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Culture War Roundup for the week of February 6, 2023

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I was listening to a podcast with Michael Bailey, an OG researcher on trans issues and a guy who was at the front-lines of the conflict 20 years ago, long before this was a mainstream flashpoint.

Bailey talked about the autogynephilia model of male-to-female transexuals. I had heard some of it before: that many start off by having a fetish of being aroused by the idea of themselves as a woman. But historically since doctors would not prescribe sex reassignment for a sex fetish, they could only claim that they "were really a girl inside." Even though m-t-f's like McCloskey hit every male brained stereotype.

But then Bailey went to say that over years of cross-dressing to get off on themselves, many create an identity for themselves as a woman, an identity which may come to seem like the "real" them. Hence the eventual desire to transition and really become this character.

This got me thinking that to extent that something like "gender identity" exists in the brain separable from biological sex, I think wonder if it is really the matter of an entire personal identity that gets molded and created over time.

Question: are there documented examples of this kind of thing happening outside of sex/gender? Like an actor who becomes so caught up in role he thinks that role is the "real" him.

(Perhaps some of us can feel this way, our psued life can feel more like the real us...)

I think the concept of parasocial (self) relationships applies here. People, disproportionately those with an underdeveloped sense of self, can develop "relationships" with characters or other mediated personalities. Almost be definition, this is a very imbalanced relationship as the viewer / audience has strong feelings of attachment, connection, and attraction to the character. This can range from a relatively benign situation ("Beyonce and I would be best friends) to crippling dependency (camgirl addicts who over-invest into the parasocial camgirl relationship to the level of personal financial ruin).

In terms of your alternate definition of "gender identity" I think there's a case to be made that trans/non-binary folks have created a parasocial relationship with an idealized version of themselves. Falling in love with who they think they want to be. To me there's some circumstantial evidence to support this; the disproportionately higher rate of schizophrenia and other psychotic features in the trans population etc. When the sense of self is severely warped or underdeveloped, bad, bad things happen. Remember, simple isolation and prolonged solitary confinement is recognized as torture. To remain healthy and mentally stable, humans need reinforcement loops with other humans. If you've substituted your own self-perpetuating and idealized feedback loop within your own head ... wearing funny clothes is the least of your concerns.

This is going to sound mean but one of the reasons I've largely stopped participating in conversations about sex, gender, relationships, etc... is that so many of the surrounding it is so, for lack of a better term, "autistic". Someone who doesn't seem to unterstand the concept of food preferences will turn around and argue the primacy of self-identification over empirical observation. Or alternately the inverse where you get idiots arguing that a trait is either 100% masculine or 100% feminine and then they tie themselves in knots arguing that men who display qualities that are traditionally coded as feminine are secret [redacted]/[redacted] and women who assert themselves are secretly men and It's all so fucking tiring to argue against.

That said, I think you're on to something in that I think a lot of it really does down to an underdeveloped sense of self. People who have a reasonably healthy sense of self and who are comfortable in their own skin don't need to make their weird sex thing their whole identity.

Plus one. And it is frustrating because it is so often divorced from reality and build upon the (non)premise of "No, this is how I feel. You can't argue with how I feel."

The counter-intuitive thing, in my mind, is that a well developed sense of self is often easier developed within a group or community. Major upfront caveat - not in a group/community that is completely dedicated to developing personal senses of self. Let me explain. Say you're part of a gym group - crossfit, traditional powerlifting, MMA, cycling, rock climbing, whatever. That group is there for the activity; developing the skills, trading advice, swapping stories. The purpose is beyond that of the group members themselves. This same principle applies to non-physical organizations as well. I'm in a professional society - let's say I'm a professional cake baker so that I don't doxx myself. I go to meetings and conferences, I know some folks. I've learned better cakery along the way. The important part in terms of sense of self is that I have these stable groups wherein I can place myself. I'm a batter cakerist than John from Cincinnati, but not quite as skilled as Mary from Hershey, Pennsylvania. I can lift more than Steve, but less than Don. We all get a long. I have confidence in what I can do, and a healthy humility regarding what I can't, and the group itself doesn't castigate me for my relative skill level.

Contrast that, first, to groups who are only about the preservation and boosting of the ego. These are largely online communities that sometimes get together in meatspace. What's the reward system there? Either a) be the loudest person in the group in terms of over-the-top unconditional support for the others (these would be your "yass queen, slay" types) or b) be the loudest person in the group in terms of victimhood identification. There's no other place to be within those groups because there would be no point. Again the whole point of those kind of groups is to boost individuals within them, there's no external goal/purpose/motivation. That leads to very quick sprints to the extreme.

But rewind the tape a little. What if I'm not in any of the above? I'm just a very online person who strongly identifies as something or another. Well, then we get into what I consider to be pretty dangerous territory. Absent of any meaningful community or group affiliation, people overcompensate be either super-inflating their own egos to fill up that void, or letting that crushing loneliness compress them into a neutron star that explodes. The outcomes vary. On the one hand, you have Gen-Z tiktokers giving rageful speeches about weird new pronouns. On the other, you have displaced loners killing themselves and, sadly, often other people. My theory is that it largely comes from the same primary source - lack of a sense of self and the resulting hyper-compensation. The cure isn't pop-psychology mindfulness, ill-defined "self-care", or, of course, hormonal modification. It's developing bonds within a structure larger than yourself to develop a stable self.