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.