Some Observations On Cis By Default Identification



As the inventor of the word “cis by default” and a person who occasionally checks who’s linking to my blog, I get to see quite a lot of people using the word “cis by default.” My estimate is that about half are using it wrong.

There are two equal and opposite errors. First, many people identify as cis by default when they are in fact gender dysphoric people who don’t want to transition. I certainly understand why gender dysphoric non-transitioning people relate to “there’s no part of their brain that says “I’m a guy!”, they just look around and people are calling them “he” and they go with the flow”, since there is in fact no part of their brain saying “I’m a guy” and they are in fact going with the flow of how other people refer to them. But not having a gender identity is a quite different thing from having a gender identity and choosing to present differently from what your gender identity is. I see people write things like “I really wish I was a woman. It would make me so happy to wake up one day and everyone is calling me ‘she’. It’s so weird to look at myself in the mirror and see a man. Female bodies are just inherently softer and better and more beautiful. I don’t like sex because having a dick disgusts me. I spend hours carefully removing all my facial hair because having a beard makes me want to cry. But I’m worried about facing transphobia and that I wouldn’t be attractive if I transitioned, so I guess I’m cis by default.”

In general, if you can write an entire paragraph about all your emotions about your gender, you are probably not cis by default.

Second, many people identify as cis by default when they are in fact regular cisgender people who are bad at introspection. I suspect this is part of what’s up with the Less Wrong survey finding that half of cis people are cis by default (the other part is that rationalists are pretty genderweird in general). It makes sense that cisgender people, particularly ones with relatively weak gender identities, have a hard time noticing their gender identities: in most cases, cisgender people have a body that is aligned with their gender and are very rarely misgendered, so there’s no reason for the issue to come up.

I also think that people’s ability to notice their gender identity is affected by what community they’re in. For instance, evangelical Christian books are full of passages like this:

Sometime between the dreams of your youth and yesterday, something precious has been lost. And that treasure is your heart, your priceless feminine heart. God has set within you a femininity that is powerful and tender, fierce and alluring. No doubt it has been misunderstood. Surely it has been assaulted. But it is there, your true heart, and it is worth recovering. You are captivating.

And New-Agey books are full of passages like this:

To answer these questions, we need to understand the nature of sexual passion and spiritual openness. Sexual attraction is based on sexual polarity, which is the force of passion that arcs between masculine and feminine poles. All natural forces flow between two poles. The North and South Poles of the Earth create a force of magnetism. The positive and negative poles of your electrical outlet or car battery create an electrical flow. In the same way, masculine and feminine poles between people create the flow of sexual feeling. This is sexual polarity.

This force of attraction, which flows between the two different poles of masculine and feminine, is the dynamism that often disappears in modern relationships. If you want real passion, you need a ravisher and a ravishee; otherwise, you just have two buddies who decide to rub genitals in bed.

Each of us, man or woman, possesses both inner masculine and inner feminine qualities. Men can wear earrings, tenderly hug each other, and dance ecstatically in the woods. Women can change the oil in the car, accumulate political and financial power, and box in the ring. Men can take care of their children. Women can fight for their country. We have proven these things. Just about anyone can animate either masculine or feminine energy in any particular moment. (Although they still might have a strong preference to do one or the other, which we will get to in a moment.)

The bottom line of today’s newly emerging 50/50, or “second stage,” relationship is this: If men and women are clinging to a politically correct sameness even in moments of intimacy, then sexual attraction disappears. I don’t mean just the desire for intercourse, but the juice of the entire relationship begins to dry up. The love may still be strong, the friendship may still be strong, but the sexual polarity fades, unless in moments of intimacy one partner is willing to play the masculine pole and one partner is willing to play the feminine. You have to animate the masculine and feminine differences if you want to play in the field of sexual passion.

(After having read The Way Of The Superior Man, I never want to hear complaints about trans people’s autogenderphilia again. At least we don’t claim that sexual attraction is literally impossible unless you’re an autogenderphile.)

There are lots of reasons to object to these passages! For one thing, they assume that everyone has a gender, which is not true: my guess is that a sizeable minority of cis people are cis by default. For another thing, they assume that the way that the author happens to feel gender is the way that every other person in the whole entire world happens to feel gender. If you’re a man who feels deeply affirmed in your masculinity by cherishing and loving your romantic partner and prioritizing him over your work, The Way of the Superior Man doesn’t want to hear from you. If you’re a woman who finds that being fought over by men makes you feel awkward and uncomfortable rather than assured in your femininity, Captivating has nothing to say to you. And they erase people who understand their genders in a nonbinary or gender-non-conforming way.

But I think it’s also possible to recognize the human experience described in those passages. For the author of Captivating, feeling feminine is a real thing and very important to her– a source of pleasure, a way of connection, an aspect of herself. For the author of The Way of the Superior Man, sexuality is fundamentally connected to gender. They might not frame their experiences in the same way I do, but I think in a certain sense they’re feeling the same thing I’m feeling.

However, I think a lot of liberal communities tend to stigmatize the open expression of cisgender people’s genders. Interestingly, feminists don’t. For instance, radical feminists have a framework for gender in the form of Adrienne Rich’s thoughts about lesbianism, Janice Raymond’s work on female friendship, or Mary Daly’s… Mary Daly-ness. Queers incessantly navel-gaze about gender.

But when you venture out from the weeds of feminist theory into the way normal liberals live their day-to-day lives, I can’t help but feel that a lot of liberals feel like the open expression of cisgender people’s genders is somewhat… déclassé. Not at all what our sort of people does.

(Transgender people’s genders don’t seem to be as stigmatized, because the popular sort of feminism that filters through liberal communities tends to believe that Trans Women Are Women. Consistency is not the strong point of shallow feminist analysis. That said, I think a large number of trans-exclusive radical feminists are not really radical feminists, but instead shallow pop libfems who are clever enough to notice that trans people’s existence contradicts their ideology.)

I want to emphasize that I’m not limiting this argument to people who actively identify as feminist, or even to people who don’t identify as anti-feminist. You can identify as anti-feminist and have a framework for gender which is influenced by your culture (as everyone’s is). If you grew up in any sort of vaguely liberal community, one of the things that influences it is the feminism– often oversimplified and misunderstood– which filters down to you.

But if you don’t read theory books, and your feminist thoughts are mostly along the lines of Women Can Do Anything Men Can Do and Feminism Is The Radical Notion That Women Are People and Look At This Badass Woman Breaking Through The Glass Ceiling, it’s easy to be leery about cis people’s gender identities. If you say that you have such-and-such a trait or do such-and-such a thing because you are a woman, isn’t that sort of like saying that women have to have that trait or do that thing? That is kind of suspicious! Men and women are the same except for their genitals! You can’t just go around saying you like wearing suits because you’re a man, I literally just posted on Facebook this Buzzfeed listicle of Fourteen Hottest Women In Suits.

And if you’re in that sort of situation, and you feel like it’s sort of shameful to go around having feelings about your gender, and you’re cisgender and don’t have particularly strong feelings about your gender in the first place… it’s easy to just sort of not notice them.

Like, that’s not even on the top twenty list of the weirdest contortions people get into about their gender.

And thus you get the situation that happened on one of the links into me, where a person said they were cis-by-default and then was asked whether they would crossdress if they knew that no one would think less of them for it and said “obviously not, I’m a man.”

Unfortunately, it is somewhat difficult to police these uses of the term, particularly since there’s no such thing as an objective measurement of whether or not someone has a gender identity. But this is why I am very skeptical about getting any sort of population estimate of how many people are cis-by-default.

Thoughts Concerning Homeschooling


, ,


I have much stronger opinions about the best way to educate the children I am likely to have than I do about the best way to educate children in general. However, I understand that an educational reform proposal is an important part of being a prospective homeschooling parent who also blogs, and luckily there do seem to be some obvious pieces of low-hanging fruit. Picking these can justify the effort of homeschooling in and of itself.

For instance, high schools, and to a lesser extent middle schools, should run on Silicon Valley time. There is absolutely no reason to start classes before 10, much less at 7am (!!!), as the public high school near where I grew up did. Teenagers like to go to sleep at 11am or midnight, this is an extremely predictable fact about teenagers, and you do not get millions of people to change their preferences by yelling at them to be more virtuous and have more willpower. Chronic sleep deprivation causes depression, anxiety, behavioral problems, poor memory, and poor concentration (interestingly, these are all common complaints about teenagers). And I shudder to think of the consequences of causing chronic sleep deprivation in such a crucial time for brain development. Please, for the love of god, homeschooling parents, let your teenagers sleep in.

Similarly, many schools have cut recess and physical education to create more time for academics, in spite of the evidence that exercise improves children’s academic outcomes (as well as, obviously, their physical health). Again, this is another easy fix: homeschooling parents can and should ensure that their children have sufficient time for physical activity, including plenty of time for unstructured free play. On a related note, play-based kindergartens appear to outperform academically oriented kindergartens.

The homeschooling parent may also be able to adopt some evidence-based learning techniques which are not necessarily common in the classroom. The two techniques with the most evidence are practice testing and distributed practice (also called spaced repetition). People seem to learn better if they regularly have to recall the information they’re supposed to be learning, such as by using flashcards, doing practice problems, or having to write a short essay without referencing your notes. Distributed practice/spaced repetition is spreading out what you’re learning over time: for instance, instead of teaching about the theory of evolution all in one week, spread out the lessons over several weeks, and regularly return to the concepts to review them. Promising techniques with less evidence include interleaved practice (mixing up problems of different kinds, such as having addition and subtraction problems on the same worksheet), elaborative interrogation (trying to explain to yourself why facts are true), and self-explanation (explaining to yourself why you solved a problem in a particular way or how a fact relates to other facts you already know).

While there’s not much the non-homeschooling parent can do about their teenager’s chronic sleep deprivation, non-homeschooling parents can also pick these low-hanging fruit, although with somewhat more difficulty. Prioritize physical activity and unstructured play in choosing your child’s after-school activities, flee any kindergarten which involves a worksheet, and teach your child to test themselves and spread out their studying over time. Also, if you find yourself interested in activism, please consider campaigning for your child’s high school to start at a reasonable hour.


An interesting question is whether homeschooling tends to outperform non-homeschooling. Unfortunately, most of the data that purports to show that it does is selection bias hell, overrepresenting wealthy and college-educated homeschooling parents and underrepresenting educationally neglectful or just generally shitty homeschooling parents.

