Saturday, 26 December 2009

A Dialogue with Ron Gold - Part VII

On 25/12/2009 5:56 PM, Ronald Gold wrote:

Bah Humbug! :) And a happy New Year to you Ron!
As usual, your missive is so cram full of goodies (whatchimicalits and macguffins indeed!) that it's hard to know where to begin. I guess I'll start by saying that you didn't answer my question about the link between bad reaction to body's hormones and ideation about being in the wrong body. And I'm wondering if you didn't answer because the link doesn't exist.

There are 5 different areas we have to look at regarding "gendered behaviour" and biology. There's correlations of various strengths, so sometimes A implies B almost always, but B only implies A some of the time.

1. Sexual Orientation. Androphilia or Gynaphilia - and in various mixes.
2. "Gendered Play" behaviour when young : Dolls or Trucks.
3. Body Map - Innie or Outie.
4. Emotions/Smell/Instincts
5. Cellular Receptors

Some of the things we do know, or think we know based on the sometimes scanty evidence:
Most people with male-appearing bodies are gynaphillic, most people with female-appearing bodies are androphillic.
Most people who "play with dolls" when young have female-appearing bodies. Most who "play with trucks" appear male.
Most people with an "Innie" body map have female-appearing bodies, most with an "outie" body map appear male
etc etc - the standard binary model, in other words.

Now for some of the exceptions:
Most people who "play with dolls" who have male-appearing bodies are androphillic - but the converse is not true. Most with male-appearing bodies who are androphillic played with trucks.

All those we've ever measured who have female emotions/smells/instincts have an "innie" body map: but there are a very, very few who have an "innie" body map and a male-appearing body who otherwise fit the standard binary model. But we need more data here.Those men who want "manginas" don't appear to be fanatical about it, are few in number, and may just have a sexual fetish. We don't know, and until recently, I wasn't even aware they existed.

Most people who have male bodies who are androphillic have an "outie" body map. Gay men outnumber straight trans women by a large margin.

It appears that those with masculine endocrinology but feminine cellular receptors do not always have an "innie" body map"; that they may not have "played with dolls". That they may not be androphillic; but that they always have feminine instincts, smell, etc.

The absolutely classic "True Transsexual" (as the HBS crowd calls them), the "Primary Transsexual" or "Type VI on the Benjamin Scale" woman with "complete psycho-sexual inversion" (to use the phrase from the 1960's) has the following characteristics: androphillic, played with dolls, "innie" body map, female cell receptors, female instincts. Such girls can't successfully keep up the "boy act". They transition or die before age 30, often before age 20.

The "secondary transsexual", "late transitioner" or "Type V on the Benjamin Scale" woman has the following characteristics: female cell receptors, female instincts, and "innie" body map. Those who are otherwise identical but do not have an "innie" body map, or not to the same extent, may be classified as Transsexual, or may not be, depending on who you listen to. I classify them as TS, but this is disputed. Type V TS women more often than not have one or more of the other characteristics of Type VI, but not all of them, or not to the same degree. The peak age of transition is 47, but individuals could be significantly earlier or later. A large number don't fit neatly into either arbitrary category too.

You can see that we have quite a menagerie already, even if these dimensions were binaries, rather than continuous. It's common to have 2 Type V TS women, one who is androphillic and played with trucks, another who is gynephillic and played with dolls. Just as common in fact as having 2 Standard Factory Model women, one who is straight but who was a "Tomboy" when young, the other a classic "lipstick lesbian".

From a neurological viewpoint, what's really interesting are those 46xx people with masculinising CAH - congenital adrenal hyperplasia. Only 1 in 10 identify as male, yet all "play with trucks" and most are at least Bi, if not gynephillic. Compare with the 46xy children who "play with dolls", 1 in 3 of whom identify as women, and the rest are merely Gay. This strongly suggests that "timing is everything" in the womb: that the hormones produced by CAH come too late (usually) to change gender identity, but in time to change some of the other neurology usually associated with the parts that determine gender identity. Different substructures of the brain are involved.

