Feminist Philosophers

News feminist philosophers can use

A Snark-Filled Checklist for Sexuality Research December 17, 2012

Filed under: body,glbt,kyriarchy,sex,sexual orientation — Stacey Goguen @ 6:48 pm

Does anyone else get sort of bored reading articles on scientific research into sexuality?  It seems like the scientists and journalists involved are…unimaginative (/unobservant).  It’s like they all stick to the same weird checklist.  Below, I try to recreate what I think that checklist is.  Please feel free to add, comment, or correct (since I might slip into my own unwarranted assumptions on this.)

This project came into being after reading this article:  “What We Know and Don’t Know About the Biology of Homosexuality.”  It’s actually pretty decent as far as reporting on scientific research in general goes, but again I was just struck by all the suppositions and the weirdly narrow framework that seem to go into this sort of research and reporting.

A Checklist for Doing Scientific Research on Sexuality:

–Assuming that homosexuality is a variation of a heterosexual default: check
–Assuming that homosexuality is essentially just one sex taking on the other sex’s normal behavior/traits: check
(i.e. male homosexuality is when men are biologically feminized)
–Being completely ignorant of / uninterested in transsexuality and the sexuality of people who are transgender: check
–Pathologizing homosexuality even while acknowledging the arbritrariness of the concept “normal” in this context: check
–Linking genitals to sexual orientation as if there’s clearly a strong, un-contentious connection between the two: check
–Erasing the possibility of a coherent sexuality for people who are intersexed: check
–Erasing bisexuality, pansexuality, and asexuality as categories: check
–Talking about the evolutionary advantages or disadvantages of different sexualities as if that is automatically relevant to what our current social attitudes towards them should be: check
–Thinking about sexuality research by asking questions like, “What factors contribute to heterosexuality in humans?” or “Is there a straight gene?” or “Does our biology even support the notion of having a sexual orientation?”: uncheck

Has everyone run across research or reporting on sexuality that doesn’t make this laundry list of assumptions?

 

56 Responses to “A Snark-Filled Checklist for Sexuality Research”

  1. supernaut Says:

    Also:
    – assuming sexuality is a ‘scale’ or ‘spectrum’ with homo at one end and hetero at the other: check
    and:
    – something about orgasms evolving for procreation, and general “orgasm as natural end-point of sex”: check
    and:
    – when mentioning anything trans or intersex, confusing / conflating these with sexuality: check
    and:
    – something about “sex is biological, gender is cultural”, or “sex is what’s between your legs, gender is what’s in your head”: check

    I could go on but the stupidity is unending. I hope one day soon we’ll look on these ‘scientists’ as the equal of astrologers, alchemists, and creationists.

  2. It sounds as if you object to biology. But whether you like it or not, evolutionary theory provides the central guiding ideas of current biology. From the perspective of evolutionary theory, there is a very obvious asymmetry between heterosexuality and homosexuality. The former is well understood, but the latter is at best mysterious and possibly even pathological (which is not to say that it is in any way immoral, or that it calls for any sort of “cure”).

  3. anonymous Says:

    I fail to see why the lack of an interest in transsexuality or transgendered sexuality is all that surprising, given the scope of these sorts of studies. There are people who think of themselves as otherkin; but the fact that some community is willing to treat each other as dogs, cats, dragons, or whatever doesn’t mean their doing so is tracking any genuine differences that those who are interested in a scientific inquiry into what we are as human beings ought to recognize as relevant, as if we could classify the dog-identifiers as dogs simply because they and their community identified one another as dogs. No matter what the members of those communities may think among themselves, the attitudes they are adopting toward one another don’t mark out distinctions that are pertinent when what we’re interested in is the way we are independent of our attitudes.

  4. annejjacobson Says:

    ‘Possibly pathological’?? Could you give a reference, please? Not from a right wing senator too, please.

  5. swallerstein Says:

    I note that the article criticized is about the biology of homosexuality.

    Perhaps homosexuality is too complex to study in biological terms, if there is a “thing” called “homosexuality”, which I doubt.

  6. ChristTS Says:

    I might be misinterpreting #3, but I read it as saying that being transsexual or transgendered is entirely a psychological matter. If my reading is correct, I have to say I believe that claim is incorrect.

  7. knowsphilbio Says:

    In reply to Jeremy Bowman: “Evolutionary theory” itself says nothing about heterosexuality and homosexuality; evolutionary theory simply describes the various processes (e.g., natural selection, genetic drift, mutation, migration) that cause changes in populations over time. Explaining sexual orientation or any trait via evolutionary theory involves making specific hypotheses about how those traits evolved and providing evidence for those hypotheses; in other words, it is an application of evolutionary theory. This is difficult enough to do with physical traits; when one is dealing with behaviors, especially human behaviors, such hypotheses become extremely difficult to substantiate. It may seem “obvious” that evolution would tend to favor heterosexuality and not homosexuality, but that is only “obvious” if one helps oneself to various controversial assumptions about the environment in which different sexual orientations evolved (assuming that they did evolve), about social relations, about the evolutionary processes operating, etc.

  8. Anonymous Says:

    I would think the line of reasoning is obvious: Heterosexuality, or, if you don’t like that word, the tendency to engage in sexual relations between males and females can result in reproduction, while homosexuality, or the tendency to engage in same sex sexual relations, does not. So heterosexuality is not very surprising while homosexuality is. And by surprise here, I mean you wouldn’t expect it simply from basic biological/evolutionary facts. No doubt the complex social nature of humans complicates things a great degree, but the basic thought is there and hardly assailable. Then the question just becomes one of seeing how to make sense of the surprise: Same sex tendencies occur, but the evolutionary point of view is correct. How do you account for the former in terms of the latter (or do you not, and it turns out to be accounted for by something else)?

    The “pathological” bit on the other hand doesn’t strike me as correct. Yeah, homosexuality is surprising from an evolutionary point of view, but that hardly means pathological unless you intend to strip the word of basically all of its normal meanings.

  9. knowsphilbio Says:

    Anonymous #8, here are some of the assumptions you are helping yourself to in your “obvious” reasoning: 1) That sexual orientation is a heritable trait, 2) That producing offspring with a member of the other sex was (in human’s evolutionary past) strongly linked with a person’s sexual orientation, 3) That there were no other evolutionary advantages of a homosexual sexual orientation (e.g., that one couldn’t be passing on one’s genes by caring for a sibling’s offspring), 4) that there is some reason that sexual orientation traits would go to fixation (e.g., that they were not linked with other advantageous traits)

  10. knowsphilbio Says:

    You might also want to check out Joan Roughgarden’s “Evolution’s Rainbow.”

  11. Anonymous Says:

    Thanks knowsphilbio–your response is helpful. More on those lines: here’s a totally puzzling feature of human behavior, BIRTH CONTROL. what are heterosexuals doing, using condoms and hormone pills and diaphragms? why aren’t we studying them and looking for a ‘birth control’ gene? there is nothing evolutionarily more suspect about homosexual orientations or behavior than about heterosexual behavior that involves birth control–or heterosexual behavior after menopause, or between partners one of whom is infertile, etc. but, while it is still available to (no doubt un-self-aware) bigots like Mr. Bowman to propose on a blog like this that homosexuality is a pathology, it is never suggested that those who use birth control are pathological (even those who are on the lunatic religious fringe do not abjure birth control in terms of pathology but in terms of morality), or that those who have post-menopausal sexual relationships are pathological, etc. etc. (And by the way: a pathology is a disease. Pathologies need cures. There is no such thing as a pathology that does not need a cure, or have a sad story behind it. Homosexuality is not a pathology.)

  12. knowsphilbio Says:

    Good points, anonymous #11.

  13. @ChristTS I meant point #3 about people who are transgendered as being in the context of point #2 about gender and point #5 about genitalia.

    For instance, since some woman have penises or something that defies medical classification (since there seems to be some overlap between what is labeled a micro-penis or a macro-clitoris) or don’t have vaginas–and what particularly came to mine was that this is true of some (did I imply all?) transgendered women–the researchers’ framework is going to lead them to say that those women can’t be gay (or that they’re not really women), no matter what they themselves have to say (or know!) about the matter.

    Let me know if you think that I’m still relying on the idea that being transgendered is purely a psychological thing. I don’t think I am, but now I’m wondering if I’m letting that idea sneak in somehow.

  14. ItsZee Says:

    Could I ask about Anon #3? I’m just curious how I’m supposed to read that comment as anything other than dismissive of transgender people & their identities. It looks like they’re saying “Obviously people who think they are cats and claim to be cats aren’t really cats and we shouldn’t treat them as cats when we’re engaged in any truth-directed enterprise, like our sexuality research. Trans* people’s gender identities are analogous to these deluded people’s beliefs that they are cats, and so we should treat trans* people in just the same way when engaged in a truth-directed enterprise”.

