Wednesday, April 30, 2014

Intersex Kids

I've been reading this book for a class. I highly recommend it. It's a really depressing true story about a biological male that had a circumcision accident that completely removed his male genitalia. As a result, the leading doctor on Gender Identity at the time, John Money, claimed that the parents could just give him surgery to reassign him as a girl, give him HRT at puberty time, raise him as a girl, and that "she" wouldn't know the difference and grow up a perfectly normal girl. He also had a (male) identical twin, so John Money saw this as the "perfect matched trial" about how Gender Identity comes from nurture (your experience after you're born), instead of nature (your biological "hardwiring" before you're born). Despite his parents very dedicated efforts, it didn't work at all, and by his teens David choose to go back to presenting as male, once he finally learned what happened to him. He also dropped out of school because of all the teasing he received because he didn't feel like he fit in with males or females (since he acted like a boy but looked like a girl), and his mom and brother both attempted suicide. He continued through life and and eventually found a job working on cars and married a girl, but his brother committed suicide in 2002, and he committed suicide in 2004, at 36 years old.

This haunting story has been echoed across hundreds of intersex people's lives, as it's the "standard" way to treat them (typically reassigning them to a girl because it's "easier"). Specifically the old method of treating intersex kids - kids with birth defects that cause ambiguous genitalia - was to choose a gender (usually based on which it would be easiest to assign them to and from what the parents felt), and raise them as that, after having "corrective" surgery to make their genitals look a little more "normal." Then completely hide information about any of that from the kids, because that might "interfere" with normal development. If kids showed some opposition about the arbitrary choice of their gender, ignore it, and once they have HRT and SRS any fears should subside.

To put it simply that doesn't work. Gender Identity is very important, and John Money's theories are very wrong: The common theory today is that Gender Identity is formed by a complex combination of nature and nurture, and by the time a child is 3 or 4, it's pretty hardwired and very difficult and dangerous to attempt to "change."

The more recent proposed approach to dealing with intersex issues is to not do any "corrective" surgery until the child is old enough to decide for themselves. And be very open to them about their condition. That's not to say the parents shouldn't raise their child as one gender, they should still pick a gender like before and raise the child as that: Just if the child starts showing some opposition, be honest to them that that choice could have been wrong, and once it's time for puberty allow the child to decide for themself. If anything this backs up the idea of a "spirit gender" that we had before this life and will have after this life, since it shows that kids typically know this already, and it's not something we can control.

Overall it's still a very difficult situation to be in, for the parents and the kids, and one that probably requires professional counseling and support from people specialized in helping intersex kids, yet right now that's really rare to find.

Also to be clear there this isn't to say all kids opposing their birth gender during childhood are intersex or trans. For some girls that claim to be a boy, and for some boys that claim to be a girl, they will grow out of it once they reach puberty. Apparently many turn out to be gay, however some grow up straight. It's only if the feelings persist through puberty that it's considered being transgender, and if they do persist though puberty, like in my case, they rarely go away. For any kind of issues like this it's important to seek some kind of professional help though, these are very important to approach correctly, and a lot of harm can be done if not.

Finally, I met this intersex person in the LGBT center yesterday. Zhe (I think the pronoun they preferred) was finishing a major in communications, then going to law school. A fantastic person, very dedicated, and a bit of an inspiration to me. Also I guess zhe presented as a female for a while, and just recently had breast reduction surgery to be presenting in a more androgynous way, and "goes back and forth, every year or two." This isn't because zhe's being rebellious or anything either: It's because being intersex is part of zis identity. It's a perfectly valid identity to have as well, and it's really sad our society tends to see that as such a negative thing.

We need to learn to accept the fact that this earth is very imperfect, and intersex birth defects are simply part of this mortal life, I think.

Wednesday, April 23, 2014

Transformations

I've been thinking recently about a bit of a side effect of being trans: As a kid I was really obsessed with anything involving people changing into something else.

For example, one of my favorite books as a kid was Animorphs. Anyone who hasn't read them should read a few (especially the first couple), they're fantastic. And Ax (an alien that works with them), well I'll just say he's on par with and reminded me of Data from Star Trek. Basically the idea behind this series is there's this alien race of slug thingies that go into peoples brains and control them, because they don't have bodies themselves. There's another race of aliens that are fighting them off (blue centaur like things that have no mouth, talk via telepathy, and eat through their feet), but only a few made it to earth for some reason. Their ship crash lands, and these kids find the a crew member crawling out of the ship, barely alive. He explains the slug thingies are coming to earth, and that the kids need to fight them off. He also gives them a blue cube, which, when they each touch it, it allows them to "acquire" the shapes of other animals. Basically they go up and touch that animal, it kinds zones out for a bit, and then they can transform into a copy of it. It gets intense since if they stay as that animal for more than 2 hours, the change is permanent, so they have to be careful.

