A Taxonomy of Disagreements

I share my world with people with whom I disagree. The question is how and when to act upon it.

Not every disagreement deserves the same reaction. It’s not strictly necessary that I find common ground in every disagreement, and not every disagreement requires my engagement. Even among the cross product of these categories, I can respond in different ways.

I view disagreements along two axes which I’ll call triviality and consensus. By triviality I mean that the subject matter has little impact on at least one party’s life. Consensus means that agreement must be reached; this is not an agree-to-disagree situation.

I’ll lay out what each combination means.

  • Trivial, non-consensus disagreements—disagreements about an unimportant subject which doesn’t strongly impact all parties, or does so unequally. Food preferences are a perfect example. If one person likes mayo, another likes Miracle Whip, and yet another thinks they’re both kind of unpleasant, this is a trivial disagreement. It’s also pretty irrelevant to disagree because nobody has to change their lives too much over this disagreement. Live and let live.
  • Trivial, consensus disagreements—disagreements about an unimportant subject which impacts all parties and for which a single decision needs to be made. This is common in families and offices, like setting the thermostat or choosing where to go for dinner. Contention over shared resources, or picking common tools or workflows at work, can lead to a lot of nitpicking, but the problem is solvable, sometimes even with a coin-toss.
  • Nontrivial, non-consensus disagreements—disagreements about a subject which impacts all parties strongly but for which consensus is not needed, or is even impossible. The most salient example is any question of faith. Faith doesn’t respond to reason and occupies maybe the most important part of some people’s self-identity and self-determination, but agreement over the details of faith or religion are impossible to bring into accord. It’s unrealistic to try. Yet we have to try to find some way to live with people of different faiths. The very intimate, personal nature of their beliefs makes them immutable—non-consensus, as I’m calling it—since we can’t all share a singular faith and probably wouldn’t want to.
  • Nontrivial, consensus disagreements—disagreements which impact all parties strongly and which require agreement. This is the really hard stuff: fundamental human rights, ethics, land-use rights, traffic laws, and so on. For these disagreements, I permit no quarter for non-consensus because I believe that aspects of human rights are both of paramount importance and cannot be yielded to, appeased, or ignored. To do so—to say “live and let live,” “agree to disagree,” to fundamental questions of humanity, dignity, life and death—gives those viewpoints with which I disagree a place to dwell, a platform from which to speak, and an implicit permission for action. The crossover between non-consensus and consensus for nontrivial disagreements begins at the threshold for potential harm.

Within the triviality axis, the consensus degree of freedom actually can be a bit blurry. Taking the trivial disagreements to start with, it’s easy to see where certain topics that should have been non-consensus have blended into consensus in people’s lives—like food preferences, which culture has buried with spades of shame and influence in order to make people eat the same things in the same ways. I work in tech, where similar things have happened for decades, such as the Editor Wars: who edits what and how on their own computer should be an agree-to-disagree situation, but it became a holy war.

Unfortunately, at the other triviality extreme, the same kinds of confusion take place. Nontrivial disagreements which should be non-consensus (which should look like agree-to-disagree) have become literal holy wars. Worse yet, disagreements about basic human dignity and rights have begun to look like agree-to-disagree situations.

I believe we all have a similar taxonomy in our heads, that we believe we’re “entitled to our opinions,” regarding certain questions of faith and politics. In some matters, we are. We’re entitled to our opinions regarding how much funding the Federal Highway Administration should get. Whatever my beliefs about interstate highways, I could break bread with a person who believes in gutting their funding.

However, the idea that we’re “entitled to our opinions” leads to a simplified taxonomy that doesn’t take into account which opinions—which disagreements—are over harmless questions and which are over potentially harmful, dehumanizing, or traumatizing ones.

More complicatedly yet, matters of faith—a place within many of us untouchable by consensus or persuasion—have enabled some people to spread the non-consensus umbrella over many other areas of their worldview, seeing them all as speciously linked by faith and therefore unimpeachable. As such, their political opinions about personhood, their ethical behaviors, their votes—no matter what their source, they are all placed into a category beyond rational discussion.

