Corinna, my friend and podcast co-host, is a man to me. I don’t think it’s because I’ve been using sex-based pronouns for him, as I do for everyone. He does pass; the majority of people read him as female. When I first saw him in a video, I thought, “he passes, he’s cute.” And once I mistook him for a mom, from a distance, while he was unloading his bike parked right next to a dad unloading more bikes with his kids. I read them all as a family unit, didn’t recognize Corinna, and rode right by.
Nonetheless, Corinna is a man to me, and not just on a technicality. Calling him “him” generates for me no cognitive dissonance; I don’t get tripped up as I do with Buck Angel.
Back in the day (circa 2017), when male transactivists liked to claim they were “expanding the bandwidth of womanhood,” gender critical radical feminists responded that such men were expanding the bandwidth of manhood. Why couldn’t we accept that some men are feminine? Men are eager to exclude effeminate men, especially effeminate gay men, from manhood. Meanwhile, unfeminine women, masculine women, were increasingly eager to exclude themselves from womanhood. Radical feminists urged everyone to broaden their acceptance of men and women, to include the full range of behaviors and presentations we call gender.
This seemed sensible to me. I was already opposed to sexist stereotypes, being gender non-conforming myself. But prior to 2017, I believed if an individual wanted to exclude themselves from their sex class, I should support their exclusion. Isn’t that “kind”?
Well, no. It’s not kind to tell someone that they have no place in their natal sex class because they don’t feel like they fit in. Your sex isn’t socially determined. Yes, your social “sex roles” are, but I supported broadening these categories to include everyone. Women can be firefighters and airplane technicians and boxers, strong and active and butch. Men can be pretty and wear dresses and present themselves as objects for consumption, weak and passive and effeminate.
Corinna is a man to me. An effeminate gay man with no gonads, who has been on exogenous estrogen for decades. His fat distribution is more “womanly” than my own. He has long hair; I cut mine short. He is a disenchanted transsexual. Does he want to exclude himself from his sex class? I don’t think so, but other men certainly did in the 1990’s, when he chose irreversible surgery as a teenager.
Corinna is a man attracted to men. He has had relationships with men where both he and they pretended he was a woman. He has told me he doesn’t want to do this again. He knows he is not a woman; he wants to be with a man who accepts him as he is.
Maybe Corinna is a man to me because we’ve had so many conversations about this. Maybe it’s because I really have expanded my idea of manhood and womanhood. Whatever the reason, I now find it jarring when strangers call Corinna “ma’am,” and friends call him “her.” I acknowledge some people sincerely perceive him as female. Others might register ambiguity, but think they know what side of “be kind” they should fall on.
Sometimes I joke that I call Corinna “he” because I’m an asshole. Or because I’m so rigid about using sex-based pronouns. But the fact is, I really, truly, sincerely perceive Corinna as a man, albeit an extraordinary one. Extraordinary men are men, and, extraordinary though he may be, Corinna is no exception.
When I lived in New York, I knew two very talented and driven artists who had abandoned their children. One had left her son with her parents so she could move to NYC and pursue visual arts. The other had simply ditched his kid with his ex-wife, to devote his life to stage performance. Both told me separately (they didn’t know each other) that, had they stayed to raise their offspring, they would have killed themselves.
I always took the prospect of parenthood very seriously. I believed anyone who had a child needed to prioritize them, and if that meant giving up their so-called dreams, they were obligated to do so. I felt ambivalence admiring my friends’ works, when I learned they had abandoned children to create them. I believed their explanations were honest, that they may indeed have committed suicide if trapped in the parental role, which would have left their families even worse off. I judged them for not thinking this through before they had made innocent new humans to suffer their bad decisions. They were both young when got pregnant and impregnated, respectively, caught up in emotions and hormones and romance and a sense of fulfilling biological and social imperatives. Neither child was “accidental”.
