Saturday, October 1, 2011

Hairy [chat]y Ants

I, for one, welcome our new ant overlords. May their antisocial circle-running usher in a new era of pain and suffering for the hu-mans. All hail the ant!

Wednesday, September 28, 2011

Louie: Duckling

You owe it to yourself to spend an hour watching this episode of Louie. And if you don't get it afterwards, then you need to read the A.V. Club Review to understand what you missed.

A low-budget comedy show on FX really doesn't deserve to be this good, or tackle these sorts of issues. But Louie continually meanders its way to heartfelt emotional truths via dick jokes, silliness, and in this case, ducklings.

Tuesday, September 27, 2011

Gender-X: Problem, not Progress

It's apparently gender week here on EOIAS. Yesterday I started things off with a rant about the problems of Ablowing Chaz Bono. Today I continue my tradition of not providing positive cases with a rant about Australian Passports.

Two weeks ago I read an article about the addition of Gender-X as a category to Australian Passports. Now that I’ve stewed the concept for a while, I present my reflections to you, my six quazi-loyal readers.

Australian passports will now have three gender options — male, female and indeterminate — under new guidelines to remove discrimination against transgender and intersex people, the government said Thursday.
Intersex people, who are biologically not entirely male or female, will be able to list their gender on passports as "X."
Transgender people, whose perception of their own sex is at odds with their biology, will be able to pick whether they are male or female if their choice is supported by a doctor's statement. Transgender people cannot pick "X."

Hurrah! A change to our long-entrenched conception of gender! We have tossed aside the shackles of cultural norms and embraced a brighter, better tomorrow wherein everyone is respected and recognized for who they are. Finally those whose life experience renders problematic our binary categorization shall find a new hope for recognition, a new possibility for normalcy, by marking, effectively, “other” as their gender.

Wait a minute. Male…Female…Other… Why, that almost seems as if it’s compounding the problem, rather than solving it.

“But wait,” you gasp, “you suggest that this change is problematic? This is change! We love change! We can believe in change!” Yes, yes, I know that you love change, gentle lambs. But gather, if you will, around aunt/uncle _J_ as (s)he explains how a half-assed, kneejerk reaction by unthinking, uncritical bureaucrats might actually be an instantiation of dumb that retards progress, rather than an instance of amelioration. Let’s start with the three main problems.

Problem #1: Gender != Sex.
Note that Gender-X is a new gender option that provides persons who are biologically intersexed or transgendered with a new means of self-identification. See what they did there? They collapsed sex and gender into one category. But this is problematic, cause it’s incorrect.

The term “sex” refers to biological states. Sex-male or Sex-female is determined by sexual organs, chromosomes, hormones, or various other biological features. One may objectively discern another’s sex by inspecting biological traits, in a sense, in most cases.

The term “gender’ refers to culturally constructed general ideas, such as notions of masculine or feminine, which serve as categories into which various traits are placed. These categories are usually posited onto children, but then become a means of self-identification in the construction of one’s self-narrative.

Gender-X problematically collapses these two drastically different notions into one category. Imagine an individual who identifies as gender-male and sex-intersex, either because they were born with a vagina and seek an upgrade, or were born with a unique genital arrangement, or something along those lines. Given the passport options, suppose that they chose “male” as their gender, since they are gender-male. Well, this does not account for their intersexuality. Alright, so suppose they select Gender-X, given their intersexuality. But now they have violated their own sense of self, since they are gender-male.

Holy shit, we’ve a problem.

Problem #2: Requires a doctor’s statement.
According to the article, a transgender person requires a doctor’s note to justify their selection on the passport form. If gender is actually a personal choice, or personal feeling, or something along those lines, between culturally constructed categories, then why is a doctor required to justify, or lend credibility to, a transgender person’s selection? If I’ve a vagina, but identify as gender-male, why do I need a doctor’s note to select “male” on the form? This seems to place an undo burden onto transgender people.

Additionally, by treating transgender as something for which a doctor’s note is required, a relation has been made between transgenderism and the medial profession. This relationship leads to the notion that transgenderism is medical, is a disease, is an illness, is somehow at all the purview of a medical professional. And it probably isn’t that sort of thing.

Finally, in the paragraph discussing the need for a doctor’s note, we find this statement: “people whose perception of their own sex is at odds with their biology”. See what they did there?

