Evolution societies issue misleading statement about sex

In my opinion, scientific societies shouldn’t issue political or ideological statements except under two conditions:

1.) The government is trying to gut science or has other policies that would impede our understanding of nature or the functioning of the scientific society. (This includes, I suppose, policies that wreck the environment when organismal biology is concerned, for without an environment and its species there’s nothing to study.)

2.) The government is misusing scientific data to enact policy, in which case a scientific society (without endorsing or denigrating the policy) should correct that knowledge—when that knowledge is in the ambit of the Society. This is one function of the National Academies of Science: to inform government policy with scientific data.

There may be other circumstances for societies to intervene, but the two areas above are on my mind as I write this.

What I do oppose is scientific societies taking political or ideological stands as if they were a person. That’s because there’s surely a diversity of views among members of a society, but mostly because the purpose of scientific societies is to promote the doing of science and advancing our understanding of nature, not to function as political entities. Examples of statements that I think are misguided include endorsing or denigrating political candidates, or making statementsthat science and religion are compatible (several science organizations have made such statements).

It is, of course, fine for individuals within societies to express their views on political and social issues—but not as representatives of societies. A while back I was President of the Society for the Study of Evolution (SSE), and, as such, thought that the SSE shouldn’t take stands that didn’t have anything to do with evolution.

But now it has, opposing the Trump administration’s proposed policy that gender must be defined as a binary, based on the appearance of an individual’s genitals and as recognized on that individual’s birth certificate. I disagree with this policy because gender, which to me means the sexual identity claimed by an individual (including transsexuals, those whose identity doesn’t correspond to their biological sex, transgendered people, polysexual people, and so on) doesn’t correspond to biological sex in many cases, and there’s no reason not to respect an individual’s self-definition (except, perhaps, in sports).

My view, which I’ve explained before, is that while gender may form more or less a continuum, although there are still self-identity modes at “male” and “female”, it forms more of a continuum than does biological sex, which is almost completely binary (again, male and female), but is also strongly bimodal,  with just 1 or 2% of individuals falling between the male and female spikes. (See my recent post “Sex in humans may not be binary, but it’s surely bimodal.”)

The Council (the officers) of the SSE, however, has issued a statement—almost certainly motivated by liberal political views—that claims to show that the Trump administration’s policy is not supported by science. In so doing, it conflates gender and sex, and winds up making the specious claim that “sex should be viewed as a continuum.”

Well, gender can be viewed that way if you wish, but biological sex, especially in humans, cannot be viewed as a continuum. Here’s the SSE’s statement (my emphasis):

Policy: Letter RE: Scientific Understanding of Sex and Gender

We, the Council of the Society for the Study of Evolution, strongly oppose attempts by the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) to claim that there is a biological basis to defining gender as a strictly binary trait (male/female) determined by genitalia at birth. Variation in biological sex and in gendered expression has been well documented in many species, including humans, through hundreds of scientific articles. Such variation is observed at both the genetic level and at the individual level (including hormone levels, secondary sexual characteristics, as well as genital morphology). Moreover, models predict that variation should exist within the categories that HHS proposes as “male” and “female”, indicating that sex should be more accurately viewed as a continuum. Indeed, experiments in other organisms have confirmed that variation in traits associated with sex is more extensive than for many other traits. Beyond the false claim that science backs up a simple binary definition of sex or gender, the lived experience of people clearly demonstrates that the genitalia one is born with do not define one’s identity. Diversity is a hallmark of biological species, including humans.  As a Society, we welcome this diversity and commit to serving and protecting members regardless of their biological sex, gender identity or expression, or sexual orientation.

Sorry, but in most animals, at least the ones I’m familiar with, and those includes H. sapiens, has two sexes, male and female. There is a low frequency of individuals who don’t fit into these classes at birth, but the frequency is so low that, for all practical purposes, sex can be regarded as a binary. (To be more accurate, it’s “strongly bimodal”.) And there’s a reason for this: evolution favors well-demarcated sexes that can recognize each other for purposes of reproduction. That means male vs female genitalia and male vs female gametes, all produced by male vs female chromosome constitution. The XX/XY (or ZW/ZZ) chromosomal sex-determination system evolved to promote the production of a sexual binary and a roughly equal sex ratio.

Divergence from this system, while it has occurred in some animals—in some reptiles, for instance, sex is determined by the incubation temperature of eggs)—is maladaptive. A male duck that has a penis and male coloration, and has ZZ chromosomes (in birds the male is the sex with identical sex chromosomes), but who also produces eggs rather than sperm, or no sperm at all, would be selected against, as it wouldn’t leave offspring. Likewise if said duck has sperm but female genitalia and so cannot inseminate females, it’s an evolutionary dead end.

Every day during my research career I examined thousands of flies, and I found exceptions to the male/female binary only very rarely: once every couple of months. Yes, there were some males who had testes but lacked sperm, but those, too, were selected against. And as it is with flies, so it is with humans. For flies, though they don’t have self-identified gender, do have biological sexes.

As for the models predicting that “variation should exist within males and females”, I don’t know which models they’re talking about, but it’s easy to show that deviations like those mentioned above would be maladaptive.  The whole mess that the SSE has gotten itself into involves conflating gender and sex, and then pretending that sex is “a continuum”. Well, if you squint very hard you can say that. But the implication that biological sex is not strongly bimodal—and that the vast majority of individuals are not born as “male” and “female”—is just wrong and unscientific.

Of course people’s “lived experience” (that phrase, of course, is social-justice jargon, as there cannot be “unlived experience”) does justify more of a continuum for gender than for sex. But criticizing the Trump administration’s proposal, which is really about gender and not sex, is in my view not the brief of a society like the SSE. And what particularly bothers me is that the statement above pretends to use science, which in humans shows the opposite of a “continuum” of sex, to show that there is indeed such a continuum. Here we have an example of ideology trumping—excuse the pun—the scientific data.

The point is that we shouldn’t use science to strongly buttress a moral stand: in this case the proper view that individuals identifying as other than their birth sex should be allowed to do so and above all should not be the object of bigotry and vilification, but treated with dignity and given the same opportunities as anyone else. (Again, sports is a possible exception).  For what if sex WAS a pure 100% binary, with everyone easily recognizable as a male or female using the criteria above, and with no exceptions. Would we then have to treat individuals who identify in ways not corresponding to their biological sex differently? I don’t think so. Such is the danger of resting morality and ideology so firmly on biology. But in this case the biology doesn’t even support the ideology with respect to sex.

I note that, at the link above, the Presidents of the SSE and of two other organismal biology societies, the American Society of Naturalists and The Society of Systematic Biologists, have sent a copy of a nearly identical statement as a letter to Alex Azar, Secretary of the Department of Health and Human Services, which would be implementing this new policy. As I said, the government’s policy is misguided, but so is the act of scientists using the authority of science but in a misguided way.

The statement that “diversity is a hallmark of biological species, including humans” gives the game away. First, it’s not so true for some traits like sex in humans, and, most egregiously, it’s a prime example of the naturalistic fallacy: because diversity is supposedly ubiquitous, it must be good, and should be promoted in society. Scientific societies should not be in the business of buttressing social policy by saying that it corresponds to nature. If we want to either promote gender diversity or refrain from criticizing it, we should not be looking to science for a justification.

148 Comments

  1. Posted November 2, 2018 at 9:45 am | Permalink

    Sport is an issue–but so are prisons. There are cases of natal males declaring themselves as female and (without full surgery or other medical intervention) finding themsleves in female prisons. The results are not encouraging, e.g. https://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/2018/09/06/transgender-person-accused-rape-remanded-female-prison-sexually/
    I think that your “bimodal rather than binary” is a sensible distinction. I fear most people will insist that talk of a “spectrum” is somehow more socially aware. I’d like to suggest some reasons why it isn’t.
    To talk of “rejecting the gender binary” specifially excludes most trans folk.
    If there is nowhere to transition from and nowhere to transition to (its all a blur) what sense could be made of the personal experience of those who feel themselves to be not in the sexed body they feel their identity belongs in?
    It feels very progressive to tell everyone that they are whatever they feel themselves to be–but folk forget that some identities evoke costs on others. If my identity is pedophilic, or (non-consenually) sadistic (for example) then simply asserting “it’s my identity” is not going to convince too many people to let me express myself. Nor should it.
    So, we need a more nuanced approach to this, one which both does justice to the experiences and needs of trans folk without doing damage to scientific fact or the shared intentional space of identities.

