth while. 

Why?

I think the famous scientist Richard Dawkins may provide one important clue. Right now he is involved in two related controversies. He came out as a transphobe on twitter, losing his Humanist of the Year award as a result of this. He has also repeated his old statement on it being immoral to bring a child with Down's Syndrome  into the world.

Blanchard and Dawkins belong to a community of  old, white, male scientists who think that being a scientists means that you are not responsible for the consequences of what you say or do, and who also believe that being a white, male. scientists means that you are intellectually superior in any debate about what's true. 

Scientists like Richard Dawkins, Jerry Coyne, Daniel Dennet, J. Michael Bailey, James Cantor, Ray Blanchard and Stephen Pinker have either come out as transphobic or they are actively defending transphobic statements

This  is a loose network of scientists, where most  are rooted in some form of evolutionary thinking. Dawkins is an evolutionary biologist. Blanchard belongs to the tradition of evolutionary psychology. 

There is nothing wrong in including evolutionary perspectives in a discussion of human existence, but their  pseudo-Darwinistic belief system  equals "evolutionary fitness" (the ability to procreate) with "good" and "healthy".  This explains why Dawkins do not understand people who would want a kid with Down's syndrome.  This also explains why J. Michael Bailey,  in all seriousness, has suggested that  aborting gay foetuses might be a good move.

The fact is, of course, that we live in societies where good people do everything they can to stop the brutality of nature from reducing our quality of life, and where ethics are not dependent on "natural laws" or "evolutionary fitness". You cannot use simplistic evolutionary theory to define what is morally good or bad. But some of these people, Blanchard and Bailey included, like to use such theories to define what is a mental illness ("bad"), which in political and cultural terms amount to the same thing.

Note that there goes a direct line from the "evolutionary psychology" tradition  Ray Blanchard belongs to, back to the racist eugenics research of the first half of the 20th century, a scientific discipline that also marginalized groups on the basis of evolution.


"Cancel culture"

Stephen Pinker has come to the defence of Dawkin's transphobia. His enthusiastic embrace of J. Michael Bailey's sexist and transphobic presentation of Blanchard's two type typology of trans people gives us another clue, however:
“With a mixture science, humanity, and fine writing, J. Michael Bailey illuminates the mysteries of sexual orientation and identity in the best book yet written on the subject. The Man Who Would Be Queen may upset the guardians of political correctness on both the left and the right, but it will be welcomed by intellectually curious people of all sexes and sexual orientations. A truly fascinating book.”
Stephen Pinker knows little or nothing about the current transgender research. If he had, he would have known that it is one of the worst books ever written about trans people. But that is not the point, is it? The point is that Pinker, like so many of these men, are so blind to their own bigotry and the real effect it has on real people's lives, that if someone who truly knows something about the reality of being trans  unmasks their true nature, their pride is hurt and they have to strike back. Not with scientific arguments, mind you, but with arguments about "political correctness" and "wokeness."

This is, I believe, key to an understanding of Blanchard's embrace of TERFs and right wing extremist. These extremist groups use the same kind of arguments. People who oppose their racism, sexism, homophobia or transphobia have to be part of some cult, because anyone who knows anything about what's truly "right", must know that their own beliefs are good. They are after all, "based on science" (as in "there are only two sexes" or "autogynephilia is real, so therefore Blanchard must be right"), common sense ("a man who wants to be a woman is crazy") or tradition ("sex is for procreation"). 

Since none of these prejudices are truly based on science or any real insight into what is going on, they have to play "the culture war" card, in essence invalidating anything their opponents have to say by arguing that they do so in self-interest and self-interest only. 

The biggest "crime" trans activists and compassionate scientists have committed against Blanchard and his allies, is to take his research seriously, and – using the tools of science – systematically picking it apart. They have shown the world the transphobia hidden underneath. 

Given that so many of the most vocal trans activists are scientists themselves (like Julia Serano, Lynn Conway, Jaimie Veale and Joan Roughgarden), you cannot dismiss them as ignorant. So the trick is to present the ones you oppress as the real oppressors – hence the "woke transgender cult" argument.

When Blanchard and Bailey write for a TERF site, they have come home to "their own", i.e. people who believe (or act as if they believe) that there is liberal/postmodern/socialist/Marxist/Jewish/Masonic (take your pick) cult of gender radicals out there that deny reality and want to destroy tradition and/or common sense. 

The TERFs give Blanchard their love, as do the right wing extremists and fascists, and Blanchard – who has lost the respect of the larger scientific community – hunger for that kind of affirmation.

If all the resistance Blanchard has met among trans people and humane scientists can be explained away as "cancel culture", he does not have to live with his failure as a scientist, or the way his transphobia has been exposed for everyone to see.

