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

Quarantine by Greg Egan

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

(!?!?!?!?)

A lot of them don't know it or wouldn't care, because they're female-minds-in-male-bodies but also cis-by-default (lots of women wouldn't be particularly disturbed if they had a male body; the ones we know as 'trans' are just the ones with unusually strong female gender identities). Or they don't know it because they haven't heard in detail what it feels like to be gender dysphoric, and haven't realized 'oh hey that's me'. See, e.g., https://sinesalvatorem.tumblr.com/post/141690601086/15-regarding-the-4chan-thing-4chans and https://slatestarcodex.com/2013/02/18/typical-mind-and-gender-identity/

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

As it happened, I had messaged him a few days earlier, on 22 March 2016, for the first time in four and a half years. I confided to him that I was seeing an escort on Saturday the twenty-sixth[5] because the dating market was looking hopeless, I had more money than I knew what to do with, and three female friends agreed that it was not unethical.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

(Bolding mine.)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

[...]

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Someone I met at the Berkeley Less Wrong meetup who went by Ziz[12] denied experiencing autogynephilia at all, and I believe her—but it seems worth noting that Ziz was unusual along a lot of dimensions. Again, I don't think a psychological theory needs to predict every case to be broadly useful for understanding the world.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

"Helen" replied:

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

I wrote back:

"I don't know," I murmured, "a lot of times in the past when I told myself that I'd make a phone call later, before some place closed, it later turned out that I was lying to myself." "Yeah, but that's because you're a guy. Males are basically composed of lies, as a consequence of https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Bateman%27s_principle. Don't worry about ["Helen"].

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

I replied:

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

Moldbug contends that the triumph of progressivism is bad insofar as the oligarchic theocracy, for all its lofty rhetoric, is structurally incapable of good governance: it's not a coincidence that all functional non-government organizations are organized as monarchies, with an owner or CEO[14] who has the joint authority and responsibility to hand down sane decisions rather than being hamstrung by the insanity of politics (which, as Moldbug frequently notes, is synonymous with democracy).

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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


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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

Because we are already enduring it.

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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


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

The first comment was "You are a predator."

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


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

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

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


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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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


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

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


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

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

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

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

Bensinger replied:

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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


In another post, I acknowledged my problematic tone:

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

help


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

The truthful and mean version: The Man Who Would Be Queen, Ch. 9
The truthful and nice version: "Becoming What We Love" http://annelawrence.com/becoming_what_we_love.pdf
The technically-not-lying version: http://www.avitale.com/developmentalreview.htm
The long version: https://sillyolme.wordpress.com/

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

In "Interpersonal Entanglement" (in the Fun Theory Sequence back in 'aught-nine), Yudkowsky had speculated that gay couples might have better relationships than straights, since gays don't have to deal with the mismatch in desires across sexes. The noted real-life tendency for AGP trans women to pair up with each other is probably partially due to this effect[22]: the appeal of getting along with someone like you, of having an appropriately sexed romantic partner who behaves like a same-sex friend. The T4T phenomenon is a real-life analogue of "Failed Utopia #4-2", a tantalizing substitute for actual opposite-sex relationships.

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

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

why you believe what you believe

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

what consequences you think this has for people

Consequences for me: http://unremediatedgender.space/2017/Jan/the-line-in-the-sand-or-my-slippery-slope-anchoring-action-plan/

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

"Rebecca" — 02/14/2016 3:26 AM
I really was getting to the point that I hated transwomen
Zack M. Davis — 02/14/2016 3:26 AM
I hate them, too!
Fuck those guys!
"Rebecca" — 02/14/2016 3:27 AM
I hated what happened to [my partner], I hate the insistence that I use the right pronouns and ignore my senses, I hate the takeover of women's spaces, I hate the presumption that they know what a woman's life is like, I was getting to the point that I deeply hated them, and saw them as the enemy
But you're actually changing that for me
You're reconnecting me with my natural compassion
To people who are struggling and have things that are hard
It's just that, the way they think things is hard is not the way I actually think it is anymore
Zack M. Davis — 02/14/2016 3:28 AM
the "suffering" is mostly game-theoretic victimhood-culture
"Rebecca" — 02/14/2016 3:28 AM
You've made me hate transwomen less now
Because I have a model
I understand the problem
Zack M. Davis — 02/14/2016 3:28 AM
http://unremediatedgender.space/2017/Feb/if-other-fantasies-were-treated-like-crossdreaming/
"Rebecca" — 02/14/2016 3:28 AM
I understand why it's hard
I feel like I can forgive it, to the extent that forgiveness is mine to give
This is a better thing for me
I did not want to be a hateful person
I did not want to take seeming good people as an enemy in my head, while trying to be friends with them in public
I think now I can do it more honestly
They might not want me as a friend
But now I feel less threatened and confused and insulted
And that has dissolved the hatred that was starting to take root
I'm very grateful for that

I continued to stay up and post—and email.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

  17. The initial letters being a deliberate allusion. ↩︎

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

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

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

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

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

New Comment
136 comments, sorted by Click to highlight new comments since: Today at 8:51 PM
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The rationalist community seems complicit in dishonesty about trans matters. Historically, I also can't claim innocence from engaging in the dynamics you've mentioned in the post, including towards you, though I think I have become better at not doing that.

Some various comments:

Okay, so trans people aren't delusional about their developmental sex.

...

For a more detailed literature review, see Kay Brown's blog, Phil Illy's book Autoheterosexual: Attracted to Being the Opposite Sex

There is a tension between these two different parts of your post, since I think Phil Illy is kind of describing autogynephilia as a delusion in the book he wrote, e.g. "Autogynephilic people initially feel feminine or like a woman for short spurts, often in association with crossdressing. .. Autogynephilia can also create autogynephilic phantom shifts, the sensation of having female-typical phantom anatomy such as breasts, a vulva, wide hips, or long hair ... Males who continually feel feminine or see themselves as women can be considered to have a transfeminine gender identity. ... This desire to see themselves as feminine also shifted their self-perception in that direction ...".

