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Attack of the Lycanthropic Transsexuals!

Every once and awhile I find myself with enough time to clear the baffles, as it were, and address a silly argument that really needs answering but I’ve been too busy with pressing stuff to get to. This is one of those arguments. About six months ago, a Christian blogger on the Triablogue network (a Calvinist creationist inerrantist by the name of Steve) reacted in horror that I would think noted transsexual Lana Wachowski was “super cute” (see Lana Wachowski Is Awesome). In fact, of course, I said she was “funny, smart, eloquent, and super cute,” but when you’re a repressed sex-obsessed Christian the only thing I guess you would notice me saying about her is that she’s physically attractive (even though those other three attributes I also find sexually attractive in women, and supercuteness is a property of personality as well as appearance, but maybe all that’s a little too advanced for a creationist, way beyond first unit in sexuality 101).

Image from comedy comic How to Fight a WerewolfThis, plus another remark by noted atheist Jeff Lowder (a founder of the Internet Infidels and frequent blogger at the Secular Outpost), got Steve’s goat, prompting him to correct this perversion in the atheist community by claiming we were being illogical cowards in accepting transsexuals (and worse even, actually liking them!) in a post Steve titled Species Dysphoria (in mockery of the condition called Gender Dysphoria…which used to be called Gender Identity Disorder, so I don’t know if Steve meant this title as a double insult, since the condition had just been renamed in diagnostic manuals earlier that year, downgrading its status from a mental disorder in need of cure to a natural condition in need of acceptance, in parallel to homosexuality in that same diagnostic manual decades ago: see APA Revises Manual: Being Transgender Is No Longer a Mental Disorder).

Steve’s principal analogy is lycanthropy. No, seriously. But we have to build up to that.

Here’s Steve’s lead-in:

Atheists pride themselves on their intellectual honesty. Pride themselves on their high-minded commitment to a scientific worldview. They accuse Christians of wishful thinking. Because we can’t face the finality of death, we invent heaven. Because we can’t cope without objective value, we invent a heavenly Father.

By contrast, the atheist is tough-minded. Prepared to swallow the hard facts of life.

But how does their flattering self-image compare to reality? Take the transgender political fade. Richard Carrier recently lauded the “awesomeness” of Laurence Wachowski for “coming out” as a transsexual woman. He even praised “her” for being “super cute.” … Likewise, Jeff Lowder recently said “I consider myself extremely supportive of the transgender community” [in an article since moved here--RC]. But that’s not intellectual courage. Quite the opposite–that’s intellectual cowardice. It’s kowtowing to leftwing make-believe.

Now, let’s set aside the bigoted way he uses Lana’s previous (male) name and then puts the pronoun “her” in scare quotes, and the fact that Lowder was asking a more complex question about the social mores of transsexual nudity in (semi-)public spaces and actually came down himself on a side that would not normally be characterized as “left-wing” but more centrist or even center-right (he supports transgender rights but is uncertain about the pursuit of certain privileges by the transgendered), which contradicts Steve’s narrative that Lowder is “kowtowing” to left-wing ideology.

Let’s instead just focus on what Steve thinks is his basis for accusing us of being cowardly slaveboys in thrall to wishful thinking or whatever. His argument proceeds as follows:

What could be more unscientific than transgenderism? Do they really think gender is socially constructed? Isn’t your gender an objective biological fact, based on primary and secondary sexual characteristics, as well as your sex chromosomes?

In a contest between science and radical chic, atheists like Lowder and Carrier instantly sacrifice science on the alter of politically correctitude.

Suppose a man really does imagine that he’s trapped in a woman’s body, or vice versa. Shouldn’t Lowder and Carrier have the candor to classify that belief as a type of mental illness? But they don’t have the courage to confront the far left. They are both intellectual cowards.

Now, I can excuse someone for not knowing the way the terminology is actually employed in different technical contexts, since words can be used in all kinds of ways and laymen often don’t know much about that. So I’ll just gently correct Steve for not knowing the difference between gender, sex, and sexuality when they are used in contexts of a person’s expression and identity.

In short (and allowing me to over-simplify for a moment), gender is something you feel like (and/or can express if you choose and are allowed to), sex is what physiology you have (although we’ll see in a moment that’s not as straightforward as Steve thinks), and sexuality is, in a sense, who you like to f8ck (and how). All can vary, each along a multidimensional spectrum (they aren’t as binary as people tend to think…even the physiology). Wikipedia gets this more or less right (see entries for Gender and Transgender; and for a spectrum diagram see the Trans* Awareness Project, reproduced below), noting that “gender” is in some contexts used to mean “sex” but not always.

Gender as Distinct from Sex

When “gender” is used to refer to identity as distinct from physiology, it’s sometimes called “gender identity,” which can lead to a corresponding “gender expression” to the extent one wants and is allowed. (Gender expression doesn’t necessarily track identity, e.g. a man might like dressing as a woman without identifying as one, just as a woman might like dressing as a man without identifying as one.)Genderbread Person version 2.0: a diagram illustrating the dimensions of gender identity, gender expression, biological sex, and sexual attraction. Identity scales from woman to man, expression scales from feminine to masculine, sex scales from female to male, and attraction from men to women. But all can scale in multiple different ways at the same time (e.g. bisexuality, which can even scale in different degrees toward men or women). As such, it should be plainly obvious that gender expression (and thus any gender identity one might be expressing with it) is socially constructed. Girls are not born wanting to wear lipstick and dresses and bras. Those are cultural constructs that we raise girls into. Likewise the mannerisms of boys and girls, the way they speak, even their body language, is highly cultural and not all that biological (compare the body language and speaking style of Japanese and Kentucky teenagers for some serious diversity).

Indeed, almost the entirety of femininity and masculinity are social constructs, as should be obvious to anyone who notices that what we consider “feminine” or “masculine” varies so much not only across cultures today, but even historically within our own culture (our Founding Fathers wore powder, wigs, pony tails, ribbons, bows, lace and stockings; in ancient Greece, weeping used to be manly; and so on: e.g., Five Gender Stereotypes That Used to Be Exactly the Opposite). Of course, fundamentalist Christians perhaps tend to be insular and less frequently study foreign or historical cultures and just assume everything has always been the same. I don’t know. But how a Christian could not notice that gender expression is a cultural construct is a bit astonishing.

Okay. So maybe Steve would concede this point and say he only meant gender in the physiological sense of “sex,” since he thinks he’s talking about “an objective biological fact, based on primary and secondary sexual characteristics, as well as your sex chromosomes,” which could only plausibly be said of sex, not gender expression. And maybe he wants to insist your gender identity track your sex rather than your preferred gender expression…for some reason. (Steve doesn’t articulate a reason for this, I suspect because he doesn’t know there is a difference, because he doesn’t seem to know how gender works.) Maybe he wouldn’t go so far as to concede that men could dress and act like women if they want to (and women like men); that might still be too “gross” for him. But I’m speculating. Anyway, what he really seems to be frightened of is not transgenderism as such but transsexuality in particular.

And it is here that he accuses us of ignoring science.

Well, I have some scary news for him. He might be shocked to know this isn’t so simple as creationism would have it. If God wanted everyone to be consistently a boy or girl, he wouldn’t have created hermaphrodites. But more commonly, a significant number of women are actually XY chromosomed (and thus genetically male but almost entirely physiologically female), the result of a condition called AIS, or Androgen Insensitivity Syndrome, in which they genetically lack sufficient receptors for androgens and thus do not develop as men in the womb but as women (only lacking certain internal developments, like a uterus). Image of jazz singer Eden Atwood's album Turn Me LooseContrary to a common rumor, Jamie Lee Curtis has never confirmed having AIS, but the lovely jazz singer Eden Atwood has (see Women with Male DNA All Female). Complete AIS (or CAIS) tends to be under-diagnosed (since it doesn’t cause noticeable problems except infertility), so there are many women out there who don’t even know they have a Y chromosome.

What on earth does a creationist do with that information? If by genetic accident you can be XY (and thus genetically a “man” by Steve’s standards) and yet still a woman (anatomically, biochemically, and legally), why can’t you be XY and a woman by personal preference? Why should it matter? Indeed, with hormone replacement therapy (HRT) and sex reassignment surgery (SRS), a man can effectively resemble a woman with AIS in every relevant respect. And since AIS exists in different degrees, men who identify as women but don’t get surgery or take HRT can still resemble women with milder cases of AIS. Perhaps the creationist would insist AIS is a “disorder,” and no one should want to emulate a “disorder,” but in fact it’s not a disorder. It’s just a natural genetic outcome, which presents few to no problems. If people are happy being who they become, what business does the Christian have telling them they’re doing it wrong?

It gets even worse when we consider the fact that there are even occasional tetragametic chimeras in the human population, some of whom have DNA that is both male and female (some of their cells carry one genome that is XY and the rest of their cells carry another genome that is XX), so they can’t even be consistently identified as male or female…if, that is, all you judged by was chromosome type. Since most primary and secondary sexual characteristics are produced through the intermediation of hormone activity and not DNA directly (hence the existence of AIS), most cross-sex chimeras will usually be by all appearances either fully men or fully women. Some may have a mix of organs (one testicle and one ovary, for example, or a vagina and no womb or a womb and no vagina), but most will not have anything so detectable. They will just have some cells and organs that type “male” and some cells and organs that type “female” (so any DNA test on them would get different results depending on where you put the needle or swab). There would not be any meaningful sense in which they were one and not the other…genetically. Only in how they developed hormonally would the distinction obtain. And that is reproducible (with HRT and/or SRS).

Okay. So maybe the creationist would grumble and accept the scientific fact that God made some men into women against their will (and genetically made some people into both men and women at the same time), and God’s ways being mysterious, He must have His reasons and Christians just have to choke that down and deal. The next move for the likes of Steve might be to insist a man who doesn’t have AIS or chimerism shouldn’t want to be a woman (or a woman a man). Well, from here it just gets worse for the creationist, because we have located structures in the brain that physiologically code for attributes of sexuality and gender, and notably they are different regions, and they can be developed separately from each other. Thus, we can physiologically distinguish a gay brain from a straight brain (even if only post mortem), and thus prove their sexuality is not just a “choice” but is biologically driven by structures in the brain.

In fact, it turns out, we can do the same with gender expression: the regions of the brain that govern aspects of preferred gender expression (such as in respect to cognition style and personality) can also be physiologically identified. So we can tell “male” brains from “female” brains…yet it turns out these don’t neatly correspond to chromosome type or to “primary or secondary” sexual characteristics (despite attempts to try to force them to). In fact, overall, women and men vary more within their respective genders than they do from each other. Some men have what some might call more female gendered brains, and some women have more male gendered brains. Ooops. So much for God being all neat and tidy.

In fact, it’s clear that this feature isn’t even binary, that like sexuality, gendering of the brain falls on a spectrum, some brains are a little more “male” or a little more “female,” in varying degrees. And the clincher is that there isn’t really any particular reason to call one “female” and the other “male,” since what we usually identify as male or female is cultural. Remember all that stuff about behavior, speaking style, body language, clothing, personality, and interests that track gender, all being culturally too diverse to be genetic? Well, there you go. It is arbitrary to peg those features to a brain style and call that brain style “male” or “female.” Because in a different culture, you would obsess on a different set of differences in the brain, because you would be obsessing over a different set of expressed behaviors.

Picture of worldclass weightlifter Jill Remiticado lifting a dumbell twice her body weight in power position. Petite, attractive, dark skinned brunette who can outlift most men, engaging in a traditionally masculine sport..In reality, what we now call “feminine” or “masculine” in respect to perception and behavior (cognition and personality) is just a certain set of traits that are partly enculturated and partly driven by hormone levels (which vary a lot in any population) and partly driven by neurophysical differences in the brain that ultimately are gender neutral–just like most personality traits are to us already. For example, people vary in “adventurousness” regardless of their sex, but put those people in a culture that strongly identifies “adventurousness” as feminine and you’ll see them call having a well-developed “adventurousness” center of the brain as having a “female” brain. A meaningless assignment, really. Especially when you find that adventurousness varies in both sexes and thus doesn’t really track sex (and even when it does, it does so more weakly than it varies within each gender: on this error of confusing averages with likely ranges in an attribute see my article Are Women Just Stupid?).

