Sex / Gender / Politics

By E. John Winner


1953 saw the release one of the worst films ever made – Glen or Glenda, written and directed by the master of bad cinema, Ed Wood. Promising to be an exploitation film about the then new transsexual surgery conducted in Sweden, it is really a boldly auto-biographical revelation of Wood’s own transvestism. (1)

As badly made as it is, the film is important, because in the confusion of its subject matter (and in the confusions of its protagonist/ director) it makes concrete a distinction between the transsexual and the transgender and also, because in its own inept way, it reveals the real pain that people suffering such identity confusion have long experienced in this culture. (Wood, sadly, eventually drank himself to death.)

How can a film so bad nonetheless score such crucial points? That’s an aesthetic issue. For now, let us give Wood his due and admit that he put his finger directly on a real problem: Transgender identification and transsexualism cannot be equated. The suffering of each is no doubt real, but they are not the same, and confusing the two may do more harm than good, politically and perhaps psychologically as well.


Do our genes determine our social identity?

Thinking about this question, I was reminded of two books – almost forgotten today, but each in its way important at the time of publication.

The first is The Dialectic of Sex, by Shulamith Firestone, described briefly by the Wiki article on Firestone:

“In The Dialectic of Sex, Firestone synthesized the ideas of Sigmund Freud, Wilhelm Reich, Karl Marx, Frederick Engels, and Simone de Beauvoir into a radical feminist theory of politics.” (2)

But it was more radical than the listed influences suggest, because Firestone had what we would now call a “transhumanist” faith in the capacity of our new technologies to alter human evolution. The cybernetic future, Firestone imagines, will eliminate the necessity for work, the problems of poverty, and the desire for national identities. It also will eliminate the need for sexual reproduction.

The reproduction of the species by one sex for the benefit of both would be replaced by (at least the option of) artificial reproduction: children would be born to both sexes equally, or independently of either, however one chooses to look at it; the dependence of the child on the mother (and vice versa) would give way to a greatly shortened dependence on a small group of others in general (…). (3)

It is going little further along these lines of thought to envisioning a world where we can choose our own sexual identity, not through surgery and hormonal supplements, but through the manipulation of our genes. We are already on the borders of choosing the sex of our children, according to some.

The other book that came to mind was John Howard Griffin’s Black Like Me, the report of a white journalist who traveled the South after having his skin treated medically to assume the color of a black man. (4) The important lesson of his book is that color alone has such a profound cultural effect on social responses that the deeper biological issues are rendered essentially irrelevant.

The criterion is nothing but the color of skin. My experience proved that. [Whites] judged me by no other quality. My skin was dark. That was sufficient reason for them to deny me those rights and freedoms without which life loses its significance and becomes a matter of little more than animal survival.” (5)

This certainly seems to validate group identity with socialization, not “natural born” attributes, and that’s important. Is there any genetic component to such identities, or are they merely a matter a happenstance and circumstance?

Whoever asked to be “born this way”? (The “way” being any way one chooses to consider.) And are we really “trapped” in it? Very murky waters.

But let’s consider New York Times columnist and prominent feminist Elinor Burkett’s response – largely negative – to the recent popularization of post-op transsexual Caitlyn Jenner (formerly Olympic gold-medalist Bruce Jenner):

I have fought for many of my 68 years against efforts to put women — our brains, our hearts, our bodies, even our moods — into tidy boxes, to reduce us to hoary stereotypes. Suddenly, I find that many of the people I think of as being on my side — people who proudly call themselves progressive and fervently support the human need for self-determination — are buying into the notion that minor differences in male and female brains lead to major forks in the road and that some sort of gendered destiny is encoded in us. That’s the kind of nonsense that was used to repress women for centuries. But the desire to support people like Ms. Jenner and their journey toward their truest selves has strangely and unwittingly brought it back. (6)

The undertone, not far from the surface of her text, is anger bordering on outrage. Why? Burkett’s point is that Jenner has had an opportunity granted exactly because, as male, Jenner enjoyed privilege most women are denied. Jenner’s opportunity to appear female on the cover of Vanity Fair, in a stereotypical pose that the corporate media has constructed for starlets and models, arises from Jenner’s history of having been male.

A side issue worth noting here: surgical construction of vaginas in trans-males has proven very successful and relatively routine. Phalloplasty, on the other hand, requires extensive re-surgery addressing almost inevitable complications, and prosthetic implants to mimic erection. 25% result in long-term serious complications. It’s almost as if the physiology has been arranged to permit greater opportunity to trans-males than trans-females. Even the surgical effort to provide such opportunity seems weighted in favor of men. (7) I mention this, because although it happens by chance through evolution of the species interacting with an imperfect surgical technology, it does – seemingly – shade the issue in favor of Burkett’s way of seeing the issue.

