A Slight Case of Cognitive Dissonance

My long-suffering significant other and I went to see Iron Man a couple of weeks ago. This, in itself, is not out of the ordinary: we’re movie people, so we see a lot of them. About halfway through the movie, though, I suffered a bit of a blow to my basic epistemology.

The set-up: I try to watch movies at the theater in one sitting. Sometimes, this isn’t practical: drinking one of the 55-gallon drums of soda they sell at the concession stand and expecting to make it through Titanic (all that water!) is probably foolhardy. Lately, I’ve had trouble with this because spironolactone is a pretty effective diuretic, so halfway through the movie, I had to relieve myself. I made a bee-line to the restrooms only to be stopped short. I momentarily didn’t know which one to use. Actually, this isn’t quite true; my first instinct was to use the ladies’ room, but I stopped myself from actually bursting into the ladies room. There was a brief and very disorienting sensation of confusion as I had to wrestle my brain into the mindset of my gender presentation.

At this point in time, I’m still pretty manly. I usually have some growth of beard to accommodate my electrolysis schedule, so I was in total “guy” mode when we went to this particular movie. And yet, I felt the planks of my gender presentation fall away beneath my feet. It was profoundly weird. I surmise from this episode that the hormones I’m taking are doing a big number on my brain. I also wonder about the dichotomy this suggests in the old mind/body problem. I’ve always “known” that I was a girl, or rather, that I should have been a girl, but this episode suggests that my neurochemistry DIDN’T “know” that I should have been a girl prior to being told so by hormonal intervention. Is this an example of the ineffability of consciousness divorced from the body? Is gender identity parsed and scattered through different sections of the brain, some more aware of it than others?

Y’know, I don’t know. And some of the implications of these questions trouble me.

Cheers.

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One Response

  1. To me, the most interesting thing about your anecdote is the relationship of the mind to the artifice that is the “Women’s Restroom”. I mean, the restroom convention is a completely artificial construct that’s become part of our cultural understanding of gender. There’s no instinct or intuition that men or women are born with that automatically tells them which restroom they’re supposed to use. It’s a completely learned behavior…one I remember being fairly confused about up until a certain age. And here you are, well past the age of having learned all this, and suddenly you’re reduced to three years old again where none of it makes any sense. And quite possibly it’s all because of the introduction of hormones into your system (although in truth, I’m sure it’s not nearly so simple).

    At any rate, the very idea seems quite mad scientist-like to me. Did we make the rules, or do they make us?

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