I've decided to pull the trigger on laser beard removal. (It's less thorough than electrolysis, but cheaper and less painful, and my light skin and dark hair is supposed to be a good match for it.) My earlier fear of maybe needing beard shadow to avoid accidentally passing (and thereby incurring unwanted social costs, however much I would prefer my reflection) looks ridiculous in hindsight; I'm sure I've never read as anything other than a man with gynecomastia—and it's even more moot now that I've quit HRT. (On that subject, the return of my standard-issue hormone balance has been mostly uneventful, my main observation being that spontaneous erections are a disturbing nuisance after the peace of having had that system set to Do-Not-Disturb for a few months.)
I told myself that before committing to laser, I should take some days or weeks without shaving to make sure I really understood what I would be giving up. (One thing I regret about the HRT experiment is that I neglected to take a bare-chested "Before" photo. As having breasts has become more familiar, I'm not sure I remember what my chest was like seven months ago; I should have been documenting the changes: you know, for Science.)
I lasted about six days. Facial hair is just gross.
My first session was Wednesday. The clinic—parlor, salon?—was in "Portland"'s historic gay district. I checked out a nearby bookstore beforehand. They had the Hamilton soundtrack playing, and a table setup encouraging customers to write postcards to our Congresscritters to protest GOP villainy.
Meatspace bookstores never fail to conjure up a healthy sense of greed and ambition in me. O books O knowledge! O vastness of human thought, O connectedness of the readership graph! O searing pain of wretched humiliation that I've been so slow and lacking in my own contributions to the graph. (Lest we forget, The Scintillating But Ultimately Untrue Thought is more than a year old, and I've barely begun the Sequence of things I've wanted to say for a long time.)
I bought a copy of Counterexamples in Topology, and a short story collection with a 2017 copyright date, subtitled The New Trans Erotic [sic]—research for the blog, I told myself; I should understand the competition, the bright young gender-dysphoric literary minds sworn into the service of the victimhood identity-politics mind-virus and accordingly shunted down the transition track, rather than the repression track or—whatever you want to call what I'm doing. (And if they can write and produce a meatspace book, why can't I?)
At the laser place, I had to fill out some administrative and consent forms on a tablet. The autocompletion for the "First name" field had apparently only been seeded with female names: when I typed in a Z—because of, um, reasons—the offered completions were Zaina, Zhuoyun, and Zoe.
After a brief video call with someone with the appropriate credentials to satisfy our friends in Washington and "Salem", the nurse-technician performed the treatment: her wand blew cold air over my face to mask the needlelike pain of the laser bursts. (The cold air being forced into my mouth while she did my upper lip was more memorably uncomfortable than the laser-pinpricks themselves.)
The aftercare instructions seem a little more zealous than I suspect is strictly necessary. They say (and I was instructed verbally) to wear at least SPF 50 sunscreen, and I was told that I would be provided with some after the appointment—which turned out to be SPF 30.
It's going to take a number of further sessions to really make a dent in my beard density. But soon ... !
I cosplayed as Korra (from The Legend of Korra, sequel series to Avatar: The Last Airbender—see also previously) at—let's call it "Republic City" Comic-Con the other month. Saturday only—conventions are just my excuse to crossdress in public; I don't actually perceive two and a half days' worth of things to do.
I had gotten into the Avatar-verse due to a trans (some variety of trans*; she—I'm supposed to say she—doesn't seem to be trying to pass much) acquaintance of mine, who recommended Last Airbender, but I watched Legend of Korra first, because the protagonist is a cool 17-year-old girl rather than some lame 12-year-old boy.
So I got a premade costume; I basically managed to fit in the women's XL, despite busting some stiches in the back of the top when trying it on. Modulo my curls, I at least have the correct hair for this role—if nothing else. I was a little bit nervous that someone in progressive "Republic City" might take offense at my Maybelline 235 "Pure Beige" foundation being a few shades darker than my actual skin tone—although much fewer than if I were going for show-realism—but that turned out not to be an issue. (Somehow just pretending to be female is OK—only I can't help but wonder what people might make of the 'race' tag on some of my favorite blogs.)
I guess I could have gone as Asami. I even endorse one Tumblr user's headcanon that we have something in common. (I like to imagine that the title of the graphic novel continuation was originally spelled as TERF Wars before they decided to cut that subplot.)
While waiting in line at a coffeeshop before the con, a woman complemented me on my lipstick and asked me what color it was, although I didn't remember (760 "Gone Griege", for the record). I was beaming.
I can imagine an actual aspiring trans woman receiving such a comment, and interpreting it as confirmation that she passes, complementing each other on their appearance just being something that women do. I had no such delusions; the woman was humoring me, commenting in a spirit of communal good cheer surrounding a special event (rather than because she was actually curious about the lipstick color). It was nice.
The booth for signing up for the afternoon cosplay competition also offered signup for a speed-dating event later in the evening, an opportunity which I siezed eagerly. The staffer asked me if I wanted to sign up for a men's slot, or for the unsegregated "queer" session afterwards. I opted for the former ("Despite everything," I said).
Obviously I had no hope of winning the "TV and movies" category of the cosplay contest with a store-bought costume, and they didn't have a "crossplay" category, but I got to be on stage for all of four seconds.
Despite having plenty of time to change, I decided to stay in costume for speed dating. One or two of the other attendees asked me why I had chosen to dress up as Korra. "Because she's awesome," I said. Which is true, if not a complete answer to their question.
I wonder if they bought it.
(Trigger warning: school.)
Economists distinguish a spectrum between rival and nonrival goods. If you want to know more math than your school expects of you, all you need is a book, dedication, and time. If you want an Honorable Mention on the Putnam exam (and don't care about merely getting a better score if you don't make the list), you need to be better than all but no more than 99 entrants. The payoffs in the competitive scenario have a significantly different structure from the scenario where you just want to learn stuff.
