Lazy Sunday: Got Monsters

First of all, a quick note: sorry there was no recap yesterday. I just figured since the week had so few posts (again… -sigh-) that it wasn’t really worth sacrificing a greatly needed night away from the blaggy-blegs. I’ll recap this past week’s posts when I do the recap this coming Saturday. Moving along to this week’s video…

I feel adding much in the way of commentary would spoil this, but for the sake of context, this is from Mina Caputo, singer of the metal band Life Of Agony, who back in the summer publicly revealed she was transitioning. This song and video’s release predates her coming out.

Slightly NSFW, albeit not egregiously so.

In the words of an e-friend of mine “That’s not subtext. That’s text.”

And links… [Read more…]

Born This Way: A Skeptical Look At The Neurological Theory Of Gender Identity

Sorry, everyone! No posts today. I’m terribly, terribly exhausted, as a result of falling way behind on my schedule, overextending my commitments, and having a friend from Kelowna staying over. I need sleep! So here’s a repost from Skepchick– one that is in desperate need of a follow-up, as I no longer entirely agree with the concepts and arguments I advanced in this post. My thinking on this issue has changed a lot over the past five months. So feel free to use the comment thread for helping expand the conversation, and move it forwards towards something a bit better, a bit broader, a bit more inclusive, and a bit more useful. Cheers!

For some reason, political debates concerning LGBT rights and issues like same-sex marriage often end up getting caught up in the question of whether or not being gay, lesbian, bi or trans is a choice. I’ve always considered this to be something of a red herring. Why, exactly, does it matter? If it were a choice, is there anything to justify treating it as anything other than a choice someone has the right to make? Any reason other than “Because The Bible!”, that is?

It’s certainly an interesting question, though. What exactly does cause variance in sexual orientation, gender identity and gender expression? Why do these traits seem to be so fixed and innate? Why are they so unresponsive to attempts at re-conditioning and reparative therapy, even when the individuals involved are genuinely committed and would give anything to be “normal”? And of course there are tons of important medical and bioethical considerations when dealing with transsexuality, which requires medical intervention. If it’s a choice, then those treatments can theoretically be considered elective or cosmetic, but if it’s an innate characteristic, then they’re medically necessary and deserve to be covered by insurance or national healthcare. That particular issue becomes pretty controversial when conversations come up in the trans community over whether or not Gender Identity Disorder should be removed from the DSM.

The hypothesis that most people in the LGBT community run with these days is that it’s some kind of inborn facet of our neurological wiring, rather than a psychological issue or socially constructed predisposition. A simplified version of the theory runs something like this: in utero, prenatal hormones are sort of washed over the developing fetus, and these help steer the child, both physically as well as mentally, towards one sex or the other. The different sexes needed to evolve some differing behavioural characteristics as well as physical ones in order for our whole sexual reproduction thing to work out. As a very basic example, the females needed to mostly be attracted to the males, and the males needed to mostly be attracted to the females. There are all kinds of other behavioural differences too, but I’m usually pretty uncomfortable getting into evolutionary psychology applied towards gender. People always seem way too quick to use it to justify 1950s gender roles or hard gender-essentialism, so I’ll just leave it at the basics. Anyway, we suppose this prenatal hormone thing doesn’t always go quite to plan, and sometimes certain cross-sex neurological or behavioural differences can be triggered without any noticeable physical changes occurring. Perhaps our brains, being as complicated and subtle as they are, are more likely to manifest noticeable differences from subtle changes than other organs and tissues? Chaos theory complicated systems single variables butterflies and hurricanes somethingsomething?

The theory is appealing for a lot of reasons. For one thing, there are the political, ethical and medical considerations above. But it also speaks to and matches our personal experiences of being gay, bi or transgender… that these things are a deep, innate, unchangeable aspect of who we are. Something we never chose, that we usually didn’t want (even if eventually we learned to accept ourselves or even embrace those aspects of our identity), and that feels like it was always there (even if we’re sometimes the last to really know). It’s a belief that meets our social, personal, political and cultural needs, and a belief that feels true.

But as a skeptic, I can’t simply believe something because it feels true, or because it’s convenient to do so. What is the actual science? Is there any hard evidence to support this theory? [Read more…]


“Become the opposite sex and finally be at peace”

So I was poking around on e-bay looking for a little trans pride flag button to go with my Die Cis Scum jacket, now on the way in the mailsies (thanks Dallilama!) and happened to stumble across an enormous number of items being sold under the pretense of having the magic power to change their wearer (or caster?) into the “opposite sex”, or simply into a woman. And not just one or two little items. “Metaphysical” is one of the most densely populated categories for the search term “transgender”. [Read more…]

The Null HypotheCis

“You’re right, Cliff. You can’t prove who you are. None of us can. If we try to prove we exist, we’re just suckers. And if we ask other people to tell us we’re real, we’ve lost everything.

Cliff… listen to me. All you can do- all any of us can do- is make a decision. You’ve got to say, from all the way down, ‘This is who I am. I’m Cliff Steele and I’m a human being'”

-Kate “Coagula” Godwin, Doom Patrol #74, by Rachel Pollack

When you spend enough time hanging around trans folk, and talking together, sharing, reminiscing, telling stories, kvetching about all the irritating things the grues do, articulating your experiences and listening to theirs and finding those pangs of recognition that assure you (at last!) that it isn’t / wasn’t something unique to your own little mismatched brain, you begin to recognize commonalities. Recurrent themes. Motifs. Certain stories that get retold again and again across our lives, varying the genres and settings and principal protagonists but not the arc.

