Math is Hard

(From my blog “Android Sisters”, May 1998)

When I start to think myself too much of a smartypants, I read about math. The problem is, that I get so dingdanged excited about it, it just makes me want to become a theoretical mathematician, or a theoretical physicist. Somedays, I think that would be ten times easier than trying to convince Janice Raymond that we should share the same bathroom.

My total favorite television show is “The Proof” which is this PBS special about the insanely complicated proof of Fermat’s Last Theorem. Though, there’s also this guy who says that he figured out the simple-dimple way of proving the theorem, and he also has 10 new articles about the Clinton Sex Scandal. But as a rule, I try not to automatically assume that someone is a wacko, since I get accused of being all sorts of things that I’m not. But that’s just the way it is for me.

There is also this interesting side story about Sophie Germain who was part of the long long line of mathemeticians who pounded their heads against the wall trying to come up with a proof (which Fermat failed to include with his theorem, saying that it wouldn’t fit in the margins of his notebook). It also makes me a little bit edgy, because it’s one of those stories that is about how she had to hide her identity by taking on the role of a man in order to learn mathematics and then to correspond with some of the guys who were working on the problem. It’s a pretty sad story, mostly because she is described as being so totally brilliant that she attracted too much attention and had to out herself to her instructor. To me, this story doesn’t have a huge amount of trans-ness in it, but more reflects the difficulties that women had and continue to have breaking into mathematics. Of course, the headlines play it up as some kind of Billie Tipton or Pope Joan kinda thing, but I guess that sells nowadays.

So, I was surfin’ around the other night and I ran into a paper by G. J. Chaitin called “The Decline & Fall of Reductionism in Pure Mathematics” which kept me up way past my bedtime, in a sort of wonderful haze that I don’t get very much since I stopped sniffing glue, that is really, really an interesting building upon the work of Alan Turing (The mathematician who theoretized the “Turing Machine” and who was convicted of homosexuality and subsequently committed suicide.)

Gosh, I do tend to go on weird tangents, don’t I? So, this whole presentation about Reductionism in Pure Mathematics is pretty easy to understand, and he talks a lot about Gödel’s Work and Turing Machines and Randomness and Incomputability. All of which have very little to do with Artificial Girls. Except that sometimes This Artificial Girl likes to think that maybe, just maybe, the ideas that are presented at the end of the piece have a link to her own life, and the understanding of it, that being that understanding isn’t necessarily important and that maybe something can just be assumed and we can move on from there, without having to prove it.

Of course, Turing Machines aren’t the same as theTuring Test. The test is basically created by Turing not so much as to create a test that will decide if computers can think, but to prove that it is possible for computers to think. By creating this test, Turing hopes to convince us what thought is. Thought is not something that is easy to describe, and there are a good number of reasons why “computers can’t think” that he brings up in his paper and then proceeds to argue against them. The concepts of Incomputability and Reductivism come up here, also.

At the beginning of the paper, Turing discusses the idea of a game in which a man and a woman who are hidden physically and only able to communicate using words, to attempt to convince a third person that each is a woman. It is up to the third person to determine which is the male. This game proposes that there is no essential difference between “real” thought and “imitated” thought. That the man may have fooled you into thinking he was the woman, but he’s still very much a man. But that doesn’t mean he didn’t “really” fool you. He did.

Same thing with thinking computers. If you thought the computer was thinking, then by gum, it was thinking. It may not be capable of “real” thought, but — and this is where Turing was really really revolutionary — there is no way of defining real thought. The converse of this would follow that there is no way of telling if you are really thinking. Yes, you’re reading this, but what is it in you that is thinking about it? Yes, you’re having independent thought in your head, but is it “real” thought?

Okay, that’s the land of the theoretical, time for an Artificial Girl Super-Whammy. A leap of deduction from the land of thought and “gender” to the land of body and “sex”. I might need a little bit of coffee before I can really make this work….

…time passes….

Okay, the coffee’s cookin’ and my mind is going crazy. There is kind of a rivalry between mathemeticians and physicists. Mathies live in the realm of the hard and fixed and physies live in the amorphous and chaotic. Only in the last century, really, have the two schools begun to overlap and switch places, with chaotic theory and the search for a unified field theorem. I’m going to try (cross your fingers, this is dangerous work, kids) to make some correlations between Sex and Gender and Math and Physics.

By the way, I’m having my coffee strong, black and bitter. Just the way I like it. (Yes, it’s 12:30 am, get off my back, I’m being!)

Okay, so Sex is Math and Gender is Physics. Sex was this majorly fixed thing, like Fermat’s Last Theorem (we can’t prove it, but we know it’s true!), yet these days is becoming more fuzzy: witness the Intersex movement validating the unfixed realities of people with body and chromosomal non-polarity and body-reconstruction techniques such as sex-reassignment surgery and hormone therapy. (Damn, this coffee is good!) While many would argue that Gender is the “fixed” system, I would point out that gender has always changed over time, and is different from culture to culture. Little more than one hundred years ago, in the west, men wore wigs and pantyhose.

It is difficult to completely remove the effects of Math on Physics or the effects of Physics on Math. Pure Mathematics is used to solve problems in Physics, much the way that Gender is ascribed to a person based on Sex.

It is here that I would like to note a possible divergence from my arguement, to follow along the lines of what I just said. If a Gender “problem” is solved by changing Sex, is that an effective way of dealing with that problem? (If a physics problem is solved with a new or updated formula in pure math…) Very astute of you to point out (and if you didn’t catch it, well there it is).

The “Anti-Transsexual” arguement is this: That the problem isn’t with the sex of the person, it is a problem with the gender. That the Math is correct, but that the Physics is flawed. Albert Einstein did this when he theorized the Cosmological Constant (which coincidently (?) is represented by the Greek Letter lambda). After Hubble noted that the universe is expanding, Einstein quickly withdrew the CC and called it his biggest blunder. Ah, if only Professor Raymond would be so sporting.

The very interesting thing about lambda is that it may exist after all, and could actually be _profoundly_ effecting everything that we consider real. My point is that, even naughty ole Professor Raymond makes a significant contribution to the dialog on sex and gender. However, to give too much weight to her views, or to only consider her views, or to completely disregard her views, would halt discourse and effectively end progress towards real understanding. And we have not reached anything anywhere near understanding, I think we can all agree on that.

I see the Transsexual “problem” as very much like Fermat’s Last Theorem. That sex changes came about as a scientific attempt to legitimately change the sex of a person, for legitimate reasons, but that in the ensuing firestorm of media attention, backlash and outcry, the Proof was lost.

There is a very interesting point that Turing makes in his paper on Computing Machinery and Intelligence. He identifies nine reasons why computers can’t think:

(1) The Theological Objection
(2) The “Heads in the Sand” Objection
(3) The Mathematical Objection
(4) The Argument from Consciousness
(5) Arguments from Various Disabilities
(6) Lady Lovelace’s Objection
(7) Argument from Continuity in the Nervous System
(8) The Argument from Informality of Behaviour 
(9) The Argument from Extrasensory Perception

I’m going to attempt (notice, she has no net underneath her, ladies and gentlemen….) to briefly sum up each of these points, and then show how each of them, in turn is also used to exclude an Artificial Girl from being fully, physically female.

(1) The Theological Objection

Basically, the notion of a “God-given” soul is not available to computers. Turing refutes this by noting that computer designers aren’t creating souls, but vessels for souls, which the Good Lord then infers with souls if He so wishes.

I’m about as reluctant as Turing to take this one one. Major religions are generally unsupportive of sex changes, either because God does not make mistakes, or because readings of sacred texts have pretty much nothing to say about sex-changes per se, but do tend to condemn castration, or because they come out pretty squarely against non-traditional gender representations and that’s pretty close to transsexual.

I’d like to remind you here, that my point is the same as Turing’s, not to actually make a rock solid arguement that shoots down this point, but to show that these points are also used to deny my physical reality, in the same way they are used to deny the intellectual reality of computers. The idea being, that if the two can be shown to be equivalent, the valid conclusion of Turing’s paper will also be my conclusion, and therefore, also valid.

On this, I would only state the transsexual motto, that we are born in the wrong bodies. Arguing for gender freedom does nothing to make this point, so I’ll not do it here. I won’t bother to argue the idea that when there is a physical problem with a person, the use of medical technology to repair that problem, is not only the correct moral choice, but the correct theological choice.