I have found myself exhorted to meet these people in the middle, to attempt to understand them, to “agree to disagree” with them, or to attempt to include them in wider political efforts to advance my own political will. These efforts often come from centrist-liberal sources.

What I’m here to tell you is that if your politics touches a human, if it has the potential to visit harm and suffering, if it detains a person, I have no place for you at my table, in my home, or in my life. If you use the idea of free expression to shirk the responsibility of examining your own ideas, you have abrogated your duty as a citizen under the guise of entitlement.

How Transgender Children Are Made and Unmade

Note that the following post discusses the sensitive topic of conversion therapy for transgender children, along with mentions of outmoded terminology and psychodynamic models, ethically questionable studies and treatment practices, and links to some sources which may misgender or mislabel transgender people.

I have also added some clarifications to my final points on 12 May 2018.

Today, a friend pointed me to a news article out of the UK covering a new study by Newhook et al. released in the International Journal of Transgenderism. The study was published a couple of weeks ago and criticizes a handful of other studies made in the last decade which bolster a myth that the vast majority (more than 80%) of children who have presented as transgender have since “desisted” (reverted to being cisgender) as adolescents or adults. Those studies, all released in the years since 2008, analyze children who were researched in the years since 1970 up until the 2000s.

Those recent desistance studies might hint at a couple of interpretations of transgender children who desist. The most neutral one is that such children were “going through a phase,” playing out the vagaries of youthful whims and later changing their minds. However, these studies also permit a more sinister interpretation—one in which children were subject to external influences that “confused” them about their gender, a confusion which time and therapy later allowed them to outgrow and reject.

It stands to reason that, because each child included in the original studies had contact with researchers, it was likely they were seeking treatment which included therapy, which might seem to support the latter interpretation. The standard of care for whichever diagnosis they received, which would have varied by location and time—more on this below—would possibly have focused, in fact, on influencing the child away from transgender or homosexual behaviors. Many research studies and forms of treatment, especially in earlier years, would have taken the form of conversion therapy. That also creates interpretative concerns from the original studies—they affect their own outcome. (This is referenced below as well.)


First, I want to briefly discuss the flaws from the desistance studies so that we can begin to erode the desistance myth. The news article above sums up the critique introduced by the new study quite well.

The ‘desistance’ figure come from studies conducted between the 1970s and the 2000s in the Netherlands and Canada, which assessed whether the kids that sought services at the gender clinic turned out to be trans as adults. The new publication concludes that the figure included all kids that were brought to the clinic, many of who never experienced gender dysphoria in the first place nor saw themselves as trans. Kids that shouldn’t have been a part of the figure were therefore being used to ramp up the numbers.

The news article elaborates that, not only is there uncertainty in how many children should have been counted as transgender in the first place, the earlier studies make blanket assumptions as to what happened to those children afterward.

Another flaw is that in the follow up, all participants that weren’t included for whatever reason were simply brushed off as ‘desisters’. This was done without having any factual evidence or knowledge about the children involved.

In what should have been simple division, the numbers on both sides of the division sign have become suspect. Now the question becomes, do we have the actual figures? Here’s where the real problems start. We need to delve into the primary source, the Newhook et al. study, itself.


The study is called “A critical commentary on follow-up studies and ‘desistance’ theories about transgender and gender-nonconforming children,” authored by Newhook et al. It contains a methodological meta-analysis of four previous studies. As it states in its introduction,

In the media, among the lay public, and in medical and scientific journals, it has been widely suggested that over 80% of transgender children will come to identify as cisgender once they reach adolescence or early adulthood. This statement largely draws on estimates from four follow-up studies conducted with samples of gender-nonconforming children in one of two clinics in Canada or the Netherlands (Drummond, Bradley, Peterson-Badali, & Zucker, 2008; Steensma, Biemond, de Boer, & Cohen-Kettenis, 2011; Steensma, McGuire, Kreukels, Beekman, & Cohen-Kettenis, 2013; Wallien & Cohen-Kettenis, 2008).