Suppose Bruce Jenner had never expressed an interest in being a woman? Suppose he simply said, “Well, I really want to look like that model on the cover of Cosmopolitan. I feel I was born to have big breasts, painted nails and dolls to play with. Oh, and throw in a vagina for good measure, I just hate standing up to pee.” Would we be sympathetic?

Consider those dolls. Feminists have long insisted that gender differences in child’s play are largely, if not wholly, the effect of nurture .  Why shouldn’t girls play with toy fire-trucks or boys with dolls? So, if a boy expresses the desire to play with dolls, could this really be an expression of having been born “female in a male body”? Or it’s just wanting to play with dolls, but given the surrounding culture, the child grows up convinced that this means he should be female?

Hence, the murkiness of the issue. For the sake of decency and compassion, we want the matter to be clean and decisive, but it’s not. And Burkett is quite right to raise the issue, whether trans activists, by re-affirming stereotypes about sex and gender, maybe setting back the cause of justice for women.

Finally, it must be admitted that there is no united front in the effort to achieve sexual and gender rights, the current, momentary “intersectional” trend notwithstanding. The pretense there is may be politically useful, but risks misunderstandings at every turn.


Biologically, the difference between female and male reduces to genetics – XX and XY – and there is no escaping that. We can change the physiognomy but that doesn’t change the genetics.

There may be genetic factors that we don’t understand yet, but are there genetic factors that lead certain males to want to adopt the cultural signifiers of the (socially determined classification) “woman” and certain females to adopt those of “men”? Such a claim could only be made if we accept some evolutionary impetus for this, as we find in the primary tenets of Sociobiology or Evolutionary Psychology, but such tenets include the presumption that gender arises from evolutionary needs for sexual selection, and transsexuals are not reproductive.

Is there really some genetic component to the desire to play with dolls? Do we really want to go down that path?

No one is saying that a person should not pursue his/her desires or beliefs. But to insist on a biological component every time someone gets a bee in their bonnet about wanting to change themselves or the world to bend to those beliefs/desires is simply fatuous.

Does this have anything to do with sexual preferences as having a possible genetic component? I don’t know. Frankly, I’m not sure it matters. The insistence that sexual preference had genetic components was rhetorically useful at some point, since it was clear (and remains so) that there is little recourse for change in preference, whether genetically originated or no. But I hope we are beyond that, or should be.

This indirectly leads to a question that needs to be raised, even if so touchy, it is rarely (ever?) brought up in public discourse on such issues. As posed on the cover of Vanity Fair, Caitlyn Jenner’s semiosis promises viewers of the pose of sexual desirability as a woman. So, the question is fair to ask of viewers, defenders and protestors alike, “Would you have sex with this woman?” And a correlate question then must also be asked: “Would you have had sex with Jenner as a man?” Finally, let’s extrapolate those questions further – “Would you consider marriage with Jenner now? Would you have considered marriage with Jenner then?” These questions, to be meaningful, should be asked of male viewers of the image. Female answers to the questions would be interesting, but have limited value, since the pose indicates that Jenner is clearly appealing to male audiences.

Is sexual attraction a matter of gender? Is romantic love?

What we know as engendered “romantic love” has a history. It originated in the early Renaissance, not existing in the West previously, although a similar cultural phenomenon can be found in India, China, and Japan of the same era.

Murky waters, indeed.


What could it possibly mean for someone, born with a penis, to claim, “I feel I should have a vagina”? Because that’s the bottom line, that a male “should have” been born female (or vice-versa). Notice that in order for this to be persuasive, the person in possession of the penis would have to know it feels like to have a vagina (or, again, vice-versa), despite never having had one, something that I would maintain is beyond comprehension.

I’m not a backward thinker. I have long supported gay/lesbian rights and advocated justice for those who feel the need to adopt differing gender signifiers in their behaviors. But justice does not demand that I put my brain on hold. The only thing we know of the opposite sex is gender, and gender is a social construct. Otherwise, we need to assume that even without having lived in such a body, the physical sensations of the opposite sex can be experienced sufficiently that a person could recognize the need to live in it.

