Saturday, January 31, 2015

Bumf vol 1

It's not often that I'm confronted with a comic that is simply too difficult to me. Homestuck is the only other case I can think of, and it doesn't start out too difficult, but achieves this over thousands and thousands of pages. Bumf is a graphic novel only 120 pages long, by acclaimed cartoonist Joe Sacco, who I really like in other places, (especially his commentary on satire here) but here … The opening image is a man in a suit and hood bringing the 10 commandments on the classic 2 tablets, like Charleston Heston, only each of them only reads “classified.” In a corner Richard Nixon says “My name is Barack Obama” “and I approve this message.”

As the … er … I hesitate to say story, perhaps sequence of events, unfolds, it appears that Nixon is somehow possessing Barack Obama, is confused to be waking up in bed with a beautiful black woman, and asking one of his Absurdist advisors “Hold on, aren't I dead?' Is told “That's need to know sir.” The garden of Eden, street prostitutes, WWII bombing runs, buggery in the British army, lots of naked people, piles or corpses, tons of bible quotes, dead cats, grandmothers, long quotes by Thomas Aquinas, … It's all very political, or perhaps even theological, but also Absurdist. But what is the political commentary supposed to be? I confess I can't follow it. Surveillance taken to extremes, rendition so extraordinary only comics can contain it, President Nixon/Obama being taught drone strike piloting, and interrogation, and scene-staging by earnest, horrible underlings. The legal department wearing voodoo masks ever since they merged with the theatre department, that at least seems like a straightforward joke/gag/commentary that I can make sense of.
wall painting of Giogrio Agamben in France
 Naked, hooded people flirting.  “I know you're more than a bundle of insecurities. But I'm that too, she laughed” “Yes, he said, but you fall within normal parameters.” The vast technocratic state, blurring into obscenity, interfering unconsciously with even the language it's functionaries use to flirt.  The web lists the book as "Bumf vol. 1: I Buggered the Kaiser", but that "subtitle" doesn't show up until 9 pages in, and is one of many such subtitles throughout the book "Sacco of the 617th Squadron" "Young Gifted, and Nixon" or "God is Dead" for example.  The title page has in small print after Fantagraphic Books thanks dozens of people "Joe Sacco would like to thank Cesare Beccaria and Giorgio Agamben."  Cartoonists thanking Agamben!  My copy of Agamben's "State of Exception" is actually out because I wanted to quote it yesterday, but being some familiar with Agamben wasn't enough.  Maybe I need to read Beccaria, or finally read Carl Schmitt's Politische  Theologie.  Or maybe that's too much high-end political theory for a graphic  ...  novel?  Well it says "graphic novel" on the spine in my library's little red sorting sticker, it seems ungrateful to quibble on the definition of a novel ...

A pile of corpses lacks impact these days, so instead we route around defenses by flirting with the borders of incomprehensibility. I've been tempted many times myself, in my poetry, it's so hard to find a discourse that hasn't already been used up and rendered impotent. My best guess, is that this is what Joe Sacco is struggling with too, but … I can't be sure. The post-modern Dadaism is clear, but the long running and heavy played parallels between politics and the theology of the Messiah, is so pre-modern. I can't parse all the layers of irony and earnestness, of parody and straigh-truth, of commentary and reference and theme and satire. I don't know. Like I say, it's just too difficult for me...
Joe Sacco, I feel compelled to make a Vanzetti joke, but he must get that all the time ...

Thursday, January 29, 2015

Three Roles for Moral Outrage - philosophical doodle for Kevin Timpe

On the cool philosophy blog Discrimination and Disadvantage, philosopher Kevin Timpe makes the following point, and asks the following question

"What I found pretty quickly, however, upon digging into the disability literature is that I become outraged by some of the views I encounter. These views aren't just (in my view) wrong, but (again, in my view) morally offensive. To hear individuals claim, for instance, that my son has no moral standing at all (despite never having met him); to ask, apparently in all honesty, if the severely disabled have a right not to be eaten; to discover sterilization of some individuals with disabilities is not only legal but compulsory in some states--these, and other views, provoke a very strong visceral reaction.

In writing on the problem of evil, Eleonore Stump (under whom I did my PhD) writes that "philosophical analyses of the problem of evil can border on the obscene unless the pattern-processing of the intellectual exercise is coupled with a clear recognition of the awfulness of suffering."2 Some of what I've read regarding disability strikes me as similarly obscene, and in part for what is perhaps the same reason: in like manner to how some philosophical reflection evil reduces those who suffer to simply an object of study--a piece in a the machine of a philosophical view--so too some of what I'm finding in the literature seems to treat those with disabilities--including but not only my son--to an object in a way that reduces, or even explicitly rejects, his personhood. In what I think is a very powerful paper, "The Personal is Philosophical is Political,"3 Eva Feder Kittay describes some of the views she's engaged with as "abhorrent" (395). One reason for her reaction is how her daughter falls under some of those views: "For a mother of a severely cognitively impaired child, the impact of such an argument is devastating. How can I begin to tell you what it feels like to read texts in which one's child is compared, in all seriousness and with philosophical authority, to a dog, pig, rat, and most flatteringly a chimp; how corrosive those comparisons are, how they mock relationships that affirm who we are and why we care?" (397). Kittay gives two challenges that people in this kind of situation face. It is the first that I want to focus on here. "The first is to overcome the anger and revulsion that one feels when encountering the view that one's disabled child--or child with a particular disability--is less worthy of dignity, of life, of concern or justice than others" (398f). Now, I certainly agree that one has to be able to control one's anger and revulsion, that both can be an obstical not only to philosophical reflection, but also to advocacy on behalf of the disabled (as well as our own well-being for those of us that love these individuals). But it also seems to me that such anger is also important. Here it will probably be obvious that I'm roughly Aristotelian in my normative framework. But anger, even outrage, seems to me to be among those responses that are proper in this case of scenario. Sometimes, not getting angry about a view can be an indication of too little concern for just treatment of those who are the recipients or objects of those views.So I'm wondering about a question that I hope can start a discussion here that can help set the tone for future posts in this blog. And even though I'm asking this question in the context of philosophy of disability, I suspect that a parallel question comes up in many, perhaps even most, of the other areas that this blog is for.So, here's my question: what is the proper role of moral outrage in our philosophical theorizing about disability (or sex or race or ....)?

Ok, my little bit of reflection has lead me to three main ways I think moral outrage properly functions in our moral theorizing about disability, race, sex, etc.

Point one - A Spur (and balance-rod)

Anger and more strongly outrage, helps to move us from contemplation to action, and helps to keep our actions carefully balanced between many competing concerns.

Thinkers like Heidegger or Merleau-Ponty like to point out that our own-nature is most characteristically evident, not in disinterested contemplation of the world, but in active interaction with it. Our intelligence is engaging. In trying to do things and succeeding or failing, we are more ourselves than in merely observing or contemplating. The same is true in argumentation. Detached intellectual investigation can be a useful tool in some cases, and detachment can help prevent us from being sucked into certain kinds of tempting errors. It's good to have detached folks as well as engaged folks involved in a conversation in order to guard against certain kinds of intellectual dysfunction. But engaged folks are more authentically participating in the conversation, and they are more wholly present with the topic at hand. They are bringing more of themselves to the issue. A conversation among detached theorists, without passionate non-detached thinkers involved, is also in danger of a variety of intellectual and pragmatic forms forms of dysfunction.

Outrage in particular, among the forms of passionate engagement available, allows our rhetoric to soar and aids us in calling all witnesses to yearn for justice. Outrage mixes simple anger at a moral wrong, with disgust for the wronger, and compassion for those wounded by the outrage provoking situation. Outrage spurs us to action, but it also aids us in calling others to action, and helps locate not just wrong-doing, but wrong-doers and wronged within an often complex moral situation. When issues are genuinely mixed with many aspects requiring careful consideration, outrage doesn't stand up well, and ought to give way, after a brief surge, to more deliberative weighing of many avenues of thinking about the situation. But, when critique of an entrenched but morally indefensible position is required, moral outrage helps us to get past the many lines of defense of the wrong, which may be familiar to us, or routinely proffered by those invested in the status quo, and helps us to focus instead on the wrong itself. Outrage includes a note of disgust, and disgust helps to keep us from swallowing things we shouldn't. In particular, entrenched wrongs, are likely to have a variety of tempting justifications surrounding them. The disgust involved in outrage, helps to keep us from swallowing these justifications. It can help to keep us from perilous compromises, or from settling down in the seeming inevitability of long-entrenched wrongs. The note of wounded sympathy within outrage helps us to remain in robust alliance with the wronged. When we are morally wronged directly ourselves, our properly functioning emotions usually turn to more straight-forward defiance. Moral outrage, on the other hand, is usually on behalf of someone else. And the emotion itself helps us to balance our own privileges within the moral situation. We are neither the direct wronger, nor the directly wronged, but neither are we disinterested, or unaffected completely. If we are partly entangled in the wronging actions, our moral outrage at the wrong can help us engage in the difficult work of disentangling ourselves from the wronging, without disentangling ourselves from the wronged. This is usually hard on the ego, and it is tempting to deflect blame from ourselves, but the disgust within the outrage keeps this tendency in check, and the anger urges us to keep working on it rather than give up. Similarly it can be tempting to wash our hands of the whole affair, rather than engage in the delicate work of careful partial disentanglement. But the sympathy within the outrage, blocks us from distangling ourselves completely from those we perceive as wronged.
Deeply entrenched wrongs, and disgusting defenses of existing wrongs, are sadly pretty common in the US in the cases of racism, rape culture, sexist double standards, transmisogyny, poverty and plenty of other cases.

