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May 27th, 2010
01:41 pm
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Left brain, right brain
A bit of doggerel from this morning's dream (please note it does not reflect real-life Bax's excellent academic record):
When I attended M__ school
I made a point of breaking rules.
On campus I was always seein'
Just how much trouble I could be in.
I got as far as groping breasts
Before my first of five arrests.
There was also some sort of weird adventure going on before that, where I parachuted deep into rural Montana's ranch country and was trying to find my way out to civilization so I could bicycle home. Complicating factors did not, surprisingly, include the landowner whose horse pen I landed in (she was quite cool about the whole thing). There were a few crashed UFOs around, though, one of which had ejected some debris onto her property that looked like a giant rhomboidal chainsaw blade.

Recently, I've had a more broadening social life than usual. Partially, this is due to the fragmentation of the Fireborn campaign (one of our players moved out of the area recently, and there has been a little simmering RL drama since; there are some signs that we've reached resolution on that, but the campaign is definitely still in an awkward transitional phase). We haven't roleplayed for the last three weeks -- instead, we've all gotten together for random socialization and/or field trips, including a few fun outings to a billiards bar in Roseville.

I've been putting some renewed effort into the TTU wiki as well (spurred in part by inquiries from a new author). It's borne some tasty fruit: I've clarified the magic system rules; added transgendered theris to the Theri Types list (does that entry look OK to those of you more in the know than I?); answered some questions on later eras; etc.

I've also spent some time noodling over how TTU would work as a tabletop RPG -- if you'd like to help shape the system, take a look at http://ttu.tomorrowlands.org/TomorrowlandsRPGMechanics (currently public, but will be locked down later so I can develop it into something potentially publishable), and bounce some ideas off of me.

Current Location: ~spiral
Current Music: Kansas, "Song For America"
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From:rax
Date:May 27th, 2010 09:42 pm (UTC)
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(does that entry look OK to those of you more in the know than I?)

I only say this because you specifically asked for commentary --- otherwise I would not get all up on minutiae in your role-playing system --- but I find this quite twitchy. I don't have a good handle on why, and I think it's more than just the little things, but the little things are all I understand, so I'm going to mention them.

First, "using a therianthropic shift to rearrange their biological gender to match their gender of identity" --- can you define biological gender? I think you mean biological sex here. (If you do mean biological gender, there's a fascinating conversation to be had here about whether or not such a thing exists and what it looks like if so, though I'm not sure it belongs right here per se.)

Given present-day nonfictional dynamics, the majority of trans people aren't deep stealth, that is, we don't hide that we are trans categorically all of the time. The difficulty of doing this can be so extreme as to involve disconnection from family, friends, and history. I'm skeptical that it's reasonable to make the majority of trans people deep stealth in your universe; I don't think you've given a solid enough explanation as to why that would be different. I'm not sure if you have one, or if you just believe that most trans people today are deep stealth like this, or? A fictional universe with such a justification would be really interesting, if done well, which I think you could.

But they live with their secret every minute of every day is the kind of line that makes me unhappy. (A related statement by a trans woman in the 80's --- Sandy Stone's "passing forecloses the possibility of authentic relationships" --- made me so angry I went to grad school.) I guess in some sense it's true, but it's so melodramatic and reductive, and I think someone roleplaying a character on that basis would risk roleplaying a caricature of a trans person.

In particular, a firm belief that one's current body is incorrect is necessary; mere dissatisfaction with one's gender role is insufficient. I realize you're writing a roleplaying game and not a diagnostic standards manual, but ick. I really don't like the way this implies what makes a correct, authentic trans person, especially when it roots something complicated and multifaceted (gendered conception of self) in which set of sex characteristics the body has. I realize that in making a game you need to set some rules about when someone gets to have the magic power to shapeshift, but here it parallels some really problematic rules that really exist in the world we live in about when someone gets to have the political power to change their body in ways they find affirming. (There's an excellent essay about this by... Dean Spade, I think? in the Transgender Studies Reader that I'd pull out the name of if my books weren't all in boxes.)

