What do biologists really think of sex and gender?


I was recently berated by someone telling me that they were surprised that a biologist, who does things like determining the sex of a fly, a fish, or a spider, actually agrees with people who see gender as fluid and variable, and not necessarily in alignment with sex. All I can say is…there are an awful lot of people out there with a seriously mangled version of scientific concepts. Worse, they use their misunderstanding of basic terms to argue that they have a scientific foundation for their bad ideas.

Just to help you out, here’s a succinct definition of some fundamental concepts, as written by an ecologist in the PLOS Ecology Community blogs. Your expectation that biologists share the narrow, bigoted views about sex and gender that you have are probably totally wrong — so you might want to hesitate next time you think it’s a good idea to lecture professional biologists on biology.

The words “sex” and “gender” are often used interchangeably in colloquial contexts, but they have different meanings that are relevant to our work in ecology.
Sex” refers to categories based on a combination of biological and physical characteristics, such as body organs, chromosomes, and hormones (WHO 2011, APA 2015). Sex is commonly assigned on the basis of external genitalia at birth and is often assumed to be only male or female, but scientists have identified at least five different groupings of human sex chromosomes, anatomy, and hormone physiology (Fausto-Sterling 1993). Other terms that relate to sex include intersex, freemartin, and hermaphrodite. (Note that hermaphrodite is a term currently used for animals but considered outdated and rude when used to describe humans; the preferred contemporary term for humans is intersex.) (“Sex” can also refer to activity among one or more individuals that may or may not result in sexual arousal and/or genetic recombination. I’m not addressing this meaning of the word in this piece.)
Gender” refers to identities and categories based on social or cultural characteristics (WHO 2011, APA 2015). Gender is both internal (gender identity, which is each person’s innate sense of their own gender), and external (gender expression, which is how each person expresses their gender identity). Woman, man, masculine, and feminine are all terms that can refer to gender. Transgender is a term used to describe a person whose gender identity is different from the sex they were assigned at birth. Gender is primarily a human and social term, and it is not usually relevant for non-human animals or plants.
When we observe biological and physical aspects of our study organisms, those observations tell us about the sex of those individuals, not the gender.
When we interact with other humans, we usually know more about their gender rather than their sex: for example, we often know about their clothing and hairstyles but not very much about their body organs, chromosomes, or hormones. (Furthermore, and this fact may be obvious, but clothing and hairstyles are not necessarily signifiers of any particular gender identity.) Among humans, sex and gender may be related, but they are not equivalent. In other words, female and woman are often thought to be synonymous, but in reality, female refers to different characteristics than woman does.

Also good was this bit:

If you (a) are talking about scientists and (b) interested in categories such as “women” and “men,” it’s more polite to use gender rather than sex categories. Why? In professional contexts, we may think we know what gender our colleagues present themselves as (e.g., women, men), but probably don’t know very much about the biological sex of our colleagues (e.g., chromosomes, body organs, hormones). It’s odd and inappropriate to make assumptions about other people’s bodies, especially in a professional context.

This. When I meet people, I don’t know anything about their sperm count or their chromosome arrangement or even what their genitals look like (you don’t have to show me), so all the sex details are irrelevant to our interactions. Gender matters because we have a huge amount of social capital, some good, some bad, invested in how people present themselves, and also because those gender signifiers are diverse and do a better job of reflecting how people see themselves in society, and how society sees them.

You know, when a population is identified as a discrete binary of two kinds of individuals, male and female, my usual thought is that the next step is to pair up individuals in bottles and do a genetic cross. That’s not how we treat human beings in our communities.

Comments

  1. DonDueed says

    You know, when a population is identified as a discrete binary of two kinds of individuals, male and female, my usual thought is that the next step is to pair up individuals in bottles and do a genetic cross. That’s not how we treat human beings in our communities.

    Maybe not, but it’s been the basis of endless science fiction stories.

  2. flakko says

    Gender is primarily a human and social term, and it is not usually relevant for non-human animals or plants.

    That’s a great sentence, right there. It really says so much in just a few words, and demonstrates how the pridefully ignorant are so wrong when they say sex and gender are identical.

  3. marcoli says

    This is an exceptionally clear and well thought out description of the terminology. I agreed with every bit of it. I don’t see how any reasonable person, open to learning and reassessment of their own views, could argue against any of it.

