Friday, May 26, 2017

Transgender Children: Autonomy and Personhood


The far majority of the population is cisgender, meaning they identify with the gender they were assigned a birth,[1] which is usually predicated by the esthetics of the infant’s genitalia. Transgender is defined as a person who has a gender identity and/or gender expression that is different than their assigned sex.[2]

First, there must be a solid understanding of the three components of gender. People tend to use the word sex and gender interchangeably and incorrectly. Biological sex or sex is referring to the biology, anatomy, and physiology of the human body. Many people view sex as a binary concept with two concrete options: female or male. Five reproductive functions quantify a person’s biological sex, which includes chromosomes, gonads, sex hormones, internal reproductive anatomy, and genitalia. Determining a person’s sex among these categories is not always as easy or binary as society would have us believe. A third biological sex, intersex, naturally exists in our human species. They do not fit into traditional female and male binary categories. Depending on how intersex is defined, roughly 1.7% of the world population intersex.[3]

The second component of gender is gender identity. Gender identity is a person’s inner sense of being male, female, a blend of both, or neither. A person’s gender identity may be in likeness or contrast to their assigned biological sex. Different cultures have different gender identities and labels. Some labels include: non-binary, gender queer, bigender, trigender, pangender, agender, transgender, two spirit, or gender free. Prior to gender development in adolescence, it is quite common for children to play and experiment in cross-gender roles and performances. Some girls play with trucks and prefer boy underwear, while some boys prefer dolls and dresses. Non-conforming gender behavior is not necessarily and indicator that the child is transgender. However, if a child is insistent, persistent, and consistent in their gender identity for a significant amount of time, the child might be trying to communicate they are simply not gender variant or non-conforming, but transgender.[4] If a three-year-old boy insists they are a girl and their responses don’t waiver over the course of a year or two, the child is likely transgender. Although it is important to note that gender, like biology, is not fixed or stagnant. Gender variances can also be subject to change over the course of a lifetime. This is called gender fluidity. Some gender specialists suggest that roughly 1 in 500 children is significantly gender variant or transgender.[5]

Children, as early as age two, begin to gender identify with a parent of their same sex and through observation begin to mimic behavior and activities of that gender.[6] These children may also notice cross-gender humor and find there are societal expectations on what is considered unacceptable and acceptable gender behavior.

Unfortunately, attitudes and perceptions about childhood and autonomy can inhibit recognition of a child’s genuine and authentic desires that may contrast with socially constructed ideas of normal gender identity, expressions, and behaviors. Children can easily be dismissed as confused and are considered unable to have the capacity to know what they really want. However, at what point is any person capable of knowing what they really want? It’s interesting to think that a transgender child who is able to recognize the social taboo of acting in opposition to societal expectations and thus conforms to those expectations, is also seen as incapable of knowing what they want. A child’s ability to recognize social and communal repercussions and then to act against their gender identity as a means of conforming to society is a rather sophisticated thought pattern. Yet, these same children are often dismissed as unable to know what they really want. Who else is better qualified to determine their gender identity than the individual? On the other hand, if a child does have an authentic gender identity that is contradictory to their biological sex, what is the extent of the child’s autonomy to alter their play, performance, appearance, style, or even their body?

A recent study examined 32 transgender children between the ages of 5 to 12 years-old in which research methods included self-reports and implicit measures of each child’s gender identity. “The results indicated that the children thought of themselves in terms of their preferred gender identity, not their biological sex. In addition, the pattern of responses of the transgender children were similar to the pattern of responses from children who accepted their biological sex as their gender identity.”[7] In other words, the children were aware of the gender role expectations and their biological sex, but their gender identity simply didn’t align with social expectations. They were not confused; they were very aware of the situation and still chose a contrasting gender identity. It may seem surprising that preschool-aged children are aware that they have a gender identity that is different than their biological sex, but this also indicates the child is capable of understanding their decision.

Gender dysphoria is often associated with transgender children. However, dysphoria is not confusion. Gender dysphoria is also not dysmorphia. According to the American Psychiatric Association, gender dysphoria is the inner conflict between a person’s physical or assigned gender and that individual’s gender identity.[8] Some people describe gender dysphoria as feeling like they were born into the wrong body. Gender dysphoria may often be accompanied by distress, anxiety, and depression, but when transgender persons also experience discrimination, victimization, or rejections from family, friends, and peers this puts them at a higher risk for suicide than the general population.[9]

The third component of gender is gender expression. Gender expression is usually the external appearance of one’s chosen gender identity. This is expressed through various mannerisms, behaviors, apparel, style, voice pitch, speech, and even the way a person stands. Gender expression is mostly predicated on socially constructed ideals of what constitutes as masculine and feminine. Many people express some sort of androgyny containing both masculine and feminine qualities. Gender performance is highly subjective and varies across cultures, geography, time, and belief systems. 

To be clear, some gender expressions come with more risk than others. Some expressions are easily adopted and rejected, fluid, and changing. A transgender girl may enjoy wearing make-up and dresses, even though she does not indicate any desire to have her body altered through gender conformation surgery. While make-up can be washed off at the end of the day, hormonal therapies and surgical alterations should not be treated as lightly. A child may insist they are transgender, but to have the child undergo gender conformation surgery prior to the age of consent, which is highly disputable, would likely be a disservice to the child. There in the problem lies, paternalism is in contradiction to autonomy and agency. One could argue that paternalism overrides a child’s desire to physically alter their body and may, in fact, be a way to maximize future autonomy. This is a gamble. The minor may or may not change their mind in the future about what they really want, yet the same could also be said concerning adults. There are no easy answers. This is also not to say that hormonal therapies and surgical alterations should not happen for anyone under the age of eighteen either, just that paternalism and child autonomy is a delicate balance between protection and oppression.

