Ghosts With Erections

This is so blisteringly obvious that it’s hardly worth mentioning, but there is a difference between the high-school proms of our grandparents and the proms of current high-school kids. A brief survey of 1950′s-1960′s prom footage shows, somewhat shockingly, that there was dancing. That is, there were dances and people knew them. Men held the hips of women cupping the shoulders of their man, shuffling through sets of understood and pre-ordained movements of the foot and sways of the waist, achieving to greater or lesser degrees some semblance of bodily grace.

Now I’ve had the ambivalent pleasure of attending a few proms, and have come to the evidence-based conclusion that the majority of high-schoolers attending a school dance are in one of four positions. They either (a) circle the dance floor, grinning nervously, touring and observing the teeming mass, finding it utterly impossible to join, the very idea of continuous, synchronized bodily motion ringing in their ears as an absurdity or (b) if they do join, they form a circle of similarly awkward friends and dance ironically, usually doing “the robot” in the vague hope that joking-about-dancing in a group of six or seven will add up to actually dancing or (c) they arrive so very baked that the issue of intentional bodily movement has already been annihilated or (d) if they are among those who will dance with the opposite sex, they perform that sublime, graceful, intimate motion known as grinding, in which the male erection is rubbed through tuxedo pants by a female rear-end.

Now it is a Christian tendency to regard the difference and call it an overwhelming rise of vice and the result of the sexual revolution, but — and forgive me if this is a foolish mistake — I was under the impression that sexual liberation, moral or immoral, would be a good-deal, well, sexier. Sinful — perhaps — but fiery, passionate, and erotic, not the gyration of female rear to male front for the duration of a thumping, unchanging piece of pop music. Something with flavor. Dances between men and women are by their very nature sexual, and frankly, you’d be hard-pressed to find a human tradition that better contains and expresses the erotic than tango.

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But our youth culture is not getting better at tango, nor dancing, nor the contact of male and female in any structure of intimacy and sway. We’re not even developing danceable music. It’s a bitter sort of irony, but we are becoming disembodied. Ghostly.

These are the days of miracles and wonders in which the body is largely viewed as a thing extraneous to ourself, a cage for who-we-are, as if life began with condemnation to animate and lug around a corpse. We have embraced a duplicitous view of the human person, one that says, to summarize, “I am not body.” I haven’t a damn clue where this comes from — perhaps Descartes, perhaps Satan — but the fact of it’s existence seems apparent, and not just in the high school prom.

Eating Disorders

The eating disorder is a perfect example of a disintegration between the body and the soul, in that the person who suffers it believes themselves to be fat even though their body is — by all standards — frightfully skinny. I’m not arguing that eating disorders are caused by a direct confrontation with bad philosophy. They are often triggered by abuse, and recent research has pointed to a potential genetic capacity for the development of eating disorders.

But the prevalent idea that “I am not my body,” is precisely the frame of mind for so many of those suffering from anorexia, bullemia, and all the rest, and I have no doubt that our idiocy shoulders some of the responsibility for the “near threefold increase [in anorexia] over the past 40 years among women in their 20s and 30s, 6.28 (1950-1964) versus 17.70 (1980-1992) cases per 100,000 per year.” (1) The anti-body philosophy is, after all, a western one. It’s the white kids who aren’t dancing. This philosophy — which is the modus operandi of a media that portrays a woman’s beauty as dependent on her working against her natural body — explains why these “syndromes are more prevalent in industrialized and often Western cultures” and why bulimia is considered a “culture bound syndrome,” and why “were unable to find evidence of the disorder arising in the absence of Western influence.” (2)

Nudity

Or consider an issue I’ve written about before. This picture…

…can only be taken as a joke, but just 60 years ago it was an advertisement. Our modern chuckle indicates our shift towards a male discomfort with male nudity, a discomfort mirrored in the redesigning of locker rooms and showers to include private changing rooms, partitions, and dividers. On the surface — what with our culture’s uncanny ability to exploit every curve of the human body to sell food and cars — it might seem that we’re far more comfortable with our bodies than our grandfathers. But the surface sucks, and reality always calls for a deeper dive.

Sexuality

I don’t know if we adore the disintegration of body and soul because it contributes to our view of sexuality, or whether our liaison with disintegration is precisely what causes our view of sexuality, what with its deliciously ghostly quality of having very little to do with the body at all. “I am not my body,” we again affirm in our happy embrace of transsexualism, pansexualism and all the exponentially multiplying number of objective classifications for our varied “sexualities.” I’m sexually attracted to your soul, says the “pansexual,” to your intelligence, says the “sapiosexual” — the body has nothing to do with it. In the case of transgenderism and transsexualism, we applaud the man “trapped in a female body” as an expression of authentic sexuality. After all, “you are not your body,” and who knows how many woman-souls are floating in the wrong corpse! Modern gender theory renders the human person an accident, a gamble of gender and sex rolled by who-knows in pre-existence. It’s merely good luck if your body and soul have anything to do with each other.

