Fuzzy Categories with Alice Dreger

May 16, 2018

Nature doesn’t care about our desire to have these clean political categories for legal purposes.” — Alice Dreger

Today I’m really excited to have Dr. Alice Dreger on the podcast. Dr. Dreger is a historian, bioethicist, author, and former professor of clinical medical humanities and bioethics at the Feinberg School of Medicine, Northwestern University. Dreger is widely known for her academic work and activism in support of people at the edge of anatomy, such as conjoined twins and those with atypical sex characteristics. In her observations, it’s often a fuzzy line between “male” and “female”, among other anatomical distinctions. A key question guiding a lot of Dr. Dreger’s work (and which was the topic of her TEDx talk) is “Why do we let our anatomy determine our fate?” Dr. Dreger is the author of multiple books, including “One of Us: Conjoined Twins and the Future of Normal” and “Galieleo’s Middle Finger Heretics, Activists, and the Search for Justice in Science.”

In this episode, we discuss a wide range of topics, including:

  • How Dr. Dreger got involved in the “Intersex Rights Movement” in the mid-90s
  • The difference between anatomy and gender identity
  • The relationship between our bodies and our personal and social identities and the role of science and medicine in determining this relationship
  • Who gets to tell your body what it means
  • How the mind isn’t the only place where identity exists, and how our identities also exist in the minds of others
  • The future of gender pronouns
  • How we should treat those who do not fit traditional notions of sex, such as the fascinating cases of “androgen insensitivity syndrome” and “congenital adrenal hyperplasia”
  • How we can see more value in variation in anatomy
  • The need for a more reality-based government
  • Why the phrase “identity politics” is distracting and only part of a larger problem
  • The benefits and disadvantages of the “Intellectual Dark Web”
  • The increasing difficulty of being able to tell what is true and what is false in the media
  • Why we spend so much of our energy on tribal politics and avoid the real humanitarian problems in the world
  • Why tribal life is so compelling
  • The need to balance male and female ways of being
  • What an “Intellectual Light Web” might look like

3 Responses to “Fuzzy Categories with Alice Dreger”

  1. Mark Ledwich says:

    I enjoyed this one, and agreed with almost everything, but there a few parts where I found myself shouting at my phone.

    – Death is a social construction!? Death is inescapable and exists in all cultures (I can’t believe I’m making that statement). If death is a social construction, then everything is

    – I think most reality denying parts of the right are pre-modern and the left is post-modern. Alice uses post-modernism to refer to both kinds of reality denial, which stretches the post-modern category beyond its meaning. Holocaust denial is a conspiracy theory, whereas denying sciences ability to understand objectid reality and improve the word is post-modern.

    – Alice correctly wants social justice to be outcome focus on things that will really improve lives (E.g. anti biotic resistance, malaria). This sounds like effective altruism which is highly male dominated. The femine priority on human connection , kinship, emotional empathy is counter to maximally improving welfare in this detatched, calculating way. I found that jarring to when Alice said that it was masculine to focus on property over welfare (e.g. health care).

  2. Ronald says:

    As I understand, Jordan doesn’t have a big problem with ‘they’ as a singular pronoun, but with using the law to require the use of, not only ‘they’, but any made-up pronoun. This is very different from the ‘use she instead of he’ issue of the past, which was just a cultural shift, and did not involved the government.

    That aside, wonderful interview! Keep the good work!

  3. Lianne Simon says:

    Outstanding! Both of you.

    For science to thrive, it needs rational dissent. Unfortunately, the same tribalism that has split our culture means that some theories (and they are that) are held (or opposed) with such fervor that fruitful discussions are impossible.

    People also sometimes forget that theories based on statistical groupings may not apply to outliers. I face this most every time I see a physician. I’m #intersex. I have #EhlersDanlos. When I’m not on steroids, my immune system is so twitchy that anything–or nothing at all–can result in an allergic reaction. My body wastes salt.

    Testosterone has done my body wonders. It’s given me energy. It’s improved my bone density. It gave me marvelous breast development after estrogen failed. So why can’t I find an endocrinologist willing to even consider letting me take it? Because, it’s not what they do. Their science rejects data points that don’t fit their theory.

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