As I write that, I’m aware that it verges on the incoherent. Transgender activists are rhetorically relying on American embarrassment over discussing any sexual issue in depth, to put forward a claim with no recognizable ontological, epistemological, biological, or even psychological foundation. This is exactly the wrong path for the transgender community to take, in attempting to define the rights that justice demands for them.

The question is whether transgender identification (a social-psychological phenomenon) translates into transsexual identification (which would be a physiological-neurological phenomenon), and without better evidence and arguments than we have had so far, I don’t see how it could. I emphasize the genitalia, because a truly transsexual identification would seem to hinge on the ability of a person to know, or at least have a very good idea, what it would actually be like to have the genitalia of the opposite sex.

There are important historical issues to keep in mind here. First, transgender identification has been around as long as cultural records can reach, in every culture that has kept records on such matters. There is no arguing that we are dealing with a very real phenomenon, and so arguing for the rights of those who identify as transgender is no great leap of conscience.

However, the move towards transsexual identification is a more recent phenomenon and hinges on the odd conjunction of three apposite trends in the 20th century – the inherited legacy of equating gender and sex, which was widely distributed through common culture, making the distinction between the two a point of argument; the development of medical technology that allowed genital reconstruction and hormonal realignment; and certain theories in genetics that seemed to promise that not only sex but gender identification could be found to be genetically pre-determined. (Again, an important backdrop to all of this has been the long-standing American embarrassment over any public discussion of sexual matters.) The efforts to derive sound arguments and a coherent understanding of transsexualism from these intersections have largely failed, I think, and so the demand for its legitimation reduces to clamor about feelings and social conflicts that are more easily resolved when redirected back toward the rights of transgender individuals. In other words, the transsexual arguments over-complicate the discussion, and not, I suggest, to the benefit of the individuals involved – except of course when they can gather enough social pressure on certain institutions and people of influence to make themselves annoying. But while that may win some small gains, I suggest it does them no good in the long run, since it only means that the real issues involved remain unaddressed.

I can well imagine arguing, politically or before the law, for the right of self-determination for those who feel, however impelled, a need to adopt the accoutrements and behavior of the opposite gender. I can’t quite imagine arguing on behalf of someone who, born with a penis, claims that he ought to have a vagina (or vice-versa), since there is no way for that person to know what that be like without having said genitals.


But let’s consider this in relation to a similar, possibly related, phenomenon:

Body integrity identity disorder (BIID, also referred to as amputee identity disorder) is a psychological disorder in which an otherwise healthy individual feels that they are meant to be disabled. (….) BIID is typically accompanied by the desire to amputate one or more healthy limbs. It also includes the desire for other forms of disability, as in the case of a woman who intentionally blinded herself. BIID can be associated with apotemnophilia, sexual arousal based on the image of one’s self as an amputee. The cause of BIID is unknown. One hypothesis states that it results from a neurological failing of the brain’s inner body mapping function (located in the right parietal lobe) to incorporate the affected limb in its understanding of the body’s physical form. (8)

BIID is considered a disorder because it causes unhappiness and may lead to self-mutilation. It also appears to involve a neurological dysfunction, although the research is incomplete. As a disorder, it is one surgeons appear unwilling to cater to.  It is not entirely clear why surgeons became willing to cater to transsexualism, given that it may be a related disorder. (Of course, trans activists claim that it isn’t a disorder at all.)

Let us imagine a case of BIID, wherein the afflicted person claims not only that, say, his right leg is not his own, but that the right leg of a certain woman belongs to him. Should we try to convince her to surrender her leg via transplant? Well, obviously that’s not what transsexuals are arguing. They are not laying claim to a specific person’s genitalia, but to another person’s type of genitalia. So, less extremely, should we do cosmetic surgery on a man’s leg so that it appears in every way like the leg of a woman he desires? Doing so may resolve the man’s unhappiness, but accompanying issues may still cause him problems.

But transsexuals aren’t simply expressing the feeling that their genitals-of-birth are somehow inappropriate. They are claiming that the genitals of the opposite sex are specifically appropriate to them. This is where things falls apart. How could they possibly know that? Genitals are not just attractive things dangling in theoretical space; they are rich and complex and possessed of a host of sensations and physiological responses. And one must know these sensations and responses – not simply imagine them – in order to claim the right of possession. A woman claims she should have a penis instead of her vagina. Which penis? the blood-engorged erect penis in copulation? The shriveled penis, in the chilling wind? The irritated penis, feeling pressure from the bladder to urinate? The one accidentally caught in a hastily closed zipper?

