First response and follow-up questions

Purplesagefem answered four of the questions I posed in my previous post. This post is part response and part follow-up questions to her answers.

It has taken me a while to write and become horribly long – whoops. I kept going back to edit and re-edit and delete and regret the deleting and rewrite the deleted parts from memory as well as possible and rethink and re-edit again, and I’m still not happy and probably missed something, but I don’t think another rewriting would help much and I need the rest of my life back. I also didn’t go back to give the latest version another editing pass, so if you find any errors, clutch them tightly and keep them close to your heart while you whack your way through the rest of the eldritch abomination which is this post until you can finally unfold your stiffened fingers to drop them into a comment.

First, a note about the term TERF and my usage thereof: I had heard of some objections against the term and thought for quite a while about whether to use it, and if so, whether I should add an explanation/disclaimer. In the end, I used it because purplesagefem used it in her About page without further explanations, and because I don’t actually know a different term to describe the cluster of opinions the acronym stands for.

And aaauuugh, I kind of want to jump into a discussion of whether or not “slur” is accurate and/or appropriate here, but this really isn’t a hill I feel like dying on and I don’t think debating it would further my goal of having an honest, respectful and (hopefully) mutually beneficial dialogue here.

Anyway, I won’t use it to refer to anybody who indicates they do not want to be referred to that way and shall hereafter awkwardly circumscribe the group of people I mean unless and until I learn of a term more acceptable to the members of said group.

And now to the response to the actual response to etc.

The first question I posed (naturally) concerned the definition of the terms “man” and “woman”. The criteria you give in the subsequent paragraphs are:

I) Male: has a penis and testicles which produce sperm which can fertilize ova.
II) Female: has a vagina and a uterus, ovulates, can become pregnant and give birth.

A) By these criteria, most children would be neither male nor female, since they would be too young to produce gametes (ova or sperm). So would anyone post-menopausal, anyone who has been sterilized, anyone infertile due to (past or current) medical conditions (either directly causing their infertility or requiring medical treatments that render them infertile, e.g a hysterectomy), and anyone using birth control that suppresses ovulation and/or prevents impregnation, not to mention many (but not all) intersex people and many trans people (myself included). I don’t think that this is what you intended, since it doesn’t match the way I’ve seen you use the terms and their pronouns; can you amend/specify?

B) You elaborate a bit on intersex people, saying they have a mixture of male and female genitalia. Can you tell me what you’d call them? How would you categorize and refer to e.g. a person you know to possess testicles as well as a uterus and a vagina and who produces neither ova nor sperm?

Regarding reproductive anatomy (and reproduction itself), I do not dispute that some people are born with a penis and testicles and some people are born with a vagina etc., nor that sperm can (sometimes) fertilize ova etc. Neither does anyone else I know. These are, as you say, observable facts that have worked this way for as long as humans have existed and work similarly in many other species.
I also agree that, while it certainly can be and has been used to justify various forms of oppressions throughout human history, there is nothing oppressive about that. (Although people may of course have all kinds of feelings about those facts – many people who menstruate or give birth certainly have strong feelings about that, including the feeling that this is burdensome and really unfair.)

The disagreement between (many) trans people and (many) people holding trans-exclusive opinions (radical feminists, fundamentalist Christians, or others) is not about whether penisses etc. exist, but about what consequences their existence should have for how the people they’re attached to should behave, what rights they should have, how they should be treated by others, how they should be talked about, and so on. Just as the disagreement between homophobic religious people and others isn’t about whether two people with the same anatomy can have children with each other, but about whether the ability to have children is at all relevant to the questions of whether having sex is wrong for them or whether they should be able to marry each other.

To explain why you view gendered expectations and gendered pronouns differently, you write:

The reason we use she/her pronouns for people born with vulvas is because she/her pronouns are grammatically correct pronouns for females, and people born with vulvas are female. This is just a function of language.