The irony is that by accepting the adoration of the anti-trans activist he has shown the sane world what kind of person he truly is. It is not a nice sight.



BOOKS
Nancy Ordover: American Eugenics

Photo from Wikipedia.

8 comments:

  1. Jack, excellent and articulate as always. I've copied a couple of sentences, in quotes below, to help me add to the discussion:

    "... erotic crossdreaming is one of the few outlets available to trans people who stay in the closet because of external as well as internalized transphobia."

    That is so true for me, from when I was about four for over a half-century, until about seven years ago. I've noticed that the erotic pull of women's clothing has vanished just before, during, and after my transition. Now they're simply clothes that I wear, and sure, I feel a small thrill when I choose and wear something nice.

    My friend, Marlo Mack (of the How to Be a Girl podcast) recently worked with the BBC to produce two one-hour shows, which were aired a couple of weeks ago——worldwide! In the second one the mother of a trans child said something like, "Denying a child's authenticity teaches them to be secretive and live in secrecy." So true.


    "The TERFs give Blanchard their love, as do the right wing extremists and fascists, and Blanchard – who has lost the respect of the larger scientific community – hunger for that kind of affirmation."

    IMHO the transphobes, religious-right, and white supremcists are always on the lookout for anything that supports their confirmation bias. I suppose they could argue that we are too but we know from the scientific community as well as personal experiences such as mine that Blanchard's arguments and statements are false. Simple as that.

    Be well, Jack!

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  3. Well done as usual Nr. Molay:)

    I think it is almost impossible to not polute ideas on human development with personal bias and this is a quite clear example. Blanchard was raised during a time where even being homosexual was seen as an abomination and hence there may be self disgust at play here as I have it on pretty good authority that he is one himself.

    That viewpoint will color your perspective and make it more likely to view LGBT people as defective rather than normal variants which nature produces.

    As his legacy is increasingly associated with quackery I am not that amazed that frustration would seep in even more and prompt this sort of behavior.

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  4. It is the height of hubris to think you know where evolution should go, and even worse hubris to think you have a right to help it along. We know where hubris leads as it was the devil's first sin. The last time anyone went down that road they opened the very gates of hell.

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  5. Thank you for the kind words Emma and Joanna!

    @Kim: Yes, it is hubris. There is a misreading of Darwin and evolutionary models that goes back to the Social Darwinism of the 19th and 20th centuries. The idea was that evolution was a trajectory going towards increasing perfection (white man standing at the top). These days evolutionary theory does not allow for that. Instead we see a continuous remix of genes intersecting with changing environments creating an insane diversity of organisms and behaviors. What does not kill you is OK. Moreover, sexual selection is as important as natural selection. The male peacock's long tail is a functional disaster, but the chicks like it ;)

    Gender variance is common in a lot of species. This applies to sexuality as well. Nature is more of a playground than a machine designed by an engineer.

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  6. @Emma

    "That is so true for me, from when I was about four for over a half-century, until about seven years ago. I've noticed that the erotic pull of women's clothing has vanished just before, during, and after my transition. Now they're simply clothes that I wear, and sure, I feel a small thrill when I choose and wear something nice."

    This tells me that erotic crossdreaming is the result of gender dysphoria and not the other way round.

    Sure, sexual desire is an important part of most trans people's lives, and oppression can lead to a strong focus on such fantasies. But the same applies to cis people.

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    1. I came to the same realization as Emma some time ago and now that, in my late 50's, I live full time as myself they have become more like my everyday clothes. When you desire something so deeply prior to puberty it cannot help but be carried along into your sexual development and for a long time we can mistake this as sexual deviance. The point is that the dysphoria is the motivator for the crossdreaming rather than the other way around.

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  7. @Jack:
    "This tells me that erotic crossdreaming is the result of gender dysphoria and not the other way round."

    Completely agree.

    @Joanna:
    "When you desire something so deeply prior to puberty it cannot help but be carried along into your sexual development and for a long time we can mistake this as sexual deviance."

    Yes! Long before puberty or any sexual desire I often fantasized about and wished I was a girl. And, indeed, for the half-century after puberty I assumed that my sexual fantasies were deviant and so shameful that I could not even divulge them to therapists.

    Where do we learn this shame and apply it to ourselves? Given my parents (who are long deceased) I assume that they — particularly my mother — corporeally instilled it within me when I was maybe 3 or so, when children don't have filters on their expressions of something as fundamental as gender expression and dreams.

    Thankfully, although parental awareness and support of trans kids is far from ubiquitous it is emerging worldwide. My good friend, Marlo Mack (of the "How to Be a Girl" podcast) was featured recently in a ~50-minute BBC broadcast where she talked with parents (and several trans kids) from all over the world:

    https://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/w3ct2fpf

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