Monday, 18 August 2008

Hello Pharyngulites

For those visitors who have been flocking here from Pharyngula on the ScienceBlogs site complex, welcome!

Some of my more recent posts on Intersex, Transsexuality and Biology are:
BiGender and the Brain, Sex and the Brain, Square Peg, Round Hole, Mommy, Don't Take me There, and Transsexual Causation, the American Psychiatric Association, and Interpol. But you'll find a lot more, going through the archives. Plus "Blue Suede Shoes" in the original Klingon, thoughts on Euler's equation, and a miscellany of subjects. Quite a bit on TS and IS human rights too, or rather, the lack thereof. My experience has certainly been educational.

My own peculiar and ongoing story is described at Year Three and related posts.


Jackie said...

Thanks for the welcome. I'm part of that growing population that is rejecting the rigid, binary male/female roles. I look female, but I'm fairly androgynous. I occasionally blog about LGBT rights, usually a call to action, usually in direct opposition to the AFA. Saying that a man has to be one way and a woman has to be a different way, that's sexual descrimination. We're supposed to be beyond that. The USA has a constitutional ammendments against it. What the hell is the problem?

Daniel said...


I'm Daniel, who linked to your blog over at Pharyngula. Looks like a few folks have been visiting you then! I'm glad you liked the recommendation - I meant every word of it - and no, I don't mind if you quote it. I've lurked around here for ages and it is one of the blogs that I REALLY enjoy reading everytime I come here.

Best Wishes.

Zoe Brain said...

Hi Jackie, and welcome.

I fit in with the binary model, quite comfortably. However, not everyone does, and there's no earthly reason why they should. In fact, there are some very good reasons to show that, just as some can't help fitting, some can't help not fitting. And why should they?

Saying that a man has to be one way and a woman has to be a different way, that's sexual descrimination.

According to Title VII, yes, and in fact as well.

Saying that a man is allowed to be one way, and a woman is allowed to be another way, on the other hand, with no compulsion, is empowering. Because it implies that they don't have to be if they don't want to be.

This has led to some disagreement with Radical Feminism. They make the very valid point that the Patriarchy has used the prescriptive form - men have to be one way, women have to be another way - as a tool of oppression.

They then extend that though to proscribe the gender binary model as inherently oppressive. Their philosophy also oppresses, by insisting that men and women aren't allowed to differ, biological realities notwithstanding.

I don't reject binary male/female roles, neither does anyone who's transsexual. I do however reject with considerable vehemence rigid binary male/female roles. They apply to us, but factually and obviously cannot apply to some Intersexed people. Less obviously, they factually cannot apply to some non-Intersexed people either. So the question of "should" or "should not" is not just one of personal liberty, it's one of rationality vs denial of reality.

You ask what is the problem... my answer is Xenophobia, and Ignorance.

One group sees another engaging in strange and bizarre behaviour, quite contrary to their experience, and espousing the most incredible and dangerous beliefs. Worse, they see them trying to change laws to entrench those strange, bizarre, and harmful beliefs into laws in order to oppress them.

But enough about how the Left sees Fundies.

The thing is, some on the Christian Right see people like you or I in the same light.

We need to talk to one another. To realise the fundamental (or fundamentalist) decency in the majority of both groups, and to reject the Fanaticism that sees all opposition, no matter how slight or polite, not as tragically misguided, but actually Evil.

Zoe Brain said...

Daniel - thanks. That's what my blog is supposed to be for, not a sterile narcissistic exercise in intellectual wankology, but to entertain, amuse, and educate my readers in this whole bizarre, wonderful and Pythonesque universe of ours. I get a fair amount of the same too, from comments. I think I've learnt rather more than I've taught. And been entertained and amused too.

The ego-boo is nice too. Thanks!

val said...

> I don't reject binary male/female roles, neither does anyone who's transsexual.

Does this mean that a willingness to reject such roles disqualifies one as transsexual?

I thought that transsexualism was a medical condition, not a social statement.

Zoe Brain said...

