@MrPeterLMorris demands that I explain gender and all of biology to him!


Yesterday, I was just trying to gather a fragment of family for Thanksgiving — my kids are all so dispersed that we need to make a long drive to collect the one, my oldest, who is still living somewhere in the state of Minnesota — when someone popped up to portentiously declare to me (and a gaggle of other science twitter people) that Nature magazine has decreed that biology has no foundation in science. Oh, really?

So I gave the article a quick read. It turns out that no, it hadn’t said that at all, but what it did say was that the consensus of biologists was that a cherished opinion he held was wrong, and since Mr Peter Leslie Morris knows more about biology than biologists, Nature had abandoned all reason and was denying True Biology, his version of biology. I gave him a quick reply, and then charged off to St Cloud to scoop up my wee liddle child for Thanksgiving (except he’s all growed up now and taller than I am, but he’ll still always be my baby).

But now I’m back home. The baby is sleeping in on the couch, and someone is wrong on the internet.

Here’s the article he claims is wrong and denies all biology. My indignant interlocutor is a TERF. It’s a sensible article that, as I said, shows a better understanding of the breadth and depth of biology than some random pompous code-bro on Twitter. Surprising, I know.

According to a draft memo leaked to The New York Times, the US Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) proposes to establish a legal definition of whether someone is male or female based solely and immutably on the genitals they are born with. Genetic testing, it says, could be used to resolve any ambiguity about external appearance. The move would make it easier for institutions receiving federal funds, such as universities and health programmes, to discriminate against people on the basis of their gender identity.

The memo claims that processes for deciding the sex on a birth certificate will be “clear, grounded in science, objective and administrable”.

The proposal — on which HHS officials have refused to comment — is a terrible idea that should be killed off. It has no foundation in science and would undo decades of progress on understanding sex — a classification based on internal and external bodily characteristics — and gender, a social construct related to biological differences but also rooted in culture, societal norms and individual behaviour. Worse, it would undermine efforts to reduce discrimination against transgender people and those who do not fall into the binary categories of male or female.

Yes, exactly. External sexual characteristics, like genitalia, or even genetic characters, like the presence or absence of a Y chromosome, are not adequate proxies for gender. You can’t look inside someone’s pants and determine what’s going on inside their brain, which is a disturbing thought to the dedicated devotees of gender essentialism. What the article is saying is that sex and specifically gender is a heck of a lot more complex than a rigid binary, where all the various traits — biological, psychological, and cultural — do not fall into two tightly concordant categories. Which one would hope that here in the 21st century everyone would recognize as obvious. One thing we’ve learned, though, is that even in our enlightened age there are a huge number of benighted twits who want to deny reality.

I had asked the pretentious bro-grammer whether he’d actually read the article for comprehension, because of the plain English in this bit.

Even more scientifically complex is a mismatch between gender and the sex on a person’s birth certificate. Some evidence suggests that transgender identity has genetic or hormonal roots, but its exact biological correlates are unclear. Whatever the cause, organizations such as the American Academy of Pediatrics advise physicians to treat people according to their preferred gender, regardless of appearance or genetics.

The research and medical community now sees sex as more complex than male and female, and gender as a spectrum that includes transgender people and those who identify as neither male nor female. The US administration’s proposal would ignore that expert consensus.

As you can easily see, the article plainly states that gender is a spectrum, and that there is a mismatch in some cases between the physical attributes we record at birth, and the preferred gender of the individual. Having a penis isn’t an absolute cognitive determinant.

So he tells me he did too read the whole article, and now he wants me to tell him what the absolute cognitive determinant is. Repeatedly.

The whole point of the article is that there is no biological evidence that will make classification possible. The Trump plan is unworkable. There is no objective scientific test that definitively determines what thoughts, attitudes, and preferences are percolating inside someone’s cranium, and yet they want to insist that being a penis-haver or Y-chromosome-haver is the conclusive, ultimate determinant that one is culturally and psychologically male.

That last one is a real give-away. There is something physical that must determine one’s gender, and anything else is a delusion. This understanding of reality would imply that your thoughts are all delusions. How would he prove that he was a man, if penises and Y chromosomes were not sufficient reassurance? Maybe his concept of manhood is the real delusion. The Western cultural ideal of masculinity trembles on the brink of collapse into fantasy if he can’t simply prove that he is a real man by pulling down his pants…if manhood is simply a shared belief in how one should behave and think as a man, a fixed star that everyone with a Y chromosome must follow by some precious inner biological compulsion.

Here is the truth: this is a political attempt to ostracize people they don’t like.

Political attempts to pigeonhole people have nothing to do with science and everything to do with stripping away rights and recognition from those whose identity does not correspond with outdated ideas of sex and gender. It is an easy way for the Trump administration to rally its supporters, many of whom oppose equality for people from sexual and gender minorities. It is unsurprising that it appeared just weeks before the midterm elections.

Of course, there is also no known biological correlate to ideology, therefore it must be a delusion. Republicans don’t really exist, unless perhaps they can show some Satan’s mark somewhere on their body. Maybe we should strip search all Republicans before they’re allowed to vote?

Mr Peter L Morris went back and forth with other people throughout the day while I was blissfully cruising down I94. I guess he was feeling the heat, because he decided to call in reinforcements.

MICHAEL LAIDLAW? Really? TERFiness confirmed. When you think Michael Laidlaw, ideological endocrinologist, is a legitimate source, maybe we do have an objective criterion for a certain range of thoughts.

I’d rather not get deeply into Laidlaw’s crackpot biology, but fortunately, Zinnia Jones has already ripped into that gomer. Just read that. I cannot resist this direct quote from Laidlaw, though: just so much bad biology.

If gender identity is determined only by genes, then we would expect that identical twins would profess having the same gender identity nearly 100 percent of the time. This is not the case. In fact, the largest transexual twin study ever conducted included seventy-four pairs of identical twins. They were studied to determine in how many cases both twins would grow up to identify as transgender. In only twenty-one of the seventy-four pairs (28 percent) did both identical twins identify as transgender. This is consistent with the fact that multiple factors play a role in determining gender identity, including psychological and social factors. This study in fact shows that those factors are more important than any potential genetic contribution. Furthermore, no genetic studies have ever identified a transgender gene or genes.

No one believes that gender identity is determined only by genes. I repeat what the Nature article says:

Some evidence suggests that transgender identity has genetic or hormonal roots, but its exact biological correlates are unclear.

Laidlaw has a cartoon version of genetics in his head, where everything is absolutely Mendelian. Genes are responsive to the environment, so he simply ignores an important contributor to gender. It’s genes or nothing! Meanwhile, any competent geneticists would look at the data he cites, even just the summary he makes, and tell you that it suggest that there may be a heritable component to gender.

Or if you just want the short summary, read that Nature article. It’s accurate and good biology, unlike anything you’ll hear from Michael Laidlaw MD, or Peter L Morris, Microsoft .NET developer.

Comments

  1. woozy says

    Is there a “biological evidence that will make classification possible” between mechanical engineers and large animal veterinarians? I want to determine if the difference between caring for farm animals and designing an airplane wing is reality or a delusion.

  2. chris61 says

    Let’s just do away with gender. If we agree that it’s a spectrum then it makes no more sense than classifying people as short or tall or fat and skinny.

  3. says

    Since transgenderism has only recently been considered possibly real, and not just a delusion by society how much research will actually have been done? Very damn little I suspect.

  4. chigau (違う) says

    Peter Morris #3
    Why not give it a shot?
    PZ usually deletes comments that are abusive or grotesquely stupid.

  5. whheydt says

    Re: chigau @ #5….
    That last point is likely to be his problem…and–who knows?–it may be what he is afraid of.

  6. dianne says

    My first two thoughts about this:
    1. Oh, FFS HHS, isn’t kidnapping babies for terrorist purposes enough for you? You need to get into MORE evil?
    2. I read “The baby is sleeping on the couch and someone is wrong on the internet” at first as “The baby is sleeping on the couch and everybody else is wrong on the internet.” It had a certain plausibility.

