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Archive for September 2016

An axe to grind

Thursday, September 29, 2016

I don't like to politicize my life or my friends' lives. I have a tendency to avoid sharing important articles on the issues closest to me because of my obvious bias.

I feel better sharing issues at a healthy distance, where those that know me can more easily see my hope to be moderate, thoughtful, open-minded and highly self-scrutinizing in my tone. (I hope readers can see that here.)

Looking like I have an axe to grind will hurt my ability to connect with people important to me and my credibility in hosting thoughtful dialogue with my diverse group of friends.

I'd like my Facebook wall and my friendships to remain fairly neutral on the issues that are hotspots of divisiveness among this very diverse group. Many of my friends who will see my posts hold conflicting viewpoints, often on extremely personal and weighty topics. I'm all for respectful disagreement, and I love and trust all my friends to be thoughtful and respectful, but I don't want to regularly throw up the Facebook equivalent of kindling or gasoline on a fire.

Enough disclaimers, what I'm getting at is: I hope you'll forgive my lapse in these ideals, because this is one I can't pass on.

There's a doctor named Paul McHugh. He may sound familiar. He's often cited1 as one of the foremost experts on the science of gender and sexuality in the country, having studied such for over 40 years. His credentials almost never miss his affiliation with "American College of Pediatricians", and they always hinge on his position as a professor with the well-known Johns Hopkins University, and he's been referred to by his reports' publishers as "arguably the most important American psychiatrist of the last half-century".2

He is the author behind a "major new report" being heralded by certain outlets as a comprehensive take on sexuality and gender.3

Unfortunately, his publications and activities show he also has an axe to grind.

McHugh's research, including this new report, have been widely circulated and intentionally portrayed as the best data science has to offer on these topics.

Make no mistake, credentialed or not, McHugh has an agenda. Is he more of an expert than I am? Certainly. Do I hold any greater degree of impartiality than he does? Certainly not.

But does his research:

  • show efforts to avoid predetermined conclusions? No.
  • avoid giving undue weight to statistically unconventional or underrepresented opinions? No.
  • avoid confusion of credentials with more widely accepted academic groups? No.
  • explain the gap between his conclusions and those of much more widely accepted positions? No.

However, the studies and articles propagating them, including McHugh's own editorials, actively:

  • perpetuate credential confusion and elevation
  • seek to support predetermined conclusions4 aligning with the published mission of the ACP
  • avoid peer-reviewed processes
  • spin to imply more than they really cover with editorializing and rhetorical sleight-of-hand and use of homosexuality- and transgender-invalidating tropes, such "transgender" as a verb, or insistence on referring to transgender people by the names and gender pronouns they no longer prefer.5 6

Remember what I said about the "American College of Pediatricians"? It sounds like the foremost national association of pediatricians, right? Well, not quite. This group was founded in response to the actual principal national academic society of pediatricians — the American Academy of Pediatricians — for supporting the adoption of children by gay couples.7

The group was founded explicitly to further conservative positions on LGBT and other social issues such as abortion and the legalization of marijuana.

The group has an estimated few-hundred members, to the AAP's 66,000 members.

For instance, a "position statement" on gender identity9 -- only 5 years old, but now deleted10 from their website -- begins "Gender Identity Disorder (GID) is an identifiable morbidity...". Unsurprisingly, this language frames gender identity immediately with the "disorder" label, elevates the DSM's word "comorbidity" (correlation) to "morbidity" (causation), and completely ignores the DSM's careful emphases on this subject:

DSM-5 aims to avoid stigma and ensure clinical care for individuals who see and feel themselves to be a different gender than their assigned gender. It replaces the diagnostic name “gender identity disorder” with “gender dysphoria,” as well as makes other important clarifications in the criteria. It is important to note that gender nonconformity is not in itself a mental disorder. The critical element of gender dysphoria is the presence of clinically significant distress associated with the condition. (emphasis added)

I don't object to the right of any group, including many of my likely readers, to support these positions. I only object to a group that is actually not a diverse and principal national associations of pediatricians implicating themselves as such. And even moreso when, despite however much lip service that group may pay to scientific process, it is in fact tightly wound up with — even ordained to support — a system of predetermined conclusions.

