Transition Reactions p15: Just being descriptive

By now, what I learned in genetics is rusty enough that new genetics papers are starting to get unreadable, but I can remember distinctly what it was like to read the scientists that had been mapping and describing the human genome. Contrary to the claims of the many antagonists to trans rights, there was–and still us, upon blowing off the dust to review–very little objectionable about the way they described human sex determination, and it is quite compatible for trans feminism. The key difference was that these geneticists weren’t flying off the rails to draw grand conclusions–they knew they were still trying to find all the puzzle pieces, never mind ready to assemble the picture.

I suppose if I were to be karyotyped and have my genome mapped, I would still have no qualms with the geneticist performing this making statements like “you have a y chromosome, therefore you only have one copy of certain genes ordinarily housed on the X chromosome.” That’s a statement that is testable, something that can be affirmatively proven. The problem is that so few people outside of developmental biologists and human geneticists can actually keep their conclusions conservative and in line with the evidence. I have never once had the statement “you have a y chromosome” ever actually end in a neutral statement, despite the claim from trans-antagonists that they are simply trying “to be descriptive.”

If being called male were only ever a prelude to testable statements involving genetics, I would be considerably more indifferent to the designation. But it’s not. Specifically in the context of trans rights, my theoretical* y chromosome is rolled up into a paper bludgeon and continuously smacked against my head during arguments that suggest anything from a propensity to rape to invented sexual motives for transitioning.

One of the inevitably predictable “gotchas” lobbed at me is a strawman of this argument. They’ll say something like “but you could get someone pregnant” in order to support the idea that some predictions can be justifiably drawn as to the nature of my actual sex. But I have never objected to empirically supported observations like capacity to impregnate or that the gametes I used to produce were smaller than ova. That’s all fine. What they sail past is that my reason for bristling at the whole “you’re still male” conversation is that it is never about the well supported observations on the likely natures of any given human, it’s about hitching a long-ass baggage train to those concepts.

Instead what I get is, you have a y chromosome, therefore:

  • You’re a man
  • Men produce testosterone
  • Testosterone makes a person violent
  • You’re violent

If this never ending baggage train ceased to be predictably hitched onto the term “male,” I’m sure I wouldn’t read such assertions as the snarl of a trans-antagonist revving their engine in preparation to run me over. If it were simply, “you’re male, so you probably produce gametes smaller than ova” or “you’re male, so you only have one copy of [gene housed on X chromosome],” I’d have nothing to write about.

But then, you know, TERFs are getting paid handsome sums to compare me to rapists, so. Bristles. Probably here to stay.



*I’ve never actually been karyotyped, so I don’t know for certain I even have one. It is quite likely I do, as I was assigned male, but I try to use the word “know” for things that have been repeatedly tested.



  1. anat says

    The fact that you were assigned male at birth makes it very likely you have a short genomic segment that typically resides in placental mammals on the Y chromosome, but can do the job of participating in the gene network that causes the embryo to make testosterone (almost) regardless of where it is located. Because biology is messy.

  2. cubist says

    Anat is absolutely right. You probably know the Harvard Law of Biology already, Shiv, but it’s worth quoting again:

    Under the most rigorously controlled conditions of pressure, temperature, volume, humidity, and other variables the organism will do as it damn well pleases.

  3. Katie Anderson says

    I often respond to the chromosome argument by asking if they’ve ever gotten their chromosomes screened and linking to XX male syndrome on Wikipedia. And point out that the biology of sex and gender is just like history, physics or Spanish – way more complicated and nuanced than the basic overview you were given in high school. Of course, it doesn’t make a difference because they don’t actually care about the science, they just like using to excuse their bigotry.