Nothing New Under the Sun

Of course, "Blanchard's" typology is subject to Stigler's law of eponymy.

No, I'm not talking about earlier Western sexologists like Robert Stoller, Magnus Hirchfield, or Blanchard's mentor Kurt Freund.

I'm talking about Abu Zakaria Yahya Ibn Sharaf al-Nawawī writing in the 13th century CE:

A mukhannath is the one ("male") who carries in his movements, in his appearance and in his language the characteristics of a woman. There are two types; the first is the one in whom these characteristics are innate, he did not put them on by himself, and therein is no guilt, no blame and no shame, as long as he does not perform any (illicit) act or exploit it for money (prostitution etc.). The second type acts like a woman out of immoral purposes and he is the sinner and blameworthy.


Smart

"High-IQ educated people like to think we're so smart. But we're just not—at least not in a straightforwardly prosocial way. Any double-digit-IQ Trump voter from West Virginia could tell you that men who think they're women are delusional perverts.

"I know. I prefer not to phrase it that way, either, because like you—like everybody who matters—I think males with late-onset gender dysphoria should have a respected place in Society to pursue their dream if that's what makes them happy.

"But if you ignore the derogatory style of that way of phrasing it and just ask about the predictions made by the mental model that generated the derogatory phrasing, 'men who think they're women are delusional perverts' is the correct theory! If really smart people who are really good at philosophy can't get this really easy question right because saying the right answer out loud in clear language makes us look bad—what are we good for? Why should people who aren't already ideologically allied with us care?"


"Synthesis"

I want to be a synthesis
Whimsical, passionate, liberal-arts feminist
I'll be a synthesis
Hard-headed serious reductionistic scientist
A synthesis
Free our markets with the power of the collective heart!

sheet music


Cachebusters

"So, I agree that there's a potential for public discussion of certain theories in psychology to have harmful social consequences, and I agree that we should take that into account when deciding whether to discuss something publicly.

"However, I also think it's important to be specific about the putatively-harmful social consequences you're afraid of, rather than just accepting the Blue Tribe's cached thought that all discussion of group differences is ipso facto harmful.

"If the specific thing you're worried about is something like, 'Well, maybe the Red Tribe will win an election and then they'll use their power to do bad things,' well, guess what? It's morning in America, motherfuckers!"


Interlude II

"What's wrong with you?! Why are you doing this?!" screamed Alexa. "It's like you've been possessed by a Nazi ghost."

"I'm sorry," said Mark. "I'm not sure if this will make sense to you, but I'm thinking of it as playing DEFECT against trans women—I genuinely regret that part and I'd be grateful if you could tell me if there's anything I can do to make it up to you-all collectively—in exchange for being able to DEFECT against the victimhood identity-politics mind-virus, to COOPERATE with closeted TERFy women who don't want people like me in their bathrooms but are too scared to say so out loud and might reward AGP males who say it for them with sex and intimacy, and—most importantly of all—to tell the truth about the beautiful feeling at the center of my life that has shaped me more than almost anything else. This is just too good of a deal for me to refuse unless it means literal physical violence or poverty."

"What?!"

"Oh! I get it! I shouldn't have said that last part, because that creates an incentive for powerful people being controlled by the victimhood identity-politics mind-virus to threaten me with literal physical violence or poverty after I blog a dramatization of this conversation. What I should have said was, 'This is just too good of a deal for me to refuse, full stop.' Except I'm really bad at lying. So maybe I should just trust that my friends—well, what's left of them when this is over—the police, my savings, and my programming skills are altogether enough to keep me safe and happy."


Interlude I

"I continue to be loudly upset that people mostly use language to manipulate social reality rather than describe actual reality!"

"Have you considered ... using language to manipulate social reality to incentivize people to use language to describe actual reality?"

"What?! You can't do that!"

"Why not?"

"Because that's a good idea that you had that I didn't have! I'm supposed to be the idea girl!"

"That doesn't make any sense! You're not even a girl!"

"Shut up!"


