Month: July 2017

Beyond Two Genders

Beyond Two Genders

I have just finished reading CN Lester‘s book Trans Like Me, which I highly highly recommend. Really interesting and gives some useful insights into the experiences of those who don’t fit gender norms, in all the different subtle ways that can manifest.

I met CN Lester / saw them perform in London a few weeks ago and they were great (they don’t identify wholly with either male or female).

If you’re new to these concepts, it can seem quite confusing. Somebody I know asked the following question:

“Does ‘not identifying as wholly male or female’ mean that they reject the whole premise of male/female archetypes, or that they accept it but don’t identify with either of them particularly?”

My response, as I understand it:

It’s not about archetypes so much as simply not believing yourself to be fundamentally one or the other.

It goes beyond gender stereotyping and coding. You can reject gender stereotypes but still co-exist peacefully with your body and happily define yourself as “a woman” (or man).

But the important thing to understand is that there are no clear dividing lines. There are people who are 100% clear that they were born in the wrong body. There are people who refuse to conform to gender stereotypes. But there are also all shades between, and the distinction between sex (physical sex organs) and gender (socialised traits) is by no means as clear cut as people believe.

One of the many interesting things about CN Lester’s book is their examination of all the different ways people have sat outside the gender norms historically. There are so many different ways this can happen! Some accepted to some extent or other (eunuchs and castrati for instance), some not.

CN Lester has suffered significant bodily dysphoria (not to be understated – causes actual pain, both physical and mental) but does not see themself as either a woman or a man.

I really do recommend you read the book. I can’t do it justice here.

It really made me think about my own gender identity. I do not fit gender stereotypes in so many ways, and I absolutely reject them on several levels, but I still do identify as a woman.

Clojure: if-let

Clojure: if-let

I have been learning Clojure. I came across the construct if-let, and failed to understand the explanations I found online.

Here is my attempt to make sense of it:

;; (if-let [definition condition] then else):
;; if the value of condition is truthy, then that value is assigned to the definition,
;; and “then” is evaluated.
;; Otherwise the value is NOT assigned to the definition, and “else” is evaluated.

;; Although you can use this structure with booleans,
;; there’s not much point unless you only want to
;; use the resulting boolean if it’s true – as evidenced in the first example below.
;; if-let is mostly useful when checking for nil.

;; In this first example if Clare is old, it outputs “Clare is old”.
;; (the let part of the statement is rather pointless,
;; as the definition old-clare-age is never used).

(def clare-age 47)
(if-let [old-clare-age (> clare-age 100)]
"Clare is old"
"Clare is not old")

;;=> Clare is not old

;; In the next two examples, it only outputs Clare’s age if it is valid (ie not nil)

(def clare-age nil)
(if-let [valid-clare-age clare-age]
(str "Clare has a valid age: " valid-clare-age)
"Clare's age is invalid")

;;=> Clare’s age is invalid

(def clare-age 47)
(if-let [valid-clare-age clare-age]
(str "Clare has a valid age: " valid-clare-age)
"Clare's age is invalid")

;;=> Clare has a valid age: 47

Unconscious Bias vs Cognitive Bias

Unconscious Bias vs Cognitive Bias


What is the connection between unconscious bias and cognitive bias?


Unconscious bias is a term used to describe people making assumptions about sub-groups within society. They are not automatically conscious of those assumptions, or the impact they have on their own behaviour and reasoning.

So, for instance: Society – and my experience – has encouraged me to believe that women are not likely to hold senior technical roles. Therefore if I walk into a meeting of senior technologists and there is one woman present, I might assume she is there in some other capacity – eg some kind of administrative role. If you ask me whether I believe women are less capable than men of being senior technologists, I will say no, but my unconscious bias still leads me to draw unhelpful conclusions, and may cause me to treat this woman in a way I would not deliberately choose.

Cognitive bias is the phenomenon where people used flawed judgement to assess data. Those flaws are caused by the brain’s tendency to be biased according to various factors.

So, for instance, I may listen to two political arguments and assign greater validity to one than the other. I will believe that my assessment is based on rigorous logic whereas in fact, I am simply drawn towards the argument that confirms beliefs I already hold (this is called “confirmation bias”).

Another example is the gambler’s fallacy: If someone tosses a coin ten times and it comes down Heads every time, they might believe that it is more likely to land Tails on the next toss. In fact the likelihood is still 50:50, just as it always was.

Cognitive biases are a very heavily theorised & researched concept within psychology, whereas “unconscious bias” is just a description rather than a clearly defined technical term.

The two terms are related, because cognitive biases may well inform some of our unconscious biases, but they are not generally used in quite the same context.

Cognitive bias:
Unconscious bias:



I’m a bear of little brain, and when I encounter a concept for the first time I need it to be explained in simple terms with very clear examples. If I can’t find such an explanation, I will attempt to write it myself and place it here.

Sometimes even if I do find a simple summary, I’ll re-explain it in my own words to consolidate my own understanding.

I make no claims for the accuracy of my understanding, and I welcome corrections and clarifications in the comments box.

With thanks to Martin Fowler, who suggested I write this blog.

I’m going to start by copying in notes I have made recently on various things, so there will be a flurry of posts to start with… and then who knows what’ll happen?