An excerpt from Tomorrow by Nathan Bowker
Borrowing from the Ancient Greek language the word logos means word, reason or plan. The word philos (also from Greek) means loving or lusting. Logophilia means lover of words. We use a form of philos in everything from pedophile to philosophy -paedo meaning boy or child (think pediatrician). Sophie meaning wisdom (philosophy is a love of wisdom). Language is a code that can be understood, but I often have to go back and study where our words come from and how we use them today. One trait of Klinefelter’s is a cognitive deficit in language and problem-solving skills. I’ve worked to overcome where I’ve struggled in this regard.
There were other choices for roots that led back to mean word for the title of this chapter. There’s the Greek word, lexis, that we use in lexicon to mean all the words in a language. But I chose logo for a few reasons. In English we use logo to mean a symbol that conveys another idea, word or brand. That’s what many words are to me. I talked earlier about how certain words are associated with pictures in my head. Most words have a picture to me, but I rarely think about it. It’s just natural to me. I can’t always easily describe them either.
Another reason for choosing logo has to do with a Nazi concentration camp survivor by the name of Victor Frankl. He founded a type of psychotherapy dedicated to finding meaning and purpose in life. His stance in Logotherapy was that life could have meaning in the harshest of conditions and that the motivation for living comes from finding that meaning. A famous quote of his: “When we are no longer able to change a situation, we are challenged to change ourselves.” It’s fitting to relate to him as I’m trying to find meaning in my own life.
My middle school years marked a time of increased difficulty. I had a difficult time in English class. There were so many rules regarding verbs and predicates. The concepts and terms were very confusing. The curriculum was geared toward brains that had reached a level to understand complex ideas, but it wasn’t inclusive to people like me. I remember an English teacher in the 7th grade asking me the same question over and over. I just started guessing which word in the sentence he was talking about and every guess was wrong. I finally told him “I don’t know,” in a frustrated tone and he threatened: “I’ll kick your ass.”
It’s possible my classroom antics helped me pass difficult subjects. If I was quiet and failing, it may have garnered more attention with the possibility of failure and to repeat a grade until I could demonstrate proficiency. The teacher who threatened me with violence in front of my class might have exhibited a different layer of sadism if I was trying to be invisible while failing. He’d probably have enjoyed shining a spotlight on my existence in having me return the next year with younger classmates, who’d understand the same lessons I felt inadequate in. However, no one wanted me longer than was necessary. They’d rather pass me on to the next grade and hope I matured someday. If not, I was someone else’s problem. Empathetically, I’ve come to see how my former teachers were doing time with my presence.
The system of a person teaching and students learning works for the vast majority of people. There will always be people like me who slip through the cracks. It’s the same comparison as labeling people either male or female at birth. To declare me a boy without any other testing seems like a negligent lie. I went to school as a male and my teachers continued the deceit. Nowhere in those health textbooks was I told of alternate developments. There were no pictures or diagrams I could compare what I had going on differing from the Tanner stages with possible outcomes.
At my most vulnerable points I reached out for knowledge, first on why there was a problem, then what it was. The words I’ve found have violated me even further. It was like trying to catch falling knives. There are words in everyday usage with secret intentions embedded within them. Once I realized that derision I could never unsee it. The word “man” for example. It means an adult human male. Already redirected in a maze I look up ‘male’ to find numerous dictionaries define it as: an individual of the sex that is typically capable of producing small, usually motile gametes (such as sperm or spermatozoa) which fertilize the eggs of a female. Physically I cannot fit this definition. I’m categorically exiled from masculinity. (As an interesting side note, Dictionary.com’s social media page the words male and female aren’t even related. Male comes from the Latin masculus and female comes from the Latin femella.)
The definition of species is “a group of living organisms consisting of similar individuals capable of exchanging genes or interbreeding.” They can either actually breed, or have the potential. According to this definition, I’m not a member of a species either. Sex exists for reproduction and nature decided I don’t get that reward. It’s equally distressing to be left out of both of our social constructs concerning gender and language. It gives me a sense that my life is intruding on the reality of others. I cannot easily define myself to fit into boxes. All I can say is I have a heartbeat and I feel.
I got into etymology during my stay in prison. I didn’t even know what it was called back then. I started looking up words and noticing the historical references. The more I looked, the more I saw how words can share the same root. It’s fascinating to me. Coming from Greek are both parts of the word etymology. There’s etym for true and ology meaning the study of. If etym can lead me onward, then I can use the ology to better understand what’s being said to and about me.
A word I’ve never been fond of is the word transvestite. It’s a combination of two Latin words literally meaning “across clothing.” Trans meaning across and vestire meaning clothing. I think it was my childhood exposure to that word and the negative connotations it had in the 80s. I don’t have a problem with the definition, I just don’t like the images I have associated with the word.
A neat word I’ve always liked for opposite reasons is aneuploidy. I just like how it’s spelled and sounds. In English it means having an abnormal number of chromosomes. It is the principal factor in miscarriages. Tracing the meaning from its native language causes me distress though. The etymology of the word is Greek an meaning “not, without.” Also Greek eu meaning “well, good.” (The ploid comes from a word that means fold, which I believe is in reference to cell division or folds of the DNA.) Subliminally it fucks with me to know medical literature describes me as “not good.”
