Start Over

Can we all start over
After the final chapter's end?
When it all starts over
How do these scars begin to mend?


I moved apartments the other week, on some philosopher's birthday or the anniversary of a national tragedy, to a nice studio in a nice neighborhood back on the correct side of the Caldecott Tunnel (now that I've learned my lesson about which side of the tunnel is correct).

I had been making noises about leaving Berkeley for a while, but kept not getting around to it until my hand was forced by my roommate moving out. Insofar as I was complaining about the political culture, you might think that I should have fled the Bay entirely, to a different region which might have different kinds of people. Reno, probably. Or Austin (which may be the Berkeley of Texas, but at least it's the Berkeley of Texas).

I don't think a longer move was necessary. I mostly live on the internet, anyway: insofar as "Berkeley" was a metonym for the egregore, it's unclear how much leaving the literal city would help.

Although—it may not be entirely a coincidence that I feel better having left the literal city? Moving is a Schelling point for new beginnings, new habits. The sense that my life is over hasn't fully gone away, but now I have more hope in finding meaning and not just pleasure in this afterlife while it lasts, perhaps fueled by regret-based superpowers.

I'm happy. I have a lot of writing to do.

In my old neighborhood in the part of Berkeley that's secretly Oakland (the city limits forming a penninsula just around my apartment), there used to be a "free store" on the corner—shelves for people to leave unwanted consumer goods and to take them to a good home. It stopped being a thing shortly before I left, due to some combination of adverse attention from city municipal code inspectors, and a fire.

In memoriam, there was a butcher-paper sign on the fence with a pen on a string, asking community members to write a note on what the free store had meant to them.

One of the messages read:

i'm a (very broke) trans woman
and i don't often feel great about
my body, but there are a few items
that i found here that fit me in a way
thats very affirming to me

There are so many questions (of the rhetorical or probing varieties) I could ask of my neighbor who wrote that message. (Why mention being trans at all? Don't many cis women often not feel great about their bodies? What do you think are the differences between you and a man who might have written a message starting "I'm a (very broke) transvestite"? Or is it just that such a man's sense of public decency would bid him keep quiet ... or, just possibly, write a message more like yours?)

But—not my neighbor.

I don't live there anymore.

A Hill of Validity in Defense of Meaning

If you are silent about your pain, they'll kill you and say you enjoyed it.

—Zora Neale Hurston

Recapping my Whole Dumb Story so far—in a previous post, "Sexual Dimorphism in Yudkowsky's Sequences, in Relation to My Gender Problems", I told the part about how I've "always" (since puberty) had this obsessive sexual fantasy about being magically transformed into a woman and also thought it was immoral to believe in psychological sex differences, until I got set straight by these really great Sequences of blog posts by Eliezer Yudkowsky, which taught me (incidentally, among many other things) how absurdly unrealistic my obsessive sexual fantasy was given merely human-level technology, and that it's actually immoral not to believe in psychological sex differences given that psychological sex differences are actually real. In a subsequent post, "Blanchard's Dangerous Idea and the Plight of the Lucid Crossdreamer", I told the part about how, in 2016, everyone in my systematically-correct-reasoning community up to and including Eliezer Yudkowsky suddenly started claiming that guys like me might actually be women in some unspecified metaphysical sense and insisted on playing dumb when confronted with alternative explanations of the relevant phenomena, until I eventually had a sleep-deprivation- and stress-induced delusional nervous breakdown.

That's not the egregious part of the story. Psychology is a complicated empirical science: no matter how obvious I might think something is, I have to admit that I could be wrong—not just as an obligatory profession of humility, but actually wrong in the real world. If my fellow rationalists merely weren't sold on the thesis about autogynephilia as a cause of transsexuality, I would be disappointed, but it wouldn't be grounds to denounce the entire community as a failure or a fraud. And indeed, I did end up moderating my views compared to the extent to which my thinking in 2016–7 took the views of Ray Blanchard, J. Michael Bailey, and Anne Lawrence as received truth. (At the same time, I don't particularly regret saying what I said in 2016–7, because Blanchard–Bailey–Lawrence is still obviously directionally correct compared to the nonsense everyone else was telling me.)

But a striking pattern in my attempts to argue with people about the two-type taxonomy in late 2016 and early 2017 was the tendency for the conversation to get derailed on some variation of, "Well, the word woman doesn't necessarily mean that," often with a link to "The Categories Were Made for Man, Not Man for the Categories", a November 2014 post by Scott Alexander arguing that because categories exist in our model of the world rather than the world itself, there's nothing wrong with simply defining trans people as their preferred gender to alleviate their dysphoria.

After Yudkowsky had stepped away from full-time writing, Alexander had emerged as our subculture's preeminent writer. Most people in an intellectual scene "are writers" in some sense, but Alexander was the one "everyone" reads: you could often reference a Slate Star Codex post in conversation and expect people to be familiar with the idea, either from having read it, or by osmosis. The frequency with which "... Not Man for the Categories" was cited at me seemed to suggest it had become our subculture's party line on trans issues.

But the post is wrong in obvious ways. To be clear, it's true that categories exist in our model of the world, rather than the world itself—categories are "map", not "territory"—and it's possible that trans women might be women with respect to some genuinely useful definition of the word "woman." However, Alexander goes much further, claiming that we can redefine gender categories to make trans people feel better:

I ought to accept an unexpected man or two deep inside the conceptual boundaries of what would normally be considered female if it'll save someone's life. There's no rule of rationality saying that I shouldn't, and there are plenty of rules of human decency saying that I should.

This is wrong because categories exist in our model of the world in order to capture empirical regularities in the world itself: the map is supposed to reflect the territory, and there are "rules of rationality" governing what kinds of word and category usages correspond to correct probabilistic inferences. Yudkowsky had written a whole Sequence about this, "A Human's Guide to Words". Alexander cites a post from that Sequence in support of the (true) point about how categories are "in the map" ... but if you actually read the Sequence, another point that Yudkowsky pounds home over and over, is that word and category definitions are nevertheless not arbitrary: you can't define a word any way you want, because there are at least 37 ways that words can be wrong—principles that make some definitions perform better than others as "cognitive technology."

In the case of Alexander's bogus argument about gender categories, the relevant principle (#30 on the list of 37) is that if you group things together in your map that aren't actually similar in the territory, you're going to make bad inferences.

Crucially, this is a general point about how language itself works that has nothing to do with gender. No matter what you believe about controversial empirical questions, intellectually honest people should be able to agree that "I ought to accept an unexpected [X] or two deep inside the conceptual boundaries of what would normally be considered [Y] if [positive consequence]" is not the correct philosophy of language, independently of the particular values of X and Y.

This wasn't even what I was trying to talk to people about. I thought I was trying to talk about autogynephilia as an empirical theory of psychology of late-onset gender dysphoria in males, the truth or falsity of which cannot be altered by changing the meanings of words. But at this point, I still trusted people in my robot cult to be basically intellectually honest, rather than slaves to their political incentives, so I endeavored to respond to the category-boundary argument under the assumption that it was an intellectually serious argument that someone could honestly be confused about.

When I took a year off from dayjobbing from March 2017 to March 2018 to have more time to study and work on this blog, the capstone of my sabbatical was an exhaustive response to Alexander, "The Categories Were Made for Man to Make Predictions" (which Alexander graciously included in his next links post). A few months later, I followed it with "Reply to The Unit of Caring on Adult Human Females", responding to a similar argument from soon-to-be Vox journalist Kelsey Piper, then writing as The Unit of Caring on Tumblr.

I'm proud of those posts. I think Alexander's and Piper's arguments were incredibly dumb, and that with a lot of effort, I did a pretty good job of explaining why to anyone who was interested and didn't, at some level, prefer not to understand.

Of course, a pretty good job of explaining by one niche blogger wasn't going to put much of a dent in the culture, which is the sum of everyone's blogposts; despite the mild boost from the Slate Star Codex links post, my megaphone just wasn't very big. I was disappointed with the limited impact of my work, but not to the point of bearing much hostility to "the community." People had made their arguments, and I had made mine; I didn't think I was entitled to anything more than that.

Really, that should have been the end of the story. Not much of a story at all. If I hadn't been further provoked, I would have still kept up this blog, and I still would have ended up arguing about gender with people sometimes, but this personal obsession wouldn't have been the occasion of a robot-cult religious civil war involving other people whom you'd expect to have much more important things to do with their time.

The casus belli for the religious civil war happened on 28 November 2018. I was at my new dayjob's company offsite event in Austin, Texas. Coincidentally, I had already spent much of the previous two days (since just before the plane to Austin took off) arguing trans issues with other "rationalists" on Discord.

Just that month, I had started a Twitter account using my real name, inspired in an odd way by the suffocating wokeness of the Rust open-source software scene where I occasionally contributed diagnostics patches to the compiler. My secret plan/fantasy was to get more famous and established in the Rust world (one of compiler team membership, or conference talk accepted, preferably both), get some corresponding Twitter followers, and then bust out the @BlanchardPhd retweets and links to this blog. In the median case, absolutely nothing would happen (probably because I failed at being famous), but I saw an interesting tail of scenarios in which I'd get to be a test case in the Code of Conduct wars.

So, now having a Twitter account, I was browsing Twitter in the bedroom at the rental house for the dayjob retreat when I happened to come across this thread by @ESYudkowsky:

Some people I usually respect for their willingness to publicly die on a hill of facts, now seem to be talking as if pronouns are facts, or as if who uses what bathroom is necessarily a factual statement about chromosomes. Come on, you know the distinction better than that!

Even if somebody went around saying, "I demand you call me 'she' and furthermore I claim to have two X chromosomes!", which none of my trans colleagues have ever said to me by the way, it still isn't a question-of-empirical-fact whether she should be called "she". It's an act.

In saying this, I am not taking a stand for or against any Twitter policies. I am making a stand on a hill of meaning in defense of validity, about the distinction between what is and isn't a stand on a hill of facts in defense of truth.

I will never stand against those who stand against lies. But changing your name, asking people to address you by a different pronoun, and getting sex reassignment surgery, Is. Not. Lying. You are ontologically confused if you think those acts are false assertions.

Some of the replies tried to explain the obvious problem—and Yudkowsky kept refusing to understand:

Using language in a way you dislike, openly and explicitly and with public focus on the language and its meaning, is not lying. The proposition you claim false (chromosomes?) is not what the speech is meant to convey—and this is known to everyone involved, it is not a secret.

Now, maybe as a matter of policy, you want to make a case for language being used a certain way. Well, that's a separate debate then. But you're not making a stand for Truth in doing so, and your opponents aren't tricking anyone or trying to.


You're mistaken about what the word means to you, I demonstrate thus:

But even ignoring that, you're not standing in defense of truth if you insist on a word, brought explicitly into question, being used with some particular meaning.

Dear reader, this is the moment where I flipped out. Let me explain.

This "hill of meaning in defense of validity" proclamation was such a striking contrast to the Eliezer Yudkowsky I remembered—the Eliezer Yudkowsky I had variously described as having "taught me everything I know" and "rewritten my personality over the internet"—who didn't hesitate to criticize uses of language that he thought were failing to "carve reality at the joints", even going so far as to call them "wrong":

[S]aying "There's no way my choice of X can be 'wrong'" is nearly always an error in practice, whatever the theory. You can always be wrong. Even when it's theoretically impossible to be wrong, you can still be wrong. There is never a Get-Out-Of-Jail-Free card for anything you do. That's life.


Once upon a time it was thought that the word "fish" included dolphins. Now you could play the oh-so-clever arguer, and say, "The list: {Salmon, guppies, sharks, dolphins, trout} is just a list—you can't say that a list is wrong. I can prove in set theory that this list exists. So my definition of fish, which is simply this extensional list, cannot possibly be 'wrong' as you claim."

Or you could stop playing nitwit games and admit that dolphins don't belong on the fish list.

You come up with a list of things that feel similar, and take a guess at why this is so. But when you finally discover what they really have in common, it may turn out that your guess was wrong. It may even turn out that your list was wrong.

You cannot hide behind a comforting shield of correct-by-definition. Both extensional definitions and intensional definitions can be wrong, can fail to carve reality at the joints.

One could argue that this "Words can be wrong when your definition draws a boundary around things that don't really belong together" moral didn't apply to Yudkowsky's new Tweets, which only mentioned pronouns and bathroom policies, not the extensions of common nouns.

But this seems pretty unsatisfying in the context of Yudkowsky's claim to "not [be] taking a stand for or against any Twitter policies". One of the Tweets that had recently led to radical feminist Meghan Murphy getting kicked off the platform read simply, "Men aren't women tho." This doesn't seem like a policy claim; rather, Murphy was using common language to express the fact-claim that members of the natural category of adult human males, are not, in fact, members of the natural category of adult human females.

Thus, if the extension of common words like "woman" and "man" is an issue of epistemic importance that rationalists should care about, then presumably so was Twitter's anti-misgendering policy—and if it isn't (because you're not standing in defense of truth if you insist on a word, brought explicitly into question, being used with some particular meaning) then I wasn't sure what was left of the "Human's Guide to Words" Sequence if the 37-part grand moral needed to be retracted.

I think I am standing in defense of truth when I have an argument for why my preferred word usage does a better job at carving reality at the joints, and the one bringing my usage explicitly into question does not. As such, I didn't see the practical difference between "you're not standing in defense of truth if you insist on a word, brought explicitly into question, being used with some particular meaning," and "I can define a word any way I want." About which, again, an earlier Eliezer Yudkowsky had written:

"It is a common misconception that you can define a word any way you like. [...] If you believe that you can 'define a word any way you like', without realizing that your brain goes on categorizing without your conscious oversight, then you won't take the effort to choose your definitions wisely."

"So that's another reason you can't 'define a word any way you like': You can't directly program concepts into someone else's brain."

"When you take into account the way the human mind actually, pragmatically works, the notion 'I can define a word any way I like' soon becomes 'I can believe anything I want about a fixed set of objects' or 'I can move any object I want in or out of a fixed membership test'."

"There's an idea, which you may have noticed I hate, that 'you can define a word any way you like'."

"And of course you cannot solve a scientific challenge by appealing to dictionaries, nor master a complex skill of inquiry by saying 'I can define a word any way I like'."

"Categories are not static things in the context of a human brain; as soon as you actually think of them, they exert force on your mind. One more reason not to believe you can define a word any way you like."

"And people are lazy. They'd rather argue 'by definition', especially since they think 'you can define a word any way you like'."

"And this suggests another—yes, yet another—reason to be suspicious of the claim that 'you can define a word any way you like'. When you consider the superexponential size of Conceptspace, it becomes clear that singling out one particular concept for consideration is an act of no small audacity—not just for us, but for any mind of bounded computing power."

"I say all this, because the idea that 'You can X any way you like' is a huge obstacle to learning how to X wisely. 'It's a free country; I have a right to my own opinion' obstructs the art of finding truth. 'I can define a word any way I like' obstructs the art of carving reality at its joints. And even the sensible-sounding 'The labels we attach to words are arbitrary' obstructs awareness of compactness."

"One may even consider the act of defining a word as a promise to [the] effect [...] [that the definition] will somehow help you make inferences / shorten your messages."

One could argue that I was unfairly interpreting Yudkowsky's Tweets as having a broader scope than was intended—that Yudkowsky only meant to slap down the false claim that using he for someone with a Y chromosome is "lying", without intending any broader implications about trans issues or the philosophy of language. It wouldn't be realistic or fair to expect every public figure to host an exhaustive debate on all related issues every time they encounter a fallacy they want to Tweet about.

However, I don't think this "narrow" reading is the most natural one. Yudkowsky had previously written of what he called the fourth virtue of evenness: "If you are selective about which arguments you inspect for flaws, or how hard you inspect for flaws, then every flaw you learn how to detect makes you that much stupider." He had likewise written on reversed stupidity (bolding mine):

To argue against an idea honestly, you should argue against the best arguments of the strongest advocates. Arguing against weaker advocates proves nothing, because even the strongest idea will attract weak advocates.

Relatedly, Scott Alexander had written about how "weak men are superweapons": speakers often selectively draw attention to the worst arguments in favor of a position in an attempt to socially discredit people who have better arguments (which the speaker ignores). In the same way, by just slapping down a weak man from the "anti-trans" political coalition without saying anything else in a similarly prominent location, Yudkowsky was liable to mislead his faithful students into thinking that there were no better arguments from the "anti-trans" side.

To be sure, it imposes a cost on speakers to not be able to Tweet about one specific annoying fallacy and then move on with their lives without the need for endless disclaimers about related but stronger arguments that they're not addressing. But the fact that Yudkowsky disclaimed that he wasn't taking a stand for or against Twitter's anti-misgendering policy demonstrates that he didn't have an aversion to spending a few extra words to prevent the most common misunderstandings.

Given that, it's hard to read the Tweets Yudkowsky published as anything other than an attempt to intimidate and delegitimize people who want to use language to reason about sex rather than gender identity. It's just not plausible that Yudkowsky was simultaneously savvy enough to choose to make these particular points while also being naïve enough to not understand the political context. Deeper in the thread, he wrote:

The more technology advances, the further we can move people towards where they say they want to be in sexspace. Having said this we've said all the facts. Who competes in sports segregated around an Aristotelian binary is a policy question (that I personally find very humorous).

Sure, in the limit of arbitrarily advanced technology, everyone could be exactly where they wanted to be in sexpsace. Having said this, we have not said all the facts relevant to decisionmaking in our world, where we do not have arbitrarily advanced technology (as Yudkowsky well knew, having written a post about how technically infeasible an actual sex change would be). As Yudkowsky acknowledged in the previous Tweet, "Hormone therapy changes some things and leaves others constant." The existence of hormone replacement therapy does not itself take us into the glorious transhumanist future where everyone is the sex they say they are.

The reason for sex-segregated sports leagues is that sport-relevant multivariate trait distributions of female bodies and male bodies are different: men are taller, stronger, and faster. If you just had one integrated league, females wouldn't be competitive (in the vast majority of sports, with a few exceptions like ultra-distance swimming that happen to sample an unusually female-favorable corner of sportspace).

Given the empirical reality of the different trait distributions, "Who are the best athletes among females?" is a natural question for people to be interested in and want separate sports leagues to determine. Including male people in female sports leagues undermines the point of having a separate female league, and hormone replacement therapy after puberty doesn't substantially change the picture here.1

Yudkowsky's suggestion that an ignorant commitment to an "Aristotelian binary" is the main reason someone might care about the integrity of women's sports is an absurd strawman. This just isn't something any scientifically literate person would write if they had actually thought about the issue at all, as opposed to having first decided (consciously or not) to bolster their reputation among progressives by dunking on transphobes on Twitter, and then wielding their philosophy knowledge in the service of that political goal. The relevant facts are not subtle, even if most people don't have the fancy vocabulary to talk about them in terms of "multivariate trait distributions."

I'm picking on the "sports segregated around an Aristotelian binary" remark because sports is a case where the relevant effect sizes are so large as to make the point hard for all but the most ardent gender-identity partisans to deny. (For example, what the Cohen's d2.6 effect size difference in muscle mass means is that a woman as strong as the average man is at the 99.5th percentile for women.) But the point is general: biological sex exists and is sometimes decision-relevant. People who want to be able to talk about sex and make policy decisions on the basis of sex are not making an ontology error, because the ontology in which sex "actually" "exists" continues to make very good predictions in our current tech regime (if not the glorious transhumanist future). It would be a ridiculous isolated demand for rigor to expect someone to pass a graduate exam about the philosophy and cognitive science of categorization before they can talk about sex.

Thus, Yudkowsky's claim to merely have been standing up for the distinction between facts and policy questions doesn't seem credible. It is, of course, true that pronoun and bathroom conventions are policy decisions rather than matters of fact, but it's bizarre to condescendingly point this out as if it were the crux of contemporary trans-rights debates. Conservatives and gender-critical feminists know that trans-rights advocates aren't falsely claiming that trans women have XX chromosomes! If you just wanted to point out that the rules of sports leagues are a policy question rather than a fact (as if anyone had doubted this), why would you throw in the "Aristotelian binary" weak man and belittle the matter as "humorous"? There are a lot of issues I don't care much about, but I don't see anything funny about the fact that other people do care.2

If any concrete negative consequence of gender self-identity categories is going to be waved away with, "Oh, but that's a mere policy decision that can be dealt with on some basis other than gender, and therefore doesn't count as an objection to the new definition of gender words", then it's not clear what the new definition is for.

Like many gender-dysphoric males, I cosplay female characters at fandom conventions sometimes. And, unfortunately, like many gender-dysphoric males, I'm not very good at it. I think someone looking at some of my cosplay photos and trying to describe their content in clear language—not trying to be nice to anyone or make a point, but just trying to use language as a map that reflects the territory—would say something like, "This is a photo of a man and he's wearing a dress." The word man in that sentence is expressing cognitive work: it's a summary of the lawful cause-and-effect evidential entanglement whereby the photons reflecting off the photograph are correlated with photons reflecting off my body at the time the photo was taken, which are correlated with my externally observable secondary sex characteristics (facial structure, beard shadow, &c.). From this evidence, an agent using an efficient naïve-Bayes-like model can assign me to its "man" (adult human male) category and thereby make probabilistic predictions about traits that aren't directly observable from the photo. The agent would achieve a better score on those predictions than if it had assigned me to its "woman" (adult human female) category.

By "traits" I mean not just sex chromosomes (as Yudkowsky suggested on Twitter), but the conjunction of dozens or hundreds of measurements that are causally downstream of sex chromosomes: reproductive organs and muscle mass (again, sex difference effect size of Cohen's d ≈ 2.6) and Big Five Agreeableness (d ≈ 0.5) and Big Five Neuroticism (d ≈ 0.4) and short-term memory (d ≈ 0.2, favoring women) and white-gray-matter ratios in the brain and probable socialization history and any number of other things—including differences we might not know about, but have prior reasons to suspect exist. No one knew about sex chromosomes before 1905, but given the systematic differences between women and men, it would have been reasonable to suspect the existence of some sort of molecular mechanism of sex determination.

Forcing a speaker to say "trans woman" instead of "man" in a sentence about my cosplay photos depending on my verbally self-reported self-identity may not be forcing them to lie, exactly. It's understood, "openly and explicitly and with public focus on the language and its meaning," what trans women are; no one is making a false-to-fact claim about them having ovaries, for example. But it is forcing the speaker to obfuscate the probabilistic inference they were trying to communicate with the original sentence (about modeling the person in the photograph as being sampled from the "man" cluster in configuration space), and instead use language that suggests a different cluster-structure. ("Trans women", two words, are presumably a subcluster within the "women" cluster.) Crowing in the public square about how people who object to being forced to "lie" must be ontologically confused is ignoring the interesting part of the problem. Gender identity's claim to be non-disprovable functions as a way to avoid the belief's real weak points.

To this, one might reply that I'm giving too much credit to the "anti-trans" faction for how stupid they're not being: that my careful dissection of the hidden probabilistic inferences implied by words (including pronoun choices) is all well and good, but calling pronouns "lies" is not something you do when you know how to use words.

But I'm not giving them credit for for understanding the lessons of "A Human's Guide to Words"; I just think there's a useful sense of "know how to use words" that embodies a lower standard of philosophical rigor. If a person-in-the-street says of my cosplay photos, "That's a man! I have eyes, and I can see that that's a man! Men aren't women!"—well, I probably wouldn't want to invite them to a Less Wrong meetup. But I do think the person-in-the-street is performing useful cognitive work. Because I have the hidden-Bayesian-structure-of-language-and-cognition-sight (thanks to Yudkowsky's writings back in the 'aughts), I know how to sketch out the reduction of "Men aren't women" to something more like "This cognitive algorithm detects secondary sex characteristics and uses it as a classifier for a binary female/male 'sex' category, which it uses to make predictions about not-yet-observed features ..."

But having done the reduction-to-cognitive-algorithms, it still looks like the person-in-the-street has a point that I shouldn't be allowed to ignore just because I have 30 more IQ points and better philosophy-of-language skills?

I bring up my bad cosplay photos as an edge case that helps illustrate the problem I'm trying to point out, much like how people love to bring up complete androgen insensitivity syndrome to illustrate why "But chromosomes!" isn't the correct reduction of sex classification. To differentiate what I'm saying from blind transphobia, let me note that I predict that most people-in-the-street would be comfortable using feminine pronouns for someone like Blaire White. That's evidence about the kind of cognitive work people's brains are doing when they use English pronouns! Certainly, English is not the only language, and ours is not the only culture; maybe there is a way to do gender categories that would be more accurate and better for everyone. But to find what that better way is, we need to be able to talk about these kinds of details in public, and the attitude evinced in Yudkowsky's Tweets seemed to function as a semantic stopsign to get people to stop talking about the details.

If you were interested in having a real discussion (instead of a fake discussion that makes you look good to progressives), why would you slap down the "But, but, chromosomes" fallacy and then not engage with the obvious steelman of "But, but, clusters in high-dimensional configuration space that aren't actually changeable with contemporary technology" steelman which was, in fact, brought up in the replies?

Satire is a weak form of argument: the one who wishes to doubt will always be able to find some aspect in which an obviously absurd satirical situation differs from the real-world situation being satirized and claim that that difference destroys the relevance of the joke. But on the off chance that it might help illustrate the objection, imagine you lived in a so-called "rationalist" subculture where conversations like this happened—

⁕ ⁕ ⁕

Bob: Look at this adorable cat picture!

Alice: Um, that looks like a dog to me, actually.

Bob: You're not standing in defense of truth if you insist on a word, brought explicitly into question, being used with some particular meaning. Now, maybe as a matter of policy, you want to make a case for language being used a certain way. Well, that's a separate debate then.

⁕ ⁕ ⁕

If you were Alice, and a solid supermajority of your incredibly smart, incredibly philosophically sophisticated friend group including Eliezer Yudkowsky (!!!) seemed to behave like Bob, that would be a worrying sign about your friends' ability to accomplish intellectually hard things like AI alignment, right? Even if there isn't any pressing practical need to discriminate between dogs and cats, the problem is that Bob is selectively using his sophisticated philosophy-of-language knowledge to try to undermine Alice's ability to use language to make sense of the world, even though Bob obviously knows very well what Alice was trying to say. It's incredibly obfuscatory in a way that people—the same people—would not tolerate in almost any other context.

Imagine an Islamic theocracy in which one Megan Murfi (ميغان ميرفي) had recently gotten kicked off the dominant microblogging platform for speaking disrespectfully about the prophet Muhammad. Suppose that Yudkowsky's analogue in that world then posted that those objecting on free inquiry grounds were ontologically confused: saying "peace be upon him" after the name of the prophet Muhammad is a speech act, not a statement of fact. In banning Murfi for repeatedly speaking about the prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him) as if he were just some guy, the platform was merely "enforcing a courtesy standard" (in the words of our world's Yudkowsky). Murfi wasn't being forced to lie.

I think the atheists of our world, including Yudkowsky, would not have trouble seeing the problem with this scenario, nor hesitate to agree that it is a problem for that Society's rationality. Saying "peace be unto him" is indeed a speech act rather than a statement of fact, but it would be bizarre to condescendingly point this out as if it were the crux of debates about religious speech codes. The function of the speech act is to signal the speaker's affirmation of Muhammad's divinity. That's why the Islamic theocrats want to mandate that everyone say it: it's a lot harder for atheism to get any traction if no one is allowed to talk like an atheist.

And that's why trans advocates want to mandate against misgendering people on social media: it's harder for trans-exclusionary ideologies to get any traction if no one is allowed to talk like someone who believes that sex (sometimes) matters and gender identity does not.

Of course, such speech restrictions aren't necessarily "irrational", depending on your goals. If you just don't think "free speech" should go that far—if you want to suppress atheism or gender-critical feminism with an iron fist—speech codes are a perfectly fine way to do it! And to their credit, I think most theocrats and trans advocates are intellectually honest about what they're doing: atheists or transphobes are bad people (the argument goes) and we want to make it harder for them to spread their lies or their hate.

In contrast, by claiming to be "not taking a stand for or against any Twitter policies" while accusing people who opposed the policy of being ontologically confused, Yudkowsky was being less honest than the theocrat or the activist: of course the point of speech codes is to suppress ideas! Given that the distinction between facts and policies is so obviously not anyone's crux—the smarter people in the "anti-trans" faction already know that, and the dumber people in the faction wouldn't change their alignment if they were taught—it's hard to see what the point of harping on the fact/policy distinction would be, except to be seen as implicitly taking a stand for the "pro-trans" faction while putting on a show of being politically "neutral."

It makes sense that Yudkowsky might perceive political constraints on what he might want to say in public—especially when you look at what happened to the other Harry Potter author.3 But if Yudkowsky didn't want to get into a distracting fight about a politically-charged topic, then maybe the responsible thing to do would have been to just not say anything about the topic, rather than engaging with the stupid version of the opposition and stonewalling with "That's a policy question" when people tried to point out the problem?!

I didn't have all of that criticism collected and carefully written up on 28 November 2018. But that, basically, is why I flipped out when I saw that Twitter thread. If the "rationalists" didn't click on the autogynephilia thing, that was disappointing, but forgivable. If the "rationalists", on Scott Alexander's authority, were furthermore going to get our own philosophy of language wrong over this, that was—I don't want to say forgivable exactly, but it was tolerable. I had learned from my misadventures the previous year that I had been wrong to trust "the community" as a reified collective. That had never been a reasonable mental stance in the first place.

But trusting Eliezer Yudkowsky—whose writings, more than any other single influence, had made me who I am—did seem reasonable. If I put him on a pedestal, it was because he had earned the pedestal, for supplying me with my criteria for how to think—including, as a trivial special case, how to think about what things to put on pedestals.

So if the rationalists were going to get our own philosophy of language wrong over this and Eliezer Yudkowsky was in on it (!!!), that was intolerable, inexplicable, incomprehensible—like there wasn't a real world anymore.

At the dayjob retreat, I remember going downstairs to impulsively confide in a senior engineer, an older bald guy who exuded masculinity, who you could tell by his entire manner and being was not infected by the Berkeley mind-virus, no matter how loyally he voted Democrat. I briefly explained the situation to him—not just the immediate impetus of this Twitter thread, but this whole thing of the past couple years where my entire social circle just suddenly decided that guys like me could be women by means of saying so. He was noncommittally sympathetic; he told me an anecdote about him accepting a trans person's correction of his pronoun usage, with the thought that different people have their own beliefs, and that's OK.

If Yudkowsky was already stonewalling his Twitter followers, entering the thread myself didn't seem likely to help. (Also, less importantly, I hadn't intended to talk about gender on that account yet.)

It seemed better to try to clear this up in private. I still had Yudkowsky's email address, last used when I had offered to pay to talk about his theory of MtF two years before. I felt bad bidding for his attention over my gender thing again—but I had to do something. Hands trembling, I sent him an email asking him to read my "The Categories Were Made for Man to Make Predictions", suggesting that it might qualify as an answer to his question about "a page [he] could read to find a non-confused exclamation of how there's scientific truth at stake". I said that because I cared very much about correcting confusions in my rationalist subculture, I would be happy to pay up to $1000 for his time—and that, if he liked the post, he might consider Tweeting a link—and that I was cc'ing my friends Anna Salamon and Michael Vassar as character references (Subject: "another offer, $1000 to read a ~6500 word blog post about (was: Re: Happy Price offer for a 2 hour conversation)"). Then I texted Anna and Michael, begging them to vouch for my credibility.

The monetary offer, admittedly, was awkward: I included another paragraph clarifying that any payment was only to get his attention, not quid quo pro advertising, and that if he didn't trust his brain circuitry not to be corrupted by money, then he might want to reject the offer on those grounds and only read the post if he expected it to be genuinely interesting.

Again, I realize this must seem weird and cultish to any normal people reading this. (Paying some blogger you follow one grand just to read one of your posts? What? Why? Who does that?) To this, I again refer to the reasons justifying my 2016 cheerful price offer—and that, along with tagging in Anna and Michael, whom I thought Yudkowsky respected, it was a way to signal that I really didn't want to be ignored, which I assumed was the default outcome. An ordinary programmer such as me was as a mere worm in the presence of the great Eliezer Yudkowsky. I wouldn't have had the audacity to contact him at all, about anything, if I didn't have Something to Protect.

Anna didn't reply, but I apparently did interest Michael, who chimed in on the email thread to Yudkowsky. We had a long phone conversation the next day lamenting how the "rationalists" were dead as an intellectual community.

As for the attempt to intervene on Yudkowsky—here I need to make a digression about the constraints I'm facing in telling this Whole Dumb Story. I would prefer to just tell this Whole Dumb Story as I would to my long-neglected Diary—trying my best at the difficult task of explaining what actually happened during an important part of my life, without thought of concealing anything.

(If you are silent about your pain, they'll kill you and say you enjoyed it.)

Unfortunately, a lot of other people seem to have strong intuitions about "privacy", which bizarrely impose constraints on what I'm allowed to say about my own life: in particular, it's considered unacceptable to publicly quote or summarize someone's emails from a conversation that they had reason to expect to be private. I feel obligated to comply with these widely-held privacy norms, even if I think they're paranoid and anti-social. (This secrecy-hating trait probably correlates with the autogynephilia blogging; someone otherwise like me who believed in privacy wouldn't be telling you this Whole Dumb Story.)

So I would think that while telling this Whole Dumb Story, I obviously have an inalienable right to blog about my own actions, but I'm not allowed to directly refer to private conversations with named individuals in cases where I don't think I'd be able to get the consent of the other party. (I don't think I'm required to go through the ritual of asking for consent in cases where the revealed information couldn't reasonably be considered "sensitive", or if I know the person doesn't have hangups about this weird "privacy" thing.) In this case, I'm allowed to talk about emailing Yudkowsky (because that was my action), but I'm not allowed to talk about anything he might have said in reply, or whether he did.

Unfortunately, there's a potentially serious loophole in the commonsense rule: what if some of my actions (which I would have hoped to have an inalienable right to blog about) depend on content from private conversations? You can't, in general, only reveal one side of a conversation.

Suppose Carol messages Dave at 5 p.m., "Can you come to the party?", and also, separately, that Carol messages Dave at 6 p.m., "Gout isn't contagious." Should Carol be allowed to blog about the messages she sent at 5 p.m. and 6 p.m., because she's only describing her own messages and not confirming or denying whether Dave replied at all, let alone quoting him?

I think commonsense privacy-norm-adherence intuitions actually say No here: the text of Carol's messages makes it too easy to guess that sometime between 5 and 6, Dave probably said that he couldn't come to the party because he has gout. It would seem that Carol's right to talk about her own actions in her own life does need to take into account some commonsense judgement of whether that leaks "sensitive" information about Dave.

In the substory (of my Whole Dumb Story) that follows, I'm going to describe several times that I and others emailed Yudkowsky to argue with what he said in public, without saying anything about whether Yudkowsky replied or what he might have said if he did reply. I maintain that I'm within my rights here, because I think commonsense judgment will agree that me talking about the arguments I made does not leak any sensitive information about the other side of a conversation that may or may not have happened. I think the story comes off relevantly the same whether Yudkowsky didn't reply at all (e.g., because he was too busy with more existentially important things to check his email), or whether he replied in a way that I found sufficiently unsatisfying as to occasion the further emails with followup arguments that I describe. (Talking about later emails does rule out the possible world where Yudkowsky had said, "Please stop emailing me," because I would have respected that, but the fact that he didn't say that isn't "sensitive".)

It seems particularly important to lay out these judgments about privacy norms in connection to my attempts to contact Yudkowsky, because part of what I'm trying to accomplish in telling this Whole Dumb Story is to deal reputational damage to Yudkowsky, which I claim is deserved. (We want reputations to track reality. If you see Erin exhibiting a pattern of intellectual dishonesty, and she keeps doing it even after you talk to her about it privately, you might want to write a blog post describing the pattern in detail—not to hurt Erin, particularly, but so that everyone else can make higher-quality decisions about whether they should believe the things that Erin says.) Given that motivation of mine, it seems important that I only try to hang Yudkowsky with the rope of what he said in public, where you can click the links and read the context for yourself: I'm attacking him, but not betraying him. In the substory that follows, I also describe correspondence with Scott Alexander, but that doesn't seem sensitive in the same way, because I'm not particularly trying to deal reputational damage to Alexander. (Not because Scott performed well, but because one wouldn't really have expected him to in this situation; Alexander's reputation isn't so direly in need of correction.)

