22 March 2009

This Is Not a Real Post

It is instead a Cretan paradox. (Ha ha...philosophy jokes are so deeply unfunny: classics jokes are much worse)

This is a link to one of the blogs I read: if you're looking for a patron saint of mentalisms besides St. Dymphna, have a look.

Look for a real post on Monday or Tuesday!

18 March 2009

Nothing In Particular

I quite genuinely forgot how hectic the week is when school is in session even though I was only out one week! I've got a post I really want to put up but I just don't foresee having time to finish it before Friday at the earliest and more likely Sunday. However, I don't want to get entirely out of the habit of posting so I thought I'd take a few minutes and write something, anything.

Part of the reason I'm so busy right now is that the university's undergrad philosophy conference is on Saturday and I am presenting and helping to set up. I was over in one of the professor's offices this afternoon laying out the program (our department as a whole is not really good at computers) and on Saturday I'll be there at 8.15 to make coffee and help set up. I'm presenting at 10.55, which is good because I won't have too much time to get nervous and then it'll be lunch and I'll be able to properly enjoy the rest of the papers. It's a juried conference and last time I got third place: I'm hoping to do better this time. I'm reading my paper on the invalidity of biological sex dimorphism as an exclusive disjunction and if you would like to know more, click here to see an older post. Wish me luck!

Even though this week has been one thing after another, I have a lot of energy because I am very happy about this dating thing (or becoming hypomanic: I am honestly not sure. Could be the lovely spring weather, too.) Since she has Monday, Wednesday, Friday and Saturday evening commitments this week and I have Tuesday, Thursday and Saturday evening commitments, we are going for dinner on Sunday night.

You see, I broke my own rules by failing to have a plan when I asked if I could ask her out and I also haven't gotten my hair cut (it needs to be cut so badly, it has been since September) and dinner is not a very good first date plan. However, I think it's going to be okay and that I can still get away with tidying my hair up myself. Sunday seems a long time coming.

I promise not to be so omphaloskeptic the next time I post!

15 March 2009

I Fear That I Read Too Many Novels During an Impressionable Youth

I really wish that I didn't talk like someone out of an Austen novel when I get nervous. Who, I ask you, says 'if that would be amenable' when asking someone out? And then follows by saying 'I have so enjoyed your company this past week'? It's as well to be polite but it has to be said that this borders on the absurd. I know I'm laughing (nicely) at myself right now. Yikes.

Briefer Update

I have a date for next weekend. Hurray! This has been a very good week.

14 March 2009

Rereading The Well of Loneliness

I have been enjoying my week's holiday so far by reading novels, something I can't usually do in term-time. I finished 'The Secret History', an old favorite, on Saturday and then picked up 'The Well of Loneliness', which I had not read in a very long time, much longer than I thought.
I realised that it had been a while when I came to a protracted reference to St. Therese of Lisieux on pages 264-266 that I did not remember. My former roommate is very much devoted to St. Therese and I have, consequently, heard much about her, had her picture hanging in my hallway and seen the movie (yes really). If I had read Well of Loneliness since she and I started sharing living space back in 2004, there could be no way that that would have escaped my notice.

I read Well of Loneliness, as most people do, because it was the first novel about lesbians, much referenced in other literature and also the subject of legal prosecution. When I first read it, when I first came out, I was an atheist. Not only was I an atheist, but I was quite militant about it. I started down the merry path to losing my faith for several reasons but one that looms above the others is my first girlfriend. Referring to her as a girlfriend is somewhat overstating the case because it was all very virginal and inchoate and unnamed but the sense of it is true. She was Roman Catholic, and eventually broke things off between us because of it. Nothing that happened between us ever felt like a sin, much less a mortal sin, to me. I had first begun to suspect that I might be gay when I was thirteen and it, remarkably, hadn't troubled me one bit. I was confident (rightly, as it turns out) that my parents would love me either way and nothing in my upbringing had disposed me to think that being gay was wrong or bad. Then, just as it was all starting to become clear to me at the age of fifteen, it suddenly took on the quality of sin. It was horribly confusing, to the point that I just stopped thinking about it and assumed that I must really be straight. Indeed, all the external evidence pointed in that direction. I was a very serious ballet student (hadn't mentioned that before, had I? I even had a tiny little professional career) and what could be more girly and normal than ballet?