I hope this is helpful to you in figuring out where you want to take your game.
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From:lienne
Date:May 27th, 2010 10:30 pm (UTC)
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Hi! You don't know me, but I was part of the conversation that led to the introduction of transfolk into the TTU, and I just wanted to say thank you for offering this commentary. My own understanding of trans issues is kind of secondhand, and I'm glad that someone with more knowledge than I could come along and catch some of the problems I missed.
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From:rax
Date:May 28th, 2010 01:10 am (UTC)
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You're welcome, I guess? :) There was this text and someone told me to engage with it critically, so I did, since I'm not always very good at not doing that...
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From:baxil
Date:May 27th, 2010 11:59 pm (UTC)
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Thank you for such a detailed response -- I did ask specifically for commentary, and I'm grateful to get such constructive and patient feedback. I'm stepping out of "write what you know" territory here, but I want to handle the subject fairly and sensitively; I can't promise I won't slip on cis privilege, but I'll do my best and fix it when I fail. Let me respond to a few highlights:

> biological gender

This was a mistake on my part (I really should have known better; the sex/gender dichotomy is already one I'm familiar with). Per your and Lienne's suggestions I've changed this to "physical sexual characteristics." As fascinating as the "biological gender" conversation might be, I wasn't trying to start it here.

> Given present-day nonfictional dynamics, the majority of trans people aren't deep stealth

Then I think my examples fail to support my main point. I was going for "a high proportion of TG theris try to live in ways that minimize others' knowledge of their change", which I meant more in the sense of "passing" than "deep stealth." Rereading, your point about melodrama is well taken -- I'm definitely conflating the two as I go on from there.

I will try to rework it tomorrow (tonight is gaming night and I won't have computer time) -- or if you have any specific rewriting suggestions I would be happy to take them.

> I'm skeptical that it's reasonable to make the majority of trans people deep stealth in your universe

Agreed. Do you think it's reasonable, though, to have the majority of trans people try to "pass"? Do you think that's accurate to present-day (esp. late-1990s) nonfictional dynamics? My hypothesis is that trans people would still be largely invisible in a world of physical transformations -- mostly because the new gender issues, compelling as they are, would still be marginalized in favor of things like "mages teleporting onto the White House lawn" and "dragons overflying Times Square celebrations".

> "But they live with their secret every minute of every day" is the kind of line that makes me unhappy.

That needs rewriting. I'm sorry. (Thanks for the background there; I do see how Stone's comment would be upsetting as well.)

> "a firm belief that one's current body is incorrect is necessary" ... I really don't like the way this implies what makes a correct, authentic trans person

If that's the impression I'm leaving, then I think I've committed a serious linguistic fault here. I'm sorry.

The entire section is meant to describe, not transgendered people in general, but people who have undergone a therianthropic transformation in physical gender (while remaining human). So, yes, there's a bright line being drawn as to what makes an authentic transgender theri. The full spectrum of transgendered people that exist in present-day life continue to exist, and their gender issues remain as legitimate as ever.

Actually, on closer examination, I think the problem is my use of "transgender" in the first place. I've been conditioned to use "transgender" automatically as more inclusive than "transsexual," but I really am specifically describing transsexual people in this case. Am I right that it would be the more appropriate term here? I think using it would require a little more linguistic unpacking for the benefit of non-trans readers -- but that's exposition that needs to happen anyway.
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From:rax
Date:May 28th, 2010 01:08 am (UTC)
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Do you think it's reasonable, though, to have the majority of trans people try to "pass"?

In a universe where they probably do pass, physically, because they got to use magic to do so? Yes, I expect so. There would be a lot of tension --- in the 80s and 90s you had your Sandy Stones and your Riki Wilchinses being all "passing is bad, silence is death" in a way that (irritatingly) conflated passing with silence. In the real universe, a lot of people don't have the option, and I think they would take it if they did, but obviously I can't speak for them directly.

Part of what makes this hard to answer is that there is no real-life parallel here --- you can't go from zero to passing in sixty seconds, generally, and even if you can you definitely can't do all of the physical changes you might want in one go, unless those are "none" or "a haircut."

