Introduction 2: Who Are You?
With bonus Declaration of Principles.
Do not ask who I am and do not ask me to remain the same: leave it to our bureaucrats and our police to see that our papers are in order.
— Foucault, The Archeology of Knowledge
Call me Yorick.
Or, if you prefer, Poor Yorick, or even Alas, Poor Yorick. It all ends up in the same place (as do we all).
Who am I? I am a lot of things. I am a man behind a mask, of course—and thus many of the thing I am I shan't tell you. Please do not ask, and put me in the position of refusing and yourself in the position of being refused.
But I will say a small sum. I am a writer—one you have never heard of, I assure you; if I told you my Teller name would mean no more to you than my Penn name does. I am a former1 academic. I am a cishet man, unless I am actually a trans woman egg. I am married, to a cis woman; I am the father of a son. I was born and now live in the Eastern Time Zone of the United States.
I am an autogynephile. If you (improbably) have never heard of this word or (quite probably) have objections to its use, please refer to the third introduction (forthcoming next week), where I explain why I am using it, and what I do, and don't, mean by it (perhaps not quite what you think). What it means for me, I will tell you in future installments.
I write with too much purple and too many flowers; I am not afraid of hypotaxis nor sesquipedalianism (oh, and I like parentheses, too). I am digressive and discursive, prolix and often pleonastic. I use a lot of quotations, and not only in epigraphs; but then, "I quote others only to better express myself" as Montaigne said (or is it just that I am timid and apologetic, and dare not say `I think,’ `I am,’ but quotes some saint or sage?) I may make the odd literary allusion or invocation of philosophy. My writing is on occasion allusively elusive and elusively allusive.
And that's it. I will tell you my political thoughts that might get me canceled, my desires which might get me shunned, but I shan't tell you my name or home town or the name of my book which you really should buy.2
So call me Yorick. But I am, of course, not Yorick: I will not tell you my name, save to tell you it is not that. Yorick is just a Penn name.3 My author's photo is really me, and was taken by thispersondoesnotexist.com. I thought of picking one that was male—since I am sure of few things, but one is that I am male: but if I were going to wear a mask, I found I couldn't bear to have it be a male one.
My pronouns are he/him, but if anyone were to misgender me and call me she/her, I would be flattered rather than offended. So pick which you wish. Do not call me they/them, though, for the one thing I am not is non-binary: I am, rather, all-too-binary, trapped on one side, longing for the other.
Who am I?4 I am vaporware, a fiction's fiction, a name without a person. I am no one, so that I might be anyone. Condemn me if you will: damn me as a pervert or transphobe, loser or lunatic, but remember you might be condemning a person you know, a person right beside you. And indeed I might be: not this I, me me, the body with the fingers writing these words, but one of us, someone like me, part of the we: those who think oddly and differently in this particular fashion. For if the details are important, so too is the generality; younger or older, more warped or less, I am not just I but also we, one of those like me, autogynephiles: and we are perhaps more common than you imagine. I write just as myself: but I hope that in these details others will see echoes of their own selves. And, if so, I may be more than just me. Be cautious, Hasty Reader, lest you, in condemning me, also condemn someone you would sooner save.
So much for the matter; what, Yorick, shall be your point of view, besides that of a philosophically-inclined politically problematic paraphilic pervert? Have you perspective? Have you principles? — Fairly asked, Inquiring Reader; I will list some, box them on the front page like unto Charles Foster Kane. Except that before I do, I want to emphasize one that is more of an anti-principle: in this realm I am, more than anything else, uncertain.
I can't engage with these issues without changing my mind. I read arguments on the web and all sides seem convincing. I look at my life, and decide I am a trans egg; I look at it and decide I have at worst a very mild paraphilia. Surges of belief and conviction rise and fall within me like tides. If I contradict myself, it may be that I contain multitudes; or it may simply be that I blow about like dandelion seeds, born this way and that on any breeze.
So why then write about these issues? Surely, poor pitiful Yorick, you have other creative outlets within which you are not so lost in a fog? — Yes, Generous Reader, I have. But I have come to feel I must write about these things, too. Because they are central to me: to me personally, as an autogynephile who would push the fabled magic button if he could, as a man too often in his own head, but also to our culture: this is the edge of the cultural debate, and I live here now. I find I have things to say. "The eye was placed where one ray should fall, that it might testify of that particular ray." Reader: I see rainbows.
