“That’s so crazy!”: Ableism, Madness, and the Politics of Perfect Language

sam-manns-358058-unsplash.jpg(Photo by Sam Manns on Unsplash)

Ableism is akin to racism and sexism but instead of skin color and sex it’s about people with disabilities.

Ableist language devalues people with physical and mental disabilities. A common example is when someone says “That’s r*tarded.”, meaning “That’s dumb.” (which, of course, is another ableist term). This is widely considered to be problematic language.

But the language I want to discuss for this post involves things like “That’s crazy!” or “That’s insane!”, meaning “That’s ridiculous!” The standard argument is that these terms, like the r-slur, serve to devalue and further stigmatize people with mental conditions like schizophrenia.

I haven’t really talked about this publicly a whole lot but I have been diagnosed with various sub-types of schizophrenia over the years. I think the most recent diagnosis was something like “brief episodic psychosis”. It’s a long story I need to write up sometime, but needless to say: I am a certified “crazy person” and have a very real and personal connection to the concept of “insanity”.

With that said, I personally have no problems with phrases like “That’s crazy.”

Here’s why.

Mental Metaphors

There is good reason to think metaphor is at the heart of human cognition. Mental metaphors are especially important to everyday human life and the conversations we have with each other. We talk about ideas as objects and the mind as a container. Ideas can go “over” our heads, we can “hold” an idea “in” our mind, we can “turn” a memory over, etc., etc. The physical world of concrete action serves as a metaphorical landscape out of which we sculpt our thoughts about the world and how we communicate our inner life. George Lakoff and Mark Johnson are famous for elucidating how this works in books like Philosophy in the Flesh: the Embodied Mind & its Challenge to Western Thought.

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On the flipside, the mental life itself can serve as a powerful foundation for generating metaphors of its own. More specifically, I tend to think that metaphors surrounding normal/abnormal cognition function are integral to how we tend to think about the world. Phrases like “That’s crazy” work so well to mean things like “ridiculous” because the possibility of our mind losing connection with reality is a well-known phenomenon and makes possible a sense of things being so fantastic as to be unreal, a ridiculous break from our expectations. “That touchdown was crazy!” “The ending to Inception was so insane.”

When is “crazy”-language problematic?

One of the ways things go wrong is when we use “crazy” to stereotype groups of people e.g. “bitches be crazy”, which is not only misogynistic but also ableist insofar as it’s using “crazy” with a negative connotation as “irrationally emotional”.

But how is this all that different from watching some crazy stunt on youtube and saying “woah – that flip was crazy!”? I think the latter is less problematic insofar as it as basically saying “this stunt made me question my sense of reality” rather than the former, which is saying “women are irrational” which is not only false but actively harmful to a whole group of people who have historically been harmfully stereotyped as being too emotional to partake in the life of a citizen.

Another way “crazy”-language goes wrong is when we use popularized conceptions of, e.g., schizophrenia, to explain violent behavior like when someone says “I don’t know why he shot all those people – he was just crazy!” In this example, they’re not just saying “The situation was ridiculous” or “The situation violated my expectations of reality”. Instead, it’s saying the behavior can be explained by appealing to a condition like schizophrenia, a false explanation which is definitely harmful (people with schizophrenia are, in fact, more likely to be victims of violence).

Is it even possible to split the difference between “good” and “bad” usages of “crazy” language? Maybe we should just take the safe side and eradicate all usages of the term because if we’re not sure of the possible harm we should just not use the language at all.

But I think the quest for perfect language is difficult to achieve. To eradicate all ableism is difficult because so much of our language depends on unconscious body and action schemas involving “normal” human function.

 

ewan-robertson-208059-unsplash(Photo by Ewan Robertson on Unsplash)

Seeing Is Believing

Consider the schemas involving visual metaphors in the English language:

“I see what you mean.”

“She is a visionary leader.”

“Could you shed some light on that for me?”

The examples are endless. But all of these are arguably based on blindness metaphors in the same way that “crazy”-language is based on metaphors involving disabilities involving psychic breaks with reality.

