Should you believe David Barton when he speaks about history?

Last week, I wrote a quick post noting that David Barton thought a woman posing as a man to fight in the Revolutionary War was a good thing. Today women can serve openly, but this seemed odd to me in light of religious right concerns about gender bending.

Barton told the story about the female soldier on Glenn Beck’s Founder Friday show. The rest of the show was actually quite interesting with several stories about female, African-American and Jewish patriots. I found myself enjoying the presentation and thought this is important information. Then a question occurred to me: are these stories true?

Yesterday, I posted about how Barton cherry-picked correspondence between Benjamin Rush and John Adams in order to create a fiction about John Adams beliefs. In general, the distortions about the beliefs and actions of Thomas Jefferson and others have created doubt in me about the rest of what he presents. The result is that I feel I must check anything from his organization before considering it accurate.

This is a shame. This is a huge concern and one which provides a powerful incentive for advocates and scholars alike to get their facts straight. Given the status of those who consult Barton, it apparently has not had much effect as yet. However, in my view, those who look for better among evangelicals are not finding it at Wallbuilders.

Confirmation bias is a strong and powerful phenomenon, so strong that it can compromise good intentions and undermine the very ends you seek. I would like to believe but there is only One Being who can ask me to walk by faith and not by sight and it is not David Barton.

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  • B.T.Carolus

    I can answer the question about at least the women he’s talking about. He is telling the (true) story of Deborah Sampson and the (false) story of Molly Pitcher, generally regarded as a myth or a composite myth. I can’t tell from the transcript whether he actually conflated them (it sort of looks like he did) or if they switched to a different woman on the video without voicing that they were changing stories.

    In any event, neither of these stories are hidden, they even appear in some school textbooks, along with other information about women. Foot soldiers just don’t really do anything important enough for lots of historical recognition, female or otherwise.

    Also, there are several famous female soldiers from the Civil War, as well. http://www.archives.gov/publications/prologue/1993/spring/women-in-the-civil-war-1.html

  • David Blakeslee

    Warren,

    Is it really fair to call this “gender bending?’ At least in the way we use the term today?

    Women were forbidden from serving, which is different than now…so it just seems like an homo-eroticization of a practical event (bad phrase, can’t think of a better one). Are you saying that women today in the military who dress in slacks are “gender bending?”

    …and it seems to me, we should also look at men who avoided military service at this time by posing as women…

    To be fair.

  • http://wthrockmorton.com Warren

    David – I see your point and will admit to snark in the initial post. However, I don’t think that observation detracts from the point of this post which is Barton is not trustworthy.

    Honestly, I don’t know the full story of the women Barton talks about so gender bending may or may not be accurate. The woman may indeed have simply wanted to do something she was not allowed to do and dressed in a way to get there, all the while maintaining her female sense of herself. Or she may have been drawn toward such actions because she was transgender. I don’t know and I really don’t have a problem with either. However, my point is that I cannot trust Barton to tell me facts or represent facts accurately.

  • Richard Willmer

    @ Warren : I’m all in favour of a little ‘snark’ now and again!

  • Bill
  • David Blakeslee

    Thanks…

    I am also aware of families which wanted “a boy” instead of a girl and dressed her that way and expected those things out of her…her identity (by her report) is as a masculinized woman.

    Snark is over-rated…and leads to a fair number of communication errors.

    But it is often fun for the writer and those who agree with him. :) .

    I agree that Barton has demonstrated a manipulative and dishonest style, and am glad you continue to bring this forward.

  • http://funfrotfacts.blogspot.com Throbert McGee

    Is it really fair to call this “gender bending?’ At least in the way we use the term today?

    The only reason we should be biased against the hypothesis that this woman soldier was transgendered is that transgenderism is statistically uncommon. Some mild degree of skepticism is appropriate, therefore, because transgendered people are a comparative rarity.

    HOWEVER, we should be wary of unreasonably excessive skepticism, because although the transgendered are rare, they are not “vanishingly rare”. Thus, we should demand pretty solid evidence, but “this woman was probably transgendered” ought not be taken as an extraordinary claim requiring extraordinary evidence (the phrase that James Randi or Penn and Teller would apply to telekinetic spoon-bending or alien abductions).

    No one knows with certainty what small percentage of the population is transgendered, but such people are without doubt vastly more numerous than, for example, Siamese conjoined twins. (I recently read that there are only eight pairs of post-pubescent conjoined twins in the entire world — that’s 16 persons out of a global population exceeding six billion, even with modern medical care that can improve the survival rate for non-separable twins!)

    But suppose someone found an authentic Revolutionary-era letter containing an account of a “two-headed man” — i.e., a dicephalic pair of conjoined twins, like the celebrated modern sisters Abigail and Brittany Hensel.