It would be better to compare 46xx children with CAH to 46xx children presenting with "Gender Identity Disorder Not Otherwise Specified" - in other words, non-CAH 46xx children who "play with trucks". Without that, we can't be sure that chromosomes don't play a role, and they may do, we don't know. Unfortunately.. (for the scientist, not for the children) while a "boy" playing with dolls is often seen as a disordered "sissy", so a large proportion become experimental animals, a "girl" playing with trucks is likely to be seen as a cute tomboy, so escapes the tender mercies of the experimenters. Only the more extreme examples, those with an expressed male gender identity, are likely to be studied.

Worse... I'm simplifying. I'm talking about the hypothalamus and lymbic nucleus, the "hind brain" as if it had no effect on the development of the far more plastic higher brain anatomy, as if that were gender-neutral. It's not though: the base of the brain lays out an "easy path" for the rest to follow into either a stereotypically masculine or feminine template. This "easy path" may be cast in concrete, a straightjacket: or it may be distinctly rubbery, and the higher brain functions may not follow the easiest path, as there's another only slightly harder.

Did I say that biology is messy? Fuzzy? Non-binary? Good.

Bottom line: The two, hormonal cross-gendering and body-map cross-gendering are different. One can have one without the other. You usually have both or neither though, and having the wrong body map almost always implies a hormonal problem - though not necessarily the reverse. The hormone doses required may end up being so large as to cause significant, overt somatic changes anyway. This is especially the case with FtoMs.

Those who could, at a pinch, live without surgery if they absolutely had to often get it anyway. Without it, most jurisdictions won't recognise their sex, and they may even face prosecution, up to and including capital punishment. I, for example, could have lived without it, just as I could live with quadraplegia. I would still have needed an orchidectomy and urethral re-plumbing, but the vagina was an "optional extra". I would rather have lost an eye than not had it - but not both eyes. I expected to die a virgin though.
For instance, you didn't have the hormone problem but seem to have had the same miseries. Can I have been right after all, and the doldrums are due to internalizing the sex-role stereotypes and needing to conform?

Oh, I had the hormone problems all right. When my endocrine system switched (for causes still not well understood) from a fair approximation of a male norm to a good approximation of a female norm in late April- early May 2005, the relief was immediate. My intelligence and ability to cope with difficulties expanded spectacularly. Good job, considering what was happening somatically...
Do you recall the things that were going through your mind during these periods? Do you know how close these thoughts were to those of transsexuals during similar depressive states?

Something not well understood given the menagerie of different neurologies is just how boringly stereotyped the feelings are. While there are often minor differences, trans women and trans men are almost cardboard cut-outs in their experiences. The "standard transsexual narrative" as shown in the book "True Selves" and elsewhere is tediously repetitive.

Here's some of the characteristics of the "standard narrative" for women.
1. Always "wanted to be a girl" from an early age.
2. Played with dolls and dressed up
3. Wore women's clothes whenever they could.

I followed none of those -
I didn't "want": to be a girl, boys did all the fun things. I just "was" a girl.
I didn't play with dolls - apart from "action figures" - I played with cars and fighter jets - OK, Lady Penelope's pink Rolls Royce, and I wanted to be Destiny Angel flying an Angel Interceptor, but you get the idea. I didn't want a barbie doll set for Christmas, I wanted a Battlewagon that fired missiles and torpedos.

And I never wore girly clothes. They were for sissies, and I wanted to be a boy! I just didn't want my secret to be found out, so I always stayed away from looking feminine. I actually despised the damsel in distress, why couldn't she go out and rescue the prince once in a while? Yes, I was a Feminist even at age 6, even before I realised that I was female. I didn't realise that until I met other girls, and boys, and compared how I felt emotionally to how they did.

But as regards everything else, my narrative matches those of transitioned women perfectly. Regardless of whether they were "transsexual", or merely intersexed women undoing a surgeon's mutilation of them as infants.