But the outcome in practice is that some men will feel more at home living and acting more like women and some women will feel more at home living and acting more like men, and some cross far enough in that direction to be uncomfortable living as women or men altogether, because what our culture has chosen to call “feminine” and “masculine” just happens to align better with the way their brains and personalities have developed. Since brains and personalities can develop differently than the cultural ruts we try to force them in, it makes no sense to keep trying to force them into those ruts. Because those ruts are human fabrications. They don’t track human biology at all, or do so only weakly (and a sensible Christian would listen to their own Jesus here: they ought to follow God’s ruts, not the ruts carved by the traditions of men: Mark 7:8-9). Whether your brain and personality “fit” being a woman or a man is all just a happenstance of what culture and time in history you happened to be born in. But your brain is not a happenstance of that; and your personality, not altogether.

Once we realize this, gender expression no longer makes sense as something someone should be “forced” into because of their chromosome type or sexual characteristics. We should be completely fine with feminine men and masculine women (whatever those things mean in whatever culture or period of history you should happen to find yourself in). Thus, there is no logical basis (and certainly no scientific basis) for Steve’s insistence that a man wanting to live and act like a woman must be insane. They are no more insane than anyone with a different personality than you is insane. Which is to say, not insane at all. And that’s why medical science no longer classifies “gender dysphoria” as a mental illness. It is not. It is just a mismatch between someone’s brain and personality and what their culture wants to force them to be. Trying to force them to be what they’re not might drive them insane. But letting them be who they are (even helping them be who they are) won’t.

Sources & Important Qualification

The very best article I’ve ever read on understanding the complex physiology of gender and sex is Natalie Reed’s Bilaterally Gynandromorphic Chickens and Why I’m Not “Scientifically” Male. See also Reed’s A Beginner’s Guide to Trans-Misogyny for some explorations of the reasons transsexuality bothers people even though it shouldn’t, and Gender Expression Is Not Gender Identity for how those two concepts can play out. Meanwhile, if you want a fuller education on how to actually understand transsexuality and transgenderism and not be a total noob about it see Zinnia Jones’ Trans Stuff Roundup. [She also recommends the great intro site TransWhat? which is a great place to start. Will at Skepchick has also written a good article on this subject, Another Sex/Gender Controversy, which tackles the biology vs. culture issue in understanding transgenderism.]

On the neurophysics of gender and sexuality start with the Madison talk by Dr. Veronica Drantz and peruse her blog on Science and Sexuality. On the fact that women differ from women more than women differ from men (and men differ from men more than men differ from women), and that most of the attempts to “peg” a brain, or even a personality, as conclusively male or female in type, don’t always hold up, see Gender, Brain Science, and Wrong Headed Notions by Rebecca Jordan-Young and Girl Brain, Boy Brain? by Lise Eliot. Also peruse the blog entries on brain science at A.E. Brain. These sources nevertheless collectively catalog studies that refute desperate attempts to explain away the evidence of sex and gender differentiation in the brain by the likes of Dr. Ann Lawrence (sexual orientation also shows cross-sex brain differentiation, see PNAS 2008, but not in all the same ways as the gender dysphoric). Although this shouldn’t even matter…but I’m getting ahead of myself. I’ll get to the naturalist fallacy shortly.

Banner for TAP, Trans* Awareness Project, tagline Finally, on everything I’ve said above and all to follow there are still many disagreements in the trans* community, particularly as they are still trying to develop a culture and a vocabulary to describe their experience in the face of often intense hostility and bigotry. For example, the Trans* Awareness Project is reluctant to nail down a precise distinction in the meaning of transgender and transsexual because their community hasn’t reached agreement on that. So when I say that “transsexual” most commonly means someone who takes any physiological steps to alter their assigned sex (which can just be HRT, for example, producing a male or female biochemistry, or any degree of SRS) while “transgender” indicates a broader category encompassing anyone who identifies or expresses a gender different from their assigned sex (even if they take no physiological steps in that direction), it should be understood that “commonly” does not mean “always,” and debates about distinctions like this can still be had.

For instance, at TAP, that distinction is avoided with the following argument:

The argument has been made that the difference between transgender and transsexual lies in making a distinction between gender (culture/performance) and sex (bodies/biology). On the contrary, Transgender rights activist and lawyer Dylan Vade claims there is no “meaningful difference” between sex and gender and any definition “that pit biology against psychology or the body against the mind…denigrates transgender peoples self-identified genders.”

We can disagree with this argument not only on subjective grounds (not all transgendered people believe it denigrates their self-identified genders to use the terminology this way, and one subjective view cannot trump another if the one has no greater claim to objective truth than the other).

But we can also disagree on objective analytical grounds as well, because medical differences are certainly meaningful (they can make significant differences to the effectiveness of treatments, accuracy of diagnostics, risk factors for illnesses, and so on), and whether someone is undergoing HRT or has had sex reassignment surgery is a medical difference that can lead to medical harm, misdiagnosis, or incorrect medical advice if one’s doctor is not made aware of it (and your doctor might not always know you–for example, if you end up in an emergency room). Thus there are meaningful differences between sex and gender. Your DNA, your hormone levels, what organs you have, can all affect medical decisions. These distinctions might not be as large or clear-cut as the Steves of the world think (imagine a chimera with CAIS…statistically, they must necessarily exist). But they aren’t wholly absent either.

(See Ryan Polly & July Nichole, “Understanding the Transsexual Patient: Culturally Sensitive Care in Emergency Nursing Practice,” Advanced Emergency Nursing Journal 33.1 [2011]: 55-64; likewise the Central Texas TransGender Society ER 101 page; etc.).

So on both counts I can’t agree with Vade’s reasoning and I don’t think such ideological positions are helpful to the trans* community. But that is ultimately for the trans* community to work out. I can only offer my analysis of the matter as a philosopher and a skeptic and a humanist and an activist.

The point of this digression is that I shall be reporting here what I know to be the documented facts and what I know the trans* community has said, while using vocabulary in certain ways that might not track the way everyone uses them, only aiming for clarity and consistency. But I am not trans* and thus what I say should not be taken as normative unless it can be documented as a fact (or as having a reasonable trans* community consensus). And I may make errors here that the trans* community will helpfully correct me on. All I can really do here, above and below, is do my best to explain why I myself feel and believe the way I do, which is what Steve was attacking.

So Get to the Werewolves Already!

As I’ve noted so far, Steve doesn’t actually have science on his side here. He basically doesn’t know what he’s talking about. Which I suppose I should expect from a creationist. But now he gets to supporting his argument with an analogy, that transsexuals are just like delusional lycanthropes (people who think they are werewolves). No, seriously. Steve argues:

But let’s take this a step further. If you really believe in transgender rights, then why stop there? Why confine this to a human rights issue? Why not extend it to therian rights?

Feeling one is trapped in the wrong body isn’t limited to gender. After all, there are people think they are animals trapped in a human body. Take clinical lycanthropy or boanthropy.

To be consistent, shouldn’t we enact nondiscrimination policies for lycanthropes? If you classify lycanthropy as a mental illness, does that make you a lycanphobe? Should you be charged with a hate crime?

What if a lycanthrope behaves like a wolf? What if he begins to view humans as prey? What if he stalks children in the schoolyard? What if he kills and consumes little boys and girls?

Would Jeff Lowder and Richard Carrier defend the right of lycanthropes to engage in lupine behavior? Is Jeff extremely supportive of the lycanthropic community? If a woman “comes out” as a wolf or werewolf, is that “awesome” and “super cute”?

If gender is socially assigned, why not humanity? If sex chromosomes and sexual anatomy don’t determine sexual identity, why think physical and biological facts determine taxonomic identity?

I’ll set aside the usual bigotry of his slippery slope argumentation (implying we’d give transsexuals a pass if they stalked and killed children, thus further implying transsexuals would do that…no, Steve, transsexuals aren’t pedophiles any more frequently than anyone else is, and no, we won’t let transsexuals rape or kill children any more than we let anyone else do).

Publicity photo of Jennifer Blaire in character as Animala from the comic film The Lost Skeleton of Cadavra, lounging sexily on a tree branch. White skin, short black hair, black skintight velvet unitard, furry shoes.I’ll also set aside the possible use of false analogy in equating my attraction to a transsexual woman with my potential attraction to a wolf. Perhaps he’s implying I’d go for beastiality if it was popular. But, of course, a wolf-woman wouldn’t be a beast, but a person. And Animala (played by Jennifer Blaire in the comedy The Lost Skeleton of Cadavra, as a woman who thought she was a woodland creature because…well…she actually was…four of them in fact) was pretty darned sexy, and let’s be honest, super cute (“Rowr!” … “tip tip tip” … wink to Cadavra fans).

Picture of two super cute wolf cubs.But maybe Steve’s allowing cuteness to be nonsexual, in which case, even Steve would have to admit there are super cute wolves (if he has anything resembling a soul…I mean, come on, look to the right). So he can’t be objecting to that. No, I think he’s repulsed by the idea that I’d find a transsexual woman cute because that implies to him sexual attraction and that’s supposed to be perverse. It’s perhaps too advanced for him to understand how someone might find another sexually attractive from someone else’s point of view.

For example, because I have these human characteristics called empathy and theory of mind, I can see a man as sexually attractive if I were a woman, without myself actually having any sexual interest in a man. I can thus call a man sexy or handsome without implying I’m gay. Of course, Steve thinks being gay is despicable, whereas I see nothing wrong with that. But that’s not my point. I can appreciate (and declare) that Lana is very sexually attractive if I were sexually interested in transsexual women. I’m not usually. But that doesn’t matter. Like being gay shouldn’t matter, it shouldn’t matter whether I fantasized about being Lana’s lover or not (and if anyone did, they might not fantasize it as a homosexual relationship but a heterosexual one). Steve, I think, can’t get past that. So he wants to declare her insane and me dishonest. Because that’s the only way he can sleep at night trapped inside his insular, hate-filled worldview.

But let’s put that aside and focus on the real gist of Steve’s analogy, that a woman who claimed she belonged to a different species (and acted like it) is exactly the same as a man claiming he’s a woman (and acting like it). This silly analogy has already been refuted, in many incarnations, by Zinnia Jones in Being a Woman Also Isn’t Like Being Napoleon. All genuinely interested parties should read that. Because it’s short and to the point and illustrates the very crucial mistake the Steves of the world make, born largely of never actually talking to a transsexual (or listening to one) before declaring conclusions about what they think or why.

Picture of Lana Wachowski smiling and sitting in her simple black belted dress and colored hair (in a spectrum of reds and blacks) at the Human Rights Campaign awards.I doubt Lana believes she is a woman by Steve’s narrow standards, as if she delusionally thought she has an XX chromosome if she doesn’t or that she has a womb if she doesn’t or anything else you want to cling to as your definition of “being a woman.” That’s simply not what’s going on here. Lana is not delusional about any real facts of the world. She well knows what her DNA, biochemistry, and body is really like.

No, what Lana probably feels is that her personality and style and manner and preferences, the way she really would be comfortable living and being, align better with what our culture just happens to call female (and incidentally, I base this on what she actually said…so, a tip to the fundamentalists: try listening to other people for a change). In other words, she’d be happier living and acting as a woman. And now she is. And by our actual standards of gender expression (the only standards that really matter culturally, since you almost never get to check someone’s DNA or genitals or blood hormone levels when you “gender” them), she is a woman, as much as, by Steve’s narrow standards, anyone with any degree of AIS or chimerism would be. And our recognizing that (as for example by calling her “her” and by her new name) verifies we accept who she is, that we won’t try to force her into the ruts carved by the fallible and fickle “traditions of men” (in the parlance of the Christian’s Gospel).

