There’s a lot of talk, and confusion, about trans issues. I’ve been wanting to arrange the basic concepts in a logical hierarchy. As it happens, I chose a web-based forum to do so. Here’s what I wrote, essentially:
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I’ve been pondering how best to structure my contributions in this thread. My premise is that we all live in the same metaphysical reality that exists independently of how we perceive it. That reality is our common ground, even though we have different perspectives, and different ways of perceiving. A friend of mine helps me work on the broken cars I buy and analyze. She’s color-blind so she and I literally see the same object differently — but we can still communicate and develop common ground about any particular object. Last night we took the valve covers off a bought-for-$300 BMW 740iL V8, and we were communicating clearly and precisely as to which objects we were touching, using and removing (also losing, breaking and dropping). We were working on the same car, in the same reality.
That’s why I like to begin with observable information and then build higher-level logical concepts from there — sort of like Isaac Newton observed the apple falling from the tree toward the earth, and used that as the starting point for the theory of gravity. Whether or not you like Isaac Newton or the theory of gravity, there’s no reasonable disagreement as to whether or not the apple fell (moved) from the tree toward the earth.
There’s a proper place for hypotheses too, as long as we’re clear we’re hypothesizing. For example, if my friend tells me “I don’t see the car keys anywhere near me anymore, and I did an hour ago” then I’m going to be more receptive to what she says if she also adds “maybe my brother took them; I know he’s a thief and he was here in the last hour” or “there’s a flock of magpie birds nearby.” Her offered hypotheses help me to go from “I can’t even imagine how this might be so, you must be overlooking something” to “okay, what you’re saying sounds plausible.”
As to polemics (as in, attacking falsehoods) this is where the dynamics can disintegrate socially. As an admirable example of how to deal with this, Newton simply published his work, and he didn’t engage in much argument with those who took issue with the implications. Nevertheless, some popular-yet-mistaken notions do deserve to be dismantled so I plan to focus on these too.
A lot of this seems like unnecessary intellectual plodding but I’m trying to be methodical. Planned structure:
1. Identify ways in which humans observably differ physically — with a focus on aspects we have used to culturally classify some people as male and others as female, including:
A. Observable in plain sight:
— shape of front plumbing
— presence or absence of a vagina
— presence or absence of testicles
— changes that typically occur as a result of puberty: Adam’s apple, height, facial structure, hair, skin tone, fat distribution including boobs, nipples, menstruation
B. Observable thanks to medical science, e.g., surgery, autopsies, x-rays, ultrasound, MRI, CAT scans, microscopes, DNA sequencing, chemical analysis
— brain structure
C. Observable thanks to introspection and self-awareness
— bodily functions
It’s going to be important to not skip a step in these observations. If I see my friend at a barbecue out in the sun all day, then that evening I see her being three sheets to the wind, and I see her getting into an argument, then I should not jump to “I see you’re sunburned” or “I see you’re inebriated” or “I see you’re angry” if I see her face being red. All I can safely say is that I’m observing the red hue in my friend’s face. As to why her face looks unusually red to me … that’s not a premise I should leap to. Maybe we’re standing outside a brothel below its red light, and maybe that’s the only reason her face looks red to me.
Introspective information benefits similarly from precision. Until earlier this year, I had a brilliant girlfriend who sometimes experienced intense anxiety. When it happened, then instead of leaping to conclusions, she’d begin by becoming very quiet and focused, and saying pensively: “my heart is racing, my breathing is fast and shallow, my mouth feels dry” and so on, and from there she might well conclude that she’s feeling an anxiety attack coming on. I respected how she always began with observable facts, first and foremost — and built on that.
2. Arrange things in a causal hierarchy proven by science. Correlation doesn’t imply causality, but some things have been proven to be causal.
For example, someone’s body producing a large amount of testosterone during puberty has been scientifically shown to be caused by the presence of functioning testicles. Someone’s facial structure being shaped as a male, someone’s voice being deep, someone being taller than average, more muscular than average, more lean than average, having a particular skeletal shape in certain respects … these have been scientifically shown to be caused by the presence of a large amount of testosterone during puberty.
Instead of dealing with a bewildering multitude of ways in which people we tend to call male differ from people we tend to call female, the issue can be boiled down to “did you have functioning testicles during puberty?” Much else happens as a consequence. This sort of focus can be very helpful in simplifying things.
3. Identify observed cross-cultural behavioral traits in which people we tend to call male differ from people we tend to call female.
4. Indulge in hypotheses to suggest how some of the as-yet-unproven possibly-causal links might yet be so.
5. Focus on scientifically shown or observed examples that go outside of the lines where people we tend to call male differ from people we tend to call female. Fit the concept of transgender people into this pool of anomaly.
6. Focus on the concept of being transgender, and what constitutes a reasonable burden of proof as such.
7. Focus on the concept of being attracted to a transgender person, and what that implies for whoever is feeling this attraction.
8. Focus on the concept of being a cross-dresser, and what that implies.
9. Reconcile this to proper standards of where the line to mental health gets crossed.
10. Reconcile this to improper standards of where the line to mental health gets crossed.
11. Hypothesize as to the root causes of animosity toward transgender people.
That’s my planned structure. I hope it serves us well.