Point two – A clue

But none of that really addresses our theorizing, except in as much as theories are products of activities of debate and discussion as well as contemplation. At the level of theory, moral outrage can play a variety of other roles too. Most primaly, it is an intuition pump, saying, here is a topic to engage with. It can help us find problems worth confronting. It can help us tighten our understanding of where the real problem or underlying problem is, so as not to be overly sucked into side issues. Even within a complex situation, a little flash of outrage, might serve as a clue that some aspect of the situation hasn't been adequately looked at yet. Outrage sometimes comes with a note of incredulity, how the hell could anyone take that position? When that happens it is often a clue that we haven't understood the motivations of the outrageous position sufficiently (while also strongly warning us not to share those motivations). Still, we can often more effectively oppose a position, if we more thoroughly understand both it, and the things underlying it, and outrage can serve as a clue here as well as a spur. Secondly, outrage can serve as a final gut-check on theories we might be tempted to advance. Again, it holds us in check from advancing the theory, but it also serves as a clue that something in our analysis is not functioning correctly and we need to find it and fix it.

Point three – One of our roots.

Theorizing needs to serve a purpose in our lives and society, outrage is sometimes part of the story of how that works.

We cannot afford to spend out lives entirely in theorizing. I leads to ourselves being sadly underdeveloped, and in extreme cases to poverty, starvation, irrelevance, wasted potential, and impotent compassionlessness. Rather theorizing has to be part of what we do and who we are, both as individuals, and as social groups and whole societies. But the theorizing needs to be grounded in larger projects. We have options about what those projects are. In some ways we are doomed to our freedom, and thus are the options we choose for our projects. It's not just that we have to act, but that our actions and theorizings need to be aspects of a larger sense of project, self and purpose. And some projects we can choose are bad choices. The relentless pursuit of money for its own sake to the exclusion of all else, is ultimately extremely limiting for out own selves, and damaging to our society. A careful discussion of projects I approve of and disapprove of gets into issues of religion and spirituality, and beyond the scope of this little philosophical doodle. But things that strive to make ourselves wider and more complex, or that strive to entangle ourselves with the wideness and complexity already in the world, are projects I approve of. In particular, both promoting justice, and empathizing with the downtrodden, are among the good projects we can choose. Not just outrage as an emotion, but moral outrage in particular, can serve as a link between out theorizing, actions, and the projects of promoting justice or helping the downtrodden. Here the function is not just spurring our actions, but connecting our actions more fully to who we are, getting down into our own roots, making our philosophy mean something rather than be an especially complicated form of mental masturbation. Somehow or other, our theorizing needs to ground itself deep within ourselves, and outrage is not the only way to accomplish this, but it is one of several plausible strategies.

OK, that's what comes to mind tonight. If you folks have further ideas, give them to me so I can pass them on to Kevin Timpe.

Post Script -  Point 4 - a Trap or distraction

Moral outrage can also be dysfunctional.   Sometimes we are so worried about being "in the right" that we give up being helpful.  Sometimes we make the perfect the enemy of the good.  Sometimes we can be distracted by our own anger.  Sometimes we miss the point someone is trying to make because the example they attempt to use to illustrate it is so outraging.  Sometimes, we can stew in our outrage in dangerous ways.  Sometimes we feel so impotent in the face of the outrageous, that the outrage just makes us feel weaker and weaker.  I'm not trying to overglorify outrage.  It can certainly misguide as well, but it can and often does function rightly within the economies of our psyche.

Reading Ellen Feder's “Making Sense of Intersex” Part 1

So I picked this book up at the new non-fiction section of my local public library a week or two ago, not really knowing what it was. If I'd have noticed the subtitle “Changing Ethical Perspectives in Biomedicine” maybe I'd have clued that it is a difficult work of professional academic philosophy, Nietzsche, Foucault, Judith Butler, that sort of thing, citing everything from Dialogues in Pediatric Urology to the Journal of Clinical Ethics to Social Semiotics. But hey, I'm an ex-professional philosopher, and a non-binary person myself, let's tackle it.

Setting the Scene

First observation, this book assumes you already know a lot of specifics of the issues in 20th and 21st century American treatment of Intersex children, (which I kinda do), or if you don't that you are willing to read a lot of other things that have been written about it first. This is not entirely unfair. A lot has already been written, and it is a scandal that professional ethicists and gender theorists really ought to know about by now. But assuming you, my humble blog reader, don't, here is my opinionated overview. The treatment of intersex kids from 1955 to 2006 (and in many ways before and after) is the biggest failure in American medical ethics, at least since the Tuskegee Syphilis experiments of 1932-72, and the ethicists jumped all over that as soon as the whistle was blown, even if they weren't able to prevent it. For the last half of the twentieth century, the official “Standards of Care” for intersex kids, called for things like removing the penis of a infant boy whose penis was deemed too small, performing an infant vaginaplasty, using hormones, and pressuring the parents to raise the child as a girl, and never ever tell the child, or anyone in the family that there had ever been hints of masculinity. Or if a girl's clitoris was deemed too large, it was to be mostly surgically removed, regardless of how that might effect her later sexual experience. What mattered most was normal-shaped infants. Or if an older girl was found to have undescended testes rather than ovaries (usually along with being genetically XY, but insensitive to androgens), her testes were to be removed, she was to be told they were ovaries but damaged, and no hint was ever to be given to her than she might be genetically male, or that the real health risk was that undescended testes are a little more likely to become cancerous eventually. Or the kids who had their genitals examined by scores of doctors and med students in turn, often with poking and prodding, at a teaching hospital each year while they grew up. The horror stories go on. Sometimes even the parents were lied to, usually they were pressured, and often they were urged to bear the weight to their decisions in silence. Basic medical ethical guidelines like informed consent, or trying to avoid paternalism, were routinely violated. Many hard decisions were made on the basis of confident claims from doctors for which there was no evidence, and no attempt to gather evidence for the future. And unlike most of the other big medical ethics scandals, many people knew about this and signed off on it for decades. Somehow gender ambiguities seem to have created this huge moral blind spot in otherwise thoughtful and caring Americans. Eventually, many of the grown children who had been subjected to these “standards of care” began learning the truth, and speaking out publicly against them. Journalists, and academics, and philosophers, and doctors with doubts got involved. By 2006 the medical consensus had definitely shifted on some of these issues, but the process was very clearly led by Intersex activists rather than by ethicists, or doctors, or parents of intersex kids. And in many ways, the current standards of care, aren't much better than before, continuing to encourage “normalizing” genital surgery for infants, for instance.
Participants of the 3 International Intersex Forum, Malta 2013

My personal baggage

Now obviously this is going to resonate with me in all kinds of complicated and personal ways. The lines between trans and intersex are intricate and unclear. Transgender people fought our own battle against overly paternalistic “gatekeepery” standards of care, and the stigmatizing of trans as a disorder, among doctors and mental health professionals over roughly the same time period. Indeed, the thought and philosophy of doctor and gender theorist John Money turns out to be a key part of the paternalist side of the debate for both trans and intersex.

One of the first doctors to argue publicly against the old standards of care, summarized the thinking of doctors who supported the old standards of care like this: “intersexed individuals could not possibly live normal lives as intersexed individuals and … the only chance they had for happiness and psychological well-being was the establishment of a secure male or female gender identity. Second, there simply was no precedent for [such individuals] living as normal in our society. [Darbuul 2000].” That is to say the impossibility of a non-binary person like ME PERSONALLY ever being normal, or happy, or having psychological well-being, or having any precedent in our society, was the main reason these terrible things were done to these kids. For decades. At least in the minds of the doctors. Intersex or trans, it is NON-BINARYNESS that is really the main issue here, in many cases.