For example, Ruby Rose came out as a lesbian at age 12 and identifies as gender fluid. At an early age she started saving money for gender conformation surgery for when she turned 18, but eventually decided against it. Rose explained in an interview, “When I got to 15 was when I kind of decided to get more into my body, and I shaved my head, and my mom was just like, ‘I don’t know what’s going on right now, but if you are happy, then do it.’ I decided to change the way that I dressed and talked and realized that I didn’t want to transition, I just wanted to be more comfortable in my own skin.” Now that Rose is a 30-year-old woman she’s stated, “I’m a woman … I want to have babies one day, so I’m glad I didn’t make changes earlier in my life.”[10]

Some children may be adamant about bodily changes while others aren’t. Some children may change their minds while others don’t. Sometimes respecting autonomy means being willing to listen, observe, and respect a child’s desires to help guide them for long-term options, which may or may not include hormonal or surgical interventions.

Critics tend to conflict gender dysphoria with dysmorphia, or body dysmorphic disorder, despite them being two different concepts. Conflation is usually a tactic used to justify discrimination and marginalization of the transgender community. According to the Mayo Clinic, body dysmorphic disorder is considered a mental disorder in which a perceived defect or flaw in one’s body that is either minor or not observable to anyone else.[11] This definition is actually quite interesting, because millions of cisgender people who have undergone cosmetic, plastic, or reconstructive surgery could be considered to have body dysmorphic disorder, but for some reason it is the transgender population that gets incorrectly identified with body dysmorphic disorder.

An example of body dysmorphic disorder can offer additional insight into this topic. A 22-year-old man, Joe, believes that his perfectly normal right leg is grotesque and deformed to the point that he desires amputation. Medically speaking, there is nothing wrong with his leg that anyone else can observe other than his disdain for it. Psychiatric interventions fail to convince Joe his leg is normal. At face value, it may seem there isn’t a legal or ethical dilemma until Joe seeks out an orthopedic surgeon to amputate his leg. The man’s personhood is more than right leg, even if removed Joe would still be Joe, perhaps an even happier or more peaceful Joe. His identity does not reside in his right leg, nor does it reside at all. Identity is a process of existing that is composed of values and desires that cannot be limited to a singular body part, whether that is a leg or a penis. However, does Joe’s desires for amputation justify it? In this case, whoever Joe is, perhaps he would simply be better off without his leg. If Joe is an autonomous individual he can also give valid consent to have his leg removed of his own will and volition. However, even if Joe is not autonomous, perhaps it’s in his best interest to remove his leg anyway.[12]

Whose best interests are at stake anyway, if not the mental health and well-being of the individual? Does Joe know what’s best for Joe, even if it doesn’t conform to what others deem as best for Joe? Even if dysmorphia is comparable to gender dysphoria, does this necessarily indicate surgical intervention is wrong? Perhaps not. There are millions of people across the globe altering their bodies due to dysmorphic and dysphoric fixations to achieve specific esthetic standards, yet the far majority are not being diagnosed with body dysmorphic disorder. However, at what age can a child give meaningful consent to such a physically altering change, especially one that cannot be reversed? Children are prone to change their minds, but aren’t adult too? Perhaps there are less risky ways of having the child continue to express and experiment with their gender identity without risky and expensive physical changes. After all, children are developing and changing, biologically and cognitively speaking, faster than adults.

In their early years, young children usually experiment in gender cross-play, while still conforming to gender expectations. Social learning theory suggests children learn these behaviors from parents, peers, and media, mainly by environmental factors from a punishment and rewards social system. Parents may reward children from appropriate gender behavior and even punish children for what is considered by some as inappropriate gender behavior, like telling a boy, “Stop crying like a girl.” Other examples include research that suggests parents underestimate the physical capabilities of their daughter.[13] Everyday interactions can create strong and powerful messages about how a child is allowed to express themselves with a socialized gender construct. According to cognitive theorists, children between the ages of two and five form strict gender stereotypes base of observation.[14] A transgender child may feel the need to repress, hide, or reject their gender identity for fear of punishment. Conformity is not necessarily a sign of resolution, but likely a sign of emotional intelligence that identifies gender cross-expression as a taboo or bad behavior.

During school years, children, especially boys, tend to be treated harshly and are rejected by peers for not conforming to social standards of normal gender expressions.[15] “The classroom itself can also strongly reinforce gender stereotypes. Even though teachers believe they show equal attention to both boys and girls, research shows that teachers spend more time with boys, give them more attention, both praise and criticize boys more, direct more follow-up questions to boys, and tolerate more bad behavior from boys than girls.”[16] Teachers may also unintentionally stereotype boys and girls by tasks they are asked to perform, such as asking boys to help move desks and girls to tidy up the class room or clear the white board.

Gender socialization, intentional and unintentional, in early child development can cause a great deal of distress to transgender children who struggle to find a balance between an authentic gender expression and social isolation from their peers, teachers and parents. Violation of gender stereotypes can result in harm, violence, or even death. In fact, in 2008 a 15-year-old boy was shot to death at school by a peer who was uncomfortable with this boy’s gender identity and expression which included wearing women’s accessories, high heels, makeup, and clothing.[17]

Bathroom using is another area of distress on controversy. In February 2017, the Trump administration withdrew federal protections for transgender students. Last year, the Department of Education and Justice, under the Obama administration, issued guidance that schools receiving federal funding could not discriminate students on account of sex, including gender identity. Thus, students could use the bathroom that corresponded with their gender identity.[18] While civil rights groups praised federal involvement, questions have been raised about federal involvement now that the Trump administration has lifted the ban against gender discrimination.

Schools across the nation have adopted more inclusive bathroom policies. The American School Counselor Association, the National Association of Elementary School Principals, the National Association of School Psychologists, and the National Association of Secondary School Principals all support a positive school culture where the safety of all students is valued while implementing gender inclusive policies.[19] Children having a support system at school that allows them to use the bathroom consistent with their gender identity has become an important way schools are combating recent alarming statistics about transgender persons. Most recent statistics state that 75.1% of transgender students feel unsafe at school because of their gender expression, 63.4% of transgender students reported avoiding bathrooms, and 41% of transgender or gender non-conforming people have attempted suicide.[20] These startling statistics may be enough to motivate some people toward change, but not everyone. Questions remain.

