‘Provocative’ gender dysphoria expert gives vital speech at McGill
On Thurs Jan 23, University of Toronto professor of psychiatry Dr. Ken Zucker, a leading international expert on gender dysphoria, and editor-in-chief of Archives of Sexual Behaviour, spoke at McGill University. Dr. Zucker’s presentation was titled, “Children and Adolescents with Gender Dysphoria: Some contemporary research and clinical issues.”
Inviting Dr. Zucker to speak in an open forum was an act of courage, as he is Canada’s most controversial researcher/clinician in this domain. In a recent column for the National Post on the run-up to this event, I summarized the story of his persecution by hostile trans activists and linked to a more detailed account.
Dr. Zucker’s critics accuse him of practicing “conversion therapy,” by which they mean his objective is to prevent his patients from transitioning. But what Dr. Zucker actually practices, as he explained to me in an interview, is “Developmentally Informed Psychotherapy.”
In layman’s terms, Dr. Zucker looks at his patients holistically in order to determine if the distress that brought them to his attention is a function of gender dysphoria alone, or gender dysphoria as one of a number of factors, including issues arising out of family dynamics, autism spectrum disorder, depression, anxiety and so on. If in the course of treatment, it becomes clear that finding comfort in his or her natal sex is a reasonable goal for the client, Dr. Zucker offers guidance to that objective. If it becomes clear that only transition will answer to the patient’s need, Dr. Zucker endorses transition, and puberty blockers or hormone therapy as required.
But any form of traditional psychotherapy is considered to be a form of subversion by many trans activists because trans activists reject assumptions that gender dysphoria is a disorder or even a “distress” requiring psychotherapy. Their watchword is “affirmation,” the assumption that if a young child – even as young as three – says he or she wants to change genders, they know what they want and their wish must be respected, often without any further exploration at all before social transition is encouraged.
“Watchful waiting”—withholding immediate affirmation, giving the child’s parents and professional observers time to assess the depth and putative permanence of the expressed desire—is also anathema to a small, but vocal group of trans advocates. To these activists, Dr. Zucker’s perspective is superannuated, offensive and, in their discourse, “harmful.” It was a given that the announcement of the event would spark protest. It was just a matter of what kind, and how obstructive it would be.
The presentation was sponsored by the “Culture, Mind and Brain Program,” a subdivision of McGill’s Division of Social and Transcultural Psychiatry. Assistant professor of psychiatry Samuel Veissière, co-director of the program, who headed up the organizing team for the talk, was fully cognizant of the tension that would surround it, and did a great deal of spadework in reaching out to stakeholding organizations like Queer McGill, expressing sympathy for their concerns and soliciting their attendance.
Some individuals from these groups did attend, although McGill Equity’s Subcommittee on Queer People preferred to hold their own alternative “positive space for trans and non-binary students, staff and faculty (and their allies) who would feel the need to gather and be together in solidarity…[with] snacks, tea and hot chocolate [provided].”
The important thing is that protest was carried out on Facebook pages calling for boycotts of the event, and letters to the administration asking for cancellation (the administration did not waver in the face of this pressure, to their credit), rather than in attempts to physically inhibit, or even shout down the speaker. In fact, not a single active protester showed up at the lecture site in McGill’s Neurological Institute-Hospital (“the Neuro”), and those who came to the lecture itself with a view to challenging Dr. Zucker, listened respectfully, calmly voicing their disagreements with him in the extended Q&A. That in itself is a triumph in these days of “cancel culture” and a tribute to the organizers and to the maturity of the opposition.
A trans-advocacy mantra one continually hears from those protesting the scholarship of Dr. Zucker and others with his perspective is “nothing about us without us.” That is, trans advocates believe they have the right to participate in any public forum on this subject, because science, they rightly observe, is never entirely neutral, and has often been exploited to uphold societal values, notably in the case of homosexuality, which was only depathologized in medical texts mere decades ago.
They are understandably defensive about research, however sound by objective standards, that might be driven by unconscious bias. Whether that suspicion confers a right to insert representation of their own belief system into all public forums in which opposing views are featured is debatable, to say the least. Practically speaking, if that were the rule, scholars like Dr. Zucker would find their time slots so reduced in length as to trivialize their contribution.
Prof Veissière addressed these concerns with exquisite delicacy and eloquence in his introductory remarks to the full lecture room:
Two key issues in particular strike me as exceptionally important. These two issues are in fact questions. They are questions about neutrality and advocacy, on the one hand, and questions about who can speak for whom on the other… In recognition of past and ongoing medical injustice, I want to propose—speaking from my own perspective here—that the relevant point here is not so much that science cannot be neutral, but that it shouldn’t be.