Jordan Peterson recently said not wanting children is “either deluded or immature.” He is speaking primarily to young men, and maybe he’s right about them. He also asserts that many (most?) women are happier as mothers than in high-powered careers. He may be right. Most people seem to desire children, enjoy children, are attracted (maternally and paternally) to children, like being around children, and find children delightful and inspiring. Most parents discover a deep sense of meaning in their children, something they never experienced prior, to the point they see their lives before children as comparatively meaningless and empty. This is their main point of reference: a childfree adult is like a younger version of them that never grew up, because when they grew up they had children.
Not wanting children is socially difficult and alienating. Years ago, on the online forum alt.support.childfree, a woman asserted that only women are truly childfree. Men may not want children, but only women understand deeply what they are rejecting.
My fertile years were marked by constant awareness of my difference. Not only did I have no desire to have a baby, I felt pronounced revulsion to the idea, and to babies themselves. I had no ill will toward them, but no maternal attraction either, and preferred to stay as far away from them as possible. I was acutely aware I was supposed to feel and behave a certain way around babies, as relentlessly demonstrated in media: to coo, stare adoringly, ask to hold it, and wistfully long to have my own. My real feelings were perverse and would horrify anyone around me. I internalized much of their hatred. Deluded or immature. What kind of monster would be repulsed by babies?
A woman, first of all. A man with a calling doesn’t need to experience that revulsion; he won’t lose all his energetic resources to reproduction, he doesn’t gestate, give birth, breast feed, or otherwise surrender to children as a woman must. If a woman has a calling – to use her full energies to reproduce culturally, rather than biologically – then whatever culture destined to come through her benefits from her psycho-reproductive resources. Any emotional inclination toward biological children is a threat to whatever Art wants to be made instead. A female artist is at much higher risk of abandoning or starving her creative potential for a child than a male is. And if she abandons her child instead, as my NYC artist friend did, the consequences are devastating and maladaptive.
Only women can be truly childfree.
My own choice to never have children was realistic and mature. First, I clearly had no orientation toward them. It was possible – probable, even – that if I’d had my own, my revulsion would have evaporated and I would have loved them deeply, sacrificing my creative pursuits. Would this have been a net benefit to society? Because I was realistic and mature, I understood children need committed love and sacrifice. Because I was realistic and mature, I condemned the abandonment of children. Because I was realistic and mature, I took my ingrained and unwanted revulsion of children seriously. Most available men desired children; my aversion vastly reduced my relationship prospects. I have never wanted children, but I have wanted men who wanted children. I have also wanted social acceptance and a sense of belonging. My revulsion of babies and parenthood denied me this. But I was realistic and mature enough to understand that however much I wanted the benefits of fitting in, suppressing my feelings (revulsion), my true orientation to parenthood (against it), and my calling (Art), would be dishonest and commit me and any potential family to misery.
I had a calling. Much as parents wonder how anyone can not want children, I marveled how others lived their lives without making Art. How could you have any sense of meaning without creating something beautiful and significant? How dull and empty the lives of non-artists must be. I eventually concluded that the meaning and order Art brought to my life, largely came from children in theirs. Which is how I came up with the idea of a psycho-reproductive system. Our biological reproductive systems are evident; we are shown diagrams of them in sex ed; but our psyches participate as well.
I first learned about how Cuckoo birds reproduce in Richard Dawkins’ The Extended Phenotype. Cuckoos don’t raise their own chicks; they hijack the psycho-reproductive systems of other birds, who find Cuckoo hatchlings so irresistibly attractive they feed and nurture them to the detriment of their own offspring. Dawkins points out the behavior of the unrelated birds, hijacked into the parental role, is an expression of the Cuckoos’ genes, which evolved and adapted to do exactly that. Hijacking an organism’s psycho-reproductive system can be a winning evolutionary strategy. I thought about my cats, whom I love with the maternal affection I’m supposed to devote to human babies. Clever cats! Clearly I possess a psycho-reproductive system; I’m not fundamentally devoid of maternal instinct. Mine has simply been hijacked by other species, which have evolved to do exactly that: cats are cute for a reason. I have no regrets.
Culture is also a living and evolving thing. Humans are not human without it. Our brains are made for language (a subset of Culture), and language is made for our brains. Humans raised in isolation, without communication through language and other culture, grow into sick stunted animals, if they survive at all, which they don’t. Culture is insufficiently studied as a life form; it’s commonly considered a product or creation of humanity, rather than a symbiote.