I’ll also bet we’d find that Lana’s brain physiology corroborates this alignment between how she feels and what we culturally identify and treat as a woman (her brain will trend “female” in some of its structural characteristics); I am quite certain its acquired characteristics will do so–since without differences in the brain, there are no differences in desires, preferences, and personality. I know Christians also have a problem accepting this well-established fact of neuroscience, but Steve is the one accusing us of ignoring science, so he doesn’t get to pick and choose which science counts…if he rejects brain-mind determinacy, then he is the one ignoring science, not us.

So Lana is not entertaining any delusions at all, the way someone who thought they were a wolf would be. The analogy simply doesn’t work. Clinical lycanthropy doesn’t bear any analogy to transgenderism. A transgendered person does not falsely believe they have body parts they don’t. They just feel happier living and acting a certain way, a way we just happen to identify with a gender. That’s personality, not insanity.

The Fallacy of Appeal to Nature

And this gets me to the real problem with Steve’s tirade: the assumption that the fallacy of appealing-to-nature is not a fallacy. This belies his assumption that if “science” says you are a woman, then you are a woman (never mind that science can’t consistently assign many people a sex at all, as we saw with AIS and chimerism), and so to claim to be a woman when “science” says you are not is to be denying a fact and thus delusional.

Various images of men in wigs or makeup or feminine clothes yet who are deemed masculine.I’ve already shown that the minor premise of this argument is false: gender is in actual fact independent of physiology (it is primarily a cultural category that is culturally defined and culturally expressed), and even when attempting to assign “sex” rather than gender, physiology sometimes gives us no consistent answer. Even the fact that surgery and HRT can transform most of a person’s primary and secondary sexual characteristics is not a delusion but another scientific physiological fact (just like reconstructive or corrective surgeries and hormonal therapies for many other persons well outside the context of transsexuality, which, being sound and useful medicine, would be as much a folly to condemn as surgery and pharmacology altogether).

But the major premise of this argument is also false: the notion that what nature has done to you is good and any deviation from nature is bad. Artificial hearts pretty much kill that premise outright. So do corrective lenses (contacts or glasses). So do artificial hips and legs. So do telescopes and microscopes and airplanes and helmets, all of which allow us to defy nature by seeing better than nature “intended” and flying contrary to nature’s “intention” and “fixing” nature by making our heads harder to break and our eyes less naturally defective. Indeed, we correct nature all the time: corrective surgery and prosthetics improve the lives of people born with missing or deformed body parts (or who suffer missing or deformed body parts through injury or illness); computers and books and pencil and paper correct for our “imperfectly designed” memories; logic and mathematics and the scientific method were invented to correct for the naturally slipshod “design” of our brain’s abilities to reason. Nature screwed up almost everything important to us. So we invented an advanced civilization to correct for all of her mistakes. (And the fact that we had to do that, entirely on our own, is pretty much argument number one against creationism.)

Thus, even if it weren’t scientifically the case that transgendered persons were biologically different from cisgendered persons [ciz- being the opposite of tranz-] in their DNA or the fetal development of their brains (although it appears most if not all of them are), and even if the subtle and relevant differences in their brains (which necessarily must differ, even in ways not readily visible) were acquired by their physical and social and coincidental environment while growing up (even if, very improbably, as the result of extended training and intentional effort…in reality, no one becomes transgendered that way, although they can become doctors that way or more courageous or caring that way, so even “doing it that way” could not be condemned as “against nature and therefore bad”), it still would not follow that a man wanting to live and act like a woman (or a woman as a man) was delusional or wrong.

And here Steve’s bigotry can be made even more apparent.

We should be free to choose the lives we want. So even if gender was all just a happenstance choice, that shouldn’t make any difference. Who we like to have sex with, for example, should not be an issue any more than what our preference in desserts or sports happen to be. Likewise gender expression and identity. It is the Christian (or more broadly the whole Judeo-Christian-Islamic complex of religious thinking) that has singled out sex and gender as somehow special and thus different from preference in desserts or sports. For no objectively valid reason whatever. Only when people realize this will they be on the path to freeing themselves from the slavery of the real delusion that exists here, that of the religious believer (as I’ve explained in Are Christians Delusional?). The sad thing is that these delusions bleed over even to infect atheists who don’t even realize they have internalized purely religious notions about sexuality and gender (as I’ve noted in my article Sexy Sex Sex!! (for Cash on the Barrel!)).

Creationists, of course, obsess over what is natural, because they believe God made us, so if our bodies are born a certain way, for them that entails God’s endorsement, being the one who made us that way, and against our will to boot (ironically, considering how much Christians are usually obsessed with God’s need to give us free will…although Steve is a Calvinist, so maybe he doesn’t even believe in free will, much less that God would want us to have any). The problem, of course, is that things like AIS and chimerism put the kibosh on that kind of thinking. God clearly endorses some men being women and women being men. But these more overt phenomena are not relevantly different from any of the subtler developments in the brain (whether genetically, fetally, or in childhood) that cause someone to be uncomfortable with the gendered roles and characteristics their culture wants to force them into. Those differences are no less natural, no less “unchosen.” Thus, they, too, must have been endorsed by your God–if AIS and chimerism were.

Meanwhile, when it comes to the cultural expression and trappings of gender, the Christian cannot claim divine guidance at all. God (even the Christians’ own god, by their own account: again, Mark 7:8-9) could not plausibly have endorsed any one human tradition, and cannot honestly be imagined to have endorsed any concept of gender. Unless you are still living and dressing as the Old Testament God had commanded–in other words, as an Orthodox Jew–you’ve pretty much abandoned any notion of what could ever have been called “God-sanctioned culture.” Which leaves us with brain biology. Which leaves us with no objective reason to claim God did not want Lana Wachowski to live and identify as a woman.

In this way, proving something is natural and against one’s will is often more persuasive to creationists than it ought to be to anyone, since neither should have to be the case. People should be free to choose their lives and not have to prove they were forced to make their choices just to get their choices to be respected. And honestly, that should be obvious. Most of what we now do in life is both unnatural and freely chosen (ever fly in an airplane?), and even the Christian widely accepts almost all of it as moral or okay. But alas, since many Christians are obsessed with various forms of creationism and exaggerate the importance of free will, we can get more effect on them sometimes by using those irrational levers to convince them to finally treat their neighbors decently for a change. But this shouldn’t have to be the case with atheists, who, not being creationists, don’t believe in this naturalist fallacy (that all that is natural, and only what is natural, is moral), and who, by and large not being indeterminists, regard free will as nothing more than the expression of human desires, desires that can be good or bad whether free or not.

For example, we are naturally born with violent tendencies. Yet we neither regard that as moral sanction to be violent nor as an excuse to “choose” to be violent, as if being born that way made it okay, simply because our propensity to have those urges was installed in our brain against our will. Most of human culture involves regulating, altering, advancing beyond or overcoming our natural tendencies. It does so by in turn drawing on other natural tendencies (such as make us social and empathic animals, for example), but that is exactly what transgendered people are doing: finding a better way to live by aligning their better inner nature with what their culture identifies that inner nature as, so they don’t have to live discordantly with either, like someone who doesn’t like sweets who is forced to constantly eat them lest they be condemned as an abomination. Or someone who doesn’t like golf being beaten up regularly after school simply for being an immoral, disgusting golf-not-liker.

Although fundamentalists do get their panties in a bunch over almost any conceivable cultural deviation anyway. The rest of us find it’s perfectly acceptable for someone to “choose” to be Goth or Cowboy or Steampunk or Yuppy or Preppy or Hippy or anything they like, conforming to any clothing, mannerisms, dialects, interests, that belongs to any sub-culture they prefer. No one challenges them by asking whether they were genetically predisposed to want to be that. No one condemns their choice because it was (gasp!) a choice, something they just preferred, something they were just happier living as. Well, except fundamentalist Christians maybe…who also think Goths and Hippies are abominations, but are arbitrarily okay with Cowboys or Preppies. As if the Bible laid out which sub-cultures were cool with God and which weren’t.

(Note to the wise: it doesn’t…except pages and pages of “You’d better adopt the immensely onerous and detailed culture of an ancient Orthodox Jew or else you are an abomination before God who deserves to die” rigamarole [see Leviticus and Deuteronomy], but no fundamentalist Christian obeys any of that, so they pretty much can’t appeal to the Bible here without getting themselves in super big trouble. They generally don’t even follow the New Testament’s requirements that women always cover their hair and never wear pretty dresses or jewelry.)

We can even choose to live and speak as Germans or Japanese or any such thing. We don’t have to show we have a biological predisposition to want to be German or Japanese for people to respect us for just liking their language and culture and society and wanting to live with them. It is for the very same reason we can choose to drive cars or engage in oral sex simply because it’s fun and not because we are genetically predisposed to do it. So the whole line of reasoning that we even have to present evidence that certain gender preferences are built into brain physiology and thus beyond the normal range of human choice before Christians will accept it is simply bullshit from the start. If Lana Wachowski wants to live as and be addressed as a woman, that deserves our respect every bit as much as if Lana Wachowski wanted to live as and be addressed as a German. Or are Christians now going to accuse everyone who immigrates to America and adopts American language and culture as being insane?

This point becomes all the more clear when we notice the fact that we all of us often transgender ourselves when we have “safe” opportunities to do so. For example, when we play another gender in video games, role playing games, and even on blogs and social networks. Suddenly transgenderism in that environment is all okay and not insane. And when we can do that easily in everyday life (when we live in future simulated universes or achieve cheap and easy body replacement technology) gender choice will become far more fluid than it is now. People will choose their gender like they choose their clothing style or anything else. And no one should bat an eye. Any more than they do now when people “choose their gender like they choose their clothing style” in a video game.

Photo of Dita Von Teese in a 1940s-style sheer top over an elegantly embroidered tan bustier, hair and pearl earrings and makeup all in the same style.Obviously this behavior is not delusional any more than preferring broccoli to carrots, or reading to sports, or cowboy culture and attire to goth or steampunk or yuppy. When women like Dita Von Teese and Paloma Faith make themselves up in 40s or 50s hairstyle and clothing, they are creating an identity for themselves, that’s who they want to be. That’s a preference, not a delusion. And forcing them to be someone they don’t want to be would almost universally be deemed wrong, indeed bizarre (why would you even care?), at least in free communities in modernized democracies.

Gender is, as I’ve pointed out, mostly cultural. It has a biological component only in respect to biochemistry (which varies across individuals naturally), mechanics (hip shape, genitals), and some aspects of brain anatomy (which govern mostly only subtle differences in cognitive skills and thought patterns–and even this varies considerably across individuals). But almost everything we key on as signifying someone is a “woman” or a “man” is none of those things, but a congeries of culturally defined feelings and expressions.

Sirius Dysphoria

Think about it. The following conversation almost never happens (or if it often does, I hope I don’t have to explain why it shouldn’t):

Dude A: Everyone around here is all cowboy. They constantly pressure me to be like them. I don’t want to be a cowboy. I just don’t feel comfortable in cowboy hats and boots and I hate country western music. I feel like a fraud in that culture. It’s just not me. I like Sirius Black’s style. I want to dress like him. Get cool tattoos. Go to English tea houses. Listen to unusual classical music. Hang out with fantasy fiction nerds and become a costumer. I’d be so much happier.

Dude B: Delusional freak!

Photo of Gary Oldman in character as Sirius Black from the Harry Potter films, in creatively strange sixties hip sorcerer dress, astrological symbols on black vest, muted dark yellow and brown velvet suit jacket, dark blue collared shirt open at the neck. Long shaggy hair and abundant mustache and slight goatee.If you think that conversation sounds ridiculous, then Steve-style bigotry against transsexuals is just as ridiculous.

Even insofar as gender is biological, natural variations eliminate any notion of a normative biology. The variation in breast size and shape is so great that some men have bigger breasts than some women. Likewise biochemistry: the “normal” hormone levels for a given individual will vary considerably across any population, some men having more male hormones than others or more female hormones than others, some women having more female hormones than others or more male hormones than others, in every possible combination across the whole spectrum. Thus, there is no specifically or uniquely “male” or “female” hormone combination.

