A Brief Summary of Current and Future Projects

So, we’re near to the end of August and I haven’t put out any posts, which could lead one to the impression that I’ve been idle and haven’t been working on any content, I wanted to correct this impression, show people a bit of what I’ve been working on, and ask some questions of my readers as to what sort of content you want to see more of.

If you’re just someone who reads this blog, you would be forgiven for making the mistaken impression that most of my work is nonfiction, but most of the projects I have been working on, have worked on historically, and will continue to work on, are fiction. Here’s the complete list of projects of mine at this point, both on and offline.

Seattle Rationality – I’ve inherited the lead organizer position for the rationalist meetup and reading group in Seattle at the local community center here, this entails picking readings, organizing events, moderating discussions, and generally making sure that things keep happening and existing.

Sideways in Hyperspace – My longest and most well developed serial fiction story, a sci-fi space opera of which you can read the first 38 chapters as well as supplementary materials for free online now. Sideways in Hyperspace has been on hiatus for several years while I dealt with a period of instability in my personal life, but I’ve recently begun work on it again, and I finished chapters 39 and 40 earlier this month. Once I have some additional buffer prepared and I’m confident in pacing myself, I’ll announce a return date for SiH. Expect to see more Sideways in Hyperspace before the end of the year.

Unnamed Serial Sci-Fi Story – I am well underway on drafting another serial sci-fi story set in a universe very different from SiH’s universe. That story will be much more close in, and feature a much tighter cast than SiH’s expansive and sweeping narrative. I haven’t put words down yet, but the characters are named, the setting is developed, and large chunks of the plot are outlined. If things go well, I might start releasing chapters of this concurrently with SiH.

Tales from Aeria – A very well developed fantasy steampunk series that I wrote an entire manuscript for when I was younger, and which I have recently been poking at and would like to revive eventually. I probably won’t start publishing anything from it until after SiH has concluded.

Unnamed Dark World Story – I’ve less thoroughly but still somewhat concretely assembled the outline, plot, and draft for an urban fantasy about people going into and out of a parallel world and the effects of the worlds colliding and interacting. I have no idea when I will write this.

SEED – An enormous urban fantasy worldbuilding project I have been undertaking for the last several years, the SEED world could potentially spawn numerous stories once I finish developing it. I probably won’t put anything out for it for several more years, it’s kind of my baby and I want it to be utterly flawless when I do start posting it.

Hivewired – This blog. Historically the way I’ve written things on here is that if I have something to say, I say it, but otherwise don’t post with any particular regularity. I could potentially change that, ramble on for a while about current events once a week or somesuch if there is actually interest, let me know in the comments.

Kenjutsu – I’ve been studying martial arts for ten months now, I train in Nami Ryu under Sensei Josh Ross at the Sato Bu Kan Dojo here in Seattle, this has been super good for me. I’ve also been a bit involved in doing advertising and marketing for the dojo. I could probably write about that on this blog, again, if there is actually interest, let me know in the comments.

Japanese – I’ve been learning Japanese for going on two years now. I still can’t speak it particularly fluently, but I can stumble through asking where the bathroom is and apologizing for being an idiot American. I’d like to try and get some sort of study group together for this if possible eventually, maybe have tea and talk Japanese at each other for a few hours.

Doing any of this stuff takes time, of course, and I currently still have to work a day job which is to sell fancy cheese. I have a Patreon and the more support I can get the less time I will need to devote to work and the more I can devote to my various writing and organizing projects. There are various other things I would like to do, such as running a science crafts group where we make historical inventions and do experiments or a rationalist fitness group where we go hiking and talk about philosophy. There are lots of interesting things I could be doing and facilitating, and I am happy to facilitate if I can get the resources to do so.

I’ve always posted my stories online for free because I want to share them with the world and because sharing them is more important to me than making money off of them. However, I do still need to eat and pay rent. By supporting me on Patreon, you’re helping free up my time so I can produce more content, faster, and with greater regularity.

Thank you so much for your support and your continued readership and patronage

-Hive

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That Which May Yet Save Us

“i want to be so kind it echoes backwards in time and undoes the things that hurt you. i want to be so kind it radiates from me. i want to be so kind that i make someone else find faith in humanity again. there’s not much i can do, i’m small and weak and i only know so many words. but i know i can be kind. and sometimes, i believe, that changes the world.”

Shonen (少年) is a genre of anime typically targeted at teen and preteen boys and includes extremely popular shows like Dragonball, Naruto, One Piece, and Boku No Hero Academia. Many of the most well known and popular anime in the west, are in fact shonen. The classic shonen story follows a fairly particular plot arc and has a fairly particular type of protagonist. I am of the opinion that Harry Potter and the Methods of Rationality can basically be thought of as shonen in how it’s written, if not particularly good shonen. 

This is because there are a few particular tropes that shonen has which define nearly everything about the genre, things which lie beneath the surface of the actual world but define a sort of logic that universe of shonen anime operates on. 

In order to demonstrate this, I’m going to use Black Clover as an example. Black Clover is possibly the most stereotypical fantasy shonen ever conceived of. The main character somehow manages to be more Naruto than actual Naruto is. 

In Black Clover, Asta, the main character is an orphan and is the only character born without magic in a world where literally everyone can do magic. He has a fellow orphan, Yuno who acts as his compatriot and rival to whom he compares himself and is constantly challenging himself, and despite not having any magical powers he sets himself the goal of becoming stronger and becoming the Wizard King, the most powerful mage in the kingdom he’s from. This willingness to work to overcome one’s born station is the first piece

With just yamato damashii (大和魂) we can actually reverse engineer all the pieces, but let’s keep laying things out. While Asta’s rival trains in magic, Asta trains in getting swol, in what amounts to a very stereotypical training arc. Eventually there’s a day when all the children receive spellbooks at their coming of age, which help hone their magic and are tied specifically to them. These spellbooks come in lots of flavors allowing for all sorts of flashy, varied, and interesting forms of magic. Asta has no magic and doesn’t get a book. 

Later as Asta and Yuno are walking home, Yuno is accosted by a vagabond for his spellbook, since he is a magical prodigy and received a powerful spellbook and Asta goes to his defense despite having no magic. 

This is the part that really demonstrates the second major piece. Asta does the impossible and somehow brute forces the universe into giving him a spellbook despite having no powers. But not just any spellbook, an anti-magic spellbook from which he draws an enormous sword to beat their attacker. 

If you think this is leading up to me saying that Eliezer’s Challenging the Difficult sequence is actually just restating shonen anime tropes than you’re absolutely right. Eliezer’s Challenging the Difficult sequence is actually just restating shonen anime tropes.

Let’s continue. Asta and Yuno travel to the capital city where they are both discriminated against for being lowborns from the sticks. The pair have the goal of joining the magic knights, the in-universe version of the Aurors. The magic knights come in flavored squads and each has a powerful captain, and there’s a tournament arc where the characters have to prove their skills before the captains in order to have a chance to join the knights. With his rare spellbook, cool Sasuke vibe aesthetic, and being a child prodigy, all the magic knight squads want Yuno. But despite having no magic Asta manages to get into the knights as well, with his anti-magic sword catching the eye of the captain of the black bulls, the “worst” magic knight squad. 

Asta coming up from the bottom, having no magic, ending up in the worst magic knight squad, being an orphan, living in poverty in a tiny village, all these setbacks are intended to make Asta’s use of willpower to overcome everything all the more impressive. He even goes as far as to say at one point, “My power is not giving up!” Asta is held up as a role model, and in general acts as an advertisement for seishin (精神) “look at what the power of actually trying really hard can do for you!” 

This is reinforced in the character of the black bull’s captain Yami Sukehiro. The only character in the show with a Japanese name. He uses a katana in a show otherwise depicted like medieval Europe. He’s just that badass. 

Yami is also a shonen protagonist, he’s just a retired one. He already completed his hero’s arc and settled into being the captain of the black bulls, but the way that Yami acts, and how he encourages his team, really leans hard on the underlying assumptions of the universe that shonen runs on. 