Culture hijacked my psycho-reproductive system — for which I’m glad, don’t get me wrong! I’m part of a proud tradition of humans who have devoted their lives to Culture, although it’s more frequently called God in this context. Jesus Christ was notably childfree, at least in myth. Beloved saints were childfree. In many sects, if one is called to the Church, they must remain childless (celibacy being the means to achieve this). Many social and cultural specialties demand energies otherwise reserved for child-rearing. For some, giving up children to pursue a calling is a sacrifice. For others, the calling – Culture – does what any clever living thing would adapt to do, and hijacks its host’s psycho-reproductive system for its own life support. Not having children was no sacrifice for me. Making Art – cultural reproduction – was a joy. It did not feel like a choice.
The desire to reproduce, or not, is no expression of delusionality or maturity. Reproduction is a primal drive inherited from the dawn of Life. Humans live in symbiosis with Culture which, although relatively newer and not well understood, is alive, reproducing, evolving and adapting. In humans, biological reproduction entails sacrifice, especially of the mother: an enormous devotion of energy and time, and giving up competing dreams and desires. Cultural reproduction – Art – also entails sacrifice of energy and time and, in my case, of societal approval and a sense of belonging that would have been a great comfort. I will in some sense always suffer alienation from the majority of my species, as I do not share the basic, meaningful human experience of parenthood. Yet, I still seek ways to connect with and understand parents.
Most don’t return the favor. Maybe they’re deluded or immature.
I hated my parents. I hated my school. I hated the cops. I hated all authority.
I hate anything that imposes limits on me, that gets in my way.
I hate disease, I hate that death is inevitable, I hate the laws of Nature. We all do. We all hate our parents, we all hate our Mother.
What goes up must come down. Hate that!
I hate that people form mobs and go after scapegoats. I hate that I have been a scapegoat, and may be again.
Hell is other people. I hate â€˜em.
I hate suffering. Life is suffering.
And yet. See what happens when we overcome our limits?
See what happened when humans developed antibiotics, thereby evading a longstanding limit of Nature? Now humans overpopulate a still-limited planet, destroying vast swathes of wild habitat and species.
We developed industrial machinery, freeing ourselves from the limits of manual drudgery. Now we are captives of our own technology.
We domesticated animals and plants, freeing us from the vagaries of hunting and gathering. Now we lack purpose and meaning, as our animal instincts are continually frustrated.
We created writing systems, evading the limits of our very limited memories. Take that, Nature! Now we live in a mediated cultural hallucination.
Without limits, we create hell on earth.
We need everything we hate, to push against. We need gravity, to push against this Earth even though we want to fly. Imagine if we conquered gravity. Our muscles would turn to jello, our bones would weaken, we wouldn’t know what to do with ourselves as we floated about. Pushing, tension, resistance, opposition: we are built for this. We are built for limits. We are made for enemies.
Without enemies, who are we?
Children of parents who fail to set limits, who can’t tolerate their children’s hatred, become narcissistic monsters.
Atheists wonder, if God is such an asshole in the holy scriptures, why do the religious praise and worship Him? God certainly behaves like an Enemy, what with the plagues and commands to violence and contradictory imperatives and impossibly confusing directives and nonsensical rules and vindictiveness and punishments. Thus, to love God is to love thy Enemy. To love thy Enemy is to love God. If God is all, He is evil as well as good, limits along with freedom, hate along with love. To know Him is to love Him, and hate and fear Him too.
I love mine enemies, for giving me something to hate. Without enemies, whom would I hate? Myself? That would be much worse. I’m built to hate something, better it not be me.
Children hate their parents, especially their Mothers. It is a natural phase. As I become more like the Mother myself, I am more able to love my hating self, and the hating others, all we hateful children, mine enemies. Love thy enemy as thyself: we, who know what hate is, already do.
