Tuesday, September 16, 2014
Rhino Love: MTR Transspecies Operations and Cyclical Social Rebellions
Heather: I am unique. I am special.
Tom: I know! You go, girl!
Heather: I want to share the wonderful experience of life with someone I am uniquely equipped to help. I think I will have a baby!
Tom: Great! You go, girl!
Heather, larger: I am pregnant!
Heather with Autumn: Here is my baby! She is perfect! I can't wait to teach her about life!
Tom: I could do it just as well as you.
Heather with Autumn: I'd love it if you'd help us.
Tom: Just give her to me. I can be her mother. Or don't. I'm just saying, I could do it as well as you.
Heather with Autumn: No, you couldn't. I'm just saying, when she was born, my body released a unique mixture of oxytocin designed just for Autumn's birth, and I held her against my chest while my brain was programmed to love her in a way like no one else can.
Tomsitioning: I could love her just that much. Your love is nothing special or different. Are you saying I'm not as good of a person as you?
Heather with Autumn: No, not that--just that there are some things you can never do that I can do.
Tomsitioning: I really think you're missing the point. I will soon be a woman.
Heather with Autumn: I can nurse Autumn.
Tomsitioning: I can, too.
Heather with Autumn: I mean with my breasts. I can produce milk custom-designed for our respective sets of DNA. It is perfectly nutritionally balanced for Autumn. It is free and warm and on-demand. My breasts respond when Autumn cries or looks at me a certain way.
Tomsitioning: I can buy a mix that is just as good as yours. There is nothing special about you or your baby. Any drug company can make something that will give my little Autumn the same nutrients as you can give her. Or, if I decide to parent naturally, I can go on craigslist and buy human milk that a lower income woman has had pumped out.
Heather with Autumn: But I feel that there is a special connection between me and Autumn that no one else can duplicate.
Tomsitioning: You are wrong. Anyone can duplicate it. Someday, robots will.
Heather with Autumn: Does your milk offer hormonal cues for someone of Autumn's DNA structure, and a lifetime's worth of antibodies, many of which I obtained from my mother?
Tomsitioning: If we choose the natural route, my little Autumn may get some of that from someone else. And eventually robots will produce it. Face it--you aren't that special.
Heather with Autumn: Even so, you can't 'nurse' in the traditional way. You could hold her close and give her a bottle that you'd warmed exactly right, but there wouldn't be that connection between your skin.
Tammy: Do you mean breasts, honey? Because I have them--better than yours.
Heather with Autumn: Um, yes. But you can't lactate out of them.
Tammy: Actually, there are new kits. I got the deluxe models. I can nurse just like you, and no one can tell the difference. Least of all Autumn.
Heather with Autumn: What are you putting in there? Does it make it so you can generate your own...milk?
Tammy: There's a thing on the side--no, not there!--thing on the side, where you can pump in whatever. Similac, craigslist...but yes, Miss Snippy; in a couple years, they're going to release this program where it's actually made from me.
Heather: Run along and play, dear. No, not you, Tammy.
Tammy: By, sweetie! Wave to your Auntie! (waves)
Heather: Well, anyway, about this...this upgraded formula.
Tammy: Milk. It's called milk.
Heather: Well, all right, but not human milk.
Tammy: Excuse me, what am I?
Heather: A human.
Tammy: It's human milk. It's designed with my DNA profile in mind!
Heather: Do you think that's really true? How big are the machines it comes out of?
Tammy: Oh, gosh--ten times a Keurig? Who the heck knows? There's some factory in Luxembourg...well, actually, I'm going to get mine from the Walmart pharmacy once it's out of patent, but it'll be just the same as the foreign stuff.
Heather: How will you know if it's really from you? Think about the implications of this: if something comes out of a factory, even if you get a private chemist to test the first few batches, how do you know that everything you're getting is always 'you-derived' And does it change over time as you and your baby change?
Tammy: Come on, sister! Why would they lie? It'll be just as good as yours.
Heather: Fine. Fine, then. Well, what if Autumn wants to know where she came from? Know about her family history; her roots.
Tammy: I'll tell her about my parents, of course!
Heather: Well, they're not her grandparents.
Tammy: All that stuff is imaginary. Who cares if they're 'traditionally' hers, or not?
Heather: She might care. It's her ethnic identity. Her sense of self. Her ability to locate herself and understand how she came to be.
