Wednesday 23 December 2009

A Dialogue with Ron Gold - Part VI

A further reply to other issues in Part V:

On 22/12/2009 7:09 PM, Ronald Gold wrote:
First I'd like to get the "born that way" thing out of the way for the time being (one of my attachments more or less deals with that, so if you read it, we'll have more to talk about anon.) I'm not persuaded that the documentation you referred me to proves that even some people are born gay or straight -- even if I was sure that the methodology of the studies was all kosher and the sample adequate. And I think that, born that way or not, people who define themselves as gay or bisexual have made a moral choice not to deny or repress their homosexual impulses the way most people do.

You assume that "most people" have homosexual impulses. I'm not sure that most men do.

Now we have to look at validity of the trinary sexual orientation model - that people are either homo-, hetero- or bi-sexual, with sharp distinctions between the three.

To say that this is a can of worms understates the matter. Let's just say that the evidence is that some people really and truly are exclusively heterosexual, and have never had the slightest of "homosexual impulses". And that some people really and truly are exclusively homosexual, and have never had the slightest of "homosexual impulses". What all the arguments are about though is where the border lies, how big these groups are, and what exactly is a significant "heterosexual" or "homosexual impulse".

My view is that the trinary model is a better approximation than a binary one, (ie one excluding bisexuality). Better - but not perfect. I can't say whether the "exclusives", those with one set of "impulses" and not the other is 10% of the population, 50%, or whether for men it's 80% and women 30%. I can't say whether the 7-stage Kinsey scale is a great improvement over the trinary model either, as that deals with easy-to-measure experiences rather than "impulses" as such.

The matter is too politicised. "Exclusives" exist, but that's all I can say. Anything else is at best informed guesswork, at worst speculation. So I'll speculate, and say that to me, from the contradictory evidence before me, about 50% of men and 30% of women are exclusively hetero- or homo- sexual, and that for the rest, the "impulses" vary from sporadic, once-in-a-lifetime "bi-curious" to the truly polyamorous. But I could be wrong in these figures, though not the principles.
At last, to begin. And not where I thought I'd start but with your comment that transsexuaality is like intersex. Well, from what we've discussed, it is intersex, since one part of the anatomy (the neuroanatomy in the brain) may be typically male while another part (the body) may be typically female.

Exactly. Though not all of the brain may be affected, it only has to be certain parts. And a large number of transsexual people have sub-clinical or even clinical signs of intersex in the rest of the body too.
You seem to think, and I'm not at all clear why, that the brain part is what makes somebody a real man or woman and to insist, as I think you've conceded, that one must decide one is, or must choose to be, one or the other.

I dislike the terms : "real" man : "real" woman. They're not just almost meaning-free, they're demeaning. Here again, we're talking about a binary model, one that insists that "men are real men" and "women are real women", and anyone who identifies with neither is lying and perverted.

One of the areas I've done some advocacy on is for Intersexed people. Most of whom identify as men, or women, not both and not neither. But please notice I say "most". A significant proportion identify as androgenous, something of both; or neutrois, nothing of either; or not-men, ie not particularly female, but not male at all, or not-women, not particularly male, but not female at all. An adequate model - not perfect, but good enough for most purposes - is to say that there are the following sexes: Male, Female, Not-Male, Not-Female, Androgenous, and Neutrois.

Now those who are born with overt, visible Intersex conditions have an excellent case for their expressed view of their sex to be accepted. While some groups, notably the conservative branches of the Abrahamic Religions,and US legal codes at both state and federal level, insist on a strict binary model, even Judaism and Islam allow for 4 sexes. In Judaism, it's male, female, tumtum and androgenous (a Greek loan word). In Islam, it's male, female, khunsa and mattani. Tumtum/khunsa are Intersexed, but considered "real men" or "real women" depending on who they most resemble. But even then, thare's arguments about what does "most resemble" mean. The more humane interpretation, ones common in mainstream Islam and medieval Catholicism, is "what the individual tells us they are".