When I learn a new song – something I do unconsciously, every time I am exposed to new music – is some other song erased in my memory to make room? No. I seem to have unlimited capacity for memorizing music, even as my memory is like a sieve elsewhere. How does my brain do that? Does it re-use existing pathways, or create ever-more byzantine new ones? I imagine my mind’s architecture as ever-expanding fractals, filling the same space with more and more curves and crevices.
The older I get, the more byzantine my mind’s labyrinth, all to store the unceasing stream of new information. Now, when I forget the name of something, I imagine the word stuck in a crevice of the fractal. When I was younger and my pathways less intricate, there weren’t enough curves and bends for words to get caught. Now they snag on every corner.
What is information? In my life, it includes experiences. Every day is different; every day impresses new memories. Do the old ones disappear? Certainly my memories are difficult to access, especially names. But I know they’re in there somewhere. I’ve had deeply stored knowledge return to consciousness when revisiting geographical places, homes I’d been in before but never thought about since. If you asked me to recall my friend’s house in San Francisco between visits, I’d have come up blank; but revisiting, I knew where everything was. I took delight in long-buried memories flooding my consciousness as I rode a bus from the airport to the Presidio two years ago. Sometimes that visit felt like walking through my own dreams, geography and symbols shaped by my lifetime of accumulated experience.
Then there is the information of stories, words, music, numbers, images: Culture. Culture is collective, a living thing like a tree or forest that grows in the soil of human minds. Cultural information is experienced through exposure – reading, listening, tasting – and stored in everyone who experiences it.
How many songs will I store in my lifetime? How to even count? Some of them are surely buried too deeply in my mind to recall at will, but they are still there. All that information embedded in our minds’ labyrinths, that we are not aware of, is what Jung called the Collective Subconscious. Like the webs of biological life on this planet, they are too vast and complex for us to comprehend. We are only aware of a tiny bit at a time.
As I age, I find comfort in routine. Every day resembling the next makes memory storage easier. A curve of the fractal is already structured to store much of the day, with only a few details to be slotted elsewhere. Too much information at once can be traumatic. Moving house is traumatic for me, having to learn a new space. Moving to a new region is more so: having to make new friends, locate new food sources, learn new roads. Moving to a new country is more traumatic still, with new regulations, currencies, bureaucracies, and, most daunting of all for an older person, new language. All of these require new memory structures, new tunnels excavated in the catacombs. A young mind, like an “uncarved block,” takes this on with relative ease. An old mind has already been carved to delicate tracery, every branch with more branches, like the fragile intricate lace of an autumn leaf. Carve more into that, and you’ll tear a hole.
Even without trauma, the mere accumulation of experience over time leads, inevitably, to structural collapse. From the outside, this may look like senility. I increasingly believe that senility is an inevitable phase of consciousness. Live long enough, you will develop dementia. At least that’s how it looks from the outside; I don’t know what dementia is like from the inside, although I’ve read some reports from writers in its early stages. Surely some of the “blocks” our experience carves are more robust than others; a crumblier material may suffer early-onset dementia, while the most solid will die of other causes before their veins of memory fractals become too fine to sustain.
But what of our collective mind? We store information collectively too, as Culture. An ever-expanding human population is one way to increase storage capacity. But consider that many of us are storing the same things: the same languages (the number of living languages is decreasing even as the population increases), same songs, same movies, same stories. This is due to media. Literacy/writing was a great early cultural storage invention, allowing far greater numbers to be exposed to the same information. The printing press increased this exposure exponentially. Then phonographs, movies, radio, and television, leading up to, of course, the Internet, the greatest information-exposure system ever created.
Many of us, like me, spend hours a day “scrolling” information online. The density of words, pictures, and sounds is…well, it’s insane. Individually, I am storing this stuff; it’s shaping my neural pathways in ways I don’t know. I may not know exactly what it’s doing, but I know it’s doing something, accelerating the rate of tunneling of my memory labyrinth, increasing the complexity of my mental fractal. If I am wasting my attention on social media, it is because there is a cost: every stupid piece of (mis)information, adds that much complexity to my neural pathways, that much fragility to the overall structure, and brings me that much closer to senility.
Likewise, collectively, we have massively increased our exposure to information. Our collective memory structure, whatever it is, is collectively growing ever-more complex.