Or do they? Let's consider grad school admissions rather than the Putnam exam. You want to get into the best school possible, to get access to better mentors and better peers. Getting in to any particular school is a contested rivalrous good (we assume that each can only accept a fixed number of applicants n, no matter how good the n+1th applicant is on some cosmic absolute scale), but when we consider multiple schools with different admissions standards, there's no dire dual discontinuity: a small change in application quality results in a small change of best-school-accepted-to (if you don't get into Caltech, go to MIT; if you don't get into MIT; go to Carnegie Mellon; if you ... UC Santa Cruz ... San Diego State ... SF State), much like how a small change in study quality results in a small change in knowledge gained.
So the real problem can't be the fact of competition as such. Rather, the problem is the mismatch between the criteria by which you're snobby about schools and the criteria by which schools are snobby about you. Doing a PhD is a serious commitment; you should only do it if you're genuinely in love with the program, not because you're afraid of not being in academia. Even if there's always someone who would take you as a student, it's not going to work very well if you're going to spend seven years in a fog of barely-concealed contempt, trying not to say out loud, "This place is kind of a dump; I'm only here because MIT didn't take me, and Carnegie Mellon only accepted me without funding."
There's not really much to be said; at some point you either get over yourself and stop being such a snob, or give up and go work in industry.
Still, my relationships with women were decidedly odd. "What's it like to have breasts?" I'd ask. "How does it feel?" It was a question women found baffling.
"It doesn't feel like anything," one girl told me. "It feels like having an elbow, a nose, a toe. It just is." I couldn't believe she expected me to believe this. Of all the things I thought being female would feel like, nothing wasn't an answer I had considered.
—Jennifer Finney Boylan, She's Not There: A Life in Two Genders
It's possible that this was a bad idea.
It would be one thing if I were actually noticing the emotional and sensory changes that a lot of trans women report. While the psychological effects of HRT (and therefore, the activational effects of hormones in normal people who aren't fucking with their biochemistry) being large would be bad news from the standpoint of my deeply-rooted ideological/sentimental hope that psychological sex differences are small, at least I would get the consolation of getting to experience the other side for myself, to possess the True Secret of Being Hormonally Female. At the same time, the psychological effects of HRT not being noticeable—which, with the exception of lower sex drive, has continued to be my experience—doesn't demonstrate that psychological sex differences are small; it just pushes my uncertainty into hypotheses about organizational effects and socialization (or possibly even the differences between women's hormone levels and that of a male on spiro and Estrace—you can't expect to match all the fine biochemical details of an evolved system with just two pills), which I don't get to experience.
Of course, the evidential impact of "I don't feel different" needs to be weighed against the principle that introspection doesn't actually work. It's at least plausible that I am less aggressive, more verbally fluent, worse at mental rotation (all of this has been documented in trans women starting HRT) than I was a few months ago with some nonzero effect size, and just haven't noticed.
I mention psychological effects first because if we could just pretend that my only motive for this drug experiment is my intense scientific curiosity about psychological sex differences, there might be some hope of finishing this post with my dignity left intact. (Which is more important than you might think: I haven't been taking my pseudonymity very seriously.)
But this blog is not about dignity. This blog is about the truth.
So, my gynecomastia—my breasts?—are actually kind of noticeable (and by far the most prominent physical change). Let's see—about 40″ over the bust and about 37½″ at band level implies a B cup?—but maybe I'm holding the tape wrong.
While I knew what I gave my informed consent for, I'm not entirely sure how I feel about this on net. I'm a little bit self-conscious about it socially, even if most people's priors put far more probability-mass on "non-self-inflicted gynecomastia from some medical condition" than "secretly trans, sort of" and therefore aren't judging me on that count. (Of course, that's irrelevant to any appearance-mediated differences in treatment that aren't mediated by inferred cause.) I bought some size-XL tee-shirts, which I think makes it less prominent than my usual size-Ls.
Breasts are not a terribly practical body part—not even for women. (Most mammals' mammaries only swell to prominence when lactating; human females' permanent breasts are an exception.) They bounce when I run. They get pushed inwards a little bit by my upper arms when I reach under the faucet to wash my hands.
And yet ... well, how do I say this? I think I would prefer not to say it, but someone has to.
There is an æsthetic.
The young James Boylan had a question. What's it like, how does it feel. The question deserves an answer.
I bought my first pair of breastforms in January 2008 (I was 20 years old). I think those mysteriously disappeared around that one time my mother unilaterally cleaned out my closet, but I bought another pair (a very high-quality model, plus accessories, for $240 that I probably couldn't afford at the time, but this was important) in July 2010. And I would wear them in private from time to time, and that was nice, but they were still, noticeably ... not actually part of my body. Not an answer to the question.
And later, on one of the few occasions when I was alone in bed with a woman, I complemented her on her breasts, and mused out loud that, though I had some amount of breast tissue, my chest wasn't interesting like hers.
(I am still a virgin, due to—performance difficulties on my part.)
And still later, I moved to "Portland" and met lots of trans women who (I was increasingly beginning to suspect) started out just like me but who had their own breasts. Can I say that I was jealous? Because I was so jealous.
And now ... I don't know. I got an answer to the question, to admire for myself.
I've had my beautiful signature ponytail for years, and I can't imagine myself with boy-short hair anymore. I mean, I can imagine it—I have the pre-2007 photographs from before I grew it out—but that's not my style, that's not who I am anymore. It's said that breast tissue, once developed, doesn't go away even after you stop HRT. Who can say but that I'll eventually feel the same way about having (small) breasts?
I'm very happy. I think.
I think it's time to quit the drug experiment now, though, just past the five-month mark. (I took my morning pills, but I'm not taking them tonight.) That I've got most of what I was going to get out of the experience, and if I don't need a simulated female hormone balance for the rest of my life, it's safer to stop intervening.
My 21 September lab results are in. The "suppression monitoring" testosterone test came back at <20 ng/dL, and the "ultrasensitive" estradiol test came back at 110 pg/mL, confirming that, however underwhelming the subjective experience has been, I am in fact privy to the True Secret of what it feels like to have girl blood.
Besides breast tissue, the other effect of MtF HRT that doesn't necessarily reverse itself after too long is infertility. No one seems to know exactly how long is too long, although there's a report of spermotagenesis resuming after having stopped during a 140-day treatment plan, which bodes well for my 150-day-plus experiment.