In one taxon, the "early-o

... (read more)

I am a bisexual cisgender woman who finds my own body interesting in a way that indeed appears to map to that described by this "autogynephilia" you speak of, and only wouldn't because the very definition tries to include being male.

In case anyone needs this data point.

I've been doing a bunch of surveys on this sort of thing, and as far as I can tell, autogynephilia in cis women and autoandrophilia in cis men does sometimes exist.

I don't think this makes any major differences for the big picture debate - it doesn't really interfere with any of the causal stories for autogynephilia (at least, not beyond what the existence of autogynephilia among some gay men does), and it's not like this is magically going to make trans women much more feminine than they would otherwise be.

It does make a difference for some of the stronger claims Zack makes, e.g. it disproves "The AGP fantasy about "being a woman" wouldn't—couldn't be fulfilled by magically being transformed to match the female distribution. At a minimum, because women aren't autogynephilic!". But this is a pure thought experiment that doesn't change anything in reality, because magic isn't real.

-15[comment deleted]8mo

This is one of my favorite LW posts in recent months! I have no interest in gender as a topic but it's very interesting to read an account of someone who believes a heresy grappling with a hostile epistemic environment — including reading the details of which comments or messages ended up having a large effect on your thinking and trajectory. Thanks for the post, and I look forward to reading the next post(s) in the series.

(Note of clarification: I do not intend with this comment to endorse the specific claims about gender nor the author as a totally reliable narrator of events.)

I'm trying to make sense of this. If I'm not mistaken you claim:

  1. Autogynephilic sexual fantasies are causally responsible for late-onset not-purely-androphilic trans women's motivations for transition
  2. Some late-onset trans women have never had autogynephilic sexual fantasies

This obviously doesn't make sense as-is. You briefly went into a theory of early-onset HSTS, late-onset not-otherwise-specified gender dysphoria, and you raised internalized misandry as a possible alternate instantiation of that "not-otherwise-specified". And that could resolve the issue I'm pointing at.

This explanation makes a testable prediction. I've noticed that late-onset trans women tend to fall remarkably close together along a number of characteristics that aren't obviously related to gender dysphoria or autogynephilia. Let me know if you don't think that's right, and I can go into more detail, but as a basic example, this group has way higher rates of ASD, and more people who were excellent programmers at a young age, compared to the male baseline. If you're proposing that non-autogynephilic late-onset trans women have significantly different causal explanations for transitioning, then we wouldn't expect ... (read more)

3tailcalled7mo
Not necessarily sexual fantasies themselves! Sexual fantasies are an indicator of the presence of an underlying sexual orientation towards that which is depicted in the fantasies. His point in bringing up trans women like Ziz who supposedly had no signs of autogynephilia is to say that he is open to there being additional factors which explains those trans women. So he suggests that autogynephilia is a factor among those who have indicators of autogynephilia, and other things than autogynephilia are factors among those who do not have indicators of autogynephilia. I still need to look into the ASD programmer situation some more, but let's consider nerdy progressivism as another example that I know something more about. Macho men feel like it would be humiliating to be women. Plausibly, this makes them less likely to transition. Un-macho / nerdy-progressive men would thus be more likely to transition; even if being un-macho is not on its own sufficient to transition, when it becomes combined with other factors that contribute to transition, it can end up allowing those factors to be expressed rather than repressed. In particular, this would presumably also apply among autogynephiles, with macho autogynephiles being more likely to repress. So from a multicausal model you'd expect to see autogynephilic trans women differ from autogynephilic cis men along the same non-autogynephilia causes that contribute to other trans women.

Not necessarily sexual fantasies themselves! Sexual fantasies are an indicator of the presence of an underlying sexual orientation towards that which is depicted in the fantasies

I see! This is something I associate with Ann Lawrence's contribution to the theory. I had Lawrence on my reading list last year, but I felt it was wise to pull back from that reading for a bit, so sorry if my criticism is a bit basic. I'll be going off just your comment here and what I've heard second hand from Lawrence's critiques, who might not be the best of rationalists.

I'll say that I've remarked before that "autogynephilia," if you looked at just the etymology and not its origin in describing cross-sex sexual fantasies (that's definitely how Blanchard used it initially), seemed like as good a description of myself as any. Mostly because it sounds pretty deflationary: I chose to transition because I... like myself as a woman (or more feminine, I'd prefer to say). The alternatives seem like they'd be either cynical-strategic or self-harm.

But "sexual orientation" sounds like it comes with a lot more baggage than that. What account of "sexual orientation" allows calling autogynephilia without concordant ... (read more)

What account of "sexual orientation" allows calling autogynephilia without concordant sexual fantasies a "sexual orientation?"

I think it makes sense to posit some underlying latent variable as a cause of things like sexual fantasies about the target of attraction and courtship behaviors towards the target of attraction, even if those effects don't necessarily manifest in, e.g., someone with unusually low libido.

Lawrence points out that signs of eventual sexual orientation are often evinced by children long before such feelings take on an explicitly erotic tone at puberty, both in typical cases (in the form of affection towards opposite sex peers) and in cases of unusual sexual interests (like rubber fetishists who reported an interest in the material as small children).

it leaves unexplained why I seem so damn similar to them along a spooky number of dimensions

As far as social implications go, I think this cuts both ways. The reason autogynephilia is controversial is because it's an alternative to the "woman trapped in a man's body" trope, an etiological story that undermines the "trans women are women" slogan and makes MtFs seem more relevantly M than F, despite their/our ef... (read more)

The reason autogynephilia is controversial is because it's an alternative to the "woman trapped in a man's body" trope, an etiological story that undermines the "trans women are women" slogan and makes MtFs seem more relevantly M than F, despite their/our efforts.

