“With the pace of smartphone evolution moving so fast, there’s always something waiting in the wings. No sooner have you spied the latest handset, there’s anticipation for the next big thing.” Chris Hall, Pocket Lint. Jul 2020.
I want us to be able to think like this when it comes to our own bodies.
“With the pace of the science of biological sex moving so fast, there’s always something waiting in the wings. No sooner have you spied the latest paper on biological sex, there’s anticipation for the next big thing.” Ginny Battson, Seasonalight. Jul 2020.
Bombarded with new reports and adverts year round, we have largely absolved technical revolutions as part of our modern culture. I think advertising has tricked us into accepting them as the norm. Lust for profit/neoliberal survival has created precision marketing campaigns, playing on primitive desires and a sense of empowerment, however real or fake. In they roll like tides, these technologies. Keep up, keep up. And we part with our cash.
I have been pondering on new evidence on things like biological sex, and the microbiome, and then biological sex effected by the microbiome. Sexual diversity! It’s mind blowing!
Yet, sadly, so unnerving for many.
Why? We seem happy to trust engineers and marketeers, but not scientific research, meta analysis, trials, and peer review of human biology, endocrinology, neurology.
Science is a search for definition in a very uncertain world, but uncertainty is foundational to these pursuits, because the margins of ambiguity are the constant fuel for new questions and answers. Redundant technologies we easily reject, acknowledging they have been integral to the timeline of progress. So why can’t we reject redundant biological science in the same way in building a clearer picture of existential life?
It’s also understandable that people feel disoriented, as if all we thought we knew firm beneath our feet has suddenly turned to jelly.
I observe a similar reaction when people discover that other living beings, microbes, inside our bodies and on our skin, survive to support us all in symbiosis. Or when I point out that species distinctions are more porous than once thought, and that we ourselves are porous and less defined as one species, being a genetic mix of other human species that were thought to have become extinct (they themselves were probably a mix).
I see that almost vacant look of incongruity. I also see disgust. When I describe how porous we really are, swimming around in water, soils and air that is filled with the essences of the living and the dead flowing in and out of us, I see your eyes swivel. Boundaries are few, if existent at all, and things are a hell of a lot more fuzzy, from cosmos to quantum.
“I’ is really “we”. Ancient Eastern religions were really on to something.
All I can ask is that it’s critical to open one’s mind. Open the mind to new understanding, which may well be ancient too, about the world around us. We are learning new/ancient things every day.
Openness is a form of compassion, because we are humbled in engaging our listening powers. There’s no humility in being closed, in shutting our eyes and ears, repeating absolute certainty, or so-called facts. Some fixed thinkers can find this very hard, because they are nurtured in The Great Scientism of definition, of fixed truths, and of defending against fakery and varying human power structures.
I ask, as good scientists also ask of me ~ look to uncertainty as a motivation for new discovery. Look, and feel it.
Remember, for instance, those (who probably identified as men) dissecting bodies for eons, who made a decision based on the evidence before them that there were certain organs within living beings, particularly mammals, which dictated their entire role in life, in respect of reproduction only. They were dissecting animals, and dead humans. Animals that are unable to communicate their full lives to us directly; cultures, kinship, memories, thoughts and feelings. Incidentally, neither can dead humans.
So when we are thinking about the cultural and social constructs of gender and sex, I know people have been trained to divide them, like the Cartesian separation of mind from body, but the news is, from some scientists themselves, they are interlinked and inseparable. The idea that you could have any other kind of alternative understanding seems to be beyond so many people. Part of this is that particularly women who have fought for recognition of rights certainly in recent memory, and it’s still ongoing, and raw, and in areas such as politics, medicine, law, design… and the menarche, and sexual assault, and miscarriage, childbirth, and Grade 3 carcinosarcoma of the uterus, and in the menopause…
I return to Hilary Lawson, and his influential idea of closure. When we have an idea of something closed, as in dealt with, and processed, and in the past, it becomes the past. Signed, sealed and delivered in a box to a shelf. When new information comes into the fold, it’s hard to find that box, open it, rummage through, and review all.
Instead of having something closed, even though it might be a word, a feeling, or even an event, if one can train the mind into being much more open, open is often associated with something artistic, creative pursuits, and I think we need to consider that, especially in the face of the Johnsonian shackling of the arts and humanities right now.
Yes, sometimes, rather like we look at maps, male and female can tell us an awful lot of information. They are like keys, and we can navigate our way, if we know how to imagine symbols as reality, if we are able to relate to maps in three dimensional time and space, and that getting from A to B is a process. But essentially maps are just guides. As are male and female. Our brains do most of the ‘open’ work. It’s a gift. Let’s celebrate it.
What we need to imagine is that instead of trying to close down everything, the binary in all, the taxa, the finite, and that male is this and female is that, we need to keep things open, but recognize the need for empathy, love and understanding in that comet tail of adjustment. There will always be comet tails in time and space, adjustment to new norms. Sometimes, there’s a great deal to take on board, for the ones who are re-identifying, and the ones who love them. Time is osmosis. Meanwhile, compassion and kindness on all sides is a must.
One day, sexual fluidity and gender fluidity will be accepted along with all our other beautiful spectrums, and perhaps some we have not even articulated yet. Sex and gender do not remain fixed at birth. As we are discovering with genetics and epigenetics, neurological developments in relation to endocrinal events in life, the amount of love we receive, or the traumas we suffer, and effects of the constant exchange between ourselves and the nagorasphere. Or even that the microbiome may have direct effects on reproductive activity, it might well have effects on our psychological understanding of where we are in relation to others around us. They have been evolved features in living beings for a billion years.
I guess the exponential culture shock of high-tech has been ‘treated’ in some ways by a relentless exposure therapy by mass media. Our Western culture of individual identity, Rights and entitlement are coupled with many of the markers and markets of the Anthropocene. The supposed prophylactic (hypnotism) of consumerism has been driven by all manner of symbolic campaigns, in glossy magazines, on TV, and multiple, repetitive London Underground posters. Maybe we could apply this expertise for something far more compassionate and useful ~ spreading the news on biological sex diversity.
For more on Sex Contextualism, do read Bennett McIntosh here about the work of Sarah Richardson, Harvard philosopher and historian.