    • Jenny Haniver
      Posted November 2, 2018 at 10:14 am | Permalink

      That article is behind a paywall. Here’s one from Spiked! that isn’t https://www.spiked-online.com/2018/10/15/the-male-rapist-in-a-womens-prison/. Compare the two photos of Karen White/Stephen Wood/David Thompson. This is a problem, but what does one do with the intersexed?

      • Jenny Haniver
        Posted November 2, 2018 at 10:19 am | Permalink

        I ask because I was once acquainted with an intersexed person, one Sally/Walter Thomas, who identified as a female (a crazy criminal with lots of hilarious Rube Goldberg schemes), but was housed in male prisons: Folsom, Alcatraz, etc., (this from the late 1930s through the 1950s). I gathered that at times she was segregated from the main population. She told me that Mickey Cohen, doing time in Alcatraz with Sally, dubbed her “The Queen of Alcataz.” Love that moniker.

      • Posted November 2, 2018 at 11:48 am | Permalink

        Cheers for the easier to read share.

  2. ThyroidPlanet
    Posted November 2, 2018 at 9:52 am | Permalink

    Very precise.

    I want to add other obvious, indisputable, important things that are dependent on the XX or XY chromosomes and are consequential for individual health, specifically cancer :

    Prostate gland
    Breast

    • ThyroidPlanet
      Posted November 2, 2018 at 9:55 am | Permalink

      … I don’t know how breast cancer works with the lymphatic system so I didn’t know how to write that out … “breast gland”?

      The point is that everyone knows about breast cancer and women. prostate cancer and men.

      • Jenny Haniver
        Posted November 2, 2018 at 10:22 am | Permalink

        But men get breast cancer; women cannot possibly get prostate cancer.

        • mikeyc
          Posted November 2, 2018 at 11:39 am | Permalink

          Men can’t get ovarian or cervical cancer.

          • Posted November 2, 2018 at 11:48 am | Permalink

            And on and on, but not really of much consequences since the cancers in females and males have equivalencies between being XX or XY; ovarian vs testicular, prostate vs Skene’s glands, etc.

            • ThyroidPlanet
              Posted November 2, 2018 at 11:58 am | Permalink

              Never thought of that – prostate is related to … uterus?

              • Posted November 2, 2018 at 12:01 pm | Permalink

                If you google male-female equivalencies, you will find a list, e.g. prostate-Skene’s

              • ThyroidPlanet
                Posted November 2, 2018 at 12:08 pm | Permalink

                Yeah, I’m finding these now…

                Still, there’s a reason for a profession being called “gynecology” … and, I think, no equivalent for males.

                … which means… for this post…. ummm…

                Oh right. Sigh.

                [ checks calendar ]
                [ November 10th 2020 ]

                … that is a LONG _____ TIME…..

            • ThyroidPlanet
              Posted November 2, 2018 at 12:00 pm | Permalink

              [ looks up things ]

              “female prostatic glands”

              Interesting…

            • mikeyc
              Posted November 2, 2018 at 12:43 pm | Permalink

              Not much consequences? These cancers develop by very different molecular mechanisms and they have VERY different therapies, progression, survival and long term health consequences.

              The *organs* may have some equivalency in terms of their development, though some of the supposed equivalencies are just teleology, but the cancers, like the organ’s biological roles, are very different.

              • Posted November 2, 2018 at 12:48 pm | Permalink

                I meant not much consequences regarding whether or not males and females get different kinds of cancers that the other sex cannot. Of course there are great consequences of having cancer, ranging from nearly 100 percent cure to 100 percent fatal. In comment 14, I addressed a bit of what you are saying.

          • ThyroidPlanet
            Posted November 2, 2018 at 11:54 am | Permalink

            … other ones I thought of while driving:

            testicular
            Uterine

            These are, I think, known at the level of “I know someone”, either tested, or treated.

            • Posted November 2, 2018 at 12:04 pm | Permalink

              Embryological equivalencies do not necessarily imply equivalencies of agressiveness of the cancer; lots of other factors have an impact, e.g. the rate of tissue renewal, ease of early detection, exposure to carcinogens, etc.

          • Posted November 2, 2018 at 1:39 pm | Permalink

            Men can’t get ovarian or cervical cancer.

            It’s known as ‘fronthole cancer’ now.

        • ThyroidPlanet
          Posted November 2, 2018 at 11:52 am | Permalink

          I know that. The point is that everyone knows about it from enormous awareness campaigns and probably because moms and grandmas had it, or get screened. But nobody thinks males and females get it equally.

          What are the frequencies for male vs. female?

      • Jon Gallant
        Posted November 2, 2018 at 11:48 am | Permalink

        Surely the Progressive point of view is that there is a rainbow spectrum, indeed a Diversity, of forms of prostate cancer which can be in the Lived Experience of men, womxn, non-binaries, zes, zhrs, and god-only-knows what else.

    • Gordon Davisson
      Posted November 2, 2018 at 3:19 pm | Permalink

      No, and this illustrates exactly why the HHS definition is wrong on scientific grounds as well as social justice grounds.

      If someone has XY chromosomes but an inactive SRY gene, they’ll generally develop as female in all (other) respects, and will be subject to female-type cancer risks, etc. Conversely, if someone has XX chromosomes but one of them has an SRY gene (due to crossover), they’ll generally develop as male in all (other) respects, and be subject to male-type cancer risks, etc.

      Any doctor who bases diagnosis and treatment on someone’s chromosomes instead of anatomy is being irresponsible at best. Any HHS policy that assumes that e.g. XX people necessarily don’t need prostate cancer screening is equally irresponsible.

      Yes, these exceptions are rare, but for those people who happen to be exceptions, you *don’t try to pretend they aren’t exceptions*.

      And IMO the fundamental problem here: the HHS rule is taking something that works well as a population-level statistical approximation, and treating it as a fundamental truth that must apply to each and every individual. And at that level, it is factually wrong.

      • ThyroidPlanet
        Posted November 2, 2018 at 3:41 pm | Permalink

        I don’t follow … so the breast cancer awareness campaigns are wrong to say women get breast cancer?

        • Gordon Davisson
          Posted November 2, 2018 at 4:43 pm | Permalink

          It depends on how you define “women”. Do you include or exclude people with XY chromosomes but inactive SRY genes?

          (And actually, that’s a bad example because some men — by any definition — do get breast cancer. The incidence is just lower. Prostate cancer would be a better example, and my point is that *some* people with XX chromosomes are at risk of developing prostate cancer.)

    • ThyroidPlanet
      Posted November 3, 2018 at 4:39 am | Permalink

      Adding an important thing in here:

      I just learned from Neil DeGrasse Tyson’s Star Talk episode with Jim Allison that males and females have to get vaccinated for HPV – HPV causes cervical cancer. Males do not get it but carry it.

      • ThyroidPlanet
        Posted November 3, 2018 at 4:40 am | Permalink

        CAN carry it. I meant of course. I guess.

  3. Posted November 2, 2018 at 9:53 am | Permalink

    It’s an interesting phenomenon how political commitments can lead people to believe the patently false.

  4. Posted November 2, 2018 at 9:53 am | Permalink

    Your statement “What I do oppose is scientific societies taking political or ideological stands as if they were a person. That’s because there’s surely a diversity of views among members of a society…” is exactly why corporations should not exist as political entities. The political stances of corporations are those of the CEO or Board, plain and simple, not the composite opinion of all of the people in the corp.

    This is, btw, a complaint about the political activities of labor unions and if the Right wants to keep that argument, they need to apply it to corporations, too.

  5. Posted November 2, 2018 at 9:53 am | Permalink

    … individuals identifying as other than their birth sex should be … but treated with dignity and given the same opportunities as anyone else. (Again, sports is a possible exception).

