Let’s Talk about Music, Baby

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There has been a lot of chatter lately about whether the development of human musical abilities can be explained via some form of sexual selection. Most of this debate has been needlessly heated/involved more insults than it warrants, so I don’t want to pick on any particular people, but all of it seems to have overlooked some basic facts:

  1. Musical success–at least as expressed in our culture–is strongly dimorphic in favor of men.
  2. Music groupies–that is, fans who want to have sex with musicians–are strongly dimorphic in favor of women (especially teens).
  3. Successful musicians have tons of sex.

Let’s run through a little evidence on each of these points. First, talent: 

Wikipedia has a nice list of musicians/bands by # of albums sold. It probably doesn’t include folks like Beethoven, but that’s for the best since it would muck up the data to have artists whose work has been for sale for so long.

The top selling artists, with 250 million or more record sales, are:

The Beatles
Elvis
Micheal Jackson
Madonna
Elton John
Led Zeppelin
Rhianna
Pink Floyd

If this list surprises you, you might want to listen to more music.

Men dominate women here 3:1.

I’m not going to list the rest of the top-selling artists on the page, but if we total them up,  I count 27 women/female bands (including two bands that are half women) and 83 male (including the two half-male bands).

Remarkably, 83:27 (and 89:29) is almost exactly 3:1.

Now, some people object that “people liking their music enough to fork over money for it” is not a good measure of “musical talent,” but it is definitely a measure of musical success. If someone is super talented but no one wants to listen to them, well, I am a bit skeptical of the claim that they are talented.

The other common response I get to this runs along the lines of “But we tested musical ability in a lab, and in our experiments, men and women did equally well.”

So?

All that shows is that you got different results; it doesn’t explain why the dimorphism exists in the real world. There are exceedingly few top-selling musicians in the world (118 on Wikipedia’s list, plus or minus a few deaths,) and it’s highly doubtful that anyone of this caliber wandered into a university music lab. It may be that musicians of average quality show no dimorphism at all (or are even biased toward women) while exceptional musicians are disproportionately male, just because there is no particular reason to assume that two different groups of people have the same range of abilities even if they have the same average. In fact, men have a greater range than women in many documented areas, like height and IQ–that is, while there are more men than women in Mensa, there are also more boys than girls in Special Ed.

Second, groupies: 

The first time Scottish concert promoter Andi Lothian booked the Beatles, in the frozen January of 1963, only 15 people showed up. The next time he brought them north of the border… it was as if a hurricane had blown into town.

The night almost unravelled when nervous local police insisted Lothian bring the Beatles on early to satisfy rowdily impatient fans, even though his bouncers were still in the pub. “The girls were beginning to overwhelm us,” remembers Lothian, now 73 and a business consultant. “I saw one of them almost getting to Ringo’s drumkit and then I saw 40 drunk bouncers tearing down the aisles. It was like the Relief of Mafeking! It was absolute pandemonium. Girls fainting, screaming, wet seats. The whole hall went into some kind of state, almost like collective hypnotism. I’d never seen anything like it.”

A Radio Scotland reporter turned to Lothian and gasped, “For God’s sake Andi, what’s happening?” Thinking on his feet, the promoter replied, “Don’t worry, it’s only… Beatlemania.” — Beatlemania: The Screamers and other Tales of Fandom

normal_fans_21.jpg.w300h282As for Elvis:

Gone are all the jerky body movements that once earned Elvis Presley the nickname of ‘The Pelvis’. Gone are all the actions that were dubbed vulgar by his critics. Presley’s stage performance is now restrained. But that did not stop 5,500 wildly excited spectators at the Bloch Arena, Pearl Harbour, Hawaii from going outrageously wild with unreserved enthusiasm last Saturday night. Never have I heard anything like it. Their enthusiasm was fever-pitch, and they were screaming non-stop from start to finish, making it impossible to identify some of the songs he sang. Whether he was talking, singing, raising his eyebrows or just breathing, it was a signal for the volume of excitement to rise higher and higher throughout this fantastic concert.

Hundreds of naval police at this U.S. Navy fortress were detailed to restrain fanatical fans from invading the stage, and they were kept busy for the entire show. …

The climax came when he closed with the all-out rocker ‘Hound Dog’, the signal for the greatest bout of unlimited pandemonium, many of the younger girls going completely berserk! Then came the trickiest part of all – ‘Operation Exit Elvis’ – to get Presley out of the building before the crowd could tear him apart from sheer adoration.

More about the screaming.

Why all of the screaming?

“Screaming girls”—that was a recurring theme in newspaper reviews of Elvis’s stage shows in 1956 and 1957. At almost every stop, the girls screamed so loud that no one could hear Elvis sing. Even the musicians on stage had trouble hearing each other. … Elvis himself explained that at times in 1957 he had to cover his ears with his hands so that he could hear himself sing. …

When I spoke with some women who had attended an Elvis concert back in 1957, most of them admitted they had screamed. …

“We screamed when he came out. I didn’t know I was going to yell and scream. I’d never done that in my whole life. It was spontaneous. …  He could excite you with his music so much. My mom’s gone; I guess she wouldn’t care if I said it now … it was like a sexual experience. It went through your body kind of like that.”

Kurt Cobain’s suicide sent weeping girls into the streets:

A rumor went around in ninth grade English class. We went home and turned on MTV to find out for sure. I remember girls crying in the hallway. …

I was watching the news when I heard, and cried. It was believable and unbelievable, all at the same time. It’s our generation’s “Where were you…?” moment. My husband, our friends, all remember where we were when we heard the news and how devastated we were. …

I was in the bathroom getting ready for school, and my dad yelled “Hey, some guy from that band you like is dead.”

I walked into the living room and saw them playing footage from one of their performances on the TV. And then they said his name. I immediately started bawling. I don’t think my mom made me go to school that day.

In Seattle:

Seattle bid goodbye to Kurt Cobain on April 10 in true grunge-rock style, bursting the ranks of a quickly organized public vigil and leaping into the nearby international fountain, a giant, water-spouting structure some 50 yards wide and ten feet deep that flanks the Flag Pavilion. … Weeping girls wore beauty pageant banners around their middles, made out of the plastic yellow, “POLICE LINE DO NOT CROSS” tape, the same kind of tape which, three days earlier, had criss-crossed the driveway to Cobain and Courtney Love’s home.

At this point, denying that women (especially teen girls) seem to have some sort of thing for rock stars is right up there with denying that men have a thing for fertile young women with hourglass figures.

Third, the sex:

Chuck-Berry-and-Mick-Jagger
Mick Jagger and Chuck Berry

Groupie sex, oh groupie sex. How many groupies have rockstars actually boned?

Vice has an article titled Elvis was the King of Treating Women like Shit and Luring 14 Year Olds into Bed. Elvis had sex with a lot of teenagers (including Priscilla Marie, who was 14 when they met).

Cracked has a pretty good overview if you’ve never heard of groupies before:

We’ve already written about the sex tents that Van Halen’s Sammy Hagar had installed wherever he performed so that he could disappear mid-solo and indulge himself in a groupie or nine. But that’s not the only way Van Halen was entrepreneurial with his young fans. Let’s take a minute and discuss how original frontman David Lee Roth amused his roadies by sending them out on groupie scavenger hunts.

From his lofty position on the stage, Roth would instruct his roadies to dive into the crowd and collect very specific girls for him to have sex on. The lucky girl would be given a special backstage pass with the initials of the roadie who approached her written in the top corner. If that pass was then among the ones strewn on his floor the next morning, Roth would reward the roadie with a $100 bonus at breakfast the next morning, because exchanging money for sex works up an appetite.

Motley Crue came up with the, uh, creative solution of rubbing burritos on their crotches so their girlfriends wouldn’t smell the scents of groupie sex on them:

He tells Hustler magazine, “We were always f**king other chicks at the studio and backstage… We would take Tommy’s (Lee) van to a restaurant called Noggles to buy these egg burritos and then rub them on our crotches to cover the smell of the girls we had just f**ked.

Let’s hear some more about these “sex tents”:

Before they became a quartet of endless punchlines, Van Halen used to be one of the coolest bands in the world, and they demonstrated their status by having sex with every female who wandered within one mile of their powerful aura. Their career is a filthy memorial to how being in a band is a more powerful aphrodisiac than things like “not looking completely ridiculous,” …

One tour saw the band build a tent directly beneath the stage specifically for Sammy Hagar’s erection. During the mid-show 20-minute guitar solos Eddie Van Halen would launch into each night, Hagar would disappear to the tent and discover a group of naked fans waiting to swallow his penis.

Mick Jagger, by the way, has (at least) eight children via five different women.

Look, I feel a little silly having to spell out in great detail the fact that rock stars get laid a lot. You probably feel a little silly reading it, yet there are people who seem hellbent on arguing that there’s no particular evidence in favor of sexual selection for musical talent.

And no, you can’t explain this away by saying that musicians are “famous” and that women want to have sex with all sorts of famous people. Donald Trump is famous, but he doesn’t have sex tents. Leonardo diCaprio is famous and has legions of fans, but as far as I know, he also doesn’t have sex tents.

I agree that we can’t definitively prove how musical talent evolved among the first humans, (because we don’t have time machines,) but the correlation between sex and music today, in our own society, is overwhelming. A claim that it didn’t have similar effects on our ancestors needs to explain what changed so radically between then and now.

Likewise, we can’t assume that just because music works like this in our own society, it must also work this way in every other society. But conversely, just because something doesn’t work in one society doesn’t imply it doesn’t work in every society. There are a lot of groups out there, and some of them are obviously weird in ways that are’t relevant to everyone else. Some people, for example, like to dress up like anthropomorphic animals and go to conventions. We should be cautious about over-generalizing from small examples. Sure, there might be a random tribe somewhere that with weird traditions like killing any women who see a musical instrument being played, but these tribes generally have fewer people in them than one concert’s worth of screaming Elvis fans.

The Idiocy of Categoric Purity

I realized yesterday that the Left has an odd idea of “purity” that underlies many of their otherwise inexplicable, reality-rejecting claims.

The left has, perhaps unconsciously, adopted the idea that if groups of things within a particular category exist, the groups must be totally independent and not overlap at all.

In the case of genetics, they think that for a genetic group to “exist” and be “real”, it must hail from a single, pure, founding population with no subsequent mixing with other groups. We see this in a recently headline from the BBC: Is this the last of the Aryans? 

