Anne Lawrence and Fundamentalism

[Ever-so-clever Becky Allison beat me to this title. Read hers, then check back here.]

“A few prominent "transsexual fundamentalists" hate this book and its heretical ideas, and have been busy misrepresenting its content on the Internet.”

-- Anne Lawrence (via annelawrence. com, 4/22/03)

“If you want comfortable homilies, read Mildred Brown or Randi Ettner. If you want the truth, read Bailey.”

-- Anne Lawrence (via her unattributed amazon.com review, 4/18/03)

Wow. To be accused of being a fundamentalist by Anne Lawrence. This is deliciously ironic, but I’ll get to that in a minute.

Anne has settled upon a religious metaphor to describe those who disagree with her, and it’s actually an interesting analogy to consider for several reasons. Let me extract the words with religious connotations from her quotations above.

Fundamentalists believe in a literal interpretation of a religious text (Bible, Koran, etc.), and reject anything outside that evidence.

In this case, I guess the religious text is the Benjamin Scale or something, or that transsexualism cannot be completely understood as one of two sexual motivations.

Heresy is a belief contrary to the fundamental doctrine of a church, one that is likely to cause a part of the church to split off (a schism). Heretical ideas were in fact so damnable that Dante gave schismatics and heretics a special place in The Inferno (level six, I believe).

I guess Anne’s heretical idea is that causes of transsexualism CAN be completely explained by one of two sexual motivations.

A homily is at best a sermon, and at worst, a tedious, moralizing lecture. In fact, the Book of Homilies was a collection of prepared sermons used by clergymen lacking the talent to write their own.

I guess the homily is Mildred Brown’s observation that beyond the traditional reason transsexuals cite for seeking transition (mind/body congruence), there are a number of reasons someone could want genital modification that might not be considered strictly “transsexual.”

And then of course, there’s “The Truth.”

Oh, how deliciously ironic. Anne knows Bailey is the great possessor of The Truth.

I guess “the truth” is once again that causes of transsexualism CAN be completely explained by one of two sexual motivations.

Who is always talking about The Truth? Fundamentalists, of course. As any fundamentalist can testify, “I tell you the truth” (in Greek: aner lego humin) is the most common phrase in the New Testament before Jesus lays down a little wisdom. Does that make Bailey Jesus? Jesus!

There are several ways to spread The Truth when you are a fundamentalist:

Evangelize:

In this great tradition, Anne goes from gender convention (clothing optional) to sexology conference, the missionary witnessing for what she believes in.

Sanctify texts:

Hold a book like Bailey’s up as some sort of infallible text, the alpha and the omega on the subject. Write commentaries and apostle's epistles that corroborate.

Conquer:

Claim something by power means in His name. Crush the non-believers! Claim you are being persecuted, when in fact you have the full weight of the patriarchal worldview on your side. It’s like Columbus feeling defensive and perplexed that the Caribs fought back when he claimed their little island for the Church.

What fundamentalism is Anne spreading?

Biological fundamentalism.

Namely:

Everything can be explained by biology.
Sex drive is a most potent force.
Transsexuals are all driven to transition by sex.

Science as a belief system?

Science and religion are both ways to make sense of the world around us. They take very different approaches, however.

Aaron Davidson’s article is a nice, concise overview.

Science takes it on faith that the universe is knowable. For that reason, no scientific belief can be said to be absolutely true, no matter how convincing it is.

Further, absolute certainty cannot be obtained due to the problems inherited from subjectivity.

The crux of the problem: subjectivity as science

This is the issue at hand with Bailey. Many of us feel that his subjectivity and bias are evident in the way he collected data, and even in the assumptions he made as he was “objectively observing.”

If you believe all young transsexuals are really just promiscuous gay men, then go looking for this in gay bars and through prostitution ads, you are probably going to find some examples of what you believe to be true. If you think all other transsexuals are fetishists, and you go to the local gender society and recruit through your student who’s known for videotaping her sex with a robot man, you’re probably going to see some rather skewed results. You certainly wouldn’t get to me or most of my married TS friends through those routes.

