Tuesday, June 02, 2015

All that Bruce Jenner Business

   So there's this in today's Washington Post. Bruce Jenner would like to be female, and has changed his name to 'Caitlyn.' That link might be NSFW...not really sure...but at any rate, the Post thought that it was a good idea to show Jenner in what's basically underwear...not sure what's up with that really...but there it is...
   I'm for people living their lives how they want to, within reason. I really don't care how Jenner leads Jenner's life. But there are some matters of real concern here, IMO.
  [1] The vocal, vitriolic consensus on the far (academic and internet) left is now that someone male who has "sex-change" or (worse) "gender-reassignment" surgery is then female. 100% female. As female as someone born female. That, of course, is not true, and is not close to being true. Current technology cannot change a male into a female, nor a female into a male. Someday--who knows?--a hundred years from now or whatever, we may have that technology. Step into a machine, press a button, change your sex. Whatever. Groovy. Everybody will try it. Ergo nobody will care about it anymore. But we don't live in that world now. Jenner had what is basically cosmetic surgery, and he is still he. Sex is a biological matter, and we currently don't have the ability to change people's sex any more than we have the ability to change their race. We can do some cosmetic procedures, but we can't make someone who's Jewish Japanese. These are not difficult points, and they shouldn't be controversial. So one problem with all of this is that the Official Theory we are being told we must accept is false.
   [2] So, the vocal, vitriolic consensus on the far (academic and internet) left is wrong. But SJWs / neo-PCs do not consider the possibility that they might be wrong, and brand anyone who disagrees with them a bigot. They are currently making a push to bowl everyone over with confident assertions that (a) e.g. Jenner is now a woman, (b) this is obvious,and (c) any denial of this can be nothing but bigotry. The issue here is a kind of totalitarian dogmatism that insists that it determines what may and must be said and thought, and brooks no disagreement. This would not be so worrisome if it didn't seem to be working. This is a problem even when the neo-PCs happen to be right (which isn't all that common...but almost nobody's wrong all the time...) And it's even more of a problem when they are wrong. Not to put too fine a point on it: liberals are too malleable and easily-bullied with respect to such points by the far left and the leftier fringes of liberalism. They are terrified of being called bigoted, or x-phobic for any value of 'x'. Hence they fall all over themselves to avoid it. Black is white, night is day, ignorance is strength, Arbeit Macht Frei...just tell us what we have to say in order to avoid being called those scary words, and we will do it! Please just tell us what to think and say! Whatever the new thing is, we'll do it! It's pathetic, and it makes me lose respect for liberalism. Because it makes liberalism less worthy of respect... It is wrong, and it fosters malleability and cowardice. It's also another step toward turning liberalism into the pusillanimous pile of poop that conservatives have long accused it of being. We're in danger of becoming the fuzzy-headed bleeding-heart weenies of conservative caricature. It's not that the stakes are particularly high with respect to these specific issues...but the general trend is terrible.  Many liberals seem to me to be almost eager to have a new way to be open-minded (in this case, so open-minded that their brains have fallen out), and have a new set of linguistic rules that they can follow, feel superior for following, and enforce on others. So another problem is that liberals are becoming slaves who are all too eager to accede to the linguistic demands of far-ish left activists, and terrified to be on the receiving end of even obviously bogus charges of bigotry.
   [3]  Furthermore, this is another attempt by the far left to push a kind of weird anti-realism onto the mainstream. The quasi-philosophical background dispute here has to do with whether sex is real and biological, or "socially constructed." As I note all the time, 'socially constructed' is a term that is used so indiscriminately that it hardly means anything at all. But one general idea in the background of these discussion is that Jenner et al. needn't even undergo cosmetic surgery. Rather, Jenner's sex is whatever Jenner says it is. Saying so makes it so. That, incidentally, is characteristic of fictions--roughly, whatever is said about them (e.g. by the author) constitutes their reality. Hamlet is indecisive because that's how he's represented. And there's nothing to fictions but their representation. One strategy for pushing this line involves blurring the sex/gender distinction. As old-school feminism taught us, sex is not gender. Your sex is male or female (or, in a few cases, some intermediate state). Your gender is masculine or feminine. You can change the latter by acting differently (though note: not just by saying that you've changed it). You can't change the former by acting differently. And, in fact, we don't yet know how to change the former at all.   Here's how things really are, so far as I can tell: sex is a real, biological, non-social property. Gender is a real, behavioral, non-social property. The only role society really has is insisting that a certain gender must go with a certain sex. If you're male, you have to be masculine. If you're female, you have to be feminine. Old-school feminist that I am, I think that's pretty nuts. Society gets that wrong. Sure, most males tend to be more masculine than most females, and most females tend to be more feminine than most males. But there's nothing normative here. There's nothing wrong with being, e.g., a masculine female. None of this is difficult to express, but it's virtually impossible to do so in terms of the defective concept socially constructed.