Deep in India’s Ladakh region live the Aryans, perhaps the last generation of pure-blooded people and holders of possibly the only untampered gene pool left in the world.

These actually-called-Aryans might be fabulous, interesting people, but there is no way they are more pure and “untampered” than the rest of us. The entire sub-headline is nonsense, because all non-Africans (and some Africans) have Neanderthal DNA. They aren’t even pure Homo sapiens! Africans btw have their own archaic DNA from interbreeding with another, non-Neanderthal, human species. None of us, so far as I know, is a “pure” Homo sapiens.

Besides that, the proto-Indo-European people whom these Aryans are descended from where themselves a fusion of at least two peoples, European hunter-gatherers and a so far as I know untraced steppe-people from somewhere about Ukraine.

Further, even if the Aryans settled in their little villages 4,000 years ago and have had very little contact with the outside world over that time, it is highly unlikely that they have had none.

Meanwhile, out in the rest of the world, there are plenty of other highly isolated peoples: The Sentinelese of North Sentinel Island, for example, who will kill you if you try to set foot on their island. There was a pretty famous case just last year of someone earning himself a Darwin award by trying to convert the Sentinelese.

Now let’s look at that word “untampered.” What on earth does that mean? How do you tamper with a genome? Were the rest of us victims of evil alien experiments with CRSPR, tampering with our genomes?

The Chinese might figure out how to produce “tampered” genomes soon, but the rest of us, all of us in the entire world, have “untampered” genomes.

To be honest, I am slightly flabbergasted at this author’s notion that the rest of the people in the world are walking around with “tampered” genomes because our ancestors married some Anatolian farming people 4,000 years ago.

This strange idea pops up in liberal conversations about “race”, too. Take the recent AAPA Statement on Race and Racism:

Race does not provide an accurate representation of human biological variation. It was never accurate in the past, and it remains inaccurate when referencing contemporary human populations. Humans are not divided biologically into distinct continental types or racial genetic clusters.

But… no one said they did. At least, not since we stopped using Noah’s sons Shem, Ham, and Japheth going their separate ways after the Flood as our explanation for why races exist.

“See, human races are’t descended from Shem, Ham, and Japheth, therefore races don’t exist!”

Two groups of things need not be completely separate, non-overlapping to nonetheless exist. “Pillows” and “cloth” contain many overlapping traits, for example; there are no traits in “cloth” that do not also exist in “pillows.”

Colin Wight on Twitter articulates this beautifully as the “Univariate Fallacy”:

Click the cube. Watch it turn.

This fallacy, when deployed, is commonly done using a single sentence buried within an article or essay couched around a broader narrative on the history of a particular type of oppression, such as sexism. Let me give you some recent examples of this fallacy in action.

You’ll remember this @nature piece arguing that sex is a spectrum and that perhaps there are more then 2 sexes, even though over 99.98% of humans can be classified at birth as being unambiguously male or female. … [Link to piece]

In this piece, they hold off deploying the Univariate Fallacy until the second-to-last sentence of a nearly 3500 word essay.

So if the law requires that a person is male or female, should that sex be assigned by anatomy, hormones, cells or chromosomes, and what should be done if they clash? “My feeling is that since there is not one biological parameter that takes over every other parameter, at the end of the day, gender identity seems to be the most reasonable parameter.”

Please read the whole thread. It is very insightful.

For example, if you look at the so called “big five” personality traits, you find only 10% overlap between men and women. This is why it is usually pretty easy to tell if you are talking to a man or a woman. But if you you look at only one trait at a time, there’s a lot more overlap. So the trick is to take a thing with multiple facets–as most things in the real world are–and claim that because it overlaps in any of its facets with any other thing, that it does not exist. It is not pure.

Are our categories, in fact, random and arbitrary? Is there some reality beneath the categories we use to describe groups of people, like “male” and “female,” “young” and “old,” “black” and “white”? Could we just as easily have decided to use different categories, lumping humans by different criteria, like height or eye color or interest in Transformers, and found these equally valid? Should we refer to all short people as “the short race” and everyone who owns a fedora as “untouchables”?

Liberals believe that the categories came first, were decided for arbitrary or outright evil reasons, bear no relation to reality, and our belief in these categories then created them in the world because we enforced them. This is clearly articulated in the AAPA Statement on Race and Racism:

Instead, the Western concept of race must be understood as a classification system that emerged from, and in support of, European colonialism, oppression, and discrimination. It thus does not have its roots in biological reality, but in policies of discrimination. Because of that, over the last five centuries, race has become a social reality that structures societies and how we experience the world.

Race exists because evil Europeans made it, for their own evil benefit, out of the completely undifferentiated mass of humanity that existed before 1492.

This statement depends on the Univariate Fallacy discussed above–the claim that biological races don’t actually exist is 100% dependent on the UF–and a misunderstanding of the term “social construct,” a term which gets thrown around a lot despite no one understanding what it means.

I propose a different sequence of events, (with thanks to Steven Pinker in the Blank Slate for pointing it out): Reality exists, and in many cases, comes in lumps. Plants, for existence, have a lot in common with other plants. Animals have a lot in common with other animals. Humans create categories in order to talk about these lumps of things, and will keep using their categories so long as they are useful. If a category does not describe things well, it will be quickly replaced by a more effective category.

Meme theory suggests this directly–useful ideas spread faster than non-useful ideas. Useful categories get used. Useless categories get discarded. If I can’t talk about reality, then I need new words.

Sometimes, new information causes us to update our categories. For example, back before people figured out much about biology, fungi were a bit of a mystery. They clearly act like plants, but they aren’t green and they seem to grow parasitically out of dead things. Fungi were basically classed as “weird, creepy plants,” until we found out that they’re something else. It turns out that fungi are actually more closely related to humans than plants, but no one outside of a molecular biologist has any need for a category that is “humans and fungi, but not plants,” so no one uses such a category. There are, additionally, some weird plants, like venus flytraps, that show animal-like traits like predation and rapid movement, and some animals, like sponges, that look more like plants. You would not think a man crazy if he mistook a sponge for a plant, but no one looks at these examples, throws up their hands, and says, “Well, I guess plants and animals are arbitrary, socially-constructed categories and don’t exist.” No, we are all quite convinced that, despite a few cases that were confusing until modern science cleared them up, plants, animals, and fungi all actually exist–moving sponges from the “plant” category to the “animal” category didn’t discredit the entire notion of “plants” and “animals,” but instead improved our classification scheme.

Updating ideas and classification schemes slightly to make them work more efficiently as we get more information about obscure or edge cases in no way impacts the validity of the classification scheme. It just means that we’re human beings who aren’t always 100% right about everything the first time we behold it.

To summarize: reality exists, and it comes in lumps. We create words to describe it. If a word does not describe reality, it gets replaced by a superior word that does a better job of describing reality. Occasionally, we get lucky and find out more information about reality, and update our categories and words accordingly. Where a category exists and is commonly used, therefore, it most likely reflects an actual, underlying reality that existed before the world and caused it to come into existence–not the other way around.

The belief that words create reality is magical thinking and belongs over in Harry Potter and animist religion, where you can cure Yellow Fever by painting someone yellow and then washing off the paint. It’s the same childish thinking as believing that monsters can’t see you if you have a blanket over your head (because you can’t see them) or that Bloody Mary will appear in the bathroom mirror if you turn out the lights and say her name three times while spinning around.

Of course, “white privilege” is basically the “evil eye” updated for the modern age, so it’s not too surprised to find people engaged in other forms of mystical thinking, like that if you just don’t believe in race, it will cease to exist and no one will ever slaughter their neighbors again, just as no war ever happened before 1492 and Genghis Khan never went on a rampage that left 50 million people dead.

“Purity” as conceived of in these examples isn’t real. It doesn’t exist; it never existed, and outside of the simplistic explanations people thought up a few thousand years ago when they had much less information about the world, no one actually uses such definitions. The existence of different races doesn’t depend on Ham and Shem; rain doesn’t stop existing just because Zeus isn’t peeing through a sieve. In reality, men and women are different in a number of different ways that render categories like “man” and “woman” functional enough for 99.99% of your daily interactions. Racial categories like “black” and “white” reflect real-life differences between actual humans accurately enough that we find them useful terms, and the fact that humans have migrated back and forth across the planet, resulting in very interesting historical stories encoded in DNA, does not change this at all.

I’d like to wrap this up by returning to the BBC’s strange article on the Aryans:

I asked Dolma if she was excited over her daughter participating in the festival. She replied that not many outsiders came to Biama, and that it was fun to meet foreigners. But even more importantly, she couldn’t wait to see friends from neighbouring villages, brought together by each year by the festival, as well as the chance to dress up, dance and celebrate. If the future generations continue to hold traditional ceremonies and celebrations and keep their vibrant culture alive, perhaps then, they won’t be the last of the Aryans.

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Source:  The Economist

One wonders what the author–or the BBC in general–thinks of efforts to keep the British pure or preserve British culture, untouched and unchanged through the millennia. Or is preserving one’s culture only for quaint foreigners whose entertaining exoticism would be ruined if they started acting and dressing just like us? What about those of us in America who think the British have a quaint and amusing culture, and would like it to stick around so we can still be entertained by it? And do the British themselves deserve any say in this, or are they eternally tainted with “impure,” “tampered” bloodlines due to the mixing of bronze-age peoples with Anglo Saxon invaders over a millennium and a half ago, and thus have no right to claim a culture or history of their own?

Goodness, what an idiotic way of looking at the world.

Everyone’s using “social construct” wrong

Well.

Dr. Seers is close.

A “social construct”–in the context of groups of people–is just a stereotype. We’ll call it an “idealized version.” We learn this idealized version by interacting with many individual instances of a particular type of thing and learning to predict its typical behaviors and characteristics.

Suppose I asked you to draw a picture of a man and woman. Go ahead, if you want; then you can compare it to the draw-a-man test.

Out in reality, there are about 7 billion men and women; there is no way you drew someone who looks like all of them. Chances are you drew the man somewhat taller than the woman, even though in reality, there are millions of men and women who are the same height. You might have even drawn hair on the figures–long hair for the woman, short for the man–and some typical clothing, even though you know there are many men with long hair and women with short.