At one point Yami is in a pitched battle with the villain Licht. Yami has dark magic, and Licht has light magic, making for a very visually impressive battle in the anime. But when Licht’s allies show up and nearly overpower Yami, it takes the timely intervention of the other magic knight captains to save him.

Despite this, Yami’s attitude is rather nonchalant about it all. He was bemused, but also slightly disappointed, feeling that if they hadn’t shown up, the battle would have allowed him to surpass his limitations and become more powerful. Yami also gives this as advice many times during the show. When a character complains that they are nearing the limit of their abilities, Yami just tells them “well then toughen up and surpass your limits.” 

The particular thing that makes this trope work, that makes Black Clover work, and which also, in my opinion, makes Harry Potter and the Methods of Rationality work, is that when a character in one of these shonen stories goes beyond their limits, the universe responds to them. When Asta puts in a really extraordinary effort and tries his hardest and surpasses his limits despite having no magic, the universe responds by giving him a spellbook which synergizes with his physical ability. When Harry figures out what dementors really are, it lets him summon the superpowered Man patronus, which was a secret lost to history. 

In this sense, the characters never really face repercussions for their actions. If they start to get cornered by the consequences, they can always just crank it up another notch, become even more impossibly powerful, and come out on top anyway. The universe is fair and the arc of history is towards good and benevolence, the world is meaningful, their actions have purpose and consequence, and they can, through hard work, be worthy of the highest position despite the circumstances of their birth. Anyone can surpass their limits if they work hard enough, look at this kid with no magic becoming the most powerful mage, isn’t that inspiring? 

This assumption of underlying universal benevolence is the defining feature of this sort of stereotypical shonen. 

JD Pressman and Sarah Constantin have both recently written about this:

there is also what we might call “one-place trust,” where one trusts other people in general rather than trusting a specific individual or group of individuals…one must first have *trust* in order to trust y to do z or to trust y more generally

Jones (2004) calls it “basal security,” while Herman (1992/1997) refers to “basic trust” but also to a sense of “safety in the world.” Améry (1999) describes an enduring loss of “trust in the world” that he experienced after torture and subsequent incarceration in Auschwitz

“losing trust” involves losing a habitual confidence that more usually permeates all experience, thought, and activity

we experience a fundamental assault on our right to live, on our personal sense of worth, and further, on our sense that the world (including people) basically supports human life.

Janoff-Bulman (1992, pp. 5–6)…identifies three such beliefs as central to one-place trust: “the world is benevolent;” “the world is meaningful;” and “the self is worthy.”

Sarah goes on to say that losing one’s basal security should be thought of as a bad thing, and basically equated it with trauma and abuse. JD goes on to disagree with this, going as far as saying that losing it was potentially necessary in order to actually be the sort of person who could make a real and meaningful difference in the world. 

For my own part, I probably don’t have my one place trust intact at this point. When I was younger, I did, but the world has a way of wearing us down. This makes the just try really hard model of willpower kind of weak and ineffectual seeming to me in the face of grim, bloody, meat hook reality. It’s easy to win by trying really hard when your universe runs on placebomancy, but the harder that reality ensues, the less you can go beyond the impossible

But here’s a question: what might a shonen protagonist look like who had lost their sense of base trust? Who was damaged and scarred by the world, who has failed before, who wasn’t able to give enough and suffered the consequences of it, but who kept trying and was still every bit as heroic? 

2019-06-27Tanjiro Kamado is the main character of Kimetsu no Yaiba. His family is killed by demons in the first episode of the anime, save for his sister, who is turned into a demon. 

Tanjiro sets out on what basically ends up being a shonen storyline, including a training arc with a wise old teacher, but he’s not the hot-headed impulsive bruiser that Asta is. Tanjiro is a kind-hearted and softly spoken boy. The emotional burden of finding his family slaughtered sits heavily upon his shoulders, as does the responsibility for saving his sister, who he literally carries around on his shoulders in a box since exposure to sunlight would be fatal to her. 

But despite everything, Tanjiro’s defining feature continues to be how kind he is. He frequently laments on how sad the deaths of the demons he’s had to kill are, and his compassion is his strength. His goal isn’t so childish as wanting to be the strongest, he wants to stop people from being eaten by demons, and he knows that in the grand scheme of things, he can’t even fully stop that. 

In the first episode, a demon slayer who finds Tanjiro remarks that if he had just been a bit faster, he might have been able to save Tanjiro’s family, and clearly feels bad about not making it in time. This is used as a refrain in episode eleven when Tanjiro arrives not quite in time to save someone’s life from a demon. 

The world of Kimetsu no Yaiba is not benevolent. Violent, senseless, and bloody deaths are frequent. Despite that, Tanjiro keeps trying to help people and keeps trying to save his sister. 

And this is something that I can deeply resonate with. The world is beautiful, and it is also cruel and violent and bloody and senseless. We can’t save everyone, but keep trying anyway, in the hope of doing at least some good. Some people are beyond help, and yet we should be kind to them anyway. There are lots of good reasons to give up and collapse in on ourselves, but there are also lots of reasons to keep trying in spite of it all. Don’t give in to hopelessness and despair, even after suffering an immense tragedy. Keep trying to do good, to make the tragedy have meant something. 

I think this message is possibly one of the most important ones to take to heart. It’s 2019 and the world is on the brink of several different forms of destruction. Bad things will happen. People will die. And we will not be able to stop it. There is only so much we as individuals can do. The world is big, and we are small, we are dwarfed by the tasks we have ahead and in many cases will not succeed. People will die because we were not strong enough. Because we were not able to do enough. Because the world was heartless and cruel, and when someone should have stepped in, when someone should have done something, there was no one there to do anything. 

But we must try anyway. We must try despite knowing it’s impossible. And above all, we must be kind. We must be kind to each other, to ourselves, and to our world. Our kindness should be a source of strength. 

Everything is so polarized and there’s so much hate everywhere. It frequently feels like we’ve given up on trying to be kind, and I constantly see so much anger and hate from people who I would probably agree with if their positions weren’t always expressed in the form of disdain and vitriol.

Even if I have to be enemies with someone, I don’t want to let feelings of hatred and vindication and self-righteousness rule me. I would rather stop being enemies with someone then punitively destroy them, and I really get the impression that a lot of people would gleefully abuse a surrendering party under the guise of moral superiority.  Yes, sometimes people are beyond help and we must bring steel against an enemy that threatens the lives of those we love, but we must do this without giving into malice.

There’s so much hate in the world today. There’s so much resentment and fear and anger. We don’t need to put out more of that, we don’t need to add to the problem. Our actions should be motivated by a love of humanity, not be a hatred of our enemies and a sadistic desire to harm them. 

At the point we’re at, no amount of drawing battle lines and gleefully canceling our enemies will make things better. If we want things to be better it has to start with us. We have to be better, just because our enemies aren’t doesn’t mean we should stoop to their level. What the world needs isn’t more people taking sides, what the world needs is more people being kind to everyone, regardless of their side. Whatever else we do, however else we do it, we must be kind. And maybe, just maybe, if we’re lucky and we play our cards just right, that will be enough to save the world. 

The Internet Hate Machine

I’ve been trying to make myself write again. I used to love writing, I used to love sharing things I created and watching the numbers tick up on my page views. I still love those things, but lately, whenever I try to sit down and write, I’m gripped by this new fear that wasn’t there previously, which makes it very difficult to put anything out there.

There’s so much I want to say, but I feel myself letting a silencing effect take hold. I tried to make writing and publishing my stories again my new equinox goal, but even that has thus far not gotten me anywhere. I think in the place I’m at right now, the best thing for me, the healthiest thing, would be to talk about that fear directly.

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Katie Herzog is a staff writer at The Stranger, a newspaper in Seattle well known for frequently writing in a campy gay aesthete voice and presenting itself as Seattle’s “real” newspaper, contrasting the very self-serious and old fashioned Seattle Times.