This is just what I've observed. Much more thorough debunking has done elsewhere:

Sure, let's say this is informative, but it's not news, right?

The above is actually just background info. Sorry! My primary reason for this post is actually a couple easy-to-miss references to this study that have come across my radar in the past week.

The first was the citation of the study by Dallin H Oaks, in a group including highly impressionable youth, as the only scientific justification on talking points just like those of the ACP.

A talk about beliefs doesn't need to defer to science, of course. Beliefs are a separate thing. But once a scientific study is employed in support, it needs to be used responsibly. And in this case and many pushing similar views, McHugh's positions are the only science cited.


Aside: McHugh likes to use words like "truth", "biological fact", "fact of nature", as well as perpetuating myths about transgender people that have been widely discredited and are extremely disturbing to many transgender people who find out what is being said about them. However, in my own research, anecdotally of course, I've been unable to turn up much supporting these attitudes that doesn't have McHugh's articles and opinions at the root of the references.


Disappointingly, Oaks even implies a coverup, saying, "The media, for reasons that I won’t go into, has hardly taken any notice of that study."

Each and every time, Johns Hopkins University is cited as the home of the researcher involved. The name carries weight. Johns Hopkins has clout and lends significant credibility to McHugh and these reports. Every time, McHugh's credentials and often the official-sounding and purpose-masking name "American College of Pediatricians" are employed.

Which leads to the second time I saw this study this week: Johns Hopkins University has disassociated itself from McHugh's "troubling" report:

[The report] was not published in the scientific literature, where it would have been subject to rigorous peer review prior to publication. It purports to detail the science of this area, but it falls short of being a comprehensive review.

Johns Hopkins has taken this action in response to a review from the Human Rights Campaign. The HRC has threatened Johns Hopkins with demotion on its Healthcare Equality Index. The HRC is an LGBT organization so this is unsurprising, but it's one whose review clearly matters to Johns Hopkins.

I am personally thrilled to see that it is no longer just advocacy groups calling attention to the misleading nature of McHugh's publishings, but his very own employer and with it the name which has been relied on to prop up the political agendas driving their research.

When we only hear a sentence for a hypothesis and a name or two for a citation, it's easy to be mistaken about the science we feel behind our beliefs. No side to any debate is immune to this. I don't blame any of us for falling for it. I do all the time. I can only hope that this is a step toward greater understanding for all and an greater inability for agendas to drive the attitudes of the masses on these very personal issues.


Footnotes and sources

Tuesday, September 27, 2016

List of the day - Albums

Monday, September 26, 2016

This is a list of albums I've listened to on repeat for many cycles in my life, in rough chronological order. I've excluded compilation albums, because, like, that's not fair.

(bolded are a few all-time favorites, with obvious recency bias)

Third Eye Blind (self-titled)

The Verve Pipe - Villains

Collective Soul - Dosage

VAST - Visual Audio Sensory Theater

Fuel - Something Like Human

Dido - No angel

Incubus - Morning View

Metallica (self-titled)

System of a Down - Toxicity

Linkin Park

  • Hybrid Theory
  • Meteora
  • Reanimation
  • Minutes to Midnight

The Killers - Hot Fuss

Rogue Traders - Here Come the Drums

Pussycat Dolls - PCD (uh, don't knock it unless you've tried it!)

Muse

  • Black Holes and Revelations
  • The Resistance

Fort Minor - The Rising Tied


At this time in my life, I mainly listened to talk radio for about 5 years 😂


Lana Del Rey - Born to Die

Tove Lo - Queen of the Clouds

ODESZA - In Return

MØ - No Mythologies to Follow

Hive Riot (self-titled)

Meaning

Thursday, September 22, 2016

Cherry-picking online arguments and tearing them down is a favorite pastime of people with a soapbox and either no opponents or a weak platform in need of some easy wins.

But hear me out, these are comments from a friend and their friend, from a religious circle close to mine, and a view of non-believers I think many may relate to, so I'm going to do exactly that.

Context:

"For many faith [or, life] is not about finding peace but rather trusting that the struggle is meaningful."

Francine:

And for atheists, life is essentially meaningless.

