Saturday, 25 January 2014

A Shaky Epistemological Edifice

Some time in the 'eighties, my friend Nick and I explored a deserted grand pile of a building in rural Yorkshire.  It was clearly quite unstable structurally and we had to creep around while the occasional bit of masonry hurtled to the floor all about us.  Somehow we managed to avoid death or injury, unless all this is merely a fantasy of a dying brain in a body crushed beneath an eighteenth century fireplace or staircase.  I imagine it isn't.

This is how I feel about the current state of my epistemology.  In case you don't know, epistemology is the study of knowledge.  You might have noticed that my views on gender are rather peculiar and seem to imply absurdities, and of course when something implies absurdities, it should usually be rejected.  Note that "should" by the way - I'll be coming back to it.

Alternatively, one could just reject reductio ad absurdum .  That's the logical process whereby a proposition is proved to be false by assuming it to be true and attempting to demonstrate that it implies a contradiction.  I am now very close to this with my view of the nature of gender as being an immutable fact about the history of how one has been perceived by others, because that now seems to entail that people who are 100% anatomically and physiologically of one sex and are also cisgender can be of a different gender.  That's at least counter-intuitive and could even be absurd.

So far so coolly logical and philosophical.  For me, the overthinker par excellence, this is more than an abstract philosophical problem though, because I'm afraid to draw an alternative conclusion which says that gender is mutable over time or susceptible to the input of the gendered individual concerned.  In other words, if at any time I decide there's some validity in the idea that someone can change their gender or that it's possible for anyone to change their gender by presenting as a different one, I'm in big trouble because in all this confusion and mess there's that person I love - Liz.  It's also possible that anything I tweak or examine philosophically is going to change this view.  And then what am I supposed to do?  If I decide gender can be changed, doesn't that at least suggest that I should change mine?

My response is now to shrink from examining my life and "overthinking", but that in itself constitutes a problem because in doing so, I am denying another part of my identity - the philosopher.  That would leave me as far from integrity as my former attempt to live in harmony with my gender.  But I'm scared.

This is where "should" comes back.  That "should" back there is not really an ethical word, but simply one which says that it would be logical to reject the absurd statement.  There's another "should", a proper ethical one this time.  Should I just follow logic here, even if logic means I demolish my view of gender and let in the possibility that gender reassignment is conceivable?

Every time I use a pronoun which corresponds with a trans or gender dysphoric person's self-image and desire, I am acutely aware of the shaky ground on which I stand epistemologically.  I acknowledge their belief system in that respect as utterly valid and, well, true, and it feels patronising to think otherwise, no matter how quietly, but the fact is that if I applied that to myself, I'd be letting in the idea that I'm being inconsistent.  The disturbing thing is that when I hear the suggestion that gender reassignment is not only conceivable but possible, it makes me feel hope, and when someone refers to me as "she" it makes me happy, and it shouldn't, even if that view turns out to be the one with all its ducks in a row, because that view could destroy our marriage.

So much for factual truth.  What about the emotional truth?  Well, the emotional truth is that the thought that I might be female makes me happy even if it's impossible or even incoherent, and even that's dangerous.  So all I can think of doing about this is to stop thinking about it, but that just leaves us in a shaky epistemologu like the house Nick and I visited back in the day, or for that matter 118 Fosse Road South come to think of it.

It is at least clear that the fundamental problem is between me and Liz and nowhere else.

Don't know what to do, basically.

Thursday, 23 January 2014

Externalist Child, Internalist Father

I described my externalist view of gender in the last entry.  To summarise, my view of gender is that it's an external fact which cannot be altered, like date of birth.  This leads me to the rather absurd conclusion that a man can in theory have a fully functional female reproductive system unless he's a gender dysphoric female-assigned person.  If old age is the accumulation of health problems and pure old age doesn't exist, the resolution of health problems is a limited form of rejuvenation, but it doesn't alter date of birth.  So that's my position:  I cannot change gender any more than I can change my date of birth, although it's possible to adopt a different calendar.

This is similar to mathematical Platonism, and there are other examples of this out there in the world, as it were.  Mathematical Platonism is the view that mathematics is discovered rather than invented.  This view is also reflected in my belief that there are no inventions, only discoveries - inventions exist "out there" in an "invention space" and are found rather like Columbus would've found America if there hadn't been people living there already.  Then again, maybe America was discovered by the first person who realised it was a set of landmasses.