I speak as an anthropologist and cognitive scientist now, as one who is committed to documenting and honouring a set of core values found in absolutely all cultures. These are the values of charity for those in need, hospitality to those different from us, and commitment to the greater human good. Charity and hospitality also teach us to engage in forgiveness and reconciliation. These core values are often translated and lived in traditions of loving-kindness..
Given its long and ongoing history of marginalization, the trans community can often feel excluded and harmed when conversations about them are taking place without them. We all need to listen to this point and learn from it. Similarly, when some parents who are doing their best to help their gender-nonconforming child live a good life tell us they feel excluded from the current conversation when they want to ask more questions, we need to listen and learn. When individuals for whom transition didn’t work tell us they feel excluded from this conversation, we need to listen and learn.
This is what I want to invite you all to do together today. Listen to and learn from each other’s diverse perspectives and experiences in the spirit of loving kindness and democracy.
Tucked in between the statistics, graphs and pie charts of his PowerPoint, Dr. Zucker made allusion to certain “trigger” points. One is the widely acknowledged fact in the non-trans academic community that most effeminate little boys are not gender dysphoric, but gay. These desistors— children whose gender preference may be ambiguous in childhood, but who after puberty revert to comfort in their natal sex, albeit with same-sex preference, present a difficulty for trans advocates. Were they really trans to begin with, if they can revert? This begs the question of what it means to “know” you are “in the wrong body.” In his somewhat puckish manner, Dr. Zucker slipped in some zingers. Noting the disappearance of the “butch lesbian,” Dr. Zucker asked, “Is trans the new tomboy?”
Another hot button in the clash between unconditional affirmers and watchful waiters is the looming shadow of “suicidality.” “Better a trans kid than a dead kid” is a frequently adduced trans credo. Here Dr. Zucker pointed out problems in methodology with the various alarmist suicidality studies. Some predictors of suicidal ideation, he said, were general behavioural problems and, for example, being female in a single-parent family. Adolescents with gender dysphoria that are referred for treatment do indeed demonstrate higher rates of suicidality, but then so do non-trans kids who are referred for other problems. This is an area that needs more research and more control groups, he said.
Rapid Onset Gender Dysphoria—ROGD—is the most divisive and controversial issue in the debate. The cynosure for trans advocates’ anger is a study on ROGD published by researcher Lisa Littman of Brown University on PLOS ONE, the most downloaded study in that journal’s history. It suggests that for many teenage girls (the great majority of ROGD subjects), identifying as trans is a “maladaptive coping mechanism” for girls suffering from other problems, and its startling escalation expressive of a social contagion. Dr. Zucker alluded to the reception of the report by trans advocates as an attack on trans people and “a debunked right-wing conspiracy theory.”
(Full disclosure: I have met with many of the parents cited in the Littman study as part of my work. The accusations against them by hostile trans activists are absurd and defamatory. Those I met are loving parents, tortured by their children’s sudden conversion and withdrawal from them—a strategy promoted on the websites they are obsessed with—and desperate to help them achieve mental and psychological stability. They are neither politicized nor biased against homosexuality or gender dysphoria. The Littman study, in my opinion, is responsibly conceived and executed, persuasive and grounded entirely in good-faith efforts to understand an unprecedented social phenomenon.)
The ROGD debate hinges on treatment. In The Netherlands, Dr. Zucker noted, the Dutch do longer assessments before prescribing blockers or HRT, so treatment may only begin two years after referral. In Canada, you can be prescribed blockers after 15 minutes. There’s food for thought there, no matter what side of the debate you are on.
The Q & A was intense but restrained.
Standouts: a young woman, a detransitioner who had stopped taking hormones and wished to live in accordance with her biology, spoke quietly and sadly about her experience of being encouraged into hormonal transitioning by therapists in spite of a history of depression. She had experienced suicidal ideation as a result of her experience. She believes therapists should insist that anyone with depression be treated primarily for that, only secondarily for gender dysphoria.
Literally and figuratively on the other side of the room, a young transman countered with “I was mentally ill and also trans,” declaring that if it were not for rapid affirmation and treatment, he would have committed suicide. Dr. Zucker responded that in his opinion an individual is not getting “good quality care” if she or he is not treated holistically. He noted, however, that some advocates are arguing that mental health people should no longer be involved in the transition process altogether.
That’s worrisome for those of us opposed to radical trans solipsism, because what is “argued” for today may well be public policy tomorrow. After all, “conversion therapy” is illegal in some provinces already, and a Senate Bill (S-260), presently in first reading, seeks to have it included in the Criminal Code.
Many of the attendees were academics in this domain. Prof Veissières was gratified in particular that a leading trans positive researcher in the field from the Université de Montréal had not only attended, but engaged in a collegial discussion with Dr. Zucker during the Q & A, and afterward. This was precisely the form of “reconciliation” he was seeking to encourage.