Also there's a lot of argument about the transgender/transsexual language divide; personally I'd recommend just going with "trans" as a catchall and specifying what you mean in other ways, but various people would tell you various things and I don't know any terminology that won't get someone a little bristly.

Again, hope this helps.
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From:baxil
Date:May 28th, 2010 12:31 am (UTC)

Try 2 on the shapeshifting threshold

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OK, on rereading (because I'm the sort of person that keeps going back to things I've already written, and I only saw this on the third pass):

> I realize that in making a game you need to set some rules about when someone gets to have the magic power to shapeshift, but here it parallels some really problematic rules that really exist in the world we live in about when someone gets to have the political power to change their body in ways they find affirming. (There's an excellent essay about this by... Dean Spade, I think? in the Transgender Studies Reader ...)

"Mutilating Gender," by Dean Spade? Found and bookmarked for later (though it looks like I won't be able to read the whole article there).

After a few more passes here I think I'm closer to what you're getting at, though I'm not sure yet how to address it. It sounds like the "transgendered theri" vs. "transgendered people" distinction I drew in my first response doesn't help at all -- in fact, having a bright-line category legitimizes the included group and delegitimizes the excluded group.

I mean, yes, as you've mentioned, it's a setting (not just an RPG setting but a fiction setting) and there's magic and at some point there has to be a Rule, and whatever Rule there is is going to marginalize someone. I don't think this is something I can easily address by changing the rules (and the more I change the rules anyway, the tougher it gets to balance the rest of the setting).

A better response might be to acknowledge (via stories, extra setting detail, etc) the extra difficulties this creates for the transgendered people who don't meet the Rule's threshold. Those would be good stories to write, or to invite others to write. Of course, to have other people writing stories about TG issues in TTU does require a setting that's welcoming to the writers, and that kicks the issue up a level of meta ... again, giving me some food for thought on how best to address it.
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From:rax
Date:May 28th, 2010 12:59 am (UTC)

Re: Try 2 on the shapeshifting threshold

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Yes, that's the essay, thank you.

I think I would encourage you to make the rule more about how much you want it rather than about what you want. That is, a transgendered theri could very well want to have an androgynous body and keep their genital configuration, or could want only minor tweaks so as to facilitate existing in a different social role, but if they wanted it that much, where that can include some sort of magical secret sauce, they could get it. Otherwise you risk saying that the acceptable things to want are those which are normative. "A firm belief that one's current body is wrong" could also describe an anorexic, or someone who desires very strongly to be an amputee. [0] I think to a certain extent I read this so strongly negatively because of how similar it is to the actual rules that people are expected to follow.

Narratives of someone who [believe they] want it super much but can't seem to do the transition magically could be interesting. In a universe where you can use magic to reshape your body, what does it mean to go to a surgeon to get your bits redone the old-fashioned way? What does it mean to do your theri thing and come out still overweight and out of shape? How much are people really choosing? Is the shapeshift about what you Really Truly Want or about what you think you want?

In the end a lot of this comes down to "what makes someone authentically trans" which is eighty million cans of worms. If you can find a way to avoid having to answer that question but still make your game universe exciting and engaging, I think you will be better off. I think our universe would be better off if we spent less time trying to answer that question too.


[0] If you like the Spade and are hankering for more theoretical reading in this vein, Jay Prosser's book Second Skins is great.
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From:eclective
Date:May 28th, 2010 02:25 am (UTC)

Re: Try 2 on the shapeshifting threshold

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Having read the comments and the post in question, I think I'm strongly in agreement with rax here: one has to be careful about creating a magical Rule that closely mirrors what the current unfair rules in society are, because you run the risk of... well, I can't say it any better than "you risk saying that the acceptable things to want are those which are normative".