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So let’s be honest with ourselves. The disintegration of body and soul is everywhere. It’s in the movement away from religions grounded in physical, sacramental experience and towards evanescent, abstract “spiritualities” that have us transcending our sweaty, earthy existence. It’s in the massive rise in aesthetic plastic surgeries that artificially modify the body as if it were merely an accidental object we happen to inhabit. It’s in pornography, which uses the body — without the soul — for sexual pleasure — without sex. And yes, it rips at the high-schoolers attending what can only be called in jest “a dance.”

But I hear an indignant voice calling from somewhere in the middle of a Flo Rida beat: But look at the mad sex you can have! Call it what you may, but the movement from dancing to grinding is surely — if nothing else — a sexual movement, and most certainly a use of the body. This, I suppose, is what I really want to get at, not with any wisdom of my own, but with that of the southern novelist Walker Percy, who says:

“The Self since the time of Descartes has been stranded, split off from everything else in the Cosmos, a mind which professes to understand bodies and galaxies but is by the very act of understanding marooned in the Cosmos, with which it has no connection. It therefore needs to exercise every option in order to reassure itself that it is not a ghost but is rather a self among other selves. One such option is a sexual encounter. Another is war. The pleasure of a sexual encounter derives not only from physical gratification but also from the demonstration to oneself that, despite one’s own ghostliness, one is, for the moment at least, a sexual being. Amazing! Indeed, the most amazing of all the creatures in the Cosmos: a ghost with an erection! Yet not really amazing, for only if the abstracted ghost has an erection can it, like Jove spying Europa on the beach, enter the human condition.”

The incidence of sexual arousal arrives like a blessing from above, for by it the body is rendered simple. We are no longer ghosts inhabiting an accidentally assigned corpse, ghosts for whom the body is a thing-to-be-fought, rather, we feel in our bodies an urge that makes sense, a semblance of integration in which we want what our bodies want. The sexually aroused body now has a purpose and a function to be worked with, not against — the function of getting laid.

That grinding has replaced dancing as the primary bodily interaction to popular music is not evidence for a warm embrace of the body. It is evidence for the fact that we can only embrace the body when it is reduced to stimulated thing that needs stimulus-response. The body-soul conundrum is overcome by the animalization of the human person, by the elimination of the soul as the governing principle of the body and the elevation of the bodily urge to its place. We must follow our urges. By reducing our bodily behavior to that of a dog humping a couch, we finally feel embodied, and as long as it lasts, grinding is our incarnation, for we desire nothing more than what our body desires, and the divided human is at long last made one.

Of course the result of limiting embodiment to the incidence of sexual arousal means that we can only see the body as a sexual object. Thus the dearth of the group shower, for in the removal of the towel, we are purely eroticized beings, and frankly, no one at the gym wants to shower with purely eroticized beings, much less reveal himself as such. Grinding must replace dancing, for the body pressed against the body in something other than an act of stimulus-response is awkward. It can be said, in all honesty, that we need arousal like we need salvation.

Now into this sadness — and it is a sadness, if only because we can never maintain this method of embodiment for longer than an erection — sound philosophy speaks an alternative, or rather, the truth from which all “alternatives” fall. The soul expresses the body. The body is a physical expression of the soul. The soul without the body is a ghost, the body without the soul is a corpse, and both are considered by all humanity with horror and disgust for a reason. Any disintegration of the two is a withering of the human person — integration is his blossoming. Everything we know comes first through the body. We are conceived, and the universe hurls itself — not against our soul and our intellect — but against our nerve-endings and tiny, reaching fingers. We taste, touch, see, smell and hear, gathering information by our two-legged foothold in the physical universe, and only by this physical functioning do we develop as spiritual beings — beings with language, ideas, and self-awareness. (Consider Helen Keller.) On the other hand, only because we have a soul do our sense-perceptions transcend the world of stimulus response, making us qualitatively different from the ape, who has sense-perception but neither language nor art nor humanity. The intellect — which is spiritual — operates in harmony with the senses — which are physical. Without a working integration of body and soul there is no humanity, no language, no art, and ultimately no knowledge in the universe.

But this cannot be told to a culture that orbits the depth of the body like people by a pool, afraid to swim, only braving the dive in the event of sexual arousal. (A weird image, I’ll admit.) The value of integration must be shown. First of all, by our lives, by the virtues of modesty and chastity by which we live like humans, and then by art. The experience of beauty destroys our barriers and ushers a person into an encounter with the truth. Art, music, poetry, and even architecture need to express the beauty of the integration of body and soul, not out of some desire to make a point — for political art is lame — but out of our own, authentic, artistic encounter with the human person as neither a ghost, nor a corpse, but relation.         

(1) Pawluck, Gorey, “Secular trends in the incidence of anorexia nervosa: integrative review of population-based studies.” International Journal of Eating Disorders, 1998, Vol. 23, Issue 4, pp. 347-52.

(2) Keel, Klump, “Are Eating Disorders Culture-Bound Syndromes? Implications for Conceptualizing Their Etiology.” Psychological Bulletin, 2003, Vol. 129, Issue 5, pp. 747-769. 

