Surprise! #scio14 is next week! »« Math: the lies of atheists and humanists

Sex differences are real

But they’re more complicated than many people assume, and even where they exist, they say nothing about how you should treat people.

I was reading Alex Gabriel’s article on the gender binary wars, and it just seems to me that a lot of people have this cartoon version of a bimodal distribution in their heads, so I scribbled up some cartoons of my own.

This is how some loud people like to pretend sex differences are distributed. It’s clear, it’s simple, and there aren’t any intermediates. The x axis of the plot can be anything: has a penis/clitoris, has a Y chromosome, likes to have sex with women vs likes to have sex with men, amount of milk secretion, ejaculation volume, whatever. We have a stereotype for how the sexes behave, and you will fit into one category or the other, because there are only two distinct elements.

deepbm

Immediately, though, there are problems. This is a multidimensional problem, and sometimes the distributions match, and sometimes they don’t. For example, if you use adult size of the genital tubercle (the structure that develops into the penis in males and the clitoris in females), you’ll see a nice bimodal distribution of sizes in the population, with one peak for females and another for males. But then the middle isn’t empty: there’s slight overlap. And worse, sometimes males who by all other criteria identify as men fall into the female half of the distribution, and females who by all other criteria identify as women fall into the male half. There is clearly a biological distinction — the peaks are real and distinct — but the middle point is not empty.

And then you have the fact that people love to claim that the biological criteria are clear-cut, but they use different criteria, and they give different answers! So using the genital tubercle criterion, you can place people into that bimodal distribution, but if you use the Y chromosome criterion, you get distributions that mostly overlap well, but then there are people whose penises put them solidly in the male part of the distribution, but their chromosomes put them in the other part, and vice versa. Where’s your mathematical clarity now?

And then what happens? Most of the signifiers we use to distinguish male and female aren’t so robust. We have bimodal distributions that are only weakly separated into two peaks.

shallowbm

This could be a chart of height, for instance; women tend to be slightly shorter than men. It could also be a chart of hair length, where fashion has an influence. It could be a chart of performance in mathematics, in which case it may be a kind of self-fulfilling prophecy, where we mold people to fit our preconceptions. We’ve got a gigantic collection of plastic behaviors that we tend to force on people as gender signifiers: do girls really like pink more than boys, deep down? Are boys really unsuited to cooking or other domestic chores? In these cases, are these distributions a meaningful way to identify what human beings should do? No. In fact, they erode the sharpness of the entire distinction. You can be male in one characteristic and female in another.

There are a thousand different parameters we use to identify sex. It is definitely true that sex differences are real and when we average all of our matches to those parameters, most of us tend to clearly fall into one peak or the other. Most of us are, in aggregate, mostly male or mostly female.

But here’s my problem.

Let’s assume that when we look at the totality of our natures, and we plot an arbitrary index of sexual identity, we do get two clear and undeniable peaks. I think this is entirely true, even though I don’t have a formula to calculate it, and I think a lot of people would agree — the sources Alex Gabriel is discussing are all trying to identify the magic criterion that sharply demarcates male from female. So let’s pretend these advocates for the gender binary are correct and can come up with a simple way to tell who is supposed to be a man and who is supposed to be a woman, and they show that the population looks like this:

deepbmblank

We can argue about how deep that central trough would be — maybe it’s close to zero (but we know it’s got to be non-zero; we wouldn’t even be having this argument if it weren’t for the existence of people who deny that they fit into one peak or the other), maybe it’s a large and significant fraction of the population. I don’t really care. We have people living in this red circle.

deepbmlabel

Even more complicatedly, we have people who, in one criterion, live in the left peak, and by a different criterion, live in the right peak. How many? I don’t know. Does it matter?

If it’s a hundred million people, who are you to say that they must be condemned and punished for making their precious bimodal chart complicated? If it’s just one person, why would you make it your mission to make them miserable for being true to their own nature, rather than yours?

I don’t even get the point of the argument. Everyone — from the trans-exclusionary radical feminists to the most egalitarian and liberal of us — recognizes that sexuality and gender are too complicated to be reduced to a one-dimensional, single binary switch. Once you’ve conceded that, you’re just bickering over the depth of the trough in the bimodal distribution, and nothing in that argument justifies treating the minority case as less than human, or compelling individuals to live in the pigeonholes you’ve assigned to them, no matter how miserable you make them. It’s not even justifiable to label them freaks, weirdos, or anomalies: they are part of a continuum of human behavior that includes every one of us.

It’s as if people are so committed to the idea that there are only two possible valid human natures that they are prepared to wish away all evidence to the contrary.

Comments

  1. Crip Dyke, Right Reverend Feminist FuckToy of Death & Her Handmaiden says

    PZ, I love you.

    I left off quantitative research on certain aspects of trans experience b/c I found that

    1) the numbers would always be misleading b/c even when people think they’re using the same definitions, they often aren’t – possibly b/c of misunderstandings, possibly because unconscious “tie breakers”

    2) I encountered too many people that believed that anti-trans oppression was okay if there were few enough trans people.

    You get the important things and you talk about the important things, and I love you for that.

  2. jamessweet says

    Yes, this!

    I have even argued that the existence of sex difference of biological origin argues for a more flexible view of gender roles, not less. Look at it this way: A true bimodal distribution is going to tend to create the memetic equivalent of runaway sexual selection. If men tend to have a natural biological propensity for widget-building (using a phony example so as to avoid sociological and political implications) then, even without societal reinforcement, the field of widgetology will tend to have more men than women… which, without any effort to the contrary, will tend to make widgetology departments an unwelcoming place for women… thereby creating an incentive for otherwise-qualified female widgetologists to find a different line of work… which, left unchecked, makes it an even more unwelcoming place, etc. etc.

    Counter-intuitively, if you want to have the best possible widgetologists, then a natural biological advantage for men means you need to work that much harder to get women interested in widgetology if you are to achieve your goal. If you don’t make an effort to make widgetology a welcoming field for women, then you will, on average, have worse widgetologists, because qualified women will find other careers.

    If there were no bimodal distribution of widget-building propensity, then you might get away with just letting nature take its course. But if there is a bimodal distribution, then without further intervention, social reinforcement will cause a runaway positive feedback effect that directly results in inefficiencies — not to mention lack of personal fulfillment, etc.

    In other words: If men and women have equal propensity in STEM fields, then we should seek to correct the gender imbalance since it is artificial and inefficient. And if women really are (on average) lower performing in STEM fields, then we should try even harder to keep the gender balance from getting out of control. Any way you slice it, working towards greater gender equality results in an increase in efficiency.

  3. elfsternberg says

    Huh. That’s an interesting visualization. I’ve always visualized it as an ellipse, I guess, with two poles around which both the inherent and socialized norms of “male” and “female” are collected, and everyone falls into the ellipse somewhere; the cruelty of binary thinking is to draw a border across the ellipse between the two poles, stand athwart it and yell “none shall pass,” or to assume that those close to the border don’t deserve the respect due those who hover near the poles.

  4. says

    Well, like the title says, the sexes are real — if you’re plotting something to express the proportions that fall into various categories, I think you’d have to draw more of a dumbbell shape than an ellipse. And then the guardians are all standing around saying that the existence of a dimple in the distribution justifies denying autonomy to all the people living away from the two poles.