In other words, you drew an idealized version of the pair in order to make it clear to someone else what, exactly, you were drawing.

Our idealized pictures work because they are true on average. The average woman is shorter than the average man, so we draw the woman shorter than the man–even though we know perfectly well that short men exist.

Once an ideal exists, people (it seems) start using artificial means to try to achieve it (like wearing makeup,) which shifts the average, which in turn prompts people to take more extreme measures to meet that ideal.

This may lead to run-away beauty or masculinity trends that look completely absurd from the outside, like foot binding, adult circumcision rituals, or peacocks’ tails. Or breasts–goodness knows why we have them while not nursing.

Our idealized images work less well for people far from the average, or who don’t want to do the activities society has determined are necessary to meet the ideal.

Here’s an interesting survey of whether people (in this case, whites) consider themselves masculine or feminine, broken down by political orientation.

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“In General, would you describe yourself as…”

The same trend holds for women–conservative women are much more likely to consider themselves to be very feminine than liberal women. Of course, ideology has an effect on people’s views, but the opposite is probably also true–people who don’t feel like they meet gender ideals are more likely to think those ideals are problematic, while people who do meet them are more likely to think they are perfectly sensible.

And this sort of thinking applies to all sorts of groups–not just men and women. Conservatives probably see themselves as better encapsulating the ideal of their race, religion, nationality (not just American conservatives, but conservatives of all stripes,) while liberals are probably more likely to see themselves as further from these ideals. The chief exceptions are groups where membership is already pre-determined as liberal, like vegetarians.

esquireThis may also account for the tendency people have, especially of late, to fight over certain representations. An idealized representation of “Americans” may default to white, since whites are still the majority in this country, but our growing population of non-whites would also like to be represented. This leads to pushback against what would be otherwise uncontroversial depictions (and the people who fit the ideal are not likely to appreciate someone else trying to change it on them.)

Testosterone metabolization, autism, male brain, and female identity

I began this post intending to write about testosterone metabolization in autism and possible connections with transgender identity, but realized halfway through that I didn’t actually know whether the autist-trans connection was primarily male-to-female or female-to-male. I had assumed that the relevant population is primarily MtF because both autists and trans people are primarily male, but both groups do have female populations that are large enough to contribute significantly. Here’s a sample of the data I’ve found so far:

A study conducted by a team of British scientists in 2012 found that of a pool of individuals not diagnosed on the autism spectrum, female-to-male (FTM) transgender people have higher rates of autistic features than do male-to-female (MTF) transgender people or cisgender males and females. Another study, which looked at children and adolescents admitted to a gender identity clinic in the Netherlands, found that almost 8 percent of subjects were also diagnosed with ASD.

Note that both of these studies are looking at trans people and assessing whether or not they have autism symptoms, not looking at autists and asking if they have trans symptoms. Given the characterization of autism as “extreme male brain” and that autism is diagnosed in males at about 4x the rate of females, the fact that there is some overlap between “women who think they think like men” and “traits associated with male thought patterns” is not surprising.

If the reported connection between autism and trans identity is just “autistic women feel like men,” that’s pretty non-mysterious and I just wasted an afternoon.

Though the data I have found so far still does not look directly at autists and ask how many of them have trans symptoms, the wikipedia page devoted to transgender and transsexual computer programmers lists only MtFs and no FtMs. Whether this is a pattern throughout the wider autism community, it definitely seems to be a thing among programmers. (Relevant discussion.)

So, returning to the original post:

Autism contains an amusing contradiction: on the one hand, autism is sometimes characterized as “extreme male brain,” and on the other hand, (some) autists (may be) more likely than neurotypicals to self-identify as transwomen–that is, biological men who see themselves as women. This seems contradictory: if autists are more masculine, mentally, than the average male, why don’t they identify as football players, army rangers, or something else equally masculine? For that matter, why isn’t a group with “extreme male brains” regarded as more, well, masculine?

(And if autists have extreme male brains, does that mean football players don’t? Do football players have more feminine brains than autists? Do colorless green ideas sleep furiously? DO WORDS MEAN?)

*Ahem*

In favor of the “extreme male brain” hypothesis, we have evidence that testosterone is important for certain brain functions, like spacial recognition, we have articles like this one: Testosterone and the brain:

Gender differences in spatial recognition, and age-related declines in cognition and mood, point towards testosterone as an important modulator of cerebral functions. Testosterone appears to activate a distributed cortical network, the ventral processing stream, during spatial cognition tasks, and addition of testosterone improves spatial cognition in younger and older hypogonadal men. In addition, reduced testosterone is associated with depressive disorders.

(Note that women also suffer depression at higher rates than men.)

So people with more testosterone are better at spacial cognition and other tasks that “autistic” brains typically excel at, and brains with less testosterone tend to be moody and depressed.

But hormones are tricky things. Where do they come from? Where do they go? How do we use them?

According to Wikipedia:

During the second trimester [of pregnancy], androgen level is associated with gender formation.[13] This period affects the femininization or masculinization of the fetus and can be a better predictor of feminine or masculine behaviours such as sex typed behaviour than an adult’s own levels. A mother’s testosterone level during pregnancy is correlated with her daughter’s sex-typical behavior as an adult, and the correlation is even stronger than with the daughter’s own adult testosterone level.[14]

… Early infancy androgen effects are the least understood. In the first weeks of life for male infants, testosterone levels rise. The levels remain in a pubertal range for a few months, but usually reach the barely detectable levels of childhood by 4–6 months of age.[15][16] The function of this rise in humans is unknown. It has been theorized that brain masculinization is occurring since no significant changes have been identified in other parts of the body.[17] The male brain is masculinized by the aromatization of testosterone into estrogen, which crosses the blood–brain barrier and enters the male brain, whereas female fetuses have α-fetoprotein, which binds the estrogen so that female brains are not affected.[18]

(Bold mine.)

Let’s re-read that: the male brain is masculinized by the aromatization of testosterone into estrogen.

If that’s not a weird sentence, I don’t know what is.

Let’s hop over to the scientific literature, eg, Estrogen Actions in the Brain and the Basis for Differential Action in Men and Women: A Case for Sex-Specific Medicines:

Burgeoning evidence now documents profound effects of estrogens on learning, memory, and mood as well as neurodevelopmental and neurodegenerative processes. Most data derive from studies in females, but there is mounting recognition that estrogens play important roles in the male brain, where they can be generated from circulating testosterone by local aromatase enzymes or synthesized de novo by neurons and glia. Estrogen-based therapy therefore holds considerable promise for brain disorders that affect both men and women. However, as investigations are beginning to consider the role of estrogens in the male brain more carefully, it emerges that they have different, even opposite, effects as well as similar effects in male and female brains. This review focuses on these differences, including sex dimorphisms in the ability of estradiol to influence synaptic plasticity, neurotransmission, neurodegeneration, and cognition, which, we argue, are due in a large part to sex differences in the organization of the underlying circuitry.

Hypothesis: the way testosterone works in the brain (where we both do math and “feel” male or female) and the way it works in the muscles might be very different.

Do autists actually differ from other people in testosterone (or other hormone) levels?

In Elevated rates of testosterone-related disorders in women with autism spectrum conditions, researchers surveyed autistic women and mothers of autistic children about various testosterone-related medical conditions:

Compared to controls, significantly more women with ASC [Autism Spectrum Conditions] reported (a) hirsutism, (b) bisexuality or asexuality, (c) irregular menstrual cycle, (d) dysmenorrhea, (e) polycystic ovary syndrome, (f) severe acne, (g) epilepsy, (h) tomboyism, and (i) family history of ovarian, uterine, and prostate cancers, tumors, or growths. Compared to controls, significantly more mothers of ASC children reported (a) severe acne, (b) breast and uterine cancers, tumors, or growths, and (c) family history of ovarian and uterine cancers, tumors, or growths.

Androgenic Activity in Autism has an unfortunately low number of subjects (N=9) but their results are nonetheless intriguing:

Three of the children had exhibited explosive aggression against others (anger, broken objects, violence toward others). Three engaged in self-mutilations, and three demonstrated no aggression and were in a severe state of autistic withdrawal. The appearance of aggression against others was associated with having fewer of the main symptoms of autism (autistic withdrawal, stereotypies, language dysfunctions).

Three of their subjects (they don’t say which, but presumably from the first group,) had abnormally high testosterone levels (including one of the girls in the study.) The other six subjects had normal androgen levels.

This is the first report of an association between abnormally high androgenic activity and aggression in subjects with autism. Although a previously reported study did not find group mean elevations in plasma testosterone in prepubertal autistic subjects (4), it appears here that in certain autistic individuals, especially those in puberty, hyperandrogeny may play a role in aggressive behaviors. Also, there appear to be distinct clinical forms of autism that are based on aggressive behaviors and are not classified in DSM-IV. Our preliminary findings suggest that abnormally high plasma testosterone concentration is associated with aggression against others and having fewer of the main autistic symptoms.

So, some autists have do have abnormally high testosterone levels, but those same autists are less autistic, overall, than other autists. More autistic behavior, aggression aside, is associated with normal hormone levels. Probably.

But of course that’s not fetal or early infancy testosterone levels. Unfortunately, it’s rather difficult to study fetal testosterone levels in autists, as few autists were diagnosed as fetuses. However, Foetal testosterone and autistic traits in 18 to 24-month-old children comes close:

Levels of FT [Fetal Testosterone] were analysed in amniotic fluid and compared with autistic traits, measured using the Quantitative Checklist for Autism in Toddlers (Q-CHAT) in 129 typically developing toddlers aged between 18 and 24 months (mean ± SD 19.25 ± 1.52 months). …

Sex differences were observed in Q-CHAT scores, with boys scoring significantly higher (indicating more autistic traits) than girls. In addition, we confirmed a significant positive relationship between FT levels and autistic traits.

I feel like this is veering into “we found that boys score higher on a test of male traits than girls did” territory, though.