One student spoke to the freedom of speech issue, arguing that even if people feel harmed, higher education institutions exist to accomplish goals that override the putative right not to be offended. Universities must deliberate all sides of issues, so that later “we aren’t flailing making policy decisions.” The Neuro, he pointed out, is not only a learning institution but a clinic that aims to relieve actual harms and sufferings. There’s a cost/benefit analysis to be done.
As you see, the mixed audience raised a gamut of difficult questions, and I think all present felt their minds were stretched in a positive way by the need to juggle their own settled opinions with opinions they do not normally hear in their academic and social silos. Was the young transman “harmed” by hearing the point of the view of the detransitioning woman? Were the many trans allies present harmed by the opinion that freedom of speech in universities should take precedence over the wish not to be offended? I saw no evidence of that, and I hope all those present would agree that the space was “safe” for everyone.
If you have read this far, I congratulate you on your stamina and thank you for your patience. I have gone on at such length, because although McGill’s administration stood fast on this invitation, I have seen enough of the correspondence around the event between and amongst trans stakeholders in the McGill community to fear that wheels have been set in motion with a view to formal internal roadblocks that would preclude further invitations to speakers whose views do not align with those of gender-fluidity theorists. I therefore wanted to be on record in a detailed way as a witness to the success of the program.
Two attendees referred to Dr. Zucker’s presence as “provocative.” The logic in applying the word “provocative” is circular. Basically, it means, “We, trans advocates and allies, do not approve of Dr. Zucker’s findings or conclusions or clinical principles because some of them conflict with our preferred understanding of the phenomenon of gender dysphoria. We cannot prove that our findings are more scientifically viable than his, but since his are offensive to us, they must be “provocative” in general.
This is the Humpty-Dumpty school of rhetoric. It is professionally feckless, not to mention an unworthy smear of Prof Veissière, whose compassion for gender-dysphoric people is palpable, and whose invitation to an ultra-accredited colleague to speak on the issue was issued in good faith.
Moreover, there is debate within the trans community itself overdiagnosis and treatment, and many non-ideological trans people find such “provocative” opinions as Dr. Zucker’s both reasonable and admirable. Where children’s interests are at stake, the precautionary principle should never be considered offensive. “Provocative” should be reserved for hatemongers, or speakers of dubious accreditation in spouting demonstrably fallacious theories (an accusation often directed at gender theorists themselves, but without attempts to de-platform them on that account).
Beyond suggesting that Dr. Zucker’s ideas are both wrong and dangerous, there is a further dimension to the word “provocative” that I think most people outside the trans movement find disturbing.
The trans movement has worked very hard to normalize the concept of gender fluidity. Transgenderism is often wrongly conflated with homosexuality. But living happily gay does not involve bodily changes, lifelong medication or surgery to produce psychological comfort with one’s biology or gender.
As a consequence of accepting that gender transitioning is normal, however, one must accept easy and immediate affirmation, and everything that goes with it—puberty blockers, cross-sex hormones, surgeries, infertility—as normal too. If society, in general, accepts this premise, then parents who wish to slow down this allegedly normal process may legitimately be labelled obstructive. Their stubbornness in resisting rapid affirmation may be labelled “provocative” as well.
As a result, prudent and protective parents—what I would call “normal” parents – are often positioned as enemies of the child—and their status as enemies is often communicated to the child. The isolated child finds a new family amongst the many trans allies only too happy to welcome him or her into the fold. The distress of parents caught up in this Kafkaesque nightmare, as I learned firsthand from interviewing parents of ROGD teenagers, cannot be overstated.
Observers in the public are extremely uneasy about this situation. They know very well that true gender dysphoria is quite rare. But they also know that in the present cultural climate, it is increasingly difficult to find a therapist or educator who does not recommend instant affirmation. They feel they will be vilified for stating the obvious in what they wish for their children.
They know, and so do we all that: it is preferable to be comfortable in your own body than uncomfortable; it is preferable to expend one’s mental energies on the world around one than to be constantly mentally consumed by one’s gender identity; it is preferable to live a life free of daily hormone ingestion and not at risk for their negative side effects than to be condemned to a lifetime of them; it is preferable to know that having children or not will be an informed adult choice than a choice made for you when you are incompetent to understand its ramifications; it is preferable to live life in a whole body than in a mutilated one; it is preferable to have uncomplicated sexual relations as an adult than complicated.
All parents want to see their children following the path of least resistance to health and happiness. Thus, all these statements being so evidently true, they ought to be considered banal. But today—because it is “provocative” – they must not voice these banalities. They are afraid, reasonably so, that they will be labelled transphobic.
