Friday, January 22, 2010

Things on my mind

This is going to be a sort of very haphazard post. I haven't had any single, well defined thing on my mind right now, nothing I'm really worked up about or anything. I just really feel like writing stuff.


The Skeptic movement.

I consider myself a small 's' skeptic. That is, I am a skeptic, but not a member of the Skeptic community. I care passionately about science literacy, rationality, and evidence-based decision making. The work being done by Skeptics is no doubt invaluable - combating anti-science/anti-rationality rhetoric, antivaxxers, dangerous altmed practitioners, etc. - but the constituents cannot be trusted to uphold the critical thinking goals of the movement (recent examples of that further on).

But, especially, bigotry has not been rooted out of the community. Misogyny is being combated, at least (skepchick, for example is a site I would consider a mainstream Skeptic hub, now). The ableism, however, is so widespread I have no idea where one would start.

Take, for example, the labeling of every example of irrationality a result of the "mentally ill"; not merely ableist but completely disingenuous. Irrationality is not a product of mental illness. Primarily, it is a product of social institutions which have evolved in the absence of and/or in opposition to rational thought. When you state that irrationality and mental illness are one in the same, you demonize mental disability and you paint a distorted picture of irrationality which diminishes its true scope and effect. Truth factors nowhere into this characterization.

Or, one of the most fucking groanworthy practices in existence - conflating IQ and rationality (/religiousity/value to the movement/gullibility/state of one's vocabulary, etc.) For example, I recently watched an (otherwise pretty good) interview with Richard Dawkins where he mused on whether increasing the worlds' IQ 5 points would eliminate religiousity.

This is completely fucking ridiculous. Forget, for a second, the failings of the century old concept of quantifying general intellect on a one dimensional scale. Forget even that a steady rise of IQ has been observed in most of the world. The very core of the argument is rotten. IQ is designed (not with utter success, but that isn't the point now) to be agnostic to the information the test taker has available - rationality has nothing to do with this, it is completely dependent on available information.

Very "smart", high IQ people believe demonstrably incorrect things. Many have no alternative, rational view of the world available to them. Many do, but are rather more preoccupied defending poor standpoints with leaps of faith and tangled rationalizations. People with low IQ's are perfectly capable of understanding rational concepts like basing belief in evidence. "Raising their IQ" will do jack shit - the notion is based in snobbery, elitism and ableism.

Skepchick recently had an article on this subject, it so happens. I particularly love this graph, linked in the comments, followed by another commenter contending that IQ is "quite good" as a "predictor of success" based on anecdote... Yeah, okay - see what I mean about not living up to the critical thinking goals of the movement?

The reason for this preface is not that I intend to address ableism in Skepticism in this post (sounds like a reasonable topic for another post, though), but because most of the following is a random critique of recent topics from the Skeptic community,


Circumcision and HIV/AIDS

So why is this relevant to Skepticism? Well, note the site: Science-Based Medicine.

I suppose I should make it clear that I am not necessarily on either extreme of the "pro/anti-circ" debate, since it seems like the existence of a supposedly clear binary has led people to polarize with extreme prejudice. This isn't necessarily about that - rather, it's about the apparent efficacy of circumcision in the prevention of HIV/AIDS, the oversimplification thereof, and extremely sloppy reasoning.

I'm going to focus on Africa, which is the focus of this research, despite the fact that the article itself seems to be focused on America.

Does circumcision result in HIV/AIDS prevention in the real world?

"Conclusions: We find a protective effect of circumcision in only one of the eight countries for which there are nationally-representative HIV seroprevalence data.".

"Data from Demographic and Health Survey show that circumcised men in six of 10 African countries (Ghana, Cameroon, Tanzania, Lesotho, Malawi, Rwanda) have higher HIV prevalence than uncircumcised men." (Quote: HIV/AIDS online article, "Male circumcision: a cut above?")

So... no, apparently not.

So why the discrepancy between the real world and trials?

One possibility is that, for some reason, all those African populations which practice circumcision are at higher risk for HIV for unrelated reasons. Correlation is not (un)causation, after all.

Another possibility is that the trials are flawed. One thought: as far as I can tell, in these trials (for example), rather than using already circumcised individuals, men are selected to be circumcised for the purpose of the trial. All three trials were stopped early on an "ethical basis". Perhaps the fact that intercourse is discouraged/less likely for some duration after circumcision (due to the risk of infection and the fact that it fucking hurts) has something to do with it - i.e., the results could be skewed because the circumcised group is simply fucking less over the (shortened) trial period.

I'm sure there are any number of angles I am not considering.

What about the womens?

No convincing evidence exists that male circumcision reduces HIV transfer rate to women. In one study, "17 (18%) women in the intervention group and eight (12%) women in the control group acquired HIV during follow-up." It was stopped early based upon "futility".

It has been suggested that the apparent prevention of HIV in men will essentially "trickle down" to women and result in net benefits for all. I don't know if this is true, but I know it hinges on the observed effects being real in the first place, which I think is on shaky ground, and even then it isn't clear to me how this is supposed to happen (I'm sure an epidemiologist could explain).

I've encountered arguments that any resistance to circumcision as a mitigating tactic against HIV is putting the mens above the womens. The results so far lead me to believe that this is erroneous.

Does this encourage healthy sexual practice?

That I have seen, this is a particularly major worry. Apparently circumcision is being touted in some countries as an alternative to condom usage, with lines like "invisible condom", "you won't need to use a condom", etc. This is extremely dangerous. If this attitude is left uncorrected, we will see a rise in HIV rates for everyone involved, especially the women. It is completely disingenuous to even discuss the subject without acknowledging this.

So, is neonatal circumcision ethical (in Africa)?

That really depends. If the figures really do hold up in the real world (and we should know before long, since circumcision is the next big thing in many African countries), I would contend that yes, it is. Adult circumcisions are much more expensive and complicated than neonatal ones - in Africa, this definitely matters. In the context of the HIV/AIDS crisis in Africa, I think this could be considered an acceptable breach of ethics. That's if the real world really supports the trials.

The same is not true of America. This is a much richer country with a much lower HIV rate and much higher circumcision rate. All of these negate the whole premise. We can handle waiting until adulthood in order to honor informed consent. The veracity with which we jump into forcing this on children has nothing to do with its effect on HIV - the reasoning is completely transparent. (BTW: The effect on men who have sex with men - the highest risk group in America - is demonstrably insignificant. Why is it different? I have no idea.)

