Transsexuals and otherkin

by lucidfox1 min read15th Jul 2011115 comments

14

Personal Blog

After reflecting on the "Gender Identity and Rationality" post, there is something that continues to bug me, a shred of doubt burning through my brain.

What is it about gender identity that separates it from fringe subcultures like otherkin, soulbonders, and whatever else? Why is one considered socially acceptable (however grudgingly and however rocky history the recognition has), and the other isn't? Is such a distinction justified in the first place?

What's so substantially different between "I'm really another gender on the inside" and "I'm really another species on the inside"? Muddling the waters is the fact that I know some transsexuals who also are or used to be otherkin.

I have seen two different points of view on this subject:

1. Well, who are we to claim that otherkin are wrong? Perhaps their condition deserves legitimate recognition and sympathy.

2. The difference is between identifying with something that verifiably exists (and exists within the psychological unity of humankind), and identifying with a species that is either non-sapient (and thus unable to be targeted by human empathy to the same extent that humans are), or flat-out doesn't exist (dragons, fae, and other fantasy creatures).

While I'm myself leaning towards the second point of view, I find the argument rather weak. It implies that in a hypothetical setting with multiple intelligent species, "species identity" may be a socially valid characteristic, and a human citizen of the Federation claiming to be mentally a Klingon would be worth paying attention to. And I find that... counterintuitive.

Thoughts?

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This is a surprisingly interesting question that I will probably now fail to do justice to.

If one of my male work colleagues expressed a desire to be a woman, and went through the process of trying to authentically look and behave like one, it would be weird, but it wouldn't be unprecedented. I have other work colleagues who are female. They communicate, socialise and locomote in essentially the same fashion. In the grand scheme of things it wouldn't be that much of a difference. Society would not collapse if every Steve became a Stacey and every Stacey became a Steve.

If one of my work colleagues expressed a desire to be a zebra, and went through the process of trying to authentically look and behave like one, that would be a problem. My workplace makes no accomodation for zebras. They'd have trouble with both the stairs and the lift. They couldn't read the employee handbook. They don't have knowledge of technical infrastructure, and even if they did, they lack the faculties for me to ask them to help me fix a server.

Zebras are not people. We can't collaborate with them as entities of legally equal status for mutual benefit. We don't even collaborate with them as entities... (read more)

7Vaniver10yConsider other examples: a furry who wants to be a human/tiger hybrid, rather than an actual wolf, a dragon otherkin, and an elf otherkin. All of those are things that could be a part of society, but aren't yet. If one of your co-workers comes to work wearing their dragon mask [http://www.clockworkcreature.com/gallery_images/sun_dragon.jpg] and a business suit, lives in a basement apartment and sleeps on their collection of coins, will society collapse? If one of your co-workers begins modifying their body to become a human-tiger hybrid [http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=zlFAU9iBQ10], will society collapse? If one of your co-workers insists that you share in their belief that they have elven heritage, rather than being from Spokane, will society collapse? I think that there will be a lot of obstacles to full acceptance of those, primarily because people are primarily wired to understand human faces, and also resist status ploys. Fursuits can be expressive, but not that expressive. Modifying the structure of your face to be less like the human average typically makes you look uglier (though there are a number of modifications that can make it cuter while moving away from the human average). If someone wants to be treated like elves or dragons are in mythological settings, while possessing none of the traits that made elves or dragons treated that way, that's a recipe for being mocked.
2Emile10yI was about to reply exactly that, thank you for phrasing it in a better way than I would have.
1knb10yI think this is exactly right. To extend it a little, I think there is a plausible biological explanation for why someone with male genitalia would have a feminine mind. Some women have high testosterone levels and some men have low testosterone levels, those things exist on a continuum so we should expect some outliers who genuinely feel like they should be the other sex. It also seems rather obvious that many transgender people (at least male to female) are actually fetishists who find feminization sexy. Basically, this should be considered an extreme form of transvestism rather than actual transsexualism. For example, a pretty high percentage of male to female transsexuals identify as "lesbian", compared to ~2% of women. To me this seems more like a particularly strong form of a fairly common fetish rather than a genuine "wrong body" situation.
3MixedNuts10yMaybe it's just that another trait, like having-a-weird-brain or accepting-queerness, causes both transitioning and identifying as lesbian. How would one even generate the fetish hypothesis in the first place, without an history of psychanalysts attributing every quirk to sexual perversion?
  1. I'm not making a value judgment, when I describe some (not all) forms of transsexualism as a fetish.
  2. "Having-a-weird-brain" isn't an explanation. Obviously. It merely restates the question. "Accepting-queerness" isn't an explanation either, unless you think 20% to 70% of women are secret lesbians.
    Estimates for the percentage of male to female transsexuals who are attracted exclusively to women range from as low as 20% to as high as 70%. That isn't something that can be explained away. If all male to female transsexuals were genuinely "women in a man's body", the percentage would be closer to the ~2% of women who call themselves lesbian. So, at minimum, attraction to women is an order of magnitude higher than the generic hypothesis (trapped in a man's body) would predict.