However, the Coalition for Responsible Home Education has done some very important– albeit preliminary– research with fewer selection bias issues. (Interested readers may fund less preliminary research here.) Poor homeschoolers tend to outperform poor publicly schooled children in reading and writing and slightly underperform them in math. Non-poor homeschoolers tend to slightly underperform in reading and writing and massively underperform in math.

We don’t have enough information to know for certain why homeschoolers and non-homeschoolers differ. However, my speculation is that poor homeschoolers tend to do better because poor homeschoolers are different from poor non-homeschoolers: for instance, they may be more likely to be culturally and educationally middle-class people who are poor because one parent quit their job to homeschool. The lower performance of children in math seems to me to be a result of the average American’s attitude towards math, namely, hatred, fear, and distrust. Many Americans can barely perform elementary-school-level math, such as simplifying fractions. No doubt this is due to American schools’ appalling math education, but one would not expect high-quality reading education from a parent who struggles reading Goosebumps, and one should not expect high-quality math education from a parent who does not know algebra.

For this reason, I would advise the homeschooling parent to put serious thought into how they’ll teach mathematics. In my case, I’m not particularly worried, because my local homeschooling coop is going to include an absurd number of physics majors, a former math tutor, and an Ivy League mathematics PhD. However, people who are less lucky should consider budgeting some money for math tutoring, perhaps from a local grad student, or a high-quality after-school math program.


I currently favor unschooling as a method of homeschooling, but this is pretty much about traits of my child, rather than traits of children in general. It is pretty much inevitable– given genetics– that any children I have will have their own particular, passionate interests which they are extremely enthusiastic about learning about, and that they will respond to attempts to get them to learn about other topics with something between dutifulness and rebellion. This seems to me to imply that unschooling, which involves following the child’s interests, is an ideal choice: the children will be much happier and I won’t have to spend a bunch of time coercing them into doing well on tests on subjects they are uninterested in.

No doubt this will lead the child to have a remarkably unbalanced education: they may understand everything there is to know about sailing, or Broadway musicals, or ancient Greece, while remaining unclear on things like how molecules work or the Civil War. However, conventionally educated people are also generally unclear on these things: for instance, 19% of college students know what the Manhattan Project is, 16% know that the Raven in the poem of the same name says “Nevermore,” and 14% know that Mendel is the man who first studied genetic inheritance in plants. (In the interests of not presenting an unfairly biased list, I will add that college students are generally extremely accurate about the definitions of the words “zebra,” “hibernation,” “hockey puck,” “fossil,” and “ruby.” So science education at least is not a total failure.) It is a commonplace observation that most people go through twelve years of mathematical and scientific education, and graduate with no ability to do anything beyond arithmetic and only the vaguest understanding of Newton’s laws or the theory of evolution. If my children are ignorant about Edgar Allen Poe, at least they will have a firm understanding of ancient Greece, which is more than can be said for the general public.

In addition, one does not have unlimited time to educate children: you can either give them a broad overview of many topics or a deep understanding of a few topics. You can have a world history class which gives two days to Sumeria and one day to the Vietnam War, or you can have a Sumerian history class that doesn’t talk about anything else. It’s not obvious to me that the former is obviously better than the latter, and the difficulty of coercing children whose brains work the way mine does leads one inevitably to the latter.

Perhaps the most important part of unschooling is not what it does but what it doesn’t do: that is, unschooling does not crush the love of learning out of children. Peter Gray writes in Free to Learn that adults who attended Sudbury schools as children are often behind in academic knowledge, but they catch up quite quickly once they go to college. And they are routinely baffled by other college students: these college students are paying tens of thousands of dollars to learn from experts in the field, and yet their primary interest is doing the minimum they can to get an A. It was simply incomprehensible to them.

It seems to me that mandatory schooling is likely to reduce the love of learning, because you will regularly have to learn about things you don’t care about and aren’t interested in, and if you are interested in a subject you cannot explore it in as much depth as you would prefer. Extrinsic rewards tend to decrease intrinsic motivation: the more you’re working to get an A in the class, the less you’re working because you actually care about the subject. I’ve personally experienced this– there’s nothing that kills my motivation to write five-thousand word essays about feminism than getting a grade on it.

However, I do think there is a certain amount of wisdom in the three R’s, reading, writing, and arithmetic, one that overcomes my objections to coercion. Reading, writing, and arithmetic (plus statistics) are unique among subjects in that they make it easier to learn everything else. While there are other subjects that make everything else easier to learn, they generally only require a few days’ worth of explicit education (the scientific method) or are related to so many different interests that there’s not much reason to explicitly teach it as its own thing (the ability to smell bullshit).

You could also add “a foreign language” to the list of things that make it easier to learn other things, and I certainly would if my children were not native English speakers. However, teaching a foreign language such that the child actually learns it is an enormous pain unless you happen to already have lots of friends who are fluent speakers, and there doesn’t seem to me to be much point in replicating the standard American four-years-of-high-school-Spanish-and-can’t-ask-where-the-bathroom-is. However, if you happen to know lots of people who fluently speak Spanish, Chinese, or a similarly useful language, it seems well-advised to ask them to babysit regularly and refuse to speak any language other than the one you want your child to learn.

Of reading, writing, arithmetic, and a useful foreign language, reading is the most important: while writing is primarily useful if you want to communicate something, and math is useful for the natural and social sciences but generally unnecessary for the humanities, literally everything you want to know– from cooking to woodworking to economics to the history of the Indus valley civilization– is easier to learn if you are capable of reading a reference text.

The good news is that all pretty much all unschooled children learn to read eventually, on average at the age of 8, which is only one year behind most children. (Note, however, the caveats above about self-reported data: this evidence is likely to massively overstate how early unschoolers are reading.) The bad news is that nearly a fifth of unschooling children learn to read after the age of 10, which means that they have at best three to four years of fundamentally impaired ability to learn, and perhaps almost a decade. Imagine what they could have accomplished in those three to four years with appropriate reading education!

Some unschooling advocates point to hunter-gatherer societies, in which children often learn solely through play. However, the games hunter-gatherer children play have undergone literal millennia of cultural evolution to make sure they teach the skills hunter-gatherer children need to learn. This is not true for modern children; our games are not generally optimized for teaching reading, writing, and arithmetic. For that reason, I suggest using Montessori methods in the early grades, which are play-based.


Both my family and my husband’s family have a disproportionate number of weird, awkward nerds. Having no social skills is deeply unpleasant: it feels like you are surrounded by incomprehensible monsters who hate you for no reason, perhaps because they are evil, perhaps because you are an inherently terrible person. For this reason, it makes sense to prioritize teaching social skills.

However, explicitly teaching social skills often goes poorly. For one thing, social skills classes are often based more on what parents and teachers want to be true than on what is actually true: for instance, students will be told to tell bullies firmly that they don’t like that, but will not be told to punch the bully or, failing that, befriend someone tough who can punch the bully for you, even though the latter are far more effective techniques. Sometimes students are even told that sitting quietly in class and doing your homework will make you friends. For this reason, I suggest avoiding social skills classes.

I am currently moderately socially competent. When I think about how I became moderately socially competent, two things stand out. One is that I began communicating online, which stripped away the incomprehensible tone and body language and allowed me to quietly observe interactions for months before I participated myself. For this reason, I plan to encourage my children to engage in online interaction.

The second is that online I could talk to people whose neurotypes (for lack of a better word) were similar to mine. (This is not about diagnoses: there are many autistic people I can’t relate to with anything other than polite incomprehension; weird awkward nerds can have a wide variety of different diagnoses and often do not qualify for any diagnosis at all, except perhaps recurring depression.) I don’t think people often think about how important the typical mind fallacy is in developing cognitive empathy, particularly when you are first learning. The first step to cognitive empathy is going “I would be sad if I lost my doll, she lost her doll, so she is probably sad.” Only once you have a firm grasp of that can you move onto “I would be sad if I lost something important to me, I don’t care about tea sets, she cares about her tea set, she lost her tea set, so she is probably sad.”

Interacting with people who are very different from you is interaction on hard mode. We normally place children with social-skills impairments in environments where reasoning based on their own minds is utterly useless. If you like listening to other people’s infodumps, you might infodump about your own interests and then be puzzled about why no one likes you. If you misunderstand subtext, you might politely decide to be blunt about whether you like another child’s haircut. If you don’t care about hygiene, you might be confused about why the other children make fun of you for wearing the same pants three days in a row. Weird awkward nerds are probably different from other children in other ways: for instance, they tend to have different interests, which makes it hard to bond over shared passions or hobbies. The situation is even worse for autistic children, who not only have all these difficulties but also have a characteristic affect (stimming, lack of eye contact) which is unpleasant for most neurotypicals. So you put children who are already bad at social interaction in a situation where they have to do very complicated social reasoning and they don’t share many interests with the children they’re talking to and the other children are already biased towards disliking them. This is a recipe for disaster.

It seems to me a better way would be to put weird awkward nerdy children in an environment of solely weird awkward nerdy children. As young children, they can learn empathy, confidence, and how to make friends around people like them. Once they’re a bit older, they can interact with ordinary children and children who are differently socially impaired, and learn how to expand their empathy to people who are more different from them: since they already have friends, their failures won’t make them feel like they are inherently unlikeable and alien, and perhaps they can compare notes with their friends and together learn to understand more normal people. Autistic children can learn to fake eye contact and to stim subtly in adolescence, after several years of being allowed to stim freely, and when they aren’t trying to learn all the other rules at the same time. (I do believe that being able to pass is, sadly, a useful skill.)

I guess this is partially an argument against inclusion, even though inclusion has been a big disability rights push for decades. I want to defend myself against this a little bit. A disabled-children-only classroom seems very silly: most disabled children don’t have any sort of social impairment, so this argument doesn’t apply to them. Not all socially impaired children should be put in the same classroom: there are lots of different ways children can be socially impaired, and a socially impaired child may have even more difficulties understanding a differently socially impaired child than they do understanding a child with ordinary social skills. And certainly there is no reason to separate disabled and nondisabled weird awkward nerds.

Like I said, I am not really capable of suggesting strategies for educational reform: I shudder at the idea of turning “weird awkward nerd” into a set of criteria that decides which classroom you get to go into. And I have zero evidence (other than my own personal experience) that suggests this is actually a better way to raise socially impaired children. That said, personally I plan on setting up my homeschooling so that my children mostly interact with similarly weird and awkward children in the elementary-school years, and to me this is the major advantage of being able to homeschool.


Why Is Harry Potter So Popular?



