…self-deception as the preliminary to public deception is almost automatic. Walter Lippmann
The truly salient issues are malleability and flexibility, not fallacious parsing by percentages. A trait may be 90 percent heritable, yet entirely malleable. Stephen Jay Gould
Certainly we know, as the saying goes, that kittens born in the oven are not biscuits. We also know, apparently not that well, an oven can kill the cat. Hoo-nōs
It is not easy to realize configurations that have been in play, but were heretofore unrealized. For instance, when I was young, I’d never heard anything other than male or female when it came to sex. In fact, the term “sex” meant sexual interactions and gender meant male or female. Nowadays, “sex” means biological differences in one frame of reference and sexual interactions in another, while the term gender is about perceived social and individual roles (as in gender roles or gender identity respectively). I was clueless, if I even thought about it at all. I did not even know about a category called homosexuality much less disagreements over whether it was a choice or not—it wasn’t on my radar until my late teens (at this point, all arrows point to sexual orientation, not choice, relative to homosexuality or heterosexuality, though the manifestation of sexuality can be a choice).
However, I did know about identity crisis. It was not so much the “storm and stress” some have called adolescence (that term is now considered dramatic), but it was about “who am I?”—a normal and ongoing developmental wondering (identity is not a one-and-done thing). And like most of us, we were left to figure it out ourselves. It was the same for sex and sexuality.
Yet the “war of the sexes” (meaning gender in the past), the wars of appropriate or not sexuality, and now the war of sex (meaning the role of biology) have led to a new way to dehumanize, like we needed another avenue for that bit of stupidity. It’s been a veritable data-free zone in social-media circles. We have a lot richer, more nuanced data today than when I was “growing up.” That’s a blessing, albeit with a steep dose of confusion.
Nonetheless, it seems to me the dawn of new data about the variability of biological sex, along with the old way of letting the new generation figure it out largely on their own, combined with the dawn of internet social platforms, has thrown identity crisis into a blackhole. It’s a kind of confusion-squared, help-halved, problem.
It’s an interesting energy expenditure to bully folks into the “old” or “new” ways. Sense-making seems best, though it’s fairly certain that making sense to those grasping tightly to a “clinging branch” gets almost zero traction.
Okay, I realize writing about variables in decision-making, understanding, and the human need for categories, does not have the enticing power of writing stories about sexuality, mystery, or conspiracy. For most, such parsing is just a yawner. Even for those who practice constructing, deconstructing, and reconstructing categories, it’s a tough task—and an uninteresting, near worthless energy expenditure for those who’ve decided and that’s that. The “clinging branch” seems to have its own hold.
I’m doing the exercise of parsing and nuance anyway, not because I’m in the know, but because I like the art, philosophy, and science of human assembly and disassembly. So, onward I go.
The Four Variables of Sex, Sexism, and Gender Construct:
Biological Cliff Notes (as best I understand the science and research and as I’ve previous written): The default sex is female. It is a single gene on the Y chromosome (the sex-determining region Y—SRY—gene) that “determines” sex (in some quarters, it used to be named the TDF or testes-determining factor, which I tended to label the “huevos/no huevos” gene in class as it at least got student attention).
It is thought that becoming “male” is much more biologically complicated, which would help to explain why generally speaking, “males” have four times the possibility of having birth or learning defects.
Generally speaking, an XX or XY chromosome structure are female or male respectively, though it is not chromosomes that “determine” sex. But, besides genetic abnormalities, there are also chromosomal abnormalities. For instance, while rare, XY can be female if the SRY gene is not triggered by androgens—essentially male hormones. This is a case of androgen insensitivity (AI), halting the differentiation and progress of “male” and altering the unfolding of “female.”
Genitalia develops from a unisex biological structure. Hormones enter the picture here as well. Ovaries and testicles, clitoris and penis, etc., differentiate from that unisex structure which is generally completed early in the fetal stage. Pseudo-hermaphrodites can be born with undifferentiated genitalia, who can then be mistaken as being female. Left biologically alone (no surgery), they generally develop differentiated male genitalia later.
Reproductive biology come from already differentiated structures that occur in the embryonic stage: Mullerian for female, Wolffian for male.
Psychological Cliff Notes (same limitations mentioned above): Sex psychology (cultural and individual notions of sex roles and sex identity respectively) is all over the map, effected and affected by all of the four major variables.
An aside: The biggest aphrodisiac is the mind—human sexuality can be triggered by pretty much anything; it is not limited to a human in heat. Notions and triggers of sexuality are not simply a result of biology, but of culture, era, and individual inputs as well. And the variables themselves vary. Nothing static here.