In fact, some people–men and women–are naturally born with a neutral or near-neutral biochemistry, who accordingly have, in effect, no gender in respect to biochemistry. They would be by Steve’s narrow conception neither men nor women. Yet clearly they can be either, as they please. People like this do not have a preponderance of testosterone or estrogen, but a balance that all but cancels out both. Many of these people like being that way and stay that way; but others don’t like it and want some semblance of a more “normal” (meaning simply, more statistically common) hormone activity. So they get hormone replacement therapy. Some people, on the other hand, naturally have such extreme imbalances in hormone levels that they actually must have hormone replacement therapy to avoid extreme medical consequences.

And some people have hormone replacement therapy as an experiment, just to see what it’s like to live with another gender’s biochemistry. Given that there is nothing plausibly wrong with any of this, what would be wrong with someone in that last category just extending the experiment indefinitely? If they like it better, why not? There is no meaningful sense in which they “should” have a certain biochemistry, any more than adventurous people “should” stop being so adventurous, or nearsighted people “should” stay nearsighted and not use technologies (glasses; contacts; eye surgery) to see better, or fat people “should” stay fat and not use technologies (exercise machinery; dietary pharmacology; gastric clamp or bypass; liposuction) to be thinner and more fit, if that’s what they want to do (nor is it necessarily the case that they “should” use those technologies, especially if they aren’t really all that fat in reality–“in reality” being a medical question, not a cultural one).

Imagine being born with a wonky arm. It could be a genetic difference (not even a mutation, just a natural variation). It could be something that went askew during fetal development (something that might even be statistically inevitable). It might be something that happened to you as a child. It might be something you accidentally did to yourself. It doesn’t matter. Either way you have this wonky arm. You don’t like it, it doesn’t work well. Then science comes up with a way to almost fix it. They can install some fake bones, surgically remove muscles and tissues from elsewhere on your body and arrange for them to grow back later, and use the borrowed tissues to assemble a new, fully functional arm out of your wonky one. The result is very nearly as good as a regular arm. It’s not exactly the same, but it’s a huge improvement, and you can live your life better with it.

Is wanting to go through with that procedure delusional or insane? No. It’s just the rational pursuit of happiness. Choosing our genders really shouldn’t be seen as any different than that. And there is simply no science that says otherwise.

In Sum

That, at least, is how I see it.

Since Steve gets all the science wrong and his analogy makes no logical sense, his closing argument is clearly ironic:

Atheists like Jeff Lower and Richard Carrier are intellectual frauds. Poseurs. They pretend to be rationalistic and scientific, yet they play along with pseudoscientific nonsense like transgenderism. They check all the right boxes on the membership form to be accepted within their social circle.

I think Steve just described himself.

Comments

  1. says

    I loved Lana for saying she happens to “align better with what our culture just happens to call female”. And if a person aligns best with what our culture just happens to call male, and also finds himself on a particular level attracted to Lana, that attraction would fall within the normal range of “straight”. Though I’m pretty sure she’s a lesbian, so tough luck. :D

  2. Azuma Hazuki says

    Don’t even bother. Calvinists, sad to say, are the secular equivalent of people who have committed the “unpardonable sin.” In this case it’s self-sealing solipsism; Calvinism means never having to look at uncomfortable evidence. As the old saw goes, they are absolutely certain of everything except whether or not they’re saved.

    Reading through his bullshit was physically painful. It has gotten to the point that dealing with people like this is like grinding on sandpaper.

  3. SMH says

    A very through posting. I’m inclined to think that Steve’s real problem is not so much that you would find a transexual attractive, but that you would allow her to feel attractive. By publicly stating she is cute, you are in fact supporting her ego and in Steve’s mind, that is not the appropriate way of shunning her for standing up to the cultural norms. People like him are dreadfully afraid that they might find themselves attracted to someone who is not a “real” woman and that would make them not a “real” man. As a result they firmly believe that any and every transsexual will be unattractive to them regardless of how well they might primp themselves. And they hate it if everyone does not agree because having a social proof in their favor is important. likewise if a transexual does happen to be attractive then they want to make sure they feel unloved and feel ugly for their transgression into the realm of “properly” attractive women as God intended.

    Oddly, I think that Steve would be more supportive of someone suffering from lycanthropy.

  4. doublereed says

    “And the clincher is that there isn’t really any particular reason to call one “female” and the other “male,” since what we usually identify as male or female is cultural. Remember all that stuff about behavior, speaking style, body language, clothing, personality, and interests that track gender, all being culturally too diverse to be genetic? Well, there you go. It is arbitrary to peg those features to a brain style and call that brain style “male” or “female.””

    Could you clarify this? I’m confused. If the assignment of a male and female brain is culturally arbitrary, then isn’t that saying that gender identity is not actually expressed in this way?

    But this confuses me further. Just because a man is feminine (under whatever definition) doesn’t make him transgendered, and it certainly wouldn’t imply he would prefer to be a woman. I was under the impression that gender identity is far deeper than simple arbitrary cultural values. Which would make me guess that there is some sort of gender identity in the brain that is far less arbitrary.

    • says

      If the assignment of a male and female brain is culturally arbitrary, then isn’t that saying that gender identity is not actually expressed in this way?

      Reference two other things I said: “it turns out these don’t neatly correspond to chromosome type or to “primary or secondary” sexual characteristics” and “adventurousness [for example] varies in both sexes and thus doesn’t really track sex (and even when it does, it does so more weakly than it varies within each gender…)” and what I said after both remarks, and I think you might find your way out of your confusion.

      Identity is generated by the brain. Gendering is generated by the culture. Thus gendering brain features relating to identity is largely arbitrary, and the exceptions are too weak to obsess over, since the variations are not consistent, and thus men and women will always overlap. There is therefore no archetypal “female” brain (for almost any “female” feature, you will be able to find a man who has it), or archetypal “male” brain. Averages might track sex, but averages don’t equate to manifest ranges.

      This fact of variation is also why sexuality isn’t binary (you are not just “gay” or “straight” but in a two-dimensional continuum: more or less attracted to men and more or less attracted to women, e.g. when up the scale on both, you are bisexual; when down the scale on both, you’re nonsexual).

      Gendered characteristics do of course track certain differential hormone-produced personality features as well (just as they do physical features, e.g. hip structure and breast shape), but those also vary within genders as much as between them (hence my point about the huge diversity of biochemistries in the population as a whole), and HRT can simulate any hormone combination (and SRS can simulate almost any physiological outcome).

      The question of how far your brain has to track a cultural gender type before you actually feel uncomfortable living as and identifying as the opposite gender could only be answered with future brain science, but the general idea is that some people’s brains track a certain cultural gender type to that degree; others do not. The explanation will certainly reduce to physical differences between those two groups (some quantifiable measure of some structure(s) or other), since all differences in the mind must correspond to differences in the brain. Science has only in the last few years started exploring this (my citations and links will direct you to what we know so far).

      What makes this more or less arbitrary is not that brains are arbitrarily varied (by sex they are overlapping bell curves), but the fact that what we choose to “name” male or female (in respect to expressed behaviors and personality features) is (largely) arbitrary (as I note history demonstrates), with again the exceptions being relatively weak (e.g. even when women differ from men on average on any attribute, women will still differ from each other even more, likewise men, with the result that almost any quality you assign as female will appear to some frequency in men and not appear to some frequency in women).

      Thus, you can still talk about sex differentiation in the brain on average, but that is meaningless when applied to individuals (much less whole populations), who won’t necessarily be average–and statistically, will almost never be average across the board (as again I explain in my article Are Women Just Stupid?).

      One way to think of it is to ask what it is that people dislike about living as a certain gender, when they no longer like doing so at all. Draw up a list (from listening to those who’ve been there…although if you have a good enough imagination you might be able to draw up your own list by imagining you were forced to live as your alternate gender). How many things on that list are wholly arbitrary constructs of human culture? (Like clothing and makeup and hair, or speaking style, or behavior or body language; it helps to study other cultures to see just how many items fall in this category) How many are significantly hormone driven? (Like emotionality or libido) And how many seem to be neither but instead cognitive? (It’s harder to pinpoint those)

      One thing you’ll notice is that the latter two are not as sex differentiated as creationists would want (almost everything in the hormone and cognition lists will be found to some degree in both gender populations, even if they track sex on average), while the first is much more stark (thus cultures tend to gender people far more consistently and visibly than brains seem to do).

      The question not yet answered for me is to what extent body dysphoria (wanting a different body shape and function), when that exists, is brain-driven or culture-driven (since it’s not obvious that it’s one or the other, and it could be either, or both). Of course, even when culture-driven, it will still correspond to physical differences in the brain (as we organize our sense of self around one particular way of thinking about ourselves, e.g. generating a body map). But the question one might ask is which comes first (does a brain develop a male or female body map in the womb, or only later). But as the second half of my article explains, the answer shouldn’t matter to any moral conclusion we reach.

    • doublereed says

      But again, it sounds like you are conflating two highly different concepts.

      One way to think of it is to ask what it is that people dislike about living as a certain gender, when they no longer like doing so at all. Draw up a list (from listening to those who’ve been there…although if you have a good enough imagination you might be able to draw up your own list by imagining you were forced to live as your alternate gender). How many things on that list are wholly arbitrary constructs of human culture?

      This doesn’t sound like it has anything to do with Transgender. I could make up the same kind of list with other attributes but that wouldn’t make me Transblack or something.

      This makes it sound as if the whole idea of Transgender is inherently arbitrary by cultural standards, which I find pretty harshly contradicted by the accounts of Transpeople, especially considering how much discrimination they face. In fact, they could legitimately be called crazy, just because making yourself such a massive target for something that arbitrary would be crazy.

      The idea that being Transgender is culture-driven, or mostly culture-driven, seems absolutely silly to me, on the level of saying that “being gay is a choice.”

    • says

      First, my article at length explains that it isn’t culturally driven, that there is abundant scientific evidence it is biologically driven. You must be confusing what is culturally driven (how we define womanness and femininity, for example) with what isn’t (what we want to live as).

      Second, it really shouldn’t matter if being gay was a choice (likewise being transgender or trans-German). The whole idea that we are supposed to prove that it is innately biological (even though it is) before it can be accepted is itself fallacious. That’s the point of the second half of my article.

    • doublereed says

      Certainly that’s fallacious. But wasn’t that the entire argument from Trans-Exclusive Radical Feminism? I think that’s what is giving me pause.

  5. lowey says

    Galatians 3:28 – There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither bond nor free, there is neither male nor female: for ye are all one in Christ Jesus.

    • says

      I’m going to assume you are a Christian. If not, for any actual Christians reading hoping you have some chance in hell of skirting all the important issues, this comment is for you.

      Firstly note the rest of the Bible and the issue of practical living in this life this Pauline sentiment completely glazes over. Yeah, there’s neither male nor female in some of Paul’s most esoteric sentiments, but get straight married or else run away from sex/marriage/romance entirely. Does that help the LGBTQ community at all? Nope. Just a tiny fraction of them that would be okay with that. Plus, there’s still all the Mosaic sexist laws, homophobic laws, slavery laws, and others with New Testament approval that have to be accommodated in Christian thinking with Galatians 3:28 rather than just ignored. The end result is not going to be morally pretty or moral at all.

      Galatians 3:28 also may reflect what appears to be a common enough Jewish belief at the time that Yahweh was going to erase everyone’s romantic/sexual/gender identities in the afterlife and make everyone like the angels. In other words all the elect are going to be trans! Well, mostly the not-men.

      [Note: Jesus even declares that marriage will be over in the afterlife regardless of what married people would want for themselves which is obviously problematic in terms of divine compassion in and of itself. Jesus wanted to sound clever to the Sadducees but apparently not alleviate any of the anxieties of married Christian couples for the next 2,000 years. They’re stuck with reading in some compassionate subtext not stated against the grain of all these prudish Jewish cultural sensibilities Jesus seems to be on board with.]