See for example my contribution to the New Straits Times of Malaysia, where I argue that a transsexual woman is actually khunsa, not mattani.

Androgenous/mattani means "effeminate men", a group anathema to Patriarchal religion. Butch women are acceptable. Yes, this is Crazy. Yes, this in oppressive, and inhuman, and wrong. But these are conservative Patriarchal religions, and logic and justice and decency and treatment of women as equals are not things they're famous for, are they?

Good reading material on the diversity of sex - and "gender identity" which would be more properly described as "sex identity" - meaning "the feeling that one is either male or female" - can be found in "Sexing the Body: Gender Politics and the Construction of Sexuality" by Anne Fausto-Stirling

A really good set of powerpoint presentations that are available online, are at Dr Veronica Drantz's site.

She's a biologist, but her presentations contain much of the data I've seen given to both Psychology and Medical students at the ANU. I unreservedly recommend them as an introduction to the subject, for the well-educated and intelligent layperson such as yourself.

Bottom Line:
I fight equally strongly for the right of those intersexed people who don't identify as either male or female to so identify, as I do for those who identify as male, or as female. And fight I have to, against the arrogance and ignorance of those not Intersexed, who insist that "men are men and women are women" on the conservative side, or "gender is all a social construct, and we should do nothing to affirm the myth of the gender binary" on the other. Opposite positions, but both telling Intersex people what they should do from their position of privilege, and that their ideology trumps others experience.

Where I get into trouble is that I'm coming around to the idea that being Intersexed or not is irrelevant. That I can't logically distinguish between those apparently somatically usual, and those who are not when it comes to this issue. I conjecture that the neurology of some of the "transgendered" must be atypical, but no-one's ever done any studies. This has made me as popular as a pork chop in a synagogue amongst some groups who otherwise would applaud me. "Traitor" is one of the kinder labels that have been tossed my way, for giving aid and comfort to the "Tee Gee", the transgendered men (the majority of whom have a harmless sexual fetish) who outnumber the transsexual women who they resemble.

I can see their point. See Newsweek and Governor Pawlenty on the subject:
To borrow a phrase, have your views evolved over time?
In 1993 I voted for a bill prohibiting discrimination based on sexual orientation in public accommodation, housing, and employment. That was 16 years ago.

Yes, gay-rights activists regarded you as a pretty cool guy at the time.
We overbaked that statute, for a couple of reasons. If I had to do it over again I would have changed some things.

That statute is not worded the way it should be. I said I regretted the vote later because it included things like cross-dressing, and a variety of other people involved in behaviors that weren't based on sexual orientation, just a preference for the way they dressed and behaved. So it was overly broad. So if you are a third-grade teacher and you are a man and you show up on Monday as Mr. Johnson and you show up on Tuesday as Mrs. Johnson, that is a little confusing to the kids. So I don't like that.

Has the law been changed?
No. It should be, though.

So you want to protect kids against cross-dressing elementary-school teachers. Do you have any in Minnesota?
Probably. We've had a few instances, not exactly like that, but similar.

"Similar" meaning transsexual women who just want to continue teaching. Gay-friendly he certainly is, trans-friendly, not so much. And I'm supporting the "cross dressers" who both the Governor and many transsexual women find extremely icky. And whose existence causes trans women to quite literally starve to death, or freeze to death, as the result.
Jennifer Gale, one of Austin’s most colorful characters and perennial political candidates, has been found dead in Central Austin, authorities said today.

Gale, who was homeless and was a candidate in the upcoming mayoral race, was found sleeping outside the First English Lutheran Church at 3001 Whitis Avenue by a worker about 6 a.m. today, Fire Department spokeswoman Michelle DeCrane said.

The worker returned about an hour later, thought Gale might be in distress, and called 911, DeCrane said.

Austin firefighters at a nearby station responded and began performing CPR, DeCrane said.

Gale routinely attended Austin City Council meetings, county commissioners court and school board meeting, often presenting her political arguments in song. On Tuesday, she sang “Silent Night” at a city health and human services subcommittee meeting.