How would one even generate the fetish hypothesis in the first place, without an history of psychanalysts (sic) attributing every quirk to sexual perversion?

I never heard a psychologist attribute transsexualism to perversion. I'm aware that they used to consider it a mental disorder, years ago, but that is unrelated to why I came to believe in a different explanation.

Dan Savage... (read more)

5MixedNuts10yI meant that there's a global brain-weirdness trait that causes deviations from the norm in more than one way. So a transwoman's attraction to women may well be caused by the normal-sexuality module (which causes both cisness and heterosexuality) breaking down, rather than by her heterosexuality module working correctly. It used to be the standard explanation, which I conjecture came from psychoanalysis's bad habit to say "sexual perversion!" to just about everything. Young male-liking transwomen were classified as gay men, and old female-liking transwomen were classified as autogynephilic men. Seriously though, you independently generated the autogynephilia hypothesis? If you did, that's pretty strong evidence for it. I agree there's a gap between young-transition and old-transition women, though I've seen Dan Savage spout some serious bullshit before so maybe we're seeing a pattern that isn't there. A single-cluster explanation is that if you're a transwoman who likes men, you have to accept you're queer in the first place (a bi or gay man). This makes it easier to accept you're trans. Whereas if you're a lesbian (or asexual?) transwoman, you have to accept both transsexuality and homosexuality at once, which takes longer. If there are multiple clusters, I would expect them to be similar among MTFs and FTMs, because of the other similarities (e.g. number of transpeople in each). Is there any evidence of autoandrophilia? Also, while there seems to be evidence for the multiple-cluster hypothesis, what makes you think that old straight transwomen are motivated by a sexual fetish?
4knb10yIt's consistent with my (admittedly anecdotal) observations as well. FTMs seem to be generally attracted to women. Savage also claimed that most FTMs are attracted to women. There also seems to be fewer FTM than MTF. This seems to support the view that most FTMs are male-minded and not fetishists.
0MixedNuts10yOkay, but why a fetish?
-3NancyLebovitz10ySociety might be able to figure a way out.

Why would it bother? It doesn't try and figure out a way to accept people who believe they're dead; it pathologises them as having a mental illness, because catering to their belief (by, say, manufacturing an environment which encourages them in thinking they're dead) is an expense that doesn't confer any societal benefits.

-3NancyLebovitz10ySometimes society changes when it's pushed hard enough. I don't think we have any idea what the proportion of otherkin is.
0sixes_and_sevens10yWhat kind of a scenario are you envisaging here? Because I'll confess I'm having trouble coming up with one.
6NancyLebovitz10yAs far as I can tell, transexuality got accepted (to the extent that it is) because enough people insisted on it. Is courtesy to otherkin really weirder than respect for religion?
8sixes_and_sevens10yI don't think we're talking about the same thing, here. When we have someone whose biological sex conflicts with the sex they feel they should be, we have the technology to superficially reassign their gender, and hopefully make them happier as a result. We can do something for them which helps them fit better into society. When we have someone whose biological species conflicts with the species they feel they should be, what do we do for them? How do we make them fit better into society? In the absence of being able to transform them into zebras, and assuming we're not prepared to cater for them in some sort of giant safari playpen, we would probably pathologise it as a mental illness.

I think you and I are at the point of needing more information about how otherkin would like to be treated if they can't physically match their self-perceived identities.

2sixes_and_sevens10yAgreed :-)
[-][anonymous]10y 24

I have never before heard of "otherkin" or "soulbounders." There are dozens of comments here by people who apparently have, but I'm still inclined to think that my state of ignorance is more typical.

6Wei_Dai10yThese [http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Otherkin] pages [http://wiki.fandomwank.com/index.php/Soul_bond] seem to have the best explanations. And apparently it's spelled "soulbonders" not "soulbounders" (the misspelling causing some confusion when Google refused to serve up anything relevant).
3lucidfox10ySorry, my fault for misspelling it.
2handoflixue10yhttp://www.astraeasweb.net/plural/glossary.html#soulbond [http://www.astraeasweb.net/plural/glossary.html#soulbond] For a source that doesn't consider the idea mock-worthy. It's a fairly obscure term that comes from the Plurality / Multiple community. Once you've accepted the idea that you can have multiple personalities inside your head, this extends it to the idea of having some fictional character from another source as one of those personalities. (The otherkin link is Wikipedia, which seems neutral enough as sources go :))

To the extent that there are systematic neurological differences that account for transsexuality, there are physically plausible means whereby a more male brain could develop in a female body and vice versa (the fact that both sexes produce both estrogen and testosterone to varying degrees, and it may happen (I propose no specific mechanism) that someone's brain might develop with more influence from the one that doesn't match the one that's controlling the development of their physical sex characteristics, etc.). But there's no plausible way that a human brain, in its early stages of development, could end up entangled with the information necessary to make it somehow inherently (say) a pony mind, let alone a unicorn mind. Most of the people who claim otherwise seem to argue that point based on spiritual nonsense and not much else.