  4. harryblack says

    Some smarter bigots I have spoken to have pivoted to make their ‘issues’ relate to sex rather than gender, because OF COURSE gender is a social construct and irrelevant.
    They just care about the sex designations of people in situations for reasons.

  5. rq says

    I really, really liked this part:

    If you (a) are talking about scientists and (b) interested in categories such as “women” and “men,” it’s more polite to use gender rather than sex categories. Why? In professional contexts, we may think we know what gender our colleagues present themselves as (e.g., women, men), but probably don’t know very much about the biological sex of our colleagues (e.g., chromosomes, body organs, hormones). It’s odd and inappropriate to make assumptions about other people’s bodies, especially in a professional context.

    And also this sentence:

    Among humans, sex and gender may be related, but they are not equivalent. In other words, female and woman are often thought to be synonymous, but in reality, female refers to different characteristics than woman does.

    I know someone who should read that.

  6. rietpluim says

    I don’t understand how someone who loves nature, supports such unnatural phenomenons!

    (Someone actually said that to me once. No use to reason with such willful ignorance.)

  7. says

    “Sex” refers to categories based on a combination of biological and physical characteristics, such as body organs, chromosomes, and hormones (WHO 2011, APA 2015). Sex is commonly assigned on the basis of external genitalia at birth and is often assumed to be only male or female, but scientists have identified at least five different groupings of human sex chromosomes, anatomy, and hormone physiology (Fausto-Sterling 1993). Other terms that relate to sex include intersex, freemartin, and hermaphrodite. (Note that hermaphrodite is a term currently used for animals but considered outdated and rude when used to describe humans; the preferred contemporary term for humans is intersex.)

    Are you saying that the definition of sex is agreed upon by humans and subject to change according to scientific progress and social conventions? Like, you could say, I mean, that the definition of “sex”, as in “what categories exist” and “what criteria do you have to fulfil to be put into one category or another” and “who gets to put people into these categories”, is I don’t know, constructed by humans, using human language, in a social process?
    That’s cool. If only we had a sensible term for how to call this process…

  8. says

    Nononononoo, you got it all wrong! Sex is binary, because common use of that word sees it as binary, and common use defines a word, therefore the correct view of sex is as binary by definition. Q.E.D. And that argument is not circular! /s

    That there are multiple viable combinations of sex chromosomes (X, XX, XXX, XXXX, XY, XXY, XXXY, XYY) should be taught at highschools, to put the simplistic binary view finaly to rest.

    BTW, transphobes also do not know what binary or bimodal means, they constantly confuse the two terms and think they are the same thing.

  9. Acolyte of Sagan says

    flakko
    23 January 2019 at 10:00 am

    Gender is primarily a human and social term, and it is not usually relevant for non-human animals or plants.

    That’s a great sentence, right there. It really says so much in just a few words, and demonstrates how the pridefully ignorant are so wrong when they say sex and gender are identical.

    So what about those who don’t doubt that sex and gender are different? It’s because they’re different that an individual’s feelings about the socially constructed latter does not change the physiological fact of the former.

    From OP:

    When I meet people, I don’t know anything about their sperm count or their chromosome arrangement or even what their genitals look like (you don’t have to show me), so all the sex details are irrelevant to our interactions.

    All true, but sex details may be very relevant to other people for various reasons. It is relevant (and not transphobic) for heterosexual people who do not want sexual relationships (or casual sexual encounters) with people who have the same genitalia as them, or for homosexuals and lesbians who only want such relationships with people with the same genitalia as they themselves have, for example.

    [..] the next step is to pair up individuals in bottles and do a genetic cross.

    Swap ‘bottles’ for ‘beds’ (or floors, cars, wherever floats your boat) and that’s just normal reproduction. I don’t see what else that is supposed to be saying except that we don’t force humans to mate in labs.

    Other terms that relate to sex include intersex, freemartin, and hermaphrodite.

    Intersex and hermaphrodite are the same thing, as stated by Caitlin McDonough MacKenzie, and together with freemartin are embryonic/foetal developmental abnormalities. They are also purely biological and physiological in nature and as such have nothing to do with gender which, as we already know, is a different thing than sex.

    If you (a) are talking about scientists and (b) interested in categories such as “women” and “men,” it’s more polite to use gender rather than sex categories.

    Yes, of course it’s more polite but politeness doesn’t change physical reality.