    A lot of people would be quite prepared to believe the account — “Well, I’ve seen TV interviews with the Hensel girls, so I know such a thing is possible.” Moreover, few if any people have ideological biases against the reality of conjoined twinning!

    Looking at it from a purely statistical and medical point of view, however, the odds greatly favor the likelihood that the story was either a total hoax, or a wild exaggeration (maybe, in reality, the man had a huge benign tumor on his scalp that vaguely resembled a second head — that’s vastly more probable than dicephalic conjoined twins surviving past infancy).

    And — just to spell out the point clearly — assuming we’re not clouded by ideological bias against the transgendered or other sexual minorities, then claims that a historic figure was transgendered ought to arouse significantly less disbelief than historic accounts of adult conjoined twins. (Many of these “two-headed person” accounts were probably “carnival frauds” attempting to cash in on the very, very, very few real-life cases.)

  • http://www.boxturtlebulletin.com Timothy Kincaid

    Honestly, I don’t know the full story of the women Barton talks about so gender bending may or may not be accurate. The woman may indeed have simply wanted to do something she was not allowed to do and dressed in a way to get there, all the while maintaining her female sense of herself. Or she may have been drawn toward such actions because she was transgender.

    Gender bending and transgender are two very different issues and ideas.

    Transgender speaks to persons whose internal sense of gender is dischordant with their observed gender. They may have male genitalia but experience themselves as being female. (There are some interesting studies involving children who were assigned gender at birth due to abnormalities but who developed a sense of gender that was quite different than that assigned).

    Gender bending deals with challenging the roles, appearances, or even concepts of gender. Bending gender can range from drag to trasvesticism to Lauren Bacall to anything in between.

    The way most commonly currently used, a gender bender might choose to dress in either gender – depending on mood or whim – or as androgynous, so as to make a statement. Their own sense of gender might be somewhat fluid or might be consistently male (for example) while their expression might be all over the place.

    A gender bender might, for example, show up for a party dressed in a corset, flounced skirt, and biker boots while sporting a full beard.

    Neither of these are necessarily gay. At points several 70′s rockers dabbled in the idea.

    But in the sense that these women presented as men and dressed accordingly, gender bender is not an inaccurate term.

    I am also aware of families which wanted “a boy” instead of a girl and dressed her that way and expected those things out of her…her identity (by her report) is as a masculinized woman.

    I know a family that had fraternal twins and wanted one to be gay and one straight. They ended up with two straight sons that were comfortable around gay people… but the ‘gay’ one does seem to find it easier to connect with women (and married the prettiest woman I’ve ever physically laid eyes on).

    Which I guess suggests that you can’t control the gender or the orientation of a child, but you can influence how they will interact in the world

  • http://funfrotfacts.blogspot.com Throbert McGee

    @Timothy: How would you characterize the “lady-boys” of Thailand or Brazil who get breast implants and hormone injections in order to make a more or less comfortable living by prostituting themselves as chicks with dicks Venuses with penises?

    Are they “transgendered,” or “gender-benders”?

  • http://aebrain.blogspot.com Zoe Brain

    Throbert McGee# – different parts of the brain are involved.

    While it’s likely that whatever causes feminisation of the lymbic nucleus also causes feminisation of the right superior parietal lobule (and thus a female “Body map”), and for that matter, feminisation of the genitalia too, these are separate areas of anatomy, and may develop along independant routes. Not often – Transsexuality is only present in 1 in 3000 of the general population – but it happens.

    Hence we can have a person with a masculinised right SPL and genitalia – comfortable with that somatic form – but a femininised lymbic nucleus – so identifying as female.

    Worse, “masculinised” and “feminised” are inexact, there are degrees of conformance to a male or female stereotype. It’s likely that only in cases where the mismatch is extreme that the person is “transsexual”. In less extreme examples, transgendered. It’s even possible for the lymbic nucleus and genitalia to be masculinised, but the right SPL is feminised. This results in men who desire a “mangina” for example, and I conjecture also the cases that Freud mistook for “penis envy” in females.

    Most Intersexed people identify as men-with-a-medical-problem, or women-with-a-medical-problem, but a significant minority identify as neither. Similarly, an even more significant minority are fine with non-standard genitalia, and have no wish to be “normalised” – because their non-standard genitalia is “normal” for them.

    Sexual orientation is neurological as well, though again, there are degrees. It’s certain that a large proportion of apparent heterosexuals are bisexual to some degree – they’re the ones who think homosexuality is a “choice” because for them, it is. There’s also some “political gays” and “political lesbians” – Julie Bindell and Ron Gold come to mind – who are Bi but choose strictly homosexual behaviour in order to make a political statement – but again assume that it’s a choice for everyone else as well.

    Although reparative therapy is harmful, for those distressed by their sexuality, psychotherapy can help them either accept it, or not be too distressed by being bisexual, and decide to ignore their attraction to one sex, in favour of exclusive heterosexuality. Or in theory, homosexuality, though I know of no such cases.