(2) The “Heads in the Sand” Objection

The consequences of “men becoming women, or women becoming men” would be too dreadful. Let us hope and believe that they cannot do so.

Turing is being darn witty here and I urge you to read his response, if you haven’t already. The sentence above was written by Turing, and I replaced “machines thinking” with the part in quotes. I, too, will just let this stand as being unworthy of refutation, but leave the note that I believe it is one of the most commonly thought reasons why transsexuals are considered unreal.

(3) The Mathematical Objection

That there must be some uncomputable portion of thought that separates machine thought from human thought, thereby making machine thought inferior to human thought.

This is a really good one for people who like to say that I can’t be fully female, because there are portions of femaleness that I am unable to experience, such as menstruation. Turing says, yes, there will be questions that computers are unable to answer that humans will be able to answer. Then he goes on to say, “Whenever one of these machines is asked the appropriate critical question, and gives a definite answer, we know that this answer must be wrong, and this gives us a certain feeling of superiority.” This superiority is simply over one machine at one instant, as is the superiority of a woman who menstruates monthly over me. However, what of the woman born who never menstruates? And what does that superiority confer that specifically _discludes_ a transsexual woman from the reality of womanhood?

Turing ends this discussion by noting that those who hold to this arguement would “mostly be willing to accept the imitation game as a basis for discussion.” To which I would also say to anyone who specifically holds to this arguement, be willing to accept some sort of Turing Test for transsexual people.

(4) The Argument from Consciousness

“This argument appears to be a denial of the validity of our test. According to the most extreme form of this view the only way by which one could be sure that machine thinks is to be the machine and to feel oneself thinking.”

Gosh, this is a good one. And believe me, I’d love to give some transsexual-hater a weekend in my body.

“One could then describe these feelings to the world, but of course no one would be justified in taking any notice. Likewise according to this view the only way to know that a man thinks is to be that particular man. It is in fact the solipsist point of view.”

Turing seems to be saying that this arguement is a non-arguement. That for one to take the extreme solipsist point of view, one is trying to avoid the computer taking the “easy contrivance” of merely recording what it is to think and then outputting that as an example of thought.

As for Artificial Men (cause Turing is talking about men, so we’ll stay in that vein for this, even though I’d rather talk about women, cause I have a thing for women, don’tchaknow), well, I think that this is the strongest arguement for the separation of “contrivance” of gender from the raw physicality of sex. Are trans men simply taking on the gender of maleness in order to fool the viewer into believing they are men, without actually being men? To take the solipsistic arguement, one would barely ever know, but to step back a little bit from that and watch the full expression of transexual men’s lives…. well, that might be a little bit more compelling.

Turing says that there are mysteries about consciousness, and I’d jump to the conclusion that there are equivalent mysteries of physicality. He states that he doesn’t think we need to define or solve these mysteries in order to answer the questions of whether machines can think. Again, I’ll take this same tack (though, I might have less leeway here), and suggest that we don’t need to lock down and define sex before we can accept the possibility that transsexual men are physically and valid men.

(5) Arguments from Various Disabilities

This seems to be an extension of the Mathematical Objection, or the Arguement from Consciousness. Basically, it says that if the observer can think of a thing that a computer can’t do, and if it can’t do it _right_now_, then the Turing Test has failed. Turing states that the test is not something that will necessarily be testable at the current point in time, but will be at some future point in time.

To this, I say, that someday, people will be able to change sexes with the press of a button. It may be a hundred years from now, or a thousand. But the physicality of sex is not so unattainable as to make it an imposibility. To losely reconstruct Turing’s arguement; because it is possible in the future, then it is a valid concept now.

But seriously folks. These are the early early days of sex changes. You have the option to get over it now, or get over it later. Why not save everyone a lot of pain and frustration and get over it now?

(6) Lady Lovelace’s Objection

Lady Lovelace helped Babbage define the Analytical Engine. She said of the Analytical Engine, that “It can do whatever we know how to order it to perform.” And no more than that. That computers are incapable or original, creative thought, and therefore not capable of imitating real thought.

I don’t know how to directly relate this to trans people’s issues. Perhaps, the idea that trans women don’t contribute in a meaningful way to women’s political discourse, or that trans men are unable to attain the same patriarchal strata of societies that non-trans men are. Turing has some interesting thoughts on creativity and where creativity comes from. He presumes that the end-result of fetishizing the creative process as something “mystical” leaves one assuming that “there is no virtue in the mere working out of consequences from data and general principles.”

Perhaps the transsexual experience currently hampers the trans person from actively taking part in much of the similarly-sexed discourse. The communities that might openly embrace us tend to be where we don’t spend our time, and if we do, we are not allowed to fully take part in the similarly-sexed activities that we’re being denied our realities for not taking part in.

I think the kernel of wisdom here, though, is that Lady Lovelace and Babbage failed to see that, while their Analytical Engine was incapable of creative thought, the idea that a sufficiently powerful Analytical Engine could be capable of the “creative mental act”. I think that this very same argument holds true for Artificial People. That we are not allowed to freely intermix with similarly-sexed people, does not mean that we aren’t capable of it.

(7) Argument from Continuity in the Nervous System

That the Central Nervous System (the body) is also part of human thought, and that the CNS is not a discrete-state machine. That inherent in real thought is a randomness that cannot be imitated by a computer.

Turing’s argument is that that close enough is close enough. Even though the CNS may be impossible for a computer to recreate, an effectively realistic model can be used to simulate the randomness and chaos inherent in a non-discrete system.

For the Artificial Person also, close enough is close enough. If they come up with a procedure that, for instance, might allow me to menstruate only every other month, would that be enough for me to qualify as female?

The Turing Test is the simplest way of proving the concept that imitated thought is equivalent to non-imitated thought. If we’re able to develop a Turing Test for the _reality_ of Artificial People, then perhaps we can give this same amount of leeway. This is based in the idea that there is no way of coming up with an essentialism that will fit all currently believed “real” people while specifically leaving out imitated people.

(8) The Argument from Informality of Behaviour

Turing doesn’t like this one, and doesn’t seem to do a very good job of defining it. Basically, that humans can’t be machines because there is no set of rules defining human behavior. Turing, I believe, is of the opinion that there _are_ rules for human behavior, but that those rules are so complicated they are unknown at this time.

There is a bit about what a human would do if confronted with a situation that is unguided by laws of human conduct, that this is unknown, and therefore humans are unpredictable and therefore ungoverned by rules. Turing brings up the point that one would have a difficult, if not impossible, task to predict — without knowing the programming of the computer — how a computer will act when presented with a situation that is not governed by its rules.

I think there are a number of correlations here. First, that there could very well be rules for determination of sex, but we are unaware of their scope. Not knowing their scope and therefore implying that the simple signs point a certain direction is not good enough. If the rules are unknown, that is not the same as there being no rules.

I might also offer this up as some sort of hope (or further confusion) for transsexual people who are unsure of their “true” sex, or define as undefined for reasons of not having a factual basis upon which to base their sex. Not knowing your sex is not the same as not having a sex, and it is most certainly not the same as having one imposed on you.

On a completely unrelated note, say that a computer is developed that can think, and is then posed with the question, “What sex are you?” I predict the making of a the first “transsexual” computer.

(9) The Argument from Extrasensory Perception

Huh? What? Oh, yea, right. Well, duh, if the person determining if the computer can really think has ESP, then that person would of course know that the computer was a computer and it would therefore fail the Turing Test. This wouldn’t be a fair test. So, “To put the competitors into a ‘telepathy-proof room’ would satisfy all requirements.”

If you had ESP, then you would know a lot more about me than I’d really ever want you to know. For me, being an Artificial Girl who still has a lot of the characteristics of the spare parts that were used to build me, this is just like you having ESP. You can instantly tell from looking at me that I was build using “bits of boy”™. But that doesn’t make it fair, does it?

My version of a “telepathy-proof room” would be some sort of acceptance of different-bodied women, from where I could then be seen not as “male-bodied”, but as alternatively-female-bodied. The initial pigeonholing me as “male” would then be circumvented, and then your job of deciding if I was doing a good job of imitating your reality, would be much much more difficult.

