Sunday, May 29, 2016

AFS, Hillary Clinton and my Ancestors

I have volunteered for AFS Intercultural Programs (www.afsusa.org) for a number of years. They are headquartered in New York City. A few years ago they moved into new offices at 120 Wall Street, a building at the far eastern end of Wall Street. As they are on the 3rd and 4th floors, they are just high enough to see across the FDR Expressway and have a magnificent view of the East River and Brooklyn on the other side. With the Brooklyn Bridge just a few blocks to the north, the part of Brooklyn that they can see is called Brooklyn Heights. With many of the buildings at the edge of the river being older much shorter brownstone houses, a very prominent building that is quite visible is One Pierrepont Plaza which is easily distinguishable due to the triangular-shaped white portion at the top (see http://www.emporis.com/images/show/668745-Large-top-view-from-the-west.jpg for a good picture of it). At 20 stories it is easily recognizable.

In April of 2015, Hillary Clinton chose One Pierrepont Plaza as her campaign headquarters. It occupies two full floors of that building. The name of the building prompted me to do some investigation into the name Pierrepont as my mother’s maiden name is Pierpont and Pierrepont is the original French spelling of the name. Here is what I found.

The Pierrepont family began in France about 980. A branch of it went to England in 1066 as part of William the Conqueror’s army. In 1640 one of the Pierreponts came to the “New World” as part of the Puritan migration and settled outside of Boston. It was there that they anglicized their name to Pierpont. James Pierpont (1659-1714) was born in Roxbury MA, was educated at Roxbury Latin School, then Harvard, and moved to New Haven CT in 1684 where as the pastor of the 1st Congregational Church he was one of the founders of Yale University (then the Collegiate School) in 1701. James Pierpont is my great*7 grandfather.

James’ youngest son (he had 9 children) was Hezekiah Pierpont (1712-1805). One of Hezekiah’s grandsons, also named Hezekiah (1768-1838) was born in New Haven (see https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Hezekiah_Pierrepont). Hezekiah (the younger) is my 2nd cousin, six times removed. This story is primarily about him.

Hezekiah moved to New York City (i.e. Manhattan) in 1790 and then in 1801 moved across the river to the farming area which later became known as Brooklyn. Sometime in this period he also decided to begin using the French spelling of his last name. In 1802, he married Anna Marie Constable. In 1814 she/they inherited 150,000 acres in upstate NY from Anna’s father. As a now wealthy landowner, Henry had purchased about 60 acres in Brooklyn Heights. Recognizing the need for good ferry service to New York City, Hezekiah backed the new steam ferry invention of Robert Fulton in 1814. In 1816, Hezekiah and others received a charter for the new village of Brooklyn. In 1823, Hezekiah submitted plans for developing the 60 acres that he owned becoming one of the first subdivision developers in the US. (See https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Brooklyn_Heights).

While Hezekiah did not live to see the eventual outcome of his decisions, his son, Henry (1808-1888) carried on his father’s work, seeing the building of the Brooklyn Bridge in 1883 which had its eastern terminus right at northern end of Brooklyn Heights. In 1898, Brooklyn became part of the merger that created the current New York City as it became one of the five boroughs (see https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/City_of_Greater_New_York).


I’ve always enjoyed exploring the intersection of geography, politics, and genealogy. Thus, it is interesting for me to have the view from the AFS office, one of the current presidential nominees, and my family history all tied together in this fashion.

Friday, May 20, 2016

Gender and Sex – Part 5 – Recent Controversies

The Homosexual Revolution

While individuals with homosexual tendencies have been with us for several millennia (see my earlier comments), in the last 20 years the arguments on both sides have gotten increasingly bitter and polemic.

Those who hold to a male/female binary view have engaged in an argument of false attribution by associating anyone with homosexual views as being not only a sexual pervert, but one whose goal in life is to prey on young people. But since most instances of improper sexual advances are with individuals who are heterosexual, why are we so concerned about individuals who are homosexual? There are many stories in the media about not only male school teachers having sexual relations with female students but increasingly female school teachers having sexual relations with male students (see http://www.mcall.com/news/breaking/mc-c-easton-teacher-arrested-for-sex-with-teen-20160517-story.html). If that is happening so frequently, why are we so focused on things like having Boy Scout leaders who are homosexual?

On the other hand, there are many in the homosexual community who are increasingly using methods which are guaranteed to fan the flames. First, the argument was only “we want to be able to have the benefits of marriage” (and so civil unions were allowed), then “we want to actually be married”. Also, first the request was for “tolerance”, then for “acceptance”, then “celebration” – so now if you do not celebrate homosexuality then you are classified as a “hater”.

Both extremes are equally at fault. It is wrong to falsely attribute all homosexual individuals with being sexual predators, and it is wrong to falsely attribute those do not celebrate homosexuality with being hateful.

Unfortunately, the LGBT crowd continues to use their newly found political clout to try and suppress anyone who disagrees with their agenda (see http://www.foxnews.com/opinion/2016/05/19/college-boots-ex-delta-force-hero-after-complaint-from-lgbt-activists.html?intcmp=hpbt3 where it states “There is a concerted effort afoot to silence any American who cherishes traditional American values.”)