Sadly, we now see parents who pretend for the sake of “wokeness” that it is a matter of indifference to them whether their child is comfortable in his or her natal sex or prefers to transition. We even see parents who establish an artificial environment of gender neutrality to create a level playing field between the two outcomes. They win fawning plaudits from a vocal band of activists, but the silent majority of people are appalled by such social engineering, the use of one’s own children as gender-theory lab rats
This is why many of those who can afford to turn to Dr. Zucker for guidance when their children show signs of gender confusion, which may be transient or early evidence of homosexuality, or which may be signs of genuine and permanent self-identification as the opposite sex. They know he will allow them to express their preference and their fears without judgment, but if it turns out to be necessary, will help them to accept what they fear with empathy.
I walked down the mountain from The Neuro to Sherbrooke St with Dr. Zucker after the event, and we held an informal post mortem of it. That it was not cancelled was in his eyes a “good outcome.”
We both mused on the strangeness of trans activists’ demands that they be part of every presentation regarding gender dysphoria. Their slogan, “nothing about us without us” suggests that researchers are talking about “them” as individuals rather than the phenomenon of gender dysphoria. To my mind, there’s a certain narcissism in such an absurd implication. Anorexics do not demand to be given equal time with anorexia researchers in the public forum. Neither do people with Autism Spectrum Disorder, even though in the past science was not particularly kind to them either.
Dr. Zucker treats children from toddlerhood on. Exploration of all contributing factors is extensive and as leisurely as necessary. He says occasionally a therapeutic breakthrough can turn on a dime. In one case, as an example, the underlying issue for the girl – a natal female expressing the wish to transition to male – was a conflict with her abusive father. Her epiphany came one day when Dr. Zucker asked her, “If you are afraid of your father, why do you want to be the same gender as he is?” This brought her up short, he said, and she was silent. The next day, she told him she had decided she wanted to remain a girl.
I asked him how many of his patients resolved their distress without a need for transitioning, and ended up identifying with their natal sex. As if he knew that question was coming—he surely must have known—Dr. Zucker briskly replied, “eighty-eight percent.” It is probably just as well that the question and the “provocative” answer did not arise in the Q&A.
A lesbian event has been removed from Sydney, Australia’s LGBT Pride after a vocal minority protested the participation of a popular lesbian YouTuber with critical views towards transgender self-ID.
Arielle Scarcella runs an LGBT-centred YouTube channel with over 630,000 subscribers.
She has also spoken out against self-ID laws which have enabled biological males to be transferred to women’s prisons after the commission of serious offences, such as sexual assaults. In 2018, Scarcella collaborated on a video with Blaire White discussing how lesbian sexual preferences that do not include an attraction to biological males who transition to female were not “transphobic.”
Les-Talk was originally planned to be one of the events featured at Sydney Mardi Gras, the local Pride parade and festival. A panel-style discussion also featuring Tania Safi of Buzzfeed, the event began to draw ire from trans rights activists for including Scarcella. A petition was launched on February 15 demanding Scarcella be removed and replaced “preferably by someone of intersectionality.”
The petition was launched by Johnny Valkyrie, a transman and drag performer most notorious for a January incident at the Brisbane National Library. Valkyrie hosted Drag Storytime at the library, and was one of the two performers confronted by demonstrators from the University of Queensland National Liberal Club chanting “drag queens are not for kids.” The protestors were filmed and doxed.
The doxing resulted in one of the protestors, an openly gay student named Wilson Gavin, committing suicide the next day. Valkyrie used the opportunity at the library to raise funds for his “top surgery,” including a post on the day-of Gavin’s death—later updating the post to claim it was made prior to knowledge of his passing.
According to Valkyrie’s petition, Tania Safi of Buzzfeed has already dropped out of Les-Talk stating “I do not agree with Arielle’s transphobic and biphobic beliefs.”
10 Hours ago, Valkyrie uploaded an update to the petition, celebrating the “deplatforming” of Scarcella and Les-Talk.
Les-Talk was not officially cancelled, but was disassociated from Mardi Gras, according to a Facebook post made on the event’s official page. According to the post, the event is going forward being “privately held” by the “POC Queer women” organizing it.
Scarcella has not been disinvited from the event, and the event will proceed at another venue, separate from the LGBT Pride festivities.
Les-Talk’s Facebook page was littered with offers of support posted to the page’s wall by individuals outraged by Scarcella’s treatment.
Even multiple transpeople defended Scarcella’s beliefs, asserting she was not transphobic. One transwoman pleaded with the community to give Scarcella a “second chance,” while a transman praised Scarcella for “saying things no one else talks about.”
Scarcella is dismissive of the claims of transphobia, asserting she is anything but. “People have labeled me transphobic for being critical of trans ideas. I have no issues with being transgender. I’ve had more trans people in my videos than any other YouTuber to date,” she told The Post Millennial, noting that her only issue is with self-identification laws which might put women in danger.
“To those who truly believe I’m transphobic, I hope you change your hive-mind mentality and see how much you’re hurting your own community by acting so hateful.”