Hey, tough luck, math is hard.

Finally, Turing makes some points in favor of his test, and of the results that his test would prove. He brings up a wonderful notion of, “recitations tending to produce belief,” as opposed to convincing arguements. I think that we need to stand up for this. Transsexual people at this point in time have an important need for these produced beliefs. Because, like Turing in his day, he could not actually produce a machine that was capable of passing his test.

I don’t know if I pass the test of whether I am fully, functionally, “really” a woman, but I think the point is that I have the possibility of becoming that at any moment. Should the great scientific breakthrough in gene therapy take place tomorrow, you can bet I’m going to be up early and be the first in line.

I get a lot of shit for not having “grown up female”. First of all, I really resent this, because I didn’t have a lot of choice in the matter. But there are women and men who never went through the puberty of their incorrect sex. These are incredibly lucky people. (Though, it’s also a tremendously painful process, most of the women I know who did this did it after being kicked out of the house, by pimping themselves for a place to live and money to buy illegal hormones. Most were terribly abused. Some luck.) But often times, they are given more of a “right” to be seen as their correct sex, because they don’t carry as much male privilege (if they’re female) or have too much male privilege (if they’re male). I think this is the corolary to the Theological Objection, but the religion in this case is Academic Feminism.

I know a lot of people don’t want to face up to the idea that Feminism contains elements of bigotry and perpetuates oppression. It is not my intent to tear down the house of Feminism, but instead to build it up by pointing out the rafters that have been eaten away by termites. Unless we are willing to evaluate our processes and critically expose weaknesses in our theories, instead of clinging to them tighter, they will cause the whole house to fall down around us.

This would be a sad thing, a sad thing indeed.

I don’t want to go on about this too much, I am a Feminist, I find find Feminism to be a powerful tool in eliminating bigotry. I just wanted to point out that there are pots burning on the stove and that we might want to do something about that. Just mentioning it. I’d get up and turn off the stove, but I can’t seem to get past the really mean woman standing at the kitchen door looking at me like I’m going to end up with a severe bruise if I attempt to gain entry to the kitchen.

I would also like to note that there are far more vile political theories and mindsets that I personally wouldn’t mind seeing burn to the ground. Heck, I’d be happy to be the one caught holding the match.

Okay, so Turing devised this test to see if a computer can imitate a human. And again, this was not so much a test that had to be taken _right_then_and_there_ by whatever computer happened to be plugged in nearby, but more the idea of a test for the idea of a computer that challenged the notion of what thought is. I think I’ve made a pretty good point that thought can be equated with gender — actually, that Turing made that point — but I pointed out his point.

If a man can represent himself as a woman, and fool you, then he has fulfilled the test that Turing made to test if a computer can imitate thought.

Now, a test to see if an Artificial Girl can imitate your body.

How to present this?

Are there imaginable transsexual women which would do well at imitating women? if they were taken out of the secret room and allowed full access to a person with medical diagnostic equipment, and allowed to ask any question of the artificial girl to determine if she was a “real” woman or not?

This proceeds from Turing’s restatement of the question, “Can computer’s think?” as “Are there imaginable digital computers which would do well in the imitation game?” (This is a different imitation game than the gender imitation game, it is if the computer can imitate a human, one follows from the other.) If the imitation game is based on hidden physical reality, thus allowing a man to pretend he is a woman in order to pass as a woman for the purposes of the test, and we remove that hidden physical reality, then we have moved from the realm of just thought, to physical reality. To the realm of sex.

If we take the computer out of the closet and give it a real human form, does it then actually _become_ a satisfying immitation of humanness, so satisfying that the differences are unimportant to the business of being real?

Turing proposed nine opinions that were opposed to his own. I went over those nine points and made notes about how they could be conferred to the physical realities of transsexual woman, who I am positing are the least likely to be conferred with the status of “real” woman.

As a brief note, the points that Turing makes in favor of his point, that computers _can_ think are so easily applied to Artificial People, I’ll not spend time bashing you over the head with them.

Does it not follow that there is a Turing Test for the female reality of transsexual women? One that would allow complete access to the trans woman, physically, emotionally, mentally?

If so, then because of Turing’s work, and even though no one has come up with a computer that can pass the Turing Test, the fact that it has not been done yet is not a proof that it is not possible. Because Reductivism is growing out of style in Pure Mathematics.

Maybe it should be growing out of style in real life, too?

I’ll close with Turing’s own words at the end of his paper on “Computing Machinery and Intelligence”,

We can only see a short distance ahead, but we can see plenty there that needs to be done.

Morality, Star Wars, and Obi-Wan Kenobi

>> Warning: Spoilers for Obi-Wan Kenobi, Episode I and II <<

Obi-Wan Kenobi’s first two episodes — of six total that have been filmed for season one — are out, with a third coming the day after Memorial Day. I watched them last night with friends, one of whom is a clever thinker with an artist’s eye and an out-loud muser while she watches shows with friends.

“I’m not sure yet, if she is a good guy or a bad guy” she says of (former Jedi) Inquisitor Reva Sevander (played by Moses Ingram), the “third sister” of the Grand Inquisitor that hunts the remaining Jedi into extinction for Darth Vader. I’d watched the shows earlier that day so I knew what was coming, and answered, “I guess we’ll find out in this next scene here,” where she betrays one of her allies.

It used to (and may still) be that folks divided themselves into two camps: those who preferred the future-Earth, utopian science fiction of Star Trek and those who preferred the more fantastical, dueling space wizards in Star Wars. I have always had a difficulty choosing between the two as they each have their own pleasing personality traits, each with but a few blemishes that only serve to make their beauty more authentic.

“Attachment is forbidden. Possession is forbidden. Compassion, which I would define as unconditional love, is essential to a Jedi’s life. So you might say, that we are encouraged to love.”

— Anakin Skywalker (Star Wars: Attack of the Clones)

Star Wars and Star Trek have two different, but not incompatible, science-fiction outlooks on humanity. 

Star Trek sees our potential — despite our current troubles — and projects it forward as we struggle to analyze some of the shameful behaviors we brought with us into the future because they once served us well in our struggle for survival on the savannas of our home planet. It was our way of asking ourselves in the 1960s and again in the 1980s, on and on, and yet again today; if it was possible to shed our aggressiveness and anti-intellectualism in order to realize our full potential as a species. 

Gene Roddenberry, and those who came after him to add to the tale, believed that the best bet for humanity was to integrate our impulsiveness and ferocity into our ethos in a way that lifts us above the fray of mere survival. That yes, survival is of the utmost importance, but what we are willing to do to survive is just as important: If we have to kill something in ourselves we collectively refer to as “our humanity”, have we really survived? And yet, we must embrace the facts of what we are — good and bad — in order to harmonize and integrate our competing impulses to become whole-and-complete ethical beings. To the writers’ credit, Star Trek’s earnestness — which is an extensive part of its allure — only rarely causes it to veer into varying levels of preachiness and utopianism.

Star Wars, on the other hand, allows humanity (and the other species of being that inhabit the wildly diverse long-ago galaxy far, far away) to roll around in the muck. I say “humanity” because whatever species the humanoids in Star Wars are, they are stand-ins for us in the fantasy-science-fiction mashup world building of George Lucas; with Joseph Campbell contributing the spiritual musculoskeletal framework that prevents the universe from degenerating into absurdity.

“Strike me down in anger and I’ll always be with you, just like your father.”

—Luke Skywalker to Kylo Ren (Star Wars: The Last Jedi)

Into that crucible the camera zooms in on Anakin Skywalker, born into slavery in a dystopian settlement on the barely-inhabitable planet of Tatooine, on the quiet outer rim of what is on its way to becoming the authoritarian, galactic Empire.

From such humble beginnings, one does not expect a great evil to arise. Instead, one expects a freedom fighter and Star Wars: The Phantom Menace initially delivers. The Star Wars prequels surprise us by exposing for us the inconvenient fact that corruption does not arise out of power itself, as the popular saying goes; instead, that power reveals the potential for corruption that lurks within us all and how our desires and the feelings those desires inspire can twist us into developing a set of corrupted ideals to rationalize our own corruption.