Though honestly, it's not like I'd have any problem with it if we had the technology to turn a human body into a unicorn body and some people chose to make use of that. I certainly couldn't agree that there's any meaningful sense in which a person's true neurological self could actually be inherently unicorn rather than human, but I don't really consider that a necessary justification for allowing someone to live in the body they're most comfortable with.

One possible view is that the entire notion of "X identity" is broken, and things like "gender" and "species" are simply not applicable to minds. Anyone who thinks they got a "female mind" are wrong, regardless of if their body are male or female, because such a thing dosn't exist.

Another thing one could argue for is that there are no qualitative differences, but that there are objective classifications based on statistical correlation between physical and mental traits. This seems to agree with your intuitions: In a Turing test you can probably distinguish females and males in which case most transsexuals hopefully come out as the gender they consider themselves do be, otherkin that are not brain damaged come out as humans on account on being able to read or type in the first place, and fae is inapplicable because you cant find any real fae to run the test with.

A third view is that identity is just a set of suggestively named tags a mind can apply to itself, and every mind if free to chose what it wants. By this view "goth", "plumber", "female", "gay", "brony", "ratioanlist" and &qu... (read more)

Do you have a theory of gender? I'd more or less thought that gender was something people made up, but this doesn't match well with transgender people who are desperately unhappy until they have a public gender which matches what they believe themselves to be.

At this point, I accept that I don't know what's going on with gender.

I don't see any special mystery here. Some people are also unhappy until they "find God". Other people earnestly believe that their arm is missing. Human brains can act in all sorts of ways! You could go LW-extreme and say that delusions are always bad (i.e. a man who thinks he's a woman isn't any better than a man who believes in god, no matter the emotional implications of either belief). Or you could apply the reasoning Yvain used in his "diseased thinking" post, and ask whether society is better off accepting this or that deviation from the mean, or trying to "cure" it.

The neurology involved in finding god is very real and useful and happiness-inducing. It is also completely independent of the actual existence of a god to be found. (It's actually better for people who try to find or have found god to become atheists. Once you know how god works, you can have more of it.)

Believing in the existence of god, or that your arm is missing, involve wrong beliefs. The ideal (possibly forbidden by brain bugs) resolutions are learning that god isn't a dude in the sky but a perfectly ordinary oxytocin-secreting circuit, and that your arm works and you can use it. I'm not seeing the analogy to gender and species. If told "The reason you go around saying you're trans is a bug in your brain similar to believing your arm is missing.", I expect most transpeople would be able to believe it, in the sense of exhibiting verbal behavior like "Yeah, I was wrong." rather than "No, actually it's my daughter's brain. The spirits spoke to me in my heart.". Yet they wouldn't stop being miserable.

-15lucidfox10y
7Armok_GoB10yGender is somehting people "made up". So is digital currency. Being made up does not make things less real. I'm not sure what you mean by "theory of gender", I tend to take everything on a case-by-case basis for each individual. Personally, I do not consider myself to have any gender identity and ashamedly admit to having a hard time empathizing with considering such issues to be important or relevant in either direction due to the concept seeming alien to me, but I see that lots of people do so so I try to do so despite having a hard time with it. For those situations where gender does matter, I tend to treat it not like a spectrum from male to female, or even some multidimensional space, but as a complex data structure where people get to put lists of arbitrary strings with conditionals into all the fields such as "what types of noun do you like to have * with?", "what pronoun would you like to be refereed to with?", "what types of accessories would you like to wear?", etc. If you want to be a typical macho male except on Mondays when you're a nerdy girl that must always be referred to with royal you, that's a perfectly valid gender identity. I'd come up with somehting a lot stranger but it could go on arbitrarily long so I wont bother. I think this resembles some kinds of postmodernism but I'm not sure and it's irrelevant anyway.
0MixedNuts10yYou aren't looking into the black box. It's good policy to say "Eh, people know best" and treating them as whatever they say they are. But how do I figure out what pronouns I want in the first place?
6Armok_GoB10yHow is that relevant? The actual answer is that I have a black box intuition that correlates with the black box in your head, neither of which are interesting enough to bother dissecting. It's classified as part of the English language. So yea, I'm just pragmatic and not very curious on this one.
7MixedNuts10yJamie comes up to you and says: "Hey, I know people have been calling me 'she', but I have this feeling of repugnance to it and I'm happy when they call me 'he'. I think I'd like to be called 'he', but I'm not sure - and maybe gender-neutral is better after all. It's not like I can try each for six months, because in this society saying you want your pronouns changed is hard, gets you stared at, called slurs, and possibly killed. Plus, women categorize me as one of them and men don't, and it takes a long time to change this subconscious classification, so you can't do that all the time. So what pronouns should I pick?" What do you tell Jamie? What if you are Jamie?
4Armok_GoB10y"Test it out for 6 months with those people who won't mind "flipfloping", such as me, your own inner monologue, your closest friends and family, etc. then if you like it you can do it openly for the rest of the world as well." I can't imagine being Jamie well, unless I also imagine considering females inferior and repugnant and frame it as an insult, at which point the mindset would be so different from me that the question is pointless. (Also, even imagining such a thing as a hypothetical sets of very unpleasant anti-bigotry fail-safes and alarms.)
1bbleeker10yOne of my husband's friends is a transsexual. I haven't actually talked a lot with her about it (because she didn't want to, being fed up with everyone wanting to talk about it all the time), but I gather that (with her at least, and with many if not most others) it's really just a question of body image. That is, it isn't a question of 'identity', it's just that they feel like their body is wrong, that they have parts that shouldn't be there and are missing parts that should. The right analogy isn't with 'otherkin' (I didn't even know those existed!), but with those people that feel like their arm or leg doesn't belong to them, and go to great lengths to have the 'extra' body part amputated.