    Maybe I’m missing something here, but if that’s what’s being said, I’m seriously uncomfortable with and also decidedly offended by that comment. I’ve also had a long day so its likely I’m being uncharitable. Anon, did you mean something different from your analogy to otherkin? Maybe I was misinterpreting your attitude towards otherkin identities, and so misinterpreted your analogy. Also, are you the same anon as in #8 (and #11)?

  15. azonips Says:

    Anonymous(#3) appears to be trying to undermine the experience of transfolk (at least as a subject of scientific study) by analogy to the experience of otherkin. According to Anonymous(#3), the experiences of transfolk are similar to those who “think of themselves” as dogs, cats or dragons. Apparently, transfolk merely “think of themselves” as their identified gender; there is no further phenomenon to (scientifically) investigate.

    There are lots of problems with this position. One: even granting Anonymous(#3)’s interpretation of transfolk’s experiences, it is unclear why scientific study of sexuality should ignore how people “think of themselves” in these domains. That sounds like an especially myopic form of behaviorism.

    Two: the analogy between transfolk and otherkin is flawed. Human sexuality (let alone human gender) does not come in a strict binary. Intersex people prove this. Since we know that the biological basis of human sexuality is not a binary matter, it seems entirely possible that there could be a range of biological states (including brain configurations) correlated to different gender identities. Hence there is every reason, scientifically speaking, to look for something about “the way we are independent of our attitudes” in transexuality. But there are no interspecifics: no individuals whose physiognomy resists clear categorization as human or dog (or human or dragon). So this argument does not apply to otherkin.

    Finally: apart from all of the above, one might point out that Anonymous(#3)’s comments are at best insensitive to transfolk, and at worst outright disrespectful of their status as full agents with distinctive authority regarding their lived experience. But I suspect that Anonymous(#3) does not care about such things, as such things are not science. Happily, Anonymous(#3) is also wrong about the science.

  16. Jeremy Fantl Says:

    Stacey, I took ChristTS to be referring to Comment #3 (by anonymous), not your Point #3. But I might have misread ChristTS’s comment.

  17. Anonymous Says:

    Knowsphilbio: I thought, in comment 8, I was leaving room for most of your claims. Certainly that my intent for your third and fourth point, which strike me as the sorts of things that would lead to a solution to the initial puzzle. The first assumption, and perhaps I am mistaken, was more or less shown to be the case through twin studies, but perhaps I am wrong?

    I’m not Anon#3 by the way, whose comments are clearly wrong.

  18. Anonymous Says:

    Also, if sexual orientation has a significant genetic component, then that would distinguish it from the other non-reproductive sexual behavior mentioned by someone else later at least when thinking in terms of the relationship between human biology and explanations of human behavior.

  19. knowsphilbio Says:

    Anonymous #17 (why not pick a pseudonym? Then at least we can have a conversation), linked traits and traits having more than one evolutionary effect (my points 3 and 4) are not unusual. Thus, there is no puzzle about them. Someone who assumes such things are *not* present is oversimplifying evolution.

    No one has shown that sexual orientation is primarily genetic. It is not uncommon for one twin to be homosexual and the other twin to be heterosexual. I would be surprised to learn that any complex human trait was primarily genetic. Very few traits, period, are primarily genetic in origin.

  20. If you don’t like the word ‘pathological’, my apologies, let’s substitute instead the word ‘non-adaptive’. All I mean is that so far, no one has given a successful evolutionary explanation of homosexuality as an adaptation — i.e. as a trait that promotes the proliferation of the carrier’s genes in future generations. The best attempt to do so was dismissed by one of the most celebrated philosophers of evolutionary theory, David Hull, who was himself homosexual. When I was his teaching assistant, we discussed homosexuality from an evolutionary perspective on several occasions, and he always insisted that homosexuality remained unexplained. In that respect it is quite unlike heterosexuality.

    The most obvious alternative to something’s arising as an adaptation is its arising as a result of “something going wrong” — such as a “conflict of interest” between the genes of an individual’s parents. Such conflicts are known to occur in the womb of placental mammals, for example, when the father’s genes “direct” the placenta to exploit the mother’s resources more than her genes would “ideally” allow.

    Please be clear that I see “pathological” conditions as both ubiquitous and absolutely normal in the living world, and indeed they often confer advantages of a non-evolutionary sort on the individuals who “suffer” from them. Pathology is often required for genius.

  21. Anon3 Says:

    I’m sorry if I offended anyone; I didn’t mean to be slighting the experience of transgendered people, or suggesting that it wasn’t a subject of serious inquiry. Let me try to clear some things up. I’ll do so by responding to this:

    “Anonymous(#3) appears to be trying to undermine the experience of
    transfolk (at least as a subject of scientific study) by analogy to the
    experience of otherkin. According to Anonymous(#3), the experiences of
    transfolk are similar to those who “think of themselves” as dogs, cats or
    dragons. Apparently, transfolk merely “think of themselves” as their
    identified gender; there is no further phenomenon to (scientifically)
    investigate”

    I don’t mean to be undermining anyone’s experience as the subject of
    scientific study. In fact, I think experience is something we most
    certainly ought to be studying more scientifically. But I don’t see why someone’s experience as transgendered bears on a question as to the genetic basis of homosexuality, as discussed by the the linked piece.

    I don’t mean to be suggesting that the study of the experience of transgendered identity isn’t a study worth pursuing (indeed, worth pursuing scientifically). My question was rather why we should expect that when the subject of inquiry is already specified as the genetic basis for homosexuality, we should expect discussion of people who identify as transgendered anymore than a discussion of people who identify as furries. I just don’t see what the difference is that _makes_ a difference between these two when the subject of inquiry is already so clearly demarcated.

    That’s not to “undermine the experience” of anyone. It’s to point out
    that the one who is interested in the genetics of one group of people need not be concerned with how some other group of people experiences things. (The idea that biological divisions between the sexes do not obtain cannot be sustained in the presence of certain facts about biological classification. What’s rejected are necessary and sufficient conditions, but there is wide consensus concerning where to classify most members of the species, and on the features which make a given classification problematic. Exceptions defeat the contention that the classification is platonic; but they do not show the classification is thereby ungrounded. Indeed, sexual dimorphism in mammalian species is a paradigm of biological classification.)

    And for what it’s worth, I don’t think of this as undermining anyone’s
    ageny either. Quite the contrary; our agency can only be helped by understanding how our will affects the world, and what our will has no affect over.

    But look, I don’t think I have the fixed point on this issue. I’m
    certainly willing to change my view in the presence of reasoned
    conversation. And again, I apologize if I offended anyone.

  22. ItsZee Says:

    Anon3, thank you for your apology, you did, in both your original comment and your new one, offend me. Let me try to understand what you’re trying to say and offer some reasoned conversation to get you reconsider whether this is the right stance to take on these issues:

    You write: “My question was rather why we should expect that [trans* people would be relevant to our inquiries] when the subject of inquiry is already specified as the genetic basis for homosexuality” First, how is that the only subject of inquiry? This is a post about sexuality research in general, which includes (or, at least, should include) many more subjects of inquiry than the mere genetic basis for homosexuality.

    You also say “It’s to point out that the one who is interested in the genetics of one group of people [homosexual people] need not be concerned with how some other group of people [transgender people] experiences things.” This just seems false. Certainly study of homosexuality will include more than mere “genetics”, it will involve research into how people experience different sorts of desires/attractions. I suppose if you mistook ‘sexuality research’ to mean exclusively “inquiry into the genetic basis of homosexuality” then this confusion is understandable.
    Here’s a very important thing to keep in mind: **Some trans people are homosexual**!! Even if we were only interested in homosexuality (which sexuality research needn’t be) transgender folks are still the legitimate subject of study).

    You write “The idea that biological divisions between the sexes do not obtain cannot be sustained in the presence of certain facts about biological classification…. sexual dimorphism in mammalian species is a paradigm of biological classification.” and it seems like you mean something like: the correspondence of a gender and a particular genital configuration is a matter settled by biology. A few things are relevant here: A few things are relevant here: this picture ( http://25.media.tumblr.com/tumblr_m7o6crJtND1qd7nwao1_500.png ), and this fact: questions about the existence of perfect correlations between certain genders and certain genital configurations are not the same things as questions about “biological divisions between the sexes” and a negative answer in one case doesn’t necessitate a negative answer in the other.

