tim: "System Status: Degraded" (degraded)
[personal profile] tim
According to Chaz Bono, testosterone makes you more interested in gossip and less interested in listening to women talk:
“No, really. There is something in testosterone that makes talking and gossiping really grating. I’ve stopped talking as much. I’ve noticed that Jen can talk endlessly.” He shrugged. “I just kind of zone out.”

“You just don’t care!”

“I just don’t care!” He laughed. “
Now, maybe Chaz was misquoted. (Entirely possible, since the rest of the article is a catalog of almost every misconception about trans people, only some of which the author places in a position where they can even be questioned.) Or maybe he was only joking (and it's okay to say anything, no matter how retrogressive, as long as you call it a joke, right?)

A certain category of trans people, like Chaz Bono in the above quote, or a certain famous trans man author who titled his memoir after the hormone in question, like to grossly oversimplify complex socially and culturally mediated phenomena by attributing them to the action of a single hormone. The latter author even went so far as to claim that taking testosterone gave him an understanding of why cis men commit rape -- funny, I always thought that rape culture had something to do with that, and that that's something that anyone prepared to think critically about people and social structures of domination can understand, without any need for a shot in the ass. Likewise, a certain category of cis people -- those who are attached in a death-grip to that form of gender essentialism which simultaneously claims that gender is unimportant and that it's so incredibly important that you have to force yourself to be the gender you were assigned at birth -- like to claim that because sex hormones don't have any effects on people that can't be explained socially or culturally, that when trans people take hormones and subjectively experience psychological changes, this is solely explained by their expectations that hormones will change their subjective experiences. It's all in their heads, in other words.

It would be victim-blaming to claim a causal relationship between the actions of the first group and the reactions of the second group. It's wrong for any cis person to dismiss a trans person's lived experience because it's ideologically incorrect. When your ideology can't explain someone's reality, the answer isn't to tell the person their experiences aren't real, but rather to revise your ideology.

If a person not of trans experience hears what someone like Chaz Bono says, notices correctly that it's ridiculous, and concludes that it's just as ridiculous to think that trans people's quality of life improves when their brain gets the right mix of hormones, that would reflect on them. Even so, I still want him to stop saying ridiculous things -- because chalking up your character flaws to a hormone trivializes the very real and positive consequences of liberation from being poisoned by one's own body. And because when you claim that testosterone has anything to do with why men rape, or why they don't listen to women, you give men a license to be awful. What else are you going to do? Put anti-androgens in the water?

There's very little difference between the quotation that I started with and chromosomal essentialism. Both are misappropriations of scientific-sounding terminology to erase the social, cultural and political meaning of a given situation. Trans people, though, should know better; they should know that who you are doesn't reduce to a particular hormonal configuration (otherwise, there would be no trans people), and it's merely true that having the right hormonal configuration for your neurology allows you to be more fully who you are. So, trans men of the world, if you want to be a misogynist, can you do that on behalf of yourself and not on behalf of everyone with belly hair? "Lack of respect for women" does not belong next to "hair loss" and "sensitivity to sunlight" on the FDA warning label.
Postscript: Like seemingly every mainstream media article about trans men, or a trans man (there's a difference?) that I've ever read, this one repeats 1970s-era assertions about the quality of genital reconstruction surgery for trans men as if they're reality. There are some serious issues with access to surgery (circularly, rhetoric about how functional the results of genital reconstruction aren't makes it easier for insurers to write off said treatment as "cosmetic"), and some shortcomings, it's true. But I can't help thinking that there's something politically risky about actually admitting reality: that more and more trans men are able to get surgery that gives them adult-sized penises and the capability to get erections, have orgasms, and (not that that's the be-all and end-all) penetrate somebody during sex. It is, I think, scary for some people to throw away the cherished belief that if anyone could get a penis, then everyone would want one. Surprisingly, some people (women) are just happier the other way around. I don't get it either, but it doesn't scare me and I don't feel the need to deny reality as a result.