  7. Siobhan says

    @4 robertbaden

    Since transgenderism has only recently been considered possibly real, and not just a delusion by society how much research will actually have been done? Very damn little I suspect.

    “Only recently been considered possibly real” by whom? Sexism and it’s derivative cissexism are a product of 18th century Euro-colonial models of sex and plenty of pre-colonial cultures proposed different models before they started getting murdered for saying as much. And if you must insist that only Euro-colonial attempts to explain human existence are valid, I’ll point you to the Institut fur Sexualwissenschaft, which coined early terms for trans people as early as 1919 before being targeted for violent censorship by the Nazis in 1933.

    “How much research will have actually been done?”

    …If we exclude the brief intermission courtesy of Nazis, it’s been a dedicated topic of study since Harry Benjamin published his text, The Transsexual Phenomenon, in 1966. Please do not mistake your personal lack of familiarity with the research with a lack of research having been done.

  8. dianne says

    @4: Use of PD-1 inhibiting antibodies to treat cancer has only been considered possibly real for perhaps the past decade. Has very little research been done? Does the short time period indicate that it must be an illusion?

  9. says

    Siobhan,

    Reread my comment. I said by society. Kind of like how society didn’t view my family as equal to whites when I was a kid. Even though we did.

  10. monad says

    How can you not know how to tell the difference between a cis-man and a trans-woman? It’s very simple, you listen to them. Many have gone out of their way to make it easy, doing things like putting “he/him” or “she/her” as part of their self-description.

  11. chris61 says

    @monad

    How can you not know how to tell the difference between a cis-man and a trans-woman?

    Why do you need to tell the difference unless you’re planning on treating cis-men differently from trans-women?

  12. dianne says

    @14: Indeed, I might be planning to treat them differently. If they ask for directions to the toilet, I’d direct a cis-man to the men’s room and a trans-woman to the women’s. If they were planning on joining the swim team, I’d sign a trans-man up for the men’s, a cis-woman up for the women’s. And so on. As long as society has that check box for sex and/or gender and people end up in different categories due to what they check, I’ll probably treat men and women slightly differently.

  13. chris61 says

    @15 dianne
    As I commented earlier, lets just get rid of the gender distinctions. One bathroom, one swim team.

  14. patricklinnen says

    My copy of Developmental Biology by Scott F Gilbert, 5th ed., describes a case where the Y chromosome of a genetically male person was not expressed. Resulting with the external genitalia that of a female person.

  15. captainjack says

    No big surprise at binary thinking from a bro-grammer. I retired from IT a few years ago and found it was pretty common for people in that field to have vastly inflated opinions of their intelligence, and the lower the skill level, the greater the inflation. Generally, .NET folks are a step above web developers who are a step above an infinite number of monkeys with laptops. I figure soon a lot of low level coding is going to be automated through machine learning and a lot of smug programmers are going to be kicked to the curb, and a lot of them are libertarians who don’t believe in a social safety net. I wouldn’t be surprised if the legacy work dried up as well, since machine learning/AI will make replacing old code bases a lot cheaper.
    /rant
    @Peter Leslie Morris, how’s your Haskell?

  16. Sastra says

    Here’s something about gender identity I don’t understand: if there were a society which assigned no specific mental or behavioral traits to male vs. female — the terms “masculine” and “feminine” didn’t mean anything, sex was associated with biology alone — would there still be gender, or anyone identifying as the opposite sex/gender? If so, what would they mean by it?

    (Assuming of course that homosexuality was as acceptable as heterosexuality.)

    Slightly off topic, I guess, though if gender identity is slightly biological that may effect the answer.

  17. Owlmirror says

    There’s a thought experiment I have, but I’m not entirely sure how useful it is. If it’s more problematic than it’s worth, then, well, I hope I’ll learn how.

    Let’s say that you identify as cisgender; your identity matches your genitals. And let’s say that you have an opposite-sex twin who is also cisgender. And you’re both happy and comfortable with your respective gender identities. One of you is a woman and female; the other is a man and is male, and you respectively have the healthy genitals that usually match those terms.

    You both make a long-distance trip together, and your car breaks down in a storm. You both find a nearby house to stay.

    The house is owned by a mad scientist, who decides, for reasons of their own, to drug both of you siblings, extract your brains, and swap them to other’s body. The scientist has the surgical skill to carry this out without complications, and you’re both histocompatible with each other, so there is no immune rejection.

    The mad scientist then disappears or dies, and is unavailable to reverse the procedure. Once you get back to civilization, you ask around, and find that no surgeon on the planet believes that they have the skill to reverse the procedure.

    So now you have a brain and memories of having one set of genitals, but a body with opposite genitals.

    So what do you do?

    Do you just say that genitals determine gender, and you are no longer what you were, and are now, and will forever be the opposite of what you were?
    Or . . .
    Do you say that your gender identity is based on what you were, not what your body happens to be now?

    Or do you say something else that I haven’t thought of?

  18. says

    @Peter Morris said:

    I’d be happy to reply except I am concerned you might delete comments.

    Hrm. That seems to make no sense, considering that Peter Morris had to reply in order for us to read that no reply would be forthcoming. Perhaps Google Translate can help?

    Input: Gobledygook

    I’d be happy to reply except I am concerned you might delete comments.

    Output: English

    I am a coward.

    Ah. So.

  19. says

    @Sastra, #21:

    Here’s something about gender identity I don’t understand: if there were a society which assigned no specific mental or behavioral traits to male vs. female — the terms “masculine” and “feminine” didn’t mean anything, sex was associated with biology alone — would there still be gender, or anyone identifying as the opposite sex/gender? If so, what would they mean by it?

    You’re going to have to better understand gender itself before the question and its various answers make sense to you.

    I could type out a bunch of stuff, but I’ve covered this ground before. Suffice it to say that you’re going to need to distinguish at least the following terms:
    gender
    gender identity
    gender assignment
    gender attribution
    gender role
    gender stereotypes
    gender rules/expectations, mores & punishments
    sex (gametic & anatomical classifications)
    sex (activity, preferably one delightful for all parties)

    Feel free to read me talking about these terms over on Pervert Justice. Once you’ve got a handle on all that, we can talk about the distinctions between body dysmorphia and gender/sex conflicts and the differences between those two phenomenon.

    At that point, I think you’ll have some good insight into the answer you’re wanting for your question.

    Please let me know if I can help further

  20. Sastra says

    @Owlmirror #22:
    I’m not sure whether your hypothetical was a follow up to my hypothetical, or not.

    Assuming it was, and that the body swap took place within a culture in which there were no commonly assumed roles regarding how a woman feels or behaves any different than a man feels or behaves, then I think I’d feel the same as I would had the mad scientist switched my brain with my blue-eyed sister, and I was always the brown-eyed one. I’m the blue-eyed one. I’d only consider myself brown-eyed inside a blue-eyed body if eye color was supposed to indicate personality.

    So, my hypothetical + your hypothetical = your first answer. I guess that’s in part because I can’t think how gender would separate from biological sex. “Feeling like a woman” might mean feeling like you have menstrual cramp, or something. I don’t know. I’m leaving out biological determination of sex roles and behavior, though, and maybe I shouldn’t.

    Otherwise, it’s the second. Because I grew up in a sexist culture and incorporated sex roles, plus any biological basis for masculine/feminine.

  21. raaak says

    I am baffled by the people coming from the world of software -governed essentially by the principles of computer science- having strong claims about biology. James Damore and his “manifesto” was another instance. I think there are lots more (gamer-gate tends to produce more or less similar types).

    What is even weirder is that these people have the confidence to make strong, black & white claims. But when challenged, they almost always refer to their “research” which is -again- almost never comprehensive.

    If I wanted to have a strong opinion on this matter, the first step would be to do a careful survey of the literature (assuming I understand all the principles and underlying science) and becoming familiar with ALL the research done before cherry picking ideas from some person I happen to feel is ideologically close to me.