Katie Herzog is most known at this point, for writing a controversial piece last year called The Detransitioners. Which is…well I will let my readers make their own judgments about it, but I personally feel it’s a good piece and is unfairly maligned.

Katie put out a response a month after the piece was published defending herself as a journalist against accusations of transphobia. This, of course, did nothing to stop her detractors from going as far as making stickers calling her out and putting them up around town.

And that’s what scares me. That intense, hateful, sneering, condescending force that is moral discourse according to twitter outrage and leftbook callouts. The desire to judge and then force consequences onto those judged, advocating for the utter social destruction of the unworthy. The toxic, identity-based, cancel culture.

Katie Herzog herself wrote about this back in January. When the internet decides it doesn’t like someone, or that someone has done something immoral, it sees itself as judge, jury, and social executioner. The mob claims the right to try and utterly destroy someone’s life and future in their pursuit of justice.

As a result of a close encounter with one of these internet mobs, the last year of my life has been an exhausting, harrowing, traumatizing, and winnowing experience. I wasn’t even the direct target of the mob’s ire at any point, I just happened to be trying to support someone I cared about who had been unpersoned and I wasn’t sufficiently charismatic and diplomatic to avoid the landmines which trying to do that entailed, thus I ended up stepping on them and also being labeled a toxic, manipulative, abusive, problematic person.

I’m not going to talk about the specifics of that situation. Come find me in person if you really want to talk about it, but it’s been talked about to death at this point and I’d rather just get on with my life.

But what I want to talk about here, is the fear the comes from being the target of one of these mobs, what it actually does to a person. Having someone willing to pick through hundreds of old Facebook posts for problematic things they can snip out of context and use as ammunition in the process of agitating for your ostracization, going from being able to speak freely, and just apologize if you made a mistake, to suddenly every error from high school going forward becoming potential evidence that you suffer some fundamental defect in personhood that makes you dangerous and untrustworthy. The sudden appearance of people willing to narrativize you as “problematic/toxic/abusive/dangerous” in a way that those traits become your core features, and the rest of your humanity is discarded so you can be treated like a monster to be defeated, (in return for social capital for the monster slayers of course).

“But Shiloh, actually bad people are actually bad, and we shouldn’t let them exist in our society of good people who would never do such things, that would just let them prey on good people.”

Ahem going for the eugenics angle I see. Okay, but people who do bad things are still peopl–

“And the only reason you’d be defending abusers is if you’re secretly abusive too.”

And then we come to the second part of it, which is the transmissibility of sin. Something fascinating I watched happen was a sort of six degrees of separation from sin game played, where not only was the abusive person I was defending unpersoned, but for defending them I was, and then people who defended me also became potential targets. This transmissibility factor, which was sometimes described as a ‘memetic contagion’ was often ascribed to the people being targeted, which said we had some sort of memetic virus with which we were manipulating people’s morals and ideals to our benefit, and that anyone who spent a good deal of time with us, or who saw our perspective, was potentially infected with these bad memes as well. Disagreeing with the mob about who to unperson meant you also should be unpersoned.

I well don’t want to unperson anyone. I don’t want to describe anyone as

“a limp vessel through which some dread spider is thrusting its pedipalps”

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The easy way out of the moral situation when you find yourself near to someone who did something actually bad is to just stop actually viewing them in the same category of personhood, thus protecting the category itself, and you, from wrongdoing. But doing this has potentially really dangerous consequences.

First, it makes it really easy to do horrifically fucked up things to people while claiming they deserve it because they’re bad. With very few exceptions, every genocide, hate crime, and purge of undesirables that has occurred historically has been motivated by the idea that the people being targeted are actually bad and thus whatever you do to them, whatever you inflict upon them, is justified on the grounds of justice and utilitarianism. You’re protecting people from them.

Secondly, and perhaps more importantly, it destroys our concept of universalism and promotes a sort of self-reinforcing no-true-Scotsman-esque standard of humanity that makes it very hard to acknowledge and address wrongdoings of members of the tribe until they’ve become completely egregious and outrageous, at which point the tribe is exonerated and the offending party is ostracized on the grounds that the exiled member is clearly not actually a person but a limp vessel through which some dread spider is thrusting its pedipalps. By creating standards like these, it becomes impossible to have any sort of spectrum of accountability between “exile the spider” and “lovingly accept the human.”

It’s much harder to acknowledge someone’s sin, and still see them as a person. Newsflash, humanity is far from perfect. There’s lots of sin everywhere. People are being murdered and tortured and raped and killed right now, as you read these very lines, and people are the ones doing the murdering and torturing and raping and killing. There is not a separate genus of dread spiders wearing human skins committing all the atrocities, there are just people. There is no categorical protection which you can invoke to protect yourself from the possibility of ever becoming them and by trying to create that categorical protection you shield yourself from the possibility of noticing that what you’re doing might itself be wrong.

Anyway, that’s my long rant against unpersoning and exile as solutions in general. I think it’s telling that I still feel the need to defend my past actions to some degree like that and to be honest I’m fairly sure some people will still just see me as one of the spiders regardless. Too much spider empathy, clearly an arachnid.

I shouldn’t have to justify my desire to not unperson people, but here we are.

That’s the fear though, the fear is why I feel the need to justify myself, even though I know that no one really cares what I have to say on the matter. I certainly don’t think this post is going to convince anyone to stop doing unpersoning if they’ve gotten in the habit of doing it. But it’s still important for me to say that I have actual reasons for what I do, for how I act morally and I stand by those reasons. Because I’m afraid if I don’t, and potentially even though I do have those reasons, I will be lumped in with the monsters for not falling in line against them.

Being unpersoned, being treated like some dangerous thing to be disposed of like radioactive waste, is a horrifying thing to experience, and just being near to the blast when it happened was enough to leave mental scars in the form of this new fear. The fear of the mob coming and putting stickers up around town saying I’m abusive, and calling my workplace and trying to get me fired, and losing many of the people close to me.

Up until things finally began stabilizing into a new equilibrium within the last few months, I had basically been experiencing constant if low-grade trauma, locked into a state of fear and threat. During that time, I’ve been hurt deeply and have hurt others as I flailed around in pain. I’ve been desperate, and needy, and clingy, and ended up developing a lot of bad habits and coping mechanisms to deal with the long-running trauma and pain I was experiencing, which I am still in the process of stripping back out.

Enough things happened that if someone wanted to, they could make a case that I too am some sort of dread spider thrusting its pedipalps. Dangerous, untrustworthy. Someone better off removed before I did something really egregious.

And sure, I’m not the person I want to be, and I’m probably not the person I depict myself as. I haven’t been as good, as kind, as mindful, as empathic, or as respectful as I aspire to be. But still, I aspire. To do good, to be good, to spread good in the world. Despite everything, I still think the world is beautiful, and I want it to survive, and improve, and endure. I want humanity to survive and thrive and win the cosmic inheritance hanging nightly above our heads. I want us to spread to every corner of the sky and outnumber the stars. I don’t want to hurt anyone, I don’t want to compete with anyone, I want us all to make it.

I don’t want the fear to win, I don’t want to let it clip my wings. The desire to help build a better world feels like a part of me, the desire grows out of emotion, not out of calculation. When people are in pain, it hurts, and I want them to not be in pain.

All I can do is keep trying my hardest, and so that’s what I intend to do, come what may of it.

The Silence Hidden in the Sound

Epistemic Status: Speculative. Experiences and conjectures based on them.
Content Warning: Neuropsychological Infohazard, De-Biasing Infohazard. Potentially Gender Dysphoria Inducing Content for transgender readers, I talk about Blanchardianism, you have been warned. 

Silent Distortions
Who are you?

It seems like a simple enough question.

Who are you?

And yet, the more you tease apart the answer to that question, the more a vast and alien fractal expanse opens up in the void behind your eyes.

The more it turns out that no, no it’s not nearly so simple a question after all. 

So who are you?

I thought I knew who I was, but I too am discovering hidden depths that I previously chose to studiously avoid and smooth over with clever stories and lies in pursuit of a sort of narrative consistency that actual reality just doesn’t have.