 

  • Grace

    This was very interesting. Thank you.

  • Nicholas Escalona

    In the Percy quotation: “with which is has no connection” should be “with which it has no connection”?

  • Rosemary

    Love/hate that Portlandia clip because of how much it reminds me of grad school in the humanities. It really doesn’t exaggerate a whole lot.

    • Sarah

      Is that a good or bad thing?

  • Abby

    Nice article. i was just thinking about this a few days ago how we are union of body and soul, and this trickles out into all the teachings the church has on sexuality, etc. and makes them all make perfect sense.

  • Jen

    Typo alert! Your list of 5 only has 4 things, and you said “dearth” not death when referring to the group shower. Just letting you know. :)

  • Kaitlin

    ha cha cha, you nailed it again. excellent. Also, if you don’t know already, you should learn some ballroom dances. Do it. Swing, waltz, salsa, at least. Because honestly, what girl doesn’t want to be swirled around in a sassy dress by a true gentleman who respects her and loves God?

  • echarles1

    I recommend C. S. Lewis’s ‘The Discarded Image.’ Though not on body image and sex, it draws so clear a picture of the western medieval worldview, so different from ours today, that you can better understand the power of worldviews and how much they change. The “disintegration of body and soul” is sadly for the present. But they will integrate again.

  • MrRoivas

    Its sad how someone can be an old man before they finish college.

    • RainingAgain

      Its sad how someone can be a fool all their life.

  • Becky T

    I am constantly bewildered by how callous you are toward transgender people (and that is the correct term, please use it!!). I have a very dear friend who is trans*, and it is actually a real thing. Ask a trans* friend of your about it…about the self-hatred, about their discomfort in their own skin, about feeling (from a very young age) that they were wrong, or even about self-harming. Please stop talking about trans* people in your usually offensive way, as if they don’t exist and are just playing dress up.

    Additionally, this was an incredibly inappropriate place to bring up eating disorders. While those studies are definitely fine, your application of them to prove a point is again incredibly callous to those suffering with eating disorders or body image issues. Why not talk about a patriarchal culture that only sees women for how they can serve men? Why not talk about the relationship between food companies that sell us junk and the diet companies that need to keep us fat? You basically, even with your caveat, are getting into the territory that a person with a legitimate medical disorder just needs to have some more faith (except you phrase it as “needs to integrate body and soul”/

    Also hilarious that you used the tango as an example. The tango was originally viewed as vulgar and a dance that was unfit for civilized society. I’m sure there were some armchair intellectuals like yourself that said similar things about that dance, but now it’s (in your mind) the height of pure and appropriate sensuality.

    • Octavo

      I’m glad someone said this. Transphobia is so reprehensible.

      • peri

        But decadence never goes out of style.

        • Octavo

          What decadence? Transgender people often have serious gender dysphoria. They’re not being decadent when they change their gender presentation to deal with this dysphoria.

          • Mark

            I don’t understand how Marc is being disrespectful of fearful of people who feel they are or should be a different gender, by merely talking about some of the philosophical ideas of Western society which may be contributing to the rise of these type of folks. This is not a post about validating or condemning peoples’ experiences. It’s a post about why people seem to be increasingly having these experiences in Western societies and those societies influenced by Western philosophies. I’m sorry, but if Marc is talking over your head here, it’s not his fault.

          • Octavo

            “I’m sorry, but if Marc is talking over your head here, it’s not his fault.”

            I can really feel the Christian love on this site.

            Trans* people really don’t need cis people to “explain” what philosophies “may be contributing to the rise to these type of folks.” If you want to know why someone is trans*, ask them and be ready to listen.

          • Anon

            This. Oh so seriously this.

          • Mark

            It seems as though by “Christian love” you mean something along the lines of heartfelt empathy and willingness to understand someone else’s experience through that person’s eyes without judging them to have bad intentions. I assure you there is no lack of Christian love, defined as such, on my part and due to that, I cannot ascribe the lack of such Christian love to Marc. You seem to be stressing giving the benefit of the doubt to those whom you describe as transsexuals without giving the same to Marc. To insist that the only valid perspective on the pathology and psyche of those who self identify as transsexuals comes directly from those who self identify as transsexuals is exactly the sort of hubris and fear of the other that you seem so willing to accuse Marc of displaying. Marc has not discounted the experience of anyone as being anything less than real to that person. But if it were not possible to discuss cause and effect in the manner in which Marc is discussing it, then only ants would be able to tell us about the importance of building an anthill. But the world does not work like that. We can directly observe the behavior of ants,whether that behavior contributes or detracts from the survival of the colony and whether any external factors exert influence over the behavior of a given ant. To assume that we cannot make similar observations about humans and groups of humans and the way they behavior without accepting the word of each human as though it represented the infallible thoughts of one who is transcendentally self aware is sheer arrogance, and the very type of which you accuse Marc and presumably myself of displaying.

          • Anon

            Ah yes, it’s a “pathology”. Such Christian love.