    There is a big difference between being skeptical about one camp’s position in a scientific controversy and parroting the opposite camp’s position without doing thorough research. Skepticism is supposed to be about being humble and careful about truth.

  22. says

    since Mr Peter Leslie Morris knows more about biology than biologists, Nature had abandoned all reason and was denying True Biology, his version of biology.

    Rubbish. Sure there are rare cases where sex can be indeterminate, but in 99% of people it is clear. If a man wants me to call him by woman’s name I will, if he wants me to use she/her I will, but if they are in the 99% then I won’t say I believe he is a woman just because he believes it to be true. I don’t have to believe anything someone else believes unless they can prove it.

    To say that just because it is indeterminate in some cases means it is a useless method of determining sex is ridiculous.

    My indignant interlocutor is a TERF.

    You could just drop the slurs. I am not a radical feminist. My objection is to opening up the possibility of men falsely claiming to be women for whatever selfish motivation they may have. If a man has gone to the extend of having full sex reassignment surgery then I can’t see why anyone would object to treating that person as a woman, that is not the extent to which I would expect a faker to go.

    You can’t look inside someone’s pants and determine what’s going on inside their brain

    Can you look at their brain and determine it? Given a man and a trans-woman dressed in identical clothing are you able to tell me which is which without asking for their opinion? In fact, if you ask their opinion can you tell if what they believe to be true is actually true or not? Surely you aren’t the kind of person who claims something is true because someone claims it is?

    If I have Cotard Delusion does that mean I am dead just because my brain believes it to be true? Of course not, it’s ludicrous. So what is the science behind a person with a medically unambiguous body being a woman because he believes it will all of his heart?

    what the article is saying is that sex and specifically gender

    Gender is a mistake society made. A way of attributing certain behaviours to certain people based on their sex. Boys climb trees, women cook and sew. We’ve enforced it for thousands of years, and it’s rubbish. People are just people, they should do what makes them happy.

    Sex has a tiny number of outliers that are more difficult to classify. That doesn’t mean that it is impossible to tell in all cases because of what the person believees.

    As you can easily see, the article plainly states that gender is a spectrum

    Yes, because it is an ill-defined (or incorrectly defined) social construct that varies from culture to culture and isn’t even always consistent within cultures. Unless we are using the word gender to mean a person’s biological sex then it is irrelevant to the person’s sex.

    and that there is a mismatch in some cases between the physical attributes we record at birth, and the preferred gender of the individual

    But so what? There are people who identify as a different race, does that make them black? What they prefer has nothing to do with what they are. Sex is biology, gender is society.

    The whole point of the article is that there is no “biological evidence that will make classification possible”

    There is no biological evidence that will make classification 100% accurate in every single case, but in most cases it is perfectly possible. When people fall into the minority or disagree with their classification then we need more accurate ways of assessing. This should not include the question “What do you wish to be?”.

    To dismiss the entire process as useless because it doesn’t work in 100% of cases is simply ridiculous.

    There is no “objective scientific test” that definitively determines what thoughts, attitudes, and preferences are percolating inside someone’s cranium,

    And they are irrelevant in most cases. If I were to start to believe I am a woman that would not mean I am a woman. People who believe they are neither male nor female are not therefore people without a sex, gender fluid people do not float between states of being male and female throughout the day. That are what they are, their bodies remain the same, it’s only their opinions of the facts that change.

    Me: To determine if “trans” is a physical reality or a delusion.
    You: That last one is a real give-away. There is something physical that must determine one’s gender, and anything else is a delusion

    Yes! If something has no evidence in physical reality why on earth would you suggest we believe it to be true?

    This understanding of reality would imply that your thoughts are all delusions

    Classic bait and switch there. Thoughts are the result of physical phemonena. I am not saying that the process of thinking might be a delusion, I am saying that when the belief the brain holds contradicts all of the physical evidence then it is a delusion.

    No matter how strongly the man with Cotard Delusion believes it to be true, he is not dead, his blood has not missing, and his critical organs have not been removed. Thoughts are real, but they do not dictate reality.

    How would he prove that he was a man, if penises and Y chromosomes were not sufficient reassurance?

    I don’t need to prove I am a man, I literally don’t care if I am a man or a woman, I am just me. For all I know I think exactly the same as every woman in the world. Or perhaps all people think the same. It doesn’t matter to me, I have no machismo.

    The Western cultural ideal of masculinity trembles on the brink of collapse into fantasy if he can’t simply prove that he is a real man by pulling down his pants

    Masculinity? Men and women should not be expected to act in ways that conform to sexual stereotypes, and when they don’t conform it does not mean they are the opposite sex.

    if manhood is simply a shared belief in how one should behave and think as a man, a fixed star that everyone with a Y chromosome must follow by some precious inner biological compulsion.

    You are literally making crap up and pretending I believe it. I don’t think there is such a thing as thinking and behaving like a man. I think there is only thinking and behaving like a person.

    No one believes that gender identity is determined only by genes

    And I didn’t make such a claim. My objection to this article is the blanket dismissal of the ability to determine anyone’s sex just because sometimes it isn’t easy. And it uses arguments about social beliefs to back it up. Society’s opinions of reality do not override what reality actually is no matter how much they wish they did. It’s a good job too, imagine how screwed up the world would be if all those contradicting opinions were true.

    So, putting aside what thoughts people have about reality. Is there an objective way in which you can tell the difference between a trans-woman and a man who simply believes he is a trans-woman? In fact, is there even a way to differentiate a trans-woman from a man who pretends to be a trans-woman?

    The problem I have is that, despite how much I hate having to say this, people with penises are more dangerous. Now this is not an argument that trans-women having penises means they are automatically dangerous, no. The problem is that some men exploit opportunities to gain access to vulnerable people.

    They go into teaching to be near children, they become charity workers to get access to vulnerable women. Sexual predators can (and have) posed as trans-women in order to get access to vulnerable women and girls – I am assuming they are not genuine trans-women despite not having an objective way to test. People like Karen White who is in prison for rape are not only allowed access to areas segregated to protect vulnerable people but who was even put into a women’s prison where “she” sexually assulted other prisoners using “her penis”. The quotes are not for emphasis, they are there to highlight the fact they are the words used to describe the offences, and not my own.

    Then there are people like Jonathan Yaniv who claims to be a trans-woman despite not having had any kind of medical treatment at all. He has openly admitted that he started to use women’s changing rooms simply to avoid immigrants, and because he hopes to see breasts and vaginas. He has fantasised about a 10-12 year old girl in a changing room asking him how to fit a tampon inside herself, and talked about going into the cubicle with her to “help her”. He has talked about how he travels by boat to an island on Wednesdays because there are always school trips on that day with lots of little girls in the toilets. Somewhere he has to be regularly because his menstrual cycle will be due to start and he is expect it to be particularly heavy.

    To me these are not the “trans-women” that I am aware of. What they are is impostors. They are male predators who are exploiting a situation in order to gain access to places they would otherwise be turned away from. I have no doubt they do not really believe they are women, but the problem is – how can you tell before hand?

    Most men are not rapists, but we don’t allow men in women’s communal changing rooms for good reason. We certainly shouldn’t be locking women up in a cell with them just because we want to believe they genuinely think they are a woman.

    With the absense of an objective test, what should we do?
    A) Take the risk, and arrest the impostors after they have committed the offence. Take away women’s safe places because we don’t want to risk saying that someone with all the appearances of a man isn’t a woman?
    B) Permanently ban everyone born as the “other” sex from using those facilities, forever.
    C) Permit people to use those facilities if they have either been medically certified to be that sex (in the 1% of difficult cases), or if they have had sexual reassignment surgery. A sex status on one’s driving licence could be used as proof in cases where someone is challenged, there is no need to “look in their pants”.

    Until such an objective test exists I would opt for C. Both options A and B seem unreasonable to me. During the intermediate stages these transitioning people should be permitted access to any unisex facilities typically reserved for people with special needs / breast feeding / etc.