Bathroom Bills

In many ways, many of the recent transgender issues are paralleling the homosexual issues from 20 years ago.

As I indicated earlier, it was not that long ago that gender identity disorder was a rare issue of a few men, some of whom sought sex-change surgery to correct it (see http://www.thepublicdiscourse.com/2015/06/15145/ for a lengthy and reasoned discussion). It’s only been over the past 10-15 years that this phenomenon has increased in prevalence. The liberal media have promoted the idea that one’s biological sex is a choice. Alliances with the LGBT movement (see earlier in this blog) have promoted the idea that one’s gender is more of a disposition or a feeling about yourself than a fact of nature. And, much like any other feeling, it can change at any time, and for all sorts of reasons.

John Piper stated recently (see http://www.desiringgod.org/interviews/will-you-use-target-s-transgender-bathroom), “The correlation between biological maleness and femaleness and self-identification as male and female [gender identity issue] is rooted in numerous ways in the Bible. It is rooted in God’s creation as male and female [biological aspect]. It is rooted in distinct roles assigned to male and female in marriage [gender expression aspect]. It is rooted in the biblical prohibition of homosexuality [sexual orientation aspect].” (Items in brackets are mine.)

And it’s not like transgendered individuals have suddenly needed to use a bathroom when they didn’t before. While the number of these individuals is not terribly large, you may have shared a bathroom with one and didn’t realize it. But, rather than making it an issue, if they had been using a bathroom that corresponded to their gender expression, i.e. the way they presented themselves in dress, etc. then no one would notice.

Like the homosexual issue, there is much false attribution on both sides. The difference between the transgender argument and the homosexual argument is that while few transgendered individuals are likely sexual predators (I’ve not seen any research on this so I can’t give specific percentages), someone who is a sexual predator can masquerade as being transgendered.

In my international travels I have on occasion been in cultures where public bathrooms have a “bathroom attendant” who has a small table outside the door of the bathroom where you are supposed to drop in a small coin when you enter. This is the “pay” for the person performing the job of cleaning the bathroom. Most of the attendants tend to be female, possibly because that role is assigned to females in that culture. But this also means that you will on occasion enter the men’s bathroom and find the attendant performing her duties, i.e. cleaning the sinks or the toilets. So, as I could recognize that it was culturally appropriate, if I was going to use the urinal I just did so quite normally, even though there was a female attendant in the room. It was no big deal.

There are two competing types of “bathroom bills” currently in the news. Some are based on the male/female binary and require that each person use the bathroom corresponding to the gender they were assigned at birth. Others are based on the current transgender proposition that each person is free to change their gender identity as they desire and they should feel free to use the bathroom corresponding to their current feelings.

While many of the news articles mention the recent policy change at Target, I also ran across the following from Ross.  Ross representative said they do not discriminate against the transgender community; adding, customers may use changing rooms that apply to their gender identity. Customer said she was shocked when the person walked out and “He was in no way dressed as a woman, he had on jeans and a t-shirt, 5 o’clock shadow, very deep voice. He was a man.” (See http://dfw.cbslocal.com/2016/05/17/shopper-upset-man-allowed-to-use-womens-dressing-room-in-ross/).

The problem is that each side is trying to legislate a particular morality and I’ve heard it said many times that you can’t legislate morality. In addition, the transgender proposition is trying to impose a significant cultural shift rather than allowing it to occur over time (if it ever would occur). It should be no surprise that a majority of people have rather strong reactions to this imposition.


What Should I Call You?

Also related to the recent transgender movement is the issue of what names and pronouns to use for individuals. We have a long history of using names for individuals which are not the same as the names on their birth certificates. My legal first name is “Alan” but I most often go by “Al”; my youngest brother’s legal name is “Edward” but he goes by “Edd” (not the typical spelling); Senator Rafael Edward Cruz goes by the name “Ted”, a diminutive of his middle name. Two of the kindergarten classmates of my grandson are Mehki and Nevaeh – the former pronounced “Meh-Ky” (like Sky”), the latter being “heaven” spelled backwards. I’ll leave it up to you to guess what gender each is.

So why should we object when Bruce Jenner legally changes names to Caitlyn Jenner. Is it because we associate a certain gender with those names. Would we feel any different if the new name was “Alex” or “Dana” which are gender non-specific?

But one of the new “wrinkles” to the naming issue is the use of pronouns. English has three genders – male “he”, female “she” and neutral “it”. But unlike names, which can be very unique, these pronouns are part of our male/female binary heritage and there is no appropriate way to identify someone outside of that binary (unless we use “it” which is otherwise only used for non-human objects). In writing we can use constructs like “he or she,” “s/he,” or the plural “they” even if we are referring to a single individual. But in spoken English this is not practical.

More recently there have been a number of attempts, not always consistent with each other, to introduce gender-neutral pronouns. One of the most recent is the use of ze to replace he or she and hir to replace him or her. But this is only one of the many competing suggested alternatives. (See https://genderneutralpronoun.wordpress.com/).