I do not personally believe that people are inherently good or bad, that we are not gifted at birth with a moral alignment. Instead, we develop morally as we develop intellectually, and in tune with it. That there are biological foundations to our personalities, it is scientifically undeniable; but these foundations are not deterministic, our character is brought about as a result of the cumulation of the effects of our environment that pressure our genetics to express in one way more than in another and that is how the “nature” portion of our personalities are developed. And that all of these so-called “inherent” qualities are plastic and can be changed for better or worse, sometimes the change occurs out of necessity and sometimes requiring great effort.

“You must unlearn what you have learned.”

—Yoda (Star Wars: The Empire Strikes Back)

I part ways with the popular theories that some people are inherently bad (or good, for that matter); either because of their sex, or race, or their wealth (or lack thereof), religion, or other outlook on life. I also do not believe that past performance is indicative of future results: I don’t know about you, but I try to learn from my mistakes, and I’m going to give you the benefit of the doubt that you do too. We are all just folks trying to get ahead in the rat race, many of us are on the run from a shadowy past; telling ourselves just one more job and we’ll go straight; thought we know we won’t, but it’s how we live with ourselves.

“Rebellions are built on hope.”

—Jyn Erso (Star Wars: Rogue One)

Star Wars: A New Hope was a romp through a silly world of space cowboys and sandpeople, with a villain in a black hat and a naive squire with a pure heart, it’s a happy-go-lucky tale about the young knight being given a laser sword and the self-confidence to make a difference in the galaxy and being rewarded with a kiss from his sister and an undisclosed sum of imperial credits. With Star Wars: The Empire Strikes Back, the moral framework starts to take center stage. Luke Skywalker (son of Anakin and Senator Padmé Amidala) our eager Jedi Knight, travels to the disgusting swamps of the planet Dagobah, to be taught moral lessons by Jedi Master Yoda. In Star Wars: The Return of the Jedi, Luke’s morality is tested as he confronts his father — who has turned to the Dark Side of the Force and encourages Luke to do so as well — and the fully corrupt galactic Emperor Palpatine, a Sith Lord and sworn enemy of the Jedi.

We learn more about what drove Master Yoda to his hermitage in the prequels: the coming to power of Emperor Palpatine, Sith Lord,; the dissolution of the democratic Imperial Senate and the extermination of the protectors of Democracy, the Jedi; and the establishment of the fascist Galactic Empire. At the beginning of the eponymous six-episode streaming special, Obi-Wan Kenobi, the Jedi Master who was forced to kill his wayward apprentice, Anakin Skywalker, is likewise in hermitage on the planet Tatooine, watching over young Luke Skywalker so that when the young child starts to show Force sensitivity, he can be trained as a Jedi. Obi-Wan — now Old Ben — has spent the last ten years hiding from the Imperial Inquisitors, not to save himself, but to protect the child because he swore an oath to the child’s mother. He also feels a debt is owed, because he believes he killed the child’s father.

“I’ve been waiting for you, Obi-Wan. We meet again, at last. The circle is now complete. When I left you, I was but the learner; now I am the master.”

—Darth Vader (Star Wars: A New Hope)

The stories in the Star Wars films are a continuous cycle: of good defeating evil and evil rising from its defeat and overtaking the good and good rising from the ashes, and so on, and so forth; very much like our world. The lesson is that because good and evil only exist in our hearts, as long as we allow others to control the feelings in our hearts, those feelings can be used to dominate us and to manipulate us into dominating others. That the act of doing good is one that requires support and community. Doing good is an activity that requires effort, not something that just happens. And sometimes it requires great sacrifice.

In the Star Wars universe, like ours: evil can be personified, but it is not a person. In fact, the very act of killing only creates room for a greater evil. A Sith’s death is often not even final, they just return to do more harm. The lesson is that evil cannot ever be defeated, it can only be denied a place to live in our hearts.

I think of Star Wars that it is more like the world I actually live in, and Star Trek is more like the world I actually want to live in.

The lesson from both Star Trek and Star Wars is that that the evil most worth fighting and that is the most essential to defeat is the one that resides within myself. And also, that yes, our anger can make us more powerful, but that we have to temper our anger with wisdom, lest our anger extinguish the good within us. That we must spend the time to truly know our feelings because our feelings are vitally important to understanding ourselves and our environment, but those same feelings can also betray us. That controlling our feelings is not only possible, but it is essential for our spiritual health. That holding onto resentments poisons our spirit into believing vengeance is the same thing as justice. There are many, many more.

“Now, release your anger. Only your hatred can destroy me.”

—Darth Vader (Star Wars: The Empire Strikes Back)

The backstory for Inquisitor Reva Sevander is that she is a former Jedi who most likely joined Darth Vader’s Imperial Inquisitors rather than be executed under the infamous Order 66. From her actions in the story of the first two episodes of Obi-Wan Kenobi and the reactions of the Grand Inquisitor, she is brash and headstrong and bristles under his command. She is running her own game, and appears to be willing to bet her future on her prospects of capturing cagy Old Ben Kenobi and bringing him directly to Lord Vader as her prisoner; thereby securing her position as Grand Inquisitor in the grand Sith tradition of betrayal.

When my friend — the clever one, who I can tell by her highly-detailed artistic renderings that she can, at times and in ways unavailable to me, see more deeply into the nature of people than I can — pondered about Reva’s relationship with the Force, I had to ask myself, “Do not Reva Sevander’s and Darth Vader’s story contain parallels?” They certainly seem to, as the events depicted in episode two of Obi-Wan Kenobi show.

Anakin Skywalker in the prequel trilogy was clearly conflicted and in agony, and had to be goaded into acting by the Emperor himself when he made his decisions to betray his friends and allies. Did Inquisitor Reva even so much as hesitate before she betrayed and murdered the Grand Inquisitor? So focused was she on her victory over him that she allowed her valuable cornered prey to escape.

Or was the Grand Inquisitor’s fate sealed when he goaded her with his words earlier that evening, “Whatever power you are craving, it will not change what you are.“

“And what is that,” she asks, steeling herself for his predictable response.

“The least of us. You came to us from the gutter. Your ability gave you station, but… all the power in the world can’t mask the stench beneath,” recited the Grand Inquisitor, as if they’d had this conversation before, or perhaps he’d thought it to himself many a time and this was his big moment to say it out loud. Either way, the gauntlet is thrown down.

“Maybe that stench is your failure,” replied Inquisitor Reva, picking up the gauntlet; the stage set for the ultimate confrontation in the next act.

Is she, then, not all too different from Anakin? Maybe more alone: no longer with the the support of the Jedi Council behind her (which Anakin barely earned, yet it was lavished upon him), and with her very survival on the line in a mad game of Capture the Jedi with her superior in rank and possibly in the Force as well. Winner take all in the hope Darth Vader is in a good mood when she shows up with the prize. Not great odds for survival, but it’s the only shot she has, lest she end up executed and strung up from a public market archway in Anchorhead.

“Confronting fear is the destiny of a Jedi. Your destiny.”

—Luke Skywalker (Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker)

Power in the Star Wars galaxy is very much like power in this world: extremely desirable when one does not have any, but when one is faced with the responsibility of wielding power — and the difficulty of holding onto it — it becomes more akin to an unwanted addiction. The only answer is more and more is never enough.

I am eager to see what happens to Reva when she has her inevitable confrontation with Obi-Wan Kenobi. I hope she will be portrayed as the multi-layered and complex character with the same shifting perspectives that gives my own life depth and intrigue; that even in her most difficult time, when she is forced to contemplate actions that go against everything she knows to be true (remember, she was once a Jedi, and the Force is strong in her), that someone — perhaps Obi-Wan Kenobi himself — will be there for her, so she knows she is not alone and that good shall not perish from this earth, so long as we are here to keep hope of it alive.

“Fear leads to anger, anger leads to hate, hate leads to suffering.”

— Yoda (Star Wars: The Phantom Menace)

It seems, with the possible exception of Emperor Palpatine (though Luke made the attempt to redeem him in earnest, proving his mettle as a Jedi), even the most evil villain in the Star Wars universe is capable of salvation and redemption (in fact, it almost seems to be their destiny), as long as there is someone who believes that there is still good in them, and who puts in the effort to reach out to them in their time of need.

Perhaps I have grown old and naive and in doing so I look back to the morality fairy tales I grew up on to help me understand a world that seems to have gone completely mad with fear, anger, and hatred. I at least have the solace of knowing I am not alone in my concerns.