    This confusion between the biological matter of what sort of gonads one has and how they are arranged vs. the (at least not-obviously-biological) matter of what one’s gender is presumably explains why you say the (genuinely dismissive towards trans people, regardless of your stated intent [if I'm reading it right]):

    “I don’t think of this as undermining anyone’s ageny [agency] either. Quite the contrary; our agency can only be helped by understanding how our will affects the world, and what our will has no affect over.” with the implication seeming to be that trans* people should understand that their genders are things that their wills have no control over.

    Most trans* people would accept that gender is not a thing we can directly control or change, they would just deny that this means that particular genders always co-vary with a particular sort of genital configuration. Certainly you don’t think trans women are confused about whether or not they have (or at one time had) testicular gonadal tissue? Everybody agrees on the biology, the issue is about gender. From what you’re saying, you seem to think that facts about trans* people’s genital configurations (or the genital configurations they had at birth) are in some way directly relevant to (constitutive of) these people’s **genders**, but that is a distinct (and highly implausible) claim.

  23. azonips Says:

    In response to Anonymous(#3):

    It’s good that you’ve indicated a willingness to try to clear things up and to apologize for offense caused your words. But I can’t say I find your latest response terribly helpful. You now appear to be saying that your point was simply something like: why talk about transfolk if the topic was homosexuality? I have a hard time reading that from your initial comment. You could have made that point by listing any number of other groups of people whose relevance to a discussion of homosexuality is unclear: left-handed people, members of the Green Party, Certified Public Accountants, Canadians. But you only mentioned otherkin, and it seems clear to me that you did this because you were attempting to draw some sort of instructive comparison between the experiences attested to by self-identified otherkin and self-identified transfolk, apparently having something to do with these experiences not constituting “genuine differences that those who are interested in a scientific inquiry into what we are as human beings ought to recognize as relevant”.

    I guess it’s good that you are now backpedaling from that sort of inflammatory (and conceptually incoherent) claim. If you’re prepared to acknowledge that the comparison between transfolk and otherkin was neither apt nor helpful to the discussion, then I’m happy to let the matter drop.

  24. Anon3 Says:

    Hi ItsZee; thanks, this is helpful. Let me respond to a couple of things.

    First, the subject of inquiry in the study linked in the OP is the genetic basis of homosexuality. As such, how people “experience” their sexuality is at best irrelevant, at worst a distraction. Again, that’s not to discount as a viable subject of study the way we experience our sexual identity as it figures in social contexts, or the features about it that are determined by our attitudes. It’s just to note that genetics isn’t the sort of thing that can be affected by our attitudes. Of course you’re right that some transgendered people are homosexual; so are some furries. The point is, why complain that there’s no discussion of transgendered folks in this sort of study while excluding furries? What’s the difference that makes a difference here? And at any rate, such complaints are beside the point given the scope of the linked study.

    Also, I stand behind what I said about biological division of the sexes in mammals. This is a perfectly reasonable classification that practicing biologists–really, most anyone–can make as a matter of course. There is widespread agreement on the criteria for classification, and the conditions that appertain when there are exceptions. If some folks want to identify as a sex other than their biological sex, more power to them. But don’t expect a biologist interested in genetics to be forced into that frame.

  25. Anon3 Says:

    Hi Azonips,

    I stand by what I said concerning transgendered sexual identity being on a par with furry sexual identity when the issue is one of the genetic basis for homosexuality. In neither case does the ‘experience’ of someone, whether transgendered or furry, bear on their genetics.

  26. ItsZee Says:

    Anon3, re: your first large paragraph — See azonips’ comment.

    re: your second paragraph — are you suggesting that you think that transgender people either believe that they have different gonadal tissue (and perhaps genital configuration) than they actually do or that they identify as having different gonadal tissue (and perhaps genital configuration) than they actually do? This is the only way I can make sense of what you’re saying. The only problem with this claim is that it is clearly preposterous. Trans* persons are trans* persons because they have gender identities which differ from the gender identities that were assigned or designated to them at or around the time of their birth. The matter of gender assignment/designation is not the same thing as the mere fact of them having a certain genital configuration. The sort of assignment/designation I’m talking about, paradigmatically, usually involves an utterance of the form “It’s a boy!” or “It’s a girl!” usually uttered by a doctor a few moments after a baby is born. It’s true that said doctors usually make such designations based on observed genital configuration of the infant, but that doesn’t mean that by saying “it’s a boy!” they are simply informing the parent of the configuration of their child’s genitals.
    Here’s a way to see how these two come apart: a trans* woman would say that a doctor who announced “It’s an infant with testicular gonadal tissue and a penis!” at the time of her birth got it *right*, while the doctor who announced “It’s a boy!” got it wrong. Certainly this isn’t based on a *conceptual* confusion. It isn’t that trans* women don’t understand what these words mean. It’s that these two announcements (one of which also counts as a special kind of speech act, a gender-designation, while the other is a mere assertion) are saying different things.
    So I have no (or comparatively few) qualms with you standing behind your claim that division of sexes in mammals is “a perfectly reasonable classification that practicing biologists–really, most anyone–can make as a matter of course,” but my problem with it is that it’s not relevant to anything having to do with trans* people.

  27. Anon3 Says:

    Hi ItsZee. You write:

    “Here’s a way to see how these two come apart: a trans* woman would say that a doctor who announced “It’s an infant with testicular gonadal tissue and a penis!” at the time of her birth got it *right*, while the doctor who announced “It’s a boy!” got it wrong. Certainly this isn’t based on a *conceptual* confusion.”

    Yes, this is a conceptual confusion. “Boy” is a biological classification. This is a fact about how the term is used; we cannot get around it. Now it is true that ‘boy’ is a classification that has historically been associated with all sorts of social features, and many of those are justly criticized as biologially irrelevant. But ‘boy’ is one of the most biologically tractable classifications we have. If we don’t separate those social trappings from the attitude-independent facts about ourselves, then we are, indeed, engaging in conceptual confusions.

    Again, consider the case with furries. What’s the difference that makes a difference such that, in principle, ‘boy’ is something we can decide independently of biology but ‘human being’ is not. Or are you willing to grant that even species-classification is subject to the kind of willful determination you are advocating?

  28. Anon3 Says:

    Think about it this way ItsZee. We know that terms like ‘boy’ and ‘girl’ are larded with all sorts of biologically irrelevant significance in this community. The question is, do those terms nevertheless classify according to biological facts about their bearers? I claim they do–for consider the paradigm cases in which a biologist will apply that term. S/he will apply it when the bearer has the requisite genitalia. Even were we faced with someone that met _ALL_ the social trappings of being a ‘boy,’ to learn that they have (paradigm instances of) a woman’s genitalia is to learn that, in fact, they are not a boy. To suppose otherwise is to legislate a distinction that is not founded on fact, but is instead motivated by an ideological commitment. Whatever the merits of that ideology, to implement it in this way is to foster a confusion regarding those facts about us that are subject to our control (e.g., whether all and only boys are permitted to wear pants) with facts about us that are not (e.g., what sort of biological sex we are).

  29. ItsZee Says:

    Anon3, I now know your view. In the future, if someone accuses you of being “outright disrespectful of [trans* persons'] status as full agents with distinctive authority regarding their lived experience.” The correct response, given the view you have just articulated, is not to deny it, but to say “Yes, exactly”.

    I’m done here.

  30. azonips Says:

    Anonymous(#3):

    In your latest comment to me, you appear to be suggesting that your view is merely this: the physical structure of a person’s genetic material is not dependent upon that person’s mental states. This claim is trivially true. It it also not particularly relevant to the topic of the main post, which concerns the whole range of sexuality research, not simply genetic structure.

    In your comments to ItsZee, you seem to be pushing something much more ambitious. It appears to involve a rather dubious implication that ‘boy’ is a scientific term of art. (Does ‘boy’ appear in the glossary of Biology textbooks?) It is not clear what broader consequence you intend this to have, but I assume it has something to do with your initial comments regarding what “we who are interested in a scientific inquiry into what we are as human beings ought to recognize as relevant”. You also left dangling (in your original comment) an incomplete argument of this form: if we do not necessarily regard dog-identified people as actual dogs, then we should not necessarily regard women-identified people as actual women.

    You seem to be practicing a strange sort of evasion here, weaving between trivially innocuous claims and ungrounded broad claims. The common thread appears to be a commitment to the thesis that, when it comes time to engage in any sort of scientific inquiry, or perhaps any inquiry into “what we are as human beings”, then the experiences of transfolk are not relevant. Whatever your protestations about not intending to cause offense, these sorts of assertions are plainly offensive.