Therefore I am going to try to dwell in the confusion, map it, describe the fog if I cannot see through it, be "in uncertainties, mysteries, doubts". But unlike the poet who rules this as his demesne, I will not avoid fact and reason, but try to use them in all their subtle complexities. I think that my wavering has a benefit: for if all these sides have their own slice of the truth, then perhaps it takes a meandering mind to see them all. This is not a good fit for contemporary life, where everyone has principles of iron, even if they quietly rearrange them at night, and if a mind is changed it is done so as a dramatic conversion narrative, not as a tidal sway between multiple poles. But I cannot don certainty like a hat; if I must live here, I will look closely, and say what I see.
I read trans activists and feel certain that they are right; I read gender critical feminists and think likewise. I read writers who embrace kink and sexuality, and those who damn it, and feel in my bones that they are right, both times. One might interpret this wavering as a sign that I have not picked a side, have not yet chosen my liege-lord for the archaic chivalric charge out of machine-gun mounted trenches our culture loves to applaud from the sideline. But I would look at it otherwise: as a recognition that there are truths on both sides, synthesis and antithesis, and seek from them a synthesis.
So I will make uncertainty my first principle. I will embrace my lack of surety. In a culture of howling culture warriors, damning one and all at the drop of a tweet, I will make my stock in trade my hesitation and my doubts. This does not mean I will not pass hard judgment or make bold claims: rather, I will endeavor to speak what I think now in hard words, and next week speak what next week thinks in hard words again, though it contradict every thing I said today.
If uncertainty is my first principle, then accurate introspection will be my second. Skimming Reader, recall: I am an autogynephile. This means that I have both sides within me. I know the deep feeling of wishing my body were different; I know the feeling that I am, alas and damn me, all too male. As I said, if I have anything to offer it is uncertainty: but that requires careful internal observation to map.
What I have to share is my perspective, my point of view, my—in that hideous and self-contradictory phrase that is alas probably now too deeply embedded in our culture to root out, and which must, like a wrong evolutionary turn, be exapted to serve a better purpose—truth.
But if introspection is what I have to share, then honesty must be my third principle. My name is Yorick I. N. Penn: that, reader, is the only lie I will tell you.5 I am an autogynephile and a crossdreamer, one who wishes that he were a sex and gender he is not (even as he knows he is not). But that desire, while having numerous roots and arising in numerous places, is among other things grounded in sexual desire (perversion, if you will): which is grounded in fantasy, and pornography, and masturbation. I imagine I am a woman when I jack off to porn.—See? I told you honesty would be a principle: it may also be my fault. But that act (jacking off to porn, I mean, not imagining I am a woman) is, while not universal in our culture, is certainly far more common than almost any other grounds claimed for solidarity: a greater percentage of the population do it than vote for a particular political party, believe a particular world view,6 have a particular gender identity, live in a body of a particular sex. Why then should it be shocking to have me say it?7
Many people on all sides of these overlapping conversations congratulate themselves on their bravery in standing up for unpopular beliefs. I in my mask cannot possibly claim to be brave: a brave man would not say "call me Yorick". But I will talk of what I think, even if it is unpopular—and even if it is all-too-popular. Indeed, I have donned this flimsy mask precisely so as to be honest. I do not think that I can say what I think under my Teller name, since it would be damned by both sides: and it is not good for Man to be alone. So I will say it instead under this Penn name. He can be damned, since he is nothing but a figments.
If honesty in introspection is my third principle, however, I should not forget that I must be realistic about other things than my own thoughts, so realism shall be my fourth principle. I will operate out of a position which, in my philosophical sloppiness, I will call grounded subjectivity. If the postmodernists are right about the radical embodiment of all knowledge (synthesis), so too are the positivists right about the fact that the world we look from our bodies out upon is real8 and undeniable and shared (antithesis). I will not forget the reality of the world beneath my feet and before my eyes. I will try to have grounds for my claims, and recognize realities I would rather deny.
But it is not a simple realism. I think all things are interconnected; therefore I cannot pick and chose what I would be honest and realistic—or uncertain—about. This principle, interconnectivity, is one reason why I will mix political thoughts with a charting of my own twisted sexual thoughts. This is, of course, in blatant violation of Deuteronomy 22:11, and I apologize to all tailors. But what I think about sex in one sense cannot be separated from what I think about sex in another. If all intellectual issues have connections, as I believe they do, in order to think clearly we ought to think about everything that we find in our path—even sex and desire. And that we should, therefore, speak frankly about private matters. So I intend to be honest and open, perhaps to a fault.