Problem #3: Gender-X reinforces difference and non-compliance.
'X' is really quite important because there are people who are indeed genetically ambiguous and were probably arbitrarily assigned as one sex or the other at birth," Pratt said. "It's a really important recognition of people's human rights that if they choose to have their sex as 'indeterminate,' that they can."

When we add to male and female a third option of X, that option, as a nameless, featureless X, reinforces the sense of difference, non-compliance, and non-belonging. It maintains the standard of normalcy at male and female, and dumps everyone else into the bland, ambiguous realm of X-ness. Instead of engaging the nuances of gender and sexuality, the X bundles together everything that is else. It is akin to a form that states:

Pick your Race: [ ] White [ ] Black [ ] Other

It’s essentially enforcing the sense that there are some who belong, those whose boxes are definite, and some who do not belong, those who exist outside the standard bifurcation. While male and female articulate what a thing is, in most cases, Gender-X simply states that the entity in question has no is-ness, or has a really complicated is-ness with which we can’t be bothered.

Those, I think, are the three main problems.

The mistake in treating this as an instance of amelioration is that Gender-X does not actually improve the situation; Gender-X does not make things better. It collapses sex and gender into one thing, which further confuses the issues. It invokes the medical profession, casting this all within an unhelpful, fallacious context. The category, itself, is a vague, non-descript proclamation of elseness rather than a nuanced articulation of the particular, unique aspects of the individual for whom the passport serves as identification. All they have done is allow people who do not fit into the traditional, binary categories to proclaim that they do not fit, provided that they have a doctor’s note, and do not mind that “Gender-X” may not at all apply to their unique situation.

You might count the recognition of the problem as progress; at least the issues of intersexuality and transgenderism are being recognized. Unfortunately, this is not actual, genuine recognition. Gender-X does not belie a nuanced, caring understanding of the plight of many people or take seriously their self-narratives. It deals with the problems by dumping those problems into a hollow new category. It provides a non-solution, which may be its most grievous and hazardous aspect.

The addition of Gender-X purports to deal with the issue; it kind of stands in the place of a solution: We don’t need to deal with transgenderism or intersexuality any more, because we added a third box. Chaz Bono has a third box, if Chaz Bono wants it, and so now Chaz Bono ought to quit bitching. Gender-X is to transgenderism and intersexuality what 40 acres and a mule was to slavery. Yes, we captured you, broke your spirit, treated you as property, and forced you to do our manual labor, but here’s a mule and some infertile land. We square? Well why aren’t we square? We gave you a fucking mule / non-descript gender category! God, there’s just no pleasing you people, is there?


Gender-X is what happens when we do not take seriously the real issues, the genuine problems, in our conceptions of sex and gender. We recognize that these reified binary categories of traits are problematic. We solve this problem of reified categorization by…reifying a new, third category.

My, aren’t we clever.

This all, of course, leaves aside the question which ought to have been nagging at you throughout this whole rant: Why the piss-fucking-hell do we need gender on a passport in the first place?

Monday, September 26, 2011

Ablowing Chaz Bono

Sex and Gender arguments are good for the same reason that abortion arguments are good: People really, really care about these issues. And, usually, that care translates into an impenetrable veil of emotion that clouds any semblance of reason. So, while the arguments descend into nonsense quite quickly, it is a passionate, visceral, argumentative nonsense with raised voices and finger pointing.

You know, fun.

So, when “Dr.” Keith Ablow starts discussing Chaz Bono’s inclusion on Dancing with the Stars, we know we’re in for good times.

Now, I should say that I am not entirely opposed to Ablow’s “position”. You see, as an individual with a faculty of reason, I can discern some problems with the notion of transgendered persons: they do not play nicely with our binary categories. Transgender invites ambiguity and subjectivism / relativism into our clean division between male and female. We’ve had these categories for quite some time, most languages contain the division, and a vast majority of persons fit neatly into one or the other. With that recognition, I can agree, to a point, with Ablow when he says shit like this:

It is a toxic and unnecessary byproduct of the tragic celebration of transgender surgery that millions of young people who do watch "Dancing with the Stars" will have to ponder this question: Maybe my problems really stem from the fact that I'm a girl inside a boy's body (or a boy inside a girl's body). Maybe I'm not a tomboy; I'm just a boy!

Yes, inviting that possibility is potentially hazardous; allowing unformed, uncritical minds to ponder the option that they can craft a self-narrative contrary to the norm invites a problem into our organized, ordered society. Little tammy was born with a vagina and has a Barbie Playhouse, but maybe she really wants a weiner-dong and some G.I. Joes. Providing children with the option means that some might take it, and that can be argued to be problematic, if only because an increase in gender ambiguity might eventually require that businesses provide more bathroom options than two.