This in and of itself is not a justification or reason for anything; exactly the same argument could be made for any gendered term, and in fact often is. (The reason we call dolls girl toys is because girl toys is a grammatically correct way to refer to toys made for girls, and dolls are made for girls. The reason we call skirts and dresses women’s clothing is because women’s clothing is a grammatically correct term to refer to clothing made for women, and skirts and dresses are made for women. Etc.)

And it’s not like this function of language has to exist, let alone in exactly this way – some languages don’t even have gendered pronouns. (Chinese got along just fine without them until the early 20th century, when European influence caused them to introduce a couple, Filipino and many or even all other Philippine languages still don’t have any.) Gendered terms are demonstrably not necessary – it’s entirely possible for people to communicate without them. Other languages have more gendered pronouns than English – Arabic has gendered second person pronouns, distinguishing between “you-female” and “you-male”, and many of the various first person pronouns Japanese uses (both singular and plural) are gendered. I don’t know of any evidence that this gives their native speakers some advantage over native English speakers.

You claim that pronouns do have communicative value, specifically, nothing more or less than this:

The use of female pronouns doesn’t say anything at all about a person other than the fact that she is female.

C) Defining “female” based on the criteria given above, without adding any stereotypes or expectations, why do you think that this is a valuable thing to communicate?

To elaborate: I have never seen the genitals of the vast majority of the people I interact with in everyday life, and I have rarely ever asked any of them for their medical history regarding their reproductive system. The notion that knowing the form and functionality of my reproductive anatomy is in any way valuable to, say, my landlady (whose genitalia and reproductive functionality I don’t know either, and frankly do not want to), or my project partner at my vocational school, or my professor, or my internet service provider, seems absurd to me. Whether or not I currently ovulate or have ever done so is precisely zero of their business, and whether they currently ovulate or produce sperm or have ever done so is zero of mine. The only situation where this information would be relevant is in the context of some forms of sexual interaction or medical services related to reproduction and/or the anatomy involved. (And in both cases, “female” or “male” alone would be too broad and unspecific anyway.)

Following from this, I can also say for certain that nobody chooses whether to use male or female pronouns based on people’s reproductive anatomy and functionality in everyday life. My internet service provider chooses what gendered form of address to use based on which option I picked from a list box when I signed up for the service, my landlady chooses based on my legal name (which, while not a pronoun, is considered male and as such a gendered term), random people I cross paths with choose based on various aspects of my appearance and presentation.

And, by sheer necessity, neither do you – unless you use gender-neutral pronouns for everyone whose genitals you haven’t seen and who you haven’t given ultrasound exams to observe whether they have a uterus and ovaries or whose ejaculate you had analyzed to find out if it contained sperm capable of fertilizing an ovum, you do not choose your pronouns based on the criteria you gave, but on assumptions you make about the form and functionality of people’s genitalia based on other observable facts. The information given by using gendered pronouns is not actually information about someone’s reproductive anatomy – it is at best information about what the speaker believes someone’s reproductive anatomy to be.

Which is also what determines whether using one set of gendered pronouns rather than another misleads anybody: nobody in my life will be confused about whom you are referring to if you use “he” pronouns for me, while the majority of them will have no idea who you’re talking about if you use “she” pronouns. Pronouns also aren’t really useful to tell people who you’re talking about because many people use the same pronouns – if I said “she likes chocolate” without further context, people would ask “who?” exactly as they would if I said “he likes chocolate”. That’s what names are for. (And possibly more than that depending on whether you know multiple people with the same name – “Alison S.” rather than “Alison L.”, or “Sophia-with-PH” rather than “Sofia-with-F”). Gendered pronouns don’t add much clarity here.

While writing this response, I noticed that the notion that I need to know about other people’s genitalia and vice versa doesn’t just feel absurd to me, but actively gross and invasive. Not only do I not know details about my landlady’s genitalia, I don’t want to know! Not only do I not know whether my ex-boyfriend’s ejaculate contained viable sperm, talking about the topic feels quite disrespectful of his privacy and very much like too much information! And don’t even get me started on children here: the only value I can imagine some random person on the street getting out of knowing a six-year-old’s genitalia is one I really really really do not want to think about any further.

