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Am I Really an X?

9 Post author: Gram_Stone 05 March 2017 12:11AM

As I understand it, there is a phenomenon among transgender people where no matter what they do they can't help but ask themselves the question, "Am I really an [insert self-reported gender category here]?" In the past, a few people have called for a LessWrong-style dissolution of this question. This is how I approach the problem.

There are two caveats which I must address in the beginning.

The first caveat has to do with hypotheses about the etiology of the transgender condition. There are many possible causes of gender identity self-reports, but I don't think it's too controversial to propose that at least some of the transgender self-reports might result from the same mechanism as cisgender self-reports. Again, the idea is that there is some 'self-reporting algorithm', that takes some input that we don't yet know about, and outputs a gender category, and that both cisgender people and transgender people have this. It's not hard to come up with just-so stories about why having such an algorithm and caring about its output might have been adaptive. This is, however, an assumption. In theory, the self-reports from transgender people could have a cause separate from the self-reports of cisgender people, but it's not what I expect.

The second caveat has to do with essentialism. In the past calls for an article like this one, I saw people point out that we reason about gender as if it is an essence, and that any dissolution would have to avoid this mistake. But there's a difference between describing an algorithm that produces a category which feels like an essence, and providing an essentialist explanation. My dissolution will talk about essences because the human mind reasons with them, but my dissolution itself will not be essentialist in nature.

Humans universally make inferences about their typicality with respect to their self-reported gender. Check Google Scholar for 'self-perceived gender typicality' for further reading. So when I refer to a transman, by my model, I mean, "A human whose self-reporting algorithm returns the gender category 'male', but whose self-perceived gender typicality checker returns 'Highly atypical!'"

And the word 'human' at the beginning of that sentence is important. I do not mean "A human that is secretly, essentially a girl," or "A human that is secretly, essentially a boy,"; I just mean a human. I postulate that there are not boy typicality checkers and girl typicality checkers; there are typicality checkers that take an arbitrary gender category as input and return a measure of that human's self-perceived typicality with regard to the category.

So when a transwoman looks in the mirror and feels atypical because of a typicality inference from the width of her hips, I believe that this is not a fundamentally transgender experience, not different in kind, but only in degree, from a ciswoman who listens to herself speak and feels atypical because of a typicality inference from the pitch of her voice.

Fortunately, society's treatment of transgender people has come around to something like this in recent decades; our therapy proceeds by helping transgender people become more typical instances of their self-report algorithm's output.

Many of the typical traits are quite tangible: behavior, personality, appearance. It is easier to make tangible things more typical, because they're right there for you to hold; you aren't confused about them. But I often hear reports of transgender people left with a nagging doubt, a lingering question of "Am I really an X?, which feels far more slippery and about which they confess themselves quite confused.

To get at this question, I sometimes see transgender people try to simulate the subjective experience of a typical instance of the self-report algorithm's output. They ask questions like, "Does it feel the same to be me as it does to be a 'real X'?" And I think this is the heart of the confusion.

For when they simulate the subjective experience of a 'real X', there is a striking dissimilarity between themselves and the simulation, because a 'real X' lacks a pervasive sense of distress originating from self-perceived atypicality.

But what I just described in the previous sentence is itself a typicality inference, which means that this simulation itself causes distress from atypicality, which is used to justify future inferences of self-perceived atypicality!

I expected this to take more than one go-around.

Let's review something Eliezer wrote in Fake Causality:

One of the primary inspirations for Bayesian networks was noticing the problem of double-counting evidence if inference resonates between an effect and a cause.  For example, let's say that I get a bit of unreliable information that the sidewalk is wet.  This should make me think it's more likely to be raining.  But, if it's more likely to be raining, doesn't that make it more likely that the sidewalk is wet?  And wouldn't that make it more likely that the sidewalk is slippery?  But if the sidewalk is slippery, it's probably wet; and then I should again raise my probability that it's raining...

If you didn't have an explicit awareness that you have a general human algorithm that checks the arbitrary self-report against the perceived typicality, but rather you believed that this was some kind of special, transgender-specific self-doubt, then your typicality checker would never be able to mark its own distress signal as 'Typical!', and it would oscillate between judging the subjective experience as atypical, outputting a distress signal in response, judging its own distress signal as atypical, sending a distress signal about that, etc.

And this double-counting is not anything like hair length or voice pitch, or even more slippery stuff like 'being empathetic'; it's very slippery, and no matter how many other ways you would have made yourself more typical, even though those changes would have soothed you, there would have been this separate and additional lingering doubt, a doubt that can only be annihilated by understanding the deep reasons that the tangible interventions worked, and how your mind runs skew to reality.

And that's it. For me at least, this adds up to normality. There is no unbridgeable gap between the point at which you are a non-X and the point at which you become an X. Now you can just go back to making yourself as typical as you want to be, or anything else that you want to be.

