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).
This, 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.) 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). Contrary 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.
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.
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 : 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).
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).
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.
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.
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.
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.
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!
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.
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.