There are two problems with this. The first is that languages do evolve over time and it’s quite possible that this type of change would eventually come to be common usage (just as it’s now acceptable to say “I graduated college” instead of “I graduated from college” which was the only acceptable method when I was growing up). But to insist that everyone begin using these new pronouns when we are not even yet in agreement on which variations we should use is quite premature.

The second problem is that some have even begun legislating this change. Businesses in New York City face fines under a new law that makes it a violation of someone’s human rights to not use their preferred “gender pronoun”. The article states that “The draconian enforcement of gender pronouns is yet another way in which fringe politics movements (just 0.03 percent of Americans consider themselves to be transgender) are being hijacked to create onerous burdens on free speech” (see http://www.infowars.com/nyc-to-fine-businesses-that-dont-use-correct-gender-pronouns/).


Transgender Regulations in Public Schools

Many of the recent articles I have seen recently have expressed upset about the recent Obama administration “guidance” and have confused it with the “bathroom bills” that I discussed above (see http://www.breakpoint.org/bpcommentaries/entry/13/29302 where it calls it “Friday’s bathroom edict from the Obama Administration”). But this “significant guidance” as it calls itself is much more than just a “bathroom bill”. Here are a few statements from this guidance (http://www2.ed.gov/about/offices/list/ocr/letters/colleague-201605-title-ix-transgender.pdf?utm_content=&utm_medium=email&utm_name=&utm_source=govdelivery&utm_term=).
·         “treat a student’s gender identity as the student’s sex” i.e. gender identity trumps the sex assigned at birth
·         “there is no medical diagnosis or treatment requirement that the students must meet as a prerequisite”, i.e. it totally based on the word/feeling of the individual
·         “must allow transgender students access to such [restrooms and locker rooms] consistent with their gender identity” i.e. it’s more than just bathrooms
·         “must allow transgender students to access housing consistent with their gender identity” i.e. to put students with male genitalia in a room with an unsuspecting female student
·         “provide transgender students equal access … even in circumstances in which other students, parents, or community members raise objections or concerns.”  This speaks for itself.

I also find it interesting that the final statement in this guidance mentions making educational programs and activities “welcoming, safe, and inclusive” when there is so much that many would consider anything other than “safe.”

There are problems with this “guidance” on so many levels:
·         Massive government overreach by doing this essentially by “fiat” from the executive branch without any legislative review
·         Once again attempting to legislate morality
·         Threating the loss of federal funds for those who don’t comply, i.e. essentially bullying or blackmailing the schools into complying
·         Allowing feeling to massively trump fact by allowing gender identification without any corroborating information
·         Not allowing for any reasonable objections, even if fact based

Because this “guidance” is so recent, there is still a lot of controversy as to whether it is even legal. Since so many issues with it are still being sorted out – both in people’s reactions and in the various media accounts – I’m not going to try to resolve them here.

I’ll close by noting that in Pennsylvania our governor wants to move this same idea through the legislature, not as “guidance” but as a law. And not just in schools which take federal funding, but through private business, Christian schools, and even churches, i.e. there are no exceptions.


Concluding Remarks

When I started doing the research for this blog about two weeks ago I naively thought that it would be perhaps a couple of pages. But as I got further and further into it I realized that there is far more to this subject than I had thought.

To you, the reader, I hope that this has been informative. I’ve tried to be fair and unbiased both in my research and in my writing (except for part 4 which gives my personal views on these subjects). Because there is so much happening right now with new information seeming to be introduced on a daily basis, some of what I have written may be obsolete even by next week. But I hope that you have been enlightened.

If you have not yet started having discussions on these subjects – then please start. If you have children or grandchildren who will be impacted by these, then discuss it with them to – in an age-appropriate fashion. But don’t ignore it and hope that it will just go away.



Gender and Sex – Part 4 – How Do I Feel

In all the preceding sections I’ve tried to be pretty clinical and unbiased in my definitions and discussions. In this final section I’d like to examine my own views on these various topics and aspects. I have learned a lot based on my research for this blog entry. And it has taken several days to do the research and digest it all so that I could present it fairly. I’m going to look at each of the aspects that I have written about, then in the final part of this blog I will examine some of the recent controversies in this area.


My Baseline

It should come as no surprise to those reading my blog that I am a Christian. I believe that the world was created by a sovereign God. I also believe that because of the sin of man we now live in a corrupt world and that only through our acceptance of Jesus’ death on our behalf can we expect to enter into a permanent relationship with the triune God after our time here on earth has ended.

But I also believe that God is fully in charge of all that happens here in this existence and that he does not “make mistakes”. The things we see through science are things that he has created so that we should not discard science just because we may not understand it or because it seems to conflict with our often limited understanding of His world in which we live.


The Five Aspects Revisited

The Genetic Aspect – While my research has shown that this is much more complicated a subject that the simple XX/XY that I learned in high school biology, it is reassuring that from a sexual perspective all known combinations of the 23rd chromosome still result in each cell being either male or female. And since God has allowed other combinations other than XX/XY, these other expressions of male/female are equally human and equally worthy of our love, just as trisomy 21 Down Syndrome individuals are fully human and fully a part of God’s creation.