So I want to be a good ally to my intersex siblings and friends (an old friend came out privately to me as intersex, when I came out publicly as trans). And that surely means not projecting too much of my own stuff onto their situation. And, in fairness, part of the issue is that intersex is a big umbrella term, and the issues around say Congenital Adrenal Hyperplasia, are not the same as the issues around Androgen Insensitivity Syndrome, or for that matter 5-alpha Reductase Deficiency. There are a lot of cases, and some have a lot more similarities with the situation of trans-people than others, and some have more in common with non-binary folk than others. But at the very least, enforcing the gender binary is very much at the heart of much of the reasoning that went into the intersex standards of care, doctor's treatment recommendations, parental decisions, and children's self-understandings.

Next, I have a lot of complicated baggage with John Money. In college I idolized the guy, and read a bunch of his stuff, even though it was quite difficult. I admired the way he combined hard medicine, thoughtful gender theory, and practical application in a variety of contexts. Of course, his theories of gender identity development have proven over time to be plausible but tragically, horribly wrong. And his own amazing arrogance seems to have been a big part of the problem. It is tempting to demonize John Money, and make the decades of mistreatment look like his fault. But it is an oversimplification. As Feder points out, several of his key ideas were not as original as they are sometimes made out to be, but rather were codifications of existing practices. Similarly, lots and lots of other doctors read his stuff and bought his arguments. Heck in a lot of ways, John Money's thought screwed me personally, more deeply than I can really comprehend. I went through a phase in college where I serious questioned if I was trans. And I read what I could find in my little college library on it. Which was largely Money and people influenced by him. And his thought convinced me that a) I wasn't a MtF transsexual by current medical standards b) there were no other kinds of trans-people besides transsexuals, or if there were they wouldn't ever be given hormones or surgery and c) non-binary in particular was not a thing, and not a viable way to try to live. It was almost two decades later, before I seriously tried again to figure out what I was gender-wise. What might my life have been like if I hadn't read John Money, and had figured out I was trans in college? On the other hand, John Money's picture of the nature of biological sex seems to be dead on. I used it myself in an earlier blog post here. The Intersex Society of North America (one of Money's biggest opponents) uses his understanding of biological sex in their definition of what intersex is. Sigh. For better or worse, this guy has influenced me in a wide variety of ways.

Commentary/Book Review

Well, this commentary/book review is going to have to be just a part 1, because I'm not through it, and my comments are already probably too long for most readers, so there is always a chance that some of my issues will be addressed later on. Chapter 5 might or might not address one of my big concerns, for example, I can't tell from the introduction.

So, first, as I said earlier, Feder doesn't seem to have enough introduction and background material for many potential readers, which seems like an eminently correctable problem, although I certainly sympathize with the worry that in this case intro and background could bog down into taking over half the book if you weren't careful.

Second I've been really struck by the lack of hardly any mention of transgender people or issues. Feder clearly envisions that her book will be read by, and of interest to: doctors, parents of intersex folks, intersex folks, medical ethicists, professional philosophers, and gender theory/women's studies/professional Feminist folks.  But she doesn't seem to envision trans folk, or non-binary folks who aren't intersex, as one of the audiences that might be interested in her work. There were three solid pages on how the history of thinking about and treatment of homosexuality is similar and different to the intersex case, and several other briefer discussions. There is a discussion of similarities and differences with closed adoption (which is a neat point I'd never seen before). It would be very easy to devote a few pages to compare/contrast work between trans and intersex. Similarly, several of the people discussed in more detail in the text actually transition their gender of public presentation as kids or adults. This is analysed in terms of Merleau-Ponty's theories, but never put into the context of the many other people who make such transitions or how or why or how it impacts their discussions of sense of self.

Most glaringly, I think society as a whole, and trans people in specific, need to be addressed as stakeholders in the ethical deliberations here. Feder is really good about being careful to think about things from the doctors' angle, from the parents', from the kids', even siblings. What were the doctors thinking as they made their recommendations? What motivated them? How were they harmed by what happened? What were the parents thinking? How were they harmed? How were the kids harmed? How were they benefited? What went right despite much going wrong? Feder excels at teasing out questions that aren't just lying on the surface (more on that in a bit). But to my mind, she missed a bunch about society and transfolk. How was society harmed, by having all examples of ambiguous gender people in it systematically altered and hidden, to present the appearance that gender and sex are more binary than they actually are? I think that Jane Schmoo in Kokomo, with no direct connection to intersex people, was harmed, in her own understanding of her own femininity, by being misled into thinking the lines between male and female are vastly less blurry than they actually are. Or consider Marilyn Roxie, a young genderqueer I mentioned the other day who designed the genderqueer flag, and takes they/them.  Imagine them growing up queer in a society with a much steeper gender binary than it should have. Trying to figure out how to make sense of themselves in a country where “he” and “she” are the only options, and any ambiguity must be surgically removed whenever discovered. Could they have used some non-binary role models? Maybe some of the “ambiguous” kids born in the 50s or 60s would have grown into people who embraced their androgyny by the time Marilyn was a teen trying to make sense of their own androgyny. (Indeed, notice that one of the few kids whose parents refused the surgery, DID grow up to be one of the non-binary hero/ines I mentioned last week, Hida Viloria). Maybe society would have been more tolerant of ambiguities in gender, if these hadn't been systematically effaced and hidden for decades. Maybe it would have been easier on Marilyn, growing up, coming out to themself, coming out to others, carving a space to be non-binary and genderqueer in daily life, if people understood, that yes this is a thing that happens, sometimes at birth and sometimes later. And selfish as it is, maybe it would have been easier for me. It's easy to see on the surface of things, that the intersex kids have been harmed, that their parents have been put into terrible positions, that the doctors themselves are not unscathed. But the problem is not JUST a personal matter of many individual cases. Part of the issue, that needs to be addressed is the systematic, programmatic nature of what was done for decades to thousands. These kids were robbed of their genital integrity, that is true and obvious, but we were ALL robbed of their witness to the wholeness of themselves, of the possibility of seeing how non-binaryness can play out in a normal life. As the Senate of Australia said when it looked into the intersex medical recommendations in 2013 “Normalising appearance goes hand in hand with the stigmatisation of difference.” We have ALL been wounded by this stigmatisation, even cis-binary folks, but especially the intersex folks and their families, and trans folks like Marilyn and I, who are trying to live non-binary lives.

Which brings to a related point, I want to emphasize. Every gender theorist needs to think long and hard about the intersex standards of care debacle, via Ellen Feder's book, or in some other way. If we make John Money into too cartoonish of a villain we can miss one of the points that is key for me. John Money's theory of the psychological development of gender identities was not stupid or thoughtless, and it reflected a kind of zeitgeist that was going around at the time. But his theory wasn't questioned hard enough. It wasn't criticized enough. People didn't think about it deeply and carefully enough. And in his and others arrogance, it was often applied as if it was simply fact, despite having remarkably little evidential basis. People wanted to believe it was so, it fit the mood and the cases on hand pretty well, so people didn't poke it too much. And the result was disastrous when it turned out to nonetheless be false. No, people's gender identity cannot be re-written by fiat if we catch them early enough. Gender is not simply in our social treatment of them, or the shape of their genitals, or their hormone structure, or their early childhood development. Take a boy, reshape his genitals, give him female hormones, raise him as a girl and hide his past from him, and do it all while he's an infant. Sometimes you'll get a well-adjusted adult woman - maybe. But, all too often, it turns out, you'll get someone who feels like a boy/man trapped in a girl/woman's body. (How does that not make you want to think about comparisons and contrasts with trans cases, sigh) Who will struggle his whole life with it. Who will feel deeply, unspeakably betrayed when he finds out what was done to him in the name of a theory of gender that had little evidence but that everyone sorta kinda wanted to believe. And that, or something like it, might wind up being the ultimate result of Judith Butler's theory of gender, or Kate Bornstein's, or Julia Serano's, or my own. This story is among other things a warning about what happens when plausible gender theories go badly wrong. It is not enough to be plausible, smart and thoughtful. We have to critique our theories of gender thoroughly, and we have to be humble about our results and the best guesses we wind up making at the end of the day.