Tammy: She can embrace all cultures and backgrounds. We'll watch video summaries about the traditions of all known peoples. She can decide which one she wants to identify with. Or ones! Or ones!
Heather: What about all the people who worked to survive and reproduce so that she could exist?
Tammy: Honey, she doesn't owe them anything.
Heather, crying: Does that include me?
Tammy: Honey, the decision has been made.
Heather, crying: What about you? If you took her, would you want to be treated that way?
Tammy: Treated what way? I'm going to raise her to be a strong, independent woman. Like me.
Heather: Okay. Okay. Assume you did all that. What if...what if, when she gets her first period...? What are you going to tell her?
Tammy: Jeez, sweetie, don't look so upset. That stuff's on Wikipedia. And of course, of course she'll go to the doctor. A urolo--, excuse me, a gynecologist knows way more about her body than you ever will.
Heather: A doctor's great, but...you can't be at the doctor all day and night. There are thousands, no, millions of little things about being in a woman's body that I needed constant feedback on to grow. The way the urinary tract is shaped inside; the way to clean up after the bathroom; the way your body reacts to things. How the skin in our family sunburns a little more easily than on some other people, and the kinds of sunscreens that don't hurt it; what to do if you do get burned, and the way every seventh or eighth period gave me this brown spotting that, after hyperventilating the first time, didn't really turn out to be anything to be worried about, because my mom could tell me stories about her, and her mom, and her mom's mom...I mean, what if she goes to the ER sometime and they ask about her family medical history? About the women in her family?
Tammy: Honey, I am a woman.
Heather, rubbing her eyes: Tammy...
Tammy: Don't look at me like that. I'm completely post-op. I was a work in progress, and now I'm progressed. I am a woman, and the state medical board and my driver's license says so. I've got more estrogen left than you do, honey.
Heather: I just think there might be things you're not able to do for her that only her 'real' family--I'm sorry; I just don't know of a better word--that only I could do for her.
Tammy: Nobody's perfect. Are you perfect? Because if you make one mistake, just one mistake over the course of parenting her, then you completely validate my point, thank you.
Tammy: Thank you. I'll pick her up tomorrow after the paint's finished drying in the new nursery. There'll be some papers for you to sign.
Heather: No...no, you can take her now.
Tammy: No, it's latex paint--it's bad for people, you know, to inhale.
Heather: Not your little Autumn. She identifies as a non-latex-sensitive.
* * *
The Continuing Story of Rhino Love
If a female human can legitimately be a male human, then a male rhinoceros can legitimately be a female rhinoceros. Can, then, a male human legitimately be a female rhinoceros? Do we celebrate our inclusiveness and diversity by allowing intra-species sex transitions, while remaining close-minded and bigoted toward those who know that, inside, they really are rhinoceroses? It's not a rhetorical question, given furries, many of whom would actually like to be some kind of hybrid sex-kitten, sic, and/or hybrid sex-rhinoceros (less popular).
What's the dividing line? If a woman demands to be recognized as a rare species of shark, can she sue Sea World for not hiring her to appear in a tank? It's clearly discrimination, since last year, they spent over $600,000 on an expedition that attempted to garner just such a shark for their new exhibit--and yet, they are denying her employment application despite the fact that the exhibit is now sitting empty?
We tend to react to those kinds of examples as, "You hurtful jerk; it's nothing like that. That's obviously ridiculous." But why is it so ridiculous? If a man can be a woman, why can't a woman be a shark? Where is the DNA similarity cutoff? Could a rhino be an elephant, but not a human be a rhino, because there is too much difference between human/rhino, but not so much between rhino/elephant? Is 99% enough? And why does it have to be 99%? If a human man who is 6'6" and weighs 250 lbs. of muscle can decide to be a woman, why can't he also decide to be a smaller variety of ungulate? Would you dare impose a set of physical standards on those who are permitted or not-permitted to transition, depending on their size and appearance? Does a woman have to be of a certain height and breadth of shoulder to transition to male, or vice versa? Of course not.