The Biological Aspect – A few terms that you see often these days is “the sex you were born with” or a slightly cruder version, “your plumbing”. But these terms presume a binary view of gender, i.e. male or female. However, as my research has shown, there are a number, however small you make it by what you may or may not include, of individuals who are “Intersex,” i.e. those who have “plumbing” that is ambiguous or not within the typical norms of male/female. Most people who use these “born with” or “plumbing” arguments ignore the facts surrounding “Intersex” – either out of ignorance or because they deliberately want to promote a binary view of the subject.

I can vaguely recall having heard about this in the past, but I admit that I was mostly unaware of the existence of this topic. But having done my investigation, I will listen more carefully to those who continue to make the binary argument.

God does not make mistakes. Therefore, I should accept what science has demonstrated and include it in my worldview. My research indicates that those who fall into this category generally desire not to be lumped together with either the trans-sexual crowd or the GLBT… crowd as they have very different issues to deal with. I don’t know if I have ever interacted with anyone with this issue – certainly no one has ever brought it up to me. But I need to know more before I make any judgements in this area. And I would like to include it in any arguments that others may be making when they seem to have such a binary view that they are espousing.

The Gender Expression Aspect – As I indicated when defining this aspect of gender, gender roles are subject to great variation, either over time or across cultures. And since I am both old enough to have observed this over time and have traveled enough internationally to have observed many different cultures, I have experienced a great variation in gender roles. Just a few examples:

When I was growing up all the moms in the neighborhood stayed at home and raised their families. Now, except for the retired folks on our street there is only one such family that I am aware of where the mother does not work. Roles in US families are pretty egalitarian, with both men and women often sharing such roles as cooking and child-rearing. But in other cultures these roles are much more clearly differentiated.

The church that I attend was built in the 1930s with two front doors – one on the “men’s side” and one on the “women’s side”. The two sexes sat on different sides during services. Men wore coats and ties and the women wore modest dresses, did not wear jewelry and often had their heads covered. Even when we joined the church 40 years ago there were still vestiges of this – for Wednesday prayer service, after a devotional, the men gathered in groups of two or three on “the men’s side” and knelt in prayer while the women did on their side. Now that has all gone away – women wear slacks, even the pastor is often seen without coat and tie, etc. While the church still preaches biblical values and distinct gender roles in the marriage relationship, the public expression of these roles has disappeared for the most part.

God’s word is still correct and valuable. Children grow up best in families where there are two parents, each parent with different roles. But there is wide variation within those boundaries. So we need to be careful of defining gender roles too narrowly and allow for the diversity in God’s plan as long as we are still true to His word.

The Sexual Orientation Aspect – My wife and I both come from relatively large families. So we have a number of relatives that we can observe. As a result, I have a number who have a sexual orientation which is different than mine.

One of my male cousins was a participant in the gay community back when most had not yet “come out of the closet”. He was also unfortunate enough to contract AIDs back when it was viewed as mostly a disease that affected homosexual males and those of African-American descent and he died from complications of AIDs at the age of 44. He and I had been very close growing up as we lived in the same small town and were in the same grade in school. So I was sad to see his life come to an end in this fashion, especially because he had moved to another part of the country and I had not seen him for several years.

More recently and another generation removed, I have three nieces who are in lesbian relationships. Two of them have recently married their partners now that the legal system allows it. But as my daughter pointed out, all three situations resulted from a dysfunctional relationship (or the lack of one) that these girls had with their fathers at crucial points in their growing up years.

I believe that one of the primary purposes for which God created us was that we marry and have children. So same-sex relationships are not part of His plan and there are numerous references to this in the Bible.

But that does not mean that I condemn those who hold different views than I do. I still love these nieces just as I do any other of my relatives. None of us are free from the influence nor the practice of various sins – myself included. So while I may disapprove of the life choices of others, it does not matter whether it is being in a homosexual relationship, cheating on one’s taxes, driving over the speed limit, or being neglectful of one’s duties as a spouse or parent. I personally continue to struggle with the latter two.

A good friend of mine has had an ongoing relationship (not a sexual one) with a woman who has been an avowed lesbian for many years and used to run the “Women’s Center” at a local college. She was also very much opposed to his Christianity as he was an ordained pastor and she was not accepting of Christianity. When she asked him why he continued to meet with her, he replied, “I want to love you enough that when you die and do not go to heaven, it will break my heart!”

Like my friend, I am neither homophobic nor do I “hate” homosexuals, even though the current tendency of many is to call anyone who does not celebrate homosexuality a hater of it.

The Gender Identity Aspect – Because this aspect of gender has been so much in the news recently, it’s difficult for me to separate my views on it from the current controversies. So I will have to reserve most of my comments for the next section of this blog. But there is one important issue that I would like to address here.

A lot of the gender identity argument has to do with what is the basis of one’s identity. This has been sometimes called the “fact v. feeling” argument, but it’s more than that. As a Christian, I believe that our gender (and everything else in our world) is a product of God the creator. But part of the “feeling” argument often includes that each individual has the right to define one’s own existence and that God must be excluded from the picture.