The critiques in the Newhook et al. study aren’t new, and the authors take pains to mention some of their forebears in their introduction as well. They contextualize their new study by explaining that they hope to guide the eighth upcoming version of the WPATH standards of care, which will determine how transgender children for years to come are treated.

Newhook et al. mention older follow-up studies from before the year 2008 of gender-non-conforming children, but the authors explain those studies are tainted by methodological and sampling problems. They are also likely irrelevant since they were not cited in the meta-analysis’s contribution to the 80% figure. So they skip these earlier studies in their meta-analysis.

We recognize that numerous follow-up studies of gender-nonconforming children have been reported since the mid-20th century (e.g., Green, 1987; Money & Russo, 1979; Zucker & Bradley, 1995; Zuger, 1984). In that era, most research in the domain focused on feminine expression among children assigned male at birth, with the implicit or explicit objective of preventing homosexuality or transsexualism.

(I’d like to draw your attention for a moment to the fact that Kenneth Zucker was an author both in the 1995 study above and in the later 2008 study mentioned earlier. We’ll return to him later.)

Now, the Newhook et al. critical commentary study notes that the four desistance studies arrive at a figure of over 80% desistance. Then it begins to note what abilities and limitations these studies have. The methodological concerns center around what we can know and can’t know, given what information was collected at the time and afterward.

What I found was that because the studies used children from times spanning from 1970 onward, the basis for diagnosis itself seeded the flaws in mis-categorization, both in mis-categorizing children as transgender in the first place and then again on follow-up.

Back in 1970, no formal diagnosis for gender identity disorder or gender dysphoria existed. Doctors and researchers had only informal descriptions. As Newhook et al. explain,

However, the plain-language meaning of gender dysphoria, as distress regarding incongruent physical sex characteristics or ascribed social gender roles, has been established since the 1970s (Fisk, 1973). When these four studies refer to gender dysphoria, they are referring to this plain-language context of distress, and not the newer DSM-5 diagnostic category.

The DSM-III would not exist until 1980, so the meanings applied here may vary from person to person, as experience and prejudice allow.  I do not know all the criteria which were applied. (I have been unable to locate the Fisk source, but he appears to be the source of the term “gender dysphoria.”)

Then, in the 80s and 90s, the DSM-III, DSM-III-R, DSM-IV, and DSM-IV-TR each included a “gender identity disorder” diagnosis which came with a “GID/Children Transsexualism” or “gender identity disorder in children” category. The symptomatology of these were similar in general shape and included distress (a gender dysphoria component) but also certain behaviors (e.g., crossdressing), timeframes (e.g., six months), and so on. This is a very definite case of moving the goalposts, where the diagnostic criteria shifted. In some ways, they became more lax. Diagnostic criteria often state that only a certain number out of all of the above need be satisfied over a period of time, so if every component but gender dysphoria is present, the diagnosis of gender identity disorder can still apply.

At the same time, the standards of care also were shifting, evolving through time to match the competing typologies and psychosexual models of the providers. Adults learned to conform to expectations (such as crossdressing for a year before receiving treatment or professing attraction to men where no such attraction existed).

Children who may not have been aware of these standards and criteria, acting on their needs and wants, might have very well fallen in and out of the categorizations changing around them. Through no fault of their own, the category of transgender might one day have landed upon a child and then another day slipped away from them.