  5. kevinalexander says

    The way I look at it there’s either only one sex with a huge amount of variability or else there’s seven billion sexes.
    I’m right now reading Douglas Hofstadter’s ‘Surfaces and Essences’ He talks about the human need to put everything into categories and then draw boundaries around them. It seems to have been a useful trait so evolution selected for it but ultimately it fails because thinking requires that the categories cross fertilize
    There’s two kinds of people, those who divide people into two kinds and those who can think.

  6. mikeyb says

    This might be slightly off topic but binary demarcations are sometimes useful primarily as practical devices . Take the case of what the definition of adulthood is? Depending on where you live the drinking or voting age or driving age might be 18 or 21 (if these facts are off – you get the point anyway). But there are many 12 year olds who are more mature than 50 year olds. We make these arbitrary demarcations to some extent as a practical device to provide order to society. We can debate where these lines should be drawn, but its hard to debate that in some cases there shouldn’t be lines. Historically, the demarcation has been that only men and women should be allowed to marry. Of course we know this is all based upon religion and homophobia, so we should redefine marriage as between consenting adults period. The point is that some sorts of demarcations will still be necessary as practical devices, even though the actual realities are much more nuanced and non-binary.

  7. iknklast says

    Or you can just do like my mother did when it turned out I fell into “typical female” behavior on some things, but on a lot of things, I feel into “typical male” behavior. She decided her daughter was a grotesque mutant. If you want to decide that, OK, but it really isn’t a good idea to tell it to your nine-year-old daughter. I spent years trying to “fit” into a distribution that I don’t fit. No sympathy needed, however; I’m better now, happily working in science, not worrying that I might be a lesbian just because I happen to like science. (Not that there’s anything wrong with being a lesbian, mind you, if I were one – I’m just channeling my mother there…)

  8. gussnarp says

    This is the very first thing that everyone who just doesn’t understand the “T” in LGBT and why those people need to be treated equally needs to read. A very cogent explanation that ought to make this a lot easier to understand for anyone who’s not willfully choosing not to understand.

  9. stevem says

    But the Olympics declare it is chromosomes that totally define male vs. female. XY’s are FORBIDDEN from XX sports, and will take away any golds won by an XY in a XX sport. What more do you need; The IOC has ruled and is completely fair and international; non-racial, unbiased, etc. etc. /satire

    I lament that “Gender” is defined by the conservopods to be genital construction only, that psychological gender is purely a choice, a fantasy for scammers and preeverts. Another case where I’d like to just slap them and tell them to think about it more deeply. That Psychology is not just arbitrary attitudes but actual biology, that gender is not just genitals but actually their very brain biochemistry.

    Recently Jennifer Mock generated a huge bruhaha when even Piers Morgan introduced her as “…a man until age 17…” While her “reply” to Piers after-the-fact was rude; I would have advised her to say, “No, I was a girl my whole life, just born with a male anatomy that got corrected when I was 17. I was NEVER a man that got CHANGED. That’s what Trans* are trying to make clear and you ain’t helping…”

  10. Nick Gotts says

    The way I look at it there’s either only one sex with a huge amount of variability or else there’s seven billion sexes. – kevinalexander

    But it’s just as much a fact that most people can be unambiguously categorised either as female or as male as it is that some cannot. It makes no more sense to ignore or deny the first fact than it does the second; and as PZ says, the actual number or proportion who can’t, makes absolutely no difference to the way we should treat people.

  11. jamessweet says

    But it’s just as much a fact that most people can be unambiguously categorised either as female or as male as it is that some cannot.

    I think this is generally true, but try for an experiment some time, just spend a day or two trying to not instantly classify people into one bucket or the other, and really think about how people present. I did this, and was shocked at how frequently I saw people who, actually, weren’t all that clearly male or female (though I’m sure the majority of them had a very clear identification). We seem to have something inside us, whether it’s a natural result of brain circuitry or else conditioning, that immediately puts people into one bucket or the other as soon as at gathers enough information to do so, and then prevents us from easily seeing the spectrum.

    It’s as if you had a field of numbers in front of you, and anything less than 45 looked like a 1, and anything more than 65 looked like a 100. You might get the idea that the distribution of numbers was highly bimodal, but if you were able to see more clearly you’d see that it was far more random (though still slightly bimodal).

    TBH, the experiment actually kinda freaked me out, and I went back to the “blue pill” after a few days. heh…

  12. Jacob Schmidt says

    I did this, and was shocked at how frequently I saw people who, actually, weren’t all that clearly male or female (though I’m sure the majority of them had a very clear identification).jamessweet

    Aye, I’ve noticed that my interpretation of another’s presentation is often more “extreme” then the presentation really is. Women have rounder faces, men have straighter jaws, etc.

  13. stevem says

    Another reason “Set Theory” is Evil. People don’t just sort out into two non-overlapping sets of Sex. People who claim the two circles overlap and people can be in both sets simultaneously or neither set. Sets are an illusion of order, it gives one too many options of choice when GodHimmself Absolutely Declared: Two Sexes Only, I.E. “He only created 2: Adam and Eve; no ambiguity there!” And “humanistas are so loose, to simply allow people to choose which way they want to play sexgames; that is why they are just evil, evil, evil. /snark

  14. doublereed says

    I don’t even really understand the desire for kind of gender binary. Human sexuality seems like a lot of fun. Why would you ever want to simplify it?

  15. says

    There was an episode of Nova some years ago that looked into the meaning of sex and gender. I remember a situation of a British national who lived in Germany who was XXY. This caused problems: in one country, the person was legally male because of having a Y chromosome; in the other country, the person was legally female because of having two X chromosomes (apologies, I don’t recall more detail.) This was used as an example of how even seemingly clear and logical classifications of “male” and “female” can be limited, even arbitrary.

    I really wish you could have made it to Norwescon this year, PZ: one of the panels I’ve put together for the biology track is “Sex and Gender Fluidity”, which will discuss the biological basis for sex, gender and identity.

  16. says

    IIRR the “pink for a girl, blue for a boy” dichotomy isn’t much older than the 1950’s (not that that says anything about whether girls or women actually like pink more).

  17. viggen111 says

    It’s as if people are so committed to the idea that there are only two possible valid human natures that they are prepared to wish away all evidence to the contrary.

    It would make dating a lot easier if people weren’t so hung up on assuming that the opposite sex was a particular thing, even for heterosexuals. I think that dating expectations create some positively awful preconceptions about how people should behave that swings too easily to pick-up-artist type behavior. I’m flat out not a sexual predator and I don’t like the presumption that in this particular situation, it’s encouraged that I should be a little bit of one. Further, it hurts me that the opposite sex assumes that I should be doing this since this is “the way things are done”(tm). Where in the world does “sweeping them off their feet” become “dragging them to the bedroom and forcing yourself on them?” They like the first, but they don’t like the second… and yet, how are these two things actually different? People will always see the dividing line between them in different spots. So I like women to be a little proactive about their role in the whole thing, this doesn’t mean I’m looking for a man.

    What a different place the world would be.

  18. woozy says

    I dunno, PZ. That second chart looks suspiciously like a fedora.

    I was going to comment I thought maybe he was leading up to a dirty joke. Kind of like Gary Larson’s “It’s a box, it’s a popsicle, it’s a radio, it’s a television, it’s a lightbulb, it’s my wife putting on her girdle” series of droodles.

    But it could be an elephant inside a boa constrictor.