[This post was requested by b, who wanted me to write about the enduring popularity of Harry Potter. If you back me on Patreon for $5 or more a month, you too may be randomly selected to tell me what to write.]

Because something had to be.

This paper is one I find absolutely fascinating. The authors created an artificial music market: participants could listen to an unknown song by an unknown band, rate it from one to five stars, and optionally download it. The fourteen thousand (!) participants were divided into two groups, one of which could see how often the song had been downloaded by other participants, and one of which could not. The first group was further divided into eight “worlds”: participants could only see the downloads from their own world.

The results are perhaps not surprising. In the social influence condition, there was more inequality in which songs were downloaded: the songs that were most popular tended to stay popular. (The effect was larger when the songs were ranked in order of how popular they are.) The social influence condition also caused more unpredictability: the distinct “worlds” were far more different from each other than randomly selected groups of participants from the independent condition were. Assuming that rank in the independent condition is an accurate measure of quality, then success in each of the worlds is positively correlated with quality, the best songs rarely do very poorly, and the worst songs rarely do very well. But it was quite common for an objectively mediocre song to shoot to the top of the charts, perhaps because an early participant happened to like it, and this snowballed.

Of course, in the real world, social influence is a far stronger force than it is in this study. You could pretty easily listen to all 48 songs in the study, and no doubt many people did, but it is impossible to read every book published in the course of a year. In fact, most of the ways we choose books to read– other than, of course, serendipitously stumbling across an excellent book in a bookstore or library– depend on social influence: recommendations from friends, book reviews, awards, bestseller lists.

Quality is an explanation of why a book has an ordinary amount of popularity: for instance, the popularity of George R R Martin’s Sandkings is no doubt because it is a wonderfully chilling horror novelette. (Seriously, check it out.) But I don’t think he improved that much as a writer between Armageddon Rag (which was an utter commercial disaster) and A Feast for Crows (his first bestselling novel). And it is certainly not because of any virtue of Martin’s that A Song of Ice and Fire got adapted into an HBO show while, say, the Lilith’s Brood series did not.

(I am so mad at HBO. When I was in high school, I quit reading ASOIAF until it was done, because I didn’t want to reread four thousand-page books every half-decade when the books came out so I could remind myself who the fuck the characters were. “All I have to do is avoid Martin fansites until the series is over,” I said to myself. “It’s not like it’s going to be turned into a wildly popular TV show and I will have to excuse myself from conversations at parties lest I have the ending spoiled.” Ha ha bloody fucking ha.)

(This is the TV show watchers’ revenge for all the gloating I did about the Red Wedding, isn’t it?)

Anyway, Harry Potter is not normal popular. It is stupidly, wildly, amazingly popular. It is a mistake to judge a children’s book by the same standards that you judge an adult’s book, but even as a children’s book Harry Potter is solidly good-but-not-great: I would put it roughly in the same class as A Series of Unfortunate Events or Animorphs, not as good as the Time Quintet. And yet there is only one of these book series where, despite not having reread the books since high school, I am familiar with the names of two dozen minor characters. (Marcus Flint, Lavender Brown, Terry Boot, Blaise Zambini…) Normal popularity is easily explicable by quality. Stupid, wild, amazing popularity is due to luck.

I am not sure what particular set of events caused Harry Potter to become more popular than A Series of Unfortunate Events, or if it was simply a lot of people’s individual decision to recommend this particular book. But it is easy to answer the question of why they’re so popular now, which is because they have been popular in the past, and therefore there exist many people who want to recommend the series to others and read it to their children, and even those who haven’t read the series know whether they’re a Gryffindor or a Ravenclaw.

Blog Housekeeping


, , ,

New secret blog post up, this one about mental illness and parenting.

I generally list where I’m donating in a donations post at the end of the year, but this donation is relatively time-sensitive and if I wait until December anyone who wants to copy me can’t. I have donated $100 to fund a randomized controlled trial of a sepsis treatment which my friend Sarah Constantin finds promising. I think thoughtful, independent research into potentially high-value places to donate is something that the effective altruism community doesn’t do enough of, and I have committed to donating $100 to each such opportunity I come across until I think enough such independent research is being done.

Book Post for April, Not About Parenting


, , , , , , , , , ,

Eros and Thanatos: A pair of philosophical dialogues about love and sex, starring a family of Roman reconstructionist pagans. If this sounds like your sort of thing, it probably is. In the first, Catullus (a closeted gay man who believes that Love Conquers All) debates homosexuality with Germanicus (a Stoic who believes sex is only for procreation), Lydia (a Catholic), Sheila (a basically normal person), Ali (a postmodernist feminist) and Juvenal (the sort of edgelord who goes about saying that everything is violence and power). In the second, Juvenal, Germanicus, and Catullus debate whether murder is ever morally acceptable, along with Caligula (an atheist) and Brutus (a Buddhist).

Motel of the Mysteries: From the Body Ritual Among The Nacirema school of parody, the premise is that two thousand years from now an archaeologist finds a buried motel and concludes that this was a place of sacred mysteries. The book discusses The Great Altar (a television), the ceremonial burial cap (a shower cap), and the sacred collar (a toilet seat). Funny and pointed.

Sexual Authenticity: An Intimate Reflection on Homosexuality and Catholicism: This is a very frustrating book. I thought I would really enjoy it because I love her blog– even when I disagree she’s always insightful– but this book occasionally veered towards something I agree with and then felt like it came from Cloudcuckooland. People who have casual sex are all sex addicts! You can tell, because they deny that they’re sex addicts, and addicts always deny their addiction. Obviously. Nevertheless, Selmys’s conversion story is really interesting. She gets catechized early on by a Druid.

Sexual Authenticity: More Reflections: I find this book much less frustrating than the former book, and even agree with it in some places.

Selmys uses the Roman emperors as a framing to talk about the etiology of homosexuality. Of the first fifteen Roman emperors, only one was completely heterosexual. Even assuming that some were slandered by their detractors, at least half the emperors had some level of same-sex attraction. This seems strange from a perspective in which only three percent of the population is LGB, and startling even if you assume Roman emperors carried the gay gene, since many early Emperors were not related. She uses it as a framework to talk about different causes of homosexuality: for instance, Julius Caesar might have been an opportunistic bisexual, Tiberius a sex addict, Caligula a sexual assault victim, Nero a very feminine man forced into an ultra-masculine role in an ultra-masculine society by an overbearing mother, Hadrian a normal well-balanced person who happened to be in love with a man, Elegabalus a trans woman. Even given the many similarities between Roman emperors, there’s a lot of diversity in sexual behavior and motivation and what it means to call someone gay or bisexual.

Selmys’s observations on ex-gays seem to match up with my own observations of bihacking. Some people experience a sudden change in sexuality, but it’s not common and there’s no way to cause it; most people can, with a lot of hard work, transform themselves from Kinsey 0s and 6s to Kinsey 1s and 5s, but this does not actually offer a realistic hope of a relationship. Selmys claims that sudden orientation shifts are often caused by falling in love, which isn’t true in my experience, and I am curious what the difference is.

Selmys had a really interesting perspective on how having a lot of kids affects the experience of a parent of a disabled child. If you have one kid, all your hopes and dreams are on that kid. When your child is diagnosed with a disability, you have to grieve all the experiences you won’t have: if your child uses a wheelchair, it’s going to be a lot harder for them to play football; if your child is intellectually disabled, it’s harder to share the pleasures of science with them. But if you have more than one kid, then you can still have those experiences with your other kids, and it’s easier to recognize how good your disabled child is as themselves. I am not sure if I agree, but I think it’s interesting to think about.

Interim Errantry: Three Tales of the Young Wizards: An excellent three-novella collection. It’s nice to get a little breather and see what Kit and Nita are up to when they aren’t saving Earth. Interim Errantry is as weird as any other Young Wizards book: my attempts to explain the plots to Topher involved a lot of “Jack O’Lanterns are apparently sapient”, “and then the tree alien decides to become a Christmas tree”, and “and then through a series of misunderstandings an alien concludes that Nita and Kit are going to engage in the Impregnation Ritual on Valentine’s Day and the prelude to this involves eating one candy heart each day.”

Science fantasy is a genre close to my heart. I love urban fantasy that takes full advantage of the fact that it takes place in our reality and therefore has moons and aliens.

Also, I’m not sure if this is just me, but there were definitely more references to boners and porn than I’m used to in the Young Wizards series. The freedom of self-publishing? Changing standards in YA books?

Borderline (The Arcadia Project Book 1): The fey exist. All genius artwork comes from collaborations between humans and their fey soulmates, called “Echoes”. (The soulmate does not have to be a romantic soulmate.) The Arcadia Project, which employs solely crazy people, manages the fey/human interactions.

Our protagonist has borderline personality disorder and it’s amazing. Nothing I love more than a book about a borderline who totally has insight into the awful things she does and keeps doing them anyway. I liked how it realistically wrote her both as sympathetic and as kind of an awful person, but not as some kind of chaotic evil monster– just someone who has the same empathy and compassion as anyone else, but who sometimes does bad things on impulse. I really liked how the protagonist had recovered from suicidality but was still obviously mentally ill and had a life that sucked because, yeah, not being suicidal anymore doesn’t necessarily mean your life is great. And there was DBT in the book! The protagonist talks about her reason mind and her emotion mind, and one of the other characters is someone who literally severed her reason mind from her emotion mind with magic! I would have appreciated more use of skills, but then the protagonist is (canonically) not very cooperative with therapy. So I guess it makes sense.


Crucial Conversations: Tools for Talking When Stakes are High: Wow, it’s like the book Nonviolent Communication, but without the weird and creepy implication that if you do everything right then people will do what you want.

The key piece of advice is that you should focus on what you actually want and doing things that will achieve the goal you actually want, instead of giving into the temptation to instead achieve the goals “no one ever criticizes me” or “the person I’m talking to is punished” or “my sense of self-righteousness is justified” or similar. Do not assume that it’s impossible to get a deal both sides will be okay with: this is often possible!

Before you can succeed at a crucial conversation, you have to separate out what’s actually going on from the story you’re telling yourself is going on about how you are an innocent victim, or the other person is a horrible monster, or you are completely incapable of improving the situation. Try looking at the objective facts of the situation and separating them from your interpretations of what’s going on. Ask yourself about your role in the problem, why a reasonable and rational person would do what the other person is doing, and what you should do to move towards what you want.