Social Cliff Notes (same limitations): Social notions play a huge role in the perception of gender and sexuality. Every culture has some variation on what the rules and roles are of “male” and “female,” even if sex identity outside of those categories gets scant attention except being regulated to less-than human categories. And the zeitgeist and ortgeist of the times vary as well. As such, cultural and social standards tend to have expiration and restart dates.
Environmental Cliff Notes (same disclaimer): Where one lives, as in longitude and latitude, matters as well. How cold or warm, what elevation, what seasons and when, etc. influence expressing both sex, gender roles, and gender identity.
And the point of a four-variable dissection? Why are sex, sexism, sexuality, gender, and sex wars understated? Look at the mess we’ve got in our culture (not that’s there’s a one-cultural definition in the U.S.). I’m going with avoidance. Unlike racism and classism, the expression of sex and sexuality, is both a need and a want. Tension is inherent in sex, sexism, sexuality, and gender, whether it’s about arousal, orgasm, expression, or belongingness, ergo, it ain’t all that relaxing.
Is there a more stable way to manage this “war”? I dunno—start with love? Huh? Remember puberty for those past it—the ol’ love or sex, or sex or love, or love and sex carnival ride? Perhaps societal avoidance and non-nuanced acceptance of what are highly nuanced expressions in at least four variable forms are the problem? We got shit to do and we think the young will survive the transitions? Preadolescence can be a great time of malleability, but itself is based on connectivity, attachment, and nurturing preceding preadolescence. Bullying and know-it-all-ism is the caustic agent used by the lazy or wannabe alphas. But here we go again into nuance—who doesn’t get the importance of the energy output to input ratio? However, momentum requires more energy expenditure upfront so such an output-input ratio has to be deferred for some time period. Learning is about uncertainty and expending the energy to gain such momentum, as well as learning to apply the brakes.
Apprehending the nuance of sex, sexual expression, gender, love and love-expression are not static and are not for the lazy and cannot be nested in the “bully” culture who cling to some incorrect imprint (it takes a village to get it right, an individual to screw it up). We may have to give up that “clinging branch” to get what we need and want. Not enough motivation, right? Besides, we’ve got shit to do; that “clinging branch” is a demanding master and it’s so in-our-face it can’t be ignored. Perhaps the next generation will do it, or the next, or the next? Strange and lame consolations, like it’s important to tread carefully as opposed to invoking consideration. Is getting vested in our investment and clinging on to it for dear life, really a nuanced approach to life and death and civil behavior?
The Bumper Sticker Corner: The Win-Win?
Give up the one, become the some, and you get to keep the one.
Forgetting ≠ forgiveness. Forgiveness without forgetting = insight & resolution.
Sex, sexism, sexuality ≠ love, love-ism, love-expression. But it can.
The Story Corner: The Minions of Heck
My thanks to Scott Adams, creator of Dilbert, for his character “Phil, The Ruler of Heck and the Prince of Insufficient Light” and to Disney for the “Minions” movies.
There were those who rode the fence instead of a horse or others. They decided to not decide. Keep an open mind was the call, as though permanent permeability was the answer to stridency. They did not notice how the fence and the crotch interacted when straddling both sides. They thought they were free and fluid, even if it was confusing and body parts hurt.
There were those who rode a horse or others, instead of the fence. They decided to decide. Pick a side was the call, as though permanent impermeability was the answer to namby-pambyism. They did not notice how a side, like a fence, divides, but noticed their crotch was not hanging on a fence. They thought they were free from fluid, as fluid was only confusing and it hurt.
The Minions of Heck, aka Limbo, grinned widely. Tis not heaven nor hell that rules, but the In-Between, which was a jail-place, not a free-space, and was neither fence nor side though each masqueraded as freedom and choice. The Minions of Heck knew well the lure; better than hell, not quite heaven. And so the phrase “what the heck” was born and nourished and continues to thrive. After all, it seemed like deciding was a necessary condition of humanity and the trap was so-scented.
There was irony, aka, the paradox. Deciding was fine and dandy, but not the point. Unrealized, was from whence decision was formed. Was it born alpha or so-designated? Was it born to fool, or so-designated? It was not inherent and neither alpha nor fool, the Minions knew. But when told there was choice, those in Heck were compelled to choose something and that was where the agony of freedom thrived. Those in hell, chose incorrectly and that was where guilt thrived. Those in heaven learned to see, not to choose, short of being playful, and that was where actual freedom thrived.
What’s the lesson? If playing decide, if we wish? Otherwise, let our seeing be informed by something more than what we think we’ve learned and know, as those things are a bit ephemeral, though experience has some role in being? After all, it’s a “Divine Comedy,” not to be taken tightly, but lightly?