There is absolutely nothing wrong with wanting to educate people about ableism and remove problematic terms and phrases from our public vocabulary. The problem, however, is always going to be two-fold: defining the boundaries of acceptable use and running up against practical limits on removing “primary” metaphors from language.

Primary metaphors are the so-called “building blocks” of our cognitive life and are formed through our basic embodied interaction with the concrete world.

As it happens, being able to see is the statistically normal embodied interaction with the world and we can see this in our language and thought (no pun intended). That, of course, says nothing about the moral value of blind persons and their unique way of being-in-the-world. But in my opinion trying to eradicate the “seeing = understanding” metaphor from our language completely is a Sisyphean task.

I think the same holds true of some aspects of “crazy”-language, especially the connection between “ridiculous” and “crazy”.  That also seems Sisyphean. What seems more tractionable is things like saying “that person is such a schizo.”

But when someone says “I am crazy about her” to mean “The amount I love her is ridiculous”, I personally am not bothered by it partly because I believe it would be nearly futile to try to remove that powerful set of metaphors from our normal conception of reality.

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The Politics of Perfect Language

But here’s the rub: maybe other people who have also been diagnosed with a “crazy” disease like schizophrenia do care? I never want to invalidate how other people feel about language use: just like I am not bothered by some aspects of “crazy”-language maybe some people are and that’s just that.

So this post is not about giving able-bodied people license to just start using ableist language willy-nilly. I am not here to generalize a prescription for all language use. I don’t believe I have that kind of moral authority. But what I am doing is trying to give an explanation of why I personally have not exercised “crazy” from my vocabulary as a synonym for “ridiculous” in everyday language.

In the end, I believe the quest to make our language and thought more in line with our values should be about the ways we consciously speak and think about ability and disability. Often our unconscious minds are just jerks and usually brimming with implicit bias. Eradicating that is difficult – it’s literally out of our conscious control.What we do have control of our own conscious thoughts (that’s why they’re conscious!). And I believe it is these thoughts that serve best as grounds for assigning moral responsibility, especially insofar as our conscious beliefs inform the actions we take that may or may not actively harm others.

And of course I am against ableism just like I am against any other form of discrimination. But the quest to remove some metaphors from our language and thought faces steep hurdles. Which is of course not an argument against trying it anymore than the difficulty of eradicating racism is a reason to stop trying eradicating racism. But I think that the amount of mental effort allies take sniping at each other about removing metaphors from language could maybe be used more productively engaging in educational efforts about the actual nature of what it’s like living with mental illness.

I dunno. Like I said, I am not generally in the business of making sweeping normative claims of any kind. So I could totally be wrong about the utilitarian calculus involved in removing certain metaphors from our language. But I at least wanted to open a dialogue on this topic. I am open to hearing the opinions of other “crazies” like myself.

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Lust, Loss, and the Logic of Love – Valentine’s Edition

 

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Many people have bitter feelings surrounding Valentine’s day. And I don’t think it’s just due to the jaded corporatism surrounding the strong social pressure to spend lavishly to show your love. Rather, I think part of the frustration comes from a deep cynicism in our culture surrounding the topic of romantic love itself – the issue at the core then is not the corporatism but the very nature of love as a mental state.

Romance continues to be a popular genre but it’s often treated as a form of escapism because in the regular world most people seem to be skeptical about love as an emotion worthy of guiding major life decisions. Many people have been burned before and have thus, quite appropriately, become jaded about the whole idea of, e.g., grand and romantic gestures early in the stages of a relationship.

For example, when a newly in love couple announces they are engaged after only 2 months of dating, my guess is that most people would be polite and congratulate the couple but secretly think “Oh boy, that’s doomed to failure”. The feeling of doom comes from the general opinion in our society that love is irrational and any major life decision done in the grips of New Relationship Energy (NRE) is not done on firm epistemic ground.