When I was reading this, I got kinda really excited. I remember just dreaming of stumbling into the same kind of alien ship, hoping that I could find a similar cube. Because for me, that'd allow me to be a girl, and I'd be very happy to wait the 2 hours to make the change permanent. I remember I even found this little green cube thing laying around one day too, and took it home with me and wished it had the same powers. And I read almost every book in the series I could find in the library (about 50), just cause it was the chance to escape, always just wishing and dreaming afterwards that I could have some power like them. Because being a guy sucks.

I remember another book I considered my favorite for a long time: I don't know what it's called and sadly can't find it, but it's plot was essentially that there were (I think) three alien sisters. They were normally just floating blobs that communicated through some kind of telepathy, but their mission of sorts was to go to planets, and learn as much as they could about species that lived there - so they would float (or something like that) down, then transform into the native species and just interact with them. And I wished so much that I could do the same thing, mostly reverse the process and be some kind of floating (female) blob, then possibly go back to being a female human instead. Also because alien races would be fascinating, but that's a side-note.

I also loved playing female characters in any video games I played if given the option, but I've mentioned that in more detail before. "Jillian" was one of the names I was kinda attached to when playing a female character in Pokemon, for example.

Or I remember when I was reading the book Eldest, where it explains the Elf's culture of being able to transform into other things through magic, and I remember wishing for like a month or two (I think this was a little before I sorta recognized I identified as female in end of 6th/start of 7th grade) that I could just be an elf (so I could have that magic transforming myself ability). To the point that I would take little those wooden clothespins and leave them on the tips of my ears as I went to bed (until it really started hurting and I had to take them off), I guess because I figured having pointy ears would be one step closer to that. It was all pretty irrational, but that's what happens when you're really hurting emotionally.

I could give a host of other examples (like loving the movie the host), but that's the point. One of my therapists I worked with for a time was convinced it was a weird obsession, and though that's probably accurate to some extent, it was for a legitimate reason. Again I don't know if I can more fully explain it, other than saying that I identify as a girl. You know the whole "Who would you like to see yourself as is 10 years?" The answer to that question was obvious to me, but since I was scared of that I buried myself away from it.

Monday, April 14, 2014

Logic

Maybe it would make sense to explain a little of what me and my friends enjoy doing. Basically, we're nerds: We like to play Magic the Gathering and other games, program, and discuss things, really random things.

For example, today one of my friends brought up this sentence:

There is an exception to every rule, except this one.

I disagreed with this, but needed a good concrete example to disprove it. So first I brought up the laws of physics: But the problem is those are too theoretical, and experimentally one might be able to provide an exception, and then we'd just need a different model. Also for example, the Law of Gravity - it's exception is that there's some small particles that don't experience that.

So next I brought up the example of all EXPTIME or EXPSPACE problem. Basically, these are problems that are proven to be impossible to solve in anything under 2^n time (or with 2^n memory), where n is the input size. Basically meaning it's extremely impractical to solve them in most cases. For example for sorting, we can solve it in nlogn time (so it's not in EXPTIME) and with no extra space (so it's not in EXPSPACE), where n (input size) is the number of numbers we're sorting. Also sometimes n is the solution size instead. Anyway most of the problems in EXPTIME and EXPSPACE are pretty out there, but still they exist. And there is no exception, period: These problems cannot ever be solved in less than 2^n time (or with less than 2^n memory). Well unless you have time travel (specifically Closed Timelike Curves where the computer repeatedly goes back in time and sends its currents results with it and never stops going back in time until it finds the answer), but then the universe is probably broken, because you can solve most anything and math gets pretty boring.

Really though, it seemed like much of the argument came down to a definitional problem. So he tried to define it more formally: First, you need to describe a set of objects (say, all the positive integers including 0). Then, any rules on those objects may not include the definition themselves (so saying all integers in our set are > 0 or divisible by 1 doesn't count because those are part of the definition of positive and integers, respectively). Also saying something like "Every number is either prime or composite" don't count, because that's like saying (insert sentence here) is either true or false: being composite is by definition the negation of prime in a manner of speaking, so you're just basically saying a sentence as meaningful as saying "This true statement is true." And we kinda fished around there a lot - but the heart of it was what's called a Reification error/fallacy.

Basically the idea is that when you try to describe some abstract idea in concrete terms, you lose out on some of the meaning. For example, many psychologists have tried to define "intelligence". And in his class they went through like 6 or 7 different models created by different people, each with like 5 or 10 different qualities they divided it into (for example, an IQ test). And in each case, they just felt like there was something missing, like they weren't fully capturing the concept of intelligence in their definitions. And that's the problem - when you try to take an abstract concept like intelligence and distill it into some kind of formula or a list of objective characteristics, it misses out on some of the inherent meaning.