This is the 5th installment in a series analyzing cult manipulation strategies, as they apply to the social justice movement. Read the rest of the series here.
Have you noticed cancel culture getting more and more extreme lately? A few years ago, men would get mobbed on social media for allegations of real-life sexual assault. Now people are getting mobbed online, not for what they say or do, but for merely liking someone else’s tweet. Now people are mobbed not for their own opinions, but for simply suggesting that other people should have the freedom to express one.
Cancel culture is becoming more and more extreme, because it has to. This is because cancel culture isn’t about holding people accountable or upholding social mores. Instead, it’s about feeding the social needs of the people doing the mobbing.
The social justice movement behaves in the same way as traditional cults that immerse people in a closed social environment (such as a university) and then make them completely dependent on a system of social rewards and punishments.
Of course, social rewards and punishments are normal in any society. But in the regular world, there are lots of ways people can gain social rewards like praise, love, and social status; they can do well in their job, or volunteer in the community. They can develop a good sense of humour, or create art, or spend time with family or friends.
In cults, the methods for gaining any kind of love or status are limited to behaviours that benefit the cult leadership. The social need for love and acceptance is a very real human need. Therefore, if obedience to the cult is the only way to fill this need–and avoid being shunned or banned by the group–then you’re likely to comply. This is compounded by your isolation from outside norms and information.
One of the methods for gaining acceptance in a cult is learning the cult doctrine. The other methods include whatever else leadership wants, such as recruiting new members, or fundraising, or–in the case of social justice–mobbing and harassing anyone who does not comply (“cancel culture”). In fact, the more complicated and contradictory the cult doctrine is, the easier it is to control people. We can see this in the increase in the extremeness of cancel culture, which is happening alongside an increase in the complexity of social justice doctrine. And social justice doctrine is very complicated indeed.
For an example of the complexity of these rules, consider social justice’s teachings on other cultures.
Indigenous are being oppressed by “cultural genocide”–the decline and loss of their culture. If you’re a non-Indigenous person, DON’T make any traditional Indigenous art–that’s “cultural appropriation”, and it’s oppressive. Or it might even be “cultural genocide” outright. Remember, we need to celebrate other cultures, but we can’t actually experience those cultures ourselves.
White women wearing Black hairstyles or feathers or chopsticks in their hair is oppressive. But making food from other cultures is cultural appreciation, which is a good thing.
Listening to music outside your culture is ok, but producing it is NOT OK, as we see here. Even when it’s between Indigenous groups, performing another culture’s musical concept is a grave evil, which must be protested through a boycott. Boycotting the rare avenues that promote Indigenous music is thus the appropriate way to fight cultural genocide (AKA the decline of Indigenous music). Now, all of this is the fault of colonization, and “colonizers” (i.e. non-Indigenous people) need to move over to make room for Indigenous peoples. But also, we need more immigration to bring even more non-Natives here, and any criticism of immigration methods or levels is racist.
Got all that?
Hopefully you do, because you need to understand it in order to gain love and status from your peers. If you slip, you’ll be shamed (but not completely mobbed) by someone telling you to “please educate yourself” before you commit further sins against the social order. You’ll be told that you’re wrong, but if you object or ask why, you’ll be shamed further, because expecting an explanation for why you’re wrong is asking for “emotional labour” from an oppressed person–another sin against the group.
Thankfully, there’s a solution that’s easier than mastering these convoluted rules and getting shamed for asking questions. You can simply join in an online mob to shame someone else who is stepping out of line. You can gain love by doxing someone or joining a boycott or harassing someone out of a job.
And herein is why cancel culture is becoming more and more extreme. It’s not about enforcing moral standards. That’s why the bar for moral progressive standards is becoming increasingly restrictive. The constant in all of this is cult members’ need for love, acceptance, and status, which can be fed through online mobbing.
If the moral code of social justice remained stable over time, people would get used to the rules and avoid breaking them. Then we would run into a shortage of people stepping out of line. It sounds ridiculous, but people stepping out of line is an actual resource–and a finite one at that. This is one of the areas where you see a distinction between the people who voluntarily agree with social justice ideals, and people under control of the cult. We all have social needs, and members of the cult are limited in how they can achieve them. One of those limited ways is through joining a mob.
And this is why we have people actually searching through Mark Hamill’s like history on twitter.
Because in a cult, hate is love.
The media’s efforts to glorify morbid obesity as “beauty” and the push for the so-called Health At Every Size (HAES) and body positivity movements have been met with resistance from fitness guru Jillian Michaels and others in the fitness scene. The latest influencer to take on the unhealthy lifestyle, Xiaxue, is now the subject of social media cancellation after she spoke out against the horrendous practice.
The popular Singaporean YouTuber and influencer, whose real name is Wendy Cheng, mocked the unhealthy standard after a post glorifying a morbidly obese model trended on Instagram.