          • Mark

            I’m sorry that you’re not familiar with my usage of the term but it is a correct way to refer to the study of the experiences of others and pathology qua pathology does not necessarily implicate anything negative or untoward. I would encourage you look up the etymology of the word. The need for due diligence swings both ways my friend.

          • Anon
          • Anon

            Slightly more seriously, phenomenology might be the word you’re reaching for. Nice try though. Super patronizing too. Nice Christian love there.

          • Vince Gagliardi

            I say this with love to all my brothers and sisters out there troubled by sinful thoughts.

            Everyone has issues, everyone has a cross to bear, and some are heavier than others. The issues of sexuality are not “new”, the issues have been around since the fall of man. In the end we all must understand that acceptance of sexuality outside the normal is not going to make those individuals any better, in fact I think it makes it worse. Our society is obsessed with appearance and what is on the outside, not the inside, not what God sees. We are all sinners, we all fall short of God’s grace. All have had thoughts of sexuality outside of the norm “I wonder” or “that seems interesting” but again they are thoughts not actions. Since we are so pressed to accept different lifestyle choices adds to the confusion for young people that are discovering their sexuality through raging hormones. With God all things are possible, those with issues need to pray and ask God for strength to avoid the impure thoughts no different than a straight married individual that is tempted by another outside of marriage. Prayer is the only medicine that will cure all sinful ways.

          • Anon

            Marc shows zero effort to engage with the actual narratives of trans individuals. Indeed, he repeats a standard narrative which trans-activists and theorists often heavily criticize.

            Marc hasn’t done due diligence, and obvious, neither have you.

          • peri

            Cosmetic surgery is of course decadent, whether it is reshaping one’s nose or fashioning imaginary genitalia. But leaving aside gender dysphoria, this to me is 21st century Western life in brief:

            http://www.slate.com/articles/health_and_science/medical_examiner/2003/07/costing_an_arm_and_a_leg.html

            Not so much the phenomenon itself, though it is appalling that finite medical resources would be brought to bear in such a monstrous way on something so trivial, and impossible to conceive of in the absence of identity politics and a fixation on perversity. More that it was celebrated in the culture to the tune of a long Atlantic Monthly article, and I troubled to read it. I thus indict myself in the general degradation.

    • Lacrimae Rerum

      Becky, do you not see what you’re doing here? Look, intelligent, knowledgeable people disagree about transgenderism, and your friend’s experience does not render you either right or an expert on the subject. As for your list of “why nots”, I assume Marc has a blog to express his ideas about why things are the way they are, not yours. It is possible that other people have been down your list – and if they’ve been to university or read a women’s magazine they surely have – and don’t find it terribly productive or explanatory. You admonish Mark (incorrectly, I think) for offering “more faith” as a treatment for a “legitimate medical disorder”, while offering faith-based explanations yourself. (E.g. “patriarchal culture”,)

      With the exception of your last paragraph (which is a perfectly good, debate-provoking point), you’re not engaging with Marc’s point of view at all. What your comment boils down to is “I’m offended and will remain offended until you agree with me” and “you should be talking about X from my point of view, which is correct (though I can’t tell you why, though I can tell you that I’m offended), not your point of view, which is wrong and offensive (and wrong because it’s offensive).

      There’s a lot of this going about. I wish people would stop doing it.

      • Anon

        Becky has totally legitimate complaints though – Marc decidedly ignores the experience of trans individuals. The point about “intelligent knowledgable people disagreeing” is a total diversion – so what if people disagree about trans* identity? Marc still screwed up here, and Becky was right for calling him on it.

        Honestly Lacrimae, your post comes off as an attempt to dodge the real issue, which is Marc’s disrespectful approach to the lived experience of others.

        • Aaron

          What about the experience of people who believe that they are animals? (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Clinical_lycanthropy) If a man truly believes that he is a dog trapped in a man’s body, the common conclusion would be that he is experiencing something both purely psychological and unhealthy, not that his identity is that of a dog. What he is in fact experiencing is a separation of his intellectual experience of ‘who-he-is’ from his physical experience of ‘who-he-is’. Now no one is saying that this experience is not a painful or confusing one, but it does not follow that the experience is proof of a contradictory reality.

          • Mark

            Exactly. An appropriate response to someone who feels that they are separate from their body is pity and compassion, but not celebration and confirmation. There is nothing to be gained by society’s wholesale adoption of falsehood and denial of the existence of this sort of mental disorder.

          • Anon

            Oh ffs. This is more theorizing about the phenomenology of being trans that disregards individual accounts. Mind-body dysphoria is one folk narrative we have about this – but that’s not the only phenomenological account of trans identity, or gender dysphoria.

            Now could you kindly stop talking on behalf of trans individuals?

          • Anon

            Aaron, that’s a total non sequitur. The point is it’s condescending to disregard the phenomenological perspective of trans individuals.

            Did you even read that wiki article? Clinical lycanthropy is the delusion of transformation into an animal – not dysphoria of the sort Marc presumes is the appropriate account of the experience of trans individuals, whether there even is such a thing as “the appropriate account”, since you know, this sort of this is personal and can vary.