Love and logic are often pitted against each other as opposites. People think it is risky to fall so strongly in love because you end up making rash decisions. But rashness doesn’t of course refer to just the short time-frame nor is it merely about how things happen to turn out: it essentially implies a decision made without enough evidence to rationally decide. We can always get lucky, of course, but the massive risk implies irrationality built into love-dominated decisions. And that’s what people say about this type of love: “You’ve only known each other for three weeks! How could you possibly [insert action]?”

And I think we all understand this skepticism at some core level – there is a sense in which it’s quite obvious that love is a biased decision making vector. From the outside perspective it’s easy to look at a couple in love and see them as being swept up in an irrational delusion that they will be together forever. We all know the statistics about divorce. I have certainly had skeptical thoughts about other couples – so I don’t fault people for having those thoughts towards me when I am in the grips of love.

But this raises the essential epistemic issue: we can’t ignore our own standpoints when making decisions. From the inside, everything makes sense. This creates a phenomenological sense of isolation akin to the Facebook algorithm bubbles we all live in: we will never break through the private barrier of mental life and understand the full context of someone else’s decision. Hell, we stand pretty much zero chance of properly understanding the scope of even our own decisions. So why would we expect to have any sense of why a couple actually decided to U-haul? This is why our own individual standpoints, histories, values, beliefs, and emotions must be accounted for in terms of accessing the rationality of decisions done under NRE.

You can never truly know the full set of information someone is utilizing to make a decision in the “throes” of love. When communicating to others “why” you two have decided to, e.g., move-in together, it becomes impossible to convey the full scope of relevant information in a digestable format. You end up just gushing out a soundbite like “we’re just crazy about each other”. Or at least that’s how it comes off to someone else: crazy.

Coming back to risk, there are individual differences in how much risk-tolerance each of us is comfortable with. There are also different kinds of risk: emotional risk, physical risk, financial risk, etc. These all interact with each other in complex ways. But just like in the investing world where some people are comfortable being highly leveraged, some people are ok taking great relationship risks in order to help bring about an even greater reward. What’s the possible max pay out? A life of happiness. Sounds great doesn’t it? What kind of risk is that worth?

But of course the best situation is where there is a low risk and a massive reward i.e. little downside, big upside. With relationships this can happen where there is liquidity to the relationship. This is often facilitated by neither party coming into the relationship out of a sense of pragmatic desperation. So here you can make an investment where, if things go sour, it won’t be the end of the world, but if things go well, it could make a massive positive change in the direction of your life. This is the sweet spot.

So according to the sketch of standpoint epistemology I just laid out, it is fully possible for a decision dripping with NRE to be fully rational according to a mutually beneficial rational alignment of values that can only be fully assessed by the two relevant parties.

Sounds romantic doesn’t it?

Happy Valentine’s Day!

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U-hauling, Radical Vulnerability, and the Existential Feels of Queer, Poly Love

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Question: What did the lesbian bring on her second date?
Answer: A U-haul

Queer women are known for a phenomenon called “U-hauling” which is basically falling in love pretty much instantly and quickly setting in motion a Complete Entanglement, physically, financially, domestically, emotionally, etc.

In contrast, the stereotype for gay men is the tacit imposition to “not catch feels”. So why do queer women fall in love so hard and practically sprint up the relationship escalator whereas queer men tend to engage in more casual poly networks (at least according to well-known stereotypes)?

I’ve been thinking about this a lot recently because I have found myself radically in love with a girl I met…uh…three days ago? And of course the feeling is reciprocated because she is also a very gay woman and while quite new to lesbian dating is falling right in line with every stereotype. I too am a living breathing embodiment of this stereotype – especially since I just got out of a fairly serious relationship…three days ago.

I am a big advocate of thinking “coincidence” is an adequate explanation in more instances than commonly believed because the universe is often random and if you get enough people together in a room someone is bound to flip a coin heads ten times in a row. Series of relationships strung together can be just as random as starting/stopping a relationship only a few times a year.

But I have been toying with a tentative hypothesis to explain why queer women and not queer men have the stereotype of U-hauling. The story is something like this. Queer women are already on the margins of society both culturally and morally. While the tide is definitely turning there is SO MUCH hatred out there and queer women around the world get harassed and violently assaulted or even murdered on a regular basis in virtue of being queer. This process of marginalization leads to a radical vulnerability. Note: I am explicitly using “queer” and not “lesbian” because I don’t want to erase the experiences of bi/pan women.