   It may also be worth pointing out that this strange antirealism is bolstered by another linguistic ploy: using the term 'gender-reassignment surgery' rather than 'sex-change surgery.' The latter term isn't accurate, because, as noted above, the subject's sex does not change. But the other term might even be worse. First, it confuses sex and gender. Second, it indicates that sex was assigned--which is, of course, false. Similar terminology includes "assigned (fe)male at birth"... But sex is not assigned, at birth nor any other time. Your sex is discerned by the doctor at birth. It is not assigned. It's already there and others check to see what it is. Names are assigned. Things like race and sex are discerned.
   Thinking about these issues on the far left has become a tangle of confusions, and they are eager to push "social constructionism" as an ideological matter. So that's another bad thing here: bad metaphysics is being pushed as the handmaiden of politically correct attitudes.
   [4] Finally, this is, IMO, all a huge step backward from something old-school feminism got right. To repeat a point: males tend to be more masculine and females more feminine...but social irrationality turns this into males must be masculine and females must be feminine. Which is false. You'll probably get more dates as a more masculine male or a more feminine female...but hey, man, you do you... Jenner has decided that he wants to be a feminine male. Which is totally cool. So cool that it's really weird that it is a big deal. Are you a dude and want to wear a dress. Ok. Sub specie aeternitatis, the weird thing is not that some dudes wear dresses, but that everybody else thinks that this is such a big-ass deal. What's weird is that certain clothes go with certain genitals. (I mean...not, say, bras or athletic supporters...I mean...it's obviously why some...well...you see the point...)  The old-school feminist point was that a feminine man was no less a man. The statistical association between maleness and masculinity is (a) weaker than society would have us believe and (b) non-normative. Violating it makes you unusual, not bad. Another way to put the point: your gender isn't important. Act however you want, and anybody who gives you trouble for it is an asshole. Unfortunately, the SJW insta-orthodoxy is: your gender is super-duper important! So important that if you change it, it completely changes the type of person you are! It's basically the same as your sex! It's more important than sex! It's your something something socially constructed something something reality! In fact, if you deny this, you believe in "biotruths" (note: I am not making this up...) It's a big, stupid, incoherent mass of nonsense. So, on the one had, we have a mass of confusions, and, on the other, a very simple and true point: there's nothing wrong with having a non-standard pairing of sex and gender. The old-school feminists were right; the SJWs are wrong.
   [4a]  (Part of what is going on here involves confusion about the terms 'man' and 'woman', and such confusions tend to help out the more confused view. The confused view tries to make 'man' and 'woman' into gender terms. But they are sex terms. 'Man' means, roughly, adult male human, and woman means adult female human. There is some weak link with gender via old-fashioned terms like "real man," which means something like (very) masculine man...but this doesn't really change anything important here.
   [5]  Finally, with respect to the pronoun thing: the fringy left is pushing the line that people who "transition" from say female to male should be referred to as 'he', and vice-versa. Actually, 'he' is the pronoun for males, 'she' for females. So, technically, pronouns should not change. Which leads us to:
   [6]  Proper names...  Apparently Jenner now wants to be called 'Caitlyn'. This really is a conventional matter, but we tend to respect people's name-changes. I mean, I have some friends who decided in adulthood that they wanted to change their names...and I basically still call them by their earlier name, mostly because that's how I think of them, and they don't really care. But if it were really important to someone, I don't see why we'd refuse to change what we call them. Things are somewhat complicated for famous people... I know who 'Bruce Jenner' is, but odds are, in a few years, if you say 'Caitlyn Jenner,' I'll have no earthly idea who you're talking about. But I don't see any reason to be an asshole about this. Call people what they want. Which brings us/throws us back to:
   [5'] As for pronouns, I don't see a big reason to be a stickler for accuracy here. If Jenner wants us to refer to him with 'she', why not? Which brings us to:
   [7]  Unless people attempt to bully us into doing so, or if they insist that the use of the female pronoun is correct and obligatory. In that case, I think we probably ought to refuse to give in, on the basis of the kinds of worries expressed in [2]. So far as I can tell, technically speaking, Jenner should be referred to as 'he.' It might be somewhat impolite or even callous of me to do so--I'm not sure--but no one has any right to insist that I do so, nor to attempt to bully me into it.
   [8] Finally, I'm concerned about the fact that the relevant segment of the left that is pushing this new orthodoxy--or what they insist must become the orthodoxy--seems to be the same segment of the left that tends to insist not only that we say what it wants us to say and believe what it wants us to believe...but that also tends to insist that we not ask questions about it all. The right often insists that we accept certain beliefs (e.g. about climate change...) but they don't generally seem to insist that we not even ask questions about it... So, um...props to them for that? But these, of course, are not our only options...
   [9]  Really finally, I could, of course, be wrong about any of this. I might seem like a bigot twenty years from now...but if the relevant lefties have their way, I'll seem like one even if I'm not one...