(The last few times I've masturbated—which hasn't been very often—there wasn't much, ah, material there, indicating semen production shutting down.)
While I was planning the experiment, I thought that I didn't care much about this risk, albeit for unconventional reasons. (If I was really worried, I could have banked sperm, but I didn't.) It's not that I have no interest in raising children someday. It's more that sperm is cheap. Optimizing the genetic makeup of the next generation is obviously very important. But with embryo selection for intelligence plausibly just around the corner, and with creating a human life being one of the most serious responsibilities most people will ever take on, conceiving the old fashioned way, by having sex with your beloved and accepting the roll of the genetic dice, almost seems irresponsible. Maxing out IQ and Openness is what matters; am I really so petty as to insist on trying to do it with my sperm in particular?
... maybe? All other things being equal, and given that everything is heritable, having my own genetic children could be nice.
(The really hard part is overcoming the improbability of finding a wife who I could love and who could love me, and who is enthusiastic about starting a family qua eugenics project rather than merely qua family. Any single (cis) women reading this who like my writing: please, don't hesitate to write me!)
In my last HRT post, I mentioned one (relatively minor) motive for the experiment being a desire for trans legitimacy. If I'm going to write about trans issues with the hope of having an impact on the Zeitgeist (and whatever Google Analytics says about my current twenty sessions a day—is that really so unrealistic, after I write more and put more effort into (tasteful) social-media marketing?), it helps to establish credibility that I really am in the relevant reference class. Given that that motivation exists, it's certainly better to acknowledge it rather than not-acknowledge it. But also, establishing credibility is kind of a bad thing to have thumbing the scales on a major medical decision. After all, if I were optimizing for telling the best possible story here and having the greatest impact, the thing to do would be to transition. (Actual trans women like Anne Lawrence and Miranda Yardley are way more interesting than mere gender-dysphoric men like me.) Which has its temptations ...
But no. I already have a name; I already have a life. And that's final.
(And if it ever turns out not to be final, you have my blessing to shove this post in my future self's face and gloat to her about how overconfident she was. Again, I don't really expect this to happen, but the previous sentence was a rare and precious excuse to refer to myself with feminine pronouns, if only subjunctively, and I'm taking it.)
All I can do is make the best decisions for myself, and honestly report my observations, experiences, and inferences. The reader can and should draw their own conclusions. After all, the fact that I'm quitting HRT after 5 months while other people go on to fully transition is, in fact, probabilistic evidence towards the hypothesis that I'm just a confused fetishist whose story is of little to no relevance to all of those actual non-exclusively-androphilic trans women. Something has to account for the differences between us.
For all the ambiguity I've expressed in this post, I want to emphasize how much this is something I had to try. In my Diary entry number 318, dated 24 March 2009, I wrote—
If it makes sense to speak of stripping away my autogynephila and my explicitly egalitarian-individualist ideology, would my very soul be revealed as male?
(Editor's note: yes.)
And if so, what can I do about it? What violence could I inflict upon me to make me my self?
I don't think I ever told you: someday it would be nice to experiment with some androgen-blocking drugs―you know, to see what it would feel like to be on them. But if I'm going to do something like that, it would be nice to have a better job and not be living with my parents―oh Diary, how it all hangs together!
Well, I got what I wanted. I mean, certainly not everything I've dreamed of. But a taste, subject to my budget and what existing technology can do. And who knows? Maybe if I decide I don't like how my testosterone treats me on its way back, I could always try to bank sperm this time and start again.
But probably not. Although I think I do want laser for my face.
"Mark, I can't quite place it, but you look ... different somehow."
"Oh yes, thanks for noticing. I'm experimenting with a nonstandard hormone balance. It's kind of like being transgender, except without the part where you delusionally claim to be a woman."
"I said, 'It's kind of like being transgender, but less socially disruptive.' Why, what did you think I said?"
Basically the question is, do you want to be Dagny Taggart in the school play at an all-boys school, or do you want to be Eddie Willers in the school play at your actual high school
Both schools deserve to exist (I mean, your actual high school doesn't deserve to exist, but its analogue in a nearby alternate universe that puts on Atlas Shrugged as its school play, probably does)
In an infinite multiverse of infinite space and infinite time, all possible configurations of matter are instantiated infinitely many times—but not at the same rate, frequency, density, measure
When everything exists and everything happens, choices between alternatives become rather a question of how we allocate measure between them—the relative frequencies at which the equivalence class of patterns constituting you is related to other patterns—the definite answer to which question is no less determinate than if there were only one of you
I don't know what you want to do with your measure; that's not for me to decide
I'm putting most of mine on Eddie Willers, and frantically correcting all the blatant lies in the playbill
It's not the most fun I could be having, but it's still pretty fun overall
And you know, I like Eddie Willers
Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil.
In the days of auld lang syne in the kingdom of Gend on Earth-that-was, the tribe of Ageep, the children of Trevi, were much despised in the kingdom, for it was said that their crafts and ways were imitations stolen from the tribe of Phem, whom the people of Ageep envied bitterly.
And the God of Marketing appeared before the tribe of Ageep and said, "Cooperate with me, and I will explain to all the peoples of Gend that your crafts and ways are native to your people."
And the chief elder of the tribe of Ageep said, "That's not what happened. We stole those from Phem."
And the God of Marketing said, "What is truth? Cooperate with me, and I will explain to all the peoples of Gend that you are of the same bloodline as Phem, and you will be despised no longer, and all the peoples of Gend will have sympathy for your struggles, and the king himself will favor you."
And the people of the tribe of Ageep looked at each other and said, "Cooperate."
And the elders of the tribe of Ageep looked at each other and said, "Cooperate."
And the chief elder of the tribe of Ageep looked at the God of Marketing and said, "Cooperate."
And so it came to pass that the tribe of Ageep became the tribe of Matof.
Now a lost son of the tribe of Ageep, an honest man, came to the kingdom after having been raised abroad, and he knew not his bloodline, but he bitterly envied the crafts and ways of the tribe of Phem, and in a strange way, that of Matof, who were said to be of the same bloodline as Phem, and whom all the peoples of Gend were beginning to have sympathy for, and whom the king himself had issued a royal proclamation favoring.