Temperatures that night, and for the previous few nights, had been near or below freezing. But she was ineligible for accomodation in a homeless shelter because she was trans. The autopsy showed she died of heart failure caused by a combination of high blood pressure and hypothermia. She died one year ago Thursday.

My take on the subject, written at the time.

Now I better explain a bit about some of the jargon I use - "jargon" meaning "technical terms of some exactitude used in a specialised area", rather than "neologisms designed to confuse the unitiated".

Sex is a bimodal continuous multidimensional concept, rather than a binary.

What do I mean by that? Suppose we have a binary model of objects in a sack. All objects are either bopamagilvies or macguffins. Bopamagilvies are large, cubical, rigid and blue. Macguffins are small, spherical, squishy and red.

When we look at the objects, we find that there are two distinct groups: bopamagilvies and macguffins. But few of the bopamagilvies are completely blue, some are a bit purplish. Some have rounded edges. A few aren't very rigid. And some are more medium-sized than large. As for the macguffins, they're all over the shop when it comes to shape. Spheroids, octahedrons, dodecahedrons with rounded edges or sharp ones, but usually rather squishy, and ranging from vermillion to scarlet, and on to pink. Some are tiny, but some are almost largish.

And some of the objects resist easy classification. There are cubes that are soft, a definite purple, and rather small - but extremely cubical, more so than most bopamagilvies in fact. And bright blue perfect spheres, hard as diamond, but really, really small, tiny in fact, more so than most macguffins. And then there's the large, hard cube that's a bright yellow....

But dump out the contents of the sack, and from a distance, it's obvious to the casual observer that there are two distinct populations, macguffins and bopamagilvies. Only a few exceptions, the minor differences and anomalies aren't visible from more than 40 meters away. A binary model works.

OK, that's a 4-dimensional situation: we have shape, colour, texture and size. And all those dimensions are not black-and-white, quantised to either one thing or another, but continuous. Finally, from a distance, it's obvious that there are two distinct populations, hence bimodal.

Sex is like that.

To stretch the analogy to breaking point.... two philosophers are arguing about how to tell a bopamagilvy from a macguffin. One insists that you have to take into account all 4 dimensions. Another says that size, and only size, is important. Then along comes a blind interventionist with very fixed ideas. He examines each object, feeling the shape and either uses a rotary sander or a knife, to get rid of the ambiguities. Those are the only tools he has. So he looks at an object, thinks its more round than cubical, and uses a sander on it to remove the facets. Even if it's blue. He ignores the screams.

Oh I forgot to mention - these objects are alive. And if you ask them, they'll tell you whether they're bopamagilvies or macguffins. All the blue objects say they're bopamagilvies, all the red ones say they're macguffins. The yellow one sniffs and tells you that they're neither, the purple ones sometimes say "Macguffin", other times "Bopamagilvy", mostly depending on their texture, but sometimes depending on their size.

Just before the analogy snaps... some of the very, very reddest and very, very bluest objects are deeply unhappy. They're the ones whose shapes don't match their colour. They beg and plead for the blind interventionist to "fix their problem", even if he can do nothing about their texture, and can only make them smaller, not larger.
The point I was making in my original piece -- and might make even more forcefully now that I've thought more about it --- is that it's not necessary to choose; that anatomy is not what determines our inner idendities or allows us to love and care for one another.