      Anyway, marriage was just for reproduction and fulfilling the Genesis mandate to fill the earth. Having kids was the going form of immortality in Old Testament thought. With a substitute immortality where you actually get to live forever, you don’t need kids. No kids means no reproduction. No reproduction to these guys means a female identity was useless in heaven. Consent goes where? You clicked the “I love Jesus no matter what,” user agreement and didn’t read all the fine print, didn’t you? Oops! Though not all of this is explicitly hammered home in the NT, I would assume something like this would be more likely true than the mostly acultural wishful thinking of modern Christians who want to soft peddle it all.

    • lowey says

      No, Im most certainly not a Christian. I am and always have been a atheist / humanist.
      And I am fully in support of Richard’s article.

      I mearly quoted Galatians 3:28 to point out to Steve the Christian that even his own book, the word of god, contradicts what he is saying.

    • says

      Thanks, Lowey. That’s what I assumed myself (and I appreciate it! It’s a good catch…requires some twisting and convolutions from a Christian to escape its significance).

      Ben is right, though, that Paul technically meant in the future afterlife. Although the real Paul (vs. the fake Paul in the letters to Timothy, for example) probably did imagine the community starting to live like its future blessed life, our current bodies of flesh were still gendered and their susceptibility to demonic influence still required gendered behaviors, which is why Paul insists women, and not men, must cover their hair, to avoid tempting fallen angels, a tactic that would be rendered unnecessary only after the universal resurrection.

      However, the most gendered anti-woman passage in the authentic Pauline letters (in 1 Cor. 14) is probably an interpolation and not written by Paul (see Pauline Interpolations). But a “literalist” like Steve won’t accept that, nor will he except that 1 Timothy 2 was not written by Paul but a forger almost a century later.

    • lowey says

      No, thank you both, Richard and Ben. Your insights will always be greater than mine, I’m merely a casual reader, a jack-of-all-trades; a ‘lurker’and very rarely do I make a comment. But, I wonder, does it really make any difference if it’s in the here-and-now or the future afterlife as the source material is completely unreliable and a fiction?

    • lowey says

      …… and by-the-way, I do really enjoy reading a comprehensive take down of a christian argument, very entertaining.

    • says

      “But, I wonder, does it really make any difference if it’s in the here-and-now or the future afterlife as the source material is completely unreliable and a fiction?”

      In terms of insisting that Christians take full responsibility for their moral beliefs whether any given injustice is technically fictional or not, yes. Their integrity is on the spot and the coherency of their gospel message they expect others to take seriously is also on the spot.

      Should Christians be allowed to disown the evils of the Old Testament just because these are supposedly New Testament times? Were Yahweh’s laws perfect or not? Should Christians be allowed to distance themselves from the moral opinions of their deity just because they did not originate in their own minds even though they are obligated to *completely agree* with those supposedly divine opinions? I don’t think so.

      And so even though the terrorism of a Christian end of the world isn’t going to happen and even though the eternal injustice of a Christian hell isn’t going to happen to anyone doesn’t mean Christians aren’t responsible for embracing those beliefs as supposedly moral. If you are okay with idea of marriages being abolished in the afterlife, that kind of makes you a huge dick. Doesn’t matter if it never actually happens. You agreed to the idea. Abraham agreed to murder his son as though that was a moral proposition from a moral deity. Doesn’t matter if at the last minute Abe was told not to do it. And he’s the “founder” of 3 or 4 major world religions! What a heinous legacy.

      Even bad moral ideas need to be criticized and the patterns of loyalistic thinking need to be questioned. These issues are as about as good as any to exercise critical thinking and reduce moral credulity in Christian cultures. I’m sure you’ll agree at the very least it’s just plain humorous to see them squirm out of all the evil implications of their fictional source material all the while pretending to have the moral high ground.

  6. says

    It’s perhaps a telltale of this guy’s attitude that he has to refer to Lana Wachowski by her birth name, which means in his eyes, your praise of Lana as “super cute” (which she is!) is androphilic. This is garden-variety homophobia on Steve’s part, and it is no different to find a trans* equivalent to the idea of “gay panic”, in the curiously constructed argument that attraction to a trans* person whose gender is different to your own, actually “makes” you homosexual. It’s not a coincidence that ideas of homophobia, misogyny, and transphobia are deeply intertwined, and Steve’s arguments obviously reflect that.

    I suppose I also have a few minor quibbles on terminology which I could raise, but shan’t – terms which as you point out, are in flux in the trans* community owing to the need to describe our experiences, and has to withstand hostile bigotry from others – but it doesn’t derail the soundness of your article in any way.

    • says

      I don’t mind, though, any discussion of other ways the terms I employ might get used, for example, since I (or if not me, certainly someone who might chance by here) can benefit from at least knowing more about that. Or any “minor quibbles,” which can helpfully add nuance. So (to you or anyone here) feel free to helpfully add that stuff if you think it will educate or be useful.

  7. Matthew S. North says

    You did a good job dispatching that bigoted moron. I’ve thought about this subject long and hard in my lifetime. I’m a bisexual male and I’ve always felt myself squarely in the middle between masculine and feminine. Growing up, I had interests in both traditionally male and female roles and cultural expectations. It really is a great place to be. It’s as if I can look at both genders with a dispassionate understanding of both. I’ve always thought that, biologically and genetically, there’s a wide spectrum of differences in people’s size, hair & skin color body-type and behavior, which includes sexual behavior and sexual identity. Cultural norms and expectations often clash with biological reality.

    PS. How about an update on your book about the historicity of Jesus. I watched the YouTube video of you explaining why you’re a Mythicist at the UNCG Atheists, Agnostics and Skeptics and also the video at the Triangle Freethought Society about how the Gospels are through and through myth. I was absolutely fascinated by the latter. I had no idea ancient writers wrote their myths with ‘Inclusio’ and ‘Chiasmus’ . Incredible! I don’t see how a Christian apologist could honestly argue that the Gospels aren’t myth after such a demonstration. I’ve got about 30 bucks burning a hole through my wallet to buy your book. How’s the peer review coming along and when’s the book coming out?
    Thanks, Matthew.

    • says

      On your point 1, I have similar feelings about being comfortable with having a supposedly “feminine” side that is stronger than traditional machismo would allow (e.g. I am a fan of Jane Austen films, especially the Ciaran Hinds / Amanda Root version of Persuasion, which would be pegged a “chick flick” by most over-masculinized men, and yet I find I’m a much better man for being in touch we these sorts of things and I would dread being locked in so tight a box as “traditional masculinity” would force on me).

      On your point 2, things are in a holding pattern right now. Nothing has changed since my last update (last paragraph here), except that I may end up with a publisher that has a much longer production timeline than I’m used to. So my predicted release date may be way off…I won’t know until end of July when I have a contract and can get an estimate from my publisher on how long it will be from there; but the book will have completed peer review by then and will have been fully revised as the peers require by then, so it really will be entirely the publisher’s production process from there on out, which I will have little control over.

  8. says

    Ahh… such an awesome post, Dr. C! Extraordinarily well written! I love how messy our sexuality/gender is, and how simple so many people insist it must be. Great point, how women who dress up in clothes and hairstyle from the 50s are doing it to construct the image that they prefer or that they innately feel best fits them.

    I was discussing transgender and intersex people with a friend of mine a while back, and he basically said that society shouldn’t acknowledge them because it would be better if our collective notion of gender were more parsimonious. It’s of course ridiculous to try and enforce a down-sampled understanding the world around you just because you struggle to make sense of it. It’s like the ancient Greeks who couldn’t grasp irrational numbers, and wouldn’t tolerate anyone who could.

    • says

      It’s…ridiculous to try and enforce a down-sampled understanding the world around you just because you struggle to make sense of it.

      I love that line. It describes so much of political ideology, too.

      Quite right.

      I can sympathize at least with the ghost of an idea inside that sentiment, though, that we do want to make the world intelligible, and the ability to categorize things is still an important tool to do that with. The problem arises when we start to treat the categories as independent realities and reject anything that doesn’t fit them, rather than revise our categories to include the bits of reality we missed. So I’m in favor of working out a consistent terminology that can include everything, without forcing people where they don’t belong. But I think we’re getting there.

  9. says

    This piece seems to have a presupposition that gender identity is a conclusion people reach; someone experiences traits, the traits map to femininity, so the person identifies as female.

    This does not match the experience of most of the trans people I’ve known. Most of them have as their primary experience a firm sense of self as “male” or “female” unrelated to cultural notions of femininity or masculinity. Some transwomen are very masculine, and enjoy being masculine — they just want to be acknowledged as female because femaleness, not femininity, is a part of their sense of self.

    This doesn’t seem weird to me. Most mammals appear to have some kind of awareness that their species comes in two types (most of the time) and that they are of one of those types. Why shouldn’t we, too?

    Basically, when you say “gender expression (and thus any gender identity one might be expressing with it) is socially constructed”, you appear to be asserting that gender identity is purely socially constructed, and that gender identity is determined by gender expression. Neither of these appears to be generally true. In general, people I know who are trans are starting from body dysphoria and a strong sense of identity, and reaching conclusions about their preferred social roles from that, not the other way around.

    • says

      This does not match the experience of most of the trans people I’ve known. Most of them have as their primary experience a firm sense of self as “male” or “female” unrelated to cultural notions of femininity or masculinity.

      I don’t know how that can be possible. By the time you can have any sense of self and cognition sufficient to think a thought like that, you’ve been saturated in cultural notions of femininity or masculinity.

      However, you are right to point out that “woman” means more than “feminine” (and that “feminine” is not exclusively an attribute of “women” any more than “masculine” is an exclusive attribute of “man”).

      In this respect “femaleness, not femininity, is a part of their sense of self” still references a cultural construct of “femaleness.” (Indeed even the word “woman” is a cultural construct, not just how it is assigned but the very fact that the word exists at all. What it gets pegged to in the physical world is then fuzzy.)

      Most mammals appear to have some kind of awareness that their species comes in two types (most of the time) and that they are of one of those types. Why shouldn’t we, too?

      Note that that isn’t relevantly true. Transgendered people have an identity, animals do not, and are aware of their identity and can have thoughts about it, animals can’t.

      That an animal can recognize an appropriate mate or dominance scheme is not the same thing as human gender, since mating and dominance are genetic, not cultural (rare exceptions perhaps among primates etc.). Likewise that animals take to certain roles according to gender is genetic, not learned (unlike humans, who learn their roles, we do not automatically take to them–rare exceptions being things like autonomic responses, e.g. lactating, although even that is hormone driven, not DNA driven). (But of course, even in these respects there is no biological consistency: homosexuality and certain kinds of cross-sex role-taking are observed throughout the animal kingdom.)

      So I think this analogy can’t do enough work to be useful (e.g. have we identified animals with body dysphoria? it would be difficult to tell, but interesting to know if it ever happens). Humans are so much more culturally driven (whole orders of magnitude more).

      Basically, when you say “gender expression (and thus any gender identity one might be expressing with it) is socially constructed”, you appear to be asserting that gender identity is purely socially constructed, and that gender identity is determined by gender expression. Neither of these appears to be generally true. In general, people I know who are trans are starting from body dysphoria and a strong sense of identity, and reaching conclusions about their preferred social roles from that, not the other way around.

      Note that I did qualify a lot (I note that not all of it is cultural, just that most of it is, e.g. see also my comment here, which brings this point out in sharper relief).

      I know transgendered persons who don’t experience body dysphoria, so that can’t be generalized either (but see linked comment for more on that as well). The narratives I have read, and they are many, go way beyond that and sometimes don’t even reference it. But even then the question can be asked where that came from: is it an inborn/in-utero mismatch between cognitive body map and actual body, or a learned realignment of cognitive body map with that of a different sex, and if the latter, what causes that? Culture in the latter case is the most plausible mediator (the way we treat and talk about and associate attributes with a certain body type), so how someone thinks they came to a thought is not necessarily what the process actually was in their brain (our own culture to us is largely invisible, thus it’s often the last thing we realize is influencing us).

      At any rate, that’s a question for science to answer some day. In terms of how we should act now, as my article concludes, it really doesn’t matter.

