Sunday, May 22, 2011

Transexuals and disclosure.

This post is mainly a response to Zinna Jones' video which I commented on. I basically expressed that I found the part of the video dealing with a man sleeping with a transsexual they didn't know was trans contained some bad argument. I got pissed off with you tube's (not enough to actually say anything substantive) comment character limits and decided here would be the best place for a response.

So, is it unreasonable for a trans-woman who is about to sleep with a man to say nothing about her once himness to her imminent lover?

Like most interesting issues the views of both sides have something going for them. From the point of view of the woman, she is a woman, end of! Why should biological history matter?
Many heterosexual men find the idea of sleeping with another man truly horrifying. While the woman he is sleeping with is not a man, the fact that the individual was once a man is not entirely irrelevant. Most men would have a kind of crying game reaction to sleeping with a transgender woman; said reaction might not be rational or fair to the woman, but that won't stop it from being the case. Most men would be harmed by the experience.

I can personally attest that I would not like to sleep with a transgender woman. It may not be rational, it may be very unfair to discriminate on those grounds, but it is the case. I expect that this would be the majority opinion on this issue.

As to the notion that a man who would be very bothered by this should take the precaution of asking any woman they are about to sleep with if they are a transsexual, I find this suggestion ridiculous. If anyone, male or female, asks anyone else, male or female, "Are you a transsexual?" the reaction will in general be quite negative. If that particular question should pop out immediately pre-coitus, chances are the sex ain't gonna happen after all. Most people are offended by anything which questions their gender identity and this particular question does so directly. It is simply an impractical suggestion. It is something of an irony that it is the very same sense of gender identity that would prompt a transgender woman to not want to disclose the fact in the first place.

Consider the legitimate concern you might have about being driven around by a taxi-driver who was bombed out of his mind. Were you to discover, after the fact, that the taxi-driver who just dropped you off had been smashed behind the wheel you would probably be fairly upset by it. While you may be well aware that you are adverse to being driven around by a drunken taxi-driver, it would be none-the-less impractical, not to mention rather rude, to ask every taxi-driver whose taxi you get into "Have you been drinking?"
One of the reasons we don't ask questions like this is that we expect our taxi-drivers to be sober. It will be almost always the case that taxi-drivers are sober. It is the default state of things. Even though a drunk taxi-driver might well actually kill you, we are willing to take the possibly fatal risk on the grounds of how unlikely it is and the hassles we would create by actually asking every taxi-driver we patronise if they have been drinking. The asking of every potential sex partner if they are transsexual is a similar proposition. Though it would be psychologically damaging for many men, myself included, to unwittingly sleep with a transsexual woman, it is statistically highly unlikely to occur and the rather severe social penalty we would pay for asking just to be sure, makes it far more practical to simply take the risk. It is worth noting that the possibility probably doesn't even enter the minds of most men. That is in no way an indicator of how much it would bother them.

What we risk is not just a function of how damaging or not an unfavourable outcome would be, but a weighing of that outcome against the probability of the event occurring. While getting hit by lightning would be extremely damaging, most of use will risk going abroad in inclement weather armed with nothing but a confidence in the extremely low probability that it will actually happen. That we may not even forsee a potential harm does not equate with not finding the experience harmful should it happen to occur.

I think the notion that how much effort we put into protecting ourselves from a particular harm (especially a harm that has a negligible probability of actually occurring) is in a measure of how harmful we would find it is a terrible argument. It is a weak argument in general but with something as specific as sex with someone transgender, it is particularly weak. The possibility that any of my previous sexual partners might have been transgender never even occurred to me. It is an extreme rare thing. People simply would not be able to function if they were to try to protect themselves from every potential harm, no matter how unlikely.

I am entirely sympathetic to the crappy position this puts transgender women in. As ZJ mentions in the video, such women are women and have gone to great lengths to fully adopt their true gender. They neither want to mention previous biology and most likely feel there should be no need anyway. They are also reluctant to mention it as it would evoke stigmas etc.
While I sympathise with the position of such women, I can't help but think there is a slightly disingenuous quality to not mentioning it. In the video ZJ compares this in some fashion to someone having to list everything about themselves, from religious views to political preferences etc. While it would be absurd to expect two people who are considering having sex to disclose every detail of their minds and bodies, there are some cases where it might be more relevant. If you are fairly sure that something you are withholding is likely to make your potential partner not want to sleep with you (say you are actually a very mature looking 15 year old and you know the other person thinks you are older) but choose to keep it to yourself, there is an element of deceit at work.

