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.
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”.
…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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