Over the last few weeks I’ve col­lected a few blog arti­cles that struck me as orbit­ing a com­mon theme. That theme has coa­lesced, and I think I’m about ready to extrude it into some­thing approx­i­matng a tight coil of read­ing delight.

Gender Dysmorphia

It began with a post by Pam vil­i­fy­ing fanat­ics who were wor­ried about what could hap­pen if a cross-​​dressing per­son were allowed to visit a given school.

Wild-​​eyed Lou Sheldon and his mouth­piece Andrea Lafferty of the Traditional Values Coalition are fix­ated on all things homo. Lou is con­vinced every gay (man, of course) is a pedophile. TVC drones have a spe­cial place in their tiny, con­fused, dis­eased brains for gen­der iden­tity dis­or­der (GID). Trans folks are now destroy­ing the sanc­tity of mar­riage too — and the schools are next, as you will read below.

Apparently the “Traditional” “Values” Coalition is con­cerned that there’s some new branch of the Vast Homosexual Conspiracy com­mit­ted to the idea of “con­fus­ing chil­dren” regard­ing gen­der iden­tity, osten­si­bly by intro­duc­ing classes to trans­vestitism. (That cross-​​dressing and gen­der dys­mor­phia are not the same is appar­ently too fine a dis­tinc­tion to avoid the TVC’s broad brush; that Lafferty is not qual­i­fied to make some of the pro­nounce­ments that she does is appar­ently irrelevant).

Ironically the slug­line at the TVC web­site is “Empowering People of Faith Through Knowledge” — which should be chal­le­neged under truth in adver­tis­ing laws. Faith and knowl­edge are, by def­i­n­i­tion, 100% incom­pat­i­ble with one another.

Pam kindly posts an excerpt from their report — sav­ing me the hor­ror of actu­ally hav­ing to comb it for howlers; the text is long and rather thick, in more ways than one.

TVC has long warned that one of the next phases of the homo­sex­ual move­ment is to nor­mal­ize cross-​​dressing and sex change oper­a­tions. The ulti­mate goal is to blur all dis­tinc­tions between male and female — and to destroy mar­riage as a God-​​ordained institution.

Wellnow … I gots me some issues with this hyar ass-​​ertion. For one thing, I don’t know any­one who has ever seen any­thing like a defin­i­tive set of goals for “the homo­sex­ual move­ment” — and in fact I defy any­one to specif­i­cally cite any group or cadre that can be unam­bigu­ously labeled as “the homo­sex­ual move­ment”. This is only slightly more sophis­ti­cated than using a term such as “the gay agenda”, in much the same way that “Inteligent Design” is slightly more spo­his­ti­cated than “creationism”.

It’s all a load of right-​​wing fanat­i­cal bull­shit, in other words.

Actually, the TVC is much more clear; they have an agenda and put it on their front page for any­one to see: “Our Battle Plan to take back the courts from the ACLU and the anti-​​God Left”.

Invalid Sex

…in more ways than one. Another entry from Pam’s blog (this by Autumn) points to a fanatic, Albert Moher, say­ing that to be trans­gen­dered is to be unChristian.

[W]e can­not accept the assump­tions that sup­port [the trans­gen­der] con­cept of gen­der, sex, and the self. These assump­tions are anti­thet­i­cal to the bib­li­cal world­view, and can only be explained by a deep rejec­tion of God’s gift of sex and gen­der — a gift that is for His glory and for our good.

Interestingly, this seems to echo the sen­ti­ment that Muslim cab dri­vers have regard­ing the trans­gen­dered. There are many more par­al­lels between Christianity and Islam, in the fanatic forms, than the prac­ti­tion­ers of either super­sti­tion would like any­one to think.

Of course, this also over­looks the real­ity of ambigu­ous gen­i­talia and her­maph­ro­ditism, but I wouldn’t expect a preacher to be too con­cerned with facts in his quest to spread the truth.

By now you’re prob­a­bly already notic­ing a theme — the idea that gen­der is defined by a deity for the good of our species. Well, this is where the theme starts to get a lit­tle … odd.

Gender as a Survival Trait?

PZ Myers at Pharyngula dug up a per­fectly per­fid­i­ous lit­tle gem by William Tucker that sug­gests the rea­son for humans branch­ing off on the pri­mate limb is the Y chro­mo­some — an exclu­sively male chromosome.