  10. Acolyte of Sagan says

    23 January 2019 at 12:13 pm

    Nononononoo, you got it all wrong! Sex is binary, because common use of that word sees it as binary, and common use defines a word, therefore the correct view of sex is as binary by definition. Q.E.D. And that argument is not circular!

    Hmmm.
    Q. How do you define ‘woman’?
    A. A woman is any person who identifies as a woman.
    And that argument is not circular at all.

  11. says

    Charly @ 8:

    That there are multiple viable combinations of sex chromosomes (X, XX, XXX, XXXX, XY, XXY, XXXY, XYY) should be taught at highschools, to put the simplistic binary view finaly to rest.

    The simplistic view is mocked in this comic by the superhero (sic) “Captain 8th Grade Understanding of BBiology 😂. It’s doubly idiotic when TERFs & their fellow travelers stick “XX” & “XY” in their screen names on services like Twitter as if people were karyotyped as a matter of course, when the only circumstances under which you’d know for sure is if you’d exhibited symptoms of some kind of genetic condition & been subsequently tested or you’d paid to be tested privately with some outfit like 23&Me 🙄.

    (The same artist has also produced a comic mocking that witless “I identify as an attack helicopter” meme which, in a just world, would be tattooed on the forehead of every fuckwit to utter it…)

  12. says

    Acolyte of Sagan @ 9:

    Yes, of course it’s more polite but politeness doesn’t change physical reality.

    You really are quite a catastrophically obtuse person, aren’t you?

    “Physical reality”? As if the categories of “man” and “woman” formed the same kind of ontological category as the particles in the Standard Model?! You heard it here first! Men are from Mars fermions, women are bosons! 😂😂😂😂

  13. says

    BTW, do you all think we had to put up with this shite two hundred-odd years ago when the first reports of monotremes started to trickle back to Europe from newly-discovered (sic) Australia and one couldn’t go to one’s favourite coffee house/ salon without having the ear worn off one by some gammon-faced Oviparous-Exclusive Radical Taxonomist bleating on and on about, “I know what a mammal is, by G-d, and it doesn’t lay eggs!!!”? Except, of course, that was only about platypuses and echidnas (cute as they are) and this is about people ☹️

  14. anat says

    To AoS @11:

    Hmmm.
    Q. How do you define ‘woman’?
    A. A woman is any person who identifies as a woman.
    And that argument is not circular at all.

    It says that the category ‘woman’ is a matter of self-definition. You can guess or hypothesize about another person’s gender, but if they tell you otherwise then your guess was wrong. You can’t know for sure what someone’s gender is without asking them.

    I don’t know about others here, but in my teens my peers and I spent a lot of time debating other aspects of our identities – are we primarily this or that, are we even this, what does it mean to be that. Self-definition is a thing.

  15. says

    @9, guy whose claimed spiritual leader would abhor his anti-science behavior here

    Q. How do you define ‘woman’?
    A. A woman is any person who identifies as a woman.
    And that argument is not circular at all.

    In fact it is NOT circular. Though you have chosen to strawman it by not answering the question. “A woman is any person who identifies as a woman.” (where ‘identifies as’ here means ‘declares they are’) is correct, but it is the answer to the question of “How do you identify a ‘woman’?” not the one you claimed.

    The DEFINITION of woman is “someone whose experience of themselves is socially female”, i.e. “someone whose gender identity is woman”. Your reaction will be to scream about how do third parties demonstrate this scientifically, but now you are making a category error. I HOPE you are not bigoted and ignorant enough to assert that gay people don’t exist; the working definition of ‘gay’ is ‘person attracted primarily to people of their own gender’, which you will consider acceptable but not notice that it ALSO contains an experimentally untestable claim: “attracted to” is 100% an internally-experienced subjective phenomenon, exactly like gender identity, exactly like pain, exactly like color vision, exactly like itches, exactly like dreams, exactly like memory…

    A third party’s ability to identify a woman is based entirely on their choice to raise an identifying flag, because the fact of it is an internal experience. If you intend to deny this, you are either making the extraordinary claim that no internal subjectivities exist, or else you are making the extraordinary claim that THIS internal subjectivity is invalid for Reasons as opposed to the others, and in both cases you have some serious evidence-gathering to do in order to be credible instead of just bigoted.