Comments (485)

Comment author: Dagon 05 March 2017 01:06:28AM 18 points [-]

Gah. Given we can't even measure or answer "is this what it's like to be another human?", let's not bring political/social identity into this forum.

Comment author: Zack_M_Davis 06 March 2017 08:29:40PM 16 points [-]

"Politics is the mind-killer" was a good try, but it turns out to not be an evolutionarily stable strategy: if the people with good epistemology stay away from anything that looks too "political", all communities end up getting dominated by people with bad epistemologies who aren't afraid of getting political. We need a discipline of "defensive politics": clever strategies and social technologies to keep communities and institutions focused on their original purpose (in our case, advancing the art of human rationality), even as they recruit newcomers who (like all humans) have their own goals only partially aligned with the community's goals.

Comment author: Dagon 06 March 2017 10:45:46PM 4 points [-]

if the people with good epistemology stay away from anything that looks too "political", all communities end up getting dominated by people with bad epistemologies who aren't afraid of getting political.

Disagree. There are multiple communities, and one can very reasonably say "that's a fine topic, but not for here". This is what I mean to say - I'm not disagreeing or claiming that it's unimportant or even claiming that it's not fit for rationalists to have opinions on. I'm saying that it's a topic which this forum is bad at and I'd rather it be discussed elsewhere.

There are 7 upvotes so far, and a fair bit of discussion, so this is apparently not a unanimous opinion. I'll probably make a similar objection to new discussion posts on politically-charged topics, but as always you should feel free to ignore me.

Comment deleted 05 March 2017 08:04:18AM [-]
Comment author: Gram_Stone 05 March 2017 04:41:10PM 1 point [-]

I think this topic is really only as political as you make it.

I did in fact decide not to reply to the grandparent because I estimated that it would cause less harm in this respect than replying. This article is intended to be a contribution to the philosophy of gender identity in the style of EY's executable philosophy, and it is more directly a reply to lucidfox's Gender Identity and Rationality. This topic was perfectly acceptable in 2010.

Comment author: Articulator 13 March 2017 08:32:52AM 0 points [-]

To clarify, I was entirely replying to Dagon. I have no quarrel with your post itself in the slightest.

Comment author: satt 08 March 2017 12:42:39AM 1 point [-]

I strongly disagree. (This is a special case of my general disagreement with strong forms of Politics-is-the-Mind-Killer-type objections to discussing capital-P Political topics.) I also want to amplify Gram_Stone's observation that this kind of topic was historically acceptable on LW.

Comment author: WhySpace 06 March 2017 06:02:19PM 1 point [-]

I agree that philosophy and neuroscience haven't confirmed that the qualia I perceive as red is the same thing as the qualia you experience when you look at something red. My red could be your blue, etc. (Or, more likely, completely unrelated sensations chosen randomly from trillions of possibilities.) Similarly, we can't know exactly what it's like to be someone else, or to be an animal or something.

However, it's perfectly reasonable to group all possible human experiences into one set, and group all possible things that an ant might experience in another. If you scanned the brains of a trillion ants and a trillion humans, and ran them as digital simulations, it would be easy for someone to look at them and know which was which.

Similarly, if you scanned 3^^^3 artists and 3^^^3 programmers, I'd bet that you could find certain patterns and systematic differences in how they think. After looking at all those minds, you could easily look at another one and tell whether they were an artist or an programmer. Same for men/women, or republicans/democrats, etc.

This is despite potentially huge differences in the internal subjective experiences of programmers. It's not that there's one single "what it's like to be an programmer" experience or anything, but there is a single set of all programmer minds. This includes qualia and programming methods of thought, and whatever else.

Maybe you could even measure these differences with even crude MRI scans of people's brains. It would be interesting to scan a thousand cis men after certain verbal prompts asking how they feel about their gender identity. If OP's hypothesis is true, then confident trans men should look pretty similar to confident cis men, and trans men worrying "am I really an X" should look a lot like cis men questioning their own gender identity.

You should get about the same result if you ran the experiment again on cis and trans women. Obviously there would be some confounders, like hormone levels and any physical differences between people born biologically male or female. However, this sort of thing seems easy enough to control for. The bigger issue I see is that all those MRIs would cost a fortune, and we may not even have sufficiently high resolution technology to even see the differences we're looking for.

But, doing philosophy is cheap, and it seems to me that hypotheses like these have decent odds of being true. I agree that reasoning about individual differences may be as hopeless as wondering what it’s like to be a bat, but reasoning about huge classes of mind states seems entirely valid.

Comment author: Zack_M_Davis 06 March 2017 08:10:30PM 13 points [-]

Maybe you could even measure these differences with even crude MRI scans of people's brains. It would be interesting to scan a thousand cis men after certain verbal prompts asking how they feel about their gender identity. [...] You should get about the same result if you ran the experiment again on cis and trans women.

I claim that we already have enough empirical evidence to conclude with very high confidence that "gender identity" is not a useful construct for understanding the psychology of gender dysphoria.