          • Aaron

            How do ‘Individual accounts’ support that man-ness and woman-ness are separate from the male and female bodies? Could you clarify this for me? And what other phenomenological accounts of trans identity are there aside from mind-body/gender dysphoria?

            And I realize that the analogy between transgender and clinical lycanthropy is a bit of a stretch, but both instances are of people who utterly, seriously believe that that they are something contrary to their physical appearance. Perhaps a better analogy would be Body Identity Integrity Disorder (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Body_integrity_identity_disorder) or Body Dysmorphic Disorder (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Body_dysmorphic_disorder.), in both of which the individual is uncomfortable with their bodies in one state and believe that a change to another state is not only better but necessary.

          • Anon

            “How do ‘Individual accounts’ support that man-ness and woman-ness are separate from the male and female bodies?”

            Strawman. Quote where I said anything resembling that.

            And a non-sequitur. Since you know, this is besides whether or not Marc is being a condescending jerk.

            Also, define your terms – what do you mean by separate? What do you mean by male and female bodies?

            “And what other phenomenological accounts of trans identity are there aside from mind-body/gender dysphoria?”

            You could start by reading the first-person accounts of trans individuals. Often it’s a chosen identity: http://freethoughtblogs.com/zinniajones/2012/07/because-i-choose-it/

          • Aaron

            Regarding the first quote, I was asking a question based on this statement you made to Mark. – “This is more theorizing about the phenomenology of being trans that disregards individual accounts”. – My question was, how can individual accounts be used to support the idea that a person’s gender can be mismatched with their body? Certainly they shed light on the perspective of the individuals’ experiencing this uneasiness, and I thank you for the link to Zimmia Jones’ post, which gave me a better perspective on a trans persons’ p.o.v. But I fail to see how individual accounts serve as the linchpin in establishing gender dysphoria as more than a mental disorder. Certainly someone’s personal account of alcoholism is different from what the nature of alcoholism really is. (Clarify: No, I am not claiming transgender identities are the same as alcoholism. Just making a point about perspective from separate states.)

            By separate from male and female bodies, I mean that the nature of gender is bound up intrinsically with the sex of a person’s physical body. I cannot comprehend what it means to be male in a female body, or vice versa. (Note: By male and female, I am NOT referring to masculine and feminine, which I believe can transcend even the physical order. I am not at all stating that masculine women or effeminate men cannot, or should not, exist).

            Ultimately, my point is, if someone is experiencing a discord between their physical and psychological ideas of who-they-are, it is best to treat the mental perspective as flawed first, rather than the sexual development of the body as a birth defect.

            Perhaps you could tell me what you mean by male, female, or gender? That might help me understand your frame of reference and your perspective better.

            Peace.

          • Anon

            Honestly Aaron, I’m super confused as to where you think the dialectic is at.

            Marc was discussing the perspectives of trans individuals – how they perceive their situation. He did so without reference to their own accounts. This is a pretty fatal flaw, right?

            Your question is irrelevant to that point, which was the point of my criticism. Zinnia’s (note the spelling!) account is helpful here because hers is a trans experience where strong dysphoria is irrelevant to her decision to present as a woman.

            My point wasn’t that individual accounts support a particular viewpoint, but that Marc’s efforts are undermined by failing to take them into account. I highly doubt that there is one “correct account” of trans persons.

          • Aaron

            I see where you are coming from. And I agree that a trans person’s perspective can give valuable insight to their way of being.

            But I disagree with the idea that because they experience or choose a definition of gender distinct from their physical nature, that this should be considered healthy or enlightened, in that it encourages a way of thinking where the natures of a person (body, mind, and soul) are distinct or capable of ‘misalignment’.

            This is why I have been questioning the importance of their perspective, not because they are not valuable, but because what they may be experiencing as a discord may not in fact be a discord, though the philosophy surrounding these issues has more often than not ignored this possibility.

            That being said, I make no claim to be an export. Should new information or concepts surface that help clarify the natures of trans persons without relying to separating the biological from the psychological/spiritual, I look forward to studing them.

          • Anon

            “By separate from male and female bodies, I mean that the nature of gender is bound up intrinsically with the sex of a person’s physical body. I cannot comprehend what it means to be male in a female body, or vice versa.”

            This is really confused – I will get back to this, but part of the problem is that you’re talking about gender in terms of words typically used to describe a bad biological picture.

            Have you read Anne Fausto-Sterling?

          • Aaron

            Bad in what way?

            I have not read Ms. Fausto-Sterlings work, but I have heard her interviewed. Her theories appear to center in the idea that gender is purely a classification of social roles, and if these roles are to narrow, or if they change, than the definition of gender must also change.

            But this seems to me to be an existentialistic view of the personality’s relationship to the body, that the mind/soul is distinct and removed from the body and that, therefore, the body’s sex can contrast with the personality’s gender. I think this severely shortchanges the body’s relationship to the mind/soul, and that one’s gender is related to one’s sex (hence the synonymous linguistic development). I do not think, however, that the male gender need be excessively masculine or the female gender excessively feminine, or that a balance between the two cannot exist.