So, I accept that there are very real issues of “fact” in God’s creation (and He does not make mistakes), starting with the genetic ambiguity of some of those who are truly Intersex at the time of birth. And there is still ongoing research into the impact of hormones during the development of the human brain that are not yet well understood. But I reject the notion that anyone is free to decide on their gender apart from these aspects of human development.


Some Conclusions

Apart from these individual aspects, there is so much that has changed in the last few decades that is a concern. The term sometimes used is that we are on a “slippery slope”, i.e. we have started down a road and the changes are accelerating. We’ve gone from civil unions to same-sex marriages and some are now talking about polygamous marriages. We’ve moved even quicker through opening up bathrooms to locker rooms and showers. We’ve gone from tolerance to acceptance to force celebration.

The viewpoint that was in the majority throughout most of this country’s history – and still is, but by far less a majority – has been shouted down and turned into “hate speech”. We’ve removed any mention of God from our classrooms, then from the public arena. Both Obama and Hillary Clinton began referring to “freedom of worship” instead of “freedom of religion” (see https://www.commonwealmagazine.org/blog/freedom-worship-vs-freedom-religion).

Where will this all end? I don’t know, but I fear not only for my children and grandchildren, but for this country.

Gender and Sex – Part 3 – Other Related Topics

In this section I’d like to discuss a number of gender/sex topics that draw upon the five aspects that I have presented in parts 1 and 2.  I will refer to these five aspects using (1)-(5).


Male-Female Binary

There are a number of individuals who believe in a male-female binary. In this argument, there are only two versions of “sexual normative” individuals. Using the prior five aspects, a sexual normative male is one who is genetically male (1), biologically male (2), and identifies as a male (5). This individual is also heterosexual (4) and expresses himself as a male (3) – at least as much as possible within the cultural in which he lives. A sexually normative female is genetically female (1), biologically female (2), and identifies as a female (5) and is also heterosexual (4) and expresses herself as a female (3) – again as much as possible within the culture in which she lives. Anything other than these two types of individuals is considered to be a perversion [note that negative connotations are generally used] and is someone who needs to be “changed” to fit the binary model.


Cisgender-Transgender binary

A more recent binary argument is the use of the term cisgender. This term only dates back about 20 years and is used to define anyone who is not transgendered. A mild definition is that it refers to someone “whose experiences of their own gender (5) agree with the sex they were assigned at birth (2). But it has also been defined as those who “have a gender identity (5) or perform a gender role (3) society considers appropriate for one’s sex (2)” (see https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Cisgender). However, the Urban Dictionary defines it as “A derogatory term used by members of the trans community to refer to all the disgusting people in this world who don’t hate their genitalia” (see http://www.urbandictionary.com/define.php?term=cisgender).


GLBT/LGBT and Other Variations

The use of the term GLBT (gay, lesbian, bi-sexual, trans-sexual) (or LGBT for those who want the female term to take precedence) also dates back about 20 years. The terms in use before then were primarily gay (which tended to only recognize the male-male relationships) or homosexual (which did not include other forms of sexual orientation). However, since then the number of combinations that have been added to this “alphabet soup” of an acronym has expanded greatly (see https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/LGBT).

The most common acronym that I have seen recently is GLBTQIA (gay, lesbian, bi-sexual, trans-sexual, questioning, intersex, ally). But I have seen everything up to LGBTTQQFAGBDSM which I won’t even attempt to decode here. However, some of the added letters are not so much an attempt to include other variations as they are to increase the number of people who are associated with organizations which use these terms and to thus increase their political clout.

In particular, the “Q” for questioning is to encourage young people to feel included, primarily older adolescents who are still experiencing the impact of hormones on their not-yet-quite-mature bodies, to join in the movement and to possibly sway them into sexual orientations that they would not have otherwise. Also, the “A” for ally is to encourage others, primarily college students who are also subject to the liberal biases of their professors to associate with the movement even if their own sexual orientation is not part of the GLBT portion.

However, there are even some who are part of the above definition who are not supportive of the continual adding of letters and who believe that doing so distracts from their own position. In particular, those who are trans-gendered and those who are intersex may not want to just get lumped in with the predominant sexual orientation of the GLBT group as they have very different issues that they want to have discussed.


How Many Genders are There?

At the opposite end of the male/female binary argument are those who propose a laundry list of various combinations. Recently the UK has asked school children to check off one of a list of 23 possibilities on what gender they identify with (see http://dailycaller.com/2016/02/01/uk-government-survey-asks-kids-to-choose-one-of-23-genders/). The first two are the familiar “Male” and “Female”, but then there are such choices as “Agender,” “Demi-boy” and “Tri-gender.” And even with all of those choices, there is still an “Other” box. I’m not sure how a young person is even supposed to understand the differences between the various options. And if that list is not long enough for you, Facebook at one time gave users 58 possible choices (see http://abcnews.go.com/blogs/headlines/2014/02/heres-a-list-of-58-gender-options-for-facebook-users/), many of which I don’t understand – such as what is the difference between “Trans Male,” “Trans* Male,” “Trans Man,” “Trans* Man,” “Transgender Male,” “Transgender Man,” “Transsexual Male,” and “Transsexual Man”? And this list does not cover the possible variations in the sexual orientation aspect!