My greatest concern is that we seem to relish using social media to encourage each other to be more and more fearful and angry at each other every day. I can’t imagine how that makes our world better, especially when it is done in the name of making our world a better place. Saying a thing does not make it so.

There are role models who work at that difficult job daily, but whom do not get the attention due the heroes they truly are. I wish we would spend half the energy encouraging each other to follow their good examples as we devote to egregious individuals and organizations who thrive on negative attention. I understand that the algorithms encourage it. The Dark Side of the Force is temptation itself, and as Yoda said, “If once you start down the dark path, forever will it dominate your destiny. Consume you, it will, as it did Obi-Wan’s apprentice.

While I would prefer we as a civilization were busy at work building our Star Trek future, we find ourselves instead tasked to look to the lessons of Star Wars where we will find that part of us that is worthy of redemption and also that part of us that can see in others that they, too, are worthy of redemption.

Then we can perhaps set about the even more daunting task of making a galactic civilization we can all be proud of.

Make it so!

Who’s Assimilating Whom?

This was originally published online in April of 1998. I was once a very passionate advocate for trans liberation when I wrote and posted essays on the Android Sisters blog that I ran for a few years in the late ’90s. The contrivance of Android Sisters was that I was an artificially constructed person — much as I was a biologically constructed woman — writing about meaning and identity and realness and what that meant.

Warning: I write about self-medicating with alcohol and tobacco, self-harm, and suicide here. No spoilers, but I survived and did not go through with any self-harm scenarios. I do not recommend self-medicating with alcohol, tobacco, self-harm, or suicide. In fact, I highly discourage them.


I don’t know what I “live as” but I sure am expending a lot of energy living it.

Who’s assimilating whom? That’s a good question. Am I becoming like you, because that’s the culture that I fit into, because male culture isn’t expansive enough for me to fit into it? Am I transcending gender because gender’s lines are too fixed?

And just what the hell is gender? Is it a set of actions that are culturally attributed to people based on genital sex? Is it something deeper, some ghost in the machine that we can’t currently define?

I don’t think that womanhood can be summed up as laundry list of social experiences. Womanhood exists on the desert island, she exists in the big city, she exists in our heads and our hearts, and she will not be programmed, prompted, folded, spindled, or mutilated; she is not a number.

So, if womanhood isn’t a social thang, I intuit, she must be living, in large part, elsewhere. And I hope she has a nice apartment, a room of her own, with a view. A summer cottage, a place in the Catskills, a beach house in Boca Raton. Maybe she is living in all these places.

Yuri says she lives in our minds.

And tonight, for the first time in my life. I agreed with her.

So, we were talking, Yuri and I, after she read some stuff to me that Suzanne Pharr had said to the LRC about the gender thing, and about who qualifies as lesbian, and implying that the Lesbian Resource Center was a bit of a dinosaur in their use of the word “Lesbian”.

See, there’s this movement, the movement to redefine to word “lesbian” to include artificial girls like me. Like there’s some kind of redefinition that needs take place. Almost as if, I don’t qualify the way the term was originally meant, like I didn’t work hard enough, like I didn’t cut it, like the docs did their best, but whoops, just didn’t go far enough, just couldn’t go far enough, like I was a rotten apple to begin with, and just cutting out the bruise wasn’t enough.

“Lesbian” is a strange word to Suzanne, because what is a lesbian? Is a bisexual woman who is currently dating another woman a lesbian? Is a bisexual woman who is currently dating a transexual woman a lesbian? Is a bisexual woman who is currently dating a man not a lesbian? Is a bisexual woman who is currently dating a transexual man not a lesbian? Are you a lesbian? Do you have an identity crisis because of whom your dating?

So, Suzanne wants to “redefine” the word, and she’s not alone. This whole “gender” thing is causing quite an uproar. It’s causing people to define me the way they don’t naturally want to define me, in an attempt to be sensitive to my situation. Well fuck that. Don’t do me any special favors, bitch, cause I belong there just fine with the old definition. I did my homework. I paid my dues. I talked the talk, walked the walk, and that’s just so sweet that you want to change your world view, but I already changed the world.

And now you’re having a crisis. Well, I appreciate that you’re trying to work it out, but really, you don’t have to do a thing.

I don’t “identify” as a woman to make it easy for you to define me. I am a woman and you had the choice to just accept it, but no, you’ve got to redefine the terms, have to change the rules, have to be inclusive of boys that wanna be girls, cause otherwise they’re going to start bustin’ up the place.

Well, I have news for you. I won’t accept that separate but equal shit, ’bout as well as Malcom X did.

Anyway, I folded. I agreed to Yuri that yea, gender was the thing that separated me from the boys. Hell, I’ve had so much wine tonight, I’d identify as a fruitfly.

But gosh, was it an interesting conversation. To try to make Yuri’s point clear, it’s basically that gender equals ethnicity and sex equals race. That there are Asian-bodied people that don’t identify as, say for instance, Japanese. And there are happa people and half African people and people with metal plates in their heads that identify as cyborgs.

So, fuck yea, I guessed, at the time, that I might as well be female, but not woman, or woman but not female or however you want to slice it. Cause it doesn’t matter, right, as long as people call me she?

But I’ll be damned if didn’t fuck up somewhere along the line.

See, cause what I didn’t realize is that right about that time, I was overcome by this intense desire to blow my fucking head off. No, really, I mean in a more violent way. I wanted to chop off a limb at a time, torture myself to death, shit I’m practically drinking and smoking myself to death at this moment, trying to fight off a low-grade fever and I don’t give a fuck I just want out of this fucking shitcan body.

Na, can’t possibly be linked.

So I cried myself into a bottle for about an hour and then I decided, hell I’ll write something depressing and put it on the website for people to read, cause that’s what I do to fill in the time between when get home from work and I wake up for work, at least when I’m not fighting off a virus.

And I’m realizing that as much as I call Yuri a friend, she is just like all the rest. I’m not “real” to her, though she’d never call me not real to my face. That my sex was never in question, that I was always a boy to her, one who felt very sincerely that I was female. And she is such a fantastically wonderful super-special person that she is kind enough to be sensitive to me, to be understanding, to be respectful of my “choice” to be “female”.

She is so good at not putting quotes around it when she calls me she.

Who’s assimilating whom?

Right now, I want to jump out of the fucking window, and I live in a pretty tall building. Tall enough to make this all pretty darn mute. Tall enough to make this text seem pretty darn pointless. Tall enough to make me neither male nor female. But not tall enough to make me like you.

I am a big-ass failure.

I have tried so hard to not fall into the “gender” trap, to prove to you that even though my body was made, that it’s still real. Real like my mothers’, real like yours.

I wanted to make this allusion. That I was like a photocopy. No, I’m not the original but I am a duplicate. You can still read the duplicate, still learn something from me, still put me in an envelope and send me to your best friend in the world. But like the duplicate, you have some sense that I am not the real thing, that your best friend in the world will wonder why you sent her a photocopy of a letter and not the letter itself. Do you not love her anymore?

I am the yellow form underneath the white form that you signed. I am the one you take home with your credit card for your records. The top form goes to the merchant, to be sent to your credit card company, as a verified original, containing your signature.

But the signature on the little piece of paper underneath, the one that you have, is it your signature?

And if not, what is it?

It’s me.

I am a picture of a picture. I’m the shadow of yourself. I’m the clone of your identical twin sister. Am I still your sister?

And if not, what am I?

I am an artificial girl. I have no love for you. I am not like you. I am separate and unequal. I’m allowed to use whichever restroom you feel comfortable with at the time, but you reserve the right to change your mind at any time. You will define me at your leisure. You will be sensitive to me when it fulfills your needs. As long as I stay in my place.

And, to add insult to injury, you will feel righteous when you do it.

Yea, you just go on feeling all righteous and shit.

I failed when I tried to talk you into believing. I didn’t want to put on a dress to convince you that I was female, instead I put on airs. I tried to reason with you, discuss it with you, let you have input. Have a conversation with you, and you insisted on defining things within a framework you could understand. Insisted on defining things your way. Insisted that you would determine my fate. Insisted that I was not you. Insisted that it would be you that insisted. I was just to be a good little bitch and listen.