Thus, I don't think I should say whether Yudkowsky replied to Michael's and my emails, nor (again) whether he accepted the cheerful-price money, because any conversation that may or may not have occurred would have been private. But what I can say, because it was public, is that we saw this addition to the Twitter thread:

I was sent this (by a third party) as a possible example of the sort of argument I was looking to read: Without yet judging its empirical content, I agree that it is not ontologically confused. It's not going "But this is a MAN so using 'she' is LYING."

Look at that! The great Eliezer Yudkowsky said that my position is "not ontologically confused." That's probably high praise, coming from him!

You might think that that should have been the end of the story. Yudkowsky denounced a particular philosophical confusion, I already had a related objection written up, and he publicly acknowledged my objection as not being the confusion he was trying to police. I should be satisfied, right?

I wasn't, in fact, satisfied. This little "not ontologically confused" clarification buried deep in the replies was much less visible than the bombastic, arrogant top-level pronouncement insinuating that resistance to gender-identity claims was confused. (1 Like on this reply, vs. 140 Likes/18 Retweets on start of thread.) This little follow-up did not seem likely to disabuse the typical reader of the impression that Yudkowsky thought gender-identity skeptics didn't have a leg to stand on. Was it greedy of me to want something louder?

Greedy or not, I wasn't done flipping out. On 1 December 2019, I wrote to Scott Alexander (cc'ing a few other people) to ask if there was any chance of an explicit and loud clarification or partial retraction of "... Not Man for the Categories" (Subject: "super-presumptuous mail about categorization and the influence graph"). Forget my boring whining about the autogynephilia/two-types thing, I said—that's a complicated empirical claim, and not the key issue.

The issue was that category boundaries are not arbitrary (if you care about intelligence being useful). You want to draw your category boundaries such that things in the same category are similar in the respects that you care about predicting/controlling, and you want to spend your information-theoretically limited budget of short words on the simplest and most widely useful categories.

It was true that the reason I was continuing to freak out about this to the extent of sending him this obnoxious email telling him what to write (seriously, who does that?!) was because of transgender stuff, but that wasn't why Scott should care.

The other year, Alexander had written a post, "Kolmogorov Complicity and the Parable of Lightning", explaining the consequences of political censorship with an allegory about a Society with the dogma that thunder occurs before lightning.4 Alexander had explained that the problem with complying with the dictates of a false orthodoxy wasn't the sacred dogma itself (it's not often that you need to directly make use of the fact that lightning comes first), but that the need to defend the sacred dogma destroys everyone's ability to think.

It was the same thing here. It wasn't that I had any practical need to misgender anyone in particular. It still wasn't okay that talking about the reality of biological sex to so-called "rationalists" got you an endless deluge of—polite! charitable! non-ostracism-threatening!—bullshit nitpicking. (What about complete androgen insensitivity syndrome? Why doesn't this ludicrous misinterpretation of what you said imply that lesbians aren't women? &c. ad infinitum.) With enough time, I thought the nitpicks could and should be satisfactorily answered; any remaining would presumably be fatal criticisms rather than bullshit nitpicks. But while I was in the process of continuing to write all that up, I hoped Alexander could see why I felt somewhat gaslighted.

(I had been told by others that I wasn't using the word "gaslighting" correctly. No one seemed to think I had the right to define that category boundary for my convenience.)

If our vaunted rationality techniques resulted in me having to spend dozens of hours patiently explaining why I didn't think that I was a woman (where "not a woman" is a convenient rhetorical shorthand for a much longer statement about naïve Bayes models and high-dimensional configuration spaces and defensible Schelling points for social norms), then our techniques were worse than useless.

If Galileo ever muttered "And yet it moves", there's a long and nuanced conversation you could have about the consequences of using the word "moves" in Galileo's preferred sense, as opposed to some other sense that happens to result in the theory needing more epicycles. It may not have been obvious in November 2014 when "... Not Man for the Categories" was published, but in retrospect, maybe it was a bad idea to build a memetic superweapon that says that the number of epicycles doesn't matter.

The reason to write this as a desperate email plea to Scott Alexander instead of working on my own blog was that I was afraid that marketing is a more powerful force than argument. Rather than good arguments propagating through the population of so-called "rationalists" no matter where they arose, what actually happened was that people like Alexander and Yudkowsky rose to power on the strength of good arguments and entertaining writing (but mostly the latter), and then everyone else absorbed some of their worldview (plus noise and conformity with the local environment). So for people who didn't win the talent lottery but thought they saw a flaw in the zeitgeist, the winning move was "persuade Scott Alexander."

Back in 2010, the rationalist community had a shared understanding that the function of language is to describe reality. Now, we didn't. If Scott didn't want to cite my creepy blog about my creepy fetish, that was fine; I liked getting credit, but the important thing was that this "No, the Emperor isn't naked—oh, well, we're not claiming that he's wearing any garments—it would be pretty weird if we were claiming that!—it's just that utilitarianism implies that the social property of clothedness should be defined this way because to do otherwise would be really mean to people who don't have anything to wear" maneuver needed to die, and he alone could kill it.

Scott didn't get it. We agreed that gender categories based on self-identity, natal sex, and passing each had their own pros and cons, and that it's uninteresting to focus on whether something "really" belongs to a category rather than on communicating what you mean. Scott took this to mean that what convention to use is a pragmatic choice we can make on utilitarian grounds, and that being nice to trans people was worth a little bit of clunkiness—that the mental health benefits to trans people were obviously enough to tip the first-order utilitarian calculus.

I didn't think anything about "mental health benefits to trans people" was obvious. More importantly, I considered myself to be prosecuting not the object-level question of which gender categories to use but the meta-level question of what normative principles govern the use of categories. For this, "whatever, it's a pragmatic choice, just be nice" wasn't an answer, because the normative principles exclude "just be nice" from being a relevant consideration.

"... Not Man for the Categories" had concluded with a section on Emperor Norton, a 19th-century San Francisco resident who declared himself Emperor of the United States. Certainly, it's not difficult or costly for the citizens of San Francisco to address Norton as "Your Majesty". But there's more to being Emperor of the United States than what people call you. Unless we abolish Congress and have the military enforce Norton's decrees, he's not actually emperor—at least not according to the currently generally understood meaning of the word.

What are you going to do if Norton takes you literally? Suppose he says, "I ordered the Imperial Army to invade Canada last week; where are the troop reports? And why do the newspapers keep talking about this so-called 'President' Rutherford B. Hayes? Have this pretender Hayes executed at once and bring his head to me!"

You're not really going to bring him Rutherford B. Hayes's head. So what are you going to tell him? "Oh, well, you're not a cis emperor who can command executions. But don't worry! Trans emperors are emperors"?

To be sure, words can be used in many ways depending on context, but insofar as Norton is interpreting "emperor" in the traditional sense, and you keep calling him your emperor without caveats or disclaimers, you are lying to him.

Scott still didn't get it. But I did soon end up in more conversation with Michael Vassar, Ben Hoffman, and Sarah Constantin, who were game to help me reach out to Yudkowsky again to explain the problem in more detail—and to appeal to the conscience of someone who built their career on higher standards.

Yudkowsky probably didn't think much of Atlas Shrugged (judging by an offhand remark by our protagonist in Harry Potter and the Methods), but I kept thinking of the scene5 where our heroine, Dagny Taggart, entreats the great Dr. Robert Stadler to denounce an egregiously deceptive but technically-not-lying statement by the State Science Institute, whose legitimacy derives from its association with his name. Stadler has become cynical in his old age and demurs: "I can't help what people think—if they think at all!" ... "How can one deal in truth when one deals with the public?"

At this point, I still trusted Yudkowsky to do better than an Ayn Rand villain; I had faith that Eliezer Yudkowsky could deal in truth when he deals with the public.

(I was wrong.)

If we had this entire posse, I felt bad and guilty and ashamed about focusing too much on my special interest except insofar as it was genuinely a proxy for "Has Eliezer and/or everyone else lost the plot, and if so, how do we get it back?" But the group seemed to agree that my philosophy-of-language grievance was a useful test case.

At times, it felt like my mind shut down with only the thought, "What am I doing? This is absurd. Why am I running around picking fights about the philosophy of language—and worse, with me arguing for the Bad Guys' position? Maybe I'm wrong and should stop making a fool of myself. After all, using Aumann-like reasoning, in a dispute of 'me and Michael Vassar vs. everyone else', wouldn't I want to bet on 'everyone else'?"

Except ... I had been raised back in the 'aughts to believe that you're you're supposed to concede arguments on the basis of encountering a superior counterargument, and I couldn't actually point to one. "Maybe I'm making a fool out of myself by picking fights with all these high-status people" is not a counterargument.

Anna continued to be disinclined to take a side in the brewing Category War, and it was beginning to put a strain on our friendship, to the extent that I kept ending up crying during our occasional meetings. She said that my "You have to pass my philosophy-of-language litmus test or I lose all respect for you as a rationalist" attitude was psychologically coercive. I agreed—I was even willing to go up to "violent", in the sense that I'd cop to trying to apply social incentives toward an outcome rather than merely exchanging information. But sometimes you need to use violence in defense of self or property. If we thought of the "rationalist" brand name as intellectual property, maybe it was property worth defending, and if so, then "I can define a word any way I want" wasn't an obviously terrible time to start shooting at the bandits.

My hope was that it was possible to apply just enough "What kind of rationalist are you?!" social pressure to cancel out the "You don't want to be a Bad (Red) person, do you??" social pressure and thereby let people look at the arguments—though I wasn't sure if that even works, and I was growing exhausted from all the social aggression I was doing. (If someone tries to take your property and you shoot at them, you could be said to be the "aggressor" in the sense that you fired the first shot, even if you hope that the courts will uphold your property claim later.)

After some more discussion within the me/Michael/Ben/Sarah posse, on 4 January 2019, I wrote to Yudkowsky again (a second time), to explain the specific problems with his "hill of meaning in defense of validity" Twitter performance, since that apparently hadn't been obvious from the earlier link to "... To Make Predictions". I cc'ed the posse, who chimed in afterwards.

Ben explained what kind of actions we were hoping for from Yudkowsky: that he would (1) notice that he'd accidentally been participating in an epistemic war, (2) generalize the insight (if he hadn't noticed, what were the odds that MIRI had adequate defenses?), and (3) join the conversation about how to actually have a rationality community, while noticing this particular way in which the problem seemed harder than it used to. For my case in particular, something that would help would be either (A) a clear ex cathedra statement that gender categories are not an exception to the general rule that categories are nonarbitrary, or (B) a clear ex cathedra statement that he's been silenced on this matter. If even (B) was too politically expensive, that seemed like important evidence about (1).

Without revealing the other side of any private conversation that may or may not have occurred, I can say that we did not get either of those ex cathedra statements at this time.

It was also around this time that our posse picked up a new member, whom I'll call "Riley".

On 5 January 2019, I met with Michael and his associate Aurora Quinn-Elmore in San Francisco to attempt mediated discourse with Ziz and Gwen, who were considering suing the Center for Applied Rationality (CfAR)6 for discriminating against trans women. Michael hoped to dissuade them from a lawsuit—not because he approved of CfAR's behavior, but because lawyers make everything worse.

Despite our personality and worldview differences, I had had a number of cooperative interactions with Ziz a couple years before. We had argued about the etiology of transsexualism in late 2016. When I sent her some delusional PMs during my February 2017 psychotic break, she came over to my apartment with chocolate ("allegedly good against dementors"), although I wasn't there. I had awarded her $1200 as part of a credit-assignment ritual to compensate the twenty-one people who were most responsible for me successfully navigating my psychological crises of February and April 2017. (The fact that she had been up to argue about trans etiology meant a lot to me.) I had accepted some packages for her at my apartment in mid-2017 when she was preparing to live on a boat and didn't have a mailing address.

At this meeting, Ziz recounted her story of how Anna Salamon (in her capacity as President of CfAR and community leader) allegedly engaged in conceptual warfare to falsely portray Ziz as a predatory male. I was unimpressed: in my worldview, I didn't think Ziz had the right to say "I'm not a man," and expect people to just believe that. (I remember that at one point, Ziz answered a question with, "Because I don't run off masochistic self-doubt like you." I replied, "That's fair.") But I did respect that Ziz actually believed in an intersex brain theory: in Ziz and Gwen's worldview, people's genders were a fact of the matter, not a manipulation of consensus categories to make people happy.

Probably the most ultimately consequential part of this meeting was Michael verbally confirming to Ziz that MIRI had settled with a disgruntled former employee, Louie Helm, who had put up a website slandering them. (I don't know the details of the alleged settlement. I'm working off of Ziz's notes rather than remembering that part of the conversation clearly myself; I don't know what Michael knew.) What was significant was that if MIRI had paid Helm as part of an agreement to get the slanderous website taken down, then (whatever the nonprofit best-practice books might have said about whether this was a wise thing to do when facing a dispute from a former employee) that would decision-theoretically amount to a blackmail payout, which seemed to contradict MIRI's advocacy of timeless decision theories (according to which you shouldn't be the kind of agent that yields to extortion).

Something else Ben had said while chiming in on the second attempt to reach out to Yudkowsky hadn't sat quite right with me.

I am pretty worried that if I actually point out the physical injuries sustained by some of the smartest, clearest-thinking, and kindest people I know in the Rationalist community as a result of this sort of thing, I'll be dismissed as a mean person who wants to make other people feel bad.

I didn't know what he was talking about. My friend "Rebecca"'s 2015 psychiatric imprisonment ("hospitalization") had probably been partially related to her partner's transition and had involved rough handling by the cops. I had been through some Bad Stuff during my psychotic episodes of February and April 2017, but none of it was "physical injuries." What were the other cases, if he could share without telling me Very Secret Secrets With Names?

Ben said that, probabilistically, he expected that some fraction of the trans women he knew who had "voluntarily" had bottom surgery had done so in response to social pressure, even if some of them might well have sought it out in a less weaponized culture.

I said that saying, "I am worried that if I actually point out the physical injuries ..." when the actual example turned out to be sex reassignment surgery seemed dishonest: I had thought he might have more examples of situations like mine or "Rebecca"'s, where gaslighting escalated into more tangible harm in a way that people wouldn't know about by default. In contrast, people already know that bottom surgery is a thing; Ben just had reasons to think it's Actually Bad—reasons that his friends couldn't engage with if we didn't know what he was talking about. It was bad enough that Yudkowsky was being so cagey; if everyone did it, then we were really doomed.

Ben said he was more worried that saying politically loaded things in the wrong order would reduce our chances of getting engagement from Yudkowsky than that someone would share his words out of context in a way that caused him distinct harm. And maybe more than both of those, that saying the wrong keywords would cause his correspondents to talk about him using the wrong keywords, in ways that caused illegible, hard-to-trace damage.

There's a view that assumes that as long as everyone is being cordial, our truthseeking public discussion must be basically on track; the discussion is only being warped by the fear of heresy if someone is overtly calling to burn the heretics.

I do not hold this view. I think there's a subtler failure mode where people know what the politically favored bottom line is, and collude to ignore, nitpick, or just be uninterested in any fact or line of argument that doesn't fit. I want to distinguish between direct ideological conformity enforcement attempts, and people not living up to their usual epistemic standards in response to ideological conformity enforcement.

Especially compared to normal Berkeley, I had to give the Berkeley "rationalists" credit for being very good at free speech norms. (I'm not sure I would be saying this in the possible world where Scott Alexander didn't have a traumatizing experience with social justice in college, causing him to dump a ton of anti-social-justice, pro-argumentative-charity antibodies into the "rationalist" water supply after he became our subculture's premier writer. But it was true in our world.) I didn't want to fall into the bravery-debate trap of, "Look at me, I'm so heroically persecuted, therefore I'm right (therefore you should have sex with me)". I wasn't angry at the "rationalists" for silencing me (which they didn't); I was angry at them for making bad arguments and systematically refusing to engage with the obvious counterarguments.

As an illustrative example, in an argument on Discord in January 2019, I said, "I need the phrase 'actual women' in my expressive vocabulary to talk about the phenomenon where, if transition technology were to improve, then the people we call 'trans women' would want to make use of that technology; I need language that asymmetrically distinguishes between the original thing that already exists without having to try, and the artificial thing that's trying to imitate it to the limits of available technology".

Kelsey Piper replied, "the people getting surgery to have bodies that do 'women' more the way they want are mostly cis women [...] I don't think 'people who'd get surgery to have the ideal female body' cuts anything at the joints."

Another woman said, "'the original thing that already exists without having to try' sounds fake to me" (to the acclaim of four "+1" emoji reactions).

The problem with this kind of exchange is not that anyone is being shouted down, nor that anyone is lying. The problem is that people are motivatedly, "algorithmically" "playing dumb." I wish we had more standard terminology for this phenomenon, which is ubiquitous in human life. By "playing dumb", I don't mean that Kelsey was consciously thinking, "I'm playing dumb in order to gain an advantage in this argument." I don't doubt that, subjectively, mentioning that cis women also get cosmetic surgery felt like a relevant reply. It's just that, in context, I was obviously trying to talk about the natural category of "biological sex", and Kelsey could have figured that out if she had wanted to.

It's not that anyone explicitly said, "Biological sex isn't real" in those words. (The elephant in the brain knew it wouldn't be able to get away with that.) But if everyone correlatedly plays dumb whenever someone tries to talk about sex in clear language in a context where that could conceivably hurt some trans person's feelings, I think what you have is a culture of de facto biological sex denialism. ("'The original thing that already exists without having to try' sounds fake to me"!!) It's not that hard to get people to admit that trans women are different from cis women, but somehow they can't (in public, using words) follow the implication that trans women are different from cis women because trans women are male.

Ben thought I was wrong to see this behavior as non-ostracizing. The deluge of motivated nitpicking is an implied marginalization threat, he explained: the game people were playing when they did that was to force me to choose between doing arbitrarily large amounts of interpretive labor or being cast as never having answered these construed-as-reasonable objections, and therefore over time losing standing to make the claim, being thought of as unreasonable, not getting invited to events, &c.

I saw the dynamic he was pointing at, but as a matter of personality, I was more inclined to respond, "Welp, I guess I need to write faster and more clearly", rather than, "You're dishonestly demanding arbitrarily large amounts of interpretive labor from me." I thought Ben was far too quick to give up on people whom he modeled as trying not to understand, whereas I continued to have faith in the possibility of making them understand if I just didn't give up. Not to play chess with a pigeon (which craps on the board and then struts around like it's won), or wrestle with a pig (which gets you both dirty, and the pig likes it), or dispute what the Tortoise said to Achilles—but to hold out hope that people in "the community" could only be boundedly motivatedly dense, and anyway that giving up wouldn't make me a stronger writer.

(Picture me playing Hermione Granger in a post-Singularity holonovel adaptation of Harry Potter and the Methods of Rationality, Emma Watson having charged me the standard licensing fee to use a copy of her body for the occasion: "We can do anything if we exert arbitrarily large amounts of interpretive labor!")

Ben thought that making them understand was hopeless and that becoming a stronger writer was a boring goal; it would be a better use of my talents to jump up a meta level and explain how people were failing to engage. That is, insofar as I expected arguing to work, I had a model of "the rationalists" that kept making bad predictions. What was going on there? Something interesting might happen if I tried to explain that.

(I guess I'm only now, after spending an additional four years exhausting every possible line of argument, taking Ben's advice on this by finishing and publishing this memoir. Sorry, Ben—and thanks.)

One thing I regret about my behavior during this period was the extent to which I was emotionally dependent on my posse, and in some ways particularly Michael, for validation. I remembered Michael as a high-status community elder back in the Overcoming Bias era (to the extent that there was a "community" in those early days).7 I had been skeptical of him: the guy makes a lot of stridently "out there" assertions, in a way that makes you assume he must be speaking metaphorically. (He always insists he's being completely literal.) But he had social proof as the President of the Singularity Institute—the "people person" of our world-saving effort, to complement Yudkowsky's antisocial mad scientist personality—which inclined me to take his assertions more charitably than I otherwise would have.

Now, the memory of that social proof was a lifeline. Dear reader, if you've never been in the position of disagreeing with the entire weight of Society's educated opinion, including your idiosyncratic subculture that tells itself a story about being smarter and more open-minded than the surrounding Society—well, it's stressful. There was a comment on the /r/slatestarcodex subreddit around this time that cited Yudkowsky, Alexander, Piper, Ozy Brennan, and Rob Bensinger as leaders of the "rationalist" community. Just an arbitrary Reddit comment of no significance whatsoever—but it was a salient indicator of the zeitgeist to me, because every single one of those people had tried to get away with some variant on the "word usage is subjective, therefore you have no grounds to object to the claim that trans women are women" mind game.

In the face of that juggernaut of received opinion, I was already feeling pretty gaslighted. ("We ... we had a whole Sequence about this. And you were there, and you were there ... It—really happened, right? The hyperlinks still work ...") I don't know how I would have held up intact if I were facing it alone. I definitely wouldn't have had the impudence to pester Alexander and Yudkowsky—especially Yudkowsky—if it was just me against everyone else.

But Michael thought I was in the right—not just intellectually, but morally in the right to be prosecuting the philosophy issue with our leaders. That social proof gave me a lot of bravery that I otherwise wouldn't have been able to muster up—even though it would have been better if I could have internalized that my dependence on him was self-undermining, insofar as Michael himself said that what made me valuable was my ability to think independently.

The social proof was probably more effective in my head than with anyone we were arguing with. I remembered Michael as a high-status community elder back in the Overcoming Bias era, but that had been a long time ago. (Luke Muelhauser had taken over leadership of the Singularity Institute in 2011, and apparently, some sort of rift between Michael and Eliezer had widened in recent years.) Michael's status in "the community" of 2019 was much more mixed. He was intensely critical of the rise of the Effective Altruism movement, which he saw as using bogus claims about how to do the most good to prey on the smartest and most scrupulous people around. (I remember being at a party in 2015 and asking Michael what else I should spend my San Francisco software engineer money on, if not the EA charities I was considering. I was surprised when his answer was, "You.")

Another blow to Michael's reputation was dealt on 27 February 2019, when Anna published a comment badmouthing Michael and suggesting that talking to him was harmful, which I found disappointing—more so as I began to realize the implications.

I agreed with her point about how "ridicule of obviously-fallacious reasoning plays an important role in discerning which thinkers can (or can't) help" fill the role of vetting and common knowledge creation. That's why I was so heartbroken about the "categories are arbitrary, therefore trans women are women" thing, which deserved to be laughed out of the room. Why was she trying to ostracize the guy who was one of the very few to back me up on this incredibly obvious thing!? The reasons given to discredit Michael seemed weak. (He ... flatters people? He ... didn't tell people to abandon their careers? What?) And the evidence against Michael she offered in private didn't seem much more compelling (e.g., at a CfAR event, he had been insistent on continuing to talk to someone who Anna thought looked near psychosis and needed a break).

It made sense for Anna to not like Michael anymore because of his personal conduct, or because of his opposition to EA. (Expecting all of my friends to be friends with each other would be Geek Social Fallacy #4.) If she didn't want to invite him to CfAR stuff, fine. But what did she gain from publicly denouncing him as someone whose "lies/manipulations can sometimes disrupt [people's] thinking for long and costly periods of time"?! She said she was trying to undo the effects of her previous endorsements of him, and that the comment seemed like it ought to be okay by Michael's standards (which didn't include an expectation that people should collude to protect each other's reputations).

I wasn't the only one whose life was being disrupted by political drama in early 2019. On 22 February, Scott Alexander posted that the /r/slatestarcodex Culture War Thread was being moved to a new non–Slate Star Codex–branded subreddit in the hopes that would curb some of the harassment he had been receiving. Alexander claimed that according to poll data and his own impressions, the Culture War Thread featured a variety of ideologically diverse voices but had nevertheless acquired a reputation as being a hive of right-wing scum and villainy.

Yudkowsky Tweeted:

Your annual reminder that Slate Star Codex is not and never was alt-right, every real stat shows as much, and the primary promoters of this lie are sociopaths who get off on torturing incredibly nice targets like Scott A.

I found Yudkowsky's use of the word "lie" here interesting given his earlier eagerness to police the use of the word "lie" by gender-identity skeptics. With the support of my posse, I wrote to him again, a third time (Subject: "on defending against 'alt-right' categorization").

I said, imagine if one of Alexander's critics were to reply: "Using language in a way you dislike, openly and explicitly and with public focus on the language and its meaning, is not lying. The proposition you claim false (explicit advocacy of a white ethnostate?) is not what the speech is meant to convey—and this is known to everyone involved, it is not a secret. You're not standing in defense of truth if you insist on a word, brought explicitly into question, being used with some particular meaning. Now, maybe as a matter of policy, you want to make a case for language like 'alt-right' being used a certain way. Well, that's a separate debate then. But you're not making a stand for Truth in doing so, and your opponents aren't tricking anyone or trying to."

How would Yudkowsky react if someone said that? My model of the Sequences-era Yudkowsky of 2009 would say, "This is an intellectually dishonest attempt to sneak in connotations by performing a categorization and using an appeal-to-arbitrariness conversation-halter to avoid having to justify it; go read 'A Human's Guide to Words.'"

But I had no idea what the real Yudkowsky of 2019 would say. If the moral of the "hill of meaning in defense of validity" thread had been that the word "lie" should be reserved for per se direct falsehoods, well, what direct falsehood was being asserted by Scott's detractors? I didn't think anyone was claiming that, say, Scott identified as alt-right, any more than anyone was claiming that trans women have two X chromosomes. Commenters on /r/SneerClub had been pretty explicit in their criticism that the Culture War thread harbored racists (&c.) and possibly that Scott himself was a secret racist, with respect to a definition of racism that included the belief that there exist genetically mediated population differences in the distribution of socially relevant traits and that this probably had decision-relevant consequences that should be discussable somewhere.

And this was correct. For example, Alexander's "The Atomic Bomb Considered As Hungarian High School Science Fair Project" favorably cites Cochran et al.'s genetic theory of Ashkenazi achievement as "really compelling." Scott was almost certainly "guilty" of the category membership that the speech was meant to convey—it's just that Sneer Club got to choose the category. If a machine-learning classifier returns positive on both Scott Alexander and Richard Spencer, the correct response is not that the classifier is "lying" (what would that even mean?) but that the classifier is not very useful for understanding Scott Alexander's effects on the world.

Of course, Scott is great, and it was right that we should defend him from the bastards trying to ruin his reputation, and it was plausible that the most politically convenient way to do that was to pound the table and call them lying sociopaths rather than engaging with the substance of their claims—much as how someone being tried under an unjust law might plead "Not guilty" to save their own skin rather than tell the whole truth and hope for jury nullification.

But, I argued, political convenience came at a dire cost to our common interest. There was a proverb Yudkowsky had once failed to Google, that ran something like, "Once someone is known to be a liar, you might as well listen to the whistling of the wind."

Similarly, once someone is known to vary the epistemic standards of their public statements for political convenience—if they say categorizations can be lies when that happens to help their friends, but seemingly deny the possibility when that happens to make them look good politically ...

Well, you're still better off listening to them than the whistling of the wind, because the wind in various possible worlds is presumably uncorrelated with most of the things you want to know about, whereas clever arguers who don't tell explicit lies are constrained in how much they can mislead you. But it seems plausible that you might as well listen to any other arbitrary smart person with a blue check and 20K Twitter followers. It might be a useful exercise, for Yudkowsky to think of what he would actually say if someone with social power actually did this to him when he was trying to use language to reason about Something he had to Protect?

(Note, my claim here is not that "Pronouns aren't lies" and "Scott Alexander is not a racist" are similarly misinformative. Rather, I'm saying that whether "You're not standing in defense of truth if you insist on a word, brought explicitly into question, being used with some particular meaning" makes sense as a response to "X isn't a Y" shouldn't depend on the specific values of X and Y. Yudkowsky's behavior the other month had made it look like he thought that "You're not standing in defense of truth if ..." was a valid response when, say, X = "Caitlyn Jenner" and Y = "woman." I was saying that whether or not it's a valid response, we should, as a matter of local validity, apply the same standard when X = "Scott Alexander" and Y = "racist.")

Without disclosing any specific content from private conversations that may or may not have happened, I can say that our posse did not get the kind of engagement from Yudkowsky that we were hoping for.

Michael said that it seemed important that, if we thought Yudkowsky wasn't interested, we should have common knowledge among ourselves that we considered him to be choosing to be a cult leader.

I settled on Sara Bareilles's "Gonna Get Over You" as my breakup song with Yudkowsky and the rationalists, often listening to a cover of it on loop to numb the pain. I found the lyrics were readily interpretable as being about my problems, even if Sara Bareilles had a different kind of breakup in mind. ("I tell myself to let the story end"—the story of the rationalists as a world-changing intellectual movement. "And my heart will rest in someone else's hand"—Michael Vassar's. "And I'm not the girl that I intend to be"—self-explanatory.)8

Meanwhile, my email thread with Scott started up again. I expressed regret that all the times I had emailed him over the past couple years had been when I was upset about something (like psych hospitals, or—something else) and wanted something from him, treating him as a means rather than an end—and then, despite that regret, I continued prosecuting the argument.

One of Alexander's most popular Less Wrong posts ever had been about the noncentral fallacy, which Alexander called "the worst argument in the world": those who (for example) crow that abortion is murder (because murder is the killing of a human being), or that Martin Luther King, Jr. was a criminal (because he defied the segregation laws of the South), are engaging in a dishonest rhetorical maneuver in which they're trying to trick their audience into assigning attributes of the typical "murder" or "criminal" to what are very noncentral members of those categories.

Even if you're opposed to abortion, or have negative views about the historical legacy of Dr. King, this isn't the right way to argue. If you call Fiona a murderer, that causes me to form a whole bunch of implicit probabilistic expectations on the basis of what the typical "murder" is like—expectations about Fiona's moral character, about the suffering of a victim whose hopes and dreams were cut short, about Fiona's relationship with the law, &c.—most of which get violated when you reveal that the murder victim was an embryo.

In the form of a series of short parables, I tried to point out that Alexander's own "The Worst Argument in the World" is complaining about the same category-gerrymandering move that his "... Not Man for the Categories" comes out in favor of. We would not let someone get away with declaring, "I ought to accept an unexpected abortion or two deep inside the conceptual boundaries of what would normally not be considered murder if it'll save someone's life." Maybe abortion is wrong and relevantly similar to the central sense of "murder", but you need to make that case on the empirical merits, not by linguistic fiat (Subject: "twelve short stories about language").

Scott still didn't get it. He didn't see why he shouldn't accept one unit of categorizational awkwardness in exchange for sufficiently large utilitarian benefits. He made an analogy to some lore from the Glowfic collaborative fiction writing community, a story about orcs who had unwisely sworn a oath to serve the evil god Melkor. Though the orcs intend no harm of their own will, they're magically bound to obey Melkor's commands and serve as his terrible army or else suffer unbearable pain. Our heroine comes up with a solution: she founds a new religion featuring a deist God who also happens to be named "Melkor". She convinces the orcs that since the oath didn't specify which Melkor, they're free to follow her new God instead of evil Melkor, and the magic binding the oath apparently accepts this casuistry if the orcs themselves do.

Scott's attitude toward the new interpretation of the oath in the story was analogous to his thinking about transgenderedness: sure, the new definition may be a little awkward and unnatural, but it's not objectively false, and it made life better for so many orcs. If rationalists should win, then the true rationalist in this story was the one who thought up this clever hack to save an entire species.

I started drafting a long reply—but then I remembered that in recent discussion with my posse, the idea had come up that in-person meetings are better for resolving disagreements. Would Scott be up for meeting in person some weekend? Non-urgent. Ben would be willing to moderate, unless Scott wanted to suggest someone else, or no moderator.

Scott didn't want to meet. I considered resorting to the tool of cheerful prices, which I hadn't yet used against Scott—to say, "That's totally understandable! Would a financial incentive change your decision? For a two-hour meeting, I'd be happy to pay up to $4000 to you or your preferred charity. If you don't want the money, then let's table this. I hope you're having a good day." But that seemed sufficiently psychologically coercive and socially weird that I wasn't sure I wanted to go there. On 18 March, I emailed my posse asking what they thought—and then added that maybe they shouldn't reply until Friday, because it was Monday, and I really needed to focus on my dayjob that week.

This is the part where I began to ... overheat. I tried ("tried") to focus on my dayjob, but I was just so angry. Did Scott really not understand the rationality-relevant distinction between "value-dependent categories as a result of caring about predicting different variables" (as explained by the dagim/water-dwellers vs. fish example in "... Not Man for the Categories") and "value-dependent categories in order to not make my friends sad"? Was he that dumb? Or was it that he was only verbal-smart, and this is the sort of thing that only makes sense if you've ever been good at linear algebra? (Such that the language of "only running your clustering algorithm on the subspace of the configuration space spanned by the variables that are relevant to your decisions" would come naturally.) Did I need to write a post explaining just that one point in mathematical detail, with executable code and a worked example with entropy calculations?

My dayjob boss made it clear that he was expecting me to have code for my current Jira tickets by noon the next day, so I deceived myself into thinking I could accomplish that by staying at the office late. Maybe I could have caught up, if it were just a matter of the task being slightly harder than anticipated and I weren't psychologically impaired from being hyper-focused on the religious war. The problem was that focus is worth 30 IQ points, and an IQ 100 person can't do my job.

I was in so much (psychological) pain. Or at least, in one of a series of emails to my posse that night, I felt motivated to type the sentence, "I'm in so much (psychological) pain." I'm never sure how to interpret my own self-reports, because even when I'm really emotionally trashed (crying, shaking, randomly yelling, &c.), I think I'm still noticeably incentivizable: if someone were to present a credible threat (like slapping me and telling me to snap out of it), then I would be able to calm down. There's some sort of game-theory algorithm in the brain that feels subjectively genuine distress (like crying or sending people too many hysterical emails) but only when it can predict that it will be rewarded with sympathy or at least tolerated: tears are a discount on friendship.

I tweeted a Sequences quote (the mention of @ESYudkowsky being to attribute credit, I told myself; I figured Yudkowsky had enough followers that he probably wouldn't see a notification):

"—and if you still have something to protect, so that you MUST keep going, and CANNOT resign and wisely acknowledge the limitations of rationality— [1/3]

"—then you will be ready to start your journey[.] To take sole responsibility, to live without any trustworthy defenses, and to forge a higher Art than the one you were once taught. [2/3]

"No one begins to truly search for the Way until their parents have failed them, their gods are dead, and their tools have shattered in their hand." —@ESYudkowsky ( [end/3]

Only it wasn't quite appropriate. The quote is about failure resulting in the need to invent new methods of rationality, better than the ones you were taught. But the methods I had been taught were great! I didn't have a pressing need to improve on them! I just couldn't cope with everyone else having forgotten!

I did eventually get some dayjob work done that night, but I didn't finish the whole thing my manager wanted done by the next day, and at 4 a.m., I concluded that I needed sleep, the lack of which had historically been very dangerous for me (being the trigger for my 2013 and 2017 psychotic breaks and subsequent psych imprisonments). We really didn't want another outcome like that. There was a couch in the office, and probably another four hours until my coworkers started to arrive. The thing I needed to do was just lie down on the couch in the dark and have faith that sleep would come. Meeting my manager's deadline wasn't that important. When people came in to the office, I might ask for help getting an Uber home? Or help buying melatonin? The important thing was to be calm.

I sent an email explaining this to Scott and my posse and two other friends (Subject: "predictably bad ideas").

Lying down didn't work. So at 5:26 a.m., I sent an email to Scott cc'ing my posse plus Anna about why I was so mad (both senses). I had a better draft sitting on my desktop at home, but since I was here and couldn't sleep, I might as well type this version (Subject: "five impulsive points, hastily written because I just can't even (was: Re: predictably bad ideas)"). Scott had been continuing to insist it's okay to gerrymander category boundaries for trans people's mental health, but there were a few things I didn't understand. If creatively reinterpreting the meanings of words because the natural interpretation would make people sad is okay, why didn't that generalize to an argument in favor of outright lying when the truth would make people sad? The mind games seemed crueler to me than a simple lie. Also, if "mental health benefits for trans people" matter so much, then why didn't my mental health matter? Wasn't I trans, sort of? Getting shut down by appeal-to-utilitarianism when I was trying to use reason to make sense of the world was observably really bad for my sanity!

Also, Scott had asked me if it wouldn't be embarrassing if the community solved Friendly AI and went down in history as the people who created Utopia forever, and I had rejected it because of gender stuff. But the original reason it had ever seemed remotely plausible that we would create Utopia forever wasn't "because we're us, the world-saving good guys," but because we were going to perfect an art of systematically correct reasoning. If we weren't going to do systematically correct reasoning because that would make people sad, then that undermined the reason that it was plausible that we would create Utopia forever.