Post(postscript): Guys of trans history, can you also stop claiming you know what it's like to see the world from "both sides"? You don't know what it's like to be a woman -- you know what it's like to be a man with a testosterone deficiency. You might think the chicks will dig your sensitive shit, but it's really just embarrassing.

(no subject)

Date: 2011-05-11 08:12 pm (UTC)
From: [identity profile] anemone.livejournal.com
it seems pretty safe to conclude that transphobia and homophobia are uniquely human, and thus socially constructed.

It's interesting that you say this, given that I started from the same premise and reached the opposite conclusion. That is, my entire post could have been neatly summed up as "transphobia and homophobia seem uniquely human, therefore, I wonder if there's some sort of biological origin." (If so, that same biological tendency would also explain why abortion, birth control, and equal rights for women are controversial.)

(no subject)

Date: 2011-05-11 08:25 pm (UTC)
etb: woodchuck head (woodchuck)
From: [personal profile] etb
Democracy and agriculture are, AFAIK, uniquely human as well. Does that mean there are biological tendencies to vote and plant things? We can posit whatever biological tendencies we want, and then debate which of them encourage or discourage particular human behaviors, but I don't know why we'd want to.

(no subject)

Date: 2011-05-12 04:04 am (UTC)
From: [identity profile] anemone.livejournal.com
Democracy and agriculture are, AFAIK, uniquely human as well. Does that mean there are biological tendencies to vote and plant things?

Agriculture and voting are far from universal in humans. Most of human history has been without agriculture and without democracy in the sense you mean. (And ants do practice agriculture as much as you could imagine ants could.) The sexual division of labor seems to be present in all or almost all human cultures to varying extents, yet none of our relatives have anything like a the hunter/gather division of labor. The question is why. If it's not just chance that so many cultures share this feature, what comes along with it? Did it contribute to our evolutionary survival or is it just one of those things?

We can posit whatever biological tendencies we want, and then debate which of them encourage or discourage particular human behaviors, but I don't know why we'd want to.

Because I'm curious. It's tempting to believe we humans think rationally, but really our thinking is bounded by walls we don't see because they've always been there. For example, our programming to look for patterns makes us see patterns in random data. I like to look for the walls, to understand them, to understand why people do and believe the things that they do.

The idea that it's penis envy just doesn't make sense to me. Not just because I don't particularly desire a penis myself, but because the reasoning seems too complex, too rational to justify the sort of gut-level reaction to people who don't fit neatly into binary sex system.

In increasing order of speculation.

Date: 2011-05-12 08:13 am (UTC)
luinied: They're being good roommates! (sleepy)
From: [personal profile] luinied
I should be going to sleep instead of commenting on LiveJournal, but, to make it short: if a species is going to have any division of labor, there needs to be some non-trivial division in either guaranteed physical traits / "hardware" - like with ants - or in acquired abilities / "software" - like with us. Most other mammals, even ones with a lot of sexual dimorphism, don't have nearly enough of it to really lead to division of labor on those grounds (aside from the specific labor of pregnancy and its aftereffects), nor do they have brains like ours that would support different individuals learning different skills and organizing the group to take advantage of this. So they don't because they can't. (Similarly, they can't exactly be homophobic if they can't think about sex at at least a slightly abstract level.)

As for why sex-based division of labor is so prominent in human cultures, well, the simplest reason I can think of for why it got started has to do with our homosocial tendencies, which are shared by lots of other mammals, and I think at least birds as well: individuals are more likely to learn behaviors from individuals of the same sex, more likely to compete with same-sex individuals for standing, etc.. There was a recent study on chimps that got a lot of press as "female chimps play with dolls; see, it really is inherent" but, if you actually read the paper - or just the better summary articles - you could see that it was really that types of play, once introduced in a tribe of chimps (the doll analog wasn't anywhere near universal in the wild) spread mostly to members of the same sex, with young female chimps imitating other young (or older) female chimps at play. (It was not the case, as the researchers at first hypothesized, that they were simply trying to imitate older chimps caring for infants.)