Basically, the point is that, in cross­ing the lit­tle evo­lu­tion­ary dis­tance that exists between chimps and humans, most of the changes occurred in males. In other words, what dif­fer­en­ti­ates us from our mam­malian rel­a­tives is changes that have occurred in the male of the species.

Okay, whether this is even remotely accu­rate or not — it isn’t — let’s hold on a moment and look at human descent. We did not split off from chimps, as Tucker implies here and later says outright:

The larger East African chimp, where males pre­dom­i­nate, pro­duced the line that led to humanity.

Wrong. We, chimps and bono­bos all have a com­mon ances­tor. We split off from the chimp/​bonobo branch first, dif­fer­en­ti­at­ing away from them, while later in the evo­lu­tion­ary cycle bono­bos and chimps split. Tucker can’t even get his human cladism right. How can his con­clu­sions pos­si­bly be valid?

Particularly when you find him draw­ing con­clu­sions such as this one.

The evo­lu­tion of human intel­li­gence would have been impos­si­ble with­out the change in male role and the adop­tion of monogamy. For that rea­son, it is not at all sur­pris­ing to find that the key genetic changes have occurred on the male chromosome.

In other words, boys are better.

What does this have to do with right-​​wing fanat­ics argu­ing that gen­der is some­how ordained by a sky daddy? (Apart from being obvi­ous bull­shit, of course.) Well, it does two things, really — it sets up the idea of an insep­a­ra­ble gulf between gen­ders, and it lays the ground­work for sug­gest­ing there’s some kind of supe­ri­or­ity. What’s truly star­tling is how will­ing both the fanat­ics and, appar­ently, some opin­ion writ­ers are to agree on this notion.

Tucker sug­gests that traits such as “father­hood” — which is a con­cept, not a bio­log­i­cal neces­sity — and monogamy can be traced to diver­gences in Y chro­mo­somes. He seems to think, like many who have a super­fi­cial knowl­edge of an incred­i­bly deep and broad sub­ject, that there is a gene for this, a gene for that, and a gene for the other thing, includ­ing in the incred­i­bly com­plex arena of human behavior.

And he doesn’t sim­ply link this alleged “civ­i­liza­tion gene” (my term for his fool­ish­ness) to the Y chro­mo­some; he goes on to warn of its apotheosis.

So what does all this sug­gest for the present? First, it says that fem­i­nism, in its most obvi­ously prim­i­tive forms, is under­min­ing human evolution.

(I keep for­get­ting to warn peo­ple to turn down their bullshit-​​o-​​meters; I’ll hap­pily pay repair or replace­ment costs for any­one whose nee­dles just bent.)

For the record, Tucker is as qual­i­fied to dis­cuss evo­lu­tion­ary biol­ogy as Andrea Lafferty is to dis­cuss the psy­chol­ogy of gen­der dys­mor­phia — that is, not at all. Fortunately Myers, a biol­o­gist, is not hin­dered by igno­rance, and nicely skew­ers Tucker.

If Mr Tucker had actu­ally read the Nature paper on the human-​​chimpanzee com­par­isons or an ear­lier work by Skaletsky et al., he would have dis­cov­ered that they had an expla­na­tion, and it wasn’t the selec­tive preser­va­tion of advan­ta­geous mas­cu­line muta­tions. The Y chro­mo­some diverged between the two species entirely by chance.

[…]

The actual rea­son human and chim­panzee chro­mo­somes are more dif­fer­ent than oth­ers is not quite as dig­ni­fied or won­der­ful as Tucker thinks. It’s because the Y chro­mo­somes accu­mu­late more ran­dom garbage over time, and lack a mech­a­nism to clean them­selves up.

In other words, Tucker’s con­clu­sions are not sim­ply twad­ddle; they are based in a false premise. He didn’t even get the right idea for the wrong rea­sons, unlike Lafferty (see below); he started off wrong and ended up well in the manure heap.

Thing is that Tucker isn’t alone in draw­ing his damn­fool con­clu­sions. Amanda at Pandagon seems to have uncov­ered a par­tic­u­larly nasty lit­tle nest of cock­roaches (empha­sis on syl­la­ble 1 there), dove­tail­ing that into her own com­ments on Myers’s post. Apparently there’s some sort of online com­mu­nity for “sen­si­tive” type guys who really don’t hate women — until they’re fairly sure women aren’t in the room.