  31. Philosochick Says:

    People, PLEASE stop using “transgendered.” Use “transgender.” It’s really starting to piss me off (thanks ItsZee, you’re awesome).

  32. Anon3 Says:

    Goodness gracious! I’ve not been “disrespectful” of anyone’s “authority” or “lived experience”! As I’ve said from the start, lived experience just isn’t on the table here. Look at the original article (ironically, it actually suggests that research is showing that the genetic basis of homosexuality is not nearly as clear-cut as many had hoped, but that’s been swamped out in this discussion).

    We’re talking about sexual dimorphism in human beings–this is as clear a case of biological classifcation as one could want. Again, consider an analogy with the furries; their “lived experience” has about as much bearing on their species-identity as their hair color. I’ve given this some thought, and I just don’t see how one can underwrite the supposition that gender is fixed by attitude without also supposing that other biological concepts, like ‘species’ and ‘breathes water’, can also be fixed by attitude. This doesn’t mean that we can’t do all sorts of things to, e.g., make us look more like lizards. But it does not follow that we are or become lizards. What’s the difference that makes a difference here?

    As I said, I’m willing to have my view revised. But positioning me as if I’ve been “disrespectful” of someone’s lived experience won’t help. I am actually in favor of making the issues of transfolk much more subject to intelligent and socially revisionary consideration. What I object to is the capricious appropriation of the processes of conceptual development for the attainment of an ideologically motivated end.

    I am also disconcerted over certain aspects of feminism that percolate to the surface in conversations like these. Too often when feminist ideology is put to criticism we find ourselves having to disambiguate “lived experience” from a judgment one can justify. We saw it here from the very beginning. The linked article in the OP concerns the BIOLOGICAL basis of homosexuality. But all throughout this discussion my interlocutors have appealed to the lived experience of transgenders as if that had a bearing on the subject of discussion. This conflation has been studiously accompanied with implicit accusations that I have been offensive to people. Indeed, in the last two posts of azips and ItsZee we see that these accusations are made explicit. This is a ludicrous way to carry on a conversation, and one might have hoped for more from feminist PHILOSOPHERS.

    Again, NONE of this is to say that the lived experience of transgenders, furries, whatever is not worth studying. It’s just to point out that when our subject matter is BIOLOGY, we ought to be clear about what we are talking about. And at no point should we let a lived experience suffice for entitlement to a judgment unless the domain of that judgment is something that can be fixed by one’s lived experience. I think it is clear that biological sex is not fixed by lived experience, and that in the vast majority of the cases, and even more so in mammalian species, what sex an animal is can be determined conclusively independently of any lived experience.

    I’m sorry if that offends people; truly, I am. But please try to understand, there are important issues here, and I do not think we should suppose that every experience we have bears on what is true about us. Nor do we help ourselves or one another when we allow a conversation to devolve into expressions of offended sentiment.

  33. JR Says:

    What Anon3 ignores is that lived experience derives from biology and can in some cases be an important clue to biology. A bear, for example, has a different lived experience from a mollie (a type of fish mentioned in the Ars Technica article cited in the current post). This difference is rooted in biology. A trans* woman has a different lived experience from a cis* man. This difference is rooted in biology.

    Anon3 says in #21: “The idea that biological divisions between the sexes do not obtain cannot be sustained in the presence of certain facts about biological classification. What’s rejected are necessary and sufficient conditions, but there is wide consensus concerning where to classify most members of the species, and on the features which make a given classification problematic. Exceptions defeat the contention that the classification is platonic; but they do not show the classification is thereby ungrounded. Indeed, sexual dimorphism in mammalian species is a paradigm of biological classification.”

    But this statement glosses over the fundamental issue. It’s not that sexual dimorphism “does not obtain” or is “ungrounded,” but that it isn’t mechanistic, it’s not binary.

    It is really important to conduct research that investigates “the features which make a given classification problematic.” Important insights into this question may be garnered by studying those of us who have undergone (“experienced”) a presently unknown physical process (that is, a process that is not fundamentally subjective, that is not derived from the human psyche—which is indeed an important factor in our biology, and an important survival factor, at least for individuals of the species homo sapiens, if not for other species!) and have somehow been “marked” by that process in ways that to some may seem—rightly or wrongly!—completely psychological.

    To shut down this possibility a priori is to shut out the realities that make science so interesting. I am reminded of a quote from J.B.S. Haldane, the noted British geneticist and evolutionary biologist of the early 20th century, which is apparently apt in more ways than one on this particular occasion:

    “I have no doubt that in reality the future will be vastly more surprising than anything I can imagine. Now my own suspicion is that the Universe is not only queerer than we suppose, but queerer than we can suppose.”

  34. JR Says:

    In #33 I meant to say “those of us who may have undergone…”

    I don’t claim to know whether there is a physical process involved, I only maintain that it is worth investigating that possibility, as most here seem to agree.

  35. @ Philosochick – I apologize for not knowing enough about the respectful terminology here. I changed the phrasing in the original post.

  36. Philosochick Says:

    JR: Or, certainly, the process of undergoING. While my sexual orientation hasn’t change during my gender transition, my sexuality sure has (which is totally unsurprising), and there are interesting things to investigate viz. that process. I also know friends who’ve transitioned (or are transitioning) and *are* experiencing a shift in their sexual orientation (in addition to their sexuality).

    Unfortunately, the research is often done by cis people, and very poorly.

  37. Amanda Says:

    Anon3: Why don’t we just change the norm in biology to talking about ‘penis-bearer’/’vagina-bearer’ instead of ‘boy’/’girl’ or ‘man’/’woman’? This has a few advantages: (a) there are lots of important non-genital properties connoted by ‘man’ and ‘woman’ such that people with enough of those properties more accurately identify with something other than the associated genital configuration, (b) treating one genital configuration as necessary or sufficient for the broader concepts of ‘man’/’woman’ (as determined by their ordinary use) is detrimental to those who have enough of the properties to be correctly identified with the broader concepts, but don’t bear the typical genital configuration, and (c) if lived experience is truly supposed to be irrelevant to biological classification, then there’s the added bonus this seems to be more true of the penis-bearer/vagina-bearer classification, but is not true of ‘boy’ and ‘girl’ as they are used by ordinary speakers.

    This move seems pretty uncontroversial. After all, if biologists were using another theoretical term that had wider meaning for ordinary language users and a different set of necessary and sufficient conditions, then this would be a non-ideal theoretical term insofar as (i) it had social costs, which this one clearly does, and (ii) it’s theoretical and non-theoretical meanings significantly differed, in a way that could lead to confusion, which this one also does (when I refer to someone as male, I don’t mean that they are a penis-bearer. In fact, I don’t think I’ve ever asked to see someone’s genitals when I ascribe a gender to them). In such cases, we usually make up a more accurate theoretical term, or we shove an asterisk behind it, or whatever. Something like penis-bearer and vagina-bearer might do in this case, and would help avoid the kind of harm that goes with calling women with penises ‘men’ and men with vaginas ‘women’ (and we can do the same for any biological feature you like: this procedure needn’t be limited to just penises and vaginas.)

    So that get’s rid of your theoretical term/commonly used term worry. After that, you say ‘…This doesn’t mean that we can’t do all sorts of things to, e.g., make us look more like lizards. But it does not follow that we are or become lizards. What’s the difference that makes a difference here?’. In response to this, the term ‘lizard’ presumably also has a set of necessary conditions within biology, and a cluster of different n/s conditions among ordinary speakers. One can imagine creatures who cross the ‘ordinary speaker’ threshold and would therefore correctly be identified as lizards by ordinary users, but who maybe can’t cross the ‘theoretical speaker’ threshold. Let’s suppose you want to carry over an analogy between this kind of case and trans* people. What’s the theoretical speaker threshold here? It can’t just be penis/vagina-bearer, because trans* people can cross that threshold. It can’t be many of the other biological and non-biological properties we associate with ‘man’ and ‘woman’ because trans* people can cross a lot of those thresholds too. Maybe it’s something about a history, e.g. ‘born-a-penis-bearer’, or having XX chromasomes, or whatever. Again, for the sake of accuracy and minimizing social harms, in this case we can simply acknowledge that some women don’t meet a ‘not-born-a-penis-bearer’ (NBAPB) condition. That’s fine, but to refer to the ‘not-born-a-penis-bearer’ or ‘XX’ condition as necessary or sufficient for the theoretical term ‘woman’ seems unnecessary (since NBAPB or XX would do), misleading given the ordinary use of the word ‘woman’, and harmful to trans* women who are not NBAPB people. Given this, and given the fact that there’s no obvious reason for us to make this identification, it’s not something we shouldn’t do. If these happen to be the currently accepted terms to used within biology, then sad day for biology.