But that’s half the equation. The other variable is the style of communication common among women. It involves deep honesty, sharing our vulnerabilities, trauma, insecurities, fears, but also our dreams and hopes and what makes us capable of still laughing in the grip of patriarchy.

As someone who has lived on both sides of the gender spectrum it is undeniable to me that there is a communication style more commonly used by women and this style facilities an openness that I think is hard for men steeped in machismo-culture to achieve. The “masc-for-masc” trend in cis gay male culture is indicative of the fact that gay men are men and in my humble opinion men and women tend to have much different communication styles.

But why is that? It’d be naive to think hormones have nothing to do with it. Most women are estrogen dominant, and again, speaking from personal experience, the emotional valences work differently and work towards facilitating a more intense resolution of conflict. Those who have lived with both Testosterone-dominance and Estrogen-dominance often report that on T they are more numb. Whether that’s a good or bad thing depends on the person. But for me the lack of numbness has led to an overall more soft and empathic response to conflict that has fundamentally changed my communication style especially in relationships

And of course, it’s not just a one-directional causality for hormones. Reductive and overly simplistic models of behavior are just that: ideal models. But socialization and learning are definitely playing a role in shaping the gender gap in communication style. But this is of course a classic chicken-and-egg question aka the old nature vs nurture chestnut. But as everyone knows the answer is both unhelpful but also the only real Truth: it is nature through nurture and nurture through nature. It is both. Interacting. In a very complex manner. Everything else is just details.

Having said that I want to turn to another cultural stereotype within the lesbian community and that is the high emphasis on monogamy culture. By that I mean emphasizing things like Soulmates, Eternal love, the One and Only, My Everything, Us vs the World, etc., etc. You can see monogamy culture working in the U-haul phenomenon because it is the sense that you suddenly have found your True Lesbian Lover that is going to satisfy all your needs until the day you die and you need to Lock That Shit Down as fast as possible otherwise it could possibly fall through your hands and you’ll die lonely and gay.

As someone who puts a high personal value on ethical nonmonogamy I am simultaneously drawn to monogamy culture and repulsed by it. I feel the temptation to use very possessive language and draw up mental entitlements to my partner’s feelings, thoughts, and behavior. But my belief in something akin to relationship anarchy makes me naturally skeptical of formal hierarchy in relationships including boundaries on what we allow ourselves to experience or not experience. Which is not to say I am against the idea of having a nesting partner(s). I am almost certainly someone who has a very strong nest-building instinct. But nesting is different from hierarchy and it is different from monogamy culture. Nesting is about mutually beneficial living arrangements but monogamy culture is about setting up toxic boundaries on our emotional openness.

And of course, I am talking about monogamy culture and not two rational and consenting adults entering into a healthy monogamous relationship which is totally possible (but maybe for less people than one might assume based on the culture we live in). Monogamy culture is toxic but monogamy itself doesn’t have to be so long as there is still radical honesty, communication, vulnerability, and empathy.

At the end of the day, U-hauling exists because queer women often spend their lives looking for something they didn’t know existed until they have their first queer relationship. As someone who has dated straight women and queer women, there is a subtle difference in virtue of relating to the shared trauma of marginalization. That background serves to make genuine connection that much more cherished and leads to the rapid emotional escalation common to lesbians and bi/pan women.

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A Plea for Agnosticism in an Age of Ardor

 

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Can we please, as a society, develop our agnosticism muscles a little more?

This country is deeply divided on so many important issues, we’re angry and alienated from both each other and ourselves, we live in a post-truth society where fake news is so insidious it’s not always clear what’s true and what’s not, we live inside artificially constructed Facebook bubbles, we don’t as individuals have the resources to fact-check everything we read, we know mostly everything we know through endless chains of testimony like a bad game of telephone, we can’t tell what’s click-bait and what’s another day in politics, the algorithms of social media determine what we believe more than our own quest for the truth – we live an age where truthiness reigns supreme as the epistemic value of choice.