This is also our reason for disagreeing with the concept of the Technological Singularity: We humans only define intelligence as something that acts like we do. Yet for all we know, meteors could be vastly more "intelligent" than us (at least better at doing things we consider meaningful to do), yet because they don't interact with the world as we do we don't consider them sentient. Following this, the concept of the technological singularity is this: Once you create a machine that is capable of simulating every human on earth and a little bit more (probably via a quantum computer), making that machine was work that some humans  did themselves. Thus, this machine can at least make it self, and probably make something better. So it will (improve itself). Then it becomes more powerful, so it can make an even better machine. And this continues infinitely until you have a machine that's infinately intelligent, and then there's all kinds of theories as to what it would do (nothing because we're already doing as good as we can, prevent all undesired pain and sickness and prevent death and make life pretty meaningless, etc.).

But we'd say that our definition of intelligence is too vague to ever prevent infinite expansion like that. How do we know 1000 humans is better than 1? How do we know some other structure that doesn't look like a human at all isn't better? Following that, how do we know single humans aren't the best possible way of structuring things without going backwards a ton first? That maybe you'd be trying to build of something that's already imperfect - a shaky foundation - aka you'd get stuck at a local maxima (the bane of all universal search algorithms). Like for example the eye - it is only okay because it had to come from fishes' eyes. It could be a lot better if evolution (personally I think a process guided by god) had the chance to make one from scratch, but it didn't. It just that the technological singularity seems like a concept taken for granted because it's exciting, but not because it has real substance. This also means that any limitation that is given to a machine like this also exists for the human race as a whole - assuming you actually can simulate humans, which is debatable in itself (especially if there was some spirit substance we just can't measure right now).

Anyway, his point was that in our attempts to more formally define an exception and a rule, we were losing out on pieces of the concept the rule was trying to capture.

So as an example as a rule without an exception, I brought up:

There are no abstract concepts that, when defined formally, don't lose some meaning through a Reifcation error.

We thought this might really be a counterexample for a bit, but unfortunately the counterexample to this intended counterexample was in it itself: The example given about intelligence was pretty much enough to fully capture the concept of a Reifcation error.

However, it brought up an alternative exception. More specifically:

Any formal definition of (insert abstract concept here - say the rule given at the start of this post we were arguing about) loses some meaning through a Reifcation Error.

And that's where we're at. I'm not sure whether or not that has a counterexample, but I might update this as the dialogue continues through the next few days. Good fun :)

Also chair

Thursday, April 10, 2014

My Coming Out Letter

I sent the following letter to all my close relatives just this Monday:

Recently I've been going through some things, and I feel like since you're family it would be helpful to keep you in the loop, so here goes. I'll tell the shortish version first, then provide the long version if you're interested.

Basically, ever since puberty hit I became somewhat depressed because I recognized that I identified as female, but my body was developing as male. Before then it just wasn't as big of a deal since I could still do most of what I enjoyed (being more of a tomboy like my Mom), but once puberty hit is really when I recognized that I struggled with these feelings. I went back and forth with them for about half a year, not understanding why just imagining myself going through normal life as a female felt so good and natural to me, like I understood myself better when I hoped for living as a female. I knew this wasn't accurate however (being biologically male), so eventually I decided that was enough of these feelings. I told myself "I'm male, I'm male, I'm male," with the hope that I could learn to accept my gender, something it seemed like everyone else could do so well.

Instead I became suicidal. I tried drowning myself in the bathtub and other related things, but luckily wasn't successful. Eventually I got over that with the hope of getting over these feelings, recognizing how much killing myself would hurt those I love, and hoping for helping a lot of people later in life in whatever career field I went into. That also meant no one really knew what was going on though, so I continued to struggle with these feelings, daily, until college. Finally I decided (after still not being able to get over them after going to a new environment and such) that I should discuss them with my LDS Bishop, so he referred me to a therapist that helped me understand that these feelings are called Gender Dysphoria, also known as being transgender.

He also helped me understand that these weren't feelings I caused or can really change (being more difficult to change than sexual orientation), which was immensely relieving at first. I came to understand that these were a legitimate struggle I dealt with, but something to learn to accept, then move on with my life and still try and accomplish what was meaningful to me.