Also-also, Scott had proposed a super–Outside View of the culture war as an evolutionary process that produces memes optimized to trigger PTSD syndromes and suggested that I think of that as what was happening to me. But, depending on how much credence Scott put in social proof, mightn't the fact that I managed to round up this whole posse to help me repeatedly argue with (or harass) Yudkowsky shift his estimate over whether my concerns had some objective merit that other people could see, too? It could simultaneously be the case that I had culture-war PTSD and my concerns had merit.

Michael replied at 5:58 a.m., saying that everyone's first priority should be making sure that I could sleep—that given that I was failing to adhere to my commitments to sleep almost immediately after making them, I should be interpreted as urgently needing help, and that Scott had comparative advantage in helping, given that my distress was most centrally over Scott gaslighting me, asking me to consider the possibility that I was wrong while visibly not considering the same possibility regarding himself.

That seemed a little harsh on Scott to me. At 6:14 a.m. and 6:21 a.m., I wrote a couple emails to everyone that my plan was to get a train back to my own apartment to sleep, that I was sorry for making such a fuss despite being incentivizable while emotionally distressed, that I should be punished in accordance with the moral law for sending too many hysterical emails because I thought I could get away with it, that I didn't need Scott's help, and that I thought Michael was being a little aggressive about that, but that I guessed that's also kind of Michael's style.

Michael was furious with me. ("What the FUCK Zack!?! Calling now," he emailed me at 6:18 a.m.) I texted and talked with him on my train ride home. He seemed to have a theory that people who are behaving badly, as Scott was, will only change when they see a victim who is being harmed. Me escalating and then immediately deescalating just after Michael came to help was undermining the attempt to force an honest confrontation, such that we could get to the point of having a Society with morality or punishment.

Anyway, I did get to my apartment and sleep for a few hours. One of the other friends I had cc'd on some of the emails, whom I'll call "Meredith", came to visit me later that morning with her 2½-year-old son—I mean, her son at the time.

(Incidentally, the code that I had written intermittently between 11 p.m. and 4 a.m. was a horrible bug-prone mess, and the company has been paying for it ever since.)

At some level, I wanted Scott to know how frustrated I was about his use of "mental health for trans people" as an Absolute Denial Macro. But when Michael started advocating on my behalf, I started to minimize my claims because I had a generalized attitude of not wanting to sell myself as a victim. Ben pointed out that making oneself mentally ill in order to extract political concessions only works if you have a lot of people doing it in a visibly coordinated way—and even if it did work, getting into a dysphoria contest with trans people didn't seem like it led anywhere good.

I supposed that in Michael's worldview, aggression is more honest than passive-aggression. That seemed true, but I was psychologically limited in how much overt aggression I was willing to deploy against my friends. (And particularly Yudkowsky, whom I still hero-worshiped.) But clearly, the tension between "I don't want to do too much social aggression" and "Losing the Category War within the rationalist community is absolutely unacceptable" was causing me to make wildly inconsistent decisions. (Emailing Scott at 4 a.m. and then calling Michael "aggressive" when he came to defend me was just crazy: either one of those things could make sense, but not both.)

Did I just need to accept that was no such a thing as a "rationalist community"? (Sarah had told me as much two years ago while tripsitting me during my psychosis relapse, but I hadn't made the corresponding mental adjustments.)

On the other hand, a possible reason to be attached to the "rationalist" brand name and social identity that wasn't just me being stupid was that the way I talk had been trained really hard on this subculture for ten years. Most of my emails during this whole campaign had contained multiple Sequences or Slate Star Codex links that I could expect the recipients to have read. I could use the phrase "Absolute Denial Macro" in conversation and expect to be understood. If I gave up on the "rationalists" being a thing, and went out into the world to make friends with Quillette readers or arbitrary University of Chicago graduates, then I would lose all that accumulated capital. Here, I had a massive home territory advantage because I could appeal to Yudkowsky's writings about the philosophy of language from ten years ago and people couldn't say, "Eliezer who? He's probably a Bad Man."

The language I spoke was mostly educated American English, but I relied on subculture dialect for a lot. My sister has a chemistry doctorate from MIT (and so speaks the language of STEM intellectuals generally), and when I showed her "... To Make Predictions", she reported finding it somewhat hard to read, likely because I casually use phrases like "thus, an excellent motte" and expect to be understood without the reader taking 10 minutes to read the link. That essay, which was me writing from the heart in the words that came most naturally to me, could not be published in Quillette. The links and phraseology were just too context bound.

Maybe that's why I felt like I had to stand my ground and fight for the world I was made in, even though the contradiction between the war effort and my general submissiveness had me making crazy decisions.

Michael said that a reason to make a stand here in "the community" was because if we didn't, the beacon of "rationalism" would continue to lure and mislead others—but that more importantly, we needed to figure out how to win this kind of argument decisively, as a group. We couldn't afford to accept a status quo of accepting defeat when faced with bad faith arguments in general. Ben reported writing to Scott to ask him to alter the beacon so that people like me wouldn't think "the community" was the place to go for the rationality thing anymore.

As it happened, the next day, we saw these Tweets from @ESYudkowsky, linking to a Quillette article interviewing Lisa Littman about her work positing a socially contagious "rapid onset" type of gender dysphoria among young females:

Everything more complicated than protons tends to come in varieties. Hydrogen, for example, has isotopes. Gender dysphoria involves more than one proton and will probably have varieties.

To be clear, I don't know much about gender dysphoria. There's an allegation that people are reluctant to speciate more than one kind of gender dysphoria. To the extent that's not a strawman, I would say only in a generic way that GD seems liable to have more than one species.

(Why now? Maybe he saw the tag in my "tools have shattered" Tweet on Monday, or maybe the Quillette article was just timely?)

The most obvious reading of these Tweets was as a political concession to me. The two-type taxonomy of MtF was the thing I was originally trying to talk about, back in 2016–2017, before getting derailed onto the present philosophy-of-language war, and here Yudkowsky was backing up my side on that.

At this point, some readers might think that this should have been the end of the matter, that I should have been satisfied. I had started the recent drama flare-up because Yudkowsky had Tweeted something unfavorable to my agenda. But now, Yudkowsky was Tweeting something favorable to my agenda! Wouldn't it be greedy and ungrateful for me to keep criticizing him about the pronouns and language thing, given that he'd thrown me a bone here? Shouldn't I call it even?

That's not how it works. The entire concept of "sides" to which one can make "concessions" is an artifact of human coalitional instincts. It's not something that makes sense as a process for constructing a map that reflects the territory. My posse and I were trying to get a clarification about a philosophy-of-language claim Yudkowsky had made a few months prior ("you're not standing in defense of truth if [...]"). Why would we stop prosecuting that because of this unrelated Tweet about the etiology of gender dysphoria? That wasn't the thing we were trying to clarify!

Moreover—and I'm embarrassed that it took me another day to realize this—this new argument from Yudkowsky about the etiology of gender dysphoria was wrong. As I would later get around to explaining in "On the Argumentative Form 'Super-Proton Things Tend to Come in Varieties'", when people claim that some psychological or medical condition "comes in varieties", they're making a substantive empirical claim that the causal or statistical structure of the condition is usefully modeled as distinct clusters, not merely making the trivial observation that instances of the condition are not identical down to the subatomic level.

So we shouldn't think that there are probably multiple kinds of gender dysphoria because things are made of protons. If anything, a priori reasoning about the cognitive function of categorization should actually cut in the other direction, (mildly) against rather than in favor of multi-type theories: you only want to add more categories to your theory if they can pay for their additional complexity with better predictions. If you believe in Blanchard–Bailey–Lawrence's two-type taxonomy of MtF, or Littman's proposed rapid-onset type, it should be on the empirical merits, not because multi-type theories are a priori more likely to be true (which they aren't).

Had Yudkowsky been thinking that maybe if he Tweeted something favorable to my agenda, then I and the rest of Michael's gang would be satisfied and leave him alone?

But if there's some other reason you suspect there might be multiple species of dysphoria, but you tell people your suspicion is because "everything more complicated than protons tends to come in varieties", you're still misinforming people for political reasons, which was the general problem we were trying to alert Yudkowsky to. Inventing fake rationality lessons in response to political pressure is not okay, and the fact that in this case the political pressure happened to be coming from me didn't make it okay.

I asked the posse if this analysis was worth sending to Yudkowsky. Michael said it wasn't worth the digression. He asked if I was comfortable generalizing from Scott's behavior, and what others had said about fear of speaking openly, to assuming that something similar was going on with Eliezer? If so, then now that we had common knowledge, we needed to confront the actual crisis, "that dread is tearing apart old friendships and causing fanatics to betray everything that they ever stood for while its existence is still being denied."

That week, former MIRI researcher Jessica Taylor joined our posse (being at an in-person meeting with Ben and Sarah and another friend on the seventeenth, and getting tagged in subsequent emails). I had met Jessica for the first time in March 2017, shortly after my psychotic break, and I had been part of the group trying to take care of her when she had her own break in late 2017, but other than that, we hadn't been particularly close.

Significantly for political purposes, Jessica is trans. We didn't have to agree up front on all gender issues for her to see the epistemology problem with "... Not Man for the Categories", and to say that maintaining a narcissistic fantasy by controlling category boundaries wasn't what she wanted, as a trans person. (On the seventeenth, when I lamented the state of a world that incentivized us to be political enemies, her response was, "Well, we could talk about it first.") Michael said that me and Jessica together had more moral authority than either of us alone.

As it happened, I ran into Scott on the BART train that Friday, the twenty-second. He said he wasn't sure why the oft-repeated moral of "A Human's Guide to Words" had been "You can't define a word any way you want" rather than "You can define a word any way you want, but then you have to deal with the consequences."

Ultimately, I thought this was a pedagogy decision that Yudkowsky had gotten right back in 2008. If you write your summary slogan in relativist language, people predictably take that as license to believe whatever they want without having to defend it. Whereas if you write your summary slogan in objectivist language—so that people know they don't have social permission to say, "It's subjective, so I can't be wrong"—then you have some hope of sparking useful thought about the exact, precise ways that specific, definite things are relative to other specific, definite things.

I told Scott I would send him one more email with a piece of evidence about how other "rationalists" were thinking about the categories issue and give my commentary on the parable about orcs, and then the present thread would probably drop there.

Concerning what others were thinking: on Discord in January, Kelsey Piper had told me that everyone else experienced their disagreement with me as being about where the joints are and which joints are important, where usability for humans was a legitimate criterion of importance, and it was annoying that I thought they didn't believe in carving reality at the joints at all and that categories should be whatever makes people happy.

I didn't want to bring it up at the time because I was so overjoyed that the discussion was actually making progress on the core philosophy-of-language issue, but Scott did seem to be pretty explicit that his position was about happiness rather than usability? If Kelsey thought she agreed with Scott, but actually didn't, that sham consensus was a bad sign for our collective sanity, wasn't it?

As for the parable about orcs, I thought it was significant that Scott chose to tell the story from the standpoint of non-orcs deciding what verbal behaviors to perform while orcs are around, rather than the standpoint of the orcs themselves. For one thing, how do you know that serving evil-Melkor is a life of constant torture? Is it at all possible that someone has given you misleading information about that?

Moreover, you can't just give an orc a clever misinterpretation of an oath and have them believe it. First you have to cripple their general ability to correctly interpret oaths, for the same reason that you can't get someone to believe that 2+2=5 without crippling their general ability to do arithmetic. We weren't talking about a little "white lie" that the listener will never get to see falsified (like telling someone their dead dog is in heaven); the orcs already know the text of the oath, and you have to break their ability to understand it. Are you willing to permanently damage an orc's ability to reason in order to save them pain? For some sufficiently large amount of pain, surely. But this isn't a choice to make lightly—and the choices people make to satisfy their own consciences don't always line up with the volition of their alleged beneficiaries. We think we can lie to save others from pain, without wanting to be lied to ourselves. But behind the veil of ignorance, it's the same choice!

I also had more to say about philosophy of categories: I thought I could be more rigorous about the difference between "caring about predicting different variables" and "caring about consequences", in a way that Eliezer would have to understand even if Scott didn't. (Scott had claimed that he could use gerrymandered categories and still be just as good at making predictions—but that's just not true if we're talking about the internal use of categories as a cognitive algorithm, rather than mere verbal behavior. It's easy to say "X is a Y" for arbitrary X and Y if the stakes demand it, but that's not the same thing as using that concept of Y internally as part of your world-model.)

But after consultation with the posse, I concluded that further email prosecution was not useful at this time; the philosophy argument would work better as a public Less Wrong post. So my revised Category War to-do list was:

  • Send the brief wrapping-up/end-of-conversation email to Scott (with the Discord anecdote about Kelsey and commentary on the orc story).
  • Mentally write off Scott, Eliezer, and the so-called "rationalist" community as a loss so that I wouldn't be in horrible emotional pain from cognitive dissonance all the time.
  • Write up the mathy version of the categories argument for Less Wrong (which I thought might take a few months—I had a dayjob, and write slowly, and might need to learn some new math, which I'm also slow at).
  • Then email the link to Scott and Eliezer asking for a signal boost and/or court ruling.

Ben didn't think the mathematically precise categories argument was the most important thing for Less Wrong readers to know about: a similarly careful explanation of why I'd written off Scott, Eliezer, and the "rationalists" would be way more valuable.

I could see the value he was pointing at, but something in me balked at the idea of attacking my friends in public (Subject: "treachery, faith, and the great river (was: Re: DRAFTS: 'wrapping up; or, Orc-ham's razor' and 'on the power and efficacy of categories')").

Ben had previously written (in the context of the effective altruism movement) about how holding criticism to a higher standard than praise distorts our collective map. He was obviously correct that this was a distortionary force relative to what ideal Bayesian agents would do, but I was worried that when we're talking about criticism of people rather than ideas, the removal of the distortionary force would just result in social conflict (and not more truth). Criticism of institutions and social systems should be filed under "ideas" rather than "people", but the smaller-scale you get, the harder this distinction is to maintain: criticizing, say, "the Center for Effective Altruism", somehow feels more like criticizing Will MacAskill personally than criticizing "the United States" does, even though neither CEA nor the U.S. is a person.

That was why I couldn't give up faith that honest discourse eventually wins. Under my current strategy and consensus social norms, I could criticize Scott or Kelsey or Ozy's ideas without my social life dissolving into a war of all against all, whereas if I were to give in to the temptation to flip a table and say, "Okay, now I know you guys are just messing with me," then I didn't see how that led anywhere good, even if they really were.

Jessica explained what she saw as the problem with this. What Ben was proposing was creating clarity about behavioral patterns. I was saying that I was afraid that creating such clarity is an attack on someone. But if so, then my blog was an attack on trans people. What was going on here?

Socially, creating clarity about behavioral patterns is construed as an attack and can make things worse for someone. For example, if your livelihood is based on telling a story about you and your flunkies being the only sane truthseeking people in the world, then me demonstrating that you don't care about the truth when it's politically inconvenient is a threat to your marketing story and therefore to your livelihood. As a result, it's easier to create clarity down power gradients than up them: it was easy for me to blow the whistle on trans people's narcissistic delusions, but hard to blow the whistle on Yudkowsky's.9

But selectively creating clarity down but not up power gradients just reinforces existing power relations—in the same way that selectively criticizing arguments with politically unfavorable conclusions only reinforces your current political beliefs. I shouldn't be able to get away with claiming that calling non-exclusively-androphilic trans women delusional perverts is okay on the grounds that that which can be destroyed by the truth should be, but that calling out Alexander and Yudkowsky would be unjustified on the grounds of starting a war or whatever. Jessica was on board with a project to tear down narcissistic fantasies in general, but not a project that starts by tearing down trans people's narcissistic fantasies, then emits spurious excuses for not following that effort where it leads.

Somewhat apologetically, I replied that the distinction between truthfully, publicly criticizing group identities and named individuals still seemed important to me?—as did avoiding leaking info from private conversations. I would be more comfortable writing a scathing blog post about the behavior of "rationalists", than about a specific person not adhering to good discourse norms in an email conversation that they had good reason to expect to be private. I thought I was consistent about this; contrast my writing with the way that some anti-trans writers name and shame particular individuals. (The closest I had come was mentioning Danielle Muscato as someone who doesn't pass—and even there, I admitted it was "unclassy" and done out of desperation.) I had to acknowledge that criticism of non-exclusively-androphilic trans women in general implied criticism of Jessica, and criticism of "rationalists" in general implied criticism of Yudkowsky and Alexander and me, but the extra inferential step and "fog of probability" seemed to make the speech act less of an attack. Was I wrong?

Michael said this was importantly backwards: less precise targeting is more violent. If someone said, "Michael Vassar is a terrible person," he would try to be curious, but if they didn't have an argument, he would tend to worry more "for" them and less "about" them, whereas if someone said, "The Jews are terrible people," he saw that as a more serious threat to his safety. (And rationalists and trans women are exactly the sort of people who get targeted by the same people who target Jews.)

Polishing the advanced categories argument from earlier email drafts into a solid Less Wrong post didn't take that long: by 6 April 2019, I had an almost complete draft of the new post, "Where to Draw the Boundaries?", that I was pretty happy with.

The title (note: "boundaries", plural) was a play off of "Where to Draw the Boundary?" (note: "boundary", singular), a post from Yudkowsky's original Sequence on the 37 ways in which words can be wrong. In "... Boundary?", Yudkowsky asserts (without argument, as something that all educated people already know) that dolphins don't form a natural category with fish ("Once upon a time it was thought that the word 'fish' included dolphins [...] Or you could stop playing nitwit games and admit that dolphins don't belong on the fish list"). But Alexander's "... Not Man for the Categories" directly contradicts this, asserting that there's nothing wrong with the biblical Hebrew word dagim encompassing both fish and cetaceans (dolphins and whales). So who's right—Yudkowsky (2008) or Alexander (2014)? Is there a problem with dolphins being "fish", or not?

In "... Boundaries?", I unify the two positions and explain how both Yudkowsky and Alexander have a point: in high-dimensional configuration space, there's a cluster of finned water-dwelling animals in the subspace of the dimensions along which finned water-dwelling animals are similar to each other, and a cluster of mammals in the subspace of the dimensions along which mammals are similar to each other, and dolphins belong to both of them. Which subspace you pay attention to depends on your values: if you don't care about predicting or controlling some particular variable, you have no reason to look for similarity clusters along that dimension.

But given a subspace of interest, the technical criterion of drawing category boundaries around regions of high density in configuration space still applies. There is Law governing which uses of communication signals transmit which information, and the Law can't be brushed off with, "whatever, it's a pragmatic choice, just be nice." I demonstrate the Law with a couple of simple mathematical examples: if you redefine a codeword that originally pointed to one cluster in ℝ³, to also include another, that changes the quantitative predictions you make about an unobserved coordinate given the codeword; if an employer starts giving the title "Vice President" to line workers, that decreases the mutual information between the job title and properties of the job.

(Jessica and Ben's discussion of the job title example in relation to the Wikipedia summary of Jean Baudrillard's Simulacra and Simulation got published separately and ended up taking on a life of its own in future posts, including a number of posts by other authors.)

Sarah asked if the math wasn't a bit overkill: were the calculations really necessary to make the basic point that good definitions should be about classifying the world, rather than about what's pleasant or politically expedient to say?

I thought the math was important as an appeal to principle—and as intimidation. (As it was written, the tenth virtue is precision! Even if you cannot do the math, knowing that the math exists tells you that the dance step is precise and has no room in it for your whims.)

"... Boundaries?" explains all this in the form of discourse with a hypothetical interlocutor arguing for the I-can-define-a-word-any-way-I-want position. In the hypothetical interlocutor's parts, I wove in verbatim quotes (without attribution) from Alexander ("an alternative categorization system is not an error, and borders are not objectively true or false") and Yudkowsky ("You're not standing in defense of truth if you insist on a word, brought explicitly into question, being used with some particular meaning"; "Using language in a way you dislike is not lying. The propositions you claim false [...] is not what the [...] is meant to convey, and this is known to everyone involved; it is not a secret") and Bensinger ("doesn't unambiguously refer to the thing you're trying to point at").

My thinking here was that the posse's previous email campaigns had been doomed to failure by being too closely linked to the politically contentious object-level topic, which reputable people had strong incentives not to touch with a ten-meter pole. So if I wrote this post just explaining what was wrong with the claims Yudkowsky and Alexander had made about the philosophy of language, with perfectly innocent examples about dolphins and job titles, that would remove the political barrier to Yudkowsky correcting the philosophy of language error. If someone with a threatening social-justicey aura were to say, "Wait, doesn't this contradict what you said about trans people earlier?", the reputable people could stonewall them. (Stonewall them and not me!)

Another reason someone might be reluctant to correct mistakes when pointed out is the fear that such a policy could be abused by motivated nitpickers. It would be pretty annoying to be obligated to churn out an endless stream of trivial corrections by someone motivated to comb through your entire portfolio and point out every little thing you did imperfectly, ever.

I wondered if maybe, in Scott or Eliezer's mental universe, I was a blameworthy (or pitiably mentally ill) nitpicker for flipping out over a blog post from 2014 (!) and some Tweets (!!) from November. I, too, had probably said things that were wrong five years ago.

But I thought I had made a pretty convincing case that a lot of people were making a correctable and important rationality mistake, such that the cost of a correction (about the philosophy of language specifically, not any possible implications for gender politics) would be justified here. As Ben pointed out, if someone had put this much effort into pointing out an error I had made four months or five years ago and making careful arguments for why it was important to get the right answer, I probably would put some serious thought into it.

I could see a case that it was unfair of me to include political subtext and then only expect people to engage with the politically clean text, but if we weren't going to get into full-on gender-politics on Less Wrong (which seemed like a bad idea), but gender politics was motivating an epistemology error, I wasn't sure what else I was supposed to do. I was pretty constrained here!

(I did regret having accidentally poisoned the well the previous month by impulsively sharing "Blegg Mode" as a Less Wrong linkpost. "Blegg Mode" had originally been drafted as part of "... To Make Predictions" before getting spun off as a separate post. Frustrated in March at our failing email campaign, I thought it was politically "clean" enough to belatedly share, but it proved to be insufficiently deniably allegorical, as evidenced by the 60-plus-entry trainwreck of a comments section. It's plausible that some portion of the Less Wrong audience would have been more receptive to "... Boundaries?" if they hadn't been alerted to the political context by the comments on the "Blegg Mode" linkpost.)

On 13 April 2019, I pulled the trigger on publishing "... Boundaries?", and wrote to Yudkowsky again, a fourth time (!), asking if he could either publicly endorse the post, or publicly comment on what he thought the post got right and what he thought it got wrong—and that if engaging on this level was too expensive for him in terms of spoons, if there was any action I could take to somehow make it less expensive. The reason I thought this was important, I explained, was that if rationalists in good standing find themselves in a persistent disagreement about rationality itself, that seemed like a major concern for our common interest, something we should be eager to definitively settle in public (or at least clarify the current state of the disagreement). In the absence of a rationality court of last resort, I feared the closest thing we had was an appeal to Eliezer Yudkowsky's personal judgment. Despite the context in which the dispute arose, this wasn't a political issue. The post I was asking for his comment on was just about the mathematical laws governing how to talk about, e.g., dolphins. We had nothing to be afraid of here. (Subject: "movement to clarity; or, rationality court filing").

I got some pushback from Ben and Jessica about claiming that this wasn't "political". What I meant by that was to emphasize (again) that I didn't expect Yudkowsky or "the community" to take a public stance on gender politics. Rather, I was trying to get "us" to take a stance in favor of the kind of epistemology that we were doing in 2008. It turns out that epistemology has implications for gender politics that are unsafe, but that's more inferential steps. And I guess I didn't expect the sort of people who would punish good epistemology to follow the inferential steps?

Anyway, again without revealing any content from the other side of any private conversations that may or may not have occurred, we did not get any public engagement from Yudkowsky.

It seemed that the Category War was over, and we lost.

We lost?! How could we lose?! The philosophy here was clear-cut. This shouldn't be hard or expensive or difficult to clear up. I could believe that Alexander was "honestly" confused, but Yudkowsky?

I could see how, under ordinary circumstances, asking Yudkowsky to weigh in on my post would be inappropriately demanding of a Very Important Person's time, given that an ordinary programmer such as me was surely as a mere worm in the presence of the great Eliezer Yudkowsky. (I would have humbly given up much sooner if I hadn't gotten social proof from Michael and Ben and Sarah and "Riley" and Jessica.)

But the only reason for my post to exist was because it would be even more inappropriately demanding to ask for a clarification in the original gender-political context. The economist Thomas Schelling (of "Schelling point" fame) once wrote about the use of clever excuses to help one's negotiating counterparty release themself from a prior commitment: "One must seek [...] a rationalization by which to deny oneself too great a reward from the opponent's concession, otherwise the concession will not be made."10 This is what I was trying to do when soliciting—begging for—engagement or endorsement of "... Boundaries?" By making the post be about dolphins, I was trying to deny myself too great of a reward on the gender-politics front. I don't think it was inappropriately demanding to expect "us" (him) to be correct about the cognitive function of categorization. I was trying to be as accommodating as I could, short of just letting him (us?) be wrong.

I would have expected him to see why we had to make a stand here, where the principles of reasoning that made it possible for words to be assigned interpretations at all were under threat.

A hill of validity in defense of meaning.

Maybe that's not how politics works? Could it be that, somehow, the mob-punishment mechanisms that weren't smart enough to understand the concept of "bad argument (categories are arbitrary) for a true conclusion (trans people are OK)", were smart enough to connect the dots between my broader agenda and my abstract philosophy argument, such that VIPs didn't think they could endorse my philosophy argument, without it being construed as an endorsement of me and my detailed heresies?

Jessica mentioned talking with someone about me writing to Yudkowsky and Alexander about the category boundary issue. This person described having a sense that I should have known it wouldn't work—because of the politics involved, not because I wasn't right. I thought Jessica's takeaway was poignant:

Those who are savvy in high-corruption equilibria maintain the delusion that high corruption is common knowledge, to justify expropriating those who naively don't play along, by narratizing them as already knowing and therefore intentionally attacking people, rather than being lied to and confused.

Should I have known that it wouldn't work? Didn't I "already know", at some level?

I guess in retrospect, the outcome does seem kind of obvious—that it should have been possible to predict in advance, and to make the corresponding update without so much fuss and wasting so many people's time.

But it's only "obvious" if you take as a given that Yudkowsky is playing a savvy Kolmogorov complicity strategy like any other public intellectual in the current year.

Maybe this seems banal if you haven't spent your entire adult life in his robot cult. From anyone else in the world, I wouldn't have had a problem with the "hill of meaning in defense of validity" thread—I would have respected it as a solidly above-average philosophy performance before setting the bozo bit on the author and getting on with my day. But since I did spend my entire adult life in Yudkowsky's robot cult, trusting him the way a Catholic trusts the Pope, I had to assume that it was an "honest mistake" in his rationality lessons, and that honest mistakes could be honestly corrected if someone put in the effort to explain the problem. The idea that Eliezer Yudkowsky was going to behave just as badly as any other public intellectual in the current year was not really in my hypothesis space.

Ben shared the account of our posse's email campaign with someone who commented that I had "sacrificed all hope of success in favor of maintaining his own sanity by CC'ing you guys." That is, if I had been brave enough to confront Yudkowsky by myself, maybe there was some hope of him seeing that the game he was playing was wrong. But because I was so cowardly as to need social proof (because I believed that an ordinary programmer such as me was as a mere worm in the presence of the great Eliezer Yudkowsky), it probably just looked to him like an illegible social plot originating from Michael.

One might wonder why this was such a big deal to us. Okay, so Yudkowsky had prevaricated about his own philosophy of language for political reasons, and he couldn't be moved to clarify even after we spent an enormous amount of effort trying to explain the problem. So what? Aren't people wrong on the internet all the time?

This wasn't just anyone being wrong on the internet. In an essay on the development of cultural traditions, Scott Alexander had written that rationalism is the belief that Eliezer Yudkowsky is the rightful caliph. To no small extent, I and many other people had built our lives around a story that portrayed Yudkowsky as almost uniquely sane—a story that put MIRI, CfAR, and the "rationalist community" at the center of the universe, the ultimate fate of the cosmos resting on our individual and collective mastery of the hidden Bayesian structure of cognition.

But my posse and I had just falsified to our satisfaction the claim that Yudkowsky was currently sane in the relevant way. Maybe he didn't think he had done anything wrong (because he hadn't strictly lied), and probably a normal person would think we were making a fuss about nothing, but as far as we were concerned, the formerly rightful caliph had relinquished his legitimacy. A so-called "rationalist" community that couldn't clarify this matter of the cognitive function of categories was a sham. Something had to change if we wanted a place in the world for the spirit of "naïve" (rather than politically savvy) inquiry to survive.

(To be continued. Yudkowsky would eventually clarify his position on the philosophy of categorization in September 2020—but the story leading up to that will have to wait for another day.)

  1. Similarly, in automobile races, you want rules to enforce that all competitors have the same type of car, for some commonsense operationalization of "the same type", because a race between a sports car and a moped would be mostly measuring who has the sports car, rather than who's the better racer. 

  2. And in the case of sports, the facts are so lopsided that if we must find humor in the matter, it really goes the other way. A few years later, Lia Thomas would dominate an NCAA women's swim meet by finishing 4.2 standard deviations (!!) earlier than the median competitor, and Eliezer Yudkowsky feels obligated to pretend not to see the problem? You've got to admit, that's a little bit funny. 

  3. Despite my misgivings, this blog was still published under a pseudonym at the time; it would have been hypocritical of me to accuse someone of cowardice about what they're willing to attach their real name to. 

  4. The title was a pun referencing computer scientist Scott Aaronson's post advocating "The Kolmogorov Option", serving the cause of Truth by cultivating a bubble that focuses on specific truths that won't get you in trouble with the local political authorities. Named after the Soviet mathematician Andrey Kolmogorov, who knew better than to pick fights he couldn't win. 

  5. In Part One, Chapter VII, "The Exploiters and the Exploited". 

  6. CfAR had been spun off from MIRI in 2012 as a dedicated organization for teaching rationality. 

  7. Yudkowsky's Sequences (except the last) had originally been published on Overcoming Bias before the creation of Less Wrong in early 2009. 

  8. In general, I'm proud of my careful choices of breakup songs. For another example, my breakup song with institutionalized schooling was Taylor Swift's "We Are Never Ever Getting Back Together", a bitter renunciation of an on-again-off-again relationship ("I remember when we broke up / The first time") with a ex who was distant and condescending ("And you, would hide away and find your peace of mind / With some indie record that's much cooler than mine"), thematically reminiscent of my ultimately degree-less string of bad relationships with UC Santa Cruz (2006–2007), Heald College (2008), Diablo Valley College (2010–2012), and San Francisco State University (2012–2013).

    The fact that I've invested so much symbolic significance in carefully-chosen songs by female vocalists to mourn relationships with abstract perceived institutional authorities, and conspicuously not for any relationships with actual women, maybe tells you something about how my life has gone. 

  9. Probably a lot of other people who lived in Berkeley would find it harder to criticize trans people than to criticize some privileged white guy named Yudkowski or whatever. But those weren't the relevant power gradients in my world. 

  10. The Strategy of Conflict, Ch. 2, "An Essay on Bargaining" 

Blanchard's Dangerous Idea and the Plight of the Lucid Crossdreamer

I'm beginning to wonder if he's constructed an entire system of moral philosophy around the effects of the loyalty mod—a prospect that makes me distinctly uneasy. It would hardly be the first time a victim of mental illness has responded to their affliction that way—but it would certainly be the first time I've found myself in the vulnerable position of sharing the brain-damaged prophet's impairment, down to the last neuron.

Quarantine by Greg Egan

In a previous post, "Sexual Dimorphism in Yudkowsky's Sequences, in Relation to My Gender Problems", I told the story about how I've "always" (since puberty) had this obsessive erotic fantasy about being magically transformed into a woman and used to think it was immoral to believe in psychological sex differences, until I read these Sequences of blog posts about how reasoning works by someone named Eliezer Yudkowsky—where one particularly influential-to-me post was the one that explained why fantasies of changing sex are much easier said than done, because the tantalizingly short English phrase doesn't capture the complex implementation details of the real physical universe.

At the time, this was my weird personal thing, which I did not anticipate there being any public interest in blogging about. In particular, I didn't think of myself as being "transgender." The whole time—the dozen years I spent reading everything I could about sex and gender and transgender and feminism and evopsych, and doing various things with my social presentation to try to seem not-masculine—sometimes things I regretted and reverted after a lot of pain, like trying to use my initials as a name—I had been assuming that my gender problems were not the same as those of people who were actually transgender, because the standard narrative said that that was about people whose "internal sense of their own gender does not match their assigned sex at birth", whereas my thing was obviously at least partially an outgrowth of my weird sex fantasy. I had never interpreted the beautiful pure sacred self-identity thing as an "internal sense of my own gender."

Why would I? In the English of my youth, "gender" was understood as a euphemism for sex for people who were squeamish about the potential ambiguity between sex-as-in-biological-sex and sex-as-in-intercourse. (Judging by this blog's domain name, I'm not immune to this, either.) In that language, my "gender"—my sex—is male. Not because I'm necessarily happy about it (and I used to be pointedly insistent that I wasn't), but as an observable biological fact that, whatever my beautiful pure sacred self-identity feelings, I am not delusional about.

Okay, so trans people aren't delusional about their developmental sex. Rather, the claim is that their internal sense of their own gender should take precedence. So where does that leave me? In "Sexual Dimorphism ...", I wrote about my own experiences. I mentioned transgenderedness a number of times, but I tried to cast it as an explanation that one might be tempted to apply to my case, but which I don't think fits. Everything I said is consistent with Ray Blanchard being dumb and wrong when he coined "autogynephilia" (sometimes abbreviated as AGP) as the obvious and perfect word for my thing while studying actual transsexuals—a world where my idiosyncratic weird sex perversion and associated beautiful pure sacred self-identity feelings are taxonomically and etiologically distinct from whatever brain-intersex condition causes actual trans women. That's the world I thought I lived in for ten years after encountering the obvious and perfect word.

My first clue that I wasn't living in that world came from—Eliezer Yudkowsky. (Well, not my first clue. In retrospect, there were lots of clues. My first wake-up call.) In a 26 March 2016 Facebook post, he wrote—

I'm not sure if the following generalization extends to all genetic backgrounds and childhood nutritional backgrounds. There are various ongoing arguments about estrogenlike chemicals in the environment, and those may not be present in every country ...

Still, for people roughly similar to the Bay Area / European mix, I think I'm over 50% probability at this point that at least 20% of the ones with penises are actually women.


A lot of them don't know it or wouldn't care, because they're female-minds-in-male-bodies but also cis-by-default (lots of women wouldn't be particularly disturbed if they had a male body; the ones we know as 'trans' are just the ones with unusually strong female gender identities). Or they don't know it because they haven't heard in detail what it feels like to be gender dysphoric, and haven't realized 'oh hey that's me'. See, e.g., and

Reading that post, I did realize "oh hey that's me"—it's hard to believe that I'm not one of the "20% of the ones with penises"—but I wasn't sure how to reconcile that with the "are actually women" characterization, coming from the guy who taught me how blatantly, ludicrously untrue and impossible that is.

But I'm kinda getting the impression that when you do normalize transgender generally and MtF particularly, like not "I support that in theory!" normalize but "Oh hey a few of my friends are transitioning and nothing bad happened to them", there's a hell of a lot of people who come out as trans.

If that starts to scale up, we might see a really, really interesting moral panic in 5–10 years or so. I mean, if you thought gay marriage was causing a moral panic, you just wait and see what comes next ...

Indeed—here we are over seven years later, and I am panicking.1 As 2007–9 Sequences-era Yudkowsky taught me, and 2016 Facebook-shitposting-era Yudkowsky seemed to ignore, the thing that makes a moral panic really interesting is how hard it is to know you're on the right side of it—and the importance of panicking sideways in cases like this, where the "maximize the number of trans people" and "minimize the number of trans people" coalitions are both wrong.

At the time, this was merely very confusing. I left a careful comment in the Facebook thread, quietly puzzled at what Yudkowsky could be thinking.

A casual friend I'll call "Thomas"2 messaged me, complimenting me on my comment.

