August 2010

“Incidentally, about science fiction, I tell my students that it is better to read first-rate science fiction like Arthur C. Clark than second-rate science. Second-rate science may not be true either, and it’s far less entertaining.”

– Martin Rees, president of the Royal Academy of Science, in the new Long Now lecture “Life’s Future in the Cosmos”

In spare moments I’m listening to Sol Stein’s Stein on Writing. I like this quote, from about 1:08:00. He is responding to “purists” who, apparently, believe that interesting writing has no place in academia; the information can be interesting, but not its presentation:

“For purists, I would point out that most academic writing is counter-educational, because it’s dullness insulates its information from nearly everybody.”

The existence of Gender Identity Disorder as an official mental disorder is troubling to the trans folks I know. They think of their condition they way most people now think about homosexuality: It’s just another normal way to be a human being that makes people who don’t understand it so afraid that they’ve called it a disorder. Some people are just born into bodies that don’t match their psychological gender.

There are other problems. There is the DSM’s requirement to specify whether the diagnosed individual is attracted to males, females, both, or neither. If homosexuality is not a mental disorder, why should it matter clinically what genders a transsexual is attracted to? Then there’s the fact that GID is in the DSM right next to the sexual disorders like sexual sadism, masochism, and pedophilia. What is the connection?

So in a way, it would be great to get GID removed from the DSM, like homosexuality was in the 1970s. Unfortunately, if GID were not an official mental disorder, insurance companies wouldn’t pay for the expensive surgeries and hormone treatments involved in transitioning. According to my friends, living in a body of the wrong sex is so painful and humiliating that many pre-operation trans folks kill themselves, while suicide is rare for those who do who get the operations. So if you are poor and trans, your life may depend on GID being an official mental disorder.

There may be some changes coming to the diagnosis (see here) in the upcoming DSM-V, and my friends are saying they sound somewhat better. Here’s how they stand right now, in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders IV-TR:

Diagnostic criteria for Gender Identity Disorder

A. A strong and persistent cross-gender identification (not merely a desire for any perceived cultural advantages of being the other sex).

In children, the disturbance is manifested by four (or more) of the following:

(1) repeatedly stated desire to be, or insistence that he or she is, the other sex

(2) in boys, preference for cross-dressing or simulating female attire; in girls, insistence on wearing only stereotypical masculine clothing

(3) strong and persistent preferences for cross-sex roles in make-believe play or persistent fantasies of being the other sex

(4) intense desire to participate in the stereotypical games and pastimes of the other sex

(5) strong preference for playmates of the other sex

In adolescents and adults, the disturbance is manifested by symptoms such as a stated desire to be the other sex, frequent passing as the other sex, desire to live or be treated as the other sex, or the conviction that he or she has the typical feelings and reactions of the other sex.

B. Persistent discomfort with his or her sex or sense of inappropriateness in the gender role of that sex.

In children, the disturbance is manifested by any of the following: in boys, assertion that his penis or testes are disgusting or will disappear or assertion that it would be better not to have a penis, or aversion toward rough-and-tumble play and rejection of male  stereotypical toys, haves, and activities; in girls, rejection of urinating in a sitting position, assertion that she has or will grow a penis, or assertion that she does not want to grow breasts or menstruate, or marked aversion toward normative feminine clothing.

In adolescents and adults, the disturbance is manifested by symptoms such as preoccupation with getting rid of primary and secondary sex characteristics (e.g., request for hormones, surgery, or other procedures to physically alter sexual characteristics to simulate the other sex) or belief that he or she was born the wrong sex.

C. The disturbance is not concurrent with a physical intersex condition.

D. The disturbance causes clinically significant distress or impairment in social, occupational, or other important areas of functioning.

Code based on current age:

302.6     Gender Identity Disorder in Children

302.85   Gender Identity Disorder in Adolescents or Adults

Specify if (for sexually mature individuals):

Sexually Attracted to Males

Sexually Attracted to Females

Sexually Attracted to Both

Sexually Attracted to Neither

I once heard an interview on NPR with a woman who had been born a slave in the US. What struck me most about it was that it had been recorded after I was born, in 1971. I had never even considered the possibility that my lifespan had overlapped with anyone who had seen the Civil War! One lifespan between me and the Civil War–that means two lifespans between me and the Declaration of Independence. A 90 year old could have seen both the Revolutionary War and the Civil War, and a 101 year old could have seen both the Civil War and me. I’m about halfway through my life, so that makes the US about two and a half lifespans old.

This was my first taste of what a young country the US is. When I learned about it in school, the Civil War seemed so long ago. People dressed funny, talked funny, and so many of them still thought slavery was a good deal. But that stuff just goes to show how fast fashion and ethics can change.

Before this experience, racism always seemed like this inexplicable anachronism: Where do these backwards idiots come from? We figured this stuff out ages ago! But the last Americans who actually owned slaves, bought and sold people, died only about 20 years before I was born.

My second taste was when I house-sat for a family who were Laura Ingalls Wilder fanatics. I re-read some of her books and watched a bunch of Little House on the Prairie episodes and started researching her life a little. She was born in 1867, just after the Civil War ended, had her log-cabin, covered-wagon young life, got married in 1885, and died in 1957. Laura Ingalls Wilder wasn’t just around for Manifest Destiny and the destruction of the last Native American societies. She saw cars, radio, television, airplanes, and  the Jazz Age. She saw World War I, World War II, the atomic bomb, communist revolutions, Fascism, the Great Depression, Hitchcock movies, nuclear submarines, the Korean War, and DNA.

Even if Kurzweil and company are wrong about an exponential change trajectory, linear change would be dizzying enough. If Laura went from covered wagons to nuclear submarines, what am I going to see as an old man in the 2060s? Let’s hope for sustainability, teleportation and compassion, not creepy geo- and bioengineering disasters!

My sink has leaked since I moved in to this apartment over a year ago. It hadn’t been bad or consistent enough to make me call my landlord, just annoying. It got bad, though, in the last couple weeks, dumping all water onto the floor unless I manually held the drainpipe onto the basket. I was stuck because I really needed to clean up before calling my landlord–she would probably want to try to fix it herself–but had no time for that job. I’ve been way behind on cleaning.

I was saved by the internet. All I needed to know was what slip-joint nut was, and especially how a wedge-shaped slip-joint nut seal works, which I found out in a few minutes by searching “how to fix a drain leaking” and watching a few of the middle minutes of a video by a nice, slow-talking, slow-moving plumber.

I took these images from Suren Manvelyan on Photography Served, via my friend Aria’s consistently interesting tumbler feed. [Note to Aria: Could you slow down the pace a little, though? I’m busy!] I love them. I’d like to have photographs like this of Reanna’s eyes.

One interesting thing about them is that they are labeled Attribution Non-commercial Share Alike, which apparently means you are free to do anything you want with the images as long as you don’t use them to make money or suggest that Manvelyan endorses you or what you’ve done with them. Pretty cool.


The co-counseling leadership has decided that co-counselors should start saying “male domination” instead of “sexism.” I think it’s a great idea. Calling the oppression of women by men “sexism” has always confused me. I actually made it into my early twenties before I realized that “sexism” referred only to the mistreatment of women by men, and not to the mistreatment anyone by anyone on the basis of gender. “Male domination” calls it what it is. “Sexism” is a euphemism by contrast.

Perhaps it is also time to call racism what it is. We don’t use “racism” to mean race-based discrimination. Racism is when a White person oppresses a person of color. The other way around is “reverse racism.” It’s confusing and verges on another euphemism. Why don’t we call race-based oppression by Whites what Victor in The Color of Fear calls it: White supremacy. That’s what it is.

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