OK third a compliment. What Ellen Feder does best is look at questions that you might not have thought to ask at first. She says at one point that she thinks philosophy is more about asking good questions, than it is about giving good answers. A great line, and also clearly her own strong suit. She actually has so many of them that I'm going to look at several chapter by chapter in a bit. But more generally, this is what I've really liked in the book so far. Also, Feder has done an impressive job to striving to keep her own baggage out of the mix, to try hard to look the situation in the face honestly, to gather information and perspectives without pre-deciding the outcomes. She wound up engaging in social research, trying to find people to interview and interveiwing them to get a better feel for their experience of and spin on events. She is not trying to simply make the doctors or John Money into cardboard villains, but to bring some nuance and charity to their perspective. She doesn't want to “let them off the hook” or “defend” them either, she wants to savor the complexities. Similarly with the parents. Years ago, she clearly couldn't tell if the parents were villains for making horrible choices, or tragic figures for being bullied into terrible choices, or victims themselves, or what, and wanted to reach out and hear the parents own understandings. She eventually advances a story in which none of our initial stabs at characterizing the parent's role in the affairs is exactly right, and that's very characteristic of her book.

Fourth, Ellen Feder really wants philosophy to be able to help make sense of what happened. She wants to help after the fact. So she throws a whole bunch of philosophers and philosophical ideas at the many interesting questions, to see what sticks. And the results are pretty hit and miss. But some of it sticks. This gives the text a difficult and academic style - let's apply some Foucault; how does Bordieu's idea of habitus help us here?; notice what happens if we look at this through the lens of Kittay's understanding of dependency work; fourth-order discussions of Butler's take on Merleau-Ponty's take on Malebranch, etc. This isn't going to be the first or last book written on this topic, and I really don't think Feder has the issues sewn up, or thoroughly sussed out yet. It is far better at questions than answers, but even on the answers front, there are lots of these little unsystematic advances and hints and leads and suggestions. She's ON to things, even if she's not really done, and I don't always agree with her. Her approach is still quite piecemeal. It's a credible, decent book, that later folks working on the topic (or Feder herself later on), need to read and think about, and follow up on. I have optimism that eventually a more synthetic, whole-topic way of understanding what happened will emerge, and when it does Feder will be cited a lot, and will seem like one of the steps along the way towards understanding the situation.

Ok, let's look a little more carefully at the first few chapters. The key question that emerges early in the book is “how did the bio-ethicists not catch this long before they did?” And the tentative answer that emerges is - that is just not at all how professional bio-ethics functioned in the US. Feder tells the story of Noam Chomsky (a linguist, by background), speaking at the Western meeting of the American Philosophical Association in 1969. “After giving a stinging attack on the American government for its pursuit of war and for its imperialism, and on the general dominance of a power elite wielding technological mastery that it proclaimed to be 'value-free,' Chomsky challenged the audience of philosophers: 'these are the typical questions of philosophy … philosophers must take the lead in these efforts.' Jonsen [the historian recounting this episode] rightly observes 'only a non-philosopher could believe that such issues had been 'typical questions of philosophy,' at least during its recent history.” Or perhaps, better, during its recent American history. The idea that social critique was one of the jobs of philosophers, and part of being a serious philosopher, was pretty normal in Europe all through the 20th century, and Feder's many Continental thinkers referenced help to reinforce the point. But in the US, its hard to find influential professional philosophers engaged in real social critique after Dewey. It's no accident that, for example, Judith Butler has been in the “Critical Theory” program at the Department of Rhetoric and Comparative Literature, since 1993, rather than being housed in a philosophy department. Professional philosophers are expected to specialize more narrowly, and to publish extensively in specifically philosophical venues, and more general social criticism in the US is largely left to folks in literature or the media, or even to non-professional intellectuals and activists, such as bloggers like me, I suppose. Feder recounts the story of Hannah Arendt being scorned by an APA accreditation committee in the late 70s, as another historian recounts, she was considered “an unproductive drone because her works are not cited in important journals such as the Journal of Philosophy and Philosophical Review. Of course, she published regularly in the New York Review of Books (no obscure venue), had been on the cover of Time magazine, and was one of the most famous political thinkers in the world."  Hannah Arendt (!) was just not up to APA standards.  American professional philosophers just didn't see themselves as being involved in criticizing existing policies or practices, but rather as “assist[ing] in the formation of sound public policy by distinguishing appropriately different kinds of ethical theories and kinds of moral and political obligation” as one of the APA philosopher's replied to Chomsky's 1969 challenge for philosophers to be more engaged in social critique. And this spirit certainly extended into American reflection on professional philosophical bioethics as it emerged from the 60s to the 00s.

The second big, under-examined question, and the bulk of chapter 2, is roughly “Why did the parents choose something for their infants, that they would not have chosen for themselves?” Suzanne Kessler, one of the first humanities scholars to look hard at intersex issues in the 90s, actually did some experiments with college students to gauge people's reactions and opinions. In one study, women were asked to imagine that they had been born with extra-large clitorises, and men to imagine that they had been born with extra-small penises, and asked a bunch of survey questions about how they thought this would effect their lives, and whether they would have wanted their parents to approve of surgery to correct this at birth (or in the men's case reassign them as female at birth and perform infant vaginaplasty). Both men and women, responded that they didn't think having these genitals would have impacted their life much, and that they would not have wanted surgical alteration, especially if there was a risk such surgery would interfere with sexual pleasure as adults. 93-99% agreement, by the way. In a separate experiment, college students were asked to imagine instead that they had a baby who was born with an unusually large clitoris or small penis, and were presented with clitoral reduction, or reassignment as female and vaginaplasty as options. These students strongly, but not overwhelmingly opted for the surgical operations. Their reflections on why, focused on wanting their kids to be normal, and feeling that early surgery would be less traumatic than later surgery. They did not reflect at all on the risk of lost of erotic sensitivity. Lots of evidence show that actual parents of intersex children reflected similarly. Issues of normalcy and minimizing trauma weighed heavily in their minds when deciding at birth.  But issues of erotic sensitivity, identity, and being comfortable with one's own body regardless of variations from the norm, weighed heavily on them when they reflected on their relationship with their grown intersex children, or what they would have wanted, later on. So why the disconnect? It doesn't seem to be ill-will, or selfishness. The parents TRIED to reflect about what would be best for their kids. They just seem to have had this odd disconnect between what they would have wanted for themselves, and what they thought was best for their kids. Feder interviews a bunch of parents, and gathers some info, but doesn't really come to a conclusion. It isn't malice, or selfishness, or straight-forward lack of thought, we can say that. Similarly, the doctors certainly gave the parents partial information, and left out some of the key bits that might have impacted their decision, but that doesn't seem to be the heart of it either. Feder tries to apply Kittay's theory of dependency work, and argues that the dependency worker (in this case the parent), just isn't as “transparent” as we might hope. Our sense of what we “ought” to do, or our need to “do right by” the person who is dependent on us, just partially overwhelms our ability to empathize with them, identify with them, and imagine “what they would want” as contrasted with what feels dutiful for us.

The third big question is why do the doctors seem to care so much about genital shape and size? Especially given that college student respondents claim not to. Especially when some of the doctor's responses seem to indicate “disgust” or “revulsion” for abnormal genitals as part of the story. Here Feder, dives into Nietzsche, and argues that the doctors feel ressentiment, and thus in an odd way envy, for the infant's ambiguous genitalia. Grown cis, white, well off, male surgeons envying micropenises? Erk? Well, Feder takes a while to develop this line, and goes through some pretty dodgy bits of Freud, and interpretations of Nietzsche that I'm not necessarily completely in-line with, but the ultimate upshot guess is not as crazy as it sounds at first. The idea is that everyone – male or female, cis or trans, has to as a child learn to constrain themselves into a social gender role that is never going to be completely comfortable, or fit entirely correctly. Everyone experiences this as a loss to some degree or another. Once you take on the role of your gender as a part of your identity, it is not just a loss, but a sacrifice, a part of yourself that you have done your best to excise to be who you are socially, to fit into the required gendered molds. As Feder puts it “it is not simply that their bodies [the infants with ambiguous genitalia] point to a truth about what gender 'really' is, but also that those with such anatomies cannot do this thing that the rest of us must [fit into the gender binary] and for which we must sacrifice. That is why they are enviable. And that is why their “enjoyment” of ambiguity must be spoiled.” In a sense, it is like hazing. I had to do these things to fit into the gender binary, why should I let you get away with not doing the same or something parallel? I'm not sure I buy it, but I certainly suspect it's onto something. Somehow or another, I suspect the gender binary is both an important cause of this situation, and importantly reinforced by it.