We don't mandate condom use for babies because they aren't fucking. Where possible, we should also not mandate (or practice) circumcision on babies for the same reason.

Besides female genital mutilation also reduces HIV and [things], but we don't endorse that. Same thing, right?

I disagree. Female genital mutilation is in a whole 'nother league from male circumcision (seriously, anyone taking this stance is probably unfamiliar with just what FGM is). Similar ethical boundaries exist (of permanently modifying childrens' bodies without or against their consent), but the two should not be conflated offhand anymore than male circumcision should be conflated offhand with...

Piercing babies' ears. ("By your definition, that’s mutilation, too?")

(Quote: SBM poster)

An (American normative) ear piercing is a tiny fistula in the ear lobe, the width of a pin. Circumcision is the skinning of the head of the penis. They are inequivalent in practically the same magnitude as the last issue.

At the same time, the reasoning behind this makes no sense. So you think the situation is equivalent. So what? Is piercing babies' ears self evidently ethical? No, it isn't. A commenter points out that the practice is illegal in many countries, although I believe this is tangential to its ethics. You would not condone the tattooing, branding, or [non-normative piercing] of children, I imagine. Why is this practice, specifically, left alone?

"Why do people attempt to derail the discussion by using inflammatory language like 'mutilation'?"

(Quote: SBM poster)

(Oh, this is familiar. Wahhh! That word is so divisive!)

While I don't personally use the word "mutilation" for male circumcision, the use of the word to refer to body modification done without consent for no medical purpose does indeed fit the bill. Resorting to tone argument on it is the real derail.

"...wouldn’t [reduced sensitivity] be an argument FOR circumcision since prolonging intercourse seems to be an accepted goal for many men?"

(Quote: SBM poster)

This is the most crass and absurd argument for male circumcision in children. Permanently modifying childrens' bodies with no ability for them to consent and making the post-hoc rationalization that "well, it's better for them anyway" has no defensibility to it whatsoever.

In any case, no statistically significant difference exists between the ejaculation period of circumcised and uncircumcised males - the same cannot necessarily be said of sensitivity, depending on whether the foreskin is a sensitive instrument (me? I got no clue).

"A visitor from outer space might be forgiven for concluding that the most important part of the human body is the foreskin. It is, after all, the only part of the body that has multiple organizations devoted to its preservation in the natural state."

(Quote: SBM poster)

First, I love the alien anthropologist method of isolating human weirdness. Fuck you for fucking it up.

Fuck you some more for erasing the work being done by groups who (also) oppose female genital mutilation, the modification of intersex childrens' genitalia without consent, and other nonconsensual mutilation.

Fuck you even more for making a joke out of the fact that we need those organizations because people keep cutting their childrens' bodies up.


e-cigarette safety

This post consists basically of a few points:

[examples] have been done to lower the risk factor of smoking. They didn't work.

The examples also consist of smoke inhalation which is, you know, the most harmful part. The e-cigarette method, consisting of vapor inhalation, is an erroneous conflation with this group.

If people think it's safer, they'll stay hooked on nicotine.

If it is safer, that seems well worth the risk.

Not enough research.

Here are some links.


And a newscientist article, just for fun.

It's understandable to say that there isn't enough research available, but when you ignore the research that has been done, you're being disingenuous (to be charitable).

And the pearl clutching about e-cigs is bullshit, people. Stop.


On Dark Matters

This is a random post, and I've been wanting to talk about the universe, but really... it's been done better than I possibly could. So, random linkdump.

(Dark matter exists, y'all. It's not even controversial, really. What's controversial is what particle it's made of. We also don't know what particle gives things mass [we're just betting really hard on the Higgs Boson], but we're pretty sure the whole having mass thing is real. Just putting that out there.)

What is Dark Matter?
Dark Matter Part I
Dark Matter Part II
Dark Matter Part III
Dark Matter Part 3.5
Dark Matter Part IV

Dark Matter and Large Scale Structure
Dark Matter Smoke Ring

Possible detections:
Fermi May Have Spotted Dark Matter
Dark Matter Detected?

Dark energy exists, too. We just don't know why.

"Dark Energy: What it took to get me to believe"
Dark Energy Part 1
Dark Energy Part 2
Dark Energy Part 3
Dark Energy Part 4

The Cosmological Not-So-Constant

Monday, January 18, 2010

RE: "Active vs Passive Identities"

Warning: This will be semantic; it may also be pedantic.
(Note: Though this is a [sort-of] response to shiva's post, all use of "you" is in the royal sense)

The broad meaning of "active" and "passive" identification and their respective problems.

(Note: I will be using "[x]" as shorthand for something like "the party of concern", which, I'm sure you will agree, would be entirely more annoying to write out.)

Active identity recognizes that ultimate deference with regards to a party [x]'s identity lies with [x], as [x] is the active participant in the formation of that identity. Passive identification recognizes a more general force ("society", "the group", etc.) as the active participant in the formation of [x]'s identity; [x]'s role in the formation of hir identity is reduced to influencing hir interpretation by that nebulous, generalized entity.

Activity and passivity can be seen as a sort of spectrum. At the active extreme, you find self-referential identification; "[x] is [A] because [x] identifies as [A]". At the passive extreme, you find denial of the agency of others in the role of identifying themselves; "[x] is what [x] is interpreted as by other parties".

The passive extreme is unsatisfactory for a few reasons:

-People are not passive. They are actively participant in their identities, by nature. Agency is an inherent part of being a person.

e.g.: From a purely passive perspective, [x] in a vacuum (no contact with other entities) is incapable of verifying hir own race, gender, sexuality, etc - any matter of identity is fundamentally unverifiable. This does not make logical sense if one accepts that [x] is active, forms opinions about things and is, you know... a person.

-Passive entities do not simply add up to become a generalized active identifying entity by any workable logic. If [x] is passive and therefore lacks the power to identify hirself, from whence comes hir power to identify or contribute to the identification of others?

e.g.: From a purely passive perspective, neither [x] nor [y] may verify any matter of their own respective identificaties in a vacuum, but as soon as they are put together they may verify every aspect of one another. This seems... illogical. (Note: The passive interpretation may put an arbitrary limit on the aggregate necessary to positively identify a given party. In that case, one can simply run this scenario with the given number of people - assuredly, it will still make little sense, as the fundamentals remain the same.)