For the trans women in particular, I claim that a solid majority of them will have an "autogynephilic" etiology: that is, non-exclusively-androphilic trans women are basically straight men who let their fixation on erotic cross-dressing and cross-gender fantasy spiral out of control and get reified into a highly-valued self-identity. (Something like this may be true of a minority of trans men, but that's much rarer.) This claim predicts that self-reported confidence in one's gender identity will not correlate with any sexually-dimorphic brain features in MRI studies.

For more information on the findings supporting these claims, see Kay Brown's FAQ, or Anne Lawrence's monograph Men Trapped in Men's Bodies: Narratives of Autogynephilic Transsexualism.

Comment deleted 06 March 2017 10:57:31PM [-]
Comment author: Zack_M_Davis 07 March 2017 01:34:05AM 3 points [-]

some people whose opinions seem worth listening to

Worth listening to?—of course. Worth believing after looking at the rest of the available evidence? My claim is, "No, this theory looks really solid and explains so much of what I see in myself and what I see in other people that I trust it more than any particular contradictory self-report; psychology is about invalidating people's identities."

You might disagree. Most trans women might disagree. And that's okay! It's okay for my world-model to not agree with your world-model!

Comment author: gjm 07 March 2017 03:22:50AM 2 points [-]

If most trans women disagree then that seems to me like pretty good reason to doubt the model.

(Not conclusive, of course; people can be wrong about themselves, which I think is the correct version of the overstatement "psychology is about invalidating people's identities".)

explains so much of what I see in myself and what I see in other people [...]

So, you are uninterested in everyone else's anecdotal evidence because it contradicts your own anecdotal evidence? :-)

Less uncharitably: perhaps I'm misunderstanding something here, but it seems to me that we need to distinguish between a weaker claim (W): "There are trans women who fit well into each of the categories in Blanchard's typology" and a stronger claim (S): "Blanchard's typology gives a correct description of essentially all trans women". (Where for "Blanchard's typology" you should feel free to substitute some more accurate term that reflects more recent work along similar lines.)

If what you've seen in yourself and those around you fits well (or at least seems to) with Blanchard's typology, that's good evidence for W, but it's not such good evidence for S. If other people say it badly fails to fit their experience, that's good evidence against S, but not much evidence against W. It seems like the obvious conclusion would be that probably W is right and S is wrong; that there are plenty of people who fit into the typology but also plenty who don't.

Am I missing something important?

Comment author: Zack_M_Davis 07 March 2017 04:15:38AM 7 points [-]

Am I missing something important?

Yes; people in general are really really shockingly bad at self-reporting. People don't know why they do things; they just notice themselves doing things and then tell a self-serving story about why they did the right things.

For example, prominent trans activist (and autogynephilia theory critic) Julia Serano writes (Whipping Girl, p. 84):

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.

I trust that Julia Serano is telling the truth about her subjective experiences. But "it became obvious that explanation could not account for" is not an experience. It's a hypothesis about human psychology. I don't expect anyone to get that kind of thing right based on introspection alone!

Again, it's very important to emphasize that I'm not saying that non-exclusively-androphilic trans women who deny autogynephilia are particularly delusional. I'm saying that basically everyone is basically that delusional about basically everything!

Comment author: math10 08 March 2017 07:23:03AM 1 point [-]

My understanding is that this account of things is vigorously contested by at least some people whose opinions seem worth listening to, including a lot of trans women.

Yes, people tend to vigorously contest things that threaten their identity. This tends to have no relation to the truth of those things.

Comment author: Elo 31 March 2017 01:46:31AM 1 point [-]

THIS USER IS BANNED FOR ENDLESSLY POSTING THE SAME POST EVEN THOUGH THEY HAVE BEEN ADMIN REMOVED AND BANNED. THIS POST STANDS AS A FUCK OFF TO THE USER. I DON'T HAVE TIME FOR THIS SHIT. FUCK OFF.

NO ONE HERE AGREES WITH THIS TROLL AND NO ONE CARES.

Comment deleted 31 March 2017 10:34:50PM [-]
Comment author: Elo 31 March 2017 11:04:56PM 2 points [-]

"no agrees with or cares".

The content of your posts has NOTHING TO DO WITH WHY THEY ARE BANNED. once again. You are banned for life from lesswrong for attempting to manipulate the upvote and downvote system accounts lookup-->lookup70 are all banned for being sockpuppets for voting up your own posts and voting down people who disagree with you. The downvoting system is currently suspended BECAUSE OF YOU AND NOTHING ELSE.

You are not a rationalist. You are an idiot who unfortunately has access to the internet.

I DON'T CARE WHAT THE CONTENT OF YOUR COMMENTS ARE YOU ARE BANNED FOR ATTEMPTED MANIPULATION OF THE VOTING SYSTEM.

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Comment author: Dagon 06 March 2017 09:27:42PM *  1 point [-]

I agree that philosophy and neuroscience haven't confirmed that the qualia I perceive as red is the same thing as the qualia you experience when you look at something red.