What puz­zles me is that this strong desire to find evi­dence that men are supe­rior to women often extends to men who you’d think are doing well enough by them­selves not to have to bol­ster their egos with this nonsense.

Insecurity prob­a­bly plays a part here. A lot of men really aren’t that self-​​assured and can feel threat­ened by a woman who, for instance, is pos­sessed of intel­li­gence, humor, and an inde­pen­dent means of acquir­ing income.

Beyond that is the Abrahamic religio-​​cultural mes­sage that women are to be sub­servient to men in all respects. Scratch most “well-​​to-​​do” pro­fes­sional type men and you’re likely to find that under the sur­face lurks a sur­pris­ingly reli­gious world­view; that, or an eight-​​year-​​old still awed to ter­ror at the mys­tery of the “girly thingy”.

Men are from Earth; Women are from Earth

A lot of dif­fer­ent camps are guilty of fur­ther­ing the idea of gen­der wars, equal­ity wars, or wars of the sexes — con­fronta­tional terms used to under­score a dichotomy that doesn’t really exist except as a fairly arbi­trary con­cept. I don’t mean the fol­low­ing sen­tence as a cri­tique of any one spe­cific argu­ment; it’s meant to point to a meta-​​issue that I think might have been over­looked by pretty much everyone.

What really sticks out to me in so many of the argu­ments (and responses to them) is the tacit agree­ment that gen­ders are rigidly defined.

Wait, wait — I know what you’re think­ing, and yes, there are unde­ni­ably gen­ders. But there are peo­ple born with ambigu­ous gen­i­talia, or gen­i­talia from both gen­ders, and there are absolutely, inar­guably peo­ple who are deal­ing with gen­der dys­mor­phia. Even the right-​​wing idiots have to con­fess the truth of that.

Children who suf­fer from a Gender Identity Disorder are being rede­fined by these rad­i­cal pedi­a­tri­cians as ‘gen­der vari­ant’ chil­dren who should be affirmed in their sex­ual con­fu­sions. These chil­dren need seri­ous ther­apy, not affir­ma­tion for their gen­der con­fu­sion. A boy who thinks he’s a girl, [sic] needs help — not a sex change when he becomes a teenager. These kids need com­pas­sion­ate atten­tion to over­come self-​​hatred and to live nor­mal lives as males and females — not to be told that they’re actu­ally girls trapped in boy’s [sic] bod­ies. This is a phys­i­cal and men­tal impos­si­bil­ity,” said Lafferty.

Leaving aside for the moment that Lafferty clearly has an agenda, you can see she con­fesses the real­ity of gen­der dys­mor­phia; she’s sug­gest­ing a dif­fer­ent way of deal­ing with it which may or may not be viable, but (as is often the case with the fanat­ics) she is sug­gest­ing this alter­na­tive for the wrong rea­sons. Leaving that aside too, though, let’s see if we can get past notions of gen­der apart from the most basic facts, those of sheer biol­ogy, and in so doing see if we can find another way to approach gen­der dysmorphia.

In most human pop­u­la­tions, there are two dis­crete gen­ders that can be iden­ti­fied read­ily with a sim­ple exam­i­na­tion of a given individual’s body. The facts of biol­ogy place one of those gen­ders in the role of child­bearer; the other gen­der is there to (1) pro­vide half the genetic com­po­nent nec­es­sary to pro­duce off­spring; and (2) to pro­vide the genetic vari­a­tion that, since sex was dis­cov­ered some 650 mil­lion years ago, has been a fun­da­ment to the rapid evo­lu­tion of mul­ti­cel­lu­lar life on Earth.

(Strictly speak­ing, that sec­ond point should be attrib­uted to the child­bearer as well as the … uh, the nut-​​bearer.)

That’s really all there is to it. Any fur­ther roles — apart from early nurs­ing — that might be assigned based on gen­der are, in humans, vari­able — and if we diver­sify to other species, we see that they’re the reverse of what we con­sider a social norm in the west­ern world.

And that’s the catch. Gender roles are, to a very large extent, socially defined.