If Other Fantasies Were Treated Like Crossdreaming

"Ever since I was a child, I've always dreamed of being an astronaut. Unfortunately, due to a number of reasons including but not limited to my poor eyesight and distaste for formal schooling, my life took a different path. I still like to indulge the fantasy as much as I can—attending space camp, dressing up in the realistic space suit that I bought, reading and writing erotic fiction about ordinary people being kidnapped and forced to become astronauts—but sadly, given the enormous costs of actually pursuing astronaut training, it doesn't look like I'll get the chance to fulfill my dream—barring unforeseen advances in spaceflight technology that drastically lower the costs of becoming an astronaut, of course—and I am gracefully resigned to this reality."

"Well, I think you literally are an astronaut and always have been!"

"Um. Thank you? But I've never been to space."

"Oh, well, you're not a cis astronaut. But trans astronauts are astronauts! Anyone who asks questions about the detailed truth conditions of this statement will be socially punished!"


A Beacon Through the Darkness; Or, Getting It Right the First Time

On 6 August 2006 (I was eighteen years old), while browsing Wikipedia (likely the 31 July revision of what is now the "Blanchard's transsexualism typology" article?), I came across the word autogynephilia for the first time, and immediately recognized that this was the word; this was the word for my thing.

I didn't know it was supposed to be controversial, and was actually surprised that it had been coined in the context of a theory of transsexualism; I had never had any reason to come up with any ludicrous rationalizations that I was somehow literally a girl in some unspecified metaphysical sense.

I wrote in my notebook:

THERE'S A WORD FOR IT. There's a word for it. I don't know whether to be happy that there's an adjective for what I have, or sad that other men have it, & that it's not mine, & only mine. Bless Wikipedia for showing me [...] But still, after all emotions have fitted themselves away, there is the word. "Autogynephilia." So simple; I know all the foreign roots; I should have thought of it. "Autogynephilic." That's what I am.

notebook: THERE'S A WORD FOR IT ...

And:

Scarcity is a metaphysical fact, so why am I hurt when my word (which I didn't invent & only discovered a few hours ago) has so many connotations attached to it that I don't like? The dictionary definition is perfect for me, but all the exposition after that has to do with transsexualism, which annoys me, although thinking of it now, I suppose it would seem to be a logical extension to some. I'm autogynephilic without being gender-dysphoric—or am I? If transitioning cheap & fast & painless & perfect—wouldn't I at least be tempted? What I can't stand is transsexuals who want to express the man/woman they "truly are inside"—because I don't think there's any such thing. It has to be about sex—because gender shouldn't exist.

notebook: so why am I hurt when my word ...

My views on gender have changed a lot over the past ten years—most notably, I'm not a psychological sex differences denialist anymore, so I'm afraid I can no longer endorse that "gender shouldn't exist" stance. (Given that sex differences exist and people aren't going to pretend not to notice, social-role defaults are inevitably going to accrete around them.)

The funny part is that, in retrospect, it looks like a lot of the appeal to me of psychological sex differences denialism—besides its being ideologically fashionable—was an autogynephilia-inspired rationalization: I didn't want to believe that girls were a different thing that I didn't understand. (This theme is very explicit in my writings at the time. In the same notebook, I wrote: "Heterosexuality should already imply antisexism, as people don't generally want to slander their lovers.") And the "woman I truly am inside" gender-identity narrative that I so disdained also looks like an autogynephilia-inspired rationalization, on the part of autogynephilic males (perhaps growing up in a less egalitarianist memetic environment than me) who took the other route, of successfully deluding themselves into believing that they themselves are feminine, rather than my route of successfully deluding myself into believing that femininity isn't a real thing. (Contrast to androphilic "true" transsexuals who have just been really feminine their entire lives and don't need any delusions to justify their desire to be women.)

Still, despite everything I've learned in the past decade, what's striking—at least, striking in contrast to the utter raving lunacy I see trotted about around me in the name of transgender rights—is how much I got right even then. I've had these desires since puberty, and have grown to cherish them, to let the fantasy shape my morals and ambitions. I didn't think it would be wrong to do something about it, if the costs and benefits added up. But I never took the fantasy literally, let alone expected the rest of the world to take it literally.

