I’ve been away for a while — my beloved has been away for over a week (felt like longer), and I had to travel through the arctic wilderness and another icy storm to pick her up at the airport, and then we had to spend a night in a hotel because of said icy storm, and I just got home. It was aggravating because there was an extreme case of someone being wrong on the internet, and I’d left my laptop at home (it was supposed to be just a quick trip to Minneapolis and back!), so I was frustrated in my inability to reply. All I could see was Twitter, and that is not an appropriate place for a a sufficiently lengthy, ragey response.
It was Bryan Fischer. Savor the irony in this.
It's a scientific, biological, genetic fact that DNA is either male or female. To reject that is to reject science. I'll stick with science. https://t.co/C7vC5P5ZsJ
— Bryan Fischer (@BryanJFischer) December 26, 2016
It’s a scientific, biological, genetic fact that DNA is either male or female. To reject that is to reject science. I’ll stick with science.
Yeah, the young earth creationist wants to stick with the science. Look, simple answer first: DNA is not gendered. There is no difference in sequence, structure, or conformation between males and females. Fischer has invented a false fact that only serves the sanctimoniousness of assholes.
You can extract all the DNA you want from men and women, and except for one short segment from the Y chromosome, there’s no consistent difference. Sorry, gender essentialists, not sorry.
But when I pointed this out in all the brevity possible on Twitter, we got a helpful idiot to show up.
— John Howard (@eggandsperm) December 27, 2016
He means a DNA test reveals XY or XX. Also, gamete DNA is erased and imprinted differently by males and females.
Isn’t it sweet when someone says something plainly stupid, and then a fellow traveler rushes forward to tell you what they really meant to say, and then gives you a completely different and also completely wrong statement to help them out? He has added 111 characters that will require far more words to untangle, and all he has done is obfuscated and complicated everything, and gotten it wrong still.
I had to look up Mr @EggAndSperm, although his Twitter handle is about enough to tell you about his weird obsession.
Male and female are reproductive rights. #BanMalePregnancy #EndGayMarriage #NMRA Natural Marriage and Reproduction Act
Oh, boy. Here we go. Someone who is very concerned that people must obey the natural order, as determined by him. He has tapped a pet peeve of mine, the confusion between what is natural and what is unnatural, used as a 2×4 to club people over the head to insist that they follow his derived social rules.
Here’s an extreme example of what I mean. Mr @EggAndSperm might be going about buggering ducks, and I’d rather he didn’t. I’ve almost certainly lost the argument if I go up to Mr @EggAndSperm and declare to him, “Hey, you, stop the duck buggering — it’s unnatural!” Because, of course, it is perfectly natural; if it wasn’t he wouldn’t be able to do it. There is no physical law that says Mr @EggAndSperm can’t bugger ducks. He requires no supernatural assistance to indulge in this behavior.
On the other hand, a good argument would be that he should stop buggering ducks because it’s cruel, it causes the animal pain, and it’s distressing to other people to witness. It does harm, and the duck did not consent. I don’t have to invoke an invisible Lord of the Cosmos who objects and plans to send the duck-buggering Mr @EggAndSperm to hell for it.
But I have to admit that the social more that we don’t sexually abuse ducks is actually not a natural law, and is flexible and more a function of social context than anything else. You have to value the life of an animal and place that somewhere above Mr @EggAndSperm’s sexual gratification, which again is a social construct that is not fixed.
Obviously. Because the same culture that frowns upon duck-buggering thinks it’s just fine to shoot that same duck, chop off its head, rip off its feathers, disembowel it, cook it, and eat its flesh.
So please, don’t ever try to persuade me which behaviors are reasonable and good by invoking “nature”. Nature doesn’t care. Tell me about values and reason. You’re going to have a tough time coming up with a rationale for prohibiting a behavior that does no one, not even ducks, any harm, and is fully consensual.
But this is Mr @EggAndSperm’s whole schtick: he doesn’t like it when other people engage in sexual activities of which he disapproves, because it ain’t natural. He’s got a whole website dedicated to deploring other people’s private habits.
Dedicated to stopping genetic engineering of human beings, and preserving natural conception rights. All people should be created equal, by the union of a woman and a man.
Another peeve of mine is when people misuse science to claim authority. This is Mr @EggAndSperm’s whole attitude: he puts on the mantle of science to wag his righteous finger at gay people and in vitro fertilization, all while babbling about ‘ensoulment’ and ‘natural order’.
But let’s return to his original elaboration/revision of Fischer’s claim.
Male and female are not so simply defined by X and Y chromosomes, and it’s dishonest to pretend that they are. Most people have not had their chromosome complement examined and tested; we go through our whole lives assessing the sex of other individuals through other cues, most of them cultural. We do not inspect people’s genitals to figure out whether they’re men or women (although, apparently, the Republicans would like the option). Gender is revealed in a lot of ways by human beings, and most of them have nothing to do with biology.
The Y chromosome does have a trigger to initiate development of male gonads, and those gonads produce hormones that shift the individual to a particular mode of development, most of the time. There are exceptions. I consider it a mistake to focus on the infrequent exceptions to invalidate the kind of gender essentialism Fischer and Mr @EggAndSperm want to promote — it accepts that gender is fixed as a product of chromosomes. I’d rather point out that gender is a heck of a lot more complicated than that, that these mostly invisible biological cues are largely irrelevant in practice, and that the cognitive/behavioral aspects of sex are typically far more important to individuals.
His abuse of imprinting is somewhat novel to me. It’s also wrong.
Imprinting is a process in which the maternal or paternal parent differentially inactivates or activates genes in their gametes. There are genes in early development which are very sensitive to dosage; having two copies of that gene active is damaging, having no active copies of that gene is even worse, but having exactly one active copy is just right. So one parent shuts off the copy in their gametes, while the other leaves it active.
It’s largely arbitrary which parent does what, as long as the final result is one active and one suppressed copy in the diploid zygote. So what we see is basically a random distribution: some genes are suppressed by mom, some by dad.
It doesn’t matter because — and this is the point that Mr @EggAndSperm sneakily glosses over — you’ve got both a maternal and paternal copy. Both! If you’re going to use imprinting to argue that there is male and female DNA, you’re just going to have to accept the fact that we’re all made up of half chromosomes from a maternal source, and half from a paternal source — we’re half male and half female.
Somehow, I don’t think that’s what Fischer wants to argue.
Also, I have to point out that imprinting has only been found in a small number of genes, on the order of a hundred, and of those, even fewer have been found to have physiological/developmental significance. It’s a feeble straw to grasp at.
So bottom line: Both Fischer and Mr @EggAndSperm are full of shit. They are ideologically driven cranks who are abusing science to make bogus claims about gender.
I’m also tempted to go out and get pregnant as a man just to piss off Mr @EggAndSperm, except that the idea of someone without a uterus carrying a pregnancy to term is only a theoretical possibility, so it’s kind of silly to have a website dedicated to preventing it, and the only men who have become pregnant do have uteruses, which I do not.