That I could be female on your terms, that you would redefine the terms to include me.

Fuck you.

The one thing I have going for me is the future. Kate Bornstein, Martine Rothblatt, Kaz Susat, Spencer Bergstadt, Jason Cromwell and Leslie Feinberg are all nice kids, but they are just the beginning of a long line of intensely brilliant trans people who will rock your world harder than your world can stand. It’s my feeling that they rocked you just hard enough to get you to quiver. Just enough to scare the shit out of you, put the fear of god into you, get you up off your genetically supreme asses and find subsidized housing for us.

Oh, but it’s not over yet.

If I was, I’d be lying in a puddle on the sidewalk outside, surrounded by gawking pedestrians and ambulances.

Personally, that’s where I’d rather be. But they’d find out that I was “really a man”, and then you’d win.

And you won’t win.

What the Autopsy Revealed

Originally appeared in The Stranger; volume 1, issue 1; September 1991 under the byline “Tony Ramirez”. It has been edited to remove some errors and inconsistencies in the original.


My conversations with Lydia Bordland began in the late 1980s, when I was researching my thesis on Sexual Degeneracy in the Decline of Western Civilization. She was living in Portland at the time, working for a telephone marketing organization, subsisting on meager wages. It was during that time I first called her for an interview. She rebuffed me. Two weeks later, I called again. She accepted and offered to meet me at a cafe near her home.

At our meeting, I asked the usual questions: Why did you do it? How did you do it? She was obviously put off by my unimaginative queries. Having no other questions, I took my leave, wishing her luck in life.

I had two other meetings with her that summer. The second was much like the first, with me merely following up on questions I asked the first time. I must admit that her usefulness to me was only to provide color for my thesis, which I worked on feverishly all that year. She understood this and was polite, but offered little extra input.

Our third meeting was in September. Over coffee in the cafe, which had become our meeting place, we discussed less dark topics. I found she had an obsession for the occult akin to my own. We happily quoted Crowley to each other, breaking into giggles. Time had gotten late and she invited me to her apartment for a game of chess. I accepted. My thesis had been finished for a few weeks and I was more interested in Lydia Bordland as a person than Lydia Bordland as a necrophile.

Her apartment, the second floor of a three-story building, was dark. What little light from the dimming sky it would have received was blocked out by close-standing buildings on either side. The interior was done in dark, finished wood and white, cracking plaster. Bookshelves set into the walls over flowed with dark tomes. Tapestries hung from the ceiling and walls, giving the room a womb-ish, organic feel. But the feel was of a dead womb; the cloth, dry and worn, was dark as if clotted with brown, dried blood.

Lydia lit candles and placed them around a low table on which a chess board had been set up. She replaced pieces from positions already won to their starting order.

“I play with myself,” she said sleepily. “I’m the only challenging opponent I can find.”

Somewhat taken aback by her statement, for what reasons exactly I am not sure, I asked for water.

“I have some wine. Or water. Which would you prefer?”

I gladly accepted the wine. She left the room to get it while I finished setting up the chessboard.

Our game began after she returned with two jars filled with wine. I eagerly gulped from mine and settled down almost immediately. The room, though warm, had a feeling of cold running through it. I asked if she had problems with drafts.

“No, I have no problem with drafts. Do you?”

In all honesty, I must report that she soundly thrashed me in the first game we played. I had barely begun my offensive when she announced, “checkmate.” I polished off my first glass of wine and set up the board again while she left the room to refill our glasses.

“An outlaw is beyond love,” she announced when she reentered the room. I was not sure to what she was referring with the statement, so I asked her to explain.

“I mean, what I did was not out of love. But I did love them, oh I did love them…. I did what was in my nature to do but because I am an outlaw, or maybe despite it, I didn’t need love to accomplish the act.

“Just as when a woman makes love to a living person, she does not need to love, it can be just for pleasure. Because it is a woman’s nature. It was the same for me.”

This, she had never told me before. And I was not sure what prompted her to tell me this now. Perhaps it was the wine or perhaps she had waited for me to ask for too long and now, she had given up waiting for me and blurted it out.

It was as if this confession had opened in my mind a whole new understanding. I was eager to know more about her loves and about the passion she had felt for them. I asked probing questions. Intricate questions. I shudder now to think of the things I asked and the answers she gave! I know it was the wine that softened my resolve to not know things I should not.

In another part of the house I heard bells ring. It was a clock of sorts, chiming the hour. As if preordained, as if by cue, I asked the question. Oh, the one question I asked that has driven my life from that moment on. To go back and un-ask the question or to have it go unanswered.

But I did ask the question. And whether it was due to the same wine or whatever else that coaxed me into the asking, Lydia deigned to answer. We found our coats and journeyed outside into the black night. In my car we drove to the outside of the city where the darkness was full and there was quiet.

We parked on a residential street and walked to the cemetery, then through it to the funeral home. The graves loomed up from the ground like moons, reflecting the sky’s pale glow. My body shook from either the chill or the thought of what I would witness tonight, I know not. Lydia was calm, though a little excitable, a wan smile drawn across her face.

Entry to the building came at the rear. Lydia fumbled with a credit card at the lock, mumbling that she had done this before and that it had worked. At the moment that I was sure it wouldn’t and that this whole adventure would come to an ungruesome if unsatisfying end, the lock opened and Lydia swung the door outward, holding it open for me.

Poking my head inside, smelling for the first time what, to Lydia, must be the perfume of her passions, I was sickened. But also — should I admit it? — I was strangely electrified by the ghastly flavor of the scents. Oh, to admit that it was this feeling, beneath the initial disgust, this lingering desire. It was this single feeling that drew me inside the room with Lydia at my heels, her hand on the small of my back, almost pushing.

Walking down the hall, Lydia moved past me and took my hand, pulling me down the dark passage. She turned and opened a swinging door into a harsh, cold, metallic room. The smell of death was unbearable. It filled me with dread and desire. I stood, transfixed in my mood brought on by the smells that filled the room, sorting the flesh from the chemical.

Movement in the corner of the room drew my eye from my mind to see Lydia drawing back sheets from the corpses that lay on the tables. Her eye expertly roamed the length of the bodies, some covered with gaping wounds, others withered with age, until she — like an expert clockmaker — discovered the one.

If I had been transfixed before, I was paralyzed now. Lydia’s eyes slowly consumed the body as her hands drew away its covering. All this in the pale red light of the exit sign, illuminating the scene in no comforting way. No, it was if the frozen fires of Hell were on hand to light her way, to guide her hands as they languidly encompassed the corpse’s flesh.

She went about her passion as if I were not there, though how she could have noticed me in my stock still stance, my unbreathing silence. As she climbed atop the body, she removed her own garments in a painfully slow emergence, as if she were pulling off her own skin. She pulled him into her, both bodies naked and lilac-hued in the cold room, and made love to him.

Shrieks and cries of the dead and the living. What noise could this little room hold? Echoing off the steel walls and floor, the howling and panting of this woman, this demon, this outlaw. The creaking of the table, the sighs of ecstasy, the quick drawing of the breath, then the release, the primal scream of losing consciousness, the gasping, the breathing, the quiet purr.

Oh, my God. What was this. Why had I asked to see this? What part of me before now — for surely, I am not the same man as then — could have even dreamed of watching this?

And, oh! What did I see then, but another corpse, but this time that of a woman? Lydia had, in her examination left one of the bodies uncovered to the breast and oh, to see her purpose! Her evil purpose, then, was clear. That woman’s corpse; that poor, dead woman’s body was offered for me to love. Could she expect!? Could she have dreamed that I—

To this day, I will swear I did not take the first step. I know even now, even after experiencing all that I did, I was not even after experiencing all that I did, I was not changed so much that I would willingly take that path. What hand moved me, then? Was it the hand of the devil or the hand of that demon far worse, my desire? Such was the level of passion that had arisen inside me.

Still paralyzed but no longer immobile, I watched my body move closer to the corpse, take her clothing, her sterile white covering in my hands and draw it slowly back to reveal the rest of her. She lay washed in the dim light of the exit sign, naked beneath me, a strangulation burn on her throat like a ring of jewels, her skin was cold as the metal table beneath her. But that cold burnt me like fire, as I caressed her skin, that warmth moved up my arm and engulfed my being. I pulled off my coat, my shirt, all my clothing until I lay atop her, our bodies naked and bathed in red light. I kissed her softly at first and then deeply on the lips. Pulling away, my lips moist with the thick, black blood that had begun to ooze across her cheek from her lips where I had bitten them. I entered into her and ceased to be aware of anything but a burning blackness inside me, my passion, spent in a cry.