I don't agree that's the reason that autogynephilia theory is controversial! Not that it isn't part of the story, but I'm pretty sure the main reason for the controversy is that it contradicts trans women's own understanding of their motivations for transitioning, and is often presented as to imply trans women are either deceiving themselves or others

In reddit-tier discourse, people do get mad that autogynephilia theory contradicts "trans women are women," but I have no idea how to coherently interpret reddit-tier discourse. When people of the same ideological persuasion as the reddit "trans women are women" crowd want to be coherent, I've seen them often cite Julia Serano on the topic:

In recent papers, proponents of autogynephilia have argued that the theory should be accepted because it has more explanatory potential than what they call the “feminine essence narrative”—that is, the idea forwarded by some transsexuals tha

... (read more)
5Ann7mo
As a spectrumy programmer whose gametes are presumably ova, like 50% of my physical life and 75% of my online community friends are spectrumy trans people. My experience is also that we have a ridiculous amount in common, yes.
1tailcalled7mo
This is somewhat unconvincing on its own, because clearly at the very least the trans community does some Motte/Bailey on it. I think a more directly convincing point is my prediction market, which only assigns 23% probability to feminine essence, and 61% probability to something that is neither feminine essence nor Blanchardianism: https://manifold.markets/tailcalled/if-a-solid-neurological-study-of-tr?r=dGFpbGNhbGxlZA Not sure what you mean by this. I think autogynephilia is correlated with gender identity?
1adrusi7mo
Yeah I bet that does happen. A more charitable lens that explains some of what might come across that way, though, is that "women trapped in men's bodies" is a neat and succinct way to explain trans women to someone who it would otherwise take too long to explain to, in situations where an extended lecture would be impractical, inappropriate or unappreciated. In extension, it's true that learning that someone experiences autogynephilic sexual fantasies should increase your credence that they will report a feminine gender identity. What I mean is that the Blanchardian model and the gender variance model barely make reference to the same concepts. Orthogonal in theory space, not in people space. But another way of putting my point is that endorsing autogynephilia as an explanation for most trans women's motivation for transition in no way binds you to any position on whether trans women are women.
2tailcalled7mo
In "The Man Who Would Be Queen", Michael Bailey said that "men who desperately want to become women" was a much better way of thinking about AGP(TS)s, and this seems similarly succinct. Why go with "women trapped in men's bodies" over that?
3tailcalled7mo
I agree that it is unlikely that people who do not have autogynephilic sexual fantasies are autogynephilic. I'm not making the distinction between orientation vs fantasies as some sort of loophole to call trans women AGP without them showing any overtly erotic signs of autogynephilia, but instead to point out that I don't think the gender feelings would disappear just because one repressed the fantasies themselves (which in itself would be difficult because of how sexuality works). I think observations of how trans women share a bunch of traits are approximately worthless without a factor analysis that pins down whether those traits are related to each other or independent.

This makes me wonder if some proportion of "masculine" gay men are actually transwomen (of the early onset type) with autoandrophilia. I may even fit into that category myself. I didn't care about masculinity and in fact found it somewhat abhorrent and not-me-ish until I started getting off to more masculine looking guys in porn. (When I first saw porn when I was 12 I mainly focused on twinks and wanted to look like them, and there's still a part of me that feels that way, which wars with the part that wants to bulk up because masc dudes are also hot - and usually wins, because bulking is hard and I would rather read books.)

Of course, my natural femininity is not tremendous (I wasn't flamboyant as a child and as far as I know never have been - I've always thought feminine-acting men were creepy - but I did flirt with identifying as nonbinary during my late teens, and used to have multiple female alters during the period where I thought I had multiple personalities), and most of my femininity is the result of misandry taught by the media and my mother (I believed for most of my childhood and early teens that masculinity is disgusting and bestial, and that only women can be powerful ... (read more)

4tailcalled8mo
It seems theoretically logical that autoandrophilia would play a role for some gay men, but I have reasonably comprehensive data on it, and I think I didn't find a huge effect. I can ping you with the results once I have written up a more comprehensive analysis on it - maybe I will find something while doing robustness checks.

I'm an openly trans person in the Rationalist community and I want to go on record here saying:

Writing a 21,000 word essay about how you've been suppressing your gender dysphoria since you were a kid and posting it on LessWrong is not a healthy way of addressing your gender dysphoria.

And btw in one of the blog posts Zach links in this post, they call their transgender impulses as "the beautiful feeling at the center of my life."

This essay has a lot of self-hate in it which is self-destructive and although I respect your Freedom of Speech and Bodily Autonomy I think it would be unwise for anyone to emulate Zach. 

Can you not even do him the favor of pretending to model his life story as an accurate retelling of events? If his lived experience doesn't include any gender dysphoria, and he spends 21 thousand words describing how the social pressure to assume gender dysphoria in cases where it might not actually be present has destroyed his sanity and ruined his social relationships, it feels incredibly rude and frankly bizarre for you to respond by telling him that this is all just a symptom of his gender dysphoria. I would almost go so far as to call it hateful.

3Zack_M_Davis6mo
I appreciate the support, but given that I'm questioning other people's life stories, it seems only fair that they be allowed to question mine? I can take it!

Oh sure, and I definitely agree that what you're doing isn't healthy. But it's unhealthy for reasons that have nothing to do with sexuality or gender, and I think that's pretty obvious. We've all promised ourselves we were going to stop nerding out over some topic, as the clock struck 1am, only to find ourselves still writing the same rant when the sun peaked over the horizon.

you just had the misfortune of happening to be obsessed with gender politics, while the rest of us get by ranting about much safer and less controversial topics like presidential election politics or AI notkilleverybodyism. (haha except...)

everyone who has ever been in the position of can't-stop-typing-just-one-more-comment can sympathize... except OP apparently, which is why i found it so shocking. when you're in that position, it's because you're trying to explain a very specific thing, and you keep failing to be understood, and it's really really frustrating and causes a horrible feedback loop where you just sorta give up on all goals except throwing out enough data that surely they must eventually understand the point you're trying to get across

and nothing is more frustrating in that position than having t... (read more)

I don't think it's that anyone is proposing to "suppress" dysphoria or "emulate" Zach. Rather, for me, I'm noticing that Zach is putting into words and raising in public things that I've thought and felt secretly for a long time.