The Newhook et al. study describes the problem this way:

Due to such shifting diagnostic categories and inclusion criteria over time, these studies included children who, by current DSM-5 standards, would not likely have been categorized as transgender (i.e., they would not meet the criteria for gender dysphoria) and therefore, it is not surprising that they would not identify as transgender at follow-up. Current criteria require identification with a gender other than what was assigned at birth, which was not a necessity in prior versions of the diagnosis. For example, in Drummond et al. (2008) study […] the sample consisted of many children diagnosed with GIDC, as defined in the DSM editions III, III-R, and IV (American Psychiatric Association, 1980, 1987, 1994). Yet the early GIDC category included a broad range of gender-nonconforming behaviors that children might display for a variety of reasons, and not necessarily because they identified as another gender. Evidence of the actual distress of gender dysphoria, defined as distress with physical sex characteristics or associated social gender roles (Fisk, 1973), was dropped as a requirement for GIDC diagnosis in the DSM-IV (American Psychiatric Association, 1994; Bradley et al., 1991). Moreover, it is often overlooked that 40% of the child participants did not even meet the then-current DSM-IV diagnostic criteria. The authors conceded: “…it is conceivable that the childhood criteria for GID may ‘scoop in’ girls who are at relatively low risk for adolescent/adult gender-dysphoria” and that “40% of the girls were not judged to have met the complete DSM criteria for GID at the time of childhood assessment… it could be argued that if some of the girls were subthreshold for GID in childhood, then one might assume that they would not be at risk for GID in adolescence or adulthood” (p. 42). By not distinguishing between gender-non-conforming and transgender subjects, there emerges a significant risk of inflation when reporting that a large proportion of “transgender” children had desisted. As noted by Ehrensaft (2016) and Winters (2014), those young people who did not show indications of identifying as transgender as children would consequently not be expected to identify as transgender later, and hence in much public use of this data there has been a troubling overestimation of desistance.

Because of the meaningful shifts in diagnostic criteria over the last fifty years, there’s little hope of reconstructing the true figures of desistance, such as they may be. We would need both detailed notes (interviews, etc.) from the original cohorts to attempt to assess the children’s self-reported identities and then those same cohorts’ adulthood identities, assessed the same way from follow-ups, to compare. I suspect the paucity of detailed qualitative data from the original studies would undermine such an effort, due to the primacy of researchers’ diagnoses over self-described experiences and identities.

In most studies, it appears we do not have such detailed notes and the like available. Newhook et al. do cite Steensma et al. (2011) as having some unique qualitative research, but quantitative data are very limited—there are only two interviews mentioned.


The Newhook et al. study also brings up many ethical concerns, and here I turn back to the problem of Zucker in particular. The authors identify three ethical concerns, of which the second is particularly insidious—the questionable goals of treatment itself.

In describing their second concern, the authors write,

A second ethical concern is that many of the children in the Toronto studies (Drummond et al., 2008; Zucker & Bradley, 1995) were enrolled in a treatment program that sought to “lower the odds” that they would grow up to be transgender (Drescher & Pula, 2014; Zucker, Wood, Singh, & Bradley, 2012; Paterson, 2015). Zucker et al. (2012) wrote: “…in our clinic, treatment is recommended to reduce the likelihood of GID persistence” (p. 393).

As I write, Zucker’s words are only six years old. To be clear: he is both espousing and practicing conversion therapy of children.

Zucker is not a marginalized figure in the world of psychiatry. He is not only respected and accepted; he was the head of the “Sexual and Gender Identity Disorders” group that revised the DSM-5, appointed by the American Psychiatric Association. A heartbreaking account of his attempt at conversion therapy may be found in this NPR story (with some misgendering).

He was not the only person in the group to favor controversial theories, either. Blanchard (who favors an outmoded typology of transgender people based on sexual attraction and also attempts conversion therapy) and Lawrence (who has expressed the belief that transgender people have a kind of body integrity identity disorder) also formed part of the group.

Why do I mention their role in shaping the DSM-5? Well, they believe children should be dissuaded from transgender identities, which they regard as pathological or maladaptive. Under their influence in shaping the diagnostic criteria for children and adults, they moved the goalposts for fitting the model. That then allowed studies to tally up how past children fit current, different diagnostic criteria to determine that they have “desisted.” In turn, these fudged figures can be used to justify further conversion therapy, resist affirmative care models of treatment, and influence the WPATH standards of care to inhibit access to treatment and personal safety.