What is the role of government? Is this simply a matter of policy? Is the issue at hand really about bathrooms and locker rooms, or is it about discrimination of personhood? Perhaps the real question at hand is do these children have the right to autonomy and not just autonomy over their body, but over their minds and identity? Does a child have the right to choose their gender identity? Does a child have the right to personhood? If so, to what extent do transgender children have rights over their minds and bodies?

Some may cite studies showing that gender roles and behaviors are innate and predicated upon biological sex, but even so, they are not universal. As discussed previously, determining a person’s biological sex if far more complicated than simply glancing at an infant’s genitalia. Even if gender roles are innate and predicated of biological sex factors, does that mean deviation from these gender roles is any less innate? If the biology of a human being determines a person’s gender, shouldn’t the same argument apply to transgender persons? Is their biology also not the product of being transgender?

There is also the dilemma of how to address the autonomy of children in self-disclosure, we also can’t ignore the very real harm and dangers that can inhibit a transgender child from a more authentic gender expression. According to the American Psychiatric Association, being Transgender is not a psychological disorder,[21] yet dogmas and stereotypes persist. This can make it difficult for trans children to recognize or come out to themselves.[22] Coming out as transgender can be an extremely difficult experience for a child. Children are often told by well-meaning adults “just be yourself” without recognizing the seriousness of the risks involved. Oddly, many transgender children comprehend the risks involved and that is exactly why they are experiencing depression or anxiety. It is because they are aware that these feelings persist. This issue of self-disclosure and peer-disclosure can be quite complicated for a child and can be even more complicated for a child whose parents practice heavy paternalism. If a child prefers privacy, but the parent does not, the child may be even less likely to disclose their identity to their parent. If the child does not have control over whom to disclose, the safest solution then is to remain private about their gender identity. This also requires a quite sophisticated line of thought that indicates a child is not confused, but aware. Conversely, if privacy is emphasized by the parent, the child may develop feelings that their identity is something to be ashamed of.[23] Children must be in control over whom and when they disclose private information about their mind and bodies or else there will be little chance in developing an authentic relationship with the child.

In closing, transgender children don’t solely need protections, but they also need trust, autonomy, and responsibility. As the transition process progresses, transgender children need to be in an environment where their agency is respected and autonomy honored. Transitions for transgender children can be taken thoughtfully and slowly; not simply as a product of paternalism, but as a means of maximizing potential options for the future. However, paternalism should also not become an oppressive tool to which a child loses a sense of control over their identity. Children are capable of communicating their authentic desires when others are willing to observe and listen.



*Note to my transgender or non-binary readers: My perceptions and opinions are based upon academic research and my own subjective experience. If you think I have inaccurately represented the queer community, feel free to contact me. I’m happy to learn more about your unique experiences.


Notes and Citations





[1] Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia, s.v. “Cisgender,” accessed April 15, 2017, https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Cisgender. “Cisgender (often abbreviated to simply cis) is a term for people whose gender identity matches the sex that they were assigned at birth. Cisgender may also be defined as those who have a gender identity or perform a gender role society considers appropriate for one's sex. It is the opposite of the term transgender.”

[2] Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia, s.v. “Transgender,” accessed April 15, 2017, https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Cisgender. “Transgender people are people who have a gender identity or gender expression that differs from their assigned sex. Transgender people are sometimes called transsexual if they desire medical assistance to transition from one sex to another. Transgender is also an umbrella term: in addition to including people whose gender identity is the opposite of their assigned sex (trans men and trans women), it may include people who are not exclusively masculine or feminine (people who are genderqueer, e.g. bigenderpangender, genderfluid, or agender). Other definitions of transgender also include people who belong to a third gender, or conceptualize transgender people as a third gender. Infrequently, the term transgender is defined very broadly to include cross-dressers, regardless of their gender identity.”

[3] Intersex Society of North America, “How common is Intersex?” ISNA, accessed February 12, 2017, http://www.isna.org/faq/frequency. “Anne Fausto-Sterling s suggestion that the prevalence of intersex might be as high as 1.7% has attracted wide attention in both the scholarly press and the popular media. Many reviewers are not aware that this figure includes conditions which most clinicians do not recognize as intersex, such as Klinefelter syndrome, Turner syndrome, and late-onset adrenal hyperplasia. If the term intersex is to retain any meaning, the term should be restricted to those conditions in which chromosomal sex is inconsistent with phenotypic sex, or in which the phenotype is not classifiable as either male or female. Applying this more precise definition, the true prevalence of intersex is seen to be about 0.018%, almost 100 times lower than Fausto-Sterling’s estimate of 1.7%.”

[4] Human Rights Campaign, “Transgender Children & Youth: Understanding the Basics,” accessed April 16, 2017,  http://www.hrc.org/resources/transgender-children-and-youth-understanding-the-basics.

[5] Stephanie Brill and Rachel Pepper, “The Transgender Child: A Handbook for Families and Professionals,” (San Francisco: Cleis Press Inc., 2008), 2. “No one knows how common transgender children are. Some gender specialists say that one in 500 children is significantly gender-variant or transgender. This may be a reasonable statistic, though the rate may actually be higher. Older studies, based only on statistics of postoperative transsexual men, say that the number is closer to 1 in 20,000. This figure is disputed by adult transgender activists today and seems to bear little relevance to the transgender and gender variant children currently coming forward.” Perhaps that as society evolves to be more accepting of the transgender population, those that are gender variant or transgender will be more likely to self disclose, not that transgenderism is necessarily more common.

[6] Janell L. Carroll, “Sexuality Now: Embracing Diversity,” 4th Edition (Belmont: Wadsworth, 2013), 100.

[7] Sarah Grison, Todd F. Heatherton, and Michael S. Gazzaniga, “Psychology in Your Life” 2nd Edition (New York, W.W. Norton & Company, Inc., 2015), 359.