    Other exceptions could be:
    * Whether they get housed with women inmates in a women’s prison.
    * Whether they are treated as women if they want to be rape-crisis counsellors.
    * Whether they are treated as women with regard to sleeping arrangements involving young people in Scouting organisations.
    * Whether they are treated as women if a female patient asks for a female doctor.

  6. rickflick
    Posted November 2, 2018 at 9:58 am | Permalink

    It seems to me a big part of the confusion comes from the notion that the 2% of people who don’t fit the binary curve well, might be considered less important in the sense of their constitutional rights. To say some people only represent 2% sounds like saying they just don’t matter. And that’s a reasonable fear, but it is a political fear not a scientific observation.

    • Posted November 2, 2018 at 1:40 pm | Permalink

      Try 0.3%

      • Mark R.
        Posted November 2, 2018 at 4:05 pm | Permalink

        Percentages are misleading; .3% is still over a million people.

        • phil brown
          Posted November 2, 2018 at 5:07 pm | Permalink

          And 23 million worldwide.

        • Posted November 2, 2018 at 11:50 pm | Permalink

          No one’s saying that any minority isn’t deserving of equal rights simply for being a small fraction of the population. But it is worth questioning why the Left has devoted such an inordinate amount of attention and bandwidth to such a tiny group. (There’s also the matter of whether the ‘rights’ being demanded are actually equal rights, or preferential treatment or even coddling.)

          • Kelly
            Posted November 11, 2018 at 10:29 am | Permalink

            I suspect that it’s being used as a wedge issue.

    • Posted November 12, 2018 at 3:53 pm | Permalink

      They are not considered less important. On the contrary, whenever any of the 2% decides to go into the female bathroom, penis and all, it turns out that 50% (the cis females) do not matter. Kudos to the above mentioned Muslim woman who resisted the alleged transgender bully!

  7. L
    Posted November 2, 2018 at 10:49 am | Permalink

    Thank you Jerry – I too was annoyed when I saw that email from the evolution society yesterday. Your point is exact – even if sex was fully binary with no exceptions – so what?

  8. Historian
    Posted November 2, 2018 at 10:50 am | Permalink

    “In my opinion, scientific societies shouldn’t issue political or ideological statements …”

    The broader question is whether any organization whose purpose is not to promote achieving political ends should issue political statements or endorse certain candidates. I do not accept the argument that organizations should not issue political statements because its members have diverse views on political topics. Every organization will invariably have members with diverse views on most topics, not just those explicitly political. The leadership of the organization presumably reflects the viewpoint of the majority of its members regarding issues of particular concern to its membership. Also, the statement of an organization will usually carry more weight in the political arena than one issued by an individual member. If the majority of the membership opposes the viewpoint of the organization leaders, the latter can be removed by the next election for organizational leaders.

    In our complex world, the actions of government affects the work of people in virtually all professions. An organization cannot hide its head in the sand and ignore politics, since the organization is supposed to work for the benefit of its membership and, in some instances, the benefit of society as a whole, which is the case with the issue regarding sex and gender. As is the case with this post, individuals can protest the position of an organization or go further and work to remove its leadership or resign from it. But, in my view, organizations should speak out on politically charged issues that are of concern to its membership.

    • Davide Spinello
      Posted November 2, 2018 at 11:03 am | Permalink

      . I do not accept the argument that organizations should not issue political statements because its members have diverse views on political topics. Every organization will invariably have members with diverse views on most topics, not just those explicitly political. The leadership of the organization presumably reflects the viewpoint of the majority of its members regarding issues of particular concern to its membership.

      This works very well as long as the leadership view reflects yours, doesn’t it? But of course you are on the right side of history, so nothing to see here. After all, the ones in the minority are casualties in the Just War for the Inevitable Progress.

      • Historian
        Posted November 2, 2018 at 11:15 am | Permalink

        Well, once again we have another bizarre interpretation from you of what I wrote. A cursory glance of what I wrote, which you seem to have missed, is that I took no position on the question at hand.

        • Davide Spinello
          Posted November 2, 2018 at 11:28 am | Permalink

          I was referring to the text that I quoted from you. It seems to me (I apologize for my lack of Historical sophistication) that you are claiming that an organization is justified in taking a political position based on the supposed majority view of its members. To which I objected: what happens if YOU are part of the supposed minority? Would you like to work for an organization that takes a political position in favor of Trump because a supposed majority voted for him?

          • Historian
            Posted November 2, 2018 at 11:32 am | Permalink

            Again, you seem to have missed that I answered your question.

            • Davide Spinello
              Posted November 2, 2018 at 11:44 am | Permalink

              Yes, your answer is: elect new leaders with views consistent with yours, so that they can release a new statement that you like. Organizations should be working to improve the society at large, in this case about gender, and therefore the opinion of the minority can be discarded for the greater good.

              But here is the problem: what if both the majority and the minority want to improve the society at large, but they differ on policy and generally on the means they consider suitable for improving the society? And what if the majority uses scientifically false statements? I don’t think that lying for Jesus (or for any other ideology) should be justifiable to reach no matter what nobel means, otherwise when the other side does it we have no defense, and we must retreat and shut up (or apply some double standard, but this wouldn’t happen right?)

              • Historian
                Posted November 2, 2018 at 11:51 am | Permalink

                “And what if the majority uses scientifically false statements?”

                Create your own organization to express your views.

              • Davide Spinello
                Posted November 2, 2018 at 1:17 pm | Permalink

                Sure, very revealing.

                I must now rest my case. I wish someone had thought about your sophisticated solutions before.

    • Adam M.
      Posted November 2, 2018 at 12:18 pm | Permalink

      I kind of agree, but worry about the tyranny of the majority – not so much due to the statement itself, but because once the organization takes an official stance on an issue, what happens to those members who disagree?

      You say they can quit, but if the organization is the company where they work and quitting their harms their livelihood when they have a family to support, it’s not so simple.

      What of those who don’t want to quit, but now find themselves harassed by the majority because of their minority view, because the majority has been encouraged due to the company leadership taking an official position on some question?

      Maybe the answer is “tough luck”, but it still seems distasteful to me when I see left-leaning employees of tech companies harassing and hounding out employees who are either conservative or simply don’t agree on some particular social dictum.

      • Adam M.
        Posted November 2, 2018 at 12:30 pm | Permalink

        I guess the solution is for companies to protect everyone from harassment, but it’s easier said than done these days. Protecting a ‘bigoted’ employee from harassment or affording them equal ‘rights’ to their peers is enough to rile up a Twitter mob…

      • Historian
        Posted November 2, 2018 at 12:51 pm | Permalink

        I think we have to differentiate between a professional organization and an employer. It is easy to quit a professional organization, but not so much an employer. By definition, an employer works in the interests of its owners, which in the case of a corporation is its stockholders, not the employees. Tech companies may generally support liberals, but many of the large finance and industrial corporations support conservatives. They all show their support through campaign contributions. So, whether one likes it or not, employees have little or no say in whom the business owners support or the positions they take on issues. That is capitalism. Any company, whatever its ideological leanings, is quite foolish to condone harassment of employees by other employees, if for no other reason that it would reduce the efficiency of the organization.

        • Davide Spinello
          Posted November 2, 2018 at 1:19 pm | Permalink

          It is not always so easy to quit a professional organization. Indeed often you cannot legally operate as a professional within your field if you don’t belong to the related professional organization.

          But let me borrow your solution: you can quit and start another professional organization!

          • Historian
            Posted November 2, 2018 at 1:42 pm | Permalink

            As always, you’re complainer without a solution.

            • Davide Spinello
              Posted November 2, 2018 at 2:12 pm | Permalink

              I am impressed by the cogency of your argument. However, let me borrow the solution (against which you are arguing, just for the sake of reminding you) from the post above:

              In my opinion, scientific societies shouldn’t issue political or ideological statements except under two conditions:

              1.) The government is trying to gut science or has other policies that would impede our understanding of nature or the functioning of the scientific society. (This includes, I suppose, policies that wreck the environment when organismal biology is concerned, for without an environment and its species there’s nothing to study.)

