On Believing Things That Aren’t True

For approximately twenty-five years, I believed I had straight hair, even though I have wavy hair. How did this happen?

It all started when I was a kid. Back then, I really did have straight hair (you can see it in photos). And my mom never cut it, so it was long. Down-past-my-butt long. My mom beamed when talking about her daughter’s beautiful, long, thick, straight hair. Other people complimented it a lot, too.

When I became a teenager I cut it and started getting perms, like you do in the 80s. That lasted off and on until my twenties. I liked perms even after I stopped liking 80’s “big hair” because perms gave my lifeless hair some texture and seemed to make it easier to “fix.” (Fixing it was important to me back then.)

So I don’t know exactly when my hair started getting a wave in it.

I do know that when my hair got a wave in it, I continued to believe it was straight and to say it was straight.

There were plenty of clues to the contrary. Like the stubborn wave in it that caused me to need to straighten it if I wanted it straight. But I had some weird justifications for that. First, the wave was a big wave, not a small one. I think I thought of wavy hair as containing cute, small waves that repeated and looked nice when you left them alone, not as containing one or two annoying big waves that just served to make your hair look messy.

Secondly, I’d sometimes say my hair was bendy like fishing line. It wasn’t that it had a wave in it. It was that I had leaned on it funny, or something, and it had bent, and it was wont to retain such a bend more readily than other people’s hair.

I think, in some strange way, I identified as a person with straight hair, because I’d once had straight hair and to some extent was rewarded for having straight hair.  Andy Worhol once said something about the trap of “self-imitation.” He was talking about art. But maybe there was something similar at work.

Anyway, I was at my hairdresser only sometime in the past few years and I mentioned something about my straight hair.

“Oh honey,” he said. “Your hair isn’t straight. It’s wavy.”

I asked if he was sure. I mentioned that it was bendy like fishing line. He rolled his eyes.

“Your hair is wavy, my dear,” he said.

“It’s quite wavy.”

Then I realized he was right. The damn hair was wavy. That’s why it was hard to fix. That’s why it retained a bend. That’s why it looked wavy.

Good lord. Why had I been spending decades telling myself that it was straight?

It’s instructive to face that I went so long believing something untrue, that I sincerely held a belief that needed correcting. It helps explain why other people think things that are untrue in the face of so much evidence to the contrary.

As I’ve mentioned in a recent post, a lot of people think that people like my ex (straight, late-onset, masculine, geeky) are “faking it.” He’s not. He thinks he’s a woman (though he clearly crashes against some cognitive dissonance once in a while as evidenced by some of the things he says). He also thinks other people can tell he’s a woman. This isn’t even a belief that he passes, but a belief that the woman-magic is seeping out of him in a recognizable way. He also believes I’ve called him names I’ve never uttered in my life. He’s also more or less heard voices.

I have examples. But you’ll have to wait for the book. (Soon.)

Honestly, it’s been one of the hardest things about it all. If he was just a dick (I mean he’s that too, now, but), it would be easier to write off the whole experience as me accidentally getting involved with a dick. Instead, a person who was once kind and thoughtful and seemed to be facing reality has drilled so far into a bizarre inner world that he’s lost his personality, his grip on reality, and his connection to some of the friends and family who have shown him the most love.

My straight hair delusion was an easy-ish one to fix, all things considered. Not like being forced to update your beliefs on the existence of God or the fact that what your friend did that one time when you were asleep was assault. (I’ve had to do both of those.)

And yet, I went for a remarkably long time not seeing something obvious and benign and objective about myself that was right in front of my face (literally, sometimes).

What if I had insisted everyone see my hair as straight? What if I’d gotten mad at my hairdresser for his hair-phobic views? What if I’d said it was all of dire importance to me? Would people have stopped seeing the wave in my hair?

Identity is something I’ve been thinking about a lot. My ex once said to me, “I identify as a woman, same as you.”

But I didn’t identify as a woman, and I said so. That’s not to say that I identified as something else, but that I did not identify at all when it comes to gender–it all seemed like a set of made-up stereotypes that I found irrelevant. Might as well ask me which Harry Potter character I’m most like when I don’t read fantasy novels. Yes, I’m watching the shitstorm that can occur when one woman even alludes in a tolerant way to another woman’s belief that “sex is real” (even though that’s not why I chose that example; It’s one I’ve used before).