Warren:

Life isn't quite meaningless for atheists. They may find meaning in family, hobbies, work, personal achievements, and more, but, those things provide temporary meaning, and so one is often drifting from place to place, thing to thing. Faith provides tangible, lifelong meaning that carries you through all walks of life.

Francine:

One may make their own meaning in life but overall, there is no purpose. No plan behind the scenes.

This appears to be meant to illustrate a fundamental lack of value of atheism or, I'd rather say, absence of a belief-positive in god.

I am surprised by, and disagree with, both assessments, though the first moreso.

I don't believe there is a fundamental lack of value in the absence of a god, in fact I believe the opposite and here's why.

Some background about me

I don't believe in a specific god, only the possibility of a god. And I believe in the certainty of much more than we know now. In fact, infinitely unknown -- and therefore likely of what we'd call "spiritual" nature.

This is written as if spoken to the original commenters.

Observer-actor disconnect

First, assuming that an atheist experiences life the way you imagine them doing so is a fallacy -- called the Pyschologist's fallacy (wikipedia). You're assuming your own objectivity for analyzing not just a fact but someone else's subjectivity.

You don't know whether I experience meaning in my own life or of what nature that meaning is. You can only know that you imagine it doesn't feel like what you'd place meaning in.

How do I find meaning?

Second, I'm here to tell you life feels far more meaningful to me now. I don't know how you experience belief in god, but I experienced it as a life void of my own meaning (purpose). All my usefulness in life was defined externally. There was no need to discover self-reward, or intrinsic meaning, because I was told my actions would bring about a literal external (extrinsic) and eternal reward.

As it was, I was also always putting my actions to the judgment of an external set of rules.

When I decided that I didn't care whether I got a reward or not, as long as I knew that as time passed I had been a good person --

-- by that I mean, no matter what actions I take, I will always try to do better --

-- then I realized this meant I believed I was a truly good person, with a good heart. And with innate good inside, I could realize that external rules were actually a crutch keeping me from developing a better conscience. If I kept leaning on those rules, my internal compass never needed to strengthen. The only thing that would increase would be my confidence of my behavior matching the rules.

Of course, this belief doesn't jive with your core beliefs. That's fine. However, you're stating here that believing otherwise makes life meaningless. But my experience, as the person you are talking about, shows differently.

This change of mind allowed me to value myself and my lived experience as the thing most important at the center of my circles, not an external set of rules and externally promised future reward of which we have never observed.

When I saw that value, it follows that every life has equal value at the center of their own circles, which overlap and affect me. So every lived experience is the meaning itself.

We have no knowledge of what will follow -- only beliefs. So a belief in no god (or the likely absence of a god) actually put the entire meaning of one's experience into life itself, based on -- 1. ourselves and 2. every person we interact with, from each and every person's own perspective.

This is the principle "love your neighbor as yourself." We value what we love, therefore life has meaning.

What kind of meaning is it?

Is it temporary, or less inherently valuable?

An atheist only has possibility of meaning of life by the awareness of their own existence. But the same goes for a believer of God. So the potential for meaning is unlocked for both.

So why is the atheist life, just because one may believe they came from dirt and will return to dirt, ascribed to have less meaning?

A believer in god may suppose that the difference in the "meaning" is (from some statements above):

  1. the ever presence of what their purpose in life is
  2. the everlastingness of their life
  3. the reward to come
  4. a greater purpose, or plan behind the scenes -- an external plan which is about all of us.

but contrast this with me:

1. All of this purpose and belief I'm telling you now also go with me everywhere. If I got knocked out, lost all my things, and taken to a foreign country with just my life and my mind, I'd still have all the same meaning.

2. Maybe a longer existence gives more meaning?

Comparing "forever" to a fixed lifetime is a function of time progressing, or in other words, future events.

If an atheist believed in permanence of their influence, an atheist has the same potential for meaning from everlasting purpose.

But even with a belief in a likely dissipation of their life's influence on others over time, an atheist has only the present to apply sure meaning.

Given that the present is what we actually sense, not future events, surely this means the atheist has as much or more faith in the meaning of their present existence?