-Inconsistency. If one accepts that aspects of [x] may actually be consistent, at least moreso than the interpretation of those aspects by other parties might be, then the passive explanation fails miserably.

e.g.: Let's say [x] identifies as bi and has been out as bi for five years. But [x] has a new job and is assumed het at the workplace. Is [x] now bi and het, as per the passive interpretation? Or is [x], as per the active interpretation, a bi person who is misinterpreted as het in the workplace? The latter is the only option which makes sense to me, at least.

The active extreme is unsatisfactory for one important reason: it does not recognize that the terminology of identification has meaning of its own. The term for [A] can be anything at all and still be true. As the meaning of terminology is passively ascribed (terms have no activity/agency of their own and thus do rely on the agency of generalized active forces like society, culture, community, etc.), the active interpretation must be offset by a passive recognition of the meaning of terms.

e.g.: [x] claims ze is a crocodile, but meets all the criteria necessary to be verified as a human. Since both "crocodile" and "human" have meaning of their own, it can be objectively* verified that [x] is not a crocodile but a human. Thus, the meaning of terminology means that the passive interpretation of identity may trump the active.

*Objectively being used rather loosely here - an objective stance is not perfectly achievable, but we can get close enough in this case that we don't have to worry about it. Other areas of identity are entirely messier and more subjective, though, of course, making the method of using the meaning of terminology to positively (un)identify someone less tenable.

So, for general purposes relevant to interaction between persons, identification lies on point in the spectrum between "active" and "passive" which respects personal agency (active) but also the meaning of the terminology of identification (passive) - and this point changes depending on the level of objectivity with which the terminology at hand can be verified by another party.

On to a specific claim relevant to this matter...

"Trans/nonbinary people are 'gender nonconforming'."

-So, first, what does that mean?

The meaning of the term "gender nonconforming" is in itself quite subjective. Of the meanings it may have, the most obvious are "not conforming to the social expectations of one's gender" and "not conforming to the social expectations of one's perceived gender", with no readily apparent way to tell which is meant. With this in mind...

-It is entirely possible to be gender conforming whether trans or nonbinary. Many are.

And yes, as concerns those who transition, this may apply before transition (putting on a gender conforming show for the general audience) and/or after transition (conforming to the social expectations of the gender one has transitioned to).

-Social expectations for [gender] are incredibly subjective. Draw a neat line around the social expectations of a gender and you will find that you've cut out entire cultures and even those within your own culture will disagree with the details. Hearkening back to my overview of passive vs. active, this means that adopting a heavily passive approach to the subject puts you in a precarious position.

To put that in simpler terms, if you tell someone they are "gender nonconforming" (or "gender conforming") and they disagree and find that offensive, passive interpretation is no reason to claim that what was said was not actually offensive.

-Incidentally, not "passing" (in scare quotes because I don't want to claim the implications of the word) doesn't mean that necessarily mean that one is "gender nonconforming". One may still conform to the social expectations of their gender whether they "pass" or not.

One who is gender conforming but does not "pass" may be perceived as gender nonconforming, but the perceived is important here.

-Plenty of cis people are gender nonconforming. I point this out because this topic grew out of discussion of the FWD debacle, in which "gender nonconforming" was used in exclusion to cis men, which doesn't make any sense.

[shiva]...A better way that i can see of conceptualising this category is as the category of people who are subject to oppression on the basis of (perceived) non-gender-normativity...

If what is meant by "this category" (I'm not sure, in the context) is "the category of 'gender nonconforming'", I think that is problematic for some of the reasons I've listed, particularly with regards to the subjectivity of the terminology.

e.g.(1): It is unfair to characterize someone who does not pass for their gender as "gender nonconforming" for this reason (unless they agree).

e.g.(2): It is unfair to characterize someone as gender nonconforming for an aspect of themselves which they see as gender conforming (like, say, a man wearing a kilt) but might be seen otherwise by their (or your) resident culture - once again, unless they agree.

[I was going to do more, but this took longer than it should have to write already, so I'll leave other active vs. passive issues for other posts.]

Friday, January 15, 2010

Difficulties with "neurotypical/neurodiverse" from a non-NT perspective

[In unrelated news, Haiti relief information pages I recommend:
Feministe page (the comments are important, the OP isn't familiar with all of hir listed charities!)
Skepchick page
Partners in Health and Doctors w/o Borders seem to be consistently well recommended.]

The definition and usage.

Wikipedia currently defines the term "neurotypical" as "a label for people who are not on the autism spectrum" (emphasis mine) and goes on further to state that neurotypicals (all not autistic people) are what "most" would perceive as "normal" (with regards to neurology & development).

The only real definition I can find via is this: "The term is used with varying degrees of seriousness. This ranges from a straightforward factual way to refer to non-autistic spectrum people to a more playfully tongue-in-cheek use in contexts which often strongly imply that the 'merely typical' are to be pitied..." (emphasis mine).

The term "neurodiversity" itself is, unsurprisingly, similarly centered on autism. I will note, though, that an assortment of non-ASD mental non-typicalities accompanies the Wikipedia definition, the source of which flippantly attributes this inclusion to nebulous "radical groups"*1.

Inclusive alternatives to this definition which acknowledge the existence of "non-typicality" outside of the autistic spectrum are out there. But the inclusive interpretation tends to show up only as an afterthought, if at all; I think the standard usage is as I have quoted.

And that exclusive usage, which makes the presumption of "neurological typicality" on the basis of simply not being on the autism spectrum, is a problem. The neurodiverse (neuro non-typical) umbrella ought to cover the whole range of neurologically nonstandard people, not arbitrarily restrict itself to the austism spectrum. As the language of these terms is inherently presumptuous, it seems entirely reasonable to expect that their usage respect those presumptions.

I want to stress that what I am complaining about is the apparent mainstream characterization. It is generally unclear to me what, precisely, is meant by the usage of these terms in the community itself*2. It's also not clear to me why the exclusivity of the terms persists; is it a lack of not!AS people identifying with the neurodiversity movement, is it the movement failing to recognize those idenities, is it both? And whatever it is, why?

The terminology itself.