Eventually though, I started getting really depressed again, because I wasn't able to go on a mission (due to the depression and other related mental things this created - like mania with one of my meds while I was working in Cali last summer) and because I didn't feel like I was moving forward anymore. I came to understand and accept these feelings, but they still caused an internal conflict between experiencing life as male, and having a very strong female identification. I also came to understand that I was attracted to guys, something I had been putting off "until I figured out these other feelings first," as I told myself. To be clear being transgender is different than being gay (because they still identify as their biological gender), but I personally struggle with being gay and being transgender, AKA being a straight female internally. Well I think that’s me - honestly I’m still not sure exactly about my sexuality and who I’m attracted to, but I do know that I’d be extremely uncomfortable in any relationship (with a guy or a girl) where they saw me as a male, so I’m addressing that first. Because the one thing along these lines I do know is that I strongly identify as female. Either way eventually I ended up in a psych ward, but that was a surprisingly a positive experience for the most part.

Since then I've decided that I needed to address these feelings since they significantly affect my ability to perform in college and elsewhere, so I've decided to transition to presenting as female. I've started on anti-androgens (to block further masculization), and estradiol (pill form of estrogen) to help me pass better as female. It's a process that simply takes time though, and that's where I'm at. I feel okay with this decision from a religious standpoint too, because I feel that (as outlined in The Family, A Proclamation to The World) spiritually it's best to assume I'm male, but that transition may just be necessary as a temporary thing for this life to address some kind of physical imperfection in my brain. I still have a testimony and sustain the LDS prophets, but I’m just trying to do the best with what I understand. This is all still really scary though – transition is a big process.

You can read more at my blog at daniphye.blogspot.com if you're curious (an anonymous blog by a pseudoname I like so please don't leave my name there if you comment), but that's essentially where I'm at. I'd be happy to answer any further questions you have via mail, email, or phone if you'd like too.

With love,
__ (potentially Dani/Danielle __)

Their responses so far have been fantastic. I love my family dearly.

Hormones, Part 5

I think I've reached a new understanding today. A friend in the film department was assigned to do a documentary (a 5 minute one), and choose to do it on me, for me. He asked if that was okay, and I said I'd be totally fine with it. I might post it here in a week or two, I was really happy with how the video and interview turned out so far, though lol I have a tendency to get carried away. It was so sad though - we had recorded for about 30 or 40 minutes about various stuff, and then we realized (after doing a double check before-hand) that his recording thingie didn't record any of it. So then we used an audio recorder and a camera as backup, just to be sure. In the end we got what was most meaningful and relevant to me though too, so that's what counts.

Also his words were "If I had any doubt about you being a girl, it's gone now. You think like one. No wonder when you talk you jump around a lot. Guys have their neat little boxes, and they go in their cabinet, and pull out one, go through it, then put it back. Girls don't." Though I told him to be fair that's stereotypical and not always true, I'll still take that as a complement :) And Grimes is very very very good, my new favorite band.

Either way, I was thinking a lot about when I started puberty. Just because when it started, I felt so depressed and different, I almost had a tendency to idealize all my elementary school days - like they were near perfect, and once I polluted my life with understanding I was transgender I was irreversibly broken. I know, really inaccurate, but still it's how I felt for a long time. It's wrong too - I mean, my elementary school time was okay, but I still had some element of depression. Like I was reading a poem I wrote in I think 5th grade, and it said "My soul is filled with impending doom." I nearly failed 6th grade too, for many reasons - and my close friend from 3rd to 5th grade moved away and I haven't seen her since. I had literally forgotten all of this though - until we were looking through a box of things about half a year ago and I started really reflecting on and processing through all that - in a much more positive realistic way.

My point though was I think much of that may have had to do with hormones, which naturally increase in strength when puberty starts. Because I did feel physically different, I couldn't place exactly why, but it's what I blamed on coming to that understanding that I identified as female (which happened at the same time - end of 6th/start of 7th grade/Junior High). After starting female hormones though (and to a lesser extent, after starting anti-androgens), I've started to feel very at peace with myself. Like first I don't really identify as a tomboy. Probably more of a hipster, though to identify as that I have to say I'm definitely not a hipster I think. Honestly I feel like being a tomboy was more a reaction to people trying to say I should accept myself as a feminine guy (no, I'm a female and more of a tomboy and not even that feminine), than really being a fundamental thing - really more just a phase I guess. Like wanting to be scene (I had a scene haircut with one of my wigs for a little bit). But I'm just so happy to finally be having these phases, instead of just being the me I hate and don't really care what I look like every day. So yea, basically hormones have been good :) I haven't really noticed that many other changes (besides more tender breasts as they grow some more - most females probably understand this one), but that's not too unexpected - these things take time.

I think the other reason (the first being because dysphoria really hasn't been nearly as bad recently, whether or not that's just the placebo effect from starting hormones I don't know but it's nice) I haven't shared anything in a while is because sharing about trying makeup was seriously terrifying. But that means it's an important step too, I'll just try and moderate how what I share makes me feel a little more carefully in the future, to help my posts be a little more consistent.