Internet Presence

Someone is Wrong on the InternetFollowing on from my post yesterday, I thought it might be interesting to reflect on what is appropriate internet presence for a member of the clergy, whether it’s social media, a website, email style etc. This is also in the context of someone privately mentioning to me that as a priest holding PTO and not formally licensed, I had much more freedom to say what I say and do what I do than other clergy, licensed laity and church and diocesan staff.

In some senses that is correct. When someone pays your bills then they have a greater right to demand of you certain things in relation to your exercising of the work that you are paid to do. So, for example, if you work for the Department of Health it would be inappropriate to have a blog where every post is an abusive diatribe about senior staff in the NHS. Or to bring the example closer to home for many, if you are the Associate Vicar of a church it is inappropriate for you to have a twitter account that you use to slag off the Vicar of the church at which you serve (and yes, I have seen this happen – some people have no awareness of what “public” actually means).

Of course if someone doesn’t pay your bills then you might still have an accountability for what you write, but it is a different kind of relationship. Clergy for example, whether they are licensed or hold PTO, are subject to the Canons of the Church of England and there is that glorious parlance of “Conduct Unbecoming a Clerk in Holy Orders” that is the bain of many a priest and the joy of many a writer of a complaint under the Clergy Discipline Measure. And it isn’t just clergy of course – any employee or office holder has a duty of care within his working life to make sure he represents his/her employer appropriately. As we have also seen in the news, some employers take great offence (rightly or wrongly) to what you might or might not say and do in your private life, but here the legalities are less clear. It’s fairly obvious that a priest is a priest 100% of the time and one who gets riotously drunk in the local hostelry every evening is going to land a meeting with the Archdeacon sooner rather than later. For a factory worker the situation is different – one can hardly bring the factory into disrepute by getting hammered, but if the hangover affects your job then their employer has a case. So too with the internet – if your activity on social media prevents you doing your job properly (and this applies more to those with a public or representative role) then your employer or line management has a duty of care to intervene.

The issue of course is what is the scope of your representation for the organisation you work for or are attached to and what can they reasonably demand? For example, if a Church of England priest is also a journalist can the Bishop threaten to remove a licence if said journalist uncovers wrong doing in the Church and publishes the evidence? Clearly not – the issue is whether the actual actions of the individual are a cause of conduct unbecoming, not whether they annoyingly make public that which others may want to keep private. Indeed, on might even want to utilise the skill sets of someone with such a useful forensic approach to understanding and articulating complex situations. On the other hand is someone consistently makes libellous allegations about individuals, then you have every right to intervene. Unfortunately some people cannot see the difference between these two situations.

The problem often with internet presence is that many people jump to conclusions too soon. Employees need to be aware that things that are put into the public domain are actually in the public domain – don’t conclude that only your friends will read or be interested in what you put online. What you say on Twitter stays on Twitter, what you comment on a blog stays on a blog, if you leave your Facebook profile open or have “friends” who are not so much friends then your posts are in the public domain. The joys of having a visible public presence are also the pitfalls – everything you put into the public domain stays in the public domain, sometimes for an irritatingly long time. On the flip-side, I have known a Bishop who was utterly ignorant about how the internet works and complained when a priest has linked to a site that on another page links to another site that has some offensive material on it. Seriously folks, you are NOT responsible for what other people do unless you ARE responsible directly. Your employees and office holders cannot control websites they don’t control. The internet is a free flow of information and opinion and not all of it is healthy or inoffensive, so be careful out there but don’t blame someone if you decide to click on something that takes you somewhere unpleasant unless they told you to do so OR they have direct responsibility for filtering that kind of material.

What it all boils down to is this. You need to remember that you are responsible for your actions in relationship to your employment or office holding in as much as they impact said employment or office holding. The degree and range of that influence is something that needs to be carefully assessed and good line management makes that very clear (for example, in my current job I am not allowed to mention who my clients are UNLESS they have given permission, and I’m also not allowed to criticise clients publicy even if we have a confidentiality agreement with them – all this makes perfect sense). Specifically within the Church of England some dioceses have such policies (for example, here is Oxford’s rather good policy), but many don’t and rely on “common sense”. Well as we all know, one person’s common sense is another person’s lunacy.


We’ll go back to talking about sex soon, I promise you….

Social Media Wisdom

A few months ago I made a conscious decision to change my social media habits and be much less confrontational. I had noticed that I was getting into arguments on Twitter for no real reason at all beyond wanting to be *right*. I drew up some “rules” for myself and started trying to exercise them.