    Dismissing the whole idea of being able to class anyone at all into a sex category just because sometimes it is not so easy isn’t just ridiculous, it is dangerous.

    I hope that if you reply you will drop the “I am so clever and he is so pompous” act, it is incredibly pompous. Either discuss the points or do not.

  23. Sastra says

    Crip Dyke #24 wrote:

    You’re going to have to better understand gender itself before the question and its various answers make sense to you.

    But in my hypothetical society, those concepts and definitions may no longer apply. Let’s say that the difference between the roles, stereotypes, rules, and expectations were virtually nil. Whether one was male or female made no more difference in how one was treated or expected to behave than having one eye color rather than another. Body dysmorphia would be possible, but I’m not sure about gender conflicts. Or gender.

    What do you think? Would it then depend on genetic influences, like women being biologically “softer” or some other psychological type casting?

  24. says

    @raaak:

    Much of software creation is unforgivingly binary. The code works or it doesn’t. You replace a less than sign with a square bracket and things completely breakdown – dogs & cats living together, armageddon.

    That so many code writers are believers in a binary world outside their computers is actually quite understandable. The people that easily accept and can work well within the all-or-nothing, manichaean environment of code writing may very well constitute a population that disproportionately wants to live in a binary world. If they see a problem with X, the answer must be Y. Why investigate? one or the other. All-or-nothing. It is the fundamental logic of too many lives, and we shouldn’t be surprised to find that a disproportionate number engage in programming either as a serious hobby or as a profession.

  25. says

    My indignant interlocutor is a TERF.

    You could just drop the slurs. I am not a radical feminist.

    I’m happy to properly address you as a non-radical feminist and/or a non-feminist, however if you think that being thought a radical feminist is an insult or that “trans exclusive radical feminist” is anything other than a description of a particular population, then there’s a real problem.

  26. says

    Me: To determine if “trans” is a physical reality or a delusion.
    You: That last one is a real give-away. There is something physical that must determine one’s gender, and anything else is a delusion

    Yes! If something has no evidence in physical reality why on earth would you suggest we believe it to be true?

    So is love a delusion? Is, as PZ suggested, political party a delusion? Is calculus a delusion?

    None of those have a physical reality which we can test. Calculus probably has none at all, love may have no common reality shared between people (the particulars of the brain state which is necessary to produce “love” may differ from person to person, and we’ll probably never be able to measure “love” directly), and political party may not have any physical reality at all beyond the same Butlerian performative reality that you clearly disregard with respect to gender.

    Moreover, you seem constantly to confuse sex and gender: by posing questions regarding gender then discussing those questions with respect to sex, your writing becomes incoherent.

    I honestly doubt you could understand the objections to your position given that you believe that Nature has said that gender has no easy process for determination and certainly can’t be determined by karyotyping or genetic testing, which you have then twisted into an assertion that Nature has said that sex has no easy process for determination.

    The two are different things, and depending on how well you’ve written your definitions for sex, male & female, sex may indeed have an easy process for definitive determination. That has nothing to do with the requirements for the determination of gender, however.

  27. Sastra says

    @Crip Dyke #31:
    I thought I was doing that. It’s a hypothetical egalitarian society in which male-ness and female-ness are treated as strictly biological, like eye color. No different roles, treatment, expectations, stereotypes, or masculine vs. feminine. Heterosexuality and homosexuality are equally accepted. Do you think there’d still be gender identity and if so, what would it be based on?

    Maybe the question requires knowing what feminine or masculine personality traits rest on biology.

  28. raaak says

    My objection is to opening up the possibility of men falsely claiming to be women for whatever selfish motivation they may have

    I guess a sexual predator can wear a wig, female clothing, makeup, and go around harassing women, without claiming transgender identity!

    Of all imposters, charlatans, and snake oil salesmen running amok in the society doing incredible damage, you have certainly chosen a very interesting group, and for sure, the method you have chosen to deal with that group is even more interesting!

  29. says

    Exemplar of Peter Morris’ inability to consistently distinguish between sex & gender:

    If I were to start to believe I am a woman that would not mean I am a woman. People who believe they are neither male nor female are not therefore people without a sex, gender fluid people do not float between states of being male and female throughout the day. [They] are what they are, their bodies remain the same, it’s only their opinions of the facts that change.

    LOL. The only people who ever think that “gender fluid” means “fluid anatomy” are the anti-trans* boneheads.

  30. m n says

    @ Mr. Morris

    If “gender is a mistake”, then what need is there to legislate it? If you believe gender should be abolished, then why even have this little tantrum over people objecting to its being specifically enforced along traditional lines? If you legitimately believed that there was no need for gender, what purpose would you or society at large have to know or care about someone else’s sex in a public forum? (For the record, I am specifically discluding “medical” reasoning, as medical professionals adhere to patient confidentiality and are regularly privy to patient information not available to the general public, and thus medicine has no need for public legislation of human categories.)

    For that matter, please note that society continues to carry on attaching importance to people’s perceived and stated genders regardless of you personal disapproval, and that said disapproval does nothing to negate the reality of the shared social understanding of the construct of gender.

    Before you start to whinge about how “social constructs aren’t real” or whatever bullshit, please consider that when you say your name is Peter, I don’t ask for scientific proof that this is so, nor do I complain that “Peter” is actually a name for people who aren’t self-important bloviating assholes, so you can’t possibly qualify as one. Your name is a social construct; it’s in no way “real”, yet I somehow suspect you’d take it amiss if we all decided that you should answer to “Andrea” now.

    Why are you so invested in the idea that there has to be some “scientific” test for categories as arbitrary this? What horse do you have in this race?

  31. says

    @Sastra:

    Gender identity requires that names of specific roles exist – at least in a general sense. There may be many genders and the boundaries may be more or less rigid, but they need to exist.

    So your question is actually quite easily answerable: gender identities would not exist.

    However, that being said the existence of sex identities does not depend on the existence of gender identities.

    Imagine that there is no gender discrimination because there is no gender? Okay. Got that.

    Does that automatically mean that there is no sex discrimination? No. Gender and sex are different. Thus it’s possible that, say, job discrimination could be performed based on your actual gamete production, with the persons making hiring and other personnel decisions making no assumptions about your height’s or hair color’s or clothing’s or mannerisms’ relationship to job fitness: it’s all about specific biological tests and what they show about gamete production or karyotype or whatever physical determinant of sex you want to name as primary.

    So your hypothetical still has room for a great deal of complexity.

    A world without gender would have no gender identity – but that’s only true by definition. Truly understanding what “a world without gender” does and does not imply requires a firm (and common) grasp of a complex set of concepts.

    For instance, would this world that has no gender but has sex discrimination cause anguish for some folks who are limited socially by their sex? Certainly. How would we best talk about that? I think that understanding the complex suite of gender terms allows for the easier understanding of a hypothetical symmetric suite of sex-terms that are not applicable to our world because we are unable to withhold judgements about someone’s sex when we note mannerisms or hair style/length or clothing. It becomes very difficult to see how such sex discrimination could exist without gender because in practice almost all our “sex discrimination” in fact functions as gender discrimination. Nonetheless, in your hypothetical world such hypothetical discrimination could exist, and examining the possibility is necessary to see how things like “sex identity” might be useful (and might be limited in usefulness) in describing that world in relationship to your questions.

    The short answer, however, still remains conflict between gender identity and sex cannot exist in a world without gender, but the short answer is, I think, the uninteresting one and (since we’ve made the world gender free by definition) the one that is least enlightening.

  32. Sastra says

    @Crip Dyke #38

    Thanks.
    I’m not sure that the answer is uninteresting, though, because it might shift the problem from society not accepting gender identity to society having gender in the first place — unnecessary beliefs about how men and women differ in personality. Transgenderism tracks with traditional gender roles and expectations. Eliminate them, eliminate transgenderism, I guess.

    The article PZ quotes mentions “Some evidence suggests that transgender identity has genetic or hormonal roots, but its exact biological correlates are unclear.“ I’m unclear myself, because if so this suggests there could be genetic or hormonal roots for gender roles. Probably needs more studies.