In Polymorphisms in Genes Involved in Testosterone Metabolism in Slovak Autistic Boys, researchers found:

The present study evaluates androgen and estrogen levels in saliva as well as polymorphisms in genes for androgen receptor (AR), 5-alpha reductase (SRD5A2), and estrogen receptor alpha (ESR1) in the Slovak population of prepubertal (under 10 years) and pubertal (over 10 years) children with autism spectrum disorders. The examined prepubertal patients with autism, pubertal patients with autism, and prepubertal patients with Asperger syndrome had significantly increased levels of salivary testosterone (P < 0.05, P < 0.01, and P < 0.05, respectively) in comparison with control subjects. We found a lower number of (CAG)n repeats in the AR gene in boys with Asperger syndrome (P < 0.001). Autistic boys had an increased frequency of the T allele in the SRD5A2 gene in comparison with the control group. The frequencies of T and C alleles in ESR1 gene were comparable in all assessed groups.

What’s the significance of CAG repeats in the AR gene? Apparently they vary inversely with sensitivity to androgens:

Individuals with a lower number of CAG repeats exhibit higher AR gene expression levels and generate more functional AR receptors increasing their sensitivity to testosterone…

Fewer repeats, more sensitivity to androgens. The SRD5A2 gene is also involved in testosterone metabolization, though I’m not sure exactly what the T allele does relative to the other variants.

But just because there’s a lot of something in the blood (or saliva) doesn’t mean the body is using it. Diabetics can have high blood sugar because their bodies lack the necessary insulin to move the sugar from the blood, into their cells. Fewer androgen receptors could mean the body is metabolizing testosterone less effectively, which in turn leaves more of it floating in the blood… Biology is complicated.

What about estrogen and the autistic brain? That gets really complicated. According to Sex Hormones in Autism: Androgens and Estrogens Differentially and Reciprocally Regulate RORA, a Novel Candidate Gene for Autism:

Here, we show that male and female hormones differentially regulate the expression of a novel autism candidate gene, retinoic acid-related orphan receptor-alpha (RORA) in a neuronal cell line, SH-SY5Y. In addition, we demonstrate that RORA transcriptionally regulates aromatase, an enzyme that converts testosterone to estrogen. We further show that aromatase protein is significantly reduced in the frontal cortex of autistic subjects relative to sex- and age-matched controls, and is strongly correlated with RORA protein levels in the brain.

If autists are bad at converting testosterone to estrogen, this could leave extra testosterone floating around in their blood… but doens’t explain their supposed “extreme male brain.” Here’s another study on the same subject, since it’s confusing:

Comparing the brains of 13 children with and 13 children without autism spectrum disorder, the researchers found a 35 percent decrease in estrogen receptor beta expression as well as a 38 percent reduction in the amount of aromatase, the enzyme that converts testosterone to estrogen.

Levels of estrogen receptor beta proteins, the active molecules that result from gene expression and enable functions like brain protection, were similarly low. There was no discernable change in expression levels of estrogen receptor alpha, which mediates sexual behavior.

I don’t know if anyone has tried injecting RORA-deficient mice with estrogen, but here is a study about the effects of injecting reelin-deficient mice with estrogen:

The animals in the new studies, called ‘reeler’ mice, have one defective copy of the reelin gene and make about half the amount of reelin compared with controls. …

Reeler mice with one faulty copy serve as a model of one of the most well-established neuro-anatomical abnormalities in autism. Since the mid-1980s, scientists have known that people with autism have fewer Purkinje cells in the cerebellum than normal. These cells integrate information from throughout the cerebellum and relay it to other parts of the brain, particularly the cerebral cortex.

But there’s a twist: both male and female reeler mice have less reelin than control mice, but only the males lose Purkinje cells. …

In one of the studies, the researchers found that five days after birth, reeler mice have higher levels of testosterone in the cerebellum compared with genetically normal males3.

Keller’s team then injected estradiol — a form of the female sex hormone estrogen — into the brains of 5-day-old mice. In the male reeler mice, this treatment increases reelin levels in the cerebellum and partially blocks Purkinje cell loss. Giving more estrogen to female reeler mice has no effect — but females injected with tamoxifen, an estrogen blocker, lose Purkinje cells. …

In another study, the researchers investigated the effects of reelin deficiency and estrogen treatment on cognitive flexibility — the ability to switch strategies to solve a problem4. …

“And we saw indeed that the reeler mice are slower to switch. They tend to persevere in the old strategy,” Keller says. However, male reeler mice treated with estrogen at 5 days old show improved cognitive flexibility as adults, suggesting that the estrogen has a long-term effect.

This still doesn’t explain why autists would self-identify as transgender women (mtf) at higher rates than average, but it does suggest that any who do start hormone therapy might receive benefits completely independent of gender identity.

Let’s stop and step back a moment.

Autism is, unfortunately, badly defined. As the saying goes, if you’ve met one autist, you’ve met one autist. There are probably a variety of different, complicated things going on in the brains of different autists simply because a variety of different, complicated conditions are all being lumped together under a single label. Any mental disability that can include both non-verbal people who can barely dress and feed themselves and require lifetime care and billionaires like Bill Gates is a very badly defined condition.

(Unfortunately, people diagnose autism with questionnaires that include questions like “Is the child pedantic?” which could be equally true of both an autistic child and a child who is merely very smart and has learned more about a particular subject than their peers and so is responding in more detail than the adult is used to.)

The average autistic person is not a programmer. Autism is a disability, and the average diagnosed autist is pretty darn disabled. Among the people who have jobs and friends but nonetheless share some symptoms with formally diagnosed autists, though, programmer and the like appear to be pretty popular professions.

Back in my day, we just called these folks nerds.

Here’s a theory from a completely different direction: People feel the differences between themselves and a group they are supposed to fit into and associate with a lot more strongly than the differences between themselves and a distant group. Growing up, you probably got into more conflicts with your siblings and parents than with random strangers, even though–or perhaps because–your family is nearly identical to you genetically, culturally, and environmentally. “I am nothing like my brother!” a man declares, while simultaneously affirming that there is a great deal in common between himself and members of a race and culture from the other side of the planet. Your  coworker, someone specifically selected for the fact that they have similar mental and technical aptitudes and training as yourself, has a distinct list of traits that drive you nuts, from the way he staples papers to the way he pronounces his Ts, while the women of an obscure Afghan tribe of goat herders simply don’t enter your consciousness.

Nerds, somewhat by definition, don’t fit in. You don’t worry much about fitting into a group you’re not part of in the fist place–you probably don’t worry much about whether or not you fit in with Melanesian fishermen–but most people work hard at fitting in with their own group.

So if you’re male, but you don’t fit in with other males (say, because you’re a nerd,) and you’re down at the bottom of the highschool totem pole and feel like all of the women you’d like to date are judging you negatively next to the football players, then you might feel, rather strongly, the differences between you and other males. Other males are aggressive, they call you a faggot, they push you out of their spaces and threaten you with violence, and there’s very little you can do to respond besides retreat into your “nerd games.”

By contrast, women are polite to you, not aggressive, and don’t aggressively push you out of their spaces. Your differences with them are much less problematic, so you feel like you “fit in” with them.

(There is probably a similar dynamic at play with American men who are obsessed with anime. It’s not so much that they are truly into Japanese culture–which is mostly about quietly working hard–as they don’t fit in very well with their own culture.) (Note: not intended as a knock on anime, which certainly has some good works.)

And here’s another theory: autists have some interesting difficulties with constructing categories and making inferences from data. They also have trouble going along with the crowd, and may have fewer “mirror neurons” than normal people. So maybe autists just process the categories of “male” and “female” a little differently than everyone else, and in a small subset of autists, this results in trans identity.*

And another: maybe there are certain intersex disorders which result in differences in brain wiring/organization. (Yes, there are real interesx disorders, like Klinefelter’s, in which people have XXY chromosomes instead of XX or XY.) In a small set of cases, these unusually wired brains may be extremely good at doing certain tasks (like programming) resulting people who are both “autism spectrum” and “trans”. This is actually the theory I’ve been running with for years, though it is not incompatible with the hormonal theories discussed above.

But we are talking small: trans people of any sort are extremely rare, probably on the order of <1/1000. Even if autists were trans at 8 times the rates of non-autists, that’s still only 8/1000 or 1/125. Autists themselves are pretty rare (estimates vary, but the vast majority of people are not autistic at all,) so we are talking about a very small subset of a very small population in the first place. We only notice these correlations at all because the total population has gotten so huge.

Sometimes, extremely rare things are random chance.

Quotes from Kabloona (Also, Moby Dick)

I finished Moby Dick. It was actually very good–a pleasant surprise. I don’t really know why I was surprised; after all, Moby Dick is commonly ranked as one of the best books of all time. Perhaps it is just because I hated Hawthorne so much, or my generally dismal memories of English class. Either way, if you are the sort of person who likes reading books, you may like it. If you’re the sort of person who says, “that looks like too many pages,” you might not like it.

On to Kabloona.

Kabloona continues to be excellent. (Those of you who have not suffered through mountains of university-level drek do not know how wonderful it is to read a well-written ethnography.) Since your library probably doesn’t have a copy, I have decided to periodically post a few excerpts.

Kabloona is the tale of a French man, de Poncins, who decided in 1939 to go live among the Eskimo (Inuit) of the Canadian arctic. (“Kabloona” is Eskimo for “white man”.) Though these Eskimo now regularly traded with whites and had things like metal runners for their sleds, they still basically lived their ancestral lifestyle–one that has all but disappeared today.

I had been under the impression that the whole “Eskimo live in igloos” thing was a myth–that they actually lived in more permanent structures most of the time, and only built igloos as temporary shelters while out hunting or traveling.

It turns out that I was wrong. Perhaps some Eskimo lived in more permanent structures for part or all of the year, in different times or places, but the folks de Poncins lived with actually lived in “permanent” igloos made of snow for most of the year and tents made of animal hides during the summer. (They also built smaller, “temporary” igloos while out hunting or traveling. But I should let De Poncins speak.

The sea:

The sea does not freeze solid in a single night. Day after day I watched it, and I saw how, helped by the shifting winds, the grainy-surfaced mirror would crack and break, the water would flow fee, and then the struggle would begin again. Something more powerful than the demonic power of the sea was vanquishing its impetuousness, curing its restless spirit. Little by little it was forced to yield, and the waves flung by it against the already frozen shore would stop in mid-air, defeated, crystallized.

Numbers:

…he told us that the snow was of a good sort, travelling would be easy now, and they had already built igloos on the big lake. The fishing? Very good. Many big fish–e-ka-luk–in the lake. As a matter of fact, he had brought in a couple of sackfuls to trade–handsome, red-fleshed, thick-lipped fish, frozen stiff. Seals? His son had killed “three of the left hand,” which is to say, added to the fingers of the right hand, eight of them.