Collectively, we are becoming senile.
Complexity is fun (beneficial, desirable) for a while, but eventually and inevitably it leads to collapse. I’m not against complexity; it’s inevitable. Culture is a life form, and all life forms die. There is no way to stop this. Death is a consequence of life; dementia is a consequence of consciousness.
I’m about to hit my 5,000th bike mile for 2020, and I’m buying yet another new-to-me used obscure recumbent, a rare Easy Racers Ti Javelin. A friend in an online chatroom today asked,
Have you always been this into cycling? Or is it something you developed as an adult?
Always somewhat, but this year I’m doing it way more. I have the pandemic to thank. No travel, and I’m not spending money on anything else really, so why not. Most of my socializing is happening on rides with friends; it’s outdoors, safely distanced, yet intimate because you get to know people through conversation and a little shared adventure.
Tell us your cycling origin story!!! How did you get to be so into it!
Like most kids in the 70’s, I was raised to ride bikes; that’s how kids got around back then, before parents drove them everywhere. Started with the typical banana seat kiddie bike, moved up to a Raleigh 3-speed. Lived adjacent to a college campus where biking was the way people got around. Even my Dad biked to work. Now everybody drives on campus, it’s horrible.
When I turned 18 or so I got my first grown-up bike with drop handlebars, what we then called a “ten speed”. It was a Ross. I moved with it to Santa Cruz, CA, in 1987, where I biked to get around. I always disliked cars and fought with my Dad over driving. He said I would “have to”; I said I wouldn’t until solar cars were available. I got my driver’s license and everything, but refused to own a car, and I really hated driving in California, because of the hills and the fact that my friends drove stick shifts I couldn’t manage. So I just stopped driving altogether.
I rode that Ross all around Santa Cruz, building up my leg muscles to get up the hills. In 1991, I moved to San Francisco and got a Univega hybrid. I noticed how rapidly consumer bikes were improving, going down in cost and up in quality. I biked a lot in San Francisco. Then my bike got stolen off Valencia Street in broad daylight. Thieves froze and smashed the urban U-lock. Actually that might have been the Ross that got stolen, maybe I replaced it with the Univega. I painted that (replacement?) Univega with dots of nail polish all over, to make it look distinctive and therefore less appealing to thieves. It never got stolen, but I didn’t ride it long, because in 1999 I discovered Brompton folding bikes while living in Europe. I got my first Brompton on a trip to the Netherlands in 1999, and took it on trains all over the place the Summer I was based in Veyrier, Switzerland (near Geneva). The Brompton came with me back to San Francisco and became my primary bike. I never had to lock it outside; I folded it up and took it indoors with me, even to go shopping.
When I moved to NYC in 2002, the Brompton came with me, and it was perfect for that city. Bromptons were still obscure in the US back then, but now they’re very popular. NYC has at least 2 Brompton dealers now. I upgraded to a newer Brompton in 2011, and when I moved back to Urbana, IL in 2012, continued to ride it.
In 2013 or 2014 a friend of my Momz’s offered her fancy carbon road bike in trade for an art quilt. It was my first ever high end road bike, so light I could lift it with one hand. I started doing longer rides, which for me then meant up to 30 miles. I bruised my nether regions on that thing, actual bruises along my vulva. I also contended with back and hand pain. Looking at my hands vibrating on the handlebars, I despaired I would have to give up cycling to protect my “money makers.”
Then I discovered recumbents.
A friend had a Rans Rocket he let me try. It took me about half an hour of scooting around with my feet before I could even pedal it. Like learning to ride a bike all over again. But I knew if I could master a ‘bent, I could ride without endangering my precious aging hands.
I rode that Rans Rocket on a local “Moonlight Bike Drive,” a big group ride that went every month from Urbana to rural Sidney, IL, for ice cream and a return ride after dark, about 25 miles round trip from my home. At the ice cream break another rider talked to me about recumbents, and asked if I’d ever ridden a Tour Easy. I hadn’t; I figured my sense of balance was good enough I should be on racier models. He gave me his contact info anyway. He had a Tour Easy I could borrow, he said. On the way back, with a failing headlight, I fell while starting from a stop, and skinned my elbow.