More recently, Facebook decided that even this was not enough and you can build your own “custom” gender in a freeform field (see https://www.rt.com/usa/236283-facebook-gender-custom-choice/).


Fear of the Unknown and False Attribution

There is a natural human tendency to be afraid or at least wary of the unknown. Thus, when presented with a new situation we want to back away at least initially. We are also much more likely to believe the “stories” that we hear, however sensational, when we have no experience to guide us. This is true in the gender/sex area as well. Our discomfort with either discussing or encountering new areas heightens our awareness so that we can get quite emotional in our responses. Let me give a few examples.

Back when I was growing up, it was pretty much a male/female binary world. The Internet did not yet exist so we were not aware of anything except what we could read in our local newspaper. And while we read about homosexuality in the Bible, we had no recent experience with it as most homosexuals were still “in the closet.” So our only concern in being “safe” was to ensure that individuals who had a penis did not have opportunity to be in close connection with individuals who had a vagina – apart from the marriage relationship. So we had Boy Scouts and Girl Scouts which were sex segregated and any gatherings that included both boys and girls, such as a school dance, were heavily chaperoned.

Then homosexuals came “out of the closet” and we developed a whole new set of fears. We immediately assumed the worst – that anyone who was homosexual was also a sexual predator. We reacted by isolating such individuals – they weren’t safe around boys and they still weren’t safe around girls. We also began assuming that any boy who was effeminate (3) was also at least a latent homosexual (4) and in the process may have driven those individuals in that direction.

The same thing is happening now in the trans-gender area (5). In the absence of good information we are afraid and with the Internet we feed on those fears with every new story. And we falsely attribute such individuals with characteristics that may not be true.

But let’s be honest – the world is not filled with people who spend every waking moment thinking about how to fulfill their sexual desires. And to attribute that to anyone in situations that you may not understand is unfair to all parties involved.

About 15 years ago I had a significant experience with a kidney stone. Part of the initial treatment was the insertion of a stent between the affected kidney and my bladder so that the stone could not block the opening of the ureter. This was a surgical procedure where the stent was inserted through my penis, up the urethra, through the bladder and up the ureter. It was done under anesthesia – and frankly I was in so much pain that I didn’t even notice who was in the OR with me.

A few weeks later, after the medication I was prescribed had an opportunity to dissolve the stone, I had an outpatient procedure to remove the stent. As I walked into the outpatient operating room I found that the OR nurse, the only individual in the room at the time, happened to be someone who I knew. She would be assisting the urologist in the procedure. I will admit to being initially a bit wary – knowing that a female who I knew was going to be assisting in a procedure that involved my “privates”. But then I knew that I had to set those fears aside – she was just going to be doing her job, the one she was trained for. And I was going to be under sedation when it happened, so I shouldn’t worry about it.

About five years later, I was having my annual review with my urologist. Normally it was just he who came into the examining room as I “dropped my drawers” for the examination. But this year he had a medical student who was in training to become a urologist who was following him throughout his daily procedures – and the student happened to be female. To be fair, he did ask if I was ok with having her observing since it was part of her training. I am not in the habit of exposing myself to 20-something females (and this time not under sedation) – but once again I had to quickly decide that she would just be doing the job that she was training for and there was nothing sexual involved, so I consented.

Fear of the unknown is not unusual. But we need to be careful to not overreact to either misinformation or partial information. And we should not falsely attribute characteristics to others just because we are not experienced or informed.


Cultural Issues

There are cultural aspects to a number of the issues in the gender/sex area. I’m writing this to a primarily US American audience. But there are other countries, or even cultural groups in the US that have “norms” that are different than those that most of us in the country have. So we need to be careful that we don’t present our own experience as being the “right” one. Just a few examples:

Individuals in Australia may have passports with a gender of M, F, or X – the X being “indeterminate/intersex/unspecified”. These individuals can enter/leave the US, but US citizens do not have this flexibility (https://www.passports.gov.au/passportsexplained/theapplicationprocess/eligibilityoverview/Pages/changeofsexdoborpob.aspx)

German saunas are not gender-restricted and may only be used if one is totally nude. While one can certainly opt out of using this type of facility, some German families may have a sauna in the home where the entire family participates together. This can present some interesting culture shock if the family is hosting an exchange student. But others may also have issues (see http://monkeysandmountains.com/german-sauna for one amusing account).



Gender and Sex – Part 2 – Adult Manifestations

The first part of this blog explored the more scientific aspects of gender. It is one that is well understood and accepted, with the exception of Intersex which is usually left out of most arguments. These next aspects will get increasingly controversial as we move away from the scientific to the “feeling” aspects.