  10. Lucien Happersberger says

    Dr. Carrier,

    Actually, I’m not really interested in the “odyssey of gender and god.” BUT since you felt it significant to mention the obscenely talented Eden Atwood (and post one of her album covers) in the same paragraph as Jamie Lee Curtis as an example of a proud woman living with AIS I know you as a researcher with integrity will want to know about her very recent work as an advocate for intersex people.

    Eden Atwood is the founder of The Interface Project, http://www.interfaceproject.org, Facebook, https://www.facebook.com/interfaceproject.

    The Interface Project’s mission is to gather personal stories of people living with an intersex condition or difference of sex development (DSD) to spread the message, “No Body Is Shameful.”™

    I know you can dig it.

    L.

    • says

      Yes, thank you.

      I already linked to an article about Atwood and her advocacy, but your links are valuable additions, well worth exploring.

      But do note that I researched the matter of Jamie Lee Curtis and found no evidence she has ever admitted (publicly) to living with AIS. That is an urban legend. It may be true (studies apparently exist, for example, that cite “two” famous actresses as willing study subjects, but always withholding consent to use their names…which means the rumor, if true, would stem from a violation of her medical privacy). But until she corroborates (and by all accounts she has declined to), it would be inappropriate to assert it.

      There are articles on this at Snopes.com and About.com and The Examiner.

  11. Ennis says

    This is a brilliant article, but I just wanted to put my two cents in as a genderqueer/non-binary person. You seem to get fairly well while even someone who doesn’t want to change their sex would be more comfortable living as the “opposite” gender if it better matches up with how they see themselves and want society to see/treat them. It therefore shouldn’t be a stretch to imagine that there are people whose traits and inner selves do not align completely with one side or the other, who feel out of place with both binary genders. Especially in a society where the two are often propped up as being diametrically opposed.

    I know I am not comfortable being seen as either a woman or a man, they both feel wrong but in this society I have to ask myself “which feels more wrong?” to sort of decide which side I want others to perceive me as. It’s very difficult to explain. I have been assigned “female” but increasingly realised how uncomfortable I am with that, and my body feels a bit “off”. I don’t really feel like a “man trapped in a ‘woman’s’ body”, or someone who would necessarily feel at all home in a “male social role”. Yet I would rather be seen as a feminine boy if I have to pick sides, I would rather be harassed for traits that are accepted if I am perceived female than, well, to be perceived female. I’d be a “boy that’s not really a boy” not because of my biology but simply because that’s more how it feels. If I had the option I would opt into the gender of “androgyne” but there is no way for me to do so, people are always going to be trying to force me into one or the other. Although I could probably live as my assigned gender without feeling so much dissonance as to be suicidal (like some trans* people) I don’t see why I should have to if I could try to carve out a place for myself in the world as something else and reduce my net discomfort.

    Also, I am not speaking for all non-binary trans* identities here. There are some people who fluctuate between the binary poles, others who feel like they embody both simultaneously, etc. and I don’t know what their experiences are like. I just thought I’d add a little to what is otherwise a fantastic article about how ridiculous it is to deny people such simple things that would make them happy and more at peace with themselves, no matter the origin or if it’s “nature or nurture”.

    • says

      That’s a good point. I touched on that at various places in my article but I didn’t explicitly make the point you do, which is well worth making. And hearing your narrative will be valuable information for people to assimilate as they collate data about their world.

      Related information for people to explore further (always use any of this critically of course):

      The Wikipedia article on Androgyny (which touches on more than just that category)

      The Wikipedia article on Third Gender (in India, some cultures actually have created an additional gender status; Japan and Korea have recently been experimenting with what may become another instance of this development; many other examples are discussed there).

      And in Australia, one of its states now recognizes a “no gender” status: New South Wales Officially Recognizes Gender X.

      These things help us keep thinking outside the blinders of cultural assumptions.

  12. rumblestiltsken says

    I have to disagree on one point – it is kinda dodgy to include “super-cute” in your description, particularly in light of comment 1 and 1.1 in this chain.

    There is nothing wrong with feeling attracted to someone per se, but women are held to be sexually available and their bodies held to be public domain in such a strong way that any comment on the physical, particularly in the setting of such an awesome talk by Lana, is perpetuating some nasty aspects of gender and patriarchy.

    And this is doubly (triply, bazillionly) bad for transwomen (trans* people in general, but transwomen in particular). The only groups that get as sexualised and objectified are women of colour, and both groups get exposed to massively higher rates of sexual violence partially due to these pervasive stereotypes.

    Discussing how a transwoman looks when it is irrelevant to the context is really not ok, and makes tons of trans*folk very uncomfortable.

    • says

      The premise is worth noting (because context matters), but I disagree with the conclusion. To conclude we must never express our attraction to other people or our thoughts about their attractiveness is simply not the correct remedy for the problem. What we must do is contextualize it so people’s negative assumptions are challenged or even subverted. I discussed this in Sexual Objectification: An Atheist Perspective. In the case of my remarks about Lana, no one could confuse them for supporting patriarchal assumptions about sexual availability or the elision of other admired attributes.

      To the contrary, the very fact that my comment enraged Steve proves I (a prominent thinker whose opinion he evidently finds influential enough to complain about) was subverting his assumption that a transsexual woman can’t be attractive. That did more damage to patriarchy than if I’d neutrally pretended she wasn’t attractive. Note that I very specifically even pointed out that he ignored the context of my finding other positive qualities in her that I liked. Yet another opportunity to deal a blow against patriarchal thinking.

      It is furthermore incorrect to say that my stating my thoughts and feelings about Lana and her talk was irrelevant to the context, when the context was my thoughts and feelings about Lana and her talk. I see no point in suppressing positive things I felt in an article about the positive things I felt, as if somehow censoring myself is going to deal a blow to patriarchy. We need to be more realistic about how to actually win that battle…and more accepting of people being open about what they think and feel. If I think Lana Wachowski is super cute, I should be able to say so…and I’ll be damned if I’m going to let patriarchy prevent me from saying so. Don’t let your fight against patriarchy lead you to promote a 1984-style culture as somehow an improvement. It’s really not.

      That said, it is always worth reminding people to be thoughtful about the issues you raise when they comment on others’ appearance. But that should not become the same thing as advocating voluntary censorship.

    • rumblestiltsken says

      “lead you to promote a 1984-style culture”

      You didn’t just … did you? Really?

      I personally think “super-cute” was close enough to a comment on her character that I was happy to accept it, until you made clear it was about her physical appearance.

      “It is furthermore incorrect to say that my stating my thoughts and feelings about Lana and her talk was irrelevant to the context, when the context was my thoughts and feelings about Lana and her talk” is often described as “she makes my penis feel happy” among social justice groups, and for good reason. What your penis (or attraction-brain-reflex-thing) says about a woman is rarely relevant to discussion, but guys always mention it. It is part of patriarchy. It is objectifying.

      Why is what you wrote different in any fundamental way from what happened to the young girl on /r/atheism with the Sagan book? Most of it wasn’t rape threats. Most of it was “ur hot”. Is it just her age? Would that response on /r/atheism been ok is she was over 18? Fuck no it wouldn’t.

      How is it different from news reporters discussing male politicians’ oratory, but a woman politician’s clothes and figure?

      How is it different from Greta asking people not to tell her she is not ugly when she gets insults? To paraphrase Greta, the point isn’t that she is super cute, the point is that it shouldn’t matter.

      To your frankly unbelievable line about thought-policing (which I really never expected from you, I am truly shocked to be honest) – you do not “strike a blow against patriarchy” by censoring your penis-monologue in public, You simply stop reinforcing it. And not reinforcing patriarchy is a good enough reason for me to keep my thoughts on the attractiveness of public figures to myself.

    • says

      I personally think “super-cute” was close enough to a comment on her character that I was happy to accept it, until you made clear it was about her physical appearance.

      I did not make that clear. I have to the contrary made clear it was both (go back and read the article).

      You are the one who made a point about it’s significance when taken as a sexual reference, and so I addressed the general point from your posed hypothetical.

      Indeed, I even just here in comments said “she makes my penis feel happy” (your words, not mine) is not what I meant.

      But back to the general point you brought up (about who we find sexually attractive) I see no valid reason to repress our sexuality. Sexual feelings are as valid as any other feelings, and we must not promote a culture where we suppress and never talk about one portion of our feelings. We need to move forward toward an open, sex positive culture where sexual feelings can be spoken about appropriately and openly without being attacked or shamed for it.

      That does not mean all talk about sexual feelings is appropriate. But neither does it mean we should damn talk of sexual feelings.

      It is objectifying.

      It can be. But it is not intrinsically. It can instead be subjectifying. And that is something we need to move toward as a culture, from objectifying to subjectifying discourse about human sexuality.

      See my linked article on exactly that question.

      Why is what you wrote different in any fundamental way from what happened to the young girl on /r/atheism with the Sagan book?

      I am not going to dignify that with an answer. You are simply not taking this conversation seriously anymore if you really think what I said was anywhere near equivalent to that.

      How is it different from news reporters discussing male politicians’ oratory, but a woman politician’s clothes and figure?

      Compare an example of that with what I actually said about Lana and then we’ll talk about what a better future would look like with regard to how we address these things. It’s particularly interesting that everyone votes under influence of a man’s appearance but we won’t talk about it. Don’t you think a better world would be one in which we did? More time on men’s appearance, less time on women’s, until we treat everyone the same, which in the end should be 10:1 substance:appearance.

      Imagine a better world. Then plan out how to get there from here. Suppressing honest and positive speech is not the way.

      How is it different from Greta asking people not to tell her she is not ugly when she gets insults? To paraphrase Greta, the point isn’t that she is super cute, the point is that it shouldn’t matter.

      And yet Greta writes about fashion and how to be beautiful, and being open about our sexuality and sexual feelings. You might try listening to both sides of Greta’s discourse and see how to combine them into a good way forward for all humanity.

    • rumblestiltsken says

      You made it clear you meant her physical appearance in this article. I didn’t respond to the previous one for the reason described, I gave you the benefit of the doubt. This article makes clear your point. As do the comments, where you not only lament that “the good ones are gay” (total wtf? “If they weren’t gay they would be mine!” right?), but you also weigh in on exactly who does and does not make your penis happy. Apparently, not most trans* people and Africans, but hey hey Indian women! Yet again, the objectification and judgement of women on physical and racial lines writ large in public.

      And yes, I am going to keep using that phrase about your penis. If you don’t like me bringing up your penis regularly maybe you should consider that in this context.

      To clarify what I thought was obvious, that Sagan reddit reference was clear and I in no way accused you of making rape comments. I accused you of making objectifying comments. When a girl holds up a book she likes and gets told “you are pretty” it is objectifying.

      When a transwoman gives a fucking amazing, seminal talk about her life and experiences and you add in “she is super cute” it is exactly the same thing. There is no functional difference. Can you at least try to explain what makes the first bad, but not the second? Remember that intent is not magic.

      You are playing a genderblind game here. “Wouldn’t it be better if gender didn’t matter? Let us work towards that”. NO. This has failed every time it has been tried. You cannot tear away social problems by pretending they don’t exist. Gender does matter.

      As a clarifier to what I am actually having a problem with here … this was a simple criticism. A criticism that other FTBers deal with a lot (like PZ using the word “moron”) by saying … “I understand, and I agree sort-of, but this blog is not a true safe-space.”

      I would have accepted that and moved on. We can all enjoy problematic things, or at least accept that not all allies will be 100% perfect all the time. Whatever, bigger fish to fry.

      But when you returned an argument about how specifically commenting on the physical appearance of a woman speaker is not objectifying you went from reasonable to downright wrong, in a basic 101 sense. The comment, especially in the context of a fairly professional blog (you don’t speak as if to friends, you speak as if you were writing professional literature), is clearly objectifying.

      and Re: Greta. Please, show her this conversation. See what she thinks. If you like I will bring it up on an open A+ forum, I haven’t yet because I didn’t want to muddy the waters while I tried to explain this. I can happily get a show of hands at the subreddit if you feel you need more support before you take what I am saying seriously.