But who can really blame us? We are after all just naked apes, fragile and error-prone apes at that, who often claim certainty about things we have no right to claim certainty to, who make sweeping philosophical claims with nothing to back them up, who take our experiences and generalize them to everyone and everything else – I mean our consciousness is a barely functioning ever-ready-to-topple piece of gooey machinery scrapped together out of spare parts, a fragile little piece of work that often goes wrong in so many ways.

But it is our home. We ought to respect our home and acknowledge it as a product of evolution, genetics, epigenetics, development, socialization, learning, etc, etc., and thus susceptible to *not getting things exactly right* when it comes to knowing the actual real truth of how the universe works or whether some complex philosophical claim is true.

Given what we know about ourselves as being what Nietzsche called “human, all too human” why the hell would we ever claim to know so many things with such strong convictions when we could alternatively just relax a little? As a society I just can’t recommend people thinking we know things with strong certainty. I mean, yeah, maybe it’s certain that 2+2=4 but it’s a lot more fuzzy on issues such as e.g. does God exist? Is happiness is valuable? What is consciousness? What is a soul anyway? Is nihilism false? Is democracy the best system of government? What is the nature of gender?

For any highly contentious subject that offers no clear methodology for settling the matter in a public, falsifiable manner we are left with a situation where eventually in any dialectic we just want to slam our fists down on the table and call it an argument.

The problem here is that strong moral convictions have led to a lot of good in our universe. But at the same time strong moral convictions have also led to a lot of bad in our universe. It’s near impossible to calculate the net effect but I think on the whole relaxing the strength of our convictions a little would still allow for community-benefiting moral truths like “treat others as an end in themselves” to continue to spread while warding off the moral convictions of, e.g., transphobes.

Thorough-going agnosticism is not an easy system to adopt fully for it bleeds into our personal lives rather quickly. For example, I have argued for a position I call gender agnosticism. Gender agnosticism is about refusing to make a stand on whether the gender/sex distinction is true or not. Is gender (“womanhood”) different from sex (“female”)? I can see the arguments on both sides. But there seems to be no way to come to a definitive conclusion that is amenable to public consensus. It’s not like we can build a measuring device and go out into the world to determine if gender is different from sex. If you try to operationalize the concept you are left with the question: why that particular operationalization? And if we used another how would we determine which one is better getting at the truth? We’d need a third source. But how do we determine the truth of that one as well? It goes round and round in a circle.

But if I truly believe gender agnosticism, I cannot even be certain of whether my body is male or female. The lack of positive belief renders my self-awareness devoid of content and I am left with less self-knowledge. But what remains is surely the truth. For what I am left with is the notion that whether I am male or female in an ultimate metaphysical sense is not as important as other things like: people using my preferred pronouns, being treated with dignity and respect, having secure employment, healthcare, housing, etc. Of course, whether other people believe I am male or female could impact the lives of trans people in virtue of stigma and the political ramifications of legislation that targets trans bodies.

Does the negative political impact of gender agnosticism render it false? One might think so assuming a pragmatic epistemology. But in my view whether gender agnosticism leads to social harm depends on the context of the community in which it’s believed. In some communities it’s easy for me to imagine the spread of something like gender agnosticism leading to more freedom and happiness. But in other contexts it could of course be used to harm as well.

I want to be clear that I am not advocating for apathy where we just stop caring about how things are defined or what’s true or not true. I care deeply about the truth. I just think it’s pretty difficult to arrive at the Ultimate Truth for topics that have some degree of philosophical assumption built in, which is just about every topic imaginable.

We should not stop having dialogue about these tough topics. We should not stop having strong moral convictions. But what drives me crazy is the arrogance of people assuming that they are in possession of the Whole Truth, and not what they actually possess: a distorted fragment. The truth might be out there, but it’s quite another thing to assume we have arrived at it in its entirety. The whole of human history shows us being wrong about just about everything – do we really think that early 21st century humans have finally figured everything out? Chances are we are also really really wrong about a great number of things many of which would probably be quite embarrassing if we had to stand in judgment of our future descendants and explain our way of doing things.