So that's all fine, or rather not fine but rather a downer, as it makes gender identity disorder a manageable rather than a curable condition.  Clearly it's not a very life-affirming view.  Then again, my view of my gender dysphoria is that being biologically male constitutes a health problem for me rather than me looking at myself as a person of one gender trapped in the body of another.

Well, it turns out that whereas I'm mathematically Platonist, my father's not.  He believes maths is invented.  A similar view to that would be an internalist view of gender - that your gender is something you invent and therefore may conceivably have control over.  Therefore, if my father's view of gender is similar to his view of the nature of mathematics, rather oddly, he could consistently believe that people can change gender but I can't believe that consistently.  This raises another issue about subjective experience of one's own gender, i.e. the emotional and therefore perhaps more authentic experience of it.

Saturday, 18 January 2014

A Clarification

I came on here today to post something about my view of the nature of gender as a concept, which seems to be different than many other people's and leads to confusion, and there was an interesting comment from someone about this.  I want to clarify my position as a result, but I'll start by addressing the issue I initially planned to do.

I'm externalist about gender identity.  What I mean by that is that I see gender as independent of both biology and subjectivity.  This is the illustration I've thought of, and it's a bit circular, so I apologise for that, but this is how it works.

First, a non-gender based example.  It's currently 2014.  Suppose someone born in 1914 were to receive some kind of medical treatment which restored them perfectly to the state their body was in when they were in 1934.  All the health problems and disabilities they have acquired in their century of life are resolved.  They would then be a centenarian with the body of a twenty year old.  They would not be someone born in 1994.  Nothing at all could ever make them literally twenty years old again, unless we're talking about something like time travel or moving close to the speed of light.  Nonetheless, there are such things as facelifts and other more internal therapies which can resolve health problems and make someone "younger".  Those quotes can never be removed by medicine or surgery though.

Now transfer this over to gender with another thought experiment.  Someone gives birth to a child, becoming that child's mother.  That is literally who they are and it's not an alterable title in any meaningful sense.  They later have gender reassignment.  Not the kind that actually exists but a more profound form which gives them male fertility, testicles, a penis and the ability to be physically indistinguishable from a cisgender man down to a chromosomal level, including the absence of Barr bodies, the presence of a single Y chromosome and a single X chromosome in every diploid cell in their body, and so on, with normal androgen receptors and the like.  That person is still the child's mother and not the father because of the history of their relationship and not their biology.  Even after both mother and child have died, that person is still the child's mother, even if both bodies no longer exist in any way.

That is what gender is like.  I might be referred to as Amanda nowadays, people call me "she" and so on, and in theory I could have my genitals modified to create a vagina and labia and remove the testes, but that wouldn't make me female any more than perfect rejuvenation would change my date of birth.  Even after I'm dead and my body has completely vanished, I will be male.  Even if I had a fully functional female reproductive system and bore a child, I would be male.

However, there is a problem with this view because not only is it potentially depressing to me, but also it's a mental health hazard to others.  It's a strongly expressed rejection of the idea that gender is a mutable psychological phenomenon which is unhelpful to gender dysphoric people, and that is quite interesting because it juxtaposes the personal and the political in a particularly poignant way.  From the viewpoint of the phenomenal field, that doesn't help.

Now to address the comment properly (sorry, I can't remember your name):  of course I look male, which is what can be expected considering that I am!  However, that's not how I see my situation.  I am not transitioning, and I cannot transition, because that reflects epistemological confusion and is an incoherent desire which is not so much impossible as nonsensical.  Having said that, there are things I can do to address my predicament.  For instance, I can change my bank stationery so that they don't remind me of the fact that I'm male and therefore insult me every time I see them by having a boy's name on them.  Right now, from a subjective perspective when I look at, for example, my library card and see "Mr" on it, it might as well have a four-letter word on it.  If your name was a swear word, I think you might want to change it, and in fact people often do.  As far as I know, there are no Hitlers in German-speaking countries nowadays for obvious reasons.  In order to dodge reductio ad Hitleram here, I'd better think of another example, a mild one perhaps.  If your name was "Bastard", you might want to change it.