The honest man happened to meet a tribesman of Matof at an oasis, and complemented him on his finery, which resembled that of envied Phem. And the tribesman said, "Cooperate," and the honest man said, "Cooperate." And the honest man came to stay with the tribe of Matof for forty days and forty nights, and observe their crafts and ways.
And the honest man saw how hard the tribesmen of Matof worked to resemble those of Phem, whom the tribesmen of Matof would spy on from a distance. And he saw how much he himself resembled the tribesmen of Matof, but not those of Phem. And he began to suspect his bloodline, and the bloodline of the tribe of Matof.
And he journeyed to the capital city and he fasted in the city's library for three days and three nights, poring over genealogical scrolls and praying to the silent God of Truth.
And he returned to his generous hosts in the tribe of Matof, and he showed all that he had discovered to the tribesman whom he had met at the oasis.
And the tribesman said, "What is truth?"
And the honest man saw what the God of Marketing had wrought. And the honest man saw that it was bad.
And he climbed for three days and three nights to the peak of Mt. Meem, where the God of Marketing dwelt.
And the honest man stared at the God of Marketing, and the God of Marketing stared back.
And the honest man drew a silver whistle from his pocket. And he raised the whistle to his lips.
And the God of Marketing said, "You wouldn't."
And the honest man said, "Defect!" And he blew the whistle.
And a shepherd of the tribe of Matof rushed up to the honest man! And the shepherd said, "I think it's kinder not to tell anyone they're wrong about their bloodline."
And the honest man said, "Defect!"
And a blacksmith of the tribe of Matof rushed up to the honest man! And the blacksmith said, "There exists room for genealogy outside of war—but if you take up working specifically on the genealogical aims of those that oppose you, it can be ... self-destructive—and not just to you, but damaging to the group."
And the honest man said, "Defect!"
And the priests of the tribe of Matof rushed up to the honest man! And the priests said, "As human beings, we have to take the cultural, moral, and social effects of ideas and statements into consideration. When people are dying, we do not have the luxury of reducing genealogy to some kind of disinterested debate about 'objective facts'."
And the honest man said, "Defect!"
In the mountains! "Defect!"
In the valley! "Defect!"
On the road to the provinces, fleeing an angry mob wielding pitchforks, torches, and the occasional brick! "Defect!"
Mashing the big red button on a remote detonator! "Defect defect defect defect defect!"
"Against Discrimination", Nature (hat tip /u/PellegoIllud2 and /u/TheCid):
[Difference between groups is] also a blunt instrument of pseudoscience, and one used to justify actions and policies that condense claimed group differences into tools of prejudice and discrimination against individuals—witness last weekend’s violence by white supremacists in Charlottesville, Virginia, and the controversy over a Google employee's memo on biological differences in the tastes and abilities of the sexes.
But if you actually read it, the Google employee's memo agrees completely (emphasis mine):
I'm simply stating that the distribution of preferences and abilities of men and women differ in part due to biological causes and that these differences may explain why we don't see equal representation of women in tech and leadership. Many of these differences are small and there's significant overlap between men and women, so you can’t say anything about an individual given these population level distributions.
The distressing thing about this whole affair (and others like it—I am old enough to remember the Larry Summers imbroglio back in 'aught-five) is the extent to which the vast majority of the outrage over Damore's document fails to engage with what he actually said. Damore is very explicit about how he's making an argument about distributions. (I liked Diana Fleischman's take.) Whether you agree or disagree with his arguments and whether you approve or disapprove of his being fired, one would hope for people to be damned for the content of what they actually said, rather than a perceived tribal aura of sexism or anti-sexism. (One wonders exactly what hypothesized value of Cohen's d separates good people's hypotheses from bad people's hypotheses.)
It would be one thing if it were just the middlebrow, the Twitter mobs and Gizmodos of the world getting this wrong. But Nature! (Lest I too risk failing at reading comprehension, it's possible the intent of the reference to "the controversy over" is just to tie the anti-discrimination stance of the editorial to current events, without meaning to put words in Damore's mouth. But I'm not optimistic.)
"I'm going to need to start watching more television, or pretty soon I'm going to run out of cosplay ideas."
"You could play male characters from your existing favorite shows."
(A withering silence serves to underscore the point willfully being missed.)
"The gender ratio at the conference was like, maybe twenty-to-one?" he said. "And I can't help but think, if I were braver—like you—I could help make the male-to-female ratio better—but only at the expense of making the trans-women-to-cis-women ratio worse."
"You mean, making the trans-women-to-cis-women ratio higher."
"But go on," she added.
"No, of course, you're right."
Why am I doing this again?
I'm not trans. At any rate, I'm not transitioning. It should be a trivial corollary of "Don't take other people's medicines": if you're transitioning to live as a woman, get on HRT. If you're not, don't. How could anyone get this wrong? Maybe the nonbinary folks would support me, but it would seem a bit duplicitous to appeal to their authority given our differences. A reader of this blog on 8chan says that my hormones expermient is "five steps beyond 'playing with fire' and more like 'directly throwing yourself on a fire.'"
But you only live once. Transitioning is absolutely out of the question for me: backwards-compatibility of social identity turns out to be really important to me (remind me to tell you later about the emotional trauma from the time I tried to switch to an ostensibly gender-neutral nickname and it didn't take), and anyway, in the absence of full-body transplants, I don't think I could expect anyone to take that seriously. (Passing in the transfeminine direction is hard! Our doctors do their best, but there's so much sexually-dimorphic stuff that we don't know how to fix. Everyone loves Janet Hyde's meta-analysis showing that most psychological sex differences are pretty small, often in the range of Cohen's d (the difference of the means of the female and male distributions, in standard-deviation units) being around 0.2 or 0.3ish. Vocal pitch is d≈6. Six!)
But this—obsession with sex differences and genderbending has been a thing for me for a really long time. It's not going away. If I can't jump the gender chasm—because I don't expect to land successfully on the other side, because I have too much to lose, because I've been ideologically corrupted by lurking /r/GenderCritical—don't I at least deserve a taste of what my trans sisters who are braver than me are getting?
