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“In Defense of Eye Candy” is an article about computer interface design, but the more I read it, the more I realized that it applies to gender identity and presentation just as strongly. One of the features of kyriarchy (and I love that word, and am so glad to know it) is the idea that things expressed in rationalistic categories, preferably with numbers, are fundamentally more real than ones expressed in terms of emotion. So it pleases me very much to read things like:

…emotion is not a luxury: it is an expression of basic mechanisms of life regulation developed in evolution, and is indispensable for survival. It plays a critical role in virtually all aspects of learning, reasoning, and creativity. Somewhat surprisingly, it may play a role in the construction of consciousness.

and:

affect, which is inexplicably linked to attitudes, expectations and motivations, plays a significant role in the cognition of product interaction…the perception that affect and cognition are independent, separate information processing systems is flawed.

This speaks truth to me. It suggests that beauty, in the sense of achieving the presentation we desire, is likely to genuinely improve our own cognition, and in letting us deal with the world as people who feel truthful about ourselves improve the ways we interact with others.

The more we learn about people, and how our brains process information, the more we learn the truth of that phrase: form and function aren’t separate items. If we believe that style somehow exists independent of functionality, that we can treat aesthetics and function as two separate pieces, then we ignore the evidence that beauty is much more than decoration. Our brains can’t help but agree.

So this is my face now

I grew a beard when I was college and kept it up until early this year. In retrospect I’m kind of wondering why I didn’t pick up on the gender dimension of my more or less constant body horror earlier on, but that’s how it goes sometimes – I got distracted by the disability dimension. Anyway, I used to say in jest that I kept the beard up so that I wouldn’t have to look at my whole face, but there was more truth in that quip than I fully knew.

I’m still getting used to seeing what my face actually does look like now. Do I like it? No, not especially. But I think that in time I’ll come to like it better, and be able to change some of what bothers me now.

I’ve been posting with my new identity to a few places I’ve been active at before, and find myself enmeshed in all the usual arguments about unrecognized privilege, discrimination’s existence without consciously bigoted intent, all the Awareness 101 stuff. At the same time, I’m reading and thinking about the discussions at trans places about moving past all that to other discussions, and also about the practical application of that desire to prejudice in women’s place online and off.

I’ve been here before!

This is just what it was like when I started taking part in disability exchanges. I could probably play Mad Libs with a lot of posts.

So I’ve realized the awful truth: we notional young ones, just out of the self-realization, we’re the massed levies that let the veterans consult about higher matters. I am a spear carrier at last!

Listening practice

I’ve never been as good as I should have been at listening without rushing into comment. I think I’ve improved with the decades, but still…one of the hardest things for me about my new situation is recognizing just how often I still need to hush up and listen to others, because I don’t yet have any foundation of experience of my own on which to stand and talk.

But I hope to get better at it.

This week so far, four of my long-time friends have told me some flavor of, “Wow, you seem a lot less stressed this week.” So far I’ve replied with something along the lines of, “Yes, I made some big progress on old personal stuff. I’ll tell you more when I get a bit more sorted out.”

I’m just impressed and happy that it shows even to people who have no idea yet what it is that I’m up to. This lays some more good foundation for a more general coming out, I think.

One of the really big turning points in my life came about a decade ago when a female friend whom I often chat with online demonstrated to me, kindly but firmly, with lots and lots of quotes, just how much I was hitting her with classic male dominance behaviors: cutting her off, not answering questions but replacing them with my own, treating declarations as invitations to advice, the whole nine yards. It was shocking to me, and I needed to be shocked into awareness of it.

I’m better about that these days. Not great, I don’t think, but improved and improving. I continue to appreciate the lesson, and others like it, because they get me outside my own head and its guesses and internal fables into the world of practical consequences. Some journeys the soul takes alone into pre-verbal numinous realms. Some the soul takes toward a dictionary, vocabulary list, and clue stick.

For most of my life I was one of those people who was driven to take charge of things. I was out there organizing, supervising, helping make group decisions, all that stuff. I started losing my enthusiasm for it a few years ago, in parallel with starting to think a lot more seriously about my gender identity. Leadership was for me a way to get around the barriers of self-loathing and shyness, dodging engagement with the signals my body was sending me about being out of whack.

Just as I needed – make that “continue to need – to learn how to listen better, I need to learn how to follow better. It’s all part of learning the general stillness that comes from being not so much at war with myself.

I’m making some progress here, too. Just in the last couple of weeks I succeeded in sitting on my hands and not volunteering for some oversight chores that wouldn’t have been very rewarding and would have been very time-consuming. I don’t really know if the groups will manage without someone else stepping up. But the tasks aren’t all that urgent anyway, and I really need more time that isn’t assigned, so that I can think, read, practice some early steps toward a feminine presentation. It feels good.

Phallacious government

The Bush administration made me into a hard-line social democrat, or perhaps an outright socialist. (I’m still thinking about it. The Obama administration’s economic catering services are keeping up the leftward pressure on my perspective.) It also made me something of a misandrist.

It’s not that I think all men are bad. I’m uncomfortable around a lot of male-bodied people, but I know that some of that is simply compensation, and a projection of my own interior realignment. It’s something that happens whenever a person goes through a big life change. Nor do I think that women are incapable of brutality and degrading violence as well as less physically overt cruelty.

Still, it seems to me that the horrors perpetrated by Bush and his administration aren’t really aberrations within patriarchal, corporate capitalism. The whole point of their system is that you’re supposed to be amoral except when your bosses need you to exercise self-restraint to protect their own schemes. Adam Smith had things to say about what government needed to do to protect people’s well-being outside the sphere of market activity, but for the modern elite there is nothing outside the marketplace, nothing that they can’t try to buy or steal and then sell or lease back to the rest of us. Then when some of them become the supreme bosses, there’s never a reason to refrain from indulging their passions at all, and someone else will always bear the burden of clean-up. Bush, Cheney, and their gang were simply more thorough about it than earlier gangs, and their escape without any real penalty laid the groundwork for their buddies in finance to do the same now.

This isn’t the world of all men. But it is men’s world. It’s what ambitious men do if they’re not stopped. And it’s hard for other men to stop them, because they play both on cultural cues they helped build up and hooks that run way down into our primate souls and beyond. In the immediate term, simply shifting power to specific women won’t help much because nearly every woman who’s risen within the existing order is compromised by it as thoroughly as almost every man is. In the longer term, though, it seems to me that a saner social and political order will necessarily be one in which uncoopted women have much greater influence over both law and practice.

As I write this entry, I realize that this is the context in which Bitch Ph.D’s glorification of her own bigotry horrifies me so much. It is a very characteristically male sort of response, whether she got it from her bigoted-joke-loving boyfriend or, as I think, developed it on her own. She’s gotten to used to being an individual voice of authority, detached from a community of close influence and correction, and is in a rather direct symbolic sort of way being a dick about it. This is how the world keeps getting re-broken.