Feder's fourth big question is “is there some form of subtle damage to the self, that intersex infants who are surgically altered suffer from that isn't captured by harms that have been explored so far – trauma, pain, discomfort, sensation loss, the psychosocial harms of secrecy, shame, resentment of parents, etc.” And yes she thinks there is. And she tries to apply Merleau-Ponty's theories of self (and more specifically Judith Butler's take on them), as well as the details of the life of an intersex fellow named Jim, to illustrate them. Again, I'm pretty unimpressed by the applicability of Merleau-Ponty, it's not wrong exactly, but I'm not sure it helps much. And I've read a bunch of different accounts of a pretty similar phenomena among trans people trying to understand or come to terms with who they are. Maybe I just trust regular folks reflecting on their own personal narratives, more than the psychoanalytic approaches of Continentialists trying to “apply” theories to the accounts of others. Jim describes his experience eloquently enough, without needing to bring a Frenchman into the mix to expertsplain him with.  But, again, Feder is definitely onto something here, the harms done at the level of self and self-understanding are deeper and subtler than a lot of the medical research is equipped to detect or make sense of.

Another great question Feder pursues in chapter 4, is how does the treatment of an intersex child impact siblings of the child? The question of impacts on the siblings of a child with disabilities, or chronic medical problems, were actually explored quite a bit in the 90s, and to good effect. But no one seems to have even asked the question with regards to intersex, not even the doctors or parents reflecting on making hard choices. On the other hand, it wasn't hard for Feder to find examples of siblings who had clearly been impacted. Again this is clearly a cool lead for further research and thinking.

OK, that's more than enough for now, I'll try to give a part two in a few weeks

Wednesday, January 28, 2015

Transitioning, Fitness and My Motivation Problems

My wife talks a lot about fitness. She has a whole awesome blog on it here
I don't talk about it much, because …
I'm embarrassed.
I listen to trans-people every day with far bigger problems than the ones I'm having.
I don't want to be a whiner, or to feel like I'm complaining about the wrong things.
But after I broke down crying in the gym last week, one of the things that really helped was reading a trans-lady marathoner's blog post of how transition impacted her fitness regime, so I guess I feel I ought to add my voice, if I can.

I'm looking at the race results of a little local 5K I ran in April. The top 10 runners are all male. The fastest man, beat the fastest woman by over 4 minutes (an both beat me by over 14m). And in general, the males ran a lot faster than the females. I haven't been to a local weightlifting competition yet, and I can't find a posting of results. But suffice it to say, again, the males lifted a lot more than the females. This is not an anomaly.
Testosterone gives people with male-style hormone profiles a HUGE advantage over folks with more female-style hormone profiles in the muscle building (and maintaining) category. And consequently in cardio-vascular endurance. And in running speed. And in lifting. And in lots of physical athletics issues. Don't get me wrong, there are plenty of women who are strong, fast, fit, skilled etc. Far fitter than me. I have run zero marathons in my life. Like most things on gender there are two largely overlapping bell curves, and hard work, or smart work, can definitely effect where you are on them. But we very rarely have females directly compete with males, because that turns out not to go well for the women and girls. Unfortunately, when the “male” you are competing against is your own self a few months ago … well that can get tricky, psychologically...

A woman can lift weights and not need to worry about getting “bulky” because at female levels of testosterone it is very hard to get bulky. You'll build muscle, get fitter, get many health benefits, but you won't get “bulky” (unless you are very specifically trying to get bulky and work your ass off). But the down side is that if you are on a feminizing hormone regime, you are going to slowly, steadily lose muscle for a while, while your body is adjusting and that is going to have a lot of effects.

I knew all this, intellectually, before I started hormones. Frankly, several of the problems I'd worried about with transition, when I started, haven't really materialized. People have remained remarkably polite to me even while I've been visibly in transition, for instance, which is not the experience many trans people have. But I have been surprised how much the slow steady declines in my speed, strength, and endurance have ground me down. I think the issue is not the declines themselves, there is a sense in which I don't really care how fast or strong I am. I'm not really competitive, even at the local level. Rather, my slow steady declines have messed with my motivations for working out, and with the psychology segment of my fitness regime.

Ok background ...
I was a runner back in the day, sorta, barely eeking out my High School letter in cross-country. Running was a nice chance to think and be outdoors and push myself. I was always running against myself. I knew I had no hope of really competing against the other runners, but hey self-improvement was the whole point any way, right? Mens sana in corpore sano, and all that, right? When I was a professor, I walked several miles to and from work each day. I'd organize my thoughts, have some alone time, but I still got got a decent bit of exercise. But as a housewife, for the last several years, I rarely exercised much at all. In 2013 I tried to get back into running, and managed to jog occasionally, but irregularly and without any plan, and it got pre-empted more and more as my schedule got crunched.

I decided 2014 was going to be different. I asked for and got a new jogging jacket for my birthday in Feb 2014, so I could start jogging early in the season and get into good habits. I was actually kinda excited to get back into a real regime. I had joined Fitocracy and interacted with people far more serious than I, but also with regular Joes and Janes trying to get back into fitness like myself. I saw a lot of motivational memes. I exercised 3 hours a week mid Feb-May, and in June my wife convinced me to start in the gym too. From June until now I ran/walked 4 times a week for 45-60min in the park, and did 2 hour-longish sessions with weights at the YMCA. (OK the outdoor stuff got cut for cold weather a lot in the winter). It was by far the most exercise I'd had since high school. In several ways my diet improved too, and it was already not too shabby. Like my wife, I slowly steadily lost weight from Feb to August. I seem to have lost fat. My times and lifts were slowly improving. I was enjoying it, and optimistic. Things were looking up. I looked forward to working out, and was pretty well motivated in my average non-athlete sorta way.

Fairly typical Fitocracy motivational meme ...

Then from late August until early Jan 2014 it all reversed. I slowly began to put back all my weight. I put back on fat. My speeds slowed. My endurance declined. My strength deteriorated. I got slowly steadily weaker and slower and more ragged. Running and weightlifting became discouraging rather than uplifting. The fight to get dinner made after I was done my workouts became more and more awful. Pleasant exhaustion had been replaced by simple dog-tiredness. It seemed like I was eating more too. I was demoralized in the gym or park, and especially when I faced the scale. I'd gotten two new high-end workout outfits as gifts for Christmas from people who wanted to encourage me. I like wearing those and they certainly gave me something to look forward to in early Jan, but by mid Jan I was pretty down. Twice I gave up in the middle of routines I'd been OK with a few months earlier. And when a well-meaning gym patron tried to correct my form on a lift I'd only done a couple times, and I couldn't understand what I was doing wrong, I stiff upper-lipped it until she was gone, then went to a corner and lost it crying.
What the fuck happened?
I was doing so well …
My wife is chugging along, diligently making slow steady progress and I was too, until I wasn't and my continuing diligence in the gym and park wasn't making any difference.
Why was I bothering?
Why was I wasting my time with this crap?
I'll never have a body like these other folks in the gym … I can't even maintain the little progress I made in 2014 … this is already the longest I've maintained a real regime since high school ... give up … give up ...

* * *
So what happened? - Lots of spironolactone (a testosterone-blocker), that's what happened.
I started HRT in April, and loved it right from the first. My doc started me on low doses which helped my dysphoria, but body changes were slower. He slowly upped the doses, and my spiro dose went way up in late August. And that means my testosterone went way down. My tests this month show I have on the low side of female normal levels of testosterone now, although my body is still adjusting. I like my breast growth. I like being on HRT pretty much all the time, except that a little part of me is beginning to resent it when running or lifting. Like many people, my appetite went up a bit, as my estrogen levels went up. Not hugely but noticeably. (I've also totally craved and eaten a LOT more pickles than ever before in my life, too, I don't know if that's hormonal or not, not that pickles are high calorie). So I have to fight against my appetite often now, to stay within my macros, whereas before, my appetite rarely bade me to eat more than I should. Similarly the estrogen/testosterone balance shifting probably means my BMI is going up (I have a the calipers, but they're actually pretty hard to get accurate readings with, at least for us, similarly the online body fat estimator calculation results seem to vary erratically from month to month for me). As I lose muscle and gain fat my body spends fewer calories on daily activity apart from workouts.

Continuing to work out regularly probably IS good for me on many fronts, even during transition. Its probably helping delay my pre-diabetes from converting to full blown diabetes. Working out is probably slowing my muscle loss. I'd probably gain even more weight, and lose even more endurance, if I wasn't keeping up with my workouts. I know that intellectually.

But at the level of daily motivation …

I'm sure that part of what helps Robyn keep being so awesome in the gym and at the table, is the regular feedback of progress. We were taught, and agree, that you should measure in lots of different ways, so we weigh ourselves a fair bit (here's R's discussion of that), and measure our bodies with tape measures once a month. And track our lifts and run times. That way if you plateau for a while in one dimension, maybe you'll see progress in a different dimension. If you don't make much progress on weight this month, well, maybe you PRed on deadlifts, or your waist improved a little, or … And as she agrees, one of the psychologically transformative things about weightlifting for her, has been that for the first time her mind is focused on being “more”(stronger), rather than being “less” (in weight) while working out. And for her, like many women, that makes all the difference.