It’s in Your Head, Not Your Pants

What this means, I think, is that our reac­tion to any given indi­vid­ual of any given gen­der is at least as socially defined as are the lan­guage, man­ner­isms or cloth­ing we use.

This means, fur­ther, that any­one who works out­side our ideas regard­ing gen­der roles (non­hetero­sex­u­als, for instance, or trans­ves­tites) or who actively breaks our ideas of gen­der lines (trans­sex­u­als, her­maph­ro­dites) is no more inher­ently defec­tive, deviant or unac­cept­able than is the one per­son in ten who has blue eyes.

But the con­clu­sion that could be reached, and is by fools such as Lafferty — that gen­der is itself being under­mined by agenda-​​bearing queers — is based on the notion that gen­der and gen­der roles are insep­a­ra­ble, that hav­ing a penis and tes­ti­cles auto­mat­i­cally says one set of things about accept­able behav­iors, hob­bies, sex part­ners and cloth­ing deci­sions; while ovaries, a womb and vagina sug­gest a whole other set of proper deci­sions in the arena of edu­ca­tion, inter­ests, pur­suits and num­ber of sex partners.

On the face of it, stated so plainly, Lafferty’s premise looks like what it is: Social big­otry mas­querad­ing as received truth.

But there’s a hid­den sub­text to the idea of elim­i­nat­ing gen­der roles. If most —vir­tu­ally all — gen­der roles are invalid as any­thing other than socio-​​psychological phe­nom­ena, if they are things that can be manip­u­lated, changed, even reversed or elim­i­nated, what does this say about the con­cept of sex­ual ori­en­ta­tion? If we elim­i­nate the “rule” that says boys don’t kiss boys, what does it mean any more when two men become roman­ti­cally involved with one another? If there is no “proper” place for a woman by the side of a man, haven’t we also elim­i­nated a lot of the social frame­work that exists around lesbianism?

In other words, the gen­der roles that we’ve inher­ited, rightly or wrongly, from our cul­tural fore­bears serve not only to define the behav­ioral expec­ta­tions of men and women in rela­tion to one another, but also to pro­vide the def­i­n­i­tion of what homo­sex­u­al­ity is in con­trast to heterosexuality.

Does that make homo­sex­u­al­ity a lifestyle choice?

I would argue yes — in exactly the same way that het­ero­sex­u­al­ity is.

But with the caveat that, since all but the most basic traits of gen­der are socially defined, the terms “homo­sex­u­al­ity” and “het­ero­sex­u­al­ity” are worse than use­less; they are words which can mean any­thing to any­one who uses them, words which have no set, inher­ent, rigid def­i­n­i­tions — words which, much as with gen­der roles, can be (and are) reg­u­larly manip­u­lated to suit var­i­ous agen­das on var­i­ous fronts.

Essentially, I’m sug­gest­ing that just as trans­ves­tites take on the cloth­ing of the “other” gen­der (and isn’t it inter­est­ing that a woman can wear jeans and a tee, but a man can’t wear a skirt and heels?), gays and les­bians take on the behav­ior of the “other” gen­der. Both actions are seen as con­fronta­tional only to those who have strong pre­con­cep­tions about gen­der roles and iden­ti­ties, but I think it’s almost cer­tain that most of these pre­con­cep­tions are not innate.

Naturally one should not make the mis­take of think­ing that I’m argu­ing in favor of “train­ing” gays to be “straight” — it would be as sen­si­ble to train “straight” men to rel­ish a lit­tle cock now and then.* Rather, I’m sug­gest­ing that pretty much every aspect of the debate has been man­u­fac­tured and esca­lated — by all par­tic­i­pants in all camps — and that the whole damn ques­tion of sex­ual ori­en­ta­tion should sim­ply be unasked and forgotten.

What makes a per­son gay? What makes a per­son straight? What makes a man cer­tain that he is the wrong gen­der? Further, how do we decide how to respond to any­one who walks out­side our biases regard­ing gender?

Until we know what “gay” and “straight” really mean, and until we fully under­stand the intri­cate ways in which body, behav­ior, intel­li­gence and emo­tion inter­act, I think the only answer we can give is a Zen-​​like mu.

====

* Or, in the case of the priest with the choir­boys, every Tuesday and Thursday, and twice on Sundays.

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