As an apostate, I see in this line of thought the issues I saw with rationalism as religion value system and metanarrative in general. As, additionally, a sometime heretic, I sympathize with this description of the experience of heresy; while the unpleasant experience of having to navigate the stifling and occasionally totally wrong norms of the overworld is (I now believe) to some extent a natural and inevitable part of the human condition, awakening to this is deeply unpleasant for those who made it to adulthood without realizing it. Even more so, perhaps, when it's a heresy for reasons orthogonal to those of right and wrong. Mencius Moldbug, who you mentioned, produced hundreds of thousands of words about the decline of San Francisco, where, last I heard, his overworld-sona still lives—but if it's that bad, why is he still there? Most people seek out quality and avoid its absence.

My experience of mania was that it was the result of an exceptionally energetic collision between this drive to seek good things and avoid bad things and a mental brick wall. Repression, you could say. (If it's that bad, why is he still there? How many words—perhaps not the most sober words, but then, h... (read more)

I'm a transhumanist. I believe in morphological freedom. If someone wants to change sex, that's a valid desire that Society should try to accommodate as much as feasible given currently existing technology. In that sense, anyone can choose to become trans.

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

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


actually growing up in Seattle my experience has been that people's narratives of trans rights are in fact making a pretty principled case for both morphological freedom and some kind of more abstract self-labelling freedom. which you can see in how big like, nonbinary and a... (read more)

I don't think it's a generational thing, because I do object to the self-labeling freedom. Yes, it sounds bad to be against something called "freedom", but it is necessary unless you want to bite the bullet in favor of things like "freedom to make up whatever beliefs you want without evidence"—which is what I think is ultimately at stake here.

I want shared maps that reflect the territory. We want people to have the freedom to modify their body and social presentation in the territory, but I don't think this (not even the social presentation part) implies the abstract self-labeling freedom that many people seem to want, because I think labels are supposed to objectively describe something in the territory. I like words like "transfeminine", because they point to a specific meaning with truth conditions (male people who have undergone interventions to become more female-like).

I'm not sure how much of the narration is about you in the present day, or exactly what you're looking for from your audience, but there's a bit I still want to respond to.

I'm a transhumanist. I believe in morphological freedom. If someone wants to change sex, that's a valid desire that Society should try to accommodate as much as feasible given currently existing technology. In that sense, anyone can choose to become trans.

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

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

I have some sympathy here. It's certainly frustrating when it seems no one has the patience to engage t... (read more)

Poorly constructed public narratives, though, make for bad policy and bad culture. Yes, much of it carries the instrumental goal of pragmatic trans acceptance, but it's often presented in such a way so as to not only elide the complexities of that acceptance, but to make any discussion of policy trade-offs or personal disagreements radioactive. More, people tend to be poor at distinguishing between "narrative-simplicity" statements and truths worth orienting one's life around. 

Morphological freedom is a powerful and unifying principle that is easily, intuitively understood and can rally a range of people with disparate metaphysical beliefs in support of simple, valuable quality-of-life policy, and it generalizes from issues around the transgender experience to groups that are treated more like strawmen or inconveniences in current discourse, such as therians/trans-species identity. "My body, my choice" has already been thoroughly absorbed by the abortion debate, but a similar approach encapsulating the essence of morphological freedom is an easy case to make and a hard one to reject.

The idea of gender as an essence separate to sex, intrinsic to all, is a much steeper request, ... (read more)

There's not just acceptance at stake here. Medical insurance companies are not typically going to buy into a responsibility to support clients' morphological freedom, as if medically transitioning is in the same class of thing as a cis person getting a facelift woman getting a boob job, because it is near-universally understood this is an "elective" medical procedure. But if their clients have a "condition" that requires "treatment", well, now insurers are on the hook to pay.

A lot of mental health treatment works the same way imho--people have various psychological states, many of which get inappropriately shoehorned into a pathology or illness narrative in order to get the insurance companies to pay.

All this adds a political dimension to the not inconsiderable politics of social acceptance.

6Muireall8mo
Do they, though? I'm honestly not too worried about this. That's one reason I mentioned "born this way". Of course, I think even just going by self reports "internal sense of gender" is a reasonable first approximation with wide coverage, I think the current policy and cultural agendas for trans rights are pretty much the right ones, and I think that's true pretty much regardless of "underlying truth of the phenomenon". You'd think so! But people are really weird about sex, and I think it's going to be a tough fight without addressing that head on. Also, related to Ben Smith's comment, the political/medical aspects are generally more material. Regarding and This seems hyperbolic? Both in terms of the hostility and the "demand" to accept truth claims. I'm sure you can get that reaction from some people, but they don't speak for everyone; and you only have to live in a society with the most combative activists, not make them think you're a good person. Outside of prominent Twitter figures and what gets amplified in certain media circles, people tend to be willing enough to talk in good faith and accept you as an ally of convenience if you're respectful. They're just (understandably!) wary. (Edit: This is just my perspective. I don't speak for anyone else—I just don't see this kind of melodrama on everyday scales.) I wouldn't expect any underlying consistency here. Honestly, I think "underlying truth of [transgender identity]" already presupposes too much consistency and leads to bad predictions.

I'm a trans woman, and am probably the most autogynephilic among the 7? trans women I've slept with.  As a highschooler (2013?) I started furiously masturbating while imagining myself in the body of a female classmate, and then I had a dream where I was a girl. I woke up in excitement and instantly formed the hypothesis that I was trans. I wasn't sure, but the thing to do with a hypothesis is to test it quickly and cheaply. So in the morning, I immediately asked my mom to take me to the mall so I could try crossdressing. She didn't take it well. I didn't end up taking HRT until 2020. I did grow my hair out and spent a lot of college in this in-between land of publicly dressing like a woman and not entirely passing.