The Gender Expression Aspect

Gender expression is defined as the external appearance of one’s gender, usually expressed through behavior, clothing, haircut or voice, and which may or may not conform to socially defined behaviors and characteristics typically associated with being either masculine or feminine. (http://www.hrc.org/resources/sexual-orientation-and-gender-identity-terminology-and-definitions)

Since these “socially defined behaviors and characteristics” can change over time or across cultures, this is a bit of a moving target. Let me give a few examples:
·         Many may have known (or been) a “tomboy” when growing up, i.e. a female who wore jeans and a t-shirt and preferred playing ball with the neighborhood boys instead of playing with dolls.
·         In days when horseback riding was popular, a woman who wore pants and straddled the horse instead of riding side-saddle was frowned upon.
·         If a male has a weak handshake he might be considered “effeminate” where if a female has a strong handshake it is likewise not typical.
·         Men wearing a kilt in Scotland are fine, but men wearing a skirt in other cultures are not.
·         Recently Toys R Us was criticized for having segregated toy sections with pink and purple Legos in the girls section.
·         I remember individuals of my parents’ generation being aghast at the Beatles in the early-1960s. Even though they wore matching suits and ties, they had their hair over their ears and that was socially unacceptable!
·         Some religions require that individuals have certain standards for appearance – such as certain hair coverings, not shaving of beards, etc.

Summary – there are no absolutes in the area of gender expression. What may be unacceptable to one group of people may be perfectly acceptable to others. While we each may feel more or less comfortable being with individuals who are outside of our own “social norms”, the above examples show how that may change over time or across cultures.


The Sexual Orientation Aspect

Sexual orientation is the pattern of romantic or sexual attraction to the opposite sex/gender, to the same sex/gender or to both sexes/genders. The term sexual preference is sometimes used, but that term may only indicate a preference of one over the other when the person’s orientation may be bi-sexual. (See https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Sexual_orientation).

Scientists do not know the exact cause of sexual orientation, but they believe it is caused by a complex interplay of genetic, hormonal and environmental influences. There have been conflicting studies with different results along the “nature v. nurture” continuum.

Most cultures and major religions have historically condemned all but heterosexuality and violation is still subject to penalty of death in some countries. But the fact that mention of it occurs in historic writings (e.g. the Torah/Old Testament) indicate that it is not a new phenomenon.

There has also been some discussion recently about “fluid sexuality”, i.e. where one’s sexual orientation may change over time and under different circumstances. (See http://www.thesun.co.uk/sol/homepage/features/7155946/This-is-the-fascinating-reason-women-have-evolved-to-become-bisexual.html).

Summary – there is wide variation in the estimates of those with non-heterosexual orientation and considerable disagreement in current society on whether it is acceptable or not.


The Gender Identity Aspect

Gender Identity is one’s “inner concept of self”, how a person perceives and calls themselves. If this identity is in conflict with one’s biological gender, then one is diagnosed with “gender identity disorder” (GID) or “gender dysphoria (distress)” (see https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Gender_dysphoria).

Scientists believe that there may be a number of causes for this disorder/dysphoria. Some of them may be related to the factors that were mentioned earlier as part of genetic/biological aspects of gender, such as genetic variation and the impact of hormones during the development of the brain in the pre-born child. Also, individuals who fall into the intersex area of biological gender may be more prone to GID. I have seen estimates of the number of people who consider themselves to be transgendered range from a high of near 1% to a low of .03%.

However, some of the causes of GID may be due to psychological or behavioral issues rather than biological ones. Lack of understanding as well as lack of a definite causal connection for GID accounts for some of the emotional reaction that people have in discussions on this topic.

When GID is diagnosed in young children there is some controversy as to whether/how to treat it. Some clinicians report that a significant proportion of young children who are diagnosed with GID later do not exhibit it. Some prescribe hormones, known as a puberty blocker, to delay the onset of puberty until the child is old enough to make an informed decision about whether to treat it through hormonal/surgical gender reassignment.

Until the 1970s, psychotherapy was the primary treatment for GID and helping the patient to adapt rather than attempting to change the patient’s gender identity to reflect birth characteristics.

Some of the concern about the recent “guidance” from the Obama administration about accommodations for gender identity in schools was not due to gender identity itself (which has been with us in the past and has not caused any issues), but with other parts of this guidance. In particular, the cover letter from the administration stated, “A school may not require transgender students to have a medical diagnosis, undergo any medical treatment, or produce a birth certificate or other identification document before treating them consistent with their gender identity.” Thus, rather than making accommodation for individuals who are actually diagnosed with GID, the school is required to accept an individual’s word for it – opening up the door to individuals who want to masquerade as someone of the opposite sex but who do not really have GID. I will discuss this further in the final section of this blog.


Summary – until recently, much like those with homosexual tendencies who were “in the closet,” those with GID were relatively unknown. Studies showed that over 40% of those with GID had attempted suicide. Only in the last few decades has there been much discussion in the public arena about this topic.

Gender and Sex – Part 1 – Conception to Birth

In recent months there has been a flurry of media attention and both pro and con arguments surrounding such topics as “gender identity,” “bathroom bills,” etc. There is also a lot of misinformation or partial information in many of the articles I have read. Depending on your own personal background you may have preconceived ideas about these topics – I know I did. So I decided to do some of my own research and see what I could find and put together this blog entry in a way that I hope can help others understand all these topics.