The first step in a crucial conversation is to notice when people feel unsafe. When people feel unsafe, they will usually turn to silence or violence: on one hand, selectively showing your true opinions, avoiding important issues, or even withdrawing from the conversation altogether; on the other hand, forcing your views on others, labeling and stereotyping people, or insulting and threatening people. When these happen, the conversation has gone off the rails. Even noticing unsafe conversations can be a huge step towards improving conversations, but you can also work on making it safer. You do that through: apologizing when appropriate; using a contrast statement which addresses others’ concerns that you don’t respect them or have a malicious intent and then clarifies your respectfulness and intent; and finding a mutual purpose, a goal both sides share. You do that through CRIB (this book is as fond of acronyms as DBT is): committing to find a mutual purpose; recognizing why the person you’re talking to wants the things they want; inventing a mutual purpose, perhaps by agreeing that everyone wants the relationship to be strong or the business to succeed; and brainstorming new strategies that serve everyone.

Once everyone is safe, you want to find out other people’s perspectives and share your own. To share your own perspectives, use STATE: share a factual description of the situation from your perspective; tell the story you’ve told yourself about those facts; and ask for the other person’s perspective. While doing this, talk tentatively, saying things softly and in a way that implies you want other people to correct you, and encourage other people to share their own views, no matter how controversial. To encourage other people to share their perspectives, use AMPP: ask to hear people’s concerns; mirror other people’s feelings; paraphrase what you’re hearing; and if they really won’t share their opinions with you at all, prime by saying tentatively what you think the other person’s perspective might be. If it turns out you and the other person disagree, start with an area of agreementbuild on what the other person is saying by suggesting that they might have overlooked something; and compare positions, suggesting that you differ and not that one of you is wrong, when you really can’t reach consensus.

When it comes time to make the decision, you should follow an appropriate decision-making procedure: for instance, the boss has the final say in a corporation, but in most marriages decisions are made by consensus. When decisions are made, you should always be clear about who is responsible, what exactly they’re supposed to do, when they’re supposed to do it by, and what the followup will be.

The Myth of the Rational Voter: Voters are systematically biased: for instance, compared to the consensus of economists, they tend to underestimate the usefulness of markets and the economic benefits of trade with foreigners. Voters are wrong even about obvious empirical issues: for instance, voters tend to vastly overestimate the percentage of the budget devoted to foreign aid. Voters care about trivia about politicians (Dan Quayle’s feud with a television character) at the expense of practical issues (who is their senator); while voters swiftly punish transgressions they hear about, these transgressions are generally things like “said a racist slur” or “cheated on his dying wife” rather than things like “caused the incarceration of millions of people for relatively small crimes” or “destroyed the entire economy”. The worst part is that voters are altruistic, so instead of voting based on their pocketbooks (which, presumably, would incentivize politicians to have a good economy for most of their voters) they vote based on what they think is good for the country (which incentivizes politicians to give voters things the voters think are a good idea, whether it is or not).  All this means that voters vote for and receive terrible policy.

Honestly, it’s kind of remarkable to me how democratic governments wind up with their current level of low-variance mediocrity. This happens every time I read something about society. Like, it’s really remarkable how well our society works given that every individual element of it is a constantly-falling-apart shitshow. I have no explanation for this state of affairs.

Weirdly, Caplan models the situation as “there are benefits to having biased opinions (less effort researching right opinions, signalling group membership, not having to admit you’re wrong), there are costs to having biased opinions (you are wrong about things and that hurts you), since any voter has an astronomically small chance of flipping the election it is rational for them to buy way more bias than they would for things affecting their personal life.” While I think that’s correct for some situations, other biases, such as the availability heuristic, clearly don’t seem to fit this model. Like, I really don’t think parents are hysterical about children playing outside because they’re obtaining a certain amount of signalling that they’re good parents at the cost of a certain amount of parenting effort, I think they’re legitimately just mistaken about the chance their children will be kidnapped. And I suspect similar arguments apply to voters as well.

Intelligence: A Very Short Introduction: I am impressed by the consistent high quality of the “very short introduction” series and wish I could subscribe to a program where they mail me a random one each month and then I get to learn about mathematics or nothingness or logic or something each month.

The most interesting thing I learned from this book is that some people, including Flynn himself, believe the Flynn effect is due to increased familiarity with standardized tests in general and intelligence tests in specific. For instance, in the 1930s, an IQ test was probably the first standardized test a person had ever taken, while I took about two standardized tests a year for twelve years while attending a school system which was widely criticized for primarily teaching me how to be good at taking tests. It’s no wonder that I’d have a higher IQ score. In this case, the Flynn effect means that changing IQ scores provide us little to no information about whether and how people’s IQ scores are changing over time.

The Rent Is Too Damn High: What To Do About It, And Why It Matters More Than You Think: This is a pretty good introduction to the YIMBY position on housing. Various regulations– including rent control and zoning– make it more difficult and less profitable to build more homes, so we have fewer homes than we need. The idea that homes are an “investment” which always increases in price also increases the price of housing for people who don’t own their own homes. As a result, people live further from work (leading to unpleasant commutes and lots of pollution) or move to cities with cheaper housing but fewer jobs. This is bad, because dense locations provide a lot of benefits to people– ranging from higher productivity to a cleaner environment to better restaurants.

With Liberty and Justice for Some: How The Law Is Used To Destroy Equality and Protect the Powerful: I originally thought I was a ooey-gooey soft-on-crime liberal, and then I read this book, and discovered I was an ooey-gooey soft-on-crime liberal except for crimes committed by presidents. When Glenn Greenwald remarked that under international law torture is punished with the death penalty, I thought “yep, actually, I totally support executing George W Bush.”

Unfortunately, my tough-on-crime stance is not shared by most people. In fact, under the name of “unifying the country” and “looking forward not backward”, presidents have managed to get away with absurd violations of national and international law: from Nixon’s multiple felonies to Bush’s surveillance and torture. Of course, this is not actually how the rule of law ought to work: the most basic principle of our government is that it is a government of laws not men, which is to say that if you commit a crime you should be punished, even if you are the president. (Especially if you are the president!) Claims that “public policy takes precedence over the rule of law”. Of course, there are many incentives for any given president to pull this shit: if they punish their predecessors for felonies and war crimes, maybe they’ll be punished for their own felonies and war crimes! All this is combined with a massive expansion of incarceration, meaning a poor black person gets more time in jail for smoking pot than a president does for violating international law.

Sex Workers Unite: A History of the Movement from Stonewall to SlutWalk: The real lesson of this book is that Margo St. James, the founder of COYOTE and the St. James Infirmary, is a stone-cold badass. Margo St. James became a sex worker after she was accused of doing sex work because she was a beatnik and hosted lots of different men in her apartment, and obviously the only reason one would have men stay over is doing sex work. Her conviction meant that she couldn’t find a job other than doing sex work. She founded COYOTE, one of the first sex workers’ rights organizations, a year after J Edgar Hoover died “because we wanted to make sure he was really dead”. COYOTE’s shenanigans included awarding a giant keyhole to the Vice Cop of the Year and holding loiter-ins at the Democratic and Republican National Conventions. Their largest victory was when Judge Marie-Victoire dismissed almost forty sex workers’ cases on the grounds of sex discrimination, since the police had not arrested the clients. (The assistant district attorney for vice crimes said there was no reason to arrest men because “the customer is not involved with the commercial exploitation of sex, at least not on an ongoing basis.”) St. James also climbed Pike’s Peak to prove that sex workers aren’t diseased. Today, he St. James Infirmary commits to doing research that sex workers feel matters to them: for instance, it performed the first medical research on the foot problems caused by working all night in hooker heels.

I also appreciated the following slogans from a protest of Playboy Bunny clubs which only paid their workers in tips, without any salary: “don’t be a bunny, work for money” and “women should be obscene and not heard.”

In 34 states, doing full service sex work while being HIV positive is a felony, regardless of whether transmission occurred or what the actual risk profile of the sex act is. No HIV-positive client has ever been prosecuted.

The unsung heroes of this book are public health workers and activists, many of whom regularly break laws to help their sex worker clients: from giving out clean needles and crack kits, breaking trafficking laws to help underage sex workers find shelter and necessities, giving out birth control and post-exposure prophylaxis for HIV without prescriptions, or letting people know when the police are a few blocks away.

[content warning: rape]

Bang: The advice in this book is mostly reasonable. The author, however, is a goddamn misogynist.

As an example: Roosh says that you should do things because you want to do them, not in a desperate attempt to please a particular woman. This is great advice; I agree that if you’re buying someone a drink, it should be because you like them and want them to be happy, not because you’re desperately seeking their approval. His next sentence says that if he buys women drinks, it’s not a form of supplication, it’s to loosen them up so they’ll fuck him.

This is merely one example of a larger problem. Roosh seems to view sex not as something that people do together because it’s fun but as a competition between men and women in which men try to obtain sex and women try to deny it. He views a woman saying no to sex as an ordinary, normal part of the process of having sex with her; his writing clearly seems to imply that he expects a woman to say “no” to sex three or four times the first time he has sex with her. It is nice that he does not suggest physically forcing a woman into sex. He does, however, suggest ignoring her nos (for instance, responding to “we’re going too fast” with “yeah, I agree” but continuing to do whatever you’re doing) and responding to an outright “no” by stopping for a few minutes and then doing the thing again.

Of course, perhaps some women are saying “no” in the hopes that Roosh will override her “no”. (As I’ve always said, I think such ridiculous behavior should be punished by those women not getting to have sex until they learn better.) And of course some people say no to sex and then change their mind and say yes, although early on in a relationship you should probably check in and see if they’re sure. But a lot of the women he’d be using that strategy on are people who are scared, inexperienced, unsure, not good at setting boundaries. They might be frightened that if they don’t comply he will hurt them; he’s given them no reason to think otherwise. It is scary to be alone and naked, often in a house that isn’t your own, with a person who is larger and stronger than you. Is this the sort of thing you’re comfortable doing with a sexual partner?

Even from a purely selfish level, I can’t imagine that this is a great way to obtain sex. Like… surely you want to have sex with someone who wants to have sex with you? What benefit does having sex with a reluctant person have over masturbation? They make very good Fleshlights these days, you know. And it certainly makes the rest of Roosh’s pickup advice questionable. If he’s so good at seducing women, how come he has to pressure people who don’t want sex with him into sex? Surely they should be throwing their dripping panties at his head?