The "neuro-" prefix seems problematic in a few ways.

Do those with "physical" neural difficulties - neuropathies, for example - "belong" under the neurodiverse umbrella? If so, why does little or no neurodiverse advocacy cover this issue? If not, how is the distinction made?

What counts as "neurological"? Autism itself, as far as I know, has no readily confirmed neurological cause - theories, yes, but no "smoking gun" evidence. Invoking neurology makes a statement about reality: that a given phenomenon can be explained with consistency by a physical cause within the nervous system. What is the rationale behind this assumption with regards to the neurodiverse movement?

Why exclude the psychological? Is this deliberate distancing? From this crazy's*3 perspective, it seems like it - psychos are unpalatable, so the neurodiverse movement is focusing on neurology as a way to clean things up for presentation to the neurotypical world. Similar, in my opinion, to the way the LG(b) community mandates innate, inborn (and genetic/neurological) sexuality as the only way sexuality works and censors exceptions and deviance in order to be more presentable. In this case, neurology (stereotypically inborn, genetic) takes the place of superiority to psychology ("not physical" and therefore stereotypically the person's "fault") and all the rationale stays the same.

The "-typical" in "neurotypical" also poses problems.

We say "heterosexual", not "sexualtypical". We say "cisgendered", not "gendertypical". These words have discrete meanings in and of themselves - they are not typicalities, not defaults. "Neurotypical" is a default. It has no more meaning than "normal". Decentering "default" notions is one of the points of having terminology like this in the first place.

Furthermore, not being neurotypical doesn't necessarily mean actually being "typical" with regards to neurology. Especially if neurotypical merely means "not autistic". There are any number of ways to be "atypical" which are being ignored by current terminology.

What's the alternative?

This well rounded defence of the term "cis" from detractors has a few implications for the point I'm making here. Particularly that an attack on the current terminology is worthless (or actually damaging) without supplying new terminology which is actually an improvement. So it falls upon me to supply a better alternative.

The use of the term "cognitive" in replacement of "neurology" in the context of neurodiversity makes a lot of sense, in my opinion. It does not preclude psychology or neurology, it simply signifies that a difference in thought exists.

"Cognidiverse" makes plenty of sense to me. I like it. It's a term I'd use.

But then we get to replacing "neurotypical". Here, I run into problems. "Cognitypical" is, if anything, even worse than neurotypical - now it doesn't prescribe neurological typicality but typicality on the basis of thought itself. The problems with this should be obvious.

There is, it seems, no rigorous way to define the sphere outside of cognidiversity. There is no simple handle which defines the "ordered" human mind. Maybe this is why "NT" relies on the problematic notion of "typicality".

Edit: The appropriative nature language of my last suggestions was pointed out, and I agree with that.

Cognidivergent (as in "neurodivergent", brought up in the discussion) and cognormative (that... still relies on a "norm", but... argh!), perhaps?

*1 Isn't this a lovely term. It's too much trouble to point to the actual person/s supporting a given stance, especially since there's a chance the reader might look up and thusly agree with them, so I'll give that stance an erroneous association with faceless, nameless "radicals". Right up there with "(supposedly authoritative but unnamed) experts say X" in journalistic brilliance.

*2 My invocation of Wikipedia (which is a less than optimal source on matters relevant to activism) for definitions demonstrates my difficulty in finding definitions within the community. I am interested in any clarification of terminology representative of the (current) neurodiversity movement itself.

*3 I got this one hurled at me pretty constantly for most of the first eighteen years of my life, so yes, I do get to reclaim it.

Wednesday, January 13, 2010

This FWD thing

[In unrelated news: I doubt anyone in this general area of the internet doesn't also have a feed to Feministe, but if you don't, they have a page up detailing how you can support the relief effort in Haiti. Which you should be interested in if you have, like, money. Read the comments, too, and related links, before making a decision - much concerning corruption and who to donate to, etc. PIH in particular seems to be well recommended]
Okay. So FWD fucked up? This one is a bit of a tangle; I think I need to make a post about this to get my head around it in the first place. (The following bolded statements are paraphrased).

Is excluding cis men from something and not excluding trans men from that same thing erasure? How about men who are neither cis nor trans?

Speaking as none of these, addressing this could be putting words in the mouths of others by nature, but it is (or was) the crux of this issue. So...

Well, that depends on what it is, doesn't it? If that "something" is "women only" (which, I believe, was not the point in this case, but might have been construed that way) or "women and 'gender non-conforming' only" (as per one FWD rationalization) , this either erases/misgenders trans men or generalizes them by making the point that trans men (and all not-women not-cis men, as the open case) must all be gender "non-conforming".

At the same time, there is a very obvious solution which does not perpetuate any of these problems: simply acknowledging the cissexism that trans men face as the reason. And this is where the fail comes in - in this case, many rationalizations were offered up, but some were problematic in and of themselves, and all skirted around this issue.

And as for men who are neither cis nor trans (as was brought up in the thread)... that's an open case (not A, not B, but any of the rest of the possibilities). Which means it must be addressed on a case-by-case basis, as there may be many ways to identify as a man who is neither cis nor trans with no unifying feature between them (besides being men).

So, the rationalizations...

"We're including those who face gender oppression."

This doesn't seem to far off the mark, at face value. However, there is an issue with this: conflating the male oppression of women, the cis oppression of trans people, and (as was also included in this umbrella) binary oppression of non-binaries.

So, is it appropriate to put all of these under the same umbrella as "gender oppression"? Even when one acknowledges that they are all different things?

This is one I've still got to think about, personally. The message from gb is unequivocally "no" (as per the linked post), and her reasons make sense.

I can see some defense for this idea, however: that is, that misogyny, transphobia, and binarism, despite all being very different things, can all be literally termed oppression on the basis of gender. And there are intersections in these... But they are still very different things. I'm torn. But when one gets to the specifics of conflating sexism and cissexism (or sexism and binarism, etc.)? Yeah, not cool.

"Let's not talk about gender, this blog is centered on disability."

If this is so, you're closing the door on the rational explanation for including "gender oppression" as a viable axis for discriminating about content at all. There is no reasoning which explains why you should have your cake (decenter cis male voices) but eat it too (censor gender-based discussion away).

Honestly, this is simply sloppy - the site is called feminists with disabilities! If you were going to censor/ignore discussion of gender identity, why not simply leave it at "PWD" and not bother?