So above all I advocate for humility in the face of the daunting likelihood that many of the truths we cherish are deeply false. Epistemic humility is a trait that is undervalued in the modern social environment with the virality of media often being tied to the confidence of its proclamations rather than the veracity of its content.

And yes, I am aware that my conclusion renders the whole of this post less likely to be true. So fair warning: my own arguments for agnosticism could be wrong – don’t assume they’re true just because they seem convincing to you now. And if they were never convincing to you in the first place, bravo, you might be right!

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Queering Personal Finance

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There seems to me, in my experience, to be a tendency in queer/leftist circles to think that personal finance is for rich white conservatives and no one else.

Nothing could be further from the truth.

Marginalized people have an even greater need for sound personal finance than rich white conservatives precisely because they are marginalized.

When you are, for example, a trans woman working in the wage economy and trying to save up for surgery costs, it is a matter of grave importance to (1) live beneath your means (2) budget carefully and (3) save.

But the medical costs associated with being trans are but one example of why having a keen interest in personal finance is crucial for marginalized folks. Far greater in importance is simply the concept of financial security. After all, if you cannot achieve security from society in virtue of fitting into the normative ideals of cis straight mono heteropatriarchy, it seems to be the obvious answer is to gain security through self-insurance.

There is an intersectional worry lurking here. A common refrain in personal finance circles is that spending $5 at Starbucks everyday is counter-productive to the goals of getting out of debt and saving up for a downpayment on a house. However, the intersectional response is that when you are marginalized the daily $5 latte at Starbucks becomes a release valve for dealing with society trying to beat you down for being marginalized. Furthermore, not everyone is capable of the self-discipline required for frugality.

But is this really the message we want to be sending to our fellow queers and marginalized folks? For me, it has a ring of a self-fulfilling prophecy. It says: we should not hold ourselves to the minimal standard of living beneath our means, which I believe is possible for almost everyone. And no: it’s not about deprivation. Because we don’t have to deprive ourselves of daily coffee – we just have to find smarter options, like investing in an at-home coffee making product.

There is often an assumption that budgeting is about deprivation. But in reality it’s about prioritization. What do we value? Do we value giving Christmas presents every holiday season? Then it’s better to put a little away every month starting in January so we don’t have to put the holidays on credit, essentially giving away our money to the creditors. For every dollar we give to the banks for being in debt, we could be giving to ourselves, securing our financial future. A budget is simply a written way to prioritize what we care about.

In essence, I believe we need to working towards queering personal finance. We need to normalize frugality, budgeting, retirement, and investing in queer/leftist circles. Personal finance is not just for old white conservatives. It’s for everybody. And it’s especially important for folks on the margins because we cannot rely on society to provide us with security.

But aren’t I not assuming that marginalized folks have enough spare executive functioning to successfully engage in healthy personal finance behaviors? After all, there is a psychological cost to being on the margins. We might not have enough energy to make good financial decisions. I am fully sympathetic to this objection. But I want to make space for the possibility that many marginalized folks are likely to underestimate their own proclivity for smart financial behavior because it doesn’t fit in with stereotypes they have internalized about what kinds of folks having smart financial behavior.

Furthermore, I believe we should continue to advocate for social safety nets and work towards democratic socialism. But in the meantime us queers need to survive. It is either that or die. So in the end we have no choice: we must queer personal finance because otherwise we will inevitably fall through the cracks of normative society. To do otherwise is to let conservatives win the narrative about money: that money is something that only benefits old white people. Money can work for all of us. Indeed we must as queers learn to have our money work for us.

Do you want to work everyday until you drop dead? Neither do I. Logically then, we must as queers start thinking about retirement. That means getting serious about our personal finances. Because personal finance is after all personal. It involves the personal stake we all have in making our lives go better – and who doesn’t want that? We all stand to benefit from queering personal finance.

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Why I Was Not Born In the Wrong Body

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Identity is central to trans people.

Or is it?