      And honestly, if a bunch of people I respected said I was over-reacting I could take it on board too. But I don’t think they would say that.

    • says

      Context is everything. In this article the issue of sexual attraction and its complexity is part of the very point of the article, not some unnecessary casual aside.

      You are over-obsessing on sexualizing my mindset and reducing my opinions to “penis driven” psychology, as if my feelings and thoughts were worthless merely because my body generates testosterone. I find that offensive.

      Read my linked post about the difference between objectification and subjectification. And please learn to not be ashamed of or to condemn human sexual feelings or constructive discourse about them.

      And stop attributing things to me I clearly don’t espouse (I write an article about gender differences, and you tell me I’m promoting some sort of hyper-libertarian gender-blindness…um, no).

      All in all, you are not listening to me or treating what I say with adequate respect.

  13. gropter says

    I have a question for Richard Carrier:

    Why do you suck ‘smelly ass’ ?

    When PZ Myers first seduced you into sucking his smelly ass you instantly fell in love with the taste of his smelly ass. Now you suck ‘smelly ass’ and drive to PZ Myers’ house three times a day to suck smelly ass.

    He totally brainwashed you into thinking that sucking ‘smelly ass’ is the most rational thing you could do and that the consequences for society of sucking ‘smelly ass’ are always positive.

    Now you just cant stop suckng ‘smelly ass’ and your jealous of everyone else who wants to suck ‘smelly ass’.

    “I want to be the only one who sucks ‘smelly ass’. ‘Smelly ass’ is mine. I suck ‘smell ass’ ” you keep saying to PZ myers.

    Whats so great about sucking smelly ass???

    • says

      Never post a comment on my blog again. If you do, I will publish your email address and all personal information I have about you. You have been warned.

    • says

      Okay. You were warned. You violated my comments policy (clause 9) when you attempted to do this again here. Your email address is shinzu@wobmail.com and you posted the second time from IP address 46.115.76.49 and this first time from IP address 46.115.52.16. As best I can determine, both could be about two miles West Southwest of Herbelhausen, Germany, near route K110, but in any event they are owned by E-Plus Mobilfunk based in Düsseldorf, evidently your internet service provider. Your email service appears to be located in Wolfsburg. So most likely you are a German miscreant. I would guess, aged twelve.

  14. lady_arkitekt says

    So glad people like this aren’t getting a free ride- I’ve had lots of other atheist communities start claiming many of these same things against trans folk such as myself.

    Thank you, and now I have a good article to point to when that happens. ^_^

  15. Jean says

    First let me say that I really like your post and the way you present most things. Also being a middle aged white hetero cis-male who doesn’t personally know any trans* person, I can only rely on what I’ve learned reading things on the subject (mainly on freethoughtblogs and especially from Natalie Reed and Zinnia) and my own empathy.

    Having said that, it would seem to me that when you say:

    “I can appreciate (and declare) that Lana is very sexually attractive if I were sexually interested in transsexual women. I’m not usually.”

    it could be seen as you saying that transsexual women are not real women. I know you’re not saying this but you do use the qualifier which could have the effect of “othering” them which is exactly not what you want to do.

    I may be seeing that completely from the wrong point of view and the fact that no one else has mentioned this would tend to confirm it. However, I would appreciate your comments on it.

    • says

      It’s worth being aware of that caution. We often don’t think about that, and in my life I’ve engaged in accidental othering from time to time simply because I’m clueless. But in this case it would require assuming a Steve-like perspective on what a “real woman” is, which is what I’m arguing is incorrect to begin with.

      By analogy, I don’t personally often find African women sexually attractive (sometimes I do; as also transsexual women), but I often find Indian women very sexually attractive (Mindy Kaling, for example, is stunning, yet definitely rates as black), which makes no logical sense. Yet it has nothing to do with African women not being real women. And there’s nothing objective or judgmental about it. It’s just people have weird congeries of attraction sets in their brain, and everyone is different. Some prefer raspberry tarts, some prefer strawberry.

      But that’s sexual attraction. As I also note in my article, there is a lot more to someone’s attractiveness than sexual attractiveness (much less to a specific observer). Someone can light me up with butterflies and happy feelings with their beauty or personality or qualities or achievements without forcing me to push aside thoughts of ravishing them like a Romance novel. Although the latter, Lana almost does. ;-)

    • says

      That’s kind if what I was addressing earlier [comment 1], and it does give me a giggle when people think they can assert that they’re usually not attracted to trans women. By which they they are actually saying “of the subset of trans women that I happened to realize are trans, I tended not to be attracted to many of them”. How many of the actual full set of trans women you’ve seen have you been attracted to? You simply can’t know! And this is why making that distinction is not only meaningless, it reinforces stereotypes (ie. that trans women have a “certain look” that distinguishes them from women in general).

    • says

      And yet, if it’s true, what can we do? If I don’t have a sexual interest in the trans* women I meet (most; again, I could name exceptions), then it is simply the case that I don’t. I’m not going to pretend otherwise (indeed, that would be worse).

    • Jean says

      But what does that mean? It seems to me to make as much sense as saying I’m not attracted to left handed women. First I have no idea if a woman is or not left handed from just looking and the variation in look and personality covers the whole spectrum. Don’t you think it is the same with trans* women?

    • says

      No. Just as your analogy doesn’t work for African women vs. Caucasian. You seem to be imagining that transsexual and transgender women consistently look identical in facial structure and anatomy to birth-assigned women. Some do. Many don’t. That’s an ideal we can strive for technologically, but it is not a reality yet achieved. Not all transgendered people even want to. Nor should we imagine they have to, much less in order to be liked and respected.

    • Alexis says

      I realize you didn’t mean it to be, though my reading of it is that it does contain a subtext of a little othering in the sense that there are trans African women, trans Indian women, etc. So I was wondering if you might describe what exactly it is about trans*women you do not find attractive? Or the characteristics of those you do? e.g. Indian trans*women?

      Thanks :)

      p.s. really nice article thanks for writing it.

  16. says

    Thanks so much for this article Richard, it was much needed. I kinda wish I could give you a kiss….I hope you’re not married though. I’m serious and you’re welcome for the compliment.

    Thanks for writing this article, again it’s incredible and was much needed =~)

  17. yetanothernym says

    Such attitudes, though not as common as in Christian circles in my experience, seem to be present in atheist ones as well. Seems weird for people who tend to be “naturalists” to be such essentalists on these issues and keep their forefathers’ prejudices and “natural” revulsion (sometimes justified by using that one or another study that shows that this or the other group tend to have a higher rate of this or the other mental illness, therefore predisposed and bad for society therefore the prejudice is justified) with them but it happens, unfortunately.

    • says

      Yes, I’ve encountered that, too (and gave a sad nod to it in my article). It’s even more astonishing, frankly. The Christian at least has a delusional framework honed over millennia and reinforced by a tight-knit social system to trap them in. I can’t fathom what excuse an atheist has.

  18. earth&stars says

    Richard, I’d be very interested to know why you’re certain that you’re “not normally attracted to trans women”. Do you mean that you’re rarely attracted to women who fit your preconceptions about trans women, or is there some research behind your claim? Unless you’re actually going so far as to get complete medical histories from the attractive woman you meet or notice, the fact that many trans people are unrecognizable as trans makes me wonder how you can be so incredibly sure of yourself.

    • says

      I just know a lot of trans women and know what I feel. It’s possible that is subconsciously influenced by my knowledge (and that if I didn’t know I’d feel differently). But there isn’t anything I can do about that. (As I’ve noted, there are already some exceptions to my knowledge, so I know I can be sexually attracted to a trans woman.)

    • earth&stars says

      Please re-read my comment, Richard. My question was about how you know the medical histories of the women to whom you *are* attracted. How do you know what percentage of them are cissexual?

  19. says

    Also, I’m not even sure that guy had a point about Lycanthropic as well: what’s to say they are really “mentally ill” either? They could just be different as well in ways that guy doesn’t approve of. Amazing title though :D

    This was a great article that you wrote Richard! Amazing stuff, super amazing. I would say though that I had body/sex dysphoria as young as I could remember (going back to three years old); seeing a different body configuration on my mental map than I saw with my own eyes. So I intend to get GRS bottom surgery, yes, but also ovary implants, uterus implants, etc. Maybe that’s already covered by the article? I skimmed through it because it was super long and I was tired last night.

    Wow you really made a concise and very well thought out article, this was a much needed and awesome article, thanks x10. :+)

    • says

      Well, as Steve described it, the lycanthropic delusion he is talking about would entail having demonstrably false beliefs. So it’s not just a question of different opinions about behavior.

      I could have digressed on the common over-use of words like “insanity” and “mental illness” and that delusionality, for example, exists by degrees (everyone has delusions to some degree, often trivial) and is usually only classified as an illness (or more appropriately a disorder) when it interferes with your ability to conduct your life or negotiate society. Steve’s imaginary lycanthrope scenario in its entirety certainly fits that category–but then he was arguing by hyperbole.

      Perhaps if Steve instead described a scenario in which someone knew full well they weren’t a wolf or a werewolf but simply felt happier presenting as one (imagine, for example, a future world where people can adopt any body they like without difficulty or downside, like they often can already do in video-game worlds) but otherwise behaving like any average decent person and entertaining no false beliefs at all, then we’d be well outside the delusion category. But of course, if he did that, his argument wouldn’t look very convincing anymore. Instead he’d kind of be proving our point.

    • rowanvt says

      All I could think was maybe Steve had heard about otherkin, but got just about everything about them wrong? Or was he going for the clinical definition of lycanthropy? Because otherkin at least recognise (well, most of them… :/) that they are physically human even if mentally they don’t identify with humanity all that much at all. Many of them think they’re that way through reincarnation. I view it as a psychological quirk because even as an atheist, my mental picture of Self is most definitely not human.

    • says

      @rowanvt 22.3: And at the end of the day, if you want to be a werewolf? Be a werewolf. I mean, don’t go around killing anyone or somesuch… But this world could use a few more interesting characters. Where my transhumanism and trans* humanism intersect is: your body is your own – have fun!

  20. says

    Here are some really good statistics too, to supplement this amazing article:

    http://pastebin.com/217A57Jt

    transgender empirical statistics and explanative articles

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?feature=player_embedded&v=A3C4ZJ7HyuE
    taken from this talk: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=LOY3QH_jOtE&feature=youtu.be&t=1h23m52s

    AMA and APA statements on transpeople and medically necessary surgeries (hard statistics referenced):
    http://www.cristanwilliams.com/b/wp-content/uploads/2013/02/12-36-apa-position-statements-on-transgender-1.pdf
    http://www.cristanwilliams.com/b/wp-content/uploads/2013/02/12-36-apa-position-statements-on-transgender-1.pdf

    Hard empirical statistics pdf, some of which are referenced in the above two pdf’s:
    http://www.thetaskforce.org/downloads/reports/reports/ntds_full.pdf

    http://gallae.com/cathy/essay12.html (explains differences very well, but I do not condone TS separatist while I am TS myself)

    http://www.transadvocate.com/extreme-pressures-faced-by-trans-people.htm

    Thanks again Richard! :~)

  21. Uncle Ebeneezer says

    Fantastic and very informative post Richard. I had no idea of the diversity of all the cultural and biological combinations. This would make an excellent Ted-style talk/presentation. Just sayin’ ;)

  22. Amber says

    Hi, Dr. Carrier, this is the same Amber from Facebook (unsurprisingly, given the icon should be a doppelganger). As mentioned before, I wanted to comment some on the terminology of the article.

    I’ve glanced over the comments and am kind of surprised I haven’t seen anyone raise the issue (if they did, I missed it) about the use of “transsexual” as a noun. Generally speaking, transsexual-as-noun is seen as quite othering by trans* people. Article on the subject (well, on transgender-as-noun, but I think the same issue applies): http://www.deeplyproblematic.com/2010/05/transgender-is-adjective-not-noun-or.html

    ^ I think this article does a very good job of laying out why trans-anything-as-noun is awkward.