We don’t know if there might be some genetic causality to BIID. But let’s allow the claim that there is some for gender identification. That only means that gender identity is a predisposition towards adopting certain socially constructed behaviors. It is not a determination of sexual being – that determination is given over to the XX and XY chromosomes. And the genetics of that are quite clear.

The medical technology of cosmetic surgery is a luxury. It can be used to alleviate psychic pain in certain cases, but it neither arises from, nor generates, any rights.

Am I arguing that transsexualism is a disorder?  I don’t know.  Am I suggesting that it is a form of surgically assisted self-mutilation?  That’s my suspicion  But set that aside, since self-mutilation (within limits) has long been acceptable as a way of enhancing one’s appearance  (think piercings and tattoos).  However, that’s where the present inquiry concludes: transsexualism is not a genetic imperative, but a form of appearance enhancement, no matter how urgent the desire for it. Cosmetic surgery. And the final question, politically, is this: Should  we expend political energy and capital to determine and enforce alleged rights of the cosmetically enhanced?  And to what extent?


  1. IMDB entry:
  2. (paraphrasing Jennifer Rich).

See also Gordon Cornwall’s fascinating discussion at:






19 responses to “Sex / Gender / Politics”

  1. s.wallerstein

    No one who bases their sense of identity primarily on their gender interests me much, neither macho men (gay or straight) nor women with a traditional feminine identity. That someone bases their sense of identity on conventional gender stereotypes betokens a lack of having sought one’s self.

    Caitlyn Jenner seems like a person with an extraordinary necessary for public attention and attention from the media, superficial and
    manipulative. The media is full of people like that.

    I don’t wake up in the morning feeling male (although people generally see me as that, I assume) nor female nor something in between. My friends, those around me, are not concerned all day about how masculine or about how feminine they are: I avoid people like that.

    That being said, transgender people are the object of a lot of discrimination and violence and we should learn to accept them and not discriminate against them.

  2. Hi EJ

    Thanks for this exploration. In the 80’s I was in a band with a transsexual and I put a lot of these issues to him. I don’t know what the final answer is.

    I lost touch with him, but at our last conversation he had decided against gender reassignment surgery and took the position that he was someone who didn’t fit and rejected societal gender expectations, which was my view that I had argued to him.

    I am not sure if this was due to my influence or not and I don’t know if he changed his mind back later.

    The bottom line is that even having had many friends who are transgender or transsexual, I can’t shed any better light on the issue

    Certainly the only criterion by which I call myself a man is the obvious biological criterion. I have no idea how it feels to be a man, just how it feels to be me.

  3. labnut

    It is trivially true but also enormously significant that children are our future. Children are a central component of our existence. Losing a child is by far the most devastating emotional blow that anyone can ever experience.

    The terrible nature of such a blow brings home starkly the centrality of children to society. Obviously they are vital to our future. Consequently any discussion of sexual identity and sexual practices must take into account the influences they have on the reproductive and child rearing health of society.

  4. I think the responses by s. wallerstein and Robin Herbert emphasis an implication of the article – well. what does this ‘feel like a man’ or ‘feel like a woman’ actually feel like. especially if it isn’t triggered by enculturated gender signifiers?

    another pertinent complication to the issue, to be sure.

  5. s. wallerstein

    Robin Herbert and I seem to have coincided in part of our outlook.

    Conventional gender roles seem so fragile and superficial to me. That seems clear from the violence with which your typical macho straight male will defend his sense of masculinity when faced with the slightest insinuation that questions it. If he were so sure of his masculinity, he would laugh off any questioning of it. So too with conventional femininity, without the violence:
    that is, to be “feminine” the woman who bases her sense of identity on gender stereotypes spends much of her energy and budget buttressing her “femaleness”, on uncomfortable and expensive high-heeled shoes that make her more “female”, on make-up, on hair-styles, on removing her body hair, on clothes, etc. Any deeper sense of identity, of who one is (if one is “something”) should flow more naturally, more easily.

    So back to Caityn Jenner. The lady doth protest too much, me thinks. That is, if she really feels better as a woman, fine, I have no problem with that, but then why the need to pose as a sex object on the cover of Cosmopolitan?

    I’m not sure, but the insistence on basing much of one’s sense of identity on conventional gender stereotypes appears to come from a fear of knowing oneself, of recognizing who one is, with all the ambiguities, ambivalences, hang-ups, neuroses and occasional creative moments.