So, can a chimpanzee be a man? Can King Louie sue the State of New York for not being allowed on the subway, if he is able to use ASL to communicate that he wants to be hyoo-hoo-hoo--man, too-ooh-ooh? We can disregard chromosomes, hormones, and bodily structure--there are surgeons now who, in grand western tradition, spend their careers developing procedures designed to shave down the vocal chords to allow a man to sound more like a woman without the strain of falsetto, a surgical trend made more ghastly in light of its costs comparative to the numbers of children starving to death, whose needs could be met for twenty-five cents a day. We can add and subtract breasts, ovaries, vaginas, testes and penises; we can file down Adam's apples and implant ankhs solely for artistic appearances, and we can alter DNA patterns with powerful injections. Before long, it won't be that cheap to be a rhinoceros, and be able to pass a rudimentary DNA test proving the same. These things are no more speculative now than it would have been, in 1890, to wonder whether the London prostitute you just swived had a "real" vagina, or a "fake" one. Namely, it seems an utterly outlandish thought experiment until, all of a sudden, it's an everyday thing, so long as you've got a letter from a shrink and less money than it would take to buy a new Prius.
Big Cocks and Teleporters
Most of us have little things we'd like to change about our appearance or others' perceptions of us: slimmer; straighter teeth; six pack; DDs; permanent eyeliner; thirteen-inch cock. There isn't much generalized objection to any of these, particularly in a western world where the right to buy thirteen-inch subdermal plastic cock-plating is valued more highly than the right to not be evaporated by a drone. Following on the trend of women whose wealth has allowed them to be artificially beautiful--by virtue of twelve new frocks per season, fine whalebone corsets, an hour of daily maid attention, and the finest continental face paints--it's only fair for some lonely men to wish they could be important by prettying up and becoming the submissive roleplayers that are in such western dearth these days. What crosses the line into rhino love silliness, though, is the full claiming of identity in tandem with costuming, because that steals the existence of those who really were the original thing in the first place.
Tom can make everything about Heather deemed irrelevant--her body and her humanity--if everything about her can be duplicated by surgery. Even identical twins aren't identical, but if we allow people to become each other through medical intervention, we socially devalue the individual far more than any other act. If Surgical Tom can replace Non-Surgical Heather, the implications for Heather's life and future--for a billion Heathers' lives and futures--are profound. Heather has just been told that her identity is not about her, but about her features. E.g., to be a woman is to be a walking, talking doll with a certain set of physical features and social expectations, all of which can be matched by any actor/surgeon team. Heather's inner essence is declared null and void, her personality a commodity that anyone can buy.
The critical transsexual argues, "I'm not trying to invalidate your identity; that's just what I feel I am. I genuinely feel I am a man. And that's how I want to self-identify." How, then, do men who were naturally born as men self-identify, once their definition has been extended to include "born as a woman but transitioned to a man"? Or, "born white but transitioned to black"? The group "people who were born as women" should be able to self identify as such, and to share their experiences and identity among similar people, without always being invaded by "people who became women after being born as men." Such "born as a female human" people crafted a term that members of their community could use to define themselves--"women"--a long time ago. None of this should mean that people can't transition or have new identities, but to allow them to fit their new selves into the definitions used by previous (and very different) self-identifiers is to allow them to destroy that identity, just as if white men were able to transition to black men, or vice versa. (If we're not going to have any terms, then fine, argue for no terms--but that's not the argument anyone is making.)
Should born-men be called "Born Men," and transsexuals "Changed Males"? Or, "Natural Male" versus "Surgical Male"? Or, should we insist that there are no differences, and prevent anyone from discussing their birth or their ancestry? Tricky business, that, because in that case, there are no transsexuals. Everyone is just what they are now. So there is no problem. If there is a problem, though, and if people should be allowed to self-identify, then the choice is between terms with elaborate prefixes and suffixes--Birthed Males v. Surgery Males--or something else. And "something else" is always going to be nicer.
"Surgery" doesn't need to be a scary word in this realm. Everyone changes themselves, through bodybuilding or plucking eyebrow hairs, and effectively, having an organically-certified vagina transplant is no different than doing a few biceps curls, as far as goes self-modification. What crosses the line, and impinges on other's and others' rights, is to walk out of the OR, point at someone born with a vagina, and say, "I am now that."