D) I suppose it could be argued that these feelings are not exactly rational – we all have bodies, we all have genitalia, just as we all poop, there isn’t really a rational, objective reason for why we should keep our genitalia hidden from others in the course of daily life and only expose them to a select few based on our relationship. Do you feel that the form and functionality of your genitalia is something private? Do you think you should (not) feel that way? Would people in your ideal world? Why (not), if that is something you can explain? (Even these questions feel sort of gross and invasive, so let me emphasize here that “yes I do and I don’t want to talk about this any further” is a perfectly acceptable answer.)

To address whether pronouns (and many other forms of gendered language – I am not exclusively or specifically talking about pronouns) cause harm, it might be necessary to define harm. Generalizing a bit from the examples you give, harm includes:

i) feeling uncomfortable,
ii) being restricted in one’s abilities (specifically, the ability to move),
iii) others wanting or trying to do things to one that one doesn’t want (e.g. someone looking at one’s underwear).

D) As for (i), this is obviously also the case with gendered language, unless you think every trans person in the world who has ever claimed to feel uncomfortable with certain forms of gendered language being used to refer to them is lying. Do you think we are being dishonest about feeling uncomfortable? If so, why?

E) Slurs seem to fulfill (i), but none of the others. Would you argue that slurs cause other harm as well? If so, what harm? (These questions are not intended as defense of slurs and should not be taken as such – for me personally, causing discomfort alone is an argument against slurs, and unless there are really compelling arguments to use them anyway, it’s a sufficient one.)
I do think that gendered language causes harm beyond feelings of discomfort and am cautiously in favor of abolishing it completely and absolutely in favor of introducing (more) gender-neutral language to default to, but that might be better explained in a separate post – it’s not really a response or follow-up question anymore, and I’m sure this post will get long enough without including it here.

F) Just one more question: when you speak of people of undefined gender (as in “someone”, “a person”, “everybody”, “anyone” etc.), what term(s) do you use and why? If you use a gendered term there, wouldn’t it be inaccurate and potentially misleading?

G) You write that “there is no reason why the use of a value neutral part of speech could reasonably cause someone distress”. You also believe that there is a cultural view of female as inferior, which would mean that “female”/”she” is not actually considered to be value-neutral by the vast majority of people. This seems like a contradiction – can you explain/elaborate? Whose opinion do you think should take precedence if one speaker views them as value-neutral and the other does not?

H) I’m inclined to think that using a gendered pronoun to refer to someone who has explicitly asked to be referred to in some other way (as is the case with trans people) cannot be value-neutral in and because of this very context. Using language in such a way inevitably also carries the message that at best you don’t care about their preferences and at worst you actively want to disregard them.
Do you believe that people you’ve asked not to use certain language to refer to you are doing something wrong? Do you believe what they’re doing is harmful? If your answer here differs from your opinion regarding trans people and pronouns, why?

I) Why do you believe it would be impossible to abolish the words man and woman? Abolishing people being born with certain anatomy is (probably) impossible, of course, but the existence of a certain cluster of anatomical facts doesn’t mean there has to be a word to describe said cluster. We don’t have a word for, say, people with black hair and brown eyes whose ring fingers are longer than their index fingers, and whether or not someone has this cluster of traits is not considered relevant by anyone I know of. Why would it be impossible not to have a word for a person with the cluster trait penis and testicles?

As for the term AFAB, its meaning is very different from woman as defined by your criteria! “Assigned female at birth” does not at all mean “this person has a vagina and a uterus etc.”, it means “when this person was born, someone looked at those of their genitals visible on the outside at this age and declared them female”. It describes something that happened in the past, not something that is currently the case. If there was a magic button that could make someone male by any definition (change their vagina and uterus and ovaries and vulva to a fully functional set of penis and testicles capable of producing viable sperm and all the works),  they’d still be AFAB provided they were assigned female at birth. “Female male” is a contradiction, “AFAB male” is not.