I think a lot of pickup stuff can be really useful for shy men. It can be hard to think of something to say to strangers, so knowing basically what you’re going to say can make it easier to break the ice and come off as charming and fun. A lot of pickup stuff isn’t the Magic Secret To Obtaining Sex, it’s just a basically reasonable thing to say while flirting, and that can serve as a magic feather to build confidence so you actually hit on people. And by relying on other people’s lines for a while you can develop a sense of what works and what doesn’t and eventually learn to flirt without the lines. But there has got to be a book written by a man with less awful and disgusting views about sexuality.

[content warning: rape, suicide]

The Myth of Persecution: How Early Christians Invented A Story of Martyrdom: A depressing amount of this book is based on word games about the meaning of the word “persecution”. You see, it only counts as persecution if the government intended to oppress Christians. The actual state of affairs was that Christians were widely thought of as very strange and rumored to be incestuous and cannibals, were occasionally oppressed by local governors, and sometimes were executed because the Emperor passed a law that said that everyone had to sacrifice to him or be executed, intended to figure out who his political enemies were, but that accidentally harmed Christians. I found this sort of argument-by-definition extremely pedantic. I also found the tie-ins to current culture war stuff really annoying: I can figure out for myself the connections between Christian ideals of martyrdom and Rick Santorum’s idea that Christians are persecuted today, thank you.

That said, it’s still an interesting read for the historical facts. Many so-called martyrdom stories are, in fact, fiction: there are historical inaccuracies and lurid plotlines that make the most sense if they were popular novels intended to amuse the reader. Many bear a striking similarity to Greek romance novels popular at the time. They have plots like “a Christian who has taken a vow of celibacy is forced to marry a vestal virgin, whom he converts to Christianity; they are arrested for trying to convert people, where the vestal virgin is sentenced to work at a brothel; an escaped lion does not harm her but instead kills the men attempting to rape her.” This is salacious enough that it is probably fiction and not a thing that actually happened.

Voluntary martyrdom was apparently quite common in the early church. We have several early Christian writers condemning it as heresy and the sin of suicide; this was probably political, because the Christians we would today consider non-heretical often escaped or recanted their Christianity, and there was a group of heretics, the Donatists, who had confessed to being Christian but were not executed for one reason or another. The non-Donatists have an obvious reason to condemn voluntary martyrdom. One of the stories we have about early Christians is that they went to a regional governor to try to be martyred, except the governor refused and instead told them that if they wanted to die there were cliffs to throw themselves off and ropes to hang themselves on.

The Christians were really confusing to the Romans. Roman polytheism was syncretic; it literally did not make sense to them that worshipping one god meant not being allowed to worship the emperor either. Many Christians were deliberately stubborn and difficult: for instance, one Christian responded to all questions, including his name, with “I am a Christian.” Many Christians said they respected God alone, which was both incomprehensible and probably seditious from a Roman perspective, since Roman society was based on hierarchies of respect.


The Cluster Structure of Genderspace


, , ,

Categories are usually fuzzy. That is, when humans use a category, there are usually some members of the category who have all the traits you associate with that category, some members that have many of the traits, and some members where you have to make a judgment call about whether it counts or not.

The Cluster Structure of Thingspace provides several excellent and uncontroversial examples. For instance, think about birds. Robins and sparrows are very typical birds. Eagles are less typical than robins, but still very typical. Penguins are really fucking weird birds. And you have to make a judgment call about bats: for purposes of biology, a bat is not a bird, whereas for purposes of trying to decide which animals are kosher, a bat is a bird. You make the decision based on whether the more important bird trait is “related to dinosaurs” or “flies.”

Or think about mothers. A typical mother gives birth to and raises a baby who is genetically related to her. Less typical mothers include birth mothers, adoptive mothers, surrogate mothers, genetic mothers, lesbian partners of the mother who gave birth, and so on. A baby’s egg donor is still her mother in some ways– for instance, you’d want to look at the egg donor rather than the adoptive mother to figure out what the baby’s risk of getting a rare disease is– but she’s missing some very common mother traits like being pregnant with the child or raising it.

Gender is a very politicized topic. So it makes sense that while some people agree that whether bats are birds depends on whether you’re doing biology or theology, and that while penguins are birds you shouldn’t assume that they’re able to fly, this common sense goes out the window when you’re talking about gender. I am going to address two issues where poor reasoning about more and less central members of categories makes people deeply confused: biological sex and gender differences.

Biological Sex

Biological sex is actually a remarkably good classification system: something like 98% of humanity can be easily and unambiguously placed into one of two discrete categories, which has to be some kind of record. Of course, not everyone is a metaphorical robin. Eagles are quite common: men with gynecomastia and noticeable hip fat; women who can grow beards; women who have had hysterectomies; men who have had their testicles removed.

However, it all runs into trouble when we’re talking about transgender people (as well as intersex people, but I’m mostly going to focus on transness). People really, really want to insist that there is a single biological sex that we really are. They usually pick chromosomes as the deciding factor, perhaps because medical science is not currently able to change a person’s chromosomes. (I have seen people attempt to be intersex-inclusive by declaring “males” to be the ones with at least one Y chromosome and “females” the ones with no Y chromosome.) They then point out that you have to know what a person’s biological sex is for medical reasons and therefore we trans people are running around being special snowflakes by putting down our identified genders on medical forms.

Except there are actually a very small number of medical problems that are affected by sex chromosomes: for instance, whether you are XX or XY affects your risk of hemophilia or colorblindness; if your sex chromosomes are something other than XX or XY, you may be at risk of various health problems, depending on what your sex chromosomes are. It is usually possible to infer many traits from the fact that a person has XX chromosomes (well, in reality, we usually infer the fact that a person has XX chromosomes from their traits, because most people are not karyotyped). But trans people get biomedical interventions all the time.

For instance, a doctor might be concerned about prescribing a teratogen to someone who might be pregnant. In that case, what matters is whether the person is capable of getting pregnant (many trans men and some cis women are not). A doctor may need to decide whether to screen someone for breast cancer, in which case what matters is whether a person has breasts. Testosterone increases a trans man’s risk of high cholesterol, heart disease, high blood pressure, and diabetes, although probably not to the level that cisgender men have. And, of course, our unusual sexes present unique health issues: for instance, testosterone is a teratogen, which means that trans men who take testosterone have to be particularly careful about birth control use.

These are not theoretical issues. Trans people have been routinely denied sex-specific medical care, because insurance companies believe that there are men and there are women, and therefore there don’t exist any people who need both a prostate screening and breast cancer screenings. Intersex people even today receive cosmetic genital surgery as infants so that people don’t have to be disturbed by a person who doesn’t fit the categories very well.

The obvious solution to this issue is to say that whether a trans person’s sex is male or female depends on what question you’re asking. A trans woman on estrogen is male for the purpose of whether she should get prostate cancer screenings and female for the purpose of whether she should get breast cancer screenings. When thinking about his risk of high cholesterol, a trans man is probably best considered neither male nor female. We are bats, and you don’t have to have a firm position on whether or not we are birds.

Gender Differences

Men are more likely to use an ethic of justice, which emphasizes universal standards and impartiality. Women are more likely to use an ethic of care, which emphasizes a specific obligation to those you have interpersonal relationships with or those who are vulnerable to the consequences of your choices. The Cohen’s d of this difference (which is a measure of how different the two groups are from each other) is about 0.2.

This is a picture of a Cohen’s d of 0.2. (Picture comes from this excellent website.) It is genuinely difficult to tell that this is a picture of two bell curves instead of one. If you know someone is a man or a woman, it doesn’t tell you much of anything about whether they use an ethic of justice or an ethic of care.

Has that stopped anyone? No, it has not.

For instance, look at the Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy page on feminist ethics, which includes an entire section on care-focused ethics which includes paragraphs like this:

Gilligan believes that Kohlberg’s methodology is male-biased. Its ears are tuned to male, not female, moral voices. Thus, it fails to register the different voice Gilligan claims to have heard in her study of twenty-nine women reflecting on their abortion decisions. This distinctive moral voice, says Gilligan, speaks a language of care that emphasizes relationships and responsibilities. Seemingly, this language is largely unintelligible to Kohlbergian researchers who speak the dominant moral language of traditional ethics—namely, a language of justice that stresses rights and rules.

Ah, yes, the distinctive moral voice of women. The one that sounds almost fucking exactly like the voice of men. That distinctive moral voice of women?

Putting known gender differences into the Cohen’s d chart generator is an instructive experience. For instance, here’s gender differences in masturbation and casual sex, respectively:

And here’s neuroticism, agreeableness, and conscientiousness/extroversion (the latter two have the same effect size), again in the order I listed:

Now, there are in fact some effect size charts that look like Men Are From Mars, Women Are From Venus. Here’s an example:

This is a picture of the difference in toy preferences at age three. I am not sure how useful this is for anyone who isn’t a toy marketer, but there you go. (Note that one-year-olds and five-year-olds both have less stark gendered toy preferences. Presumably male toddlers are from Mars, female toddlers are from Venus, and everyone else is from Earth.)

So what’s the takeaway here? (Besides “Ozy is fascinated with their new stats discovery,” of course.) The answer is that people are bad at categories. We learn facts about the typical man: for instance, he uses an ethic of justice, masturbates more, is okay with casual sex, is more introverted, is less neurotic, is more disagreeable, is less conscientious, and played with trucks but not dolls as a child. We then conclude from this that everyone we stick in the category “man” uses an ethic of justice and therefore we are perfectly justified in creating an entire subfield of ethics complaining about how the ethics of care is excluded because of sexism.

But that isn’t true! It is possible that people in a category are more likely to have a particular trait, but the size of this effect is not actually large enough for this to be useful information. In fact, in studies of gender differences, this is quite common!

While I’ve been picking on Carol Gilligan (and god is she an easy target to pick on), I think this kind of thought is actually more common among anti-feminists than it is among feminists.

Think about gender differences in permissive attitudes about casual sex. This is actually a fairly striking difference: about four-fifths of men have a more permissive attitude towards casual sex than the average woman does. (Of course, this might be caused by inborn tendencies, by cultural influence, or by a combination of both; you shouldn’t assume that a difference existing means it is biological.) You can see the effects of this difference clearly: for instance, it is generally easier for heterosexual women to have casual sex than it is for heterosexual men to have casual sex; gay men are more likely to have casual sex than lesbians are; there are essentially no full-service sex workers who target a solely female audience, presumably because women who want no-strings-attached casual sex rarely have to pay for it.