              2.) The government is misusing scientific data to enact policy, in which case a scientific society (without endorsing or denigrating the policy) should correct that knowledge—when that knowledge is in the ambit of the Society. This is one function of the National Academies of Science: to inform government policy with scientific data.

              There may be other circumstances for societies to intervene, but the two areas above are on my mind as I write this.

              I am a complainer about totalitarian solutions. Shame on me, I must study to acquire nuance and sophistication.

  9. Posted November 2, 2018 at 10:51 am | Permalink

    I have to agree with the Trump policy of sex identification. I don’t see any practical alternative. People with special identity problems deserve to be protected from abuse.

    Public officials have to rely on science for facts in forming policy. Policy has to based on facts and science has he facts and the knowledge of the issues involved.

    • Posted November 2, 2018 at 11:09 am | Permalink

      Well, even non-science majors who take Human Genetics know that there are three phases of sex determination during embryogenesis: chromosomal sex, gonadal sex and phenotypic sex. And while each of these three phases are directly coupled in most individuals, there can be an uncoupling with a variety of causes from mutations to environmental factors. Additionally, as JC points out, equating any of these definitions of sex to gender is a false equivalency, and equating any such a definition of sex to sexuality is simply foolish.

      • Posted November 2, 2018 at 11:24 am | Permalink

        I took biology 101 and 102. That is probably more biology than most college students take. And most people do not even go to college.
        I am sure my totally uninformed opinions seem foolish to people like yourself.

        I am not even willing to accept the use of the term gender to humans. It is an expression of grammar. Humans are defined in terms of their sex. Either or. That is far as I am willing to go.

        Anything to the contrary has to be taught in the high school level to reach the general public and lay people like myself.

        • Posted November 2, 2018 at 11:32 am | Permalink

          Sorry if you were offended, but I was not talking about you or your opinions. I was referring to the people at HHS and in the Trump administration who appear to be willfully ignorant about something they should have a deep understanding. You obviously have thought about the issue more than they have, and likely have taken more biology courses as well. I agree with your resistance to the current use of gender re sexual identity, but alas, it is something that we will have to deal with.

          • Posted November 2, 2018 at 12:04 pm | Permalink

            Thank you for your response. I over reacted to your comment.

            I had never heard of the three phases of sex. The concept of sexual identity different from biology does not make sense. If there is a different identification it must be based on some aspect of biology that we do not know about. The uncoupling theory sounds like it could be a source of the difference in identity.

            • Posted November 2, 2018 at 12:10 pm | Permalink

              Thanks. I did not mean to imply that there is an an uncoupling of biology and sexual identity because I believe that there are biological explanations for all of this mess!! The only exception that I have noted is that for some young folks, it is “trendy” to declare oneself bi, or queer or non, while not really fitting the definition.

              • Posted November 2, 2018 at 1:57 pm | Permalink

                I have know of a few cases of people changing and then changing back. Don’t think science has an understauof that yet.

              • mikeyc
                Posted November 2, 2018 at 2:19 pm | Permalink

                These days we are not even allowed to discuss the possibility that gender “dysphoria” might have social roots in some youth;

                https://news.brown.edu/articles/2018/08/gender

    • Ken Kukec
      Posted November 2, 2018 at 11:58 am | Permalink

      What beneficial policy goals do you believe will be advanced by the Trump administration’s Health & Human Services proposed changes?

      Seems to me it’s naught but a sop to his base to stir up the evangelicals and other kulturkampf-warriors in advance of the midterms.

      • a-non
        Posted November 2, 2018 at 12:23 pm | Permalink

        Agree that’s most likely what this is. And the society has walked right into the trap laid, the fools.

        But it may help avoid madness like the bearded wolf who got himself locked up in the henhouse, upthread. And it act to preserve women’s sports… if I understand right a lot of the backing for college sports was driven by title IX, which I presume must follow such definitions?

      • Posted November 2, 2018 at 2:00 pm | Permalink

        None that I know if or have even thought about. I just think that posirion corresponds to the biological facts.
        I can’t shape my opinion of facts based on what the beneficial effects might be.

        • Ken Kukec
          Posted November 2, 2018 at 4:43 pm | Permalink

          The HHS proposal isn’t about respecting science; it’s a political ploy, designed to stigmatize people who identify as transgender, and to gin-up the religious, the same stunt reactionaries pulled with their idiotic “bathroom bills,” like the HB2 bill that proved so unpopular North Carolina was forced to repeal it.

          • Posted November 2, 2018 at 5:13 pm | Permalink

            OK. But I still believe that there are only two sexes.
            Whatever Trump may be doing does not change that one way or another.

            • Posted November 3, 2018 at 10:19 am | Permalink

              1/4000 people have some sort of intersex condition–depending on how you measure it. But, lets leave humans out of it for a second (because considering them tend to arouse passions). Lets pick something that (I hope) arouses no passions–Freemartins.
              These are phenotypically female cows with masculine behavior and non-functioning ovaries. Ok–so we might just look at the chromosomes–thats easy,isnt it?
              No–because they are chimeric: They have both XX and XY chromosomes. The originate as homogametic (XX) but acquire the XY via some component of a male twin.
              So–here’s my question: Are you entirely thoroughly comfortable insisting that Freemartins are totally male or totally female? If you are–please explain how.
              If you are not–then this immediately throws the whole “nature has only 2 sexes” bit into question.
              Yes–the sex is bimodal, but there is an awful lot of variation–and some of these are real people that we might want to treat better–and (also) which scientifically has to be accounted for.
              And it gets a lot more complex than this–trust me!

              • Posted November 3, 2018 at 10:31 am | Permalink

                After reading comments like yours I have decided I don’t have enough knowledge on the subject make any sort of informed decision. From now on I will leave it to the biologists.

  10. Ken Kukec
    Posted November 2, 2018 at 11:17 am | Permalink

    … there cannot be “unlived experience” …

    I cringe a bit every time I hear the phrase “lived experience,” but dispute the assertion negating “unlived experience.”

    Dunno about the rest of ya, but there are characters from books and movies and song lyrics that are every bit as real to me, play every bit as outsized a role in my mental landscape, as the guys and gals I hung out with on the streets of my childhood neighborhood.

    • Posted November 2, 2018 at 11:26 am | Permalink

      Umm. . . wouldn’t the term “experience” suffice for all of this?

      • Posted November 2, 2018 at 11:33 am | Permalink

        Vicarious.

        The word was invented because vicarious experiences are not, um, experienced.

        The whole point of “lived experience” is to negate the value of vicarious experience. You cannot question me because you did not live it. The phrase isn’t just nugatory, it’s a demand for uncritical acceptance.

        • Posted November 2, 2018 at 1:36 pm | Permalink

          The phrase isn’t just nugatory, it’s a demand for uncritical acceptance.

          QFT.

      • Posted November 2, 2018 at 11:37 am | Permalink

        As Clinton might say “It depends on your definition of ‘lived'”. 🙂 Unlived seems to be bereft of life. I agree with JC – experience should suffice.

      • infiniteimprobabilit
        Posted November 2, 2018 at 5:33 pm | Permalink

        I have to agree with Ken K there.

        I frequently watch e.g. sci-fi and some of those characters, settings and situations form a significant part of my mental landscape. But I don’t think I’d claim to have ‘experienced’ them, certainly not in person. (If I did, it would be a clear pointer to mental disorder).

        ‘Unlived experience’ is clunky (and also ambiguous, it could refer to experiences I’ve never had, vicariously or otherwise). Maybe ‘vicarious experience’ is appropriate. Maybe a better and more succinct word is needed (but I can’t think of one). Weltanschauung? Not really.

        I also agree with PCC and Ken B that ‘lived experience’ is tautological and a BS attempt to squash any differing argument.

        cr

    • James Walker
      Posted November 2, 2018 at 6:09 pm | Permalink

      How dare you question the unlived experience of vampires and zombies!

  11. Posted November 2, 2018 at 11:28 am | Permalink

    Trump’s greatest weapon is his ability to expose the lack of civic virtue and self control in elite institutions. That is what has happened here.