Time went by, I went rigorously through the motions of being heterosexual and assumed that my dissatisfaction was the result of my quite serious devotion, religious in its quality, to my vocation. Gradually it became clear that things were not going to work out for me professionally and, rather than resigning myself to teaching dance for the rest of my life, I decided to go to university and there I took an Introduction to Philosophy course, which has had a pronounced effect on my life. It was in that class that I first learned how to think and think clearly; I took great joy that summer in pulling apart and setting in order all the woolly concepts in my mind.

In this way, I ended the summer an atheist and newly questioning my sexuality. When I went back to university that fall, I came out to my friends and proceeded to fall profoundly in love, quite to my surprise.

I managed, of course, to fall in love with a very religious girl who had been raised in one of those bible-thumping non-denominational southern churches. In the course of time, she too split up with me for religious reasons. But this time, it had the opposite effect on me. Because I was so in love with her, I started to reconsider God. It was impossible for me, so enamored, to ignore or dismiss anything so important to her.

In the aftermath, I found that my faith had grown back. It took some years but after I ended up living in the US and sharing a roof with my friend who was devoted to St. Therese, I started going to church. A year or so later I was confirmed and so began my tussle with the lesbianisms and the church.

This is why re-reading Well of Loneliness was so interesting to me. It is the only novel I know of that deals both with lesbians and the church in a positive way. There is a great deal more subtlety in the novel than I remembered and more than many grant to Radclyffe Hall. For one thing, she is genuinely concerned about the reconciliation of heterosexist society with gay people. There is an unusual lack of simple xenophobia and classism. Class anxiety is a theme in the book but the common bond among those who share "the mark of Cain" causes the characters to band together. The distress that heterosexism and homophobia exert on gay people is carefully delineated and exposed as prejudice. It is what my ex would call a 'golf lesbian'* attitude toward the world; an attitude that assumes that the norms of heterosexist society have intrinsic and essential worth but that accommodation must be made for non-heterosexuals.

However, Hall's attitude toward this accommodation is unusual even for today. She makes no apology for gender variation. There is, at least in America, considerable hostility from some gay people toward other gay people who "flaunt" too much or look too different and thereby harm the cause of acceptance.** Hall, on the other hand, accepts visible gender variation as a natural part of homosexual orientation.***

Hall challenges the church and challenges God for forsaking gay people instead of rejecting them out of hand, in the facile way that some (certainly not all - there are definitely thoughtful atheists authors out there****) authors do. This alone is enough to make me re-value the Well of Loneliness, cheesy anthropomorphy and all.

*The term 'golf lesbian' originates with her and is meant to indicate that post second-waver, white woman, acommodationist, 'we're just like everyone else and lesbians who are not like us should learn to behave' attitude.

**I have little patience for this; after all, straight people have expensive weddings, announce their banns in church, have baby showers, wear wedding rings, have sex all over the telly all the time, a rigorous dress and behavior code wherewith to recognize themselves and so on. If that's not flaunting one's sexuality, I don't know what would be.

***I do, of course, resent her attitude that 'normal' looking women are not really as gay as gender queer women being as I am more than a little on the feminine side (not femme and really, really not a 'lipstick lesbian.' I think I might have worn lipstick about four times in my life. I hate that term.)

**** In a somewhat gratuitous aside, I would like to mention that Ian McEwan is not one of them - blegh - not even to mention that he is a full-fledged member of the gender and patriarchy police.