  19. says

    This is why I immediately either tune out or start mocking anyone who starts any statement with “Men are [X],” or “Women do [Y].” Not only is it immediately obvious that any flat statement like that isn’t true, but even if it were, so what? It’s not going to help decide how to interact with the individual of whatever gender who is standing before me. Anyone who thinks it will is a fool.

  20. says

    My memory may be tricking me here, but this paper by Brian Leiter and Michael Weisberg, “Why Evolutionary Biology Is (So Far) Irrelevant to Law,” makes a similar point with regard to law. Even if evolutionary psychology produced factually well-founded generalizations (and the authors doubt it), these would be useless to a judge deciding a dispute between actual human beings.

    http://papers.ssrn.com/sol3/papers.cfm?abstract_id=892881

  21. proudofcoincidence says

    Stevem

    The Olympics have those rules to promote fairness and specifically to prevent men from competing in women’s events. In the 800 meters for instance to get in the women’s 800 meters final a woman must run about 2:03 seconds. This is a time that thousands of american high school boys can run. If you want to protect the slots for women you would need a policy that excluded men completely or risk having male medalists in nearly every Olympics. How would you change the policy to ensure that no men got through? Or is there a an acceptable risk for you for cheaters. The Olympic committee doesn’t want to risk cheating.

  22. says

    Nicely written, PZ. I would like to ad one thing:

    Even when you look on the chromosome level in its most simplistic form, you do not get two sexes (as you say). Aneuploidies are not common, but they are not as rare as laypeople might think. There is not only XX for female and XY for male. There is also XXY (Klinefelter syndrome), X (Turner syndrome), XYY, XXX, and even XXYY. Then there is androgen insensitivity syndrome (XY female) and XX male syndrome.

    All of these are often normal people by most other standards and diagnoses can be definitively decided only through karyotyping. They pertain circa 0,3% of population.

    So even on this basic level, stripped of all humanity and reduced to almost binary thinking 1 for X and 0 for Y, the real result is not binary at all.

  23. Granny Sue says

    re: There is not only XX for female and XY for male. There is also XXY (Klinefelter syndrome), X (Turner syndrome), XYY, XXX, and even XXYY. Then there is androgen insensitivity syndrome (XY female) and XX male syndrome.

    I just finished Patricia Churchland’s latest book, Touching a Nerve. She covered those syndromes plus mentioned a few autopsies on brains of people who feel as if they are born to the wrong body.

    Completely agree, treat people with respect. Period.

  24. says

    This is a great post, PZ. Thank you.

    I like the way you stick to reality while also making a case for tolerance, and for acknowledging the areas where we do not have data.

    Your case for tolerance, for the continuum that includes us all, is particularly strong.

  25. carlie says

    For when you have to talk to people who refuse to accept anything other than a physical distinction, here’s a list of the most common variations that cause something other than the xx=female/xy=male extremes. Going by that, even if you restrict the discussion down to the people who have identifiable physical variants, you’re looking at possibly close to 10% of the population. And that doesn’t even touch on gender identity.

  26. carlie says

    Of all the places for a typo… 1%, not 10. Point still standing that it’s a lot of people.

  27. Maureen Brian says

    stevem @ 10,

    That wasn’t rude! Piers Morgan deserved every word of that and more. Why? Because Jennifer Mock was doing her damnedest to help him understand and he wasn’t listening. At one point he seemed to be trying to mansplain her gender identity to her! And he’d clearly done no homework before the interview.

    As for the Olympics, folks, the need to reduce the planet to two and only two sex/gender identities sits awkwardly with their happy and politically convenient recognition that nationality is a bit more complicated than that.

  28. Crip Dyke, Right Reverend Feminist FuckToy of Death & Her Handmaiden says

    @elfsternberg:
    In the spirit of friendly, constructive criticism:

    Try something beyond the dipole model.

    It helps in a number of ways, not least in that it provides the opportunity to explain that differences in the experiences or identities of 2 non-trans* men doesn’t necessarily make either closet to being trans* than the other.

    Your model does have some advantages, and I appreciate them. But we need to be able to talk about the variation among men (or among straights or among whatever [relatively] privileged sex/gender/sexual group) not necessarily making one man more womanly or more trans*.

    Multi-axis space is good for math majors and physicists, but even a flat model that is multi-polar instead of dipolar enables some visualizations that do a lot to undermine assumptions that dipolar models either don’t challenge or reinforce.

  29. Crip Dyke, Right Reverend Feminist FuckToy of Death & Her Handmaiden says

    @Maureen Brian:

    As for the Olympics, folks, the need to reduce the planet to two and only two sex/gender identities sits awkwardly with their happy and politically convenient recognition that nationality is a bit more complicated than that.

    Of course you meant sex and gender are more complicated than that, but given the response of homophobic Russians around challenges to their anti-“gay propaganda” law, I find the slip a quite nice visual.

  30. tim rowledge, Ersatz Haderach says

    Just stretching off to the side of iknklast’s comment – the only sexuality one ought to be worried about is the ‘likes to really hurt other people without consent’ kind.

  31. Maureen Brian says

    Crip Dyke,

    I was trying to do a compare and contrast. I must have failed. But I have sat here and watched as the IOC happily adapted to countries changing name or borders and athletes, especially super-stars, start off as one nationality and appear 4 years later as another.

    As this is your area, is there really evidence of vast numbers of men pretending to be women in order to either win medals or get into the dressing room? The dastardly prospect is brought into conversations – it was above – but nary a fact! The only established case I know is women athletes from East Germnay being given vast amounts of “male” hormones but I’m not sure that counts, somehow.

  32. Athywren says

    @ Nick Gotts, 11

    But it’s just as much a fact that most people can be unambiguously categorised either as female or as male as it is that some cannot.

    Ehhm… if left to others, I would almost certainly be unambiguously categorised as male – I’m 6’3-4″, broad shouldered, bearded. I like building things and tinkering with electronics. People see a man when they look at me, but I don’t consider myself a man. I don’t consider myself a woman either. It’s a bit hard to really express, but agendered, or non-binary seems to fit, but I can be unambiguously categorised by people who do not hear my thoughts or pay much attention to my behaviour.
    I mean, sure, it’s true that there are people who outwardly appear to be unambiguously one gender, and align with that gender psychologically, but it’s definitely worth remembering that the apparently unambiguous can be extremely ambiguous.

    …is extreme ambiguity actually possible? That might be the wrong word…

  33. HappiestSadist, Repellent Little Martyr says

    Athywren: I’m very femme, and was assigned female at birth, but I am definitely nonbinary. High-five for extreme ambiguity!

    Also, it’s Janet Mock, not Jennifer.

  34. Azkyroth Drinked the Grammar Too :) says

    Athywren:

    That’s interesting, and I relate to most of it. The response I’ve mostly heard to these sorts of sentiments is “that’s Cis Privilege, shut up,” though. >.>

  35. Nepenthe says

    @Athywren

    I think we are inhabiting the same space in different humps. I’m unambiguously coded female: I look like a paleolithic fertility fetish with a more definite head. I’ve even been karyotyped. But the best way I can think of to describe my gender is “umm… nope”. I also consider myself female; I just don’t understand what my physiology or morphology has to do with anything non-medical. I don’t think I’ll ever get what other people are talking about when they say “gender”.

    Relatedly, my partner finally used gender-neutral pronouns for me without prompting this morning and there was much happiness.

