Monday, August 20, 2007

Binaries and Spectra

"Any effectively generated theory capable of expressing elementary arithmetic cannot be both consistent and complete." - Kurt Gödel

I am a "shades of gray" type of person. I tend to think of things as not in a "black or white" way but that there is some scale of grayness. For example, when a person is learning how to drive a car, they go from knowing nothing about the pedals or steering (other than some childhood observations that are typically incorrect about arm movements) to various states of knowledge and comfort (keeping the car straight, being able to parallel park, etc.). Even once you get your license you are still learning and improving, or you might slide backwards (for example, you might not pay as rigorous attention to speed limit signs as you did earlier).

The advantage of a limited number of hard-and-fast categories is that it's an easier way to understand and communicate how the world works. That's if the categorization is valid. For example, if you have a limited set of categories for people you can map people into those categories. It might be by skin color, height, weight, or other characteristics.

There are limits to how well a classification scheme works. If you go by skin color, how do you handle people of mixed blood? Another example - if we classify gender by sex (male and female), then how do intersex people fit in? These "edge conditions" tend to challenge any classification system and result in solutions like force-fitting things into categories, adding more categories, or scrapping the system entirely.

In the transgender world there are people who see things either in a few fixed categories while others who see a spectrum. Most spectra range from cross dresser (CD) through to transsexual (TS) who has gender reassignment surgery (GRS). But what about a female to male who chooses to live the life of a male but not have surgery (or a physical male who transitions to female but with no hormones or surgery, such as Pauline Park)? Or a cross-dresser who always presents female but still wishes to by his male name? Or a person who lives part-time as one gender, part-time as another? Are they just confused?

I do not pretend to have a definitive answer to all of this. Right now I have the following beliefs:

- Gender can be different from sex. Sex is physical, gender is internal/emotional. (or as Betty Crow says, "Sex is between the legs; gender is between the ears.")

- Gender is a ratio of masculine and feminine. Almost everybody has some mix of both of these aspects in their personality. This ratio defines a spectrum of gender.

- There is a whole spectrum in the transgender world (described previously). And there is a spectrum in the male world, and the female world as well. This fits in well with the Zero-One-Infinity Rule: “Allow none of foo, one of foo, or any number of foo.” If you follow the link, you'll see that Isaac Asimov in the book The Gods Themselves has a character that says binaries are impossible. The character is saying this in the describing universes (if you believe on more than one, then you might as well believe in an infinite number of them) but this also applies to one species in the book that has three sexes. Now there's a world that doesn't have a binary (albeit a fictitious one).

In the book Head over Heels by Virginia Erhardt Dr. Erhardt makes the point that "...many cross-dresser' significant others seem to be invested in their husbands fitting into a categorical box with high walls, out of which they won't in some way relocate into the box next door in which these women believe transsexuals reside." The empirical evidence I've seen from several friends and myself back up this statement. And I've seen people who have declared themselves in the middle slide both to and away from transitioning. And I've also seen cross dressers who have later decided that transition was their future, and transsexuals who have de-transitioned back to male.

I do not envy the situation any significant other (SO) of a transgendered person finds themselves - it is full of uncertainty which can feel like hopelessness at times. I think that a lot of how a couple works this out has to do with how sensitive the trans-person is with their SO. Trans-people can get so caught up in the uncertainty, too, and forget that there are others involved. Time and patience are very important, especially if you want the relationship to survive. SO's also need to understand the needs of the trans-person, too, and together both of them have to figure out what give-and-take is required to make the relationship work. There are those for which there is no meeting point, which is sad, but I think we are seeing more relationships that are finding a way to make it work and stay together.

Friday, August 17, 2007

Morality, trust, and another kind of slipperly slope

Helen Boyd highlighted out this article from Feminist Daily on her blog. I can appreciate how any person can hold beliefs that something is wrong, but there's a big slippery slope here that has very scary implications.

A large society ultimately is based on trust. For example, farmers grow the food we need, distributors get it to us, and we buy it from our grocer. We trust it is clean and safe. Or we trust the bus driver or airplane pilot to be able to get us from one place to another safely. Many people we may or may not know do things that affect our daily lives, and we hope that they do not violate our trust.

In this case, the pharmacist is violating that trust of providing us medications that we feel we need for our life. In this case it's contraception, but what concerns me is that the pharmacist here is making a judgment on someone else's life just by the medication.

Here's the slope - pharmacists should be concerned with the health of their customers - after all, the medications they dispense are designed to help us either deal with an illness or help us manage a chronic condition. Now suppose an obese compulsive eater gets a prescription for medication to manage his high blood pressure (which is in all likelihood caused by the overeating). What if the pharmacist decides that they don't want to condone gluttony, so their conscience tells them to not fill the prescription. Is this right?

What if they decided they don't approve of "the transsexual lifestyle" and decide to withhold hormones to those who are on hormone replacement therapy? Or that it's not "God's will" that a woman going through menopause shouldn't have estrogen therapy?

I may or may not agree with allowing someone to use an emergency contraceptive, but who am I to say what's right in any given person's situation? So I trust that the person making the choice to use it or not is making the right choice for them, and I trust that a pharmacist will dispense whatever medication a person and their doctor think is prudent.

Now there are instances where a pharmacist shouldn't dispense a medication. If they suspect that the medication is being abused (say an excessive amount of Oxycontin) then they should refuse it (and possibly contact the authorities). Or if this medication might adversely react with some other medication, but in that case they should contact the doctor and figure out what needs to be done. No doubt they have a big responsibility to their patients here. But apart from that, they should just respect the patient/doctor relationship and that's it.

Thursday, August 9, 2007

Logo Presidential Debate Tonight

Tonight on the Logo network is a presidential debate focused on LGBTQ issues. If you don't get Logo you can watch it online.

(I'm curious what "T" questions they will be asked - I know that Donna Rose collected a bunch of questions as part of her role on the Human Rights Campaign, so I am hopeful that at least one will be asked tonight.)

Please watch it if you can!