The first picture is a holy card of St. Therese that I have borrowed from the blog Holy Cards For Your Inspiration and the second is that well-known one of Marguerite 'John' Radclyffe Hall and her lifelong partner Una Troubridge. I sincerely wish that blogger would allow for captions and footnotes, don't you?

12 March 2009


I finished my grad school applications today. Now it's time for celebratory bourbon.

Lenten Listening

For all those of you who want a little comparative religion scholarly talk or some interesting Lenten listening, here is a link that will take you to an interview with Bart Ehrman on the radio show Fresh Air. It's a very interesting discussion about the differences among the four gospels and the ways they are used in church liturgy. Ehrman recently wrote Jesus, Interrupted: Revealing the Hidden Contradictions in the Bible (and Why We Don't Know About Them).

I had just translated the Latin text to the Tenebrae we're singing at church this year before I heard this and it made me think twice about the two statements of Jesus in it, the first one being Deus meus, ut quid me dereliquisti (My God, why have you abandoned me?) and the second one being Pater in manus tuas commendo spiritum meum (Father, into your hands I commend my spirit.) I didn't realize, poor biblical scholar that I am, that these came from two different gospels but it's one of the first things mentioned in the interview.

The whole text of the Tenebrae

Tenebrae factae sunt dum crucifixissent Jesu Judaei. Et circa horam nonam, exclamavit Jesus voce magnam: Deus meus, ut quid me dereliquisti. Et inclinato capite, emisset spiritum. Exclamans Jesus voce magna, ait: Pater in manus tuas, commendo spiritum meum. Et inclinato capite, emisset spiritum.

Darkness had fallen when they crucified Jesus of Judea; and about the ninth hour, Jesus called out in a loud voice: ‘My God, why have you abandoned me?’
And bowing his head, he breathed out his spirit.
Crying out, Jesus in a loud voice said: ‘Father, into your hands I commend my spirit.’
And, bowing his head, he breathed out his spirit.

10 March 2009

Brief Update

I have a sort-of date next week, now. Sort-of because it was not clearly stated that it's a date-date, but I think that we both understand that's it's almost an actual date. There was eye contact.
Hurrah for dating, even in a very convoluted form. This is something I haven't done in a bit and I find I'm quite pleased about it.

09 March 2009


I am very pleased at the prospect of a shiny new warm week with no classes in it. I spent yesterday in the botanical gardens and today I came home from church and had a very housewifely afternoon. My apartment has now been thoroughly aired out and the furniture shifted in order to mop. My summer clothes have been unearthed and I have two boxes for the Goodwill (Oxfam equivalent).

The weather this weekend could only with difficulty be more different from last weekend's. Here is the churchyard at Our Lady of the Holy Smokes last weekend right after evensong:

Beautiful, no? This Sunday, however, I wore a sundress to church and sandals, instead of last week's two undershirts, scarf wrapped around hat, boots and two pairs of socks and so on.

It suddenly occurred to me during church today that I will be living here for perhaps only a few more months. I knew that spring break meant that only seven and a half weeks of classes remained but I hadn't really thought about the fact that my days here are numberable. Realising this, smack in the middle of mass, made me quite melancholy. I love my little church and I grown happily accustomed to many of the aspects of living here. Apple picking in the fall, for instance, and having a porch and the way that even the barbecue places in this town have vegan options on the menu.

It's hard to know what to think. I never thought I'd be here this long and I dearly hope that I will be adding another visa to my passport in September but, just as there are several parts of myself that decidely do not fit in here in Bairdville, there are parts of me that will be forced into disuse when, if I go elsewhere. This is what comes of growing up in two countries, I suppose.

When I moved, I moved back to the south because if I had to live in America, the south was at least somewhat familiar. I lived up north for a year and hated it. Not only was it not London, but it was also not anything like what I remembered of America, accent or otherwise. It was as much a foreign country as Britain used to be. My sister, conversely, went to university up north and would rather leave the East Coast altogether than move down south, as far as I can tell. But then, she was much younger when we moved overseas in the first place and all her American friends from school in London are northerners, so I imagine the north felt as normal as the south to her when she came back.