In The Universal History of Numbers, Ifrah documents a lot of cultures that form numbers this way. Cultures that have not historically been engaged in very much trade or had need to count large numbers of discreet objects tend not to have numbers for those things. Some cultures literally have no words for numbers over three.

Population:

Twenty-five men, women, and children made up the entire population of King William Land, a territory ten thousand miles in extent.

Does a population of 25 people lead to inbreeding? Yes, it probably does.

…Utak brought another Eskimo into the Post, a slack and shiftless ne’er-do-well, a man perpetually destitute. He had arrived from ten days off to trade–a single fox. We were in mid-December and the man had not yet got round to mudding his runners, so that his wretched sled was next to useless. One mile out from the Post he had dropped a caribou-skin, had not missed it (proving he could not count up to four); and when, later, I told him that I had picked it up, he forgot to come to my quarters to fetch it. Each year this man and his wife had a child; and as his wretched wife had no milk, each year without fail the child died. But they, the Eskimo man and his wife, did not die. There was always an Eskimo to lend them a snow-knife, another to repair their sled for them on the trail, a third to house them because the man could not build a possible igloo. And never–it was this that was so admirable–never would you have heard a single impertinent or angry word spoken about these two. Of course they were teased a bit at night in the igloo, and great tales were told of the man’s comical futility; but they were unfailingly taken care of. The others would say, “He couldn’t get here because of his sled”: they would never say, “That man doesn’t know how to get over a trail.”

In addition to the regular difficulties of having a very tiny, thinly dispersed population, I must suspect that a lot of Eskimo were half-siblings without realizing it, due to the habit of wife-swapping.

… the exchange of wives was common among the Eskimos. It is not, as with certain other primitive peoples, a token of hospitality. … This was different, was a simple matter of sociability, a courtesy not to be refused between friends or visitors. Among hunting partners–the Eskimos often hunt in pairs—it was automatic, a relief from the monotony of existence.

…Among other articles of the code there was one that was absolutely rigorous: the privilege of disposing of the lady belonged exclusively to the husband. The man who mad his request directly of the wife committed a grave infraction of the code and serious trouble would certainly ensue.

To ask an Eskimo to lend you his wife is a thing so natural that no one will hesitate to put the question in a crowded igloo within hearing of a half a dozen others. It dos not so much break the thread of conversation, and the husband will say ye or no, according to hi momentary mood,with entire casualness.

The rest takes place as casually as the demand itself…. the husband will slip peacefully into his krepik, his deerskin bag, while his wife lets herself down into yours. And the presence of the husband in the same igloo need not intimidate you: he knows nothing of jealousy and is asleep before you have settled yourself in the company of his wife.

…Again and again I was to be baulked in my understanding by the 20,000 years of evolution–or is it more?–that separate the Eskimo and me. … Here sits a human being in one room while in another room sit his wife and a passive, a most casual, lover. And what does he do? He laughs. About what is going on in the other room? Not a tall. He laughs because it is fun to play at hiding things with a friend.

He is not jealous, then? No. And the reason ay be that jealousy is a function of the sense of individual property, and he has this sense, if at all, in the very faintest degree. You enjoy his wife? What harm can come to him of that? …

Relatedly:

There were Eskimos who had no food. No one said of such a man,”He was too lazy to do any trapping.” What people said was, “He did not trap this season.” Why he should not have trapped was nobody’s affair. I remember the case of a native who had an ample cache of fish and was well provided against the winter. While he was at the post, Two Eskimo families camped at his cache. Being without grub, they opened it and lived on it; when he arrived the cache was empty. Pity! But it couldn’t be helped.

De Poncins attempts to reassure us that Eskimo women are not only just fine with the wife-swapping situation, but actually the ones really in charge behind the scenes. But this situation is perhaps not so great:

There is a good deal of killing among them, but in their eyes it is always just and often an act of communal devotion.

! De Poncins has described 5 (technically, six) murders so far; three of them were due to sexual jealousy/competition for women. Here’s one:

Among the Eskimos, meanwhile, the mystery of the white man’s justice remained. There was the case of Agil-ha-ak, “The Ptarmigan.” This case was hardest of all to understand. For in the first place, Agil-ha-ak had merely killed a young man who had sought to run off with his wife. The fact that, in the way of hunting partners, the man had enjoyed Agil-hi-ak’s wife offended nobody’ but to want to take her away, have her to himself, was criminal and deserved death. Secondly, what did they [the Canadian police] do by way of punishing Agil-hi-ak? hey housed him warmly; they gave him clothes to wear’ they fed him well and brought him all the tobacco he could smoke. Everybody was kind to him. They took him off on a long wonderful journey to Aklavik [the prison], over a thousand mile away, where he saw more white men’s houses (igloo-pak) than could be imagined. Precisely because he had killed a man he was freed from every hardship. …

It was four years before Agil-hi-ak came back. … he had lost his taste for the open life, yearned to return to Aklavik, where the white man was through with him since he had “expiated his crime.” Agil-hi-ak was not a better Eskimo for having submitted himself to the white man’s justice.

Such stories as Agil-hi-ak’s made the trip to Aklavik popular amongst the Eskimos. One or two might have been hanged there, but the mot of them had merely been housed and fed. To think that one had only to kill a man in order to receive the gift of this great excursion! One day an Eskimo came to the police and told them that he had killed two Indian near Bear Lake. There had been no witnesses, unfortunately, but the Eskimo insisted, was positive that he had killed his Indians. His face was so filled with glee, he looked so much like a kid about to be fed his favorite candies, that the police were suspicious.

“Too easy!” they said. “He thinks he is going to get a round-trip ticket to Aklavik for this story; but you don’t catch us out, my lad. For once the police are not going to be done in the eye. Clear out, now and leave us be!”

A year went by, and a white trapper arrived at the police post. He had come in from Bear Lake, and there, in a shack, he had found two dead Indians.

These incidents may not have occurred among the group of 25 our author lodged with, but recall that the entire population of Eskimo in the area was never very large. Even today, there are only about 50,000 Inuit in all of Canada (about half of whom live in Nunavut, the 725,018 square mile territory that corresponds to the area where de Poncins lived.

Greenland, which is largely Inuit/Eskimo, has a homicide rate of 19.4 people per 100,000.

The US has a homicide rate of 4.7 / 100,000 people, Sweden has a rate of 0.7, and Japan has a mere 0.3. [source]

 

I’ll post more later, when I have a chance to type it up. Oh, and Happy New Year.

Transsexuals Prove That Gender is Real

Don’t stop me if you’ve heard this one: Sex is biological; gender is a social construct.

Well, you should know my response by now: Sex is also a social construct.

X is a social construct does not mean “X is totally made up.” It means, “The word is defined however the hell people feel like using it.” This is true of all language.

200 years ago, people did not define “biological sex” as “has XX or XY chromosomes,” because no one knew about chromosomes, and yet they still had this concept of “biological sex.” For that matter, if you get right down to the nitty gritty of how “biological sex” develops in the fetus/young person, it is not just a matter of “Do you have a Y chromosome?” Biological sex does not work the same for all species, (eg, for crocodiles, the egg’s temperature determines whether the baby inside develops as male or female,) but even within humans, the process is complicated.

Diseases or medical conditions are the easiest way to highlight all the things that come together to determine one’s “biological sex”:

Klinefelter Syndrome: person is born XXY instead of XX or XY. People with KS have tiny genitals. The Y chromosome triggers male development, but the two Xs cause an over-production of female hormones. Most people with KS are infertile. KS occurs in 1:500 to 1:1000 live male births.

Given about 150 million men in the US, that comes out to between 300,000 and 150,000 Americans with Klinefelter Syndrome.

Some other obscure conditions with similar names are XYY, XXXX, and XXYY Syndrome. People with only one X chromosome and nothing else have Turner Syndrome. TS affects about 1 in 2000 to 1 in 5000 females, or about 75,ooo to 30,000 Americans.

Congenital adrenal hyperplasia “are any of several autosomal recessive diseases resulting from mutations of genes for enzymes mediating the biochemical steps of production of cortisol from cholesterol by the adrenal glands (steroidogenesis).

“Most of these conditions involve excessive or deficient production of sex steroids and can alter development of primary or secondary sex characteristics in some affected infants, children, or adults.”

The Wikipedia  recounts the potential first historical description of a CAH case:

“‘In one of the anatomical theaters of the hospital…, there arrived toward the end of January a cadaver which in life was the body of a certain Joseph Marzo… The general physiognomy was decidedly male in all respects. There were no feminine curves to the body. There was a heavy beard. There was some delicacy of structure with muscles that were not very well developed… The distribution of pubic hair was typical of the male. Perhaps the lower extremities were somewhat delicate, resembling the female, and were covered with hair… The penis was curved posteriorly and measured 6 cm, or with stretching, 10 cm. The corona was 3 cm long and 8 cm in circumference. There was an ample prepuce. There was a first grade hypospadias… There were two folds of skin coming from the top of the penis and encircling it on either side. These were somewhat loose and resembled labia majora.’

“De Crecchio then described the internal organs, which included a normal vagina, uterus, tubes, and ovaries. … He interviewed many people and satisfied himself that Joseph Marzo “conducted himself within the sexual area exclusively as a male”, even to the point of contracting the “French disease” on two occasions. “

CAH apparently varies in incidence; among the American Indians, 1 in 280; among whites, 1 in 15,000. Given 245.5 million whites and 3 million Indians, that works out to about 27,000 in those two groups. (Wikipedia doesn’t give numbers for blacks or Hispanics.)

Androgen insensitivity syndrome “is a condition that results in the partial or complete inability of the cell to respond to androgens. The unresponsiveness of the cell to the presence of androgenic hormones can impair or prevent the masculinization of male genitalia in the developing fetus, as well as the development of male secondary sexual characteristics at puberty, … these individuals range from a normal male habitus with mild spermatogenic defect or reduced secondary terminal hair, to a full female habitus, despite the presence of a Y-chromosome.”

The people in this picture have XY chromosomes, but developed as females because they have have AIS or related conditions:

1280px-Orchids01

The exact incidence is unknown, especially since XX carriers are basically unaffected by the condition, but Wikipedia lists estimates between 1 in 20,400 XY births and one in 130,000, or between about 7,000 and 1,000 affected Americans.

