Numb Skulls

Numb Skulls

Numb Skulls

Recent posts from our readers forum.
March 2 2000 3:30 AM

Numb Skulls

Subject: Natural Inclinations

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Date: Mon Feb 21

As the author of As Nature Made Him (click here to buy it), I was delighted to see a "Breakfast Table" discussion of my book. Natalie Angier asks, "What does it mean to say that a child's gender identity is innate?" This is the question I struggled with as I traced Bruce/Brenda/David's astonishing story.

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What was clear and beyond question in my research was that despite a consistent upbringing as a girl from 19 months (and the lack of a penis from age eight months), David failed to acquire any feminine behaviors, tastes or inclinations whatsoever, beyond those which he consciously (and ineptly) aped in order to avoid parental castigation and peer rejection. Furthermore, despite his rearing as a girl, he manifested a full array of perfectly unequivocal masculine drives, tastes, behaviors and erotic leanings which he heartbreakingly tried to keep under wraps in order to fit in—that is, until age 14, when "she" got sick of the masquerade and simply stopped living as a girl.

The evidence of David's story suggests to me that "gender identity" is indeed innate—or rather, all those things that add up to our sense of ourselves as male or female, or that cue us to our degree of masculinity or femininity, are quite beyond our conscious control and certainly beyond the powers of doctors, psychologists and surgeons to change. Having spent so many years thinking about David's story, I guess I've also come to believe, to my own amazement, that there is something innate about toy choice—that, perhaps, there is something in the combustible, testosterone-charged muscles and nervous system of the little boy that yearns for the roar and movement of a toy car over the softer, gentler delights of cradling a doll. Certainly David never felt anything but the most horrendous frustration at being given a succession of dolls to attempt to extract some fun out of. Of course there are girls who don't much like dolls, and they're usually called "tomboys." But Brenda was more than a tomboy. Brenda was, by age 11, suicidal in her assigned sex; and indeed, she officially switched sex at the impossible-to-fathom age of 14, a fact which speaks to the degree of her rejection of her medically and surgically imposed identity.

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Subject: Political Sacrifices

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Date: Mon Feb 21

Michael Kinsley writes that no one paid more for the Vietnam folly than John McCain. Tell that to the families of the soldiers on that black wall in Washington D.C.

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Subject: Frenzied Self-Defense

From: Betty Leader

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Date: Sat Feb 26

I have very mixed feelings about the article by the NYPD officer. I do believe that all police officers must be able to act in self-defense. My concern in this particular case is that 41 shots were fired. I can't help but believe that somewhere around 10-15 bullets, that Diallo was no longer a threat. That makes me wonder about what was going on with the 4 officers while they were firing the next 25-30 bullets. Did their fear of being harmed turn into some kind of frenzy? Did they have any idea of how many shots they were taking? Did it occur to them that because they were in plain clothes, the person did not know who they were or understand what they were saying to them?

When I watched the Rodney King video, I realized that King had been uncontrollable when the officers first began to subdue him. However, somewhere between maybe blow number 10 and blow number 56, the man was no longer a threat to the many officers standing around watching or adding blows. It was those 30 or 40 extra blows which caused many of us non-police citizens to react with revulsion at what we saw; it is the 41 bullets fired that causes me to react with revulsion at the Diallo death.

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Subject: An Ironic Work of Authentic Genius

Date: Mon Feb 21

It's a valid point that writers shouldn't get points just for writing with an ironic or metafictional style—but neither should that be held against them. It's the uses writers make of their styles that matter, more than styles themselves.

It's all well and good to rail against pointless postmodern fluffery, and it's certainly true mind-bending fiction, which pulls in disparate narratives and puts them through the Intermixer-Meta-Machine, no longer has the disruptive authority it used to enjoy. But that's because the "pomo" has become such a condition of everyday existence that we hardly need to be reminded of it.

In Eggers' case, the narrative-breaking "tricks" of his San Francisco chapters register as something profoundly true, a smack-on portrayal of what actually goes on inside someone's (not necessarily his) head. The self-aggrandizement ("we are owed!") and the characters "breaking from character" aren't Eggers-the-author being witty; they're Eggers-the-author trying to accurately describe the life of Eggers-the-person as lived. And part of his life, presumably, was this obsessive self-involvement and considerations of the story-like aspects of his own life, as they were happening. None of this is very strange— that's just what life can be very much like, these days.

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Subject: Skull & Bones—Less Conspiratorial Than You Think

From: Shannan

Date: Tue Feb 22

Yes, the film-makers probably lifted their name from the Yale Skull & Bones and are fascinated with the connections of this organization, which aspires to be more elite than the rest of the elite student body. But the film (I have seen the trailer for it) seems to be just another retelling of the familiar storyline that if someone is handed everything on a silver platter, all is not what it seems. Ways to convey this theme are through secret societies, selling your soul to the devil, stumbling upon a seemingly tropical paradise only to find the inhabitants are cannibals, going to work in a boiler-room stock brokerage only to get arrested by the SEC, etc. Skull & Bones is not the inspiration for the movie; it's just a convenient vehicle to tell an age-old story.

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