Tuesday, November 13, 2007

Gender Identity Is In the Headlines

Today the Montgomery County Council will vote on a bill outlawing discrimination based on gender identity. All the news reports seem to indicate that it will pass.

Even though the rightwing noise machine was turned up full volume, with newsletters coming from everywhere urging the betterthanyous to email and phone the Council, rumors from inside the County building indicate that at least some of the Council members are receiving predominantly strongly supportive emails and phone calls. We have been asking our readers to contact the Council, knowing it's hard to get people motivated to do something supportive -- and apparently people have been making those calls and sending those emails. I have a couple of quotes I'm dying to share with you, but I'm going to let the vote happen, let the CRC try to get their inevitable tantrum on television, and then we'll settle back to more interesting and fun things. (Hint: I think somebody from PFOX called me a "sodomite.")

It is interesting to see how the topic of gender identity has come front-and-center over the past months, as the radicals realize they can't win the fight over sexual orientation; the culture has shifted, that's all there is to it, but they can still exhale their poisonous stinking breath over the world of people who fail to conform to standard gender stereotypes. Time magazine has a nice article online right now about gender identity and some of the issues, especially regarding young people. They jump into it with a shocker:
It's a parent's nightmare dilemma: experts say there's a fifty-fifty chance your child will attempt suicide before age 20. Should you opt for an experimental medical treatment that might prevent it? Parents of children whom experts call gender variant are faced with just that question. If a child doesn't identify with his or her biological sex, the onset of puberty, says Laura Amato, a youth-suicide counselor who runs an online transgender support group, can make that child feel like "part of a real-life horror story ... because the wrong parts are changing."

No reliable data exist on how many U.S. children are gender variant, although the National Center for Transgender Equality estimates that as many as 3 million American adults are. But studies suggest that gender-variant adolescents are two to three times more likely to attempt suicide than other teens. Now, increasingly, hormone treatments that delay physical maturity are being seen as a lifesaving alternative for gender-variant kids, but the remedy is also generating medical and ethical questions about interfering with the natural development process. The treatment--a series of injections to interrupt the brain cascade that launches puberty by regulating gonadotropin-releasing hormone (GnRH)--has not yet been submitted for FDA approval for gender-variant children. But it is available from international physicians and some U.S. doctors prescribing off-label. In February the first U.S. clinic for gender-variant children opened at Children's Hospital Boston. Throughout the process of delaying puberty with hormone blockers, the clinic offers regular checkups with a gender specialist. Families that have opted for the shots are grateful. "We don't know what's going to happen next," admits an East Coast lawyer whose 13-year-old--born a girl and living as a boy--has been on blockers for three years under the care of a private doctor. "But we know that he's happy." The Gender Conundrum

I can't understand why the Citizens for a Responsible Curriculum and other groups are so upset about this. In the MoCo sex-ed curriculum there is a vignette about a student with male physical apparatus and a female mind: Portia. Oh, the CRC hates that vignette! It just drives them up the wall. It's like they think the boy should live his whole life a big fake because ... because what? Because CRC officers can't understand why anybody would be different from them? Because they understand God's true plan, and he didn't intend for people with penises to be women? Because all of us should be happy to do whatever a social norm expects us to do?

I'm skipping a few paragraphs -- you'll need to follow the link and read the story yourself.
[Dr. Norman] Spack subjects his patients to a lengthy evaluation process before recommending hormone therapy. Kids undergo a battery of interview-based psychological tests to see if they meet the medically established criteria for gender-identity disorder. The clothing they wear, the way they style their hair and the type of toys they play with are assessed. Family members, teachers and primary-care doctors are consulted. After weighing all the evidence, an interdisciplinary team of doctors and psychologists determines the severity of the gender variation and whether to recommend the child for hormone blockers. But the final decision rests with the parents. To help inform families confronted with such choices in the future, the Boston team plans to begin clinical trials that will gauge the long-term effects of blocking the maturation hormones. "We don't claim to have all the answers," says Spack. "But right now, people are suffering because of those who won't ask the questions." There are many mysteries about the transgendered. This could clear up one of them.

It fascinates me that the "problem" for transgender people is actually a social one. It is a disjunction between how they feel and how other people see them. People think they're talking to a boy, they respond with boy-things for you, they expect boy-like answers from you, but inside you are something incredibly different from that. As far as I can tell, there's nothing especially stressful in feeling like one gender or the other, except in interacting with other people. And it's impossible to imagine what that's like for somebody, like imagining what the color red looks like to them, you can never know. They can tell you, but they can't know what it's like not to feel that way. It's just experience, subjective feeling, purely private and impossible to communicate. I wonder what Wittgenstein would say about this? I think it would have stumped him.

5 Comments:

Blogger Dana Beyer, M.D. said...

Wittgenstein, who was terribly abused as a child and witnessed the suicides of a number of family members, famously said,
"Whereof one cannot speak, thereof one should remain silent."

He also said, and it's also highly relevant to your essay, "What can be shown, cannot be said."

And one of my favorites, which applies to many of the extremists coming to us from Mississippi and Utah -- "Nothing is so difficult as not deceiving oneself."

November 13, 2007 7:40 AM  
Blogger JimK said...

I was thinking of the section of PI that he summarizes in this way: "I can know what someone else is thinking, not what I am thinking. It is correct to say 'I know what you are thinking,' and wrong to say 'I know what I am thinking.' (A whole cloud of philosophy condensed into a drop of grammar.)"

JimK

November 13, 2007 7:50 AM  
Anonymous Emproph said...

"And it's impossible to imagine what that's like for somebody, like imagining what the color red looks like to them, you can never know."

Difficult, but not necessarily impossible. Just imagine that you were born, and raised in the “wrong” gendered body, and / or, that there is such a thing as life before birth, and thus, gender before birth.

Most of the impossible part, for them, may be in trying to fit that concept into the idea that a spiritual soul is created upon physical conception.

I think that’s partly where their “ends justifies the means” ideology comes in. They’re so sure of their premise about "life," they're convinced that nothing else can possibly be learned about their own presumptions.

The whole purpose of maintaining a myopic worldview of life is to avoid confusion about it. Gender role upset strikes at the heart of that order.

November 13, 2007 8:29 AM  
Blogger JimK said...

Emproph -- there are two things here. First, I can imagine what it's like, but I can't know what it's like to be somebody else. It may be that the transgender experience is very similar to what I imagine it to be, or it might be entirely different -- just as I can't really know what a woman's experience is like, or a black person's. I can try, but there is no way to know if my imagining is correct, and I tend to remain skeptical about my own empathic accuracy.

Which brings up the cloud in a drop, the problem of private experience. In general, I don't know what's it's like to be anybody but myself, and conversely I cannot know myself as I am seen by others. A society has norms of empathy, conventions for "understanding" one another, but these fail eventually except when we are dealing with people we love, it seems to me. I can assume our subjective experiences are similar, but I can't know whether they are; and if you behave differently from me in some important ways, I am more likely to assume your experience is different from mine.

JimK

November 13, 2007 9:42 AM  
Blogger Orin Ryssman said...

This comment has been removed by the author.

November 13, 2007 1:33 PM  

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