Kallman Syndrome isn’t so much an “intersex” disorder as an “asex” disorder. Kallmann syndrome is a genetic disorder in which, “the hypothalamic neurons that are responsible for releasing gonadotropin-releasing hormone (GnRH neurons) fail to migrate into the hypothalamus during embryonic development.”

The most prominent symptom is a failure to start puberty; oddly, one of the other common symptoms is an inability to smell. It affects both men and women.

Incidence: about 1 in 10,000, or about 32,000 Americans.

True hermaphrodites” are rare, but do exist–perhaps due to improper cell division in developing fraternal twins. See also “human chimeras“:

“The Dutch sprinter Foekje Dillema was expelled from the 1950 national team after she refused a mandatory sex test in July 1950; later investigations revealed a Y-chromosome in her body cells, and the analysis showed that she probably was a 46,XX/46,XY mosaic female. …

“Another report of a human chimera was published in 1998, where a male human had some partially developed female organs due to chimerism. He had been conceived by in-vitro fertilization.

“In 2002, Lydia Fairchild was denied public assistance in Washington state when DNA evidence showed that she was not related to her children. A lawyer for the prosecution heard of a human chimera in New England, Karen Keegan, and suggested the possibility to the defense, who were able to show that Fairchild, too, was a chimera with two sets of DNA.”

And as I have mentioned before, people exposed to Diethylstilbestrol–DES–a synthetic estrogen used as an anti-miscarriage drug between 1940 and 1971, (when they realized its major epigenetic effects included cancer,) seems to have triggered female brain development in male fetuses.

“An estimated 3 million pregnant women in the USA were prescribed DES from 1941 through 1971. … The number of persons exposed to DES during pregnancy or in utero during 1940–1971 is unknown, but may be as high as 2 million in the United States.” Or about 1 million men.

There are others, but I will stop here. It is difficult to give a total for such conditions, but folks estimate incidence of intersex conditions around 1.7% of births, or 5.4 million Americans. (By contrast, identical twins occur in only 0.3% of pregnancies.)

As I have mentioned before, I strongly suspect that the vast majority of “trans” people actually have some form of intersex condition–I base this suspicion on the lives of the trans  people I’ve actually talked to. According to LiveScience, about 700,000 Americans, or 0.2%, are trans–significantly less than the estimated number of people with intersex conditions.

Even though 98.3% of us probably don’t have any kind of intersex (or asex) condition, 5.4 million is a lot of people. In a country where we like to put weirdos on TV so we can laugh and point at them, really obscure conditions can become quite well-known. Like octuplets.

Whether you want to call them “male,” “female,” “intersex,” or something else all has to do with your particular definition of “biological sex.” If you’d lived in 1800, your definition of “biological sex” would probably have something to do with genitals and maybe something to do with behavior, but certainly nothing to do with chromosomes or hormones or anything like that. Ten minutes ago, you probably defined “biological sex” as “has XX or XY chromosomes.” Now you’re probably wondering what the hell is up with crocodiles.

None of this changes reality. Reality doesn’t care what you call it.

 

On to Gender!

What does it mean when people say, “Gender is a social construct”?

I’m pretty sure the technical answer is, “Gender is the set of behaviors and social roles and things that people expect out of people based on their biological sex, and those expectations vary by society, ie, people in Uganda expect different things out of ‘men’ and ‘women’ than people in Japan. Heck, some societies even have ‘third genders’ and things like that.”

However, most of the time when people say, “Gender is a social construct,” what they actually mean is, “People don’t actually have gender; gender roles are a mass delusion created by the Patriarchy to oppress women that we are taught to hallucinate as little kids.”

Unfortunately, the belief that children are blank gender slates is not only common among many academics and feminists, but was a thing people really believed–leading to the surgical “correction” of intersex children born with incorrect genitalia, followed by attempts at raising them as whatever gender the parents picked. They usually picked female, because it is much easier to lop a bit off than to add on.

Imagine, for a moment, that you born with a small penis, so your parents just decided to have it chopped off, turned the nub into a clitoris, stuck a dress on you, and called you a girl.

No, it doesn’t work.

I don’t have any statistics, but I have read a lot of stories along the lines of, “My parents lied to me all my life that I was a girl and it turned out I was a boy and it was horribly traumatic and I was suicidal for most of puberty, etc., etc.”

Gender is a real thing, and even intersex kids can figure it out.

If the feminist “You learn gender roles from the patriarchical society around you” school of thought were correct, these kids would turn out completely normal members of the gender assigned to them and not have any issues at all.

If gender is a real thing, then trying to raise a kid as the opposite gender should result in exactly what we see: The kids are miserable, and then they assert that they are the gender they were born as.

 

But what about trans people who don’t have any kind of intersex condition? Given 7 billion people in the world, there are probably some. Again, if gender were nothing more than arbitrary social roles determined by our dumb patriarchical society, why would anyone bother changing their “sex” to match their “gender”? Remember that SRS is very expensive, painful, time consuming, and incurs significant social stigma. If I can just say, “hey, all this business with handbags and football is totally arbitrary; I’m just going to re-define football as a thing “women” like and handbags as something “men” like,”–which is exactly what the feminist theory of gender claims you can do–then why wouldn’t trans people just do that, and save themselves all of the effort?

Because trans people understand that gender is a real thing, not just a made up thing that they can re-define because it happens to suit them.

“But wait,” I hear you saying, “trans people are actually just autogynophiliacs, and so that’s why they transition, not because they’re actually trans.”

To be honest, I consider this a weird story. For starters, half the trans people I know started as “female”, not male. Second, almost all of the trans people I know have really obvious intersex conditions. Third, most people into LGBTQ etc. sorts of things will NOT SHUT UP about their sexual interests. If these people had weird self-fetishes, they’d be talking about it all over the damn place. Like furries. Remember furries? No one was ever confused about furries’ sexual interests.

Now, could some trans people be autogynophiliacs? Sure. There are 700,000 of them in the country. That’s a lot of people. Some of ’em are probably into all kinds of weird things.

But there are about 1 million men who were exposed to DES in the womb. So DES sounds like a more likely cause of biological men who “feel female” than weird sexual fetishes.

However, I am willing to grant a chicken and egg potential: once a “man” starts believing that he really is a woman trapped in a man’s body, then he will of course begin thinking about himself as female, and want other people to treat him as female, and even fantasize about being treated like a normal female, being found attractive as a normal female, etc.

That is, I suspect the autogynophiliac hypothesis has the causation backwards. Believing that one is a female trapped in a man’s body leads to imagining oneself as female, not the other way around. The same probably holds true for trans folks in “female” bodies who decide that they are really men–they desire to be seen as attractive, too.

(I will note that a fair number of people with intersex conditions are asexual.)

Now, does that mean that Jenner or any other high-profile celebrity trans person is actually intersex and not just a weird attention whore? I have no clue, but if Jenner wants to be female, I don’t care.

But I don’t consider Jenner “brave” or “pioneering” or anything like that. Jenner has millions of dollars and a media three-ring circus to praise her every move. Meanwhile, I know people with actual, diagnosed chromosomal abnormalities who live in poverty because their families don’t believe in fucking genetics.

 

But anyway, why does this whole “Sex != Gender” thing get hauled out every time people start trying to explain transsexuals?

Eh, it’s because they’re gender non-conforming weirdos and so for a long time, the only people who would accept them were other gender non-conformists like radical feminists and gay people, and this whole “gender is a social construct” business has been the dominant catch-phrase of feminists out to re-define femininity for a long time. And I’m sure that for some trans people, it has given them some peace of mind to think that it’s okay, they can redefine gender how they want to include people like themselves.

But that doesn’t change the fact that the reality of gender is what trans people are actually seeking.

Study: Sexually dimorphic facial features vary according to level of autistic-like traits …

Sexually dimorphic facial features vary according to level of autistic-like traits in the general population.
“three-dimensional (3D) facial images were collected from 208 young adult males and females recruited from the general population. Twenty-three facial distances were measured from these images and a gender classification and scoring algorithm was employed to identify a set of six facial features that most effectively distinguished male from female faces. In study 2, measurements of these six features were compared for groups of young adults selected for high (n = 46) or low (n = 66) levels of autistic-like traits.
RESULTS:
For each sex, four of the six sexually dimorphic facial distances significantly differentiated participants with high levels of autistic-like traits from those with low trait levels. All four features were less masculinised for high-trait males compared to low-trait males. Three of four features were less feminised for high-trait females compared to low-trait females. One feature was, however, not consistent with the general pattern of findings and was more feminised among females who reported more autistic-like traits. Based on the four significantly different facial distances for each sex, discriminant function analysis correctly classified 89.7% of the males and 88.9% of the females into their respective high- and low-trait groups.”

I wonder if they controlled for family’s overall androgyny level/IQ/ethnicity.

Pavlov Explains Lingerie

I once attended an underwear-themed all-female bridal shower (not bachelorette party; the bachelorette party was yet to come.) By “underwear themed,” I mean that everyone gave the bride-to-be lingerie, and then we all tittered and pretended to be scandalized as she opened the presents.

Clearly I was not drunk enough to enjoy watching a woman show off thong panties to her mother-in-law to-be and other elderly female relatives. (Technically, I wasn’t any drunk.)

I felt rather like an anthropologist who has trekked all the way to some isolated village deep in the bush, where the natives are happily waving chicken cloacas over the bride to-be, and the only explanation you can extract from anyone is that they’re celebrating the marriage, so you end up writing some bullshit about the villagers attempting to transfer the chicken’s fertility to the bride via sympathetic magic and the patriarchal commodification of women’s bodies into their genitalia, except that the lingerie is real and the bit with the cloacas I just made up.

I did one read an anthropology/folklore article arguing that the bullroarer (basically a stick on a string that you swing around to make a whooshing sound,) actually represented anal sex among Aborigines and other folks.

I consulted with my kids, and they claim that underwear is approximately the lamest present ever, (unless you don’t have any underwear, the eldest noted.) And yet, grown people seem to actually like giving and receiving underwear.

Why?