Amongst these are the stories of denial. The methods we used for convincing ourselves we can’t possibly really be trans, we simply must be making a mistake. They echo the concepts that thread through cis society and are used as a means of invalidating us. “It’s probably just a kink, a sex thing”, “it’s just a phase… if I just settle down with a woman, maybe have some kids, and learn how to be a good man, it will go away”, “doesn’t everybody, on some level, sort of want to be the opposite sex?”, “I should just learn to live with being a feminine man”, “I just need to man-up, be more masculine, that will make it go away”, “maybe I’m just a self-hating gay man?”, “maybe I can just cross-dress on weekends? That will be good enough”, “It’s just my asberger’s”, “just my OCD”, “just my depression”, “just my lack of confidence”, “just my hatred of my identity”, “just…”.

And deepening this denial is the assumption that in order to accept the possibility of being trans, we have to prove it to ourselves. This, again, eerily echoes the external invalidations, demands and expectations placed upon us, as in the gatekeeping model. “But how do I know I’m trans? What if I’m wrong? What if I’m making a mistake? What if I regret it?” [Read more…]

Debunking The COGIATI

I’m on vacation this week! This post originally appeared on Queereka.

My first forays into the trans internet were back in the Fall of 2001, while I was having a particularly bad “episode” of dysphoria that led, for the first time in my life, to actually conducting extensive research into what transition entailed. The e-landscape back then was a bit different than it is now. Those were the days of GenderPeace and AuthentiKate. When was the Bible and Andrea James had yet to fall under criticism for presenting such a scary and difficult, expensive and passability-obsessed vision of transition to those at the beginning of their process. Calpernia Addams was God. Lynn Conway’s TS Women Successes was an important touchstone for demonstrating that yes, it was possible to live a happy, full life as a trans woman, and that many possibilities existed for what, exactly, that life would be (if you weren’t so terrified by TS Roadmap that you spent all your time there comparing and contrasting the levels of passability).

And amongst these various websites there was a cornerstone that promised instant, easy answers to all those who were questioning and exploring the possibility of transition. It presented itself as being able to remove your doubts, rule out the possibility that you weren’t really trans and just confused, show you just how trans you were (relative to all those super-duper transier-than-thou Troo Wimminz), and give you a sort of intellectual “permission” to finally pursue this. It was called the COGIATI (Combined Online Gender Identity And Transsexuality Inventory). [Read more…]

Bilaterally Gynandromorphic Chickens And Why I’m Not “Scientifically” Male

I’m on vacation this week! This post originally appeared at Skepchick.

You know what this world needs more of? Misconceptions about transsexuality.

Wait… I think I got that backwards.

Right… there is absolutely no dearth whatsoever of misconceptions people have about transsexuality. Sometimes I feel like a sort of trans-advocate Sisyphus, perpetually pushing a boulder of education up a hill of myths, stereotypes, fear, hatred, ignorance, disinterest and general laziness. And really, I could spend the rest of my life just trying to debunk a small sub-set of the mistaken beliefs about us held in the mind of the general public.

Quite often, people tell me to pick my battles. So in the interest of actually listening to my friends for a change, that’s what I’m going to try to do today. Pick a battle. In this case, something that I really need to get out the way if I’m going to keep at this whole “discussing trans issues in the skeptic community” thing, something that I’ve come to regard as by far the most common misconception about transsexuality within skepticism: the belief that transsexuals are and always shall be “objectively”, “scientifically”, “biologically” members of their assigned sex. [Read more…]

Transkeptuality: Gatekeeping And The Value Of Critical Thought

I’m on vacation this week! This post originally appeared at Skepchick. It was the very first bloggy thing I ever blogged! It’s kind of neat to look back and see how far I’ve come. 🙂

An important, interesting, and increasingly common question in the contemporary skeptical community is to what extent should social concerns like sexism, misogyny, racism, homophobia, etc. be incorporated into the overall agenda of skepticism. Are these things really the domain of skeptics? Are these kinds of issues something that skepticism should be addressing, or even can address, or are our energies better invested into “traditional” issues like theism, Bigfoot, psychics, natural medicine, homeopathy, creationism, and all that nutty goodness?  The connections between these different sorts of issues and why skepticism can be valuable to addressing them aren’t too hard to make. After all, the same pining for a golden age that never was and belief in the inherent value of tradition for tradition’s sake that often justifies belief in the value of “traditional medicine” can also lead to steadfastly defending the sanctity of marriage, or nostalgia for the good ol’ days when men were men, women were women, and strict gender roles were brutally enforced. But there’s still a widespread hesitancy in our community to take such issues on directly.

Perhaps the desire to shy away from these more complicated and perhaps more subtle assumptions, misunderstandings and biases about gender, race, sexuality and so on is because they’re harder to unpack, harder to prove false with tests and scientific fact. But I’d imagine a large part of it is also that these assumptions are more intrinsically tied into our culture. They’re closer to us, more inherent, harder to identify because we’ve lived with them for so long, and perhaps most importantly, they’re harder to challenge because so much more of our society (and our own identities!) hinges on them. The woo is harder to see when it’s right in front of your nose, and gets harder to pull away the more is leaning on it. The social costs of accepting uncomfortable truths about race and gender are a bit higher than the social costs of accepting there’s no Loch Ness Monster. Some assumptions become so ingrained in a culture that even our science and medicine can get caught up in attempting to maintain them… so close that even people who are genuinely committed to the value of objective truth can miss their influence. That’s why not only is skepticism valuable to addressing these issues, but addressing them is valuable to skepticism. It’s hard to be an unbiased thinker when you’re immersed in a biased culture.

And that, after my long and rambly introductory paragraphs, brings us to my actual topic: the history of bias and assumptions about gender in the medical treatment of transgenderism. [Read more…]