  6. labnut

    Erik Erikson’s Eight Stages of Personality Development provide a useful way of viewing the issue:

    1. Infancy
    Hopes — Trust vs. Mistrust
    2. Toddlerhood
    Will – Autonomy vs. Shame and Doubt

    3. Preschool Years
    Purpose – Initiative vs. Guilt

    4. Early School Years
    Competence – Industry vs. Inferiority

    5. Adolescence
    Fidelity – Identity vs. Role Confusion
    The famed term “identity crisis” comes from this period of development. Erikson argued that adolescents undergo an identity crisis during which they must establish an identity, goals, and a purpose. Adolescents who struggle to find a purpose to their lives and a separate identity from their parents and other caregivers may be unable to establish a coherent, consistent identity.

    6. Young Adulthood
    Love – Intimacy vs. Isolation

    7. Middle Adulthood
    Care – Generativity vs. Stagnation

    8. Late Adulthood
    Wisdom – Ego Integrity vs. Despair.

    Establishing identity in Stage 5 is a fraught process. Where it is successfully navigated it leads to a productive life progressing through the remaining stages of intimacy, generativity and wisdom. Identity is far, far more than gender but gender is foundational. When people are unable to resolve the conflicts of this stage they may, in some cases, believe that changing the foundation is the answer.

    But does the change in foundation really resolve the identity/role confusion problem? Is this not the result of other causative factors? It is it possibly a retreat from taking responsibility for failure to establish a healthy identity? Navigating the remaining stages of intimacy, generativity and wisdom can offer promise, challenge or threat. Some people see the threat as overwhelming and they allow their fear to trap them in perpetual adolescence where they continually struggle with their identity.

  7. 1970scholar

    This is a tough minded piece – in William James’ sense of that phrase, yet immensely compassionate for that. You appear to lay out all the essential questions and problems before us is fearless way.

  8. labnut.
    I think this is pertinent.

    We now have parents coming forward saying that their children expressed sexual/ gender identifications at age 5.

    Is that believable? are we willing to go down that route?

  9. s. wallerstein

    Are children at age 5 undergoing surgical sex change procedures or are they simply being allowed to use the bathroom and the clothes that they feel most comfortable using?

    If the former, it seems a bit early for definitive surgical procedures. If the latter, I don’t see the problem.

  10. I had never heard of Erik Erikson, although “identity crisis” was a phrase much tossed about when I was a teenager in the 70’s.

    I could never understand what the term meant and “who am I?” always seemed a silly question. What sort of an answer does anyone expect from it?

    I am never quite sure what people mean by “identity” in these kinds of discussions.

  11. labnut

    Is that believable? are we willing to go down that route?

    No, it is not believable and we should not go down that route.

    But I am not sure why you address this remark at me. Are you expressing agreement with what I have said? Or disagreement?

    I am always disconcerted by how readily my dogs anticipate my decision to take them for a walk. It is really uncanny and many times I have wondered if they have the ability to read my thoughts. Dogs and little children have this in common, a well developed capacity to read our intentions and attitudes from the myriad of subtle cues we unconsciously express. I suspect that this is what happens when children express sexual/gender identifications at age 5(or thereabouts). They are, without knowing the source, reflecting parental attitudes as if they were their own.

    Another example of this. I, at one time, thought my dogs were racist because they always furiously barked at black people. But how could my dogs be racist? Sadly I have concluded that the truth is that I am a racist. I have spent a lifetime opposing a racist system and fondly thought of myself as being non-racist, so this is a shocking conclusion. I don’t want to accept this but my dogs don’t lie.

    In fact this could form the basis for a jolly good test of racist attitudes. Parade a black person in front of the person’s dogs and if they bark the owner is a racist. The loudness and duration of barking would indicate the strength of the owner’s racist attitudes. You may call it the Labnut Test for Racism with an LTR scale of 1 to 5.

  12. labnut

    To continue.
    A dear friend recently acquired a dog rescued from a Black township.
    It is a lovely dog but I have never had the opportunity to express my love for it. That is because on every encounter it has attacked and bitten me. It seems that dogs from Black townships have a well developed ability to recognise racists!

  13. s. wallerstein

    Robin Herbert,

    I believe that we chose our identity, although our choice or choices may be unconscious or semi-conscious.

    Sartre is good about this theme, so I’ll more or less follow him, insofar as I remember what he says.

    Let’s take my Jewish identity. First of all, one reason I chose it is because others see me as a Jew: what Sartre calls our “situation”. Now given my situation as one seen as a Jew by others, I could change my name, I could change my nose and straighten my hair, I could claim that my last name is really German, not Jewish, etc. I also could assume the fact that others see me as Jewish and then I have other choices to make: am I militantly Jewish? do I join Jewish organizations? do I mate with a Jewish woman?, do I just bring up and out my Jewishness when I sense anti-semitism? etc.