  33. Owlmirror says

    @Crip Dyke, #25:

    For whom are you proposing this thought experiment? From whom do you want answers to your questions?

    The thought experiment @#22 is aimed at Peter Morris and gender essentialists in general (not all gender essentialists are TERFs; some are conservatives who oppose feminism, for religious reasons or otherwise). It’s also meant to encourage thinking about the various concepts for those who aren’t sure if gender is essential or not.

  34. Owlmirror says

    Also @Crip Dyke, #25 re #22:

    I’m not sure if there are certain answers to the questions. Like a dilemma story, it’s supposed to provoke thought. Hopefully, that thought will dispel confident certainty that gender is a binary essence. The questions are thus rhetorical — but if a gender essentialist picks one and argues for it, I’d be interested in seeing the arguments. Maybe the scenario needs tweaking.

  35. says

    Some evidence suggests that transgender identity has genetic or hormonal roots, but its exact biological correlates are unclear.

    To add to this: why do these people always think that genes are the whole story? Is it the programming they do? I mean, by now we have learned a lot about epigenetics, about environmental factors that may trigger something in one twin but not in the other.

    And I’m too tired to dig into that whole transphobic nonsense. Really, I’m a very tired teacher. Learn how to express yourself clearly. If you mean “has a vagina” say that, if you mean “has a penis”, say that.

  36. Deanna says

    Thanks, PZ for engaging with this person and others so I don’t have to.

    After reading his litany of ignorance and arrogance, especially declaring that he has better judgement over who I am than I do, actually getting into a discussion with him would just be opening myself up to misery.

    Especially his assertion that I can only be a woman if I get a vagina, ignoring completely the fact that right now I can’t get it even if I want it because I’m overweight, and many other transwomen can’t get one because they can’t afford it.

    So I get looped in with so called ‘fakers’ and predators.

    Yeah, we choose this because we just looooooooooove to be assaulted, fired without cause, abandoned by our friends and family, and overall treated like garbage by people like him…just to get into women’s bathrooms. Yup. He got us. #sarcasm

  37. dianne says

    a person with a medically unambiguous body

    What do you mean by that? What makes a person’s body “medically unambiguous”?

  38. says

    Also relevant, this article that shows how skeletons also exhibit a continuum of traits.

    In 1972, Kenneth Weiss, now a professor emeritus of anthropology and genetics at Pennsylvania State University, noticed that there were about 12 percent more male skeletons than females reported at archaeological sites. This seemed odd, since the proportion of men to women should have been about half and half. The reason for the bias, Weiss concluded, was an “irresistible temptation in many cases to call doubtful specimens male.” For example, a particularly tall, narrow-hipped woman might be mistakenly cataloged as a man. After Weiss published about this male bias, research practices began to change. In 1993, 21 years later, the aptly named Karen Bone, then a master’s student at the University of Tennessee, Knoxville, examined a more recent dataset and found that the bias had declined: The ratio of male to female skeletons had balanced out. In part that might be because of better, more accurate ways of sexing skeletons. But also, when I went back through the papers Bone cited, I noticed there were more individuals categorized as “indeterminate” after 1972 and basically none prior.
    Allowing skeletons to remain unsexed, or “indeterminate,” reflects an acceptance of the variability and overlap between the sexes. It does not necessarily mean that the skeletons classified this way are, in fact, neither male nor female, but it does mean that there is no clear or easy way to tell the difference. As science and social change in the 1970s and 1980s revealed that sex is complicated, the category of “indeterminate sex” individuals in skeletal research became more common and improved scientific accuracy.

  39. says

    captainjack @ 19: As an IT guy, I’d concur with your observations. In a sense, all non-trivial computer programs are a simulation of reality, or some subset thereof, whether it’s for business or scientific or recreational purposes; and, given that time and computational resources are finite, knowing when to cut your losses in terms of fidelity of the simulation is an important part of being a programmer. But it’s another thing to confuse the map for the territory (a point made very clearly in the book “Data and Reality” by Bill Kent which IMHO should be required reading for all programmers). There are too many people out there (very many of them men, it seems) who are seduced by the simplicity of the simulated reality inside computers– and the control they can exert thereover– compared to the often fuzzy edges of the Real World…

  40. says

    Giliell @ 42

    To add to this: why do these people always think that genes are the whole story? Is it the programming they do?

    I honestly believe so. I think a lot of programmers hear the phrase “genetic code” and think of it as identical to computer code in all respects, right down to if you decanted your DNA into an empty zygote and convinced it to start dividing, you would end up with a clone of yourself {your age} years later, identical in all respects. No consideration of epigenetics, environmental factors, etc. To them, “code” is like their “Theory of Everything”. I mean, maybe it is, if Stephen Wolfram is right in that “New Kind of Science” book he wrote and the Universe really is algorithmic at its foundations but I think most scientists reckon it was just a teensy bit cranky 😁. Maybe I’ll read it when I retire…

  41. vucodlak says

    @ Peter Morris, #28

    My objection is to opening up the possibility of men falsely claiming to be women for whatever selfish motivation they may have.

    When you make statements like the above, you are talking about gender, not sex. All the claims that you aren’t talking about gender later in your post:

    Gender is a mistake society made. A way of attributing certain behaviours to certain people based on their sex.
    […]
    Yes, because it is an ill-defined (or incorrectly defined) social construct that varies from culture to culture and isn’t even always consistent within cultures. Unless we are using the word gender to mean a person’s biological sex then it is irrelevant to the person’s sex.

    …don’t change the fact that you’re arguing about gender, and not sex. You say you’re talking about sex, but you’re not. “Man” and “woman” socially constructed concepts, not biological classifications. Just because biology often plays a role in who is considered a man doesn’t mean that “man” is a wholly or even primarily a biological construct.

    But so what? There are people who identify as a different race, does that make them black? What they prefer has nothing to do with what they are. Sex is biology, gender is society.

    Race; also a social construct with biological elements. What race is a person with light skin who is usually taken on sight to be white in fact a white person, if they were born to and raised by a black parents? If you knew absolutely nothing about their history, then how would you determine their race using only biology?

    Yes! If something has no evidence in physical reality why on earth would you suggest we believe it to be true?

    Since “woman” and “man” are social constructs, their reality relies on thoughts and words, not biology. Democracy is equally without “physical reality,” yet to deny that it exists is ridiculous. That it’s merely a product of word and deed doesn’t make it any less “true.”

    Truth, by the way, is another entirely artificial construct. Yes, there are scientifically-testable facts, but “I am a man” isn’t a statement of scientific fact.

    I have no doubt they do not really believe they are women, but the problem is – how can you tell before hand?

    You can’t, any more than I can tell if the person standing too close behind me in the store is just looking for something on the same shelf, or is preparing to stick a knife in my back. The odds are very strongly in favor of “just looking for something,” but I know all too well that some people in this world mean me harm too.

    There is no way to determine what’s in a person’s mind by some scientific test. You can’t identify a person’s propensity to murder or rape with a blood sample, or a skin test, or whatever. That’s exactly what you’re asking for right in section of your comment, and it DOES NOT EXIST. Even if you can determine a person’s sex, it tells you absolutely nothing about what acts they’re likely to commit.

    Furthermore, even if we ban people with certain DNA or genital or facial configurations from certain restrooms, what exactly do you think that’s going to accomplish? DNA testing isn’t going to tell you whether someone has a penis or not. You demand to see people’s genitals, and you’re already guilty of sexual harassment. Faces? I’m a cis man. If I’ve shaved within a few hours of going out, I occasionally get misgendered.

    Any test you could think of would either be an unconscionable invasion of privacy or relatively easy to beat. Or both.

    Most men are not rapists, but we don’t allow men in women’s communal changing rooms for good reason.

    We don’t allow men in women’s communal changing rooms for a wide variety of reasons, many of which are stupid, and all of which are social constructs.