But there’s also a considerable amount of overlap: about seven-tenths of the two groups overlap. And that matters too! For instance, many people assume that casual sex must be a rapacious man taking advantage of an innocent woman who just wants love. But there are lots of women who like casual sex. Perhaps the women who have casual sex disproportionately come from the 20% of the female population who have more permissive attitudes about casual sex than the average man. In that case, we don’t have to be worried that hookup culture is harming women; it is merely catering to the desires of women who are a little unusual (eagles, not robins).

And I’m using a relatively stark gender difference, which would bias my case. Looking at something like neuroticism– where 65% of men are above the female mean, and there’s an 84% overlap– it’s hard to see much justification for an “essential masculine nature” or an “essential feminine nature.” Such reason is merely looking at robins and then assuming, in defiance of all the evidence, that they are the only kind of bird.

Secret Blog Post on Patreon



People who have subscribed to my Patreon at the $3 and up level, there is a new secret blog post about parenting. Check it out.

Secret blog posts will probably be disproportionately about parenting for the near future, so if that sounds up your alley, $3/month will get you the thing.

You may also notice on the sidebar that you now have the ability to buy my time. Base cost is $20/hour. Tasks people have hired me for so far include getting me to read and critique their writing, hear about their crackpot ideas, give them advice about whether they’re trans, or read a book and write a review of it.

Why Do All The Rationalists Live In The Bay Area?



[Attention conservation notice: non-rationalist readers, this is incredibly rationalist inside baseball]
[ETA Disclaimer: I know the Seattle rationalist community exists and is cool. However, if the entire Bay Area rationalist community moved to Seattle, many people would probably wind up working at Amazon, and also moving several hundred people is legitimately very hard. Also, the reason I personally am not moving to Seattle is that it seems like it contains far fewer homeschooling parents.]

I have seen several discussions of the fact that rationalists tend to live in the San Francisco Bay Area, in which it is pointed out that the Bay Area housing market is one of the worst housing markets in the country. It seems somewhat irrational to live in such an expensive place, particularly since many rationalists are also effective altruists, who intend to donate a high percentage of their income. Why do we keep living here?

Well, as Willie Sutton said about robbing banks, because that’s where the money is.

Rationalists are disproportionately likely to work in tech. If you’re a weird person who likes computers– particularly if your school history is kind of checkered– software engineering is your best chance to make four or six times the US median income. Of the top places to be a software engineer taking into account the cost of living, #2 is San Jose and #5 is San Francisco. Somehow I think “the San Franciscans should move to the South Bay” was not precisely what everyone was thinking of (however personally beneficial it would be for me).

But of course there are other places on the list. We could, for instance, all live in Seattle, Raleigh, or Portland (#1, #3, and #4). Why don’t we?

For some people, the answer is obvious. They’re students at UC Berkeley or Stanford; they’re an App Academy graduate who has to spend the next year in San Francisco by their contract; they work at the Center for Effective Altruism, which is going through Y Combinator; they work at Open AI; they work at MIRI and CFAR, which need to be near prospective collaborators (MIRI) and students (CFAR). You add together those groups and you get a pretty substantial rationalist/effective altruist community already.

I’m going to hold off for a bit on talking about why the software engineers don’t move and instead talk about why I don’t move. After all, I write for a living. My job is extremely portable. I don’t even have to change out of my pajamas.

The first problem is that my husband works for Google. I could, I suppose, move away from my husband. But there would be various inconveniences. I was sort of planning on having him take the kid for a while (once we have one) so I could get some uninterrupted alone time. My husband’s love language is physical touch and he would probably go mad being married to someone he couldn’t cuddle. He can go outside with me when I’m agoraphobic, which wouldn’t be possible if we lived in the same place. The airfare costs would be horrendous. And I can’t imagine we’d actually save that much on rent: we currently share a room, and my husband would probably be quite unreasonable and insist on having his own room instead of acquiring another permanent bedmate.

Why don’t we both move? After all, Google has offices in places that aren’t Mountain View.

Well: since I work from home, incidental conversations with housemates are a majority of my face-to-face interaction. It is very easy for me to find new rationalist housemates when I need one; in a city without a rationalist community, I’m more likely to room with some stranger and lose the opportunity for social interaction. I currently live within two hours of all my partners except for one, and they can be easily visited over the course of a weekend. When the baby comes, I’ll be able to get advice and support from my friends who like kids (I have perhaps half a dozen), including my housemate. I expect that at least one of my children will have a developmental disability, and I don’t want to put a developmentally disabled child in public school; my friends are planning on running a group unschool, which means I neither have to sacrifice my career to homeschooling nor cough up tens of thousands of dollars in private-school fees. Events I enjoy (such as sex parties and rationalist seder) occur on a pleasantly regular basis. If I have a nervous breakdown, I expect that people besides my husband will be there to take care of me, and he won’t have to worry about caregiver burnout. If I divorce my husband, I expect to have a couch to sleep on until I get back on my feet.

And I’m relatively lucky! For instance, I prefer to do online brainstorming; if you prefer face-to-face meetups, you have to be close to people. I’m not founding a new nonprofit, startup, or other project; again, living close to your cofounders is really helpful (not to mention that in a community you’re more likely to meet your cofounders). I don’t need referrals for jobs. I have a supportive husband and will be able to solve many of my parenting problems with money; for poor parents, especially single parents, a supportive community can be the difference between good parenting and neglect. And so on and so forth.

It’s important to note that many of the benefits of community are altruistic. Referrals for high-paying jobs, brainstorming, living near cofounders, support from friends that lets you save money, and even the happiness of living near friends– these concretely improve people’s ability to improve the world.

Of course, most people could probably get the majority of these benefits with only five or ten close friends. (Not all of them though: job referrals depend on having a lot of weak ties, nonfrequent and transitory social relationships, which studies have suggested increase wages and aggregate employment. Weak ties are also useful any time you might like to initiate a relationship, such as with a housemate, cofounder, romantic partner, or coparent.) But my friends– much to my great annoyance– insist on not sharing my set of five or ten close friends, and instead having a set of five or ten close friends of their own, which may or may not overlap with mine. The whole thing grows logarithmically. If we want everyone to have friends– and are not just organizing the whole system for my own personal benefit– it’s going to be a group of a couple hundred people at least.

“Okay,” you might say. “So we move the entire community!”

But let’s examine the typical case: a rationalist who works a job at a non-rationalist company. Let’s say you’re a Googler– as many rationalists are– and you’re looking to move to one of the new rationalist hubs of Raleigh or Portland. As I write this blog post, Portland has one Google job open. Raleigh doesn’t seem to have jobs at all, but Chapel Hill has two jobs open. (Information comes from here.) What happens to the second rationalist Googler who wants to move to Portland?

Of course, this is a solvable problem. Perhaps the second rationalist Googler can find some equally high-paying job at some other company in Raleigh. But you are going to have to simultaneously solve problems like this for a hundred people, even assuming you have buy-in from all of them. This is really fucking hard.

It is particularly hard for early-career software engineers. A software engineer with more experience has more power: for instance, they can hold out for a job where they work remote. But someone who is relatively early in their career is going to have a significantly harder time getting a job outside of tech hubs.

(Notably, Seattle is enough of a tech hub that it doesn’t necessarily have this problem, as far as I know. However, many of Seattle’s tech jobs are at Amazon, which has a notoriously awful company culture, and it seems to me it is perfectly rational to avoid it.)

Finally, I have to remark that the expensiveness of the Bay Area housing market is somewhat misleading. Of course renting an entire house is quite expensive, but no one rents an entire house. My husband and I pay a little less than the median American household does for housing, because we live in a two-bedroom one-bath house with two roommates. We could probably move to Raleigh and have roommates there, but Raleigh’s lower rents means it has far less of a group house culture, particularly a child-friendly group house culture. Thus I would be unlikely to find such a good setup with such pleasant people.

Deradicalizing the Romanceless



[Content warning: misogyny, slurs, sexual coercion]


A definitional issue: I am using the word “incel” here, despite its association with terrible misogynists, because I feel like it is the simplest word to gesture at the group I mean. However, I am not using it to refer solely to terrible misogynists, but instead to any person who has gone an extended period of time without having a romantic partner when they would like to.

I am not using the extreme definitions of “incel” that require people to not have any preferences. While I don’t consider, say, a sixty-year-old man who won’t sleep with women over the age of twenty-three to be incel, I think that most people do have reasonable preferences about values and lifestyle compatibility in their partners, including incel people, and the inability to meet these preferences leads to great loneliness.

Interestingly, sexless people are about as happy as people who have sex. I can think of several reasons why this might be the case: many sexless people are asexual, low libido, or voluntarily celibate; many people who have sex are in coercive or unpleasant sexual relationships, or have to worry about unplanned pregnancy or STIs; many sexless people have close friends and a lot of emotional support, which ameliorates the pain of sexlessness; many people who have sex are still lonely. Nevertheless, I think the problem of inceldom is a genuine issue for those who want romance and can’t have it.


When one discusses incels, one inevitably comes to The Asshole Question: namely, “how come these assholes can get a girlfriend, and we incels can’t?”

The Asshole Question in its strong form– arguing that assholes can all get laid, and that incels are generally nice– is clearly untrue. Some involuntarily celibate people are, frankly, terrible. If one looks at the Incels subreddit, for instance, it is astonishingly full of comments like the following:

When you post close ups of your gaping assholes often with various objects stuck in them, and we jerk off to it and some retards even leave comments, we don’t think to ourselves “wow, what an amazing gorgeous girl.” We think that you’re a disgusting whore and we get off on that. We get kicks out of how pathetic you are while boosting your ego so that you don’t stop.


Women can smell Chad genes from a mile away, if Chad locked himself in a bomb shelter, women would break down the door with muli million dollar equipment to extract his semen.


But then again, what is a woman? A rather weak creature that is beneath the man. Equipped with less intellectual gifts, not as beatiful or well formed as the human male, repulsive actually. A creature that is 3/4 of its life sick and isnt even possible to satisfy her man at all times. Because nature doesn’t allow it. It’s common knowledge that females are lesser beings.

These aren’t cherrypicked, by the way, I just looked at three of the four top posts when I was writing this section of the blog post. (The fourth was a man who was sad that even an incel woman wouldn’t sleep with him, and did not contain any douchebaggery.)

Now, one might argue that years of loneliness twist people and make them bitter, and that’s not false. But I also know lots of incel and formerly incel men, many of whom have been lonely for years if not decades, and none of them have wound up opining that women are lesser beings and that they get off on how pathetic porn stars are. I would suggest that if your response to emotional pain is “maybe half of humanity is subhuman”, this probably says more about your character than about your circumstances. Loneliness alone is not enough to make someone a misogynist. Frankly, I think it’s offensive to all the perfectly lovely incels in the world to say so.