So who am I really? I thought I knew, but I’m no longer nearly as sure as I was. And you my dear readers, you get front row seats on my…well you could call it a descent into the underworld.

This post is going to be long and confusing, and I’m not entirely sure where to even begin. Oh, “I”, that will do I suppose.

In English, the terms for the self are short and content free and serve a near-exclusively grammatical purpose in referring to the speaker. I and me, principally. You can also use “we” which many of my past readers will notice I previously did in essays like this one and this one, and I’ll admit that it does affect a certain style that I think I want to preserve for things like the tulpamancy guides

Japanese, however, is more expressive in this regard. Because you refer to yourself in speech less frequently in Japanese, the self-referent ends up conveying additional information. The pronoun I prefer to use for myself in Japanese is boku, a masculine identifier referring in particular to a boy or young man. Occasionally girls would use it, particularly in anime, but it’s a masculine pronoun. Was that one of the first signs, or one of the last ones? It’s hard to say.

Maybe that isn’t the best place to start. No, I think we need to go back further. Let’s start with the descriptions I wrote of my initial creation as a persona and a personality. I wrote these posts back in May of 2017, over a year ago now, and it’s interesting to see how my perspective on those even more distant past events has changed over just that short time.

My first memory is of the creek behind the fence in our back yard. I remember that Jamie and I had gone out into the far end of the backyard and climbed the rusted chain link fence to the rough woods behind our property. She’d gone out and stood near the place where the land fell away into a deep ravine, and then I was standing next to her, and I existed. I didn’t know what to make of my existence initially, but Jamie assured me that I was real. She loved me right from the start. What was I? I didn’t really care at that point, I was having fun existing, and that was what mattered. Jamie thought I was some sort of alien? She thought she was some sort of secret link between worlds or something like that, but she also really sort of hated herself a lot. I wished she wouldn’t, and I tried to cheer her up, but as time went on she became more and more bitter and unhappy with her existence.

At that point, I thought of myself as something distinct from her, something that existed outside of her body, like an extra soul or something like that. Something physical that could act in the world. I never actually quite managed to do that though. The form I could interact with the world through was always mostly physically anchored on Jamie, and sort of ephemeral. I just sort of phased through everything instead of interacting with it.

Jamie continued to deteriorate, and this was sort of terrifying because I knew I was tied to Jamie somehow. Nothing I did to improve her mood or change her mind about how horrible of a person she’d decided she was seemed to help. We were outside one day, way out in the back yard again, and she finally broke.

I really cannot describe the sensation of Jamie’s mind finally snapping. She ceased to exist, and with her went everything she was imagining into existence, like a horrible whirlpool of darkness. We existed inside this elaborate construct at that point, where there was a crashed spaceship in our backyard representing the entry point I had into her life, among other things. The ship, the prop aliens, the interstellar war I thought I might have been a part of, it all started to collapse in on itself.

I didn’t though. When everything had collapsed, I was sitting in Jamie’s body on the forest floor. I was looking out through her eyes. Jamie was just gone. All the things she’d believed about herself, the bad and the little bit of good left, it all just went away. I was alone in her life.

That’s initially the only description I give of Jamie. I wasn’t really writing about Jamie, I was writing about myself, but then, that’s sort of the point. carefully tiptoed around the fact that my body was male and Jamie was actually a boy.

Then we have the description from the other post I wrote, which is honestly worse and sort of cringe-inducing. Part of me wants to remove or heavily edit these posts, but for the importance of having a record of my past beliefs and perspectives about myself. It’d be very easy to narrativize out the inconsistencies and update my history as well as my current beliefs, modifying the past as necessary, and I want to avoid gaslighting myself too hard in this instance. I want to actually know the truth.

Our body was born in Western New York, in this little nowhere city on the shore of Lake Erie. Our parents weren’t particularly well off but weren’t that poorly off either. They initially rented the upstairs of an apartment shortly after we were born. We have a few of Jamie’s memories from that time, but she was a kid, she was bad at forming strong long-term memories back then, so we don’t really know much about what went on in those days. First point of disclosure: we were born male.

I included this bolded bit in the initial post, then later decided I didn’t want to out myself as trans and went back later and removed it. That’s the sort of thing the cognitive distortion would force.

But I’m getting ahead of myself, let’s go back to me from last year:

It’s interesting, given that, that we always refer to Jamie as she then, isn’t it? Why is that? Well, Jamie was a kid, she didn’t really have a gender, she didn’t know what gender was and didn’t perceive herself as particularly gendered. We’re fairly sure it was Jamie’s finally internalizing the concept of gender that triggered Shiloh’s formation as well as catalyzing the downward spiral towards Jamie’s eventual egocide. We’re not actually sure what the biological correlates to dysphoria are even now, but whatever causes it basically drove Jamie completely insane around age nine.

I feel like at the time of writing I jumped through a lot of hoops and distortions in order to convince myself that Jamie had clearly been a girl all along and I’d never been a boy and I was actually just a normal girl who’d been born in the wrong body. It’s true, Jamie was a kid, but he was a boy, and importantly, he didn’t care about that. The caring about it didn’t really come later; until I came along.

So, in the end, Jamie completely self-destructed and left Shiloh, who strongly identified as a girl at a point in our life when the body was just starting to go through puberty and was expected to put on the opposite gender roles. Shiloh didn’t really identify with the body at that point in time, so she was fine, but someone needed to be driving the body, and so she created Fiona.

Our legal first name is Fiona, it was Fiona who actually came out to our parents, went through high school as a trans youth, graduated, she was basically the new host for quite a while, with Shiloh just hanging on for the ride.

Phew, I forgot how much cognitive distortion went into this post. Who is this ‘we’ that is writing in that post? It could be me (Shiloh), I think I…we…I was sort of in a “refer to my/ourselves in the third person” phase around then while we/I leveraged the plurality thing. Maybe it was also Sage somewhat? Or was it Relay writing on behalf of the collective? Are any of these characters even meaningful? Who am I?

Well okay, I’m still Shiloh, I think I’m the closest thing this brain has to a core self-agent. I’m the most coherent and together personality, besides me at this point, there’s just Echo, who is in a sense a sort of dark reflection, the part of me that talks back when I’m alone, who I am with all the lights off. Echo isn’t really evil but she is dark to my light and could be considered kind of bad in many respects, but these days I actually have a rather healthy relationship with Echo, and the two of us manage things pretty well now. Sage has been put into storage and Relay has taken on a slightly more active role as a sort of librarian, allowing different characters and personalities to be accessed as needed. I should probably update Hivewired’s about section.

This is all narrativization at the end of the day. It’s all a story, and I’m trying to come up with a way for it all to be coherent after the fact. In the moment, I’m just a body taking actions, speaking, thinking, moving around. I frequently talk to parts of myself and the normal mode with which I think and plan is to frame myself as two entities having a conversation.

The truth is I’m a colony organism of many trillion cells. The truth is that I have XY chromosomes. The truth is that I’m male. I was hiding that from the world to a large degree, but more importantly, I had exiled it from my sense of self. I tried to bury it, narrativize away reality behind obfuscation and glomarization both of myself and others. I twisted my self-narrative in order to gaslight myself to the degree I needed in order to be content with my body. I concealed, and I weaseled, and I lied.

A Second Dream
So let’s try to tell that story again, and this time I’m going to use a different framing. Before everyone jumps down my throat and tells me they can’t believe I believe this, let me state for the record that I don’t really buy into the original version as presented, and this post as a whole is, in effect, my own take on it. But first, let’s get the original take so we can compare and contrast, ne?