  36. Crip Dyke, Right Reverend Feminist FuckToy of Death & Her Handmaiden says

    @Maureen Brian:

    Crip Dyke,

    I was trying to do a compare and contrast. I must have failed.

    D’oh!

    Failure all mine.

    As for “catching” “cheaters”, AFAIK [and I've read a significant amount about this, but there's always the risk I'm ignorant of some case somewhere] there has never been anyone found to compete at the Olympics under a dishonest pretension to female sex. Some have expressed fear that something like this might become more likely soon as children begin to have peri-pubertal access to trans* health care, making possible athletic careers in which one never trains or competes on/in a gender exclusive team/club/environment limited to the athlete’s sex assigned at birth (which makes it possible that some trans* person might enroll in a women’s event not dishonestly pretending to be non-trans*, but not proactively revealing it either).

    [TW: link includes some hurtful crap, like "failed gender test", but is sympathetic, if not particularly thoughtful about language]
    There is a section in the this article which jibes with my understanding of the history of international sex testing. Search for

    FOR AS LONG women

    yes, just like that – the grammar error is present in the original. It begins the brief but useful history section.

    Of course, you can read the whole article if you like, but not all of it goes to addressing what is relevant to your question.

    It’s not immediately clear why sex checks were instituted to begin with, nor is it clear why medical knowledge about sources of test error have been so frequently ignored.

    It is clear that some feared that the national pride/propaganda value of Olympic medals during the cold war would motivate national officials – not individual athletes – to pressure 2nd-tier-elite non-trans men to compete dishonestly in women’s events. Though the US and West Germany made a lot of hay about fearing East-Bloc countries doing this, concern was expressed the other direction as well. Was either side honest about their fears? Was there ever a real possibility of this happening? I’m not sure.

    It’s also clear that many people like Santhi Soundarajan have been hurt by these policies without noticeable benefits for women athletes. This does not, of course, mean that the policies weren’t quietly successful at dissuading countries from forcing gender-disguises on athletes or deterring individual athletes from voluntarily attempting to enroll in women’s events after having been assigned male at birth (and without any reason to believe that determination was in error). They may well have served to benefit women athletes to some degree. But they haven’t resulted in bans of actual cheaters, and they have resulted in quite a lot of harm to innocent parties.

  37. Crip Dyke, Right Reverend Feminist FuckToy of Death & Her Handmaiden says

    Relatedly, my partner finally used gender-neutral pronouns for me without prompting this morning and there was much happiness.

    GoGo Nepenthe! GoGo Partner! GoGo happiness!*

    *and GoGo Crip Dyke dissolves into her energy form.

  38. stevem says

    re @37:

    in fewer words: You consider yourself a PERSON, period. To be categorized as MALE or FEMALE is too narrow a label. I too, am somewhat offended by being simply labeled as any particular category: Engineer, Liberal, Male, White, etc., etc. When will everyone accept that “fe/male” are just labels, and don’t describe a whole person?

    re Olympics:
    I hoped my &ltsatire> tag was obvious. ;-( I too, understand their _motive_ for the rule; that ‘cheaters’ did try to enter the women’s events to dominate those events. I was satirizing their simplistic solution that chromosomes (only 2 of the 23; XX vs XY) were all that was necessary to reveal the cheaters. Sometimes (only sometimes) I think the Olympics should be Asexual. whoever runs fastest (male, female, whatever) should win the 100m dash, etc. I know that it is impossible for an asexual olympics to ever exist, and it would still be fraught with issues, but ho hum…not the topic anyway.

  39. Athywren says

    @ Azkyroth, 39

    That’s interesting, and I relate to most of it. The response I’ve mostly heard to these sorts of sentiments is “that’s Cis Privilege, shut up,” though. >.>

    Honestly, I can see where they’re coming from. I don’t identify as male, and I find it profoundly uncomfortable when people expect me to behave “like a man,” especially when they start to aggressively insinuate that I must be gay (as if it would be bad) for failing to do so. There’s a fairly strong rejection of maleness in me, but there’s nothing that says I’m a woman and need to present as such.
    If my consciousness was going to be put into a new body and I had to pick male or female, I’d pick female, but it’s more because I feel less not-female than not-male then because I feel that I am a woman – I see no reason to change outside of that hypothetical situation. So if I count as a trans person, it’s only peripherally. I don’t know if I really count as cis either, but I certainly have the privilege of not being a trans woman… so I’m not going to leap into a trans* community forum and expect them to accept me as “one of us” when I have no (or very little) real experience of what it’s like to be trans gendered.

    So, yeah… I might argue cis privilege, depending on definitions, but I’m pretty certain that I have not-trans privilege, and I’m not going to wade into discussions of life as a trans person with my non-binary pov and expect them to welcome my opinions.

    @ Nepenthe, 40

    Relatedly, my partner finally used gender-neutral pronouns for me without prompting this morning and there was much happiness.

    :3 Squee!

    (And high-fives all around)

  40. anuran says

    And yet we distinguish between hens and roosters, heifers and bullocks and even male and female octopuses all the time. Even in fishes who can switch sex and edge cases like the bird that is hen on one half, rooster on the other, we recognize that there are male and female morphs and that the latter is unusual.

    The distinction is not absolute, but it is no less real for that. I’ve worked on a dairy farm. I can guarantee that the ones with the udders are just about the only ones that produce kids; if you try milking the other sort you will be … disappointed. And while two Zebu cows will get along fine two bulls really will try to kill each other. And better than 99% of the time you predict which is which with minimal training.

  41. Crip Dyke, Right Reverend Feminist FuckToy of Death & Her Handmaiden says

    wow, anuran, did you read the OP? Do you have a point?

  42. anteprepro says

    Anuran, do you ever read what other people actually wrote, or is it just the voices in your head 24/7?

    Ever look at a sandwich made of bacon, lettuce, and cheese!? You are thus refuted.

  43. The Mellow Monkey: Non-Hypothetical says

    Azkyroth @ 39

    That’s interesting, and I relate to most of it. The response I’ve mostly heard to these sorts of sentiments is “that’s Cis Privilege, shut up,” though. >.>

    I don’t know how you identify, but FWIW the stuff you’ve said about gender in the past matches up with how I, as an agendered/non-binary person, feel. The feelings you’ve expressed sound like thoughtful introspection, not just reflexive privilege speaking.

    But there are some cis privilege-soaked shitty things people say that are somewhat similar (“Oh, I think gender is just so unimportant.” “Why are you making such a big deal about gender?” “That’s not dysphoria. Everybody feels that way sometimes!”). And sometimes a non-binary person might say something that edges into that territory, or a binary trans* person might interpret something a non-binary person said as being from that territory. And a cis person who is ambivalent about their own assigned gender role might try to express that ambivalence and get lumped in with the shitty stuff.

    How you feel about your own gender is what’s right for you.

  44. Azkyroth Drinked the Grammar Too :) says

    I can guarantee that the ones with the udders are just about the only ones that produce kids; if you try milking the other sort you will be … disappointed.

    Do not taunt Rule 34.

  45. Esteleth, [an error occurred while processing this directive] says

    Here’s my thinking:

    It is simultaneously possible (easy, necessary even) to hold both of the following statements as true:

    (1) The class known as “women” is disadvantaged, discriminated against, and oppressed by and in relation to the class known as “men.” This state of affairs may be referred to as “patriarchy.” This intersects with other systems of oppression including (but not limited to) racism, classism, homophobia, etc.