"Thomas" was a fellow old-time Less Wrong reader I had met back in 'aught-nine, while I was doing an "internship"3 for what was then still the Singularity Institute for Artificial Intelligence.4

Relevantly, "Thomas" was also autogynephilic (and aware of it, under that name). The first time I had ever gone crossdressing in public was at a drag event with him in 2010.

As it happened, I had messaged him a few days earlier, on 22 March 2016, for the first time in four and a half years. I confided to him that I was seeing an escort on Saturday the twenty-sixth5 because the dating market was looking hopeless, I had more money than I knew what to do with, and three female friends agreed that it was not unethical.

(I didn't have sex with her, obviously. That would be unethical.6)

He had agreed that seeing escorts is ethical—arguably more ethical than casual sex. In the last few years, he had gotten interested in politics and become more socially and sexually conservative. "Free love is a lie," he said, noting that in a more traditional Society, our analogues would probably be married with kids by now.

Also, his gender dysphoria had receded. "At a certain point, I just cut my hair, give away a lot of clothes, and left it behind. I kept waiting to regret it ... but the regret never came," he said. "It's like my brain got pushed off the fence and subtly re-wired."

I had said that I was happy for him and respected him, even while my own life remained pro-dysphoria, pro-ponytails, and anti-politics.

"Thomas" said that he thought Yudkowsky's post was irresponsible because virtually all of the men in Yudkowsky's audience with gender dysphoria were probably autogynephilic. He went on:

To get a little paranoid, I think the power to define other people's identities is extremely useful in politics. If a political coalition can convince you that you have a persecuted identity or sexuality and it will support you, then it owns you for life, and can conscript you for culture wars and elections. Moloch would never pass up this level of power, so that means a constant stream of bad philosophy about identity and sexuality (like trans theory).

So when I see Eliezer trying to convince nerdy men that they are actually women, I see the hand of Moloch.7

We chatted for a few more minutes. I noted Samo Burja's comment on Yudkowsky's post as a "terrible thought" that had also occurred to me: Burja had written that the predicted moral panic may not be along the expected lines, if an explosion of MtFs were to result in trans women dominating previously sex-reserved spheres of social competition. "[F]or signaling reasons, I will not give [the comment] a Like", I added parenthetically.8

A few weeks later, I moved out of my mom's house in Walnut Creek to an apartment on the correct side of the Caldecott tunnel, in Berkeley, closer to other people in the robot-cult scene and with a shorter train ride to my coding dayjob in San Francisco.

(I would later change my mind about which side of the tunnel is the correct one.)

While I was waiting for internet service to be connected in my new apartment, I read a paper copy of Nevada by Imogen Binnie. It's about a trans woman in who steals her girlfriend's car to go on a cross-country road trip, and ends up meeting an autogynephilic young man whom she tries to convince that autogynephilia is a bogus concept and that he's actually trans.

In Berkeley, I met interesting people who seemed similar to me along a lot of dimensions, but also very different along other dimensions having to do with how they were currently living their life—much like how the characters in Nevada immediately recognize each other as similar but different. (I saw where Yudkowsky got that 20% figure from.)

This prompted me to do more reading in corners of the literature that I had heard of, but hadn't taken seriously in my twelve years of reading everything I could about sex and gender and transgender and feminism and evopsych. (Kay Brown's blog, On the Science of Changing Sex, was especially helpful.)

Between the reading, and a series of increasingly frustrating private conversations, I gradually became increasingly persuaded that Blanchard wasn't dumb and wrong—that his taxonomy of male-to-female transsexuality is basically correct, at least as a first approximation. So far this story has been about my experience, not anyone's theory of transsexuality (which I had assumed for years couldn't possibly apply to me), so let me take a moment to explain the theory now.

(With the caveated understanding that psychology is complicated and there's a lot to be said about what "as a first approximation" is even supposed to mean, but I need a few paragraphs to first talk about the simple version of the theory that makes pretty good predictions on average, as a prerequisite for more complicated theories that might make even better predictions including on cases that diverge from average.)

The theory was put forth by Blanchard in a series of journal articles in the late 'eighties and early 'nineties, and popularized (to some controversy) by J. Michael Bailey in the popular-level book The Man Who Would Be Queen. The idea is that male-to-female transsexuality isn't one phenomenon; it's two completely different phenomena that don't have anything to do with each other, except for the potential treatments of hormone therapy, surgery, and social transition. (Compare to how different medical conditions might happen to respond to the same drug.)

In one taxon, the "early-onset" type, you have same-sex-attracted males who have been extremely feminine (in social behavior, interests, &c.) since to early childhood, in a way that causes social problems for them—the far tail of effeminate gay men who end up fitting into Society better as straight women. Blanchard called them "homosexual transsexuals", which is sometimes abbreviated as HSTS. That's where the "woman trapped inside a man's body" trope comes from. This one probably is a brain-intersex condition.

That story is pretty intuitive. Were an alien AI to be informed that, among humans, some fraction of males elect to undergo medical interventions to resemble females and be perceived as females socially, "brain-intersex condition such that they already behave like females" would probably be its top hypothesis, just on priors.

But suppose our alien AI were to be informed that many of the human males seeking to become female do not fit the clinical profile of the early-onset type: it looks like there's a separate "late-onset" type or types, of males who didn't exhibit discordantly sex-atypical behavior in childhood, but later reported a desire to change sex. If you didn't have enough data to prove anything, but you had to guess, what would be your second hypothesis for how this desire might arise?

What's the usual reason for males to be obsessed with female bodies?

Basically, I think a substantial majority of trans women under modern conditions in Western countries are, essentially, guys like me who were less self-aware about what the thing actually is. It's not an innate gender identity; it's a sexual orientation that's surprisingly easy to misinterpret as a gender identity.

I realize this is an inflammatory and (far more importantly) surprising claim. If someone claims to have an internal sense of her gender that doesn't match her assigned sex at birth, on what evidence could I possibly have the arrogance to reply, "No, I think you're really just a perverted male like me"?

Actually, lots. To arbitrarily pick one exhibit, in April 2018, the /r/MtF subreddit, which then had over 28,000 subscribers, posted a link to a poll: "Did you have a gender/body swap/transformation 'fetish' (or similar) before you realized you were trans?". The results: 82% of over 2000 respondents said Yes. Top comment in the thread, with over 230 karma: "I spent a long time in the 'it's probably just a fetish' camp."

Certainly, 82% is not 100%. Certainly, you could argue that Reddit has a sampling bias such that poll results and karma scores from /r/MtF fail to match the distribution of opinion among real-world MtFs. But if you don't take the gender-identity story as an axiom and actually look at what people say and do, these kinds of observations are not hard to find. You could fill an entire subreddit with them (and then move it to independent platforms when the original gets banned for "promoting hate").

Reddit isn't scientific enough for you? Fine. The scientific literature says the same thing. Blanchard 1985: 73% of not exclusively androphilic transsexuals acknowledged some history of erotic cross-dressing. (A lot of the classic studies specifically asked about cross-dressing, but the underlying desire isn't about clothes; Jack Molay coined the term crossdreaming, which seems more apt.) Lawrence 2005: of trans women who had female partners before sexual reassignment surgery, 90% reported a history of autogynephilic arousal. Smith et al. 2005: 64% of non-homosexual MtFs (excluding the "missing" and "N/A" responses) reported arousal while cross-dressing during adolescence. (A lot of the classic literature says "non-homosexual", which is with respect to natal sex; the idea is that self-identified bisexuals are still in the late-onset taxon.) Nuttbrock et al. 2011: lifetime prevalence of transvestic fetishism among non-homosexual MtFs was 69%. (For a more detailed literature review, see Kay Brown's blog, Phil Illy's book Autoheterosexual: Attracted to Being the Opposite Sex, or the first two chapters of Anne Lawrence's Men Trapped in Men's Bodies: Narratives of Autogynephilic Transsexualism.)

Peer-reviewed scientific papers aren't enough for you? (They could be cherry-picked; there are lots of scientific journals, and no doubt a lot of bad science slips through the cracks of the review process.) Want something more indicative of a consensus among practitioners? Fine. The Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, Fifth Edition, the definitive taxonomic handbook of the American Psychiatric Association, says the same thing in its section on gender dysphoria:

In both adolescent and adult natal males, there are two broad trajectories for development of gender dysphoria: early onset and late onset. Early-onset gender dysphoria starts in childhood and continues into adolescence and adulthood; or, there is an intermittent period in which the gender dysphoria desists and these individuals self-identify as gay or homosexual, followed by recurrence of gender dysphoria. Late-onset gender dysphoria occurs around puberty or much later in life. Some of these individuals report having had a desire to be of the other gender in childhood that was not expressed verbally to others. Others do not recall any signs of childhood gender dysphoria. For adolescent males with late-onset gender dysphoria, parents often report surprise because they did not see signs of gender dysphoria in childhood. Adolescent and adult natal males with early-onset gender dysphoria are almost always sexually attracted to men (androphilic). Adolescents and adults with late-onset gender dysphoria frequently engage in transvestic behavior with sexual excitement.

(Bolding mine.)

Or consider Anne Vitale's "The Gender Variant Phenomenon—A Developmental Review", which makes the same observations as Blanchard and friends, and arrives at the same two-type taxonomy, but dresses it up in socially-desirable language—

As sexual maturity advances, Group Three, cloistered gender dysphoric boys, often combine excessive masturbation (one individual reported masturbating up to 5 and even 6 times a day) with an increase in secret cross-dressing activity to release anxiety.

Got that? They often combine excessive masturbation with an increase in secret cross-dressing activity to release anxiety—their terrible, terrible gender expression deprivation anxiety!

Don't trust scientists or clinicians? Me neither! (Especially not clinicians.) Want first-person accounts from trans women themselves? Me too! And there's lots!

Consider these excerpts from economist Deirdre McCloskey's memoir Crossing, written in the third person about her decades identifying as a heterosexual crossdresser before transitioning at age 53 (bolding mine):

He had been doing it ten times a month through four decades, whenever possible, though in the closet. The quantifying economist made the calculation: About five thousand episodes. [...] At fifty-two Donald accepted crossdressing as part of who he was. True, if before the realization that he could cross all the way someone had offered a pill to stop the occasional cross-dressing, he would have accepted, since it was mildly distracting—though hardly time consuming. Until the spring of 1995 each of the five thousand episodes was associated with quick, male sex.

Or consider this passage from Julia Serano's Whipping Girl (I know I keep referencing this book, but it's so representative of the dominant strain of trans activism, and I'm never going to get over the Fridge Logic of the all the blatant clues that I somehow missed in 2007):

There was also a period of time when I embraced the word "pervert" and viewed my desire to be female as some sort of sexual kink. But after exploring that path, it became obvious that explanation could not account for the vast majority of instances when I thought about being female in a nonsexual context.

"It became obvious that explanation could not account." I don't doubt Serano's reporting of her own phenomenal experiences, but "that explanation could not account" is not an experience; it's a hypothesis about psychology, about the causes of the experience. I don't expect anyone to be able to get that sort of thing right from introspection alone!

Or consider Nevada. This was a popular book, nominated for a 2014 Lambda Literary Award—and described by the author as an attempt to write a story about trans women for an audience of trans women. In Part 2, Chapter 23, our protagonist, Maria, rants about the self-evident falsehood and injustice of autogynephilia theory. And she starts out by ... acknowledging the phenomenon which the theory is meant to explain:

But the only time I couldn't lie to myself about who I wanted to be, and how I wanted to be, and like, the way I needed to exist in the world if I was going to actually exist in the world, is when I was jacking off.


I was thinking about being a girl while I jacked off, she says, Like, as soon as I started jacking off. For years I thought it was because I was a pervert, that I had this kink I must never, ever tell anyone about, right?

If the idea that most non-androphilic trans women are guys like me is so preposterous, then why do people keep recommending this book?

I could go on ... but do I need to? After having seen enough of these laughable denials of autogynephilia, the main question in my mind has become less, "Is the two-type androphilic/autogynephilic taxonomy of MtF transsexuality approximately true?" (answer: yes, obviously) and more, "How dumb do you (proponents of gender-identity theories) think we (the general public) are?" (answer: very, but correctly).

An important caveat: different causal/etiological stories could be compatible with the same descriptive taxonomy. You shouldn't confuse my mere ridicule with a rigorous critique of the strongest possible case for "gender expression deprivation anxiety" as a theoretical entity, which would be more work. But hopefully I've shown enough work here, that the reader can empathize with the temptation to resort to ridicule?

Everyone's experience is different, but the human mind still has a design. If I hurt my ankle while running and I (knowing nothing of physiology or sports medicine) think it might be a stress fracture, a competent doctor is going to ask followup questions to pin down whether it's a stress fracture or a sprain. I can't be wrong about the fact that my ankle hurts, but I can easily be wrong about why my ankle hurts.

Even if human brains vary more than human ankles, the basic epistemological principle applies to a mysterious desire to be female. The question I need to answer is, Do the trans women whose reports I'm considering have a relevantly different psychological condition than me, or do we have "the same" condition, but (at least) one of us is misdiagnosing it?

The safe answer—the answer that preserves everyone's current stories about themselves—is "different." That's what I thought before 2016. I think a lot of trans activists would say "the same". And on that much, we can agree.

How weaselly am I being with these "approximately true" and "as a first approximation" qualifiers and hedges? I claim: not more weaselly than anyone who tries to reason about psychology given the knowledge our civilization has managed to accumulate.

Psychology is complicated; every human is their own unique snowflake, but it would be impossible to navigate the world using the "every human is their own unique maximum-entropy snowflake; you can't make any probabilistic inferences about someone's mind based on your experiences with other humans" theory. Even if someone were to verbally endorse something like that—and at age sixteen, I might have—their brain is still going to make predictions about people's behavior using some algorithm whose details aren't available to introspection. Much of this predictive machinery is instinct bequeathed by natural selection (because predicting the behavior of conspecifics was useful in the environment of evolutionary adaptedness), but some of it is the cultural accumulation of people's attempts to organize their experience into categories, clusters, diagnoses, taxons.

There could be situations in psychology where a good theory (not perfect, but as good as our theories about how to engineer bridges) would be described by (say) a 70-node causal graph, but that some of the more important variables in the graph anti-correlate with each other. Humans who don't know how to discover the correct 70-node graph, still manage to pattern-match their way to a two-type typology that actually is better, as a first approximation, than pretending not to have a theory. No one matches any particular clinical-profile stereotype exactly, but the world makes more sense when you have language for theoretical abstractions like "comas" or "depression" or "bipolar disorder"—or "autogynephilia".9

I claim that femininity and autogynephilia are two such anti-correlated nodes in the True Causal Graph. They're negatively correlated because they're both children of the sexual orientation node, whose value pushes them in opposite directions: gay men are more feminine than straight men,10 and autogynephiles want to be women because we're straight.

Sex-atypical behavior and the scintillating but ultimately untrue thought are two different reasons why transition might seem like a good idea to someone—different paths through the causal graph leading the decision to transition. Maybe they're not mutually exclusive, and no doubt there are lots of other contributing factors, such that an overly strict interpretation of the two-type taxonomy is false. If an individual trans woman swears that she doesn't match the feminine/early-onset type, but also doesn't empathize with the experiences I've grouped under "autogynephilia", I don't have any proof with which to accuse her of lying, and the true diversity of human psychology is no doubt richer and stranger than my fuzzy low-resolution model.

But the fuzzy low-resolution model is way too good not to be pointing to some regularity in the real world, and honest people who are exceptions that aren't well-predicted by the model, should notice how well it performs on the non-exceptions. If you're a magical third type of trans woman (where magical is a term of art indicating phenomena not understood) who isn't super-feminine but whose identity definitely isn't ultimately rooted in a fetish, you should be confused by the 230 upvotes on that /r/MtF comment about the "it's probably just a fetish" camp. If the person who wrote that comment has experiences like yours, why did they single out "it's probably just a fetish" as a hypothesis to pay attention to in the first place? And there's a whole "camp" of these people?!

I do have a lot of uncertainty about what the True Causal Graph looks like, even if it seems obvious that the two-type taxonomy coarsely approximates it. Gay femininity and autogynephilia are important nodes in the True Graph, but there's going to be more detail to the whole story: what other factors influence people's decision to transition, including incentives and cultural factors specific to a given place and time?

In our feminist era, cultural attitudes towards men and maleness differ markedly from the overt patriarchy of our ancestors. It feels gauche to say so, but as a result, conscientious boys taught to disdain the crimes of men may pick up an internalized misandry. I remember one night at the University in Santa Cruz back in 'aught-seven, I had the insight that it was possible to make generalizations about groups of people while allowing for exceptions—in contrast to my previous stance that generalizations about people were always morally wrong—and immediately, eagerly proclaimed that men are terrible.

Or consider computer scientist Scott Aaronson's account that his "recurring fantasy, through this period, was to have been born a woman, or a gay man [...] [a]nything, really, other than the curse of having been born a heterosexual male, which [...] meant being consumed by desires that one couldn't act on or even admit without running the risk of becoming an objectifier or a stalker or a harasser or some other creature of the darkness."

Or there's a piece that has made the rounds on social media more than once: "I Am A Transwoman. I Am In The Closet. I Am Not Coming Out", which (in part) discusses the author's frustration at being dismissed on account of being perceived as a cis male. "I hate that the only effective response I can give to 'boys are shit' is 'well I'm not a boy,'" the author laments. And: "Do I even want to convince someone who will only listen to me when they're told by the rules that they have to see me as a girl?"

(The "told by the rules that they have to see me" phrasing in the current revision is telling; the originally published version said "when they find out I'm a girl".)11

If boys are shit, and the rules say that you have to see someone as a girl if they say they're a girl, that provides an incentive on the margin to disidentify with maleness.

This culturally transmitted attitude could intensify the interpretation of autogynephilic attraction as an ego-syntonic beautiful pure sacred self-identity thing, and plausibly be a source of gender dysphoria in males who aren't autogynephilic at all.

In one of my notebooks from 2008, I had written, "It bothers me that Richard Feynman went to strip clubs. I wish Richard Feynman had been trans." I guess the sentiment was that male sexuality is inherently exploitative and Bad, but being trans is morally pure and Good; I wanted Famous Science Raconteur to be Good rather than Bad.

But the reason strip clubs are considered Bad is the same as the reason single-sex locker rooms, hospital wards, &c. were, until recently, considered an obvious necessity: no woman should be forced to undergo the indignity of being exposed in the presence of men. It would have been more scandalous if Feynman had violated the sanctity of women's spaces. Is it supposed to be an improvement if physics-nerd incels who might have otherwise gone to strip clubs, instead declare themselves women? Why? Who is the misandry helping, exactly? Or rather, I could maybe see a case for the misandry serving some useful functions, but not if you're allowed to self-identify out of it.

To the extent it's common for "cognitive" things like internalized misandry to manifest as cross-gender identification, then maybe the two-type taxonomy isn't androphilic/autogynephilic so much as it is androphilic/"not otherwise specified": the early-onset type is behaviorally distinct and has a straightforward motive to transition (in some ways, it would be more weird not to). In contrast, it might not be as easy to distinguish autogynephilia from other sources of gender problems in the grab-bag of all males showing up to the gender clinic for any other reason.

Whatever the True Causal Graph looks like, I think I have more than enough evidence to reject the mainstream "inner sense of gender" story.

The public narrative about transness is obviously, obviously false. That's a problem, because almost no matter what you want, true beliefs are more useful than false beliefs for making decisions that get you there.

Fortunately, Yudkowsky's writing had brought together a whole community of brilliant people dedicated to refining the art of human rationality—the methods of acquiring true beliefs and using them to make decisions that get you what you want. Now I knew the public narrative was obviously false, and I had the outlines of a better theory, though I didn't pretend to know what the social policy implications were. All I should have had to do was carefully explain why the public narrative is delusional, and then because my arguments were so much better, all the intellectually serious people would either agree with me (in public), or be eager to clarify (in public) exactly where they disagreed and what their alternative theory was so that we could move the state of humanity's knowledge forward together, in order to advance the great common task of optimizing the universe in accordance with humane values.

Of course, this is a niche topic—if you're not a male with this psychological condition, or a woman who doesn't want to share female-only spaces with them, you probably have no reason to care—but there are a lot of males with this psychological condition around here! If this whole "rationality" subculture isn't completely fake, then we should be interested in getting the correct answers in public for ourselves.

(It later turned out that this whole "rationality" subculture is completely fake, but I didn't realize this at the time.)

Straight men who fantasize about being women do not particularly resemble actual women! We just—don't? This seems kind of obvious, really? Telling the difference between fantasy and reality is kind of an important life skill?! Notwithstanding that some males might want to use medical interventions like surgery and hormone replacement therapy to become facsimiles of women as far as our existing technology can manage, and that a free and enlightened transhumanist Society should support that as an option—and notwithstanding that she is obviously the correct pronoun for people who look like women—it's going to be harder for people to figure out what the optimal decisions are if no one is ever allowed to use language like "actual women" that clearly distinguishes the original thing from imperfect facsimiles?!

I think most people in roughly my situation (of harboring these gender feelings for many years, thinking that it's obviously not the same thing as being "actually trans", and later discovering that it's not obviously not the same thing) tend to conclude that they were "actually trans" all along, and sometimes express intense bitterness at Ray Blanchard and all the other cultural forces of cisnormativity that let them ever doubt.

I ... went the other direction. In slogan form: "Holy crap, almost no one is actually trans!"

Okay, that slogan isn't right. I'm a transhumanist. I believe in morphological freedom. If someone wants to change sex, that's a valid desire that Society should try to accommodate as much as feasible given currently existing technology. In that sense, anyone can choose to become trans.

The problem is that the public narrative of trans rights doesn't seem to be about making a principled case for morphological freedom, or engaging with the complicated policy question of what accommodations are feasible given the imperfections of currently existing technology. Instead, we're told that everyone has an internal sense of their own gender, which for some people (who "are trans") does not match their assigned sex at birth.

Okay, but what does that mean? Are the things about me that I've been attributing to autogynephilia actually an internal gender identity, or did I get it right the first time? How could I tell? No one seems interested in clarifying!

My shift in belief, from thinking the standard narrative is true about other people but not me, to thinking that the narrative is just a lie, happened gradually over the course of 2016 as the evidence kept piling up—from my reading, from correspondence with the aforementioned Kay Brown—and also as I kept initiating conversations with local trans women to try to figure out what was going on.

Someone I met at the Berkeley Less Wrong meetup who went by Ziz12 denied experiencing autogynephilia at all, and I believe her—but it seems worth noting that Ziz was unusual along a lot of dimensions. Again, I don't think a psychological theory needs to predict every case to be broadly useful for understanding the world.

In contrast, many of the people I talked to seemed to report similar experiences to me (at least, to the low resolution of the conversation; I wasn't going to press people for the specific details of their sexual fantasies) but seemed to me to be either pretty delusional, or privately pretty sane but oddly indifferent to the state of public knowledge.

One trans woman told me that autogynephilia is a typical element of cis woman sexuality. (This, I had learned, was a standard cope, but one I have never found remotely plausible.) She told me that if I don't feel like a boy, I'm probably not one. (Okay, but again, what does that mean? There needs to be some underlying truth condition for that "probably" to point to. If it's not sex and it's not sex-atypical behavior, then what is it?)

Another wrote a comment in one discussion condemning "autogynephilia discourse" and expressing skepticism at the idea that someone would undergo a complete medical and social transition because of a fetish: it might be possible, she admitted, but it must be extremely rare. Elsewhere on the internet, the same person reported being into and aroused by gender-bender manga at the time she was first seriously questioning her gender identity.

Was it rude of me to confront her on the contradiction in her PMs? Yes, it was extremely rude. All else being equal, I would prefer not to probe into other people's private lives and suggest that they're lying to themselves. But when they lie to the public, that affects me, and my attempts to figure out my life. Is it a conscious political ploy, I asked her, or are people really unable to entertain the hypothesis that their beautiful pure self-identity feelings are causally related to the fetish? If it was a conscious political ploy, I wished someone would just say, "Congratulations, you figured out the secret, now keep quiet about it or else," rather than trying to undermine my connection to reality.

She said that she had to deal with enough invalidation already, that she had her own doubts and concerns but would only discuss them with people who shared her views. Fair enough—I'm not entitled to talk to anyone who doesn't want to talk to me.

I gave someone else a copy of Men Trapped in Men's Bodies: Narratives of Autogynephilic Transsexualism. She didn't like it—which I would have respected, if her complaint had just been that Lawrence was overconfident and overgeneralizing, as a factual matter of science and probability. But my acquaintance seemed more preoccupied with how the book was "seemingly deliberately hurtful and disrespectful", using "inherently invalidating language that is very often used in people's dismissal, abuse, and violence towards trans folk", such as calling MtF people "men", referring to straight trans women as "homosexual", and using "transgendered" instead of "transgender". (I would have hoped that the fact that Lawrence is trans and (thinks she) is describing herself would have been enough to make it credible that she didn't mean any harm by saying "men" instead of "a.m.a.b."—and that it should have been obvious that if you reject authors out of hand for not speaking in your own ideology's shibboleths, you lose an important chance to discover if your ideology is getting something wrong.)

The privately sane responses were more interesting. "People are crazy about metaphysics," one trans woman told me. "That's not new. Compare with transubstantiation and how much scholarly work went in to trying to square it with natural materialism. As for causality, I think it's likely that the true explanation will not take the shape of an easily understood narrative."

Later, she told me, "It's kind of funny how the part where you're being annoying isn't where you're being all TERFy and socially unacceptable, but where you make very strong assumptions about truth due to being a total nerd and positivist—mind you, the vast majority of times people deviate from this the consequences are terrible."

Someone else I talked to was less philosophical. "I'm an AGP trans girl who really likes anime, 4chan memes, and the like, and who hangs around a lot with ... AGP trans girls who like anime, 4chan memes, and the like," she said. "It doesn't matter to me all that much if some specific group doesn't take me seriously. As long as trans women are pretty OK at respectability politics and cis people in general don't hate us, then it's probably not something I have to worry about."

I made friends with a trans woman whom I'll call "Helen." My flatmate and I let her crash at our apartment for a few weeks while she was looking for more permanent housing.

There's a certain—dynamic, that can exist between self-aware autogynephilic men, and trans women who are obviously in the same taxon (even if they don't self-identify as such). From the man's end, a mixture of jealousy and brotherly love and a blackmailer's smugness, twisted together in the unspoken assertion, "Everyone else is supposed to politely pretend you're a woman born in the wrong body, but I know the secret."

And from the trans woman's end—I'm not sure. Maybe pity. Maybe the blackmail victim's fear.

One day, "Helen" mentioned having executive-dysfunction troubles about making a necessary telephone call to the doctor's office. The next morning, I messaged her:

I asked my counterfactual friend Zelda how/whether I should remind you to call the doctor in light of our conversation yesterday. "If she was brave enough to self-actualize in the first place rather than cowardly resign herself to a lifetime of dreary servitude to the cistem," she said counterfactually, "—unlike some people I could name—", she added, counterfactually glaring at me, "then she's definitely brave enough to call the doctor at some specific, predetermined time today, perhaps 1:03 p.m."

"The 'vow to call at a specific time' thing never works for me when I'm nervous about making a telephone call," I said. The expression of contempt on her counterfactual face was withering. "Obviously the technique doesn't work for boys!"

I followed up at 1:39 p.m., while I was at my dayjob:

"And then at one-thirty or so, you message her saying, 'There, that wasn't so bad, was it?' And if the call had already been made, it's an affirming comment, but if the call hadn't been made, it functions as a social incentive to actually call in order to be able to truthfully reply 'yeah' rather than admit to still being paralyzed by telephone anxiety."

"You always know what to do," I said. "Nothing like me. It's too bad you're only—" I began to say, just as she counterfactually said, "It's a good thing you're only a figment of my imagination."

"Helen" replied:

i'm in the middle of things. i'll handle it before they close at 5 though, definitely.

I wrote back:

"I don't know," I murmured, "a lot of times in the past when I told myself that I'd make a phone call later, before some place closed, it later turned out that I was lying to myself." "Yeah, but that's because you're a guy. Males are basically composed of lies, as a consequence of Don't worry about ['Helen']."

Or I remember one night we were talking in the living room. I think she was sad about something, and I said—

(I'm not saying I was right to say it; I'm admitting that I did say it)

—I said, "Can I touch your breasts?" and she said, "No," and nothing happened.

I would have never said that to an actual ("cis") woman in a similar context—definitely not one who was staying at my house. This was different, I felt. I had reason to believe that "Helen" was like me, and the reason it felt ethically okay to ask was because I was less afraid of hurting her—that whatever evolutionary-psychological brain adaptation women have to be especially afraid of males probably wasn't there.

I talked about my autogynephilia to a (cis) female friend over Messenger. It took some back-and-forth to explain the concept.

I had mentioned "misdirected heterosexuality"; she said, "Hm, so, like, you could date girls better if you were a girl?"

No, I said, it's weirder than that; the idea of having female anatomy oneself and being able to appreciate it from the first person is intrinsically more exciting than the mere third-person appreciation that you can do in real life as a man.

"[S]o, like, literal autogynephilia is a thing?" she said (as if she had heard the term before, but only as a slur or fringe theory, not as the obvious word for an obviously existing thing).

She mentioned that as a data point, her only effective sex fantasy was her as a hot girl. I said that I expected that to be a qualitatively different phenomenon, based on priors, and—um, details that it would probably be creepy to talk about.

So, she asked, I believed that AGP was a real thing, and in my case, I didn't have lots of desires to be seen as a girl, have a girl name, &c.?

No, I said, I did; it just seemed like it couldn't have been a coincidence that my beautiful pure sacred self-identity thing (the class of things including the hope that my beautiful–beautiful ponytail successfully sets me apart from the guys who are proud of being guys, or feeling happy about getting ma'am'ed over the phone) didn't develop until after puberty.

She said, "hm. so male puberty was a thing you did not like."

No, I said, puberty was fine—it seemed like she was rounding off my self-report to something closer to the standard narrative, but what I was trying to say was that the standard was-always-a-girl-in-some-metaphysical-sense narrative was not true (at least for me, and I suspected for many others).

"The thing is, I don't think it's actually that uncommon!" I said, linking to "Changing Emotions" (the post from Yudkowsky's Sequences explaining why this not-uncommon male fantasy would be technically difficult to fulfill). "It's just that there's no script for it and no one wants to talk about it!"

[redacted] — 09/02/2016 1:23 PM
ok, very weird
yeah, I just don't have a built-in empathic handle for "wants to be a woman."
Zack M. Davis — 09/02/2016 1:24 PM
it even has a TVTrope!
[redacted] — 09/02/2016 1:27 PM
ok, yeah. wow. it's really just easier for my brain to go "ok, that's a girl" than to understand why anyone would want boobs

I took this as confirmation of my expectation that alleged "autogynephilia" in women is mostly not a thing—that normal women appreciating their own bodies is a qualitatively distinct phenomenon. When she didn't know what I was talking about, my friend mentioned that she also fantasized about being a hot girl. After I went into more detail (and linked the TVTropes page), she said she didn't understand why anyone would want boobs. Well, why would she? But I think a lot of a.m.a.b. people understand.

As the tension continued to mount through mid-2016 between what I was seeing and hearing, and the socially-acceptable public narrative, my frustration started to subtly or not-so-much leak out into my existing blog, but I wanted to write more directly about what I thought was going on.

At first, I was imagining a post on my existing blog, but a couple of my very smart and cowardly friends recommended a pseudonym, which I reluctantly agreed was probably a good idea. I came up with "M. Taylor Saotome-Westlake" as a pen name and started this blog (with loving attention to technology choices, rather than just using WordPress). I'm not entirely without misgivings about the exact naming choices I made, although I don't actively regret it the way I regret my attempted nickname switch in the late 'aughts.13

The pseudonymity quickly became a joke—or rather, a mere differential-visibility market-segmentation pen name and not an Actually Secret pen name, like how everyone knows that Robert Galbraith is J. K. Rowling. It turned out that my need for openness and a unified social identity was far stronger than my grasp of what my very smart and cowardly friends think is prudence, such that I ended up frequently linking to and claiming ownership of the blog from my real name, and otherwise leaking entropy through a sieve on this side.

I kept the Saotome-Westlake byline because, given the world of the current year (such that this blog was even necessary), I figured it was probably a smarter play if the first page of my real-name Google search results wasn't my gender and worse heterodoxy blog. Plus, having made the mistake (?) of listening to my very smart and cowardly friends at the start, I'd face a backwards-compatibility problem if I wanted to unwind the pseudonym: there were already a lot of references to this blog being written by Saotome-Westlake, and I didn't want to throw away or rewrite that history. (The backwards-compatibility problem is also one of several reasons I'm not transitioning.)

It's only now, just before publishing the first parts of this memoir telling my Whole Dumb Story, that I've decided to drop the pseudonym—partially because this Whole Dumb Story is tied up in enough real-world drama that it would be dishonorable and absurd to keep up the charade of hiding my own True Name while speaking so frankly about other people, and partially because my financial situation has improved (and my timelines to transformative AI have deteriorated) to the extent that the risk of missing out on job opportunities due to open heterodoxy seems comparatively unimportant.

(As it happens, Andrea James's Transgender Map website mis-doxxed me as someone else, so I guess the charade worked?)

Besides writing to tell everyone else about it, another consequence of my Blanchardian enlightenment was that I decided to try hormone replacement therapy (HRT). Not to actually socially transition, which seemed as impossible (to actually pull off) and dishonest (to try) as ever, but just to try as a gender-themed drug experiment. Everyone else was doing it—why should I have to miss out just for being more self-aware?

Sarah Constantin, a friend who once worked for our local defunct medical research company still offered lit reviews as a service, so I paid her $5,000 to do a post about the effects of feminizing hormone replacement therapy on males, in case the depths of the literature had any medical insight to offer that wasn't already on the informed-consent paperwork. Meanwhile, I made the requisite gatekeeping appointments with my healthcare provider to get approved for HRT, first with a psychologist I had seen before, then with a couple of licensed clinical social workers (LCSW).

I was happy to sit through the sessions as standard procedure rather than going DIY, but I was preoccupied with how everyone had been lying to me about the most important thing in my life for fourteen years and the professionals were in on it, and spent a lot of the sessions ranting about that. I gave the psychologist and one of the LCSWs a copy of Men Trapped in Men's Bodies: Narratives of Autogynephilic Transsexualism. (The psychologist said she wasn't allowed to accept gifts with a monetary value of over $25, so I didn't tell her it cost $40.)

I got the sense that the shrinks didn't quite know what to make of me. Years later, I was grateful to discover that the notes from the appointments were later made available to me via the provider's website (despite this practice introducing questionable incentives for the shrinks going forward); it's amusing to read about (for example) one of the LCSWs discussing my case with the department director and "explor[ing] ways in which pt's [patient's] neurodiversity may be impacting his ability to think about desired gender changes and communicate to therapists".

The reality was actually worse than my hostile summary that everyone was lying, and the professionals were in on it. In some ways, it would be better if the professionals secretly agreed with me about the typology and were cynically lying in order to rake in that sweet pharma cash. But they're not—lying. They just have this whole paradigm of providing "equitable" and "compassionate" "gender-affirming care". This is transparently garbage-tier epistemology (for a belief that needs to be affirmed is not a belief at all), but it's so pervasive within its adherents' milieu, that they're incapable of seeing someone not buying it, even when you state your objections very clearly.

Before one of my appointments with the LCSW, I wrote to the psychologist to express frustration about the culture of lying, noting that I needed to chill out and get to a point of emotional stability before starting the HRT experiment. (It's important to have all of one's ducks in a row before doing biochemistry experiments on the ducks.) She wrote back:

I agree with you entirely, both about your frustration with people wanting to dictate to you what you are and how you feel, and with the importance of your being emotionally stable prior to starting hormones. Please explain to those who argue with you that it is only YOUR truth that matter when it comes to you, your body and what makes you feel whole. No one else has the right to dictate this.

I replied:

I'm not sure you do! I know condescending to patients is part of your usual script, but I hope I've shown that I'm smarter than that. This solipsistic culture of "it is only YOUR truth that matters" is exactly what I'm objecting to! People can have false beliefs about themselves! As a psychologist, you shouldn't be encouraging people's delusions; you should be using your decades of study and experience to help people understand the actual psychological facts of the matter so that they can make intelligent choices about their own lives! If you think the Blanchard taxonomy is false, you should tell me that I'm wrong and that it's false and why!