And in line with the principle of honesty: no, it is not purely instrumental. This series of essays will also be about desire and lust and fantasy because I am interested in those things too— by which I don't simply mean that I am gripped by them (though I am). I am perverted, if you like, but I am also interested in perversion, and think that there are insights to be gleaned from it. I think we cannot understand the world fully without confronting those parts too. But don't worry, Prudish Reader: I will always put in content warnings to keep you away from the smut, or the politics, whichever you wish to skip.9 — Yet it is not simply that either. (I am large, and do contain multitudes.) The intellectual reasons are real too. I think that many things in this debate are mistaken because there are things people are too private to say, or too squeamish to hear. So let's talk about sex, baby: in both senses.
But then too, anyone who would make realism—or truthfulness, or accuracy, or honesty—a principle must make fallibilism one as well. All statements might be wrong. No principle is sacrosanct; all should be open to revision and extension should experience and reason bring us to the point where it seems necessary. There are no absolute principles, only the unending exploration that is science and is democracy and is life. From this arises the crucial role for dialogue: we learn and live by talking with others, gaining new experiences and viewpoints and mental tools, and returning to the dialogue with them. A refusal to entertain ideas is, in the end, a refusal of to think, since we can never know where thought will lead us in advance.
But from fallibilism, that essential insight of both democracy and science,10 comes the other essential principle of both of those noble institutions: public reason, my seventh principle. We should let people speak, think, be wrong, debate, change their minds, live in uncertainty—in public. Too often these days views are shut up rather than refuted. Trans activists will try to put views beyond consideration by declaring them bigotry unworthy of a hearing; conservatives will try to pass bills requiring that gender-deviant thoughts are reported to the authorities, and that drag queens reading children stories at libraries portends the ends of civilization. I reject all this. Humans may be born of sex, but we are nurtured and raised in language; we live in a world of words and stories, not merely in a world. It is not that all views are valid, for some are simply wrong; but none are simply and entirely right, for all are partial.
I think (almost) everyone in this discussion is acting in good faith as they see it, saying what they see in front of them. The world is large and contradictory and contains more than most of dream of in our philosophies. I think that if everyone speaks their mind without fear, and listens without summary dismissal, we will find we all have more in common than we think. In the end, we are all "fellow travelers to the grave"; we all end up like poor Yorick, a fellow of infinite jest.
I am against deplatforming and silencing and shaming and shushing. I decry the censors from the left and the right, the port and the starboard. And I will try to live what I believe, and speak what I have lived, although too much of that life has been an expense of spirit in a waste of shame.
The objection to such debate these days is usually that it "erases" certain viewpoints, or damages other people. So I must make my eighth principle universal validity. I believe that trans lives and experiences are valid (to use again that odd word), and not only deserve (as of course they do) all the respect and dignity and consideration of all human lives, but which deserve to be recognized in terms that those living them would recognize. But so too are the lives of their critics. A recent video making the rounds on twitter showed a woman loudly protesting because a "male" with "a dick" was in the women's locker room. Both the lives of the woman who was protesting and—assuming that it was a trans woman she was objecting to—the woman in the women's locker room are valid. This is not to say that neither made mistakes: either might have; perhaps both did. But neither should be simply ignored or condemned. Let us listen to and feel the life experiences of both: the woman who, in a male-seeming body, feels herself both threatened and ashamed if forced into the locker room she would not chose to use, and the woman who, confronted with male genitalia in a female space, feels threatened and invaded. I don't know what the policy answer to this issue is (the principle of uncertainty) and I think we need to listen to all points of view (public debate) on this matter, bearing in mind that any of them might be wrong (fallibilism) and that we might have to adjust our minds as we learn new facts and develop new theories (realism). — But what I do know is that both these people are human beings, both need to be understood as valid people trying to live their lives.
If all lives are valid—really are, not that we are trying to pretend that they are—then nothing I, nor anyone else, can say can undermine that. For that very reason, however, things that are difficult—the relation that some trans women (not all) have to autogynephilia, for instance—can be spoken of without fear or flinching. If trans women are guided to become women (in part, in some cases) by sexual desire, this does not invalidate their womanhood. (Are we not all ultimately born from acts of desire?) So we can afford to give those who question trans lives a hearing: their experiences are valid, too, even if the conclusions they draw from them are not always so. I believe in the validity of trans lives strongly enough to listen to others question them without quaking. None of the truths others bring change trans truths; therefore we should listen, and see if we can still learn.