FTM also differs from female, because it means someone who is currently male and has transitioned to male from female. Again, a magic button making someone male by any definition would make the term female incorrect, but not the term FTM. It’s like someone saying that you like Spongebob Squarepants when in fact you’ve stopped liking it a long while ago vs. someone saying you used to like it – the latter will always be correct if you’ve liked it at any point of your life, regardless of whether you still do.
Many people feel that the terms FTM or MTF are inaccurate because by their definitions (not necessarily by yours), they never completely belonged to their assigned gender. Especially the term MTF has also been used in ways that slurs typically are – most trans women (or at least most trans women I know of) reject it for this reason.

I personally don’t use the term FTM for myself, but don’t have any particularly strong feelings about it either. (I feel more strongly about hearing the term MTF because of its common usage – it raises red flags for me in a way FTM doesn’t.)

Regarding the concepts of sex vs. gender, I feel like the dichotomy itself is hardly useful at best and actively obfuscates every single issue related to either or both of them. People’s definitions of both of these words are often vague and/or differ greatly from person to person – in my experience, discussions using them often devolve into lenghty debates of the various involved parties’ various criteria and edge cases, and sometimes it turns out that the criteria relevant to the actual issue discussed are some mixture of both or something else altogether. (As is the case in people’s pronoun choices in everyday life.)

You write:

Sex is whether you have male or female reproductive anatomy, and gender is a set of behaviors, mannerisms and appearances that communicate your sex to other people.

I’d say that what communicates facts about my reproductive system to other people is nothing more or less than saying “I have [body part] and am capable of [thing]”. Anything else may certainly lead people to make assumptions about my reproductive anatomy – people with buzz cuts are certainly more likely to be perceived as male than people with butt-long hair – , but this is a consequence of the stereotypes and expectations we have about and often push on people, a.k.a. gender.

J) Are there behaviors, mannerisms and appearances that you think communicate facts about your reproductive system that are not part of gender? If so, which ones? Do you feel that people should (be obligated to) present some of them? (Based on your manifesto, I’d assume the answer is no, but you do seem to think it’s important for people to know details about other people’s anatomy, so I’m not sure and I don’t want to miss anything important. Hence this question.)

Regarding segregated spaces, you write:

These spaces are not segregated by gender, they are segregated by sex. That’s because females are vulnerable due to their ability to become pregnant and need to be separated from males in places where they will be undressed. The reason for this separation is that males have a tendency to sexually abuse females, and this needs to be prevented.

K) As with the first question, this explanation doesn’t take into account that many people usually categorized as female are not able to become pregnant and that the ability to become pregnant is not usually visible to others in any way. Arguing that people are vulnerable to sexual abuse (I assume this is the vulnerability you mean here, not vulnerability in general; if not, please correct me) due to their ability to become pregnant would mean that people unable to become pregnant (such as children etc.) are not vulnerable. Again, I don’t think that this is what you intended; please amend/clarify. What are the specific criteria you think are relevant for segregation? Relatedly, how would you enforce segregation by these criteria? (For example, if you want to segregate people with vulvas from people with penisses: does everyone have to drop their pants/pull up their skirts on command in front of security personnel for close inspection, or what? I don’t mean this confrontationally, I just really can’t imagine how it would work.)

L) It’s also implied in your paragraph quoted above that the only relevant type of sexual abuse is unprotected vaginal rape committed by people who ejaculate viable sperm. I don’t think you actually believe that oral or anal rape, rape committed using a condom, or possibly other kinds of sexual assault are somehow lesser crimes and don’t need to be prevented – am I correct in this?
I’m also not sure why you used the term sexual abuse rather than sexual assault (or, if you really meant to refer to unprotected vaginal rape exclusively, those exact words) – is there a distinction between sexual abuse and sexual assault that’s important here? (Intuitively, I’d use sexual abuse for many instances of sexual assault committed by the same person towards the same person over a longer period of time, but I don’t know if this is a common distinction or just my impression.)

