Gender Nominalism and Cats

My whole family had a pretty eventful summer from a medical point of view.  The most serious ailment happened to our cat.  He had a urinary blockage caused by crystal formation.  This is apparently rather common with male cats.  Basically, they form crystals in their urine.  These crystals clump together and get stuck in the urethra preventing any urine from leaving the bladder.  If the cats are not treated quickly, their bladders can burst like a water balloon and they die.  Luckily, we noticed a change in our cat’s behavior and I took him to the vet and he seems to be doing OK.  He’s on a special new diet and I had the joy of medicating a cat for a couple weeks, but he is acting like himself again.

The trick going forward is that some cats are prone to crystal formation and blockages.  That means that this could happen again at any time.  We’re keeping our fingers crossed that our cat is not one of the cats that is prone to this and we won’t have to deal with it again.  But, the vet assured us that if it does continue to happen, there is an option.  The option is called a perineal urethrostomy.  The way this procedure was explained to me is that the vet would cut off the cat’s penis and scrotum and then widen the urethra so that it is similar to a female cat’s urethra.  Apparently the reason that male cats are prone to this and female cats aren’t is because male cats have a longer and narrower urethra.  This surgery solves that problem.

The vet said that the surgery makes no difference to the cat.  It won’t change his behavior or require any special accommodations.  But, I can’t help thinking that we would be giving our cat a sex change.  I know that a real sex change is much more complicated than removing a penis.  I know this surgery isn’t actually a sex change, but the possibility of my cat having a perineal urethrostomy has made me think about sex and gender in a way I never have before.

I should back up a bit here.  I don’t like giving pets human names.  When I was a kid, I had a neighbor with a dog named Toby.  Now I can’t help thinking that Toby Maguire has a dog’s name.  More recently, I met a dog with the same name as my daughter.  Every time the dog’s owner gave the dog a command, I started to get defensive because I thought the dog’s owner was talking to my daughter.  Plus, names indicate a bunch of things to other people, from gender to age to familiarity to ethnicity.  Since I don’t care about my pets’ genders or ethnicities, and I presume that neither do they, there’s no need giving them names that indicate such things.  I’ve had cats named Ding and Dong.  I had an iguana named Guppy.  But, most of my pets are just called what they are (A fish is called Fish, and cat is called Cat, etc.).

I have had three (sort of) exceptions to my no human names for pets policy.  About fifteen years ago, I moved into a new place and there were two cats living there, Amber and Sasha.  My roommate wasn’t a cat person, so I happily adopted them, but didn’t change their names.  The really weird thing was that Amber was a male cat and Sasha was a female cat.  Whoever named them either didn’t know or thought giving a male cat a female name and a female cat a male name would be funny.  Either way, whenever I brought the cats to the vet, I had to correct them multiple times.  The third exception is my current cat, Calisi.  My daughter picked the name.  She had a teacher who had a cat named Khaleesi, after the Game of Thrones character.  My daughter has never seen or read Game of Thrones, but she liked the name.  Since we were getting a female, and Khaleesi is a fictional character, we figured it was OK.  Of course, it turns out our cat is male, not female, so we changed the spelling and kept the name.

As I said before, I don’t care about my pets’ gender (I suppose that’s not completely true.  I did specifically buy a male beta, but only because there is blatant sexual dimorphism in betas and the males are much prettier.)  It’s something I never really thought about at all.  The only reason I corrected the vet was in case the different anatomy might affect treatment in some way (Of course I am confident that the vet would have figured it out without my correction, but better safe than sorry.).  As far as I’m concerned, all non-human living beings can be referred to as “it” without any negative consequences.

If you’ve made it this far, you’re probably wondering what all of this has to do with gender nominalism.  Well, while talking to the vet, I had a momentary Singerian* lapse and wondered what Calisi would think if we had to do the surgery, which meant trying to put myself in his place.  My little felinification (or is it catopomorphism?) thought experiment made me realize something surprising.  While I can’t be positive, since it was imaginary, I think my reaction to a perineal urethrostomy would be the same as undergoing any other medically necessary amputation.  It’s not something I would ever want to go through, but it is better than dying.  That was it.  I feel like society puts pressure on us to think of the penis as somehow different than other body parts.  But in my little thought experiment, it didn’t seem relevantly different.  When I came back up to the human level, it seemed that the penis is still not relevantly different.