The dangers of N=1 studies. I've met people for whom it was almost entirely a question of body image, and people for whom it was almost entirely a question of social perception - if they were exiled to a desert island forever, they would feel very little gender dysphoria, the problems start when people start saying "You're such a beautiful girl!" instead of "You're such a strong boy!".

Transpeople with that "I should have this disability" disorder confirm that the dysphoria induced by extra limbs or senses are similar to the dysphoria induced by having a wrongly sexed body, so you're right.

2[anonymous]10y.
3[anonymous]9yN.B. I may be mindkilled on some or all of this topic. Please salt liberally. You have just described the entirety of tumblr's "social justice" culture [http://mercurialmalcontent.tumblr.com/post/23725759163/my-problems-with-the-tumblr-social-justice-culture] (note: link is to a satire). The assumption there is that identifying as any label makes it automatically valid; doubly so if it's not a mainstream identity, triply so if it lets you claim you're not as well treated as normal cis white males with wealthy parents. As a result, you get people who misuse terms that actual groups use (i.e. "trigger", originally meant for PTSD flashback and/or epilepsy inducing content, has now been watered down through misuse into the much vaguer idea of "it squicks/disappoints/annoys me", rather than "it causes me serious physical/psychological harm"). And then there's things like transabled [http://transabled.org/] and the aforementioned otherkin/soulbond/etc. classifications, which... well, I honestly have no idea if they're jokes or a real thing sometimes. As a result, anyone who so much as misuses the terminology people choose for themselves (even if they were never told it existed) is dogpiled by insults about how one is bigoted, ableist, privileged, etc. [http://eshusplayground.tumblr.com/post/13884076253/my-problems-with-the-tumblr-social-justice-culture] . -------------------------------------------------------------------------------- As an example of how deep the rabbit hole goes, there's the attempt at an inclusive gender checkbox form [http://itspronouncedmetrosexual.com/2012/06/how-can-i-make-the-gender-question-on-an-application-form-more-inclusive/] , which... Apparently each of these checkboxes corresponds to a distinct gender identity with an actual community around it. Is this actually best for serving the interests of everyone who wants a "nonstandard" option on that list? I get that humans are diverse, but those are some pretty fine distinctions to ins
2lucidfox10yDistinguish based on what attributes, exactly? Can you suggest contents for such a test?
8Armok_GoB10yTake 1000 typical males, 1000 typical females, 1000 transexual males, 1000 transexual females, 1000 typical males tasked to pretend they are female and 1000 typical females tasked to pretend they are male. Then you let each of these talk anonymously over text chat with 100 randomly chosen of the others and assign probabilities of them being in each of these categories. Then you run statistics to determine the general ability to distinguish each of the categories from each of the others. I'd expect that {typical!male, trans!male, and troll!male} would be almost complexity distinguishable from {typical!female, trans!female, and troll!female}, that it often would be possible to distinguish typical!X from trans!X, but that trans!X are very rarely mistaken for troll!X... this matrix of possibilities is kinda huge so I wont bother filling it out more unless you specifically request it since you probably get my point by now.
1BlackHumor10yI suspect that you're vastly underestimating how similar people are. My guess is that people's guesses will be essentially random, except possibly for the trolls (because they're trying, and so will be portraying caricatures of the opposite sex instead of actual people). I know that I personally have never so far been able to tell men from women over a purely text channel without having been told explicitly, which I assume would be off limits. Though now I think of it that's not entirely true; I would guess from lesswrong demographics that you, Armok, are male. ('course, if you happened to be female that would prove my point nicely.)
2Desrtopa10yI have. There are text analyzers which give statistical likelihoods on the gender of the author of a given piece of writing. They generally give fairly wide confidence margins, but their algorithms are pretty simple and they don't apply a lot of heuristics that humans can use. Even the best gender analyzer can only guess with limited confidence, but a person's writing style offers considerably more than zero information about their gender.
1Armok_GoB10yIt wouldn't be off limits, and you're supposed to specifically be fishing for their gender and they're supposed to be cooperative except for the trolls.
1lucidfox10yIgnoring for a minute that such a test would be infeasible to realistically implement (good luck getting so many trans volunteers), it is loaded with cultural assumptions, a vague definition of "typical", and it ignores such issues as experience in the target gender role, skill in the language of the test, and culture-specific stereotypes and presuppositions.
3Armok_GoB10yPresumably all those things should be as randomized as possible.
6lucidfox10yThere is an expression in Russian net folklore: "average temperature per hospital". This is, in effect, what you'd be measuring here.
3orthonormal10yWell, no, you'd be measuring how people come across to other people, which is an important aspect of gender but far from the most important. Still, I'd find the results of such an experiment quite interesting and informative.
0Armok_GoB10yI' not sure what that means and Google isn't being helpful.