M) “Places where they will be undressed” seems to exclude public bathrooms, since people don’t fully undress there – is that intentional? (Not that it wouldn’t pleasantly surprise me, but especially bathrooms seem to be spaces lots of people strongly feel should be segregated.) If it isn’t, can you please specify what spaces you’d want to segregate?

N) On what grounds do you believe that undressing is an important factor (or even /the/ important factor) for sexual assault/abuse/rape?
I’m asking because I know of plenty of mixed spaces where people undress and even hang out naked, such as some saunas and nudist beaches, but can’t remember ever hearing or reading anything that would indicate sexual assault is more frequent there than in public spaces where people are fully dressed. Dress in general is usually discounted as a risk factor for sexual assault especially in feminist spaces – I’ve heard religious fundamentalists and MRAs argue that if women wear little, they’re naturally more likely to be assaulted, but data doesn’t back that up (sexual assaults in Iran, where women wear a lot, don’t seem to be more common than sexual assaults at public pools, where they don’t), and feminists typically argue against that. Seeing you do the opposite is somewhat surprising.

O) Following that: it would be possible to build e.g. locker rooms with lockable single-person stalls, giving everyone the option to undress/change in complete privacy. What is your opinion on such alternatives?

P) Are you talking about segregation only in the current environment, that is, one where gender is alive and well, or also in a possible future post-gender world?
a) If it is the latter: do you believe that a tendency to commit sexual abuse/assault is influenced by the current notion of the female gender as weaker, inferior, more likely to submit than to fight back etc., that such a tendency is innate to anybody born with a penis and testicles (and independent of any other physical or mental factors!), or a mixture of both?
b) If you believe it is innate, do you believe there are other innate behavioral tendencies that come with a certain anatomy? If so, which ones? Do you believe there is any value in current campaigns and initiatives against sexual assault/rape at all, if the underlying factor can’t be changed anyway?

Regarding the next question, the one about body modifications, your main point is:

We should automatically default to NOT injuring our bodies or risking our health unless there is some compelling medical reason to do so, such as for example, having a medically necessary surgery to save one’s life.

I’d argue that not risking our health is impossible.

People who drive cars risk their health. They might get into accidents resulting in grave injuries and even death. People who take the stairs risk their health: they might fall and injure themselves. People who take the elevator risk their health, not primarily because the elevator might have a problem (the risk that something like that results in injuries rather than just some uncomfortable time spent waiting is probably very very small), but mostly because physical inactivity is associated with worse cardiovascular health, a greater risk of injuring yourself through falls in old age, and an earlier death in general.

Going outside in the sun promotes vitamin D production, but puts you at a higher risk of skin cancer and might cause burns and/or sunstroke. Going for a walk might provide you with health benefits from the exercise, but also might get you hit by a car. Brushing your teeth twice every day will help you prevent caries, but also abrades your enamel, especially if you brush somewhat forcefully, and you might also actually injure yourself – I’m fairly sure everyone who has ever brushed their teeth has ended up with bleeding gums at least once.

Mental distress, depression and anxiety are associated with various physical ailments like higher blood pressure, a weakened immune system, fatigue and tension headaches, and can also indirectly lead to worse health simply because depressed people are often not able to practice good self-care in the form of good nutrition and regular exercise, or motivated to do so. I personally would consider mental distress and pain themselves part of health or its absence. (While the exact definition of health is somewhat controversial and vague, I personally am a big fan of the WHO’s definition of health as “a state of complete physical, mental, and social well-being and not merely the absence of disease or infirmity.” It matches my values very closely.)