I don't necessarily mind that I never quite fit into whichever place I live but it would be a relief to go somewhere where it will be obvious that I don't fit in. Here, I sound like I'm more or less from here, which I am, but I dress differently and think differently and care about some things that few here care about: things that are not priorities, culturally, like modern fiction or political theory. At least when I live somewhere where I can open my mouth and sound like a foreigner, I have some room to maneuver (manoeuvre) among my own self and the expectations of others.

Reading back, this sounds a little bitter but honestly I had rather have this perpetual internal dislocation than not. Most of the people I know here are from this part of the state, or at least this state, whose parents live in the house of their childhood and who have never lived more than 150 miles from their families, if that far. I can't imagine what that would be like. I would rather make jokes about BA flight 2226 being my hometown and mix up my spellings and never fit in too smoothly.

06 March 2009


My next door neighbor is outside fixing my poor broken car for me. (The driver's side window won't roll up anymore.) It had been sitting out there waiting for me to have time to take it in and he noticed that it had been sitting there with plastic taped over the window for almost two weeks and when I was out on the porch with my cigarette he offered to fix it for me.

I can't believe how kind people are sometimes. He won't let me pay him, I know, but I am going to bake a cake for hime and his wife and leave it on their porch as a thank you. What a lovely beginning to a week's vacation!

Almost Over

Only one more day until Spring Break, gratia dei.

It will actually be spring for Spring Break, too; despite having had the four inches of snow on Sunday, it will be 65F (18C) tomorrow. Time to air out the summer clothes.

04 March 2009

How to Woo Women: or, a Post I Never Thought I'd Write but I'm Up Late and Distracted

Well, I have decided to bust out of this slow as glass life of mine and ask someone out. I don't want a girlfriend but I would like to do a little dating.

I spent a couple of hours lying awake tonight and while I was staring at the ceiling in between tosses and turns, I began to toy with the idea and try to pick apart, as I do, my motives. I came to the conclusion that the main idea is that I want to date, I see a prospect and it is therefore reasonable to take my chance.

Here is my guide to wooing women*: Enjoy and good luck!

Step One: Scout discreetly for gossip as to her likely disposition. This is tricky. Asking her best friend is usually not a good idea because her best friend is approximately 64 times more likely to let the cat out of the bag than any other acquaintance. If you're after a girl in your Greek class (and I usually am - I highly recommend it) then female classmates are a good bet.

Step Two: If the gossip seems propitious, invite her to join in a group outing. During the outing, be sure to sit next to her and find the occasional aside to whisper to her. It's best if you can make her laugh but it's enough if you can find a time to exchange glances. If all goes well, proceed to Step Three**.
If her response seems lacking, consider leaving well enough alone, or repeat Step Two in case she was just nervous.
If it all falls flat, it's probably best just to let go and return to Step One with a new woman in mind. Alternatively, throw caution to the wind and skip ahead to Step Five or Six.

Step Three: Step Two having gone well, invite her to have a drink or coffee with you. This gives you a chance to demonstrate your interest subtly by opening doors, fetching the drinks or even treating her, if finances allow. If she seems a little flustered by the attention, this is a good sign. If she doesn't but begins to flirt a little, this is a good sign. If she seems sullen or confused, then use your discretion about proceeding to Step Four; it may be time to jump ship.
Alternatively, proceed directly to Step Five or Six.

Step Four: Invite her on another group outing. Pay the same extra attention to her quietly in front of the group. If she takes it as her due, this is a good sign. If she beats you to the punch, this is an even better sign. If she seems flustered, this is not a bad sign. If she seems eager for you not to do what you're doing, return to Step One - it's a lost cause.

