I’ve realized for years that all humans, including myself, have biases — some of which we don’t realize we have. For myself, I even tend to deny possessing the well-acknowledged bias toward explanations supporting what I already believe. I claim to regard “truth” with the reverence of a deeply-ingrained religion, and learning that I am wrong enables me to rid myself of another barrier to finding ultimate truths. Today, I felt like I had achieved an additional insight into one of my biases regarding “gender change”.
I like to think of myself as being very “open minded” regarding other people’s behaviors. I sort of assume that others, like me, are doing the best they can — considering the many factors that go into making decisions — even questioning just how much control any of us have over such decisions. The more I learn about the functioning of our brains, the less control I realize we actually have. Though I’ve decided that if we are to have any kind of civilization, it’s necessary to assume individuals do possess some degree of control over their behavior.
In general, I believe that everyone should have the right to live their life however they choose, as long as they do not endanger others and grant others the same freedom. My personal belief, however, is that it is a mistake to argue with reality, which includes accepting the body I’m born with. As in most card games we play, we don’t get to choose the hand we’re dealt. However, since science has discovered new rules, people do have some options to change their bodies in different ways. And I think they are entitled to do so, though I have considered it distasteful myself. At least, that’s how I felt until I got more direct information from a trans-gender person. That info came in a Shepherd Center course for seniors I took last year. The course was on “The Human Brain”, using DVD recordings from “The Great Courses”. It included discussions with Charlie Rose, several neuro-psychologists and a trans-gender person who had undergone the transformation. I remember that one class definitely made a significant change in my understanding and empathy for that changed person. Oddly enough, and I found it hard to believe myself, but I could not yesterday remember this person’s gender, before or after. I’ve become used to my age-related (84yo) moments of dementia, and the important point was that it was a “gender change”, regardless of whether it was man-to-woman or woman-to-man. But last night I watched “The Danish Girl”, and realized I did not feel as empathetic toward the central character, who is a woman biologically born a man. I wondered why I felt differently than I had felt following the course. If both changes were man to woman, then my reactions must be due to my feelings about the person. But if person I learned about in the class was originally a woman, then my reactions might be due to my bias. Justified or not, I find it easier to empathize with a woman wanting to be a man, than a man wanting to be woman. I grew up with 3 older sisters, and quickly learned that men were given privileges over women. Although, I had a few brief thoughts about female privilege. One was more flexibility in taste — at least in my small mid-western town. I loved music much more than most guys, did not like fighting, or most sports. But the latter was due more to a lack of body-coordination and being too cerebral and self-conscious in learning. Last to be picked by team. I was trying too hard to be what I was supposed to be, so I did identify with that aspect. But I was not disappointed with the result. I went out for football in high school, and made the team, playing tackle (much heavier then, and didn’t need much athletic talent), and got to go steady with beautiful cheer-leader. Lots of fun most of my life!
I did check on the Internet today about the trans-gender person in the course. His name is now Dr. Ben Barres (born Barbara Barres, in 1955), a Stanford neuroscientist. On the one hand, that does seem to support my male bias, but it may just be that he’s much easier to like, and more believable than the “Danish Girl”. The wife and friend in the movie were very likable, but I couldn’t understand what attraction they found in “Lily”. Great acting job, but if I were creating the person in fiction, I would have given him/her some special unique attractive special trait. I guess I’m relating to some special gay friends I’ve had, who all had some very likeable unique traits that had nothing to do with their sexuality. Consequently, their sexuality is simply as unimportant to me as it is with any of my friends. I’m not saying sexuality isn’t important, any more than relieving one’s body waste isn’t important. But it has nothing to do with my relationships with them. Similarly, I like the freedom I feel being nude, but it’s not important enough for me to join a nudist colony. I don’t want to choose my friends based on what they are wearing or not wearing. In fact, I used to make it a point to do something different every year, and one year it was to join a nudist colony. Quickly learned not to automatically associate nudity with sex. But that experience probably deserves another blog page. Scatter-brain!