From a physical perspective, the situation is slightly different.  It's more like an endocrine problem which leads to mental health issues for me than  anything else.  If I had an underactive thyroid, that might make me depressed, not just due to awareness that I was unwell but because the low thyroxin  would have that effect on my mood.  The second point is more significant.  Similarly, for some reason I don't understand, the former levels of androgens and oestrogens in my body, which were probably typical for a man in his forties, seem to have cause mental health issues for me, for instance depression, anxiety, a phobia, a couple of paraphilias, obsessive tendencies and so on.  Those are the issues I'm trying to address and the fact that I am also distressed by the fact that my body was hairy and muscular and had a penis and testicles is a side issue.  It's less of a side issue that there are organs in my body which secrete the very hormones which make me ill.  Someone with Addison's disease, myxoedema or diabetes will probably always have those conditions, but all of them can be managed, but not resolved, by appropriate medication.  That's my situation as I understand it.  I can't explain why it is, but it really does seem to be the way things are.  No idea why.

Regarding dress, all I'm doing really is wearing clothes I like and feel comfortable in without regard to what strikes me as a bizarre and arbitrary categorisation into clothing appropriate for particular configurations of genitalia.  I'm fully aware that I look extremely masculine but that's beside the point.  My brother has a birthmark on his shin.

Wednesday, 15 January 2014

"Do One, Get Away From Me!"

The words of a guy standing in a doorway next to St Margaret's bus station earlier this evening, uttered rather nervously while looking at my chest.  He'd said something just before but my earphones had blocked that out, which is of course one reason for wearing them so frequently while I'm out (ha ha).

This kind of incident is actually a rarity.  I live an oddly charmed life with virtually no obvious transphobia in it, at least active transphobia, so the question arises of why this happened today.  I wasn't feeling at all underconfident, my body language wouldn't have been radiating "kick me" like it did this time last year (incidentally that literally happened once - I walked past a house and a stranger really did come out and kick me at random - this is what my world used to be like), so I'm just going to have to put it down to his problem.

It didn't bother me but it did interest me.  I have several takes on it.  First of all, he clearly wasn't expecting me to go back and talk to him, whatever it was he said in the first place.  It's a shame I missed that, as context would've been enlightening I suspect, and I suspect I also ended up being interpreted as showing bravado when in fact I was just innocently trying to be helpful - maybe he wanted a light or directions or something, was what I was thinking.  Clearly that was rather unlikely unless he was shocked by my appearance after having asked something along those lines.

It was disgust combined with fear, I think, with a soupcon of aggression.  That fear - it's tempting to suspect that he was closet GID, but I'm not going with that because it's rather facile.  That kind of statement is not falsifiable, so I'm just going to drop that.  However, maybe I'm a flying squirrel.  Allegedly there is a culture somewhere which regards flying squirrels as disgusting because they don't fit into their categories of, presumably bird or mammal, whereas presumably bats and flightless birds do, maybe.  There is said to be a theory of disgust that that which cannot be categorised easily is seen as disgusting, and to be honest I would concur with that.

Back in the day before I upended my mental desk tidy with hormonal gloop, I used to find cake disgusting for that very reason.  I had a "sweets" pigeonhole and a "bread" pigeonhole, and since cake fits into neither, I found it disgusting.  I'm sure not everyone in possession of prodigious Y chromosomes who sozzles their mind with the "wrong" steroid hormones gets this kind of tipping out effect, but it's interesting that it's happened to me and that therefore I no longer find cake disgusting, and also that he found me disgusting because I don't fit into any neat little category.  I'm in the gender uncanny valley and my appearance disgusts some people, but I'm at peace with that.  I never expected to look any better than a car crash to most people anyway - I went into that with my eyes open and I don't care, partly because I know that I was the happier and more fulfilled person in that exchange by far.  Also, when I look in the mirror I no longer want to throw up in revulsion and to myself I look a whole lot more normal than I did in the tracksuit phase (1999-2013), the leggings and T-shirts phase (1991-1999) or the jumpers and jeans phase (1983-1991), and that confidence in my appearance, regardless of how many other people may want to lose their lunch on looking at me, carries me through.

Tomorrow will hold a GP appointment, and the day after will see me complete the deed poll, after which I will officially be called Amanda Esther McIntyre Ure.