[8] American Psychiatric Association, “What is Gender Dysphoria?” accessed April 16, 2017, https://www.psychiatry.org/patients-families/gender-dysphoria/what-is-gender-dysphoria. “Gender dysphoria involves a conflict between a person's physical or assigned gender and the gender with which he/she/they identify. People with gender dysphoria may be very uncomfortable with the gender they were assigned, sometimes described as being uncomfortable with their body (particularly developments during puberty) or being uncomfortable with the expected roles of their assigned gender. People with gender dysphoria may often experience significant distress and/or problems functioning associated with this conflict between the way they feel and think of themselves (referred to as experienced or expressed gender) and their physical or assigned gender. The gender conflict affects people in different ways. It can change the way a person wants to express their gender and can influence behavior, dress and self-image. Some people may cross-dress, some may want to socially transition, others may want to medically transition with sex-change surgery and/or hormone treatment. Socially transitioning primarily involves transitioning into the affirmed gender’s pronouns and bathrooms.”

[9] Sarah Grison, Todd F. Heatherton, and Michael S. Gazzaniga, “Psychology in Your Life” 2nd Edition (New York, W.W. Norton & Company, Inc., 2015), 360.

[10] Julie Mazziotta, “Ruby Rose Is ‘Glad’ She Didn’t Get Gender Reassignment Surgery: ‘I Want to Have Babies One Day.’” People, January 20, 2017, accessed April 17, 2017, http://people.com/bodies/ruby-rose-glad-didnt-get-gender-reassignment-surgery/.

[11] Mayo Clinic, “Body Dysmorphic Disorder” accessed April 2017, http://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/body-dysmorphic-disorder/home/ovc-20200935.

[12] Charles Foster & Jonathan Herring, “Identity, Personhood and the Law” (Switzerland: Springer Nature, 2017), 61.

[13] Janell L. Carroll, “Sexuality Now: Embracing Diversity,” 4th Edition (Belmont: Wadsworth, 2013), 92.

[14] Ibid, 93.

[15] Ibid, 100-101. “Overall, boys are treated more harshly than girls when the adopt cross-gender characteristics. […] During the school years, gender roles become the measure by which children are judged by their peers. Children who violate sex-typed play are usually rejected (and not kindly) by their peers. This is especially true of boy, who experience rejection from their peers when they violate gender stereotypes than girl do.”

[16] Ibid, 101.

[17] Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia, s.v. “Murder of Larry King,” accessed April 16, 2017, https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Murder_of_Larry_King.

[18] Ariane de Vogue, Mary Kay Mallonne, and Emanuella Grinberg, “Trump Administration Withdraws Federal Protections for Transgender Students,” CNN, February 23, 2017, accessed April 15, 2017,   http://www.cnn.com/2017/02/22/politics/doj-withdraws-federal-protections-on-transgender-bathrooms-in-schools/.

[19] Gender Spectrum, “Transgender Students and School Bathrooms: Frequently Asked Questions,” accessed April 15, 2017, https://www.genderspectrum.org/bathroomfaq/. “This resource is endorsed and supported by the American School Counselor Association, the National Association of Elementary School Principals, the National Association of School Psychologists, and the National Association of Secondary School Principals. While this may be new to some educators, parents, and students, this document builds on the successful experiences of educators throughout the country who have skillfully implemented gender inclusive policies, including those related to bathrooms. Enacting these policies allows school leaders to support the needs of all students.”

[20] Gender Spectrum, “Transgender Students and School Bathrooms: Frequently Asked Questions,” accessed April 15, 2017, https://www.genderspectrum.org/bathroomfaq/.

[21] Sarah Grison, Todd F. Heatherton, and Michael S. Gazzaniga, “Psychology in Your Life” 2nd Edition (New York, W.W. Norton & Company, Inc., 2015), 160. “According to the American Psychiatric Association, being transgender is not a psychological disorder. Instead, psychologists are increasingly viewing people who are transgender as experiencing normal variations in gender identity.”

[22] Nicolas M. Teich, “Transgender 101: A Simple Guide to a Complex Issue,” (New York, Columbia University Press, 2012), 30. “Realization that one is trans can take anywhere from a few moments to several decades. Usually transpeople have an inkling early on in their lives that their assigned gender feels out of whack with their bodies. The self-realization process is extremely complicated. The human mind does its best to help us survive, which can translate into triggering intense denial.”

[23] Nicolas M. Teich, “Transgender 101: A Simple Guide to a Complex Issue,” (New York, Columbia University Press, 2012), 138. “Revealing this level of personal information is something that needs to be navigated. Transgender children from a very early age learn to read safety in a situation and use this information to decide how much to reveal, and how much to keep private. Privacy can develop into shame if the need for privacy is driven by the parents—the communication to the child is that there is a secret to keep. Secrets breed shame. However if the desire for privacy comes from the child, and the parents encourage the child to test the waters of self-disclosure when it feels right, because there is nothing to be ashamed of, the child is much less likely to choose privacy due to internalized shame.”

Monday, May 22, 2017

Philosophy of Singularity: Week 1

(Image credit: The Host)

For the next six weeks I will be taking a special topics course, Philosophy of Singularity. This is the first post of a six-part series where I will share my notes, definitions, summaries, commentary and reading assignments from class lectures and discussions. These posts are living documents that I may edit, adapt, and develop as I gain more insights throughout the semester.


Class Summary and Personal Commentary

Required Reading
 The Coming Singularity by Vernor Vinge

Technological Singularity is a version of the future that is dependent on technology when self-replicating or self-improved machine intelligence or AGI, artificial general intelligence, will surpass human capacities in unfathomable ways. “When greater-than-human intelligence drives progress, that progress will be much more rapid. In fact, there seems no reason why progress itself would not involve the creation of still more intelligent entities.”