  1. TwitterDon’t snipe at people whose tweets you don’t like. Just because someone says something you disagree with doesn’t mean that you have to tell them.
  2. Just because someone snipes at you on Twitter doesn’t mean you have to respond. When people started asking me provocative questions on Twitter I simply referred them to the FAQ page on my website and invited them to ask any more questions through the contact page. And frankly, 140 characters is not the best format to have in-depth conversations on human sexual identity is it?
  3. The block button is a wonderful thing. If someone keeps on bugging you despite the fact that you’ve made it very clear you’d rather have the conversation via email or some other medium, just remove them from your stream. It’s so easy.
  4. Use Twitter constructively rather than destructively – At the same time as making these changes to my negative behaviours I also started inviting prayer requests for Morning and Evening Prayer. I don’t do this every day as given my day job I sometimes don’t even have time for asking the question, but I find it a brilliant way to be able to be a positive part of people’s lives and to share in what’s going on. And it’s a great focus for actually praying properly.

I think my social media presence has improved for the better since the start of the year by adopting these simple but powerful rules. Yes, I’m still cheeky and provocative at times, but overall by being more cautious about engaging with those I disagree with and not so quick to jump in I think I have a much more acceptable online profile.

What tools / rules have you found help your interaction on social media?

Has Helmer got a point?

Did you read this in the Daily Mail (yes, I know) today?

Roger HelmerHelmer says the NHS should be allowed to spend money on helping homosexuals become straight. He says it is no different to NHS sex-change operations and, bizarrely, compares it to homeopathy.

‘One person is unhappy with their physical sex and wants to change it and we say, “OK you can do it.”

‘You have a homosexual who says, “I’m homosexual, actually I’d rather be straight, is there a way of fixing it?” We say to the person who wants to change from a man to a woman or vice versa, “Please do that on the NHS.” We say to this guy, “That’s wicked, you’re not allowed to think about it.” ’

‘I don’t know if homeopathy works or not, but I will defend the right of anyone who believes it works to try it.’ He insists he is ‘taking a libertarian view’.

I’ve heard this argument made before and I think it’s quite interesting. Person A is male and wants to be female. For the moment let’s disregard why they want to be female. We seem to think that’s OK and we spend NHS money on helping them achieve their aim. Person B is homosexual and wants to be heterosexual. For the moment let’s disregard why they want to be heterosexual. Suddenly we are all up in arms and calling it an outrage.

You can see the surface appeal of the argument. And the vast majority of those who would say that what Person B wants to do is outrageous could not cite you one bit of scientific evidence to support their contention that Person A’s corrective desire is in any way superior to Person B’s.

But as you know, on this blog we like to be a bit more thorough.

Do we have any biological basis for supposing that Person A’s transgender desire is a valid choice? Well yes. There are a number of studies that have explored whether MTF (male to female) and FTM (female to male) brains are different from those who are “cisgender“. Some have been rightly criticised for assessing transgender patients once they have begun to take hormone replacements (for example this post-mortem study) but others have shown on pre-hormonal patients that interesting differences are present.

So on the medical ground we have a cause to contemplate transition, and on the mental health ground we also do as plenty of pre-transition transgender people report significant distress. Of course transiting might not be the only method of relieving this distress. Some of those with Gender Identity Disorder manage to dissipate this neurosis through therapyu and some of the leading researchers in the field held to a primarily psychological model of transgender formation though increasingly the evidence does point to a biological component.

Does transition work? Well we know that those post-transition do not have the same mental health profile as the average population. Transition does not provide a magic panacea to the issues around gender dysphoria and indeed for many more people than you might think it ends up being something they deeply regret.

One more thought. There is some very interesting twin study analysis that has been done on transgender people, which points us to the same kind of curious “nature / nurture” mix that we see in the twin studies on homosexuality.

Gomez-Gil et al. (2010) in their sample of 995 consecutive transsexual probands (677 male-to-female and 318 female-to-male) report 12 pairs of transsexual nontwin siblings (nine pairs of MtF siblings, two pairs of MtF and FtM siblings, and one pair of FtM siblings). These investigators claim that their data indicate that the probability that a sibling of a transsexual will also be transsexual was 4.48 times higher for siblings of MtFs than for siblings of FtM transsexual probands, and 3.88 times higher for the brothers than for the sisters of transsexual probands. Moreover, the prevalence of transsexualism in siblings of transsexuals (1/211 siblings) was much higher than the range expected according to the prevalence data of transsexualism in Spain (the country of their study). Their study strongly suggests that siblings of transsexuals have a higher chance of being transsexual than the general population and that the potential is higher for brothers than for sisters of transsexuals, and for siblings of MtF than for FtM transsexuals. An excellent review paper by Veale, Clarke, and Lomax (2009) offers a host of references of papers dealing with transsexual familiarity and, while concentrating on the role of genetics and prenatal hormones, also touches on the actual and possible aspects of the rearing environment. They conclude there appears to be a significant role for biology in transsexualism but conservatively caution that attention is given to rearing practices.