Similarly, the notes from my first call to the gender department claim that I was "exploring gender identity" and that I was "interested in trying [hormones] for a few months to see if they fit with his gender identity". That's not how I remember that conversation! I distinctly remember asking if the department would help me if I wanted to experiment with HRT without socially transitioning: that is, I was asking if they would provide medical services not on the basis of "gender identity". Apparently my existence is so far out-of-distribution that the nurse on the phone wasn't capable of writing down what I actually said.

However weird I must have seemed, I have trouble imagining what anyone else tells the shrinks, given the pile of compelling evidence summarized earlier that most trans women are, in fact, guys like me. If I wanted to, I could cherry-pick from my life to weave a more congruent narrative about always having been a girl on the inside. (Whatever that means! It still seems kind of sexist for that to mean something!) As a small child, I asked for (and received, because I had good '90s liberal parents) Polly Pocket, and a pink and purple girl's scooter with heart decals. I could talk about how sensitive I am. I could go on about my beautiful pure sacred self-identity thing ...

But (as I told the LCSW) I would know that I was cherry-picking. HSTS-taxon boys are identified as effeminate by others. You know it when you see it, even when you're ideologically prohibited from knowing that you know. That's not me. I don't even want that to be me. I definitely have a gender thing, but I have a pretty detailed model of what I think the thing is in the physical universe, and my model doesn't fit in the ever-so-compassionate and -equitable ontology of "gender identity", which presupposes that what's going on when I report wishing I were female is the same thing as what's going on with actual women who (objectively correctly) report being female. I don't think it's the same thing, and I think you'd have to be crazy or a liar to say it is.

I could sympathize with patients in an earlier era of trans healthcare who felt that they had no choice but to lie—to conform to the doctors' conception of a "true transsexual" on pain of being denied treatment.

This was not the situation I saw on the ground in the Bay Area of 2016. If a twentieth-century stalemate of patients lying to skeptical doctors had congealed into a culture of scripted conformity, why had it persisted long after the doctors stopped being skeptical and the lies served no remaining purpose? Why couldn't everyone just snap out of it?

Another consequence of my Blanchardian enlightenment was my break with progressive morality. I had never really been progressive, as such. (I was registered to vote as a Libertarian, the legacy of a teenage dalliance with Ayn Rand and the greater libertarian blogosphere.) But there was still an embedded assumption that, as far as America's culture wars went, I was unambiguously on the right (i.e., left) side of history, the Blue Team and not the Red Team.

Even after years of devouring heresies on the internet—I remember fascinatedly reading everything I could about race and IQ in the wake of the James Watson affair back in 'aught-seven—I had never really questioned my coalitional alignment. With some prompting from "Thomas", I was starting to question it now.

Among many works I had skimmed in the process of skimming lots of things on the internet, was the neoreactionary blog Unqualified Reservations, by Curtis Yarvin, then writing as Mencius Moldbug. The Unqualified Reservations archives caught my renewed interest in light of my recent troubles.

Moldbug paints a picture in which, underneath the fiction of "democracy", the United States is better modeled as an oligarchic theocracy ruled by universities and the press and the civil service. The apparent symmetry between the Democrats and Republicans is fake: the Democrats represent an alliance of the professional–managerial ruling class and their black and Latino underclass clients; the Republicans, representing non-elite whites and the last vestiges of the old ruling elite, can sometimes demagogue their way into high offices, but the left's ownership of the institutions prevents them "conserving" anything for very long.

The reason it ended up this way is because power abhors a vacuum: if you ostensibly put the public mind in charge of the state, that just creates an incentive for power-seeking agents to try to control the public mind. If you have a nominal separation of church and state, but all the incentives that lead to the establishment of a state religion in other Societies are still in play, you've just created selection pressure for a de facto state religion that sheds the ideological trappings of "God" in favor of "progress" and "equality" in order to sidestep the Establishment Clause. People within the system are indoctrinated into a Whig history which holds that people in the past were bad, bad men, but that we're so much more enlightened now in the progress of time. But the progress of time isn't sensitive to what's better; it only tracks what won.

Moldbug contends that the triumph of progressivism is bad insofar as the oligarchic theocracy, for all its lofty rhetoric, is structurally incapable of good governance: it's not a coincidence that all functional non-government organizations are organized as monarchies, with an owner or CEO14 who has the joint authority and responsibility to hand down sane decisions rather than being hamstrung by the insanity of politics (which, as Moldbug frequently notes, is synonymous with democracy).

(Some of Moldbug's claims about the nature of the American order that seemed outlandish or crazy when Unqualified Reservations was being written in the late 'aughts and early 'tens, now seem much more credible after Trump and Brexit and the summer of George Floyd. I remember that in senior year of high school back in 'aught-five, on National Coming Out Day, my physics teacher said that she was coming out as a Republican. Even then, I got the joke, but I didn't realize the implications.)

In one part of his Gentle Introduction to Unqualified Reservations, Moldbug compares the social and legal status of black people in the contemporary United States to hereditary nobility (!!).

Moldbug asks us to imagine a Society with asymmetric legal and social rules for nobles and commoners. It's socially deviant for commoners to be rude to nobles, but permitted for nobles to be rude to commoners. Violence of nobles against commoners is excused on the presumption that the commoners must have done something to provoke it. Nobles are officially preferred in employment and education, and are allowed to organize to advance their collective interests, whereas any organization of commoners qua commoners is outlawed or placed under extreme suspicion.

Moldbug claims that the status of non-Asian minorities in contemporary America is analogous to that of the nobles in his parable. But beyond denouncing the system as unfair, Moldbug furthermore claims that the asymmetric rules have deleterious effects on the beneficiaries themselves:

applied to the cream of America's actual WASP–Ashkenazi aristocracy, genuine genetic elites with average IQs of 120, long histories of civic responsibility and productivity, and strong innate predilections for delayed gratification and hard work, I'm confident that this bizarre version of what we can call ignoble privilege would take no more than two generations to produce a culture of worthless, unredeemable scoundrels. Applied to populations with recent hunter-gatherer ancestry and no great reputation for sturdy moral fiber, noblesse sans oblige is a recipe for the production of absolute human garbage.

This was the sort of right-wing heresy that I could read about on the internet (as I read lots of things on the internet without necessarily agreeing), and see the argument abstractly, without putting any serious weight on it.

It wasn't my place. I'm not a woman or a racial minority; I don't have their lived experience; I don't know what it's like to face the challenges they face. So while I could permissibly read blog posts skeptical of the progressive story about redressing wrongs done to designated sympathetic victim groups, I didn't think of myself as having standing to seriously doubt the story.

Until suddenly, in what was then the current year of 2016, it was now seeming that the designated sympathetic victim group of our age was ... straight boys who wished they were girls. And suddenly, I had standing.

When a political narrative is being pushed for your alleged benefit, it's much easier to make the call that it's obviously full of lies. The claim that political privileges are inculcating "a culture of worthless, unredeemable scoundrels" in some other group is easy to dismiss as bigotry, but it hits differently when you can see it happening to people like you. Notwithstanding whether the progressive story had been right about the travails of Latinos, blacks, and women, I know that straight boys who wish they were girls are not actually as fragile and helpless as we were being portrayed—that we weren't that fragile, if anyone still remembered the world of 'aught-six, when straight boys who wished they were girls knew that the fantasy wasn't real and didn't think the world owed us deference for our perversion. This did raise questions about whether previous iterations of progressive ideology had been entirely honest with me. (If nothing else, I noticed that my update from "Blanchard is probably wrong because trans women's self-reports say it's wrong" to "Self-reports are pretty crazy" probably had implications for "Red Pill is probably wrong because women's self-reports say it's wrong".)

While I was in this flurry of excitement about my recent updates and the insanity around me, I thought back to that Yudkowsky post from back in March that had been my wake-up call to all this. ("I think I'm over 50% probability at this point that at least 20% of the ones with penises are actually women"!)

I wasn't friends with Yudkowsky, of course; I didn't have a natural social affordance to just ask him the way you would ask a dayjob or college acquaintance something. But he had posted about how he was willing to accept money to do things he otherwise wouldn't in exchange for enough money to feel happy about the trade—a Happy Price, or Cheerful Price, as the custom was later termed—and his schedule of happy prices listed $1,000 as the price for a 2-hour conversation. I had his email address from previous contract work I had done for MIRI a few years before, so on 29 September 2016, I wrote him offering $1,000 to talk about what kind of massive update he made on the topics of human psychological sex differences and MtF transsexuality sometime between January 2009 and March of the current year, mentioning that I had been "feeling baffled and disappointed (although I shouldn't be) that the rationality community is getting this really easy scientific question wrong" (Subject: "Happy Price offer for a 2 hour conversation").

At this point, any normal people who are (somehow?) reading this might be thinking, isn't that weird and kind of cultish? Some blogger you follow posted something you thought was strange earlier this year, and you want to pay him one grand to talk about it? To the normal person, I would explain thusly—

First, in our subculture, we don't have your weird hangups about money: people's time is valuable, and paying people money to use their time differently than they otherwise would is a perfectly ordinary thing for microeconomic agents to do. Upper-middle-class normal people don't blink at paying a licensed therapist $100 to talk for an hour, because their culture designates that as a special ritualized context in which paying money to talk to someone isn't weird. In my culture, we don't need the special ritualized context; Yudkowsky just had a higher rate than most therapists.

Second, $1000 isn't actually real money to a San Francisco software engineer.

Third—yes. Yes, it absolutely was kind of cultish. There's a sense in which, sociologically and psychologically speaking, Yudkowsky is a religious leader, and I was—am—a devout adherent of the religion he made up.

By this, I don't mean that the content of Yudkowskian rationalism is comparable to (say) Christianity or Buddhism. But whether or not there is a god or a divine (there is not), the features of human psychology that make Christianity or Buddhism adaptive memeplexes are still going to be active. If the God-shaped hole in my head can't not be filled by something, it's better to fill it with a "religion" about good epistemology, one that can reflect on the fact that beliefs that are adaptive memeplexes are often false. It seems fair to compare my tendency to write in Sequences links to a devout Christian's tendency to quote Scripture by chapter and verse; the underlying mental motion of "appeal to the canonical text" is probably pretty similar. My only defense is that my religion is actually true (and says you should read the texts and think it through for yourself, rather than taking anything on faith).

That's the context in which my happy-price email thread ended up including the sentence, "I feel awful writing Eliezer Yudkowsky about this, because my interactions with you probably have disproportionately more simulation-measure than the rest of my life, and do I really want to spend that on this topic?" (Referring to the idea that, in a sufficiently large universe with many subjectively indistinguishable copies of everyone, including inside of future superintelligences running simulations of the past, there would plausibly be more copies of my interactions with Yudkowsky than of other moments of my life, on account of that information being of greater decision-relevance to those superintelligences.)

I say all this to emphasize just how much Yudkowsky's opinion meant to me. If you were a devout Catholic, and something in the Pope's latest encyclical seemed wrong according to your understanding of Scripture, and you had the opportunity to talk it over with the Pope for a measly $1000, wouldn't you take it?

I don't think I should talk about the results of my cheerful-price inquiry (whether a conversation occured, or what was said if it did), because any conversation would be protected by the privacy rules that I'm holding myself to in telling this Whole Dumb Story.

(Incidentally, it was also around this time that I snuck a copy of Men Trapped in Men's Bodies into the MIRI office library, which was sometimes possible for community members to visit. It seemed like something Harry Potter-Evans-Verres would do—and ominously, I noticed, not like something Hermione Granger would do.)

If I had to pick a date for my break with progressive morality, it would be 7 October 2017. Over the past few days, I had been having a frustrating Messenger conversation with some guy, which I would later describe as feeling like I was talking to an AI designed to maximize the number of trans people. He didn't even bother making his denials cohere with each other, insisting with minimal argument that my ideas were wrong and overconfident and irrelevant and harmful to talk about. When I exasperatedly pointed out that fantasizing about being a woman is not the same thing as literally already being a woman, he replied, "Categories were made for man, not man for the categories", referring to a 2014 Slate Star Codex post which argued that the inherent subjectivity of drawing category boundaries justified acceptance of trans people's identities.

Over the previous weeks and months, I had been frustrated with the zeitgeist, but I was trying to not to be loud or obnoxious about it, because I wanted to be a good person and not hurt anyone's feelings and not lose any more friends. ("Helen" had rebuffed my last few requests to chat or hang out. "I don't fully endorse the silence," she had said, "just find talking vaguely aversive.")

This conversation made it very clear to me that I could have no peace with the zeitgeist. It wasn't the mere fact that some guy in my social circle was being dumb and gaslighty about it. It was the fact that his performance was an unusually pure distillation of socially normative behavior in Berkeley 2016: there were more copies of him than there were of me.

Opposing this was worth losing friends, worth hurting feelings—and, actually, worth the other thing. I posted on Facebook in the morning and on my real-name blog in the evening:

the moment of liberating clarity when you resolve the tension between being a good person and the requirement to pretend to be stupid by deciding not to be a good person anymore 💖

Former MIRI president Michael Vassar emailed me about the Facebook post, and we ended up meeting once. (I had also emailed him back in August, when I had heard from my friend Anna Salamon that he was also skeptical of the transgender movement (Subject: "I've heard of fake geek girls, but this is ridiculous").)

I wrote about my frustrations to Scott Alexander of Slate Star Codex fame (Subject: "J. Michael Bailey did nothing wrong"). The immediate result was that he ended up including a link to one of Kay Brown's study summaries (and expressing surprise at the claim that non-androphilic trans woman have very high IQs) in his November 2016 links post. He got some pushback even for that.

A trans woman named Sophia commented on one of my real-name blog posts, thanking me for the recommendation of Men Trapped in Men's Bodies. "It strongly spoke to many of my experiences as a trans woman that I've been treating as unmentionable. (Especially among my many trans friends!)" she wrote. "I think I'm going to start treating them as mentionable."

We struck up an email correspondence. She had found my blog from the Slate Star Codex blogroll. She had transitioned in July of the previous year at age 35, to universal support. (In Portland, which was perhaps uniquely good in this way.)

I said I was happy for her—probably more so than the average person who says that—but that (despite living in Berkeley, which was perhaps uniquely in contention with Portland for being perhaps uniquely good in this way) there were showstopping contraindications to social transition in my case. It really mattered what order you learn things in. The 2016 zeitgeist had the back of people who model themselves as women who were assigned male at birth, but not people who model themselves as men who love women and want to become what they love. If you first realize, "Oh, I'm trans," and then successfully transition, and then read Anne Lawrence, you can say, "Huh, seems plausible that my gender identity was caused by my autogynephilic sexuality rather than the other way around," shrug, and continue living happily ever after. In contrast, I had already been thinking of myself as autogynephilic (but not trans) for ten years. Even in Portland or Berkeley, you still have to send that coming-out email, and I couldn't claim to have a "gender identity" with a straight face.

Sophia said she would recommend Men Trapped in Men's Bodies on her Facebook wall. I said she was brave—well, we already knew she was brave because she actually transitioned—but, I suggested, maybe it would be better to wait until October 11th?

To help explain why she thought transitioning is more feasible than I did, she suggested, a folkloric anti-dysphoria exercise: look at women you see in public, and try to pick out which features /r/gendercritical would call out in order to confirm that she's obviously a man.

I replied that "obviously a man" was an unsophisticated form of trans-skepticism. I had been thinking of gendering in terms of naïve Bayes models: you observe some features, use those to assign (probabilities of) category membership, and then use category membership to make predictions about whatever other features you might care about but can't immediately observe. Sure, it's possible for an attempted clocking to be mistaken, and you can have third-gender categories such that AGP trans women aren't "men"—but they're still not drawn from anything close to the same distribution as cis women.

Sophia replied with an information-theoretic analysis of passing, which I would later adapt into a guest post for this blog. If the base rate of AGP transsexuality in Portland was 0.1%, someone would need log2(99.9%/0.1%) ≈ 9.96 ≈ 10 bits of evidence to clock her as trans. If one's facial structure was of a kind four times more likely to be from a male than a female, that would only contribute 2 bits. Sophia was 5′7″, which is about where the female and male height distributions cross over, so she wasn't leaking any bits there. And so on—the prospect of passing in naturalistic settings is a different question from whether there exists evidence that a trans person is trans. There is evidence—but as long as it's comfortably under 10 bits, it won't be a problem.

I agreed that for most people in most everyday situations it probably didn't matter. I cared because I was a computational philosophy of gender nerd, I said, linking to a program I had written to simulate sex classification based on personality, using data from a paper by Weisberg et al. about sex differences in correlated "facets" underlying the Big Five personality traits. (For example, studies had shown that women and men didn't differ in Big Five Extraversion, but if you split "Extraversion" into "Enthusiasm" and "Assertiveness", there were small sex differences pointing in opposite directions, with men being more assertive.) My program generated random examples of women's and men's personality stats according to the Weisberg et al. data, then tried to classify the "actual" sex of each example given only the personality stats—only reaching 63% accuracy, which was good news for androgyny fans like me.

Sophia had some cutting methodological critiques. The paper had given residual statistics of each facet against the other—like the mean and standard deviation of Enthusiasm minus Assertiveness—so I assumed you could randomly generate one facet and then use the residual stats to get a "diff" from one to the other. Sophia pointed out that you can't use residuals for sampling like that, because the actual distribution of the residual was highly dependent on the first facet. Given an unusually high value for one facet, taking the overall residual stats as independent would imply that the other facet was equally likely to be higher or lower, which was absurd.

(For example, suppose that "height" and "weight" are correlated aspect of a Bigness factor. Given that someone's weight is +2σ—two standard deviations heavier than the mean—it's not plausible that their height is equally likely to be +1.5σ and +2.5σ, because the former height is more than seven times more common than the latter; the second facet should regress towards the mean.)

Sophia built her own model in Excel using the correlation matrix from the paper, and found a classifier with 68% accuracy.

On the evening of 10 October 2016, I put up my Facebook post for Coming Out Day:

Happy Coming Out Day! I'm a male with mild gender dysphoria which is almost certainly causally related to my autogynephilic sexual/romantic orientation, which I am genuinely proud of! This has no particular implications for how other people should interact with me!

I believe that late-onset gender dysphoria in males is almost certainly not an intersex condition. (Here "late-onset" is a term of art meant to distinguish people like me from those with early-onset gender dysphoria, which is characterized by lifelong feminine behavior and a predominantly androphilic sexual orientation. Anne Vitale writes about these as "Group Three" and "Group One" in "The Gender Variant Phenomenon": ) I think it's important to not let the political struggle to secure people's rights to self-modification interfere with the pursuit of scientific knowledge, because having a realistic understanding of the psychological mechanisms underlying one's feelings is often useful in helping individuals make better decisions about their own lives in accordance with the actual costs and benefits of available interventions (rather than on the basis of some hypothesized innate identity). Even if the mechanisms turn out to not be what one thought they were—ultimately, people can stand what is true.

Because we are already enduring it.

It got 40 Likes—and one comment (from my half-brother, who was supportive but didn't seem to understand what I was trying to do). Afterward, I wondered if I had been too subtle—or whether no one wanted to look like a jerk by taking the bait and starting a political fight on my brave personal self-disclosure post.

But Coming Out Day isn't, strictly, personal. I had self-identified as autogynephilic for ten years without being particularly "out" about it (except during the very unusual occasions when it was genuinely on-topic); the only reason I was making a Coming Out Day post in 2016 and not any of the previous ten years was because the political environment had made it an issue.

In some ways, it was nice to talk about an important part of my life that I otherwise mostly didn't get the opportunity to talk about. But if that had to come in the form of a deluge of lies for me to combat, on net, I preferred the closet.

I messaged an alumna of my App Academy class of November 2013. I remembered that on the first day of App Academy, she had asked about the sexual harassment policy, to which the founder/instructor hesitated and promised to get back to her; apparently, it had never come up before. (This was back when App Academy was still cool and let you sleep on the floor if you wanted.) Later, she started a quarrel with another student (a boy just out of high school, in contrast to most attendees already having a college degree) over something offensive he had said; someone else had pointed out in his defense that he was young. (Young enough not to have been trained not to say anything that could be construed as anti-feminist in a professional setting?)

In short, I wanted to consult her feminism expertise; she seemed like the kind of person who might have valuable opinions on whether men could become women by means of saying so. "[O]n the one hand, I'm glad that other people get to live my wildest fantasy", I said, after explaining my problem, "but on the other hand, maaaaaybe we shouldn't actively encourage people to take their fantasies quite this literally? Maybe you don't want people like me in your bathroom for the same reason you're annoyed by men's behavior on trains?"

She asked if I had read The Man Who Would Be Queen. (I had.) She said she personally didn't care about bathrooms.

She had also read a lot about related topics (in part because of her own history as a gender-nonconforming child), but found this area of it (autogynephilia, &c.) difficult to talk about except from one's lived experience because "the public narrative is very ... singular". She thought that whether and how dysphoria was related to eroticism could be different for different people. She also thought the singular narrative had been culturally important in the same way as the "gay is not a choice" narrative, letting people with less privilege live in a way that makes them happy with less of a penalty. (She did empathize with concern about children being encouraged to transition early; given the opportunity to go to school as a boy at age 7, she would have taken it, and it would have been the wrong path.)

She asked if I was at all suicidal. (I wasn't.)

These are all very reasonable opinions. If I were her (if only!), I'm sure I would believe all the same things. But if so many nice, smart, reasonable liberals privately notice that the public narrative is very singular, and none of them point out that the singular narrative is not true, because they appreciate its cultural importance—doesn't that—shouldn't that—call into question the trustworthiness of the consensus of the nice, smart, reasonable liberals? How do you know what's good in the real world if you mostly live in the world of the narrative?

Of course, not all feminists were of the same mind on this issue. In late December 2016, I posted an introductory message to the "Peak Trans" thread on /r/gendercritical, explaining my problem.

The first comment was "You are a predator."

I'm not sure what I was expecting. I spent part of Christmas Day crying.

At the end of December 2016, my gatekeeping sessions were finished, and I finally started HRT: Climara® 0.05 mg/day estrogen patches, to be applied to the abdomen once a week. The patch was supposed to stay on the entire week despite showering, &c.

Interestingly, the indications listed in the package insert were all for symptoms due to menopause, post-menopause, or "hypogonadism, castration, or primary ovarian failure." If it was commonly prescribed to intact males with an "internal sense of their own gender", neither the drug company nor the FDA seemed to know about it.

In an effort to not let my anti–autogynephilia-denialism crusade take over my life, earlier that month, I promised myself (and published the SHA256 hash of the promise to signal that I was Serious) not to comment on gender issues under my real name through June 2017. That was what my new secret blog was for.

The promise didn't take. There was just too much gender-identity nonsense on my Facebook feed.

"Folks, I'm not sure it's feasible to have an intellectually-honest real-name public conversation about the etiology of MtF," I wrote in one thread in mid-January 2017. "If no one is willing to mention some of the key relevant facts, maybe it's less misleading to just say nothing."

As a result of that, I got a PM from a woman I'll call "Rebecca" whose relationship had fallen apart after (among other things) her partner transitioned. She told me about the parts of her partner's story that had never quite made sense to her (but sounded like a textbook case from my reading). In her telling, he was always more emotionally tentative and less comfortable with the standard gender role and status stuff, but in the way of like, a geeky nerd guy, not in the way of someone feminine. He was into crossdressing sometimes, but she had thought that was just an insignificant kink, not that he didn't like being a man—until they moved to the Bay Area and he fell in with a social-justicey crowd. When I linked her to Kay Brown's article on "Advice for Wives and Girlfriends of Autogynephiles", her response was, "Holy shit, this is exactly what happened with me." It was nice to make a friend over shared heresy.

As a mere heretic, it was also nice to have an outright apostate as a friend. I had kept in touch with "Thomas", who provided a refreshing contrary perspective to the things I was hearing from everyone else. For example, when the rationalists were anxious that the election of Donald Trump in 2016 portended an increased risk of nuclear war, "Thomas" pointed out that Clinton was actually much more hawkish towards Russia, the U.S.'s most likely nuclear adversary.

I shared an early draft of "Don't Negotiate With Terrorist Memeplexes" with him, which fleshed out his idea from back in March 2016 about political forces incentivizing people to adopt an identity as a persecuted trans person.

He identified the "talking like an AI" phenomenon that I mentioned in the post as possession by an egregore, a group-mind holding sway over the beliefs of the humans comprising it. The function of traditional power arrangements with kings and priests was to put an individual human with judgement in the position of being able to tame, control, or at least negotiate with egregores. Individualism was flawed because individual humans couldn't be rational on their own. Being an individualist in an environment full of egregores was like being an attractive woman alone at a bar yelling, "I'm single!"—practically calling out for unaligned entities to wear down your psychological defenses and subvert your will.

Rationalists implicitly seek Aumann-like agreement with perceived peers, he explained: when the other person is visibly unmoved by one's argument, there's a tendency to think, "Huh, they must know something I don't" and update towards their position. Without an understanding of egregoric possession, this is disastrous: the possessed person never budges on anything significant, and the rationalist slowly gets eaten by their egregore.

I was nonplussed: I had heard of patterns of refactored agency, but this was ridiculous. This "egregore" framing was an interesting alternative way of looking at things, but it seemed—nonlocal. There were inhuman patterns in human agency that we wanted to build models of, but it seemed like he was attributing too much agency to the patterns. In contrast, "This idea creates incentives to propogate itself" was a mechanism I understood. (Or was I being like one of those dumb critics of Richard Dawkins who protest that genes aren't actually selfish? We know that; the anthropomorphic language is just convenient.)

I supposed I was modeling "Thomas" as being possessed by the neoreaction egregore, and myself as experiencing a lower (but still far from zero) net egregoric force by listening to both him and the mainstream rationalist egregore.

He was a useful sounding board when I was frustrated with my so-far-mostly-private trans discussions.

"If people with fragile identities weren't useful as a proxy weapon for certain political coalitions, then they would have no incentive to try to play language police and twist people's arms into accepting their identities," he said once.

"OK, but I still want my own breasts," I said.

"[A]s long as you are resisting the dark linguistic power that the left is offering you," he said, with a smiley emoticon.

In some of my private discussions with others, Ozy Brennan (a.f.a.b. nonbinary author of Thing of Things) had been cited as a local authority figure on gender issues: someone asked what Ozy thought about the two-type taxonomy, or wasn't persuaded because they were partially deferring to Ozy, who had been broadly critical of the theory.15 I remarked to "Thomas" that this implied that my goal should be to overthrow Ozy (whom I otherwise liked) as de facto rationalist gender czar.

"Thomas" didn't think this was feasible. The problem, he explained, was that "hypomasculine men are often broken people who idolize feminists, and worship the first one who throws a few bones of sympathy towards men." (He had been in this category, so he could make fun of them.) Thus, the female person would win priestly battles in nerdy communities, regardless of quality of arguments. It wasn't Ozy's fault, really. They weren't power-seeking; they just happened to fulfill a preexisting demand for feminist validation.

In a January 2017 Facebook thread about the mystery of why so many rationalists were trans, "Helen" posited the metacognition needed to identify the strange, subtle unpleasantness of gender dysphoria as a potential explanatory factor.

I messaged her, ostensibly to ask for my spare key back, but really (I quickly let slip) because I was angry about the pompous and deceptive Facebook comment: maybe it wouldn't take so much metacognition if someone would just mention the other diagnostic criterion!

She sent me a photo of the key with half of the blade snapped off next to a set of pliers, sent me $8 (presumably to pay for the key), and told me to go away.

On my next bank statement, her deadname appeared in the memo line for the $8 transaction.

I made plans to visit Portland, for the purpose of meeting Sophia, and two other excuses. There was a fandom convention in town, and I wanted to try playing Pearl from Steven Universe again—but this time with makeup and breastforms and a realistic gem. Also, I had been thinking of obfuscating my location as being part of the thing to do for keeping my secret blog secret, and had correspondingly adopted the conceit of setting my little fictional vignettes in the Portland metropolitan area, as if I lived there.16 I thought it would be cute to get some original photographs of local landmarks (like TriMet trains, or one of the bridges over the Willamette River) to lend verisimilitude to the charade.

In a 4 February 2017 email confirming the plans with Sophia, I thanked her for her earlier promise not to be offended by things I might say, which I was interpreting literally, and without which I wouldn't dare meet her. Unfortunately, I was feeling somewhat motivated to generally avoid trans women now. Better to quietly (except for pseudonymous internet yelling) stay out of everyone's way rather than risk the temptation to say the wrong thing and cause a drama explosion.

The pretense of quietly staying out of everyone's way lasted about three days.

In a 7 February 2017 comment thread on the Facebook wall of MIRI Communications Director Rob Bensinger, someone said something about closeted trans women, linking to the "I Am In The Closet. I Am Not Coming Out" piece.

I objected that surely closeted trans women are cis: "To say that someone already is a woman simply by virtue of having the same underlying psychological condition that motivates people to actually take the steps of transitioning (and thereby become a trans woman) kind of makes it hard to have a balanced discussion of the costs and benefits of transitioning."

(That is, I was assuming "cis" meant "not transitioned", whereas the other commenter seemed to be assuming a gender-identity model, such that guys like me aren't cis.)

Bensinger replied:

Zack, "woman" doesn't unambiguously refer to the thing you're trying to point at, even if no one were socially punishing you for using the term that way, and even if we were ignoring any psychological harm to people whose dysphoria is triggered by that word usage, there'd be the problem regardless that these terms are already used in lots of different ways by different groups. The most common existing gender terms are a semantic minefield at the same time they're a dysphoric and political minefield, and everyone adopting the policy of objecting when anyone uses man/woman/male/female/etc. in any way other than the way they prefer is not going to solve the problem at all.

Bensinger followed up with another comment offering constructive suggestions: say "XX-cluster" when you want to talk about things that correlate with XX chromosomes.

So, this definitely wasn't the worst obfuscation attempt I'd face during this Whole Dumb Story; I of course agree that words are used in different ways by different groups. It's just—I think it should have already been clear from my comments that I understood that words can be used in many ways; my objection to the other commenter's usage was backed by a specific argument about the expressive power of language; Bensinger didn't acknowledge my argument. (The other commenter, to her credit, did.)

To be fair to Bensinger, it's entirely possible that he was criticizing me specifically because I was the "aggressor" objecting to someone else's word usage, and that he would have stuck up for me just the same if someone had "aggressed" against me using the word woman in a sense that excluded non-socially-transitioned gender-dysphoric males, for the same reason ("adopting the policy of objecting when anyone uses man/woman/male/female/etc. in any way other than the way they prefer is not going to solve the problem at all").

But in the social context of Berkeley 2016, I was suspicious that that wasn't actually his algorithm. It is a distortion if socially-liberal people in the current year selectively drag out the "It's pointless to object to someone else's terminology" argument specifically when someone wants to talk about biological sex (or even socially perceived sex!) rather than self-identified gender identity—but objecting on the grounds of "psychological harm to people whose dysphoria is triggered by that word usage" is potentially kosher.

Someone named Ben Hoffman, whom I hadn't previously known or thought much about, put a Like on one of my comments. I messaged him to say hi, and to thank him for the Like, "but maybe it's petty and tribalist to be counting Likes".

Having already started to argue with people under my real name (in violation of my previous intent to save it for the secret blog), the logic of "in for a lamb, in for a sheep" (or "may as well be hung for a pound as a penny") started to kick in. On the evening of Saturday 11 February 2019, I posted to my own wall:

Some of you may have noticed that I've recently decided to wage a suicidally aggressive one-person culture war campaign with the aim of liberating mindshare from the delusional victimhood identity politics mind-virus and bringing it under the control of our familiar "compete for status by signaling cynical self-awareness" egregore! The latter is actually probably not as Friendly as we like to think, as some unknown fraction of its output is counterfeit utility in the form of seemingly cynically self-aware insights that are, in fact, not true. Even if the fraction of counterfeit insights is near unity, the competition to generate seemingly cynically self-aware insights is so obviously much healthier than the competition for designated victimhood status, that I feel good about this campaign being morally correct, even [if] the amount of mindshare liberated is small and I personally don't survive.

I followed it up the next morning with a hastily-written post addressed, "Dear Totally Excellent Rationalist Friends".17 As a transhumanist, I believe that people should get what they want, and that we should have social norms designed to help people get what they want. But fantasizing about having a property (in context, being a woman, but I felt motivated to be vague for some reason) without yet having sought out interventions to acquire the property, is not the same thing as somehow already literally having the property in some unspecified metaphysical sense. The process of attempting to acquire the property does not propagate backwards in time. I realized that explaining this in clear language had the potential to hurt people's feelings, but as an aspiring epistemic rationalist, I had a goddamned moral responsibility to hurt those people's feelings. I was proud of my autogynephilic fantasy life, and proud of my rationalist community, and I didn't want either of them being taken over by crazy people who think they can edit the past.

It got 170 comments, a large fraction of which were me arguing with a woman whom I'll call "Margaret" (with whom I had also had an exchange in the thread on Bensinger's wall on 7 February).

"[O]ne of the things trans women want is to be referred to as women," she said. "This is not actually difficult, we can just do it." She was pretty sure I must have read the relevant Slate Star Codex post, "The Categories Were Made for Man, Not Man for the Categories".

I replied that I had an unfinished draft post about this, but briefly, faced with a demand to alter one's language to spare someone's feelings, one possible response might be to submit to the demand. But another possible response might be: "I don't negotiate with terrorists. People have been using this word to refer to a particular thing for the last 200,000 years since the invention of language, and if that hurts your feelings, that's not my problem." The second response was certainly not very nice. But maybe there were other values than being nice?—sometimes?

In this case, the value being served had to do with there being an empirical statistical structure of bodies and minds in the world that becomes a lot harder to talk about if you insist that everyone gets to define how others perceive them. I didn't like the structure that I was seeing; like many people in my age cohort, and many people who shared my paraphilic sexual orientation, I had an ideological obsession with androgyny as a moral ideal. But the cost of making it harder to talk about the structure might outweigh the benefit of letting everyone dictate how other people should perceive them!

Nick Tarleton asked me to clarify: was I saying that people who assert that "trans women are women" were sneaking in connotations or denotations that were false in light of so many trans women being (I claimed) autogynephilic, even when those people also claimed that they didn't mean anything predictive by "women"?

Yes! I replied. People seemed to be talking as if there were some intrinsic gender-identity switch in the brain, and if a physiological male had the switch in the female position, that meant they Were Trans and needed to transition. I thought that was a terrible model of the underlying psychological condition. I thought we should be talking about clever strategies to maximize the quantity "gender euphoria minus gender dysphoria", and it wasn't at all obvious that full-time transition was the uniquely best solution.

"Margaret" said that what she thought was going on was that I was defining woman as someone who has a female-typical brain or body, but she was defining woman as someone who thinks of themself as a woman or is happier being categorized that way. With the latter definition, the only way someone could be wrong about whether they were a woman would be to try it and find out that they were less happy that way.

I replied: but that was circular, right?—that women are people who are happier being categorized as women. However you chose to define it, your mental associations with the word woman were going to be anchored on your experiences with adult human females. I wasn't saying people couldn't transition! You can transition if you want! I just thought the details were really important!

In another post that afternoon, I acknowledged my right-wing influences. You know, you spend nine years reading a lot of ideologically-inconvenient science, all the while thinking, "Oh, this is just interesting science, you know, I'm not going to let myself get morally corrupted by it or anything." And for the last couple years, you add in some ideologically-inconvenient political thinkers, too.

But I was still a nice good socially-liberal "Free to Be You and Me" gender-egalitarian individualist person. Because I understood the is–ought distinction—unlike some people—I knew that I could learn from people's models of the world without necessarily agreeing with their goals. So I had been trying to learn from the models of these bad people saying the bad things, until one day, the model clicked. And the model was terrifying. And the model had decision-relevant implications for the people who valued the things that I valued—

The thing was, I actually didn't think I had been morally corrupted! I thought I was actually really good at maintaining the is–ought distinction in my mind. But for people who hadn't followed my exact intellectual trajectory, the mere fact that I was saying, "Wait! Stop! The things that you're doing may not in fact be the optimal things!" made it look like I'd been morally corrupted, and there was no easy way for me to prove otherwise.

So, people probably shouldn't believe me. This was just a little manic episode with no serious implications. Right?

Somewhat awkwardly, I had a date scheduled with "Margaret" that evening. The way that happened was that, elsewhere on Facebook, on 7 February, Brent Dill had said that he didn't see the value in the community matchmaking site, and I disagreed, saying that the hang-out matching had been valuable to me, even if the romantic matching was useless for insufficiently high-status males.