The weakest form of the Asshole Question– “why do there exist at least some nice people who can’t find romantic partners when there also exist at least some assholes who can?”– is also easy to answer. Some people are extraordinarily bad at selecting partners, and preferentially select people who treat them like shit. Other people are deceived and wind up accidentally dating assholes. Still other people are willing to put up with a douchebag who has money, good looks, or high status.

But there’s an intermediate question, which is the one I think people are usually asking. They say something like “even given that some nice people find romantic partners and some assholes don’t, I think that assholes in general are more likely to find romantic partners. Why is that?”


The first thing to address in that question is whether it’s true.

Scott Alexander writes:

I will have to use virginity statistics as a proxy for the harder-to-measure romancelessness statistics, but these are bad enough. In high school each extra IQ point above average increases chances of male virginity by about 3%. 35% of MIT grad students have never had sex, compared to only 20% of average nineteen year old men. Compared with virgins, men with more sexual experience are likely to drink more alcohol, attend church less, and have a criminal history. A Dr. Beaver (nominative determinism again!) was able to predict number of sexual partners pretty well using a scale with such delightful items as “have you been in a gang”, “have you used a weapon in a fight”, et cetera. An analysis of the psychometric Big Five consistently find that high levels of disagreeableness predict high sexual success in both men and women.

If you’re smart, don’t drink much, stay out of fights, display a friendly personality, and have no criminal history – then you are the population most at risk of being miserable and alone. “At risk” doesn’t mean “for sure”, any more than every single smoker gets lung cancer and every single nonsmoker lives to a ripe old age – but your odds get worse. In other words, everything that “nice guys” complain of is pretty darned accurate. But that shouldn’t be too hard to guess…

I am going to be a little bit unfair to Scott here. He admits he’s using virginity statistics as a proxy for the harder-to-measure romanceless statistics, and I don’t exactly have any good way of measuring inceldom either.

Now that I’ve admitted I’m being unfair… I would like to point out that “having a high IQ” and “being an MIT graduate student” have no relationship with whether you’re an asshole at all. There is no significant correlation between IQ and agreeableness; there is also no significant correlation between IQ and dark triad personality traits. (I was unfortunately unable to find statistics about the disagreeableness or dark triad-ness of MIT graduate students.) It may perfectly well be that intelligence is sexually unattractive to most people and also people are attracted to nice people. In addition, high-IQ people and MIT grad students may have priorities other than having sex: if you spend all your time solving math problems instead of going to parties, of course you’re more likely to be a virgin.

So let’s look at Big Five and the works of Dr. Beaver. There is a small problem and a big problem with Scott’s statistics. The small problem is that there’s a bunch of sex you’re vastly more likely to have if you’re a terrible person: rape; cheating on your partner; helping someone else cheat on their partner; getting someone drunk or high to have sex with them that they wouldn’t have sober; convincing someone that you love them when you don’t for the purpose of getting laid; “convincing” someone who said “no” at the beginning of the night; and so on. Since presumably terrible people aren’t Captain Planet villains who turn down all the ethical sex because they want to increase the amount of sex-related suffering in the world, we can expect terrible people to have more sexual partners than non-terrible people, all things equal. But I don’t think that’s that large an effect.

The big problem is that sluts are evil.

That is, in general, people who desire lots of sexual partners tend to be disagreeable, lower on honesty-humility, impulsive, risk-taking, avoidant attachment style, narcissistic, Machiavellian, and psychopathic.

To be clear, only three of the nine questions on the Sociosexual Orientation Inventory are about sexual behavior. The other six are about desire. You can score very highly on the SOI while being a virgin. While I don’t know of any studies that exclude the three behavioral questions, I believe the evidence suggests that people who want lots of sexual partners tend to be jerks.

Imagine a very attractive guy who has no interest in sex outside of committed long-term relationships. He loses his virginity to his high school girlfriend, dates a girl for a while in college but breaks up with her a year after graduation, dates around for a bit but doesn’t sleep with anyone he’s dating, meets his wife at 26, dates her for two years, is engaged to her for one year, and marries her at the median age of 29. Afterward, he is monogamous and does not divorce; his wife outlives him. He has had three lifetime sexual partners, well below the average for men. But that’s about his interest level, not his attractiveness. He could have had casual sex if he wanted, but since he didn’t want casual sex, his sexual partner count is lower.


I feel like a big problem is that people tend to combine “casual sex” and “dating” into a single category, when in reality they’re quite separate issues. Men, as a group, are more interested than women, as a group, in casual sex– possibly because casual sex is less enjoyable for women, possibly because women are more likely to fear social stigma and violence, possibly because women are at higher risk of STIs and pregnancy, and possibly because women typically find sex with strangers a less appetizing prospect. Since most men are heterosexual, it is significantly easier for women to obtain casual sex than it is for men to obtain casual sex.

However, women being able to easily obtain casual sex is mostly a product of them not wanting casual sex. It’s not really an advantage to be able to easily get something you don’t want anyway. “Yay! It is super-easy for you to risk serious health problems, stigma, and violence in order to have a physically and emotionally unpleasant experience! Lucky!” While the situation is great for women who like casual sex (boy, is it ever), it’s not that much of an advantage for women as a group.

And, frankly, casual sex isn’t what most incels want either. If they did, they’d just hire a sex worker. Admittedly, hiring a sex worker is not particularly validating of one’s attractiveness, but neither is fucking the guy who messaged everyone in a fifty-mile radius on OKCupid, and the sex worker is no doubt a good deal more attractive. But hiring a sex worker won’t give incels what they want, because what they usually want– quite reasonably!– is love, affection, romance, and someone to share their lives with.

And love, affection, and romance are far more gender-balanced markets.

I will use marriage as a proxy for long-term relationships, as it is easier to find statistics, and marriage is the end goal of long-term relationships for most people anyway. There are approximately as many men as there are women. There seem to be more exclusively gay men than exclusively gay women in the US; depending on definition, men may also be more likely to be asexual. Marriage is generally monogamous, which means that for every married man there is exactly one married woman.  Consensual non-monogamy is relatively rare and MMF triads are not notably less common than FFM triads– certainly not enough to have a notable effect on the dating market. Non-consensual non-monogamy is more common, but it’s unclear to me how often a cheating person monopolizes two people’s affections (as opposed to two married people cheating on their spouses with each other, casual sex, etc.) While men are more likely to cheat than women, this may not lead to an imbalance if (a) women are lying, (b) men are more likely to have casual sex or hire a sex worker, or (c) the men are all cheating on their spouses with the same small pool of women. For the sake of analysis, I’m going to act like this isn’t an issue, but if you have less uncertain opinions than mine about cheating you may come to different conclusions.

So the next issue is how much people desire to get married; maybe men as a group want to get married and women as a group can take or leave it, just like men as a group want casual sex and women as a group can take or leave it. Among never-married young adults, men and women are equally likely to say that they would like to get married; women age 18-34 are more likely than men in the same age group to say that having a successful marriage is one of the most important things in their life. Anecdotally, one notes that the vast majority of How To Get A Partner magazines and self-help books are aimed at women. Therefore, I think that– if anything– men as a group are the ones dragging their feet about long-term relationships.

However, my analysis is a society-wide analysis. It is very possible that there are subcultural imbalances.

Consider the book Promises I Can Keep (summary here). Poor women in working-class neighborhoods tend not to get married. This is because there is a tremendous shortage of men who meet very reasonable, basic requirements like “is not a felon” and “has a job” and “does not beat me” and “is not an alcoholic.” Because these women value having children a lot and they don’t have any good options for husbands, they tend to become single moms; they see no realistic prospect for their children to have a committed, loving father.

A lot of the incels I know don’t commit crimes or drink, don’t beat up their partners, and not only have jobs but also make an above-average income. So why aren’t they marrying the women of Promises I Can Keep? Well, first of all, they’re unlikely to meet those women: both the women of Promises I Can Keep and my friends typically spend time around people of their own class background. They probably don’t even use the same dating sites.

Even if they do meet, they might not be particularly interested in each other. My friends probably don’t want to help raise two or three children that are not genetically related to them, and they certainly don’t want to raise children with someone who thinks not spanking is neglectful. They probably don’t want to devote a significant fraction of their income to helping their wife’s poor relatives fix their cars and pay the rent. They don’t want a partner who thinks that homeopathy is an appropriate treatment and that her new husband is due to God rewarding her for donating to her church. They would like a partner who reads books and blogs and who is able to participate in a discussion about trolley problems or Magic: the Gathering. I don’t know the culture of the women of Promises I Can Keep well enough to know what their dealbreakers about my friends are (see: spending time around people of your own class background), but I’m pretty sure they also have them.

To be clear, these are all totally reasonable preferences to have! In fact, it is good to have these preferences! You should marry someone whom you can talk to and who shares your interests and values and worldview; you shouldn’t raise children with someone unless you agree on parenting philosophy, at least in broad strokes; if you’d feel super-resentful about some aspect of your relationship, don’t get in the relationship. (Of course, it’s also great if you do want to help raise your partner’s children and help their impoverished relatives.) But it does mean that my friends and the women of Promises I Can Keep are unlikely to have happy relationships with each other.

For every man who can’t find a partner, there is approximately one woman who also can’t find a partner. (This is pretty obvious in the Promises I Can Keep case, which is balanced by a large number of incel or situationally homosexual men from those neighborhoods, who are in prison.) However, it is very unlikely that you will be able to have a happy relationship with her, or otherwise you already would. Sorry.


The other important aspect of the incel problem is shyness. In my anecdotal experience, it is hard to overestimate the importance of shyness in keeping incel people of the sort who are likely to read this blog post incel.

Lots of incel people don’t have many friends to begin with, so they don’t get a lot of opportunities to meet people they might want to date in the first place. The odds are very much not in their favor. Even if they do have friends, lots of incels are shy specifically about flirting: they’re afraid of being seen as creepy or making people feel uncomfortable; they don’t know what to do, and it’s frightening. It is extremely common in my experience for incels to be so scared of flirting that they accidentally give off I-am-not-enjoying-this-please-stop body language, which means that even getting hit on isn’t necessarily a solution; interested people are likely to notice that they’re uncomfortable and disengage.