"When I see a bunch of bigoted disabled trans guys, I'll change my mind."

Appealing to "positive" discrimination (trans guys are nice, so that explains it!) is a pretty flippant rationalization for something which, as I noted, should be pretty easy to explain without resorting to stereotyping. Besides, the same argument could be made for any section of the [disabled] male population the speaker positively stereotypes (as not-bigots) - there's no clear reason to limit such a broad rationalization to trans men.

"Voz failed, so now I can claim the moral high ground for ignoring this."

Well, there are certainly more important things going on in the world to be talking about at the moment, so obviously you could be excused for blowing this whole thing off, fail or no fail.

But really? The fact that a single person, speaking on behalf of no one but herself, made bigoted remarks is no one's responsibility but herself, and certainly does not retroactively erase any responsibility of FWD to deal with their own problems. This is silly, childish behavior - X does something wrong, Y was unfair to X, X is... suddenly off the hook. Uh?

(Disclaimer: I don't know Voz, have never had contact with her, etc - I'm only trying to make sense of this situation. But there are things like "personal responsibility" which I'm pretty sure she is not exempt from.)

Abandon ship, FWD is over!

Well... not for this inconsequential new blogger, though I can see the rationale. I already had a problem with the language at FWD, anyway. But jumping ship? I hope they clarify some things, but I don't see this as get-the-hell-outta-there material, personally.

Tuesday, January 12, 2010

Dissent is classism

I wish I could say this argument was rare (but it isn't). That it pops up only in the luddist* dialogue of radfems and other chronically prescriptive feminists (but it comes up even in those areas I had come to think of as consisting of the "good progressives"). That it was merely an "intellectual difference" that I could address with the "detachment and objectivity" that these people believe is actually inherent in reasoned disagreement (but no, it makes me angry as all get-out, and that will be obvious).

Dissent is classism.
Knowledge is privilege.
Rational thinking is the tool of the oppressor.
Logical debate is "for white abled upper middle class folk."

Attention, anyone who has ever used any variation of this argument: Fuck you. You haven't got a goddamn clue what classism looks like, what "underprivileged" looks like. You think hunger looks like a message in your inbox you just can't 'splain away? You think having little or no access to healthcare looks like a point in a reply that wasn't as easy to address as you thought it would? You think scraping it by on welfare is equivalent to the big mean Internet person calling out your bullshit?

You think "classism" is anything requiring just enough knowledge to disprove your pet conjectures, but is, conveniently, just shy of what was needed to form them in the first place. You think "poor" means "ignorant, unquestioning, and out of sight" - there's your classism right there, douchebag. You think "less privileged" means "not able to comprehend my words, let alone prove them wrong." You clutch your pearls over rational disagreement because, lord, lord, the privileged class is here to push on you their unfairness and their - lord! help me! - "academia".

You don't know a goddamn thing about "poor" or "underprivileged". You can toss your computer and your cellphone, put down your pen, leave your university - and shut right the fuck up, because, according to you, having a voice and a clue is too goddamn privileged. You want to respect the less privileged? Give your victim complex a rest and think about the slop you're spewing. Think for a goddamn second about the rest of the world. Stop assuming that they give any less of a shit than you do, that they are any less likely to jump at the chance to learn and grow than anyone else.

The people who've got something to fucking say - something to be angry about, a need to change your mind and everyone else's, whose rationality is not grounded in some nebulous force of "academia" but systematic oppression and abuse by the essentialist thought, magical thinking, corrupt (lack of) ethics and irrationality that still runs so much of society - are as likely as not to be the "poor pathetic underprivileged people" whose opinions you believe you "safeguard" by clutching your pearls and fawning paternalistically when the discussion gets "too academic".

Are we clear?

Rationality is not the nebulous enemy, knowledge is not "for the privileged", logic is not a matter of the university classroom. These are your strongest allies. Use them. Spread them. Stop fucking around in the playpen and realize that if you have a burden, it is not to censor "academic reasoning" from the poor underprivileged who just can't take it - it is to spread the tools of thought. If knowledge is "academic", if it is "locked away in ivory towers", the cure is not to preserve that association by disowning knowledge, but to subvert that association by partaking in its spread.

*I practically made that word up, but I don't care. It's much easier to work into a sentence than "in the nature of luddites".

Sunday, January 10, 2010

Pan 101

I was going to do a "The Poster" post going into sexuality, but it ended up more basic, so I'm posting it stand-alone and will get to myself in another post.

"The fuck is 'pansexual'?"

In the general sense, pansexuality describes inclusive sexuality - that is, it is a term for sexuality which does not imply exclusion based upon a given arbitrary grouping.

By its lonesome, it does not imply dichotomies (i.e. "man or woman") or absolutes (i.e. "only this gender" or "only this anatomy"). This is noteworthy since the popular exclusive sexualities - e.g. bisexual, homosexual, heterosexual - imply both of these things.

For my personal purposes, I use pansexual to describe a sexuality which includes no implicit exclusionary criteria for form, and exclusionary criteria for neurology/mentality only insofar as to exclude that (those) which is (are) incapable of informed consent (excluding, for example, objectum sexuality or bestiality from my usage).

"So pansexuals like, want to fuck everything?"

No more than all [*]sexual members of [gender] intend to copulate with all of [[*] target gender].

The exclusionary principle of a heterosexual man may (given a subject for which absolutist sexuality is true) filter out all non-women from the sexual possibility space, but that doesn't mean that all women are within that possibility space - only that all non-women are not. The given man may have more filters based upon, say, age, hair color, and musical tastes, which further exclude many or most women from the possibility space. Furthermore (and, really, most importantly), passing through all of those filters hardly implies consent. Consent - I cannot stress this hard enough - is only implied by the act of consent.

Okay whatever. So like, why not just say "bi"?

"Binary" is implicit within the term "bisexuality". Bisexuality implies a sexuality for which absolutism (only men and women) and binary dichotomy (man or woman) are true, and refers to a sexuality inclusive of only the remaining binary.

Using the term "bisexual" while being attracted to those outside of the relevant target group (i.e., non-binary identified people) is (or "can be considered" if you need kitten gloves) erasure.

So pansexual is like, what, bisexual + transexuals?