Deeper than that. Nobody's even credibly suggested that it's possible to such a thing exists in the measurable, physical world or how anyone might even start to confirm this.

Even if you talk about measurable things, it's not about "exact", it's about the relative amount of overlap with different clusters of other. Taking for an example whether a transwoman is more like a ciswoman or a cisman, scanning doesn't give you much help, no matter how much data you collect. The overlap of scans with ants is pretty small, and there's no significant difference between the overlap of (for example) ciswomen compared to queen ants versus transwomen compared to queen ants.

There is a TON of differences and a TON of overlap (depending on granularity of scan) between ciswomen, cismen, and transwomen, and asking "is the average transwoman closer to the average cisman or the average ciswoman" is just a useless thing. It depends on how you weight the differences, and in most cases the differences between individuals in the same category are as significant as the difference in average across categories.

No matter what objective evidence you put together, it's going to come down to "there's some clustering, but it's kind of arbitrary whether you think it's important". How you feel is internal and unmeasurable.

If you want to talk about something other than politics or other people's expectations (same thing), dissolve the topic - are you talking about feelings, or biological/behavior clustering? In either case, why do you care about "typical", as opposed to "existent" or "experienced" feelings/behaviors/measurements?

Comment author: Viliam 10 March 2017 10:07:13PM 15 points [-]

I read the article twice, but I have to admit that I have no idea what it is talking about. I do understand which tribal affiliation one signals by upvoting it, but I fail to extract the factual statements that I could either agree or disagree with.

The article starts with a hypothesis that "at least some of the transgender self-reports might result from the same mechanism as cisgender self-reports". Okay, so this tries to compare some X to Y, except that I have no idea what either of them means. Maybe I am dense, but taking myself as an example of "cisgender", I guess that "mechanism of cisgender self-reports" translated to plain English means "if someone asks Viliam whether he is a boy or a girl, what exactly causes his answer to be 'a boy'?"

Uhm, I guess my answer would be this: I have a penis, and people with penises are typically called boys, and I am following this traditional naming scheme, simply because I have no idea what else could I follow when asked a question like this. I also have facial hair, which correlates with the ownership of the penis, so you can make a probabilistic guess even when my pants are on, and you would assign quite high probability to the answer that happens to be true.

What else is there? I could mention feeling attracted to women, but that's about one's sexual orientation, not gender. (Lesbians are also attracted to women, that doesn't make them boys, right?) What else? Sorry if I forgot something important, but this feels like the whole story to me. Or at least its most important part.

So back to the hypothesis... it suggests that transgender people may give the same answer as me for the same reason...

Translated to plain English again, the hypothesis says that a person born with a vagina, when asked whether they are a boy or a girl, would answer 'a boy' for the same reason as I would... i.e. because they happen to have a penis. Except that they don't. Okay, so now I am completely confused.

Well... at this moment my best guess about WTF is the author trying to say, is that other cisgender people have some special -- unknown to me -- reason why they answer the question "are you a boy or a girl" the way they do. Which would mean that I am actually some kind of minority, which I don't know how it's called, but it's probably something like "trans a-gender", i.e. people not caring as much as the others seemingly do about what gender they happen to be; usually going with the biological default because that is more convenient.

Does something like this exist, or did I just make that up? Is it really such a rare condition, that no one else made the same complaint I did now? ... Or is this the Emperor's-new-clothes kind of scenario, and I am being the politically incorrect asperger kid here?

Comment author: Good_Burning_Plastic 13 March 2017 06:35:41PM *  2 points [-]

Which would mean that I am actually some kind of minority, which I don't know how it's called, but it's probably something like "trans a-gender", i.e. people not caring as much as the others seemingly do about what gender they happen to be; usually going with the biological default because that is more convenient.

The term you're looking for is cis by default.

For an example of someone who does seem to have a gender identity and it matches their biological sex, see e.g. these posts. Being mostly "cis by default" myself, many parts of those posts don't resonate with me any more than they would if instead of being about men and women they being about straight-haired and curly-haired people.

Comment author: Viliam 14 March 2017 11:08:40AM *  3 points [-]

The term you're looking for is cis by default.

That seems like it. Thanks!

Although I object against the name "cis by default". To explain why, to me this seems like the natural categories:

1) people not identifying with a gender
2a) people identifying with a gender that matches their sex
2b) people identifying with a gender that does not match their sex

However, calling X an "Y by default" suggests that the categories go:

1) cis
1a) cis by default (a special subset of cis)
2) trans

That seems obviously wrong. Not identifying with a gender is not a special case of identifying with the gender. (Well, only in the sense that "zero is a special case of a number, so e.g. a non-king is just a special kind of king who happens to own zero kingdoms". But when someone insists on using that, it seems obvious that their goal is to cleverly divert debate from the differences between the kings and the peasants.)

