67. SEXUAL ALCHEMY — Transmutation of the Elements.

MARCH 22, 2021

At six fifty-five this morning I was visited by one of those hypnopompic moments of clarity.  I awoke with the answers already forming in my head, to a question that had puzzled me increasingly for the past two or three years.

It is not terribly surprising that some among us will have a different view of our sexual identity than is indicated by our genetic, anatomical and physiological architecture.  There are, after all, many powerful influences that shape our views of ourselves and the nature of our attachments to others.  Various of these views are found among members of the Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender (LGBT) community.   What has been astonishing to me is how a small number of individuals could possibly expect to convince the rest of us that we also should see them in exactly the way they see themselves, and should adopt their self-designations, terminology and values as our own.

This morning I think I am discovering a way to think about that phenomenon that will help me understand what is going on within and between us.

At this point, a brief digression may be in order, to mention that one modern view of reality is that it is a story each of us tells him or her self repeatedly during waking hours, to answer the question, in its various forms, “What is going on around here?”  This storytelling function of the brain is currently thought to reside in a dorso-medial area of the frontal lobes and starts to go to work as the Ascending Reticular Activating System wakes us from sleep and the inter-laminar nucleus of the thalamus begins to allow sensory inputs to reach the cortex.  The moment there are lights, images, sounds or other sensations to explain, the cortical storyteller puts them together with recent memories and starts giving us a “best-guess” version of who we are, where we are, and what is going on.

Little wonder then if various puzzlements of the previous day, fragments of which may have been drifting around in the storyteller circuits during sleep, seem suddenly to receive a clear answer during the moments of awakening.

Fact and Fiction

Once when I was a very little kid and had offered my mother some elaborate but fanciful explanation for some questionable behavior or other, she complimented my imagination and my ability to tell a really good story, and went on, “but you really need to tell us when something is made up and didn’t really happen.  Otherwise we may never know whether to believe you or not”.  And that could be important, she counseled, when I really needed to be believed.

Sounded fair enough to me, and a reasonable request, so I began to be careful to let her know when I was making stuff up.  But it hasn’t been without a cost.  Sadly, I think that the need to preserve my credibility has impaired my ability to create fiction, and I always wind up telling stories about things that really happened.

However this misfortune has not befallen more than a hundred million of my American contemporaries.

Though I, myself have spent a lifetime at work, constructing the stories of patients’ illnesses in an effort to correctly detect and name their true physical and biological causes, many of my contemporaries, those who followed after us, and even I in my leisure time, have had less interest in actualities than in the imaginary world.  I refer, for instance, to all those who enjoy science fiction, a major pastime even for my college classmate, Carl Sagan, to whom I was introduced in 1951 by a mutual friend who knew we shared that interest.

More recent examples widespread and extensive fascination with magic include such fantasy and role-playing games as Dungeons and Dragons, played by more than 40 million gamers since 1974.  Not to mention the huge popularity of J.K. Rowling’s Harry Potter series, where the rules of earthly causation apply only to “muggles”, and Hogwarts’ magicians make far more amusing and exciting things happen with incantations and magic wands.

Even before these modern manifestations of our wish to believe in magic, and prior even to Tolkien, are the ancient fairy tales, and myths about the gods and goddesses that informed people of the earth about the nature of reality.

Children too young to understand actual causations often think that when something for which they wished occurs, that it was their wish that caused it to happen.  This, to a tiny person, as you may imagine, can be very encouraging.  The need to believe that they have power and control over events, people and circumstances may be very strong, especially if driven by towering rage or great fear.

In early Egypt, at the dawn, 4,000 years ago, of the understanding of the physical world, when only a few elements, mostly metals, had been identified, ancient chemists sought to use magic, in the form of a substance they called “philosopher’s stone”, to transmute those to which humans had assigned little value, into the one to which the greatest value had been assigned: gold.  From the time of the Egyptian mystic, Hermes Trismegistus, alchemists have sought by the application of magic processes, incantations and substances, to turn lead into gold: to change one element into another.

It occurs to me that this ancient need to believe in magic as having real-world power is still very much with us, as has more recently been expressed in the belief by the sexually uncertain community that its members actually can, by some metaphysical combination of desire, determination, role-playing, repetitious incantation and will, and especially by the use of magical pronouns, transmute themselves from one sex to another.

As I said at the beginning, I believe that, within the limits of the law, people have a right to dress, speak and behave in a way consistent with their self image. And that groups of consenting adults have a right to support one another by agreeing to “see” and transact with the images that others wish to project.  But now I think I also understand that the desire for magical power is so deep and extensive in humans that, even now, some groups of people can manage to believe that they have the magical power, like Lamont Cranston, to “cloud men’s minds” so that all will see and believe that, and only that, which they wish us to see and believe.

That, however, is not entirely true.  Only those who are willing can be hypnotized.