Every second of every day in everyone’s life consists of thousands of little trade-offs, balancing different parts of our health, and most people don’t have a terribly clear idea of the possible risks and rewards of every action – in fact, knowing all of said risks and rewards is impossible, both because reading and fully understanding all the necessary studies (including their methodologies and limitations) and being able to weigh them against one another is a horribly complicated and huge task that would take years of training and hours of daily reading (which takes time you could use for things like preparing healthy food or exercising, too!), and because many of them report conflicting results about various factors, usually due to methodological or statistical limitations (small sample sizes, bad measures, a big margin of error). I’m sure you know of some controversial topics – mobile phones, maybe, or Wi-Fi (which there are no long-term studies on yet either, because it simply hasn’t been around and widely used for that long), or GMOs, or some kinds of pesticides or medications or…

Medications, too, involve trade-offs: read the information about basically any drug, and you’ll find a list of side-effects ranging from mild (say, itching) to death. Whatever ailment you have, from a potentially life-threatening chronic disease (like diabetes) to an allergic reaction to a bee sting to really bad period cramps: the treatment will come with health risks. (And if you use an epipen to save your life with an allergic reaction, you’ll have to injure yourself, too.)

Which of the countless ways in which you can risk your health you choose depends on you: on how informed you are about the risks, how well you can gauge them, what the various possible negative effects mean to you (do you care about, say, itching and inflammation because of a cream you use to treat a wart? how much?), and of course on what benefits you are hoping to get out of it.

You said in a comment somewhere that you’re not vegetarian – eating meat puts you at a higher risk of many forms of cancer, and eating animal products at all puts you at a higher risk of diabetes, coronary heart disease (which is killer no. 1 in first-world countries), and high blood pressure! You offer a beer to anybody who reads your post to the end – alcohol is very well-known to be harmful to your liver and your brain, and is definitely something your body needs to recover from! You probably don’t have a medically compelling reason for any of these, and neither are medically necessary, yet you’re willing to put your health on the line and take the associated risks, for whatever reasons.

You write about “compelling medical reason” as a criterium: this is a highly subjective term. What is a compelling reason to you based on your values might make someone else shrug and go “so what?”, and what exactly medical means is also debatable: arguably, all health is a medical matter in some way, and there are certain recommendations about alcohol intake or meat consumption from medical professionals based on (presumably) medical reasons.
Necessity and good health are similarly subjective: things can only ever be necessary in relation to some goal, and nobody else can set your goals for you. Health exists on a continuum, and people have very different ideas of what is healthy vs. unhealthy based on their information (which might be something they learned in medical school or something they heard from their neighbor’s nephew about his friend’s sister), their own values, and such irrational and technically irrelevant things as (cultural or individual) habit. Additionally, people’s perception of health itself varies: what you deem good health might be someone else’s utopia or their nightmare.

While there is a cultural consensus around many risks (most people think driving is worth the risks, fewer people think the same about bungee jumping), there is great interpersonal variation, and much of what is considered acceptable is definitely not based on rational considerations or even good information in many cases. Getting stitches to close a wound is probably not necessary to save one’s life in most cases, involves inflicting multiple new injuries on someone to close a single one (typically along with administering toxic substances to the area to numb the nerves), and the benefits might even be purely cosmetic (leading to a smaller, neater scar). Yet most people don’t think stitches are wrong. Vaccinations involve injuring someone with a needle and putting stress on their immune system in the hopes that this will serve to prevent future illness, and except for a small but vocal minority (which itself operates on really, really bad information), people don’t think they’re wrong – they even have them for technically completely “unnecessary” things, like going abroad on a holiday.