Think about it. When would you even wear any of this stuff? It’s not functional or practical. You wouldn’t wear it in everyday life, because it doesn’t really accomplish the basic point of underwear (covering your butt and keeping your clothes clean. It doesn’t look particularly comfortable. Clearly the point of lingerie is not function, but something to do with sex–but not to be crass, but I’ve generally found that people remove their underpants during sex, not put them on.

The answer is not that these people were just dumb (or sluts, at least not within the usual bounds of American society, although American society is obviously pretty slutty since it is considered socially acceptable to show off one’s thong underwear to one’s elderly relatives.) Everyone involved was probably of above-average intelligence, and quite a lot of work went into this party. It was truly a labor of love (and happiness) by the family and friends of the bride.

Nor can the answer be any typical anthropologist claptrap about sympathetic magic or inducting the bride into the ways of married life, because no one involved is naive enough to think that after living together for years, these two have never had sex. (Which indicates, btw, that we should be wary of such explanations in other cases.)

After a great deal of discussion with people not at the party, I’ve determined that lingerie seems to work like Pavlov’s bell. Your brain, sensibly enough, associates underwear with genitals (and it associates fancy lingerie with the genitals of sexy lingerie models,) and of course you associate genitals with sex.

So you see a tiny pair of underwear, and like a dog salivating after a ringing bell, your reptile brain starts yelling “Sex! Sex!” and so you buy the underwear, even though the underwear isn’t actually going to result in any change in your likelihood of having sex or not.

This is the principle by which a lot of advertising seems to work.

This explains why lingerie exists, but it still doesn’t explain the party. I suppose for now I shall have to remain confused.

Anonymous Sex with Strangers still Spreads Disease…

surprising no one but the idiots having anonymous sex with strangers.

Grindr and Tinder creating health epidemics:

“Casual and anonymous sex arranged via social media sites, such a Tinder and Grindr, has led to an increase in STDs across the US state of Rhode Island, health officials have announced.

The Rhode Island Department of Health announced that between 2013 and 2014, there was a 79% increase in syphilis, a 30% increase in gonorrhoea and a 33% increase in HIV. …

A statement from the department said: “The recent uptick in STDs in Rhode Island follows a national trend. The increase has been attributed to better testing by providers and to high-risk behaviours that have become more common in recent years.”

Between my upbringing by Christian conservatives and college days surrounded by bi-poly-pagans and BDSM fetishists (you laugh, but it’s true,) I’ve had to spend a lot of time trying to figure out what the hell morality is. And since a lot of people are shit at actually explaining anything, I have generally defaulted to a holistic approach of whether or not a particular approach leads to human suffering, or whether the person claiming a certain morality is generally a decent human or not.

Since then, I’ve developed better ways of understanding morality, but these rules of thumb still apply: if you are hurting other people for purely self-centered reasons, like giving them diseases just so you can have sex, or creating a system that spreads diseases so you can get rich, then you are a terrible human.

AIDS and California

If reading about CVTs (canine venereal tumors) makes you want to wash (even though as a non-dog you are very unlikely to catch a dog-specific cancer/STD,) reading a lot about AIDS will basically make you want to wash with bleach, then wash again.

‘Patient Zero’ and the early days of HIV/AIDS This is the main source for the quotes in this post; quotes from other sources will be noted as they come up.

I know nothing about this particular source/forum, but they have compiled a bunch of excerpts from doctors and the like about the early days of AIDS (70s and 80s), and it’s pretty freaky.

Conclusions:
1. The past is a freaky place. I mean, it is just plain weird.
2. CA past is especially freaky.
“I’ve been spending some time researching some history in respect to California during the 1960s and 1970s and it has taken me through events like the Counterculture, Occultism, cults like the Manson Family and Jim Jones’ Peoples Temple, the proliferation of serial killers during that time, and the exploding population of homosexuals in San Francisco and the role they played in spreading HIV.”

Right, that stuff. WTF, California?
I get the impression that liberalism in the 60s and 70s included far more drug use and far more sex with children than it does today, in ways that are difficult for those of us who didn’t live through it to imagine, particularly since the latter is now totally taboo. Today it is perfectly normal to be a liberal and have no interest at all in drugs; in the 60s and 70s, I suspect such a person would have been largely out of place. Eventually the War on Drugs and public education campaigns probably had some effect, but I suspect the crack epidemic of the inner cities transformed “drugs” in people’s minds from something rich, white college kids did to something poor blacks did, which made them way less cool.

Likewise, I get the impression that norms for sexual behavior were totally in flux; the “radical feminism” of the later seventies and eighties that was (is) so vehemently concerned with rape and child rape (causing at least some substantial legal changes on the subject) seems to have been an actual reaction to what we would now call “rape” and “child rape” but which was not particularly regarded as such during the earlier period. So now we have the problem of notable figures from the period like SF/F superstar Marion Zimmer Bradley and her husband raped and abused small children, including her own daughter:

” The first time she molested me, I was three. The last time, I was twelve, and able to walk away.

I put Walter [MZB’s husband/the speaker’s father or stepfather] in jail for molesting one boy. I had tried to intervene when I was 13 by telling Mother and Lisa, and they just moved him into his own apartment.

I had been living partially on couches since I was ten years old because of the out of control drugs, orgies, and constant flow of people in and out of our family “home.”

None of this should be news. Walter was a serial rapist with many, many, many victims (I named 22 to the cops) but Marion was far, far worse. She was cruel and violent, as well as completely out of her mind sexually. I am not her only victim, nor were her only victims girls.”

From what I have read, MZB and her husband operated completely out in the open, sometimes molesting other people’s children right in front of them, and no one cared, no one did anything about it. “Those were just the times.” You may find that attitude unbelievable, but there it is.

This is rather problematic because, aside from having been a popular and prolific writer, MZB was a lesbian and feminist writers whose works have been credited with literally saving their readers’ lives, and now her fans have to go wash themselves with bleach.

Shit changes. The past is not the present. The past is often highly alien.

3. Social trends were not invented yesterday.
We often act like they were, like we’re the first people to ever hop onto a particular bandwagon and begin advocating for Issue X, even when people have been protesting about X for decades. I first noticed this habit back when I was young enough to not hate college students.

In this case, we have a tendency to imagine that “the past” (anytime prior to last Tuesday, more or less, was a terrible time for gays. Truth is, though, that huge numbers of gay people moved to NY and SF, where they lived as they wanted without interference. Yes, it sucked to spend 4 years of one’s life stuck in a highschool in rural Texas, but you could then spend the rest of your life elsewhere, which isn’t so bad when you remember that virtually no one wants to stay in rural Texas.

“Well, number one was the baths, because we knew that was the main source of AIDS transmission. A gay man could pick up one or two partners in a bar, and they’d go off someplace to have their fun. There were back rooms in the bars, in the baths, too. They were called orgy rooms, where ten, fifteen, twenty, thirty, forty men were dancing around with almost no light, and of course, anything happened there. That explained to us why a gay man would say, “I don’t know who I got it from. I never saw his face.” That sort of thing.

The bars were not the best places to be, but at least, they would limit the amount of contact a man could have. In a bookshop, in a small sex club, out in the park–these places limited the contact. But in the baths… At a four-story bathhouse, Club Baths south of Market I think it was, 350 men would gather on a Saturday night at $10 a crack, and they got their $10 worth. And more. Including drugs in addition to poppers.”

“Now, there were gay men who were aggressively out, the S&M, sadomasochist, men, the leather boys we called them, who walked up and down Market Street dressed in leathers with leather caps like the old Nazi men, and chains, and leather boots.”

“Of the little over 300,000 voters in the city, about 120,000–100,000 let us say–were gay voters.”

From AIDS and Immune Systems: “For me, gay life in New york City before the dawn of AIDS was like living in the Promised Land. I went dancing almost every night. There were always exciting places in Manhattan to see and be seen, night-and-day sex at the piers off West Street, backroom bars and sex clubs that were packed till dawn. Whatever fantasy you had, you always knew you could satisfy it any time, night or day, at one of the many sexual playgrounds …

Urban gay male life had evolved over a decade from personal salvation into a communal identity and now, as the Saint [a famous disco] became our weekly Mecca, into a quasi-religion. Several thousand muscled, shirtless gay men in black 501 jeans … Upstairs was a huge darkened balcony converted into carpeted bleachers where hundreds of stoned men fucked all night and into the day.

To lose oneself so completely in the wall-to-wall men moaning in the dark … soaring on a hit of ethyl chloride … was like being transported to some heavenly other planet somewhere beyond the stars.”

“For those unfamiliar with the name: Christopher Street is in Manhattan’s West Village. During the pre-AIDS gay-party days, it was Ground Zero for homosexual cruising and partying.

If Fire Island was acres of beef on the hoof, Christopher Street was Mardi Gras in New Orleans, only with fewer inhibitions and without a female to be seen. One club or bar after another … Each establishment, and the street itself, filled with exuberant gayguys in freaky costumes … Music, drugs, and booze everywhere … Carousing of a pitch that would put beer-drinking Spring Break jocks to shame …”

On trying to fight AIDS:
“Well, the battle to close the bathhouses began to simmer then, but we were aware of the problem and trying to do something at least sub rosa to diminish it long before that in fighting the STD diarrheal diseases there. In ’82, we were aware of Gaetan Dugas [“AIDS patient zero”] and the connections between him and so many people that he met here in San Francisco at the baths, and his open announcement that, “Well, I’m off to the baths tonight, and there’s nothing you can do about it.” He came to my office and said, “It’s my right to go where I want to.”

We were becoming reasonably sure that this was a disease caused by a transmissible agent. It seemed to be concentrated in gay men who were very sexually active. (I’m leaving out the question of the hemophiliacs.) The place where they could be most sexually active, most traumatically active, was in the baths.

Well, Silverman met with the bath owners–fifteen or twenty men. I was there. It was a hot meeting. Silverman tried to be politic, calm. He was a very, very good administrator and a good public health man. But these people came primed for battle. He tried to explain the difficulties and that if they could at least tone down the opportunities for infection, raise the level of lighting in the “orgy room” where 100 men could have indiscriminate contact without even knowing who they were being in contact with, if they could take the doors off the cubicles, cut down the privacy a little tiny bit– They wouldn’t have it.”

“The pervasive argument that turned around even the strongest gay backers I had for closing the bathhouses was, if government closes the bathhouses in San Francisco, which is seen as this bastion of gay liberation, what message does that send to less liberal states and communities? And then the next step is, well, obviously people get picked up in gay bars, so you close the gay bars. And then the sodomy laws would either be enforced or reinstated, depending on what the status was in any given state.