So if humans are more often than not homosocially inclined - and I don't see why we wouldn't be, as common as it is in other primates - and if groups of humans acquire enough skills that there has to be some division of labor, then it doesn't seem surprising at all that some of these divisions would be along gender lines, especially after a society has iterated through enough generations. If that's not enough, the fact that it's mostly the women who get pregnant is there to help set this trend in motion. And of course eventually there is coercively imposing roles on people because of their assumed gender, but I'm not even going to try to speculate as to when/how this occurred. (Here is my speculation as to why, though.)

(no subject)

Date: 2011-05-12 12:48 pm (UTC)
From: [identity profile] anemone.livejournal.com
I'm bothered by what you think my agenda is. I can see how someone unused to critical thinking might interpret it to mean that transphobia and homophobia is okay, but not how you would reach that conclusion. Unless you believe that a biological tendency towards X means that one should do X or that X is inevitable, there's no agenda behind "maybe there is a biological tendency towards X". Is there one of those you believe?

My goal--my agenda--is to see the world with as clear a view as a I can. This is particularly challenging when I want things to be a certain way.

(no subject)

Date: 2011-05-12 04:33 pm (UTC)
From: [identity profile] anemone.livejournal.com
I completely agree that you have to take politics and culture into account.

It's not that I want to ignore culture, and if I'm coming across that way, I'm failing to communicate. Whatever effects biology might or might not have, for the things we're talking about, those effects are overwhelmed by the influence of culture. This is great, because culture is what we have the power to change.

Homophobia is downright weird. Transphobia is even weirder. We don't go around making a big deal about people who want to change their hair color and pass as blondes. From the perspective the outsider, why is wanting to change your body any different? Cultures that are transphobia or homophobia should be an aberration, but homophobia is fairly common (I don't know about transphobia). I was speculating as to why something so nonsensical (homophobia and transphobia) is so common across cultures.

(no subject)

Date: 2011-05-12 05:27 pm (UTC)
From: [identity profile] anemone.livejournal.com
I sent a sample of _Whipping Girl_ to my kindle; I'll check it out.

(no subject)

Date: 2011-05-12 04:33 pm (UTC)
etb: stylized fisticuffs (fisticuffs)
From: [personal profile] etb
I recall that in Left Hand of Darkness, Le Guin thought of not having wars* and not having gender as intimately related, but I don't know if she worked out a similar implication as Ehrenreich's, or if it was more simplistic.

* until the Gethenians developed large, bureaucratic states, at which point they started having wars anyway

(no subject)

Date: 2011-05-12 05:49 pm (UTC)
luinied: Extra! Break the eggshell! Have you heard? (collected)
From: [personal profile] luinied
I interpreted her more as thinking that the ability to wage war was inversely proportional to the length and difficulty of winters.

(no subject)

Date: 2011-05-12 07:17 pm (UTC)
etb: (portland)
From: [personal profile] etb
I think this is what I was thinking of:

"At the very inception of the whole book, I was interested in writing a novel about people in a society that had never had a war. That came first. The androgyny came second. (Cause and effect? Effect and cause?)" —The Language of the Night

(no subject)

Date: 2011-05-12 04:26 pm (UTC)
etb: (latin stun maths)
From: [personal profile] etb
Agriculture and voting are far from universal in humans.

As are homophobia and transphobia. That was my point.

Because I'm curious.

So are other people who disagree with you; that can't be it.

Any behavior could have a biological basis, or not. Suppose you magically learned which behaviors are biologically determined, which are culturally determined, and which are a mix (and the proportions of the mix). Now what? What do you do if you did, somehow, prove that homophobia has a "gut-level" basis? It seems similar to (again, magically) finding out that women are, on average, slightly ~worse at math~ (supposing that were both a plausible assertion and a well-defined concept); you can't do anything with that information, at least not anything good. When Tim mentioned agendas, I didn't read him as accusing you of having an evil agenda, but as noticing that the only agendas that seem to be furthered by investigating hypotheses like "women are bad at math" or "people are naturally homophobic" are bad ones.