  38. Anon3 Says:

    Thank you JR and Amanda. These are helpful, truly. I’d like to respond on a couple of points. But first, let me say that this isn’t just a bit of academic quibbling for me. I know someone who has undergone gender reassignment surgery, and the way she is (and has been) treated is something I think about quite a little bit.

    First, I wholly endorse the effort to better integrate our biological inquiry with the sort of ‘lived experience’ you’re talking about. I do not want to suggest that any of that ought to be suppressed. Nor do I mean to deny that there are morally salient consequences of our doing so. My point is instead a rather minor one about the conditions that entitle us to place some feature of the world (in this case, our biological identities) in a space of determination fixed by a community’s attitudes. While I unreservedly commit myself to the value in, and moral imperative for, reassessing the attitudes we adopt toward, e.g., transfolk, the _biological_ issue remains, in my mind, perfectly symmetric between transfolk and furries.

    This puts me in conflict with the thrust of Amanda’s comment, so I want to look at what she says in more detail.

    Amanda writes:
    “Why don’t we just change the norm in biology to talking about ‘penis-bearer’/’vagina-bearer’ instead of ‘boy’/’girl’ or ‘man’/’woman’? This has a few advantages: (a) there are lots of important non-genital properties connoted by ‘man’ and ‘woman’ such that people with enough of those properties more accurately identify with something other than the associated genital configuration,”

    I think I could get behind this if it was done in the right way. This seems like a productive way of dissolving the problem, at least when it comes to biology. And it has the value of bringing out into the open what it is we generally rely on as a criterion for determing whether someone is a man or a woman, and so it lets the genuinely underspecified cases show up as they are–cases that this mode of classification cannot determine. Crucially, for this process to be legitimate, it would have to be clear that we were _legislating_ this lexical shift. We cannot underwrite it by trying to shame or guilt our audience into rejecting biological classification by sex as a social evil. The social evils are the result of a complex motley of institutional and subtle psychological tendencies. We cannot get rid of those problems by a simple lexical shift, and the effort to institute that shift by such tactics is socially pernicious and intellectually perverse; nor ought we suppose that everyone who does not share our lexicographic predilictions is perpetuating the social evils we hope our legislation will help overcome.

    The supposed advantanges to this lexical shift given by Amanda’s (b) and (c), however, do not seem to me to be well-founded.

    She writes:
    “(b) treating one genital configuration as necessary or sufficient for the broader concepts of ‘man’/’woman’ (as determined by their ordinary use) is detrimental to those who have enough of the properties to be correctly identified with the broader concepts, but don’t bear the typical genital configuration, and (c) if lived experience is truly supposed to be irrelevant to biological classification, then there’s the added bonus this seems to be more true of the penis-bearer/vagina-bearer classification, but is not true of ‘boy’ and ‘girl’ as they are used by ordinary speakers.”

    (b) turns on a commitment to necessary and sufficient conditions as a criterion for scientific classification that is out-and-out rejected in the practice of any contemporary biology that classifies individuals as members of species. This just isn’t how biologists work today. Instead, definitions in biology admit of gradation along various dimensions, though there are clear-cut cases of classification–indeed, it is these clear cut cases that often define the class as the class that it is (See Peter Godfrey-Smith’s _Darwinian Populations and Natural Selection_ for a way of representing how some of these interconnected ranges of variation can affect gradations in identity).

    When faced with an instance that bears the requisite properties, the classification is straightforward. It’s in the extremes that we do not know what to say–but this is, after all, of the nature of biological systems. And contra what Amanda says in (c), I suspect that mine is the basic view of most people unscarred by the dialectician’s scalpel (it’s certainly my experience in talking with people–but I don’t want to hang my hat on this contention). The fact that we are occasionally faced with instances we do not know how to classify does not mean that we do not know how to classify those instances whose classification is clear.

    Amanda also writes that “the term ‘lizard’ presumably also has a set of necessary conditions within biology, and a cluster of different n/s conditions among ordinary speakers.” I don’t think this is a particularly accurate characterization of the relationship between biological inquiry and the speech habits of non-experts. First, I think you will be hard-pressed to find a biologist who thinks ‘is a lizard’ has necessary and sufficient conditions; still less that there will be any such account that everyone agrees on. Second, I do not think it helps to think of biologists as having one set of nec. and suff. conditions and ‘ordinary people’ another. The relationship between expert views in biology and the views of the laypeople is much more complex.

    Species concepts are paradigm cases of biological classification; so is the sexual dimorphism of mammals. It’s for this reason that my concern about furry-recognition is entirely on a par with a worry over allowing ourselves to suppose we can will our sexual identity. The couple who has tattooed scales over their skin, split their tongues, and embedded metal studs in their foreheads are not lizards; why is the post-op transgender, when originally an instance of a clear classification of one sex, anything other than a member of that sex who underwent a certain kind of surgery? How can we boggle at the lack of consideration of transgender experience when our focus is biology without also boggling at the lack of consideration of furry experience? It seems like the only answer we can give to the latter question will be one underwritten by a social ideology. No matter the value of that ideology, this is not the way feminism ought to be engaging with biology (or with the habits of ordinary people, I surmise).

    Use of gendered pronouns is not classification of an individual according to a sexual identity; it’s a classification according to the _biology_ of one’s sex. This fact is evident in the way we employ gendered terms–we use genetics and the presence of genitalia to decide nearly every case we are faced with, no matter what sorts of social trappings someone may have adopted in an effort to come off as a member of the other sex. The fact that someone adopts the complementary social role no more makes them of that sex than the fact that some people hang out at hotels and act like unicorns makes them unicorns. The problem is not that we have gendered biological terms; the problem is that our conceptions of gender are all screwed up.

    The dilemma remains forced upon us–either furry identity is a relevant category for biological inquiry, or transgender identity is not. I remain unconvinced that there’s a difference that makes a difference yet between recognizing someone as whatever gender they place on themselves and affording the same sort of recognition to furries.

  39. ChristTS Says:

    @Stacey: As someone pointed out upthread, I was referring to comment #3. (Which explains why I was so puzzled by your ‘reply’ to me.)

  40. Amanda Says:

    Just a few responses to Anon3:

    1. More specific language in biology might bring into the open what we’re generally relying on to identify men and women, but it’s not clear to me why we’d need to care about the terms ‘man’ and woman’ if we’re using the new more specific language. That was one of the main points of adopting it.

    2. It doesn’t matter that the lexical shift wouldn’t solve all of the problems. I should grab the gun from a would-be killer if I can, even if that won’t solve the underlying causes of all murders.

    3. You have offered no support for the claim that socially shaming people into using different language is “socially pernicious and intellectually perverse”. If someone’s using the word ‘bitch’ causes other people harm, I see no problem in principle with punishing that person socially in order to prevent them from using it in the future.

    4. You say “(b) turns on a commitment to necessary and sufficient conditions as a criterion for scientific classification”. That’s not true. Firstly, saying that ‘biologists treating X as N or S is bad’ doesn’t entail ‘biologists treat X as N and S’. Secondly, it’s totally irrelevant to what I say with respect to (b). We could just as easily have replaced it with any theory of categorization that excludes trans* people who identify with the relevant theoretical term. (You say a bit more about this, but ).

    5. I’ll just grant that the actual relationship between theoretical and ordinary use is more complex than my gloss. Not only is this probably true, but it also has little to no bearing on my arguments, as far as I can see. (I could also run the very same argument against ordinary ‘non-PC’ use of the terms, without much difficulty.)

    6. I don’t really know why we should care about paradigm cases of biological classification more than non-paradigm cases of biological classification. But in any case, if the classification is something that collapses in the light of increased accuracy in the language used, then it seems like a small loss. If biologists treated melanin levels as a paradigm biological distinction, but used the term ‘negro’ to refer to someone with certain melanin levels, we’d rightly say that they ought to just use ‘has melanin level n’ or whatever, since their current practice is needless and socially harmdul. You might be worried that there’s actually a large set of conditions referred to biologists when they refer to ‘man’ or ‘woman’ rather than just one, and that these conditions happen to exclude trans* people. That’s fine: just make up a term for those conditions and the problem is solved. Biologists get to keep their classification either way, assuming it is a genuinely useful classification to retain.