There are multiple aspects to the term “gender” and that is part of what makes this so complicated. I’m going to individually try to put some sense/definition to five aspects, then tie them all together. I will address these aspects in an order that moves from the more “scientific” or fact based to the more “feeling” based – and thus in increasing order of controversy.


The Genetic Aspect

At the lowest level we are defined as male/female by our genes. While we have all probably had some discussion about those with XX chromosomes being female and those with XY chromosomes being male, it’s far more complicated than that. Here is a quite technical definition of this topic that is quite informative - https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Aneuploidy. But I’m going to summarize it here so you don’t have to read the gritty details.

The cells in the human body have (usually) 23 pairs of chromosomes. One copy of each pair is inherited from the mother and one from the father. The pairs are numbered 1-22 and the 23rd “pair” are the XX/XY pair. The mother always contributes an X to the 23rd pair and the father contributes either an X or a Y. This is what you’ve always been taught in elementary biology. However, things are not that simple. There are two not uncommon complicating factors.

First, sometimes there is not a simple “pair”. There can be a single copy instead of two; there can be more than two in the set. These are called “monosomy” and “trisomy”, “tetrasomy” or “pentasomy” (3, 4, 5). Most of the variations, especially the trisomy and higher types, are fatal, i.e. if they occur in an individual there will be a miscarriage. Many of the “monosomy” ones are not fatal, but there are often development issues in individuals which have them. The most common of these variations is “trisomy 21”, i.e. having three copies of the 21st chromosome. You may know this as “Down Syndrome”. This is never (as long as there are no other complicating factors) fatal.

There are also possible variations in the 23rd chromosome, i.e. the sex determining chromosomes. The above Wikipedia page has a chart of all the variations. From this we can see (1) that any combinations that have only Y instances (i.e. Y, YY, YYY, etc.) are fatal. The Y chromosome is physically shorter than the X chromosome and there are necessary genes for human existence on the X chromosome. Also (2) any combination, no matter how complicated, that has at least one Y chromosome will cause the individual to be a male. Only those with only X chromosomes (i.e. X, XX, XXX, etc.) are classified as a female.

In particular, both XX and XXX result in a normal female; both XY and XYY result in a normal male (and the genetic variation can only be determined through gene analysis as the individual is not aware of any variation); and the other combinations result in a “abnormal” male or female depending on whether the combination contains a Y or not. However, many of these “abnormal” individuals only tend to have things like excessive height (XXY) or other non-fatal characteristics. But there is no connection between these genetic variations and the other gender topics I will discuss below.

Secondly, however, there are also instances where the individual is “mosaicked”, i.e. some of the cells in the body have one genetic makeup and others have a different genetic makeup. These types of situations, like the first ones I just discussed, are caused by things like incomplete/unusual cell splitting, cell recombining (e.g. there being two fertilized eggs from different sperm cells that bond together), and other similar circumstances. If this matrixed form occurs in the sex chromosomes, there may be some biological impact (see the next topic).

Summary – except for certain mosaicism variations, all individuals are classified as either genetically male or genetically female. Even those which are classified as “abnormal” males or females are fully human, just as an individual with Down Syndrome is fully human.


The Biological Aspect

Between the fertilization of an egg and the birth of the resultant individual there are typically 40 weeks of development. During this time there is much that happens – cells divide, they begin to specialize, turning into the various organs and other parts of the body, some organs produce hormones, etc. All this is done in the environment of the mother’s womb where nutrition is provided through the placenta, etc.

When the baby is finally delivered, there is a medical determination of the biological sex of the individual. This determination is based on five factors:
·         Number and type of sex chromosomes
·         Types of gonads – ovaries or testicles
·         Sex hormones
·         Internal reproductive anatomy (such as the uterus in females)
·         External genitalia

For most people these factors are either all male or all female. However there are a small number (estimates range from .018% to 1.7% depending on what variations are included) where not all these factors are in agreement. These individuals are medically assigned as “intersex” (see https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Intersex). There are a variety of causes for this. Besides the mosaicism mentioned above, sometimes the various internal glands in the developing individual do not produce enough of certain hormones (or may produce too much) and this causes other organs to be undeveloped or otherwise modified. You can read the article if you want more detail.

Note – not included in the above analysis is a condition known as “Cryptorchidism” where the male testes are absent/undescended from the scrotum at birth (see https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Cryptorchidism). This occurs in 3% of full-term male infants and 30% of premature male infants, but by age 1 in less than 1% of all males. This is classified as a development issue, not as an intersex issue.

In the past, babies who were born with ambiguous genitalia were often subject to immediate surgical procedures to make them more obviously male/female. However, this is less common today.


Summary – there are a small number of individuals whose biological sex (or at least some aspect of it) is not consistent with their genetic sex. Some of these may not be apparent at birth and the individual may not know it unless they receive genetic testing because it does not manifest in their phenotype. 



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