“Sex is real.” That’s what’s been named as the most hateful and criminally intolerable claim of our times. Not the spewing of “you cunt” and “suck my dick” and “die” that has been hurled in return, but the relatively boring “sex is real.” That’s how far things can go when people are committed to believing things that are untrue.

Anyway, I didn’t know what identifying as a woman was like, much to my ex’s ire and to his certainty that I was in some way lying to invalidate him.

I also don’t identify as a white person. Again, not because I’m something else, but because that would be weird. People can see my white face and they’re going to behave accordingly. They don’t need my commentary one way or the other.

If I were going to bother to identify as something, I’d identify as an artist. But I don’t, because I haven’t done any art in a while, and because I know that other people are only going to identify me as an artist if they see me make art, and further, if they like that art well enough that they feel it has some cred. I don’t get why I’d try to coerce their view, outside of just trying to make some good art and show it to them and hope they adopt the view on their own.

That’s what identifying is all about, isn’t it? Making a claim to something that isn’t obvious, is perhaps even counterfactual. Otherwise, you wouldn’t have to identify. People would just know.

That’s the problem, for me. Coercing others’ views on things they’re not inclined to believe, or worse, getting them to pretend to agree, is squarely on the dishonesty spectrum. And if there’s anything I’ve come to learn about myself over the last few years it’s that I hate being dishonest.

I only ever do it under duress, like telling a hiring manager that I’m excited about the project when maybe I just need to pay the bills and feed myself. Someday I’d like to shed even the little white lies required of me by capitalism and other compelled social arrangements. Why not? What’s so scary about a world in which people tell the truth? I personally think it would revolutionize everyone’s bravery, compassion and ability to make a difference in the world. It’s my little utopian fantasy.

I have no interest in identifying as anything. I have no interest in coercing anyone’s thoughts or language. I’m interested only in interacting with people as free agents, who are free to voluntarily accept, reject, or question whatever I throw out there. Otherwise, why not check out of real life and surround myself with agreeable bots on social media?

Actually, that seems to be more or less what a lot of people are doing.

I’m going to stick with honesty as best as I can.

If someone comes along and tells me my hair is wavy, maybe they’re right. Maybe I have something to learn from them.

Is my hair wavy? Is yours? Why can’t we have those conversations? I’m not afraid.

Shout Out to the Asexuals

There’s an “asexual” in my class and one in the Pride group where I work.

It’s easy to be snarky. There are so many snarky things to say about asexuals:

  • Asexuality isn’t a sexual orientation. There are gay men who don’t want sex, lesbians who don’t want sex, bi people who don’t want sex and straight people who don’t want sex. Asexuals know they have an orientation apart from “asexual;” that’s why they invented the words heteroromantic, homoromantic et al. It isn’t necessary to create a new identity every time someone wants or doesn’t want something.
  • Asexuals aren’t an oppressed minority. No one who might hire you or rent you an apartment can tell whether you like sex or not. It isn’t stamped on your face. Maybe your asexuality manifests in your being perpetually single (though it needn’t), but being single is something everyone, gay, straight or bi, is at some point (and often over and over again).
  • Because of all this, asexuals who join the LGBTQ+ movement look a lot like just another flavor of straight person who inexplicably seems to crave queer cred.
  • Almost every “asexual” I’ve ever met has changed their mind within a few months to a couple of years. It’s almost as if they were going through the perfectly normal experience of not being tortured with constant arousal and/or finding other things in life to prioritize.

But goddess love ’em, in the end I believe asexuals are reacting to a toxic sexual culture.

They are mostly young, mostly female, and mostly heterosexual. The messages they’re receiving from society in the age of social media and “sex-positive” wokeness are absolutely nauseating to anyone with a shred of decency at their core. The males in their age range are completely unsuitable for having sex with. It’s always been a challenge for women to find caring and reciprocal partners, but female pleasure doesn’t even seem to be on the collective radar anymore.

Not having sex under these circumstances is the most rational response a woman can have.