When I say the penis is not relevantly different, I do understand that it is a unique organ.  I’m not saying something along the lines of, “It’s OK if I lose my penis, I still have my feet.”  What I’m saying is that, if it were a life threatening situation, I could lose a hand, a foot or a penis and still come out of it being me.  I would find the loss of any body part extremely distressing, but as long as it didn’t change who I am, I would learn to deal with it.  Being lobotomized would be relevantly different, because in that case, even if my body remained alive, I would be gone.

The next step is where I really began thinking about things differently.  When I thought about it, I realized that I honestly feel the same about people, when it comes to gender, ethnicity, etc., as I do about pets.  The only reason I call women “she” and men “he” is to avoid insulting anyone.  There are more than 7 billion people on the planet and there are fewer than five whose gender, ethnicity etc. make any difference at all to me.

This seemed strange when I first thought it, but I can’t quite figure out why.  I’ve known a bunch of people in my life.  Some claim to be men, others women.  Some claim to be gay, others straight.  Some claim to be Italian and others Polish.  It’s not like I’ve ever, nor have I ever wanted to, verify their claims.  Why would I?  On some level, I simply trust other people to identify themselves the way they want to be identified.  And, on another level, I just don’t care.  I don’t mean that in any kind of cold, calloused way.  I just mean that outside of myself and my wife it doesn’t make any difference to me how people identify themselves.  I do care in the sense that I generally wish happiness to others, so I hope that people identify in a way that makes them happy, but that’s it.

I guess the reason it seemed strange to me at first was that people do seem to care about how others identify themselves, even when those people have no relationship with each other.  There is a weird societal pressure to care, or at least have an opinion, but I can’t come up with any reason why.  People cared so much that Renee Richards had to have the New York State Supreme Court intervene to allow her to play tennis.  People claimed that they were afraid she was cheating.  She was only identifying as a woman so she could beat the easier competition.  But, come on, that’s a bad episode of Bosom Buddies, not real life.  I’m fairly certain that no one would undergo gender reassignment surgery just so they could enter a competition against women.  That’s not even close to realistic.  I’ve never met Renee Richards, and I’ll bet most, if not all, of you haven’t either.  Why should I have an opinion on her gender?  It doesn’t effect me or her.  If she’s happy being Renee, good for her.

So, the upshot of my cat getting sick was that I realized that I’m a gender nominalist.  I’m probably an ethnic nominalist and a bunch of other types of nominalist as well.  I’d never have given it much thought if not for wondering how my cat would feel about losing his penis.  It seems a strange path, but there you go.


*For those who don’t read much philosophy, this is a reference to Peter Singer.  He is a Utilitarian philosopher and probably one of the most read philosophers since World War II.  His most famous work is Animal Liberation where he argues (sort of**) that the suffering of animals is an important part of the Utilitarian calculus.

**I say sort of because his arguments are awful and his most controversial premises are always assumed rather than defended.

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Star Trek: The Animated Series

I have been using Netflix to re-watch Star Trek.  And I mean all of the Star Treks.  I’ve already completed DS9 and the original series.  Both were excellent.  I just finished the animated series.  I had never seen any of the animated series before, so I figured I’d give my impressions.

For starters, it was weird.  It wasn’t exactly bad, but it certainly wasn’t good.

It made me wonder about copyrights and studios and ownership.  It was clearly Star Trek.  It was called Star Trek.  Gene Roddenberry was listed as executive producer.  But, the theme music was different.  It was clearly intended to sound similar, but it was different.

Larry Niven wrote an episode (The Slaver Weapon).  That’s an awfully big Sci-Fi writer to pen an episode of a second rate cartoon.

The animation was mostly bad.  But it was nice the way they actually had alien looking aliens.

Most of the actors are not really voice actors.  When Nichelle Nichols and Majel Barrett did voices other than Uhura and Nurse Chapel, they sounded just like Uhura and Nurse Chapel.

William Shatner impressed me.  He was the one that seemed to know that voice acting is different than regular acting and rose to the occasion.

There are only 22 episodes.  So, if you’re curious, it is relatively painless.  But, I’d only recommend it to someone who has a strong desire to see everything Trek (like me).