“It’s one thing to be chubby or fat but this is way past that. Most morbidly obese people don’t live past 40. They gorge themselves with 30 burgers a day and when they inevitably get a clogged artery or diabetes taxpayers have to help foot their medical bills when their health conditions are entirely caused by their irresponsible behavior,” she wrote. “Disgusting. The morbidly obese (like this woman) should never have been seen as attractive because death and disease isn’t attractive full stop. Irresponsibility isn’t attractive.”
“Even when they die [they] need 3 [people] to carry the corpse please,” she joked. “Fucking stop glorifying this shit @instagram, shame on you.”
The post, which was widely reported by offended social justice activists, was deleted by Instagram for harassment. Fat activists are now mocking Xiaxue for undergoing plastic surgery and have called upon each other to report her account in an effort to suspend her.
Xiaxue has continued to call out morbid obesity in a series of posts and videos decrying the Instagram community’s double standards in enforcing its harassment policy. In screenshotted DMs, Xiaxue captured the vitriol sent to her by numerous social justice activists, many of which called her “fatphobic.”
“Skinny people die from stroke and diseases too lmao. I hope u die one day,” wrote one user named soft.sapphire.
Explaining herself, Xiaxue wrote that she wasn’t “fat shaming” anyone and that she was expressing concern about the glorification of morbid obesity.
“What concerns me is that the media is constantly glorifying morbid obesity, trying to say it’s perfectly attractive (which we all know it isn’t). It’s fine to have an eating disorder. But we don’t glorify anorexia as being sexy so why the other end of the spectrum? Both are really unhealthy,” she wrote. “If you see your friend get addicted to smoking which will slowly kill him will you tell him his lifestyle is perfectly acceptable and his behavior is beautiful? No, you tell him to stop or reduce. So why isn’t it OK to say that morbidly obese people should not obstinately be PROUD of their size and should do something about it?”
“It’s OK to love and accept someone whatever size they are, but being the rough size and shape of Jupiter should NOT be glorified,” Xiaxue continued. “If people cannot get the difference and think this is the same as fat shaming then so be it, I refuse to pretend that being so big you can’t even get out of bed and you can’t even wipe your own arse is fine and dandy because it’s disgusting and unhealthy.”
Xiaxue continued in a separate post: “Why is it my business and why must I be so mean? Why can’t I let these people be deluded and happy? Because I don’t think we should encourage obesity, which is a disease. I think people weighing 500lbs should go on a freaking diet instead of living in a delusion held up by enablers that the fatter they are the ‘braver’ they are and the more beautiful they are,” she said. “They need to know the truth and that is that people aren’t ‘fatphobic’ if they find obesity unattractive. It’s natural to want to breed with healthy people to ensure the survival of your kids. No matter how you try to drum the beauty of obesity into our minds, it will never work.”
“So stop lying to yourself. You are being selfish [because] you want to look kind online and feel good about being ‘nice.’ But your lies are harming people,” she concluded.
As I’ve previously written on Twitter, there’s no such thing as “fatphobia.” It’s just another one of those terms designed to pathologize the natural dislike of obesity as a form of mental illness—as if you’re abnormal for preferring fitness and health.
The postmodern left uses science-y sounding faux clinical terms designed to validate and normalize unhealthy lifestyles, degeneracy and inhumanity while disenfranchising decency as a “social construct”—as if what they promote aren’t social constructs from a counter-narrative.
There are firm biological foundations to preexisting social constructs—fitness primary among them. If you’re physically and/or mentally unfit, you’re a burden to society and everyone around you. Period.
At Toronto’s Ryerson University, students majoring in one of the “ology” disciplines have to take courses from another to round out their education. It is natural to take electives that add value to your major, so many students majoring in, say, psychology or criminology, both of which prepare students for careers where an understanding of relationship dysfunction is important, will opt for a course in the sociology department called “The Sociology of Violence and the Family.”
The problem with this course—and the reason I am writing about it—is that there is only one sociology instructor, Kelly Train, teaching it. So it’s Ms Train or no course at all in domestic violence (which, by the way, is no longer referred to by that trope in scholarly circles; it has for some years been more commonly and precisely known as Intimate Partner Violence, or simply IPV, which is the trope I am accustomed to, and will use hereafter.)
Train is by numerous accounts routinely peddling ideology-based theories on subjects she is not qualified to teach, while stifling freedom of inquiry and speech in her classes. Ryerson University should have taken action on this problem a few years ago, when they became aware of it, but apparently did nothing to solve it.
So the problem continues. Ryerson needs a sharper nudge, and this is it.