I therefore question whether—after influencing or directly authoring new diagnostic standards for gender dysphoria—advocates for conversion therapy then revisited older studies to make follow-ups, aware of how the results would skew toward their desired outcome: an interpretation of a seeming tendency toward desistance, which marks transgender identities as “unnatural” aberrations which only emerge later in life and which can be headed off earlier in childhood. Buried underneath this interpretation is an implicit assumption about how children form transgender identities due to extrinsic influences. They conclude that they can prescribe a model of care which essentially counteracts those influences with their own.

Wiser people than I have already explained why better models of care, such as the affirmative care model, practiced in most North American clinics, provide better outcomes. The news article I began with also concludes with some great sources on treatment outcomes, which I cannot possibly outdo, so I’ll leave you to revisit Owl’s article.

Denying children bodily autonomy and agency over their identity is a form of abuse. The long-lasting confusion may result in self-denial, withdrawal, self-harm, or even suicide later in life. Unlike many forms of abuse, which happen privately, transgender conversion therapy coopts institutions toward its own ends by shaping the standards of care for treatment (via its influence on the WPATH with influential studies) and by writing the diagnostic manual itself. The prevalent myth of desistance of childhood gender dysphoria has been a powerful tool used to abuse children. It must be dismantled. To do so, we must expose pernicious and specious studies, using critical meta-analysis such as Newhook et al.’s.

I am grateful to Zuzu O. for feedback on this post.

Adding a Privacy Policy

I’ve decided to give my website a privacy policy. It’s maybe more of a privacy promise.

It might sound strange to make a privacy policy for a website with which I don’t intend users to interact, but I’ve realized that even browsing news websites or social media has privacy implications for users who visit them. So I wanted to state what assurances users can have when visiting my website—and set a standard for myself to meet when I make modifications to my website.

Most of the points in it boil down to one thing—if you visit my site, that fact remains between you and my site. No one else will know—not Google, not Facebook, not your ISP, not the airplane WiFi you’re using, not some ad network.

I went to some trouble to make these assurances. For example, I had to create a WordPress child theme which prevents loading stylesheets associated with Google Fonts used by default. Then—since I still wanted to use some of those fonts—I needed to check the licensing on them, download them, convert them to a form I could host locally, and incorporate them into a stylesheet on my own server.

I also needed to audit the source code for all the WordPress plugins I use to see what requests they make, if any, to other parties (and I’ll have to repeat this process if I ever add a new plugin). This was more challenging than I realized.

I needed to ensure I had no malware present and that my website remain free of malware. I began with WordPress’s hardening guide. I found a very thorough plugin for comparing file versions against known-good versions (WordFence, which I found recommended in the hardening guide). I also made additional checks of file permissions, excised unused plugins, made sure all server software was up to date, and incorporated additional protections into the web server configuration to limit my attack surface.

Finally, I had to browse my website for a while using my local developer tools built into my browser, both to see if any requests went to a domain other than my own and to inspect what cookies, local storage, and session storage data were created. This turned up a plugin that brought in icons from a third party site, which I had to replace.

After all that, I feel sure I can make the assurances my privacy policy makes.

The Shareholder Primacy Myth

I used to hold a common misconception about corporations in the United States that I’ve seen commonly shared by friends and strangers online. I believed that the executive leadership of corporations was legally mandated to prioritize and maximize profit for shareholders, putting this duty above all other considerations. I’ve since learned that this misapprehension is, at best, controversial, and at worst, outright false and dangerous.

The doctrine of prioritizing shareholder interests above all others is called shareholder primacy. It appears to have been promulgated in particular by theorist Milton Friedman (an economic theorist who advised U.S. President Reagan and UK Prime Minister Thatcher, espousing free-market policies with minimal government interference).

The initial notion of shareholder primacy in the U.S. seems to come from a misinterpretation of a case called Dodge v. Ford Motor Company. That took place back in 1919, when Henry Ford wanted to take surplus profits from his publicly shared company and, rather than continuing dividends, reinvest those into his factories and workforce. Shareholders took him to court, and the court forced him to pay dividends.