When we say “I was born in the wrong body” what is this “I” being referred to? And is this identity something that exists separately from the flux of ions that is our neuronal activity? Separate from the atomic flows which constitute our bodies?

But whatever it is, surely it was not the fully-developed-self-reflective-autobiographical consciousness that was born in the wrong body. Because that consciousness was not born but rather grown. Grown in the social matrix of our environment, our learning history, our socialization, etc.

And what exactly is this conscious identity we speak of when we talk about being trapped in the wrong body? Does it really exist or is it an illusion? But of course illusions themselves really exist. But they exist as illusions. But who is getting tricked? Perhaps the “who” being tricked is the trick itself! The trick is continuously created by the process of getting tricked. Until something goes wrong…

There is a real possibility we will never be able to think about this stuff sensibly, in the same way it’s almost impossible to visually imagine 12 dimensions in hyperspace. We are in the end left with metaphors. But that’s not so bad. In fact it’s quite great because metaphor is the fundamental building block of cognition anyway. So that actually puts us in a great position to think about consciousness. Consciousness is an illusion. That’s the metaphor. Or at least one metaphor. Another is puppets. Another is Dennett’s “web of narratives” metaphor i.e. his “multiple drafts” theory. Another powerful metaphor is software running on hardware.

Anyway, what we might mean by “trapped in the wrong body” is that the body I desire to have is different from the body that I grew up in (but what does it mean to grow up “in” a body?) And it’s different in a way that is fundamentally gendered. My ideal body would have never suffered so much testosterone exposure. It would have never presented itself to doctors in a way that made them declare “It’s a boy!”

Ideally my body would have taken a much different journey. But insofar as my current consciousness would be radically different if my history of embodiment was radically different, is it not a wish for death to wish for a different body? If I did not have my trans history I would literally be a different person. If I truly wished to be that different person, I am wishing for the end of my current self. And thus could my “ideal” body really by ideal if I would need to die to realize it?

I am probably one of the luckier trans folks who actually does not wish to be a different person. Although there are of course things about myself I would change in a heartbeat, I am content with the person I am. Not content in the sense that I have no room to grow and be a better person. I am not perfect by any means. But content in the sense of not wishing to be a radically different person.

If I was “born a girl” – would I have become a philosopher? Given how sexist the field of philosophy is (not to mention the society itself), it’s unlikely. Yet my primary identity is that of “philosopher”. Before “woman”, I am a philosopher. Before “trans”, I am a philosopher. Being a philosopher is more predictive of my behavior and thought than any other trait. It’s fundamental to who I am and how I operate. This is the self I am content with. It is likely that if I rewound the tape of my life and started fresh with a new embodiment that I would not be who I am today.

And the person I am today is largely is a happy and well-adjusted person. I have had my share of difficulties. But I consider myself to be a lucky person. If I was Christian I would say, I am “blessed”. Yes, indeed. I am quite blessed to be alive. I am 30 years old and I am looking forward to the next 70 years of health, happiness, love, and knowledge. I look forward to growing into myself as a woman, as a trans woman, as a philosopher.

Although I am no longer an academic philosopher, I am still very much concerned with making contributions to philosophical conversation. This blog is a testament to that. And it goes beyond merely continuing my academic training. My academic training did not teach my to be a blogger. That was a passion I developed even before grad school. And it was always carried on independently of my academic research. And I always believed the blogging I did was just as important or even more important than the academic papers I wrote, especially since those papers ended up being read by almost no one whereas my blog saw a wide audience. So here’s to being a philosopher!

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Transition Timeline – 2.5 years

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April 24 – 2015

This is the last known picture of me with a beard.

The gender dysphoria was getting to be so strong that I could no longer live a dual life. My inner feminine self needed to breath and I’ve never looked back.

In May of 2015 I started my social transition. I’ve written about my early days of transition here.

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May 27 – 2015

Quite frankly, I had no idea what I was doing. Everything was scary and I had to quickly figure out clothes, makeup, hiding beard shadow, my voice, mannerisms, unlearning socialization, passing, dealing with social anxiety, getting clocked, dealing with legal ID issues, being part-time, coping with dysphoria, not to mention my studies and teaching. How would I present to my students? How would I tell my department? How fast would I make a transformation in presentation?