The places where gender-variant people are most visible (drag queens and the CD/TG crowd who socialize) are the easiest places to access them, but these people give an incomplete picture of the entire community, especially the women who are completely assimilated.

If you believe in something, you’re probably going to start seeing it a lot more than other people. Some people who believe in the Virgin Mary start seeing her in oil stains and tortillas. If you believe a stereotype, such as “transsexuals are driven by sexual urges,” you are probably going to find that to be the case, because that’s what you’re looking for. Never mind if that’s incomplete or inaccurate.

As Aaron notes, someone holding both religious and scientific beliefs cannot be thinking scientifically, as it is inconsistent.*

* However, someone thinking religiously may hold scientific beliefs without conflict.

So, who are the church members?

Getting back to Anne’s heresy metaphor, this may be a good place to talk about a literally divisive issue. If a heretic causes a schism in a group, this begs the question that her "heresy" raises: who is in the group, and who isn’t? Who is a transsexual and who isn’t? And perhaps more importantly, who decides?

In fact, many have noted that a lot of the examples Bailey discusses, and even people like Anne Lawrence, are stretching the term “transsexual” far beyond its earlier definition. Some would argue that someone like Anne Lawrence is past their threshold of where that line is drawn, and is not transsexual. After all, what does that really mean? Does "transsexual" = "completed SRS"? I know some people who "detransition" after getting genital modification-- are they transsexuals?

This is the hard part with all this stuff, and the danger of rigid categories. They are ultimately arbitrary (even framed as "science"), and someone is not going to like where they end up, because it doesn't match their self-identification.

That’s what a lot of this seems to boil down to. Anne is upset that under old taxonomies, she and those like her had been left out of the Orthodox Church of Transsexualism (the Hon. Rev. Harry Benjamin presiding).

Now she’s affiliated with the Reformed Church of Autogynephilic Transsexualism (the Right Rev. Ray Blanchard presiding, and his altar boy Mikey Bailey).

Some would argue that “autogynephilic transsexual” is like saying you belong to the United Church of Religious Science.

Religious Science?!? Why, that’s an oxymoron! You’ve just grafted two incongruent things together to make one seem more legitimate!

Others would argue that saying “autogynephilic transsexual” is like saying you’re with Jews for Jesus.

Jew for Jesus? But Jewish law states that worshipping Jesus is idolatry! Further, if you’re for Jesus, you’re a Christian! Don’t claim you’re a Jew! You’re a Christian pretending to be a Jew! Stop it! Oy vey! You’re making my head hurt!

People like Raymond, Bailey and Blanchard might argue that “transsexual woman” is the same situation.

Woman?!? You’re not a woman! You’re a man! Biology states that you are male! Don’t claim you’re a female! You’re a male pretending to be a female! Biology is destiny! All praise genetics! All will be revealed!

So, what do I believe?

I don’t know. I’m not ready to commit to anything definitive, but I am ready to share my thoughts and observations. I just don’t plan to claim they are objective, and I don’t pretend they aren’t wrapped up in identity politics.

I’m not religious, but God bless people like Lynn Conway and others trying to frame this entire debate within the confines of “hard science.” I don’t really care, to be honest. To me, that’s like trying to debate agnosticism by quoting Bible passages.

What are the answers? Will there be a schism? A sect change? I’m not sure anyone knows yet. This is extremely complicated, and to reduce all this to yet another stupid arbitrary binary without acknowledging its complexity is plain old fundamentalism, and shows a complete lack of respect for the ramifications of this line of inquiry. If you really believe in science, practice what you preach and do things the way legitimate scientists do. Otherwise you might as well stick with hackwork from Reverend Ray's Book of Homilies.

This kind of reductionism is not science. It’s fundamentalism.

Where’s all this headed? I’m not sure. I’m agnostic, remember?

I do know one thing, though. I'm no fundamentalist. I don’t have the unmitigated arrogance to claim I know the truth.