Furthermore, looking at the poll at the linked article, there are more people in the "cis by default" category than in the "cis by not-default". Although that is obviously not a representative sample of the population. But anyway, calling non-X an "X by default" is forcing a connotation -- specifically the connotation is that "cis" (which is silently equivocated with "cis by not-default") are the majority of the population (which was not proven yet), and more importantly, that anyone who is not a "trans" is a "cis" (silently equivocated with "cis by not-default").

Returning to the original article, it says that "trans people identify with their gender for the same reasons cis people do", which connotationally means "everyone does exactly the same thing, so there is nothing to explain here".

But if we use "cis by default" and "cis by not-default" as separate categories, the same statement becomes "trans people identify with their gender for the same reasons as cis-by-not-default people do", which as far as I know may be perfectly true, but still leaves open the -- in my opinion interesting -- question of "so, why exactly do they both do that?".

To related this to the previous debates, maybe Gram_Stone and Zack_M_Davis are both right -- maybe the inner motives of trans people and cis-by-not-default people are the same, and they both happen to be of two kinds which I will very simply call (1) overdose by sexual hormones, and (2) enjoyment of role-playing the gender.

Comment author: gjm 14 March 2017 12:04:55PM 1 point [-]

this seems like the natural categories

It's not clear to me whether the most natural way of dividing cases up is (1) as you've done, by what gender if any people "identify with" in a sense that implies caring deeply about it, or (2) as is implicit in the term "cis by default", by what gender if any people "identify with" in the weaker sense of using it to choose their preferred pronouns, typical habits of dress, etc.

I am inclined to prefer #2, not least because this sort of "identification" is more observable than the one needed for #1.

In particular, I don't think we have the information needed to be sure of whether "cis by default" people differ from "cis not-by-default" people (a) in really truly not being deeply attached to their gender or (b) in not being aware of how deeply attached to their gender they are or -- most likely, I think -- a mixture of (a) and (b). Introspection is unreliable, and I suspect some people who feel "cis by default" would, if they suddenly woke up in a differently-shaped body, find themselves more upset than they'd have predicted.

(I'm pretty much cis-by-default myself. I would not expect to be greatly upset if I woke up in a differently-shaped body -- aside from issues involving other people's reactions -- but I am not at all confident about that expectation. Maybe if it actually happened I'd feel mutilated and deformed and distressingly weird.)

Comment author: Viliam 14 March 2017 02:45:14PM 1 point [-]

I guess it depends on what specific question is one trying to answer.

If the question is "how will the society react to X", then it makes sense to put people strongly identifying with their biological sex to the same basket as people not really caring about their gender -- both of them will follow the rules of the society.

If the question is "what specific mechanism makes people identify strongly with a gender, then it makes sense to put people strongly identifying with a gender (either corresponding to their biological sex, or the opposite one) in the same basket.

This article speculated about "self-reporting algorithm", so the latter seems more relevant here.

Introspection is unreliable, and I suspect some people who feel "cis by default" would, if they suddenly woke up in a differently-shaped body, find themselves more upset than they'd have predicted.

I agree that instrospection is unreliable, but isn't this a double standard? We should "listen and believe" to people reporting about their experiences and feelings... unless those reports contradict the official theory, and those people don't belong to any officialy recognized protected groups.

So when a guy says "I feel I would rather be a woman", it's "yes, and everyone should respect how you feel", while when a guy says "I feel like I don't care about being a man or a woman", it's "nah, you probably don't know what you are talking about".

Comment author: gjm 14 March 2017 05:45:56PM 1 point [-]

This article speculated about "self-reporting algorithm", so the latter seems more relevant here.

Well, the term "cis by default" was not created in response to this article, and is used in other contexts, so if you're going to

object against the name "cis by default"

then it seems like you need better reasons than that the name wasn't coined with this thread in mind. No?

isn't this a double standard?

I don't think so, but it's not 100% clear to me what you're saying is a double standard or who you're saying is applying that double standard. The thing I'm being doubtful about here is not anyone's "experiences and feelings", it's their (and my) extrapolation on the basis of those experiences and feelings to what they would experience and feel in hypothetical situations where, e.g., their body suddenly changed.

(Perhaps what you are saying about yourself doesn't involve any such extrapolation, in which case I may have misunderstood you. The reason why I think being "cis by default" generally does involve extrapolation is that when I call myself cis by default part of what I mean is "it seems to me that if I found myself in a different body I wouldn't be deeply upset by that, which differs from the self-reports of trans people who say they are deeply upset by finding themselves in the wrong sort of body".)