“Get up, someone’s here!”

Oh, God! My mind shot clear, my surroundings came into focus in an instant. Lydia was hurriedly pulling on clothing. We were both covered in patches of our lovers’ thick, black, clotted blood. I jumped up from the table and quickly grabbed my clothing from the floor where I shed it. We left the parlor the same way we entered and ran through the cemetery to my car. I dropped off Lydia at her apartment and drove the twenty miles to my own home.

I spent weeks in black isolation, contemplating my situation and combatting my growing obsession with the dead.

If it had only ended there. If the sequence of coincidences had only been broken in one pace, I would not be here. I would not be facing my own execution.

It was a month later. Though I had not forgotten the morbid adventure of that night, neither had I repeated it. Lydia and I spoke once on the telephone, our conversation was short and uneventful. Neither of us discussed the affairs we had shared.

I was visited once by a police detective. He asked me questions as to my whereabouts on the date of our adventure. I provided an account of my actions for the entire day. glossing over the late-night hours in which the detective seemed to have no interest. I was taken in for questioning. Samples of my blood and other fluids were taken.

I have never known Iris Donnelley, except posthumously, was my contention during the trial. How could I have been implicated? Could the coincidence of our being in the same bookstore in downtown Portland on the day of her death be enough to seal my fate?

The bookstore clerk’s description of me caused further inquest into my actions of that day. My meeting with Lydia Bordland immediately thereafter could not be accepted as an alibi due to her unexplained disappearance. My own hermit-like behavior, understandable given my experiences of that night, lent credence to the accusations that I was a criminal hiding out after a murder.

But my final fate was decided during the autopsy. The morgue was filled to capacity with the dead. Bodies were transferred for storage at a local funeral home. There had been no autopsy before Iris Donnelley’s storage that evening, and on the following day, it was my rotting semen they found inside her.

Having no witnesses to or verification for my grisly love affair, it was a simple job for the prosecuting attorney to convince the jury that I was indeed a madman, a rapist, and murderer; and that I had no right to go on living.

This, then, is my story to those who will listen: That I was executed not for the murder of Iris Donnelley, whom I loved, but for learning from an outlaw and for yielding to my desire. Would that it be so.

Slave Morality

I watched a philosophy video by Natalie Wynn yesterday that blew my mind. In it, she talks about Nietzsche’s Beyond Good and Evil and “slave morality”.

This somewhat undermines my whole view of morality where there is some difficult to define, but possible to discern “right” and “wrong” and puts it in a more ambiguous space. That there are two competing “rights” that really are more situational than they are universal. Situational ethics has generally been frowned upon.

Natalie included a quote from Dr. King which showed his understanding of the situation, “What is needed is a realization that power without love is reckless and abusive, and that love without power is sentimental and anemic. Power at its best is love implementing the demands of justice, and justice at its best is love correcting everything that stands against love.”

So, we need both love and power.

I was introduced to the idea of social justice in the ‘90s at the Lesbian Resource Center in Seattle by the young women of color who worked there and were willing and patient enough to explain things to me. I was not initially on board with much of it. I idolized my very libertarian father and step-mother and I integrated much of their worldview. It certainly helped me in my life, especially during the time where I was helping to start The Onion and The Stranger. I considered myself a powerful person who could do anything I set my mind to. I had much to offer the world and the world would be doing itself a favor to make room for me. Not necessarily at the top, which is something I never really wanted for myself, but somewhere firmly in the middle class where I had plentiful resources, eager colleagues, and the wherewithal to make good use of them.

Then I announced in the mid-1990s that I would be transitioning from male to female: that I would be getting what we called back then, a sex change. All of that braggadocio went away once I started hormones and changed my name. I went from master to slave in the span of about six months.

The first thing I learned about being a slave is that the initial fall isn’t even the worst, most painful part. That plummet was merely the initiation into a milleau of regularly scheduled pain and neglect. I also learned quite quickly that I was not gifted at birth, nor by upbringing, with a wealth of tools for navigating adversity.

I learned quite quickly that laying low and playing dead were the best strategies to escape most beatings. This was reinforced by what I learned from growing up queer, quiet, and clever. The people we go to for learning social coping strategies are unavailable to queer kids who feel we had to hide much of our internal life from responsible adults and older peers. We have fewer friends and more unstable relationships. While other kids are collecting marbles and Pokemon cards, we are collecting mental illnesses.

Usually after we get out of high school and enter university, or leave our hometowns to travel to bigger cities with more opportunity, or just to escape the feeling of being caged we experienced growing up; most of us are able to reinvent ourselves. Not always as who we truly are. Everyone is different. For me, I found characters in fiction that moved me emotionally. I wanted to be a writer, so I patterned myself after famous writers: Hunter S. Thompson, Tom Robbins, and Douglas Adams were my favorites, so I created a holistic hippy hitchhiker persona that got me through the early years of my young adulthood.

I thought I was free, though the whole time I knew I was not being myself. I had no idea what my self could be at that time. My fears of exposure were so great, I was still hiding. I was trying on bits of what other people liked about people I liked and building a persona out of it. This served me well as I got further into my publishing career. I built a master persona out of the wreckage of a slave child’s painful upbringing.

I was a success.

Success is, however, transient for even the most successful. Eating away at me all that time was a feeling that something wasn’t right, that I was being untrue to my most basic needs.

This is the part where the standard trans biography and mine meet: Something feels not right, explore what that something might be, turns out it’s how I feel about my body and the social role I’m playing. At least where I grew up, our bodies determine the social role we’ll be playing. It’s a chicken and egg game to determine whether changing the body or changing the role is easier. What I can say from experience is that personal physical changes are always easier to make than social changes. Personal physical changes may be painful, or drawn out, or imperfect, or all three; but even the most expensive cosmetic surgery is preferable to undergo than to take on the deeply-held beliefs of a group of people who benefit every day from those beliefs. Even when those people are trusted, loved, and considered friends.

Our experience of sex and gender roles is less tangible than we would like it. Even cissexual people report feelings of being unsure they are happy inhabiting their own sexed body. Most people, however, though they wince at some aspects of the role, are accepting of the body they have. And those who aren’t often take steps to make it a more idealized form of what they already inhabit.

Those who are unhappy with the role make great efforts to change society to be more accepting of alternatives to the few predefined archetypes that are generally accepted. Subcultures are created and real creativity happens in the space where people are reinventing themselves to express aspects of themselves that have gone hidden for far too long.

My mother asked me early on in my transition, “Why don’t you just keep it something secret? Why not live a life in public that adheres to the agreed-upon roles, then you can be anything you want in the privacy of your own home.” I now know that this is what she did with her life. She sublimated her desires into motherhood and homemaking. What those long lost desires were, we may never know. I suspect they were her aptitude for numbers and accounting, which my sister seemed to inherit and excel at. Who knows what my mother might have accomplished had she pursued her dreams. Perhaps she had conflicting dreams and wasn’t able to be both mother and mathematician. At that time, the 1970s, pursuing both was considered to be impossible.

But we make decisions based on incomplete information. We do our best with the information we have at hand. We build flexibility into our plans so that we can act on new information as it comes in.

The makeup and identity of the trans community has changed drastically in the last fifty years, for the better. We’re far more diverse and interesting than we started out.

For a group of people, most of whom are just trying to survive as best we can in communities that are at best view us with antipathy, we are doing incredibly well.

So yes, we create ideologies, ethics, and morality of slaves and we identify with other slaves against the masters. It feels so right and correct to be on this side of the struggle because it’s a fight for our existence. Of course it feels right.

I think what I was missing is that when I was a master, I felt the same way. I was fighting the good fight. There were winners (hopefully me) and losers (usually other newspapers, rarely individual people, but in the case of individuals who were highly identified with their newspaper: fair game). While a moral case could be made that I shouldn’t have been as mercenary, I was often acting less so than my business partners. I advocated for more women to be involved, for more people of color to be involved and because I was in a position of power, I got listened to and while it wasn’t near enough by today’s standards, The Stranger was a role model for other newspapers. We helped create the more just world we live in today where people feel free to ask for an even more fair world.