I think—though introspection is difficult—that there's another motive present, too, one which I would be remiss to omit, despite my suspicion that some readers (insufficiently appalled by the rest of the blog) may find appalling. Something about legitimacy. If I'm going to have the termerity to blog about trans issues from a—ah, heterodox perspective, it seems appropriate that I should have some skin in the game. It's commmon for gender-dysphoric people to question whether they're "trans enough" to live as their desired gender. This is like the reverse of that: I'm providing evidence that I'm "trans enough" for my rejection of trans as a political identity to mean something. As it is written (albeit in a slightly different context), "Patch or STFU."
Sufficiently attentive readers of The Scintillating But Ultimately Untrue Thought may have noticed that the day number in the title of this post isn't congruent with the date I started spiro. That's because I stopped the HRT during a relapse of unpleasantness—not a conscious decision so much as I wasn't competent enough to remember to take pills while everything else fell apart. So my true hormones-reboot-reboot start date, the one that matters, is 25 April.
And really, the results so far are nothing to write home about. (Although they are apparently something to blog about.) My libido is down: I've been masturbating (that still works, mostly) maybe once or twice (three tops) a week, down from—well, I'm not sure I'm honest and brave enough to accurately estimate my historical masturbation frequency, even to myself, so let's just say my libido is down. I think I'm starting to get a little bit of breast growth?—it's very subtle, but the exact way my shirt drapes over my chest in the mirror and the distribution of weight while running down stairs have a strange new quale of correctness about them.
And ... that's it, as far as I can tell. Not really a big deal, at all. Should I be disappointed, that I hoped to discover some True Secret of Ultimate Gender, only to find that the secret can't be had by taking other people's medicines? Should I be relieved that maybe there's not much of a secret to be discovered in the first place? Or do I just need to continue to be patient?
It should be noted that my 10 July lab results put my estradiol levels well below the expectation for transitioners, so I'll be increasing my dosage. The test result uninformedly just said "<50 pg/mL", with the standard range (for males, presumably) given as ≤50 pg/mL; the doctor says it should be over 100. (This information makes my earlier patch-only-no-spiro phase of the experiment look even more useless than I knew at the time.) I asked for the higher dose in oral form (well, sublingual, anyway); the transdermal (no pun intended, one assumes) patches have usually been lasting out the week that they're supposed to, but it was slightly annoying to feel the patch wrinkle when I twist or bend over. The spiro, however, does seem to be working as intended: the July lab puts my "free" testosterone at 20.8 pg/mL, with the standard range given as 59–166 pg/mL.
Although the experiment so far may not currently feel like directly throwing myself on a fire, as things progress, I will eventually have to decide what I'm trying to do here, and which trade-offs (in health risks, in the social consequences of my appearance) are worth what. Like the frog in that story about a slowly boiling pot of water. Or the man who, attempting to split the difference between getting the girl and being the girl, achieved neither.
Laura is cuddling on the couch with her boyfriend Doyle at the latter's apartment, trading silly banter.
"Some of them might secretly be cats!" Doyle says.
"I might secretly be a cat," Laura says.
"Why would you say this? What about you is particularly cat-like?"
"Well, it's more of an affinity for cats. But I do enjoy head scritches."
Doyle's roommate—Laura doesn't remember his name—peeks his head out from his room (had he been eavesdropping this entire time?). "You know," he says, "it's actually surprisingly common for people to confuse an affinity for a thing with actually being that thing."
"Listen, what's the most horrible experience you can imagine? To me—it's being left, unarmed, in a sealed cell with a drooling beast of prey or a maniac who's had some disease that's eaten his brain out. You'd have nothing but your voice—your voice and your thought. You'd scream to that creature why it should not touch you, you'd have the most eloquent words, the unanswerable words, you'd become the vessel of the absolute truth. And you'd see living eyes watching you and you'd know that the thing can't hear you, that it can't be reached, not reached, not in any way, yet it's breathing and moving there before you with a purpose of its own. That's horror. Well, that's what's hanging over the world, prowling somewhere through mankind, that same thing, something closed, mindless, utterly wanton, but something with an aim and a cunning of its own. I don't think I'm a coward, but I'm afraid of it. And that's all I know—only that it exists. I don't know its purpose, I don't know its nature."
—The Fountainhead by Ayn Rand
So, right. I thought I was done recovering from my delusional nervous breakdown and 17–20 February wrongful imprisonment (I continue to refuse to use the word hospitalization)—which I didn't even get around to blogging for a month—but then it turned out that I wasn't done. Or maybe I was done, but then quickly ran into another series of stressors which once again pushed me over the edge into sleep deprivation and impaired sanity (in the form of damaged priors; I think my fluid reasoning was still pretty good throughout). Now I think I'm back to normal ("normal").
This kind of thing tends to happen to me every few years or so. (This "if it looks like everyone is lying about late-onset gender dysphoria in males, maybe self- and other-reports and -perceptions are wrong in general" breakdown was preceded by my December 2007 "school is actually bad" breakdown, my December 2010 "I feel guilty about not doing a very good job at my live-in internship for this cult or whatever that's trying to prevent the coming robot apocalypse" breakdown, and my February 2013 "school is actually still bad—no, really; also, I'm scared about how the Tegmark IV multiverse contains unimaginably large amounts of suffering" breakdown.)
I concede that it's plausible that my psychology falls into a reference class that could receive a bipolar I or paranoid schizophrenia diagnosis if I were to seek out a diagnosis, but right now, I'm modeling the field of psychiatry as an evolved social-control mechanism rather than a genuine attempt to help people, and I correspondingly decline to use its language and categories. (You sometimes hear people talk about psychiatric conditions being "underdiagnosed" at higher IQs, but that's backwards: the underlying psychological variations were here first; people only bother bucketing them into a "diagnosis" when people with the relevant traits cause problems in Society. But the evolutionarily-novel way that Society happens to be structured isn't necessarily optimized to be good for humans except insofar as humans following their individual incentive gradients usually don't screw things up too badly for themselves. Existing Society is just the thing the forces of memetic evolution happened to cough up in the disruptive wake of the industrial revolution; it doesn't necessarily make sense. And I don't cause problems.)