Anonymous Anonymous said...

OK, we need a way into this: You seem to concede it to be possible that a physical process could change someone's sex, for real. You just don't believe the technology is there yet. What is the technology you're waiting on?

10:18 AM  
Blogger Winston Smith said...

Well, I don't have too clear a conception of that, but maybe you have some suggestions. Of course, one way to unequivocally do it would be to transmogrify people so that they were completely indistinguishable from natural-born members of the relevant sex. That would include changing them at a chromosomal level. I have some vague idea that there might be some way to do it short of that, but I'm too ignorant of the relevant biology to have much to say about that.
There do seem to be intermediate cases, people who aren't unequivocally male or female. So, as is often the case, we're talking about something that is to at least some extent a matter of degree here...or so it seems.
Though, to step back a step, I needn't really have any very clear conception of what would be required--and I don't. If x is a lion given cosmetic surgery to resemble a tiger, I might know that that x is not a tiger without knowing what exactly it would take to actually make x a tiger...
But I'm open to suggestions on this question.

10:41 AM  
Blogger C-Nihilist said...

"[R]espect people's name-changes."


"If Jenner wants us to refer to him with 'she', why not?"

enough said.

say what you will about SJW's and the loony left, but at least their on the side of 'don't be a dick' to trans people.

4:54 PM  
Blogger Random Michelle K said...

This is actually a fascinating subject when you start to look into it.

There were cases in--I believe--the 1950s where XY children who were born with small penises were gender reassigned by their doctors, because it was believed that having a small penis would be detrimental to their health.

So these children were raised thinking they were XX, when they were in fact XY.

In one case I'm thinking of, as a teenager the child discovered the previous gender reassignment and chose to return to XY genitalia.

So was the child a boy, or a girl? The XY child was raised as a girl, and thought themselves a girl, but never felt right as a girl.

It seems to me that how someone feels is entirely a subjective thing happening within their brains, and if something makes them feel better/normal, then let them be as they please.

I think one of the reasons people are making such a big deal of it is because trans teens have an incredibly high suicide rate, and many people hope that seeing Jenner go through this might save some of those lives.

4:31 PM  
Blogger Random Michelle K said...

Also, there are many historical references to third genders, across cultures.

The first I learned of was kathoey (Thailand) but there are (as I said) third genders in many difference societies, and across history.

Also interesting (in relation to my first example) are women who have female external genitalia but male sex organs internally. I remember first reading about their existence in a case of a young married woman who went to the doctor because she was infertile (and had never menstruated).

But, again, even without these interesting medical and historical cases, it's hard to see the number of trans individuals who are murdered or commit suicide every year...

It reminds me very much of a friend of mine who, upon being asked why he "chose to be gay" replied that it was because he couldn't get enough people to hate him just for his personality.

Why would anyone want make such a choice? Knowing it could lead to abuse, being disowned, and even rape and/or murder?

And as a female who has often hated being one for cultural and sociological reasons, I can't comprehend someone wanting to become female if they did not have some internal imperative. I mean, who thinks, "being treated as a second class citizen? Where can I sign up for THAT?!"

10:02 PM  
Blogger The Mystic said...

This may be some masterful trolling:


But it demonstrates the issues which will inevitably arise if you try to enforce the denial of reality.

For what it's worth, it doesn't look to me like WS is advocating any position which the commentators here have thus far actually addressed. C-Nihilist just agrees that transsexual people should be left to live as they choose, which WS stated as an aside to his main points, and Random Michelle K seems to be interested in some loosely connected details about transgender/transsexual issues in general.

But the point is: Bruce Jenner is not female. He can say that he "identifies" as female all he wants, and he can even get surgery to try to make himself appear as though he is biologically female, but none of that actually makes him female. Even if he completely believes that he is female, he is not, and anyone who believes that he is actually female merely on account of believing it to be so is going to have to side with the petition-signers linked above.