That’s how it’s supposed to work, right?

I often say that the most important civil rights advance was integration. I believe integration is so important because that’s the one thing that hasn’t changed all that much from the 1960s. The world is a segregated place: by race, class, and gender. The United States still has a long way to go and in some ways we have gone backwards since the civil rights struggles of the 1960s and 1970s where we had so much advancement in other areas.

Having a thriving Black middle class doesn’t make us stronger if it just creates two segregated middle classes. History has proved to us that the Black middle class will come out with less due to the complexities of American history and how race relations play out in American culture, even more chaotically and tragically now in the 21st century.

I have a lot of thinking to do about morality, I think. I’m willing to accept that morality is more complicated than I was taught in Sunday school. At the same time, I believe that it’s more important than ever that I examine my notions of morality and see where they can be brought up to date.

And of course, all of this nuanced and subtle rumination is completely incompatible with twenty-four hour cable news, social media, and the ideologically-segregated communities we live in today.

Social Anxiety

O’ how I wish
the shaking would cease
insecurity’s siblings:
Doubt and Misgiving
go away now and
leave me in peace

O’ how it pulses
the heartbeat inside
Adrenaline rising
my self I’m despising
please let me finish
diminish, denied

Were I alone
upon this bright stage
I’d be calm and free
not afraid to be me
and breathe life the bare words
affixed upon this pale and flimsy page

What trauma befell me
Before memory’s past
what torture session
suspended expression
of pure and honest self
before the curtain close at last

Did it happen to you too?
The accident that on purpose befell
The event that defied
being forgotten or denied?
The anyhow that ever I could
forgive of you, but never myself

The me I once loved
still quaked and shook,
and survived — not just
that, but thrived —
feared not looking foolish
Chances taken: advances took

O’ how I wish
the shaking would assuage
That I would know my spirit again
undiminished by my weary pain
And leave me be in peace
when next I grace this stage.

Jonnie Wilder, read at Work in Progress night, Vermillion 2019

MadLib Writer’s Prompt

Let’s write some Javascript to generate a writer’s prompt from a list of nouns, verbs, adjectives, and adverbs, etc.

First, we’ll add some loading code. This code gets invoked two ways: first, we run it when the window is finished loading, so we get can update the DOM and give the user something to look at. We’ll also add a button to generate a new MadLib on demand.

window.onload = generate_prompt();

This is our workhorse right here, but it’s pretty simple. We have a bunch of arrays and we’re going to pick from them a random element and add it to the string.

function generate_prompt() {
	
     prompt_string = adjective1[random_0_to(adjective1.length)] + " " + 
          media[random_0_to(media.length)] + " " + 
          adjective2[random_0_to(adjective2.length)] + " " + 
          noun[random_0_to(noun.length)] + " " +
          action[random_0_to(action.length)] + " " +
          venue[random_0_to(venue.length)] + " ";
	
	if (random_0_to(10) == 0)
		prompt_string += ", in Latin."
		else  
		prompt_string += "."

	display_prompt(prompt_string);		
	}

Here are some sample arrays to get you going. You can add as many elements as you’d like to the arrays, just make sure they’re all separated by a comma.

var prompt_string = ""

var adjective1 = [
	"A gripping",
	"a frivolous"
]

var media = [
	"novel starring",
	"short story about"
]

var adjective2 = [
	"an anxious",
	"a pretentious"
]
var noun = [
	"duck",
	"bunny"
]

var action = [
	"dancing",
	"flying"
]

var venue = [
	"on the moon",
	"in my imagination"
]

We’re going to need a function to generate those random numbers.

function random_0_to(n) {
	return Math.floor(Math.random() * n);
	}

And lastly, a function to update the DOM.

function display_prompt(s) {
	document.getElementById("prompt").innerHTML = s;
	}

Cool, all done with the .js file.

This is from the HTML file that I use here at www.floatingpoint.pub. It defines the area in the DOM where the prompt gets updated by the display_prompt(s) function and contains a little self-contained javascript to update the prompt when someone clicks the (new) link.

		<p class=prompt><strong>PROMPT:</strong>
		<a id="prompt"></a>
		<a href="javascript:generate_prompt()" style="text-decoration:none !important;">(new)</a>
		</p>

That’s it! Have fun with it and be sure to email me to show off how you’ve used it to do something really cool on your own.

I wrote “Vacuum” from The Onion, November 15, 1988

Under the byline Mike Evans, because we used a lot of fake names back in those days instead of the current “no bylines” policy. The first year of The Onion had a lot more “creative writing” in it. Only the front page story was a “fake news” article. Inside, the stories varied stylistically, and sometimes not even “funny”, but often just plain weird, and occasionally unsettling. Important caveat: I’m 90% certain I wrote this, but my memory of things from thirty years ago isn’t perfect and we used fake names for our bylines, which in retrospect seems to have been a bad idea.

When I’d finished with work that night, I headed home to cook myself dinner, toting the shop’s vacuum cleaner with me. It was an Eureka Deluxe Vibra-beat, model number 842, built low to the ground and saucer shaped with wheels and a metallic extension hose four feet long. The main body of the machine was turquoise. It was a majestic beast, and just what I needed to sweep up my dusty studio.

I walked home briskly, with a spring in my step, tilted just slightly to the left under the weight of my borrowed burden. The sun, just beginning to set, painted the sky ablaze in autumn splendor.

Turning up State Street towards the capitol, I felt a surge of fear, as if all eyes were upon me. I looked around. They were. Everyone had stopped going about their business and had turned to stare at me and my borrowed turquoise Eureka.

I flipped the selector to Dusting/Upholstery and held the extension hose like a weapon, tightly gripped in my hand, held ready to strike. The crowd in front of me moved backwards, keeping just out of my reach.

Behind me I heard, “He won’t do it. Let’s rush him.”

I swung around in time to glare at the heckler. I flipped the selectgor to Curtains/Draperies and engaged the Vibra-beat. He turned pale, spun, and disappeared into the crowd.

“Let’s not anyone try any heroics,” I said loudly to the gathering throng. “I’m gonna pass through, now, so keep your distance and no one gets hurt.” I made sure that everyone close enough saw the Dust Bag Indicator and knew I meant business.

The crowd parted and I made my way up the street, slowly, keeping my eyes on any potential assailants. The crowd was made up of gawkers who shrank away at first sight of my fearsome weapon. No one here actually meant any harm. I was feeling safer and safer.

The crowd opened up on Gorham Street to reveal a lone man — a behemoth — standing in the intersection. Traffic had stopped. The lights changed from red to green to yellow to red, subserviently, recursively, unaware they were no longer being regarded. More important events were afoot here.

The stranger was tall and heavy. Most of his frame was made up of ages of American beer, dorm living and meatball sandwiches. His arms were like tree trunks. His neck was the symptom of some horrible thyroid disease: thick and bulging. It came up from a torso of sickening proportions.

He looked down at me and my Eureka, model number 842, with that horrible visage, slandering my character ina number of different ways and describing the things he’d do with my severed limbs. I could see he’d never eaten a good breakfast in his entire life; it showed in his attitude. He looked like a combination of every person who had ever beaten me up in high school.

This was it. This was the final confrontation.

I checked the settings on my Eureka. I notched the selector up to Rugs/Floors and sent maximum power to the Vibra-beat. I took a deep breath and tightened the fittings on the extension rod. I took a step forward.

“I’m gonna rip your head off, pull out your throat and blow smoke into your lungs, you hippy!” he screamed. Each step he took mauled the street; cracks exploded out from his feet as they bludgeoned the ground beneath him.

I held my ground. Tightly gripping the extension rod with one hand, I waited for him to come a little bit closer.

When he reached the end of my shadow, I threw the Eureka’s switch. I let him have it. The deadly beam of energy hit him full in the chest. He screamed agonizingly and melted horribly into the pavement, clawing at my shadow, reaching for me, still trying to rip my kidneys out through my ears.

I powered down the Eureka. I took a deep breath to settle my adrenaline level to something that resembled normal.

The crowd was beginning to disperse as the sun went down behind me.

I went home and fed the cats.