Now, I’m really excited for Next Generation.

If You Don’t Watch Tennis, You’re Really Missing Out – The 2015 US Open

The 2015 US Open was a highly entertaining two weeks of tennis even though nothing that I was rooting for came to pass.  These are just some quick thoughts I had about the fortnight (I don’t know why, but tennis seems to be the only place where the word fortnight has survived into the 21st century).

Serena Williams is still the greatest of all time.  I really wanted her to win the tournament, the grand slam, and tie Steffi Graf’s career wins in majors, but the fact that she lost in the semi-finals doesn’t change her status at all.

The Venus against Serena match was way more fun than it had any business being.  It was so overhyped that I almost didn’t want to watch.  But it delivered.

Roberta Vinci (the woman who beat Serena in the semi-final) was totally endearing in her interview after the match and after her loss in the final.  It’s too bad doubles doesn’t get more attention because I would have liked to have known about her earlier.

The women’s final was a lot of fun.  Vinci actually plays the net, which you just don’t see in women’s tennis since Martina Navratilova retired.  Flavia Pennetta played a great match and deserved the win.  Her acceptance of the trophy was great, especially the bombshell of announcing her retirement right there.

ESPN needs to learn more about tennis if they are going to be the main source of TV coverage.

A Grand Slam is when a person wins all four majors in one year.  Calling it a “Calendar Slam” or “Calendar Grand Slam” is redundant and makes it sound like you know nothing about tennis.

The commercials were a better mix than usual for tennis.  While there were still plenty of Mercedes and IBM commercials, there were also some ads for things that normal people can buy, like New Balance sneakers.

I still think Rafa Nadal is done as a great player.  But, I don’t want to take anything away from Fabio Fognini (the guy who beat him).  Fabio was a fun player to watch.

I was completely fascinated by Murray against Anderson and Federer against Isner.  Both matches featured one player with a huge serve and one player with a fantastic all around game.  In Murray vs. Anderson, the huge serve won and in Federer vs. Isner, the all around game won.  But it was like watching the same match twice with different results.  They also showed why tie breaks are stupid.  Both matches would probably still be going on without tie breaks.

It is completely unbelievable that Federer can still be this good at 34 years old.

It’s kind of unfair how much better Djokovic is than everyone else right now.

Provisional Diagnosis

I went to my doctor today.  After bleeding into a bunch of vials, wearing a Holter and peeing into a jug so they could do tests, I had to go over the results of those tests with the doctor.  The result was that everything looked normal.  My blood was normal, my heart was normal and my pee was normal.  Apparently, I’m as healthy as a very healthy horse.  Except I’m clearly not, which is why I had all these tests done in the first place.  So, the diagnosis for now is that I am getting atypical migraines.  They may be caused by stress or they may be caused by hormonal changes.  I guess men of a certain age go through hormonal changes that can cause all kinds of wacky things.

All this has done a great job of reminding me that medicine is not an exact science.  I’ve always known that on some level.  Physics isn’t even an exact science (math and logic might be, but they aren’t even sciences).  I think that’s another reason why I’d be a bad doctor (the primary reasons being that I find everything medical to be absolutely terrifying and I pass out around needles and blood).  If I were my doctor, I’d be ordering more tests, keeping me overnight for observation and whatever else I could think of.  Not so much because I wanted my patient to get healthy, but because the mystery would drive me crazy.

I’m glad my doctor isn’t like me.  I’ve had enough with tests and doctors for a while.  I’m content to trust her diagnosis.  I just don’t know how she does it.

Labor Day

I look forward to Labor Day every year.  It’s the unofficial end of summer, and I don’t like summer.  It means the US Open is happening, and I love the US Open.  It means the baseball pennant races are heating up, and I love baseball.  It means a day off of work.  I didn’t always look forward to Labor Day.  It also means the beginning of school, and I hated school.  The one thing it never meant to me, and I think this is true of most people my age and younger, is anything about organized labor or the labor movement.

In a lot of ways it is an odd holiday for Americans to celebrate.  Reagan went a long ways towards killing labor when I was too young to understand what was happening.  Ever since, American attitudes toward labor have ranged from disinterest to open hostility.  Even the unions that still function are far more interested in getting what they can for their specific members than doing anything for labor as a whole.  Yet, here we are again, supposedly celebrating labor.