Incels are often advised that confidence is attractive. I’m not sure if this is true in the general case, but for incels I think that becoming more confident will, in fact, increase their chances of getting laid. This isn’t because people find confidence attractive (although many people do), but instead because incels are constantly self-sabotaging because of their own insecurity. Of course, being confident in your own attractiveness as an incel is sort of like trying to fly by tugging firmly on your shoelaces.

This is another reason why you can have both women and men who can’t find a romantic partner. If they never meet each other because they’re both holed up in their rooms reading the Kingkiller Chronicles, if they never hit on each other because they’re afraid of coming off as creepy, or if one of them works up the nerve to flirt with the other only to flee because they assume the other’s terrified body language is a rejection, you can have two people who would have a quite happy relationship both be lonely.


The worst part of the incel problem is how hard redistribution is.

Like, it’s super-easy to redistribute money. You take it from rich people and give it from poor people. There are, of course, implementation problems, but the principle is simple.

But you can’t really redistribute love.

If it were possible, I would happily take the Caring What We Can Pledge to give ten percent of the love and care I experience to those in need. But I can’t. My husband and my friends love me; there is no way to make their love for me become love of someone else. And I’ve learned that providing emotional support to someone out of obligation, when I don’t like them as a person, leads to burnout which leaves them worse off than they were when they started. Besides, most people want to be loved for themselves and not treated as an object of pity.

It still saddens me.

Against Blanchardianism



[content warning: mentions of transphobic violence, slurs]

My understanding of transness bears certain similarities to those of the Blanchardians I know. I suspect that trans people fall broadly into two types, although as always sharp binaries erase the experiences of many people. However, I think that their proposed etiologies are absurdly incorrect. I believe that HSTS-subtype trans people experience gender dysphoria and are not simply transitioning as part of a rational decision, and I believe that autogenderphile-subtype trans people do not primarily transition because of a sexual fetish.

My true rejection of Blanchardian etiologies is that they don’t describe my experiences at all. Of course, I don’t expect this to convince people who aren’t me.

Regarding the HSTS subtype: I agree that it is likely that HSTS-subtype trans people are on a continuum with gender-non-conforming gay people. I too am struck by the similarity between stone butches and trans men, and by the similarity between drag queens (particularly historically) and trans women. The sharp divisions between these groups seem to me to be as much a political construct as an accurate description of empirical reality (read David Valentine’s excellent Imagining Transgender for more). There is an incentive for both trans people and gay people to support this separation. It is far easier to advocate for trans people’s rights if transness is disconnected from icky sex stuff. And gay people (particularly gay men) have a lot to gain from distancing themselves from the victims of transmisogyny.

Of course, people currently understand themselves as either a trans woman or a gender-non-conforming gay man, either a butch lesbian or a trans man. The categories we have available influence our behavior and self-understandings, and lead to a very real difference between butch lesbians and trans men in present-day queer culture. However, this is not true historically. Either we or the people forty years ago have to be wrong, and it seems quite likely to me that the answer is “us”.

That said, it seems to me that the HSTS theory– which generally implies that transition is a rational decision made because it is easier to get through life as a passing straight trans woman than as a flamboyant gay man– neglects the reality of gender dysphoria. It’s true that it’s hard to draw a firm line where a strong desire to be gender-non-conforming transforms into gender dysphoria. And it’s true that many people, particularly historically, chose to manage their dysphoria through being a drag queen, stone butch, etc., and that whether one becomes a stone butch or a trans man probably depends in part on which one gives you the best other life outcomes. But nevertheless there are many teenagers thrown out of homes whose parents would be fine with a faggot but not a tranny. And while “no fats no fems” is a trend in gay culture, gay men are mostly not going to straight-up assault or murder you for having sex with them as a feminine gay guy, while many straight men will. Conversely, there exist feminine gay men in Iran who have not transitioned, even though it is clearly better to be a straight trans woman in Iran than a feminine gay man. It seems to me that the only way to explain this is that “desire to live as a particular gender and/or sex for its own sake” is an actual thing which puts its thumb on the scales.

Regarding the autogynephile/autoandrophile subtype: I feel like autogynephilia theories, to succeed, must sail very carefully between Scylla and Charybdis, and so far all such theories I’ve seen have wound up being devoured by the monster or drowning in the whirlpool.

Scylla: In general, people do not disrupt their entire lives out of a solely and purely sexual motivation. People who kink on rape might roleplay rape, but they don’t try to get raped themselves. People with a public-use fetish might get tied up for public use at a play party, but they don’t generally do it on a street corner. I’ve met quite a few people with an impregnation fetish, and to my knowledge they have collectively had one unplanned pregnancy, which was a result of attempting to safely indulge the impregnation fetish and screwing it up.

Of course there are exceptions: some people with a rape fetish commit rape; some people with an impregnation fetish deliberately get impregnated; some people with a bimbo fetish get boob jobs. Perhaps many people are secretly autogenderphiles, but most people don’t transition. Let’s Fermi estimate this: 0.3% of people are trans; perhaps 0.15% are autogenderphiles. I’m going to guess that maybe 1% of people are willing to do something as life-changing as transition to satisfy a fetish. (If you are objecting that this is too low, consider that– unlike, say, rape and impregnation– autogenderphilia cannot be indulged on impulse when one is sexually aroused and not thinking straight and– unlike, say, getting a boob job– it involves a major disruption to one’s personal relationships, including perhaps a divorce and parental rejection. I consider this estimate conservative.)

This estimate would imply that 15% of people have an autogenderphilia fetish, making it one of the most common fetishes among men.  A study of the relative frequency of sexual fetishes suggests that this is not the case: “behavior of others”, the largest category into which autogenderphilia could conceivably be put, is less common than “body parts or features” and “objects associated with the body.” In particular, it appears that autogenderphilia is distinctly less common than foot fetishism, and far less than 15% of the population is interested in foot fetishism.

There are certain exceptions to my “people do not generally disrupt their lives out of sexual motivation.” For instance, people may cheat on their spouses, engage in 24/7 BDSM, or become polyamorous. However, these desires are generally not purely and solely sexual in motivation. A person who cheats on their spouse may find their relationship unfulfilling or be looking for a sense of validation. 24/7 subs generally find submission emotionally satisfying or have a romantic desire for a dominant/submissive relationship. Polyamorous people often value the freedom associated with being poly or not having to limit their partners’ sexual choices. While sexual motivation is no doubt one part of these decisions– a person may be more likely to become poly if they’re sexually aroused by their partner having sex with other people, or more likely to cheat if they’re turned on by the person they plan on cheating with– the emotional and interpersonal components play a more primary role.

From a gender-dysphoria perspective, transition makes sense: even if sexual arousal at the idea of being a particular gender is one aspect of why a person transitions, their gender dysphoria is still the primary motivation. From a perspective which does not accept the validity of gender dysphoria, you have to explain why this is the only sexual fetish that motivates people to this extent.

Charybdis: Researchers like Anne Lawrence argue that autogynephilia should be interpreted as a kind of romantic love which has affectional and attachment-based elements. When sexual arousal at the idea of being a woman fades, trans women may still feel an affectional bond to the reality of being women. Trans women may idealize the female body, as lovers idealize their beloved; trans women prioritize transition highly, as lovers prioritize their love; trans women may transition after some adverse life circumstance, as people use a new love affair to cope with some setback in life; people may find meaning and deep personal transformation in their gender, as they do with love.

I will set aside, for a moment, the argument that through an equal series of comparisons one could prove that the average musician experiences romantic attraction to the idea of being a rock star. (They idealize what being a musician is like, they prioritize playing music, they use music to cope with problems, they find a sense of meaning and personal transformation in music… those rock stars keep taking sexy pictures of themselves and they SAY it’s for the fans, but it’s probably a sign of their deep-seated autorockstarphilia.) A stronger question, for me, is: where are all the other people falling in love with themselves?

There exist trans women who are attracted to red-haired women, have a strong desire to be women, and have no particular interest in being redheads. By extension, there must presumably be men who are attracted to red-haired women, have no particular interest in being women, and have a strong desire to be redheads. Since red hair dye is readily available, these men would have no incentive not to admit that they are in love with themselves as redheads. Why aren’t they?

Maybe people are only capable of falling in love with themselves as a particular gender. This seems strange and arbitrary to me: our culture uses gender as the primary way of classifying people’s sexual attractions, but other cultures didn’t, and there’s no reason to assume that biology cares more about our classification system than the Romans’ active/passive system. But fine. Let’s grant that.

Where are the autoandrophiliac gay men? About 3.5% of the American population is lesbian, gay, or bisexual. Assuming again that 0.15% of people are autogenderphiliac, by my reckoning there should be 15,750 lesbian, gay, or bisexual Americans who are romantically in love with themselves (7,650 people who are just lesbian or gay). Fortunately, in this age of the Internet, weird people can find each other. Any group of nearly sixteen thousand people (or about seven thousand five hundred people, if you prefer to exclude bisexuals) ought to have a thriving Internet community, with its own Fetlife groups, tiresome discourse, and extremely niche porn. This community does not appear to actually exist; at best, a small number of autoromantics appear to comment on AVEN, but not in sufficient numbers to get their own forum. (To be clear, I’m not claiming there’s no such thing as autoromanticism; human sexuality is very diverse. I am claiming that it seems extraordinarily rare, far rarer than would be required to explain this theory.)

I have occasionally heard speculation that gay male bodybuilders are autoandrophiles. It seems to me that if that were the case it would be commonly known in gay male bodybuilder communities that many gay male bodybuilders are literally in love with themselves. Again, why would they hide it? It’s not like a gatekeeper is going to take away their squat rack if they don’t.

Finally, the autogynephilia hypothesis fails to explain one of the most striking facts about type-two transgender people, their distinctive personalities. The type-two personality could be characterized as “broader autism phenotype”, “nerdy”, or “really really weird”; someone in the Slate Star Codex comments called it “Heinlein protagonists”, which is honestly my favorite characterization. (Right down to the wacky political beliefs!) When I first read about Martine Rothblatt, a highly paid trans lesbian CEO who is trying to make a robot version of her wife so that her wife can live forever, I was like “yeah, that’s the kind of shit queer trans people do”. We’re strange people.

It is very unclear to me why autogynephilia would be the Weird Person Fetish. It’s not that only super-weird people transition: like I said above, autogynephilia is not that common of a fetish. Perhaps all fetishes are more common among super-weird people? Maybe there’s some connection between fetish and personality type? It’s an answerable question in theory, but Blanchardians appear strangely averse to trying to answer it.