Angelina Jolie somewhat famously had a preventative double mastectomy a few years back after she learned she had a genetic variation that put her at an 87% risk of developing breast cancer. Later, she also had a preventative oophorectomy because of a 50% chance of developing ovarian cancer caused by the same gene. Neither was considered medically necessary yet, and people who valued their breasts and/or ovaries more and/or feared cancer less might have decided to wait and see, but I don’t think anyone can say for certain or even reasonably claim that she was wrong to have these surgeries. Living in fear, worrying about everything that might possibly be a symptom, lying awake wondering if there’s something malignant growing somewhere inside one’s own body right now, all these are not things that can be assessed, let alone judged, from the outside. And while there are certainly strategies to deal with fears and worries – many of which can be learned in some form of therapy – , there is absolutely no objective basis on which to claim that this would have been the “right” way to deal with the situation.

Not that I think people shouldn’t be allowed to offer their opinions on the health decisions of others – I’ve certainly grumbled about a friend’s smoking habit, and commented on another friend’s nutritional choices. Discussing health and healthy habits is a perfectly good thing to do, and often proves very valuable in providing perspectives we hadn’t considered before, or sharing information. I’m very much in favor of well-considered, well-informed choices, regarding health as well as pretty much anything else!
But I do think that we have to be mindful of our differences in values and preferences and appropriately nuanced in our opinions.

For example, you write:

I’ve never understood why people get piercings—it would be completely nonsensical to me to poke a hole in my body and put a piece of metal through it. It seems unnecessary and painful.

This is somewhat fascinating to me, because this has never been a problem for me even regarding piercings I’ve never wanted to get for myself. So here are some follow-up questions that might help me understand you better:

Q) To me, getting piercings and tattoos is rather plainly a form of self-expression and communication (e.g. of one’s opinions, religion, belonging to certain cultures or subcultures, etc.). As such, it seems just as (un)necessary as any kind of fashion choice, including jewelry, and haircuts. To what degree do you view those as (un)necessary or nonsensical? Especially expensive and/or uncomfortable ones?

R) Lots of people are willing to risk and inflict some kinds of pain on themselves in the course of pursuing other goals, for example in order to learn new skills, do some kind of sports, get drunk (liquor burns), etc. Some people even seem to enjoy a bit of pain for its own sake, for example when eating spicy food like chili or anything involving wasabi. Are those – especially the latter – equally strange to you?
(If they are, I guess you just value pain unusually negatively compared to other people. Which is again quite fascinating to me – I’m pretty indifferent to most short-lived pain, even if it’s fairly intense, and always somewhat surprised when people react strongly to paper cuts or stubbed toes.)

For the record, I find it really horrifying when people pierce the ears of their babies and young children who are too young to consent. I consider this abuse.

So do I, and even more so for non-consensual circumcision (or other genital surgeries) without medical reason. Bodily autonomy is incredibly important to me.

Regarding our respective views towards bodies in general, I get the impression that you value physical wholeness and freedom from injuries as a terminal good in a way I don’t. Bodies are not toys to be taken apart and put together again for fun, but they are no sacred temples either, no fossils to be put behind glass in a museum and carefully kept safe. Our bodies are our only way of interacting with and experiencing the world we live in, and most bodies are strong and resilient enough to handle all the necessary bumps along the way. I’d rather risk (parts of) my health by exposing my body to the elements and germs and injuries than stay safely inside the walls of my apartment just to watch my body deteriorate and die eventually anyway because by all current medical standards, bodies come with an expiration date anyway. “Best used before…” and if you haven’t used it until then because you were busy keeping it safe, well, you’ve missed out on a lot of great experiences and it’s dead anyway.

Sooo that fundamental difference in values might inform a lot of our smaller differences.
Another difference seems to be how negatively we value psychotherapy, or other non-physical interventions.

I personally view my mind, my personality, my various non-physical traits as much more constitutive of myself than my body. Physical pain may be unpleasant, but I can handle it, physical injuries might not be a party, but they’ll heal on their own. I have a much lower tolerance for mental pain and much less confidence in my ability to handle non-physical injuries without lasting damage, and changing aspects so fundamental to my self that they are independent of and maybe even contrary to conscious beliefs seems extremely difficult or downright impossible. I’ve tried hard to make peace with my assigned gender for years, and the best I ever managed was a sort of mindful, carefully nonjudgmental distance that took effort to maintain and that was no different from enduring any other unpleasant stimulus (say, unwanted body contact, or a horrible noise, or unwanted sex). The suggestion that this would have been the better alternative compared to hormone injections every now and then and some post-surgery recovery is just no. The suggestion that I should have stuck with trying to warp and twist parts of my brain not amenable to rational thought instead of simply changing my body to one I am happier with, that choosing the latter was/is somehow wrong or selfish, seems to be either based on completely different values or divorced from reality or both.