Why isn’t there a union representing workers in the financial services?  Restaurants?  Retail?  Or any of the myriad jobs where people work too hard and get too little?*  The Occupy movement was constantly (and rightly) criticized for not having a focus or discernable purpose.  Starting a new labor movement would have been perfect for them.   Lack of a labor movement is one of the key differences between the relative equality of the mid-twentieth century and the rampant inequality before and after.  Anyone who is worried about the 1%/99% divide ought to be worried about labor.

Anyway, that is what I’ll be mulling over in the back of my mind as I watch tennis and baseball and get ready for another work week to start tomorrow.


*I know there are unions that try in some of these industries.  But they are not very organized or successful.

That’s Not Lemonade* – Part Three of My Medical Drama

The last test I had to do (for now) to try to figure out what is wrong with me was a twenty-four hour urine test, because it’s important that patients are allowed to maintain their dignity.  In case you don’t know, a twenty-four hour urine test is exactly what it sounds like.  Instead of the small cup they give you at the doctor’s office, they give you a jug to bring home and every time you pee, you need to pee in the jug for a full day.  As someone who usually pees standing up, it really wasn’t that onerous.  It’s a little weird and unsatisfying not flushing afterwards, but it does save water.  I would imagine it is worse for women.  The worst part was the fact that I had to keep the pee refrigerated.  Who knew that pee could go bad?  It’s strange walking to the kitchen every time you have to go.  And it’s even stranger seeing a jug of pee when you are looking for a snack.

The test also made me notice things about pee that I had never noticed before.  I pee more than I had realized.  The jug looked huge when I first got it, but I filled it right up.  And doctors use weird terminology when talking about pee.  The ones that got me were the words void and evacuate.  We evacuate burning buildings.  We void contracts.  Pee just doesn’t seem worthy of such seriousness.  Sometimes I can’t help but wonder if doctors just like to mess with us.


*Thanks to my friend Joe for the idea for the title.

My Continuing Medical Saga

Yesterday I went to my doctor for a follow-up to my ER visit.  The good news is that all of the tests done in the ER came out fine.  The EKG, the blood work, the blood pressure and blood sugar were all normal.  So, whatever is going on with me, most likely, has nothing to do with my heart.  But, my doctor explained to me that all of those tests are snapshots.  They just show a moment in time.  She wanted to set me up with a twenty-four hour cardiac monitor so we could definitively rule out heart issues.

I agreed.  I’d also like to rule out any heart issues and who am I to argue with a trained professional.  She said she would send a tech in to fit me with a Holter.  Only what I heard was halter.  I figured it was going to be some kind of vest or undergarment that I would wear under my clothes, something I could ignore.  It turns out that Holter is the name of the guy that invented the device.  It’s a little box, which I think is a recording device, with five wires connected to five electrodes.  Those electrodes were attached to me with stickers (as if I didn’t lose enough body hair in the ER).  Once it was hooked up, I asked what I was supposed to do and I was told to just go about my normal activities, just pretend it’s not even there.  The one caveat is that I had to make sure not to get the electrodes wet, so no showering for me.

I realized before I even got to my car that there was no way to ignore the Holter.  Every time I turned or bent my torso, I could feel the tug of the stickers.  When I got in my car, there was no good place to put the seat belt.  I had to keep my daughter at arm’s length as she likes to climb and pull and tug on everything.  She was very understanding and even conscientious.  She kept making me lift up my shirt to check that all of the stickers were still in place.  I didn’t get much sleep at all.  I’m not used to sleeping while connected to a box by a bunch of wires.  Plus, I was afraid that I  would unstick something if I moved too much, so I propped myself up and spent half the night staring at the ceiling.  Today was uneventful.  I stayed home (no need to expose my co-workers to my un-showered state).  After the agony of removing the stickers, I dropped the Holter back at the doctor’s office and now I have to wait for the findings.

I’ve been lucky in that I’ve always been relatively healthy.  This whole experience has been new for me.  And one question that kept running through my mind today is, “What do doctors think normal people do all day?”  Is there any way the machine gathered useful information as it kept me from behaving normally?  I guess I just have to trust my doctor.  It’s a good thing I really don’t think there’s anything serious going on or I would have been completely freaked out all day.