According to Vernor Vinge, there are several means in which the technological singularity may occur: (1) the development of computers that are “awake” and superhumanly intelligent, (2) large computer networks (and their associated users) may “wake up” as a superhumanly intelligent entity, (3) computer/human interfaces may become so intimate that users may reasonably be considered superhumanly intelligent, (4) biological science may find ways to improve upon the natural human intellect.

Possible consequences could be that a superintelligent artificial general intelligence may have no need for humans at that point, any more than humans need rabbits and chickens. If you look at the way our species treats other species of lesser intelligence, this should be enough to question the consequences of a superintelligent artificial general intelligence. We could be chickens in slaughter house, pampered house pets, or ants minding our own business in a colony that is only noticed until we need to be exterminated. Many dystopian science fiction writers have explored these possibilities. Some futures include the human species as a casualty to punctuated evolution or punctuated equilibrium. (See more evolutionary biologist, Stephen Jay Gould.) The idea is that the purpose of the human species is to usher in the next evolving species, then go extinct at mercy or apathy of the more advance species.

I. J. Good proposed, "Treat your inferiors as you would be treated by your superiors." This may seem meaningless an paradoxical, but if we are capable of such a benevolent state it may assert the possibility that such radical benevolence and compassion is possible, including a superintelligent agent. There could be a theoretical pay off to radical compassion.

However, AGI is not the only possible path to superhumanity. Vinge suggest that commuter-human interfaces might be an easier and/likely road to superhumanity. As our technology advances we will merge. Vinge calls this “Intelligence Amplification.” (IA) This process, in many ways, has already begun to take place.

Transhumanism is the philosophical, scientific, and technological movement where humans evolve or surpass physical and cognitive limitations, to the point where humans are no longer humans, but posthumans. Vinge comments on increased cognitive capacities, “Another symptom of progress…ideas themselves should spread ever faster, and even the most radical will quickly become commonplace.”

Transhumanism is one possible solution to survive the punctuated evolution instead of going extinction. There’s no way to know when humanity has gone from transhuman to posthuman, without being able to conceive of it. Humanity cannot conceive of posthumanity until we become it, or rather when we become posthumanity. Posthumanity would have superintelligence that exceeds the most gifted human minds.

A posthuman (or posthumanity) is a human so radically evolved beyond the current state of the human condition that a new term would be warranted. For example, hominids are to humans, as humans are to posthumans.

Technologies, broadly defined, are tools and techniques created by humans to accomplish objectives. Various key technologies exist and may eventual converge make in the technological singularity possible. Technologies play an essential role in Transhumanism and the development of posthumanity. As technologies continue to develop and evolve they will overlap and merge. Some even content there is a technological determinism, meaning technologic evolution has developed a life if its own, so to speak. It has already been determined. Is the singularity inevitable? Not, necessarily. It may not be possible. “But if the technological Singularity can happen, it will.”



Key Technologies Defined


Computers: a devise that when instructed can carry out a logical operations automatically. Often thought as, an electronic device for storing and processing data, typically in binary form, according to instructions given to it in a variable program.

Quantum Computing:  “studies theoretical computation systems (quantum computers) that make direct use of quantum-mechanicalphenomena, such as superposition and entanglement, to perform operations on data. Quantum computers are different from binary digital electronic computers based on transistors. Whereas common digital computing requires that the data be encoded into binary digits (bits), each of which is always in one of two definite states (0 or 1), quantum computation uses quantum bits, which can be in superpositions of states.” (Wikipedia) In other words, a computer that makes use of the quantum states of subatomic particles to store information.

Superposition: “In physics and systems theory, the superposition principle, also known as superposition property, states that, for all linear systems, the net response at a given place and time caused by two or more stimuli is the sum of the responses that would have been caused by each stimulus individually.” (Wikipedia) For example, the presence of electrons orbiting the atomic nucleus existing in a single field within infinite possibilities is superpositioning. Electrons are in a superposition in an electronic field everywhere and anywhere all at the same time in the electric field. Once light, a photon, is shined on the electronic field the electron will show up at that exact point of the photon and all other possibilities will disappear. The multiverse theory suggests that all other possible points of the electron will show up in an infinite number of other universes or multiverses.

Artificial General Intelligence: broadly, when a machine is capable of performing a task that a human being can. Also called “strong AI” or “full AI.”

Turing Test: A test developed by Alan Turing to test the intelligence of a computer by performing a task that in is distinguishable from a task performed by humans.

Neuroscience: an interdisciplinary field including biology, biochemistry, physiology, physics, mathematics, engineering, and psychology, that scientific studies the nervous system.

Nanotechnology: technologies with dimensions of 100 nanometers or less, on the atomic, molecular, and supramolecular scale.

Nanorobotics: machine robotic technologies that components near the scale of a nanometer. Nano technologies are still largely in research and development phase. Dystopian views of nanobots include “grey goo.” Essentially nanobots would radically self-replicate and consume the earth in an end-of-the-world scenario. Utopian views of nanorobotics include nonbots that could inter your body and repair damage indefinitely, essentially end aging.

Genetic Engineering: manipulating genetic material with deliberate modifications to an organism.  

Sunday, May 21, 2017

Deliverance

(Photo by Toni Frissell)

O God,
Forgive me.
Help thou mine unbelief.
I pray that love will be our deliverance,
But I am only one person.
I need grace.
Amen.

Tuesday, May 16, 2017

Defining Pornography


A recent study from BYU highlighted the effects of pornography on religious persons. While there was much discussion on social media, the conversations were less than fruitful when arguments hinged on the definition of pornography.

I’m highly skeptical of absolute statements concerning traditional notions of pornography when sexual imagery is far more complicated that just good or bad. I have often said, “I am anti-porn, because I’m pro-sex.” But what is porn?

According to Merriam-Webster, pornography is defined as: (1) the depiction of erotic behavior intended to cause sexual excitement (2) material such as books or photography that depicts erotic behavior and is intended to cause sexual excitement.

I suspect most people would conform to this definition of pornography or something akin to it.