    7. You say “…why is the post-op transgender, when originally an instance of a clear classification of one sex, anything other than a member of that sex who underwent a certain kind of surgery?” Sure, they are a member of the original ‘sex’ if the definition of ‘man’ and ‘woman’ in biology include certain properties that make it so. After all, no one needs to deny that a transgender man has the ‘was born with a vagina’ property. Suppose that’s part of the biological term ‘woman’ as currently used and classify him as such. This is harmful and unnecessary for the reasons I’ve already outlined. So suppose biologists use a new term for this (assuming the concept has been deemed to have valid uses within biology) ‘shmeemo’. If something is directly relevant to shmeemo only (a certain disease that you can only get if you were born with a vagina, say), then I’m presuming that transgender men wouldn’t necessarily have a problem being classified as a male shmeemo. Maybe your underlying question really is: why privilage biological theoretical terms in this context and change those instead of holding them as the norms for use and changing ordinary use? (As evidenced by some of your later comments). There’s a simple answer to that: it’s easier to change theoretical terms than it is to shift ordinary use (which we no doubt ought to try to do as well).

    8. “…we use genetics and the presence of genitalia to decide nearly every case we are faced with, no matter what sorts of social trappings someone may have adopted in an effort to come off as a member of the other sex.” Really? I never do a genetic analysis or an analysis of genitalia when decide cases of gender (maybe ‘sex’ here is again more like shmeemo, but I’ve discussed that already). I generally use social trappings, behavior, self-identification, etc. If I didn’t, then I’d at least recognize that I was behaving pretty weirdly (and probably illegally) every time I was deciding whether to use ‘he’ or ‘she’…

    9. Finally, you say “The dilemma remains forced upon us–either furry identity is a relevant category for biological inquiry, or transgender identity is not”. No it doesn’t. Suppose that biology were a field solely engaged in the quantitative analysis of people with shmeemo properties. Then transgender identity needn’t really be of interest to them. If biology should engage with transgender identities, it should do so if it is biologically important. Similarly, if furry identity is biologically important independently then it should be studied, and if it isn’t then it shouldn’t. There’s no dilemma. Maybe biology isn’t interested in ordinary concepts of ‘man’ and ‘woman’. If that’s the case, then fine. Then they ought to stop using the terms.

    I’m trying to be charitable, but I think that your underlying assumptions are wrong at best. However, I don’t have any more time to respond on this post, so I hope I’ve given sufficient explanation as to why.

  41. philodaria Says:

    For any one who thinks that expressions of offense constitute a devolution of an intellectual conversation, I highly recommend reading “Love and Knowledge: Emotion in Feminist Epistemology” by Alison Jaggar.

  42. Anon3 Says:

    It’s not the expression of offense that constitutes the devolution philodaria. It’s the obsfucation of the issue by castigating the interlocutor as ‘morally blighted,’ and the attendant conflation of sentimental response with entitled judgment. This is a devolution precisely because it inhibits the intellectual criticism that is essential for the progressive development of an idea. But thatnk you for the reference; I’ll read the paper regardless.

    Thanks for your responses Amanda. Unfortunately, I remain unconvinced, and still doubtful of the social and intellectual merits of the line you are running. And as far as I can tell, the case of furries and the case of transgenders are still on all fours (pardon the pun). Some responses:

    1. We should keep using ‘man’ and ‘woman’ because we are men and women. This is no more something we can decide by fiat than we can with the terms ‘mammal’ and ‘human being.’ As Abraham Lincoln remarked, we could call a horse’s tail a ‘leg,’ but it would not then have 5 legs.

    2. My objection to the lexical shift is not that it wouldn’t solve all the problems; my objection is that the shift, as pursued in feminist practice (generally), is founded on and perpetuates certain confusions about who we are and how we determine our self-identities.

    3. You ask that I support my contention that the ideologically motivated effort to appropriate the processes of conceptual development, supported by practices of shaming and accusation that actively inhibit the criticism of that ideology and its cognitive positions, is socially pernicious and intellectually perverse. That this sort of approach is socially pernicious I take to be evident. Any community that shields its members’ views behind accusations that those who criticise them are morally defective is a blight on any other community that might have to interact with them. Whether it is intellectually perverse will have to be determined after we have a better sense of just what the position comes down to. Unfortunately, the practices surrounding this position tend to inhibit criticism of it. And that itself is a kind of intellectual perversion.

    I want to point something else out in your response here. You remark that if people are offended by the use of ‘bitch’ then you might shame others into not using it. But gendered pronouns (for instance) are nothing like the term ‘bitch.’ The mere fact that someone feels offended by the use of a gendered pronoun (for instance) is nowhere near sufficient to show that any offense has occurred. This is something, it seems to me, feminists need to be more cognizant of.

    4. Your response was peppered with references to necessary and sufficient conditions as criteria for biological classification. That perspective does not track the practice of biology, and in fact distorts it in certain ways that vitiates the motivation for and intelligibility of your alternative. We classify in biology on the basis of ranges of attributes–very little in biology admits of anything approaching necessary and sufficient conditions. Nevertheless, biological classification proceeds as a matter of course. We had better have a pretty well-developed sense of the rules of that sort of classification before we propose to change the practices underlying it. It is not enough to have a social goal we’d like to see realized and a rhetorical frame within which to motivate that goal.

    5. I’m glad you grant that the practice of biological classification is more complex than you represented, and I do think it affects the merits of your position. It’s precisely the shortcomings in your grasp of the practice of biology that underwrites your view; that’s why I’m able to overturn your view by focusing on your understanding of biology.

    6. We focus on paradigm cases to show that there is, indeed, a classification here. And anytime we are met with an instance that approximates the paradigm, we classify it as member of that class without a problem. The classification never ‘collapses.’ In fact, because sexual identity is a _biological_ classification, the existence of indeterminate cases is built into the concept of biological sex. But this does not change the fact that most cases are not indeterminate; nor does it underwrite the supposition that a paradigm member of one class who has cleverly disguised themselves as the member of another class becomes a member of that class.

    7. I reject the suggestion that because a set of social expectations surrounding a biological classification is found harmful by some people, we thereby ought to do away with that classification. This is a confused way of understanding the interface between social activisim and scientific inquiry. In my experience, this confusion is itself characteristic of certain elements of feminism.

    8. The point is not that we check genitalia everytime we gender someone. Instead, my claim is that genitalia is what we would defer to should the issue arise in a particular case. And this shows, contra feminist rhetoric, that gendered terms classify according to biological sex, no matter what sorts of social trappings the bring with them. And the fact that someone has disguised their genitalia does not make them a member of another sex. This is not to say that we don’t have a moral obligation to use gendered pronouns according to individual preferences. Perhaps we do. But it does mean that in doing so we are expicitly reorganizing our practices; we are certainly not doing anything that bears on the biological inquiry into sex. And nothing has been said so far that shows why, if we do have an obligation to gender people according to their preferences, we do not also have an obligation to ‘species’ people according to their preferences.

    9. And so the dilemma does indeed remain forced on us. Anything said here about changing our criteria for classifying people according to biological sex also applies to classifying them according to species. Perhaps that difference can be made out; but so far it hasn’t.

  43. Amanda Says:

    Anon3: Your response is an interesting mix of question begging (e.g. ‘because we are men and women’), ad hominem attacks and outright misunderstandings. I don’t think my previous posts are unclear however, so hopefully this is evident to those reading the discussion, even if you remain unconvinced. As I’ve said, I don’t have any more time to offer extensive response on this matter.

  44. philodaria Says:

    Ok, let me rephrase: Any one who thinks expressions of offense (like those above) obfuscate the issue by castigating the interlocutor as ‘morally blighted’ in some unjustified way, or who think sentimental response can be wholly distinguished from entitled judgment in a helpful way, or that either of the above constitute a devolution of a conversation because it inhibits the intellectual criticism that is “essential for the progressive development of an idea”–then I highly recommend reading “Love and Knowledge: Emotion in Feminist Epistemology” by Alison Jaggar.

  45. JR Says:

    What I find most fascinating about the interchange with Anon3 is that this person is clearly both intelligent and well-meaning, and knowledgeable in his or her field.

    The problem is that s/he is so tightly embedded in her or his paradigm—which ze clearly regards as incontrovertible—that the points we have made are seemingly not assimilable by hir.

    This is one of the best examples of incommensurability I have ever seen!

  46. Anon3 Says:

    I get it philodaria–you think I need to read the article. I shall. But please try to understand, I have nowhere suggested that sentiment and judgment can (or ought to) be “wholly distinguished.” I am making the much more prosaic point that the particular tendencies of current feminist rhetorical practice are beset with a confusion of sentimental response with reasoned judgment. That nowhere underwrites a commitment to “wholly distinguishing” sentiment from judgment, whatever that might mean. Again, thank you for the article. I look forward to reading it.