    A sexual predator unable or unwilling to use their genitals for sexual assault will use an object, if assault is their goal. Penises are not weapons any more than hands are.

    With the absense of an objective test, what should we do?

    In “A” and “B” you once again conflate gender with sex. Stop that.

    You do it in “C,” too,* but I just wanted to point out it’s not hard to fake IDs well enough to fool casual observers. So, unless you’re willing to spend billions on a system of difficult-to-fool card readers and difficult-to-fake cards for every gender-segregated space, it doesn’t even work in theory. In practical terms, it’s a ludicrous idea that wouldn’t still wouldn’t stop a single determined predator. No system is foolproof.

    *And you really should stop that. I’m going to say rude things if you continue in your next comment.

  42. unclefrogy says

    given the prevalent attitude in western civilization and the many cultural biases and sanctions to sex and sexual behavior in general for a different thread as that subject is too much for me and my understanding or ability to communicate there are just too many contradictions.

    just what does this mean?

    but the problem is – how can you tell before hand?

    it was used in conjunction to someone committing a crime. is this advocating people should studied or categorized in some way so we can predict their future criminality? some objective criteria that would be fool proof?
    What degree of certainty would be “enough”? 100%, 99% 75% 51% ???
    who gets to decide? a majority vote?
    uncle frogy

  43. says

    @Sastra, #39:

    I’m not sure that the answer is uninteresting, though,

    fair enough

    it might shift the problem from society not accepting gender identity to society having gender in the first place — unnecessary beliefs about how men and women differ in personality.

    Yes, sort of. But there are deep emotional reasons to be tempted towards gender: do we really want to show off our genitals (or give up a tissue sample)? Can we avoid that by making no assumptions about sex from what we see in clothing, behavior, etc.? Is the human mind capable of making no assumptions? Or, rather, is it possible for a large enough percentage of an entire society to have minds that make no assumptions such that those few remaining who do have no ability to construct norms for the remainder? Hard to say, but I find the proposition doubtful.

    If enough human minds aren’t capable of making no assumptions, then we need to be trained into paying attention to something as more appropriate for our attention (and our assumptions) than other things. We don’t currently make lots of assumptions about people based on whether they have attached or unattached earlobes, for example, but maybe we would if we stopped paying attention to other things that are currently important in our gender schema. It’s a problem very similar to pareidolia: something is going to attract our attention, grass moving, skin color, the arrangement of leaves at the bottom of a cup of tea. We can’t just not think. So if we teach people to pay attention to things other than gender, will people then look for orange and black skin in our tea leaves?

    Blaming it only on society may be too simplistic and make the problem seem more easily solvable than it is.

    I don’t mean that to discourage people, rather I mean it to prepare people so that they don’t get discouraged when change doesn’t come as soon as is hoped.

    Transgenderism tracks with traditional gender roles and expectations. Eliminate them, eliminate transgenderism, I guess.

    I think I know what you’re saying here, and if so it’s something with which I agree. If there are no gender boundaries, than we can’t cross them – if there were no alps, cisalpine Gaul and transalpine Gaul would be the same Roman territory. Just Gaul.

    People are still going to like makeup and hate sequins and enjoy accounting and play sportsball. But without someone telling you which of those you should and shouldn’t like, why would it occur to us to label a particular pattern of preferences “transgender”?

    The article PZ quotes mentions “Some evidence suggests that transgender identity has genetic or hormonal roots, but its exact biological correlates are unclear.“ I’m unclear myself, because if so this suggests there could be genetic or hormonal roots for gender roles. Probably needs more studies.

    No, not necessarily. I mean, okay, it suggests that there could be, but I don’t think that’s a very reasonable or likely interpretation of the evidence. Rather, it more probably suggests that there could be genetic or hormonal roots for patterns of behavior preferences, and that in the context of a society with gender roles there exist people who can best understand themselves/ourselves and best love themselves/ourselves only by rejecting a gender role or gender identity they/we have been assigned and/or embracing one we haven’t been.

  44. anat says

    Peter Morris, #28: Do you realize that basing bathroom (and other segregated spaces) usage on one’s external genitals at the time of one’s birth is making them less safe to women?

    If people choose whichever bathroom they feel more comfortable/less awkward being observed using then a man who seeks to intrude upon the women’s bathroom for nefarious purposes said man needs to make some effort to pretend they belong there. If people use bathrooms based on their appearance at the time of their birth than transgender men are to use the women’s bathroom. Which means a cisgender man could use the women’s bathroom with no effort at all, simply claiming to be a transgender man.

    (And meanwhile you are making transgender women a lot less safe. A Whole Lot!) But you don’t care because they can’t prove to you who they are to your arbitrarily chosen standards.

  45. Snoof says

    I know that most of comment 28 has been dissected, but I’d like to point something else out:

    Sure there are rare cases where sex can be indeterminate, but in 99% of people it is clear.

    Assuming this 99% figure is accurate[1], that means there are about seventy-five million people whose sex is “indeterminate”. If they all lived in the same country, that country would be the 20th largest country on the planet. 1% of the population is roughly the amount who have red hair, a peanut allergy or a PhD. That’s neither rare nor insignificant, and ignoring or treating them as unimportant is denying an important part of human experience.

    [1] I’ve seen the 1% figure quoted elsewhere for people who are intersex, which is not necessarily the same as being transgender, although there is overlap between the groups.

  46. chrislawson says

    I know there is a lot more to sexual and gender variation than intersex, but the existence of intersex individuals completely destroys all the biological essentialist arguments about binary gender. This, in itself, should be the end of the discussion. But no, the essentialists can’t let it go, so they have to use weasel arguments like “standard gender assignment applies to 99% of people” as if that makes intersex individuals immaterial. Which gives the game away. They want people who don’t fit their narrow understanding to be defined out of existence.

    Which is hateful enough, but then Morris here has to imply malicious intent to trans women. Why in god’s decreasingly green earth would anyone with a whit of integrity, empathy, or basic knowledge of history raise as their key objection to recognising transsexuality the “possibility of men falsely claiming to be women for whatever selfish motivation they may have”??? What “selfish” motivation can he be thinking of? The desire to be discriminated against? The desire to be the target of hate crimes? The desire to have feminising hormone therapy and/or reassignment surgery?

    (Also, more than 99.9% of the population has at least one functional CFTR gene, which by Morris’s calculation means cystic fibrosis not a real condition, and certainly should not be acknowledged by health practitioners or policy makers. One can only wonder about the selfish motives of people with the anatomically standard number of lungs who claim to have CF.)

  47. lanir says

    Oh he’s a programmer? This is easy then. Tell him the gender he’s talking about is a long list of variables and he’s trying to use a shortcut approach labeling some of them as determinant when they aren’t. The rest of the world suggests the correct approach is to solicit user input and let the user determine and what he’s suggesting is a bad user interface.

    He’ll still squeal but you’ll have insulted his nonsese in his own lingo and you can safely ignore him after.

  48. chrislawson says

    lanir@57–

    Brilliant! Morris is acting like gender is a Boolean when in reality it’s much more like an array of floating point variables created by a random number generator and then run through a chaotic recursion process that nobody fully understands.

    It all makes sense now. As a programmer, he is terrified of having to account for more than two eternally unchanging gender categories in his datasets.

  49. numerobis says

    Cat Mara@48: you’d have to be a piss-poor programmer to think the code is everything. What about the input to the program? The same code will do different things depending on user input. It’ll also depend on what browser it runs in, what operating system, what CPU. Whatever level of abstraction you’re working at, the environment matters.

  50. Sastra says

    Crip Dyke #53 wrote:

    But there are deep emotional reasons to be tempted towards gender: do we really want to show off our genitals (or give up a tissue sample)?

    Why assign gender characteristics to sex when biological differences are sufficient enough to make reasonable guesses in most cases? If I live in a hypothetical culture with no stereotypes about who wears what or who behaves how and I see someone with a male-looking body, it would be reasonable to assume he’s male even if he’s wearing a frilly dress, makeup, and reading a romance novel — because those things are neither masculine nor feminine.