Turns out the Rans Rocket is a notoriously “squirrelly” bike, and the Tour Easy is at least as fast. I emailed Dennis and borrowed his Tour Easy and half a year later he sold it to me when he moved away from town. By then I’d bought some other recumbents via the internet, which is really the only way I could try them as there are no dealers here. I had a Performer Toscana and a HPVelotechnik Grasshopper. But that Tour Easy was a lot better for me. I eventually sold my other ‘bents and became the Easy Racers (maker of the Tour Easy) connoisseur I am today. I took longer and longer rides, both because I was so comfortable and feeling no pain, and because spending all that money and time on bikes incentivized me.
Somewhere around then I got my velomobile, Frosty, which was also a game-changer, because now I could ride in colder weather.
So that’s how I became the total obsessive you see before you today. The End.
I mean this in the biblical sense. Biblical miracles are horrific, bringing death and destruction. The Ten Plagues of Exodus were miracles, or at least “wonders.” The miracles of Revelation are even worse.
A miracle isn’t a fluffybunny event. It is an act of God.
The COVID pandemic is a power greater than ourselves. We can’t stop it; we understand very little about it. It brings us to our knees.
I am in awe of it. I have watched humanity killing the planet my whole life, with obvious warnings of dire consequences. But this Spring’s COVID shutdowns were the first time I saw humanity do anything about it. It was short-lived, but amazing: flights grounded, industry slowed, pollution abated enough to reveal long-hidden mountains for the first time in years.
All of that ended after only a few months. Nothing to see here, folks; go back to paying attention to MONEY. And so contrails again fill the skies, mountains retreat back into smoggy shrouds, and the gears of commerce grind away.
Biblical miracles are famously unheeded, which is why it took all Ten Plagues for Pharaoh to relent. God issues clear commandments; humans don’t follow them. This is the whole story of the Old Testament. Even after occupying the Promised Land, the Hebrews can’t get their shit together, and Jerusalem falls over and over again. The New Testament is no better, especially the ending.
The COVID-19 virus makes its demands pretty clear: Avoid crowds. Stop industrial slaughterhouses and factory farming. Don’t go to (non-essential) work. Spend time with your children; actually raise them. Stay home from school. Stay home, but go outside; look at the sky, feel the sun, breathe the fresh air. Attend to Reality over money. Don’t go to bars, don’t party, don’t crowd into spectacles like sportsball. Calm the fuck down. Take a goddamn break from your hyper-consumer lifestyle.
We still need food and shelter and medicine, the sustenance and maintenance of our lives, and the virus doesn’t seem to have anything against these. The virus clarifies what is essential and non-essential. It turns out much of human activity isn’t essential. We already knew that; the virus urges us to stop denying it.
The pandemic makes another biblical suggestion: a Jubilee cancellation of debt. We can’t stop the gears of commerce, we argue, because we’re all in debt – if we don’t earn money, we will die! Our society won’t forgive debts, but what if we simply froze them, until a vaccine or cure is found? A year (or however long it takes) out of commercial time. Don’t end, but suspend the non-essential economy. All debts, for everyone, everywhere, frozen*. A global time-out. That would be a miracle.
I don’t believe in the biblical god. But I do believe in Nature, and natural consequences. The coronavirus is just one of many disastrous and inevitable natural consequences of human activity. Animal agriculture and overpopulation and global industrialization will do this; it’s a wonder it’s taken so long. It’s also a wonder how gentle the virus is, all things considered. It could have been more like ebola, with a much higher death rate. Plagues of the past have been far deadlier. The Black Death killed 50% of some European regions. We are getting off lightly here.
My response to this miracle is awe. Others respond with denial, or panic, or exploitation. So it has been written; so it ever was, and ever will be. I have long felt like I’m living in a dystopian novel, but right now I also feel like I’m living in a biblical prophecy. What a wonder, to witness these times!
*What about money to run the essential services? Our economic system accumulates vast reservoirs of money in billionaires. If these reservoirs can’t be used, then what exactly is this system for?