It means taking averages over such an extremely diverse sample that the results end up having no real meaning - like literal average temperature per hospital, which includes sampling over corpses in the morgue and severe fever sufferers. So if the average temperature hospital 1 turns out to be 0.1 degrees higher than in hospital 2, it tells us nothing about the relative distribution of patient traits in each hospital.

7Armok_GoB10yThat's your hypothesis over the results, not inherent in the testing procedure. If that is the case it would show up as a specific result not be mistake for somehting else. I'd say there being very clear trends is orders of magnitude more probable. The way I described the experiment means the raw data would be very rich, and you should be able to see very clear things like some people being better at distinguishing than others, people being better at distinguishing between people who are otherwise similar to their culture, some people being better at pretending than others, some of the "typicals" being a lot more or less typical than others, etc. There's lots of redundancy.
4SilasBarta10yThat expression would require less explanation if it were "average body temperature in a hospital".
0Kindly9ySomehow the Russian version is more suggestive of that, without explicitly saying "body temperature". Languages are funny that way.
-1Multiheaded10yLately, I've been feeling very sympathetic towards just such a view on identity. Given the human society's inherent unpleasant tendencies, some way of peacefully enforcing universal freedom of identity and tolerance of it would really turn things around. Ah, wouldn't it be nice if e.g. depressive alcoholic white males could just form a Gay Dwarf Fortress and live in a community that suited them perfectly, instead of harming themselves and others within the present society's narrow confines? :D But seriously, I like this idea.
0Armok_GoB10yYea, hehe.

People generally respect doctors. Medical intervention can lend legitimacy to a condition.

Cisspecies representatives of nonhuman creatures have not stepped forward to speak about what their internal experience is like such that humans claiming to really be those species on the inside may be shown not to be making shit up.

If they did, it would be an empirical question whether your human-shaped Klingon-minded person reported experiences relevantly similar to regular Klingons.

If transgender people were found to report experiences and emotions significantly different from those of people born in the gender they were trans-ing to, would that convince you that transgender people are "making shit up" and so do not deserve to be taken seriously?

6MixedNuts10yI'll bite the bullet and say it would convince me if the experiences and emotions were much closer to the gender they were transitioning from than to. What I do expect are experiences that are significantly different (general weirdness) and slanted toward assigned gender (education), but still firmly within the target gender's cluster. If a small subset of transpeople were found to report experiences and emotions significantly different from most transpeople's, and the similarity cluster went (cispeople of target gender + majority of trans people) versus minority of transpeople, then it would definitely convince me than this subgroup was making shit up. However, I still don't know what to do if I learn I'm deluded in this way.
9Emile10yIt may still be worth taking those "making shit up" seriously; among the possible social norms: A: people are treated as belonging to the gender that matches their visible hardware (the traditional default) B: people are treated as belonging to the gender they choose C: people are treated as belonging to the gender that best matches their internal experiences ... I see no reason to prefer C; A and B are simpler to enforce, and C doesn't even seem to lead to greater happiness than B. C may be result in more "authenticity" than B, but then A even more so. ... so I'm seconding Yvain: the question of "Which internal experience do they have?", even if interesting, doesn't tell us the answer to the original question. (Well, I'm extrapolating Yvain's position)
1MixedNuts10yOkay, time for me to ditch Postel's law because it's generating nonsence like if I get clustered with ciswomen then I can't be a man but if lucidfox gets clustered with cismen she's a woman anyway. Reasons for C > B: * People sometimes regret transitioning. If transitioning becomes easy (by removing stigma), this is less of a problem, but I don't think people can quickly and effortlessly shift categories (when someone comes out to me I have an adjustment period before I really think of them as ), and if there are physical modifications that's mostly irreversible. * For some reason I can't figure out well, the thought of learning I'm more like a woman than a man and transitioning anyway causes a Wrong reaction, Gendlin-style.
8Emile10yI agree - after writing my comment, reading the other bits of the thread made me think that "matches internal experience" probably correlates with "won't regret transition". It can be worth having norms that reduce the incidence of people making choices they'll regret later on. The best approach to the problem might be to look at the experiences of those that have transitioned, and see which factors predict a greater improvement in happiness - at least, that would seem more conclusive to me than reasoning about subjective experience and emotion being more or less like that of the destination gender (though as you say, that has it's importance too). (By the way, I'm not sure I see what Postel's law has to do with this - "whooosh", as they say)
1MixedNuts10yYou're brilliant. Bask in your elevated status. Criteria I use to say someone is trans (therefore brave and awesome to transition) or not (therefore deluded and stupid) are much stricter when applied to me.
4AdeleneDawner10yYou seem to have conflated two different questions here. The original question was about how people should be treated, not whether people should (be allowed to) transition. B seems like an obviously correct answer to the original question, to me.