The judgment in this case, its interpretation, and its context are more complex than I feel willing to stretch as a non-lawyer. However, I understand most definitely—based on that case and case law afterward, which states unambiguously what limits courts have to interfere in business decisions—that Dodge v. Ford Motor Company did not establish the shareholder primacy doctrine as it lives, in myth, today. In that case, the court ruled that (emphasis mine),

courts of equity will not interfere in the management of the directors unless it is clearly made to appear that they are guilty of fraud or misappropriation of the corporate funds, or refuse to declare a dividend when the corporation has a surplus of net profits which it can, without detriment to its business, divide among its stockholders, and when a refusal to do so would amount to such an abuse of discretion as would constitute a fraud, or breach of that good faith which they are bound to exercise towards the stockholders.

Subsequent case law has only underscored the original intent. Case law has evolved into a doctrine called the “business judgment rule” in many common law countries, including the U.S. It gives corporate business leaders generous autonomy in making business decisions, even ones that sacrifice short-term profit or reduce shareholder value, so long as those decisions aren’t outright profligate, fraudulent, and so on. Duty to the shareholders is grounded in dealing fairly, not submissively.

The business judgment rule allows that, “in making business decisions not involving direct self-interest or self-dealing, corporate directors act on an informed basis, in good faith, and in the honest belief that their actions are in the corporation’s best interest.”

So it seems clear that the shareholder primacy myth was predicated on, charitably speaking, a misunderstanding of case law. If there were any doubt about the interpretation of the judgment in Dodge v. Ford Motor Company, there are subsequent cases which have provided clear precedent and tests of the court’s powers in matters of executive decision making.

The next time someone tells you that corporations exist only, or first and foremost, to serve the shareholders, you know now that belief has no basis in law, if not reality. Where CEOs and boards hold themselves to the standard of conduct that shareholder primacy implies—always capitulating to shareholder whims, prioritizing share price and profit in every decision—they are imposing their own independent values and beliefs on corporate governance. Shareholder primacy is itself a leadership decision, not a law.

Almost Human

Not that anyone asked, but here’s what skeeves me out about Mark Zuckerberg’s recent attempts to tour the nation and pretend to be a normal person to everyone he meets.

He hasn’t announced a single thing of the sort, but no breathing human can doubt he’s considering running for president of the US. His ambitions are as naked as they are clumsy. This comes from a man who has zero experience in the political arena and, when he inevitably announces, will only reveal the extent of his entitlement to a candidacy to the absolute apex of political accomplishment.

This ham-fisted tour shows his lack of agility or circumspection. So does running a company which fostered an attitude that speed trumped care, craft, or empathy. So does making statements about the death of privacy as a “social norm” and then walking it back.

The bottom line for me is, the whole thing bespeaks a man who simply feels he gets to run if he wants. Trump opened up a kind of permission effect: qualifications are now off the table. Now only volume matters. 2020 will see a field of clowns campaign, each jockeying for attention. And Zuckerberg is entitled to his captive nation.

Who to Call When Someone is Having a Mental Health Crisis in Portland

Last week, I read a piece aimed at San Franciscans by a tech blogger who was so oblivious and insensitive that I got vicariously ashamed before the end. Soon after, I read another article that restored my hope—what San Franciscans can do when they encounter homeless individuals having a crisis.

Portland’s in the middle of its own crisis—one of dwindling housing and skyrocketing rates of homelessness which has led to a state of emergency. People sleeping outside in Portland now number in the thousands.

Despite Portland’s efforts in de-escalation training and its dedicated Behavioral Health Unit, the police may still not be the best option to call when someone is experiencing a crisis. The article I mentioned earlier does a great job of explaining why calling the police is not always the right answer.

Below I’m compiling resources to use in Portland if someone you know, yourself, or someone on the street is experiencing a crisis and needs intervention right away. I intend this post to be a living document—I may update it as I learn about more resources or make corrections. (The most recent update was on 22 Feb 16 at 16:47 PST).