Additionally, disolving cultural norms usually dissolves culture. Or, at least, particular aspects of culture. While some changes are beneficial, it is usually good to ponder the consequences of significantly retooling the organizational structures by which human beings self-govern. For example, do you really want to wait until your child is thirty to ask it what gender it feels like, and so name it accordingly? I mean, we can’t name every child “Pat”. But if we take seriously the notion that gender is a self-narrative, that every person gets to decide who they are, then we’ll probably have to rethink how naming works.

That is a trivial example, but it does show one possible consequence of dissolving our gender categories. When we invite ambiguity, we’ve invited ambiguity, and ambiguity destroys binary categorization, which is a fairly significant feature of reason; it’s kind of how we think.

So, in that respect, I can go along with Ablow: Letting an eight year old decide what gender it wants to be is probably not the best idea. Unless, of course, you are comfortable with your child’s gender being “Batman”.

But here’s where I part ways with Ablow:
We really don't know how these behaviors influence people when they are mainstreamed and celebrated. But I would say during the very vulnerable times when kids are forming their identities, as well as their sexual identities, yes, it's possible that if someone is celebrated and lifted to heroic proportions like that of a civil rights leader that someone who is somewhat uncomfortable with his or her gender might say, "You know what? I'm going down that road." And that is a very tortuous road that we know very little about. And it's still the subject of tremendous debate.

Here’s the problem: “someone who is somewhat uncomfortable with his or her gender”. Ablow recognizes the reality of the situation, that there exist people who are uncomfortable with the gender they have been assigned, and he blows right past it. Ablow has moved from, “Chaz Bono might cause children to self-describe as Batman” to “Chaz Bono may help someone.” That’s no longer invoking a genuine, rational discernment of a problem; that’s just being an asshole.

If persons actually do feel uncomfortable with their gender, and they genuinely struggle with self-description within our cultural binary categories, then we need to be sensitive to that. And if Chaz Bono can invite a conversation between parents a children about gender, about sex, about self-identification? How can that possibly be detrimental to the structure of society? How is that conversation, in itself, problematic?

Sex and Gender are very, very complicated issues. For most people, living within a fixed social category shall never be a problem. But for others, who struggle with self-identity and genuinely suffer in the attempt to feel normal, why not offer role models, offer conversations, offer an ounce of care? The conversation is difficult, but that does not mean that we should refuse to have it.

Because in addition to reason, human beings have empathy; we care about how other people feel. And that, unlike gender, is probably not an evolutionary mistake.

Sunday, September 25, 2011

A.J. Ayer on "They're only Playing with Words"

7:25 – Bryan Magee:
It leads philosophers into a situation where, as soon as anyone makes an assertion of any kind about that world, what you then do is examine the assertion. And you get straight-away into the examination of statements, the analysis of propositions, an analysis of the relation of the terms of the propositions to each other, it’s logical form, so on and so forth. And philosophy soon, can soon seem to become, on that basis, about language. And, indeed, it would be true to say, wouldn’t it, that a lot of non-philosophers have acquired the view that philosophers are only concerned with language, and sometimes this is put, disparagingly, that “they’re only playing with words.” Can you give some explanation of why that sort of prejudice against philosophy, which is very widespread, is misplaced?

8:08 A.J. Ayer:
Well, a great deal of philosophy certainly is about language insofar as it distinguishes between, um, different, uh, types of utterance and analyzes certain types of expression. I think the main, I mean I would make no apology for this, but beyond that I think the answer I would give is that the distinction between being about language and being about the world isn’t all that sharp. Because the world is the world as we describe it. The world is the world as it figures in our system of concepts. And in exploring our system of concepts you are at the same time exploring the world.

Let’s take an example. Suppose now one is interested in the question of causality. Now, uh, we certainly believe that causality is something that happens in the world… bitten by an anopheles mosquito, I get malaria, and so on; one thing causes another. And one could put it by saying: What is causality? And, uh, this is perfectly respectable, important, traditional philosophical question. You can also put it by saying: How do you analyze causal statements? What do we mean by saying that one thing causes another? And, in fact, although you look as though you’re posing a purely linguistic question, you’re answering exactly the same questions philosophers have always posed, only putting it in a different form. And we think, or most contemporary philosophy, a rather clearer form.