But would it be a relevant question?

Suppose I believe myself to be a unicorn. This has two major parts: I have a self-image with several psychological characteristics; and I believe those characteristics to be unicorn-y.

Is there any reason to expect that discovering physical unicorns living in a forest somewhere might decrease our estimate of the validity of my self-image?

5Nornagest10yPresumably it wouldn't affect your estimate of the validity of your psychological characteristics, but it could quite easily affect your estimate of those traits' unicornosity. It seems reasonable for that to affect or even invalidate your unicorn-identity, even if it doesn't affect your model of how your mind works in any quantifiable way. But what I'd actually expect to find is more complicated than that: if unicorn-identity works like, say, political identity, it carries not only descriptive but normative components. If you conclusively break the mapping between unicorn-identity and actual unicorn behavior out in the wild, you haven't just invalidated a label; you've also wiped out a bunch of social motivations. I'd expect that to be rather upsetting, and I'm not at all sure how to parse out all the ethical implications.

I think we can all safely agree that humans who think they're staple maximizers are simply having delusions.

1SilasBarta10yRight. Likewise with humans who think they're paperclip maximizers, and blow "1000 USD" trying to prove it.
4Clippy10yNo, those humans are superintelligent and/or at a reflective equilibrium.
6NancyLebovitz10yIt may all be stuff that people are making up in any case. I believe I'm Jewish. I believe I'm American. These have personal and (especially for the second) political implications because people would generally agree with me about both. I'm not sure there's a huge qualitative difference between that sort of belief and believing that one is a unicorn.
7NancyLebovitz10yActually, there's a difference I didn't think of last night. I believe I'm Jewish and American because people kept telling me I am, and I wasn't immune. However, there are people who aren't Jewish who feel they are really Jewish, and convert.
3MixedNuts10yHuh. Now you mention it, it does feel eerily similar. I won't convert unless everything goes obscenely well, but I keep having to remind myself I'm a Gentile. It's evidence for my "what group do you want to affiliate with?" theory of the social part of gender dysphoria, which I'll post about soonish.
0[anonymous]10yThat sounds more like a whole theory of identity (and it's pretty much mine).
0AlexM10yThere are also people who feel they are Jewish [http://tinyurl.com/68tkp2f], but other Jews would probably disagree ...
1NancyLebovitz10ySee also Jews for Jesus [http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Jews_for_Jesus] who look a lot more like evangelical Christians, and Christian Identity [http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Christian_identity] who are apt to believe that they are descendents of the lost ten tribes who ended up in Britain, and that the other people who think they're Jewish aren't Jewish.

If I had to place bets I'd say being transsexual is much more like being otherkin than it is like being a member of the opposite sex who has a misshapen body. I'd also happily bet that being homosexual is much more like being into BDSM or the various fetishisms than being in possession of the mechanism of attraction a member of the opposite sex typically has for one's own sex. Why? Because extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence and "being a woman in a man's body" is an extraordinary claim without compelling evidence and the concept o... (read more)