  16. Frederic Bourgault-Christie says

    @9: And it’s also relevant if I don’t want to have a sexual relationship with someone who is infertile that I find out that they are, and it may be relevant if I don’t want to date someone with a predisposition to cancer, and it may be relevant if the person is intersex. Countless aspects of someone’s biology or genetics may be relevant to me, whether they’re biologically male or female and whether or not they’re socially male or female. None of that supports your TERFy nonsense.

    In this sense, a transgender woman and a biological woman who is infertile are essentially the same.

    Similarly, you’re right that we don’t test people’s sexuality the way we do other organisms… which is precisely part of why we take their social construction as it is. Even if we wanted to pretend sex and gender should have anything to do with each other, there’s no universe where you can ethically test for the former, so we default to the latter anyways. Rational people recognize when it’s silly to be so preoccupied with something that is functionally irrelevant in 99% of cases. Irrational people call themselves an “acolyte” of someone who almost certainly would have despised that term and crap on their legacy.

    The moment you concede that intersex folks problematize a biological standard for gender and thus expose that what we really care about is how to treat each other in a social setting, your complaints are done. There are cases where we need biological questions answered.

    So let’s use a hypothetical. Imagine there was a guy (biologically male – again whatever that means, XY chromosomes say) who could become pregnant. I think you and I agree that their partner may want to know that, if only for safe sex. Would you say that he’s a woman? Despite being raised as a man, dressing like a man, having a penis, etc.? I don’t think you would. I certainly wouldn’t. It wouldn’t make any sense. It wouldn’t just be disrespectful to him, it’d be bizarre and disconcerting. (How the transphobic idiots in the Shapiro school maintain the sheer spite to keep calling someone who presents as an attractive woman and is post-op “he”, even when their eyes are telling them otherwise, I will never know). Which should tell you that how we think about men and women isn’t about biology whatsoever. And so the relevant aspects of biology we can just… answer separately. It’s not that hard.

  17. says

    How the transphobic idiots in the Shapiro school maintain the sheer spite to keep calling someone who presents as an attractive woman and is post-op “he”, even when their eyes are telling them otherwise, I will never know

    You forget how these people think. Hurting someone is the POINT, when they have decided someone is a ‘failed man’ type thing. They don’t use those pronouns for ‘accuracy’ or in a natural way, they do it for the cruelty.

  18. says

    abbeycadabra @ 18:

    You forget how these people think. Hurting someone is the POINT…

    Very much so. There is a bit in, IIRC, one of ContraPoints’s videos where she plays a clip of the obnoxious Ben Shapiro discussing trans actor Laverne Cox in which he consistently refers to her as “she” and then has to go back to “correct” himself to deliberately misgender her. Shapiro and his ilk claim to be stating “facts”: viz., that trans women aren’t women; that this is obvious to “unbiased” observers (like him, of course 🙄); and that “facts don’t care about your feelings”, so therefore it is not being offensive to state them. But the evidence says otherwise: trans women are obviously women, even to the biased, so they have to consciously work at being offensive. Why would Ben Shapiro be constantly having to “correct” his pronoun use otherwise?

  19. aziraphale says

    For as long as I can remember, a women’s clinic meant a clinic to treat medical conditions that humans of the female sex suffer from. No-one, until the last few years, thought this was exclusionary because some people of the female sex identify as men. Now apparently we have to rename all such institutions. Who decided this?

  20. says

    @20

    The people who finally started listening, as opposed to the Victorian-style colonialists who insist there’s no such thing and object, as you do, to people living authentic lives they don’t like.

  21. says

    Accolyte of Transphobia

    So what about those who don’t doubt that sex and gender are different?

    Well, as a “Butlerian” (you have read the relevant philosophical literature on this, right? RIGHT?) I do actually think that sex and gender are the same deep down. But for most ordinary discussions, it makes sense to keep the two apart.
    Basically it’s the difference between a creationist sayng “we didn’t come from monkeys” and an evolutionary biologist saying that.

    All true, but sex details may be very relevant to other people for various reasons. It is relevant (and not transphobic) for heterosexual people who do not want sexual relationships (or casual sexual encounters) with people who have the same genitalia as them, or for homosexuals and lesbians who only want such relationships with people with the same genitalia as they themselves have, for example.

    Your obsession is showing.
    Yeah, if you’re interested in sexy fun times the physical configuration may be important, but how often does that happen. I mean, I know I don’t go through life thinking about humping all people presenting male… So, this question is of no importance in 99.9% of daily interactions. And maybe, you know, there would be less hurt and anger if people stopped assuming that a certain presentation equals certain genitals as that is, quite frankly, the enforcement of rigid gender norms.