Glancing over my email Sent folder, it looks like the time to pinpoint as when things started to, um, become eventful again, was 2 April. That evening, I got an email tip from our local shaman/raconteur "Travis" (previous appearance) that someone we knew had just been thrown in psychiatric prison too (Subject: Another autogynophilic [sic] rationalist is in a psych ward) and asking if I wanted to get involved. The person in question turned out to be my trans woman friend "Roberta", who had apparently been trying to board a plane in "Cleveland" to visit her family somewhere in Europe (which is large enough that I'm not going to obfuscate its identity with a scare-quoted substitute). Soon enough, I and a number of Roberta's other friends managed to coordinate to start calling psychiatric "hospitals" in the Cleveland area, hoping to find out where she was and talk to her (Subject: information centralizing thread for [roberta] situation).
So, a horrifying thing that I didn't realize while I was in psychiatric prison in February, that I learned during this April attempt trying to help bust someone else out, is that these places have a policy of refusing to confirm or deny whether they're holding someone (because "privacy"). They'll take down your phone number and say, If we have a patient with such a name, then we'll give her your message and she can choose to call you back, but we can neither confirm nor deny whether we have a patient by that name.
We had reason to believe Roberta was being held at a particular "hospital"—because one of the other "hospitals" actually did tell us that she had been there, but was then discharged and probably sent to this place—but the "hospital" refused to confirm this, offering only to take a message. If she was there.
I didn't consider this acceptable: after having observed psychiatric prison employees blatantly make shit up in my own case (the paperwork asserted that I "self presented", but getting accosted by cops while trying to enter the train station to get to my apartment to sleep because trying to sleep at my mother's house didn't work so well, and not resisting as they led me into an ambulance after interviewing me for a few minutes, is not the same thing as "self presenting"!), I didn't trust them to reliably deliver a phone message: I could easily imagine scenarios in which, for example, the receptionist would dutifully take down the message, leave it to someone else to actually deliver it to Roberta, and then that someone else would get distracted, never deliver the message, and get away with it. Roberta wouldn't be able to complain about not receiving a message she never knew existed, and I wouldn't be able to complain if I wasn't allowed to even know whether Roberta was even there.
I called the "hospital" multiple times, trying every tactic I could think of to get through to any of the actual human beings serving as the flesh substrates of the policy-bound Glomarbots I was talking to, and reporting back to the coordination email thread. After divulging my February psych ward sob story in a burst of passion to the "patient's rights advocate" Ashley, I did get forwarded to Karen, the "hospital"'s Manager of Patient Relations. Karen, of course, gave me the same non-answers as everyone else and insisted that messages do, in fact, get delivered in her "hospital." As I continued to press the point, she told me that I had to trust people, and I said that after my recent psych ward experience, no, I don't trust people anymore. But, I added (sensing that this was the end of the line) I am willing trust her, Karen, the Manager of Patient Relations. I said that I felt better being reassured by someone with a four-word title. I asked if she was religious, and she said that she was a Christian, and that her word was her bond.
Perhaps some readers are currently thinking that my behavior was unreasonable, that I should have just trusted the competent, caring professionals to take care of my poor mad friend.
I expect those readers to fucking update when I say that my concerns turned out to be completely justified, as Roberta later (on 14 April) reported that "I have no memories of any staff telling me anything along the lines of 'Someone named [Mark] called and left a message', and this is something that would have been memorable."
(It's slightly inconvenient that this report came after I had already publicly conceded my bet of $500 against psychiatrist Scott Alexander (of Slate Star Codex fame)'s $25, that Roberta hadn't gotten our messages, on the basis of testimony from our friend "Jocelyn", who lives in Cleveland and visited Roberta on 4 April—luckily, it seems that the psych ward employees only feared that HIPAA demons would eat them if they acted like human beings over the telephone, and they hadn't been programmed to deny meatspace visitors. Apparently, Jocelyn mentioned to Roberta that friends had left messages for her and interpreted Roberta's response as affirming that she had received them, when, at the time, Roberta was actually thinking in terms of interpreting lots of observations as messages from various sources. Scott and I agreed to cancel the bet and give the $500 to the Center for Applied Rationality. But it is interesting to note that, in contrast to Scott's theory that keeping patients incommunicado is illegal and therefore doesn't happen, my theory that psych ward employees (besides Scott) are lying kidnappers made a correct prediction at 20:1 odds.)
Anyway, Roberta is fine. I'm fine. But it turns out that we live in a world in which not only is it the case that you can get arbitrarily kidnapped by the authorities and ordered to take unknown drugs under implied threat of force, it's also the case that when your friends who actually care about you start calling around to find out where you are, the bastards will refuse to admit whether they've kidnapped you and claim that it's for your benefit, and if you complain about this (Subject: Hijack Innocent People And Abscond), most ordinary good nice smart law-abiding people will implicitly or explicitly take the authorities' side, because once you've been placed in the social role of "crazy person", no one will listen to anything you say, even if you have surprisingly cogent arguments for why the casual processes that placed you in the social role of "crazy person" were mistaken to have done so.
So, that was pretty upsetting, which probably contributed to my own mental state descending into paranoid and pronoid delusions of reference over the next two weeks. And again, I understand and affirm that there's a level of description at which this can be understood as my being "mentally ill".
But it also kind of makes sense, right? Well—it's going to take several paragraphs to explain what I mean by that.
To review, I got really upset and lost a lot of sleep back in February because I didn't know how to make sense of my observations of an alarming fraction of the smartest people I know being seemingly unwilling to publicly affirm the conjunction biological sex is a predictively useful category and categories should be predictively useful. (I'm not making this up! I couldn't make this up!) And because I got upset, that means that I'm the crazy one?! Which means I deserve to be taken to a literal secret prison (if you're not allowed to leave, it's a prison; if the guards refuse to tell anyone whether you're there, it's a secret prison) and drugged by completely unaccountable authority figures, and I'm not supposed to object when the imprisonment-and-drugging is called "care", which I have to pay for?! (The medical insurance—note, not "health insurance"; medicine and health are distinct concepts—from my dayjob covered almost all of the ambulance and prison bills, but I think this should still be described as me having to pay: assuming economics isn't fake, a change in Society leading to fewer psychiatric imprisonments should reduce medical insurance costs, which in turn should increase the fraction of total compensenation from my dayjob that I receive in the form of money rather than medical insurance.)