    • Ken Kukec
      Posted November 2, 2018 at 12:21 pm | Permalink

      Quite the paragon of virtue himself, both civic and personal, isn’t he, that Donald Trump fella? And when it comes to “self-control,” Trump has that of a bonobo stoned on “bath salts.”

      • Posted November 2, 2018 at 2:03 pm | Permalink

        The self control of bonobos is greatly misunderstood and underrated.
        Those are pretty calm and cool little fellows.

        • Ken Kukec
          Posted November 2, 2018 at 2:19 pm | Permalink

          Yeah, that was unfair to bonobos. They might be known for their promiscuity, but, far as I know anyway, they’re not out there raw-dawging porn-stars and Playboy playmates while their third wife is home nursing their newborn fifth child, like a certain someone we know.

          • infiniteimprobabilit
            Posted November 2, 2018 at 5:36 pm | Permalink

            Lemme see, comparing tRump to a randy ape is unfair to the ape? I’ll go with that…

            😉

            cr

            • Diane G
              Posted November 3, 2018 at 2:03 am | Permalink

              Uh, they’re both apes…

              😉

      • Posted November 12, 2018 at 3:59 pm | Permalink

        But Trump will go, while the nonsense-producing societies are here to stay.

  12. Ken Kukec
    Posted November 2, 2018 at 11:37 am | Permalink

    The point is that we shouldn’t use science to strongly buttress a moral stand …

    True dat. But science has a role to play, I think, in vitiating immoral stands based upon faulty scientific facts. Fr’instance, when the trial judge in the famous anti-miscegenation case Loving v. Virginia wrote:

    “Almighty God created the races white, black, yellow, malay and red, and he placed them on separate continents. And but for the interference with his arrangement there would be no cause for such marriages. The fact that he separated the races shows that he did not intend for the races to mix.”

    Well, I should think science would’ve had a thing or two to say in rebuttal of that.

    • Posted November 2, 2018 at 11:59 am | Permalink

      Well, yes, we weren’t created. But science should weigh in on any public policy that is based on bad science, with the proviso that those who weigh in should have expertise in the area.

  13. Merilee
    Posted November 2, 2018 at 12:02 pm | Permalink

    Sub

  14. Posted November 2, 2018 at 12:05 pm | Permalink

    Embryological equivalencies do not necessarily imply equivalencies of agressiveness of the cancer; lots of other factors have an impact, e.g. the rate of tissue renewal, ease of early detection, exposure to carcinogens, etc.

  15. Posted November 2, 2018 at 12:47 pm | Permalink

    … biological sex, which is almost completely binary (again, male and female), but is also strongly bimodal, with just 1 or 2% of individuals falling between the male and female spikes.

    Intersex conditions do not represent supernumerary sexes, but rather breakdowns in the sex determination process. There are but two sex chromosomes in humans, two types of gametes. Ergo, but two sexes: male & female. I admit I’m a bit confused here on the semantic distinction between binary and bimodal.

    • Nicolaas Stempels
      Posted November 2, 2018 at 1:11 pm | Permalink

      Bimodal just means there are two peaks, there actually probably is something inbetween. Binary is more ‘absolute’, coming in two parts and there might be nothing inbetween.
      Since we do have hermaphrodites, mosaics and genetic ‘programs’ not being expressed fully (cf Caster Semenya, a male with a predominantly -but far from fully- female phenotype) bimodal is a better term than binary in this context, I’d think.

  16. Deb
    Posted November 2, 2018 at 12:48 pm | Permalink

    I don’t understand the concept of gender as a continuum. Masculinity/femininity doesn’t fall on one axis- it involves a collection of different traits. What would it mean to be 70% male? Is this something you come up with by some combination of how much you are interested in things over people, or in casual sex, or how competitive or aggressive you are, how interested in babies, how hairy or muscular, how assertively you speak, how you prefer to dress?

    Or is this entirely based on a person’s subjective assessment? I’m 80% feminine because that’s how I identify myself (today)?

    Or when people say it’s a spectrum is that not actually what they mean?

    We all have combinations of masculine and feminine traits but we mostly don’t define ourselves as partway between one and the other.

    Genuinely puzzled.

    • Posted November 2, 2018 at 1:34 pm | Permalink

      What would it mean to be 70% male?

      cf. the Vice editorial staff.

      • Posted November 2, 2018 at 2:08 pm | Permalink

        It would mean you took a test and seventy per cent of your answers would correspond to answers typically given by males and thirty per cent of your answers would correspond to answers typically given by females.

        • Posted November 2, 2018 at 8:16 pm | Permalink

          I was thinking more along the lines of: you have 70% of the typical testosterone levels. (hence, Vice editorial staff.)

          • Posted November 3, 2018 at 1:40 pm | Permalink

            I was a psychology major. I only know about tests. Someone from the biology department will have to talk about biological traits.
            I don’t see how a person could have seventy per cent male biological traits.

            • Posted November 3, 2018 at 2:07 pm | Permalink

              Some recent research found 1,600 DNA loci involved in sex characteristic phenotypes in humans. SJWs interpreted that as evidence for a sex spectrum, falsely believing that these 1,600 ‘switches’ are randomly toggled either male or female. In this alternate reality, any combination of 1,120 loci switched to ‘male’ & 480 to ‘female’ would yield a 70% male(ish) person! Someone at a Patheos atheism blog told me this meant there were in fact 1600^2 sexes.

              And these are folks who complain about others not getting science.

  17. Posted November 2, 2018 at 1:04 pm | Permalink

    Reblogged this on The Logical Place.

  18. Posted November 2, 2018 at 1:27 pm | Permalink

    In common usage, unfortunately, ‘gender’ has become a synonym for ‘sex’. The confusion is compounded by the SJW practice of conflating ‘gender identity’ with ‘gender expression’. The most extreme radicals (and the obama administration wrt Title IX), define sex as gender.

    ‘Gender’ is a neologism, coined by the Dr. Moreau of sex research, John Money. It is, imo, a useless term for any purpose other than anti-science, SJW polemic.

    First off, there is no ‘gender spectrum.’ 99.7% of humans identify with their sex. Of the remaining 0.3%, c. 3/4 identify with the opposite sex, leaving <0.1% of the population to cover the vast ground between the poles.

    Second, for all of this, one must posit the existence of an active gender-assessment function in the mind. This has yet to be described or identified, and seems superfluous in a world where 99.7% of humans and 100% of other animals don't require it. And if the argument is that gender evolved, then please point to, citing evidence, where in the c. 1 billion year history of binary sex that occurred.

    Finally, if a cognitive function is required to align oneself with one's sex, what other 'identities' also require one? Must a human actively identify as bipedal, omnivorous, non-prehensial tailed, diurnal, and stereoscopic-sighted?

    The simple reality is that so-called 'gender identity' is a default setting, perturbed in a tiny sliver of individuals by a dysphoria. These individuals deserve our compassion and tolerance, as well as effective treatment which may in some instances entail living as the opposite sex (which we should also tolerate within reason). What they don't get is a complete trashing of the basics of science to conform to their dysphoria.

  19. Mark R.
    Posted November 2, 2018 at 1:56 pm | Permalink

    Shouldn’t Republicans worry about the “big government” aspect of this sort of binary policy? Millions of genetic tests, records, documentation of birth genitalia; would they propose changing an intersex infant’s genitalia surgically at birth to fit their binary model? Would this even pass muster with the 4th amendment?

    I know my comment isn’t apropos to the point of this post which I agree with. I’m just pointing out the absurdity of the proposal in the first place. I chalk it up with “the southern invasion” that we need thousands of military personnel to halt (and kill if rocks are thrown), a sudden tax cut for the middle class when Congress is not in session, and his dumb ass proposal to do away with birth-right citizenship via an executive order…in other words, the general desperation of the Trump administration to keep his rabid base rabid before the midterms. I don’t think it’s working in his favor.

    • mikeyc
      Posted November 2, 2018 at 2:05 pm | Permalink

      Since we’re OT….that IS the reason for these idiotic policies, isn’t it; “to keep his rabid base rabid before the midterms”.

      IMO, it’s backfired. Turnout so far is YUUUGE. That is not good news for the Repubs. I am beginning to be hopeful the Dems will win the House.