(note on this one: I am going through questions I really have gotten, which is why this one is so 101fail)

First, when you exclude binary-identified TS's from inclusion within the "bisexual" target gender, you're being a bigot.

Second, pansexuality is, as a term, inclusive - agnostic to the concept of a gender binary. It is not "bisexual with [x] added on", even when your term for [x] is not couched in erasure and bigotry. Describing the unlimited case in terms of the limited case is kind of silly and futile.

The Poster, Part 1: A Retrospective

So~! This is a blog. I'm justified in talking about myself here. I'm going to do some installments about myself, some things to which I can point and say "that is (roughly) who I am".

This one is going to get downbeat. And I'm going to let it, because I'm fucking sick of feeling like I need to be upbeat all the time (this is self-imposed, a sort of misguided recovery method, a pacifier). This is more a therapeutic action for myself than anything else. If you're subject to triggers, especially around psychiatric issues and the related shame and self hatred (with a small side-order of race, sexual abuse, and body issues), consider this the warning.

So, growing up.

Growing up sucks. Growing up outside the realm of neurotypicality*1 tends to suck worse. Not, as is hammered into us, because needs of the neurodiverse are so unreasonable and difficult to accommodate and we just don't try hard enough to operate on the same terms as everyone else.

Because there is no mutuality. There is only one burden: you, weird kid, to stop being so fucking weird. I mean, we keep telling you to be normal, right? Why don't you just fucking listen? And why the fuck won't you look me in the eyes when I speak to you?

The farther back I go, the (thankfully) sparser my memories are, until I've got nothing but the short intense moments.

So, my early memories.

The first major freak-out I remember: a packed cafeteria, noise, noise, the biggest crowd I'd yet encountered, some kid pushing me over the edge, kicking me under the table, invading what little space I had, not stopping, couldn't leave, you're never allowed to just leave. Slamming my tray against the table, making a scene in front of all those kids, feeling the first of that shame and self-hate and public humiliation which would become so familiar. A hand refusing to release its grip on my arm, although I had been coming along willingly like a good little soldier anyway. Threats, more threats, and a paddle.

A wretched kid-prison. Being confused by the image of a fish being gutted, viewed through that contorted lens of not understanding what one is seeing. Being forced to eat fish sticks (I hate fish!), another child who was clearly wrong (because ze claimed lions were cats, when they were obviously dogs), and the oddly soothing aesthetic experience of the leaves rolling off a fresh cut hickory branch-an appreciably well formed natural whip-before it met my bare ass (I had committed the sin of succumbing to food poisoning, probably the fish).

A belt, but whose or why is lost.

Protesting that 'someone will see, back there, they'll see' while complying to the neighbor boy's demands that I strip off my clothes for him, behind his house, in full view of the trailers out back. His hands groping at that thing between my legs. Treating it like a doctor's visit.

Pointing out a black family to my mother in the supermarket and proudly proclaiming "look mommy, [n word]s!" Because that's how I'd been taught to act. Because they were "different" than the people I knew, exotic. (The majority-black elementary school I went to disavowed me of these notions, to be sure). Spending trips to the grocery store in the car from then on, because of "purple people eaters".

Watching a yard sale by myself. A kindly girl checking out the bike we had for sale, but ultimately leaving empty handed, unimpressed with the twenty dollars it cost. The same girl coming back with a gang of young boys, all in red shirts, demanding the bike. Foolishly putting up opposition. Them all scattering as my mother's car pulled into the driveway.

Briefly having a stepfather, and nothing good about it. Murdered cats. Threats. That shit eating, patronising grin. A trash heap for a yard and a mess for a house. A restraining order which kept being disrespected. Mother always on the phone about unpaid child support for my little sister. My father, at least, had always paid adequately and on time.

The first time I went to an "event", a baseball game. Being seated too high. Being too crowded. Too much noise. Unable to process or find interest in the game. Leaving early, to shame and disappointment, both personal and imposed.

The normal kind of traumas: Rolling down a hill and busting my head open on a concrete step, falling down iced-over steps and soaking a pair of yellow winter gloves red with blood.

The first times I remember actually being happy, all involving animals: a young babysitter with an incorrigible and hyper ferret, petting a big dark beautiful boa constrictor which was as pleasing tactilely as it was aesthetically, and my first pet cat, an intelligent orange tabby whom my mother is still convinced knew how to say the word "no".

What I don't remember are the times in between, which I apparently spent not satisfying the rigorous expectations levied upon 4-6 year olds in those days.

I do remember standing outside a doorway, however, as my mother argued and yelled and got her way because that's just what mom does. The woman she yelled at in this instance intended to see me held back, in kindergarten. I had, apparently, not the will to learn expected of a five year old surrounded by toys.

I don't remember first grade, where I apparently made a spectacle of myself by once or twice finding myself more concerned with the carpet lint beneath my chair than whatever first grade was about. I don't remember who "confirmed" ADD at that age or how, but I suspect that it was much the same as every subsequent and varied diagnosis I've had, meaning "weird kid, poor, medicaid-throw drugs at it and hope it goes away."

So, medication.

Suffice to say, I am not ADD. I respond to ritalin (and adderall) in three ways: an abnormally long attention span, a ridiculously suppressed appetite, and exasperated social anxiety (leading to more frequent break downs, freak outs, and panic attacks, and the associated depression, shame, and self hatred).

But I'm a good little soldier. And from then on I did so well in my classes, you know. It was just that pesky thing about how I was a laughingstock and hated myself and kept disrupting class. Did this lead anyone to question whether the medication I was taking might not be entirely helpful? Of course not, because, you see, I was weird.

In high school, these issues, the freak-outs and panic attacks, became so unhelpful, you know, to the kids who spent much of their time trying to get a rise out of me. They were there to learn, you know, and I was fucking it all up. If I could only cure my counting deficiency - count to ten, fucking count to ten, like it's going to make a Goddamn difference, if it doesn't work you're just not doing it hard enough - and stop disrupting class, I wouldn't be responsible for making their lives miserable and their grades bad because they had to witness me get up and leave the classroom in tears. This was the line that was fed to me to try to shame me into correcting my behavior, as if somehow the shame I already felt wasn't going to do that if it was possible.