    Amanda:
    First, I am upset at the thought that I was arguing by fallacy–can you point out what where you think I’m engaging in ad hominem? I didn’t mean to be, and if I was arguing in bad faith I’d like to back up and try again.

    Second, you’re right to point out that I shouldn’t have led by appeal to talk of our being men and women. My substantive point is that whatever we decide about whether our attitudes suffice for determining the categories through which inquiry into biological sex proceeds, we must decide the same regarding the influence of our attitudes over inquiry into our species-identities. And so the consequence of this is not just that furries will be a viable subject of biological inquiry–we will have to regard a furry’s species as determined by their attitudes. To suppose otherwise is, I have argued, to allow an ideological commitment to trump an epistemic one. And this, I contend, fosters confusion about who we are as creatures whose attitudes suffice for the obtaining of certain properties concerning our identities as persons.

    Even if you don’t have time to continue the conversation, I hope you will continue to give these things some thought. For all you’ve said, you haven’t begun to address the really important issues of biological classification. Indeed, I think it’s pretty clear based on what you’ve said here that you are fairly misguided in how that practice proceeds. I’ve tried to point some of that out, and I hope you give it some thought.

    Third, the fact that most of us are men and women, if a biological fact, in no way rules out the fact that there are some cases that are biologically underdetermined. Indeed, if sex is a biological concept, these underdeterminations are to be expected. But it simply does not follow that someone who “feels” like they are of a particular sex has any _epistemic_ right to be recognized as such by anyone else. Nevertheless, it may be that we have some moral obligation to use the transgender’s favorite pronouns. That in no way requires that we confuse who they are with how they want to be seen, however. If nothing else, please try to see how a more nuanced appreciation of biological classification would inform a different view about biological sex and the demands, epistemic and social, placed on us by transfolk.

    Fourth, I hope you appreciate that shutting the door at “you’re misunderstanding me and I don’t have any more time” closes the conversation precisely at a point where advance is needed. Without a way of marking off biological sex from species identity, the recognition of post-op transgenders as of another sex appears deeply confused no matter how socially enlightened someone might think it to be (even in those cases where biological sex was underdetermined prior to the operation, perhaps).

    If you think I’ve misunderstood you, please try to show me how and so help me better come to understand you. We don’t need to agree on everything, but I think we ought to at least try to understand one another. If you don’t have time, why don’t we pick this up at some further point? I’d be happy to talk some more about it. As I said, I’m not sure I have reached a fixed point on this issue, and I’m surely not supposing I have the only one.

    Finally, I want to reiterate some of the points I’ve made about the practice of feminism. I think I can sum up my view here with the following:

    Whatever value there might be had in acquiring the ends at which feminists suppose they are directing their efforts, the ends at which feminists in their practices today are _actually_ directed are often dysfunctional.

    In the service of this latter dysfunction, as a way of shielding the discipline (and, often, women in general) from criticism, feminist pedagogy engenders its own pathology as a degenerate form of institution, a structure of value and purpose perpetuating itself across habits of sentiment and activity that are improperly aligned with the changing scene of the society in which its members live and move and have their being. We see the seeds of these dysfunctional institutional habits in the appeals to sympathy, accusations of moral turpitude, explanation via reductive blame-typography, persecution narratives, and the sense of entitlement that pepper feminist conversation.

    It would behoove these conversations if more people, feminists and their critics, could come to a view on which these features are not essential to the practice of feminism, or to its notion. Ironically, these practices are so habitual for some feminists that the very criticism necessary to reorient their view will remain beyond their ken. Meanwhile they teach younger feminists these habits, and so a positive feedback loop is set up and the problems persist. Not having been sufficiently exposed to criticism, the discipline distorts itself according to its own peculiar dysfunctions, the inbred tendencies of feminism. The fact that far too many self-described feminists bristle at these sorts of characterization is itself emblematic of the problem–a confusion of sentiment with judgment.

  47. Amanda Says:

    Anon3: I appreciate your asking for help and to continue the discussion, but I think that the things that have been said above are sufficiently clear, so reitterating them or explaining them further just isn’t worth my time I’m afraid. I cannot speak to your comments on ‘feminists’ since I assume you mean academic feminists, and while this is an area of research I have the utmost respect for, it is not an area of that I work in nor one that informs my views on this topic.

  48. Anon3 Says:

    It is disengenuous of you to say that things above are sufficiently clear when questions remain pressing for an interloctuor you avowedly mark as sincere (and I take it you are not suggesting that I am simply too stupid to understand what you’re saying). Instead, all the force of your response rests on your sentiment that this isn’t worth your time. And so a conversation wherein the *justification* for certain of your views has been called into question is closed because you *feel* like it’s not worth your time. Notice that this has nothing to do with your explicit interest in or commitment to feminist work. It presents itself in what you do, in the attitudes you exhibit in practice. Oh the irony! IAT’s revenge!!

    Please take my advice and continue to think about these things Amanda.

    And re. JR’s suggestion that incommensurable paradigms explains this exchange:
    There is no incommensurability here, and it is not fair to the state of play to cast things in this way. There is disagreement, and perhaps misunderstanding (truly, I think Amanda and I understand each other pretty well at this point), but there’s nothing incommensurable about our two views. Indeed, it’s pretty easy to see how each appears to the other. Ours is a debate of principle, and while those principles run deep, we are not unintelligible to one another. Only an obdurate refusal to continue conversation precludes reaching a point of mutual intelligibility, and perhaps, god willing, agreement.

    I remain committed to the claim that biological facts about personal identity are attitude-independent features of the world. This is certainly the way biologists treat sex, and I think it uncontentious that most people untouched by feminist rhetoric similarly classify mammals by sex. Sexual dimorphism in mammalian animals is as paradigmatic a case of biological classification as is species membership. Indeed, I do not see a way in which we can cognitively underwrite a view on which biological sex is fixed by our attitudes while ruling out that species membership is attitude-independent. The only warrants in the area appear ideologically motivated, and I contend this ideological motivation manifests itself in certain dysfunctional institutions characteristic of feminist discourse. Finally, I’ve pointed to specific instances of these institutions and explained their dysfunctionality (I could point to more but this place has a habit of deleting discussions when someone feels they are offensive).

    All of these points ought to be intelligible to anyone who’s read the discussion above with care; there is no threat of incommensurability here.

  49. Amanda Says:

    Anon3: I’m not obligated to explain myself to every interlocuter when I’ve done so clearly already, regardless of how sincere they are. I don’t feel it’s worth my time because it’s not: I do cost-benefit analyses on my time and this is below the threshold. I have already thought about the view that you present and do not agree with it, for reasons already given. If you decide that you wish to retain it, that’s not something that particularly concerns me.

  50. JR Says:

    Hi Anon3,

    I agree that this is an important set of issues. In that light, I have spent over an hour of careful reading on the 3600 words you have written since my comment 33 (as amended slightly by comment 34).

    I have looked for something in your responses that directly addresses that comment, but I can’t find it. I would like to request that you re-read #33 very carefully. Spend at least ten to fifteen minutes or at least enough time to determine whether:

    A. I missed your response in the following comments. If so, please point it out to me by quoting enough of the relevant passages for me to locate them

    B. You didn’t really pay attention to what I wrote

    C. You read it carefully, but it’s sense eluded you

    D. (Is there another possibility I have missed here?)

    In cases B or C, please make sure you have left yourself open to the possibility that I might be correct in my statements. Better yet, try to understand why I might think that they are correct and why I might have implied later on that they represent a different paradigm.

    Please don’t be hasty with your response — instead, I would like to request that you be slow, judicious, and thoughtful in determining the content and the implications of what I say in that comment. Brevity may not be the soul of wit, but in this case it might provide a clue to comprehension.

    If you feel that I am in error, please explain why. If you have questions, please ask them. And of course, if you start to agree with me, please indicate that as well, even if you still feel that I am partly or mainly wrong or misguided.

  51. aeolis@yahoo.com Says:

    Amanda,
    It is not enough, when faced with criticism, that one appeal to some sense that your time isn’t well spent. Your position is not in need of further explanation–it is in need of defense against the objections that have been raised against it. If you are not inclined to offer those defenses, or to, heaven forbid, change your view in the face of them, that is your prerogative. But don’t try to leave the conversation as if there are no problems with the position you don’t have time to articulate. That, too, is disengenuous.