      • Ken Kukec
        Posted November 2, 2018 at 3:21 pm | Permalink

        The Dems will win millions more votes than the GOP next Tuesday (notwithstanding the Republicans’ voter-suppression efforts). The only question is whether those millions more votes will be enough to overcome the GOP’s ruthlessly gerrymandered House districts and the worst senatorial map in history, with Democrats needing to defend 24 of the 33 seats up for election, including 10 in red states won by Donald Trump in 2016. Of the nine Republican seats up for election, only one is in a state won by Hillary, Nevada.

        • ADM64
          Posted November 3, 2018 at 10:09 am | Permalink

          Vote suppression? Really? Examples, please.

          Incidentally, if you’re going to talk gerrymandering, check out Pennsylvania.

          • Ken Kukec
            Posted November 3, 2018 at 2:59 pm | Permalink

            There have been well-publicized suppression efforts by Georgia secretary of state Brian Kemp, who’s supervising his own gubernatorial election against a black candidate. And by Kansas Republican secretary of state Kris Kobach who’s also supervising his own election for governor (including the closing of all voting polls in Dodge City). And the efforts in Texas to keep college students at predominately black Prairie View A&M from voting. Or the efforts to close polls and purge the voting rolls in Ohio. There are overviews of these voter-suppression efforts here and here and here if you’re interested in familiarizing yourself with this topic.

    • rickflick
      Posted November 2, 2018 at 9:00 pm | Permalink

      “Shouldn’t Republicans worry…”

      They should worry a lot, but I don’t think they think the way we do. They are not bound by any kind of policy agenda, it seems to me. It’s pretty much a survival strategy at this point. Figure out what Trump wants and agree.

  20. Posted November 2, 2018 at 2:12 pm | Permalink

    When I first started hearing the word fender used instead of sex I thought it was because the people using the term were to squeamish to say the word sex. Much like in the Victorian age women were not said to have legs, their legs were only referred to as limbs.

    • Posted November 3, 2018 at 12:07 am | Permalink

      Listening to the World Series on the radio, I was exposed to repeated ads for K-Y Jelly talking about everyone’s favorite activity, “Scrapbooking” (wink wink, nudge nudge.)

  21. Posted November 2, 2018 at 2:13 pm | Permalink

    the word gender. – not the word fender .

  22. XCellKen
    Posted November 2, 2018 at 3:18 pm | Permalink

    I prefer to use the term “Gibson ” !!!

    • infiniteimprobabilit
      Posted November 2, 2018 at 5:42 pm | Permalink

      Assuming that was a reply to OG, you just beat me to it. 😉

      cr

    • Ken Kukec
      Posted November 3, 2018 at 9:52 am | Permalink

      Because you do it garnished with an onion and toothpick? 🙂

  23. Gordon Davisson
    Posted November 2, 2018 at 4:38 pm | Permalink

    Jerry, I have to strongly disagree with you here. Binary sex is an approximation, and like all approximations it’s good enough for some purposes, but not for others, and is not actually true. The HHS policy treats it as something that is actually true, and effectively insists that it’s good enough for *all* purposes. It’s is neither.

    More fundamentally, I’d argue that the HHS policy constitites a rejection of scientific progress. Huh, you say? Well, one of the basic modes of scientific progress is building more and more complex, detailed, and accurate theoretical models of reality. Isaac Asimov has a good essay on the subject, titled “The Relativity of Wrong”, in which he uses our understanding of the shape of the Earth (from flat to spherical to oblate spheroidal to lumpy oblate spheroidal) as an example. His central point is that each of these is wrong (including the final one — the lumps are actually more complicated than he describes), but they are all good enough approximations for some purposes, and that they’re progressively less and less wrong.

    What the HHS policy is doing, essentially, is endorsing a particular approximation as true, and rejecting the more complex, detailed, and accurate models that scientists have built. It’s the equivalent of endorsing the spherical Earth theory (in preference to the lumpy oblate spheroid view), or saying that pi = 3.14, or that the Earth goes around the Sun (not the solar system’s barycenter), or that Mendel’s laws of genetics are actually true, etc.

    I also disagree (and, ironically, with many transgender advocates) about the difference between sex and gender. Studies of brain anatomy have shown that transgender people ‘s brains are, at least in some respects, more similar to cisgender people of the sex they identify as than those of their anatomic sex. This suggests (to me, at least) that someone’s social gender is an expression of their brain’s sex (except that it’s almost certainly more complicated than that), and that transgenderism is just a result of people’s brain sex not matching their anatomic sex (in much the same way that someone’s anatomic sex might not match their chromosomal sex).

    Am I right about this? I don’t know; I’m far from an expert. But the HHS policy refuses to even consider questions like this. Male is male, female is female, and STOP FINDING OUT IT’S MORE COMPLICATED THAN THAT!

    • Posted November 2, 2018 at 5:21 pm | Permalink

      There is a male with the brain sharped like that if a female. I can understand that. What do you propose to call such a person.
      I would call him a male. But he would be treated with allowances for the difference in his brain.
      Still only two sexes.
      But not all males are alike.

      • Gordon Davisson
        Posted November 2, 2018 at 8:05 pm | Permalink

        It depends on the purpose.

        If someone has XX chromosomes, but testicles and a penis, what do you call them? What about XY chromosomes, testicles and a vagina? There are lots of ways that people can clearly and unambiguously belong to one sex in some ways, but to the other sex in other ways. In case of a conflict, what takes precedence?

        I’d argue that it depends on why you’re categorizing them. If you’re interested in genetics, XX vs XY probably matters most and you should go with that. If you’re thinking about having sex with someone, vagina vs. penis probably matters more (or maybe not, depending on your personal preferences). If you’re interested in people primarily as breeding stock, testicles vs. ovaries probably matters most.

        For the vast majority of people I interact with, I’m interested mostly in their minds, so that’s what I’m going to give priority to.

        For the person themself, they’re very very likely to consider their mind to be the most important thing about themself. Do you think this is unreasonable of them?

        And if you disagree with them, think about what you’re saying: you’re telling them that they’re wrong because you categorize them differently, and your categorization is *right*. But it’s not really right, it’s just based on a different choice about what’s most important.

        Scott Alexander has a way more extensive argument along these lines at http://slatestarcodex.com/2014/11/21/the-categories-were-made-for-man-not-man-for-the-categories/. He spends a long time setting it up, but IMO it’s well worth reading.

        • jojo
          Posted November 2, 2018 at 10:16 pm | Permalink

          “If someone has XX chromosomes, but testicles and a penis, what do you call them?”

          Do they make sperm or eggs, or neither? If they are XX and produce testicles and penis, then male. Most likely they have a SRY Translocation and are genetically male.

          The vast, vast majority of people produce either sperm or eggs. The tiny remainder produce neither and are sterile due to the effects of their disorder of sexual development. They are intersex and have their own set of issues, in fact, each condition is unique as is any other genetic disorder.

          As for “what to call them” it would be the best to ask them how they ought to be identified as indeed despite the disorder of development they are people and deserving of agency. There are societies that exist to help these people find their place. Even the vile Trump administrations’ policy allows for genetic testing to verify the existence of intersex conditions with genetic testing so does indeed allow for these individuals’ existance.

          In any case, intersex is not the same as individuals who identify their gender as different than their biological sex which falls strongly in the binary (that is, nearly all transgender individuals, by definition of the word transgender). The worst part about the SSE statement is the conflation of gender, gender identity, and sex which any biologist should know need to be TOTALLY separated when discussing the incredibly messy human situation (and unless Trump is planning to sex your cat is all we are talking about anyway).

        • jojo
          Posted November 2, 2018 at 10:25 pm | Permalink

          “For the vast majority of people I interact with, I’m interested mostly in their minds, so that’s what I’m going to give priority to.

          For the person themself, they’re very very likely to consider their mind to be the most important thing about themself. Do you think this is unreasonable of them?”

          You know, I would SO love for people to consider my mind to be the most important thing about me. Kinda the goal of any human eh?

