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Sexuality course ditches men and women for ‘people with penises’ and ‘people with vaginas’

‘5 Easy Classes To Save Your GPA’

An educational psychology course at the University of Texas-Austin doesn’t see students as women or men.

The class taught by clinical psychologist Michael Parent sees them as “people with vaginas” and “people with penises,” or PwVs and PwPs for short.

Human Sexuality is a popular upper-division elective credit at UT. It teaches that gender and sex are societal constructs and sexuality is on a spectrum. Parent also normalizes the idea that some prepubescent children who identify as the opposite sex can begin medically transitioning.

The professor recently told students that children as young as 7 should not be stopped from taking gender hormones.

That way they can “pass better” as the opposite sex as they grow older, Parent said. For example, these hormones can prevent PwPs from “developing facial hair and a masculine jaw.”

Many students take the course to fill their degree requirements and get a GPA boost. In fact, UT-Austin student publication BurntX included it in a list of “5 Easy Classes To Save Your GPA.

With three of these classes offered each semester, with up to 100 students in each, about 600 students can be exposed to the course material in any given year. More than 100 undergraduate and graduate students may study with Parent each semester.

Helped develop MasculinUT program, now suspended

Parent’s work goes far outside the classroom. A fellow of the American Psychological Association, he claims to be one of the first scholars attempting to define and explain asexuality.

He has examined masculinity and its social effects on men and and received grants, including one for $122,863 to study “Minority stress, substance/alcohol use, and non-prescription testosterone use among transgender female-to-males” (below).

Parent helped develop UT’s MasculinUT program, which was suspended and placed under review after media coverage suggested it treated masculinity as a mental illness. (The university denied the characterization.)

In a recent lecture, he explained how he conducted a study on “toxic masculinity” by giving men an arbitrary and “fake personality inventory,” ranging from non-masculine to masculine, based on answers to a series of questions.

Parent and his research assistants then crushed the test subjects’ fingers and measured how long they put up with it. Parent bragged to his class that those who were told they weren’t masculine let their fingers be crushed “harder and longer than those who weren’t.”

Soon to be outdated: men, women, gay, straight

The Human Sexuality class syllabus says the course is based on a “scholarly examination of human sexuality,” but it doesn’t use an assigned textbook or any written materials.

Parent’s course specifically uses slides, his lectures and clips from shows including Saturday Night Live, Adam Ruins Everything and the drag queen series UNHhhh.

He has skipped over parts of the shared course material that don’t match his worldview, including a 2007 study on gender, IQ and the LGBT community. Published in the Archives of Sexual Behavior, it found that on average, women had lower IQ than men and gay and bisexual men had lower IQ than their straight counterparts (below). Parent said the study “wasn’t worth learning.”

MORE: UT’s ‘Healthy Masculinities’ project put on hold

In a recent lecture covering sex and gender, Parent not only said gender goes beyond a “binary,” but that the terms man, woman, gay and straight “are halfway out the window already.”

Parent emphasized that “non-congruent gender expression,” commonly known as transgenderism, is rooted in gender dysphoria, where a person perceives a “manifestation of gender identity” different from their biological sex. He said it has nothing to do with body dysmorphia, or the medically recognized psychological distaste with one’s own physical body.

While he doesn’t see transgender identity as a mental illness, Parent explained that advocates still use that framework “for health insurance purposes.”

The World Health Organization reclassified “gender incongruence,” previously considered a mental illness, as a “sexual health condition” in its International Classification of Diseases earlier this year. While some protested its inclusion at all, “others argue that it’s easier for transgender people to seek hormonal or surgical treatment if gender incongruence is included,” USA Today reported.

‘There are fully transgender children who don’t grow out of their condition’

While Parent’s lectures have sometimes placed him at the far end of what’s considered medically responsible for gender transitioning and children, in a recent lecture he was more cautious.

He said transgender identification “typically onsets in childhood,” and while it sometimes “disappears,” many transgender advocates support transitioning “when they’re really young,” even before puberty.

It’s dangerous to transition a child “just because Johnny chose to play with a doll,” and yet “there are fully transgender children who don’t grow out of their condition” and thus would benefit from hormone treatments, Parent continued. He added that “trans folk don’t have to be passing” as the opposite sex in order to identify as such, so treatment should be handled case by case.

Parent’s views seem to reflect the debate within the medical community on when youths should transition.

Jack Turban, a resident physician in child and adolescent psychiatry at Massachusetts General Hospital, wrote in Vox last month that children in the earliest stages of puberty have “very low” odds of changing their mind about gender transitions.

Prepubescent transgender children who decide to de-transition can do it safely because “medical guidelines” advise that they not be offered “hormonal interventions” in the first place, Turban continued.

Yet an investigation by NBC’s Bay Area affiliate last year found a concerted international effort to lower the age limit for “medical intervention” in Endocrine Society guidelines.

Steve Rosenthal, who leads the Child and Adolescent Gender Center at the University of California-San Francisco Children’s Hospital, said these earlier interventions help children “physically transform more seamlessly and limit the number of costly and complicated surgeries later in life.”

MORE: Harvard gives free tampons to ‘menstruators’

IMAGE: SanchaiRat/Shutterstock

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About the Author
Ethan Berman -- University of Texas-Austin