          • Anon

            “I have not read Ms. Fausto-Sterlings work, but I have heard her interviewed. Her theories appear to center in the idea that gender is purely a classification of social roles, and if these roles are to narrow, or if they change, than the definition of gender must also change.”

            Pretty much an epic misunderstanding – she’s most known for her proposal that seeing as the two categories are not biologically exhaustive we should adopt better terminology to reflect various biological categories.

            Moreover, her work recognizes that gender is connected to biology in interesting ways, and allows for those dimensions.

          • Anon

            The biological picture is bad because there is clearly more than 2 chromosomal ways of categorizing sex, and there is an extreme degree of phenotypic variation on the basis of secondary sex characteristics that proceeds independent of chromosomes or primary sex characteristics.

            Moreover, gender terms tend to track social/behavioural tendencies and while these are not independent of biology it’s not at all clear that they are coextensive with sex terms.

            Here’s a better way of thinking about what’s going on – being a man is engaging in family of patterns of behaviour, having a certain range of feelings or emotional responses, engaging in certain kind of normative practices etc. in addition to assumptions about the possession of certain biological features. When someone identifies as being female in a male body, they say “look my mental life is more in line with this category than what my body tells you”.

            Seriously, if you want to imagine it – try thinking about it this way: Imagine you’re standing in front of a mirror. Think about all the thoughts you’re having right now, desires, emotions etc. In particular, try to emphasize the ones about what it’s like to be a man. These include desires, expectations beliefs about how you should act, how you want others to respond to you. Now imagine that instead of a male-sexed body you have a body that has female sex characteristics instead.

            None of this presupposes crazy dualist independence. It’s a thought experiment to suggest what gender dysphoria might be like, as an experience.

            But here’s another big problem with your view – you presuppose that it’s either better or easier to address these feelings as a psychological disorder. If you had any experience with behavioural adjustment you’d know that’s not even remotely the easiest thing to do.

            Sometimes it’s easier, less risky in terms of a persons well being to attempt a medical intervention. Of course, you have no clue about any of this and think that you know better than practicing psychologists.

          • Aaron

            I suppose the problem with my view is that I have found no evidence to support the existence of a separation between what you called the mental life from the physical life.

            The experiment that you suggested above, while thought provoking, is difficult to follow. Certainly my thoughts, desires, expectations, etc. are at least partly formed by my physical make-up, insofar as the mind is related to the brain? If I were thinking about what it’s like to be a man, and yet in a woman’s body, would not the truth be that I was a woman thinking in ways attributed to men? Are there such things as male and female states of mind, or is the mind itself neutral, and our physical natures inform the way it thinks?

            Can you give an example of a way of thinking that would categorize the mental life as male that cannot equally be described as a female mental life with masculine attributes?

            Your view, so far as I can tell, presupposes that the mind and body are connected in a fashion that allows for the mental life to fit in one gender category and the body another. But if there is a discord between the mental and physical, does it follow that the two are therefore separate? Is it so unreasonable to assume that, if such a discord arises, that the answer must lie in either a disruption of the mind or body? I’m not saying that it needs be a psychological condition, but if it a disruption between the mind and body arises, is it not usually treated as a failure on part of either the mind or body to fit harmoniously, rather than as proof of a distinct separation between the two?

          • Anon

            “I suppose the problem with my view is that I have found no evidence to support the existence of a separation between what you called the mental life from the physical life.”

            You don’t need any independence for the previous thought experiment to work.

            “If I were thinking about what it’s like to be a man, and yet in a woman’s body, would not the truth be that I was a woman thinking in ways attributed to men?”

            You’re being sloppy here – women don’t have a uniform kind of body. Not all women possess the same secondary sexual characteristics, and there’s a wide range of neurological characteristics associated with women.

            There’s a presumption that you have that is not born out by biology and psychology – namely that the behavioural and psychological attributes associated with being a man or woman have physiological correlates that are determined by the features of “male/female bodies”.

            “Can you give an example of a way of thinking that would categorize the mental life as male that cannot equally be described as a female mental life with masculine attributes?”

            More sloppiness – the attributes determine what kind of mental life you have. You presume a very strong kind of dependence for these phenomena, do you have evidence for this?

            “Your view, so far as I can tell, presupposes that the mind and body are connected in a fashion that allows for the mental life to fit in one gender category and the body another”

            My view utilizes fairly standard definitions in philosophy, psychology and sociology and an adequate awareness of biological and psychological facts to draw the conclusion. That you refuse to engage with those facts, and insist on engage in your own intellectual masturbation is not my fault. This is not, I emphasize separation, but a recognition that the various categories we routinely employ regarding both sex and gender frequently fail to track the real biological, social, and psychological distinctions.

            “But if there is a discord between the mental and physical, does it follow that the two are therefore separate?”

            More sloppiness – nothing about the story you attribute to me requires that mental and physical are separate (in the sense that mental phenomena are independent of physical phenomena).

            I really wish you wouldn’t try to continue to force this into a framework of: Anon thinks I’m wrong, so he must be defending a kind of pernicious dualism. That’s not the case – I’m saying that reported trans experience makes sense given the non-separateness of mental and bodily phenomena.