So let’s summarise all of the above – transgender issues seem to have some basis in biology but there is no evidence saying that is a key determinative factor and some experts want to suggest that nurture issues may also be involved. For those who do seek to transit we know that it isn’t really a “100%” success rate – genes in the transiting person remain the same and biologically hormone therapy may help to establish a new gender identity, but cut a little deeper and the person is just the same (i.e. the autopsy of a FTM transgender will reveal ovaries – unless they have been surgically removed and surprisingly a lot of FTM transgender people do not). Ultimately transgender transition is about providing a therapeutic and if necessary surgical framework within which the person who chooses to transit can live a life in coherence with his/her aspirations for personal fulfilment. There is never a medical necessity to transit, neither is there a clear biological indication that such a request for transit will be likely and there is no definitive gene or biological marker which predicts transgenderism. When the transition is made, for some people it will end up being a cause of distress and for others it will be a source of greater personal wellbeing.

Right, and now for sexual orientation change efforts (SOCE).

Many people who self-identify as homosexual / gay are dissatisfied with that and wish to transit to some form of heterosexual functioning. We know that there is a great degree of natural fluidity of sexuality to begin with (and as Lisa Diamond so clearly demonstrates in the link, the notion that these people are all “bisexual” is a scientific nonsense) and so the idea that some people might want to give that natural fluidity a helping hand is not an absurd one.  Of course, as Jones and Yarhouse point out from a longitudinal study, not all participants in SOCE actually see a significant shift in sexual orientation (and this can be seen as a comparison to the way that despite how a MTF transgender person has corrective surgery, their sex chromosomes remain XY). What we do find though (as Jones and Yarhouse did) is that through therapy and self-awareness and decisioning, many men and women establish a new sexual identity away from homosexuality which many of them manage to maintain (even into sexually and emotionally functioning heterosexuality) even with (for some) strong remaining homosexual attractions. Yes, some “ex-gays” do revert to a “gay identity” (my apologies – I couldn’t think of a better expression), but others do not. Others report harm from their SOCE (though as the RPA recognised this week there are no statistically robust measures of this harm and what Jones and Yarhouse looked at this as part of their controlled study using far better measures than Shidlo and Shroeder they found no evidence of harm) but this is exactly the same as post-op transgenders who also report anecdotal harm and distress from transiting.

Right then. Deep breath.

Where does this leave us? We have some people who exhibit distress at the incongruence of their desired gender and their sex (a condition that is still not fully understood but which seems to be a complicated mix of nature and nurture) who find that the way to resolve the distress is to engage in medicinal and surgical intervention, an intervention which doesn’t actually technically change their sex at all but simply provides them with the framework to live their lives in a much more emotionally healthy and belief congruent manner. A portion of these people then go on to label this transition as harmful. This transition is apparently a good thing.

We then have some other people who exhibit distress at the incongruence of their desired sexual behaviour and their sexual orientation and attractions  (a condition that is still not fully understood but which seems to be a complicated mix of nature and nurture) who find that the way to resolve the distress is to engage in therapeutic intervention, an intervention which might not substantially change their sexual orientation at all but provides them with a sexual identity framework within which to live their lives in a much more emotionally healthy and belief congruent manner. A portion of these people then go on to label this transition as harmful. This transition is apparently a bad thing.

Methinks Helmer may have a point.

Before I finish, may I remind readers that I have a cautiously open and positive position towards transgender issues so I am not “having a go” here at transgender motives. Rather, what I’m trying to do is apply the same kind of reasoning to the two issues.

What do we all think?

World Cup - Let's Go!!!

As promised, here’s the World Cup prediction competition!

As last time, you need to log in and then enter a prediction for each match. You get points for getting the result right and extra points for getting the score exactly right. All the details of the game can be found on this page and more features will be added once the tournament is live.

Please put questions and feedback in the comment thread below.

Good luck!

[world-cup-predictor knockout=1]


Prediction Score
Correct Score 10
Correct Victor but Incorrect Score 6
Correct Draw but Incorrect Score 6
Incorrect Prediction but Correct Goal Amount
(i.e. Predict 2-1 and result is 2-3)

As soon as a game is live user predictions will be shown here

[world-cup-predictor scores=-1]

[world-cup-predictor ranking=1 limit=999]

[world-cup-predictor ranking=1 playoff=1]

[world-cup-predictor user=1 show_total=1 show_results=1]


Are we ready?

Lord Enthroned

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