Here’s what a sexual culture that’s toxic to women looks like:

  • This video of a bunch of inexcusably clueless and selfish men tee-heeing about how they can’t be bothered to make their partners orgasm.
  • Porn that’s more violent than ever and more ubiquitous than ever.
  • A cultural stigmatization of “kink-shaming” that has bafflingly come to mean that committing cruel and unusual sex practices is preferable to questioning cruel and unusual sex practices.
  • An atmosphere where a high school teacher friend of mine found a girl crouching under and chained to a boy’s desk, surrounded by a number of other boys, in the middle of class. When questioned, the boys insisted they were all having a consensual BDSM relationship.
  • A world where Teen Vogue advises teenage girls (who have probably never even had decent “regular” sex, see point one) on how to take a dick up the butt. It was bad enough when boys, patriarchy, movies, music and porn were doing that, but now trusted adults posing as sex educators are doing it too.
  • A world where a teen magazine wouldn’t be caught dead teaching boys (much less girls) to perform cunnilingus well. Where’s all that sex-positivity now? Oh, right. It was only ever male-orgasm-positivity after all.

Who can blame a young woman for feeling turned off in a world like this?

The problem is that “asexuality” is a short-term and individualistic solution to a systemic problem. My classmate writes poetry on her “mixed-orientation” relationships, whereby men pressure her for sex and she resists it, and the whole thing is presented as some interesting journey of divergent souls finding a middle ground in a complicated world.

My classmate believes that unenjoyable, coerced sex is normal, and that she’s the unusual one. The “other.” The one whose “identity” requires naming. The one whose quirk requires working around.

It would be better for her soul, and for the soul of society, if she could embrace and thereby spread the absolute normalcy of not wanting to make oneself available for abuse.

But that’s too much to ask of a young woman. It’s easier to take on a quirky identity than to understand that almost every male around you is broken.

Queer Theory Glossary

In case you’ve had trouble keeping up with the spate of new queer theory terms, here’s a handy glossary for your reference.

Queer – A straight person with an interesting haircut.

Non-binary/genderqueer – A chubby young female, typically 16-28, who has dyed her hair blue. Is probably what was once called a lesbian, but she doesn’t like that word.

Lesbian – A man in his 40’s who works in IT and started wearing his wife’s panties last year.

Transgender – A person whose aversion to society’s made-up gender stereotypes should be taken way more seriously than everyone else’s aversion to society’s made-up gender stereotypes.

Pansexual – Someone who likes men who dress in masculine clothes and men who dress in feminine clothes.

TERF – A mature woman who goes about her business without thinking about men enough. The party that should be held responsible when a redneck man beats up a male prostitute.

Cis – Someone who daydreams wistfully about putting on appropriate clothing and showing their genitals to the doctor.

Sexual orientation – Bigotry in the form of having opinions about whose genitals you like to touch.

Intersectionality – Remembering to include a variety of different types of men in your feminism.

Transmisogyny – When straight white men can’t get other people to say the things they want them to say, and it feels worse than any form of oppression anyone else on the planet has ever experienced.

Ze/Hir – Pronouns you can request to disrupt college classes when you haven’t done the assigned work.

Gay – A passé identity that isn’t cool enough anymore and needs rebranding.

Asexual – A person who feels left out.

Intersex – Probably all of us. I mean, you’ve never had a chromosome test, have you. HAVE YOU?

“The Straight Ones Love Their Dicks!”

“The straight ones,” someone said to me a while ago, “are making things difficult for the ones who actually have dysphoria.”

She was referring, of course, to the two types of male-to-female transsexuals proposed by sexologist Ray Blanchard in the ’80s. He had observed among his patients a sharp distinction between what he called “homosexual transsexuals,” who were typically feminine, came out early in life, and were attracted to men; and “autogynephiles,” who were typically masculine, came out late in life, and were primarily attracted to women. The former are more likely to be lonely and poor and marginalized. The latter are more likely to have a history of career success and a loving family. The former, Blanchard suggested, were just trying to deal with the hand they were dealt and to attract the men they wanted to date. The latter had a sort of paraphilia–a sexual interest in cross-dressing and in fantasizing about themselves with female anatomy.

His topology was widely accepted and used to determine treatment for trans individuals for decades, and is still extensively utilized in medical literature despite modern activists’ insistence that it has been discredited.