    And the man would have no problem identifying as a man because, absent the idea that men aren’t supposed to like those things, why would he? Nor would he want to introduce or enforce gender roles — “I’m a woman in a man’s body.” It’s a step backwards.

    There are of course people who don’t physically fit into any obvious biological sex, but it seems to me that in such a relaxed culture it would be no big deal to be confused, or to correct anyone, or to be a hermaphrodite.

  51. Porivil Sorrens says

    -Sees an article about TERFs with ~60 comments and a TERF in the comment section-

    Gonna need the whole bottle for this backread

  52. says

    My personal definition of “social construct” is anything that only exists because we humans say it exists. In my view, the term “social construct” encompasses such things as economic systems, political parties, and languages… and I’m pretty comfortable with tossing “gender” into the “social construct” drawer with languages and yada yada yada.

    It was said earlier, but it bears reinforcing: I’d be interested to know if Peter Morris wants to like to apply his what’s the Objective Scientific Test for it? criteria to any other social construct than just gender.

  53. says

    numberobis @ 61:

    you’d have to be a piss-poor programmer to think the code is everything. What about the input to the program? The same code will do different things depending on user input. It’ll also depend on what browser it runs in, what operating system, what CPU. Whatever level of abstraction you’re working at, the environment matters.

    Pft, spoken like a mundane non-programmer! The code is perfect, your reality is at fault! I have the same reality at my desk and my code runs just fine on it! Maybe if you tried turning your reality off and on again? I can hardly be held responsible for (dismissive sniff) mere hardware issues!

    Joking (kind of)

  54. =8)-DX says

    I was a programmer for 11 years and I can’t agree that programming lends itself to “binary thinking”. Lazy programming does. Just take a simple method returning a boolean (true/false) value:

    public static bool IsMale(Human subject) {..}

    Aha, you may say: “This method can only return 1 or 0, true or false! Everyone can be designated as male or female!” Any programmer knows that’s wrong, because the function can return true or false, but also throw an exception. Someone might then say: ok, so I’ll catch any exceptions inside the method and always return a 1 in those cases. That is lazy programming. Fine, catch the exception, but then your software is going to be making mistakes, like sending people emails with the wrong pronouns/greetings or recommending the wrong healthcare advice. Your software is going to be inaccurate, so if the possible inputs can lead to cases where a meaningful output is outside the scope of the return value, you should change the function classification.

    public static bool? IsMale(Human subject) {..}

    The proper relevant answers to the question are yes, no, don’t know.

  55. =8)-DX says

    @cubist

    My personal definition of “social construct” is anything that only exists because we humans say it exists.

    So things like “chair”. If we didn’t sit on them (and instead sat on the floor), they wouldn’t be chairs, they’d be odd wood/metal sculptures. No actually your definition is a really crappy one. Is money a social construct? I have actual coins and banknotes and can put them in a machine which will give me a wrapped chocolate bar. Real physical objects with real functions, but everyone can agree money as a concept “only exists because we humans say it exists”. In actual fact everything is socially constructed, because language itself is a social construct and so it’s much better to imagine the world as a physical reality with the human conceptual and social map wrapped over and covering everything.

    Every physical referent has a web of socially constructed meaning over it (if humans have seen and described/categorised it), if you snip off the bit off that web it’s just as real and just as inconsequential if draped over a physical object such as “my car” as the snippet of web hanging over the concept of “my ego”.
    =8)-DX

  56. says

    Sastra

    And the man would have no problem identifying as a man because, absent the idea that men aren’t supposed to like those things, why would he?

    You’re not thinking your own argument far enough. Why, if we abandon gender, would we still need to label people as “men” and “women”? What would “man” even mean then? Or are we back to overgeneralising biological determinism. In your example, it would probably be a fair guess to say that this person also has a penis. And what does that mean?
    And now think of small children. It’s plain impossible to say if a three year old has a penis or a vagina if you see them dressed in a plain white outfit and with similar haircuts.

    cubist

    My personal definition of “social construct” is anything that only exists because we humans say it exists.

    That’s nice but also completely wrong. Since language is a social enterprise all meaning is socially constructed. The Pacific Ocean is a social construct. Don’t believe me? Then tell me where exactly it ends and the Atlantic begins and what significant change happens to water molecules that cross this border back and forth.

  57. Sastra says

    Giliell #68 wrote :

    . Why, if we abandon gender, would we still need to label people as “men” and “women”? What would “man” even mean then?

    We’d still label them ‘men’ and ‘women’ for the same reason we still talk about being people being right or left handed even after we abandon the idea that left-handed people are ‘sinister’ and we can predict their personality by which hand they write with, or what zodiac sign they were born under, or what country they’re from, etc. It’s a convenient way to describe a category which might occasionally need describing, once the bullshit baggage is gone. Most males have a penis, testes, male hormones, XY chromosomes, etc.

    The fact that the category isn’t strictly bound and is nuanced with gray areas and exceptions is true about most categories. Some people are ambidextrous. Many times you can’t tell just by looking. Many times it doesn’t matter. Sometimes it does.

    In that hypothetical culture, I very much doubt that there’d be any “gender” reveal parties, and probably little to no fuss over male sex vs female sex vs some of each. Sure, the categories are recognized, but absent the inclination to expect types of behaviors coming out of sex differences (like boy will play football, girl will play dolls) what’s left is probably mostly reproductive interests.

  58. says

    @39 Sastra

    Transgenderism tracks with traditional gender roles and expectations.

    I am a tech industry trans lesbian. I and my various butch and/or lesbian trans friends would like you to know:

    NO IT FUCKING DOESN’T

    and may I add

    YOU ASSHOLE.

  59. petesh says

    @50:

    Race; also a social construct with biological elements.

    Yes, indeed, and it is instructive that you are responding to this, @28:

    There are people who identify as a different race, does that make them black? What they prefer has nothing to do with what they are.

    Does this person by any chance work for ancestry.com or 23andMe or another of those organizations that attempt to sell purely DNA-based definitions of people? Which are based, in many cases, on shocking small samples anyway and thus unjustifiable even on their own terms.

    By the way, I think we have all been assuming that someone calling themselves “Peter” is male. This is not necessarily the case. As a girl’s name, it ranks an admittedly low 19,037, but has gone up 647 points in the charts this year:
    https://www.babycenter.com/baby-names-peter-1473154.htm

  60. says

    We’d still label them ‘men’ and ‘women’ for the same reason we still talk about being people being right or left handed

    Assertion without evidence.
    We talk about left and right handedness in some very limited circumstances, like what scissors to buy. Why then would I need to label an individual “man”, especially if that meant making a lot of guesses about things that may not be true and are of no relevance in all but medical and romantical settings? If “man” just means “penis haver, testes bearer, XY carrier”, why the fuck would I insist on mentioning that when talking about somebody buying a book?
    Sounds creepy to me…

  61. DanDare says

    These discussions always make me think of similar discussions with creationists. People that for one reason or another need strongly bounded categories, men and women, ‘kinds’.
    I’m a software guy and recognize the hard boolean mind set. I’m a proponent of fuzzy logic though (technically ‘indeterminate set theory’). Its for more powerful and underlies most functioning A.I.

  62. DanDare says

    @Santa #62 you are too focussed on the physical bits. Gender also arises from behaviour, I.e. what do people want to do with those bits and with who based on what.
    Even getting rid of social constructs a person with a man’s body is still a vague indicator of that person as a whole, even limiting it to the realm of sexuality. Do they get aroused by people with particular genitals, particular behaviours, scents or are they attracted to any other person holding a strawberry at the time?
    The transphobics seem largely to find negotiating this variance too difficult and frightening.

  63. says

    We’d still label them ‘men’ and ‘women’ for the same reason we still talk about being people being right or left handed … It’s a convenient way to describe a category: … Most males have a penis, testes, male hormones, XY chromosomes, etc.

    You think you have a handle on this stuff, but you don’t.