    Swap ‘bottles’ for ‘beds’ (or floors, cars, wherever floats your boat) and that’s just normal reproduction. I don’t see what else that is supposed to be saying except that we don’t force humans to mate in labs.

    You’re quite obsessed with cis hetero fucking.

    Yes, of course it’s more polite but politeness doesn’t change physical reality.

    What’s it with your unhealthy obsession with people’s genitals? I am completely not interested in the genitals of 99.9% of the people that I daily meet. The other one’s my husband in whose genitals I do take interest with great pleasure as it is appropriate.

    azipharale

    For as long as I can remember, a women’s clinic meant a clinic to treat medical conditions that humans of the female sex suffer from.

    Funny thing, when I was pregnant with my second kid, I had to visit the gynaecology ward of the university hospital regularly. OB/gyn wards in university hospitals are time consuming because of the nature of the business, so I spent many hours in the waiting lobby. At least twice did I meet cis men there who had appointments. So basically even without trans men coming into the picture, you’re talking shit. Oh, and don’t worry your precious little head off about how we name our healthcare institutions. Really, why do you dudes never actually listen to the women who tell you to just stfu?

  22. Porivil Sorrens says

    @20
    Society changes, deal with it.

    When my parents were growing up, it was blatantly obvious that businesses were primarily made to serve white people, and discriminating against black customers was expected. No one thought this was exclusionary just because black people got worse amenities and service than white people. Now apparently we have to let black people into our schools and restaurants? Who decided this?!

  23. says

    Acolyte of Sagan @ 9:

    All true, but sex details may be very relevant to other people for various reasons. It is relevant (and not transphobic) for heterosexual people who do not want sexual relationships (or casual sexual encounters) with people who have the same genitalia as them, or for homosexuals and lesbians who only want such relationships with people with the same genitalia as they themselves have, for example.

    There is an old and extremely misogynistic “joke” that I recall from my teenage edgelord days:
    Q: What is the definition of a woman?
    A: A life-support-system for a (slur for the female genitals elided)

    I’m surprised you don’t use this particular definition of “woman” as it would align well with the reductive worldview expressed in the quote above. I wonder if your actual or potential partners out there in the real world know that this is how you view them? Mature, adult humans tend to consider the entire package when selecting a partner rather than concentrating on what is between our legs to the exclusion of all else.

    While it’s true that we have only limited control over what we find physically attractive, we have a responsibility to deal with potential partners in an open, honest, respectful way. If I, as a straight, white cis man, were to create a Tinder profile with “no fat chicks”, “no black chicks” or, indeed, “no trans chicks” prominently displayed on it, I would expect to get some level of pushback on it– and deservedly so. Yet it seems the whole argument from my TERF lesbian counterparts is they want to be able to do the same thing and get a bloody medal for doing so. Well, you’re not getting one off me. Because you’re fucking horrible people. And you’ve gotten into bed with even more horrible people to extend the reach of your horribleness.

  24. cartomancer says

    I’m intrigued by this “not usually relevant for non-human animals or plants” bit. What are the unusual exceptions? Is there ever a valid context for discussing gender in non-human animals or plants? Are we talking things like gendered social roles in primate groups here?

  25. says

    @cartomancer:

    Yeah, that bit was badly worded. It really should have stated:

    Gender is primarily a human and social term, and it is not usually relevant for non-human animals and is never relevant for plants.

    Gender requires culture to exist. We have only recently come round to recognizing that non-human culture can exist. The extent to which it exists and the number of species exhibiting culture is extremely difficult to know right now as the lack of languages shared with non-human animals makes study of non-human culture difficult in the extreme.

    So we shouldn’t try to specify exactly which or how many species exhibit culture and thus have the potential to exhibit gender.

    BUT we can rule out plants.

  26. John Morales says

    cartomancer, spurred by your comment, I clickety-clicked and found this recent paper, which is a bit obscure to me because it’s beyond my level of expertise, but which I gather basically says “depends on how one defines the terms”.

    There is a section (“7.2. Social insects: Not gender, but behavioural groups or castes“) which was an interesting converse perspective; could one apply this concept of biological castes to humans? A: It similarly depends.