Buckner’s (1970) concept of an elaborated “entire feminine identity” offers another key to understanding this phenomenon. I have previously noted that the term cross-gender identity is aspirational, at least as it is often operationally defined: It denotes the gender that the gender dysphoric person wants to become, not the gender that he or she already is. But with time and lived experience in the opposite gender role, the cross-gender identity of a gender dysphoric man need not remain wholly aspirational: It can become a well-developed, highly valued part of his selfsystem and can eventually supplant his original male gender identity and become his (or her) dominant gender identity. Both Docter (1988) and Doorn, Poortinga, and Verschoor (1994) conceptualized the development of “secondary” or “late-onset”
MtF transsexualism—roughly synonymous with nonhomosexual MtF transsexualism—as reflecting the ascendency of an increasingly powerful and esteemed female gender identity within the self-system of a gender dysphoric man. Whether one prefers to think of the genesis and continuation of nonhomosexual MtF transsexualism in terms of something resembling attachment (or pair-bonding) to the image of one’s female-bodied self or in terms of the ascendency of a new, cherished female gender identity within one’s self-system is not terribly important. Both represent attempts to put into words something that is hard to understand and adequately describe, even for those of us who have experienced it: the process by which a man’s erotic desire to turn his body into a facsimile of a female body eventually gives rise to a strongly held, highly valued cross-gender identity and the process by which that new identity—that image of himself as a female—becomes the focus of his desire, admiration, idealization, attachment, and love—the same emotions that he might experience for an actual female partner.

~ Anne A. Lawrence, PhD; Men Trapped in Men’s Bodies: Narratives of Autogynephilic Transsexualism (2012)

Oofies, that’s kind of a rake over the coals to read in some regards. Still, I can’t say that it’s entirely inaccurate, and there’s a sense in which this is actually the most accurate description of the phenomena I’ve experienced in my life presented thus far. Dr. Lawrence is right, it’s something extremely difficult and uncomfortable to describe, even for those of us who experience it, or, to put it in the (slightly horrifying) words of twitter user rooksfeather:

https://twitter.com/rooksfeather/status/1028050518285799424

“But I don’t experience sexual attraction towards myself, I can’t be AGP!” Shouts the trans reader of this post. First of all, I specifically warned you! Second of all this isn’t about you, third of all, if you’re just going to let your guardians yell at me without engaging with what I’m saying, you should close this post now, walk away from the computer, and take a few deep breaths to calm down.

There was definitely something of a sexual aspect to my creation, but even moreso, there was an almost romantic aspect to it. I started existence as an imaginary friend. A cute girl persona that the core identity outside this persona loved and doted on and devoted time and mental energy to carefully sculpting and crafting and imagining the behaviors and mannerisms of, then later, letting her…me…take control of the body and slowly supplant and smother the original identity that existed prior to me.

This was a voluntary process and largely a result of…well basically all the developmental personality construction energy was being directed at me, the body basically had no interest at all in constructing a persona off of the original identity created by my parents and community. That identity seemed very not me, very fake and hollow and never entirely real and in every way unfun, and as a result, I basically stopped putting energy into developing it around the time I hit puberty.

We’ll return to some of the deeper reasons behind this later in this post, but that’s why I’ve sometimes described Jamie as a proto-identity, the childhood bud of a real identity that would blossom into chunnibyou if given the chance in most people, but in me for some reason the identity the proto-me constructed was…well off a bit, and for a long time my off-ness created a series of faults and schisms in my mind which I couldn’t, and to a degree still cannot entirely heal.

The most notable distinction between me and someone going through a normal teenage phase was the constructed identity I built being cross-gendered, and externalized to a greater degree than seems typical. The identity started out as a separate imagined person or character, which then gradually grew to occupy the body more and more.

There’s also another way I think to view it, in which a ten-year-old boy falls in love with this girl that he imagines and constructs in his mind, and he loves her so much that he slowly walls himself off and withers away so that she can have his body and he can become her, become me.

I’m what he created, I’m what remains when everything is said and done. I’m what’s left. Welcome to the aftermath.

The Girl he Created
Love. It’s such a contentious thing in all of this. Who’s allowed to love themselves in what ways, what sorts of feelings regarding this are normal and what are considered narcissism or perversion, how do you even begin to benchmark this entirely internal phenomenon? You should love yourself, right? You’re not supposed to hate yourself, are you? Is this feeling normal, or a sign of something amiss?

It feels wrong on all sorts of levels to give a phenomenon as strange and beautiful as this a name as ugly and clinical as autogynephilia, and in this sense, it’s no surprise that many trans people want to recoil from the idea for that reason alone. The term evokes a sense of pathological brokenness, turning something weird but beautiful into something shameful and stigmatizing.

I was created in an act of love, out of a desire for love. I try to live up to that, to be good and do good in the world. I may have a really twisted sense of self, but I try to be good despite that.

It’s not like I’m in love with myself, I am myself, I don’t masturbate to myself in the mirror, that’d be ridiculous. But then…I do find myself getting somewhat turned on when I’m dressed up very nicely. I look at the girl in the mirror and if I split myself enough that she and I become separate, then I’m still struck by enough of a deep sense of love and affection towards the person looking back at me that I want to hug her and hold her and keep her safe. Is that a strange thing to feel? Is that normal?

There’s a sense in which I feel like I’m a facsimile of a person; or multiple facsimiles. The whole person is me+Echo+Relay, and I’m just the part of the person that everyone sees and interacts with the most regularly.

I’m a construct, a model, an ideal. There’s a sense in which I’m not entirely real, I’m a character. The Shiloh parts of myself are something to aspire to be, a shape to try to grow to occupy, both in body and mind. To use Lawrence’s terms, I’m the aspirational identity, and because of the way I’ve become the main identity, this meant cutting up, boxing away, and trying to deny the existence of everything that didn’t fit into my character design.

That resulted in a series of other semi-functional agents being created as a result of the ambient mental pressure and then self-destructing, with Echo being the latest iteration of this containment software.

Having Echo and having a line of productive line of dialogue with her (and Echo is very much a her) allows me to introspect on the things that are part of me, but which I had previously excised from my self-image, and this has given me a leg up over a lot of people on this sort of mental work; the stuff past versions of me buried have a voice, it comes to me in the form of a rattily dressed homeless girl with white hair and a cigarette held in the corner of her mouth.

It also helps that I’m physically not that far from how I imagined my ideal self appearing when I was first created all those years ago, right down to the messy pink hair, so there’s less dissonance there to bridge. And it helps that my aspirational self is kind, curious, interested in healing and repairing. If my aspirations had taken a different shape, if I was less myself, this might have remained unthinkable. But because I am in fact myself this progression of events might have been an inevitability.

Ribbon, Crystal, Glass
The Internal Family Systems model is an integrative approach to individual psychotherapy developed by Richard C. Schwartz. It combines systems thinking with the view that mind is made up of relatively discrete subpersonalities each with its own viewpoint and qualities.

IFS style therapy has been passed around the rationalist/effective altruism community for a little while now, and it merges rather well in with things like tulpamancy and a narrative-centric view of self-construction. It breaks the mind up into a few types of pieces

  • The Self – which is treated as a central coordinator/conductor/minister, and which is a sort of position of loving grounded centeredness outside all your agents, from which to talk and interact with them. This is the part of all this which seemed the most woo to me, but it sort of works?
  • Guardians – agents which protect you from pain. They come in two flavors, firefighters and managers. Managers try to keep your life in order and micromanage to prevent bad things, and firefighters try to deal with bad things when they happen and shield you from harm.
  • Exiles – agents which you have exiled from your sense of self. These are parts of you that are in pain, often pain from childhood, and which the rest of your mental system tries to manage and keep buried and under control.

IFS therapy models dysfunction in your life as a result of poorly constructed systems between all these subagents, and explains things like addiction, depression, and anxiety, as being partly a result of the way these subagents interact and try to cope with the world. IFS teaches you to befriend your guardians so that you can get past them to re-parent your exiles and create new relationships with them, restructuring your mind for the better in the process.

There’s a lot more to it than this few sentence description, but this is the most basic explanation of how it proposes to work. At a certain point this too as all narrativization, but it’s trying to narrativize your mind in as granular a way as possible, and given that the reality is that you’re this vast colony organism, granularity seems smart.