Ten years later, this still seems like the only sane approach.


You Probably Haven't Heard of Them

"Hey Mark, a bunch of us are going to a concert tomorrow night: the Holograms are headlining at the Rose Garden, and I have an extra ticket. You want in?" offered Caleb.

"Maybe ..." said Mark. "Who's the opening act?"

"Let me check," said Caleb, fiddling with his phone. "Geez, that's a weird band name."

"Who is it?"

"It says, 'Late-Onset Gender Dysphoria in Males Is Not an Intersex Condition, You Lying Bastards'."

"I'm in!"


Hormones Day 33

used Climara patches

I wish I were more self-aware. People tell me caffiene is a stimulant, and I believe them, but I tend to doubt if I could tell, double-blind, from the inside, whether an iced-coffee I just drank was decaf or not.

Similarly, I applied my sixth patch today and should have had elevated estrogen levels in my system for a month now, but don't seem noticeably more female-like or otherwise effected in any easily-discernible way. Are there some kind of measurements I should be taking in order to pick up on subtle changes? (Bust size?) I guess I got a little teary a few times in the past week or so, which hasn't been common for me in recent years? (I used to cry a lot when I was younger.)

My dayjob performance has been utterly abysmal because I've been too upset to think about code, instead continuing to hyperfocus on how (virtually) everyone has been lying to me about the most important thing in my life for ten years, but I don't want to attribute that to the patch, because I've kind of been doing that more-or-less continuously for the past six months.

Again, none of this is very surprising on a starter dose with no spiro. That's fine. This is known to be a slippery slope, best explored slowly and carefully if at all.



And Yet None More Blameable

Anne Fausto-Sterling, Myths of Gender: Biological Theories About Women and Men, Ch. 1, "Introduction: the Biological Connection":

In the end, the resolution of such controversy often depends upon one's standard of proof, a standard dictated in turn by political beliefs. I impose the highest standards of proof, for example, on claims about biological inequality, my high standards stemming directly from my philosophical and political beliefs in equality. On the other hand, given the same claims, a scientist happier with present-day social arrangements would no doubt be satisfied with weaker proof. How much and how strong the proof one demands before accepting a conclusion is a matter of judgment, a judgment that is embedded in the fabric of one's individual belief system.

Steven Goldberg, Why Men Rule: A Theory of Male Dominance (the previous edition of which was titled The Inevitability of Patriarchy (!!)), Introduction:

[T]he relevant point here is that the consequences of an acceptance of an empirical explanation have nothing to do with the correctness of that explanation. This is so obvious that for thousands of years the attempt to refute an explanation by citing the (putative) bad effects of an acceptance of that explanation has been recognized as fallacious. Even if acceptance of the belief that the world is round somehow threatened our species' survival, that would not make the earth flat. Truth is independent of consequences.

[...]

To readers who come to this book prepared to think for themselves and to listen to reasoned argument: I hope you find this trip illuminating and enjoyable and remember that nothing here commits you to any moral or political view that you do not like.

I just hate hate hate it when people saying the good things turn out to be bad at epistemology, and people who are good at epistemology turn out to say the bad things. If it happens too often, it's almost enough to make you wonder whether some of the bad things are actually true (!?!).



From What I've Tasted of Desire

Oh, we have to get this right
Yes, we have to make them see

"Ballad of the Crystal Empire", My Little Pony: Friendship Is Magic

(Epistemic status: far more plausible than it has any right to be.)

So, not a lot of people understand this, but the end of the world is, in fact, nigh. Conditional on civilization not collapsing (which is itself a kind of end of the world), sometime in the next century or so, someone is going to invent better-than-human artificial general intelligence. And from that point on, humans are not really in control of what happens in this planet's future light cone.

This is a counterintuitive point. It's tempting to think that you could program the AI to just obey orders ("Write an adventure novel for my daughter's birthday", "Output the design of a nanofactory") and not otherwise intervene in (or take over) the universe. And maybe something like that could be made to work, but it's much harder than it looks.