If we accept this definition, one must conclude that not all pornography is bad. For example, I send my husband explicit, erotic images and videos of myself regularly with the deliberate intent to sexually arouse and excite him. Over fifteen years of marriage, he certainly has collected quite a “pornographic collection” and has developed what some would consider a definitional “pornography addiction.” But in this context words like pornography and addiction, as traditionally defined, hardly seem helpful. Frankly, those words seem silly. But why? How is pornography different than me sending erotic images and videos to my husband?

The sexual expressions, depictions, and behaviors between my husband and I are founded upon love and intimacy. I’m not convinced this medium of sexual interaction is bad, damaging, or immoral. Quite the contrary, it is a consensual expression of sexual desire that provokes intimacy and love among the involved parties. I would contend that sexually explicit or erotic material that enhances intimacy and love in interpersonal relationships of all persons involved is NOT pornography. Pornography should be defined in terms of harmful sexual expressions, not arousal or excitement.

For example, to the extent that sexually explicit material enhances intimacy and love in interpersonal relationships among consenting members, it is good and therefore is NOT pornography. To the extent that sexually explicit material is a hindrance to intimacy and love in interpersonal relationships, it is bad and therefore IS pornography.

Pornography has tangible effects on human sexual desire, response, and functionality. If we look at some of the potential harm that comes from prolonged, systematic exposure to pornography, which is sadly exacerbated by damaging shame tactics and dangerously repressed sexual desires, we certainly shouldn’t ignore the risks and effects of engaging in pornography viewing, production, and distribution.

However, if pornography is defined as depictions of erotic behavior intended to cause sexual excitement that are a hindrance to intimacy and love in interpersonal relationships, the word pornography has become an identifier of what we wish to avoid, which is harmful, oppressive, sexual expressions to oneself and/or others. With this definition of pornography, we aren’t shaming sexual desire and arousal via imagery and media, we are instead identifying harmful sexual expressions.

Of course, the devil is in the details. This definition of pornography certainly leaves room for interpretation and would likely vary among the persons involved. What is a harmful sexual expression to me may not be a harmful sexual expression to you. While my husband may enjoy sexually explicit media of me in a perfectly healthy way, if he were to distribute those images or videos without my consent, they would then become pornography because they were distributed in a manner that would hinder love and intimacy in our relationship. In this sense pornography is a fluid state that may or may not change depending on context.

There is still much to be explored and understood about the risks and benefits of sexual expressions, especially as technology continues to connect us with others in radically unprecedented ways. Should pornography play a role in our relationships? Well, it depends on how you define pornography. It should be defined in terms of damage, harm, and oppression. So I would say no, there is no need for it in our relationships.

As for myself, discussions about pornography seem silly when definitions, assumptions, and verbal baggage obstruct meaningful discovery of what are helpful sexual expressions and harmful sexual expressions. I certainly am anti-porn, because I perceive pornography as harmful sexual expressions that inhibit love and intimacy among involved persons. I am certainly pro-sex, because sex is a powerful, dare I even say godly, way of enhancing love and intimacy among involved, consenting persons. As technology is further developed I have no doubt it will radically change the way we perceive and engage in sexual behaviors, but we won’t be able to appropriately discuss the risks and ramifications if we can’t even define pornography in any meaningful way.

Wednesday, May 10, 2017

Postgenderism: Liberation from Homogenization



Presented at the 2017 Mormon Transhumanist Association Conference on 8 April 2017 at the Utah Valley Convention Center in Provo, Utah

The word postgender might conjure up various ideas and images—everything from a society evolved beyond traditional gender roles, to the total abolishment of gender, to a conformed, sexless, genderless species void of diversity. While many postgenderists have different views and perceptions, my hope today is to share a unique view of gender that offers us insights into the possibilities of what a postgender society could look like. Do we need gender equality or gender abolishment? Or do we need gender liberation?

Let’s begin by taking a closer look at sex and gender. What is biological sex? How is it different from gender? How does this affect a person’s gender identity? How accurate are our binary categories?


Biological Sex
What does it mean to be female and male?

1. Chromosomes

The oversimplified version of sex chromosomes is that women have XX chromosomes while, men have XY chromosomes. It seems straightforward, until it’s not. Females do have XX chromosomes while males have XY chromosomes. However, a third gender exists quite naturally without any technological, social, or philosophical intervention. Roughly 1 in 1,000 births are of XXY [1] chromosomes, known as Klinefelter syndrome.[2] Other chromosomal variations include Turner syndrome, XYY syndrome, or triple X syndrome.[3] Many are also born with an inability to reproduce. These individuals are intersex and are not chromosomally classified as male or female even though their genitalia may or may not present indicators of their chromosomal variance.

2. Gonads

Dorland’s Medical Dictionary defines sex as “the fundamental distinction based on the type of gametes produced by the individual.”[4] Smaller gametes called sperm are assigned male and larger gametes, called ovum, are assigned female. While most people fall into the male and female categories, some people are born with ovotestis, which are gonads that contain attributes of both ovarian and testicular tissue.

3. Sex Hormones

Natural sex hormones are made by the gonads and interact with androgen (male) or estrogen (female) receptors.[5] The two main sex steroids for females are estrogen and progesterone. For males, it’s testosterone.

One could also argue extreme hormonal abnormalities could constitute a biological sex variance that is non-binary. For example, females who contain high levels of testosterone may experience deepening of the voice, increased muscle mass, enlarged clitoris, or frontal balding similar to men. Their hormonal variance can play a significant role in how they experience gender.

High concentrations of androgens (male steroid hormones) have been associated to infertility in women, particularly polycystic ovarian syndrome (PCOS). An interesting aspect of a study conducted by researchers from the London Women’s Clinic found that lesbians are twice as likely to have an imbalance of sex hormones. Dr. Rina Agrawal commented about the study, "Our research neither suggests nor indicates that polycystic ovaries-PCOS causes lesbianism, only that polycystic ovaries-PCOS is more prevalent in lesbian women. We do, however, hypothesise that hyperandrogenism - which is associated with PCOS - may be one of the factors contributing to the sexual orientation of women."[6]

In other words, if a female has higher levels of androgens, like testosterone, does that make her more male and more likely to be attracted to women? Conversely, if a male has higher level of estrogen in comparison to his levels of testosterone, would that make him less male and more likely to be attracted to other males? Possibly.