Digression: I always felt sorry for the Dragon. Surely if it was intelligent, some farming arrangement could be come to? Maybe get it to join the defence force for mutual benefit? Get a Lady Dragon, and bring up the kids along with people, so we can all be friends? (Shades of Jane and the Dragon) And if merely bestial or evil, none of this posturing macho BS about single-combat: wait till it's asleep, and hit it with half-tonne boulders from massed trebuchets behind a hill. All that masculine bravado seemed puerile to me. True heroism though... that's really attractive, and incredibly sexy.
Then there's the question of what benefit sex-reassignment surgery offers beyond the psychological satisfaction of getting what you asked for. If the point is to relieve the negative responses to the body's hormones, you'd think removal of the testes would suffice in male to female cases, and the rest of the package would be unnecessary.

That's correct. In cases where the body map is not strongly for an "innie", hormones alone may be enough. Hormones plus an orchie is even better, you need less if there's no need to oppose a masculine endocrine production.

But where the body map dictates there should be an "innie"... forcing a woman to have partly male genitalia would be exactly as bad as castrating gays. Even if she doesn't intend having a sex life. If she does, and has an "innie" body map, then she's likely to suffer some trauma from this. Trust me on that one. How would you like it if you felt that the mating tentacle in your right armpit felt foreign, wrong, that you should have a penis between your legs instead, no matter what other people said?
Have you got a physiological explanation for this, or could it just be that the psychologists and researchers, once again, don't know what they're talking about.Are they actually looking for ways to solve the hormonal problem without surgery?

No, we don't (in general) *know* what we're talking about. We know only a few things beyond reasonable doubt. We know rather more on the substantial balance of probabilities. More still on the balance of probabilities. But far too much is theory backed by evidence, but we can't be sure.

Unfortunately, the competing "theories", often given far more weight for historical, ideological, or religious reasons, are conjectures with nary a scintilla of solid evidence to back them up.
After all, as you point out, the neuroanatormy theory has only been around for five years,

Um, no. It's been around as a conjecture for a long time. As an evidenced hypothesis since around 1960. See for example "A Critical Evaluation of the Ontogeny of Human Sexual Behavior" M.Diamond in The Quarterly Review of Biology, Volume 40, No. 2, June 1965 . As a theory with solid evidence since the late 90's, and the "most probable cause" since the early 2000's. But it's only now becoming widely accepted as the consensus position. Even now, not only are there many health professionals who don't subscribe to it, there are very many non-specialists who have never even heard of it!
but the medics, for quite a while before that, have been willing to perform such surgeries, and ( I continue to thiink) that's because they supported, nay, encouraged, the idea that there's substance to somebody's report that "I've always felt like a man (or woman)," without ever asking, "What the devil does feeling like man (or woman) actually mean?"

Of course they did. Ask, I mean. Tell me, what does it feel like to be 90? For that matter, what did it feel like to be 75? Apart from the external evidence, documentation etc, all of which could be faked, how do you know that you were 75? How did it feel, compared to say, being 51?
Look around you at the men and women you know. Do they all, of the same gender, feel the same? Of course not. You say you're put off by the notion of real men or real women, as I am, then ask yourself, what does it mean to "feel like a woman"? I say one's inner identity is not determined by anatomy, and you say, in effect, that I can say that because my anatomy is congruent. Does that mean your inner identity is determined by anatomy? Bull! At a guess I'd say that our inner identities are pretty similar since we both begin with our feelings about things and try to develop them into concepts, and this has nothing at all to do with anatomy.

I used to feel the same. My logic went like this: I have the same emotions and feelings as my girlfiends. I am male. Therefore there is no difference between men and women. What I didn't do was look at how my feelings differed from that of most men I knew. I did that at an early age, and came to the conclusion that I was a girl not a boy. That was an impossible, terrible, position to be in, one of unending horror. I would have died if that was the case. This conclusion could not be allowed to exist. So I took whatever steps were needed for survival. I appeared rational, normal, sane. And I was, except in this one area. There I was stark staring bonkers. I had to be, or I'd die.