Step Five: Plan the date. I prefer arts events, especially opera. Picking a date that will not require you to make conversation throughout is a very good idea. Time spent together not in conversation allows each of you to try out being around each other without too much pressure. I do not recommend a dinner date for the first date unless you are a loquacious extrovert. The main thing is to take her somewhere where you feel at ease and where you think you can make her feel at ease.
The main event of the date should always be followed by a drink or wandering walk home or similar. Give yourself a chance to take hold of her hand before the night is over.
(Nota bene: Planning to do anything more than hand holding is likely to backfire.)

Step Six: Consult the bird omens carefully and then ask her to a coffee or drink with you. Show the same attentions as in Step Two or, if applicable, receive her attentions gracefully. About 40 minutes into the conversation, it's time to broach the subject. Depending on her experience with dating women, this can range from a simple and direct "May I ask you out sometime?" to a still direct but less aggressive inquiry along the lines of "How do you feel about women?" or if it seems very touch and go, a low key "I've really enjoyed spending time with you this last couple of weeks." Whichever option you choose, be sure to lead in gracefully***. Compliments are a great idea.
If you get a yes, or she beats you to the punch, proceed to Step Seven. If you get a no, bow out as smoothly as you are able and return to Step One with a new woman in mind.
However you plan to get through Step Six, be sure to arrive with an actual date, time, event and transportation plan in mind.

Step Seven: Spend some time making sure that you have decent underwear and some of whatever she likes to drink in your freshly cleaned home with new sheets on the bed. You'll feel better during the date knowing that your home is tidy. (I do, anyway, but it now occurs to me that this might be little odd. I wonder.) It is at least as important to insure that none of the clothes you plan to wear have holes in them, unless of course, having holes in your clothes is what you do. If you need a haircut, get one now.

Step Eight: The date itself. Relax and enjoy. You have successfully wooed a woman, or, possibly, gotten yourself wooed. Either way, take a moment to rest on your laurels, but only a moment, mind. It's time to repeat Step Six, with appropriate variation until you call it quits or move in together or get married.

*If you have your eye on a butch woman, you will need an entirely different approach focused on enticing her into asking you out. Instinct and sneaking in glances and casual physical contact works best for this.

** If you're involved in one of those wonderful and suffocating lesbian things where you're still more or less glued to your ex, now is the time to give her a warning finely balanced in directness and vagueness. It's only fair.

***Gracefully is good but if you're a nervous person (are not we all to a variable extent?) and the only way you can get the words out is to be abrupt, then just go for it, blurt it out. If she likes you, she'll think it's charming. If not, you're better off without her.

I'm starting Step One tomorrow. Wish me luck.

03 March 2009

High Quality Filler

My brain is empty so, for your amusement, here is an excerpt from an old favorite, "This Side of Paradise." Please enjoy. (By the bye, it has been two months now since I started this thing...)

Young Irony

Amory was bored, as he usually was in the country. He used to go for far walks by himself—and wander along reciting "Ulalume" to the corn-fields, and congratulating Poe for drinking himself to death in that atmosphere of smiling complacency.

A passing storm decided to break out, and to his great impatience the sky grew black as pitch and the rain began to splatter down through the trees, become suddenly furtive and ghostly. Thunder rolled with menacing crashes up the valley and scattered through the woods in intermittent batteries. He stumbled blindly on, hunting for a way out, and finally, through webs of twisted branches, caught sight of a rift in the trees where the unbroken lightning showed open country.

Suddenly a strange sound fell on his ears. It was a song, in a low, husky voice, a girl's voice, and whoever was singing was very close to him. A year before he might have laughed, or trembled; but in his restless mood he only stood and listened while the words sank into his consciousness:

"Les sanglots longs
Des violons
De l'automne
Blessent mon coeur
D'une langueur

The lightning split the sky, but the song went on without a quaver. The girl was evidently in the field and the voice seemed to come vaguely from a haystack about twenty feet in front of him.
Then it ceased; ceased and began again in a weird chant that soared and hung and fell and blended with the rain:

" Tout suffocant
Et bleme quand
Sonne I'heure
Je me souviens
Des jours anciens
Et je pleure. ..."