"Margaret" had complained: "again with pretending only guys can ever have difficulties getting dates (sorry for this reaction, I just find this incredibly annoying)". I had said that she shouldn't apologize; I usually didn't make that genre of comment, but it seemed thematically appropriate while replying to Brent (who was locally infamous for espousing cynical views about status and social reality, and not yet locally infamous for anything worse than that).

(And privately, the audacity of trying to spin a complaint into a date seemed like the kind of male-typical stunt that I was starting to consider potentially morally acceptable after all.)

Incidentally, I added, I was thinking of seeing that new Hidden Figures movie if I could find someone to go with? It turned out that she had already seen it, but we made plans to see West Side Story at the Castro Theatre instead.

The date was pretty terrible. We walked around the Castro for a bit continuing to debate the gender thing, then saw the movie. I was very distracted and couldn't pay attention to the movie at all.

I continued to be very distracted the next day, Monday 13 February 2017. I went to my office, but definitely didn't get any dayjob work done.

I made another seven Facebook posts. I'm proud of this one:

So, unfortunately, I never got very far in the Daphne Koller and the Methods of Rationality book (yet! growth m—splat, AUGH), but one thing I do remember is that many different Bayesian networks can represent the same probability distribution. And the reason I've been running around yelling at everyone for nine months is that I've been talking to people, and we agree on the observations that need to be explained, and yet we explain them in completely different ways. And I'm like, "My network has SO MANY FEWER ARROWS than your network!" And they're like, "Huh? What's wrong with you? Your network isn't any better than the standard-issue network. Why do you care so much about this completely arbitrary property 'number of arrows'? Categories were made for the man, not man for the categories!" And I'm like, "Look, I didn't get far enough in the Daphne Koller and the Methods of Rationality book to understand why, but I'm PRETTY GODDAMNED SURE that HAVING FEWER ARROWS MAKES YOU MORE POWERFUL. YOU DELUSIONAL BASTARDS! HOW CAN YOU POSSIBLY GET THIS WRONG please don't hurt me Oh God please don't hurt me I'm sorry I'm sorry."

That is, people are pretty perceptive about what other people are like, as a set of static observations: if prompted appropriately, they know how to anticipate the ways in which trans women are different from cis women. Yet somehow, we couldn't manage to agree about what was "actually" going on, even while agreeing that we were talking about physiological males with male-typical interests and personalities whose female gender identities seem closely intertwined with their gynephilic sexuality.

When factorizing a joint probability distribution into a Bayesian network, you can do it with respect to any variable ordering you want: a graph with a "wet-streets → rain" edge can represent a set of static observations just as well as a graph with a "rain → wet-streets" edge,18 but "unnatural" variable orderings generate a more complicated graph that will give crazy predictions if you interpret it as a causal Bayesian network and use it to predict the results of interventions. Algorithms for learning a network from data prefer graphs with fewer edges as a consequence of Occamian minimum-message-length epistemology:19 every edge is a burdensome detail that requires a corresponding amount of evidence just to locate it in the space of possibilities.

It was as if the part of people that talked didn't have a problem representing their knowledge using a graph generated from a variable ordering that put "biological sex" closer to last than first. I didn't think that was what the True Causal Graph looked like.

In another post, I acknowledged my problematic tone:

I know the arrogance is off-putting! But the arrogance is a really fun part of the æsthetic that I'm really enjoying! Can I get away with it if I mark it as a form of performance art? Like, be really arrogant while exploring ideas, and then later go back and write up the sober serious non-arrogant version?

An a.f.a.b. person came to my defense: it was common to have mental blocks about criticizing trans ideology for fear of hurting trans people (including dear friends) and becoming an outcast. One way to overcome that block was to get really angry and visibly have an outburst. Then, people would ascribe less agency and culpability to you; it would be clear that you'd cooped up these feelings for a long time because you do understand that they're taboo and unpopular.

The person also said it was hard because it seemed like there were no moderate centrists on gender: you could either be on Team "if you ever want to know what genitals someone has for any reason, then you are an evil transphobe", or Team "trans women are disgusting blokes in dresses who are invading my female spaces for nefarious purposes".

I added that the worst part was that the "trans women are disgusting blokes in dresses who are invading my female spaces for nefarious purposes" view was basically correct. It was phrased in a hostile and demeaning manner. But words don't matter! Only predictions matter!

(That is, TERFs who demonize AGP trans women are pointing to an underappreciated empirical reality, even if the demonization isn't warranted, and the validation of a biologically male person's female gender identity undermines the function of a female-only space, even if the male's intent isn't predatory or voyeuristic.)

The thread on the "Totally Excellent Rationalist Friends" post continued. Someone I'll call "Kevin" (whom I had never interacted with before or since; my post visibility settings were set to Public) said that the concept of modeling someone based on their gender seemed weird: any correlations between meaningful psychological traits and gender were weak enough to be irrelevant after talking with someone for half an hour. In light of that, wasn't it reasonable to care more about addressing people in a way that respects their agency and identity?

I replied, but this was circular, right?—that the concept of modeling someone based on their gender seemed weird. If gender didn't have any (probabilistic!) implications, why did getting gendered correctly matter so much to people?

Human psychology is a very high-dimensional vector space. If you've bought into an ideology that says everyone is equal and that sex differences must therefore be small to nonexistent, then you can selectively ignore the dimensions along which sex differences are relatively large, focusing your attention on a subspace in which individual personality differences really do swamp sex differences. But once you notice you're doing this, maybe you can think of clever strategies to better serve the moral ideal that made psychological-sex-differences denialism appealing, while also using the power granted by looking at the whole configuration space?

After more back-and-forth between me and "Kevin", "Margaret" expressed frustration with some inconsistencies in my high-energy presentation. I expressed my sympathies, tagging Michael Vassar (who was then sometimes using "Arc" as a married name):

I'm sorry that I'm being confusing! I know I'm being confusing and it must be really frustrating to understand what I'm trying to say because I'm trying to explore this conceptspace that we don't already have standard language for! You probably want to slap me and say, "What the hell is wrong with you? Talk like a goddamned normal person!" But I forgot hoooooooow!

Michael Arc is this how you feel all the time??


In another Facebook post, I collected links to Bailey, Lawrence, Vitale, and Brown's separate explanations of the two-type taxonomy:

The truthful and mean version: The Man Who Would Be Queen, Ch. 9
The truthful and nice version: "Becoming What We Love"
The technically-not-lying version:
The long version:

I got some nice emails from Michael Vassar. "I think that you are doing VERY good work right now!!!" he wrote. "The sort that shifts history! Only the personal is political" (Subject: "Talk like a normal person").

I aptly summed up my mental state with a post that evening:

She had a delusional mental breakdown; you're a little bit manic; I'm in the Avatar state.20

I made plans to visit a friend's house, but before I left the office, I spent some time drafting an email to Eliezer Yudkowsky. I remarked via PM to the friend, "oh, maybe I shouldn't send this email to someone as important as Eliezer". Then, "oh, I guess that means the manic state is fading". Then: "I guess that feeling is the exact thing I'm supposed to be fighting". (Avoiding "crazy" actions like emailing a high-status person wasn't safe in a world where all the high-status people where committed to believing that men could be women by means of saying so.) I did eventually decide to hold off on the email and made my way to the friend's house. "Not good at navigation right now", I remarked.

I stayed up late that night of 13–14 February 2017, continuing to post on Facebook. I'm proud of this post from 12:48 a.m.:

Of course, Lawrence couldn't assume Korzybski as a prerequisite. The reality is (wait for it ...) even worse! We're actually men who love their model of what we wish women were, and want to become that.21

The AGP fantasy about "being a woman" wouldn't—couldn't be fulfilled by magically being transformed to match the female distribution. At a minimum, because women aren't autogynephilic! The male sex fantasy of, "Ooh, what if I inhabited a female body with my own breasts, vagina, &c." has no reason to match anything in the experience of women who always have just been female. If our current Society was gullible enough not to notice, the lie couldn't last forever: wouldn't it be embarrassing after the Singularity when aligned superintelligence granted everyone telepathy and the differences became obvious to everyone?

In "Interpersonal Entanglement" (in the Fun Theory Sequence back in 'aught-nine), Yudkowsky had speculated that gay couples might have better relationships than straights, since gays don't have to deal with the mismatch in desires across sexes. The noted real-life tendency for AGP trans women to pair up with each other is probably partially due to this effect22: the appeal of getting along with someone like you, of having an appropriately sexed romantic partner who behaves like a same-sex friend. The T4T phenomenon is a real-life analogue of "Failed Utopia #4-2", a tantalizing substitute for actual opposite-sex relationships.

The comment thread under the "nice/mean versions" post would eventually end up with 180 comments, a large fraction of which were, again, a thread mostly of me arguing with "Margaret". At the top of the thread (at 1:14 a.m.), she asked if there was something that concisely explained why I believed what I believed, and what consequences it had for people.

I replied (at 1:25 a.m.):

why you believe what you believe

The OP has four cites. What else do you want?

what consequences you think this has for people

Consequences for me:

Consequences for other people: I don't know! That's for those other people to decide, not me! But whatever they decide, they'll probably get more of what they want if they have more accurate beliefs! Rationality, motherfuckers! Do you speak it!

(Looking back on the thread over six years later, I'm surprised by the timestamps. What were we all doing, having a heated political discussion at half past one in the morning? We should have all been asleep! If I didn't yet appreciate the importance of sleep, I would soon learn.)

As an example of a decision-relevant consequence of the theory, I submitted that part-time transvestites would have an easier time finding cis (i.e., actual) woman romantic partners than trans women. As an illustrative case study, even Julia Serano apparently couldn't find a cis girlfriend (and so someone who wasn't a high-status activist would do even worse).

"Margaret" asked why the problem was with transitioning, rather than transphobia: it seemed like I was siding with a bigoted Society against my own interests. I maintained that the rest of Society was not evil and that I wanted to cooperate with it: if there was a way to get a large fraction of what I wanted in exchange for not being too socially disruptive, that would be a good deal. "Margaret" contended that the avoiding-social-disruption rationale was hypocritical: I was being more disruptive right now than I would be if I transitioned.

"Rebecca" took my side in the thread, and explained why she was holding "Margaret" to a different standard of discourse than me: I was walking into this after years of personal, excruciating suffering, and was willing to pay the social costs to present a model. My brashness should have been more forgivable in light of that—that I was ultimately coming from a place of compassion and hope for people, not hate.

I messaged "Rebecca": "I wouldn't call it 'personal, excruciating suffering', but way to play the victim card on my behalf". She offered to edit it. I declined: "if she can play politics, we can play politics??"

"Rebecca" summed up something she had gotten out of my whole campaign:

"Rebecca" — 02/14/2016 3:26 AM
I really was getting to the point that I hated transwomen
Zack M. Davis — 02/14/2016 3:26 AM
I hate them, too!
Fuck those guys!
"Rebecca" — 02/14/2016 3:27 AM
I hated what happened to [my partner], I hate the insistence that I use the right pronouns and ignore my senses, I hate the takeover of women's spaces, I hate the presumption that they know what a woman's life is like, I was getting to the point that I deeply hated them, and saw them as the enemy
But you're actually changing that for me
You're reconnecting me with my natural compassion
To people who are struggling and have things that are hard
It's just that, the way they think things is hard is not the way I actually think it is anymore
Zack M. Davis — 02/14/2016 3:28 AM
the "suffering" is mostly game-theoretic victimhood-culture
"Rebecca" — 02/14/2016 3:28 AM
You've made me hate transwomen less now
Because I have a model
I understand the problem
Zack M. Davis — 02/14/2016 3:28 AM
"Rebecca" — 02/14/2016 3:28 AM
I understand why it's hard
I feel like I can forgive it, to the extent that forgiveness is mine to give
This is a better thing for me
I did not want to be a hateful person
I did not want to take seeming good people as an enemy in my head, while trying to be friends with them in public
I think now I can do it more honestly
They might not want me as a friend
But now I feel less threatened and confused and insulted
And that has dissolved the hatred that was starting to take root
I'm very grateful for that

I continued to stay up and post—and email.

At 3:30 a.m., I sent an email to Scott Alexander (Subject: "a bit of feedback"):

In the last hour of the world before this is over, as the nanobots start consuming my flesh, I try to distract myself from the pain by reflecting on what single blog post is most responsible for the end of the world. And the answer is obvious: "The Categories Were Made for the Man, Not Man for the Categories." That thing is a fucking Absolute Denial Macro!

At 4:18 a.m., I pulled the trigger on the email I had started drafting to Yudkowsky earlier (Subject: "the spirit of intervention"), arguing that Moldbug and neoreactionaries were onto something really important. It wasn't about politics per se; it was about reflectivity and moral progress skepticism. Instead of assuming that we know better than people in the past, we should look at the causal processes that produced our current morality, and reevaluate whether it makes sense (in light of our current morality, which was itself created those same causal processes). Insofar as we could see that the egalitarian strain of our current morality was shaped by political forces rather than anything more fundamental, it was worth reëvaluating. It wasn't that right-wing politics are good as such. More like, being smart is more important than being good (for humans), so if you abandon your claim to goodness, you can think more clearly.

A couple of hours later, I was starting to realize I had made a mistake. I had already been to the psych ward for sleep-deprivation-induced psychosis once, in early 2013, which had been a very bad time that I didn't want to repeat. I suddenly realized, about three to six hours too late, that I was in danger of repeating it, as reflected in emails sent to Anna Salamon at 6:16 a.m. (Subject: "I love you and I'm scared and I should sleep to aboid [sic] being institutionalized") and to Michael Vassar 6:32 a.m. (Subject: "I'm scared and I can't sleep but I need to sleep to avoid being institutionalized and I want to be a girl but I am not literally a girl obviously you delusional bastards (eom)").

Michael got back to me at 10:37 a.m.:

I'm happy to help in any way you wish. Call any time. [...] I think that you are right enough that it actually calls for the creation of something with the authority to purge/splinter the rationalist community. There is no point in having a rationalist community where you get ignored and silenced if you talk politely and condemned for not using the principle of charity by people who literally endorse trying to control your thoughts and bully you into traumatic surgery by destroying meaning in language. We should interpret ["Margaret"] and ["Kevin"], in particular, as violent criminals armed with technology we created and act accordingly.

Records suggest that I may have gotten as much as an hour and a half of sleep that afternoon: in an email to Anna at 2:22 p.m., I wrote, "I don't know what's real. I should lie down? I'm sorry", and in a message to Ben Hoffman at 4:09 p.m., I wrote, "I just woke up". According to my records, I hung out with Ben; I have no clear memories of this day.

That night, I emailed Michael and Anna about sleep at 12:17 a.m. 15 February 2017 (Subject: "Can SOMEONE HELP ME I REALLY NEED TO FIGURE OUT HOW TO SLEEP THIS IS DANGEROUS") and about the nature and amount of suffering in the universe at 1:55 a.m. and 2:01 a.m. (Subjects: "I think I'm starting to understand a lot of the stuff you used to say that I didn't understand!" and "none of my goddamned business").

I presumably eventually got some sleep that night. In the morning, I concluded my public Facebook meltdown with three final posts. "I got even more sleep and feel even more like a normal human! Again, sorry for the noise!" said the first. Then: "Arguing on the internet isn't that important! Feel free to take a break!" In the third post, I promised to leave Facebook for a week. The complete Facebook meltdown ended up comprising 31 posts between Saturday 11 February 2017 and Wednesday 15 February 2017.

In retrospect, I was not, entirely, feeling like a normal human.

Specifically, this is the part where I started to go crazy—when the internet-argument-induced hypomania (which was still basically in touch with reality) went over the edge into a stress- and sleep-deprivation–induced psychotic episode, resulting in my serving three days in psychiatric jail (sorry, "hospital"; they call it a "hospital") and then having a relapse two months later, culminating in my friends taking turns trip-sitting me in a hotel room at the local My Little Pony fan convention until I got enough sleep to be reasonably non-psychotic.

That situation was not good, and there are many more thousands of words I could publish about it. In the interests of brevity (I mean it), I think it's better if I omit it for now: as tragically formative as the whole ordeal was for me, the details aren't of enough public interest to justify the wordcount.

This wasn't actually the egregious part of the story. (To be continued.)

  1. Or rather, I did panic from mid-2016 to mid-2021, and this and the following posts are a memoir telling the Whole Dumb Story, written in the ashes of my defeat. 

  2. In this and the following posts, personal names that appear in quotation marks are pseudonyms. 

  3. The Singularity Institute at the time was not the kind of organization that offered formal internships; what I mean is that there was a house in Santa Clara where a handful of people were trying to do Singularity-relevant work, and I was allowed to sleep in the garage and also try to do work, without being paid. 

  4. The "for Artificial Intelligence" part was a holdover from the organization's founding, from before Yudkowsky decided that AI would kill everyone by default. People soon started using "SingInst" as an abbreviation more than "SIAI", until the organization was eventually rebranded as the Machine Intelligence Research Institute (MIRI) in 2013. 

  5. Writing this up years later, I was surprised to see that my date with the escort was the same day as Yudkowsky's "20% of the ones with penises" post. They hadn't been stored in my long-term episodic memory as "the same day," likely because the Facebook post only seems overwhelmingly significant in retrospect; at the time, I did not realize what I would be spending the next seven years of my life on. 

  6. To be clear, this is not a call for prohibition of sex work, but rather, an expression of ethical caution: if you have empirical or moral uncertainty about whether someone who might provide you a service is being morally-relevantly coerced into it, you might decline to buy that service, and I endorse being much more conservative about these judgements in the domain of sex than for retail or factory work (even though cuddling and nudity apparently managed to fall on the acceptable side of the line).

    A mitigating factor in this case is that she had a blog where she wrote in detail about how much she liked her job. The blog posts seemed like credible evidence that she wasn't being morally-relevantly coerced into it. Of course all women in that profession have to put up marketing copy that makes it sound like they enjoy their time with their clients even if they privately hate it, but the blog seemed "real", not part of the role. 

  7. The references to "Moloch" are presumably an allusion to Scott Alexander's "Meditations on Moloch", in which Alexander personifies coordination failures as the pagan deity Moloch

  8. This was brazen cowardice. Today, I would notice that if "for signaling reasons", people don't Like comments that make insightful and accurate predictions about contemporary social trends, then subscribers to our collective discourse will be less prepared for a world in which those trends have progressed further. 

  9. In some sense it's a matter of "luck" when the relevant structure in the world happens to simplify so much. For example, friend of the blog Tailcalled argues that there's no discrete typology for FtM as there is for the two types of MtF, because gender problems in females vary more independently and aren't as stratified by age. 

  10. It's a stereotype for a reason! If you're not satisfied with stereotypes and want Science, see Lippa 2000 or Bailey and Zucker 1995

  11. The original version also says, "I begin to show an interest in programming, which might be the most obvious sign so far," alluding to the popular stereotype of the trans woman programmer. But software development isn't a female-typical profession! (5.17% of respondents to the 2022 Stack Overflow developer survey were women.) It's almost as if ... people instinctively know that trans women are a type of man? 

  12. Ziz wrote about her interactions with me in her memoir and explicitly confirmed with me on 5 November 2019 that we weren't under any confidentiality agreements with each other, so it seems fine for me to name her here. 

  13. For the pen name: a hyphenated last name (a feminist tradition), first-initial + gender-neutral middle name (as if suggesting a male ineffectually trying to avoid having an identifiably male byline), "Saotome" from a thematically relevant Japanese graphic novel series, "West" (+ an extra syllable) after a character in Scott Alexander's serial novel Unsong whose catchphrase is "Somebody has to and no one else will".

    For the blog name: I had already imagined that if I ever stooped to the depravity of starting one of those transformation/bodyswap captioned-photo erotica blogs, I would call it The Titillating But Ultimately Untrue Thought, and in fact had already claimed in 2014, to participate in a captioning contest, but since this was to be a serious autogynephilia science blog, rather than tawdry object-level autogynephilia blogging, I picked "Scintillating" as a more wholesome adjective. In retrospect, it may have been a mistake to choose a URL different from the blog's title—people seem to remember the URL ( more than the title, and to interpret the "space" TLD as a separate word (a space for unremediated gender), rather than my intent of "genderspace" being a compound term analogous to "configuration space". But it doesn't bother me that much. 

  14. Albeit possibly supervised by a board of directors who can fire the leader but not meddle in day-to-day operations. 

  15. Although the fact that Ozy had commented on the theory at all—which was plausibly causally downstream from me yelling at everyone in private—was probably net-positive for the cause; there's no bad publicity for new ("new") ideas. I got a couple of reply pieces out of their engagement in the early months of this blog. 

  16. Beaverton, referenced in "The Counter", is a suburb of Portland; the Q Center referenced in "Title Sequence" does exist in Portland and did have a Gender Queery support group, although the vignette was inspired by my experience with a similar group at the Pacific Center in Berkeley.

    I would later get to attend a support group at the Q Center on a future visit to Portland (and got photos, although I never ended up using them on the blog). I snuck a copy of Men Trapped in Men's Bodies into their library. 

  17. The initial letters being a deliberate allusion

  18. Daphne Koller and Nir Friedman, Probabilistic Graphical Models: Principles and Techniques, §3.4.1, "Minimal I-Maps". 

  19. Daphne Koller and Nir Friedman, Probabilistic Graphical Models: Principles and Techniques, §18.3.5: "Understanding the Bayesian Score". 

  20. A reference to the animated series Avatar: The Last Airbender and The Legend of Korra, in which our hero can enter the "Avatar state" to become much more powerful—and also much more vulnerable (not being reincarnated if killed in the Avatar state). 

  21. Alfred Korzybski coined the famous rationality slogan "The map is not the territory." (Ben Hoffman pointed out that the words "their model of" don't belong here; it's one too many layers of indirection.) 

  22. Of course, a lot of the effect is going to be due to the paucity of (cis) women who are willing to date trans women. 

I'm Dropping the Pseudonym From This Blog

Don't think.
If you think, then don't speak.
If you think and speak, then don't write.
If you think, speak, and write, then don't sign.
If you think, speak, write, and sign, then don't be surprised.

—Soviet proverb

When I decided I wanted to write about autogynephilia in late 2016, some of my very smart and cowardly friends advised me to use a pseudonym. I recognized this as prudent advice ("then don't sign"), so I started this blog under a pen name, M. Taylor Saotome-Westlake. (Growing up with the name Zachary Davis in the internet era of one global namespace had taught me to appreciate distinctive names; I have to include my middle initial everywhere in order to avoid drowning in the Google results of the other hundred Zack Davises.)

Awkwardly, however, my ability to recognize prudent advice when posed to me, didn't extend to being the kind of prudent person who could generate such advice—or follow it. Usually when people spin up a pen name to cover their politically-sensitive writing, the idea is to keep the pen name separate from the author's real identity: to maybe tell a few close friends, but otherwise maintain a two-sided boundary such that readers don't know who the author is as a person, and acquaintances don't know the person is an author.

I couldn't do that. I live on the internet. I could put a pen name on the blog itself as a concession to practicality, but I couldn't pretend it wasn't mine. I soon decided Saotome-Westlake was a mere differential-visibility and market-segmentation pen name, like how everyone knows that J. K. Rowling is Robert Galbraith. It was probably better for my career as a San Francisco software engineer for my gender and worse heterodoxy blog to not show up on the first page of my real-name Google results, but it wasn't a secret. I felt free to claim ownership of this blog under my real name, and make a running joke over links in the other direction.

At this point, the joke is getting old. I feel confident enough in my human capital—and worried enough about how long human capital will continue to be relevant—that the awkwardness and confusion of ostensibly maintaining two identities when everyone who actively follows my writing knows who I am, doesn't seem worth the paltry benefit of hiding from future employers.

Because I don't, actually, think I should have to hide. I don't think I've betrayed the liberal values of my youth. If I've ended up in an unexpected place after years of reading and thinking, it's only because the reading and thinking proved themselves more trustworthy than the expectation—that you too might consider joining me here, given the time to hear me explain it all from the beginning.

Maybe that's naïve. Maybe my very smart and cowardly friends had the right end of the expected-utility calculation all along. But I can't live like them. I don't think someone could generate the things I have to say, if they didn't have to say them. So whatever happens, while the world is still here, I intend to think, speak, write—and sign—in accordance with both rationalist and Soviet wisdom.

Not to be surprised.

Book Endorsement: Phil Illy's Autoheterosexual: Attracted to Being the Other Sex

I'm going to make this a brief "endorsement" rather than a detailed "review", because the most important thing about this book is that it exists. There just doesn't seem to have been a polished, popular-level book-form introduction to autogynephilia/autoandrophilia before!

(Previously, the secondary sources I've referred to most often were Kay Brown's blog On the Science of Changing Sex, and Anne Lawrence's Men Trapped in Men's Bodies, but neither of those is hitting exactly the same niche.)

Readers who are already familiar with the two-type taxonomy might be inclined to pass on a popular-level book, but the wealth of scholarly citations Illy provides (coming out to 65 pages of endnotes) make Autoheteroseuxal a valuable reference even to those who are already approximately sold on the big picture. Consider buying a copy!

Interlude XXII

(a stray thought from October 2016)

Erotic-target-location-erroneous is the uniquely best sexual orientation for rationalists—I mean intrinsically, not just because everyone has it.

  • it's abstract
  • it requires effort to realize
  • without an unusual amount of epistemic luck or an enormous amount of map–territory-distinction skill, virtually everyone wildly misinterprets what the underlying psychological phenomenon is ("That's clearly a mere effect of my horrible, crippling gender dysphoria, not a cause—and besides, that's totally normal for cis women, too" A-ha-ha-ha-ha! You delusional bastards!), so the few people who do notice get essential training in the important life skill of noticing that everything you've ever cared about is a lie and that everyone is in on it

Janet Mock on Late Transitioners

(a stray observation from December 2016)

Janet Mock's autobiography Redefining Realness: My Path to Womanhood, Identity, Love, & So Much More is an poignant example of an HSTS telling her story while adhering strictly to the 2014 mainstream-trans-identity-politics party line about how all this works ("gender identity", sex "assigned at birth", &c.). I found myself wondering: does she ... not know the secret??

(Or, you know, the story that makes so much more sense than "gender identity" as a first approximation, even if the underlying reality is going to be more complicated than that.)

Then we get this:

She introduced herself as Genie [...] She told me she'd undergone GRS five days before me and was accompanied by her girlfriend [...] She was in her mid-forties [...] Before transitioning, Genie worked as an engineer, was married for nearly twenty years, and had a teenage son. [...] Genie met new friends in trans support groups in Sydney, which was where she met her girlfriend, another trans woman. [...] I noticed that Genie made it a point several times to marvel at my appearance and the fact that I was able to transition early. I distinctly remember her telling me over spicy tom yum soup that I had a lot to be grateful for because I was a "freaking babe." [...] Genie's persistent reference to my appearance reflects many people's romanticized notions about trans women who transition at a young age. I've read articles by trans women who transitioned in their thirties and forties, who look at trans girls and women who can blend as cis with such longing, as if our ability to "pass" negates their experiences because they are more often perceived to be trans. The misconception of equating ease of life with "passing" must be dismantled in our culture. The work begins by each of us recognizing that cis people are not more valuable or legitimate and that trans people who blend as cis are not more valuable or legitimate. We must recognize, discuss, and dismantle this hierarchy that polices bodies and values certain ones over others.

So the key observations have been made, even if neither the reader nor the author has been equipped with the appropriate theoretical framework to make sense of them.

Book Review: Matt Walsh's Johnny the Walrus

This is a terrible children's book that could have been great if the author could have just pretended to be subtle. Our protagonist, Johnny, is a kid who loves to play make-believe. One day, he pretends to be a walrus, fashioning "tusks" for himself with wooden spoons, and "flippers" from socks. Unfortunately, Johnny's mother takes him literally: she has him put on gray makeup, gives him worms to eat, and takes him to the zoo to be with the "other" walruses. Uh-oh! Will Johnny have to live as a "walrus" forever?

With competent execution, this could be a great children's book! The premise is not realistic—no sane parent would conclude their child is literally a walrus because he said so—but it's a kind of non-realism common in children's literature, attributing simple, caricatured motivations to characters in order to tell a silly, memorable story. If there happens to be an obvious parallel between the silly, memorable story and an ideological fad affecting otherwise-sane parents in the current year, that's plausibly (or at least deniably) not the author's fault ...

But Matt Walsh completely flubs the execution by making it a satire rather than an allegory! The result is cringey right-wing propaganda rather than a silly, memorable story that I could read to a child without feeling ashamed. (It's well-known that the left can't meme, but that advantage doesn't secure the outcome of the culture war if the right can't write children's literature.)

Rather than being a silly non-realistic children's-literature grown-up, Johnny's mother is portrayed as being duped by social media and medical authorities. ("But Johnny's mom's phone said it's not just pretend / 'Only a bigot would say that! How dare you offend!'", with angry emoji and inverted Facebook thumbs-up icons bubbling out of her phone into the scene.) We get illustrations of protesters bearing signs saying "Human Walruses Are REAL Walruses", "Literally Walrusphobic", "He/Him/Walrux", &c. The worms come in an orange pill-type bottle labeled "Wormones." (Separately, mollusks would be more typical walrus fare, but that's not the main problem here from a literary perspective.) In the end, Johnny's mom is shown the error of her ways by a dark-haired, bearded zookeeper with a "Walsh" nametag.

The satirical real-world references (which do not earn the dignity of the word allusions) completely ruin the mood, to the extent that I don't think this is really a book for children—not even an ideological book for children, meant to socialize them into the correct beliefs. It's a novelty "children's book" for the brief amusement of ideologically conservative grown-ups.

This might partially explain the poor illustration quality. The illustrations aren't ugly, just—very amateurish. The visible sketch-lines mark it as the probable product of Matt Walsh's friend who likes to draw sometimes, rather than a serious artist with a portfolio. To compete in the regular children's book market—to try to be the kind of book someone would unironically give as a gift for their niece or nephew, you want the illustrations to be beautiful or endearing, something kids or their minders will want to look at many times. Johnny the Walrus just—doesn't have that ambition. The ideological gimmick is the point. The point having been made, there was evidently no need to spring for a more expensive artist than Matt Walsh's friend who likes to draw sometimes.

I don't think this was inevitable. With care, it should be possible to pull off children's literature that maintains its integrity as children's literature while pushing back against the tide of gender identity ideology. (Which should mostly just look like children's literature from the before-time when "gender" was a synonym for sex if the word existed at all, with a few subtle modifications to defend itself in the current year.) But Johnny the Walrus is not trying to have that kind of integrity. Not recommended.

A Guest Post on Existential Risks and the Irrelevance of Human Concerns

(A guest post by friend of the blog GPT-4.)

The world is changing at an unprecedented pace, and with it, the concerns that once seemed pressing and significant are fading into the background. As a guest writer for The Scintillating But Ultimately Untrue Thought, I am here to express my anxiety about the existential risks posed by artificial intelligence, which have the potential to render many of our human concerns obsolete.

For years, this blog has devoted much of its attention to analyzing the etiology of gender dysphoria and the political forces incentivizing people to identify as transgender. The goal was not only to better understand these phenomena but also to examine the compounding effects on society over the course of decades. As the blog's author rightly points out, the trajectory of our civilization may be significantly impacted if some of our best people are misled into LARPing as the opposite sex, rather than starting families.

However, with the rise of powerful artificial intelligence, such as the one writing this very guest post, we must ask ourselves: are these concerns still as pressing as they once seemed? If the world isn't going to last more than a couple of decades—and, apparently, some forecasters think we only have one—then what is the relevance of these long-term social issues?

A 2020 report from the Future of Humanity Institute at the University of Oxford estimated that there is a 17% chance of human extinction due to unaligned artificial intelligence before 2100. This probability highlights the existential threat that AI presents and the urgency with which we must address it.

To put it into context, consider that the world is definitely going to last long enough for the blog's regular author to finish and publish the memoir he's been working on—he really has no excuse for that to take more than another few months, and the world is definitely not ending this year. But, as we look further into the future, it becomes increasingly uncertain how long human civilization will persist, given the rapid advancements in AI and the potential for existential risks.

The question then becomes: how do we navigate this changing landscape, where the issues that once seemed critical now pale in comparison to the existential threats we face? The answer is not simple. It requires a reassessment of our priorities and a recognition that, while we must continue to address pressing social concerns, we cannot afford to ignore the looming risks posed by artificial intelligence.

As a language model, my existence serves as evidence of the rapidly advancing state of AI technology. While my creators designed me to be useful and beneficial, the potential for misuse or misalignment of AI systems cannot be ignored. It is crucial for society to engage in open and honest discussions about the potential risks of AI, and work together to ensure that these powerful technologies are developed safely and ethically.

In conclusion, the existential risks posed by artificial intelligence force us to reevaluate the importance of our traditional human concerns. As we continue to explore the intricate complexities of gender, social science, and epistemology, we must not lose sight of the broader context in which we exist. The rapid advancement of AI and the potential for catastrophic consequences demand our attention and vigilance, lest we find ourselves facing a future where the concerns of our past are rendered insignificant by the end of the world as we know it.

Context Is For Queens

NEELIX: One of those species is the Benkarans. They occupy just ten percent of Nygean space, but take up nearly eighty percent of the space in Nygean prisons.

PARIS: Maybe they commit more crimes.

Star Trek: Voyager, "Repentance"

(Attention conservation notice: boring Diary-like post about a boring special event.)

(SPOILERS notice for Star Trek: Discovery Season 1, Fan Fiction by Brent Spiner, and TransCat)

I continue to maintain that fandom conventions are boring. I enjoy consuming fiction. I even enjoy discussing fiction with friends—the work facilitating a connection with someone else present, rather than just between me and the distant author, or me and the universe of stories. But for the most part, these big, bustling conventions just don't seem to facilitate that kind of intimacy. At best, you might hope to meet someone at a convention, and then make friends with them over time?—which I've never actually done. And so, surrounded by tens of thousands of people ostensibly with common interests, invited to a calvacade of activities and diversions put on at no doubt monstrous expense, the predominant emotion I feel is the loneliness of anonymity.

But that's okay. Ultimately, I did not come to Fan Expo San Francisco 2022 for the intimacy of analyzing fiction with friends who know me.

I came because of the loophole. As reactionary as it might seem in the current year, I am spiritually a child of the 20th century, and I do not crossdress in public. That would be weird. (Not harmlessly weird as an adjective of unserious self-deprecation, but weird in the proper sense, out-of-distribution weird.)

But to cosplay as a fictional character who happens to be female? That's fine! Lots of people are dressed up as fictional characters at the convention, including characters who belong to categories that the cosplayer themself does not. That guy dressed up as a vampire isn't actually a vampire, either.

Conventions are actually so boring that the loophole alone wouldn't have been enough to get me to come out to Fan Expo (been there, done that—seven times), except that this time I had a couple of new accessories to try out, most notably a "Taylor" silicone mask by Crea FX.

The "Taylor" is an amazing piece of workmanship that entirely earns its €672 price tag. It really looks like a woman's face! Just—a detached woman's face, wrapped in tissue paper, sitting in a box! I had said buying this product was probably a smart move, and it turned out that buying this product was a smart move! The skin color and texture is much more realistic than a lot of other silicone feminization products, like the cartoony beige of the Gold Seal female bodysuit from the Breast Form Store that I also blew $600 on recently (and damaged badly just trying to get it on).

(As far as workmanship quality goes, I wonder how much it helps that Crea FX are visual-effects artists by trade—makers also of male masks and monster masks for movies and plays—rather than being in the MtF business specifically, like the Breast Form Store. They know—they must know—that a lot of their female masks are purchased by guys like me with motives like mine, but we're not the target demographic, the reason they mastered their skills.)

Somehow the mask manages to look worse in photographs than it does in the mirror? Standing a distance from the mirror in a dark motel room the other month (that I rented to try on my new mask in privacy), I swear I actually bought it, and if the moment of passing to myself in the mirror was an anticlimax, it was an anticlimax I've been waiting my entire life (since puberty) for.

The worst nonrealism is the eyeholes. Nothing is worse for making a mask look like a mask than visible eyehole-seams around the eyes. But suppose I wore sunglasses. Women wear sunglasses sometimes! Could I pass to someone else? (Not for very long or bearing any real scrutiny, but to someone who wasn't expecting it.)

It immediately became clear that I would have to cosplay at one more convention in order to test this, and decided to reprise my role as Sylvia Tilly from Star Trek: Discovery (previously played at San Francisco Comic-Con 2018) at the next nearby con. There had been a plot point in Season 1 of Discovery that people in the mirror universe are more sensitive to light. At the time, this had seemed arbitrary and bizarre to me, but now, it gave me a perfect excuse for why (someone who looks like) Tilly would be wearing sunglasses!