This could be the beginning of linking biological sex variances with sexual orientation and/or fertility. This is one reason it’s important to understand biological sex, independent of gender identity and performance, before making conclusions about sexual orientation. We are a product of our anatomies and a better understanding of our biology could lead us to better understand sexual orientation, and when, how, and where those sexual orientations fit into society.

4. Internal Reproductive Anatomy

Internal reproductive anatomy of women generally includes a vagina, cervix, uterus, fallopian tubes, and ovaries.[7] Internal reproductive anatomy of men generally includes a vas deferens, seminal vesicle, prostate gland, Cowper’s gland, epididymis, and testes.[8] However, when we look at the intersex population there are overlaps that can challenge our binary categories. A person might be born with external male genitalia while also having internal female genitalia. A man could have a fully functioning uterus and penis. A woman could have an abnormal or dysfunctional uterus while still having perfectly normal female genitalia.

5. Genitalia

The clitoris and the penis are homologous organs, meaning they share a biological structure, but not the same function. Clitorises and penises are made out of the same tissue and both will fill with blood and become erect during arousal. In fact, all of our genitalia is homologous. The labia and scrotum are made from the same tissue as well.[9] So why do genitals looks so different if they are homologous? In the womb, when genitalia is being developed we start off as unisex. The esthetics of your genitalia and the functionality of your breasts and nipples are then affected by the hormones that are present. Females will often develop fatty breast tissue with more functional mammary glands for production of milk. Generally, males are denied this function.[10]

But what happens when there is a variation in the hormones during genital development? Sometimes you get ambiguous genitalia, a clitoris can look like a small penis or a penis can look like a large clitoris.

An intersex person may identify her penis as feminine, because it is in fact her penis. The way she perceives and experiences her body and gender will vary and will sometimes challenge our prescribed social gender assumptions. Perhaps it’s time we realize sexual dimorphism is not as binary as we’d like to believe.[11]


Gender Identity
What does it mean to be a woman and a man?

Gender identity is a person’s inner sense of being male, female, a blend of both, or neither. A person’s gender identity may be in likeness or contrast to their biological sex. An individual whose identity matches the gender they were assigned at birth is cisgender.

Different cultures have different gender identities and labels. Some labels include: non-binary, gender queer, bigender, trigender, pangender, agender, transgender, two spirit, or gender free.

Most recent studies suggest a person’s gender identity is usually formed by ages 3-6.[12] Prior to that it is quite common for children to play and experiment in cross-gender roles and performances. For example, my three-year-old daughter recently has taken an interest in peeing while standing up. Is this a product of a unique gender identity or is she simple exploring the world around her because she has a father and two brothers who pee standing up? It’s likely the latter, but perhaps time will tell a different story.

Gender identity, though influenced by others, should be determined separately by each individual. For example, I identify as a woman, I perceive myself as a woman, and call myself a woman. For another person to assign my identity against my own perceptions can lead to a host of negative outcomes.


Gender Expression
What does it mean to be feminine and masculine?

Gender expression is usually the external appearance of one’s chosen gender identity. This is expressed through various mannerisms, behaviors, apparel, style, and voice pitch. Gender expression is mostly predicated on socially constructed ideals of what constitutes as masculine and feminine. Many people express some sort of androgyny containing both masculine and feminine qualities.

Gender performance is highly subjective based upon geographic location, time period, and belief system.

For example, men regularly wear kilts in Scotland or sulus in Fiji, while being in perfect compliance with masculine gender norms. However, if a man with a beard were to wear a skirt in the US, many would consider this a social taboo. It challenges our ontological categories of socially acceptable “norms.”

As time passes and society evolves, so do our perceptions of “normal” gender expression. If a female were to wear pants or trousers in the 19th century, many people would condemn her of attempting to be too masculine in her gender expression. “Women can’t wear pants!” However, today, a woman may choose to wear pants and not be in violation of gender social norms. Gender performance standards evolve.

Religion also plays a role in this social construct. In LDS Mormonism, some women designate a specific Sunday as “Wear Pants to Church Day”[13] that challenges traditional gender stereotypes in a religious context.

Gender expression is a performance, not constrained to any singular act, but the repetition and ritual of a person performing a gender until it becomes naturalized.[14] Our parameters of acceptable gender expression are highly subjective and constantly changing.


Review

In review, biological sex is based on a person’s anatomy and embodiment. Gender identity is how a person perceives and experiences their anatomy. Gender performance is how they express their gender identity based on their anatomy. As you can see these concepts are interrelated, but do not necessarily mandate a social prescribed performance and/or experience.

Now, let’s look at this chart. We can plot points on the graph to see where a person could fit on these spectrums. A person could land on any one of these, creating countless possible combinations.

So, what does this say about gender?

Biologically speaking, every human being is different with a unique anatomy. Cognitively speaking, every human being has a unique consciousness and individual way of experiencing and perceiving their own gender identity. Performatively speaking, there are countless and unimaginable variances that a single individual could choose. There are countless possibilities in which a person could experience gender and biological sex. There are as many genders as there are human beings.


Gender Fluidity

Now that we have deconstructed some overly simplified and rudimentary approaches to biological sex and gender, let’s touch on gender fluidity.

Our bodies are constantly regenerating a continuous pattern of information. The cells of our body are constantly dying and perpetuating with slight variances along the way. In many ways, you are not the same person today that you were yesterday, nor could you be. Impermanence is real. Greek philosopher, Heraclitus, commented, “Everything flows and nothing stays. All is flux, nothing is stationary. You could not step into the same river twice.”[15] I tend to agree. The water is always flowing and changing in both radical and subtle ways. Imagine your body as a river, constantly evolving. We are our anatomies and as our bodies change it’s quite possible our gender identity, perceptions, performances, and identities are constantly flowing too. Some more than others, but all is in flux. Over time, the balance and desires of our gender may fluctuate, perhaps more so in some people than for others.