Right now, the best resource I know of in Portland is the Multnomah County Mental Health Crisis Intervention service. They offer

  • crisis counseling by phone, with translation;
  • mobile crisis outreach for in-person assessment;
  • referrals to low-cost and sliding-scale services;
  • information on community resources; and
  • a no-cost urgent walk-in clinic at 4212 SE Division St, operated by OHSU and Cascadia Health, open daily from 7 a.m to 10:30 p.m.

Their number is (503) 988-4888, available twenty-four hours a day, seven days a week. (Their toll-free number is (800) 716-9769, and as of the time I write this, they can be texted at (503) 201-1351, a number which is monitored once a day.) Their page includes information on nearby counties as well.


Accessible through the above service is also the Multnomah County Crisis Assessment and Treatment Center (CATC) (direct number (503) 232-1099) which provides a temporary facility for people needing to stabilize from mental illness symptoms (provided by Central City Concern).


Cascadia Project Respond is a crisis service provided by Cascadia Behavioral Healthcare, also available through the the Multnomah Call Center (same number as the first resource,  (503) 988-4888). Project Respond also works with the Portland Police Behavioral Health Unit I mentioned before, pairing officers responding to crisis with mental health professionals in situations where 911 dispatches officers to incidents involving mental health. (I must state, from my experience, officers may not always be accompanied by mental health professionals when intervening.)


Rose City Resource offers a smattering of resources—hotline numbers and explanations of rights—targeted at homeless people, and they print these resources as a portable booklet. They’re a resource provided by Street Roots which provides jobs for homeless and indigent individuals via the local newspaper and media they provide.


If you can’t look up or remember the above resources, Oregonians always have 211 at their disposal to find resources on the fly. Call it from any phone!

Decentering Self

In school, we learn two things about Aristotle. First, we learn that he was profoundly influential for millennia, and probably smarter than you. Second, we learn that he was mostly wrong about everything having to do with the real world.

It’s not hard to figure out why. He used a rationalistic methodology rather than an empirical one, meaning that rather than going out to examine and measure firsthand, he mostly explored the universe as a mental exercise. Unfortunately, this means he didn’t have enough information available to challenge his own biases in his worldview. He even believed that women had fewer teeth than men, which is demonstrably false.

There are numerous examples, from Aristotle and afterwards directed by his influence, for which his methodology’s flaws are made manifest as theories in contradiction of available evidence. For example, Ptolemy’s Almagest protected the Aristotelian geocentric worldview, even in the face of evidence to the contrary, by inventing epicycles to explain planetary motions which didn’t make sense otherwise.

I see the same willful ignorance play out today in discussions regarding equality, empathy, and justice. Without giving specific examples or links, I have observed two major problems with arguments I hear from racists, men’s rights activists, and others.

First, their arguments only make sense if they completely deny the evidence they hear which conflicts with their point of view. Men’s rights activists thrive on stories of false rape accusations. Racists need racism to be “over.”

Second, relatedly, they believe they don’t even need to hear others’ points of view to inform their worldview. In other words, it’s not necessary to listen to people of color to learn what they need about racism. They don’t need to listen to women to invalidate their discomfort or fears. They don’t have to listen to disabled people. It all makes sense to them, without the inconvenience of going into the world.

I can forgive Aristotle drawing the wrong conclusions about nature, but I have trouble with those who apply methods of rationality to the people around them. It’s leaping to conclusions. It’s judging a book by its cover. It’s hubris. Aristotle thought the world was the center of the universe because it just seemed that way. Do you feel like the center of your own universe?

We all need to take time to stop and listen. We need to make room for others’ feelings in our world. We need to decenter ourselves sometimes. Not always, but very often, kindness flows from doing so.

Disclosing and Consequences

Before writing “Disclosing,” I would’ve given anything to peek into the future and see this post I’m about to write. I was fearful of the consequences of putting information out in the world that I could never take back. I don’t know what I expected. I just know I’ve never been so worked up about a piece of apparent non-information ever.