"Who the devil is there in Ramilly County," muttered Amory aloud, "who would deliver Verlaine in an extemporaneous tune to a soaking haystack?"

"Somebody's there!" cried the voice unalarmed. "Who are you?—Manfred, St. Christopher, or Queen Victoria?"

"I'm Don Juan!" Amory shouted on impulse, raising his voice above the noise of the rain and lie wind.

A delighted shriek came from the haystack.

"I know who you are—you're the blond boy that likes 'Ulalume'—I recognize your voice."

"How do I get up ? " he cried from the foot of the haystack, whither he had arrived, dripping wet. A head appeared over the edge—it was so dark that Amory could just make out a patch of damp hair and two eyes that gleamed like a cat's.

"Run back!" came the voice, "and jump and I'll catch your hand—no, not there—on the other side."

He followed directions and as he sprawled up the side, knee-deep in hay, a small, white hand reached out, gripped his, and helped him onto the top.

"I have just made a great decision," said Eleanor after another pause, "and that is why I'm here, to answer another of your questions. I have just decided that I don't believe in immortality."

"Really! how banal!"

"Frightfully so," she answered, "but depressing with a stale, sickly depression, nevertheless. I came out here to get wet—like a wet hen; wet hens always have great clarity of mind," she concluded.

"Go on," Amory said politely.

"Well—I'm not afraid of the dark, so I put on my slicker and rubber boots and came out. You see I was always afraid, before, to say I didn't believe in God— because the lightning might strike me—but here I am and it hasn't, of course, but the main point is that this time I wasn't any more afraid of it than I had been when I was a Christian Scientist, like I was last year. So now I know I'm a materialist and I was fraternizing with the hay when you came out and stood by the Woods, scared to death."

"Why, you little wretch—" cried Amory indignantly. "Scared of what?"

"Yourself!" she shouted, and he jumped. She clapped her hands and laughed. "See—see! Conscience—kill it like me! Eleanor Savage, materiologist—no jumping, no starting, come early "
"But I have to have a soul," he objected. "I can't be rational—and I won't be molecular."
She leaned toward him, her burning eyes never leaving his own and whispered with a sort of romantic finality:
"I thought so, Juan, I feared so—you're sentimental. You're not like me. I'm a romantic little materialist."
"I'm not sentimental—I'm as romantic as you are. The idea, you know, is that the sentimental person thinks things will last—the romantic person has a desperate confidence that they won't." (This was an ancient distinction of Amory's.)
"Epigrams. I'm going home," she said sadly. "Let's get off the haystack and walk to the cross-roads."
They slowly descended from their perch. She would not let him help her down and motioning him away arrived in a graceful lump in the soft mud where she sat for an instant, laughing at herself.

02 March 2009

The Thick Fug of Exhaustion

If anyone has advice on how to be less exhausted all the time, I would be happy to hear it. I can't take it anymore. I don't think I would be so bothered if I weren't being conscientious about getting enough sleep. Help.

01 March 2009

I Live in a Strange Part of the Country

One of the great things about a proper snowstorm is seeing the school cancellations. On the local television stations, there's a news crawl at the bootom of the screen that says which schools are closed and when there's snow enough in South Carolina, as there was today, then one can see all the bizarre names that South Carolinians give to their daycare centers. These include, but are not limited to, the following:

His Watchmen Daycare Center
Around the Son Daycare
Sonshine Nursery
Li'l Lambs Daycare
Luv-n-stuff 1 and too
Kids Kountry Klub Center
All God's Children CEC
Dayspring Tutorials

It took me awhile to figure out that all the 'son' things were not misspelled but rather references to Jesus. This is the thing about South Carolina: cross the border and all of a sudden there are billboards alongside the road and those billboards feature either God or "nekked ladies", as they say. Sometimes there's one for the lottery or fireworks, as well. But for every billboard advertising the virtues of various 'gentleman's clubs,' there is a billboard urging everyone to 'get right with God.'