I remember having one very important person in the gay community who had been supporting me for bathhouse closure, who had been active in politics and still is, call me up and say, “Merv, I can’t support you any more.” I said, “Why?” And he gave me the above argument.”

More on Gaetan Dugas, the guy who proved AIDS was infectious by giving it to everybody:
“I knew that Gaetan Dugas was still in town. I couldn’t get to him, but I put word out, “If you see Gaetan Dugas, let him know I want to see him.” He came up. I told him, “Look, we’ve got proof now.” I didn’t tell him how scientifically accurate the information was. It wasn’t inaccurate, but it wasn’t actually scientifically proven. I said, “We’ve got proof that you’ve been infecting these other people. You’ve got AIDS, you know. We know it’s transmissible now, because you’re transmitting it.” He was the active partner in all this gay business, anal-genital sex. “You’ve just got to cut it out.”

“Don’t be silly, I won’t cut it out. It’s my life. I’ll do what I want.” I said, “Yes, but you’re infecting other people.” “I got it. Let them get it.” I said, “You’ve got to cut it out!” “Screw you.” He walked out. I never saw him again. It was a pity, because he was apparently an intelligent man, except on this one point. And he was very, very sexually active. He was a presumptive proof that AIDS was something transmissible from an infected person directly to the uninfected person.”

“It was at this time that rumors began on Castro Street in San Francisco about a strange guy at the Eighth and Howard bathhouse, a blond with a French accent. [Gaetan Dugas] He would have sex with you, then turn up the lights in the cubicle, and point out his Kaposi`s sarcoma legions.

“I`ve got gay cancer,“ he`d say. “I`m going to die, and so are you.“”

Amazingly, no one seems to have thought of hauling him out into the desert and shooting him.

“In ’78, there were already 4 percent infected. When we went back retroactively and tested the bloods of the hepatitis B vaccine trials, 4 percent of them were already HIV positive. We didn’t even know there was such a thing as AIDS then. By ’84, 60 percent to 70 percent of a gay population was infected. Now, the general population of males in the city, by the time I retired [1984], was less than 1 percent infected.”

These are not people whose activities were being curtailed by social norms.

BTW,
“Craigslist’s entry into a market results in a 15.9 percent increase in reported HIV cases, according to research. When mapped at the national level, more than 6,000 HIV cases annually and treatment costs estimated between $62 million and $65.3 million can be linked to the popular website, the authors state.”

“”It was like living through a war,” remembers longtime congregant Sharyn Saslafsky. “Our world went upside down and inside out. So many of our friends died young.”

“I remember the devastation of hearing the names on the Kaddish list of young people,”… “During the service, everyone stands, links arms and sings ‘Hinei Mah Tov.’ I remember the utter sadness when there were people we couldn’t put our arms around anymore.”

“You were on call 24/7,” he says. “There was no easing up. Every day there were more casualties and, as things progressed, more fatalities. Until things started to taper off, I and an awful lot of my friends were losing, on average, a friend or acquaintance once a week for probably five years.”

At High Holy Days, he found himself unable to utter out loud the U’netaneh Tokef prayer, which reads in part, “On Yom Kippur it is sealed … who shall live and who shall die … who by earthquake and who by plague.””

4. Unfortunate confluence of “liberation” and “identity”
Gay people catch diseases when they have sex with a bunch of unprotected partners. So do heterosexuals, eg, prostitutes in Kinsasha in the 20s. Gay and straight people who don’t engage in such behaviors don’t catch a ton of diseases. The solution to AIDS is actually trivially simple: don’t have sex with thousands of people.

Unfortunately, “have unprotected anonymous ex with thousands of people” was a core part of the gay scene, and people protected it as part of the expression of their identities:

“I estimate I’ve had approximately 3,000 men up my butt … I estimate that I went to the baths at least once a week, sometimes twice, and that each time I went I had a minimum of four patners … I also racked up about three men a week for five years at the Christopher Steet bookstore …Then of course there was the MineShaft; the orgies; the 55th Street Playhouse; the International Stud backroom …
Let me present my own history of STDs. From 1973, when I came out, to 1975, I only got mononucloeosis and non-specific urethritis, or NSU. In 1975, I got my first case of gonorrhea. Not bad, I thought. I’d had maybe 200 different partners, and I’d only gotten the clap twice. But then, moving from Boston to New York City, it all began to snowball.​

First came hepatitis A in ’76 and more gonorrhea and NSU. In 1977, I was diagnosed with amebiasis, an intestinal parasite, hepatitis B, more gonorrhea, and NSU. In 1978, more amebiasis and my first case of shigella, and of course, more gonorrhea. Then in 1979, hepatitis yet a third time, this time non-A, non-B, more intestinal parasites, adding giardia this time, and an anal fissure as well as my first case of syphilis … By 1981, I got some combination of STDs each and every time I had sex …​

At age twenty-seven I’ve had: gonorrhea, syphillis, hepatitis A, hepatitis B, and hepatitis non-A, non-B; intestinal parasites including amebiasis, e. historicia, shigella, giardia; herpes simplex types one and two; venereal warts, mononucleosis, cytomegalovirus, and now cryptosporodiosis, for which there is no known cure.​”

Again, if getting sick “built up the immune system,” these guys would have had the immune systems of doom and AIDS would not exist.

“I can recall about that same time seeing a patient who was a young Ph.D. scientist from the Peninsula [south of San Francisco], a very good-looking man with Kaposi’s sarcoma who I was caring for. He had AIDS. He was sitting in my clinic on Parnassus. He was kind of impatient. I said, “I’m sorry I’m running late; I can tell you’re impatient. What’s wrong?” He said, “I wish you’d hurry up; I’m going to the bathhouses.” My reaction was, “Wait a minute.”

But being the typical doctor, it just never occurred to me that he was still out there having sex. He had Kaposi’s sarcoma–AIDS, this horrible new, fatal disease. My line to him was, “Somebody must think you’re smart, because they gave you a Ph.D. How come you’re still going to the bathhouses?” He said, “There’s nothing wrong with that. I probably caught it there, and so my view is, it’s there and I’m going to have sex.” I said, “Are you telling the people that you’re having sex with that you’re HIV-positive”–it wasn’t even called HIV then–“that you have AIDS?” He said, “No. I figure that they ought to be smart enough to understand that there’s AIDS out here, and that they can catch it. It’s their responsibility as much as mine.” I think that that, more than any other single event, called into focus for me the notion that someone needs to speak out.”

Haiti got AIDS from Americans, not Africans:

“there had been in 1977 a conference of gays in Haiti, and a lot of gay people had come down from New York for this conference. After all, Haiti was a great spot for gay vacations. The poverty there had lots of young boys acting as prostitutes.”

5. over-trust in medicine/technology
” From what I’ve seen already, these guys had a shitload of venereal diseases already swimming through their systems and were on all sorts of illegal drugs, plus a lot of penicillin. There is no way that these weren’t co-factors in what later became AIDS. In NYC, there were gay doctors that were going to Fire Island and stocked up with penicillin and were shooting it into themselves and their friends before they went out to parties and got high.”

Remember, we had only recently–within a few decades–gone from a society where many people still used outhouses, had no running water or electricity, no cars, etc., to winning WWII, exploding atomic bombs, the Polio vaccine, rural electrification and running water for everyone, cars and highways, contraceptives, microwaves and men on the moon. It’s not unreasonable that people thought they lived in a time of truly unlimited scientific progress and that science could cure all problems and all of the old social norms could be discarded. Then AIDS hit like a terrifying brick to the face. We can’t even cure the common cold, you know.

6. disease as a badge of honor (still ongoing):
2blowhards source:
“Even so, the health of this crowd pre-AIDS was surprisingly awful. I recall — and Berkowitz confirms — that gay scenesters in the late ’70s often considered sexually-transmitted-diseases to be honorable battle scars: proud signs of their sexual prowess, defiant medals that they’d earned fighting for “liberation.” Just as The Pill was assumed to have ended all worries about pregnancy for straights, medicine was assumed to be capable of dealing with no matter what infection. Scene-making gayguys often had doctors specifically to deal with their STDs — they called them their “clap doctors.”…

“I was really getting into being fucked at the baths on Ecstasy,” he writes. “The drug just obliterated all my inhibitions. But I got gonorrhea after every single trip.” …
When I went on my Christopher Street tour, everyone seemed to be high. Poppers especially were everywhere; you crunched little glass vials beneath your feet as you walked along the sidewalk. Berkowitz: “I did a quick mental inventory of my poppers usage. But the question that came to mind wasn’t how much I’d done, but rather, if I could remember the last time I had an orgasm without them.”

He also recalls a German film from the era: “Taxi Zum Klo,” or “Taxi to the Toilet.” The film — a gay arthouse hit –was about a swashbuckling gayguy… whose sex drive can’t be stopped. The film was meant to be charming and naughty, and it was taken that way by the NY Film Festival audience I saw the film with…

In the film’s comic setpiece, the hero, hospitalized with hepatitis, is feeling horny. He knows he shouldn’t … But he can’t help himself … He breaks out of the hospital, finds a sex partner at a public toilet, and gets himself blown. I watched the scene thinking, “Lordy, this guy is public health enemy #1.” The audience around me, though, cracked up and applauded.”

From the main source:
“In spite of extraordinary research breakthroughs and new effective treatment and prevention, the HIV epidemic continues to chug along. There are 50,000 new HIV infections a year in the United States – a steady flow unchanged since 2007 (the peak was 130,000 a year in the mid-1980s). And the reasons are not so much medical as they are behavioural, psychological and cultural.

The US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recently announced that if HIV infections continue to rise at current rates, half of young gay men will have HIV by the age of 50. Infections have been increasing among young men who have sex with men, especially young, black men. Emory University in Atlanta, Georgia, reports that a black gay or bisexual man in Atlanta who becomes sexually active at age 18 now has a 60 per cent chance of becoming HIV-positive by the time he turns 30. Nationwide, condom use is steadily dropping and unprotected anal sex is increasing. New HIV infections have proved similarly resistant in Europe and Asia. There are still 6,300 new HIV infections a day worldwide.”

If you really want to bleach yourself forever, go read about “bug chasing”.