For you it isn't. You are cis-gendered, body and brain match. Not everyone is so fortunate. Some are so deeply miserable, they're incapable of loving and caring for themselves, even if they can manage it for others in fits and starts.
Here's a specialist psychologist on the subject:
Secondly, “Dysphoria,” defined by Marriam-Webster’s Collegiate dictionary as “a state of feeling unwell or unhappy,” or in the American College Dictionary as “a state of dissatisfaction, anxiety, restlessness, or fidgeting” is simply too soft a word to describe the angst most clinicians see on intake with this population. At best it may be an apt descriptor for individuals who, despite strong evidence to the contrary, are making an extraordinary effort to convince themselves that they are sex/gender congruent. These individuals make life decisions such as getting married and having children not only because they may find it appealing to have a spouse and have children but with the added hope that this activity will ease or erase their obsessive cross gender thoughts. Although there may be instances where these special efforts succeed, (i.e. the incongruity is mild) the more likely outcome is a realization they have actually made matters worse. Typically, at time of presentation these individuals report that either their lives are in ruin, or they are very afraid that if their gender variant condition was to become known they would loose all that they cherish and be ostracized from family, friends and the ability to support themselves. High anxiety and deep depression with concurrent suicide ideation is common. One of the most extreme cases I have treated was that of a 50 year old genetic male, married and the father of 3 grown children with an international reputation as a scientist who reported to me that the reason he finally sought out treatment for his gender issues was because the number of times he found himself curled up in the corner of his office in the fetal position muffling his cry was increasing. That is not dysphoria, that is pure misery.

Been there, done that. Not more than once every few months though, I was still functional enough not to transition. It's when it happens every week, then every day, then every few hours that functioning in society becomes impossible. I wasn't nearly at that stage. I just hoped I'd die soon, before I got there.

It's not that one is unhappy: for that's a constant. It's when you can't actually function that it's "transition or die".
Your own situation, in which you declare yourself to be a straight woman, but are living in a mated relationship with another woman, should certainly illustrate my point.

Too bad we don't have the physical affection that is the sine qua non of most marriages. We're the wrong sex for each other.
Okay, so the problem for transsexuals is that they can't comfortably process the hormones their body is producing due to what their brains are telling them, and the only solution for that is what I've called mutilation and you call body reassignment or whatever. Even if I believed, as you do, that this was the only lifesaving procedure available, I would have enormous qualms about it, since it is not only irreversible, but does not turn people into the fully functional men or women of their dreams, only into "transsexuals". And yes, I'm of the opinion that anyone who thinks otherwise is "deluded."

Anyone who thinks it will turn them into a "fully functional man or woman of their dreams" won't be permitted to have surgery. In order to qualify, one must convince the gatekeepers that one knows of the drawbacks, the risks, that one has researched the various surgeons records and their different techniques, that one knows that it's irreversible, and results in sterility, that one may never have any sensation, that one may never walk again.... and despite all that, are willing, even desperate, to have the procedure. That one is giving full and informed consent.

Yet oddly enough, one can get an orchidectomy - the removal of the testes - almost on demand. It's the removal of the penis that is seen by the (male) doctors as not just the important thing, but the *only* thing. Even though it isn't actually removed as such. The tissues are re-shaped, nothing apart from the testes and erectile tissue is wasted.

This to me is totally bizarre. I never had much in that area, but I valued my testes highly. They were the only chance I had for children. As soon as the medics told me that due to my condition, they were "soft, shrunken" and permanently out of commission, the main pillar that prevented me from transitioning was removed. I was rather glad that the rest was now mainly internal, it never felt right, but the testes were a different matter, even if they didn't feel right either. Once they ceased functioning, no point in having them.

My observations of men indicate that they don't feel this way.

Girls tend to treat the matter with a little less seriousness.

A few questions: I'm not at all clear how the hormonal problem translates itself into the feeling of being trapped in the wrong body. Does everybody with such a problem automatically feel that way and translate that into some sort of ideational form? It doesn't seem very likely to me.

Not everyone with a cross-sexed "gender identity" has a cross-sexed body map. I must emphasise that biology is messy, fuzzy, and there are degrees. My own case was relatively mild. How do I know? Because anyone who has it intensely has either transitioned or died before age 30.
One person we studied had untreated male gender dysphoria (S7), took no hormones and kept his transsexual feelings under wraps. He appeared to have a large INAH3 volume - in the male range - but a female INAH3 number of neurons (68) and a female BSTc somatostatin neuron number (95). Hence, this individual's hypothalamic characteristics were mid-way between male and female values

- Sexual differentiation of the human brain in relation to gender identity and sexual orientation D.Swaab & A.Garcia-Fulgaras Functional Neurology, Jan-Mar 2009:

Also, it's my impression that hormone therapy is seen by its recipients as a means to achieve the bodies they want, not to serve as counterbalance to the hormones they can't handle.You say that in mild cases, or words to that effect, hormone treatments work and there's no need for surgery. First off, the idea of a mild case seems to conflict with your statement (or at least I think that's what you said) that everybody who's trasnssexual has the same brain vs. body physical makeup. And what happens when the hormones work? Do people get rid of the idea that they're in the wrong bodies, or is just that the hormones have changed their bodies suffiiently to suit them?