It's Southern Baptist country.

I can't make too much mock, though. People in my bit of North Carolina rely far too much on geographical signifiers to name things. What could one expect, really, from people who live in an area designated as Western North Carolina? Something like half of all schools, business, organizations and similar have 'mountain' somewhere in their names or are name after a particular mountain. This is further modified by the frequent use of cardinal directions in names. Then, my town is full of lefties and 60s radicals turned semi-conventional, so we tend to get hippie-ish names such as Bell's School for People under Six or that have 'creative', 'community' or 'new' somewhere in there.

Ultimate school name for Bairdville**? South Green Mountain Community School for the Creative Arts.

I never cease to be entertained by living here. The last time I was out, I heard a story featuring the infamous contra twins* and we recently had a tree hugger's parade at the university. It's a big enough place to have its own opera company but small enough that it's hard to meet someone you haven't already met or that isn't friends with at least two of your friends. Or their grandmother went to your church, or their cousin is best friends with your ex-girlfriend's best friend's ex-boyfriend. It's always something and heaven forfend that I should run errands with messy hair or untidily dressed because I will always run into someone. There are bars that I cannot go to without seeing someone from church. It has been a good two or three years since I went to any kind of art event without seeing someone I know. This is great for people that one likes but not for people one would rather avoid. I like it, though, generally speaking. It makes a change from London.

*for all those of you who don't live in WNC, contra dancing is a hybrid of English country dancing, as featured in Jane Austen movies, and square dancing. The dances have set figures that are called before the dance starts and use repeated movement patterns. The dance itself weaves two lines of people together. One couple will dance with another couple in a square formation of four people and at the end of the figure, one couple will move up the line to the left and the other will move down the line to the right, where each couple will then make new squares with the next couple up or down the line. That sounds more complicated than it is.
There are two main regular contra dances each week, one in town and the other out in Tahkieostie**. The one in Tahkieostie has a younger crowd and they all tend to sleep together in various gender and number pairings and often jump naked into the nearby lake on hot summer nights after dancing. I will leave you to imagine how twins could, in this setting, become infamous.

Here is a picture of contra dancing, posted on flickr by Please note the leftist political banners in the background and the presence of same sex couples. It is fun. I've never jumped into the lake, though.

**To protect the privacy of my current locale, all names have been changed.

Sunday Snow and Biological Sex Dimorphism

I think that we will not have evensong tonight. It is snowing like mad and has been for hours. The roads were just starting to freeze while I was walking home. Perhaps we'll even have the day off school tomorrow. That would be a great help.

The weather has been very extreme lately: warmth and thunderstorms one day, snow and tornadoes at the same time the next, temperatures travelling from 14 F (-10C) in the early morning to 57F (14C) by 4.00pm. I didn't bother to take my coat with me yesterday, even though I was out late, but today I was bundled up in the coat, two scarves and a very ugly hat that was my mother's when she was at university. I love to wear the ugly hat, especially to church, because I get such odd looks. Anyhow, here is yesterday:

And here is today:

It has gotten even snowier since I took that picture. Crazy mountain weather, I tell you. I love it though. I just hope that the ex-girlfriend, who is travelling quite a distance to visit a university that has made her an offer for grad school, made it out of the mountains before the snow started.

Other things than weather have happened, of course. I'm no longer worried about my strangely acting friend because I understand the reasons why, now. (That sentence had very odd grammar.) I also found out yesterday that my paper has been accepted to an undergraduate conference. Hurray!

The paper is called "The Logical Invalidity of Biological Sex Dimorphism as an Exclusive Disjunction" and I had much fun writing it a year or so ago. It was for my philosophy of sex and gender class and my professor hated it. She doesn't believe in logic and thinks that it is only ever used to oppress people. I tend to think that that's throwing the baby out with the bathwater, to employ a cliche.