My own position, which seems coherent enough to me, is as follows:

  • If someone cares strongly about whether they're regarded as male, female, or something else, then in the absence of strong special reasons for doing otherwise we should go along with that preference.
    • If, for instance, they take on the considerable social cost of telling everyone that they want to be known by a new name, addressed with non-standard pronouns, etc., that is good evidence that they care strongly.
  • If someone doesn't much care, we should go along with whatever's easiest.
    • If, for instance, they generally live according to societal expectations of the gender that matches their outward appearance at birth, that suggests that either (a) they don't much care or (b) they do care and what they want is to be considered to belong to that gender; either way the "obvious" thing will work well.
  • The question "but what gender is this person really?" has either no definite answer or, if we pick a particular social context, a socially-determined answer.
    • As regards our own social context, we all get to influence what that socially-determined answer will be. I personally think a society in which the answer to "what gender are you?" is, barring strong special reasons to the contrary, determined by a person's own strong preferences when they exist, is better than most alternatives.
  • If someone says they're "cis by default" then I, by default, believe them. (Provisionally, because this is among other things a statement about how they'd feel in some hypothetical circumstance, and that's the kind of thing it's easy to be wrong about.) But any argument that takes as a premise something like "so-and-so many percent of the population are cis by default and wouldn't care if their bodies suddenly changed sex" is assuming more than we actually know.
  • If someone who appears (say) male by all other usual criteria says they're "really" a woman, I don't think "believe" is the right word for what I do in response, although "disbelieve" would be much worse. Rather, I don't think this is the sort of thing there's some kind of objective fact of the matter about; we get to choose how we classify people, and I'm happy to do that classifying -- for most purposes -- in ways that are strongly influenced by people's expressed gender identity.

Do you see a double standard anywhere in that?

Comment author: Viliam 15 March 2017 10:06:43AM 3 points [-]

I generally agree with what you said. My position is:

  • It is meaningful to ask "what exactly makes some people identify strongly with a gender", because not everyone does that.

  • It doesn't seem a priori implausible that there could be two (or more) separate mechanisms achieving similar effects. I mean, we already know that some people want to cross-dress without changing their identity, some people want to change their identity without having surgery, and some people want surgery. So it seems plausible that at least these different groups have different reasons for wanting what they want.

Seems to me the political motivation behind this article is to make trans people feel... uhm... less unusual, by saying "the feelings you have, they are exactly the same feelings that cis people have (except that in your case it happens to be a different gender)". There is a good point here, but it is misleading without saying that actually many cis people don't have such feelings, even if most probably do.

(And, uhm, the "politics is the mind-killer" aspect of the topic is that it feels difficult to me to make these points without seeming like I hate trans people or something. That is, here is an article containing a misleading statement, which is cheap to upvote, and costly to argue against. So I wonder if most other readers don't have a similar objection, or they just realized it is smarter to ignore the whole topic.)

Comment author: gjm 15 March 2017 10:24:42AM 2 points [-]

The number of upvotes your original comment got suggests that there may well be other readers with a similar objection. (Though of course it might just be Eugine's socks.) FWIW I haven't at all got the impression from what you've written here that you hate trans people or (would) treat them badly or anything like that.

it is misleading without saying that actually many cis people don't have such feelings

The difficulty here (and maybe I haven't been clear enough in expressing it) is that you aren't comparing like with like. The strong feeling (at least some) trans people report is a dysphoria that (so they say it seems to them) arises from being in the "wrong" sort of body, and there's no reason to expect equally strong feelings to arise from being in the "right" sort of body. It's more the mechanism than the feelings that's claimed to be the same here.

Imagine that some people report having terrible vertigo, and other people say "ha, you're just making it up". And then the following proposal is made: your brain gets information about orientation and movement and so on from various sources, one of which is your inner ear; sometimes your inner ear can report different things from those other sources, and that's when you get vertigo. So vertigo is a thing that arises from a mechanism present in everyone; what's different about vertigo sufferers is that mismatch. (Of course there are plenty of ways in which vertigo is disanalogous to transness...)

It wouldn't be much of an objection to this account of things to say "But a lot of people without vertigo don't have any particularly strong feelings of having-the-right-balance; we just go about our lives and don't notice it at all". Because the point isn't that everyone has strong feelings about it all the time, it's that everyone's brain is considering these things all the time and when that goes wrong you get those strong and unpleasant feelings.

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Comment author: Elo 31 March 2017 08:09:33AM 0 points [-]

BANNED FOREVER. BANNED FOREVER.

DOESN'T MATTER IF YOU ARE THE NEXT GHANDI AND THE NEXT EINSTEIN TOGETHER. THERE IS AN ENTIRE INTERNET. HANG OUT ANYWHERE BUT HERE.

384 USELESS FUCKING POSTS. FUCK OFF. NO ONE LIKES A TROLL. YOU DON'T HAVE ANYTHING GOOD TO SAY. I BET ALL YOUR PRINCETON FRIENDS THINK YOU ARE GREAT IN BED. OH WAIT NRX, PROBABLY CAN'T GET LAID OR I WOULDN'T BE HAVING THIS PROBLEM.

DON'T WASTE MY FUCKING TIME.

Comment author: SnowSage4444 18 March 2017 05:34:09PM 1 point [-]

cis

What is Feminism doing here? What are we, the Rationalists, or the Irrationalists?