Throughout this I was kinda agnostic about Blanchard and the "trans as kink" narrative. It explained some of my experiences but not all. Mostly I just told myself it wasn't decision relevant - I didn't need to be a "real" "girl" to wear women's clothing or take hormones. Whether I asked people to call me by a different name, or a different pronoun, or which bathroom I used - I would just decide based on my local incentives, keeping in mind what would be better for me, and just iterate. Society didn't always give me what I wanted - I was kicked out of a religious youth group in college - and though I kinda did think of myself as a victim I no longer do. It's their right to freedom of association.

okay the unhinged rant I actually wanted to respond with is:

- this post is tooo looong
- I think you're crazy to not update on evidence sooner, you blame rationality but you should instead focus on how you could've done better
- yeah ok maybe I got lucky by being born later, but you read Thing of Things just like I did and you read way more stuff.
- like you, as a kid I thought gender is fake, it's like a costume, or a mass hallucination. now as a wise adult I realize ... it's only like 80% fake. but it's still plenty fake.
- it's my right to ask to be in female spaces and their right to say no
- unless asking is expensive or not possible in which case I just do whatever I want and hope to get away with it, because society needs more doers. despite having boobs, sometimes I'll use male restrooms if I think I can do it fast enough because urinals are actually better technology and lines on women's restrooms are longer.
- it's your right to "misgender" people and their right to uninvite you to things if it hurts their feelings
- sure, I guess a lot of my personality traits are more man-like. ambition, high libido. idk why cis girls are comfortable around me, I think they are wrong.  ma... (read more)

- sure, I guess a lot of my personality traits are more man-like. ambition, high libido. idk why cis girls are comfortable around me, I think they are wrong.  maybe this is being an "AGP male" or maybe it is being a "nonbinary person that presents mostly female."

In the context of the HSTS/AGPTS typology, I don't think ambition and libido are what matters much. For instance, an often-discussed phenomenon is that HSTSs have basically similar sexuality to gay men. (HRT might reduce the libido for HSTSs, but it would also reduce the libido for AGPTSs.)

I'm confused about gender differences in ambition. Some people like to make it a temperamental thing, like with men being more generally prone to taking charge across situations, but actually assertive personality has a fairly small gender difference and mostly boils down to extraversion.

I think when people talk about gender differences in ambition, they usually think something like CEOs with long working hours being mostly male, and stay-at-home spouses who raise children being mostly female. This doesn't really square with traditionally discussed psychometric gender differences; for instance being a CEO is to the "people" side of t... (read more)

5Sinclair Chen8mo
If AGP/HSTS isn't about gendered personality traits, then what is it about? What do you think the model predicts? The input of the model is early onset vs late onset? And the output is, if not differences in temperament or libido, then ... attraction to men vs women? I think there are very different CEOs for very different companies. Object level: if I were to be a founder, I'd want to get better at leading, inspiring, listening to people; but I'd be very strong at product and visual design (culturally fem coded???) and pretty good at building the thing (culturally male coded?). But like there is this whole concept of a "technical founder" and a lot of those shape rotators are successful. (is product even a fem thing? if product is about understanding users, then it's about people, but if being a PM is about working with metrics than it's about math. idk maybe accomplishing hard things in the real world requires getting good at everything.) what list of trans executives are you looking at? google is failing me and off the top of my head is just the lady that made SiriusXM (satellite radio for cars) and is trying to make a robot replica of her wife.
3tailcalled8mo
One phrasing I like replacing Blanchardianism or HSTS/AGPTS with because it is more pragmatic and transparent with regards to how the typology is actually used and what it predicts is pragmatic/disruptive transsexuality. The idea being that in each context, there are some ways one can be that are more practical and some that are more disruptive, and it turns out most of these correlate with each other. Some contexts in which one can be unpragmatic: 1. Family: a) one's long-term partner may lose attraction, leading to breakup, and potentially also divorce, b) if one has children, they'll have to adjust to the divorce and to the trans parent's new presentation, c) transition can cost a lot of money that could otherwise have been spent on the family 2. People who knew them before transition: a) it can be a big, surprising change in appearance and behavior, b) it can interfere with reminiscing about how the trans woman was like prior to transitioning 3. Clinicians: a) it may be hard to grasp the motivations of trans women, b) trans women may enter a bunch of difficult situations due to their transition, and it may be hard to give them ideas for how to handle it 4. Peripheral: a) trans women may fail to aesthetically pass as female, making them stick out 5. Women: a) trans women may ask to enter women's private spaces like bathrooms which could be seen as protecting them against sexual assault, even though trans women may not have a lower sexual violence propensity than cis men, b) trans women may fail to appreciate the extent to which women are constrained by relationships with men and reproduction, due to not having the same constraints 6. Ideology: a) trans women may adopt radical positions as to how gender should work, b) people may try to infer aspects of how gender and sexuality works from trans women, even in cases where it won't generalize 7. LGB people: a) trans women may have undesirable impacts on the culture of LGB groups, as e.g. maybe some of them
5Sinclair Chen8mo
Perhaps uncharitable, but I'm rounding off your position to "society treats young transitioners vs old transitioners differently - and this influences their culture. There isn't a bio effect except insofar that transitioning late makes a trans woman gayer, have more masculine physical traits, and is less life timing convenient; and all those things influence how society sees and treats her." Not unsimilar to the "typology" between bears and twinks; or among lesbians in asia, toms and dees; in that they are complicated, mostly cultural phenomena.
4tailcalled8mo
I think the causality goes the other direction, with the difference in sexual orientation being present from birth. I also think some psychological traits are innately feminized in HSTSs compared to AGPTSs, just not assertiveness or libido. But at least including the traits where gay men are generally feminine compared to straight men.
7orellanin8mo
That's interesting, I'd like to understand what you mean by them being wrong. Have you tried to give cis girls the information you think they're lacking, or to talk about this explicitly with them? How do they react? If they're wrong to be comfortable around you and do it anyways, what kinds of harms are they incurring?
7Sinclair Chen8mo
An example that comes to mind is that a few years ago, my friend (17F) was riding with me (23) on the subway from Berkeley back to San Francisco late at night, and she asked if she could stay over at my place instead of getting off at her stop so she didn't have to walk half an hour alone in the middle of the night back to her place. This struck me as a profound misunderstanding of base rates of assault by strangers, and an underestimate of the relative danger of some "some person in the rationalist community who you have seen at like 3 meetups." Look I want people to trust me. But if I don't earn that trust it feels like they're being naiive, or devaluing my sexualness or cleverness or agency or something. I know it's strictly good for me for people to think I am good and I really shouldn't complain about it.
3Quinn8mo
I think what's being gestured at is that Sinclair may or may not have been referring to 1. the base rate of this being a bad idea 2. the base rate of this bad idea conditioning on genders xyz An example of the variety of ways of thinking about this: Many women (often cis) I've talked to, among those who have standing distrust or bad priors on cis men, are very liberal about extending woman-level trust to trans women. That doesn't mean they're maximally trusting, just that they're not more trusting of a cis woman they've seen at like three meetups than they are of a trans woman they've seen at like three meetups. But really one and two are quite different sorts of claims, that I don't think people agree about how the conditioning changes the game. However, I get the sense (not from this comment, but combining it with upstream Sinclair comments) that Sinclair thinks the person would be making less of a mistake if she had asked the same couchsurf favor of a cis woman.
1Sinclair Chen8mo
I don't think that cis women are harmless either. On one hand, women that are abusers tend to be more manipulative and isolating wheras men that are abusers tend to be more physical.  And mayyybe that's a neurotype thing that correlates with bio sex rather than hormonal gender or a cultural thing that is a product of gendered upbringing rather than gendered adult life.  And mayyybe that meaningfully affects in what scenarios one ought to be wary of cis women vs trans women. Feels a bit like an irresponsible speculation though. Not putting forth a strong argument here, just clarifying my position.
-12Benquo7mo
-33Benquo8mo
4Sinclair Chen8mo
Thinking about it a bit more, I have a more direct answer: The info cis girls lack is that I am highly sexual, into girls, and am formerly a guy. A tasteful, tactful, and succinct way to provide this information is to dress in a way that is stereotypically slutty, lesbian, and trans. I follow this aesthetic to some degree already. If I really cared I could just follow it more.