Or moreso, science-fictionally, on a grander scale. How comfortable are you with this example: at midnight tomorrow, an alien supercomputer will vaporize every single human being living on, or in the vicinity of, Earth. The supercomputer will then generate duplicate bodies to replace everyone who was killed, fill them with 100% perfect memory programs, and release them into the wild to go about their lives exactly as though they had never been killed in the first place. Are you comfortable with that? If the alien supercomputer killed you and your loved ones, and replaced them with biological automatons that acted exactly the same way, would anything have been lost in the process? It's a variation on the old saw, "Does the Star Trek teleporter kill you and then make a duplicate?" though on a larger scale.
Really, is there anything missing? Okay, variation: if the alien supercomputer kills only you, and replaces only you with a duplicate, are you at all unsettled? As the duplicate sleeps with your lover(s) and pets your dog(s) and gets commended for your jobs well done, and no one else ever knows it isn't you, is there anything missing from the universe? If not, is that all you are before the supercomputer arrives: a robot who does things because of the cells you have? There's not the tiniest feeling of unease in your enteric brain at the thought that "you" are irrelevant, even if you stretch the example so that it fills in all the private details that would press your buttons the most? (Cool, fine, then you're a robot, and none of this matters, including whether or not other robots decide to put trannies in camps, because it's just robots going through the motions. Alternatively, let's stay out of the camps, because there's a fundamental value to each person, and allowing surgery to invalidate identity is an extermination, albeit of a different kind than in said hypothetical camps.)
The ability to assume identity--to "be" a rhinoceros, a nurse shark, a five-year-old, or an African-American--needs to be seen as the assault it is. If someone can genuinely decide to be those things, then those who always were those things have been told, "The sum of your existence is duplicable by anyone or anything else. Your identity is nonexistent. Rather, it is a state of mind you have pretended to, which others can pretend to whenever they wish. So long as they really, reaaaaally mean it."
Voting for Chromosomes
Transsexuals, contra transspecies, still do face a lot of unfair bullshit, like bathroom privileges and prison housing. The line we're walking here is an embarrassing one for some people, because they want to disallow transracial shifts ("In my heart of hearts, I'm a Native American person, and as such, I have no problems with voting restrictions on reservation populations, because we all secretly know we're not real Americans, and we wish to keep a separate cultural identity that does not involve voting in the White Man's elections.") and transspecies shifts ("In my heart of hearts, I'm a dog, and having spoken with my fellow canines, I can pass on the message that we do not mind being used for food by your people."). And yet, they want to allow just one kind of transition, switching between sexes/genders, and being treated accordingly.
Here's where our cultures, writ large, fail to provide anything of much use. Not only do our old paradigms of man/woman show themselves to be clumsy, outdated, and inappropriate, our new paradigms of self-identified gender show themselves to be ludicrous, unworkable, and ultimately far more parochial and destructive toward individual identity than your local Baptist church. The Baptists may shun the transsexual for being false, making him a mere "confused woman," while the postmodern progressives will allow a guy with a bottle of pills to assume the personhood of a woman. Suddenly, the former man is an equivalent victim to a local woman who's spent twenty years being slapped on the ass and told to, "Get us some more coffee, toots, why dontcha?" Tammy really can replace Heather in our minds, if we allow her to, and once we've done that, Heather is a fungible, irrelevant, her life outsourced to a call center in India.
But what if we all agree? Then it's not a problem, right? Eventually, everyone will all be together holding hands, and cast an affirmative and irrevocable vote that men can be women, in fact, already are women, or at least, they were previously once they inform us that they were, in which case they are, will be, and always were, despite our earlier neglect of them. It will all be accepted, and since everyone agrees and is happy about it, there's no problem.
True--if there is nothing inherently valuable and distinctive in being a woman in the first place. The real conflict here is with ourselves: when we try to argue that sexes can be changed, we're trying to impose our will upon the outer world. I command my finger to move, and it moves. I command the apple to be an orange, and it doesn't. Clearly, our neurons extend only so far for the time being; some alternative entelechy has control over the apples and the oranges. Some of us learn, humblingly, that our control over our own bodies while we're here is far from complete.