          However, the fact is that when people SEE me, they see that I have a female body, and then they jump to conclusions about my mind. And treat me accordingly. It has nothing to do with what is actually going on in my brain. They don’t know what my “gender identity” is, if such a thing exists.

          I find this whole idea of masculine and feminine brains very 19th century. I can’t believe we are still having this conversation, to be honest.

        • Posted November 3, 2018 at 12:16 am | Permalink

          If someone has XX chromosomes, but testicles and a penis, what do you call them? What about XY chromosomes, testicles and a vagina? There are lots of ways that people can clearly and unambiguously belong to one sex in some ways, but to the other sex in other ways. In case of a conflict, what takes precedence?

          You describe here two examples of where karyotypic and phenotypic sex do not correlate. Those instances are rare, and have a name: intersex. Most intersex cases are relatively mild, and most intersex individuals strongly identify with the sex of their prevailing characteristics.

          So let’s not conflate intersex conditions with transgenderism. In the latter, the individual’s karyotype & phenotype are decidedly either male or female, yet the individual ‘identifies’ as something else (usually the opposite sex.)

          • Gordon Davisson
            Posted November 3, 2018 at 12:55 am | Permalink

            What’s so different? Especially if I’m right that transgender people just have brain sexes that don’t match their anatomic sex? If so, it seems to me that transgenderism is really just another type of intersex condition.

            • Posted November 3, 2018 at 6:46 am | Permalink

              What’s a brain sex? How is it determined?

              Transgender is NOT intersex. Intersex organisations have repeatedly asked not to have their conditions appropriated into this debate.

              They have their own issues to face without being dragged into someone else’s.

              • Posted November 3, 2018 at 2:18 pm | Permalink

                Intersex Society of North America:

                … these two groups [transgender & intersex] should not be and cannot be thought of as one. The truth is that the vast majority of people with intersex conditions identify as male or female rather than transgender or transsexual. Thus, where all people who identify as transgender or transsexual experience problems with their gender identity, only a small portion of intersex people experience these problems.

                http://www.isna.org/faq/transgender

                And seconded: please define “brain sex” and provide evidence of its existence.

              • Gordon Davisson
                Posted November 3, 2018 at 7:00 pm | Permalink

                Concerning brain sex, read http://sitn.hms.harvard.edu/flash/2016/gender-lines-science-transgender-identity/. Here are a couple of relevant excerpts:

                “Interestingly, both teams discovered that male-to-female transgender women had a BSTc more closely resembling that of cisgender women than men in both size and cell density, and that female-to-male transgender men had BSTcs resembling cisgender men. These differences remained even after the scientists took into account the fact that many transgender men and women in their study were taking estrogen and testosterone during their transition by including cisgender men and women who were also on hormones not corresponding to their assigned biological sex (for a variety of medical reasons). These findings have since been confirmed and corroborated in other studies and other regions of the brain, including a region of the brain called the sexually dimorphic nucleus (Figure 2) that is believed to affect sexual behavior in animals.”

                […]

                “And so, while the list of causes for transgender identity continues to grow, it has become quite clear that it is not a conscious choice – similar to what has been described for the “reasons” behind sexual orientation. Still, at least 63% of transgender individuals experience debilitating acts of discrimination on a regular basis, including incarceration, homelessness, and physical assault. When about 1.7% of the population is in some way affected by cases of ambiguous genitalia at birth, these findings seem staggering.

                So, where do we stand on transgender issues? Science tells us that gender is certainly not binary; it may not even be a linear spectrum. Like many other facets of identity, it can operate on a broad range of levels and operate outside of many definitions. And it also appears that gender may not be as static as we assume. At the forefront of this, transgender identity is complex – it’s unlikely we’ll ever be able to attribute it to one neat, contained set of causes, and there is still much to be learned. But we know now that several of those causes are biological. These individuals are not suffering a mental illness, or capriciously “choosing” a different identity. The transgender identity is multi-dimensional – but it deserves no less recognition or respect than any other facet of humankind.”

                See also: https://www.newscientist.com/article/dn20032-transsexual-differences-caught-on-brain-scan/, https://www.scientificamerican.com/article/is-there-something-unique-about-the-transgender-brain/, and https://www.scientificamerican.com/article/girl-brain-boy-brain/.

                Note that while I consider these to support the basic idea of something like “brain sex”, it’s clear that the reality is (as usual) more complicated than that. The idea of “brain sex” is, like pretty much everything else, just an approximation. But it seems pretty clear that transgenderism is at its root a physical and biological condition, not just a “social construct”, and certainly isn’t “men pretending to be women”.

        • Posted November 3, 2018 at 12:20 am | Permalink

          Good article and worth reading.

          I think someone has to make the decision as to call male or female. In baseball we have umpires to call balls and strikes. It does not matter whether the ball crossed the plate or was Hugh or low. The only thing that makes it a ball or a strike is what the umpire calls it. As one retired umpire said “Until Zi called them, they were not anything.”
          Biologists eould be the logical people in my opinion to make the call.

          As I said, allowances would have to be made for some people.
          According to science they eould still be one or the other.

          Did the woman ever find something else to worry about. I sldo am obsessive compulsive. I would have to drive back home to make sure I had not bought another hair dryer and left it on. Or ghe iron. My wife gets worried about the iron having been left on.

          The question is what yo do about the unusual cases or new cases unseen before. Those have to be worked out one at a time.

          Letting each person self identify is not the answer for me.

          At present we do not have a consensus. The debate will continue until we do.

          • Posted November 3, 2018 at 12:23 am | Permalink

            P.S. My compulsion will not let me proof read what I write before I hit send. I think I refuse to believe I could have made a mistake.

          • Gordon Davisson
            Posted November 3, 2018 at 1:06 am | Permalink

            Why do we have to decide to call someone male or female? There are a wide variety of (rare, but existing) intersex, intergender, etc conditions. As I said, the gender binary is an *approximation*, and when it doesn’t match reality, reality needs to take precedence. And the reality is that human variation is more complicated than that.

            (p.s. I tend to proof-read carefully before hitting send… and then immediately spot several errors right after they’re committed to the permanent record. D’oh!)

            • Posted November 3, 2018 at 1:10 am | Permalink

              We don’t have to decide that. Right now we are apparently in a transition period.
              Same problem people are running into with race or ethnic identification. See problems of Elizabeth Warren.

              I just turned off my predictive text. I think that will help my problems. Spell check is still on and auto correct.

              • Gordon Davisson
                Posted November 3, 2018 at 1:29 am | Permalink

                I’d agree with that. I think the demands for a strict gender binary are (at least partly) a holdover from having rigid gender roles (and rigid ethnic identification from applying different rules to different “races”). Since the roles got much less rigid, it’s no longer necessary to assign someone to the “right” gender.

              • Posted November 3, 2018 at 7:53 am | Permalink

                OG, entirely off topic. Your initials remind me of the signature of Opera Ghost in ALW’s Phantom 😁

            • Posted November 3, 2018 at 6:54 am | Permalink

              We need to decide because there are sex based rights that are being eroded.

              We need to decide because ‘gender’ segregated sports are a fucking farce.

              We need to decide because allowing ‘gender’ to determine which prisons to send people to allows male-bodied rapists to continue to rape women.

              We need to decide because rape victims are entitled to provision where they can avoid sharing facilities with male-bodied people.

              We need to decide because lesbians should be allowed to choose partners based on preferences for female bodies and not be called ‘transphobic bigots’ and ‘vagina fetishists’.

              • Gordon Davisson
                Posted November 3, 2018 at 11:43 pm | Permalink

                Some of these are difficult problems, but at least one isn’t: lesbians (like non-lesbians) don’t have any sort of responsibility to have sex with anyone they don’t want to.

                As for prisons, bathrooms, etc, I’d like you to meet Buck Angel: https://www.woodhullfoundation.org/leadership/buck-angel/ (note: a google image search may be NSFW). He was born female. Do you think having him around rape victims would make them feel safer? Do you think requiring him to use the women’s bathroom would make anyone involved feel safer? If he were sent to prison (presumably for using the men’s room), should he be housed with men or women?

                H. L. Mencken once said “for every complex problem there is an answer that is clear, simple, and wrong.” In all of these cases, I think the “birth sex is all that matters” criterion is a perfect example of this.