    (2) Mammalian (including human) biology is a mite more complex than “there are men and there are women, and they are utterly different.”

    In fact, I’d argue that rigid sex essentialism is part and parcel with patriarchy, as that system requires there to be a series of concrete classes that are set-in-stone. If the sexes and genders are fluid, then the whole edifice comes crashing down.

    I always find it amusing, in a deeply perverse sort of way, the degree to which TERFs marry their firm (and correct) opposition to patriarchy with equally firm sex essentialism.

  46. carlie says

    I can guarantee that the ones with the udders are just about the only ones that produce kids; if you try milking the other sort you will be … disappointed.

    Do not taunt Rule 34.

    Too late.

    Although PETA is apparently saying it’s not actually their ad.

  47. says

    My stereotypical male brain has it all worked out. The graphs are breasts and the significant difference is not the height it is the depth of the valley between.

  48. ChasCPeterson says

    PETA is apparently saying it’s not actually their ad.

    I believe it. It’s a poe. Too stupid and offensively in-yer-face even for them.

  49. ChasCPeterson says

    I’d argue that rigid sex essentialism is part and parcel with patriarchy, as that system requires there to be a series of concrete classes that are set-in-stone. If the sexes and genders are fluid, then the whole edifice comes crashing down.

    A clearer case of the excluded-middle fallacy I’ve never seen.
    Rigid Sex Essentialism vs. sexes and genders are “fluid”; you see those as the possibilities?
    Oversimplification for the fail. Kind of the whole point of the OP, isn’t it?

  50. Goodbye Enemy Janine says

    Have to second Carlie here. That Poe is believable in the light of their history of nonsensical and flat out offensive attempts of spreading their message.

  51. hjhornbeck says

    Myers, you be trollin’?! Because there’s an eerie amount of familiarity in all this, and it goes right down to the diagrams. If so, you succeeded admirably, as that title had my nostrils flared.

    After reading things over, though, I think we’re just fussing over terminology.

    And then you have the fact that people love to claim that the biological criteria are clear-cut, but they use different criteria, and they give different answers! So using the genital tubercle criterion, you can place people into that bimodal distribution, but if you use the Y chromosome criterion, you get distributions that mostly overlap well, but then there are people whose penises put them solidly in the male part of the distribution, but their chromosomes put them in the other part, and vice versa. Where’s your mathematical clarity now?

    I make much the same point; you think chromosomes determine sex? Then are you willing to say that XY females [NOT SAFE FOR WORK!] are men? Gonads? XY females have functional testes, streak gonads, and all sorts of variation. Hormones? Not only do you again wind up calling XY females men, you concede we could switch our sex by altering our hormone levels. Genes? While 80% of XX males are due to a single gene jumping ship, TDF, 20% are not, and we have at least five other culprits, minimum, which may be interacting with one another in complicated ways.

    My lecture’s second thesis is that sex is a social construct, that it’s a classification system or model we’ve used to tame this mess. You seem to take this stance as well (emphasis mine):

    Let’s assume that when we look at the totality of our natures, and we plot an arbitrary index of sexual identity, we do get two clear and undeniable peaks.

    So far, so agreed. But there’s one little thing that made me fire up the comment box (emphasis again mine):

    It is definitely true that sex differences are real and when we average all of our matches to those parameters, most of us tend to clearly fall into one peak or the other.

    Whoa whoa whoa, just what do you mean by “real?” Without the surrounding context, most people would interpret that to mean “the sexes differ in reality,” which puts you in the same camp as binary realists. With the context, it’s obvious you don’t mean that, but that makes “real” a puzzling word choice. How can a construct or model be “real?” Some clarification here would be handy.

    But otherwise, it’s kind of flattering to know that we came to roughly the same conclusion via different means. Well quite flattering, actually, as I’m not a biologist.

  52. Crip Dyke, Right Reverend Feminist FuckToy of Death & Her Handmaiden says

    @theophontes:

    I can honestly say I’ve never seen the intersections of sex and gender more accurately or more precisely calculated than in your #62.

    Good show.

  53. rq says

    I almost understood that graph… It makes more sense than a lot of other graphs out there. I will continue to think about this post.

    And woozy @22, hats off. That’s what I get for reading the comments today instead of yesterday.

  54. says

    Excellent post, PZ. Regarding the Olympics, do check out these 2 links. Katrina Karkazis and Rebecca Jordan-Young look at both the scientific and ethical premises behind the IOC’s position and find them wanting:

    Olympic Sex Verification – You Say You’re a Woman? That Should Be Enough
    http://www.nytimes.com/2012/06/18/sports/olympics/olympic-sex-verification-you-say-youre-a-woman-that-should-be-enough.html

    Taylor & Francis Online :: Out of Bounds? A Critique of the New Policies on Hyperandrogenism in Elite Female Athletes – The American Journal of Bioethics – Volume 12, Issue 7
    http://www.tandfonline.com/doi/abs/10.1080/15265161.2012.680533#.UwcIEIX36Ow

  55. says

    esteleth

    I always find it amusing, in a deeply perverse sort of way, the degree to which TERFs marry their firm (and correct) opposition to patriarchy with equally firm sex essentialism.

    This. I tweeted yesterday that TERFs bravely fight patriarchy by fully accepting its definition of women as fuckholes and baby making facilities. I’m not used to being reduced to my reproductive organs by people who say they’re feminists. I find it more insulting than amusing.

    +++
    Story time: When I started school I was finally allowed to get my ears pierced. I had been fighting over this for ages. Why? Because then people would finally stop misgendering me. Because I had short hair and was a wild child. So I got frequently called “he”, and it hurt.
    Now, that doesn’t even compare to what trans* people are going through, because with cis privilege firmly on my side I could simply correct people and tell them “no, I’m a girl” and they wouldn’t argue (although some would then comment that I should have been a boy, the way I acted, hello misogyny, because apparently I failed at being a girl).
    Here’s the thing I learned back then: misgendering people hurts. Don’t do it!

  56. says

    @ Tony

    theophontes’ graph, which I have to admit I don’t fully grasp

    Perhaps an easier way to describe the problem:

    1. Get PZ, and all his students, to spend the next year collating as many various graphs – such as described in the OP – as he can.
    2. Print them out on A4 sheets.
    3.Stack these all on a shelf in an orderly manner.
    4. Fire a hole through them with your favourite 600_nitro_express/laser beam/high velocity neutron.

    There is no way to fire a bullet through the stack while hitting only the “masculine” portions of the graphs.

    ie: There is no such straight (*snicker*) line.

    @ chigau

    Osculate me, you fool!

    I looked up the quote and found Theda Bara¹ started the phrase.

    .
    ¹ I’ll be in my bunk. ²
    ² For a week.

  57. estraven says

    Has anyone here ever read Middlesex by Jeffrey Eugenides? It was a book that opened my eyes to how non-binary sex can be. Of course I also loved it because it’s set in an area I know well, but it led me to read more about sex and gender and I found it fascinating. I don’t think I was exactly closed-minded before, but it really led me to greater awareness.

  58. anne mariehovgaard says

    The Mellow Monkey: Non-Hypothetical@50

    How you feel about your own gender is what’s right for you.