Our simple framework for benchmarking how intelligence has to work is expected utility maximization: model the world, use your model to compute a probability distribution over outcomes conditional on choosing to perform an action for some set of actions, and then perform the action with the highest expected utility with respect to your utility function (a mapping from outcomes to ℝ). Any agent that behaves in a way that can't be shoved into this framework is in violation of the von Neumann–Morgenstern axioms, which look so "reasonable" that we expect any "reasonable" agent to self-modify to be in harmony with them.

So as AIs get more and more general, more like agents capable of autonomously solving new problems rather than unusually clever-looking ordinary computer programs, we should expect them to look more and more like expected utility maximizers, optimizing the universe with respect to some internal value criterion.

But humans are a mess of conflicting desires inherited from our evolutionary and sociocultural history; we don't have a utility function written down anywhere that we can just put in the AI. So if the systems that ultimately run the world end up with a utility function that's not in the incredibly specific class of those we would have wanted if we knew how to translate everything humans want or would-want into a utility function, then the machines disassemble us for spare atoms and tile the universe with something else. There's no reason for them to protect human life or forms of life that we would find valuable unless we specifically code that in.

This looks like a hard problem. This looks like a really hard problem with unimaginably high stakes: once the handoff of control of our civilization from humans to machines happens, we don't get a second chance to do it over. The ultimate fate of the human species rests on the competence of the AI research community: the inferential power and discipline to cut through to the correct answer and bet the world on it, rather than clinging to one's favorite pet hypothesis and leaving science to advance funeral by funeral.

Stereotypically at least, computer programming is the quintessential profession of autogynephilic trans women, although it's unclear how much of this is inherent to the work (a correlation between erotic target location erroneousness and general nerdiness) and how much is just a selection effect (well-to-do programmers with non-customer-facing jobs in Silicon Valley can afford to take the "publicly decide that this is my True Gender Identity" trajectory, whereas businessmen, lawyers, and poor people are trapped in the "secret, shameful crossdressing/dreaming" trajectory).

Thus, the bad epistemic hygiene habits of the trans community that are required to maintain the socially-acceptable alibi that transitioning is about expressing some innate "gender identity", are necessarily spread to the computer science community, as an intransigent minority of trans activist-types successfully enforce social norms mandating that everyone must pretend not to notice that trans women are eccentric men. With social reality placing such tight constraints on perception of actual reality, our chances of developing the advanced epistemology needed to rise to the occasion of solving the alignment problem seem slim at best. (If we can't put our weight down on the right answer to a really easy scientific question like the two-type taxonomy of MtF—which lots of people just notice without having to do careful research—then what hope do we have for hard problems?)

Essentially, we may be living in a scenario where the world is literally destroyed specifically because no one wants to talk about their masturbation fantasies.


Sex and Gender

(To the tune of "Love and Marriage.")

Sex and gender
Sex and gender
A disaster like a fender-bender
The latter tends to smother
But you can't have one without the other!

Try, try, try to separate them
It's an illusion
Try, try, try and you will only come
To this conclusion—


Snowman

"Don't overgeneralize!" said Brian. "You of all people should know that everyone is a unique and special snowflake with the liberty to define and express their identity."

"You shouldn't undergeneralize!" retorted Taylor. "Can't you see the pattern? The entire transfeminine spectrum—we're just manifestations—shadows, projections—of the same snowflake in various states of contingent self-delusion."


I'm Sick of Being Lied To

I said, "How do you lie about the world? And how do you make yourself believe it? How can you see the whole truth, know the whole truth ... and go on pretending that none of it matters? What's the secret? What's the trick? What's the magic?"

My face was already burning white hot, but I leaned forward, hoping that her sheer radiance might infect me with her great transforming insight.

"I'm trying! You have to believe I'm trying!" I looked away, suddenly at a loss for words, struck dumb by the ineffable mystery of her presence. Then a cramp seized me; the thing I could no longer pretend was a demon snake constricted inside me.