I've actually had a bit of that feeling with the "you can't change unless you have a concrete image of your body in mind" thing; it seems that it puts the emphasis on people having to be consciously aware of what they need and want and go out to enable it, rather than people who have an unfulfilled longing and are clearly meant for something, regardless of whether they've been able to discover what that is, having those longings fulfilled. I'd like to imagine that were a real TTU-like event to happen, people would change Zelda 3-style: "according to what was in their hearts", whether they knew it or not.

Of course, you do have to draw lines for fiction, too. And you've already drawn certain ones. And my overly-utopic thinking is probably part of the reason I can't write very well myself, because I want to solve everyone's problems too quickly, because part of why I write is that I want people to have the things they don't have. But story conflict, etc.

I would just be careful, particularly in the case of gender, of running your story conflict along established lines for whose gender dysphoria is better understood and whose is worse understood in this world: it has the tendency to make marginalised people feel more marginalised.


I also wonder about the anorexics. It'd be an interesting story to explore: what if someone had such a strong image of themselves as super-emaciated in mind that it became magically true? Is magic the kind of thing that would honour a "disorder" like that, or would it only honour Real True Spiritual Longings? And would the anorexic feel better afterwards, or not? (A lot of anorexics seem to indicate that they can "never be thin enough", that they feel ugly and grotesque even when they weigh five stones, so... would it really change anything, and if not, what would be the point of the change, if not to give them what they wanted?)

And BIID, that's another interesting topic. AFAIK, current thinking seems to suggest that the desire to be an amputee is a brain-wiring thing. Could magic fix the brain wiring, or would it change the body, or what?
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From:eclective
Date:May 28th, 2010 04:08 am (UTC)

Re: Try 2 on the shapeshifting threshold

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Incidentally, if you can't or don't want to change the rules but you're interested in encouraging trans authors to write up stories that cover what can't be had and deal with them sympathetically - rather than assume that because magic works like this, you'd ideally want to exclude those people from having what they desire - then perhaps you could put a note up in the wiki to that effect? Something like, "this means that people who feel XYZ probably won't be able to get their change - it would be interesting to have more stories in the canon that explore how it feels to be them and portray their problems sympathetically"? So that the readerbase gets the impression that the author is not excluding them even if the magic is.

Of course, it's going to be a thorny topic anyway when you're writing something that touches as close to people's hearts as TTU does - where a large part of the appeal of the setting is that those people who feel wrong in their bodies desperately seek a change, and you're providing an outlet for them to have it. In this circumstance, continuing to deny said change when the world could have, by authorial fiat, the magic to do so is perhaps going to raise hackles. But if you can't be all things to all people, you can at least perhaps encourage stories that sympathetically cover these issues.

(It all reminds me a bit of Neil Gaiman's A Game Of You, as it happens - where transgendered Wanda couldn't go through the moon ritual because it only accepted women-born-women. He explained thereafter in interview that just because the gods saw it that way, didn't mean the gods were right.)
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From:baxil
Date:May 28th, 2010 11:40 pm (UTC)

placeholder

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This (and your followup) was an insightful comment, and deserves a better response than "read, acknowledged, will respond later"; but having just spent most of the day on rax's response below, I now need to leave town for the weekend. This will be my first priority on returning to LJ.
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From:eclective
Date:May 29th, 2010 12:10 am (UTC)

Re: placeholder

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*nod* Awesome, acknowledged, and thanks. :)
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From:eredien
Date:May 28th, 2010 12:52 pm (UTC)

Re: Try 2 on the shapeshifting threshold

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In particular, a firm belief that one's current body is incorrect is necessary; mere dissatisfaction with one's gender role is insufficient.

I think this is the thing that made me twitchy when you first brought up the trans theri TTU thing, Baxil, but I was too busy/stressed/depressed at the time to articulate why I thought it was problematic.

I've always thought it interesting how much "if you don't want it enough, you won't be able to change, and you won't be different enough to have people react to you differently" could work as an exclusionary mechanic, both in the TTU Universe and does work in the real one. As a genderqueer person, I find it annoying when people at the gender conference assume my gender from my name, but one of the reasons I find it specifically annoying at the gender conference is because genderqueerness, in *some* (though not all) gender theory circles, is viewed as somehow less subversive than being transgendered--because many (though not all, there are some transgendered genderqueer people, [discussion about passing privilege here]) genderqueer people could still have cis privilege, if they wanted to dress the part. It's a privilege I resent having most of the time, actually, and one I never wanted, but it's one I have anyway.

