Herding cats

June 25, 2008

“…managing programmers is like trying to herd cats… I mean, you don’t want them to stop being cats… You don’t want obedient dogs. […] On the other hand, you do have to get them moving in the same direction.”
[from “Close To The Machine (Technophilia and Its Discontents)” by Ellen Ullman (via Amazon)]

I’m a bit slow getting to this, but want to record it anyway as a useful reference item – Zöe has a post about Harry Benjamin’s Syndrome, or HBS: link here. As usual she writes clearly and with intelligence and insight: I hardly need add that I consider it essential reading.

HBS bears the name of one of the first physicians to work with gender dysphoric people (click here to see a biography). Dr Benjamin is generally recognised as carrying out a lot of pioneering work on the subject from the late 1940s onwards. For example, he was one of the first to recognise that there’s a difference between transvestism and transsexualism (a term which he coined in 1954); he began prescribing oestrogen for transsexual women; and treated, “with the assistance of carefully selected colleagues of various disciplines (such as psychiatrist John Alden and electrologist Martha Foss in San Francisco and plastic surgeon Jose Jesus Barbosa in Tijuana), several hundred patients […] often without accepting any payment“. (Via Wikipedia).

According to The Original Harry Benjamin’s Syndrome Site:

“Harry Benjamin’s Syndrome is an intersex condition developed in the early stages of pregnancy affecting the process of sexual differentiation between male and female. This happens when the brain develops as a certain sex but the rest of the body takes on the physical characteristics of the opposite sex. The difference between this and most other intersex conditions is that there is no apparent evidence until much later after the baby is born or even as late as adolescence.

Harry Benjamin’s Syndrome was known in the past with many different names, Transsexualism (ICD-10) being the most common used in relation with it.”

All of which, superficially at least, sounds eminently reasonable and makes perfect sense as written. Zöe’s belief is that, over time, the subject has become politicised and is now “about elitism. And transphobia. And homophobia too”.

And this is the point where I re-present the link to Zöe’s post, because it all becomes very complicated, very quickly. Somewhere along the way there has been a divergence of views and opinions, and it seems that some people with HBS believe themselves to be the followers of the One True Way – which is a little dispiriting given that so many sufferers of gender identity issues appear to have so much in common. Small wonder that trying to organise the seemingly mythical ‘trans community’ is often likened to ‘herding cats’.

Anyway… click here to read Zöe’s post, called, very simply, HBS.


©2008 Helen G

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