My guess based on the information available is the woman in your example made the right call mathematically, but you're plausibly pointing to something real in how the way cis women treated you changed after gender transition. I'm really curious to hear more about that, without necessarily buying into your risk analysis about this situation in particular. 

7Sinclair Chen7mo
before I transitioned, women were more likely to cross the street if i walk behind them, more likely to be cagey if I ask to hang out, less cordial overall in conversation, spoke in lower pitch. the last one is probably mimicry, and some confounders are that i was depressed at the time and semi-religious university was a very different environment than SF bay rationalists
1orellanin8mo
I'm not convinced that clothes are an unambiguous signal, and just saying so might be clearer. That said, once you send this signal to cis girls, do they change their behavior? If not, I doubt this is important info that they were actually lacking.
1Sinclair Chen7mo
no, but it is a faster signal, and idk it feels like the right "type" of message, being a vibes based thing that does not require conscious discussion or deliberation. attention is a valuable resource! I have ever discussed weird gender thoughts with my friends, some of whom are cis women. I think people in college treated me differently for looking queer and people in my adult life in berkeley / SF don't. hard to tell tho

FYI all the links to images hosted on your blog are broken in the LW version.

4Zack_M_Davis8mo
Thanks; it should be fixed now.

I read some of your previous posts on this topic, and this was by far the clearest one. I finally know what your position is![1] And I think it's correct. Thanks for spending the time and effort to argue for the truth, even in a hostile environment. I think it's an important question that due to being politicized has become very hard to think about.

Also, though it was very long, I liked learning about your story and found it enjoyable to read.

Of course, this is a niche topic—if you're not a male with this psychological condition, or a woman who doesn'

... (read more)

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

What is being claimed that this is evidence for? That these MtF transitions are "essential" or "primarily" a fetish, and not an brain-inter... (read more)

Thanks for this post, Zack. I am a 50 year old Indian-American AGP man who grew up in India and then moved to the US for graduate studies. Coming across Blanchard's work saved my life twenty years ago.

Sometimes I feel guilty about not doing enough to defend Blanchard's model and fight the gender-identity / transition activism. But other obsessions took precedence -- namely, computer science, poker and stock markets. Very typical feminine interests. LOL.

A couple of ideas I have thought much about but have not seen discussed enough.

First, is there a strong c... (read more)

5FeepingCreature7mo
As a subby "bi"/"gay" (het as f) AGP, I would also love to know this. Also, I think there's some bias toward subbiness in the community? That's the stereotype anyway, though I don't have a cite. Anyway, being so, not finding a dommy/toppy AGP might not provide as much evidence as you'd expect.

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

... (read more)

Applied to populations with recent hunter-gatherer ancestry...

This is incredibly dumb. Like, succinctly sums up why I don't take Curtis here seriously. First, agriculture popped up in many places almost simultaneously, so the only large area that has been mostly hunter gatherer until recently is Australia, and the population there came from boat builders. (Interestingly the population of Madagascar was settled by boat, from Polynesia, not from Africa.) Second, remaining hunter gatherer populations are small, and were incredibly ravaged by disease in the... (read more)

7Said Achmiz7mo
I think you’ve quite thoroughly misunderstood the significance of that line. It’s indicative, not explanatory. This is a really bizarre model, which seems to me to dramatically reduce one’s ability to understand how corporations work and what goes on within them. It’s much, much weirder than thinking of a corporation as a monarchy. The relationship of a CEO to his subordinates, and the nature and form of his authority over them, are defined in rules and formal structures—which is true of a king but false of a hunter-gatherer band leader. The President, likewise.
2FeepingCreature7mo
Eh. This is true in extremis, but the everyday interaction that structures how decisions actually get made, can be very different. The formal structure primarily defines what sorts of interactions the state will enforce for you. But if you have to get the state to enforce interactions within your company, things have gone very far off track. The social praxis in everyday CEO life may genuinely be closer to a pack leader - particularly if they want their company to actually be effective.
5Said Achmiz7mo
That’s no less true of a king.
2FeepingCreature7mo
Granted! I'd say it's a matter of degrees, and of who exactly you need to convince. Maybe there's no point in considering these separate modes of interaction at all.
1wassname7mo
Most sources say they came to Australia via land bridge. You may be thinking of Polynesians, which are another group.