    Transsexual-as-adjective is less generally frowned upon and more (as near as I can tell, and again, I’m not trans* myself, and as you rightly note, these terms are in flux) in debate at the moment, although I think there IS a notable debate to be had. Some trans* people use the term (Julia Serano does in the title of her book, Whipping Girl: A Transsexual Woman on Sexism and the Scapegoating of Femininity — which by the way is a PHENOMENAL book that I highly recommend; some even call it a trans* manifesto, though Serano’s perspective may notably be framed by her race [white] and class [middle-to-upper]; trans* women of color face whole different sets of challenges and a significantly higher rate of violence…), while others see it as needless gatekeeping that separates transgender people who haven’t undergone (the colloquial term) “bottom surgery” from those who have. Unfortunately, there is quite a bit of gatekeeping of this nature in the LGBTQI community (although I think we would agree cis people had best stay the hell out of that and let the community work it out) in which some see people who have undergone surgery as “real” trans* women or HBJ women as “real” trans* women vs. others.

    This issue has had many unfortunate real life implications, such as when a young trans* girl was denied access to Smith College, a woman’s college, because she hasn’t had “bottom surgery” yet (even though she’s 18 and many doctors advise against the procedure until one is older than this). These “feminist” institution leaders, who would decry men classifying women according to their genitalia, are happy to deny the womanhood and identity of a young trans* girl on the basis of her genitalia. A disgusting irony at its finest. (Moreover, trans* men have been allowed into, and are still in, Smith College. Transmisogyny — men still benefit over women, even at women’s institutions, apparently!)

    Another objection some people have to the term “transsexual” is the “sexual” bit — unfortunately, there’s quite a bit of disgusting conservative (and liberal, albeit often framed as “innocent curiosity”) hang-up on trans* people’s genitals and some would say a special term for those who have undergone surgery promotes and legitimizes the continuation of said hang-up, just as “homosexual” is very often used in conservative-speak to frame gay people as hypersexual and to identify gay people solely in terms of, well, sex and sexual activities.

    But it’s not 100% clear-cut, since, as I said, some trans* people do use the adjective as a distinction. I almost get the sense — and I may be wrong here, I admit — that some of this may be a generational issue. Many of the trans* people I see using “transsexual” are a little older. I kind of get the sense that younger people are more and more regarding the distinction as a form of gatekeeping. I don’t know any trans* people my age who would ever use the adjective for themselves or others. But, like I said, my impression may be totally wrong and rooted in bias of exposure. There definitely ARE generational differences in the community that render it in flux — Kate Bornstein’s writings, for instance, are viewed critically by many trans* sites today.

    I do agree with you that chromosomal sex and whether one is on HRT, etc., are important distinctions, but I am not sure that sells me on the transgender/transsexual distinction, because even so, those terms are so umbrella as to be virtually useless medically (a transgender-identifying person may be on HRT, for instance, but not have undergone SRS, or she may not have started HRT yet, or she may have undergone ‘top surgery’ but not bottom surgery, etc.) Had a few related thoughts on that, but don’t want to keep rambling. Anyway. One other terminology quibble:

    “If God wanted everyone to be consistently a boy or girl, he wouldn’t have created hermaphrodites.”

    I am unsure if you are using this in terms of people or other species, but, in terms of human beings*, most people now use the term intersex. Couple of links:

    http://www.intersex.org.za/index.php/en/faqs/general-questions/11-what-is-the-difference-between-hermaphrodite-and-intersex

    http://www.isna.org/faq/hermaphrodite

    *Wouldn’t quibble about animals. Calling slugs hermaphroditic seems accurate enough, what with their mutually impregnating upside down fucking. And here creationists are so convinced God is some prude about sexual orientations! Upside down mutually impregnating slug fucking begs to differ!

    Hope all this quibbling wasn’t too annoying. It is a good article, and I’m especially jazzed to find all these links to interesting posts on the subject that I had not encountered before!

    [Also, I am still figuring out how the hell to use WordPress, so I hope this doesn’t post weirdly. I keep getting “Possible Imposter” errors.]

    • says

      Thank you. All helpful. And well-framed.

      Re: WordPress — your comment looks fine, but just FYI you can use standard HTML tags in comments (I did this for your link to Whipping Girl to illustrate; I’ve heard that similarly highly recommended by several transgender women, BTW). On the back end I even have a toolbox for doing this, but for some reason WordPress won’t show this to commenters on the front end, so you just have to “know” how to code basic HTML, which is silly, but alas how they have it so far. Sometimes it shows how to type the codes, sometimes not–but you can use most of what’s listed here (except possibly image inclusion might be blocked by our webmaster, I haven’t checked).

    • Amber says

      Oh, so I reply by replying to my top post? Aha, I’m used to LiveJournal blogging, so this is taking some getting used to. I am determined to learn, though. I actually was wondering if I could use HTML in comments or not — nothing is quite as awkward as HTML that codes as text, so I avoided it at first. *g*

      As for the new link — is this your personal rec site, then? I’ll have to look through it. (And I am not at all surprised to hear that about others reccing Serano. She’s so thoroughly wonderful.)

    • says

      Oh, yes. WordPress sucks in some respects. I can imagine better designs. But no one wants to program them, evidently. So we have to use the procedural equivalent of tacks and duct tape to get it to do what we want.

      Re: the hyperlink. Oh, right. Yes. I built that link ad hoc. Such links go to my Amazon store, and I just do that out of habit and business sense (I get a commission on all sales made that way). You can build a link like that by just replacing the ISBN (the number that concludes that link; in Amazon, that number is also in the link to any book’s sales page, although usually not at the end, but after the main part of the URL and before all the cookie metacode–but always distinguishable as being a solid ten digit or thirteen digit number).

      For example:

      I just picked this book at random right now and made a link to it in my store (even though it isn’t in my store).

      If you had an Amazon Associates account you could build your own Amazon store and do the same (and collect your own commissions).

      BTW, you can alternatively build a link to the main Amazon site that also will give me the commission on the sale, by just adding the URL terminator: ?ie=UTF8&tag=richardcarrier-20 (but only if such a link is clicked on my websites, which I have registered for the purpose…so you can’t just put such a thing in a link from anywhere).

      For example:

      Here is such a link to that same random book.

      Not that I expect anyone to do this. This is just something I do. Because it helps pay the bills. (I only make a living by cobbling together small commissions and honoraria and royalties on a variety of things, each of which alone is paltry, but all added up is a respectable, albeit poverty level, small business income. Which just barely pays our mortgage. The rest of our life is covered by my wife’s salary, which is impressive. I pay her back by making sure she has no domestic responsibilities–I cook her dinner after work, do all the laundry and dishes, yard and garbage, home maintenance and accounting and cleaning, etc.–so my second job is homemaker, albeit with only a cat and no kids, so it’s actually enjoyable. TMI. But most people don’t know how diverse people’s ways of making a living can be, so I don’t mind dispelling stereotypes.)

    • Amber says

      As TMI goes, that’s a very endearing bit of TMI. And it speaks to my soul in a big way right now because I have a lot of internalized classism/monetary status BS (I don’t judge other people, but often myself)… realizing that people I greatly respect are able to lead happy and self-fulfilling lives without berating themselves over not having enormous personal salaries is somehow reassuring. What breed is your cat, by the way? I have a himmie. She is literally a perfect creature.

      In terms of books, I definitely intend to purchase Not the Impossible Faith; I’ve been eyeballing it for a while. I read avidly, and history is one of my favourite topics. The chapter titles listed on The Secular Web look super appealing. And the title is rather fetching somehow, even though I know it’s a rebuttal to the other title by the Christian apologist.

      By the way, it has come to my attention that my father told you he was reading your work before I was. This is pure revisionist history on par with the Gospels! I am QUITE certain I discovered Infidels.org before he did (though I can’t remember if I recommended it to him or if he later found it on his own… probably the latter). I became an atheist almost as soon as I began reading about atheism. I don’t have a dramatic de-conversion story as many non-believers do. I was pretty young, and the religious beliefs, which had been ebbing anyway, just sloughed off like so much dirt. And then afterwards it never ceased to be amazing to me that this didn’t transpire similarly for all people upon learning more about the origins of the Biblical texts (or other religious texts). [My father is actually the only other atheist in my immediate family. The rest are super fuckin Jesus-y. They Jesus all over FB 5-10 times a day and write prayers there as well. I grew up in GA, so that’s a part of it, I think.]

  23. Amber says

    Also, re: discussion upthread (I suppose I can’t comment to comment replies, hm) — I’m not sure you really WANT to know what trans-exclusive radical feminism says. Believe me, I wish I’d never heard of it. It’s literally brought me to tears to see such an unthinkable level of hatred perpetuated by a group of people claiming to be feminists. But in the interests of awareness, I believe doublereed above is referring to the claim by radical feminists that trans* women are analogous to white people who don blackface. Of course this claim ignores that trans* women transition and thus experience sexism exactly as cis women experience it, with additional doses of transphobia, cissexism, and transmisogyny.

    On the flipside of assholery, you do actually have some douchebags who claim to be “trans* black,” etc. In fact, it’s a real problem, albeit not a particularly common one — but common enough that one should know, I suppose, that some of these hypotheticals are unfortunately real:

    http://www.womanist-musings.com/2012/06/dear-demi-sexual-trans-ethnictrans.html

    ^ So, to some extent, there are sadly assholes out there who really do claim that shit like being married to Zeus on the astral plane (I am not actually joking about this — although I guess to be fair, the examples I saw were marriage to Loki, not Zeus) or being “trans* black” causes them some kind of social oppression on par with being trans* or gay. Where it gets really unfunny is that these appropriating assholes often have no problem telling actual POC or even disabled people that they have some kind of “privilege.” To quote from the article:

    “These fake trans people have even come up with a term for the rest of us who don’t have their so-called problems – singlets. Apparently, all of us walking around without a desire to appropriate from marginalized people have singlet privilege. As a Black woman, I also have cisethnic privilege because I identify to the racial group into which I was born. Isn’t that just fucking special. This is nothing more than White people wanting to claim that they are oppressed, while showing their damn arse to the world. If you are White, you are not now, or ever have been racially oppressed. You can’t just learn a few words in a language other than English, and read a few books, then declare yourself an expert on someone else’s race. This is beyond the height of arrogance and is the absolute definition of appropriation. The concept of race in a biological sense is most certainly a social construction; however, being a person of colour in a White supremacist world is not an identity that one can just choose. We are all born raced, but races that fall outside of the definition of Whiteness are stigmatized.”

    And in the comments:

    “I first saw this a week or so ago, with a white person referring to a person of color as “Cis-Korean.” At first I assumed the person must have been trolling, because I didn’t think anyone was capable of spewing that level of bullshit. Now I’m just… what. Like I’m really having trouble wrapping my head around the size of this steaming pile of bullshit. Every time I think I’ve got it, I realize that no, in fact, it’s way more bullshit than that.”

    You also have a handful of douchebags who pitch in that “those arguments are used against trans* women, too!” without apparently understanding a damn thing about colonialism and imperialism and how race has been constructed historically and continues to be, now, and the difference between this and gender.

    Shit like “singlet privilege” would be really hilarious if it weren’t being used in an appalling way against actual oppressed groups, and same for lycanthropic otherkin who think theirs is an oppression like that of queer people.

    Like I said, probably things you and everyone else are better off not knowing, though. I really wish I never knew any of this existed!

    • says

      [Just FYI, you can reply to replies by replying to the lead comment of a thead (all replies are then sorted chronologically, so your comment will appear in the thread where you expect). You can also link to comments (hover the mouse over the byline to see the hyperlink; right-click/control-click to copy) or identify them by their assigned number.]

  24. says

    I think it was the Lord Buddha that said, doubt everything and become your own light…pretty people are just that, pretty people…we may quibble about finer points, which is almost always desired but acceptance of self first begets acceptance of others…BTW, I like how you think and write, I’m jealous…Light & Love, Gilbert

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