I spent some time trying out names for this place, mainly while I was sitting around waiting for code to compile or run. I wanted something that reflected my love of physics and something about gender/trans identity. I finally settled on "twostatesystem" because the two state system is something that is incredibly important in both physics and gender in Euro-derived cultures*. And yet, in both cases, the two state system is at best an approximation and at worst a lie.

A two state system in physics is one in which the Hamiltonian (a construct which describes the dynamics of the system, including the energy of the system) gives rise to two different energy levels. This is one of the few systems in quantum physics that can be solved exactly and gives us insight into many problems in physics, including (and notable for me), oscillation between two neutrino flavors. Using the two state system approach, an incredible amount of progress was made in understanding neutrinos and their oscillatory behavior. Nevertheless, the complete picture of the neutrino sector is not a two state system. It's a three (or possibly more!) state system with more complicated (and interesting) dynamics.

I feel much the same about the binary system of gender we experience in Euro-derived cultures. We divide ourselves up into two states, men and women, and analyze so much of our experience through the lens of that two state system that we forget that it's at best an approximation. Cultural analysis by feminists and other people interested in gender has done well under this approximation. We cannot understand the full impact of gender on ourselves and our culture by clinging to these two states, even as we recognize that sometimes, yeah, we can use that lens.

Furthermore, I think that one of the most important things I've learned from studying physics is that it is absolutely vital to know the boundaries of where your approximation is valid—after all, as one of my undergraduate professors once said, "Well, we're physicists. When confronted with an intractable problem, we only do one thing: approximate." I think that you can replace "physicists" in that sentence with "people" and it still contains a whole lot of truth. But, I don't think that as a community of gender thinkers, we've learned how to understand those boundaries of approximation yet. I think we're still struggling to understand, and failing in a whole lot of cases. And it's a whole lot more risky to approximate with human lives; if your assumptions exclude people of color, that causes way more suffering than if your assumptions exclude a fourth neutrino species.

I don't know yet if understanding and being explicit about underlying assumptions and boundaries of approximations will result in progress (for some unspecified definition of progress) . I only know that it feels right and necessary, coming out of my academic tradition, and that it's something I would like to see a whole lot more of. Now, if only I knew how to do it.


*a better term, I feel, than "Western". I'm talking here about cultures where the primary historical influence is Europe. This is not to say, of course, that what I'm saying applies in whole to ALL those cultures, nor that it doesn't apply to non-Euro-derived cultures. But my lived expertise is in dominant US culture and parts of European culture, so that's what I'll talk about.

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