But notice the refrain, “progress” “personal record” “competing against yourself” “being more” …
For the last 6 months I've seen slow steady regress, personal decline on almost all the metrics I'm tracking, despite lots of diligent work. I just can't compete with myself from a few months ago. When my wife has to try to decide whether or not to add 5lb to this lift, or 10lb to that lift, I have to decide whether or not to go down. And I resist going down, which means I get more and more exhausted even with routines that I could do a month ago, and my form gets more and more ragged …

Eventually, I will “bottom out,” my body will be adjusted to having a female hormone profile and I'll probably start making gains again. There are plenty of women with comparable hormone profiles in far better shape than me.  Then I can compete only against my own female-hormoned self, and try to ignore my PRs from the days of testosterone.  If I can stick with it that long. The trick is just finding ways to motivate myself until then. It may well be another full year of no progress.  As Dick Talens argues, even 2 months without perceived progress often causes someone to quit, if they don't already have a lot of faith in the process they are using.

The hard truth is that psychology is one of the most important part of your fitness regime. Your diet and exercise are not going to be good consistently or long-term without a lot of psychological back up. And many, many things in our culture undermine good psychology of fitness. I've seen many people undermined on the diet and exercise front by stupid theories about how willpower works that our culture keeps trying to promote for example. And like diet and exercise, your fitness psychology strategies need to be tailored to you, there is no one-size-fits-all psychology of fitness that is going to work well for everyone.

I don't really know how I am going to craft a good psychological regime for fitness for myself yet. A lot of the standard advice just doesn't seem to work for me, or to be actively counter-productive. There are definitely things I like. My body IS looking better. My fat is shifting in ways I like. It is hard to know how much is the hormones and how much is the gym work. And there aren't good metrics here. Similarly, maybe my gym work means I'm losing less muscle than I otherwise would, but we don't have good estimates for “normal” muscle loss during feminizing transition, except that it definitely seems to happen, and theoretically ought to happen. Again I don't know how to craft a metric there. I don't know good ways to give myself little psychological bennies for when I do well in the gym. It's hard even to know what counts as doing well for me. Everyone ages, and learning not to compete against your younger self is a lesson many folks have to learn in their 40s. It's just usually not learning not compete against yourself from a few months ago. I'm sure people on chemo, or other extreme health interventions often face similar declines, but I haven't talked with any to see how they coped with staying motivated in the gym through those sorts of issues.

So I don't really have answers, and I don't really want to whinge. But I want other folks going through feminizing hormone transition to know that they aren't alone, if this kind of thing is frustrating or demoralizing them too. It is difficult to keep working hard long term with consistent negative feedback. It just is.
Also, a fairly typical Fitocracy meme ...

Saturday, January 24, 2015

Clavicula Mortonis – Being an Alphabetickal Compendium of Arcane Gender Lore

Agender – a person who feels neither male nor female, because neither masculinity nor femininity seem to apply to them. Especially if “none” seems closer than “a mix of both” or “in-between.” Seems fairly synonymous with nongendered, genderless, and null-gendered. Close to neutrois, but see it for more.  check here for more

Androgyne – an old Greek term for someone who combines male and female within themselves, that has been used for centuries. Sounds old fashioned these days, but still in use. It's my preferred label, although I like lots of others too. Androgynos was also one of the six gender categories in Jewish law.

Arenotelicon - A creature that alternates between male and female. This word is so obscure it is not even in the O.E.D.; as far as I know it occurs only in the Physiologus, an anonymous book of the early Renaissance. The Physiologus uses it to describe hyenas, which were commonly believed to change their sex every year. These days we'd probably say bigender or genderfluid.

'Aylonit – one of the six gender categories in Jewish law, for people who seem female at birth, but later seem pretty non-female. Literally means barren, but often used as a far more specific and extreme case of non-femaleness than what we would call barrenness in English.  For a modern trans rabbi's perspective check here, for more detail check here, or if you can access academic papers here

Baeddel – see scrat, also some folks on tumblr seem to be reviving this very old term, and I can't follow the 21st century issues well enough to comment.

Bigender – a gender identity where one has both a “male-mode” and a “female-mode” and shifts between them, and typically self-identifies as male in male-mode and female in female-mode. A crossdresser might behave similarly, but think of themselves as the same gender whether presenting male or female, a bigender person typically feels their identity switching as well. I was one for a while, but I'm pretty androgyne-all-the-time these days. Bigender is pretty close to genderfluid, but you tend to have two fairly discrete states, like a switch, rather than a whole flowing spectrum. Brin Convenient is a good example. I've seen the term trigender, but never met someone who described themselves to me that way.  For more info or community check

Bisexual - when Charles Gilbert Chaddock translated Kraft-Ebbing's German book Psychopathia Sexualis into English in 1892 he picked the word "bisexual" to mean something like "sexually attracted to both genders."  The term has evolved since then, and you can find plenty of other discussions of it.  But BEFORE 1892ish it was a common English term meaning something like androgyne or hermaphrodite or having characteristics of each sex.  So you'll find it applied to people that don't fit nicely into the gender binary regardless of their attractions in lots of pre-20th century contexts.

Chaser, Admirer, or Transfan – slang terms for someone who is particularly attracted to trans people. Sometimes they are ppejorative terms, sometimes they aren't. It can be hard to tell if they're being used affectionately or insultingly.

Chian - Chios is the island in the Aegean right next to the island of Lesbos, which lesbians are named after (by analogy to the famous Greek Poet Sappho of Lesbos, who was probably bi, but oh well).  So a chian would be someone who isn't exactly a lesbian, but definitely in the vicinity ...

Cisgender, often shortened Cis – someone who thinks the gender assigned to them at birth fits them relatively well. It is never a slur or insult when I or most trans people say it. My lovely wife is cis, and I won't hear cisfolk badmouthed, OK?

Clavis – a fancy old word for a “glossary,” literally a “key.” I think it gives an elegant occultist feel to the standard old run down of terms that every discussion of non-standard gender or sexuality issues seems to be required to have, kinda like the Clavicula Salomonis. See also Gender Occultist.

The Clue Fairy – a well meaning spirit that repeatedly attempts to hit trans people living in denial over the head with a giant hammer, representing the repressed truth about themselves, until they finally start getting some of the clues through their thick skulls and coming out to themselves. Why do you take the extra time to peeing sitting down? Wham! Why do you insist on calling yourself a housewife? Wham! Is that gender dysphoria you feel when you look in a mirror? Wham! Why do you always pick female characters when playing video games? Wham! Your examples may vary.

Crossdreamer – Someone who regularly dreams or fantasizes about being another gender, or dressing, presenting or living as someone of another gender, but doesn't actually do much of any of that in real life. Yet.

Crossdressing – dressing in the clothes associated with the opposite gender regardless of motives. Very old practice, done in many cultures for many reasons.

Crossdresser / Transvestite – May mean someone who crossdresses even briefly for whatever reason, but may also mean someone who has regularly crossdressing as a part of their self-identity. In some cases we call someone a “crossdresser” because we don't know much about how they thought about themselves, we only know about their behaviour. Consider Marina the Monk (d. 508) or Ulrika Eleanore Stalhammar (1688-1733) who lived successful male lives for many years. In other cases, people self-identify as crossdressers or transvestites because it seems to fit their gender identity better than other terms, such as Eddie Izzard, who self-describes as a transvestite. The word transvestite is no longer polite in the US, where it was used for psychiatric conditions for so long that it now implies that you think someone's crossdressing is a psychological disorder, rather than a healthy lifestyle, but the word transvestite doesn't usually have these implications in British or Australian English. Someone who regularly crossdresses as part of a public performance will often identify and be called a Drag King/Queen instead, especially if they take an exaggerated gender role while performing. There are a lot of cultural differences between Drag folk and other crossdressers. The term “drag” dates to the 1870s, “transvestite” was coined in 1910, and the word crossdresser seems to appear in English first as a translation of the German transvestit in 1911.

Drag – see crossdresser

Epicene - partaking of the characteristics of both sexes; or common to both sexes; worn or inhabited by both sexes. Unisex. It's an old word that has been used for gender-non-conforming folks for centuries. Ben Jonson used it to mean something like 'effeminate'. Its Greek root means 'common,' and it shows up in descriptions of garments that either sex can wear, or places both sexes dwell ('Epicene...Convents, wherein Monks and Nuns lived together.' -- Fuller, c.1661). It's a good term for folks that think of themselves less as a combination of male and female, than as the greatest common denominator of male and female. I'll take this although I'm more mixed than common denominators only.