I spent a few months alone in a little tiny room with a single desk. Windows which alternately faced glum blackness and roomfuls of people who could, when it struck their fancy, enjoy watching me toil away like an animal in a cage (but it was okay, because they had learning disabilities too and thus, apparently, were also lesser beings, not intellectually capable of making others feel like shit). A guy who carted in and out notes and assignments like a feeder in a zoo, and complimented me. On that Goddamn attention span I had. I never dared complain. I ate this up. Because it was better than the alternative. I was neither often spoken to nor expected to speak to anyone else. I did not see the faces or hear the voices of the people who had tortured me on a daily basis.

It was around this time - I was about 14, I believe - that I rejected the medication I was taking. My good little soldier complex can only take so much, and anyway, as I began to realize that my mood off the drugs was tremendously better than on them, I retained only one reason to continue the regimen: appetite. I was convinced for quite some time that If Only I Were Skinny, all of my body image issues would go away. Nevermind that most everyone else was pretty sure I was skinny enough as it was - I looked in the mirror and I saw a belly that came out somewhat past my chest, and that meant fatty mcfat fatterson to me. And in a culture (and, then, personal mindset) that vilifies weight as among the greatest factors upon which right to dignity resides, that must be the problem, right? When I was on these drugs, eating less did not mean physically trying to starve myself - they handled that part all for me. I didn't come to any sort of body image acceptance-like position, but I did realize that the drugs weren't really doing anything about my body shape anyway, so that reason to keep taking them simply lost its merit. To boot, my grades did not, in fact, go down, nor did I find myself with a renewed interest in carpet lint stronger than before going off the medication.

I might have been lucky to have this experience, really. The next experience I had with medication was seeing a single psychiatrist for two visits and coming home with six different drugs. I don't want to think I'd ever be gullible enough to believe that I could buy into authority so hard to think that this behavior was healthy, that this man had any thought to my best interests or any authoritative knowledge of mental illness at all, that this cocktail was going to make my life any better. But for all I know, had I not had that experience and realized that yes, it was perfectly fucking okay to reject the shit they were pushing on me, I might have been tempted. That was the last time I had anything to do with medication, and I won't be seriously considering medication for my mental illness ever again, so moving on...

So, escapism.

I have a particular early experience with escapism burned into my brain. I was going into a freak out over losing a toy and my mother had responded derisively with "it's only a toy!" and my knee-jerk, sob laden reaction was: "it's not just a toy, it's the only friend I have!" Those words spilled out and I immediately felt humiliated by myself, pathetic, worthless. Because they were right, and I'd admitted it. I remember running outside, to feel that shame alone, to not face the fact that I'd uttered it aloud. And when that toy was found, I felt relieved in a way that heightened all of that. I couldn't feel that relief without facing the cause-the fact I had scarcely any other thing in my life capable of bringing myself joy.

I have never been able to examine that memory before without feeling an overwhelming surge of self hatred. I'm capable of disavowing that, now. I was just a little kid feeling overwhelmed by the loss of xyr*2 favorite toy. I don't resonate with that feeling anymore, with that dependence on the inanimate, except in the scars of memory.

I do still utilize escapism. But I consider it a healthy escapism. I seek to learn and I do not particularly worry that learning for learnings' own sake might be devalued by the greater institutions of thought. I seek to have meaningful conversation and I do not let it affect me, on a personal level, that non-verbal communication is devalued by society at large. I do not let superficial differences in methods of interaction (or superficial similarities with methods of non-interaction) bog down my confidence - I do not allow popular misconception to fool myself into believing I am, any longer, a child, dependent on xyr toys.

I remember often, before developing the intellectual tools to cast away these feelings, lying awake and feeling as though I had committed some terrible injustice against something and Jesus was going to punish me for it.

When I hurt myself. When I wanted to make it worse - wanted to keep smashing my head until it fractured, keep pounding my fists until they were skinned and broken and bloody. When I let someone else be hurt, or couldn't make them stop. When I wanted to die. When I simply thought it was necessary to "repent", somehow, but feeling confused by the mixed messages I was getting about what this meant - was there something formal about it? Did I need to go to church to do it? Did it matter? He knew I was only in it to be forgiven, so he'd reject me anyway.

It's ironic, isn't it, that escapism - my use of the Internet - was what gave me the rational, real-world grounded mental skills to shed this damaging layer of existential shame. If I am thankful to any nebulous existential force, it is the uncaring of nature which, in its agnosticism, does not deign reality so needing of further cruelty to place at the helm a figure of self-shame and thought policing.

Escapism fostered the growth of my sexuality, the discovery of my gender (more on those in subsequent posts), brought me slowly into self-acceptance of not only who I am now but who I have been. It continues to teach me of the nature of the world, local and universal. I consider my escape something altogether very real, thank you very much.

So, in conclusion.

A lot which was going to go into this post was stuff I could not get down in text. All in all, though, this has been successful in the thrust of its purpose - proving to myself that I can look back into my memories and (finally) not blame myself for everything. A lot of it hurts, but if there is someone to blame, it doesn't have to be me. I was just a fucking child for most of that, for fuck's sake.

*1 (update) I have some issues with the way this word is used, which I discuss in the linked post.

*2 I use both "ze" and "xe" pronouns in this post - there is a reason for that, which I will also post and link back in this space later.

Saturday, January 9, 2010


Feminism is a movement. A political movement. A women-focused human rights movement. It is a group of people, a collection of ideas, a "sisterhood" according to some.

What is it not-despite its successes, despite "best intentions"-is infallible, monolithic, or inherently good. It is not the cure of all bigotry, even misogyny. Feminists are not, as a rule, even committed to fighting these things; among those that are, doing so in such a way as to respect all those to whom human rights applies (all us pesky humans, with our pesky diversity) is an ongoing struggle.

And I say "respect" there. Not, you know, "help". The helpfulness of feminism to those for whom the "default assumptions"-middle class, white, het, cis, able, and other such Americentric normatives-do not apply is something around which vibrant and heated debate has and will continue to be held. I'm not logically prepared to make a judgment on that problem beyond acknowledging it, but there it is.

Furthermore, the "feminist" label is not an essential quality of those who devote themselves to activism and anti-oppression. This point seems truly self-evident to me. At the same time, though, I do have a specific example on my mind at the moment: genderbitch's recent rejection of feminism catalyzed by Mary Daly's postmortem kitten-gloving*1 in the femisphere.