Oh, they still feel like the body is wrong in many areas. But not enough to be more than just an embuggerance. It varies.

Many try to keep the dosage to as mild a level as possible (and are encouraged to do so by the medics). They value their ability to have sex, they value their marriage, they value their job and their friendships. All of which would be imperilled if their bodies started changing.

Others require the body changes. Many never intend ever having sex, so the genitalia may not be important, especially if it's atrophied. But the feeling of the body, the skin smoothness, the differences in the way the body moves with the changes to the cartilage, having boobs when you wake up... that can induce positive euphoria, to not have to fight one's instincts.

Once I had a taste of this through natural change, the traditional feral equines would not have been an impediment to me.

Again, we all have to beware of universaling our own experiences. I can't speak for anyone else, I rely on their accounts to me.

My legion of detractors on the blog made it abundantly clear that they felt I had totally mischaracterized their experience, but I was left with a very unclear impression of what that experience actually is beyond the persistent feeling that you're in the wrong body, which I'd had no trouble acknowledging in the first place. No one agreed with my guess about how they got that feeling, and I'm perfectly prepared to abandon that theory if it doesn't apply. Everybody's right, I don't know enough transsexuals.

Well, although *technically* I'm not TS... close enough. Perhaps I can recommend a few who would be amenable to conversing with you about their own experience.
Maybe you can refer me to a memoir that might provide me with another developmental scenario. I note that you were among the very few commenters who offerred an alternative explanaation of how they got that way. And by the way, if I could remember the name of what I read, I'd challenge you to come up with a different interpretation thsn minr of Jan Morris's declared reasons for desiring a sex change.

I haven't read her book... sorry. I'll try to pick up a copy.
No doubt I should have known about the neuroanatomy theory, but, as you yourself point out, it wasn't too long ago that nobody else knew about it either.

*Exactly* . I can't blame you - 5 years ago, I had zero knowledge in this area. I had many misconceptions - different from yours, but just as erroneous. And even more about Gays.
I do challenge you to go back to the literature on the subject from the days of Christine Jorgensen and see if the reasons trans people gave for their decisions doesn't sound like sex-role stereotyping to you.

I decline, as no doubt you're correct. Had I transitioned back then, I would have done the same. You must remember that I'm a very conservative person, who under other circumstances could have been a good member of the BDM, or the Komsomolsk, or the Concerned Women of America. I fit the gender binary model really well, so thought others had to as well. Until I did some research. Reality didn't so much hit me, as gave me a good beating with a clue bat. Now some people are impervious to that. As a Scientist, and as a Safety-Critical Engineer, I can't be.
Does this mean that I'd write the same thing the same way now. Almost certainly not. What would I write now? I'm not at all sure I'd write anything, but if I did I don't know what it would be. I welcome your help as I think about it.

A joint article? Ron, this is what we're doing now, in this series of posts. I've already had suggestions that it be included in a "best of" collection. Your honesty is obvious, and you are held in high esteem by many. Me too, now I've come to know you. I hope that in 2049 I still have your intellectual flexibility, and integrity. Maybe a tadge more diplomacy... but if not, that's no great fault.


Posts in this series:
Part VII
Part V
Part IV
Part III
Part II
Part I


Hazumu Osaragi said...

Greetings and "welcome back", Mr. Gold;

After the brief hiatus, I find this dialogue even better. You ask some wonderful questions, and give Zoe-the-Rocket-Scientist a chance to illuminate the messy, rich, inconvenient, beautiful details of humanality. We are studying ice and steam here, trying to learn ALL there is to know about water.

