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.