Eunuch – a term that either means a castrated servant in a royal household; or any servant, castrated or not, that you can trust your women with; or any castrated person; or any infertile male; or any impotent male; or any male who is impotent with women; or any male who has chosen to live celibately; or anyone of regardless of gender who has chosen to live celibately; or anyone born with ambiguous genitalia; or anyone assigned male at birth who then feminizes to the point of no longer being entirely male; or some combination of these categories depending on the century and culture it's being used in, and often the background of the speaker. The term has been in use for thousands of years, and I may or may not be one.  see my blog post, or wikipedia, or if you have access, dozens of scholarly articles ...

Furries - I'm not really qualified to speak here, but the furries I've known have been decent folk, and furries get made fun of, shit on, or have their conventions bombed a lot more than they should, so I feel obligated to say something.  My understanding is that there is a spectrum of identification from just being a fan of anthropomorphic animal art of various kinds (furry fandom), all the way up to feeling that one's "fursona" is a more authentic expression of themselves than their (what's the opposite furlessona?).  My understanding is that as with gender issues, there are analogs of crossdreamer, crossdresser, and transgender here (furdreamer, furdresser, and otherkin), with someone who regularly dresses in a fursuit often being called a furry lifestyler.  Sometimes there is a sexual component to furry fandom, often called yiff, (and things like pony play and puppy play are both historically older than furry fandom within alt-sex communities), but often there is only a minor sexual component, or none at all.  So it isn't necessarily about sex, or gender, but the analogs to the not-feeling-right-in-your-apparent-gender experience are strong enough that I've always felt furries were siblings to transfolk in an odd way.  

Galli – a priest/ess of the religion of the Cybele and Attis in the ancient world. They originated in Phyrigia, but were common throughout the Roman world for centuries. They castrated themselves and adopted many feminine mannerisms and dress habits publicly, and were commonly take to be a middle gender or third gender by their contemporaries, (medium genum, tertium sexus, etc.) although we don't have any self-descriptions of being a gallus/galla that I know of.

Gender Dysphoria – Dysphoria is an unpleasant feeling sorta between pain and sadness, kinda like discomfort but more or less intense. It can be as mild as a barely detectable niggling, or so intense you lay in a fetal position in your bed all day. If it's gender dysphoria, it will be tied to gender experience, presentation, and treatment in various ways. You might find that wearing a particular kind of clothing makes it worse, or alleviates it, or being called ma'am, or using particular mannerisms, or changing your appearance. Not all trans folks have it, and it isn't part of the definition or anything, but it is extremely common, and often a major clue that you are trans, and noticing carefully what seems to make it worse and better can be a big clue as to what kind of trans person you are.  It is also the APA's term for a new mental health diagnostic category, (here's the APA's official blurb on it). Here's a blog post about indirect ways it may manifest, 

Gender Identity Disorder – a US mental health diagnosis discontinued in 2013 on the grounds that having a gender identity other than what your birth certificate says you should have isn't a fucking disorder. Compare with homosexuality, which the US mental health system decided wasn't really a disorder in 1973, or habitual crossdressing AKA -Transvestic Fetish Disorder which was also discontinued in 2013.

Gender Occultist – One who is knowledgeable about the occult, hidden, secret, clandestine world of gender identities beyond the binary model of standard male and standard female, that we keep trying to tell anyone who will listen about so it won't seem so damn arcane and daunting to folks.

Gender Oracle - a person whom others approach to ask about another person's sex. It is well if the oracle can be persuaded to relish their role as an ongoing joke; more often, they dread it as a sticky social situation, and may transfer this discomfort to their client of not-entirely-obvious sex. In such cases the client is well advised to commiserate, pointing out that it is poor manners are on the part of the querant, to ask an oracle instead of the person themselves.  Coined by Raphael Carter, 1996

Gender Refusenik - a term for people denied SRS, whether due to lack of funds or psychological paternalism. All gender refuseniks are non-ops, but not all non-ops are refuseniks. Also 'gender otkaznik' for the Slav-savvy. Coined byRaphael Carter 1996, on the model of the Soviets who were “refused” permission of emigrate during the cold war (it didn't originally mean people who refuse to do something, but people who are refused permission to do something critical).

Genderfluid – someone whose feeling of their own gender shifts over time fluidly. They may feel quite male one day, and quite female the next, and may experience plenty of in-between (as opposed to bigender folk who tend to experience fairly discrete states of gender). Its not unusual for their preferred pronouns to shift along with their state. Genderfluid folks are genderqueer and transgender. Ruby Rose is a famous example.

Genderqueer - a catch-all category for gender identities other than man and woman, thus outside of the gender binary and cisnormativity. Non-offensive. A close synonym of non-binary. The word queer was associated with a certain political style in the late 80s and 90s, and aimed at reclaiming what had previously been an insulting term, so sometimes the term genderqueer inherits these political associations or sounds too close to an old insult. I identify as queer and genderqueer, but I'm actually pretty moderate on a lot of gender and sexuality issues, so I like the term non-binary a little better.

Hermaphrodite /Hermaphroditus – an old Greek term for a combination of male and female, that has come to mean many different things over the centuries. Sometime a child of Hermes and Aphrodite. Sometimes linked to statues of Aphrodite with male genitalia in the shape of a herm (pictured to the side). In some centuries it's a common term for what we'd now call non-binary or intersex people. Sometimes a technical medical term for conditions that very few humans fit, involving have both kinds of gonadal tissue. The term is still used in non-human biology a lot, (it's common in plants and snails, for instance), but it's usually avoided when talking about humans these days because it is taken to be loaded with specious or stigmatizing associations from various past uses.

Hijra – a category of third gender persons common in India. Often now called "transgenders" in Indian English (which is non-offensive in Indian English, although "transgender people" is more correct in US or British English).  See wikipedia, or say this article on recent legal victories for hijras

Homovestite - A person who obsessively, compulsively and neurotically wears the clothing of their own sex. Coined by Raphael Carter 1996

Intersex – I have yet to see a definition of this that really works. Roughly though, if your biology has a mix of male and female traits, other than just in your brain/identity, and the doctors notice it, and they don't think you are trans instead, they will label you as intersex. Only now it is often called DSD (Disorders of Sexual Development). Because you know, being a mix of male and female can't possibly be a healthy state, it has to always be medicalized as a disorder, and if it happens in the “body” it is a totally different thing that if it happens in the “brain.” Sigh. Many people with intersex biology are binary and cisgender in their own self-identity. And many people (like me) fit some of the formal definitions of intersex, but are not considered intersex because we are trans instead. Maybe this is it – if YOU decide your sex assigned at birth is wrong or oversimplified then you are trans, regardless of what the doctors think - if A DOCTOR decides that your sex assigned at birth is wrong or oversimplified or is “ambiguous” already at birth, then you are intersex, regardless of what you think about it. There are a lot of different kinds of intersex conditions and some of them really do have serious medical complications, like Congenital Adrenal Hyperplasia, so it's inevitable and even desirable to medicalize gender biology issues in some cases. But 20th century America proved to be very bad at being ethical about when and how to medicalize unusual biologies of gender.  (OK I've got whole books on this, but I'm having trouble finding a good overview, I guess this news report is a start). Intersex people have very much been given a raw deal over the last several decades, so I hope I don't sound dismissive and my venom is not for them. Being trans, intersex, or coming from a culture that assigns people non-binary genders at birth are the three ways to wind up non-binary, although plenty of intersex or trans people are binary too.

M. - the goal of a gender neutral honorific substitute for Mr. /Ms./ Mrs./Miss, is a natural one. Some use Mx. (pronounced mix or mux), but I think M. is an elegant solution too, maybe it will even catch on some day.

Macaroni – an 18th century British identity, where a male wore over-the-top fashions. Often they were ridiculed and accused of androgyny. Indeed, some seemed to aim for as much androgyny as they could get away with. Descendant of 15th-18th century terms like fop, beau, gallant, popinjay, coxcomb, fribble, fashion-monger, and ninny. Precursors of the 18th-20th century Dandies.

Mahu – a native Hawaiian non-binary gender category, a “third gender.” Often associated with hula dancing, or in general keeping old ways alive. Also sometimes other kinds of trans folk are called mahu now in Hawaiian slang by extension.

Molly – an 18th century British identity that doesn't exactly map to modern notions of homosexuality, crossdressing or transgender, but is partly all three. Mollies congregated together in molly houses, which were usually also taverns and/or houses of prostitution. Mollies had a ritual called “lying-in” or “mock birth” in which they ritually imitated giving birth.