And the quote above--"a mere dissatisfaction"--reinforces that line that keeps getting drawn IRL, and would probably reinforce it in the game mechanic, too. What if my body were incorrect, but for 10 minutes? *What if my body felt incorrect because of dissatisfaction with my gender role?* Where does that fall?
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From:eredien
Date:May 28th, 2010 01:19 pm (UTC)

Re: Try 2 on the shapeshifting threshold

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I think in the great TTU-verse of "we can all turn into dragons now if only we want it hard enough," there are a lot of problems inherent that you see in other, real cultures trying to move to some kind of privilege from a position of being less privileged because we are not already in that group by virtue of having to move into that group, rather than already exist in it: "we can all turn whiter and richer if we adopt these ways of life/cultural markers," has an implicit "whiteness is the desired quality we haven't achieved," "we can be feminine if we buy this makeup," has an implicit "femininity is the desired quality, but we're not feminine yet." The very structure of the way you've set up the world sets up therianthropy, magic, or what-have-you as a privilege: "having the power to shape physical reality through a deeply held belief" is what is desired in the TTU-verse, in addition to all the other cultural and gender-based privilege and dis-privilege our society already has going on.

In the TTU Universe, you set up magic-users and theris *structurally* as the privileged class--the stories are all about characters crossing back and forth across a privilege boundary. The stories are all about getting that privilege, or not getting that privilege, or deciding not to get that privilege, or being unable to get there, or the consequences of having gotten there. From the way you write about it, and from my personal biases, it's obvious to me which is the privileged class (the magic users, the theris--the ones who secretly understand the new world order and can work in it to manipulate the fabric of reality...that's some power fantasy right there, and that's what the Masons, etc. have been accused of for hundereds of years (it would be really cool to see a TTU Masonic story, actually)).

However, *storywise,* the privileged class doesn't feel privileged to the reader, because in the story, people are running from the law, or having to quit their job, or losing the ability to be in their faith community, or whatever, which to a modern-day American reader are all going to be read as markers of an under-privileged class of people.

So I think there's a lot of tension between how you've set up the structure of the world and how those characters are actually acting in that world you've set up which causes a tension--what's privilege, in the TTU universe? The ability to manipulate space-time, or the ability to keep making rent so your little brother can go to college?

I think that's a problematic--though awesomely problematic--problem with the TTU universe, and the conversation about gender in the TTU-verse just allowed me to articulate and frame that problem as a larger problem since the problems about privilege and gender were so clear to see there.

I think that trying to deal with that contradiction in the structure of the TTU-verse was one of the reasons I wrote my TTU story (which, actually, I still don't see on the website, but that's probably because I never gave it to you after the server crash). I didn't realize it at the time, but I think I was feeling around with words in the dark, and realized there was a boundary there I kept bumping off of.

Edited at 2010-05-28 01:33 pm (UTC)
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From:baxil
Date:May 28th, 2010 06:21 pm (UTC)

Re: Try 2 on the shapeshifting threshold

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There's a lot here (and a lot of other comments) to address, but I wanted to single this out for immediate response:

> what's privilege, in the TTU universe? The ability to manipulate space-time, or the ability to keep making rent so your little brother can go to college?*

THANK YOU for articulating that insight. That's an incredibly fundamental issue, and one that I think I have been subconsciously dancing around throughout the setting.

I'm a little less clear on your next paragraph (does "awesomely problematic" imply the ambiguity I think it does? It's problematic but in an exciting way? As opposed to overwhelmingly problematic, which would just be bad), but I think this means I've gotten something deeper right despite my problems here.