A medical term that is used to describe me that I’m not particularly fond of is eunuchoid. Growing up, I learned that historically some societies castrated boys for various reasons. Sometimes the reason was so their voices would stay high pitched for performing opera or so they could be trusted to be around women in a kingdom. It was meant to make them better servants. To me, being referred to as a eunuchoid is equal to having no testicles. I know what I have but I worry what others may find when they do an internet search on my condition. Dictionary.com lists an informal definition of eunuch as an ineffective man. Their example is: a political eunuch. The medical use of eunuchoid from the same site is: an abnormal condition in males, characterized by lack of fully developed reproductive organs and the manifestation of certain female sex characteristics, as high voice or lack of facial and body hair, resulting from the absence of a normal production of male sex hormones. It’s like being victimized all over again and reminded of so many parts of my body that I’ve been dysmorphic about. Sometimes every article I find drives me lower and it feeds a perpetual cycle downward. The worse I feel, the more I look; each action feeds the other.
An article from The Atlantic published April 1, 2013 written by Kristen Kukula and Richard Wassersug talks about the historical importance of eunuchs. “Their astuteness and objectivity in assessing others’ strengths and weaknesses made them particularly effective as bureaucrats, diplomats and tacticians.” Having low testosterone was a quality for solving problems and avoiding conflict. The article went on to mention a eunuch by the name of Mohammed Khan Qajar who unified Persia and created a dynasty lasting 130 years. Khan was described by historians as being “insightful and knowledgeable” concerning “the character and feelings of others.”
The words hermaphrodite and tranny are derogatory. I’m sure there are people out there who didn’t get the memo and might be unaware. The description in the medical community has shifted toward Disorders of Sexual Development (DSD). Again, people like me are described as having a negative. My shame and embarrassment are not improved when I’m described as having a ‘disorder’.
The study of words has opened my eyes to a sort of an inside joke in medical terminology. I feel better knowing about the words they use if I’m present. Otherwise I would resent being someone’s joke without my knowledge. I would snap on a doctor if they referred to me as a eunuchoid. Consent is huge in my life. I also resent when people say “bless you” after a sneeze. I want to say, “You don’t have the credentials!” In addition, I don’t like when people push off their wishful thinking around Thanksgiving and Christmas. I don’t like celebrating those days and I don’t need a barista telling me Merry Christmas when she hands me my change. How about fuck you!
I’ve found other words that have interesting histories. The word testicle comes from the root word testis in Latin meaning witness. It came to Latin from Indo-European languages meaning three. The Romans used three meaning witness to indicate an outside voyeur to an event or dispute: Two neighbors fighting and a passerby sees the entire thing, that person is the witness. From that we get testify and testament. There are rumors that Roman law had men swear on their testicles in court, but I’ve read that is likely false. However, the Romans may have believed that the testicle was a witness to a man’s virility. In Genesis 24.9: So the servant put his hand between the thighs of Abraham, his master, and made a vow to do what Abraham had asked. There are scholars who argue this was a way of taking an oath in Biblical times. Also, since God had promised a seed to Abraham, that it was only right for the servant to swear on that seed because it was the word of God.
The ancient Greeks used the word orkhis (genitive orkheos) to mean testicle. In 1845 a botanist borrowed from it to name the orchid; the flowers and roots resemble testicles. Small testicles are sometimes referred to as microorchidism and large testicles are macroorchidism. I have a string with wooden beads on it that are different sizes in correlation to volume. It is called an orchidometer and doctors sometimes use them to compare testicular size with age. 1-3 ml is a young boy. Pubertal sizes are 4-10 ml and an adult male can range from 12-25 ml. Mine are about a 3 ml
Gonad comes from the Greek word, gonos meaning seed. It was originally derived from gen, meaning “something produced.” There are dozens of words with that root: gene, germ, generation, genus, genius, genitalia, gender, genesis, generous, nature, natural and many more. It even travelled by way of Germanic languages to give us kind, king, kindergarten. The word gonorrhea is derived from gonos because the discharge was originally thought to be semen. Since I mentioned having gonorrhea earlier in the book, I thought it was relevant. Getting back to gonads, men with hypogonadism have been linked with a psychological condition called alexithymia. It is defined as having a difficult time conveying emotions to others as well as interpreting others’ emotions, dysfunction in personal attachment and interpersonal relations. I could see myself being diagnosed with it. Men with smaller testicles and lower testosterone have also been linked to being more involved parents. A semi-recent study by anthropologist James Rilling at Emory University in Atlanta, Georgia found that men with smaller testicles scored higher in parenting questionnaires. Both parents participated in answering the questions. The researchers also used fMRI scans while showing the fathers photos of their kids. They found more activity in the regions of the brain associated with empathy and motivation to care for offspring, than men with bigger testicles. Conversely, male chimpanzees are promiscuous and have testicles twice the size of humans. They make a lot of sperm and generally do not provide paternal care. On the flip side, male gorillas have relatively small testicles and they’re known to protect their young.
I have one more argument to make before we finish the words chapter. The definition for Body Dysmorphic Disorder (BDD) is “intrusive and persistent preoccupation with an imagined or slight defect in one’s appearance.” Again, I feel they’ve used soft words for those who may have it and go looking for answers. It’s downplayed to the extent of saying either it doesn’t exist or if it does, it’s very minor. The intent is to soothe people’s nerves. I’ve come armed with an arsenal of conflicting adjectives from a lifetime of research. I have the following words assigned to me: testicular failure, eunuchoid, aneuploid, prepubescent, sterile, retarded androgen-induced (epiphyseal closure). Am I once again forced to feel freakish because I don’t fit the narrative? Since BDD only refers to slight or fictional, perhaps I have whatever the worse condition is. The one they keep locked behind the therapist’s door as if it’s a controlled substance. BDD most often affects women, which reinforces my belief of being part female.