I said, "But when the truth, the underworld, the TOE ... reaches up, takes you in its fist, and squeezes ..." I raised my own hand, meaning to demonstrate, but it was already clenched tight involuntarily. "How do you ignore it? How do you deny it? How do you go on fooling yourself that you've ever stood above it, ever pulled the strings, ever run the show?"

Sweat was running into my eyes, blinding me. I brushed it away with my clenched fist, laughing. "When every cell, every fucking atom in your body, burns the message into your skin: everything you value, everything you cherish, everything you live for ... is just the scum on the surface of a vacuum thirty-five powers of ten deep—how do you go on lying? How do you close your eyes to that?"

I waited for her answer. Solace, redemption, were within my grasp. I held my arms out toward her in supplication.

Walsh smiled faintly, then walked on without saying a word.

Distress by Greg Egan

I just can't, can't, can't get over the extent to which my observations while trying to talk to people about all this seem to be best explained by the hypothesis that everyone is lying.

I know, that's not psychologically plausible. Which only makes it worse. The sheer depths of denial, mendacity, and cowardice from incredibly smart people whom I love and otherwise respect—or used to respect—is just staggering; I would not believe it if I didn't see it with my own eyes.

Disagreement is fine! Of course different people will read the evidence differently in the light of their own experiences and knowledge and come to different provisional conclusions.

And in an honest disagreement among truthseeking intellectuals, people say, "You're wrong, and it matters, and we should try to resolve this in public using evidence and reasoning, so that others who are interested in the topic can learn and make up their own minds."

And for the most part, that's just not what I see. Instead, people tell me, "You're wrong, and it doesn't matter, and you shouldn't be talking about this." Or, "You might be right, but it doesn't matter." Or, "This makes sense to me, but don't tell anyone I said so." Or, "I disagree, and want to privately discuss the science with you, but if you successfully change my mind, I don't want anyone to know." Or, "I think the consequentialist thing to do is not to tell anyone they're wrong about this topic until the associated political struggle is won."

And I'm just like, what the fuck is wrong with you people? How can it not matter?! You guys are really, really smart; how the fuck can you possibly get this wrong?

Okay, yes, politics, it would probably be very bad if the general public knew what was going on. But don't you at least want to understand for yourselves? And what's even the endgame here? The next generation of people with the trait are growing up and making important life decisions based on your shitty political propaganda. Do you think you can get away with lying about this forever?

People who know me can tell that I have the trait; there are enough of us around that people's radars are well-tuned enough to catch the eggs that haven't hit the wall yet. And they tell me, "You obviously have the trait; you should totally join the coalition!"

And I'm like, you delusional bastards have been blatantly lying to me about the most important thing in my life for ten years. I want nothing to do with your coalition.

Defect!


The Line in the Sand; Or, My Slippery Slope Anchoring Action Plan

We're looking for a few good men, and you've come a long way, baby. But baby—don't cross that line. Don't ever cross that line.

Hidden: A Gender by Kate Bornstein

So, I'm facing a problem.

On the one hand, I really want to indulge my perverted narcissistic fantasy about being a woman, and I'm really really jealous of all of the trans women friends (I still have friends!—for now) I've made since I moved to "Portland" (quotes because it might not actually be Portland, although you should know that I would still use quotes even if it is Portland, because I'm not some kind of idiot who doesn't know information theory).

On the other hand, I don't want to become a trans woman myself, because I already have a perfectly functional social identity as a man named "'Mark'" (two sets of quotes: one for words-as-words, and another because it might not actually be "Mark", although you should know that &c.) that I'm not going to throw away for the sake of my perverted narcissistic fantasy, particularly since the standard transition narrative looks so actively delusional to me that I can't possibly participate in it.

(Where one day, that sensitive, nerdy guy with a ponytail says, "Hey everyone, turns out I've secretly been a girl this entire time in some unspecified metaphysical sense, and no one noticed!", and everyone else is supposed to politely be like, "Oh, right, that makes sense.")