    What if I don’t? Because I have no idea what gender is, you might as well be trying to define spirituality as far as I’m concerned. To me, the whole concept seems meaningless. I don’t just mean (about) trans* people, various cis women singing about “feeling like a woman” (or a natural woman even!) leave me equally mystified. In fact, I find it embarrassing and awkward, and will usually switch to a different channel like I do if they start singing about Jesus. I have a female body, and there are certain social/cultural consequences, assumptions and so on that follow (some of these match who I am, many don’t; I’m pretty androgynous and often read as male if I don’t wear a skirt/makeup), but I can’t say I feel like a woman. Or a man. Or…anything other than “a person”, really. I get that some people do, but I don’t really get it. If you get what I mean…

  59. ChasCPeterson says

    Really? Because they do say that eggs are chicken menstruation.

    gah!!
    well, I have to agree that that’s both stupidly wrong and offensively in-yer-face!

  60. Athywren says

    @ ChasCPeterson, 57

    I’d argue that rigid sex essentialism is part and parcel with patriarchy, as that system requires there to be a series of concrete classes that are set-in-stone. If the sexes and genders are fluid, then the whole edifice comes crashing down.

    A clearer case of the excluded-middle fallacy I’ve never seen.
    Rigid Sex Essentialism vs. sexes and genders are “fluid”; you see those as the possibilities?
    Oversimplification for the fail. Kind of the whole point of the OP, isn’t it?

    Forgive me if I’m just being dense here, but where’s the middle ground between rigid and fluid in this case?

  61. says

    Sure, eggs are chicken menstruation. Just like honey is bee vomit, pollen is flower jizz and your bread is made from the sieved remains of little crushed plant babies, mixed with the still breathing (and reproducing) yeast, which are then cooked alive so you can eat their charred corpses.

    Anyway, back to the topic at hand.

  62. says

    There’s a useful word I learned that transforms many ideas from being 3rd grade over-simplistic or plain false into reasonable statements.
    It’s “most”.
    To say that “most people have XX/XY chromosomes” is pretty accurate.
    To say that “most people who have a penis are men” is pretty accurate.
    And it also makes no statement about those who are the minority, it does not imply a moral judgement.
    Most people also write with their right hand, but we sure moved beyond forcing left-handed people into our majority habbits (which is btw the example I usually give when discussing heteronormativity: I did not assume my children were right-handed before they picked up crayons, I will not assume they are straight until they tell me so.)

  63. Crip Dyke, Right Reverend Feminist FuckToy of Death & Her Handmaiden says

    @Giliell:

    Stay awesome.

    @anne mariehovgaard

    I get what you mean.

  64. The Mellow Monkey: Non-Hypothetical says

    anne mariehovgaard @ 74

    What if I don’t?

    How you feel about your gender–even if it’s nothing, because WTF gender–is fine. I’m not sure if you’re just trying to express your own relationship to gender here or if you took issue with what I said. If what I said hurt or offended you somehow, I’m genuinely sorry. That certainly wasn’t my intention.

    I’m agender, as my comment said. If I could, I’d happily live in a world sans gender. Using “he” or “she” with people who have not explicitly asked me to use those pronouns always leaves me feeling uncomfortable. Azkyroth has expressed similar bafflement about gender before and I was trying to express sympathy and solidarity. Your experience was in no way meant to be excluded.

  65. says

    @chigau
    From wikipedia:

    Honey bees transform saccharides into honey by a process of regurgitation, a number of times, until it is partially digested

    Definitely vomit.

    However, apparently the extract from a beaver’s scent glands (located near the anus) is used as a food additive. It’s supposed to give the flavor of vanilla. If you see “natural flavoring” on the list of ingredients, you may be eating beaver ass.

    Okay, probably not. Apparently, it’s quite rare. It’s probably easier to just use artificial flavoring.

  66. says

    If men tend to have a natural biological propensity for widget-building (using a phony example so as to avoid sociological and political implications) then, even without societal reinforcement, the field of widgetology will tend to have more men than women…

    The problem is, this doesn’t have to be true. Sure, it might be, in some contexts. Obviously things involving physical strength *may* weight slightly in favor of men, and since a lot of critical early survival requirements may have lent themselves to having the stronger person having a slight edge, pretty much as soon as we started trying to wedge each other into “groups”, those slight advantages where almost certainly amplified beyond all proportion to reality. In other words, the moment someone says, “Zug is a better hunter than Zula.”, and concludes that his might be true of all men, vs. women, it doesn’t matter if that means Zug doesn’t need help dragging the thing back to the cave, while Zula sometimes does, but Zula is actually more successful at the actual hunt, the ability to get it back to the cave becomes the #1 criteria, and, given enough time, women are, “Just bad at hunting.” If there is any differences at all, someone will not just exaggerate them, but probably benefit their side, in some manner, by doing so, to the detriment of the “other”. Run that forward a few hundred thousands years, and you have some idiot with a slide rule, claiming that women are naturally bad at math, because, for thousands of years, his side has been saying so about bloody everything, and women, as well, claiming the men are bad at some things, because they have been saying so for just as long. The reality might be that the differences, if they even exist in all cases, which is damn hard, under such conditions, to even determine, might be a hairs width apart, but you wouldn’t know it, from all the “evidence” available.

  67. jamessweet says

    Kagehi — yeah, that’s exactly what I was saying. The tiniest biological gender difference will, other things being equal, tend to be magnified socially/culturally.

  68. Azkyroth Drinked the Grammar Too :) says

    Forgive me if I’m just being dense here, but where’s the middle ground between rigid and fluid in this case?

    …nah, I won’t. :3

  69. ChasCPeterson says

    limited/constrained fluidity (of gender, not so much sex)
    semirigidity with somevslosh
    etc.

  70. Azkyroth Drinked the Grammar Too :) says

    “Fluidity” is a supercategory which includes “limited/constrained fluidity.”

  71. David Marjanović says

    The Olympic committee doesn’t want to risk cheating.

    Forgive my smile. It’s just such a massively corrupt organization that this comes across as nothing but hypocritical… :-)

    There is not only XX for female and XY for male. There is also XXY (Klinefelter syndrome), X (Turner syndrome), XYY, XXX, and even XXYY. Then there is androgen insensitivity syndrome (XY female) and XX male syndrome.

    All of these are often normal people by most other standards and diagnoses can be definitively decided only through karyotyping. They pertain circa 0,3% of population.

    …meaning about 22 million people worldwide right now.

    Relatedly, my partner finally used gender-neutral pronouns for me without prompting this morning and there was much happiness.

    Yay yay yay! :-)

    Really? Because they do say that eggs are chicken menstruation.

    …Most, if not all supermarket eggs are unfertilized, and menstruation usually involves getting rid of an unfertilized oocyte, so… I guess… if we kindly ignore all that “uterine lining” stuff and all that “blood” stuff…

    However, while it’s possible that some things are too stupid for PETA, I really don’t think anything is “too offensively in-yer-face” for them. Their morality is as absolute as any religion’s; offending the sinners is the whole point, because, after all, the existence of sinners offends them to no end.

    I thought honey was bee poop.

    Nope, it’s the vomit of bees that have eaten nectar and pollen (see above for pollen).

    Except when it’s honeydew honey. That’s the vomit of bees that have eaten the poop of aphids and other sap-sucking insects.

  72. Athywren says

    limited/constrained fluidity (of gender, not so much sex)
    semirigidity with some slosh
    etc.

    So… like milk in a glass, or pitch (such as you might find in a drop experiment)?