7NancyLebovitz10yOne of the mysteries in all this is that sex roles are getting somewhat softened and blurred. How much would transexuality mean if the sex roles aren't there?
9Vaniver10yMy experience is that transsexuals have an uneasy existence in genderqueer communities because they tend to have a very solid, traditional gender identity that's just mismatched with their biological sex. And so when a theorist argues that gender is just a social construction that can mean whatever we want it to mean, the transsexuals all cough nervously. That is to say, enough of the sex roles is biological that I don't think whatever makes transsexuals dislike their bodies pre-transition will go away as social pressure to conform diminishes.
5NancyLebovitz10yTransvestism is usually framed as wanting to dress like a member of the other sex. However, there's no such thing as dressing like a woman or dressing like a man. There's only dressing like a particular time and place's idea of a man or a woman. I assume there's imprinting involved, but as I said, I don't think I understand gender. I'm not completely blind to what's considered normal in my culture, but when I think about it, I find evidence that there's something weird underneath. It's possible that, if there's imprinting involved, that's part of why none of the standard theories make sense. And I don't have an explanation why human societies (all of them, so far as I know) set up sex roles in such a way that there's something to imprint on.
6Vaniver10yTo make sure I'm understanding you correctly, do these predictions follow from your idea? * Male homosexuals will, like male heterosexuals, generally be strongly motivated by the appearance of their partner and will seek sex with many partners. * Female homosexuals will, like female heterosexuals, generally be strongly motivated by the personality and stability of their partner. Those seem generally accurate. My introspection (as a cis-gendered male homosexual) suggests that I'm interested in male mating patterns. I'm one of the 'straight men who have sex with men' but I know people who are essentially straight women happy with their male bodies. That suggests to me that MtF transsexuals are women who are unhappy with their male bodies. Is your claim that the primary difference between a MtF an a female-gendered gay is the body dysphoria [http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Body_dysmorphic_disorder], which is similar to Otherkin?
6drethelin10yYour point of view would be valid if there wasn't any evidence, but there's studies (http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/health/7456588.stm [http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/health/7456588.stm]) and studies ( http://www.usatoday.com/news/health/2005-05-09-homosexual-brains_x.htm [http://www.usatoday.com/news/health/2005-05-09-homosexual-brains_x.htm]) about actual documented neurological differences between sexual orientations, and those were just 2 I found in 2 google searches. furthermore "being a woman in a man's body" is obviously an actual extraordinary claim, but "I have the FEELING of being a woman in a man's body" is barely even an interesting claim in the range of psychological disorders.
3scientism10yI'm aware of the research but I don't find it compelling. There are, of course, neurological differences for all types of behaviour, regardless of origin (learned, unlearned, innate, etc). These studies tend to draw conclusions that don't follow from the data. For example, in the first study you link to there's no evidence for the claim that the difference is present at birth and in the second study they are, for some reason, claiming that neurological differences imply that something is not learned.
5roystgnr10y"some reason" is that even people who are otherwise not susceptible to supernatural beliefs often picture human volition as being composed of a material brain being "driven" like a car by a disembodied mind. So if you can't tell the difference between two brains making different decisions then it must be because those decisions came from the mind, and if you can tell the difference between those two brains then it must be because those decisions were mandated by the brain. As you say, every difference between human decisions is going to be due to some combination of random chance and preexisting physical differences, and it will merely be up to the quirks of human biology and the advancements of human biologists to determine which internal differences become diagnostically detectable when. So there may be many decades of public confusion ahead of us.
5RichardKennaway10yOne also sees the opposite, especially in rationalist, materialist circles, including LessWrong. Even people who are otherwise not susceptible to supernatural beliefs often picture human volition as being composed of a disembodied mind being "driven" like a car by a material brain. ETA: Correction: the view is more that the disembodied mind is being "driven" like a car passenger by the material brain.
0[anonymous]10yThe wording here is strange and overcomplicated, and I think you're stacking the deck. In common usage, a man is called homosexual if he is interested in taking men to bed and uninterested in taking women to bed. Why is that an extraordinary claim, and why would it require evidence beyond the say-so of the man in question?
8scientism10yI'm discussing the concept of a "sexual orientation", the mental model of which is a mechanism of attraction within individuals that can be either for the opposite sex or the same sex but is essentially the same thing, and juxtaposing it with what I believe to be the more accurate account that homosexuality falls on a continuum that includes various fetishisms. The problem is that political acceptance of homosexuality has become almost completely (and needlessly) aligned with a particular mental model of how homosexuality functions and it's therefore difficult to talk about it without sounding like you're on the wrong side of the politics. But essentially I'm saying that the mechanism underlying same-sex attraction is potentially not at all similar to the mechanism underlying opposite sex attraction.
7[anonymous]10yYou might be right that there are important differences between the attraction that a typical gay man feels for a man and the attraction that a typical straight man feels for a woman. Certainly there are important cultural differences. But the claim, from a man, "I feel about men the way most men feel about women" is far more innocuous than your contrary idea that he feels about men the way some men feel about feet, or rubber. Most gay men after all report feelings of romantic love for other men. A fetishist who claims his object or activity of erotic focus is something more than an entertaining sex fantasy is much more rare, or so I think. Also note that there is something obviously culturally contingent about many famous fetishes, while men who take men to bed have existed in thousands of cultural contexts across thousands of years. The scientific understanding of fetishism is even poorer than the scientific understanding of sexual orientation. By positing a "continuum of fetishism" you're already on dubious ground, whether or not we would go on to accept that homosexuality falls on that continuum.
7Pavitra10yBDSM is often spoken of by practitioners as being integral to their identity and to the emotional content of their romantic relationships.
3Eugine_Nier10yEric Raymond has a good discussion here [http://esr.ibiblio.org/?p=1063] of just how culturally contingent models of homosexuality are. He analyses four "types" of homosexual behavior: He goes on to say that for male homosexuality acceptance of the "romantic homosexuality" type is the exception, and by exception he means that
-1[anonymous]10y"Models" of heterosexuality are also culturally contingent. The essay is interesting but not altogether convincing. Socrates would not recognize pederasty as a category distinct from romantic homosexuality, as the author does.
3Eugine_Nier10yNot in the sense that Eric uses the term. In particular, he wouldn't consider consensual homosexual relations between people of comparable ages in any way normal.
3Vaniver10yYour wording was ambiguous.

Mostly, my way of dealing with these sorts of questions is to accept that category memberships exist in categorizing minds rather than in the things being categorized. Which means that when I ask whether Sam is a man or a woman or a male or a female or a dolphin or etc., I'm asking two questions:

  • What are my criteria for membership in the categories man, woman, male, female, dolphin, etc.?
  • How well does Sam match those criteria?

Of course, other people may have different criteria for membership in those categories. So the question arises of how we... (read more)

It's taken a lot of hard work to get to the point where homosexuality and transexuality (transexualism?) have been accepted at all, and transexuals especially are still at risk for being murdered.