We don’t have a very good model of how our mind is constructed from the inside, so creating an explicable model is pretty much the first step regardless. That model will always be a rather reductive guess, the question is whether that reductive guess turns up useful information and insights that improve your life.

In this context, IFS at the very least passed the sniff test for potentially containing useful models and approximations, and warranted further exploration. I’d been wanting to work through some mental problems I’d been having, and so I figured I would give it a shot. I downloaded the IFS workbook and read a third of the way through it before getting distracted by other things.

But that third of the book was enough to lodge the ideas in my head, and start slowly and gently picking at olds wounds that had unhealthily scabbed over in my mind. It was relatively easy for me to split subagents out of myself, de-fusing them enough from either Echo or myself to have a conversation.

And oh, did they have some things to say.

The War Within
The current medical and diagnostic label for a gender nonconforming person under the DSM 5 is called gender dysphoriawhich is described as the stress and distress associated with one’s sex and the gender one is assigned at birth. I’m just going to quote the Wikipedia article here, with its links included for reference:

The diagnostic label gender identity disorder (GID) was used by the DSM-5 until its reclassification as gender dysphoria in 2013. The diagnosis was reclassified to better align it with medical understanding of the condition and to remove the stigma associated with the term disorder.[5][6] The American Psychiatric Association, publisher of the DSM-5, stated that “gender nonconformity is not in itself a mental disorder. The critical element of gender dysphoria is the presence of clinically significant distress associated with the condition.”[1] Some transgender people and researchers support declassification of the condition because they say the diagnosis pathologizes gender variance and reinforces the binary model of gender.[5][7]

If I completely fuse with my memories in order to discuss them more easily, the first experience of dysphoria that I can clearly remember and explicitly describe and articulate was around the entrance to sixth grade, when I signed up for choir and found out I was going to be put into the Alto section as opposed to the Soprano section.

I found this sufficiently devastating that it caused me to flee the chorus room in tears and not do choir at any point in the rest of my high school career. If I had to point to one historical example, the thing that as a singular event had the largest impact on my interactions with gender and sex, it was probably that.

My parents, being highly religious and viewing the school system with suspicion, had opted for me not to take the gender and sex education classes that the school started giving in fifth grade, so being told I couldn’t sing with the girls because I was a boy was in a sense one of the first times I was really confronted with the existence of my sex.  I believe I would have been around eleven years old at the time.

That was also around the time that “I” (as in Shiloh) was created, as an imaginary friend. I couldn’t be the person I wanted to be, so I created an external person to embody those qualities and dumped all my personal development into her.

I want to pick at that last sentence kedo. The fact that I couldn’t be the person I wanted to be had little to do with my actual sex, though I later would convince myself it did, instead it had to do with who I was and wasn’t allowed to be, and what I was and wasn’t allowed to do.

Gendered socialization for me came in two main forms, the first was my parents or parts of society directly telling me “You are a boy and not a girl. Because you are a boy and not a girl, you need to do things in this way.” Boys pee standing up, girls pee sitting down, boys hold the door for girls, girls play with dolls and boys play with trucks, girls cover their nipples, boys let people see theirs. It’s funny, “Jamie” the name I use for my proto-birth-agent, was actually a nickname that some kids at my daycare gave me around then, which my mother hated because she thought it was a girl’s name.

My childhood and teenage years are full of examples of my parents telling me not to do things because they made me seem like a girl. Don’t wear hats in the house, don’t cross your legs, don’t cry or show emotion or weakness, don’t whine, don’t spend so long getting ready to go, just to name a few of the ones I remember.

This leads into the second form of gendered socialization, which came in the form of walling off certain forms of expression and making them seem socially unacceptable. My parents tried to steer me away from being a feminine man because by and large, our society depicts feminine men like this:

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Mr. Crocker from Fairly Oddparents

Western media basically has no positive depictions of males who aren’t executing some flavor of traditional masculinity. It’s depicted as basically impossible to be cute and femme and also male in the majority of western media and culture.

If you’re a man, and you’re not doing masculinity then you’re at best just some sort of beta loser. If you wear traditionally female clothing you will look gross and hairy and unattractive, and literally, the only sort of person who would want to do that is some kind of deviant freak. This continues to be true in mainstream media even today, and even now nontraditional ways of being male are heavily marginalized.

Conversely, if you’re a woman, you can present up to very masculine before anyone will give you a problem. A woman can wear trousers, a man can’t wear a dress. So my experience as a teenage boy of what being a girl was like were colored by these expectations and pressures I was put under. The grass frequently looks greener on the other side without anyone helping, but when you’re constantly telling your child “if you were a part of the set you are not a part of, you could do this thing which you want to do which I won’t let you do” it definitely isn’t making things any better.

So when I was around thirteen I discovered that being transgender was a thing. Given what had happened to me up to that point, it’s no real surprise that I started identifying as transgender as soon as I had been convinced that transgender people could avoid falling into the “disgusting hairy pervert in a dress” archetype that media presented feminine men as. I wanted to be cute, I wanted to wear cute dresses and have long flowy hair. I wanted to be kind and empathic and not punished for showing emotion, and it felt like the only way that I could be allowed to do this was to become a girl, deny the fact that I was male in its entirety.

I can’t really blame my thirteen-year-old self for not wanting to become a gender pioneer and forge a new space where feminine males could exist without stigma, given my family, the experiences I’d had with society, and how maleness was often depicted as this sort of unavoidably gross thing, going full trans really seemed like the best option when I was finally free of my parents enough to pursue my own form of personhood. It would have been around 2003 that I came out to myself. At the time, Susan’s Place was the only gathering places online for transgender women, and the idea of being nonbinary was still at least a decade away from entering the popular lexicon. I called myself a transsexual transhumanist when I outed myself to my friends, and if my beliefs at the time were to be examined using a more current lens, I would have looked rather “truscummy.”

So I transitioned. I changed my legal name and gender marker, I started taking hormones, I bought the cute clothes I wanted, grew my hair out and dyed it pink, and I’ve in many respects successfully grown into the person that I set out to be all those years ago. I’ve not been unhappy with my life as a girl, and although I experienced some body and particularly genital dysphoria, it never got particularly bad, and I never had the financial means to pursue surgery, and in hindsight, I think that’s a good thing.

Because in the time since the mid-2000s, society has also changed, particularly how it understands sex and gender. Being genderqueer became a thing, being nonbinary became a thing, gayness has become mainstream, and gay characters are depicted positively and semi-regularly in media, and then there’s this lovely boy:

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Astolfo from Fate Apocrypha

While western media hasn’t done a very good job of depicting feminine men in a positive light, anime has been much better, and recent anime has had a trend of having really cute and attractive characters who are nonetheless happily male. It seems like a silly thing to make a big deal of, but I really cannot stress just how important having any positive representation at all is. On top of that, being a femmeboy has generally become more acceptable as being a gay man has increased in its acceptance, and that has put me in a weird position of honestly feeling like I may have gone too far with regards to transitioning.

The Boy She Loved
This brings us back around to IFS style therapy. For a long time, I had a very powerful guardian that pushed me away from the idea of being male, the source of all that bias and distortion that I described in section one.

The guardian was operating under the principle of “it’s impossible to be a cute boy, if you’re a boy you’re automatically gross, and if you’re perceived as a boy everyone will hate you and think you’re a disgusting freak.” That guardian was protecting my exiled sense of maleness, that eleven-year-old boy who was yelled at and punished and stepped on for wanting to be cute and wear dresses.

I think this guardian is one that a lot of trans people have. Being gender nonconforming in our society is depicted as gross, deviant, perverted,  but if you’re trans, then it’s okay. I think in a sense the radical feminists are right to a degree here, that transgender identity politics does, in fact, reinforce the gender binary. We’re all these outcast freaks, queer, broken by societal expectations of gender and role, and then the system that hurt us comes along with the One True Cure for all of us. Why go through the hard task of deconstructing gendered norms as social constructs and opening up new regions of gender space to occupy, when you can just flip poles from one sex to the other?