  • http://aebrain.blogspot.com Zoe Brain

    As a post-script – we’re not mechanistic robots, slaves to instinct. We can control our actions. But we can’t control our attractions.

  • http://funfrotfacts.blogspot.com Throbert McGee

    Zoe — I would be cautious about encouraging people to conflate “intersexed” with “transgendered”. I get the impression that some trans-activists tend to conflate the two phenomena for political purposes, but that most individuals medically described as “intersexed” do not subjectively experience their condition as being “transgendered.” (Mind you, it may be true that in decades past, misguided attempts to “correct” intersexed children too early in childhood may have caused them to develop into transgender-identified adults.)

    Also, on the just-closed thread, Richard stated that “certain manifestations of ‘transgenderedness’ have a genetic basis [e.g. XXY set of alleles]“. In my textbook understanding , however, males with “Kleinfelter’s Syndrome” (i.e., those having XXY trisomy) tend to be male-identified, and also physiologically male, not female. In many cases, they have unusually small male genitals, but their genitals are generally not “ambiguous” in the sense that, e.g., the two sides of the scrotum have failed to fuse and thus outwardly resemble female labia.

    And in an admittedly short Google search, I found a few support/advocacy forums for the MTF transgendered in which some of the participants were speculating about a link between MTF identify and Kleinfelter’s, or even self-diagnosing it, but I couldn’t find any Kleinfelter’s-related sites which confirmed that XXY males were indeed more likely to identify as transgender. (Note that Kleinfelter’s and MTF identity aren’t mutually exclusive, either, so it’s certainly possible that some Kleinfelter’s males also consider themselves to be transgendered, but that doesn’t mean there’s a demonstrated causal link.)

  • http://funfrotfacts.blogspot.com Throbert McGee

    I would be cautious about encouraging people to conflate “intersexed” with “transgendered”.

    I also want to add: As a homosexual man, I have some personal stake in being somewhat skeptical about the claims of the transgender community.

    My reasoning is this — it’s been a consistent position of the gay-rights movement in the West that homosexuals do not to need to be “fixed” by psychologists; that we never need to be fixed; that psychologists were wrong to try to fix us in order to satisfy the expectations of the majority culture.

    So, when I read about “lady boys” (kathoey) in Thailand, I have an uneasy suspicion that many (not all) of these apparent “transwomen” are, in fact, just plain garden-variety homosexual men — and that the “lady boy” phenomenon emerged as the dominant Thai culture’s way of “fixing” these gay men. Not attempting to change them psychologically, as was the practice in the West, but changing them physiologically to be more acceptable to a majority culture that was willing to tolerate androgyne “Venuses with penises,” but less prepared to tolerate male-identified, male-looking men who sleep with other male-identified, male-looking men. (To be clear, I do accept that some of the kathoey really are “hardwired transsexuals” whose psychological well-being is improved by “making the transition”.)

    So, while some Western trans activists are happy to cite the “lady boys” as an example of how sexually enlightened and tolerant some non-Western cultures are, a different way to look at it is that the Thais have created a highly artificial and rather exploitative sex-caste that benefits “straight” johns at the expense of the gay men who make themselves into “ladyboys” (but who would arguably be better off living as gay men in male bodies and with male identities, and not as kathoey).

  • http://funfrotfacts.blogspot.com Throbert McGee

    that we never need to be fixed

    Oops, I meant that we homosexuals collectively “never needed to be fixed.”

  • Richard Willmer

    I suspect the term ‘transgendered’ is even more loosely used and less well understood that old chestnut ‘homosexuality’. But I agree with (what I think is) Throbert’s thesis: we should at least not confuse or conflate those two terms.

    ‘Intersex’ means something else again.

    It’s the old terminology problem once more … (@ Warren : Maybe you could do a ‘thought piece’ for us on this?)

    Just one more point: we often talk of ‘change’ or ‘improvement’. I wonder if we need to ask the question ‘improvement for whose ‘benefit’?’. (My point here is as old as the hills, and really very obvious, and it’s that matter of seeing ‘improvements’ from our own perspective, rather than that of the person(s) on whom we want to ‘impose improvement’. This doesn’t apply only to gender identity, of course, but to just about everything – we are often so good at ‘sorting out everyone else’ [at least in theory], but when it comes to ourselves … )

  • Ann

    Just one more point: we often talk of ‘change’ or ‘improvement’. I wonder if we need to ask the question ‘improvement for whose ‘benefit’?’. (My point here is as old as the hills, and really very obvious, and it’s that matter of seeing ‘improvements’ from our own perspective, rather than that of the person(s) on whom we want to ‘impose improvement’. This doesn’t apply only to gender identity, of course, but to just about everything – we are often so good at ‘sorting out everyone else’ [at least in theory], but when it comes to ourselves … )

    Richard Wilmer,

    That is why I asked the question about where the need and supply theory applies. If there is no expressed need coming from gay individuals, then it should be obvious that those who are imposing their views on them are intrusive. If there is an expressed need, then is that to be ignored or challenged or supplied? As to the question “why do you feel a need to alter or modify or diminish this aspect of your personality/make-up? This can only be answered by an individual experiencing it ,and whatever the answer, should it be respected or challenged based on our own desires for that individual?