I can think of two reasons why the political work has been done on sexual identity but not on species identity. One might be that people with marginalized sexual identities have more in common with each other than people with marginalized species identity have with each other, so organizing is easier for the former. The other is that various sexual identities aren... (read more)

What is it about gender identity that separates it from fringe subcultures like otherkin, soulbonders, and whatever else?

Transsexuals have found a way to integrate themselves to the point that they can "pass" as their chosen identity, and that pretty much forced society to deal with it, either by declaring them "fakes" or by accepting them. Otherkin don't seem to generally suffer nearly the same degree of dysphoria, and can't presently manage to "pass" as a dragon.

The idea that gender is intrinsically derived from sex is no... (read more)

Conjecture: identifying as a dragon is purely a matter of self-image, whereas identifying as a woman also carries an element of social role.

Our society already has established patterns for how women are treated, and a person who chooses to publicly identify as female is, in part, choosing to be treated in the way that society treats women.

On this analysis, a person who identifies as a cat in the sense of liking milk and saying mew would fall on the otherkin side of the line, but a person who wants to be treated as a domesticated pet would fall on the transsexual side of the line.

-1lucidfox10yChoosing to be treated the way society should treat women, if it puts sexist prejudices aside, or the way women have traditionally been treated? (And going in the other direction, FTMs might be interpreted by conservative men as an attack on their male privilege.)
3Pavitra10yI don't think that distinction is relevant to the point I was trying to make. I expect it would vary from person to person.

Here is a theory I have heard about the physical basis of transsexuality. I don't know if there is any evidence for it, but it does not sound impossible.

There are differences between the brains of men and women; there are differences between the bodies of men and women. These are physical differences, resulting from differences in the physical development process. (Thus far is uncontentious.) Transsexuality is what happens when the brain develops according to one gender and the body develops according to the other. This is what produces the experience that transexuals describe as being of the opposite gender to their body.

6RichardKennaway10ySome further references: "White matter microstructure in female to male transsexuals before cross-sex hormonal treatment. A diffusion tensor imaging study" [http://www.transexualia.org/SANIDAD/whitematterpsychiatrresearch.pdf] (Free.) "Our results show that the white matter microstructure pattern in untreated FtM transsexuals is closer to the pattern of subjects who share their gender identity (males) than those who share their biological sex (females). Our results provide evidence for an inherent difference in the brain structure of FtM transsexuals." "The microstructure of white matter in male to female transsexuals before cross-sex hormonal treatment. A DTI study." [http://portal.uned.es/pls/portal/docs/PAGE/UNED_MAIN/LAUNIVERSIDAD/UBICACIONES/02/DOCENTE/ANTONIO_GUILLAMON_FERNANDEZ/RAMETTI%20ET%20AL%202011B.PDF] (Free.) This is by the same authors as the previous paper. "Our results show that the white matter microstructure pattern in untreated MtF transsexuals falls halfway between the pattern of male and female controls. The nature of these differences suggests that some fasciculi do not complete the masculinization process in MtF transsexuals during brain development." This web page [http://www.mygenes.co.nz/transsexualBrain.htm] speculates (based on no evidence) that the causal relation is the opposite: that such differences result from transsexuals' preoccupation with being the opposite gender. Cf. the known differences in taxi drivers brains that may result from their years of navigation experience. The speculation leaves unexplained the origin of that preoccupation, and appears motivated by the author's theory (which is what that web site is for) that sexual orientation is plastic. Be all that as it may, there is a clear difference here between transsexuality and otherkin. The hypothesis in the last of these links, of voluntary (if unintended) self-modification, can apply to both. However, the involuntary developmental process suggested by the first
3MixedNuts10yHave we looked at whether those results on white matter structure discriminate male from female, and not female-liking from male-liking?
2RichardKennaway10yBoth studies used heterosexual controls. BTW, I found a legitimate free copy of the second paper and have updated the link.
5MixedNuts10yRight, so we don't know whether the straight transmen were sorted with the straight cismen rather than the straight ciswomen because they have a male brain, or because they have a female-liking brain. We need to add homosexual controls.
-3[anonymous]10yVoted up for shared intuitive theories. Edit: I'm curious to what I'm being downvoted here for. I realize my comment didn't add much to the discussion, but I simply wanted to express that my ideas were already generally here. Is it disapproval for that (to prevent a signal:noise ratio from being too small) or disapproval for something else?

As I understand it, transsexuals have genuine neurological differences from their "biological gender". Certain features of their brains are structured in ways usually present only in the opposite sex. In this sense, they really are another gender "on the inside".

That said, I personally would try to accommodate otherkin if they consider themselves "really" a species that can easily map to a lifestyle. For example, If an "elf" wants to get surgically-altered ears, live in a cottage in the woods, caring for plants or wh... (read more)

I would guess that otherkin will become more accepted in transhuman environments where their bodies can match their claims.

I would be much more accepting of someone with wings calling themselves an "angel" than a regular human, I think.

3wedrifid9ySure, but I'm totally going to call them 'harpy' if they ever insult me. :)
[+][anonymous]10y -6