Men amd Women are different, they think differently. The degrees of difference vary widely though, there is considerable overlap. I think only transsexuals and other intersexed people grok this in fullness, both the often non-obvious but deep differences, and the hidden similarities sometimes disguised by social construction.
It doesn't take a rocket scientist to comprehend this.

Hopefully, actually being a Rocket Scientist, as I am (spaceflight avionics), doesn't prevent comprehension though.
My Ali, who has nothing much in formal education, observed to me just the other day that his best friend Mohammed Ali was like me, warm and feelingful, but that his friend's wife Shahana was someone he could identify with, a person of action and superabundant vitality like Ali himself.

Ron - why not ask Shahana? Or any other woman? You've only compared yourself to other men, and haven't even realised that. Try getting invited as a witness to a local ladies sewing-circle, or the equivalent. It was only when I joined the WITChes, the Women In Technology and Communications, that I finally found myself at home, with kindred spirits (my girlfriends tend not to be technically savvy). There really is "secret women's business". We have to conspire, to protect ourselves against the patriarchy, most of whom are completely unaware of their male privilege.
And if you and your mate have decided not to have sex, or just don't feel like it, who am I to tell you what to do. But "the wrong sex for each other?" You know better than that. And didn't you say you were attracted to women when thought to be male?

I was attracted to her, not to women in general. We love each other very much... but there's just no chemistry. When I had a male endocrine system and mostly male anatomy, I could at least please, if not be pleased. She was attracted to my shape, and men did nothing for me. Women do nothing for her.
You're still the same person, aren't you?

No. Yes. It depends what you mean.. *Sigh*. I lost very little of the person I was. But that's only because I was a woman pretending to be a man, not the real deal. And I was nowhere near as good at it as I thought I was. Those who know me well have told me that the most remarkable thing is how little has actually changed. I still have the same vocabulary, mannerisms, body language. But now I no longer look like a rugby player, just a rather amazonesque middle-aged female academic. The other thing they remark on is just how stereotypically female it all seems now, they kick themselves that they didn't see it before. OK, I'm still geeky, tomboyish, but there's a huge difference between tomboy and boy.

What did I lose - well, I have arachnophobia now. Spiders used not to bother me. A few other areas where I feel more vulnerable. I avoid walking home in the dark, not just out of good sense because I no longer look like a hunter, but prey - it's because of instinctive fear. I can no longer keep my emotions inside, as I used to. But now I don't have to.

I still have some male behaviour patterns. Recently, when walking to my car in the dark, keeping to well-lighted paths, I heard some female screams, like someone being attacked. While taking out my mobile phone to dial 000 (the Oz equivalent of 911), I ran - but towards, not away from, taking out a pen and some keys from my handbag, to go for the throat and eyes. I no longer have the upper body strength I used to, so *have* to fight dirty - like a girl. Just because I was terrified doesn't mean I felt I could stand aside.

I had 47 years of trying not just to be a Man, but the kind of Man I would have wanted to marry. The Sir Galahad type, full of maternal instinct to protect. That's one thing I've decided not to discard, "masculine" though it may be. Even though my life is valuable to me now, in a way it wasn't before. I'm no longer seeking something worth dying for.

We make very, very good soldiers. One hypothesis is that that's why so many of us exist - as expendable scouts, brain-bugs and soldier-ants.

