I am a scientist. I began my undergraduate education with the intent of becoming a geneticist. My interests changed, and I switched from biology to complete a Ph.D. in Analytical Chemistry.
I enumerate my credentials because as I apply the knowledge and techniques I learned to my transgender experience, some of the greatest disagreement with my work has come from the transgender community. I have been accused of being anti-science.
To be clear, I love science, and I have a healthy relationship of skepticism with it. I trust the scientific method. I do not trust every journal article I read.
I will question any article that purports to explain why transgender people are the way we are with a blanket scientific study. I don't do this because I am anti-science. I have good reasons not to believe the answer is easily measurable. Much of the work I've done in the past year indicates identity is a complex of many factors, of which the physical body is only one.
Last night, I had a conversation with a friend (hi, Gwênlyn!) who pointed out statements I wrote that appear anti-science. This article was originally intended to sum up my thought around inconclusive studies, but I see a better opportunity now to explain myself.
I am not a traitor to the transgender community, nor am I a traitor to the scientific community.
I am - as I said - a scientist.
The unscientific method
Early in my writing career, I wrote an article intended to highlight how inconclusive and outdated data can and has been used against the LGBTQ community. To be clear, poorly understood data is not a new phenomenon. We see its use in media outlets every day.
I do not object to the Scientific Method. My approach to life and my success at work hinge directly on its use. Humanity cannot understand what we observe without first formulating a hypothesis, devising an experiment to acquire pertinent data to test the hypothesis, and adjusting our understanding in an iterative manner until we know as much as we are capable of knowing within the limits of time and budget.
That said, the realm of science is frequently appropriated as a weapon to accomplish social goals. For example, the commonly-held understanding of the relationship between genetics and sex.
Early in the study of human genetics, scientists observed a connection between human development and genotype. That is, a human with XX genotype developed female genitalia; a human with XY genotype developed male genitalia. At the time, this was new knowledge, and it became part of the body of science.
Since those early days, further tests to the hypothesis have been made. More recent data indicates an XY genotype is not a guarantee of functional male genitalia. Scientists continue to discover intersex characteristics to be added to our knowledge.
However, politicians - those making laws to govern our lives - persist in ignoring data more than 50 years old in their decisions. Why?
The role of politics
A more egregious misuse of the early understanding of the relationship between genetics and sex applies genetics directly to gender - that an XY genotype implies lifelong behavior as a man. Much of my work is devoted to debunking this fallacy, and I won't revisit my arguments here. Suffice it to say science is very clearly not on the side of equating genetics through sex to gender.
And yet...recent legislation based on genotype and physical structure passed into law limiting access to transgender care. No valid data exists to substantiate the legislation. The data used to enact the legislation is more than 50 years out of date. The legislators believe a fallacy and choose to legislate their constituency with the fallacy as their foundation.
I do not object to the Scientific Method or the field of science. I do not object to an open mind that accepts and understands, as the Scientific Method demands.
I object to a short-circuit of the Scientific Method used to harm others. I object to finding a hypothesis that suits an agenda and discontinuing further investigation. I object to discounting new data because it breaks a political platform.
No, I do not object to science. I object to behavior that is not scientific.
Application of science to society
Science - the pursuit of knowledge - is only a means to an end. The end is the ability to exist in a Universe without a sense of powerlessness. To understand enough about our world not to be at the mercy of our environment.
What danger exists in misusing science as the legislators above have? The answer is all around us. Our politicians lie in deadlock over whether or not destroying the planet directly supporting our ongoing existence will have long-term negative effects.
Conclusions reached only through statistical methods - the same climate data processed two different ways - now define opposing political platforms. That, I state definitively, is not science. It is misuse of science that injures all humanity.
It is possible for the Scientific Method to be rigorously applied, the experiments well-documented, the data expertly analyzed...and the results still to be inconclusive. The danger lies not in science; the danger lies in people misusing the conclusions.
There are answers to our Universe science has yet to discover. This is not a failure of scientists or the Scientific Method. It is a failure only in devising applicable experiments and lack of time to run them.
Science has been wrong. But that statement - to one invested in the Scientific Method - is a source of excitement. Discovering our error gives us another opportunity to test, to learn, to integrate, and to deepen our understanding of humanity's role in and relationship with the Universe.
Iffy science is bad for the transgender community
Many studies have been used to "explain" the phenomena of the homosexual and transgender experiences. In our community, the mark of science - even poor science - lends an air of expertise and truth in a social environment that considers the unknown as the untrue.
The real truth is inconclusive data must be validated. Law cannot be based on comfortable public opinion that flies in the face of data. No human should be asked to justify their existence, particularly with inconclusive data.
Many in the LGBTQ community yearn for scientific "proof" we truly exist, we are not wrong, and we are not crazy. They thirst to know science provides incontrovertible evidence that we are allowed to be the person we already know we are.
It is frightening to fly in the face of public opinion without something - anything - to back you up. Having a nerd in a lab coat proclaim your right to identity appears to be an answer. It is not. The greater risk looms as gatekeeping, licensing, or worse - a program of eugenics that attempts to breed us out of existence.
Although we in the community do not possess the sword of science to cut the Gordian Knot of Identity, at least one fact should provide succor: neither do our opponents.
The way out
Many data points in support of one conclusion are insufficient to negate few data points in support of an alternative conclusion. Science is not a majority-rules election of facts. When evidence against a claim of science is found to exist, the fault lies in the conclusion, not in the contradicting data.
Instead, we must study again and build a new conclusion, one that includes all data and explains all observed phenomena. Blindly legislating humans that represent the uncomfortable data out of existence achieves nothing.
Science is not discriminatory. It is only the acquisition of data and its analysis to reach a conclusion. The people who interpret the data and reach conclusions that discriminate against the few in favor of the many are not scientists. They choose to pervert science for their ends.
No, I am not anti-science. I am against the misuse of science to justify behavior designed to baffle us all with bullshit.