    Regarding this particular topic – I saw the Thomas Jefferson documentary and, if I remember correctly, I believe his step mother served in the war along side her husband ( T.J.’s father). I am not sure if she portrayed herself to be man though. I am never quite sure how accurate history is and how much should be believed.

  • David Blakeslee

    Thrilled I did not get sucked into the last conversation (about change) on an adjacent blog post!

    :) .

    It is a shame how often and easily we digress.

  • Richard Willmer

    My point on this thread was really about the loose and unhelpful way in which the term ‘transgendered’ is so often used (Colson employed it in what struck me as a supremely ignorant and insulting manner).

    In response to Ann’s question: I’m sure there are people who ‘want to change’, but I do think we need to look at why some of them want to change. Might it be because they are being treated unjustly, and see ‘change’ as the solution to their problems (like Martin Ssempa’s terrified little ‘changelings’, GO and PK)?

  • Ann

    Richard and David B,

    Your points are well taken – thank you. From the responses here and on the other thread, it is obvious that I am not articulating very well. I am not referring to change at all and somehow not getting that point across. I appreciate what you both said though.

  • Richard Willmer

    @ Ann

    I think the two threads may have got a little confused!

  • Lynn David

    After watching the episode of the Jon Stewart show with David Barton, a frustrated Chris Rodda decided to make her book Liars for Jesus available free as a pdf file. Ms. Rodda is senior research director for the Military Religious Freedom Foundation, which is headed by Mikey Weinstein.

  • Teresa

    I am not referring to change at all and somehow not getting that point across.

    Ann, my apologies for mistaking what you said.

  • Lynn David

    More right-wing Christian revisionist history (all from within my lifetime!) uncovered at Good As You:

    FRC shows love to Goldwater; would AuH2O return the favor?

  • Lynn David

    I dropped the “L” off of the HTML in that link::

    FRC shows love to Goldwater; would AuH2O return the favor?

  • http://buckfush530.livejournal.com/ mlargles

    Throbert McGee:

    The only reason we should be biased against the hypothesis that this woman soldier was transgendered is that transgenderism is statistically uncommon.

    I agree with everything else you’re saying, but this. I’m on board with maybe casting the net a bit wider than “transgender” in this case, but I’m not in favor of that because being transgender is rare – I’m in favor of doing that because being transgender is a fundamentally “modern” and anglophone way of explaining the phenomenon.

    Like you said in the case of Thai “ladyboys,” gender and sexuality and sex are often really confused and without the ability to actually ask some one if they’re trying to identify as a particular gender, or sex, or if the way they dress and act and so on is actually about creating a particular impression to veil or neutralize or otherwise assist them in survival as a minority sexuality. Or maybe some of all three or just two (pick a set, any set). It’s complicated.

    So, in the absence of being able to, you know, ask the woman in David Barton’s garbled account, I think it’s important to stress her actions (or, at least the truthfully recounted ones) and sort of leave to the audience whether she was doing this to “pass” in society in spite of being a Lesbian, or wanted to assign herself male gender, or wanted her sex to be male, or some combination of those (two or three again). Basically, we should realize a lot of the specifics of the language we’re using her would be completely foreign to her, so it makes more sense to focus on the specifics of her activity than questions of what it means regarding her identity.

    (Although obviously, she should be pointed out as some one in history who at the least did something atypical with gender representation and was awesome, if real. Damn David Barton for screwing up our history.)

  • Lynn David

    Let’s see…Darwin revealed the theory of evolution in 1859, and the United States declared their independence from Britain in 1776 — but our founding fathers were such magical geniuses that they foresaw the whole thing and debated the subject there in Philadelphia and resolved that evolution was a bunch of hooey. Right.

    ….the founding fathers…already had the entire debate on creation/evolution…and you’ve got Thomas Paine, the least religious of the founding fathers, saying you got to teach creation science in the public school classroom, the scientific method demands it!

  • http://www.boxturtlebulletin.com Timothy Kincaid

    @Timothy: How would you characterize the “lady-boys” of Thailand or Brazil who get breast implants and hormone injections in order to make a more or less comfortable living by prostituting themselves as chicks with dicks Venuses with penises?

    Are they “transgendered,” or “gender-benders”?

    Thobert… I really don’t know enough to say. I’m just trying to help with the language used here in the US. The goal is increased communication, not making rules.