From all this, it seems to follow that one may, in fact, be "antifeminist" yet not a fucking bigot. Yet by the language you see in the mainstream femisphere-even on sites I enjoy more than I dislike-you'd get the impression that "antifeminist" means "bigoted"*2... huh. That's weird. It's almost as if they're attempting to claim every identity, regardless of whether it is represented (or represented adequately) by their movement, belongs to "feminism" as long that identity faces bigotry.

Can't say I find that very impressive. To the contrary, I kind of resent it. A lot. I've never seen anyone raise a complaint against this (pretty common) usage of the term, and originally this made me question whether my problems with it were legitimate... but now that I've got my thoughts on this more or less all down in text, yeah, I'm pretty confident about it: when you mean "bigoted/oppressive behavior" could you please just say bigoted and oppressive, not center it on your movement with "antifeminist"?

*1 GB has the shakesfail on this pretty well covered. The Broadsheet coverage was pretty bad, too, reducing Daly's bigotry to a mention of her refusal to allow boys in her classroom, and Feministing had nothing but praise as well as some off-links to equally glowing/incomplete coverage (but hey! one mention of her hate of trans women among those, at least). On the flip side, Feministe handled this one pretty well.

*2 For example, FWD (one of those sites-I-don't-dislike) explicitly defines "antifeminist language" as "racist, sexist, ableist, sizeist, ageist, heterosexist, classist, transphobic, and cissexist language" in their comments policy. And in the same story that got the Daly thing right, Feministe broke this one out in reference to the existence of bigoted (trans) women.

RE: "Self-injury", masochism and incomprehensible dichotomies

This is a reply to shiva's post, "'Self-injury', masochism and incomprehensible dichotomies," which turned out too long for a reasonable blog comment. I'll be using this space to make legitimate blog posts sometime soon, though.


(hey! neutrois-anon from the gender thread here again.)

Like you, I have a different history with self-harm: in my school days, which were pretty excruciating, I would often (weekly or more at the worst of it) get upset or panicked to the point of compulsively hitting or slamming my head against desks or the wall. It wasn't really a coping mechanism (except insofar as it was the only reaction I had available), and although I am no longer in anywhere near such a caustic environment at the moment, I do have minor ticks (most recently, biting, but not to the point of breaking skin). But I've never cut, and I believe my actions are not the same phenomena nor on the same level of (for lack of a better word) severity as cutting, so while I have followed these discussions, I have not considered it a place where my voice was warranted.

I'm wary of your application of prescriptivism to the FWD thread. What I saw on that page were personal accounts; whether a behavior is unhealthy for the speaker is completely different from shaming others away from using that behavior. For instance, use of medication for a given condition might be unhealthy for one person and not for the next, with both experiences being valid. It's only prescriptive when you make the personal universal and state that no one ought to utilize a behavior simply because it isn't right for the speaker.

I would not assume that the OP's self-harm was working for hir simply out of lack of explicit language to the contrary-it's clear that ze considered it a poor enough solution. And as to criticizing the OP's recovery and coping methods, that strikes me as truly prescriptive regardless of whether hir own post was such.

This is the wrong approach to take on the issue. Rather than making the discussion about what is good for a specific speaker (as ze is clear enough on that), it should be about what perspectives are not explored, whose voices are not present, and why. Coming from the perspective that self harm is not a universal negative for everyone utilizing it, the problems to pose/address are: Is this discussion leaving the door open to those with a variant relationship with self harm and if not, why not? Are those voices even present to be included, and if not, why not--is it because these people are very rare, or is it because the local (site/movement) environment is hostile, or is it because they have been ostracized and silenced in society at large, etc.?

As to the sm feminists post... I was recently reading through that comment string as well. My thoughts are less straightforward. But I disagree with much of the points dh made.

Trinity (basically) makes the point that self harm is not intrinsically maladaptive, but that it is disingenuous and unhelpful to conflate those for which it is and those for which it is not. They have different needs, needs which warrant respect, which means that psychiatry should be an option but not a universal response. She acknowledges that psychiatric intervention is not the best response to those like dh, but says that this is not true for the "vast majority" (not personally prepared to evaluate the veracity of that claim, but would not disagree).

She and Bean both make the point that induced pain in the context of harming and BDSM are utterly discrete. On this, I am not completely certain-at least one person on the FWD thread, for example, mentioned BDSM use as an alternative coping mechanism.

At the same time, I don't think dh's use of BDSM should be endorsed by the BDSM community at large. As per this quote:

But overwhelming, irresistible desire? Yes, I have experienced that for both scenarios, self-injury and BDSM acts... not in the sense of 'really wanting a good sexy spanking' but rather, frantically begging my partner to do something to me before I did something much worse to myself, yes.

That sounds to my ear like coercive behavior. "Do this to me before I do much worse to myself"... That's manipulative. It's a threat.

And while I would not be in the "inarguably discrete" camp, I see hir insistence to put BDSM under the self injury label to be erroneous, serving no apparent purpose, need, or logic. Intersections do not make the concepts equivalent by any means. Being involved in BDSM does not imply that one has self harm proclivities or vice versa. Bean's scary movie/true danger comparison is a powerful one on this point.

But Bean makes this point here...
And trying to convince anyone that it's totally okay for some people to feel the overwhelming desire to do something dangerous to themselves is wrong.

... And that's just not true, in my opinion. People do (what can be) dangerous things to themselves and it is not something fundamentally wrong. Driving a car, smoking/getting drunk/(insert risky or addictive behavior which is tolerated so long as its effects are restricted to the individual), meeting people. Living.

This statement is prescriptive-it defines a behavior as universally dangerous for the participants and makes the call on responding to the behavior for them rather than allowing for their own agency.

And about that. Prescriptivism. This is a powerful line of argument that consolidates so much problematic trash in feminism and other discourse into a single, coherent idea. But there is a point when something stops being prescriptive in the pejorative sense and starts actually needing to be prescribed (so long as it retains the agency of the other party) - e.g. describing much of healthcare. The logical boundaries here are complex, but nevertheless important to respect lest the worth of the argument be damaged.

Finally, RE:"Trigger warnings" thing. One person's "patronising" is another's "thank god I steeled myself before going past that." Something I found a bit excessive about that thread: individual comments erratically headed with their own warnings. The OP warning and content should be enough, surely?