Train is a hardline feminist ideologue and, as suggested above, had already emerged as a controversial figure before I glommed on to her extreme bias and the distress it is causing or has caused a number of her present and former students. By former, I don’t mean only students who completed her course and were dissatisfied with it, but those who dropped out, because they found the costs incurred to their intellectual integrity in attendance higher than any perceived benefits they might receive by staying.
In 2017, Train was featured in several campus-focused publications, including the Ryerson student newspaper, The Ryersonian, for telling a student she could not write an essay arguing that the gender wage gap is a myth. She told the then fourth-year marketing and business student, Jane Mathias, that the “myth” premise is wrong, that the student should not depend on business sources she proposed to use, as they “blame women because of their patriarchal nature,” and should only use “feminist sources.” She suggested instead that Jane write her paper on “the glass ceiling” – that is, she should write a paper arguing precisely the opposite thesis from the one she wished to pursue.
Jane’s twin sister Josephine, studying at the University of Toronto, devoted a YouTube video to the subject, titled, “The Reality is Patriarchy: Indoctrination at Ryerson University.” The video contains a screenshot of the email Train sent to Jane that confirms these allegations. Jane also provided notes on the assignment to a reporter from the Toronto Sun, which ran a story as well, in which Train notes that Ontario and Canada government websites and Statistics Canada will not be considered scholarly sources.
In her interview with The Ryersonian included in the video, Josephine asks, considering how many times the gender gap has been explained and debunked, “How can someone so high in her academic level say that it’s completely wrong? That was my biggest issue.”
I interviewed three students who have had classroom experience with Train, whom I will identify as Andrea, Sandra and Jessica, not their real names. (The vast majority of the students in this course are women.)
Andrea dropped out of Train’s course after the first week. In a telephone interview with her, she told me that she was first of all put off by Train’s affect, which she described as “intimidating” as well as coarse (“every other word was f***ing this or f***ing that”). But mainly she was offended by Train’s denigration of any discipline or research method that she did not approve of.
According to Andrea, Train’s view is that IPV is always—and only—the abuse of women by men. Highly misandric (“men are always the problem”), Train ascribes a wish to control women as inherent in men. Andrea quoted her as saying, “After this course you will realize that you have been abused, raped or mistreated at some time in your life.”
When individual students pushed back against the dogma of unilateral IPV – some gave examples of male family members or friends who had been abused by women – Train rejected them out of hand. According to Andrea, Train told the class that if anyone opted for her online course because they found her intimidating, they would get lower marks, as they would not be working as hard. Andrea, therefore, decided she would not even take Train’s online course.
Sandra, my second interviewee, is presently taking Train’s course. She described Train to me as “cold and intimidating, very intimidating and comes off that way in the very first class.” She “tears every other discipline down.” Another student reportedly told Sandra that “if you write your essays and blame it on patriarchy you’ll be fine.” When challenged, Sandra said Train “yells” to discourage further objections. Sandra said she intends to write what Train wants to hear, not because she agrees, but because “I need a good grade.”
Sandra happens to be better informed on IPV than the average student, so she knows very well that men can and do get abused by women. But when she tried to introduce statistics into the discussion, she reports that Train told her stats are of no use and anyone (in her class) who uses them is “stupid.” Train claimed that stats do not convey more nuanced forms of abuse, such as verbal, psychological and financial. Perhaps not, but women are quite as capable of these forms of abuse, and employ them at much the same rate as men. Indeed, during custody battles, false allegations of abuse—sexual abuse of children and violence against the ex-spouse—escalate dramatically.
Jessica, my third interviewee, dropped out of Train’s present course after three weeks. Jessica had taken a course previously with Train, whose subject was “family differences and diversity.” She recalled one instance in which a male student told the class his father had full custody of him because his mother had not wanted him. Jessica reported that Train’s response to him was, “Are you sure your father didn’t just want your mother to pay him child support?”
Train was here parroting the common feminist myth that when a father asks for shared parenting or full custody, the only possible motive must be financial. That a father could love his child as much as a mother conflicts with the “power and control” theory governing many radical feminists’ understanding of male-female relations. Jessica told me that the young man’s eyes filled with tears at Train’s response. The other students were “shocked, to say the least,” at Train’s baseless insensitivity. “I have never had a professor like that, never,” Jessica concluded.
Maybe you think I am being tough on Train, and that a handful of students out of hundreds isn’t a fair representation. Statistically, you’d be right (even though Train doesn’t believe in statistics herself). Train’s ratings are good. A lot of students don’t see her tough affect as threatening at all, and take it in stride. Many students liked her personality. Most said they would take the course again. Some students really gushed their admiration for her.