  73. Athywren says

    Gender identity on a plate,
    Gender identity on a plate,
    Wibble-wobble,
    Wibble-wobble,
    Gender identity on a plate.

    :3
    Yes I am three.

  74. CobaltSky says

    So maybe gender is a fluid of variable viscosity and sex is more like a gel?

    (I mean there are a lot of gels and fluids involved in sex but I think at this point the English language is getting pretty stretched itself)

  75. anne mariehovgaard says

    The Mellow Monkey: Non-Hypothetical@81:

    I’m not sure if you’re just trying to express your own relationship to gender here or if you took issue with what I said. If what I said hurt or offended you somehow, I’m genuinely sorry. That certainly wasn’t my intention.

    Thank you :) didn’t really think it was. It was a bit of both I guess – trying to explain what something you don’t understand and don’t think you have doesn’t feel like can get a little confusing :) And conversations about gender – both WRT trans* people and the simplistic “men are…”/”women are…” ones often leave me feeling very weird.

  76. gjenganger says

    Hi PZ. Just in from Allys blog. Can I make a brief appearance in hostile territory?

    1) People who are male by one criterion but female by another are a bit of a non-problem. What you do when faced with this kind of situation is to attack it with principal component analysis or some other mathematical toolbox, and come up with the best possible discriminator between the two groups. Which is guaranteed to be better than any individual candidate. No facility for drawings, but consider this example:
    – For the whole population you measure the intelligence and the wealth, both on a scale between 1 and 100. Say you find that both numbers give a continuous distribution – there is no sharp distinction between rich and poor or between smart and stupid. Suppose then that you look at the two numbers together, and find that the difference between them for any single person is always at least 10. You then have a perfect binary division in two groups: those with more money than sense, and those with more sense than money.

    2) Whichever way you do it, you will end up with a sort of two-humped graph on one axis, and you are quite right that there will be some people down in the middle between the humps. So, you say:

    How many? I don’t know. Does it matter?

    If it’s just one person, why would you make it your mission to make them miserable for being true to their own nature, rather than yours?

    Well, one of my colleagues has a very similar problem. He is at the edge of his distribution, where very few people are. More specifically, he is unusually tall. That is a pain in many ways. Whether you are looking for clothes or a bed, a hotel room or an airplane seat, there is less choice, things fit less well, and you may well have to pay extra to get anything decent. Now he is human being, and he has the same rights to comfortable clothes and cheap furniture as anyone else. Why make him miserable for being his own nature? On the other hand, are you really going to enforce that all clothing shops, furniture suppliers and hotels around the globe carry a full range of choices for all heights up to eight feet? And who do think should be paying the cost?

  77. Athywren says

    How many? I don’t know. Does it matter?

    If it’s just one person, why would you make it your mission to make them miserable for being true to their own nature, rather than yours?

    Well, one of my colleagues has a very similar problem. He is at the edge of his distribution, where very few people are. More specifically, he is unusually tall. That is a pain in many ways. Whether you are looking for clothes or a bed, a hotel room or an airplane seat, there is less choice, things fit less well, and you may well have to pay extra to get anything decent. Now he is human being, and he has the same rights to comfortable clothes and cheap furniture as anyone else. Why make him miserable for being his own nature? On the other hand, are you really going to enforce that all clothing shops, furniture suppliers and hotels around the globe carry a full range of choices for all heights up to eight feet? And who do think should be paying the cost?

    You do raise a valid point, but surely you see that this is an apples and oranges comparison? Sure, both are issues relating to the treatment of minority groups, but the solution to one is to simply stop going out of your way to be cruel to a person for an entirely fatuous reason, while the other is to go out of your way to provide for a person. Yes, we do need to clothe people who are larger or smaller than the average clothing store is willing or able to provide for, and yes there’s a cost related to that, but this is something that requires active participation. There is no cost related to not treating someone badly, it takes no time out of your busy schedule, it takes no effort. This is not even not asking much – it’s asking nothing of you.

    Personally, while my ability to feed flood victims around the world, or to build schools in poverty stricken regions may be limited, I’m quite sure that I can muster up the ability to not march in protest of gay people being allowed to live, to not beat a woman to death if I find out that she’s trans gender. The cost is nothing. Who should pay that nothing? Who can afford to lay out that nothing? Will we be forced to mortgage our homes in order to not lift a finger? I think we can all afford the absolutely fuck all that’s required in this case.

  78. bargearse says

    gjenganger@98

    I’m not sure if you’re making a false equivalency or I just don’t get your point. Your mate is tall and that causes problems, I get that. But are you really trying to say it’s the same as what trans* people have to go through? Yes finding clothes that fit and comfortable furniture is a problem for your friend but last time I looked no-one was deliberately going out of their way to make life harder for tall people. Are you suggesting your tall mate suffers the same kind of discrimination that trans* folk deal with?

  79. gjenganger says

    @96,97
    Not sure from your posts what we are discussing here. If the question is whether we should persecute people I totally agree with you. I am opposed on principle to beating and killing people regardless of gender identity. In case you are interested I am also in favor of motherhood and apple pie. But I thought that the discussion would be a little more subtle than that.

    The point of my comparison is that you tend to organize society so that it fits normal people. With the effect that people who are quite far from the norm are to some extent disadvantaged and excluded. For the rest, it is simply not true that it costs nothing to fully accommodate trans people. The costs are non-monetary, is all. The division of humanity in two sexes really fits very well for most cases. and it provides a simple and useful set of roles that people know and generally like. It also lets the majority live in a world that reflects their values and conception of the world, which is something that atheists, Christians, and Muslims, each in their way, seem to find quite important. Making some reasonable accommodation to trans people has a limited, non-zero cost, that it is reasonable to demand. It would still leave trans people as outsiders in need of special consideration, though. Making trans people fully equal would require a change-over to one-gender-for-all, or each-person-his-gender, or let-each-person-decide-on-his-own-role. This would be seriously stressful and upsetting for a majority of the population – which is why they are reluctant to do it, we do not all like to pull the wings off flies. We can and should argue how far the majority needs to change their lives and thought processes to make the minority of trans people feel more at home. But it would be a good start to acknowledge that the costs are real, and that being very different from the norm puts you in a precarious position that you cannot really expect the majority to remediate 100% regardless of cost.

  80. says

    gjenganger #98

    The point of my comparison is that you tend to organize society so that it fits normal straight people.
    [—This conversation, twenty years ago.]

    I’m not having a massive dig at you, I’m just pointing out that “normal” can be redefined, with effort and consciousness-raising, over time.

  81. says

    gjenganger #98

    The point of my comparison is that you tend to organize society so that it fits normal people.

    Except when it turns out that outliers are being totally screwed, and then you have things like the ADA, which required some fairly significant (although not sufficient) reorganizing to fit people who are blind, deaf, in wheelchairs, or otherwise an outlier in terms of some physical capacity. The effort involved in requiring people to not destroy someone’s life because they happen to be trans* is infinitesimal in comparison, as is the effort required to not be a total shit to people because they’re trans*. That’s the only ‘reasonable accomodation’ under discussion here, unless you’re referring to the horrible, onerous idea that medical care payers (be they private insurers, or, preferably, a government body) should be required to actually cover needed medical care for all the people who’s health they’re supposed to be insuring. If that is what you’re referring to, please clarify now, so I can adequately express my contempt and loathing for such a position and those who advocate it.