And that's pretty silly, isn't it? It's pretty plain to see that assertion and/or belief does not mold reality on its own in this way. Belief that it does is going to require, for the sake of coherence (which may not be required when one goes this route, of course) a whole lot of crazy stuff.

I'm with WS: I want people to be able to live as they choose, within reason, but it is a disservice to everyone, transgender/transsexual individuals as well, to try to force falsehood into truth. As WS points out, old-school feminism taught us that one's gender need not align with one's biological sex, so there's no problem with Bruce being a feminine guy, but trying to claim that he is actually female is not a good idea. It's false, and knowingly endorsing falsehood is bad. It leads to all kinds of insanity and problems.

As Zhuangzi said, "The sage labors not over that which life cannot do."

I worry for those who have become so convinced of the importance of biological sex that they will go to extraordinary lengths, alleging that they are trying to live "as they truly are" when they are, in fact, doing the exact opposite. It is ironic that the movement which makes such a scene out of their abhorrence of stereotypes seems to be gripped by a dramatic and incessant need to conform to them.

Unfortunately, as WS notes, it's nigh impossible to calmly discuss this with transsexual individuals. It's not hard to understand why - we've all had pet theories to which we found ourselves dogmatically committed in the face of reality, and getting past those issues is part of the human experience. I wish I could help, but it seems I cannot. I've posted and near-immediately deleted posts about this matter because I just can't be as tactful as I want to be. I don't want to hurt anyone, and neither does WS, but we can't deny reality for others, no matter how badly they may want it. It is a disservice.

1:29 PM  
Blogger C-Nihilist said...

Michelle has already touched on it, but sex as a biological attribute isn't at all cut-and-dry:

so i don't see how it's a matter of truth and falsehood.

the trans people i've interacted with don't seem to identify themselves as male or female, but rather as trans men or trans women-- Jenner would be a trans woman --and ask that people refer to them using their preferred pronouns. seems a harmless matter to honor people's choices on this.

maybe an insistence on being definitively considered male or female is something that i just haven't picked up on. but that seems counter-intuitive for a bunch of folks who seem interested in breaking down the gender binary.

and though it may be a loosely connected detail, to me, the most concerning issue around this are the deaths by suicide that Michelle cites, and the astonishing murder rate among trans women. if gender is not a social construct, gender norms certainly seem to be being socially enforced. and violently.

2:46 PM  
Blogger Winston Smith said...


Yeah, sex turns out to be really complicated, and it admits of borderline cases (eg "intersex"(ed?) humans.

And yeah, there are apparently a lot of murders and suicides among the transexual and transgendered...though it's not clear how the causal arrows all go there...


Yeah, it's pretty common to hear people say that people like Jenner are women--completely women, women full stop. Or to say that trans women are women...even 100% full stop. But those things aren't true.

I do think one can might make an argument that Jenner is neither exactly male nor exactly female...but that's going to make a large segment of people involved in this debate extremely angry... Also, I'm not optimistic about such arguments working, really...

Though the "social construct" terminology is too confused to lean on, it *is* clearly true that gender norms are socially enforced. And I think we're all in agreement here that that should be fought, and should change. But, as the Mystic notes, those are all very different issues.

3:33 PM  
Blogger Random Michelle K said...

If you've ever got a couple spare hours (tee hee!) the kathoey are really very fascinating, as is the history of men and women who have lived as their non-chromosomal gender. (If you haven't come across it, Rejected Princesses (http://www.rejectedprincesses.com/) is a marvelous website, and the author has covered several trans women and women who presented as men to the world. Plus lots of absolutely awesome historical women. But I digress.)

I think what is important to note is that the murders and outrage tend to be directed towards trans women. Throughout history women have dressed and lived as males and although it was not the norm--or even accepted--it tended not to elicit the moral outrage that trans women see.

I posit that this is because society still sees male as the preferred and more powerful gender. So of course women would want to be male, because males are awesome. "Men" may not appreciate women trying to join their ranks, but they can at least understand it.

But men who want to be women are far more problematic, because they are giving up power and privilege. And who in their right mind would want to do that?

As I said, I have found it frequently frustrating and often depressing to be female (and that's aside from hormonal mood swings) so it seems bizarre to me that any male would choose to give up all his advantages. Which means to me that this is some sort of internal (biological? psychological? hormonal?) imperative that pushes these men to choose a lower status.

5:52 PM  

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