What I gained... an enormous amount. I've talked about male privilege, and that is a very real thing, especially in an economic sense. But there's female privilege too. The ability to pick and choose, to have guys who think with the secondary brains between their legs chase after you - and to be able to say no. The ability to manipulate the poor things, they're so transparent at times. But most of all, the sisterhood. The closeness that one finds amongst every group of women, that is only found amongst close-knit military units amongst men. The sisterhood of the harem, even if we're no longer property. The male bonding that happens in bull sessions at the pub is nothing compared to the bond women share, even if they've only just met.While a woman may never be completely accepted in male bonding sessions, if they do something macho like skoal a shot of spirits, to a great extent they're "just one of the boys", in a way that no male will know in the company of women. I used to be an honorary member of the sisterhood - I didn't vibe male - but there was always a distance, a feeling of defensiveness. No longer.

I'm far more me. I no longer have to keep my instincts in check. I can cry - testosterone largely removes that ability, it's something that FtoMs miss. Alan was always a pale, stunted part of Zoe, less than half her full potential, so much psychic energy expended in doing the "boy act" that could have been used elsewhere, to grow, and to nurture. It's only been 4 years, I still am exploring my potential.

There's a societal freedom too. If I see a child crying, I can comfort them, without being suspected of being a predator. OK, so I get talked over, and if I insist, get called a pushy bitch who needs to get laid. I expected to get that - my Girlfriends warned me about it - and gave me some tips on how to get around it, even when I was in the middle of transition. I can wear jeans, or a skirt, depending on how I feel. Earrings, eye makeup... and the fact that I care at all about my appearance is something new. I never did before. I no longer feel as if I'm walking around in a suit of armour., inhabiting a meat mind-support mechanism. My body is part of me now, not a thing apart.

I didn't expect any of the gifts I was given - certainly not to be attractive to men. I had no interest in them. I just wanted the body fixed. That's probably why I'm gushing a bit about it all. Ok, a lot, not a bit.

You do know that the two of us are writing a book here, don't you? Or maybe I just have logghorea.

All the best to you, Ali, Mohammed Ali, Shahana, and everyone else in your ohana.


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


Hazumu Osaragi said...

Brief comment/addenda/concurrent info to this continuing series:

Until I read Zoe's accounts about having avoided female or feminine clothing, I thought I was the only one who did that -- all the other trans women I had met spoke of intense CD'ing prior to the decision to transition. I'll second Zoe's statement that I somehow instinctually knew it to be like crack cocaine. Finally dressing en femme during transition was like being let out of a self-imposed cage.

The military does seem to attract trans folk. Aside from it being a natural outlet for the proto trans male, it's counterintuitive that proto trans women would be attracted. But, they are. Google Colonel Diane Schroer, for starters. As for me, I'm one of four transitioned transwomen from the same 2,000-soldier active-duty command. I personally knew two of the others while on active duty, while we were still 'latent'. And the the other one -- we know so many people in common we wonder how we never crossed paths. "Brain bugs", indeed.

Nichole: I 'borrowed' that wonderful ice-steam-water metaphor from somewhere else, so I won't take credit for inventing it. Please spread it around, though (~v^)

Imogen said...

I don't know how you manage to keep this up. He has made up his mind, he is Elil. What can we do but turn the spears outwards?

He finds your narrative uncomfortably challenging, so he rewrites your life to his prejudices. He accuses you (and us) of collective false consciousness, as women who are raped are commonly accused. After that, he doesn't have to listen to you, he only has to convince the jury.

He accepts the notion of false consciousness because people in lab coats told him so, but he rejects the notion of gender because people in lab coats told him so. He sees no contradiction in this. Selective scientism.

That 30% suicide rate would be around 80% if he got what he wanted. What else do we need to know?

There is a slow-burn Holocaust going on out there which he doesn't care to see. Why should he?

Don't choke on the ashes, dude, you have a lot of shoveling ahead.

Ana said...

Yet another great instalment of this series! A couple of the sections sound familiar enough that I'd like to comment on them.