  82. Athywren says

    @gjenganger, 98

    I’m sorry, I’ll link you to the original article so you can get the context of the issue- http://freethoughtblogs.com/pharyngula/2014/02/20/sex-differences-are-real/

    So anyway, what are these non-zero costs related with not treating people like shit for no reason? Because I can’t think of a single one… I can, however, think of a great many costs related to treating people like shit for no reason – some personal, some social, and some legal. I fail to see how avoiding those costs, even if there is a non-zero cost to treating people with the most basic decency, would lead to anything but a net benefit for everyone involved.

  83. says

    @gjenganger
    Jumping off from Daz’ comment:

    I’m not having a massive dig at you, I’m just pointing out that “normal” can be redefined, with effort and consciousness-raising, over time.

    And that society is overall better for it, in ways that include the straight people. It’s not as if trans people are a different species, living isolated from everyone else. They’re our friends, family members and coworkers. If they’re free from the pressure to conform to a standard that’s alien to them, that makes my life better.

    Also, it’s not as if the “normal” gender identities and roles are without non-monetary costs. The fact that you’ve internalized the values to the point where you don’t even think about all the things you can’t do because of the expectations for your gender, doesn’t mean that you haven’t paid a cost. I contend that the binary gender roles don’t work nearly as well as you think they do.

    As is sometimes pointed out in discussions on sexism, patriarchy doesn’t just hurt women. The damage is more obvious with women, but men get a fair load of shit too, because of how they’re expected to conform. It’s the same with gender identity. You don’t have to be completely at odds with your assigned gender in order to run into problems with a strict either-or gender system.

    Following from that, the costs don’t actually apply to every cis-gendered person. The way you talk about it, it sounds like you think it’s the benefits for the minority vs. the cost for the majority. However, as we can see, the benefits will also apply to a large part of the majority and the costs won’t necessarily be paid by the entire majority.

    Again, this is similar to the question of gay rights. For most straight people, nothing has changed at all. There was no cost associated with it at all. The cost is predominately paid by the most conservative and intolerant people and we have good societal reasons for wanting to push them out of their shell of bigotry. In other words, much of the “cost” is actually a benefit in disguise.

    Furthermore, what little cost remains is a temporary one, while the benefit is permanent. The cost is the same as the ache in your muscles after working out; a discomfort resulting from an unfamiliar way of doing things. You get used to it and the pain goes away, while the benefits stay. Once society adapts to the new circumstances the cost disappears, while trans people forever after will have improved lives.

    The cost is also not causing any real damage. Simply being momentarily confused about what box to put somebody in hardly compares with the fact that trans people are subjected to such societal pressure that they have a measurable increase in suicide rate. I’ve yet to hear of a single person who killed themselves over confusion about somebody else’s gender identity.

    So, to sum up. The costs involved are temporary social discomfort for some people and a few changes to our bureaucracy. The benefits are substantially improved lives for the minority, with consequently improved lives for anyone associated with that minority, resulting finally in an overall more civilized and tolerant society, benefiting literally everyone.

  84. gjenganger says

    @ various.
    I do not agree with you, just like you do not agree with me. None of your arguments are new, and I have nothing to add to what I have already said. Future discussion is unlikely to benefit anybody. Thanks for responding, y’all.

  85. Athywren says

    @ gjenganger, 103

    Woah, hey! Don’t imagine that your refusal to consider other points of view is shared by us!
    You claimed that there are costs related to not being cruel and bigoted toward people who are different from you… so list them. I actually care about reality and will, if shown that there are actual costs to failing to treat people like shit, change my position. Not to support of treating people like shit, obviously, but at least to recognition of, and figuring out ways of dealing with that cost.

  86. says

    if shown that there are actual costs to failing to treat people like shit, change my position.

    Pretty sure that, for all practical purposes, ***all*** of the costs involved come down to, “Other people who think that they have the right to treat people like shit, just like I do, will stop being BFFs with me, or doing business with me, or otherwise patting me on the back!” So, yeah, there are likely actual costs involved, but they are a bit like the cost you get if, say, you accidentally leave a sparkly new badge, with your name on it, on the desk, at your weekly meeting with the local drug cartel. Its probable that they will be unamused by the fact that you suddenly look like someone who doesn’t support their view of who, and how, to exploit people.

  87. says

    gjenganger, #98:

    The point of my comparison is that you tend to organize society so that it fits normal people. With the effect that people who are quite far from the norm are to some extent disadvantaged and excluded.

    Oh. OK. I should inform you, however, that I am the Official Definer of Normal, and have decreed that bigots are abnormal and deserve to be disadvantaged and excluded. You don’t mind, do you? Now fuck off.

  88. nathanaelnerode says

    Thank you thank you thank you thank you PZ.

    This is the exact speech I’ve been giving to people for the last 20 years, but you said it so much more clearly than I ever did.

    Saving link now.

  89. gjenganger says

    @PZ Myers 108.
    Thank you for the attention – I am honored. Clearly this blog is not for me, and vice versa, but a polite request like yours deserves an answer.

    You are quite right, I can end up on the losing side too. You just have to take it with good grace. Gay marriage is an obvious example. I still think that most of the arguments in favor do not hold water, but that is neither here nor there. The majority where I live has decided that there shall be no difference between gay and straight marriage, and that is the only argument that counts. The minorities just have to adapt, and this time that means me.

    But you are not the Official Definer of Normal. I know you would like to be – the intolerance towards dissenting opinions of your and your friends makes that perfectly clear. But you are not there yet, and I shall do what little I can to prevent you from getting there.

    “I am bigoted and I am proud!”

    Gjenganger

  90. says

    gjenganger:

    Gay marriage is an obvious example. I still think that most of the arguments in favor do not hold water, but that is neither here nor there

    Really?
    How much reasoned thought have you given the arguments?
    I was born in the United States. I pay my taxes. I contribute to society. I should have the same rights as anyone else in this country.
    And yet,

    I don’t.
    Nor do countless other people who are not heterosexual.
    Why is marriage only allowable for heterosexuals?
    Life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness are inalienable rights. If, in the course of pursuing my right to happiness, I find a man that I want to marry, what is the justification for denying me that right? From your words, it appears you do not support marriage equality. Fine then. Don’t get married to a member of the same sex. However, your lack of support for the basic rights of your fellow humans is a failing of your character. You don’t seem to think that some humans are deserving of equal rights. Why do you think that I and countless others are undeserving of the status full human being with all the rights that entails?

    BTW, your use of “gay marriage” is telling. I don’t know anyone who’s looking to get “gay married”. Nor do I know anyone looking to get “heterosexually married”. People (some of them anyway) just want to get married. Surely you know that marriage is a:

    …socially or ritually recognized union or legal contract between spouses that establishes rights and obligations between them, between them and their children, and between them and their in-laws.

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Marriage

    You were right about one thing though:

    Clearly this blog is not for me,

    Given what you’ve said, I shudder to think of the stellar contributions you’d make to discussions on abortion, gun control, euthanasia, or other issues that substantially impact the rights of humans.

  91. says

    @gjenganger

    …the intolerance towards dissenting opinions…

    Why do you fuckwits always conflate intolerance and disagreement? The simple fact that people feel free to voice their disagreement doesn’t mean they’re intolerant, not even if they’re using mean words.

    If you can’t handle people disagreeing with you, you might want to stick to the kiddy pool from now on.