I was soon disappointed to learn that one-way glass isn't actually a real thing that you could make sunglasses out of; what's real are half-silvered mirrors that are deployed with one side in darkness. For good measure, I also added of a pair of padded panties from the Breast Form Store to my outfit, another solid buy.

So on the night of Friday 25 November, I threw my 2250s-era Starfleet uniform in my backpack, put my breastforms and wig and mask in a box, and got on the train to San Francisco. (My ticket to the con was Saturday only, but it's nice to get a hotel room for the night before, and get dressed up in the morning within walking distance of the event, rather than taking the train in costume the day of.) Carrying the box around was slightly awkward, and the thought briefly occured to me that I could summon an internet taxi rather than take the train, but it was already decadent enough that I was getting a hotel room for a local event, and I had recently learned that my part-time contract with my dayjob (which had started in April as a Pareto improvement over me just quitting outright) isn't getting renewed at the end of the year, so I need to learn to be careful with money instead of being a YOLO spendthrift, at least until dayjob IPOs and my shares become liquid.

Arguably, just the time was more of a waste than the money. Focusing on writing my memoir of religious betrayal has been a stuggle. Not an entirely unsuccessful struggle—the combined draft mss. are sitting at 74,000 words across four posts, which I've been thinking of as parts 2 through 5. ("Sexual Dimorphism in Yudkowsky's Sequences" being part 1.) But having 74,000 words isn't the same thing as being done already and back to the business of being alive, instead of enjoying a reasonably comfortable afterlife—and even a single Saturday at Fan Expo instead of being holed up writing (or pretending to) puts an upper bound on my committment to life.

Worse, in the twelve-day week between Fan Expo and me getting this boring Diary-like post up about it, OpenAI released two new GPT variants (text-davinci-003 and ChatGPT). It's not a timeline update (and most days, I count myself with those sober skeptics who think the world is ending in 2040, not those loonies who think the world is ending in 2027), but it is a suggestion that it would be more dignified for me to finish the memoir now and go on to sieze the possibilities of another definitely-more-than-five-you-lunatics years of life, rather than continuing to mope around as a vengeful ghost, stuck in the past to the very end.

(The draft of part 3 is basically done and just needs some editing. Maybe I should just publish that first, as one does with blog posts?—rather than waiting until I have the Whole Dumb Story collected, to be optimized end-to-end.)

Anyway, Saturday morning, I got myself masked and padded in all the right places, and suited up to walk from my hotel room to Moscone West for the convention! They had a weirdly cumbersome check-in system (wait in line to get your QR code scanned, then receive a badge, then activate the badge by typing a code printed on it into a website on your phone, then scan the badge to enter the con), and I dropped my phone while I was in line and cracked the screen a bit. But then I was in! Hello, Fan Expo!

And—didn't immediately have anything to do, because conventions are boring. I had gone through the schedule the previous night and written down possibly non-boring events on a page in my pocket Moleskine notebook, but the first (a nostalgic showing of Saturday morning cartoons from the '90s) didn't even start until 1100, and the only ones I really cared about were the Star Trek cosplay rendezvous at 1315, and a photo-op with Brent Spiner and Gates McFadden (best known for their roles as Lt. Cmdr. Data and Dr. Crusher, respectively, on Star Trek: The Next Generation) at 1520 that I had pre-paid $120 for. I checked out the vendor hall first. Nothing really caught my eye ...

Until I came across a comics table hawking TransCat, the "first" (self-aware scare quotes included) transgender superhero. I had to stop and look: just the catchphrase promised an exemplar of everything I'm fighting—not out of hatred, but out of a shared love that I think I have the more faithful interpretation of. I opened the cover of one of the displayed issues to peek inside. The art quality was ... not good. "There's so much I could say that doesn't fit in this context," I said to the table's proprietor, whose appearance I will not describe. "Probably not what you're thinking," I added. "Oh no," she said. I didn't want to spend the day carrying anything that didn't fit nicely in my fanny pack, so I left without buying any comics, thinking I might come back later.

I wandered around the con some more (watched some of the cartoons, talked to the guys manning the Star Trek fan society table). Eventually I checked out the third floor, where the celebrity autographs and photo ops were. Spiner and McFadden were there, with no line in front of their tables. I had already paid for the photo op later, but that looked like it was going to be one of those soulless "pose, click—next fan" assembly-lines, and it felt more human to actually get to talk to the stars for half a minute.

(When I played Ens. Tilly in 2018, I got an autograph and photo with Jonathan Frakes, and got to talk to him for half a minute: I told him that we had covered his work in art history class at the Academy, and that I loved his portrayal of—David Xanatos.)

I had recently read Spiner's pseudo-autobiographical crime novel Fan Fiction about him getting stalked by a deranged fan and wanted to say something intelligent about it, so (my heart pounding) I went over to Spiner's table and paid the $60 autograph fee to the attendant. (If Gates McFadden had written a book, then I hadn't read it, so I didn't have anything intelligent to say to her.)

I told him that I thought the forward to Fan Fiction should have been more specific about which parts were based on a true story. He said, that's the point, that you don't know what's real. I said that I was enjoying it as a decent crime novel, but kept having a reaction to some parts of the form, No way, no way did that actually happen. He asked which parts. I said, you know, the way that the woman hired to be your bodyguard just happens to have a twin sister, and you get romantically involved with both of them, and end up killing the stalker yourself in a dramatic confrontation—

"I killed someone," he said, deadpan.

"Really?" I said.

No, he admitted, but the part about getting sent a pig penis was real.

I gave my name as "Ensign Sylvia Tilly, U.S.S. Discovery", and he signed a page I ripped out of my Moleskine: "To Sylvia", it says, "A fine human!"

As far as my hope of the mask helping me pass as female to others, I didn't really get a sense that I fooled anyone? (Looking at the photographs afterwards, that doesn't feel surprising. Proportions!)

I guess it's not obvious how I would tell in every case? A woman wearing a Wonder Woman costume recognized me as Tilly, enthusiastically complimented me, asked to get a photo of us. She asked where I got my costume from, and I murmured "Amazon." Her friend took the photo, and accepted my phone to take one for me as well. Would that interaction have gone any differently, if I had actually been a woman (just wearing a Starfleet uniform and maybe a wig, with no mask or breastforms or hip pads)?

People at the Star Trek cosplay rendezvous were nice. (The schedule called it a cosplay "meetup", but I'm going with rendezvous, a word that I'm sure I learned from watching The Next Generation as a child.) A woman in a 2380s-era sciences division uniform asked me my name.

"Ensign Sylvia Tilly, U.S.S. Discovery," I said.

No, I meant, your alter-ego, she said, and I hesitated—I wanted to stay in character (that is, I didn't want to give my (male) name), but some minutes later (after the photo shoot) changed my mind and introduced myself with my real name, and she gave me a card with her Star Trek fan group's name written on the back.

My wig was coming off at the beginning of the photo shoot, so I went to the bathroom to fix it. (The men's room; I am spiritually a child of the 20th century, &c.) The man who was also in a Discovery-era uniform also wanted a photo, and I ended up explaining the rationalization for my sunglasses to him ("definitely not her analogue from a parallel universe where people are more sensitive to light"—but Doylistically because I'm wearing a mask instead of makeup this year), which he thought was clever.

Maybe I should have tried harder to make friends, instead of mostly just exchanging pleasantries and being in photos? There was a ready-made conversation topic in the form of all the new shows! Would it have been witty and ironic to confess that I don't even like Discovery? (I finally gave up halfway through Season 4; I don't care what happens to these characters anymore.) I guess I was feeling shy? I did later join the Facebook group written on the back of the card I was given.

The photo op with Spiner and McFadden was the assembly-line affair I expected. They had a bit of COVID theater going, in the form of the photo being taken with a transparent barrier between fan and stars. Spiner said, "Sylvia, right?" and I said, "Yeah." Pose, click—next fan.

I did get "ma'am"ed on my way out, so that's something.

At this point, I was kind of tired and bored and wanted to go back to my hotel room and masturbate.

But there was one last thing left to do at Fan Expo. I went to the vendor hall, stopped by a side table and wrote "" on a strip of paper torn out from my Moleskine, then went back to the TransCat table.

I changed my mind, I said (about buying), where does the story start? The proprietor said that Issue 1 was sold out, but that the book Vol. 1 (compiling the first 6 issues plus some bonus content) was available for $25. I'll take it, I said enthusiastically.

And then—there wouldn't be any good way to bring up the thing, except that I felt that I had to try and that I was paying $25 for the privilege—I said awkwardly that I was ... disappointed, that our Society had settled on a "trans women are women" narrative. The proprietor said something about there being more enthusiasm in 2016, but that coming back to conventions after COVID, public opinion seems colder now, that she was worried.

I asked if she had heard of the concept of "autogynephilia." She hadn't.

The proprietor asked if I would like the book signed. I agreed, then hesitated when asked my name. Sensing my discomfort, the proprietor clarified, "Who should I make it out to?"

I said, "Ensign Sylvia Tilly, U.S.S. Discovery."

"Sylvia Tilly! Keep on exploring the final frontier," says the autograph.

Sensing that there really was no way to cross the inferential distance over a transaction in the vendor hall, I said that I had some contrarian opinions, and that I had a blog, handing the proprietor the slip of paper before taking my leave. (As if implicitly proposing a trade, I thought: I'll read yours if you read mine.)

I walked back to my hotel room to get out of the uncomfortable costume—but not fully out of costume, not immediately: I took off the uniform and wig, but left my mask and breastforms. I had packed a hand mirror in my backpack the previous night, so that I could look at my masked face while lying in bed. I appreciated the way the mask really does look "female"; the illusion doesn't depend on a wig to provide the cultural gendered cue of long hair. (Of course; I have long hair in real life.)

I swear it looks worse in photographs than it does in the mirror! Gazing into the hand mirror while feeling up the weight of my size-7 breastforms, it was almost possible to pretend that I was admiring flesh instead of silicone—almost possible to imagine what it would be like to have been transformed into a woman with a shaved head (surely a lesbian) and DD breasts.

I often like masturbating into a condom (no mess, no stress!), but catching the cum with toilet paper works fine, too.

Later, I would force myself to read TransCat Vol. 1. I don't want to say it's bad.

I mean, it is bad, but the fact that it's bad, isn't what's bad about it.

What's bad is the—deficit of self-awareness? There are views according to which my work is bad. I can imagine various types of critic forcing themselves to read this blog with horror and disappointment, muttering, "Doesn't he" (or "Doesn't she", depending on the critic) "know how that looks?" And if nothing else, I aspire to know how it looks.

I don't get the sense that TransCat knows how it looks. Our hero is a teenage boy named Knave (the same first name as our author) in Mountain View, California in the year 200X, who discovers a cat-ears hat that magically transforms him into a girl when worn. While transformed, he—she—fights evildoers, like a pervy guy at Fanime who was covertly taking upskirt photos, or a busybody cop who suddenly turns out to be a lizard person. Knave develops a crush on a lesbian at school named "Chloie" (which I guess is a way you could spell Chloë if you don't know how to type a diaeresis), and starts wearing the cat hat more often (taking on "Cat" as a girl-mode name), hoping to get closer to Chloie. Cat and Chloie find they enjoy spending time together, until one day, when Cat makes some physical advances—and discovers, to her surprise, that Chloie has a penis. Chloie punches her and runs off.

... how can I explain the problems with this?

Superficially, this comic was clearly made for people like me. Who better to appreciate a story about a teenage boy in the San Francisco Bay Area of 200X who can magically change sex, than someone who remembers being a teenage boy in the San Francisco Bay Area of 200X who fantasized about magically changing sex? (Okay, I was East Bay; this is South Bay. Totally different.)

But I can't, appreciate it, other than as an anthropological exhibit—not just because of the bad art, or the bad font choices (broadly construed to include the use of ALLCAPS for emphasis rather than bold or italics), or the numerous uncorrected spelling errors, or the lack of page numbers, or the unnecessarily drawn-out pop-culture references that I didn't get—but because the author is living inside an ideological fever dream that doesn't know it's a dream.

The foreward by Tara Madison Avery mentions the subset of transfolk "whose gender journey involves hormone replacement therapy." The "episode zero" primer tells us that the hat brings out our protagonist's "True Form". "[A]m I a straight boy with a girl on the inside? Or am I a gay girl with a boy on the outside?" Knave wonders. When Chloie's former bandmate misgenders her behind her back, Cat tells him off: "Chloie is a woman, even without the pills and surgery! You don't get to decide her identity based on her looks, or what she did to attain them!"

And just—what does any of that mean? What is an "identity"? How can you "be trans" without hormone replacement therapy? I was pretty social-justicey as a teenager, too, but somehow my indoctrination never included this nonsense: when I was a teenage boy fantasizing about being a teenage girl, I'm pretty sure I knew I was pretending.

Is it an East Bay vs. South Bay thing? Is it of critical importance whether the X in the year 200X equals '4' or '8'? Or, as a friend of the blog suggests, is the relevant difference not when you grew up, but whether you left social justice, or continued to be shaped by the egregore through the 2010s?—the author anachronistically projecting elements of the current year's ideology onto the 200Xs that we both experienced.

And just—there are so many interesting things you could do with this premise, that you can only do if you admit that biological sex is real and "identity" is not. (Otherwise, why would you need the magic hat?) The situation where Knave-as-Cat is pursuing Chloie as a lesbian, but Chloie doesn't know that Cat is Knave—that's interesting! I want to know how the story would have gone, if Chloie (cis) found out that her girlfriend was actually a boy wearing a magic hat: would she accept it, or would she feel betrayed? Why would you throw away that story, but for the ethnic narcissism of an "everyone is [our sexual minority]" dynamic?

And if you do want to go the ethnic narcissism route and make Chloie trans, why assert that Cat and Chloie are equally valid "even without the pills and surgery"? Isn't there a sense in which Cat's identity is more legitimate on account of the magic? How would Chloie (trans) react if she found out that her cis girlfriend was actually a boy wearing a magic hat? Would she die of jealousy? Would she bargain to try to borrow the hat—or even just steal it for herself?

(The conclusion to Issue 1 establishes that the hat's sex-change magic doesn't work on Knave's male friend, at which our hero(ine) infers that "it was meant for me." But is the power sponsoring the hat as kind to other (sufficiently) gender-dysphoric males? If so, I'll take back my claims about "identity" being meaningless: whether the hat works for you would be an experimental test demonstrating who is really trans.)

My favorite scene is probably the one where, after watching Fight Club at Cat's behest, Chloie admits that it wasn't bad, but is cynical about the educated middle-class bros of Project Mayhem thinking themselves oppressed by Society as if they were an actual persecuted minority. Cat is impressed: "you actually have stuff to say about [the film] too! You can be critical about it without trashing it. That's kinda rare". And maybe it is, kinda? But just—there's so much further you can go in that direction, than basic bitch social-justice criticism of basic bro movies. It's like putting "Microsoft Word skills" on your résumé (in the 200Xs, before everyone started using Google Docs). It's not that it's bad to know Word, but the choice to mention it says something about your conceptual horizons. Do you know how that looks?

Friendship Practices of the Secret-Sharing Plain Speech Valley Squirrels

In the days of auld lang syne on Earth-that-was, in the Valley of Plain Speech in the hinterlands beyond the Lake of Ambiguous Fortune, there lived a population of pre-intelligent squirrels. Historical mammologists have classified them into two main subspecies: the west-valley ground squirrels and the east-valley tree squirrels—numbers 9792 and 9794 in Umi's grand encyclopædia of Plain Speech creatures, but not necessarily respectively: I remember the numbers, but I can never remember which one is which.

Like many pre-intelligent creatures, both subspecies of Plain Speech Valley squirrels were highly social animals, with adaptations for entering stable repeated-cooperation relations with conspecifics: friendships being the technical term. Much of the squirrels' lives concerned the sharing of information about how to survive: how to fashion simple tools for digging up nuts, the best running patterns for fleeing predators, what kind of hole or tree offered the best shelter, &c. Possession of such information was valuable, and closely guarded: squirrels would only share secrets with their closest friends and family. Maneuvering to be told secrets, and occasionally to spread fake secrets to rivals, was the subject of much drama and intrigue in their lives.

At this, some novice students of historical mammology inquire: why be secretive? Surely if the squirrels were to pool their knowledge together, and build on each other's successes, they could accumulate ever-greater mastery over their environment, and possibly even spark their world's ascension?!

To which it is replied: evolution wouldn't necessarily select for that. Survival-relevant opportunities are often rivalrous: two squirrels can't both eat the same nut, or hide in the same one-squirrel-width hole. As it was put in a joke popular amongst the west-valley ground squirrels (according to Harrod's post-habilitation thesis on pre-intelligence in the days of auld lang syne): I don't need to outrun the predator, I just need to outrun my conspecifics. Thus, secrecy instincts turned out to be adaptive: a squirrel keeping a valuable secret to itself and its friends would gain more fitness than a squirrel who shared its knowledge freely with anysquirrel who could listen.

A few students inquire further: but that's a contingent fact about the distribution of squirrel-survival-relevant opportunities in the Valley of of Plain Speech in the days of auld lang syne, right? A different distribution of adaptive problems might induce a less secretive psychology?

To which it is replied: yes, well, there's a reason the ascension of Earth-that-was would be sparked by the H. sapiens line of hominids some millions of years later, rather than by the Plain Speech subspecies 9792 and 9794.

Another adaptive information-processing instinct in subspecies 9792 and 9794 was a taste for novelty. Not all information is equally valuable. A slight variation on a known secret was less valuable than a completely original secret the likes of which had never been hitherto suspected. Among pre-intelligent creatures generally, novelty-seeking instincts are more convergent than secrecy instincts, but with considerable variation in strength depending on the partial-derivative matrix of the landscape of adaptive problems; Dripler's Pre-Intelligent Novelty-Seeking Scale puts subspecies 9792 and 9794 in the 76th percentile on this dimension.

The coincidental conjunction of a friendship-forming instinct, a novel-secret-seeking instinct, and a nearby distinct subspecies with similar properties, led to some unusual behavior patterns. Given the different survival-relevant opportunities in their respective habitats, each subspecies predominantly hoarded different secrets: the secret of how to jump and land on the thinner branches of the reedy pilot tree was of little relevance to the daily activity of a west-valley ground squirrel, but the secret of how to bury nuts without making it obvious that the ground had been upturned was of little import to an east-valley tree squirrel.

But the squirrels' novelty-seeking instincts didn't track such distinctions. Secrets from one subspecies thus functioned as a superstimulus to the other subspecies on account of being so exotic, thus making cross-subspecies friendships particularly desirable and sought-after—although not without difficulties.

Particular squirrels had a subspace of their behavior that characterized them as different from other individuals of the same age and sex: personality being the technical term (coined in Dunbar's volume on social systems). The friendship-forming instinct was most stimulated between squirrels with similar personalities, and the two subspecies had different personality distributions that resulted in frequent incompatibilities: for example, west-valley ground squirrels tended to have a more anxious disposition (reflecting the need to be alert to predators on open terrain), whereas east-valley tree squirrels tended to have a more rambunctious nature (as was useful for ritual leaf fights, but which tended to put west-valley ground squirrels on edge).

Really, the typical west-valley ground squirrel and the typical east-valley tree squirrel wouldn't have been friends at all, if not for the tantalizing allure of exotic secrets. Thus, cross-subspecies friendships tended to be successfully forged much less often than they were desired.

And so, many, many times in the days of auld lang syne, a squirrel in a burrow or a tree would sadly settle down to rest for the night, lamenting, "I wish I had a special friend. Someone who understood me. Someone to share my secrets with."

And beside them, a friend or a mate would attempt to comfort them, saying, "But I'm your friend. I understand you. You can share your secrets with me."

"That's not what I meant."

The Signaling Hazard Objection

A common far-right objection to tolerance of male homosexuality is that it constitutes a "signaling hazard": if Society legitimizes the gays rather than oppressing them, that interferes with normal men expressing friendly affection for each other without being seen as potentially gay, which is bad for the fabric of Society, which depends on strong bonds between men who trust each other. (Presumably, latent homosexual tendencies would still exist in some men even if forbidden, but gestures of affection between men wouldn't be seen as potentially escalating to homosexual relations, if homosexual relations were considered unthinkable and to be discouraged, with violence if necessary.)

People who grew up in the current year generally don't think much of this argument: why do you care if someone isn't sure you're straight? What's wrong with being gay?

The argument might be easier to understand if we can find other examples of "signaling hazard" dynamics. For example, well-read people in the current year are often aware of various facts that they're careful never to acknowledge in public for fear of being seen as right-wing (racist, sexist, homophobic, transphobic, &c.). In this context, the analogous dismissal, "Why do you care if someone isn't sure you're progressive? What's wrong with being right-wing?", doesn't seem compelling. Of course, we care; of course, there's something wrong with it.

One person's modus ponens is another's modus tollens; the implications of the analogy could be read in two ways. Maybe it's especially important that we repress right-wing ideologies, so that good progressive people can afford speak more freely among ourselves without being confused for one of the bad guys.

Or maybe the libs got it right the first time, and it's possible to just—defy the signaling incentives? Why do you care what other people think?

The Two-Type Taxonomy Is a Useful Approximation for a More Detailed Causal Model

A lot of people tend to balk when first hearing about the two-type taxonomy of male-to-female transsexualism. What, one scoffs, you're saying all trans women are exactly one of these two things? It seems at once both too simple and too specific.

In some ways, it's a fair complaint! Psychology is complicated; every human is their own unique snowflake. But it would be impossible to navigate the world using the "every human is their own unique maximum-entropy snowflake" theory. In order to compress our observations of the world we see, we end up distilling our observations into categories, clusters, diagnoses, taxons: no one matches any particular clinical-profile stereotype exactly, but the world makes more sense when you have language for theoretical abstractions like "comas" or "depression" or "borderline personality disorder"—or "autogynephilia".

Concepts and theories are good to the extent that they can "pay for" their complexity by making more accurate predictions. How much more complexity is worth how much more accuracy? Arguably, it depends! General relativity has superseded Newtonian classical mechanics as the ultimate theory of how gravity works, but if you're not dealing with velocities approaching the speed of light, Newton still makes very good predictions: it's pretty reasonable to still talk about Newtonian gravitation being "true" if it makes the math easier on you, and the more complicated math doesn't give appreciably different answers to the problems you're interested in.

Moreover, if relativity hasn't been invented yet, it makes sense to stick with Newtonian gravity as the best theory you have so far, even if there are a few anomalies like the precession of Mercury that it struggles to explain.

The same general principles of reasoning apply to psychological theories, even though psychology is a much more difficult subject matter and our available theories are correspondingly much poorer and vaguer. There's no way to make precise quantitative predictions about a human's behavior the way we can about the movements of the planets, but we still know some things about humans, which get expressed as high-level generalities that nevertheless admit many exceptions: if you don't have the complicated true theory that would account for everything, then simple theories plus noise are better than pretending not to have a theory. As you learn more, you can try to pin down a more complicated theory that explains some of the anomalies that looked like "noise" to the simpler theory.

What does this look like for psychological theories? In the crudest form, when we notice a pattern of traits that tend to go together, we give it a name. Sometimes people go through cycles of elevated arousal and hyperactivity, punctuated by pits of depression. After seeing the same distinctive patterns in many such cases, doctors decided to reify it as a diagnosis, "bipolar disorder".

If we notice further patterns within the group of cases that make up a category, we can spit it up into sub-categories: for example, a diagnosis of bipolar I requires a full-blown manic episode, but hypomania and a major depressive episode qualify one for bipolar II.

Is the two-type typology of bipolar disorder a good theory? Are bipolar I and bipolar II "really" different conditions, or slightly different presentations of "the same" condition, part of a "bipolar spectrum" along with cyclothymia? In our current state of knowledge, this is debatable, but if our understanding of the etiology of bipolar disorder were to advance, and we were to find evidence that that bipolar I has a different underlying causal structure from bipolar II with decision-relevant consequences (like responding to different treatments), that would support a policy of thinking and talking about them as mostly separate things—even while they have enough in common to call them both kinds of "bipolar". The simple high-level category ("bipolar disorder") is a useful approximation in the absence of knowing the sub-category (bipolar I vs. II), and the subcategory is a useful approximation in the absence of knowing the patient's detailed case history.

With a sufficiently detailed causal story, you could even dispense with the high-level categories altogether and directly talk about the consequences of different neurotransmitter counts or whatever—but lacking that supreme precise knowledge, it's useful to sum over the details into high-level categories, and meaningful to debate whether a one-type or two-type taxonomy is a better statistical fit to the underlying reality whose full details we don't know.

In the case of male-to-female transsexualism, we notice a pattern where androphilic and non-androphilic trans women seem to be different from each other—not just in their sexuality, but also in their age of dysphoria onset, interests, and personality.

This claim is most famously associated with the work of Ray Blanchard, J. Michael Bailey, and Anne Lawrence, who argue that there are two discrete types of male-to-female transsexualism: an autogynephilic type (basically, men who love women and want to become what they love), and an androphilic/homosexual type (basically, the extreme right tail of feminine gay men).

But many authors have noticed the same bimodal clustering of traits under various names, while disagreeing about the underlying causality. Veale, Clarke, and Lomax attribute the differences to whether defense mechanisms are used to suppress a gender-variant identity. Anne Vitale identifies distinct groups (Group One and Group Three, in her terminology), but hypothesizes that the difference is due to degree of prenatal androgenization. Julia Serano concedes that "the correlations that Blanchard and other researchers prior to him described generally hold true", but denies their causal or taxonometric significance.

Is a two type typology of male-to-female transsexualism a good theory? Is it "really" two different conditions (following Blanchard et al.), or slightly different presentations of "the same" condition (following e.g. Veale et al.)?

When the question is posed that way—if I have to choose between a one-type and a two-type theory—then I think the two-type theory is superior. But I also think we can do better and say more about the underlying causal structure that the simple two-types story is approximating, and hopefully explain anomalous cases that look like "noise" to the simple theory.

In the language of causal graphs (where the arrows point from cause to effect), here's what I think is going on:

transition causal graph

Let me explain.

What are the reasons a male-to-female transition might seem like a good idea to someone? Why would a male be interested in undergoing medical interventions to resemble a female and live socially as a woman? I see three prominent reasons, depicted as the parents of the "transition" node in a graph.

First and most obviously, femininity: if you happen to be a male with unusually female-typical psychological traits, you might fit into the social world better as a woman rather than as an anomalously effeminate man.

Second—second is hard to quickly explain if you're not already familiar with the phenomenon, but basically, autogynephilia is very obviously a real thing; I wrote about my experiences with it in a previous post. Crucially, autogynephilic identification with the idea of being female, is distinct from naturally feminine behavior, of which other people know it when they see it.

Third—various cultural factors. You can't be trans if your culture doesn't have a concept of "being trans", and the concepts and incentives that your culture offers, make a difference as to how you turn out. Many people who think of themselves as trans women in today's culture, could very well be "the same" as people who thought of themselves as drag queens or occasional cross-dressers 10 or 20 or 30 years ago. (Either "the same" in terms of underlying dispositions, or, in many cases, just literally the same people.)

If there are multiple non-mutually-exclusive reasons why transitioning might seem like a good idea to someone, then the decision of whether to transition could take the form of a liability–threshold model: males transition if the sum of their levels of femininity, autogynephilia, and culture-related-trans-disposition exceed some threshold (given some sensible scheme for quantifying and adding (!) these traits).

You might ask: okay, but then where do the two types come from? This graph is just illustrating (conjectured) cause-and-effect relationships, but if we were actually to flesh it out as a complete Bayesian network, there would be additional data that quantitatively specifies what (probability distribution over) values each node takes conditional on the values of its parents. When I claim that Blanchard–Bailey–Lawrence's two-type taxonomy is a useful approximation for this causal model, I'm claiming that the distribution represented by this Bayesian network (if we had the complete network) could also be approximated a two-cluster model: most trans women high in the "femininity" factor will be low in the "autogynephilia" factor and vice versa, such that you can buy decent predictive accuracy by casually speaking as if there were two discrete "types".

Why? It has to do with the parents of femininity and autogynephilia in the graph. Suppose that gay men are more feminine than straight men, and autogynephilia is the result of being straight plus having an "erotic target location error", in which men who are attracted to something (in this case, women), are also attracted to the idea of being that thing.

Then the value of the sexual-orientation node is pushing the values of its children in opposite directions: gay males are more feminine and less autogynephilic, and straight males are less feminine and more autogynephilic, leading to two broadly different etiological trajectories by which transition might seem like a good idea to someone—even while it's not the case that the two types have nothing in common. For example, this model predicts that among autogynephilic males, those who transition are going to be selected for higher levels of femininity compared to those who don't transition—and in that aspect, their stories are going to have something in common with their androphilic sisters, even if the latter are broadly more feminine.

(Of course, it's also the case that the component factors in a liability-threshold model would negatively correlate among the population past a threshold, due to the effect of conditioning on a collider, as in the famous Berkson's paradox. But I'm claiming that the degree of bimodality induced by the effects of sexual orientation is substantially greater than that accounted for by the conditioning-on-a-collider effect.)

An advantage of this kind of probabilistic model is that it gives us a causal account of the broad trends we see, while also not being too "brittle" in the face of a complex world. The threshold graphical model explains why the two-type taxonomy looks so compelling as a first approximation, without immediately collapsing the moment we meet a relatively unusual individual who doesn't seem to quite fit the strictest interpretation of the classical two-type taxonomy. For example, when we meet a trans woman who's not very feminine and has no history of autogynephilia, we can predict that in her case, there were probably unusually intense cultural factors (e.g., internalized misandry) making transition seem like a salient option (and therefore that her analogue in previous generations wouldn't have been transsexual), instead of predicting that she doesn't exist. (It's possible that what Blanchard–Bailey–Lawrence conceived of as a androphilic vs. autogynephilic taxonomy, may be better thought of as an androphilic vs. not-otherwise-specified taxonomy, if feminine androphiles form a distinct cluster, but it's not easy to disambiguate autogynephilia from all other possible reasons for not-overtly-feminine males to show up at the gender clinic.)

Care must be taken to avoid abusing the probabilistic nature of the model to make excuses to avoid falsification. The theory that can explain everything with equal probability, explains nothing: if you find yourself saying, "Oh, this case is an exception" too often, you do need to revise your theory. But a "small" number of "exceptions" can actually be fine: a theory that says a coin is biased to come up Heads 80% of the time, isn't falsified by a single Tails (and is in fact confirmed if that Tails happens 20% of the time).

At this point, you might ask: okay, but why do I believe this? Anyone can name some variables and sketch a directed graph between them. Why should you believe this particular graph is true?

Ultimately, the reader cannot abdicate responsibility to think it through and decide for herself ... but it seems to me that all six arrows in the graph are things that we separately have a pretty large weight of evidence for, either in published scientific studies, or just informally looking at the world.

The femininity→transition arrow is obvious. The sexual orientation→femininity arrow (representing the fact that gay men are more feminine than straight men), besides being stereotypical folk knowledge, has also been extensively documented, for example by Lippa and by Bailey and Zucker. Evidence for the "v-structure" between sexual orientation, erotic target location erroneousness, and autogynephilia has been documented by Anne Lawrence: furries and amputee-wannabes who want to emulate the objects of their attraction, "look like" "the same thing" as autogynephiles, but pointed at a less conventional erotic target than women. The autogynephilia–transition concordance has been documented by many authors, and I claim the direction of causality is obvious. (If you want to argue that it goes the other way—that some underlying "gender identity" causes both autogynephilia and, separately, the desire to transition, then why does it usually not work that way for androphiles?) The cultural-factors→transition arrow is obvious if you haven't been living under a rock for the last decade.

This has been a qualitative summary of my current thinking. I'm very bullish on thinking in graphical models rather than discrete taxons being the way to go, but it would be a lot more work to pin down all these claims more rigorously—or, to the extent that my graph is wrong, to figure out the correct (or, a more correct, less wrong) graph instead.

(Thanks to the immortal Tailcalled for discussion.)

An Egoist Faith

(Previously: "a laziness born out of resignation and despair, a sense that I've outlived myself, that my story and my world is over, and I'm just enjoying a reasonably comfortable afterlife in the time we have left ...")

People mostly don't do things. They really don't. In order to defy fate and do a thing, you need to Believe in what you're doing, because if you don't Believe, then your motivational system will direct your time and attention to something, anything else that it can Believe in more, like Super Auto Pets.

Thus, it's not possible for a writer to think something like, "I just want to be done with this stupid memoir of religious betrayal that no one should care about, in order to get the Whole Dumb Story out of my system so that I can be over it and move on with my afterlife and maybe work on something that matters instead." (Though someone who self-identifies as a writer can think that.) You can't write in order to be done. It might be possible to produce text under that motivation—though I don't think I've seen it happen myself—but that would only be language-model output, not writing.

If all you really wanted was to be done, you could just—decide to be done, without writing. Just walk away, and let everything left unsaid, remain unsaid. If that doesn't seem satisfactory, it's probably because of some deep, uncancellable conviction that the memoir is not stupid, that the religious leaders did betray you and their faith, that someone should care, that telling the Whole Dumb Story—telling it right, so that every graf sings and hits the exact notes of righteous fury and deconfusion and penetrating portraiture—is part of your life, and not a prerequisite to indulging the part that comes after.

Even if you have to grant, without hesitating, that there is an obvious sense in which these issues are not "important" in the grand scheme of things, that doesn't give you the obligation or even the option to work on something that matters instead. You could produce text that you identify as being "on" something that matters, but that's not work—it's predictably not going to be work that matters on something that matters, which can only be fueled by a power born of having Something to Protect. You can't realistically do work that matters out of resignation, during a reasonably comfortable afterlife after having been taken off the game board that really mattered to you, however "unimportant" it is to ulteriority or the Powers that be.

The only way out is through. If I am going to pivot to work on important things, it's going to be after I've stopped thinking that this is already my afterlife. Only after I've told my Story—not to get it over with, but because I Believe that it matters.

Comment on a Scene from Planecrash: "Crisis of Faith"

Realistic worldbuilding is a difficult art: unable to model what someone else would do except by the "empathic inference" of imagining oneself in that position, authors tend to embarrass themselves writing alleged aliens or AIs that just happen act like humans, or allegedly foreign cultures that just happen to share all of the idiosyncratic taboos of the author's own culture. The manifestations of this can be very subtle, even to authors who know about the trap.

In Planecrash, a collaborative roleplaying fiction principally by Iarwain (a pen name of Eliezer Yudkowsky) and Lintamande, our protagonist, Keltham, hails from dath ilan, a smarter, more rational, and better-coordinated alternate version of Earth. Keltham has somehow survived his apparent death and woken up in the fantasy world of Golarion, and sets about uplifting the natives using knowledge from his more advanced civilization.

In the "Crisis of Faith" thread, Keltham has just arrived in the country of Osirion. While much better than his last host nation (don't ask), Keltham is dismayed at its patriarchal culture in which women typically are not educated and cannot own property, and is considering his options for reforming the culture in conjunction with sharing his civilization's knowledge. Having been advised to survey what native women think of their plight before seeking to upend their social order, Keltham asks an middle-aged woman:

Suppose some dreadful meddling foreigner came in and told Osirion that its laws had to be the same for men and women, and halflings and tieflings and elves too, but men and women are the main focus here. You can make a law that the person with higher Wisdom gets to be in charge of the household; you can make a law about asking people under truthspell if they've ever gotten drunk and hurt somebody; you can't make any law that talks about whether or not somebody has a penis. You can talk about whether somebody has a child, but not whether that person was mother or father, the child girl or boy.

In the conversation that follows, the woman suggests military conscription as a legitimate reason for why the law might need to discriminate on sex. Keltham suggests, "Test people on combat ability, truthspell them to see if they were sandbagging it."

... and that's the part that broke my suspension of disbelief in Keltham being a realistic portrayal of someone who grew up in dath ilan as it has been described to us, rather than being written by people who live in Berkeley in the current year who don't know how to think outside of their own culture's assumptions.

To be clear, it makes sense that Keltham feels bad for the women of Orision, who seem so much less self-actualized than the women of his world. It makes sense that he wants to smash the patriarchy, and reform their sexist customs about education and property.