First, 'feeling like a woman'. I still don't know what that means, I just feel as always, like me. But back in primary school when boys and girls started to be different, I noticed three things. One, I was obviously a boy, as could be clearly seen by looking into my pants. Two, I would much rather have been a girl, at least body-wise -- I'm still not entirely sure how I feel about the rest. And three, none of the other boys showed any indication of wanting to be girls. The conclusion was inescapable: one was not supposed to talk about these cross-gender feelings everyone had. It took me about a third of a century and a couple of published articles in data mining to realise that my original hypothesis, that all boys want to be girls, was based on a heavily biased sample.

Second, sex. One thing that is very hard for cis people -- or some trans people, for that matter -- to realise is that having a wrongly-sexed body plays all manner of hell on one's sexuality. Worse, it doesn't do so in a consistent manner, as sexuality has so much to do with higher cognition that it's possible to develop workarounds for impossible situations. In my case, I've always been enough of a woman inside that there has to be at least one woman in the act: if not me, at least a fantasy that the roles are reversed. From what I've heard, some others feel roughly the same, while others are completely asexual before surgery and yet others change apparent orientation as their physical sex changes, either from gay to straight or the other way. There would be lots of room for sexological research here, if someone wanted to tackle this without too many pre-existing notions of how it 'must' be.

Oh, and now that I read your earlier post on depression and sex, another thought crossed my mind. Perhaps there are underlying biological reasons why shamans in lots of cultures are cross-gendered to some extent?

Lloyd Flack said...


There were two ways in which how you played a male role came across as odd and puzzling. Not false, just odd.

One was how you dressed. Most men have formal/business clothes, utilitarian/work clothes and casual clothes. You were wearing what were basically business clothes nearly all the time. And you were wearing long sleeved shirts and long pants when they were quite inappropriate for the temperature. I never mentioned it to anyone else at the time but I would be surprised if at least some other men who knew you well didn't notice.

The other was the Sir Galahad protector role. This was noticeably exaggerated, mostly in who you would try to help. You would try to help strangers in circumstances where most men would only go out of their way for someone that they knew and to a degree that that most would not. And there was no apparent resentment of much of the male role. In most men there is a repressed rage at many of the expectations paced on them. The price of so-called male privilege is male expendability and at some level this is always resented. You didn't seem to have any resentment of it. You also did not indulge in macho behaviour. You had not swallowed the usual ego bribes that encourage men to accept their responsibility. Exaggerated rescuer behaviour was there without its usual accompaniments. At least one other man spotted a bit of this, though again it wasn't a topic of conversation.

Things fit into place now. The poor body self image behind the clothing choices was well hidden at the time. And I would guess that the fact that the rescuer role was a choice removed the need for an ego bribe and interfered with the formation of resentment. The thing is I think you missed out on the perception of some aspects of the male role as impositions and I think that can get in the way of understanding men. You were making choices where men generally feel they don't have a choice.

Reneta Scian said...

I too was like you Zoe, though I didn't particularly avoid feminine things I also didn't have an overbearing desire... Simply I just knew I was a girl, and totally expected that to change at some point. It was something that I came to accept, though I was quite distressed by it. I nearly incurred a psychological breakdown because of it when I was young, because I created a dual identity for myself.

I wasn't particularly feminine, though I am feminine now I am quite mild. I liked Legos, Encyclopedias, Science and outer space, although I had an affinity for role playing, and cooking (I wanted a play house, with a play kitchen, and an Easy Bake oven back then, but that may or may not be a sign of anything. I just accepted that I was "girl in a boys body" though the analogy was hardly a fitting considering there was significant abuse insuring my conformity.

It was miserable, and I probably shed enough tears to water crops in the deserts. Even now, I wear jeans and t-shirts and the only thing I do regular like is mascara. I cry when I like, I don't hide it, and I liberated myself of gender constructs. I am also a feminist, but I have always been as well. The biggest key to understanding this is to realize while interactively connected gender identity, gender expression and sexual orientation are all separate, and expression is the socially constructed part.

I just want my body to feel right, even if no one ever finds it beautiful. How did I get this way? I just was, when as a child discovering self awareness it just came about naturally through cognition. Essentially, I just knew like as if to breath.