Having one's body surgically altered to match one point in the gender binary can't help but be seen as affirming the gender binary model, regardless of one's political opinions.

But it's more than that. Being a woman or a man is more about methods of thinking than genital configuation. Those don't change, and there really is a bimodal distribution. Two distinct peaks - thereby supporting the binary - but non-zero in the middle, and an incomplete correlation between self-identified gender and gender-typical emotional response. The gender binary is real: a strict gender binary is nonsense.

One must be careful not to be misled by the facade of the social constructions that vary between societies - such as the different roles and behaviours of women in Texas, Tehran, or Timbuktu. Much of what we consider "gendered behaviour" is no such thing, it's merely custom. A 100% social construct.

However, if we find the same pattern true amongst the Inuit, the Patagonians, the Hmong, the Baktiari, the Arunta, the Xhosa, and in cities from Prague to Powhattan, then the pattern is probably not a social construct, but the result of biology. You'll still find members that don't fit the stereotype though. That's because biology may be binary, but it's fuzzy round the edges, and again, a strict binary doesn't exist.

val said...

I question neither the implications of surgery nor the observable consistencies of behavior.

I was suggesting, rather, a possible issue with framing.

Stephen David said...

>> I don't reject binary male/female roles, neither does anyone who's transsexual.

>Does this mean that a willingness to reject such roles disqualifies one as transsexual?

A Transsexual by definition is someone seeking (socially, hormonally an surgically) to place themselves on the other side of a male/female binary.

Even transsexual arts students take hormones and undergo surgery when they can afford it ;)

val said...

Stephen, you seem to be reiterating Zoe without actually adding anything.

As a transsexual "by definition" I am fully aware of the practical implications of that definition.

I am trying to suggest a point regarding how language can used to constrain permissible behavior.

I know many cissexual people who to some degree "reject binary roles." I see no reason why transsexual people may not similarly reject such roles, to within roughly similar degrees.

See Zoe's own response above, to Jackie.

Zoe Brain said...

Hi Val,
I was suggesting, rather, a possible issue with framing.

After giving it some thought, I agree.

There's a number of issues. The primary one is that not everyone agrees that the evidence for biological causation is so convincing. Such people may see transition as being a denial of the binary, rather than an affirmation. Some of these people will have transitioned, and it would be the height of arrogance for me to say "well, no true Scotsman (or the equivalent) would do that".

Others may agree with the biological causality, but see Gender Role as it is defined in our society as being so overwhelmingly a social construct that the biological bit can be safely ignored. They may deny the Gender Binary as the result.

I agree, mostly, but not completely. It might be 70% social construct, it might be 90% social construct, it's certainly mostly social construct, but I don't think the remainder can be "safely" ignored.

That's a matter of political, rather than scientific, opinion.

I'm arrogant, but even my arrogance has limits. To state that someone can't be TS purely on the basis of their beliefs, political or scientific, would make me look like an equine posterior.

Furthermore... I've been going on at great length about "biology is fuzzy" with a "bimodal distribution", but I haven't looked as carefully as I should about the implications of some people being BiGendered.

It means that some people may transition, not because they have to, but because they want to and are able to function adequately in either gender role. For example, some may really do an FtoM transition in order to partake of male privilege. "If you can't beat 'em, join 'em".

The Bailey/Blanchard Autogynaphilia theory is mostly bunk. But if a biological causation is true, as I believe it to be, then there really are some bigendered people born in male bodies who are androphillic.

Some of that small minority really may transition purely in order to have straight sex, as Blanchard maintains. They'd be a minority of all young transitioners, but yes, it's quite conceivable that some may exist. It's even probable that some do.

Whether such bigendered people should be called "male" or not is another matter. It would be as inaccurate as calling bisexuals "straight", or "gay" for that matter.

People who transition, and do so successfully, leading successful female lives, well, how can I deny that they are Transsexual women?

Even though if they are bigendered, their transition subverts the whole concept of a strict gender binary?

val, thanks so much for giving me food for thought with just a few simple suggestions.