One of the very first things I would do after starting transition was get laser hair removal on my beard. I eventually got 8 sessions altogether. I still plan on getting more when I can afford it. At the time I just put it all on my credit card because it was so urgent in terms of letting me live my life without dsyphoria and anxiety about passing.
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June 5 – 2015

This was still pre-HRT and representative of the androgyny that became my safe-haven before I could live authentically 24/7. I skirted the boundary between both genders. I figured it would be more safer to present as a feminine/andro man than a totally non-passable woman. This strategy would serve me well for a long time.

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August 10 – 2015

I think all trans girls get bangs at one point in their transition. I ended up hating them and regretted them almost immediately. My hair has a natural curl and they were SUCH a pain to style. Never again.

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September 1 – 2015

This is me at the doctor’s office getting my first script for HRT. I started on estradiol oral pills, spironolactone, and finasteride. I would eventually drop the finasteride and switch to injectable estrogen. I also recently added progesterone into my regime. I also switched doctors because my first doctor ended up being a conservative old fogey who is stuck in the past and refuses to give the best care for his trans patients.

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October 2015

I met AJ and started my first relationship since transition. They were terrific and it was a beautiful time we spent together. We eventually parted ways amicably.

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December 2015

In the middle of December, right before I went home to Florida for Christmas, I met Ashley who was one of the great loves of my life. She was my first real lesbian relationship and it was a major period of personal growth and development in my transition. We were madly in love and u-Hauled it in classic lesbian fashion. We soon got engaged and lived in a beautiful little bubble in her downtown loft.

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April – 2016

I get my legal name change. Turns out legal dysphoria is a thing and it absolutely sucked to have to use my deadname to get into bars, do my banking, or any other adult activity. Getting legally recognized as Rachel changed my life in so many countless ways. It was definitely a significant milestone in my transition.

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October – 2016

A little over 1 year on HRT.

Ashley and I split up. It was for the best.

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December – 2016

I had been dating this trans girl I met, McKenzie. We met in October. It was great. We fell in love. She moved in right away. Things got serious. We even got matching tats:

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April 7 – 2017

I dyed my hair purple!

Still with McKenzie at this point.

In my personal life things had changed quite a bit. I had decided to drop out of my PhD program and leave the pursuit of academia. I started working at Starbucks in February. Around this time, I also renewed my interest in fitness and got my certification to be a personal trainer. I underwent my own fitness transformation as well:

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In October of 2017 I also ended things with McKenzie. It just wasn’t working out.

Shortly after, I met this cool lesbian poly couple and I’ve been dating them ever since. Things are good. I’m not involved in a serious primary partnership at the moment and that’s OK with me.

I recently gave up on the personal training business. Just wasn’t making enough money and wasn’t finding the work rewarding. Still working at Starbucks. I recently picked up a second job delivering pizza. With the second job, things have been looking up financially.

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October 7 – 2017

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Nov 4 – 2017

(These are my girlfriend’s dogs btw)

Things are good. I’m happy with my transition. I still have some more medical things I’d like done eventually but I’m not in a rush. I don’t pass 100% but my dysphoria is pretty minimal. I still get misgendered and clocked sometimes but I’ve come to peace with it. I can now sometimes pass as female over the phone if I’m using my customer service voice.

Emotionally, I am really at peace with myself right now. I’m living on my own, paying my bills, feeling more autonomous than I have in a long time, and feel like I’m in charge of my destiny.

Even though I am no longer pursuing academia and I am “merely” working at Starbucks/Domino’s, I still have big intellectual goals. I want to keep blogging, maybe start working on a book. My eventual goal is to make a living from my writing. In the meantime I am content with working in the wage economy while having the freedom to follow my interests in my free time. I’m only 30 years old. My dating life is good. I have a nice apartment and good pets. My stress levels are low. I’m in a good place mentally and physically.

Here’s to hoping that my 30s will be my best decade ever.

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