It’s also very observably true. My ex-husband is a textbook autogynephile. He was masculine. He worked in IT and had an interest in geeky stuff, which for whatever reason, is part of the archetype. He came out late in life. He had a sexual interest in cross-dressing and in imagining himself female. This interest was strong enough to outcompete his sexual interest in his real-life partner.

A sweep through the forums that “trans women” create for themselves provides an endless fount of stories of males aroused by themselves in women’s clothes and by the thought of themselves with breasts and vaginas. Here, Anne Lawrence, a self-professed autogynephile and psychologist, compiles 249 such first-person accounts.

But I believe it’s important to separate fact from fiction, even if it suports a narrative we don’t expect.

Somehow, people have come to believe that homosexual transsexuals have dysphoria–basically a hatred of their sex organs–while autogynephiles do not. Since hearing that comment way back when, I’ve heard a similar sentiment many more times. But it does not reflect my experience. And for what it’s worth, I haven’t noticed Blanchard et al making this distinction, either.

In fact, one of Blanchard’s motivations for articulating this distinction was to clinically recognize autogynephiles as poor candidates for sex reassignment surgery. As masculine-looking, late-transitioning men they were unlikely to be satisfied with its physical results and as straight-leaning men their dating prospects are impacted by it. This is exactly the “gatekeeping” the modern transgender lobby so often disparages. And if it was necessary to dissuade autogynephiles from surgery that’s because they were seeking surgery. 

Just recently someone said to me, “All the autogynephiles are faking it.”

Just recently someone else said to me, “The straight ones never get surgery. They love their dicks.”

I get the motivation for comments like these. It’s all too convenient when a straight man is just “trans” enough to walk into a dressing room among the sex that gives him a boner but not quite “trans” enough to get the allegedly offending body part removed. 

But I think it’s important not to invent motivations for others’ behavior.

It’s my experience that “the straight ones” hate their bodies and positively romanticize surgery. My ex. All my ex’s trans friends. All the people on the aforementioned forums, many quite young. Many who began to identify as trans only months prior.

Don’t get me wrong. I think he acquired this dysphoria. But he had it nonetheless.

In fact, the acquisition of dysphoria where it did not previously exist–among the “straight ones,” the female-to-males, the young ones, the old ones, and all the rest–is one of the things that makes this trend so alarming.

This isn’t simply a group of adults experimenting with clothing and hairstyles. This is an ever-expanding swath of the population, extending to the pre-pubescent, developing a rapid and consuming interest in extreme and irreversible body mods with no prior ideation of the kind. People daydreaming about, if not seeking, once-rare experimental surgeries that are rife with complications and that have been demonstrated time and time again to ravage individuals’ romantic options, orgasms, fertility, mental health, and physical health.

I’m currently taking a class with a young woman who months ago did not identify as trans, then for a time bragged that she was “genderqueer,” and today writes wistful poetry about her breasts being scooped from her body with a scalpel like “bruises on an apple.”

So it’s important we get the facts right about who has dysphoria and how and when they got it.

I told the woman who said “the straight ones love their dicks” that that wasn’t quite right. She got very adamant. A greater number of the homosexual transsexuals get surgery, she explained. And since the percentage of homosexuals is smaller than the percentage of straight people, that represents an even greater discrepancy than it appears to. But I’ve yet to meet a trans person who didn’t eventually dream of surgery. So what’s going on?

I think several factors are at play in why both parties might hate their bodies, but homosexual males are more likely to follow through with surgery:

    • It’s a question of definition. In the gay community, surgery almost defines who is and isn’t “trans.” There’s simply no such thing, to speak of, as a non-op trans homosexual male. That person just calls himself a gay man (and maybe a drag queen). Gay men become “trans” by way of surgery. Gender non-conformity in the gay community, unlike in the straight community, is too unremarkable to be taken as a sign of being “trans.” 
    • Related to the above, the umbrella for who is and isn’t trans is wider in the straight community than in the gay community. I’d argue that “trans” in the homosexual community is limited to people who consider the matter with a certain intensity, while “trans” in the straight community encompasses so-called non-binaries, genderqueers, agenders, neutrois, and whatever other word an Everyday Feminism author decides to coin today. Just as it’s hard to imagine calling out gender-nonconformity in the gay community, it’s now hard to imagine not calling it out in the straight community. Everyone who’s ever worn nail polish or gotten an interesting haircut has been implicated. So it’s not surprising if the number of trans people in the straight community is inflated with those who were never serious enough to contemplate surgery.
    • It’s been suggested that the homosexual males who opt for surgery are more likely to be black. It’s been suggested that they’re more likely to be poor. With poverty comes lower education levels and a greater likelihood of past abuse. With homosexuality comes a greater likelihood of childhood bullying. All this adds up to a type of individual who might be more willing to do violence to himself than a college-educated middle class white guy working in IT like my husband. One wonders if “trans” represents desperation in the homosexual community but privileged boredom in the straight community.
    • Surgery is expensive. The trans community often points out that some male-to-females pay for their surgeries with prostitution. But the customers of prostitution are men. Homosexual men are probably more likely to cross the line into prostitution, as anonymous gay sex is often already in their wheelhouse, sans only the exchange of cash. On the other hand, anonymous gay sex is a little harder for someone like my ex to swallow. It would be interesting to see how surgery rates would change if you threw a million dollars toward the straight guys. Caitlyn Jenner provides an instructive example.

As someone who has seen all this up-close and personal, I just want to say that “the straight ones” have dysphoria.

I get the feeling that those who promote this misconception feel that dysphoria should make a difference in how we view or treat trans people. But I disagree. I wish no discrimination in housing or employment, for example, on trans people, with or without dysphoria. Nor, on the other side, does dysphoria make men actually women or suddenly exempt them from statistics that show they’re more likely to commit violent or sexual crimes than women are.

Dysphoria is just dysphoria. It’s one of the things males must sort out on their own. It does not compel females to relinquish our safe spaces, our sports teams, our employment posts or our resources to them.

Sex and the Mathematics of a Binary

So much debate around whether sex is a binary or a spectrum. The thing is, a binary is a mathematical thing. And there isn’t any need to debate mathematical things. They are easy to prove.

I’m a computer scientist, and if there’s anything we know, it’s binaries.

Let’s start with this. When you have two things, there are four ways to combine them. You can have the first without the second, the second without the first, neither, or both:

1 0
0 1
0 0
1 1

That’s it.

And now: sex. It’s not a coincidence that the word for sex, as in whether you’re a man or a woman, is the same as the word for sex, as in gettin’ it on between the sheets. They both have to do with reproduction.

There are two gametes in human reproduction: the smaller one, called the sperm, and the larger one, called the ovum. If you have those two things, you can make a baby. If you don’t have those two things, you can’t make a baby.

If you have those two things, you can make a baby in a petri dish. Even if there’s no boobs, hips, penises, vaginas, estrogen injections, silicone implants, lingerie, gaffes, tool belts, laser salons, cosmetic surgeons, or anything else anywhere in sight.

If you don’t have those two things, you can’t make a baby. Not in a petri dish. Not anywhere else. Even if you bring all the asymmetrical haircuts and stilettos and ambiguous genitals and pink and blue flags and bathroom bills and clownfish you can muster.

There’s only two things that are needed to make a baby. A sperm, and an ovum.

There are four ways to combine those two things in a human being. The person can produce ovum but no sperm, sperm but no ovum, neither, or both. In reality, the last is exceedingly rare. But the point here is that there isn’t more than one way to do this math. This is a classic binary system. Two things, four combinations. There’s no way to get an endless number of combinations out of two things or even seven combinations out of two things.

Since it takes a sperm and an egg to make a baby, and the question of whether or not folks want babies coming into their lives is an important one to absolutely everyone, it’s useful to have a word for those who make sperm and those who make ovum. Until recently, everyone’s been happy to use the words “male” and “female” for this useful distinction.

But even if you decide these words are harmful, even if you ban them, even if you question and censor every other word that springs up in their place, there will still be two gametes and four ways to combine them. Math is inflexible that way. Reality is stubborn that way.

Intersex? Despite the hype–which tellingly is spread mainly by folks who aren’t intersex–that’s a handful of conditions, and those are disorders of female development or disorders of male development. But it wouldn’t matter if there were a thousand intersex conditions. All intersex individuals produce sperm, ovum, both or neither. All fit into one of the four available combinations. In no cases does a human being produce a third gamete! Or a fourth!

Now if you want to say gender is a spectrum… well, I’ll still say that’s a mistake. But at least it’s not mathematically refutable in five minutes.