But a closer look reveals that it may not be Train’s erudition or Socratic skills that constitute her most compelling attribute. The course’s average score out of five for “difficulty” is 2.0. Typical remarks: “she generally grades generously”; “Marks very easy I would say and for the exams, she gives all the questions in class!”; “Make sure you listen and take notes, the book is really small so you don’t really do a lot of reading. she also gives you the test questions to help you prep”; “She seems very tough but she is a very easy marker. Don’t buy any textbooks just show up to class and take notes”; “Professor Train is by far the best prof at Ryerson. She is such an amazing lecturer, and inspires students in class discussions. If you have her as your prof consider yourself blessed” (this student rated the level of the course difficulty at “1.0”).
Put these remarks together with what my interviewees told me, and what I see is a forceful, rather charismatic personality joined to adamant views. I see someone very “generous” with her time and rewards to those who toe the party line, not so much with students expressing independent opinions. Those students cross her at their peril. So it is no great surprise that the students who love her are those who see the rote-based ease of the course and the absence of any need to think for oneself as positive aspects, and those who complain about her are students who with intellectual aspirations, eager to develop their critical thinking skills.
Train’s herd of admirers are unlikely to have inquired into Train’s scholarly credentials. It is unlikely they would have cared that her academic background in the subject of IPV is virtually nil, and her publication history the thinnest of gruel altogether. She has published six articles, none of them expressly on IPV. Her sociology department profile states Train is “currently working on a number of large projects, including a book exploring the marginalization of the voices of Sephardi, Mizrahi and Jewish women of colour within Jewish feminist thought, and a book examining the experiences of North African and Indian Jews in the Toronto Jewish Community.” No hint of any interest in IPV is evident in Train’s academic profile.
As it happens, IPV is one of my niche topics as a journalist. Over the last 20 years, I have done a great deal of research on the subject. I know the epidemiology of the phenomenon quite well. (Epidemiology, a bona fide discipline, is the science through which public health and public safety policies are formed, including health policies that favour practices that target female-specific maladies and safety risks—i.e. Epidemiology could not exist without reliable statistics, which makes Train’s resistance to statistics all the more risible.)
I would recommend that Train read a 2019 report on IPV, titled “Prevalence and Consequences of Intimate Partner Violence in Canada as measured by the National Victimization Survey.” Lead authors are Alexandra Lysova of Simon Fraser University and Don Dutton, Emeritus professor of psychology at the University of British Columbia. The data came from a random sample of 33,000 Canadians surveyed in the 2014 General Social Survey of Victimization, so any teacher addressing the issue of IPV should not even think about trashing the source. Or even criticizing, let alone failing, a student for depending on it as evidence for their thesis.
From its abstract:
Based on the 2014 Canadian General Social Survey on Victimization, this study examined the prevalence of victimization resulted from physical and/or sexual IPV, controlling behaviours and also consequences of IPV for both men and women in a sample representative of the Canadian population. Given the paucity of research on male victims of IPV at the national population level, this article specifically discussed the experiences of men who reported violence perpetrated by their female intimate partners. Results showed that 2.9% of men and 1.7% of women reported experiencing physical and/or sexual IPV in their current relationships in the last 5 years. In addition, 35% of male and 34% of female victims of IPV experienced high controlling behaviours—the most severe type of abuse known as intimate terrorism. Moreover, 22% of male victims and 19% of female victims of IPV were found to have experienced severe physical violence along with high controlling behaviours. Although female victims significantly more often than male victims reported the injuries and short-term emotional effects of IPV (e.g., fear, depression, anger), there was no significant difference in the experience of the most long-term effects of spousal trauma—posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD)-related symptoms.
Professor Dutton has dedicated his entire career to this issue. He has keynoted conferences on the subject all over the world. As of 2018, Dutton had over 30,000 downloads of his numerous publications. (Train’s scholarship has been cited in journals three times.) His 2006 book, Rethinking Domestic Violence, is the Ur-text for serious students of the subject, although I am sure Train has not read it or perhaps even heard of it.
I reached out to Professor Dutton, apprised him of the Ryerson situation and asked for comment. He wrote to me, “It is academically unacceptable to fail students for failing to agree with the professor and to rule out empirical studies. This Ryerson prof would fail me if I took her course.”
I of course contacted Kelly Train to ask for her side of this story. She did not respond. I also asked for comment from the Ryerson administration. Their response was a boilerplate statement that Ryerson University “is committed to creating a culture of respect and civility where all members of the community share a commitment to academic freedom, open inquiry and the pursuit of knowledge; where people feel valued and respected and treat one another with trust, dignity and respect.” No mention of Train or the fact that the allegations against her indict her of violating every single tenet in that statement.
Kelly Train is not a teacher. She is a conduit for feminist doctrine. Yet in spite of her unprofessional style and lack of academic accreditation to teach a university-level course in IPV, she earns $185,000 a year. As the old song goes, “Nice work if you can get it.” And apparently, if you’re a male-bashing, empirical-evidence suppressing, radical feminist in the department of Sociology at Ryerson University, “you can get it if you try.”