Which is not to say that this might not be an option for some people, maybe even the better one, and if there is evidence to support that and maybe even offer clues as to what traits those people might have in common or what the best alternative treatment to medical transition might be, I’m curious and open to that.

I’m against body modifications on the basis that they are a form of self-hate and self-injury, regardless of the reasons behind the modification.

S) Could you explain what you mean by “self-hate” and why self-hate by your definition is a bad thing?

For me, self-hate refers to feelings of hate, loathing, contempt and/or disgust towards oneself, which is bad both directly (those feelings themselves as well as being their target is decidedly unpleasant) and indirectly (hating oneself might lead one to cause oneself harm).

However, this doesn’t seem to match your usage: if someone e.g. feels great love and admiration towards a certain artwork and wants a tattoo of said artwork to take with them wherever they go in the most intimate and permanent form possible, takes all possible precautions to ensure they can get it tattooed professionally in a safe, clean environment and takes good care of it afterwards, feelings of self-hate are plainly not involved in any of this.

T) Taking into account what I’ve written regarding risking one’s health and injuries, could you tell me how you distinguish between forms of self-injury you’d classify as self-hate and forms you wouldn’t? (Would you classify Angelina Jolie’s surgeries as self-hate, since they were not medically necessary? How great does the risk of negative health outcomes have to be before it isn’t self-hate, does physical health only count, and if so, how do you weigh negative physical health outcomes related to bad mental health?)

What I do is promote an analysis of the cultural conditions that lead women to want to modify their bodies, because I have an interest in the well-being of women as a group.

I think that identifying and analyzing cultural conditions promoting certain desires is potentially extremely valuable and helps to understand much of human behavior. I do think it’s important not to use “this action x is culturally promoted” as an argument to support any of the following:
1) People doing x are doing harm.
2) Anyone who claims they want to do x is only doing so out of cultural pressure.
3) Everybody who knows about the cultural pressure to do x is almost automatically free of it.
4) Everybody would stop wanting to do x if they knew about the cultural pressure.
None of those follow from the mere existence of cultural factors promoting x, but I feel like people doing cultural analyses often sort of slip any or even all of the above in, sometimes explicitly and sometimes implicitly.

The other way you could argue this is that everyone can do what they want with their own body and no one has the right to question it.

As I said some (many) paragraphs above, I don’t think people should be forbidden from offering their opinions on the health decisions of others, and I do think that discussing those decisions can be valuable.
It’s just very important to be ready to listen to the answers, to accept differences in values if necessary and to let others make their own decisions anyway. (Which is why I’m happy we’re talking about this stuff!)

And now you’ve reached the end – congratulations! I’d offer you a beer for making it through the whole post, except I don’t have any and also I live in Europe how the hell would I give any of you beer.

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2 thoughts on “First response and follow-up questions”

  1. Hi Skepto, I haven’t done a question-by-question response to this because it’s so long it’s kind of overwhelming. The overall feeling I got from reading this is that you don’t understand the meanings of “male” and “female” and how these are obvious physical characteristics that you can identify about the vast majority of people in normal social situations. (Well, I think you do know this, but trans ideology requires you not to admit to knowing it.) In my last couple of trans-related blog posts I wrote about human reproductive anatomy and the how and why you tell whether people are male or female. This is in response to your post here. If there are any questions in particular that you’re really interested in, please point them out. I don’t feel like I can do a question-by-question post on this whole thing.

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