            If you continue to be obtuse, and largely ignore the content of my posts, I won’t respond. This is tiresome, and I’m done legitimizing you with responses.

          • Aaron

            I’m sorry if I’ve been coming off as stubborn. I assure you it was not my intent. I appreciate you taking the time to explain your point of view. I’ve found it very enlightening and it has clarified and expanded my own point of view on the subject. I agree that this has become a kind of an intellectual spiral going no where. I apologize again for any offense my questioning may have caused and wish you all the best.

          • Aaron

            Thanks for the clarification : )

          • Dale

            Aaron, the two disorders you mention do raise some interesting questions.

            From the Wikipedia articles, it seems onset of both disorders occur later in life. In the case of Body Dysmorphic Disorder, it seems to begin in adolesence or early adulthood. In the case of Body Identity Integrity Disorder, middle age seems most common. Now, granted, it may be that individuals may have had the conditions since birth, but were reluctant or unable to voice them. However, the conditions are marked not just by thoughts and emotions, but by manifest behavioral changes. Such behavior change is part of the definition of the first disorder. I am not so sure about the second. However, in visiting a BIID advocacy website, I didn’t see any suggestions that disorder was felt in early childhood.

            I think knowing more about the cause and onset of those disorders would be necessary before comparing them with transsexualism. My understanding (and I could be wrong) is that transsexuals generally claim that they felt a mismatch between the sex of their mind and the sex of their body from the earliest age. This suggests that the disorder began during fetal development. If so, then it would make transsexualism very different from the two disorders you mention, which seem rooted in social development later in life.

          • Aaron

            Thank you for the feedback. I agree, more research would shed light on the comparison between these three.

    • badcatholic

      Becky, many apologies for offending you. Allow me to be clear, I have no doubt that the experience of transgender people is a valid psychic experience. I would never say that they’re playing dress-up. However, there needs to be a distinction between a transgender person’s experience and the philosophy that surrounds it. The philosophy, which separates a person from the body, is to my mind, truly bad philosophy, and does nothing but denigrate those who do experience themselves as transgender by saying, “Hey, be fine with your experience because (really bad reasoning).” Apologies if the line was not clearly drawn and I came across as attacking the person.

      • Anon

        Or you know, we could be reasonable adults and ask trans persons why they made the choices they do instead of presuming that it’s the place of cis-theorists to justify their choices or “cure” them.

      • Dale

        Marc, I agree that body/mind/soul are a unity. However, if the transsexual disjunction occurs during fetal development, I think the situation is more complex than you indicate.

        As Catholics we believe that we have either a male or female nature. I suppose that would correspond, at least in part, to our soul. So if the disorder of transsexualism develops in utero, is the disjunction between that persons body vs their mind and soul? Or is the disjunction between that person’s body and soul vs. their mind? Is that riddle even solvable?

        Please note that I am referring to transsexualism as opposed to transgenderism (which has an amorphous and ever-changing definition.) Although transgenderism might (depending on how the term is defined) be motivated by sexual desires, that doesn’t seem to be the case with transsexualism. And I am avoiding conflating mind with soul or with body, a distinction I think is vital in this era of advanced medicine.

        • Kyle Strand

          Is there evidence that transsexual disjunction does in fact occur during fetal development, or are you just speaking hypothetically?

          • Dale

            Kyle, I would have to say it is hypothetical at this point. Although there have been studies which have pointed to physical changes in utero, those studies are hampered by the small number of their subjects. Moreover, the limited amount of research in the field adds a degree of skepticism. Studies need to be replicated to be taken seriously, especially when the sample is small. The field of transsexual etiology in not only new, it attracts only a tiny number of research interest.

            However, even if biological differences is noted between transsexuals and non-transsexuals, this doesn’t necessarily mean that those differences caused the transsexual disjunction in identity. This stumbling block may be impossible to resolve.

    • Aaron

      Regarding the use of the tango as an example of sensuality (note, not “pure and appropriate sensuality”), the reason it was considered vulgar and socially inappropriate was because of it’s erotic style. Both grinding and the tango are erotic. But the “erotic-ness” of the tango maintains a sense of grace and unity because it exemplifies the sexual desire of one person to another, not a person to a set of stimuli, which is why it looks more beautiful then grinding. Armchair intellects would have condemned the tango and grinding alike, but their difference is the difference of two spouses making passionate love to each other in public vs someone masturbating in public: the former for its lack of intimacy and privacy, the latter for its sheer ugliness.

      I hope that clarifies the point.

    • david

      There’s a really interesting article by an American (non-christian) theorist, called Susan Bordo that touches on the way in which ancient and modern discourses of the soul/body divide have congealed to generate anorexia. Using her argument, it’s not too much of a leap to apply the same logic to the experience of trans-people. That’s not to say that their experience isn’t real by any means, but rather that it is in large part socially and discursively constructed – it has an identifiable history.