ZJ suggests in the video that a man's primary concern, if they found themselves in the situation of having slept with a transgender woman, would be a crisis of sexuality. I doubt this would be a factor for most men at all, let alone the central concern. Many men find the idea of being with other men repulsive in the extreme. It is an echo of this revulsion that is at work. The ignorant may idiotically cry "homophobia" at this revelation. This is not the case. If I suggested that the idea of eating live spiders was revolting to me, few would cry "arachnophobia". While I find the idea of having sex with another man horrifying, I have absolutely no issue with gay men (or women or bi or trans either for that matter). I entirely support the rights of gay couples to marry, adopt etc. I would not feel any particular need to discriminate, hate or even find unsavory a person who did choose to eat live spiders, I just wouldn't want to be sitting at the table with them while they did it. This is not a suggestion either that gay people should keep their relationships hidden or any such nonsense. Refraining from having sex in public places on the otherhand is a reasonable expectation to have of people of any orientation :P
If I were to have unwittingly slept with a transgender woman, I would not have even the slightest hint of a sexuality concern. I am heterosexual. I would be perfectly OK with being gay, were I gay.(I've had moments with girlfriends where I might even have wished I was gay :P) I just happen to hetero.

I haven't slept in a long while, so apologies for spelling/appauling grammar etc.

Wednesday, February 16, 2011

A quick bit on fine tuning!

The fine tuning argument is one of my pet hates. It has left me astonished on numerous occasions. I am not astonished by its brilliance or by how difficult it is to refute as many religious folk might presume. I am astonished by how much weight sensible, intelligent atheists give to it. It is a deeply flawed argument. Let’s ignore for a moment the obvious implications of the anthropic principle. Let’s just take a look at the argument. It proposes that the fundamental constants of the universe, for instance gravity, are set exactly where they need to be in order for life to exist. An example might be something like the nuclear forces. Let’s assume they are extremely weak. If this were the case, it would be impossible for elements to form (except perhaps in some very specific cases). The matter in the universe would just be clumps of fundamental particles clustered in gravity wells. See! Life would be impossible! If you follow this line of reasoning, the fine tuning argument need not be directed towards life at all. You would have just as strong a case (stronger even) for the claim that the universe is fine tuned for the existence of heavy elements. Long live uranium!!!!

It presupposes a special privileged status for life. It essentially begs the question. The assumption that it must be all about life is inherent in the argument.

Forget all that for now though. There is a much more fundamental problem with this argument.
It uses our current physical models of this universe to predict the results of changing some of the constants of the physical laws. That is ok to a point. We can predict what our universe would be like if gravity was much stronger or weaker (to a point). It is a reality of science that experimentation is necessary in order to discover those things you didn't consider. The knock-on effects of changing even one of the constants of the universe would be near impossible to predict as none of these constants operate in isolation from each other. Usually, we are told that if x were different, then y would cause this or that. No consideration is given to how w, u or z might also be affected and what effect those affects would have on all the other constants and what effect those affects would have etc. (How many of you just spent a good few seconds judging my use of the words effect and affect? - flaming, nit-picking atheists :P. For the record, I gave no consideration to which was warranted in any case there!) To make matters far worse, usually only one of the constants is chosen to be altered at any given time. No consideration is given to the massive number of possible universes in which many or even all constants are changed at the same time. The resultant universe would be simply too different to accurately assess. What kind of life might exist in such universes? No idea, probably nothing like us, but would life of any kind be possible. No-one can say.
Consider the following analogy.
Let’s assume that humans are the only form of life in the universe. A fine tuning proponent attempts to argue that human organs are fine tuned to allow for a living body and that if you changed any of the constants of human anatomy, a living body would be impossible.

"Consider the heart!. Were it much smaller, it would be unable to pump the blood with sufficient pressure to provide adequate circulation. The organs would be starved of oxygen and sustenance. Death would be assured. Were it much bigger, it would pump the blood with more force than the arterial walls could safely endure. Haemorrhage would be inevitable!
That is just the heart. The lungs too must operate within precise parameters. Too much mucus for example and you would literally drown, too little and debris would collect in the lungs and you would suffocate. There are literally thousands of parameters within the body that must be just so to allow the body to live. The only logical conclusion is that some kind of intelligence designed the human body to allow it to live!!......... Hail Jesus!" - I am not a doctor, a biologist nor educated in any way in human anatomy. I am sure there are much better ways biologically speaking to make the point above. I am strictly using this analogy to illustrate a point!

This individual might be taken seriously in a world were there were no other forms of life. Even if other forms of life relatively similar to human did exist, their commonalities may be presumed to be fundamentally necessary. Assume dogs, horses and pigs also existed. What do you think are the chances that these people, living in a world that only consists of humans, dogs, horses and pigs would be able to predict or even imagine a very different form of viable life like an earthworm or a jellyfish?
The truth of the matter is that we cannot even begin to imagine what universes might possibly exist under much different conditions than our own. There may be entirely different systems that are possible in which concepts like gravity don't even make sense. To try to make the claim that only this universe could support life is at best arrogant and incredibly presumptuous.

Down with this silly argument I say!