Universal validity leads us to the final principle: infinite worth of all people. All human lives have inherent and immeasurable value. We must come up with solutions to live together that work for us all.
——And yes, Scornful Reader: that worth applies even alas to me, poor Yorick. If all lives are valid and have infinite worth, if nothing we or you or I can do or say to change that, then telling the truth about my (perverted, if you will) thoughts will not harm anyone else, nor remove my value as a person and writer and being in the world. I will admit embarrassing things here—I already have, perhaps. They do not undermine my value. And if you are a trans woman, angry that I have grounded my crossdreaming in porn-fueled desire (as that perpetuates a harmful stereotype): my saying this does not harm your value either. And if you are a cis, gender-critical woman, angry that I think of femininity as11 wrapped up in a degraded and debased sexualization: my saying my thoughts does not harm you, either.
One last word about my individual identity (as opposed that is to Identity, gender identity and sex and autogynephile, about which there will be, of course, many, many more words): Don't try to crack my pseudonym; you've not heard of me (really), and do you really need to be cruel to some stranger? Accept these writings for what they are, and let it go. And if you do somehow figure out who I am—which seems on the one hand unlikely, I'm just some guy on the internet, but not strictly speaking impossible, since I am telling only the truth here, save for the signature under which I am telling it—please don't dox me. I am writing this privately for what seem to me good reasons; and I am, under my Teller name, doing no harm and being as uninvolved as I can in these issues. I have stripped myself naked here, save for the mask I wear: the only privacy I am allowing myself is that flimsy facade. Please respect my wishes, my humanity, my please, and leave the mask intact. I ask you, as one traveler to the grave to another: be kind.
If you happen to figure out who I am because you know me in real life—probably the only way anyone will actually figure out who I am (unless you are a determined detective and why would you bother?)—well, then, you know me, and can judge for yourself how to handle finding out something about someone you know: whether you want to submit both of us to the awkwardness of that conversation depends upon our relationship. I leave it up to you. (Better be sure though! What if you bring it up and it turns out you're wrong, and the person you thought was me was not...) A conversation might embarrass us both; your knowing about it without speaking of it with me might embarrass both of us more. You are the judge. But please, at the very least, do not tell anyone else who knows me; let them figure it out.
Who am I? I am multitudinous, as are we all. And, among many other things, one thing that I am is Yorick I. N. Penn. That is enough to be for now. Let me just be Yorick Penn.
Call me Yorick.
Notes on practical matters
This essay is the second of three introductions. The first can be read here; the third will be posted next week. At least for the foreseeable future, this newsletter will post once a week on Wednesdays,12 and will be free (both subject to change as circumstances warrant).
If anyone wishes to contact me, I am reachable by email under the handle YorickPenn at gmail, and am on twitter as PennYorick (I don't know why twitter wished that backwards).
At the moment I am known to no-one, having been just (re)born as poor Yorick: so there is no one to promote this newsletter to. (For perhaps obvious reasons, I will not send a link out to my friends and family.) Therefore, if you know anyone who might find it of interest, I would be grateful if you would send it there way.
It would be unkind—but not necessarily incorrect—to say “failed”.
To be on the safe side, you’ll have to just go buy them all.
I chose those names (“Yorick” and “Penn”) for reasons, not all of them the obvious. (If you figure it out, just remember: neither was he!)
'Who are YOU?' said the Caterpillar.
This was not an encouraging opening for a conversation.
— Lewis Carroll (whose name was not Lewis Carroll)
And even that is now, in its own way, true, a speech-act done under proper conditions: I hereby dub myself… Yorick I. N. Penn. (Alas, poor me.) So it is true in that way. Accuse me of it to my face and I cannot truthfully deny it.
Yes, even that porn is moral: many people do it believing it to be wrong.
I have left this as a rhetorical question; but it is not one—it is one I will return to in a later essay.
Reality is that which, when you stop believing in it, doesn't go away.
— Philip K. Dick
Unless I forget. — No, Fragile Reader, you’re never completely safe. But I will do what I can.
If you are new to this idea, Jonathan Rauch's new book, The Constitution of Knowledge, seems like a good primer (I will admit I have read in it rather than read it tout court.)
Not, please just as: that is not true.
Yes, this one is late. But I don't believe there is another human being on God's footstool who will notice, so I make no apologies.