We do have control over our thoughts and language, though, which is where we make our strongest argument: nothing is anything, except for our consensus-based decisions as to the language we use, therefore our collective decision that men are women is true, and it is rude to deviate from it. We can't make apples oranges, or Xs Ys, but we can decide to call something a "woman" based on observable social criteria. And we could talk for a thousand years about what it is to be a woman, and how you tell who is a woman or not, and whether that's appropriate, and whether it's appropriate for the criteria to change, and at what point we decide we can't handle the criteria, but deal with it, because everyone I agree with knows what the rules are, and that's what they are except when they're not. It's up to each person to decide, except in realms in which they're not allowed to decide, because those realms aren't considered serious by those of us who are allowed to decide by consensus, and individuals who decide about themselves against consensus are clearly being ridiculous. Yes, the trans arguments are all self-contradictory, in that they rely on traditional definitions to define rebellion against traditional definitions, then become instantly conservative vis-à-vis changing future interpretations of definitions.
The problem we're facing is our lack of linguistic inclusion of objective v. subjective reality. Most languages in developing civilizations (>3C) have some form of this: a way of costuming nouns and verbs so that you can both identify someone's choices, values, and personality, and their background and genetic makeup. Our languages here have gendered or genderless terms, but that's not nearly adequate at this point. In Barizan, for example, one had available two versions of "man"--the version that was understood to be a genetic male, and the version that, on Earth, would be more closely translated as "dominant" or "seme." There was a sexualized tone in the latter case; you didn't call your math teacher "seme" unless you were doing her, but a chacile would never call her anything except the objective form of "woman" during a formal council proceeding. All of the social stigma about being a dominant/submissive person was attached to the interperceptive ("subjective") terms, and none of it to the objective ones. A female couldn't get people to call her "Genetic Man"--that would've been ridiculous--but she was easily able to use appearance and behavioral cues to get called (the equivalent of) "Dominant" by theater ushers who'd never seen her before nor would again. (Some places went too far, or at least so it seemed to me. This one did a whole life somewhere once, where I never figured out half of them; in retrospect, this one wishes she had.) You can kind of be aloof or imply an insult by continually referring to someone in the objective form, but it's completely different than misgendering a trans person on Earth. It also leaves open lots of wild doors for furries, should they so desire, yet forestalls the potential anthropomorphical arguments of the future.
That's the answer for Earth, too: allow people to adopt "gender" or "perspective" versions of themselves as much as they want, but do not permit them to supplant the objective roles of others. MTF transpersons can be gorgeous "sissies" or "ukes," or any other non-sexualized-yet-characteristic-identifying term they approve of, with an established social place and identity, but if they get in a car wreck and are rushed into the OR for trauma surgery, they can, without any offense implied or taken, be instantly identified as not having a womb in the area from where all the broken windshield glass needs to be extracted. (As a pleasant byproduct, no "born as" women will be offended, nor feel that their identity is being threatened.)
For trans people, there is a very real, very serious problem in preventing them from switching away from the identity they feel doesn't suit them. A small but noticeable biological minority actually doesn't fit into standard sex divisions (e.g., futa by the grace of God), yet genderless pronouns are more of a confusing insult than a helpful distinction, by denying a sexual or genderized agency to the veritable walking couch. You can't spell "gender neutral" without "neutral," ergo the hapless hermaphrodite never has a stable home in the dictionary. Some kind of antaphological place, or primary thought-space, needs to be available for these individuals (just as "man" and "woman" need to be available for others) or else we're at the level of twentieth century doctors, adding and subtracting with cold scalpels, then encouraging the living of deadly lies down one of two permissible paths.
Yet the presumed dislocation of any individual from one of the two permissible paths should not empower them to dislocate others. The answer is not to fight over two bedrooms in a small house, but to build an addition. It's so very fitting, once again, that America is become home to the recurrent idea that, because the Puritans were religiously persecuted by the King of England, they should have the right to supplant the identity of a different group of people. Cotton Mather becomes an American because he feels in his heart of hearts that he is, while Tecumseh lies rotting beneath last autumn's corn. Allowing Tammy to become everything that Heather is disregards some very real biological issues that will never go away, and that can never be replaced by machines, while forcing Tom to be The Traditional Conception Of Tom is equally stupid and wrong. Ironically, the more dislocated Tom feels, the less likely he should be to want to take Heather's mantle for himself, but this is America, where the middle class shops heavily on the day after Christmas--so why not?
If the picture is going to be a rainbow, notice that the rainbow includes more than two colors. Respecting diversity would include allowing Tom to change from yellow to mauve, but does not include permitting Tom to join Heather in defining what it means to be blue. There's plenty of space out there for Tammy to be Tammy, whereas it's not in any way appropriate for Tammy to decide that she is also Heather.