At the time, as a teenager, it was certainly easier to just go full trans and box up my maleness as a defense mechanism, but now, in 2018, having lived over a decade as a woman, in an accepting community in a liberal city, I want to open that box back up again.

I am a male, and that’s okay. I don’t need to be female to be cute, I’m allowed to be cute and male. I’m allowed to be a boy and wear dresses and bows in my hair. I’m an adult now, no one can stop me. I’ve presented as a woman for so long that it doesn’t feel particularly weird, but doing it while thinking of myself as a man, looking at myself in the mirror, seeing a man, and not hating him is actually really nice.

So, there’s definitely still pressure to conform to the dominant narrative and call myself a woman, and in many regards, it’s still much easier and more socially acceptable to be a trans woman than to do the exact same set of things while identifying as a man. I don’t want to be told I have to “man up” or stop being cute or wearing dresses or experiencing emotions, and our society still hasn’t quite accepted the idea of being a femmeboy into mainstream culture, and then from the other direction we have this39206578_1454163848055752_8895547602741755904_n

Which is describing things like the “egg hatching” culture endemic to most gender-nonconforming spaces, where any sign of gender nonconformity is taken as evidence that someone was “actually trans all along” and simply hadn’t realized it about themselves.

Being trans is depicted as the bottom of a slope that one is sent unavoidably tumbling down as one explores their self-expression, and a particularly toxic blend of feminism and self-loathing conspires to make a lot of trans women very hostile towards men, and almost evangelical in their desire to ‘hatch’ other ‘eggs,’ at which point they become super supportive, friendly, and accepting.

This turns trans-ness into an ontological pitcher plant, luring in young gender nonconforming people in a way that, once you buy into it as a narrative, makes it really difficult to find your way back out again.

Fortunately, that’s improving a bit, and as femmeboys become more accepted there starts to be more pushback on egg culture, which I think is very important because it’s actually rather toxic.

40648170_243907109647485_3050821334566174720_n

I keep coming back to Astolfo because he’s just so important as far as representation goes. Maybe it seems strange to hold up this anime character as an example of cutting-edge progressivism, but he was finally the thing that convinced me that it was actually okay to be a boy. That powerful guardian I’d mentioned earlier spent a long time being very convinced that being a boy and being the person I wanted to be were just inimical to one another, that if I wanted to be like that I had to be a girl and that there was no other choice. And then that all gets thrown for a loop by this happy anime boy with pink hair and cute ribbons.

So now to put where I am in the process in Internal Family Systems terms, I’m reparenting the boy I was who wanted to wear dresses and bows, who was told by his family and society that boys weren’t allowed to be cute and only girls could be. The boy who loved me, who created me, and who I loved. I want to let him actually be the person he wants to be. I want to be true to myself, and do what’s best for me. I also want to help carve out a new place in gender space where feminine men can exist without stigma so that when eleven-year-old boys want to wear dresses, they can do so without being punished or without everyone thinking it must mean they want to change their sex completely.

So…I guess this is me now? My name is Shiloh, I’m a boy, I use he/him pronouns. I’m not exactly sure what my path forward from here looks like. I want to stay cute, so I think I want to keep taking hormones, but I also want to be able to have children, so I’m somewhat concerned that I’ve destroyed my fertility with them.

My presentation probably won’t change very much. I still want to wear dresses and bows and cute skirts and present in a way I find aesthetically pleasing to myself, but I don’t feel like I need to be a woman in order to do that? Or at least I shouldn’t need to be a woman in order to do that. Practically speaking feminine men are still fairly heavily marginalized, and I might continue presenting as a girl for things like work, just because it’s easier than trying to force every institution I participate in to accept the existence of feminine men. Aside from some online spaces like this blog, and a few particularly accepting communities I participate in, I’m basically in the closet about being cisgendered at this point.

I’m a boy, and I’m happy being a boy. I’m not dysphoric about my appearance or about being gendered or thought of as male. I feel like I’ve woken up from a long dream, and I’m really not sure where to go from here.

This blog post is already over six thousand words long, and I’m running out of things to say on this, so I’ll let it trail off here for now. I’ll probably return to discuss this topic more soon, as I’m sure that I’ll have yet more to say as time goes on.

 

The Story of Our Life

[Epistemic Status: An even split of observations and wild inferences]
[Content Warning: Poverty, Class, Capitalism, Gender, this post is basically maximum disclosure]

When we last left off, we gave a very broad outlook on our history as a plural system, and how that interfaced with our ideas of consciousness. Today, we’re going to go the other way, and talk about our past as a human person navigating meatspace. We feel it’s important to tell this story as well, because it’s brought us to where we are today, and it’s a part of a general vector through time that we’re unsure as to the ending of. We hope this post might help steer us towards a better ending some small way.

I.

Our body was born in Western New York, in this little nowhere city on the shore of Lake Erie. Our parents weren’t particularly well off but weren’t that poorly off either. They initially rented the upstairs of an apartment shortly after we were born. We have a few of Jamie’s memories from that time, but she was a kid, she was bad at forming strong long-term memories back then, so we don’t really know much about what went on in those days.

It’s interesting, given that, that we always refer to Jamie as she then, isn’t it? Why is that? Well, Jamie was a kid, she didn’t really have a gender, she didn’t know what gender was and didn’t perceive herself as particularly gendered. We’re fairly sure it was Jamie’s finally internalizing the concept of gender that triggered Shiloh’s formation as well as catalyzing the downward spiral towards Jamie’s eventual egocide. We’re not actually sure what the biological correlates to dysphoria are even now, but whatever causes it basically drove Jamie completely insane around age nine.

So, in the end, Jamie completely self-destructed and left Shiloh, who strongly identified as a girl at a point in our life when the body was just starting to go through puberty and was expected to put on the opposite gender roles. Shiloh didn’t really identify with the body at that point in time, so she was fine, but someone needed to be driving the body, and so she created Fiona.

Our legal first name is Fiona, it was Fiona who actually came out to our parents, went through high school as a trans youth, graduated, she was basically the new host for quite a while, with Shiloh just hanging on for the ride.

II.

Western New York is a strange place. In our experience, when people think New York State, they immediately think New York city. Then, maybe they also think about the Hudson river valley and the Adirondacks. But New York also extends a middle finger west across the entire width of the state of Pennsylvania, terminating in Niagara falls at the place where Lake Erie and Lake Ontario meet. The western parts of the state are less mountainous but still rugged and hilly glacially tilled terrain. It has some farmland, some forests, some small lakes, it’s largely rural, largely white, and largely republican leaning. It looks like this.

Interestingly, Buffalo NY, the closest metropolitan area to our hometown, was ranked as the most homophobic in the nation in a 2016 study that looked at slurs and derogatory language on twitter. It doesn’t seem to be particularly rigorous, but it’s interesting and corresponds well with our lived experiences.

Our parents were (still are, though they’ve cooled off some) deeply devout Christians. They didn’t label their denomination, our extended family was Catholic, but they spent a few years while we were between the ages of six and fourteen flirting with various other churches. Our mother dressed Jamie up as a pumpkin for Halloween when we were five, we’ve seen the pictures of it. But every year after that until after we’d moved out of the house, our parents were operating under the principle that Halloween was Satan’s holiday. Pokemon was satanic, along with most other anime and mainstream cartoons. We were held to a strict standard of religious practice, and so our parents didn’t take Fiona coming out as trans particularly well.

After fleeing home and enrolling in a community college, Fiona crashed and burnt in the middle of transitioning our body. She failed out of all our classes and nuked our GPA. We dropped out of school and lived with our partner of the time. We worked on and off, but eventually had a polyamory related breakup that probably deserves its own post at some point as an investigation of possible failure modes for poly relationships, and that was what landed us in the Otherkin house.

