Friday Philosophy: Freedom of Choice

A question was asked this morning.  “What am I reading?”  Because of my poor eyesight, the current answer is all too often, “Not much.”

But I’ve had a burr under my saddle for about 10 days and I decided to remedy that.

It all started with NLinStPaul‘s essay, Right Brain Consciousness about Dr. Jill Bolte Taylor.   Well, I’m as much a brain geek as the next layperson, so I was interested.  I made the following comment last week:

What of someone who habitually combines what are traditionally thought of left-brain and right-brain activity?  And what of the place of cross-fertilization?

From wikipedia:

The corpus callosum is a structure of the mammalian brain in the longitudinal fissure that connects the left and right cerebral hemispheres. It is the largest white matter structure in the brain, consisting of 200-250 million contralateral axonal projections. It is a wide, flat bundle of axons beneath the cortex. Much of the inter-hemispheric communication in the brain is conducted across the corpus callosum.

Of much more substantial popular impact was a 1982 Science article claiming to be the first report of a reliable sex difference in human brain morphology, and arguing for relevance to cognitive gender differences.

Oh, really?  My interest is piqued.

Aside:  A well-known writing trick to fill out an essay is to quote yourself extensively.

So at that time I did a little light reading about the following report:

    de Lacoste-Utamsing, C., Holloway, R. L. “Sexual dimorphism in the human corpus callosum.” Science, 216, 1431-1432, 1982.

It’s about difference in the size of the corpus callosum for men and women.  Women’s tend to be bigger.  Particularly the splenium, it seems.  The hypothalamus was involved, I discovered.  That fired a neuron and the next thing you know, I’m actually reading that paper I was supposed to read in 1995:  

Basically, it’s a very small-sized sample report of measurements of the central part of the bed nucleus of the stria terminalis (BSTc) part of the hypothalamus.  The report states that the size of the BSTc in the brains of deceased male-to-female transsexuals is roughly the same as that of non-transsexual women.  The BSTc in men (whether gay or straight, where they are roughly the same) is much larger.

There is debate about whether hormone usage can change the size of the BSTc, a question of cause and effect.

That’s where I signed off on the argument back in 1995.  In my mind we had pretty much been losing sight of our humanity.  I am more than a smudge on a cat scan of my hypothalamus.

I am a human being with free will.

I should have the choice of which hormone courses through my body.

If you think you believe in free choice, try this one on for size.

Unfortunately, I suppose that might make me a drug addict in the eyes of some.  The truth is that estrogen makes me feel better about myself.  It allows me to be more open.  And I can’t see why that is a bad thing.  

I’m sure there is continued debate about those findings.  Like here.  But I left that building to turn to the larger picture.  None of that is going to change public perception of transsexual people in general and transsexual women in particular.  Knowing the exact cause of why she is a transsexual woman is not going to protect her from being beaten by some guy she happens to have come to the attention of.  And it’s not going to convince her employer (or any possible other ones) that she should have a chance to show she can still perform her job.  And it’s not going to convince people that treating her as a pariah in the community at large (when she’s not being beaten or threatened, you know) is not a good moral position.

Those things take a PR campaign the likes of which I’ll never see in my life time.  Given my apparently strong ability to minimize my audience, I often have felt like the best I’ve been doing is like standing on the deck of a boat, blowing at the sail.

Next week is Out and Proud Week at Bloomfield College.  There will probably not be much participation, but we plan the festivities anyway.  Monday night there is a dinner.  So far we have confirmed that two of us will be there.  And Debbie’s pissed that she’s in charge of ordering food.  Tuesday has a film and discussion with the college’s chaplain, All God’s Children.  Wednesday brings a film series in the film room of the library.

Both my Moms’ Names are Judy  

Coming Out Under Fire

We Are Dad

Flag Wars

Freedom to Marry

Georgie Girl

Straight Acting

I Can’t Believe I Married a Lesbian

Hedwig and the Angry Inch

Mind if I call You “Sir?”

Red Rain

I should probably drop by from time to time to facilitate a bit of discussion.  I tend not to do that as much as I should.

My personal effort is going to be something called (maybe) 6 minutes.  I’m going to highlight some youtube videos on a series of webpages.  We’ll try to get the URL to everyone, which usually results in people expressing their offense at being a recipient of something so nasty.  Or, you know, they could have spent the 6 minutes experiencing what is offered with an opened mind.

standing on the deck of a boat, blowing at the sail

And I suppose I may reserve Thursday’s slot for myself.  Sure, there’s an open mike at 8 pm and I’ll show up to read a poem or three.  And there will be a political discussion at noon about the candidates and GLBT issues, but the only real forums I have to my local community, this campus, will be to snatch a piece of this and write something for the Labor Room, an e-zine which I need to create by May 1 for Women’s Studies.  So far I have 8 submissions.

Maybe I can get a few more colleagues/coworkers to stop referring to me with pronouns used for the people on testosterone and use the ones that refer to the people on estrogen.



A few people

standing on the deck

of this boat

blowing at the sail

will not move it

Newton ensured that

We’ll always have that


and opposite


Moving this boat

will require

the collective breath

of millions

who are not on it

–Robyn Elaine Serven

–April 4, 2008


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    • Robyn on April 5, 2008 at 12:07 am

    My high-speed internet is stuck in traffic, so I haven’t actually listened to this video.  I hope it works.

  1. I’m just standing here pissin into the wind.

    • pfiore8 on April 5, 2008 at 12:39 am


    • Robyn on April 5, 2008 at 1:14 am

    That seems to have cured the low-speed problem, at least temporarily.  I finally got to hear that song by Rod.  

    • Tigana on April 5, 2008 at 3:07 am

    TED presenters seem to be getting more fatuous each year.

    Bolte Taylor claimed the brain splits in half – it does not, but is securely anchored by the essential connections of the Corpus Callosum.

    I know that NAMI affiliates like her have been involved in brain thefts, so I had to wonder where her prop originated.

    And I really, really did not like her attitude towards her brother – showiing him off as if he were a prop, or a medical exhibit, not a person with feelings.

    Good thing she has second careers singing and making stained glass windows.  

    • Alma on April 5, 2008 at 4:28 am

    I love you trying new art styles out.

    Its been a busy night for me tonight and I’m glad I found a few minutes to come check this out.  🙂

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