              • Posted November 12, 2018 at 4:24 pm | Permalink

                Thank you very much!

        • ADM64
          Posted November 3, 2018 at 10:12 am | Permalink

          Assume you’re right about the brain differences. It still implies there is a biologically-based male and a female identity and that even a so-called transgender person is aligned with one or the other.

      • Posted November 3, 2018 at 7:08 am | Permalink

        I’d need to know the definition of a male and female brain. There are statistical differences in size, distribution of white matter, density of folds in the cortex, etc, but these are, as I said, *statistical*.

        A man with a smaller than average brain is a man with a smaller than average brain, not a woman. A man with less than average white matter is a man with less than average white matter and a man with more convoluted folds is a man with more convoluted folds.

        Even if he possesses all these attributes he is not a woman, he is just a statistical outlier.

        • Posted November 5, 2018 at 11:48 am | Permalink

          Sex is just one dimension of the variables that can be applied to brains. That said–its a measurable one with predictable differences. And, yes, I know Cordelia Fine’s book arguing that we are cerbral hermphrodites won a Royal Society prize but she didnt win it from neuroscientists. The RS were wrong and so is she

    • a-non
      Posted November 3, 2018 at 3:49 am | Permalink

      Interesting comment, thanks.

      But I disagree with you on whether the policy is a statement about scientific fact. I think it’s a statement about what legal categories we choose to use.

      Here’s another example: the science around whether someone is dead or alive is quite complicated. And parts of our legal system must grapple with this complexity: there are circumstances under which we can turn off the machines and not be charged with murder. There are circumstances under which someone missing can be declared dead.

      But the vast majority of our society runs on a much simpler binary classification. For example the laws around property, estates, and taxes only care about this. We could re-write all of these laws to account for grey areas, and (if you ask me) this would be a terrible idea.

      Are these tax laws making a statement that a particular approximation is really true? I would argue that no, they are simply employing an appropriate approximation for the purposes.

      • Posted November 3, 2018 at 6:58 am | Permalink

        I think rewriting existing laws based on very rare cases of disorders of sexual development makes as much sense as rewriting inheritance laws because some people have their heads frozen after death.

  24. A C Harper
    Posted November 3, 2018 at 4:26 am | Permalink

    Contrast and compare:

    God Is Not Great: How Religion Poisons Everything
    ~ Christopher Hitchens

    Critical Theory Is Not Great: How Politics Poisons Everything
    ~ Me

  25. Posted November 3, 2018 at 6:57 am | Permalink

    Trump is attacking the wrong target. Like a lot of people, he thinks “gender” it’s just a polite euphemism for “sex”. Sex is a useful trait to record on identity documents, and, until a few decades ago, it universally was recorded I such documents. However, certain extremists lobbied governments in the 1980s, and “sex” was replaced by “gender” in nearly all official documents in most western countries. Little did most people realise at the time that this was a Trojan horse for the official denial of the reality of biological sex which has now, a generation later, begun to be written into the laws of many western countries.

    Instead of insisting that gender be defined as binary, and determined in the same way biological sex is determined, he should be insisting that “gender” be removed from identity documents, and replaced with, “sex”, with sex being defined in explicitly biological terms. That way, he completely sidesteps/sidelines the “how many genders” discussion, and fixes the problem at its root, while standing completely in line with science. Gender theory is mostly garbage anyway. It was concocted in the heyday of behaviourism, on shaky evidence. Our sex-typed behaviour its mostly down to genetics, not environment.

    • Ken Kukec
      Posted November 3, 2018 at 10:02 am | Permalink

      What’s your basis for relating Gender Theory to Behaviorism? Gender Theory is an offshoot of Postmodernism.

      • Posted November 3, 2018 at 10:39 am | Permalink

        The term “gender” in reference to a form of social identity related to, but distinct from, biological sex was coined by the psychiatrist John Money in the 1960s. He held that psychological gender could be changed by environmental conditioning. He claimed to have successfully done this with a male patient. For more details, see John Money in Wikipedia, or your favourite online reference source. Also, notice that feminists are, and long have been, very keen on the term “social conditioning”, which has obvious behaviourism roots. Behaviourism itself is a (supposedly) “scientific” update of John Locke’s “blank slate” theory, and Mary Wollstonecraft used blank slate theory in her 1792 (I think) treatise, Vindication of the Rights Of Woman.

        • Ken Kukec
          Posted November 3, 2018 at 3:21 pm | Permalink

          It is a truism that much in the traditional roles associated with men and women in society has been the result of social conditioning. One needn’t be a believer in “blank slate” theory to recognize that. John Money wasn’t a “behaviorist.” And to connect a book Mary Wollstonecraft wrote over a century before Pavlov or Skinner arrived on the scene to “Behaviorism” is quite a stretch.

          • Posted November 3, 2018 at 7:07 pm | Permalink

            1. I didn’t say John Money was a behaviourist. However, behaviourism strongly shaped the climate of the time. Freudianism, incidentally, also assumes that personality traits are learned and shaped by the environment, particularly in early childhood, including sexuality and sense of identity. This is in contrast to a lot of 19th century psychology, such as Wundt’s cognitivism, and William James’s insistence that human action is guided a great deal by instinct. It also contrasts with Jung, whose “archetypes” might be called a mystification of instinct.
            2. Also, what you say is a truism is not a truism, unless you redefine “much” to mean “some”.
            3. Behaviourism is just an update of the 18th C. associationism of David Hartley, which is just an update of Lockean blank-statism. These are not different schools of thought. They are the same idea, with added details, backed up with new methods and evidence. Hartley brought in anatomy and the action of nerves. Pavlov brought in physiology, and Skinner brought in elaborations of Pavlov’s experimental approach to demonstrate more elaborate forms of learning. Hartley was all the rage when Wollstonecraft was writing.

            • Ken Kukec
              Posted November 3, 2018 at 7:58 pm | Permalink

              I’ve no truck personally with either behaviorism or blank-slate theory. But suffice it to say, you’ve got quite the idiosyncratic views on both the history of Behaviorism and the roots of Gender Theory (and, from the looks of that website your username links to, on some other topics as well).

              • Posted November 3, 2018 at 8:14 pm | Permalink

                The link from Locke to Hartley to behaviourism is not controversial. I haven’t said much about gender theory, as such — just the term “gender” as meaning psychosocial, as opposed to biological, sexual identity, and I don’t think it is controversial that this usage began with John Money.

  26. Hercule
    Posted November 4, 2018 at 7:14 am | Permalink

    Even the ancient Rabbi’s of the mishnah, codified circa 200, recognized human sexual diversity with categories other than male and female including tumtum, androgenos, and aylanit (see, e.g. Yevamot 8:6). So it isn’t a big leap for modern people to be tolerant of this diversity.

  27. Media Savvy
    Posted November 4, 2018 at 7:51 am | Permalink

    Gender, biological sex and sexuality are three different issues.

    Biological sex is the most ‘fixed’, but since everything we understand about the world is culturally constructed, the meanings we make of ‘male’ and ‘female’ are also culturally constructed, even if biologically fixed.

    Gender itself is a social role and is not necessarily tied to one’s biological sex.

    Since a social role is culturally constructed, third and fourth genders are not only recognized in other cultures, assuming a gender different than your biological sex may actually be required of some people in some cultures under certain circumstances.

    Human sexuality is the most fluid and contingent. Categories, roles, identities, desires, loves and relations are not only culturally constructed, they shift and change over time. While most social scientists speak about it as a continuum ‘between two poles’, it’s really more of a field of contingent positionalities that we assume in relationship to other people over time.

    Since two out of three of these points are completely and utterly produced out of social relations, cultural values, beliefs and relations and the third is understood entirely through that cultural universe; not only will there be more people with gender aphasia than those who are hermaphrodite; but the gender identity of even hermaphrodites may not correspond with their biological facts.

    • Posted November 5, 2018 at 11:50 am | Permalink

      I think you may have confused “culturally constructed” with “made up as we go along”. They are not the same. We need a more nuanced view of the sorts of shared intentionality that social space occupies


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