Comment author: gjm 19 March 2017 01:31:34AM 0 points [-]

Some people, for whatever reason, find themselves with a strong conviction that they should be, or that they really are, of a different gender from the one their body-type seems to indicate. Those people are called "trans", short for "transgender", for kinda obvious reasons. Most people don't. Those people are called "cis", because traditionally when an opposite of "trans" is needed "cis" is it. (Cisalpine. Cismontane. Cis fats.)

Do please explain what in the foregoing paragraph depends on "feminism" in any sense that anyone could object to, or requires "irrationalism".

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Comment author: Elo 31 March 2017 08:09:40AM 0 points [-]

BANNED FOREVER. BANNED FOREVER.

DOESN'T MATTER IF YOU ARE THE NEXT GHANDI AND THE NEXT EINSTEIN TOGETHER. THERE IS AN ENTIRE INTERNET. HANG OUT ANYWHERE BUT HERE.

384 USELESS FUCKING POSTS. FUCK OFF. NO ONE LIKES A TROLL. YOU DON'T HAVE ANYTHING GOOD TO SAY. I BET ALL YOUR PRINCETON FRIENDS THINK YOU ARE GREAT IN BED. OH WAIT NRX, PROBABLY CAN'T GET LAID OR I WOULDN'T BE HAVING THIS PROBLEM.

DON'T WASTE MY FUCKING TIME.

Comment author: math74 02 April 2017 04:46:21PM 0 points [-]

Those people are called "cis", because traditionally when an opposite of "trans" is needed "cis" is it.

You know, we don't have a word for people who aren't schizophrenics or say don't believe they are avatars of a god either.

Comment author: Elo 02 April 2017 10:19:28PM 1 point [-]

BANNED FOREVER.

Go away. This is pointless. No one wants you here. This forum is not for you.

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Comment author: Good_Burning_Plastic 23 March 2017 11:08:40PM 0 points [-]

we don't have a word for people who ... don't believe they are avatars of a god either

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Laity

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Comment author: math74 02 April 2017 04:45:34PM 0 points [-]
  • If someone cares strongly about whether they're regarded as male, female, or something else, then in the absence of strong special reasons for doing otherwise we should go along with that preference.

    • If, for instance, they take on the considerable social cost of telling everyone that they want to be known by a new name, addressed with non-standard pronouns, etc., that is good evidence that they care strongly.

Except we don't, and can't, apply that logic in any other situation, otherwise we'd find ourselves going out of our way to accommodate every nutcase and everyone who finds it convenient to pretend to be a nutcase.

  • If someone who appears (say) male by all other usual criteria says they're "really" a woman, I don't think "believe" is the right word for what I do in response, although "disbelieve" would be much worse. Rather, I don't think this is the sort of thing there's some kind of objective fact of the matter about; we get to choose how we classify people, and I'm happy to do that classifying -- for most purposes -- in ways that are strongly influenced by people's expressed gender identity.

What about someone who insists that Jesus talked to him? Or the classic reductio ad absurdum of someone who insists he (or it?) is an attack helicopter?

Comment author: Elo 02 April 2017 10:19:03PM 0 points [-]

BANNED FOREVER.

Go away. This is pointless. No one wants you here. This forum is not for you.

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Comment author: Good_Burning_Plastic 14 March 2017 11:13:10PM 0 points [-]

I would not expect to be greatly upset if I woke up in a differently-shaped body

FWIW I think I would -- but I also would if I woke up bald, or three inches taller.

Comment author: Zack_M_Davis 06 March 2017 03:18:36PM 13 points [-]

I don't think it's too controversial to propose that at least some of the transgender self-reports might result from the same mechanism as cisgender self-reports. Again, the idea is that there is some 'self-reporting algorithm', that takes some input that we don't yet know about, and outputs a gender category, and that both cisgender people and transgender people have this

I claim that this is knowably false. Rather than there are being any sort of gender-identity switch or self-reporting mechanism in the brain, there are two distinct classes of psychological conditions that motivate the development of a "gender identity" inconsistent with anatomic sex.

One of these etiologies is indeed a brain intersex condition (sufficiently behaviorally-masculine girls or behaviorally-feminine boys, who are a better fit for the gender role of the other anatomical sex).

The other etiology, far more common in natal males than females, is actually more like a sexual orientation (termed autogynephilia, "love of oneself as a woman") than a gender identity: we used to call these people "transvestites", men who derived emotional comfort and sexual pleasure from pretending to be women (and who sometimes availed themselves of feminizing hormones), but who typically didn't insist that they were literally an instance of the same natural category as biologically-female people.

Comment author: kithpendragon 06 March 2017 05:17:31PM *  2 points [-]

That explanation seems too simple to explain the broad range and variety of gender identities we see in the wild. Remember, gender is a performance with lots of nuanced moving parts, of which exponentially many possible combinations exist. It seems trivially fallacious to limit a discussion of gender identity to only people who express strong feelings of having mismatching biology.