Zoe made a good point about the variety of experience and the urge/impulse of individuals to universalize their personal experiences. I'll volunteer the details of my personal history (Zoe can be the introducer and, I believe, has my personal e-mail,) though I might not be as entertaining or intellectually stimulating as her.

I look forward to your further questions/comments;

"Hazumu Osaragi"

Nikola Kovacs said...

This is a fascinating discussion. Thanks so much Zoe and Mr. Gold. I am learning more and more all the time about things I probably should know about already. And Hazumu, that ice, steam and water saying - fabulous!

Zoe, my life story is partly published on a forum we both frequent, I've actually written way more than what appears there at present, and it naturally gets way more involved and talks more about my confusion the older I get. I've completely finished everything up to the point where I begin transition would make that available to Mr. Gold if you feel he might benefit from it.

Please contact me via that forum if you think this would interest him.

Jessica said...

Thanks for the reasoned responses to Mr. Gold. You've been doing an amazing job keeping up with him.

And @Mr. Gold, (if he reads the comments), I would like to say that I appreciate your honesty and willingness to learn.

Anonymous said...

Ron Gold:
| Maybe you can refer me to a memoir that might provide me
| with another developmental scenario. ...
| No doubt I should have known about the neuroanatomy theory, but,
| as you yourself point out, it wasn't too long ago that nobody
| else knew about it either.
| I do challenge you to go back to the literature on the subject
| from the days of Christine Jorgensen and see if the reasons
| trans people gave for their decisions doesn't sound like
| sex-role stereotyping to you.

"The days of Christine Jorgensen" covers quite a period but Harry Benjamin's 1966 book, 'The Transsexual Phenomenon', which covers a great many cases, including Christine's, and has a chapter showing how the phenomenon is found cultures, worldwide, that have very different sex-role stereotypes, answers that. It is online.

Yes, people often had their own inadequate explanations, and sometimes made a lot of silly noise about them, but what else should you expect when supposed experts were not only doing the same but often actively suppressing evidence, and the techniques were not yet discovered to investigate properly. That doesn't justify condemning all the sufferers.

Benjamin, who was a pioneering endocrinologist, and a scientist, was sure that it would be found to be genetically inborn, affecting the brain and the natural hormones.

He was first alerted that the previous assumption - that it was always down to a sexual fetish, then termed transvestism - was wrong when, in 1948, Kinsey referred to him a child who had been asking to be a girl from the earliest days - as witnessed by the mother. Infants don't have fetishes, which were theorised to emerge with sexual maturation after puberty. He realised that there must be a different cause in most such cases, of any age, and set about documenting it, and figuring out how to help them.

I was a similar child, who asked my mother for help at about 30 months, in 1950. And I recall why: at a family wedding reception I had realized that having a body like any of the men there horrified me, but I could easily accept being like any of the women. I then figured that all those differences were aspects of growth and that maybe doctors had a way to switch someone to grow one way instead of the other, if they started early enough. It mattered so much, if horrified me so much, that I risked everything asking my mother to ask the doctors she knew.

It was size, strength, voice, hairiness, smell. Physical facts;
no stereotypes at all. But from that point on I consciously identified with females and rejected, whenever allowed, anything male, so others might have thought stereotypes motivated me.

Obviously, at that age, at that time, I had not learned it from anyone.

It didn't come out of the blue for my mother because I hadn't been showing any indications of boyishness, instead being totally happy helping her around the house. In Thailand, where religion provides reasons to tolerate female behavior in "boys", so it is rarely suppressed, studies say that happiness helping with "women's work" is usually the first sign families notice.

As I grew (without the intervention I desired), it became obvious, from "convenient" signs, such as my body proportions and my voice not breaking, that the condition is physical.

Just as Benjamin did not publish about his several child cases, no cases like mine were reported upon until the 1990s, because it was thought too shocking in our prejudiced society. Now there are frank television documentaries reaching tens of millions, but ignorance of such evidence has not been excusable in anyone claiming interest for more than a decade now.