    What’s more, that choice is never permanent and definitive (except after my death). I can change my name and move to another city when no one knows me tomorrow. There are days when I think that the whole business of being Jewish is ridiculous since deep down inside I’m just like everyone else. That is, according to Sartre, I have to chose how I live my situation of being Jewish everyday and at every moment of the day.

    Some people try to live their Jewishness or their sexual orientation or their gender identity as if it were fixed, permanent, in the way
    that a rock is a rock, but that, says Sartre is bad faith. We chose our identities and if we are honest with ourselves, we recognize that fact.

  14. Two anecdotes.

    1) I sometimes see a transgender guy walking in the streets close to my workplace. He’s quite convincing, but there are two problems. He walks like a man. I’ve been seeing him for a couple of years now, but there’s no denying he walks like a man. And he has the shoulders of a construction worker. He really looks like an older construction worker wearing women’s clothes.

    2) One of my friends is Dutch. She’s the archetype: self-assured, outspoken and straightforward to the point of impoliteness, with that uniquely Dutch and egalitarian approach to hierarchy in the workplace. She’s also a very nice and caring person, once you get used to her Dutch style. She’s the daughter of Iraqi refugees from Basra. Brown skin, black hair. I regularly invite her for dinner, and I remember how she praised the food the first time. “Very subtle,” she said, “We Arabs don’t do subtlety in the kitchen.” I had a moment of cognitive dissonance and blurted out: “You’re not Arab, you’re Dutch!”

    If you call yourself a woman, but everybody else calls you a man, then what are you?
    If you call yourself Arab, but for me you are Dutch, then what are you?

    I don’t think people can “choose” an identity. In Holland, my friend may be an Arab. But she’s working in my hometown, and she’ll have to live with the fact that now she’s first and foremost Dutch.

  15. But my sexual orientation has been fixed since I was 13 years old, nothing has changed there.

    I hid the fact that I was attracted to men until I was 21, but apparently not successfully as a faced a constant stream of “poofter” taunts all through high school.

    So apparently people chose that identity for me.

    There is a semantic point here that needs to be clarified. Since I was 21 I have not bothered to hide the fact that I am attracted to men as well as women. So you might say I “identify” as bisexual.

    But I don’t consider that bisexual is my identity. It is just a fact about me. The only thing that bisexuals of the world all have in common is that we are sexually attracted both to males and females.

    When people accuse me of engaging in “identity politics” I have no idea what they are talking about. In high school I didn’t regard myself as some sort of special case, I regarded myself as being just one of the guys.

    With transsexuals the problem is that most people know celebrity transsexuals like Caitlyn Jenner and get the idea that it is all about getting attention. But the average transsexual does not particularly want attention and do not see this as being core to their being. They might want to be known as someone who is a pretty good drummer, or a terrific tax accountant, or someone who contributes to the defense of their nation in the military. Most transsexuals have no more ambition to be featured on the front page of Vogue than I do, which is to say none.

  16. I am also sorry to have to admit that in late adulthood I have managed neither wisdom, ego integrity nor despair.

  17. labnut

    I am also sorry to have to admit that in late adulthood I have managed neither wisdom, ego integrity nor despair.

    I am reminded of the old saying, never run yourself down, other people will gladly do it for you. But happily we don’t have to do that 🙂 More seriously, though, the substance of your comments are an convincing testimony that contradict your statement.

  18. Of all the things I might accuse you of, a lack of wisdom or integrity are not among them.

  19. s. wallerstein

    Robin Herbert,

    I don’t want to delve into what is obviously a sensitive personal subject for you and about which you seem to have gone through lots of painful experiences when young. So I’ll try to reply in very general terms.

    If someone says that their gay identity was chosen for them, they can choose the identity that was chosen for them or not. Someone whose gay identity is chosen by others could move to another city, take acting and karate classes, join the most homophobic church available, marry and have 7 children. People choose that all the time.

    Moreover, they can choose how they live the gay identity which was chosen for them by others. Do they join gay identity politics
    and make being gay the center of their lives and of how they see themselves. Or do they seek their sense of identity as a history teacher or as a tax accountant or whatever professional role they play as do most non-gay people?

    All of the above more or less follows what Sartre says. He does not claim that we can choose whom we are sexually attracted to
    (he calls that “facticity”) or how others see us (he calls that “situation), he claims that we can choose how we face our facticity and our situation.