Tuesday, April 12, 2016

Yet another exchange with PJ

Me:

Is gender identity anything other than a private feeling? Can it correspond to anything objectively verifiable? The answer to the latter question seems to be no. For if you say that gender identity corresponds to anatomy, then you are contradicting the deeply felt experiences of a person who has a penis and insists that she is a woman. If you say that gender identity corresponds to certain behaviours, dress, ways of thinking, etc., then that is simply gender stereotyping. So, if gender identity does not and cannot attach to anything bodily or anything having to do with appearance or behaviour, then it can only be a private feeling and an incommunicable one at that. Okay, well, if that’s the case, then gender identity is unintelligible, and why should an unintelligible private feeling have any title whatsoever to public recognition?

PJ:

I’m pretty sure if you ask a person, they can tell you what their gender is, so I don’t see how it’s private, incommunicable, or unintelligible. Maybe it’s just unintelligible to you because you pre-reject what a trans person would say anyway?

Me:

You’ve just admitted that gender is simply an ipse dixit, and, as you well know, an ipse dixit is meaningless.

PJ:

Except, everything anyone ever says about gender identity is that it has meaning and significance to them. So, it sounds like you just don’t care what trans people have to say for themselves. How that’s not bigotry I’ll never know, but of course you regularly admit it is.

Me:

You have drained gender of all objective meaning such that a person can say that its gender is farflinent and that would have has much meaning as “woman” or “man” under current gender theory.

PJ:

If somebody ever identifies themselves as farflinent to you, I would encourage you to ask them more questions about what that means and report back. I assume because you’re asking me, a non-transgender and non-farflinent individual, that you’re not actually looking to learn more about the experiences these people have in their identities.

Me:
Yeah, I have NOT denied this [i.e. that gender identity has meaning and significance to the individual]. What I have instead claimed is that its significance can have under current gender theory no objective significance. Therefore, the significance can only be private like, say, religious belief or the imaginary friendships of four-year-olds. And so my question still remains why should something that can only have private significance have any title to any kind of public recognition?

PJ:

Do you email Christian groups and complain about why their religious beliefs deserve any kind of public recognition? I haven’t seen any evidence showing the biological causes of any particular religious belief compared to the many studies demonstrating biological causes for gender identities.

Me:

[responding to PJ's suggestion that I should ask a self-identified farflinent more questions about its identity] That would be farflinentphobic, would it not? If an identity as a woman or a man is based upon nothing more than a feeling, then it seems to me that it is simply bigotry to ask a self-identified farflinent to come up with more justification for its identity than you would want from a self-identified man or woman.

PJ:

I know it’s hard for you to grasp, but there’s a difference between asking to learn more about a person’s gender and demanding a justification for it.

Me:

Okay, I can work with that as well, if a man tells you he is a man simply because he feels that he is a man, is there anything more to learn? If you ask if he has a penis, that’s just hateful transphobia, right? If you ask him if he thinks like a man or dresses like a man, then that betrays an expectation that gender identity should fulfill gender stereotypes, and that’s also very, very hateful and oh, so oppressive. Therefore, the self-report of a private feeling must suffice. You can’t learn anything more beyond that. And if that’s the case for any self-identified man or woman, then I have no idea why it should not equally be the case for a self-identified farflinent. What am I missing here, O Enlightened One?

PJ:

Why is it important for you to dissect what makes a person feel like their gender identity?

It seems like you have a rigid predisposition for understanding gender, and if someone can’t explain their identity to you in those terms, it isn’t legitimate.

Likewise, you aren’t interested in allowing a person to explain their gender to you if it doesn’t fit within that framework.

The answer to your question is this: you have a narrow view of gender identity (your “gender theory,” which is terminology I don’t know or use) that doesn’t actually allow for transgender people. You are upset because you can’t understand transgender people, but then you ask that they fit into the tiny boxes you have for them, and when they don’t, you dismiss them. You also then take umbrage that they couldn’t and also don’t care if your questions come off as insensitive because you feel like you deserve those answers.

If you actually want to be satisfied with all of this, you have to abandon your preconceptions. You have to actually meet some transgender people and let them talk to you about their identities on their terms, and you have to take them at their word. Only then will it make sense to you.

In the meantime, you’re just annoying me because I write stuff every day that operates on a level you can’t process from your narrow framework. But because you actually need to REALIZE trans people — learn about them as real individuals instead of just concepts — there’s not much I can do to open that framework for you.
So, take me at my word when I tell you that your schema for gender is just not grand enough to account for what’s happening in the world. If you truly want to resolve your cognitive dissonance, you’re going to have to rethink your understanding of gender in a way that actually allows for these experiences to fit.

Me:

In other words, you can’t tell me why gender identity is something more than a private feeling or an ipse dixit, so you just insult me. Typical.

PJ:

Well, you’re predisposed to dismiss it, so what does it matter what I say?

Besides, I disagree with your premise that a private feeling is insignificant. This is who these people are, and there are a lot of them, and their experiences are similar such that we’ve long established standards of care for supporting them. Why is your gut instinct to be skeptical? To look for reasons to doubt them and reject them?

I pointed out that religion is a private feeling, and one that has ZERO biological motivations and yet an incredible influence on policy and public life. You don’t hold it to the same scrutiny, though, which seems to suggest just a bias against transgender people. If you have another way of explaining that, I welcome to hear it, but I don’t think you do, which is why you avoided that point when I made it earlier in the thread.

You don’t seem satisfied by any response I can give you except to humor your rejection of trans people, which is never going to happen. Why do you keep writing?

Me:

Not once have you contradicted my claim that gender identity does not correspond with anatomy, ways of thinking, appearance or dress. These are the only objective correlatives I can think of, and you have not suggested any other. In the absence of any objective correlative, then, I think its fair to say that gender identity can only be a private feeling or, as Professor Reilly-Cooper puts it, Wittgenstein’s beetle-in-the-box. What am I missing here?

PJ:

Why is it an either/or question? Anatomy is part of gender. Appearance and dress is part of gender. A person’s sense of their role in society is part of gender. You’re just applying a limited schema and expecting it to fit. It’s just so much more complex than you want to give it credit for.

Me:

Yes, if a person who identifies as a man has a vagina, then according to current gender theory (a term I use for convenience) it is a man’s vagina. And if a self-identified woman has a penis, then it is a woman’s penis. But that gainsays my point as little as saying that if a boy has a watch, then it is a boy’s watch. Ownership says nothing about identity. My point was that gender identity as it is now understood has no objective markers. Anatomy does not mark out gender identity, neither does dress or behaviour. To say that a certain anatomy, dress, or behaviour is gendered by the person’s gendered identity does not answer the question of whether gender identity is a black box. It merely begs it.

PJ:

If you were motivated by compassion and doing right by people, I would encourage you to ask transgender people your questions so that you can better understand their journey.

Instead you waste hours of both of our times complaining that you can't make sense of your own bigotry. I can't help you, and I'm not really interested in trying anymore.

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