In a very real sense there are just as many genders as there are humans, but not only that there are as many genders as there are persons at any given point in space and time. This view of biology, gender, and fluidity provides an infinite number of variations in the space-time continuum.


Postgenderism

There are commonalities in categories, but our categories are about as useful as they are accurate. When categories become silos in which there is no exchange among other categories we are being dishonest and doing a disservice to ourselves by ignoring the various forms of androgyny that naturally exist within the tangible world we live in. We don’t live in a binary world. The law of excluded middle doesn’t apply here. Things aren’t just true or false. Sometimes things are true and false, or neither true or false. We must start removing ourselves from binary illusions that are not only inaccurate, but also harmful.

Advanced technologies are only going increase the diversity and complexity of our ideas of gender and sex. Reproductive technologies enable humans to create offspring in ways that have never been accomplished before. For example, I was born with an abnormal or bicornuate uterus. Additionally, it’s a mutated bicornuate uterus which is tilted and mutated. This makes conception nearly impossible. According to natural selection, if I were born 50 years ago and were so lucky as to become pregnant, delivery for both me and my offspring would likely result in death of one of both of us. It’s as if natural selection said, “Blaire you can’t reproduce and pass on your genes and if you do, I’m going to kill you and your offspring.” That’s brutal, but the story doesn’t end there. A person who was once infertile due to biological sex variances can now reproduce with assisted reproductive technologies. What natural selection had deemed as unworthy to perpetuate offspring before, the human species has decided otherwise today. We are transcending our biological sex and gender limitations. But is that in and of itself a product of evolution? If we are the product of evolution, so are our technologies and we do not need to distinguish the “naturalness” of the two. Technology is the natural progression of our evolution. So, while my body may lack certain “female” qualities, technology compensated for those abnormalities. And as we continue to compensate for the outliers who don’t fit on the binary, perhaps we will find that postgenderism will result in a beautiful complex rainbow of gender identities and sexual variances that is far more interesting than homogenization or binary categories.

This challenges certain perceptions of sci-fi films projecting advanced civilizations as plain uniformed, homogenized sapiens. I see that quite the opposite as the more plausible outcome.

In short, the kind of postgenderism I’m interested in is a future that not only recognizes our similarities, but also our unique differences. I see a future where gender and sex aren’t constraints or mere functions, but also artistic expressions of the constantly evolving face of humanity. Where biological sex and gender do not mandate expectations and limitations of what a person is capable of.

As with any evolution or revolution, transitions can be perplexing, frustrating, and intimidating. So please be kind, and trust that we can reconcile together. As technology and science continues to develop and shape our perception of one another, I have a hunch it will also amplify our inner most desires. If those desires are love, compassion, reconciliation, and understanding, then we have the potential to create something quite beautiful, complex, and diverse. Something that enables us to creating both meaningful and lasting relationships. Independent of gender, people generally want to love and be loved in return. So be kind, and love each other. Thank you.


*Note to my non-cis or non-binary readers: My perceptions and opinions are based upon academic research and my own subjective experience. If you think I have inaccurately represented the queer community, feel free to contact me. I’m happy to learn more about your unique experiences.

Notes and Citations



[1] Intersex Society of North America, “How common is Intersex?” ISNA, accessed February 12, 2017, http://www.isna.org/faq/frequency.

[2] Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia, s.v. "Klinefelter Syndrome," (accessed March 29, 2017), https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Klinefelter_syndrome.

[3] Janell L. Carroll, “Sexuality Now: Embracing Diversity,” 4th Edition (Belmont: Wadsworth, 2013), 87.

[4] Dorland’s Illustrated Medical Dictionary, s.v. “Sex,” 32nd Edition. (Philadelphia: Elsevier Saunders, 2012).

[5] Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia, s.v. "Sex Steroids," (accessed March 31, 2017), https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Sex_steroid.

[6] Danny Kingsley, “Hormone Imbalance More Common in Lesbians,” ABC Science, July 3, 2003, accessed February 17, 2017, http://www.abc.net.au/science/articles/2003/07/03/892229.htm.

[7] Janell L. Carroll, “Sexuality Now: Embracing Diversity,” 4th Edition (Belmont: Wadsworth, 2013), 113.

[8] Janell L. Carroll, “Sexuality Now: Embracing Diversity,” 4th Edition (Belmont: Wadsworth, 2013), 137.

[9] Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia, s.v. "List of Related Male and Female Reproductive Organs," (accessed March 28, 2017), https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_related_male_and_female_reproductive_organs.

[10] Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia, s.v. "Mammary Glands," (accessed March 30, 2017), https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Mammary_gland.

[11] Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia, s.v. "Sexual Dimorphism," (accessed March 30, 2017), https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Sexual_dimorphism.

[12] Pamela J. Kalbfleisch & Michael J. Cody, “Gender, Power, and Communication in Human Relationships,” (New York: Routledge, 2010), 366.

[13] The first “Wear Pants to Church Day” was on Dec. 16, 2012. It was launched as an effort to normalize the action many LDS women have taken to wear formal, respectful dress pants to LDS church services. Mormon feminists, women and men, wear dress pants and the color purple to their local LDS Church services for many different reasons, but many of those who participate are concerned about gender equality in the LDS Church. For more details, see http://pantstochurch.com.

[14] Judith Butler, “Gender Trouble: Feminism and the Subversion of Identity,” (New York: Routledge, 2007), Preface 1999, XV. “. . . performativity is not a singular act, but a repetition and a ritual, which achieves its effects through its naturalization in the context of a body, understood, in part, as a culturally sustained temporal duration.”

[15] Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia, s.v. "Heraclitus," (accessed March 31, 2017), https://en.wikiquote.org/wiki/Heraclitus.