    You have been met with a reasoned rebuttal of your view, both concerning your treatment of the processes of biological classification, and concerning the commitments one brings on when one proposes to extend our ability to shape our self-identities via our attitudes into domains where sentiment and political ideology usurp reason and judgment. These are problems that the position you are advocating MUST address if that position is to be coherent. In the absence of an address to these problems, you leave us with nothing but your conviction to support your view. And this, I have claimed, is part of the pathos of contemporary feminism. The fact that you do not yourself do feminist research reinforces my contention that the pathology is rooted in a set of practices that invidiously erode good sense irrespective of a person’s intentions. Thus, IAT’s revenge.

    And your retreat is not well founded when you spend all this time voicing how little time you will give to this conversation. This, too, is a practice that belies a set of values that are not those you explicitly profess.

    Hi JR,
    Thank you for taking the time to look over what I’ve written, and to suggest a way of structuring the exchange between us. I don’t take you to be wrong, so much as talking about something slightly different. I took this, from my post 38, to address what you had suggested in 33 (though it was not addressed to you, and for that I apologize–I bundled it into a more general response):

    “First, I wholly endorse the effort to better integrate our biological inquiry with the sort of ‘lived experience’ you’re talking about. I do not want to suggest that any of that ought to be suppressed. Nor do I mean to deny that there are morally salient consequences of our doing so. My point is instead a rather minor one about the conditions that entitle us to place some feature of the world (in this case, our biological identities) in a space of determination fixed by a community’s attitudes. While I unreservedly commit myself to the value in, and moral imperative for, reassessing the attitudes we adopt toward, e.g., transfolk, the _biological_ issue remains, in my mind, perfectly symmetric between transfolk and furries.”

    Allow my to expand on this a bit. Please remember that I’ve emphasized from the beginning that I do not want to supress inquiry into anyone’s lived experience–indeed, I think we ought to have more rigorous work done in this area. And I grant that the processes that constitute one’s felt conviction that one is, say, a different gender are *biological* processes, and so for that very reason are worth considering in biology. My point is simply that the same holds for whatever it is about furries that makes them get together at conferences and act like animals. So any call for biology to adopt an interest in transgender self-conceptions ought to be one that calls for biology to be interested in furry self-conceptions. That by itself is not a problem–it is an odd consequence of the view, but whatever. Let a hundred flowers bloom; surely there’s something to be learned from studying transgender and furry lived experience.

    In addition, I have pointed out that the further supposition one sometimes sees defended–namely, that we ought to regard transgenders by whatever sex they prefer–is deeply confused. In my experience, those who put forth this supposition do so from an uninformed understanding of biology. Perhaps there is some moral obligation to refer to people by their preferred gendered terms. But it is a grave mistake to think that *biological* facts about persons such as we are can be fixed by our attitudes. And here is where the symmetry with the case of the furries proves the reductio of the position. For once one grants that biological sex is fixed by attitude, and once one understands how biological classification works, there seems no principled way of ruling out that biological species can be fixed by our attitudes as well. And that, I take it, is absurd. In having had this conversation with a number of people, feminists and non-feminists alike, there does not seem to be any warrant for distinguishing these cases that is not underwritten by an ideologically motivated conviction to reorganize our biological categories. That is intellecutally confused and socially pernicious, and along the way in this conversation I have pointed out some of the various speech acts, rhetorical devices, and narrative structures that foster this ideology and shield it from criticism.

  52. I’ve been silently following this conversation in the comments because it’s an area I don’t know a lot about. But I’m going to step in now because it’s been bothering me that here at Fem Phil we an demand a level of conversation about gender that goes above your basic feminism 101, so I want to demand the same when it comes to discussing people who are transgender.

    Two things I’m going to harp on: the furry thing and the pronoun thing

    People who are transgender are just about as oppressed a group as you can get in many of our cultures. Look up the statistics and accounts of violence against them and discrimination in the workplace against them if you have any doubt of that. Whether or not their identity and experience fits in with our biological account of the world is secondary to that fact.

    I don’t know much about furries; for all I know they are their own oppressed group. I know that’s going to sound like some too-liberal hippie trash to some people, but that’s what it means to take your fellow human being seriously and to seriously consider the reality that we humans really like to create social hierarchies and use violence, coercive ideology, and stigma to enforce those hierarchies. That last sentence should not be, I would think, controversial on this blog.

    What I I do know is that women who are transgender are murdered in this country at a rate that should make all our blood run cold, and as far as I know, anyone who is just a furry does not face that kind of violence. So sitting there and saying that being transgender is pretty much just like being a furry (a group we deeply disrespect and openly mock), because the facts that matter most are how we biologically classify our fellow human beings, is deeply disrespectful. It smacks of the universal seminar room (which is not a good thing.) (http://www.newappsblog.com/2012/02/in-defense-of-snark-or-breaking-down-the-walls-of-the-universal-seminar-room.html)

    This is not to say that no one can ever have this biological conversation. I’m not saying that respect should always trump knowledge, or that it’s fine to say something completely false as long as you’re being respectful. Or that at the end of the day conviction is enough to hold up an idea (which is not a pathos in contemporary feminism, anymore than it is a pathos in contemporary humanity.) But I’m saying that my priority in discussing issues concerning folks who are transgender is respect & justice first, abstract knowledge & understanding second. That’s not even being-unscientific. Theories contradict one another and sometimes you have to pick which one takes precedence and which one is going to sit on the back burner until you figure out how it fits in with everything else or find a new one that does. The fact that people who are transgender are deserving of more justice takes precedence over whether their identity and experience fit neatly into our current view of human biology, sex, and gender.

    So if you don’t know how to talk about the biology without being respectful, please go somewhere else to have that conversation. I don’t think it is in keeping with the goals set out by this blog that we endorse a conversation where we defend whether it is ‘epistemically desirable’ to show basic human decency to other people, especially those facing extreme amounts of stigmatization, discrimination, and violent oppression. (But people who have more of a say about the goals of this blog can tell me if they disagree.)
    Using preferred pronouns is showing basic human decency. It’s showing a basic level of respect to someone as your peer as a fellow human being. As a default, you call them by the name they introduce themselves as, even if you think it’s silly or think it’s not their ‘real’ name. And as a default, you use the pronouns they introduce themselves with, even if you think it’s silly or think it’s not the ‘real’ or proper pronouns to use.
    So if someone wants to discuss whether that practice is really a good idea or based on confused biology, please go do it somewhere else. I don’t want my posts to be a free-for-all. We have the rest of the internet for that.

    I want to say a lot more but I have to go catch a plane. So I’m just going to say thank you to everyone who was patient in this conversation, thank you for keeping the tone civil even while some people patiently put up with statements that were dismissive, flippant, and disrespectful. Thank you for allowing me to learn a lot from reading through this convo thread. If anyone felt frustrated with aspects of the conversation here and would like to talk to me (tell me/berate me) about how I can better avoid that in the future, feel free to email me.

  53. Anon3 Says:

    Thank you for carefully articulating your view here Stacey (if I may). I think it is much better for feminists if they own up to the ideological motivations that are the basis for these views. But talk of disrespect here is misplaced. No one doubts that transgenders are treated differently than furries. That has never been at issue. And I have granted that the use of gendered pronouns is perhaps morally obliged–my point is the prosaic one that such a moral obligation here, should it obtain, does not entail any epistemic duty to reorganize biological classification.

    To feel disrespected because the social differences between furries and transgenders isn’t the focus of discussion, or otherwise signaled to your satisfaction, is to distort the conversation. Indeed, I have all throughout this discussion noted that the treatment of transgenders is a very real problem, and one that deserves more attention. It most certainly *is* part of the pathos of feminism that earnest discussion over such issues is fettered by accusations of disrepect, appeals to sympathy, persecution narratives, and the whole bevy of rhetorical devices feminists use to constrain discourse according to their preferred norms. You are clearly doing this here yourself Stacey:

    “So if you don’t know how to talk about the biology without being respectful, please go somewhere else to have that conversation.”

    It is this very effort to turn an intellectual discussion into a political one, and then to systematically exclude from the discussion those who do not sufficiently exhibit the right politics, that constitutes the confused response to rational discourse that marks certain dysfunctional trends in feminist practice. And *nothing* about that entails that we disregard the problems that transgenders face, or suppose intellectual discussion and political fact can (or ought to be) “wholly distinguished,” to use Philodaria’s term for a point in this vicinity. It just means that to focus on those problems is to change the subject when the discussion is, as this one has been, about biological classification.

    Safe travels, and happy new year.

  54. JR Says:

    Thank you, Stacey :)

  55. Thāran Says:

    Reblogged this on setting veld on fire and commented:
    This ties in with my next blog post, finally a post rather than a repost but it’s been 2 weeks that I have been trying to finish or edit it [...]


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s

 
Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 1,309 other followers