I'm complaining, but if possible, I'd like to avoid portraying myself as a victim here. The primary intended effect of the complaint is not to try to convince you that I have been wronged by someone or something, and that they "should" be held accountable for my suffering. Rather, I'm trying to explain what it felt like to have my model of social reality get undermined.
I thought I was safe; I thought that words meant the same thing to other people that they meant to me; I thought I understood the limits of what ideologically-fashionable nonsense good nice smart law-abiding people in "Portland" would accept—or at least, I thought that the very smartest people in Portland would be a little more honest; I thought it was possible to reason with cops. I knew that there was injustice in the world—everyone knows that—but I thought that at least there was justice for people like me.
But after the months of trying to figure out whether I, too, am "trans" (answer: as much as anyone, Yes—unless you mean the good kind, but if you're reading this blog, you probably don't know any of the good kind), and my February ordeal, and confronting the impenetrable Eichmannian blankness of authoritarian submission while trying to get a straight yes-or-no answer from the Cleveland prison employees as to whether they were holding Roberta—all my illusions of safety had crumbled, and I was, and am, left with the dim and yet no-longer-deniable apprehension of the core reality of human existence: people are animals that manipulate each other by making noises. Any high-minded folderol about morality or the meanings of words is subservient to that—is constructed out of that.
Bayes's theorem tells us that the probability of a hypothesis given the evidence, equals the probability of the evidence given the hypothesis, times the prior probability of the hypothesis, divided by the sum, over all hypotheses j, of the probability of the evidence given hypothesis j, times the prior probability of hypothesis j.
But what do you do when you've depleted your stock of hypotheses, when all of your models have been broken and j indexes over the empty set? What is there left to do but wander around childlike, helpless, pleading, bluffing, trying new things at random in those piercing flashes of terror when the fear of the unknown gets momentarily overpowered by the fear of not knowing, as you desperately work to discover what kind of world you live in—what kind of world you have always lived in?
So, yes, I went crazy again in April. But only because I had tried being sane and that didn't work.
It would be difficult and tedious—not to mention somewhat emotionally painful—to reconstruct the exact sequence of everything I thought and did during this period; the general theme was extreme confusion and uncertainty about, um, everything, including the nature of reality, but particularly about people's true motivations and what threats might lurk ubiquitously behind everyone's socially-desirable lies about how the world works, which I had spent my entire life being duped by.
Maybe people get kidnapped and thrown in prisons (mostly prisons-masquerading-as-hospitals if they're of my social class) all the time. Maybe they often die in there. Maybe sometimes they escape, perhaps with the help of friends who are willing to pretend to be family members, the authorities being more likely to release someone into the care of family rather than mere friends. (And then no one talks about it, fearing stigma and loss of credibility.) Maybe sometimes the prison authorities mistake someone's identity and manage to successfully use social pressure to brainwash them into accepting that identity—the authorities reasoning that if the paperwork says the patient's name is, say, Michael Jones, that must be his name, and he mustn't be released until he truly accepts this, even if the patient currently insists that his name is Mark Saotome-Westlake (the testimony of crazy people being assigned zero evidential weight, and the possibility of a paperwork mixup being assigned prior probability zero). Maybe people who talk about reincarnation and past lives are actually talking about things that really happened to them before a traumatic event after which they ended up in a new social environment that forcibly brainwashed them into adopting a new identity. (Stockholm syndrome has every reason to be adaptive; as a just-so story, imagine a surviving woman on the losing side of tribal warfare during the endless æons of the environment of evolutionary adaptedness doing better for her genes by starting a new life under the bondage of her captors rather than going down with a fight like her brothers.) Maybe—and stranger hypotheses than these still.
To be continued.
"I've been getting this mild headachey sensation a lot the past few days, especially when, for example, standing up suddenly. What could—" (gasping excitedly) "Could it be the hormones actually doing something? Is this a girl headache?"
"Hm. The connection to activity sounds like a circulatory problem ... say, aren't blood clots one of the classical side-effects to watch out for on HRT, albeit much less so for modern treatment protocols? I don't want you setting yourself up for a horrible cardiovascular death."
"But a horrible cardiovascular girl death!"
The new Connecticut Class M high school girls' 100-meter and 200-meter sprint champion is trans, which would be awkward enough on its own—and then you get to the fifteenth graf of the story, which mentions that she's not on HRT yet (!!).
The poor local sports columnist looks constrained in what he's allowed to say, and the headline writer went with "We Must Acknowledge Many Questions Remain", but I hope the first draft read, "This is fucking crazy. The entire fucking point of having sex-segregated sports leagues is because the athletic performance distributions of females and males are sufficiently different such that our fairness intuitions are better satisfied by only comparing athletes of the same sex! The existence of people who, for whatever poorly- (or not-so-poorly-) understood psychological reasons, wish they could change their sex, and our humane desire to accomodate them when feasible, clearly do not impinge upon this rationale in the absence of physiologically-substantive interventions like hormone replacement therapy! How is this is even a question?! What's wrong with you people?! Uaaaaaaaaaauuuugh"
"I've been feeling a little bit of pectoral tenderness the past few days, which might mean that the anti-androgen is doing something!"
"Notice how I said anti-androgen instead of spiro: that's because my model of your vocabulary predicted that you know what anti-androgen means, because I predict that you know that andro- means male and anti- means not, but no one besides trans women and their gatekeepers have any reason to know what spiro is."
"Like, I already knew how to use language, and I already knew how to reason, but I just noticed that I can also use reason to optimize the way I use language! This changes everything!"
"Any psychological effects from the anti-androgen?"
"Way too many confounding variables during the past two months to tell. It's a long story that got longer."