    You’ve just made a case that we’d continue to label people MALE AND FEMALE not that we would continue to label people MEN AND WOMEN.

    The categories are different. If we are imagining a world without gender, we have to imagine a world without any gender.

    Further, your hypothetical required a world in which we make no assumptions … yet now you’re arguing for the convenience of making assumptions. Note that this is a point already made in my #53:

    there are deep emotional reasons to be tempted towards gender: do we really want to show off our genitals (or give up a tissue sample)? Can we avoid that by making no assumptions about sex from what we see in clothing, behavior, etc.? Is the human mind capable of making no assumptions? Or, rather, is it possible for a large enough percentage of an entire society to have minds that make no assumptions such that those few remaining who do have no ability to construct norms for the remainder? Hard to say, but I find the proposition doubtful.

    Your hypothetical proposes a world without gender. Accepting that, calling people “men” and “women” for purely biological purposes – i.e. to communicate “this person has ovaries” makes no sense at all. Of course, I question whether the world of your hypothetical can ever exist, but that doesn’t render coherent your vacillation between employing gendered terms and insisting your world doesn’t have gender.

    The questions you’re asking are quite deep and nuanced. I think that they can be productive to explore. I don’t think that they’re particularly productive to explore just at the moment because we’re still stuck trying to figure out what this world is because that is a precursor to learning what this world can teach us.

    I really think it would behoove you to get the most clear and consistent handle possible on when you’re discussing gender and when you’re discussing sex so that you don’t import gender into your gender free world through simple confusion or carelessness.

  64. twarren1111 says

    This is why faith based determination of how two things relate leads to such a waste of time and energy. Mr. Morris, all that need be done to determine a person’s objective gender/sex/identification is ask the person. That’s it. Done. They tell you. That’s it. Please move on.

  65. says

    CD

    You’ve just made a case that we’d continue to label people MALE AND FEMALE

    I’d go further than that. I say the best way is to talk exactly about what we want to say. In such a hypothetical world, the easiest and most accurate words would be “has a penis” and “has a vagina” and “has …” for all the things that are neither. Because even right here and now it’s silly to make any further assumptions as to “can produce and gestate eggs” and “can produce sperm that can fertilise eggs” as many people painfully find out once they want to have children.
    Needing such information would be quite rare anyway. Sastra herself brought up “left and right handedness”. Those are descriptions that actually relate to the issue, i.e. “prefers to use this hand”. Now, my kid is left-handed. That’s something to keep in mind when it comes to seating arrangements (I spent a fortune on special scissors she doesn’t use anyway) because seating a left and a right handed person next to each other mean that you should make sure they sit the right way, especially in schools, at dinners, while crafting. It would be quite sinister if people kept referring to her as the left handed kid outside of these situations.
    Sexual orientation is another example. To me, somebody’s sexual orientation is only important in quite a narrow set of circumstances (despite probably being of huge importance to them). In everyday life we quite recognise the discriminatory aspect of continuing to label people gay in unimportant circumstances (“my gay employee” or the stereotypical “male gay friend”).

  66. Sastra says

    Crip Dyke #79 wrote:

    You’ve just made a case that we’d continue to label people MALE AND FEMALE not that we would continue to label people MEN AND WOMEN.

    Ok. So in my hypothetical world we get rid of the terms “men” and “women.” There are no sexist stereotypes or expectations about “masculine” or “feminine” behavior. There’s no stigma against homosexuality. All that baggage is gone. It’s an enlightened culture.

    Therefore, there’s no transgenderism. Nobody ever feels — or could ever feel— as if their mental gender isn’t in sync with their physical sex, because they’re all enlightened. Would that be right?

  67. says

    Therefore, there’s no transgenderism. Nobody ever feels — or could ever feel— as if their mental gender isn’t in sync with their physical sex, because they’re all enlightened. Would that be right?

    Well, sort of. The important part here is “could ever feel”.

    If you define a world to be without gender, then you define that world to be without “mental gender”. It’s like asking in a world without god if god could ever be in conflict with Einsteinian gravity. No. Of course not. There’s no god.

    This is why I said above that the short answer is not an interesting answer. In a world with no such thing as pizza, there are no pizza deliverers in porn. Easy peasy. Thus in a world with no gender, there can be no “transgenderism” because “transgenderism” is about violating expectations of gender (including having a mundane gender that isn’t expected for your biological sex).

    On the other hand, body dysmorphia is possible (as you noted above) and given the persistence of sex in this world, transsexuality is still possible. Not having a clear handle on the etiology, we can’t know if it’s inevitable, but it’s certainly possible.

    But none of this is about “enlightenment” – at least not necessarily. It’s all about defining a world without gender and the logical consequences of that.

    The questions arising from whether or not we can create a world without gender are somewhat different. Given that we have expectations of gender, including expectations that someone with a particular sex will have a particular gender, we would have to “forget” those expectations. We’ve certainly been working on that in a number of societies across the globe. Firefighters in many jurisdictions now have objective tests for how much they can lift in what circumstances, whether or not they can run up some stairs while fully equipped and do so within a set amount of time, etc. If you pass the tests, you get to be a firefighter. If you don’t, you can’t. It’s no longer about gender (or sex).

    So we’re moving in the direction of fewer and fewer gender expectations, but can we ever arrive at a place where we have none at all? And in evaluating that, we have to examine questions such as I posed above: is there a common human motivation that would be difficult to eradicate to preserve gender and its associations with sex so that one can “flag” sex for those times when communicating sex is useful without actually saying, “Why yes, I have an os.” Will the conflict between necessary communication about sexed aspects of one’s body and one’s embarrassment or desire for privacy ever truly end? Whether or not it can end, is it possible to recruit a critical mass of people in a gender eradication project now? Or do we focus on ending the compulsory nature of gender now and leave it to future generations to decide when it might be appropriate to end gender itself?

    I’ve come to the conclusion that the time is now for ending the compulsory nature of gender. I’ve also come to the conclusion that the time is NOT now for ending gender itself. Maybe that day will come in my lifetime, and I hope to be able to recognize it if it arrives while I still live, but I don’t think that day is now. I think the struggle to end compulsivity in gender is already an extremely hard row to hoe. As of now, I think that asking people to make no gender assumptions whatsoever in any situation at all is probably too big an ask to reap any benefits from that work anytime soon.

  68. says

    This notion that because something is a social construction it isn’t actually “real” has snuck into popular thinking from somewhere. This is not the case. Social constructions are just as “real” as physical ones. The key important things about social constructions are these: they’re malleable, and they are wholly contextualised.

    For example: money is a social construction. If you had to describe money and currency to the archetypical visitor from outer space, it would not make sense. We hand over bits of metal, pieces of paper, pieces of plastic and so on, and we receive goods in exchange. We work and we are given representations (either paper or electronic) of these pieces of metal, plastic, paper, and so on. We exchange our bits of metal, paper or plastic for other pieces of metal, paper or plastic when we travel to different places. Oh, and every so often, the pieces of metal, plastic or paper become… just pieces of metal, plastic or paper, which cannot be used for these other functions. None of this makes any objective sense at all.

    But it all starts to make sense when you throw in one key concept: “value”. Money is the physical representation of “value”, which is an entirely social construct. We assign certain values to various items, and thus we know a five cent coin is worth five cents, a dollar is worth a dollar, and that a three dollar bill is worth nothing. When we change context, the money changes. Sometimes currency is devalued (for example, pre-decimal Australian currency) which makes it worth nothing (except to collectors). But all of this “value” is purely a social construction. Money is just the physical token we create to reify it (make it “real”) and make it all a bit more understandable to our monkey brains.

    In the same way: “gender” and “sex” have a similar relationship to each other as “value” and “money”. What’s happening at present, socially, is we’re re-evaluating a lot of the formerly devalued gender identities and figuring out a way of making things work so there are more than two options – a bit like adding paper bank notes, cheques, credit cards and so on into our system of how “money” worked.

Leave a Reply