At its heart there definitely is a power fantasy at the core of the setting. Let's face it, a premise about people turning into dragons can't be anything but. But given that beginning, I have tried to make this as mature a setting as possible -- one where that power fantasy collides with reality in messy ways, and people have to deal with consequences, and new privileges can collide with existing privileges, and questions like this can come up.

(And please do resend your TTU story! I'm drawing a blank on it, which probably means exactly what you suggested - that I posted it long enough ago to have forgotten about it, my copy died in the Great Server Crash, and I don't have it any more.)

--
* The answer is, of course: both, in different ways.
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From:eclective
Date:May 29th, 2010 03:30 am (UTC)

Re: Try 2 on the shapeshifting threshold

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I'd be interested to read this story ifwhen it goes up, just so you know.
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From:rax
Date:May 28th, 2010 06:29 pm (UTC)

Re: Try 2 on the shapeshifting threshold

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This is just a side note, but sorry that I kept focusing on game rather than overall fictional universe; I was having a conversation elseweb about trans characters in RPGs and so it colored my approach. I think most of the same stuff is true for fiction as well but the attitude of the author might be different in some ways? I don't know, I don't much game so it's hard for me to say.

(And I also do the rereading thing. :)
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From:baxil
Date:May 28th, 2010 11:45 pm (UTC)
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(Thanks for the side note. I didn't want to make a point of it, since it's a really trivial nitpick for me to make when I'm stomping with big painful spiky boots all over gender issues, but it soothes my ego to have it acknowledged. :) I hope I can address your concerns equally well.)
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From:baxil
Date:May 28th, 2010 11:35 pm (UTC)

[1/2]

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Quickish response (quick for me -- hammered out over most of the workday). Isn't it awesome how my "quick" responses break LJ's comment threshold, and even that is glossing over half of the points that needed to be hit. :-p To be considered a first draft:

> I think I would encourage you to make the rule more about how much you want it rather than about what you want.

It ... um ... it already is?

The actual rules for physical transformation are, or should be, end-state neutral.* I think the current topic of gender might be obscuring that; or perhaps it's my bad/unclear wording -- or more likely my bad framing. This whole discussion is caused by expanding therianthropy to same-species sexual identity, and apparently I'm not expanding the discussion far enough.

> Narratives of someone who [believe they] want it super much but can't seem to do the transition magically could be interesting.

I agree -- although, honest question, doesn't that fling open the exact same can of worms as you're suggesting that I avoid? For me to talk about someone who believes they want a change but doesn't really want it, isn't that even more directly defining someone's authenticity for them? I'm dubious that setting the threshold at "X amount of effort" (which is harder to define, anyway!) is any less problematic in practice ...

> That is, a transgendered theri could very well want to have an androgynous body and keep their genital configuration, or could want only minor tweaks so as to facilitate existing in a different social role, but if they wanted it that much, where that can include some sort of magical secret sauce, they could get it.

OK, how about I take a hard look at the rules. Consider a proposed changed in physical state. Any proposed change in physical state; from becoming-dragon to becoming-genitally-male to becoming-more-androgynous to losing-an-arm to changing-hair-color to healing-a-paper-cut. Some questions for that shapeshift effect are:

1) Is it possible?
2) Does it use the same mechanism as the "becoming-dragon" shapeshifting that TTU has named "therianthropy"?
3) Having undergone that shift, are you "a therianthrope"?

#1 is trivially yes*. #3 is purely definitional (though I think it's reasonable to set the definition that TTU's public at large would use as an overly simplistic and unfair one; because that's how our own culture works). #2 is the crux of the Rules issue (unless I make the answer "trivially yes," which unloads all of the cans of worms onto #3 and solves none of them).
From:rax
Date:May 29th, 2010 12:25 pm (UTC)

Re: [1/2]

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The actual rules for physical transformation are, or should be, end-state neutral.* I think the current topic of gender might be obscuring that; or perhaps it's my bad/unclear wording -- or more likely my bad framing. This whole discussion is caused by expanding therianthropy to same-species sexual identity, and apparently I'm not expanding the discussion far enough.


I think part of the problem here is that when you start off with the label "transgender," people bring a lot of implicit assumptions to the table (including me, in ways I'm not entirely happy about :\ ).