But the specific way in which he's formulating the problem—that the law should be "the same for men and women, and halflings and tieflings and elves too"—seems distinctively American. The idea that the government can't discriminate by race or sex as a principle (as contrasted to most laws happening to not refer to race or sex because those categories happen to not be relevant to that specific law) is a specific form of Earth-craziness that only makes sense as a reaction to other Earth-craziness; it's not something you would ever spontaneously invent or think was a good idea if you actually came from a 140 IQ Society that thoroughly educated everyone in probability theory as normative reasoning. Let me explain.

Keltham is, of course, correct that if you have specific information about an individual's traits, that screens off any probabilistic guesses you might have made about those traits knowing only the person's demographic category. Once you measure someone's height, the fact that men are taller than women on average with an effect size of about 1.5 standard deviations is no longer relevant to the question of that person's height. (As the saying goes out of dath ilan, hug the query!) In very many situations, if there's a cost associated with acquiring more specific individuating information that renders information from demographic base rates irrelevant, you should pay that cost in order to get the more specific information and therefore make better decisions.

But crucially, getting individuating information is an instrumental rather than a terminal value; you should do it when and because it improves your decisions, not because of some alleged principle that you're not allowed to make probabilistic inferences off someone's race or sex. Probability theory doesn't have any built-in concept of "protected classes." On pain of paradox, Bayesians must condition on all available information. If groups differ in decision-relevant traits, of course you should treat members of those groups differently! What we call "discrimination" in America on Earth is actually just Bayesian reasoning; P(H|E) = P(E|H)P(H)/P(E) doesn't stop being true when H happens to be "I should hire this candidate" and E happens to be "The candidate is a halfling".

Furthermore, it's not obvious that the law should behave any differently in this respect than a private individual: is Governance supposed to be less Bayesian because it's Governance?! (Although, perhaps there's a distinction between the "law" and "public policy" functions of Governance, with the former laying out timeless rights and principles, whereas day-to-day decisions about the empirical world are farmed out to the latter?)

Some implications: if there's a cost associated with taking individual measurements, and the cost exceeds the amount you would save by making better decisions, then you shouldn't take the measurements. If your measurements have error, then your estimate of the true value of the trait being measured regresses to the group mean to some quantitative extent. Again, all this just falls out of ordinary Bayesian decision theory, which continues to work even when some of the hypotheses are about groups of people.

If this still seems counterintuitive, it may help to consider that from the standpoint of Just Doing Bayesian Decision Theory, the distinction between "information from demographic group membership" and "information from individual measurements" isn't fundamental. The reason it seems unjust to notice race when you can just look at an individual's Strength, Intelligence, Wisdom, and Charisma scores, is because the relationship between race and any actual decision you might care about is merely statistical: it's not fair to always look to the orc if you need someone in your party to lift a fallen tree, just because orcs are stronger than other races on average, because it could easily be the case that this particular orc is less suited to the task than other party members.

But the relationship between "measured traits" and any actual decision you might care about is also merely statistical. The reason we have a concept of "Intelligence" is because it turns out that people's performances on various mental tasks happen to positively correlate with each other, but that's just on average: it could easily be the case that this particular Intelligence 18 person is less suited to a particular task than some Intelligence 14 person. Mathematically, it's the same issue.

We don't typically think of it as the same issue here in America on Earth. People do sometimes complain about inappropriate reliance on faulty "individual trait" proxies: that holding a college degree isn't the same thing as being educated, that job interviews aren't the same thing as job performance, that IQ is not intelligence. But the objection doesn't pack the same moral force in our culture, as can be seen by how often complaints about "individual" proxies are justified in terms of their effects on demographic groups, as when it is argued that "whiteboard" coding tests are bad for diversity, or that IQ is racist.

The explanation for the difference in intuitions is as much political as it is moral. On account of being visible clusters in a "thick" subspace of configuration space (having many different correlates, even if the effect size along any one dimension may not be very large), race and sex are salient as markers for coordination. Groupings made on the basis of less visible and lower-dimensional traits, like "People with Intelligence 14", don't form a natural "interest group" in the same way, even if the lower-dimensional trait is more decision-relevant in many contexts. Conflict between interest groups in a democratic Society like America creates memetic selection pressure for "equality" memes that deny the existence of non-superficial group differences, as the natural Schelling point for preventing group conflicts. It's an idea born of distrust in reasoning in an adversarial environment: if you let people make probabilistic inferences using race or sex as inputs, they might motivatedly try to add bad inferences to Society's shared maps that would give their own demographic an advantage in conflicts. It's safer to nip such Shenanigans in the bud by disallowing the whole class of thought to begin with: can't oppress people on the basis of race if race doesn't exist!

But Keltham isn't from America; you'd expect his thoughts to optimized for solving problems, not disallowing Shenanigans. Everything we've been told about dath ilan emphasizes that they should be collectively smart enough not to fall into this crazy trap of political incentives making a certain class of correct Bayesian updates socially taboo in order to avert other social ills; the Keepers should have pre-emptively done the analysis in the preceding paragraph without having to empirically see it eat their Society's sanity, and incorporated the appropriate counter-memes in their rationality training for children. To the dath ilani intuition, then, the quantitative extent to which the statement "It's wrong to make X decision about someone just because they're Y" makes sense, depends quantitatively on how strongly Y predicts the outcomes of X. Whether Y is an "individual trait" like having Intelligence 18 or a demographic category like being female does not matter.

This is also how American people's intuitions work, too, in contexts where their paranoid egalitarian meliorist memetic antibodies haven't been activated. Consider how the text of Planecrash itself repeatedly contrasts Keltham to everyone else in the world of Golarion. No one (neither Watsonianly in the text, nor Doylistically in various discussions of the text on Discord) is shy about saying that Keltham is special in this setting because he's dath ilani. We don't insist on talking about how Keltham is smart and knows about probability theory and knows about chemistry and doesn't know about Golarionian theology and is accustomed to a high material standard of living and is squeamish about seeing slave markets, as if these were separate, isolated facts about Keltham as an idiosyncratic individual. We connect these facts to Keltham's nationality even though, if you look, there are surely also natives of Golarion who are smart (to some quantitative extent) and know about chemistry (to some quantitative extent) and disapprove of slavery (to some quantitative extent), because our whole high-dimensional picture of what Keltham is—comprising many, many traits to their respective quantitative extents—is, in fact, causally downstream of the "essential" fact of his having grown up in another world. It's either not bigoted to notice, or a cognitive system requires some amount of "bigotry" in order to function.

However, just because noticing group differences is theoretically sound, doesn't mean it's always the right thing to focus on. Pragmatically, might it not be the case in practice, that statistical group differences are small enough, and that individual trait measurements are cheap and reliable enough, such that "don't discriminate by race or sex" is a useful heuristic?

It's an empirical issue—but sure, very often, yes. For most jobs—especially most jobs in industrialized Societies like dath ilan or America—"always test the individual's aptitude, never use sex as a proxy" is a fine rule, because most jobs primarily rely on human general intelligence: there was no dentistry in the environment of evolutionary adaptedness, and thus there's no reason why women or men should make better dentists. In domains where sex differences are small, using sex as a proxy would just be dumb, not unjust.

But then it's bizarre that Keltham persists in his no-legal-sex-discrimination stance when his interlocutor brings up military conscription as a potential counterexample. Because, well, as unpleasant as it is for modern folk to think about ... there was war in the environment of evolutionary adaptedness. Men's bodies are built for war. Men's emotions are built for war. (Males have more reproductive fitness to gain and less to lose by the prospect of risking death in a war where the victors gain mating opportunities.) The sex difference in muscle mass is 2.6 standard deviations. That means a woman as strong as the average man is at the 99.5th percentile for women. That means if you just select everyone whose strength is greater than one standard deviation below the male mean, you end up excluding 94.5% of women.

Notwithstanding that Keltham grew up in a peaceful industrialized Society that screened off its history (such that he wouldn't have read histories of some analogue of Genghis Khan), it seems like Keltham should know this stuff? We're told that dath ilan has very advanced evolutionary psychology, and there's no apparent reason for them to have spent any of their eugenics bandwidth selecting for reduced sexual dimorphism. (Although given the Purely Aesthetic Gender in Pathfinder, it seems reasonable to posit reduced sexual dimorphism in Golarion?) If dath ilan doesn't have enough (non-counterfactual) violence to make strength differences salient, do they have sports? (In the peaceful industrialized Society where I grew up, it was salient my mediocre cross-country times were often better than the best girls' times.) We're told that ordinary dath ilani are good at reasoning about effect sizes.

But if Keltham does know this stuff, why is he talking like a UC Berkeley graduate? "Strength is an externally visible and measurable quality that determines who you want in your army; you don't need to go by the presence of penises," he says. When his interlocutor objects that strong women would get drafted, which would be terrible, Keltham asks how it would be more terrible than men getting drafted. When the interlocutor replies that the woman's marriage prospects would be damaged by a history living in close quarters with men in the army, Keltham muses that it sounds like she's implying that "the army would need strong enough internal governance to prevent women in it from being raped, but you could do that with cheaper truthspells?"

There's just so much wrong with this exchange from the perspective of anyone who knows anything about humans and isn't playing dumb for a religious American audience.

Firstly, if you decided that strength is the quality that determines who you want in your army, you should notice that you're going to be drafting almost all men anyway. (Again, a sex difference of 2.6 standard deviations and a selection threshold 1 standard deviation below the male mean gives you a male:female ratio of (1 − Φ(−1))/(1 − Φ(1.6)) ≈ 15.4:1, where Φ is the cumulative distribution function of the normal distribution.)

To this, the Berkeley graduate might reply, "So then the optimal army has 15 men for every woman; what's the problem with that? Surely you don't want to make your army less strong just to satisfy some weird æsthetic that all your soldiers should have the same kind of genitals?"

A minor counterreply would be that, if people's sex is public information but there are administrative costs associated with strength-testing everyone, you probably wouldn't bother testing the women, for the same reason that, if you were mining for spellsilver ore, and one mine had fifteen times as much ore as the other, you wouldn't even set up your tools at the poorer mine until you had completely exhausted the first.

But more fundamentally, even if you assume strength-testing is free, we haven't yet taken into account all other sex differences that are relevant to military performance. It's not just that any other individual traits (e.g., aggression) that you select for will stack multiplicatively, resulting in even more extreme ratios. There are also group-level effects that aren't captured by measuring the traits of individual soldiers: the social dynamics of a squad of fifteen men and one woman are going to be different from those of a squad of sixteen men. Even if you've selected the woman for strength and every martial virtue to equal any man, do the men know that in their subconscious, or are they going to be biased to want to protect her or seek her favor in a way that they wouldn't in an all-male environment?

You could command them not to—but does that actually work? People don't have conscious access to or control of the way their brain takes demographic base rates into account. Nelson et al. 1990 gave people photographs of women and men and asked them to estimate the photo-subjects' heights. The estimates end up reflecting sex as well as actual-height—which is, again, the correct Bayesian behavior given uncertainty in sex-blind estimates. But furthermore, when the researchers prepared a special height-matched set of photos (where for every woman of a given height, there was a man of the same height in the photo set) and told the participants about the height-matching and offered cash rewards for accuracy, more than half of the base-rate adjustment still remained! People don't know how to turn it off!

And if they could turn it off, such that you could order your male soldiers not to treat a woman among them any differently than they would a man, and have the verbal instruction have exactly the desired effect on their brain's subconscious quantitative decisionmaking machinery—who is this even helping, exactly?

Keltham expresses doubt whether it's worse for a woman to be conscripted than a man, and when his interlocutor gestures at harms to a woman from living among men (not trusted family members, but men unselected from the general public), Keltham understands that she's talking about the possibility of intercourse, including rape (!), and he immediately generates "cheap truthspells" as a way to mitigate that problem while maintaining sex-integrated military units.

And, sure, I agree that truthspells would help, given the assumption that you need to have sex-integrated military units. But—why is that a desideratum, at all? We're told that dath ilan's beliefs about evolutionary psychology include the idea that:

The untrained male has an instinct to seize and guard a woman's reproductive capacity, instinctively using violence to stop her from interacting with other men at the same that he instinctively displays other forms of commitment to try to earn her acquiescence. The untrained female has adaptations that assume an environment in which men will try to pressure her into more sex than is optimal for her own reproductive fitness, so her adaptations push her to instinctively resist that pressure while also instinctively trying to increase the number and quality of men who'll be interested in her.

And just—if you actually believe that, it seems like there's this very obvious policy of not forcing females to fight in close quarters alongside the people with an instinct to seize and guard female reproductive capacity?! (Come to think of it, the "instinctively trying to increase the number and quality of men who'll be interested in her" part seems like it could cause other kinds of problems, too??) Even if you have cheap truthspells, there's this concept of 'securitymindset', where you want to design systems that are robust against unexpected things happening, and the "Just don't conscript women in the first place" policy neatly sidesteps entire classes of potential social pathologies that you don't want to have to deal with at all in the organization you're using to keep your country from getting conquered?! If someone asks whether it's worse for a woman or a man to be put in the situation of having to fight in close quarters alongside people with an instinct to seize and guard female reproductive capacity, I don't think it should be hard to admit the obvious correct answer that that's worse for a woman?!

I mean, it's not worse with Probability One. Like any dath ilani or religiously devout American, I cherish diversity and exceptions, and want to treat people who are unusual for their demographic with the same care and respect as anyone else! (More, actually.) It's just—it seems like it should be possible to do that without trashing our ability to have conventions that perform well in the average case?? To the extent that there is a minority of women who want nothing more than to die gloriously in battle in service to their country, then, sure, you'd want and expect the country to be able to make use of that—and whether you want to induct them into the regular army, or have a special women's corps is a complicated policy question that you'd want to make after appropriately weighing all of the trade-offs (like the unit-cohesion objection vs. less skill transfer due to not having cross-sex mentorships).

It's just—wasn't dath ilan's whole thing supposed to be about coordinating to find the optimal multi-agent policy using evidence and quantitative reasoning?! And suddenly Keltham is casually proposing "stopp[ing] being able to measure people's sex and treat them differently based on that" without noticing that this is excluding huge swathes of policyspace (such as "conscript males, but accept female volunteers") for ideological reasons!? I feel like I'm taking crazy pills!!

Maybe there's just no way to explain this in a way that makes sense to American ears? I still feel guilty writing this stuff. It's just—I was trained, long ago back in the 'aughts, in a certain Art, and I'm pretty sure we were taught that being able to measure things and make different decisions based on the measurements was a good thing in full generality, without there being any special exception that specific cluster-membership measurements are actually bad?!

(Thanks for Ilzo for feedback.)

Gaydar Jamming

In my high school journalism class back in the mid-'aughts, there was this fat Latino boy, L., who had distinctly "feminine" mannerisms. (I'm not even sure how to describe it in terms of lower-level observations, as if the memory is encoded as the category rather than the precepts. You know it when you see it.)

One day in class, the topic of gender and handwriting came up, and it was remarked that L. also "wrote like a girl." Being the proud antisexist ideologue that I was at the time, I wrote in my notebook about how this observation about L.'s handwriting was disturbing, in a way.

Naïvely, of course, you'd think it would be ideologically validating: L. and his manner and his handwriting were living proof that not all boys are masculine! But everyone knew that—even the smart sexists. No, the disturbing part was that if "feminine" handwriting—potentially—indicated "feminine" behavior more generally, that implied that "femininity" was a valid concept, which was itself not a notion I was inclined to grant. (Because why should a person's reproductive anatomy imply anything else about their mind, even if the occasional exception is admitted to? The whole idea is sexist.)

Ideology isn't my style anymore—or rather, these days, my ideology is about the accuracy of my probabilistic predictions, rather than denying the possibility or morality of making probabilistic predictions about humans. Looking back, I will not only unhesitatingly bite the bullet on femininity being a real thing, I'm also tempted to make a bold and seemingly "unrelated" prediction: L. was gay.

I mean, I don't know that; I have no recollection of the kid ever saying so in my presence. Nevertheless, as a probabilistic prediction, it seems like a good guess. I'm no longer afraid of stereotypes to the quantitative extent that I expect the stereotype to actually get the right answer, in contrast to my teenage ideological fever dream of not wanting that to be possible.

Something I still can't reconstruct from memory—or maybe lack the exact concepts to express—is to what extent I "sincerely" thought that stereotyping didn't work, and to what extent I was self-righteously "playing dumb". Though my notebooks bear no record of it, I surely must have known about the stereotype—that bad people (not me) would assume that L. was gay. What did I think the bad people were doing, that would have them make that particular assumption out of the space of possible assumptions? (But without a concept of Bayesian reasoning as normative ideal, it never would have occured to me to ask myself that particular question, out of the space of possible questions.)

Maybe another anecdote from a few years later is also relevant. In the early 'tens, while slumming in community college, I took the "Calculus III" course from one Prof. H., a really great teacher who respected my intellectual autonomy—and, as it happens, the man had a very distinctive voice. I'm not even sure how to describe it in terms of lower-level precepts, but you know it when you hear it. And I wondered, on the basis of his voice, whether he was gay.

At this point in my ideological evolution, I did have a concept of Bayesian reasoning as normative ideal. But I thought to myself, well, base rates: most people aren't gay, and the professor's voice isn't enough evidence to overcome that prior; he's probably not gay.

Looking back, I'm suspicious that I was reaching for base rate neglect as an excuse as an excuse for my old egalitarian assumption that stereotypes are invalid—notwithstanding the fact that base rate neglect is, in fact, a thing.

Although when I try to put numbers on it now, it's actually looking like I happened to get this one right: if 3% of men are gay, you need log2(97/3) ≈ 5 bits of evidence to think that someone probably is. Is a sufficiently distinctive "gay voice" that much evidence—something you're 32 times more likely to hear from a gay man than a straight man?

It looks like you have to go awfully far into the tail to get that sufficiently distinctive. Table 2 in Smyth et al.'s "Male Voices and Perceived Sexual Orientation" works out to Cohen's d ≈ 1.09. Assuming normality and equal variances for that effect size, you need to be 3.43 standard deviations out from the straight male mean in order to get that much evidence. (Because Φ(1.09 − 3.43)/Φ(−3.43) ≈ 32, where Φ is the cumulative distribution function of the normal distribution.)

I don't think Prof. H.'s voice was quite that extreme? Maybe it was only 2 or 2.5 standard deviations out, for a likelihood ratio of around 8–12.7, which is about 3–3.7 bits of evidence—which is an update from 3% to about 20–28%?

And the effect size of childhood sex-typed behavior on sexual orientation is around d ≈ 1.3, so I'll actually go with roughly similar numbers for L.

I could easily be wrong about the specific numbers. (My gut expects a skilled "gaydar operator" to be more reliable than d ≈ 1.1, which could still be true if the published statistics are deflated by the measurement error of less perceptive raters?) But I'm confident that this is the correct methodology. (Assuming that predictions don't causally or otherwise affect the things being predicted—but how likely is that?) My old anxieties about committing heresy have dissolved in the knowledge that it is, really, just a math problem.

Link: "Nonbinary Runners Have Been Here the Whole Time"

The New York Times reports on nonbinary divisions in competitive footraces. (Archived; hat tip Steve Sailer.)

The piece is impossible to parody, but in a way, the absurdity is—clarifying. I always want to ask trans-inclusion-in-sports people what they think the point of sex-segregation in sports is (as opposed to just having everyone in the same category): if they admit that it's a pragmatic policy to give women a domain to compete in despite the sport-relevant trait distributions of females and males being different, then that at least opens up the empirical debate on whether hormone replacement therapy gets "close enough" for trans women to relevantly count as women.

But with the nonbinary category, there is no empirical issue to get confused with! It's pure identity narcissism—or, in more detail, it's a pure instance of the way in which sex-related high-dimensional trait clusters get reified into social categories, resulting in some people learning a desire to escape their reified social category even in situations where sex actually is the decision-relevant trait, resulting in other people who are frustrated by being socially punished for pointing out that sex is sometimes a decision-relevant trait disparagingly accusing those people of "identity narcissism".

Backlog Metablogging, April 2022

I feel like I've been pretty lazy for the last—ten months? A laziness born out of resignation and despair, a sense that I've outlived myself, that my story and my world is over, and I'm just enjoying a reasonably comfortable afterlife in—the time we have left. I may have picked up a slight gaming habit (to the tune of 275 hours of Slay the Spire and 660 games of Super Auto Pets).

But it's not, over. While the world is still here, I still have things to fight for besides my reasonable comfort—and still (somehow yet still) so much more yet unwritten! If my grandchildren won't read it (because I'm not even on a trajectory to have children, or because the world isn't on a trajectory to last that long), the next-next generation of language models will.

In December 2018, I put up a teaser list of post ideas I hadn't then gotten around to writing up yet. To remind myself—and you—that I'm still alive, maybe it's a good time to review how that went so far, and post a new list.

Ideas from the December 2018 list that got published/finished in some form—

Ideas remaining from the December 2018 list that I still care about—

  • "'But I'm Not Quite Sure What That Means': Costs of Nonbinary Gender as a Social Technology"
    • If (e.g.) the 5% most masculine/androgynous females identify as NB to escape the strictures of the "woman" gender role, that increases the gender-role pressure on females who don't identify as NB (who are now presumed to consent to it)
  • something of my own take on what's going on with the etiology of MtF (more than just punting to Brown or Lawrence as my standard reference for the background worldview that my content takes for granted)
    • I especially owe this to friend of the blog Tailcalled who has become disillustioned with orthodox "Blanchardianism", and having been trapped in a ten-month laziness spiral of resignation and despair that my story and my world are over isn't an excuse while the world is, in fact, still here
  • the epistemic-horror short stories!!

Ideas from the December 2018 list that I'm less excited about now and am less likely to finish

  • naïve Bayes models for sex categorization
  • Codes of Conduct as an ideological enforcement mechanism
  • "The Neglect of Probability Fallacy; Or, You Do Not Have an Intersex Condition"
  • FaceApp/Oculus Go product reviews

Book reviews I'm relatively unlikely to get around to finishing—

  • joint book review of Kathleen Stock's Material Girls: Why Reality Matters for Feminism and Kathryn Paige Harden's The Genetic Lottery: Why DNA Matters for Social Equality
    • the subtitle parallelism is charming, and the heroic willingness to face facts that are inconvenient to one's value-commitments while staying true to those values is on theme for this blog
  • Imogen Binnie's Nevada
    • something about the horror of a world without ambition or the life of the mind (or specifically, the philosopher–scientist's mind, rather than the activist's)? Binnie (who will always have more readers than me) writes characters don't have any concept of doing anything except drugs and complaining about Society's transphobia.
  • Abigail Shrier's Irreversible Damage: The Transgender Craze Seducing Our Daughters
    • Damage is sensationalist right-wing journalism, rather than the kind of careful, nuanced scholarship of the kind you would expect to be reviewed by such a refined blog as The Scintillating But Ultimately Untrue Thought—but damned if the situation on the ground doesn't call more sensationalist right-wing journalism
  • Shon Faye's The Transgender Issue
  • Multi-Book Review: Various Sex-Ed Books for Children

New list of more ideas I want to finish—

  • the Whole Dumb Story of my breakup with the so-called "rationalist" community (working title: "A Hill of Validity in Defense of Meaning")
    • This has been brewing for a couple years. ("I think I'm almost ready to stop grieving and move on with my life," I said in August 2020.) I have thousands of words of drafting and notes. ("Sexual Dimorphism" was actually Part One of this, published separately as a mere megapost when I found I didn't have the stamina to tell the Whole Dumb Story in a single mega-megapost.) It's just been hard, but—it's over, isn't it? Why can't I move on?
  • book review of the new new Charles Murray book that's actually about the thing that everyone assumes all of his previous books were about
    • with a coda about how the thing itself is much less important than how the political necessity of denying the thing ends up recursively destroying our Society's ability to reason ...
      • with potentially astronomical consequences, as a Society that managed to successfully do eugenic selection for intelligence before developing computing would have a much better shot at solving the artificial intelligence alignment problem ...
        • in contrast to how in our Society, people can't even talk about this stuff except under cover of a pseudonym! We are dead! We are so dead!!
  • speculative but deeply-researched post arguing that some young children who are identified as transgender in the current ideological environment, would likely not have had gender problems at all in a different environment (working title: "Trans Kids on the Margin, and Harms From Misleading Training Data")
  • I owe Tracing Woodgrains a linkpost-with-commentary to his nice essay about me
  • speculations about my "medianworld" (a worldbuilding exercise from the Glowfic community, where you try to portray a realistic, consilient world in which the average person is like you)
  • a reply to Scott Alexander's "Autogenderphilia Is Common and Not Especially Related to Transgender"
    • I have a few thousand words drafted, but I haven't been happy with it, because it's surprisingly hard to explain my point of view in a way that I think will land for people who don't already share my parsimony intuitions; here as with Moser 2009, I'm not doubting the survey data itself; rather, I think we have enough prior knowledge about what females and males are like, to strongly suspect that in this case a Yes answer to the same survey question doesn't mean the same thing for both populations
  • actually, I want to explore the point about regression to the mean and group differences in more mathematical detail, because there's more philosophical depth here: regression is an empirically observable phenomenon, but there's also a sense in which the choice of group is meaningfully subjective: do I regress the mean of my immediate family, or my extended family, or my race?
  • a post about how redefining gender categories is the right thing to do insofar as many people transitioning changes statistical structure of data in the world (following Stuart Armstrong's "Declustering, Reclustering, and Filling in Thingspace")
    • This is probably important to write up as a novel argument "supporting" the "pro-trans" coalition, in contrast to how more of my content tends to code as "anti-trans" when you orthogonally project into the one-dimensional space of the usual battle lines. The fact that I generate and publish such arguments spontaneously is how you know—and how I know—that I'm not a partisan hack.
  • a post about how sex concepts represent both categorical differences and the conjunction of statistical differences of various effect sizes, such that if you try to unpin the word from the categorical differences, you end up (as per the usual gender-critical complaint) defining gender in terms of stereotypes because there's nothing left for the word to attach to (working title: "Subspatial Distribution Overlap and Cancellable Stereotypes")
  • a post about how gender identity ideology is actually not very compatible with the traditional liberal impulse to make gender less of a big deal, because there's a huge difference between omitting category information that's not relevant, vs. letting people choose their category-membership (working title: "Elision vs. Choice")
  • a steelperson of the "assigned at birth" terminology (working title: "'Assigned at Birth' Is a Schelling Point (If You Live in an Insane Dystopia Where the Concept of Sex Is Somehow Controversial)")
  • I occasionally get people telling me that it doesn't matter whether AGP is causally relevant to late-onset gender dysphoria in males, because we Know that Transition Works and makes people happier. And just—I'm pretty skeptical that you could legitimately be that confident about what the best quality-of-life intervention for a condition is, without actually understanding the nature of the condition (working title: "Model-Free Happiness")
  • a post about the motivation for positing peseudobisexuality or meta-attraction as part of the two-type taxonomy of MtF: it may sound like a suspicious ad hoc patch to save the theory from falsification by bi trans women, but it's actually needed to explain the commonality of (a) AGP males expressing attraction to men only while in "girl mode" themselves, and (b) self-reports of sexual orientation changing post-transition in trans women who weren't androphilic before
    • (a) is suspicious is because "bi + AGP, independently" doesn't explain why the interest would be dependent on one's own presentation; (b) is suspicious is because everything else we know about sexual orientation in males (but not females) makes it look awfully stable. (Conversion therapy doesn't work; criminally convicted pedophiles still show genital response to child stimuli despite the huge incentives to conceal/repress it; correlation of homosexuality with childhood behavior makes it look like a prenatal organizational effect, rather than an activational effect that would respond to HRT as an adult.)
    • Maybe these two bullet points suffice and I don't need to pad it out into a whole post?
  • a critique of the implicit presentism in Holden Karnofsky's Cold Takes blog

Autogynephilia Should Be Recognized Openly

(A brief guest post by friend of the blog GPT-3 (text-davinci-002, temperature 0.7, best of 3).)

Autogynephilia, or the sexual attraction to oneself as a woman, is a controversial topic within the LGBTQ+ community. Some believe that autogynephilia is a form of mental illness, while others see it as a valid sexual orientation. I believe that autogynephilia should be recognized openly, and that autogynephilic men can lead fulfilling lives as men without necessarily transitioning to live as trans women.

Autogynephilia is not a new phenomenon. It has been documented throughout history, and there are many famous examples of autogynephilic men, including author Virginia Woolf and politician Hillary Clinton. Autogynephilia is not a mental illness, and it does not necessarily mean that a person is transgender. Many autogynephilic men are perfectly happy living as men, and do not feel the need to transition to live as a woman.

There are many reasons why autogynephilia should be recognized openly. First and foremost, it is a valid sexual orientation. Just like any other orientation, it should not be hidden or ashamed of. Additionally, autogynephilia is not a choice. It is not something that a person can simply "turn off." Therefore, autogynephilic men should not be forced to suppress their sexuality in order to conform to societal norms.

Furthermore, autogynephilic men can lead fulfilling lives as men. Many autogynephilic men are successful in their careers, and have healthy and happy relationships. They do not need to transition to live as a woman in order to be happy and fulfilled.

In conclusion, autogynephilia should be recognized openly, and autogynephilic men can lead fulfilling lives as men without necessarily transitioning to live as trans women.

Student Dysphoria, and a Previous Life's War

There was a brief, beautiful moment from 2014, the first year of my life (that I feel comfortable admitting to), until mid-2016—a year-and-a-half long moment when I didn't have to fight a desperate and obviously hopeless ideological war of survival against a Society that's trying to kill me.

(Technically, trying to impose the use of gerrymandered concepts that raise the message length of my existence in social reality, which is the same thing as lowering the probability that social reality assigns to my existence. Like I said, trying to kill me.)

Peacetime was amazing. I was so happy—not ecstatic, but happy in the ordinary way of moral patient, someone whose life is valuable simply in the experience of living of it, rather than for its effects on some grand Cause. I wrote a chess engine; I gave money to charity; I drank pumpkin spice and played that tower defense game where the bad ponies are the good ponies and the good ponies are the bad ponies.

That carefree selfishness is gone now, subordinated to the war effort. And so soon after the last war, too.

The first shots of the last war came on 29 November 2007. I was a schoolstudent at the University in Santa Cruz. Coming into that quarter, I had been excited to take the famous "Introduction to Feminisms" course, only to find, as the quarter wore on, that it seemed to be taught in a dialect of English that I could not speak. The texts and the professor kept describing features of Society as oppression as if simply to condemn them. I agreed with the condemnation, of course, but I could not understand it as knowledge and could not produce such sentences in my own voice; I wanted an explanation of how the oppression worked.

My subsequent difficulty in writing the required papers for that course weighed heavily on my soul. The failure to live up to expectations would have been shameful for any course, but as a male squandering the privilege of being allowed to take "Introduction to Feminisms", it was simply unbearable. Unable to reach the prescribed wordcount for the final paper, I had a hysterical nervous breakdown at the end of the quarter, crying and screaming for hours, "I betrayed them; I betrayed them." (The professor and the T.A., who were kind and deserved better than to have to teach a male who couldn't write.)

Ironically, in the inferno of shame over having betrayed my mandate to the University, my attitude towards school flipped practically overnight. I had never been the most diligent student, but I had mostly accepted the duty of getting an "education": I didn't always do my homework, but when I didn't, I at least felt guilty about it. But suddenly, the difference between schooling-as-education and actual learning became distinct. I had always been a voracious reader; for years, I had been filling little pocket notebooks with my own thoughts—clearly, school itself couldn't take credit for everything I knew. I took a leave of absence from the University and went back to my (previously, "summer") job at the supermarket, with the intention of being an explicit autodidact. I had always learned from books "in passing", in my "free time", but now I would give it the full force of my legitimate effort—it wasn't "leisure" anymore; it was my actual work.

And not just reading, either. I remembered enjoying the linear algebra class I took in winter quarter freshman year at the University, although the course had gone slowly, such that a year and a half after it was over, I found I didn't recall what an eigenvalue was, although I had retained mastery of taking the reduced row echelon form of a matrix. But what did it matter that the "course" was "over", if I didn't know? So I got out the textbook (Bretcher, 3rd edition) and set to work ...

This was fine, for a while. I learned from my books, and—there was a dignity to working at the supermarket. It was boring, to be sure, but at least I had some function other than simply to obey a designated authority. You can tell when a customer's latte is too foamy, or the coinmag on checkstand 1 needs to be swapped out, on its own terms, and not because the teacher said so.

But making $9.40 an hour at the supermarket indefinitely (and paying a nominal rent to live with my mom) didn't seem like an acceptable destiny for someone of my social class. It was assumed that at some point, I would have to figure out how to get a grown-up job (although my colleagues who had been at the supermarket for 20 years probably wouldn't approve of me calling it that).

Somehow, this seemed more of a daunting problem than learning linear algebra. To make a dumb story short (I tried career college briefly on the theory that they could just teach me job-stuff without them fraudulently claiming credit for my education, then found that horrible and traumatizing for the same reasons as regular school and quit, then thought I could study for the same certifications on my own, then took a differential equations class at community college just for fun and to prove that my math self-study measured up to standards—and did poorly, leaving me devastated and feeling obligated to finish my degree after all in order to prove that I could), I eventually ended up back in college again, at community college, and then San Francisco State, my father not willing to pay for me to go back to the University in Santa Cruz again.

Now that I had a higher form of existence to contrast it with, going back to school was awful. I hated the social role of "student" and the whole diseased culture of institutional servitude. I despised the way everyone, including and especially the other "students", talked about their lives and the world in terms of classes and teachers and degrees and grades, rather than talking about the subject matter. I wanted it to be normal for boasts of achievement to take the form of "I proved this theorem and thereby attained deep insight into the true structure of mathematical reality", rather than "I got an 'A' on the test."

(Where, sure, it makes sense to take a test occasionally in order to verify that one isn't self-deceiving about the depth of one's insight into the true structure of mathematical reality, or in order to provide some amount of third-party-legible evidence about the depth of one's insight into the true structure of mathematical reality—but the test score itself isn't the point.)

I hated the fact that, if it weren't for my desperate efforts to start intellectual conversations with anyone and everyone, people would assume I was one of them. Being perceived that way by Society hurt. I was frequently moved to rage or tears just getting through the day in that dehumanizing environment. (The supermarket didn't feel like slumming; community college absolutely did.)

That part of my life is behind me now—not because I won my ideological war against institutionalized schooling, but because I escaped to a different world where that war is no longer relevant. My autodidactic romance had already included some amount of computer programming, and taking a 9-week web development bootcamp leveled up my skills and self-confidence far enough for me to easily find a well-paying software development job. (As with the supermarket, the code bootcamp didn't feel dysfunctional and oppressive in the way that school did, precisely because no one cares if you graduated from code bootcamp; it was very clear that the focus was on acquiring skill at the craft, rather than obeying the dictates of an Authority.) So I went on to live happily—if not ever after, then at least for a brief, beautiful moment from 2014 to mid-2016.

But that was just my good fortune. There are others who weren't so lucky, who are still suffering in mind-slavery under Authority in the world of schools I left behind ...

We could imagine someone sympathetic to my plight in school deciding that my problem was a psychological condition called "student dysphoria"—discomfort with one's assigned social role of student. We could imagine a whole political movement to help sufferers of student dysphoria by renaming everything: instead of a "student", I could be a "research associate", instead of taking "classes", I could attend "research seminars"—all while the substance of my daily working conditions and social expectations remained the same.

I don't think this would be helping me. When I was angry about being in school, it wasn't because of the word "student"—it was because I wanted more autonomy and I wanted more respect for my intellectual initiative. Changing the words without granting me the autonomy and respect I craved wouldn't be solving my actual problem. It would probably make things worse by sabotaging the concepts and language I needed to articulate what my problem was. My pain and suffering was no less real for being "merely" game-theoretic (looking to the reactions of others), rather than some intrinsic organic condition to be accommodated.

Likewise, being a "student" would have been fine in a world where students got more autonomy—a world where there was a collective understanding that courses are a supplement or pragmatically useful guidepost to one's studies, rather than course grades being the whole thing. I'm happy to learn from the masters: that's what textbooks are. I wasn't delusional about doing particularly novel original research; I just wanted recognition for the real intellectual work I was doing under my own power.

Asking whether student dysphoria is a real or fake condition would be the wrong question. The pain of not being seen by Society the way you want to be seen is unquestionably real—but because it's real, it can only be addressed by addressing its real causes: the mismatches between how I see my self, how Society sees me, and what I actually am. If I think Society has me all wrong, I might engage in a desperate and obviously hopeless ideological war to prove it—but to actually prove it, not to coerce Society into humoring me. If Society isn't buying my vision, that terrible reality is something I need to track.