Neutrois – a person who identifies as neither male nor female. Especially if metaphors like “neutral” or “null” or “none” are closer than “both” or “mixed” or “none of the above.” It falls under the umbrellas of trans and non-binary and genderqueer. Many neutrois are happy to identify as agender too, others say they have a gender but it is somehow neutral, or neutered. Appears to have been coined in 1995 by H. A. Burnham.  See more here.

Non-Binary – not fitting into a two-fold system. In logics, it usually means you have more that 2 truth values. In gender, it means someone who identifies as something other than male or female. Genderqueers, Genderfluid folk, tumtums, third-gender folk, androgynes, neutrois, many two-spirits, and many more are examples. Transmen and transwomen are NOT non-binary though, and typically resent it if you treat them as not-a-real-man, or not-a-real-woman, or somewhere-in-between. Similarly some intersex people self-identify as non-binary, but many do not.

Otherkin - Folks who believe that they are non-human in identity, even if they are human in body. Sometimes they identify as elves or faeries.  Sometimes as animals, or anthropomorphic animals, in which case they may also be furries.  I've known a person or two who thought of themselves as dragons-in-human-form.  Angels, demons, shapeshifters, werewolves, vampires, aliens, cartoon characters, there are a lot of possibilities.  It may sound like a mental health problem, and it probably is sometimes, but I've known folks that were pretty non-delusional, and far closer to something like a religious or spiritual or self-discovery understanding of the sense in which this is true.  Oh and someone's non-human self-identity is likely to interact with their gender and sexual identities.

Pansexual – Some one who is attracted to people of “all” genders. A bisexual person who wishes to emphasize that gender identities other than male and female are attractive to them too.  Older dictionary definitions of bisexual often assume there are only two genders, but more recent definitions by self-identified bisexuals often allow attraction to many gender-identities and try not to assume there are only “two” genders, so usually if someone says pansexual instead of bisexual they are trying to emphasize non-binary possibilities.

Pronouns – It is polite to ask someone's preferred pronouns, and rude not to try your best to use them once you know them. They used in the singular is correct grammar, and the next most polite option if you don't know someone's preferred pronouns. Many non-binary people prefer he/him/his or she/her/hers or they/them/theirs. Some people prefer it, and if, so it is correct to use it. However, it is always inappropriate to call a person it, unless you are confident that it is its preferred pronoun. Non-binary folk often use ze/hir/hirs, and odder pronouns like zir, co, ey, xe, etc. are sometimes preferred. Do your best. Except zie, that's just wrong, see the entry on zie.

Radar -v. the stuttering of pronouns or honorifics owing to gender confusion. Named for Radar O'Reilly's invariable "sir, ma'am, sir" when addressing Major Hoolihan in the TV show M*A*S*H. Also suggests the scanning motion of the eyes that often accompanies the stutter. Coined by Raphael Carter 1996

Saris – one of the six gender categories in Jewish law, for people who seem male at birth, but later seem seriously non-male. Used largely for eunuchs in the Old Testament, but comes to seem closer to our modern notion of a transwoman later on.

Sib – a informal affectionate term for a non-binary person. Shortened form of sibling. Use it the way you would use bro, sis, dude, lady, mate, buddy, girl (for an adult), honey, sugar, etc. Homie and comrade are also gender neutral if either fit your style.  I wrote more here.

Scrat - Old English term for 'hermaphrodite' - “Hermafroditus, waepenwifestre, uel scratta, uel baeddel.” --AElfric, c.1000 (Waepenwifestre and baeddel have meanings similar to scrat, but seem not to have made it into Modern English in any recognizable form.) “Somtyme one of mankynde is both man & woman & englyssh is called a scrette.”--Caxton, Trevisa's Higden (1482) - The origins of the word 'scrat' are murky, but they seem to be somehow bound up with the Old Norse skratte, meaning wizard, goblin, monster. 'Old Scratch,' a nickname for the devil, is an alteration of 'scrat.'

Shemale – a terribly impolite term. From the mid 19th to mid 20th century it was used to refer to women who were considered too masculine in a pejorative way. By the 1970s it started shifting to being used to make fun of effeminate males and trans-folk. These days it is usually a rude term or a porn term for pre-operative MtF transsexuals, often fetishizing them for others' gratification. If you are tempted to use this term in psychology or reptile biology (as some people do), then don't.

They – a pronoun that has been used in the singular regularly since frickin' Chaucer. It fell out of favor in the 19th century because prudes and chauvanists argued that using he for everybody regardless of gender was preferrable. They singular is a common pronoun of choice for non-binary folks, and it is not a new or edgy or incorrect use of this very old word, so get over that worry. I like ze though.

Third Gender – a phrase used to describe specific kinds of non-binary people who think of themselves as something other than male or female, like hijras, or fa'afafine, or the sworn virgins of the Balkans. A lot of times it's not necessarily how the people with the supposed third gender identity see themselves (like with the Kathoey), and a lot of times the local gender schema have more than three gender categories available (as in many Native American cases). There is a big danger of projecting our anthropological categories onto other people. Still, often it is an OK way to think about non-binary people. Richard O'Brien describes himself as being in a third gender between male and female. I'm happy to be called third gender, that seems like a decent way to cash out my in-between or mixed gender state.

Tranny – This was actually a polite term once. Long ago.  There are queerfolk who have been around a while that still use it affectionately.  But most transfolk in my experience find it offensive and impolite, here's a careful argument. Unless you are TRYING to degrade someone or sell degrading porn, or provoke a fight within the trans* community, don't use it. Oh and don't try to do any of those things either.

Transgender – 1) someone who thinks the gender assigned to them at birth doesn't fit very well how they think of themselves.
2) a broad term for many many kinds of “transgressive” gender identities.

Trans or Trans* - like transgender, but especially emphasizing inclusiveness and the second definition, and definitely trying to include trans-vestites, and crossdressers, and drag queens/kings, and intersex people, who might not feel they fall under the first definition of transgender above.

Transsexual – every definition I've seen of this is either identical to def#1 of transgender or has medical BS I don't like in it. I think it tends to be used especially for people striving to live and be accepted as the “opposite” sex of their sex-assigned-at-birth, and thus for binary trans-folk - transmen, transboys, transwomen and transgirls. It also tends to be used more for folk that use medical interventions like hormone or surgery. My sense has always been that as a non-binary person I don't count.

Transvestite – see crossdresser

Tumtum or timtum – a Hebrew category of gender from the Mishnas on (first few centuries CE). A person whose gender is not readily apparent, but might wind up being either male or female. Sometimes used as a slur against feminine males, or masculine females, but also used as a neutral category of Jewish legal thought, or even as a self-description. A baby can be tumtum. One who is questioning their own gender identity can be tumtum even to themselves. Someone who is trying to live with a gender presentation that leaves their biological sex in doubt to others might self-identify as tumtum.  Here's the awesome article.

Two-Spirit – a term for grouping a bunch of different Native American identities together (winjke, nadleehe, etc). Often they involve gender variance of some kind, but the lines between bisexuality, homosexuality, transgender, crossdressing, “third gender” and gender-non-conforming can get tricky and vary from tribe to tribe and be not natural concepts in the original languages. Instead of a gender binary for instance it is pretty common for Native American cultures to divide people into 4 types – masculine men, masculine women, feminine men, and feminine women. There is also a lot of evidence that contemporary two-spirit communities and self-understanding differ quite a bit from pre-contact or early-contact two-spirit communities and self-understandings. Its not unusual for a two-spirit person to think of themselves as non-binary in gender even if they seem fairly binary in gender to others.

Waepenwifestre – see scrat

Ze / hir / hirs – Another common pronoun set for genderqueer folk, especially in the Internet age. Hir is pronounced like “hear” or “here” not like “her.” Actually, the vowel in “hir” is just a little different than “here,” but like pin/pen or tin/ten, or bin/Ben, I can't hear the difference with my Midwestern ear and accent. I take this.

Zie / hir / hirs– the WRONG pronoun set, for all right thinking non-binary people. Those who use zie with an i, will be roasted over the flaming remains of their own genitalia of undisclosed shape, for all eternity in the afterlife. Don't let this tragic fate befall you, return to the path of righteousness and use ze without the i.

maybe I should include terms like demisexual, hyposexual, asexual, aromantic, panromantic, MSM, etc. etc. but my inclination is not to include sexuality identities that don't really have a gender component on my list.  Look terms like that up elsewhere.  Also, I've tried and failed to find a decent term for my own sexuality so I don't relish trying to explain the nuances of others.  Currently I joke, say I'm chian, and them give them the definition above when I get the blank look..