3. Maybe it's because faith gives knowledge of an immense worth of the reward?

Whether the reward is valuable because it's ongoing or because the experience is so much better than we now have -- you may conclude differently -- I don't believe that some ongoing reward is better than the current experience.

Life itself; the events, experiences, senses, feelings, thoughts, have an intrinsic reward.

Imagination of experiencing this, or any other good feeling I've had, as a reward forever is not an actual experience, so it does not hold intrinsic value to me.

Therefore, my meaning -- as I experience it -- is greater than what I logically gained when I was trying to live life for the future reward.

4. Maybe the meaning comes from knowing we're all working together, a super-plan or the value is for a master plan or all people?

Again, go back to my first statement. Life is the reward, and therefore all lives have a reward. This value is every bit as great to me as if it were part of plan to which we are all bound.

And if it was some master plan, I don't value the feeling of believing I'm doing something according to a grand design any more than I do the inherent experience. That's just me, but again I am the one who observes and therefore values my own meaning.

Family, hobbies, work, personal achievements are merely the actions I may participate in or seek in this already-meaningful system of values. The people and my own experience are the inherent value, so as I said it goes with me no matter what I have or where I go. Time progresses, and as I experience things, meaning therefore exists.

"Drifting from place to place, thing to thing" actually makes it sound like it adds meaning to me, because the variety of my experience increases, instead of repeatedly driving the same path, becoming more numb to the small differences with each passing.


I'm sure god-believers' lives have meaning under their belief systems; but that doesn't mean that they can know whether mine holds meaning for me or not. And while this perspective may not provide meaning for all without a god-centered system, this is hopefully an explanation of why it does for me.

Me

Tuesday, September 20, 2016

There's a song that goes:

I wish you would step back from that ledge, my friend. You could, cut ties with all the lies, that you've been living in.

This song is one of the things that first drew me to Laura. We both loved the band. I could play just 8 notes from the hook, but it was enough to fool her into thinking I was musically gifted.

It's also a thing I think most of us can relate to. Living a lie at some point in our lives.

So, have I been living a lie? Not exactly. For years I've been... ok. Not bad. Pretty good. Bringing kids into the world with her was amazing, and they are guaranteed to light up my life every moment I see them. Even outside that, I didn't have any excuses to be down.

There's been quite a bit of controversy lately about the label "transgender". Pride, beliefs, policies, science. Are they other genders? Are they people born with the wrong gender? Are they mentally ill? Are they disturbed or more likely to be criminals? Can they be fixed?

All those labels, controversies and supposed conclusions have basically zero to do with my experience. And that experience is all I can tell you about.

For years I've experienced the world as "Nick". By that I mean, I don't know what labels are me, I just know that I am me. How I see things.

For a long time I assumed that Nick fit into certain boxes -- boy. Mormon. Programmer. Man.

I don't think that tells the whole story for anyone. However, for me I really started to notice some problems. For what I thought represented "mormonism", there were in fact my own core beliefs, yet mormonism wasn't a great match for it. I didn't want to be "just" a programmer or a "just" a designer. I had a hard time convincing people I knew anything about both. I never felt like I became a "man" the way people saw it, or even saw me.

I tried to twist back into the boxes. I'd downplay my design talent and passion so that an interviewer would believe I was a real programmer. I kept trying to fit in at church. I tried all the masculine fashions I could think of to see which one felt like "me".

The problem was, I had no idea how to be things that made me a good "man". I'd look in the mirror and think "I guess other people might think this works?" Nearly everything I did was to fit someone else's model. And I felt a bit bummed every time I'd notice how far my passions, interests, traits, and behaviors were from the ideals and norms.

That's fine, still, that's what everybody experiences, right?

I began to notice that I was very often jealous of women. I knew exactly what kind of woman I would be. That's just what attraction is, right?

After all: science. XY Chromosomes. Bodies. Marriage. Fatherhood. Friends. Son, brother.

Here's where it will get difficult for me to explain.

The thing about experience is, you can never truly understand it unless you have it. That's why expertise takes time. There is no "The Matrix" download. That's why we aren't born knowing ourselves or the world. That's why people matter to us. Why we talk and listen. There is no formula for transferring a learned experience from one person to another. There has to be an effort by the giver to turn it into language, illustration, feeling, and the receiver to think, hear, question, experiment, and process from different perspectives.