      It’s called, Anorexia nervosa: psychopathology as the crystallization of culture.

      http://annhetzelgunkel.com/uj/food/image/Anorexia%20Nervosa%20-%20Bordo.pdf

  • Trevor L

    I recognized the line of Walker Percy thought in the first paragraph! I just finished “Love in the Ruins” myself. I remember realizing that I was a disintegrated being at about 19 years old. Dancing has, in reality, been one of the best ways of combating the fractured person-hood.

    • Alisha Ruiss

      I agree – dancing has done amazing things for me as well in terms of understanding things about myself and experiencing beauty in a way that wasn’t solely intellectual.

  • Jakeithus

    Great article. The use of dancing to help describe the way we view our bodies/souls personally resonates a great deal with me. For the longest time I hated dancing, especially dancing with other people. It was awkward, and did nothing to help me feel like my mind/body we’re connected in any sort of unified sense. It made me feel like my body was a cage to my mind, and having another person there exacerbated it, since I felt like I’m not interacting with them, just their body, and it did nothing for me at all.

    That changed after meeting my wife. I love dancing with her, because our intimacy helps erase the body/mind division that I feel dancing with anyone else. When we dance, I know I’m not just interacting with her body, but with her in a fully unified way.

    This article helps me put ideas behind what changed in the act of dancing that made something I once avoided like the plague into something I can enjoy and appreciate.

  • strict observance thomist

    It’s interesting how one can see a solution to many of the world’s problems in Thomistic philosophy. Rather than some sort of “ghost in the machine” bizarreness, Thomists recognize that the soul is the formal cause of the living human body; the soul is the essence of living man, and that which makes the body alive and human. Man is thus a unity, not a duality; we are not souls who happen to have bodies, but persons composed of souls and bodies. This allows us to have a greater degree of respect for our bodies and the bodies of others rather than if we viewed them as something extraneous to us.

    By the way, don’t forget St. Paul’s admonition: “But immorality and all impurity or covetousness must not even be named among you, as is fitting among saints. Let there be no filthiness, nor silly talk, nor levity, which are not fitting; but instead let there be thanksgiving” (Ephesians 5:3-4). We can still critique ridiculous and inappropriate parts of modern life without being too graphic about what they involve, since being graphic can be upsetting and unhelpful to people.

  • Gabriel Blanchard

    My family’s from outside San Francisco. Portlandia is extremely funny, but I honestly can’t watch more than an episode and a half before I can’t take the shame any longer.

    I liked this post a lot; thanks for writing it. Very insightful.

  • Britny Fowler

    I’m gonna get flak for this. But as someone who has identified under the labels “pansexual” and “gender fluid”, who has spent my whole life wondering whether I was in the “right” body, thank you Marc. Your article makes complete and total sense. I have a transgendered friend who would be appalled at the debate on here and while I know they would disagree with Marc’s conclusion they would not be starting a debate to trash him for stating his mind and attempting to come to a conclusion. Also, no one has forced me to do anything, but I have joined the Catholic Church, and am quite happily a young, strong Catholic woman who thinks for herself, AND accepts and follows ALL of Holy Mother Church’s teachings. Only a handful of people know how I used to identify, so I can assure you no one tried to “fix” me with some kind of therapy, but, since I have joined the Church I am no longer depressed, I no longer wonder whether I am male or female or other, and I have had almost no attractions to anyone other than men. What a miraculous change has been wrought in my life since I realized that I am the union of a body and a soul. Also, I had a dear friend who struggled with eating disorders as the result of abuse, and I know she would agree with Marc’s article, and would realize he is not trashing anybody. Unfortunately (or fortunately perhaps) he is speaking on a subject that it is not “PC” to speak about, but it needs to be broached. We can’t avoid the difficult conversations forever in an attempt to be sensitive, that get’s no one no where.

    • Anon

      The issue is not explicit trashing, nor has anyone cited political correctness. If that is what you took from Becky, Octavo or my own comments you should re-read them more carefully.

      The suggestion is not to avoid difficult topics, but to do so in a manner that is respectful.

  • Alisha Ruiss

    Take heart – there are entire communities of young people whose passion is social dancing: it’s a bit sad that not more Christians are involved, actually!

  • Lou

    Is this what Jesus wants for you? He doesn’t want it for me, and neither do I want it, repent in prayer to His truth, and leave these things of satan behind. If the Son of Man were to come back today, would he find any faith left on earth? You will pay for your sins.++

    • Kyle Strand

      What exactly are you referring to?

  • Jo Jjp

    Brilliant article: pithy, humorous and razor-sharp with truth! No wonder nostalgia and all things vintage are so popular in this day and age when you see what post-Christian culture has left us with.

  • trs

    Once people could say: “I’m a male, which means I am a man,” and that could tell you something about what you should do and how you relate to others. Now you are just supposed to wait around for your desires to tell you how to live. “I’m a male (or female)” means exactly nothing, except that nature is random. Gender is a game rather than a truth.

  • Maudie

    The ultimate tango: Angela Lansbury & David Niven in “Murder on the Nile.” Fluid, without the staccato emphasis of the example. The discussion appears to lack humor about the lack of true sensuality in the present era.


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