Anyhow, we read a fascinating book called 'Hermaphrodites and the Medical Invention of Sex' by Alice Dreger*. Her explanation of the evolving scientific understanding of hermaphroditism/intersexed persons helped to delineate the categories of sex, sexuality and gender, which are now commonly separated but were once assumed to always hang together as either male or female but not both (which is an exclusive disjunction). The common contemporary medical practice dictates that at the birth of an intersex infant, that is, an infant with ambiguous genitalia, an emergency is declared and the infant is taken away before its parents can see it so that a group of doctors can evaluate and 'declare' the infant either male or female, determined nearly entirely on the formation of the genitals. The process is deeply phallocentric, with the main criterion being the formation of the penis. If it is hypospadic (the urethra located closer to the base of the penis rather than the tip), the infant is many times declared female because (and I am sadly not making this up) the infant, when older, would not be able to urinate standing up. The same declaration holds for penises that are deemed to be too small. Such genetalia are reclassified as clitorises. If a 'female' infant is born with a clitoris that is, in the eyes of a doctor, too long, it is often surgically altered in the first weeks of life to conform to a feminine appearance. There are no cases that I know of where a long clitoris has resulted in the sex assignment of male, as one might expect as the converse of the case of short penises.

If the genetalia are not ambiguous on the basis of gross anatomy as is the case in some forms of intersex, such as 5-alpha reductase, then further investigations are made later in life, often around the time of puberty. On occasion, the sex assignment is changed from female to male or, less commonly, male to female at this time. Sometimes the 'patient' is informed of the details of the intersexedness, sometimes not. Sometimes their testimony is taken into consideration, sometimes the doctors or parents or both make the decision. Fertility, unless it concerns the production of sperm, is rarely considered as a determinant of sex.

Now, having read about all the varieties of intersexedness and the way ambiguous sex is treated as a medical emergency, it seemed to me that it was impossible, even in the case of what are considered to be unambiguous genitalia, to declare that anyone was male or female exclusively. For instance, there is a great deal of freely acknowledged crossover between male and female secondary sex characteristics. Women may develop 'masculine' facial hair while men may develop 'breasts' that are female in contour (there is a technical name for this but I cannot call it to mind). This crossover of characteristics is also a locus of anxiety, though not an emergency. But I would contend that most women who develop dark hairs above their mouths would bleach them or pluck them. Would they not suffer a decrease of desirability and femininity if they did not?

Fertility is too capricious a condition to determine sex. (If it were used, would women not be women when menstruating? Before menarche? After menopause? Where could that line be drawn?) Sex is always declared, even if only implicitly, because there is no absolute characteristic or set of characteristics that is necessary and sufficient to serve as an indisputable marker of sex. So, even though I, personally, have an anatomy that is generally considered to be biologically female, and visually conform to the cultural conception of femaleness there is no way for me to prove that I am female or for anyone to prove that I am not male.

Having said that, none of this means that male and female are invalid categories. These two categories have meaning, positive and negative. If sex didn't in some sense truly exist, then no one could be transsexual or homosexual or bisexual. However, we are quite possibly making a mistake when we say that there are only two sexes and that no individual can be both male and female and that no individual can be neither male nor female. If we were to recombine sexuality and gender with anatomy in creative ways, we could decide as a culture that there were eight sexes, or five sexes or the the idea of a biological sex was altogether misbegotten. There have, in fact, been several cultures through the course of history, some that still exist today, that have three or four categories of sex. So much possibility so quashed, and quashed with so much violence. People are killed over it, raped over it, go through painful and not medically necessary surgery over it. It seems to me that it is worthwhile to re-evaluate or cultural notions of sex.

I'm surprised that it made it into the conference. So many philosophers think that the body is not an appropriate focus for philosophy and I had such a negative reaction from my professor over it. I'm glad it's in, though, and I can't wait to present it.

* Dreger, Alice Domurat. "Hermaphrodites and the Medical Invention of Sex." Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1998.

I wonder if this post will drive up my hits from google?