I agree -- although, honest question, doesn't that fling open the exact same can of worms as you're suggesting that I avoid? For me to talk about someone who believes they want a change but doesn't really want it, isn't that even more directly defining someone's authenticity for them? I'm dubious that setting the threshold at "X amount of effort" (which is harder to define, anyway!) is any less problematic in practice ...

Well, here's where the author gets to play with things, in possible resonances with how some people don't have access to transition resources today but that doesn't invalidate their gender identities. Maybe they don't have the magical gift. Maybe they do but haven't figured out how to use it. I don't know --- I'm not an expert in your universe, and it seems like it's still in progress anyway. :) This comes back to the stuff eredien said about privileges elsewhere on this post, I think.
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From:baxil
Date:May 28th, 2010 11:36 pm (UTC)

[2/2]

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The way that I've addressed it -- but have yet to really, properly, strictly define; this conversation is pushing me in really useful ways -- is to have a "minimum threshold" for permanent resonance-based alterations. Having that "minimum threshold" be "species change" was simple, but wholly arbitrary, and broken at the edge cases. I'm trying to extend that; it adds more depth, is more self-consistent, and is more interesting ... but is also a hell of a lot harder, potentially more unfair, and runs into sticky questions.**

As written currently, it comes down to "resonance" (definition: see this page's section on "How souls shape theris"). Resonance is self-sustaining but not immutable on the day-to-day level. If you slip and cut your finger with a knife, or shave, or dye your hair -- or hell, take a deep breath and replace 1L of oxygen, carbon, and nitrogen atoms in your body with entirely foreign ones -- your physical composition/shape changes but not your "resonance"; your soul; your essential self**.

I'm wary of the "essential self = DNA" wormcan -- that's not the rule I want to set, for reasons equally applicable to the Otherkin debate -- but at the first pass, it's a useful approximation of essentiality. None of those things in the previous paragraph change the instructions your body follows to sustain itself; they merely change the environmental conditions of that sustenance. Whereas something like a change in genitalia, or a change in species, would require a self-rewrite. Anything not requiring a self-rewrite is going to work via a different, if related, mechanism, and won't be a "therianthropic" change.

(What does this mean for the anorexics and amputee-desirers? Yes and tentative no. Worth a separate post.)

There are some obvious edge cases with "essential self" vs. "identity". For example, whenever I make a major change to my own facial hair (as a cis male), looking in the mirror for at least a week or two is a shock. Facial hair is not something that I would consider part of my "essential self," and yet clearly it gets tied up in my identity in some way. These are the sorts of things that I need a good answer for if I want to argue for "essential self" as a meaningful term. Gender's cans of worms are there too.

--
* There are a few rules about end state -- but these are largely simple and have nothing to do with the current discussion, like "you cannot (intentionally) turn into non-animal matter".
** I'm not sure there's a way to go here without the 80,000,000-cans-of-worms of "what makes someone authentically trans" (clearly there will be trans people who do not undergo a theri shift, and they are still authentic, but there is clearly some line they have not crossed over, and there is an "authenticity" issue there no matter where we set the definitions). This is a big, immediate, and legitimate problem. On the other hand, backing away from the problem by excluding intrahuman changes isn't a terribly satisfying answer, either.
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From:eclective
Date:May 29th, 2010 01:22 am (UTC)

Re: [2/2]

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I'd definitely be curious as to your motivations behind "yes and tentative no", in that order. In part because I find the BIID topic sort of fascinating from the outside, I admit, and in part because I think that in origin it seems to be closer to transgender issues than anorexia is to either of them: both BIID and transgender issues seem to result from (something that is at least represented in the physical world as) a physical body/brain non-match that's permanent, whereas anorexia is an intense but temporary state which seems to have biochemical (rather than structural) origins.

I could be getting all of this very wrong, mind: this is only lay research. But I'm curious as to why you draw the line where you do.
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From:baxil
Date:June 16th, 2010 12:59 am (UTC)

Re: [2/2]

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>> (What does this mean for the anorexics and amputee-desirers? Yes and tentative no. Worth a separate post.)