Comment author: Zack_M_Davis 06 March 2017 05:36:43PM 12 points [-]

too simple

In the absence of a more complicated theory that makes sufficiently more precise predictions, simple theories are better than pretending not to have a theory. (In order to function in the world and get along with other humans, your brain is going to be constantly making predictions about human behavior in accordance with some implicit theory of human psychology, even if the part of you that talks doesn't realize this.)

the broad range and variety of gender identities we see in the wild

I agree that we see a very broad range of self-reported gender identities in the wild! However, as an aspiring epistemic rationalist, I consider self-reports of gender identities to be merely a kind of behavior that needs to be explained; I don't consider myself obligated to model other people the way they want me to model them. Psychology is about invalidating people's identities.

Comment author: kithpendragon 07 March 2017 12:00:56PM 1 point [-]

simple theories are better

True, but only if they accurately model the data. If the data don't match with predictions made by the theory (hypothesis, actually), it's not reality that's flawed.

[not] obligated to model other people the way they want me to model them

In the absence of other evidence, you have no reason to do otherwise. You still have to match the data. Until you (or somebody else) find a way to get better data than self-reports, that's what you've got to use. If your claim is only for two specific cases, it only applies to those cases. But it is wrong to assert that there are only two cases just because that's all you understand.

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Comment author: math10 08 March 2017 07:22:40AM 1 point [-]

What work is the word "really" actually doing here?

How about referring to the cluster structure of gender space. Of course, then we'd reach the conclusion that there are only two genders, and the traditional assignment is people to them is the correct one.

Comment author: Elo 31 March 2017 01:46:17AM 1 point [-]

THIS USER IS BANNED FOR ENDLESSLY POSTING THE SAME POST EVEN THOUGH THEY HAVE BEEN ADMIN REMOVED AND BANNED. THIS POST STANDS AS A FUCK OFF TO THE USER. I DON'T HAVE TIME FOR THIS SHIT. FUCK OFF.

NO ONE HERE AGREES WITH THIS TROLL AND NO ONE CARES.

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Comment author: Viliam_Bur 13 March 2017 12:30:04PM 2 points [-]

For curious readers: Most of the vast "comment graveyard" are dozens of copies of the same two or three comments.

Comment author: gjm 13 March 2017 01:09:41PM 5 points [-]

From dozens of sockpuppets of the same user. No prizes for guessing who.

Comment author: math50 19 March 2017 09:08:06PM 0 points [-]

Which keep getting deleted by the mods for no good reason.

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Comment author: gjm 16 March 2017 03:00:19AM 2 points [-]

(For future reference: parent of this is from the same person who's spamming LW with infinitely many copies of the same comments, and says "Which keep getting deleted by the mods for no good reason.")

The actual truth: the good reason why the mods keep deleting these comments is that the person posting them has been banned and banned and banned again from LW, for abusive behaviour stretching back over a timespan of years.

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Comment author: Elo 31 March 2017 08:09:26AM 0 points [-]

BANNED FOREVER. BANNED FOREVER.

DOESN'T MATTER IF YOU ARE THE NEXT GHANDI AND THE NEXT EINSTEIN TOGETHER. THERE IS AN ENTIRE INTERNET. HANG OUT ANYWHERE BUT HERE.

384 USELESS FUCKING POSTS. FUCK OFF. NO ONE LIKES A TROLL. YOU DON'T HAVE ANYTHING GOOD TO SAY. I BET ALL YOUR PRINCETON FRIENDS THINK YOU ARE GREAT IN BED. OH WAIT NRX, PROBABLY CAN'T GET LAID OR I WOULDN'T BE HAVING THIS PROBLEM.

DON'T WASTE MY FUCKING TIME.

Comment author: math74 02 April 2017 04:44:45PM 0 points [-]

As I understand it, there is a phenomenon among transgender people where no matter what they do they can't help but ask themselves the question, "Am I really an [insert self-reported gender category here]?"

The obvious answer is "No". In fact this experience seems suspiciously like trying to make oneself belief that one believes one's gender to be X.

Humans universally make inferences about their typicality with respect to their self-reported gender. Check Google Scholar for 'self-perceived gender typicality' for further reading. So when I refer to a transman, by my model, I mean, "A human whose self-reporting algorithm returns the gender category 'male', but whose self-perceived gender typicality checker returns 'Highly atypical!'"

And the word 'human' at the beginning of that sentence is important. I do not mean "A human that is secretly, essentially a girl," or "A human that is secretly, essentially a boy,"; I just mean a human. I postulate that there are not boy typicality checkers and girl typicality checkers; there are typicality checkers that take an arbitrary gender category as input and return a measure of that human's self-perceived typicality with regard to the category.

While we're assigning categories in complete defiance to common sense and evidence, why are we so sure that the category "human" is applicable?

Comment author: Elo 02 April 2017 10:18:30PM 1 point [-]

BANNED FOREVER.

Go away. This is pointless. No one wants you here. This forum is not for you.

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