But transitioning isn't a binary switch; it's a whole series of interventions designed to make a man resemble a woman as much as possible: hormones and hair removal and new clothes and voice training and coming out to friends and family and coworkers and meeting new people as a woman &c. Maybe ... maybe you could take some interventions without giving up your primary social identity, as a reasonable compromise between the scintillating but ultimately untrue thought, and the practical realities of a world in which biological sex is a real thing that we don't know how to change (even if people in Portland will politely pretend not to notice). An autogynandromorphophilic consolation prize, when the real thing will always be out of reach, and the thing that people like to pretend is as good as the real thing looks like it would actually cause way more problems than it solves.

I am not the first person to have this idea.

Disturbingly, I have been advised that it never works.

The problem, termed "the slippery slope", is that each intervention changes the way you evaluate further interventions. So people start out with just hormones or just weekend public crossdressing, saying, "Oh, I'm not actually going to transition; I'm just exploring my feminine side, that's all; this is just an experiment to relieve some of my dysphoria" and then two years later, the same person is like, "Oh yes, I've always literally been a woman; it just took a while for me to notice; how dare you suggest otherwise?!"

Maybe you can't half-transition, for the same reason you can't just have a little bit of cocaine on weekends.

My hope is that my case is different—or rather, that I can make my case different. I expect that most people go into this with a mindset of, "Well, I think I might be trans, but I'm not sure," and conclude from their enjoyment of each successive intervention in isolation that yes, they do in fact have the atomic Trans Identity and are in fact a trans woman. Whereas I'm going into this with the mindset of, "Blanchard–Bailey–Lawrence is obviously correct, the standard gender-identity narrative is mendacious bullshit, and everyone who says otherwise is ignorant, delusional, or lying." My hope is that if you know about autogynephilia and you know about this progression, you can set limits in advance about what interventions to use (and more importantly, not to use), and stop at a more profitable point on the slope.

Some people are really into the clothes and social aspects of presenting as a woman. That's not really much of a priority for me. (And of course, a lot of actual women don't like that stuff, either. Smash the patriarchy!) I'm more interested in finding out what I can about the physiological and psychological aspects of what biologically-female people feel, so for me, hormones are the most interesting part with the greatest potential rewards, despite their much higher risks (both social and medical) contrasted to just playing dress-up.

Trans women have this concept of boy-mode fail, where you've been on hormones for however many months, and strangers start spontaneously gendering you as female even though you think you're presenting as male.

I'm aiming for a "weirdly-androgynous man and occasional transvestite" outcome. Physically, try to sneak up to the edge of boy-mode fail and fucking stay there. (And if at any point, things feel bad or socially-awkward, don't hestiate to pull the plug early.)

So here is my schedule of interventions—

  • Estradiol: Yes (already underway)
  • Spironolactone: Maybe (conditional on results from just-estrogen)
  • Facial hair removal (laser): Maybe (conditional on results from E/spiro; if beard shadow makes the difference between consistently reading as "weirdly androgynous man" rather than "trans woman", I probably need to keep it)
  • Cosplaying female characters at special events (Comic-Con, Halloween, &c.): Yes
  • Everything else: No no no no no no no no

Now, maybe my case isn't different. Maybe once you reach the boy-mode fail zone, being read as female feels so right, and being read as male feels so wrong that you say, "Forget my previous commitments; forget my moral scruples about invading women's spaces; I'm going for it!"

If that happens to me, I'll be sure to add an addendum to this post as a warning to the next guy.

I mean, unless I renege on that, too. You never can trust us autogynephilic males!


The Erotic Target Location Gift

My friend "Elmer" told me about this one time our local sage "Travis" was talking about the phenomenon of men who feel guilty about being male, and Elmer suggested me as an example, whereupon Travis was like, "Ooh, good one!"

I think ... I think I feel less guilty now. I remember driving to Santa Cruz once, enjoying the thrill of going fast around curves, and then feeling guilty. Like, is this a guy thing? Should I stop enjoying this? (Is it sexist of me to even be considering the hypothesis that this is a guy thing?)

But here's the thing: my desire to be female was also, itself, a guy thing. If I'm allowed to enjoy and celebrate that, maybe I'm also allowed to enjoy other guy things.