> I'd definitely be curious as to your motivations behind "yes and tentative no"

I wanted to come back and explain this -- in large part because my gut reaction was, I discovered on talking the question out with kadyg, largely backwards.

Anorexics: I was focusing so hard on the new principles I was trying to define that I totally forgot the basic principles already outlined. The Four Steps to Therianthropy specify that desire and self-image must align. In the case of anorexics -- as far as I can tell the basis of the condition is having your self-image be overweight and having a strong desire to change oneself and escape that self-image. This means that desire and identity are pulling in different directions, and so wouldn't set up the necessary synergy for transformation. (Blanket statements have been getting me into trouble here, so I should specify that it could work differently for any individual who's ana for different reasons.)

BIID: Yes, it does seem like the general person with BIID does consider their body to be incorrect in the same way as gender/species dysphoria; so from the perspective of existing rules there's nothing stopping it. I think my "tentative no" was strictly in the context of what I was kicking at above, with the essential self, self-rewrite, resonance issues; based on those there is some question of the minimum threshold. It's another interesting edge case.

But we're already seeing the problematic parts of the "minimum threshold" idea, and I'm having trouble thinking of another fair and non-fiat rule that would put it on the opposite side of the divide from species/gender theris, which is a good indication that the rule probably ought to include the case rather than exclude the case. So let's say "tentative yes", and finding other interesting edge cases will probably help me define the final rules better.
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From:eclective
Date:June 16th, 2010 01:09 am (UTC)

Re: [2/2]

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*nods*

By the rules you've laid out, which I admittedly don't know as well as you do, I think you have it right here. Anorexia seems like a desire to be something you feel you're not (and indeed, on some level, feel you never will be: it seems somewhat self-defeating in that regard). BIID is a desire for the body to match what the brain says should be there, i.e. a desire to be what you feel you are.

I'd love to write a story about something like BIID for the universe, but I really don't know enough about how that sort of thing would feel to portray it correctly. Mostly I feel like I want to write it because a lot of people are going to instinctively go "people turning into Cool Stuff = yay! People turning into something 'less' than they originally were/into 'damaged' versions of themselves = not yay", and it would be nice to challenge that perception with the idea that it's all about the same sort of longing, not whether one form is better or worse. (Which I think is most accurately demonstrated with transgender people: it's not like the vast majority of us think that being [gender we feel we are] is better than being [gender our biological sex suggests]. It's just different in the way that we need to be different.)
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From:rax
Date:May 29th, 2010 12:39 pm (UTC)

Re: [2/2]

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Whereas something like a change in genitalia, or a change in species, would require a self-rewrite. Anything not requiring a self-rewrite is going to work via a different, if related, mechanism, and won't be a "therianthropic" change.

I don't think a change in genitalia is really as major as a change in species in terms of essential self. If your essential self --- which idea I don't like, but I'll roll with it --- is already a gender other than the one people treat you as, wouldn't changing your body not change your resonance? Reading the description behind the link, though, it makes more sense... I don't know. Some people simply believe that the body they currently possess is not the one they were meant to inhabit. All of this "essential self," "meant to inhabit," authenticity stuff makes me really nervous. I see how it's useful for some people and some universes, and I totally respect wanting to engage with it and not ignore trans folks and other intrahuman changes, but I'm not finding something that makes me personally comfortable in this framework.

It may just be that my posthuman future looks very different from yours.
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From:summer_jackel
Date:May 27th, 2010 11:36 pm (UTC)
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I laughed at the poem. :)

But yes, I know it isn't autobiographical; you were very well behaved in M---school.
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From:eclective
Date:May 28th, 2010 01:46 am (UTC)
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Will take a look at the genderstuff later, although again it seems like people have mostly got it covered; just pinging you re: the wiki, on the subject of "hey, I had a question about adding to the alchemy part of the wiki in your last post on TTU stuff that never got answered; friendly reminder". :)
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