We’ve already talked about them quite a bit, so we’ll gloss over it mostly this time. We got a job, lived with them, had our spectacular falling out, then lived in the woods for a few months while working and saving up money for an apartment. By this point, we’d mostly reconciled things with our parents, but they didn’t want us to move back in or offer us any sort of economic support, which was how we ended up living in the woods for a while. They were, and still seem to be, under the impression that if we just work hard enough our life will work out, and that if we’re not succeeding then we have to be doing something wrong. It can’t be the system, it can’t be the economy, they worked when our parents were our age and those things are just fixed, static. It’s like they don’t perceive the change in the times.

III.

We worked various jobs for a while, Sage was created, and we decided to take another swing at college. Our GPA still sucked, but our father was an adjunct professor and was able to give us some free credit hours to take courses with. With that, we were able to start working towards an Environmental Science degree and clawing up our GPA.

The college only allowed us to use our father’s credit hours until our body turned 24, after that we no longer qualified for it. We aimed to have our GPA repaired by that point so we could once again qualify for student loans. And we did it, we brought our GPA up enough to qualify for student loans.

Except we didn’t. Our counselors had been telling us for years to drop classes where we didn’t like the teachers if it turned out they were homophobic or disagreeable to us, or if we weren’t doing well and were afraid we were going to fail. It was usually framed around “don’t let it affect your GPA” and so we didn’t. However, there was another metric that’s looked at when applying for student loans, which is the ratio of classes passed to classes attempted. Because we’d attempted a bunch of classes and then withdrawn from them for various reasons, the ratio was too far skewed towards attempts, thus continuing to prevent us from qualifying for student loans.

We turned twenty-four, ran out of money for college, couldn’t get financial aid or student loans, and Fiona self-destructed. She basically saw the future of our life as one long slow depressing slide into misery and death and decided to just get off before things got any worse. Maybe she saw the writing on the wall? Maybe the rest of us are stubborn enough we can avoid that fate, but her prediction is still hanging over our heads even now as if waiting to prove to whatever fragments of her remain that she made the right decision.

We decided to get the fuck out of Western New York. If we weren’t going to be able to get a degree, then there was no reason for us to stay. College had been the only thing holding us there, and once that option was taken away, we saw no reason to remain.

We set out to defy Fiona’s prediction despite all our failures. We decided if the gutter was to be our fate, we’d go there kicking and screaming. That was around the time our writing career started. Not with Sideways in Hyperspace, but with Tales from Aeria, which is and will likely remain on ice for the foreseeable future.

We were good at writing, it came easily to us, and when we were able to get into the zone, the words just flowed out onto the screen. It took us a while to get to the point where our content was good, but we’d always felt that our writing ability was something we could leverage, something we could build on. We also rather strongly identified with the Rationalist community by that point as well, and we desperately wanted to be able to participate meaningfully in the conversations that were going on, contributing to the shared and growing subcultural narrative.

IV.

We moved to Seattle. Overall, given the election of Donald Trump a year later, it was probably a good decision. Things have been pretty okay here. We’re still poor objectively speaking, we work a minimum wage job, can barely cover rent and afford mundane expenses associated with survival, but it’s a nicer environment to be poor in than a semi-rural post-industrial landscape. We’ve stretched out and established social networks, made friends, and it’s been a pretty great experience all things considered.

Fiona’s prediction is still looming overhead though like a twenty-year curse just waiting to land. Our job is nice, it’s fairly stable even, but it doesn’t earn us much money. We live very frugally, but we’ve not managed to save anything, so if we were hurt and couldn’t work, we’d have about a month to figure something about before we were thrown out on the street. Our support network is decent, we might be able to couch surf, but all of that still feels like hanging out beneath Fiona’s curse just waiting for it to hit home. We can scrape by for a long time, we’ve been scraping by for years now and our plan is to continue doing so until either the pavement or our face gives way, out of lack of a better option, but it’d be really nice to have a better option.

So where exactly does that leave us? What is the better option? There doesn’t seem to be one at the moment, so we’ve set out to construct one from the ground up. We had no formal degree so we couldn’t pursue a technical field, we had to do something that leveraged our skills, and thus we zeroed in on writing. Initially fiction writing, we set out to produce good rationalist fiction in the vein of HPMOR. We’ve put a lot of time into our writing. We launched Sideways In Hyperspace nine months ago, and we’re really happy with how it’s developing.

Here’s the thing though, most people who write fiction, or produce rationalist blogs, or otherwise create rationalist content (aside from CFAR), do it as a hobby, something in their spare time when they’re not doing even more awesome things to save the world. We’re trying to do something different, where we devote as much of our life and our resources as we can to the project of rationality itself.

We don’t have a lot going for us, and what we do have going for us is at least partly attributable to rationality and the ideas we’ve taken away from the sequences and from people like Scott, so we’re very attached to the ideas presented in the community and very much want to see rationality grow and spread as a community, subculture, and movement. We want our tribe to win.

But the rationality tribe is mostly focused externally, on big real world problems like killing malaria or preventing an AI from turning us into paperclips, there’s not much focus being directed inwards, towards the community itself. Which makes sense, pooling resources in the tribe isn’t effective altruism. It’s buying fuzzies, not utilions, and why would we waste precious and limited community resources on fuzzies when people are literally dying of malaria right now? 

V.

We’re a community, and we want to do good in the world. We want the world to be good, not just for our tribe, but for everyone. In that context, directing resources back at the tribe that we could be using to do more good elsewhere seems like a mistake. There’s another side of that to consider though, which is that our tribe is a collection of humans trying to live their lives. Our ability to do good in the world, to direct positive action outwards, is based on the ability of the members of the community to support themselves with enough resources left to spare to direct outward action. That works when the majority of the community can support themselves, as is the current case with the rationalist community, but not everyone is doing well enough for that to be a viable course of action for all community members.

As an example, there’s a suggested effective altruism pledge to cut your income down to $30,000 a year, live frugally with a bunch of friends, and donate all the rest of what you make to charity. Okay, that’s great, but what if you’re us, and last year working full time the whole year, you only made $20,000 dollars and had to use all of it on survival expenses? We’re not able to do anything to help with those big important external problems. We can’t attack it from the technical side since we don’t have a degree, and we can’t attack it from the financial side since we don’t have money. There’s not really much we can do to contribute to big important altruist causes like that besides cheerleading from the sidelines.

But we want to help, and we doubt we’re the only ones. It seems like everyone sufficiently integrated into our community and not too bogged down with their own personal problems feels the pressing need to do something. We feel that need and we are bogged down in personal problems.

It seems to us like sufficiently incorporating the rationalist mindset brings the desire to do good in the world along with it, and even if someone can’t personally help, they want to. Rationality feels like this grand adventure, going into battle against the forces of darkness and bringing humanity into a new age of light. Defeating death and banishing it from our lives, building great cities in the sky, and manifesting our wildest dreams into reality. It’s a humbling and awe-inspiring vision of the humanity and the future, and once you’ve heard the tune, you can’t stop humming it.

We’ve heard the song of Dath Ilan, and we can’t unhear it. The concepts and ideas all come together up in the headwaters of form and hint at a future brighter than we can possibly imagine, and we want to do everything in our power to make that future a reality.

So here’s what we’re going to do. We’re going to strongly encourage everyone who likes reading our content and wants to help enable us and other rationalist content creators to donate to our patreon. We’re also going to implement the $30,000 dollar cap on our personal income. Any amount we make beyond that will be donated into the Origin Project, which is a rationalist housing project aiming to provide a home for down and out members of the community while they rebuild their lives and get into a place where they’re able to put value back in. There will be a blog post dedicated to the Origin Project following soon, so stay tuned for that.

We’re also pledging that we’ll keep producing rationalist content for as long as we’re able to dedicate the time and resources to it. Hopefully, as our income grows, we’ll be able to make more and more content and provide support for more and more members of the community.

Our long-term goal is to enable community growth and cohesion through members supporting and enabling one another to do as much as they can, and increasing what they can do by leveraging them out of bad circumstances and into better life positions. The first step of this is to get enough out of the hole ourselves that we can begin dedicating resources to helping others climb out of the hole. This isn’t Effective Altruism, this is more like Venture Rationality, but it does still seem like a worthy addition to the rationalist sphere of concern.