Autogynephylia and being transgender are two distinct phenomena, the latter being caused by the brain of the opposite gender.

Experiencing the former doesn't mean the latter is also secretly the former.

How does one tell if they "are trans" and/or have a brain of the opposite gender? I've been medically reassigned to female and I still don't know if I'm trans.

8jessicata8mo
This is not just an idiosyncracy on my part, btw. Here's a trans activist saying there is no underlying essential authenticity to anything about gender. Judith Butler says gender identity is a social construct used to enforce compulsory heterosexuality. There was a big Tumblr war between "truscum" (who believe in real transsexualism as an exclusive category) and "tucute" (who don't). Etc etc.
6Slimepriestess8mo
Upvoted and agreed, but I do wanna go a bit deeper and add some nuance to this. I read too much GEB and now you all have to deal with it. Gender systems as social constructs is a very basic idea from sociology that basically no one finds really that contentious at this point hopefully. What's more contentious is whether or not you can "really" pull back the social fabric and get at anything other than yet another layer of social fabric, I think you can but most attempts to do so, do so in a way that ignores power structures, trauma, inequality, or even really free will. "What you will choose to eat for dinner is a product of your neurotype" sort of thinking, which ultimately restricts your behavior in ways that are unhelpful to the free exertion of agency. Blanchardian sexology is a fundamentally behaviorist model, and leaves no room for an actual agent that makes choices. It's epistemic masochism and it leaves one highly exposed to invasive motive misattribution and drive-by conceptual gaslighting. Like, as far as I'm concerned, I'm trans because I chose to be, because being the way I am seemed like a better and happier life to have than the alternative. Now sure, you could ask, "yeah but why did I think that? Why was I the kind of agent that would make that kind of choice? Why did I decide to believe that?" Well, because I decided to be the kind of agent that could decide what kind of agent I was. "Alright octavia but come on this can't just recurse forever, there has to be an actual cause in biology" does there really? What's that thing Eliezer says about looking for morality from the universe written on a rock? If a brain scan said I "wasn't really trans" I would just say it was wrong, because I choose what I am, not some external force. Morphological freedom without metaphysical freedom of will is pointless.

Broadly, I agree that it's hard not to assume something like metaphysical free will when doing decision theory. This is awkward given current metaphysics of science, but maybe the constructor theory people will figure out how to make it work.

It seems to me that repressed drives obviously exist. Everyone exists under coercion of one form or another and has to hide things that they want, sometimes from consciousness. I'm sure you've already read False Faces.

The main problem with repressed drive theory is that, given that they're repressed, you only get a low-resolution picture of the drives. It doesn't make sense to say that what someone Really Wants is (x). Actually, what they really want is complex and obscure, and (x) is a high-level summary of a major component of what they want that is hidden.

The proper use of repressed drive theories including Blanchardianism is to arbitrage on people's stories about what they want to find places where an outside observer's story could better predict what they do than their own story can. But an arb opportunity isn't a full world model! It isn't some kind of Ultimate Truth, it's a directional update. Of course there are motivations for mtf tran... (read more)

I mean I think you sort of hit the nail on the head without realizing it: gender identity is performative. It's made of words and language and left brain narrative and logical structures. Really, I think the whole point of identity is communicable legibility, both with yourself and with others. It's the cluster of nodes in your mental neural network that most tightly correspond with your concept of yourself, based on how you see yourself reflected in the world around you.

But all of that is just words and language, it's all describing what you feel, it's not the actual felt senses, just the labels for them. When someone says "I feel like I'm really a woman" that's all felt sense stuff which is likely to be complicated and multidimensional, and the collapse of that high dimensional feeling into a low dimension phrase makes it hard to know exactly what they're feeling beyond that it roughly circles their concept of womanhood. 

Similarly I think, the Blanchardian model also does a similar dimensional collapse, but it's doing on a second dimensional collapse over the the claim that they feel like they're really a woman, into something purely sexual. I don't think the sexology model ... (read more)

Like, as far as I'm concerned, I'm trans because I chose to be, because being the way I am seemed like a better and happier life to have than the alternative. Now sure, you could ask, "yeah but why did I think that? Why was I the kind of agent that would make that kind of choice? Why did I decide to believe that?"

Yes, this a non-confused question with a real answer.

Well, because I decided to be the kind of agent that could decide what kind of agent I was. "Alright octavia but come on this can't just recurse forever, there has to be an actual cause in biology" does there really?

In a literal/trivial sense, all human actions have a direct cause in the biology of the human brain and body. But you are probably using "biology" in a way that refers to "coarse" biological causes like hormone levels in utero, rather than individual connections between neurons, as well as excluding social causes. In that case, it's at least logically possible that the answer to this question is no. It seems extremely unlikely that coarse biological factors play no role in determining whether someone is trans (I expect coarse biological factors to be at least somewhat involved in determining the varian... (read more)

3Said Achmiz7mo
I agree completely with the entirety of your comment, which makes some excellent points… with one exception: It has never seemed to me that Eliezer successfully solved (and/or dissolved) the question of free will. As far as I can tell, the free will sequence skips over most of the actually difficult problems, and the post you link is one of the worst offenders in that regard.
5Zack_M_Davis7mo
What do you see as the actually difficult problems?

The actually difficult problem that’s specific to the question of free will is “how is the state space generated” (i.e., where do all these graph nodes come from in the first place, that our algorithm is searching through?).

The other actually difficult problem, which is not specific to the question of free will but applies also (and first) to Eliezer’s “dissolving” of problems like “How An Algorithm Feels From Inside”, is “why exactly should this algorithm feel like anything from the inside? why, indeed, should anything feel like anything from the inside?” Without an answer to this question (which Eliezer never gives and, as far as I can recall, never even seriously acknowledges), all of these supposed “solutions”… aren’t.