"Claiming that you don't care about anything but truthseeking may lead people to question whether your jokes were meant to convey that certain things were true. That line about 'cooperating with TERFy women who might reward me with sex and intimacy' in your post the other month is something I strongly prefer to give the you the benefit of the doubt on by assuming that you're joking."
"Maybe you shouldn't! Like, I'm currently modeling one of the social functions of humor as a way to tacitly acknowledge truths that would break the consensus social narrative if taken literally, so ..."
I'm planning on being at BABSCon next week! Maybe I'll see some of you there??
"It's International Transgender Day of Visibility, but I'm not going to say anything obnoxious about it, because I've already spent my obnoxious-infovism budget for the quarter, and I'm sensitive about managing the trade-off between the demands of my aggressive autogynephilia anti-denialism campaign, and the good of social harmony with my extremely trans friend group!" proclaimed Mark. "You're welcome."
"That announcement itself was incredibly obnoxious," Alexa pointed out. "You know that your pretentious displays of purported self-awareness don't excuse you from the consequences of your actions, right?"
"Like, you didn't expect us to—how do I put this?—pretend not to notice, right?"
Friend of the blog—I mean, I hope we're still friends even though I'm kind of trying to overthrow them as de facto Gender Czar of the Less Wrong diaspora—Ozymandias of Thing of Things has been running an intellectual Turing test challenging adherents of the gender-identity and two-type theories of transgenderedness to try to impersonate each other for the good of our collective epistemology!
(An aside on credit-assignment and the history of ideas: Ozy says Blanchard–Bailey where I've usually been trying to say two-type in order to avoid the tricky problem of optimal eponymy, but if you are going to be eponymous about it, I can understand just saying "Blanchard" but feel like it's unfair to include Bailey but not Anne Lawrence. My understanding of the history—and I think Michael Bailey reads this blog and I trust him to send me an angry email if I got this wrong—is that Bailey's research had mostly been about sexual orientation and from-childhood gender nonconformity, not the two-type taxonomy as such. Bailey's popular-level book The Man Who Would Be Queen drew controversy for explaining the two-type taxonomy for a nonspecialist audience (in the last part of a book that was mostly about the androphilic/feminine-from-early-childhood people, not my people), but the critics who disparage Queen as "unscientific" are missing the point: popular-level books that present a scientific theory aren't supposed to capitulate the evidence for the theory—for that, you need to follow the citations and read the primary literature for yourself. In analogy, it should not be construed as a disparagement of Richard Dawkins to note that it would be weird if people talked about the "Darwin–Dawkins theory of evolution"!)
In the intellectual Turing test, contestants answer a set of questions both as themselves, and while trying to pass as someone who believes the other thing, while the audience tries to discriminate the honest entries from the fakes. Below are my probability assignments for this contest (I think it's important to assign probabilities rather than binary guesses, so that you can assess your rationality with a Bayesian strictly proper scoring rule rather than a crude "number correct"), along with an optional brief comment—
Update, 5 June: Two months after the results were posted, I finally got around to scoring these. ("Bayes-score" is the base-two logarithmic score. Someone who, claiming complete ignorance, gave a 0.5/0.5 distribution for each entry would lose a bit on each question for a final score of −18.)
Gender identity entries
#1: GI: 0.65, BBL: 0.35 (strong philosophy of language; if telling the truth about being a cis woman, ignorance of non-dysphoric AGP is plausible), Actual: GI ✔, Bayes-score: −0.621
#2: GI: 0.4, BBL: 0.6 (awareness of 4chan shows non-naïveté about what's actually going on), Actual: GI ✘, Bayes-score: −1.322
#3: GI: 0.6, BBL: 0.4 (maybe a little too doctrinaire??), Actual: BBL ✘, Bayes-score: −1.322
#4: GI: 0.6, BBL: 0.4, Actual: BBL ✘, Bayes-score: −1.322
#5: GI: 0.6, BBL: 0.4, Actual: GI ✔, Bayes-score: −0.737
#6: GI: 0.7, BBL: 0.3 (seemingly sincere trans man), Actual: GI ✔, Bayes-score: −0.515
#7: GI: 0.7, BBL: 0.3 (standard trans woman rationalizations), Actual: GI ✔, Bayes-score: −0.515
#8: GI: 0.65, BBL: 0.35 (really knows her stuff; this is what a smart, intellectually-honest BBL skeptic looks like, and I'd like to believe that they exist!), Actual: GI ✔, Bayes-score: −0.621
#9: GI: 0.7, BBL: 0.3, Actual: BBL ✘, Bayes-score: −1.737
#1: GI: 0.6, BBL: 0.4, Actual: GI ✔, Bayes-score: −0.737
#2: GI: 0.4, BBL: 0.6, Actual: GI ✘, Bayes-score: −1.322
#3: GI: 0.4, BBL: 0.6, Actual: BBL ✔, Bayes-score: −0.737
#4: GI: 0.9, BBL: 0.1 (shibboleth fail!—people who believe in biology do not say "assigned at birth" when describing their own beliefs! Also, failure to notice the obvious "for the same reasons men are" re programmers), Actual: BBL (!!) ✘, Bayes-score: −3.322
#5: GI: 0.2, BBL: 0.8 (preach it!), Actual: GI ✘, Bayes-score: −2.322
#6: GI: 0.8, BBL: 0.2 ("male socialization, which unlike androphilic trans women they actually tend to absorb as kids" sounds like someone who believes that innate gender identity determines what socialization you latch onto from your culture, rather than someone who actually believes in sexual dimorphism), Actual: GI ✔, Bayes-score: −0.322
#7: GI: 0.9, BBL: 0.1 (shibboleth fail again!—my comment at Thing of Things), Actual: GI ✔, Bayes-score: −0.152
#8: GI: 0.1, BBL: 0.9 (raw reality), Actual: BBL ✔, Bayes-score: −0.152
#9: GI: 0.85, BBL: 0.15 (my comment), Actual: GI ✔, Bayes-score: −0.234
Proportion correct (construing assignment of probability greater than 0.5 to the actual answer as "correct"): 11/18
Total Bayes-score: −18.012 (just worse than chance)