(no subject)

Date: 2011-05-12 05:26 pm (UTC)
From: [identity profile] anemone.livejournal.com
I didn't realize that homophobia wasn't pretty close to universal. I know attitudes vary (eg, the ancient Greeks encouraged or okayed a certain type of homosexual activity while stigmatizing others, various periods had homo-erotic love poetry), but I thought some amount of stigma was usually attached to homosexuality.

So are other people who disagree with you; that can't be it.

I don't get what you are trying to say here at all. I care because I'm curious. I'm not sure why other people being curious and coming to an different conclusion means that the reason I care can't be because I'm curious.

Suppose you magically learned which behaviors are biologically determined, which are culturally determined, and which are a mix (and the proportions of the mix). Now what? What do you do if you did, somehow, prove that homophobia has a "gut-level" basis?

For homophobia and transphobia, I don't know, as I said in my first comment. But for other aspects of human nature, I do find it helpful. Knowing that my desire to shout "GET THE FUCK OFF ME" to my nursing daughter is biological reaction shared by many mammals is useful. It makes me feel less mean for feeling that way, and better able to deal with the problem in a calm way.

Knowing that people tend to look for causation relationships helps remind me that just because X happened and then Y, I need to be very careful about believing X causes Y. Knowing that people tend to do this a lot also, I think, helps keep me from being caught in other people's logical fallacies and to more effectively deflect them.

Thinking this way helped me formulate a theory as to why people I hardly knew wanted to talk to me when I'm pregnant and so become more accepting of the "So when are you due" from strangers.

Knowing that people like to adjust the truth to match what they want makes me very cautious in situations where the "truth" and "what I want" seem to coincide.

In short, understanding the non-rational part of myself gives the rational part of myself more information to work with, and understanding the non-rational part of others is likewise useful.

(no subject)

Date: 2011-05-16 03:00 am (UTC)
From: [identity profile] anemone.livejournal.com
It's possible that such behavior was stigmatized before, but it was about stigmatizing a behavior and not a class of people.

I'm not sure I understand what you mean. The old testament of the Bible suggests death as a punishment for male-male homosexual acts. The Bible must have somewhat reflected the time in which it was written, so it must have been reasonably common belief.

I can completely buy the argument that there wasn't a notion of homosexual identity (and in fact other passages of the Bible would support that belief) but even so, if you're a man sleeping with another man, things must have been difficult.

(no subject)

Date: 2011-05-12 07:47 pm (UTC)
etb: (PACE flag)
From: [personal profile] etb
It's hard to infer an inherent predilection from even an overwhelmingly common practice. Do we try to count cultures? Can we compensate for the influence of particular cultures or dominant religions? Would there be very much homophobia in an alternate history where the Abrahamic religions didn't care so much about it? And we have the problem that anthropological observation is biased, and contact with other cultures changes them: "Many, if not all, tribes have been influenced by European homophobia/transphobia. ... It has been claimed that the Aztecs and Incas had laws against such individuals, though there are some authors who feel that this was exaggerated or the result of acculturation, because all of the documents indicating this are post-conquest..."

It's also possible that, even if something is nearly universal, that it's nearly universal because cultures that encourage othering tend to be violent and expansionary.

I don't get what you are trying to say here at all. I care because I'm curious. I'm not sure why other people being curious and coming to an different conclusion means that the reason I care can't be because I'm curious.

You're right, sorry. I think I was having flashbacks to the "are you against science???" canard that gets thrown to defend curiosity and science in the service of Larry Summers' prejudices, but that's not what you were doing.


tim: Tim with short hair, smiling, wearing a black jacket over a white T-shirt (Default)
Tim Chevalier

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