4Zack_M_Davis7mo
I'm inclined to give Yudkowsky credit for solving the "in scope" problems, and to defer the difficult problems you identify as "out of scope". For free will, the question Yudkowsky is trying to address is, "What could it possibly mean to make decisions in a deterministic universe?" I think the relevant philosophical question being posed here is addressed by contemplating a chess engine as a toy model. The program searches the game tree in order to output the best move. It can't know which move is best in advance of performing the search, and the search algorithm treats all legal moves as "possible", even though the program is deterministic and will only end up outputting one of them. In the case of human free will, it's true that we don't have a "game tree" written out the way the rules of chess specify the game tree for a chess engine, but figuring that out seems like "merely" an enormously difficult empirical cognitive science problem, rather than the elementary philosophical confusion being addressed by the blog posts. I feel like I "could" lift my arm, because if my brain computed the intent to lift my arm, it could output the appropriate nerve signals to make it happen, but I can't know whether I will lift my arm in advance of computing the decision to do so, and the decision treats both the lift and not-lift outcomes as "possible", even though the universe is deterministic and I'm only going to end up doing one of them. The "how the algorithm feels" methodology is doing work (identifying the role could-ness plays in the "map" of choosing a chess move or lifting my arm, without presupposing fundamental could-ness in the "territory"), even if it doesn't itself solve the hard problem of why algorithms have feelings.
4Said Achmiz7mo
I don’t dispute that both the “search algorithm” idea and the “algorithm that implements this cognitive functionality” idea are valuable, and cut through some parts of the confusions related to free will and consciousness respectively. But the things I mention are hardly “out of scope”, if without them, the puzzles remains (as indeed they do, IMO). In any case, claiming that the questions of either free will or consciousness have been “solved” by these explanations is simply false, and that’s what I was objecting to. This is the sort of claim that it’s premature to make prior to having even a rough functional sketch of the solution. Something might look like ‘“merely” an enormously difficult empirical cognitive science problem’, until you try to solve it, and realize that you’re still confused.

"Alright octavia but come on this can't just recurse forever, there has to be an actual cause in biology" does there really?

Yes! There does! The "you" that chooses is a structure within the physical universe. A purportedly scientific explanation that contradicts the facts should be discarded, of course—just because someone performed a measurement they call a "brain scan", doesn't mean that the alleged scan means what they say it means—but there's no good reason to invent a generalized skepticism of there being a real answer. (Bad reasons include being afraid of the real answer and being afraid that legitimizing the idea of there being a real answer will empower the forces of oppression.)

8tailcalled8mo
I think this raises the question of what it even means to have a biological explanation (or explanation on any other specific level of abstraction), rather than a psychological one. In a literal sense, it's true that any human trait must be explainable biologically. Even something like preferring Star Wars to Star Trek: If you had a 100% accurate model of the biology of a human, you could load up that model with a scan, play a simulated version of both series, and look for simulated signs of approval. But it feels a bit brute-forcey, doesn't it? Like not a real explanation? One idea I've had is that an explanation on a specified level of abstraction should be in terms of simple features of the abstraction. Such as linear and low-order polynomial functions, rather than crazily deeply run complex simulations. This has practical utility, in that very shallow functions are much easier to work with, and it also captures the notion that reductionism can bring you to an inappropriate level of abstraction if you are working with information that is nonlinearly encoded into an underlying substrate. For an example of how to apply this, imagine that you were trying to explain a bug in some code as a program is running. Technically this is reducible to an electronic level of abstraction, but the memory locations the program uses will be unpredictable based on the allocators involved, so attempts at actually explaining it electronically would require strange nonlinear features whose many job is to extract the computational abstractions. It wouldn't actually be an electronic rather than computational explanation. On the other hand, if e.g. a powerful cosmic ray entered the computer and broke it, then you would have a much more straightforward electronic explanation, and more ad-hoc computational explanation. In terms of transness, a simple biological MIGI explanation could be something like "this hormone interacting with this cell starts a developmental cascade for gender id
0Slimepriestess8mo
I'm saying that the "cause in biology" is that I have evolutionarily granted have free will and generalized recursively aware intelligence, I'm capable of making choices after consciously considering my options. Consciousness is physical, it is an actual part of reality that has real push-pull causal power on the external universe. Believing otherwise would be epiphenomenalist. The experience of phenomenal consciousness that people have, and their ability to make choices within that experience, cannot be illusory or a byproduct of some deeper "real" computation, it is the computation, via anthropics it's a logical necessity. You can't strip out someone's phenomenal experience to get at the "real" computation, if they're being honest and reporting their feelings accurately, that is the computation, and I don't think there are going to be neat and tidy biological correlates to...well most of the things sexology tries to put into biologically innate categories based on the interpretation of statistical data, because they're doing everything from an extremely sex-essentialist frame of motivated reasoning, starting from poorly framed presuppositions as axioms.
3tailcalled8mo
Not sure how I feel about the rest of your comment, but this is a critically important and central point regardless.
-15green_leaf8mo

I find the neurological studies confusing:

Often they have a small sample size, and there are a lot of brain regions to compare, so I feel like they might be massively p-hacked/publication-biased. This is further compounded by the issue that you have to deal with androphilic vs gynephilic and HRT vs pre-HRT trans women.

I also find them hard to read, including the justifications and methods they use. This might partly be due to me not being sufficiently familiar with neuroscience, but I don't trust them enough to accept this as the explanation.

Also I'm pretty sure "caused by the brain of the opposite gender" is literally wrong/exaggeration. Multivariate studies find that pre-HRT, trans women's brain's overall neurological features match those of males better than those of females. (But this includes "boring" features into consideration e.g. brain size, and also is probably missing some interesting features.)

Some examples:

(I think there were 2 more but I am too lazy to dig them up.)

[+][comment deleted]8mo32
[+][comment deleted]8mo-15-11