Afterwards, I was happy to have ripped the bandage off and have done with it. It did ease my anxiety in a lot of ways. I’ve formed a lot of habits around controlling information about my private life (even up to being cagey about my full name), and it’s freeing to lower that boundary.

It reminds me of the attitude I carried with me early in my transition, about the importance of visibility. It was important to talk to people, even do activism (including lecturing before doctors and nurses). I didn’t necessarily like the position I was in, but I knew that I had had so much false garbage in my head about transsexuality growing up that I went through years of needless self-inflicted pain. It felt good to shed that, once again.

The long and short of the actual response was that nothing happened at all. There were no consequences whatsoever, whether good or bad. The tweet got some few supportive replies. (Many people missed it entirely and possibly are learning about it from this post.)

One other nice consequence of all this is that it might be possible now to revive some of my past writing from about five years ago that I had to hide away. I learned a ton; no reason not to share that now.

On Being Brushed Aside

While writing about the warp zone hacking in my last post, I mentioned offhandedly how I lost interest in video games in the 90s. I wanted to talk a little more about that because I’ve noticed this pattern in a lot of women.

I had never considered a pattern might exist until I discovered my friend Shawna’s story matched mine very similarly. I asked around and heard similar things—girls seem to have plenty of interest in video games, and then at some age or another, while still young, the interest peters out.

It’s not a universal trait by any means, but it’s a noticeable pattern. Someone pointed me to a nice list of points of privilege that lead to becoming a geek, and my attention focused on the fifth bullet point in particular (emphasis mine):

If we were girls, no brothers. (A study in the early 90s showed that in households with both boy and girl children, a computer or video game console was likely to end up in the boy’s room, with all the usual sibling territoriality that entails. My straw poll in a women’s meetup at the Game Developer’s Conference some years back showed only about a third of the women in the room had brothers….)

Shawna and I both had younger brothers, and more especially I had older cousins I spent time with. I haven’t conducted any studies, so I can only relate my personal experiences on the subject. It seems like several things happened right around the same time which caused me to become an outsider to video games early on. From my point of view, I saw the following trends push me out as the 90s wore on and became the 2000s.

  • Game consoles became more varied, competitive, and expensive. As a member of a family having trouble making ends meet as it was, Nintendo’s waning dominance meant other consoles competed for the market, and in turn, competed for our own dollar. After the Super Nintendo, we didn’t buy a new console for perhaps a decade.
  • Games themselves introduced game play styles requiring more dedication in terms of time. As the id Software–style first-person shooter proliferated, along with fighting games with extensive “move lists” and 3D games requiring more elaborate controls, games began to demand new and more challenging skills. This led them to become less accessible to inexperienced or new players, favoring those who had time to practice and develop those specific skills. Without the same amount of practice, I could never hope to provide meaningful competition or cooperation in Goldeneye or Halo later on.
  • At the same time, games could further evolve their graphics, character development, game play mechanics (competitive versus cooperative, for example), and so on, which allowed the games to target ever more specific demographics. Violence grew to be a salient trend. Protagonists could become more distinctively male. I imagine these trends tracked closely with the type of person making this generation of game. To me, this meant it was harder to find games that held my attention, and it was hard to find people with whom to play.
  • The shift in demographic manifested itself in the result of the study mentioned above: Boys came to dominate console time. If the boy said, “You can play when my turn is over,” his turn would last far longer than yours. That fed into a feedback cycle where girls got less play time altogether, fell behind in terms of ability, lost interest in waiting, and found other things to do. This particular issue didn’t affect me quite as much, given the first point affecting me more, but I’ve heard it in multiple anecdotes from friends who were better off.

I imagine age plays a major role in what I experienced. Some girls grew up among first-person shooters and may have developed a fluency with them that I can’t imagine. “Casual games” have made something a resurgence, as making games for tablets, phones, and computers have become more accessible. So this problem might not even be a problem anymore, but I imagine it’s still left a troubling gap, and it’s definitely affected me (and probably a wider generation of disaffected women out there).