I've been to hundreds of hours of therapy and spent thousands of hours thinking, studying. Planning. Unplanning. During that time, I realized that none of those things would teach me exactly where to go.

For almost a year I've been working to figure out what LIVED experiences actually do fit me the best. Those that are the "Nick" box and not just those I was handed when I was born. One that is perfectly "me-shaped". This was the line my therapist used just before I told her about my questions:

I had just described to her a scene that sounded completely perfect to me, and she said "So, it is completely 'you'-shaped?" I thought about the significance of that concept.

Suddenly it was clear. A box could be ME-shaped? Really?

At that moment I felt brave enough to start a journey that has brought more clarity and confusion, highs and lows, a hundred other extremes and changes that are impossible to overstate.

During that year this has involved me changing the way the world sees me, instead of just fitting into the world.

As I expressed myself more authentically, It was like one lightbulb after another turned on. My world has a brand new sense of visibility. So many new feelings, I didn't know I should or could feel.

I had no idea how rewarding the process would be. Despite my absolute terror in doing so, embracing what I want the world to see and just saying "Ok, world. This is me. Anyone there?" -- I finally was able to feel seen. I wasn't just a fly on the wall any more. I was a participant.

I recognized at the beginning of this year, that this would involve changes that would throw on its head how I was seen by everyone in my life. Through an enormous amount of compassion, my wife showed me she could hear me and I opened up to her. I hurt her. She hurt me. It became turbulence and chaos for both of us that we had no idea if or how we would get through. We are still trying to come through this, and we're now apart, but stronger as individuals, and as friends. I believe we are better parents, and though we are not the same family unit we thought we'd go to our graves as before, we are approaching this new phase with courage and integrity.

To be clear: I look different. I dress like a woman. I'd rather be seen as a woman. Yep. (Am I really? Don't get me started on labels again...) This is because part of recognizing what I really was inside me was about showing it to the world. Growth requires light.

I love my name. It means "victorious people". It's part of who I am. Which is why I've gone with Nicole. It was always a beautiful name to me. And it turns out that, inside, I feel this is much more closely shaped to me than a "Nick/him"-shaped box was.

Femininity is a beautiful, wondrous world to me. So much I don't know, and so much I have always known. I have no idea why we have gender on top of our sexes. I don't know how it works. All I know is that when I get to show the world the femininity inside of me, I feel confident, courageous, beautiful, peaceful, happy, excited, generous, loving, kind, passionate, alive.

Laura wrote this beautiful, heartbreakingly perfect poem about this experience for her:

Him

The poem is about him. The him I'm not.

As she says "I know you must have always been around from the start, at least in whatever way you could be."

Sometimes, I was there. In moments, sometimes captured in an authentic smile on film, with my kids. In a moment of sheer hilarity. Those times Laura and I shared that no other two people will ever understand.

But out in the world, I mostly wasn't there. I was too scared. I didn't know myself.

I don't hate "him". There are lots of "him" things that are truly me. The way I showed myself as him to the world was the best I could do at the time.

But now I can smile. Really smile. Really laugh. Cry, dance, and love. Freely.

There is an amazing song by a band I truly love, Hive Riot. It's called Undercover:

There's a prisoner of war.
Knocking at your door.
Open up and you will see
The face is yours.

Step out from behind the shadows.
Shake your shame and all your sorrow.
Take your place and dance out in the sun.

No one should live undercover. No one is above the other. Freedom is a gift for everyone.

I love the beauty of that video I posted a few days ago, and the accompanying quote:

"We are living in a culture entirely hypnotized by the illusion of time, in which the so-called present moment is felt as nothing but an infintesimal hairline between an all-powerfully causative past and an absorbingly important future. We have no present. Our consciousness is almost completely preoccupied with memory and expectation. We do not realize that there never was, is, nor will be any other experience than present experience. We are therefore out of touch with reality. We confuse the world as talked about, described, and measured with the world which actually is."

This is my "present". I am all at once my past, present and future self. I am not locked into what I have been, and I have no guarantees about what I will be, but they are all me -- here I am, world!

Me