    (Digression, I know)

  27. Azkyroth, B*Cos[F(u)]==Y says

    could one apply this concept of biological castes to humans?

    Arguably the TERFs are trying to.

  28. anbheal says

    @27 Crip Dyke — “we can rule out plants”. Why? They seem particularly fluid, even in their choices of clothes and hairstyles. They will definitely change sex based on environmental pressures. And of course hermaphroditism is common. Primroses almost have gender roles. And fungi, well, the sky’s the limit — just don’t fertilize yourself.

  29. Rob Grigjanis says

    Cat Mara @25: Ah yes, I remember that joke. I even laughed at it the first time I heard it. But I always found this one funnier:

    Q: What is the useless bit of skin at the end of a penis called?
    A: A man.

  30. says

    @Acolyte of Sagan #11

    Q. How do you define ‘woman’?
    A. A woman is any person who identifies as a woman.
    And that argument is not circular at all.

    Apart from that this is not how that argument usualy goes, as stated by abbeycadabra in #16, it is still not circular even in this form.

    The circular argument in previous thread goes like:
    common usage defines a word (so far so good)-> the correct usage of a word is in its definition (uh?, no!)-> common usage of a word is correct (D’oh!).

    (Although the person posted it scattered through multiple post in such a way that it is hard to spot.)

    The argument is circular because it closes in on itself without allowing for external element or input. There is an external element in the “common usage defines a word”, but that is made moot because the independence of the common usage from the argument is closed off when the common usage is made into immutable by definition.

    But that is not how it works in reality. Common usage does indeed define a word, but common usage is dependent on external reality – both biological and social. It is fluid over time and it is not identical across languages and cultures. It is not immutable and it does not prescribe how a word should be used, it only describes how it currently is used.

    For example there are cultures, right now, that do not view gender as binary and that have more than two words for gender. You cannot say that because Anglophone culture only has two genders that there are only two genders, that way you are trying to shoehorn reality into language. The same goes for every other word and concept.

    In your example the external element is still left completely independent from the argument – the person. You can ask further questions and investigate who, why and under which conditions identifies as a woman and why and thus refine the definition by replacing the “who identifies as a woman” by what you have found out. You can thus even connect it to the biological sex, for example like in this simplification:
    Q. How do you define ‘woman’?
    A. A woman is any person who identifies internally with biologicaly female sex, irrespective of the sex assigned at birth.

    I never watched or read anything by Sagan except snippets here and there so I know very little about him, but I am sure he would not applauding anyone who claims to have the final knowledge on any issue.

  31. methuseus says

    @abbeycadabra #9:

    In fact it is NOT circular. Though you have chosen to strawman it by not answering the question. “A woman is any person who identifies as a woman.” (where ‘identifies as’ here means ‘declares they are’) is correct, but it is the answer to the question of “How do you identify a ‘woman’?” not the one you claimed.

    Even if you do accept the flawed question, anything about identity is circular, by requirement. Think of it like this:
    How do you define John?
    John is anyone who identifies by the name John.
    Since things like “man” or “woman” or “John” are, by definition, related to identity, the definitions are at least somewhat circular. Otherwise our handles on websites like this would be completely meaningless. And the name Acolyte of Sagan doubly, triply, and further so.

  32. Holms says

    #0
    Sex is commonly assigned on the basis of external genitalia at birth…

    Yep, same faulty premise I picked on elsewhere. Hopefully this article has more meat elsewhere, maybe a good definition of gender that is not self-referential?

    “Gender” refers to identities and categories based on social or cultural characteristics (WHO 2011, APA 2015). Gender is both internal (gender identity, which is each person’s innate sense of their own gender), and external (gender expression, which is how each person expresses their gender identity).

    Good thing this source came up with a clear definition! Wow, I’m so convinced.

    So, gender is… gender identity, and gender expression.
    Hmm, the concept is still unexplained except in relation to itself; let’s see what the additional detail provides:
    Gender identity is “each person’s innate sense of their own gender” and gender expression is “how each person expresses their gender identity.”
    I see that gender expression is explained in terms of gender identity; let’s have a look at it again, but with the term ‘gender identity’ replaced with its definition:
    gender expression is how each person expresses their [innate sense of their own gender].
    So gender is explained as two sub-categories, with one of them being in terms of the other one, and neither of them explaining the parent concept except in terms of itself.

    And this was meant to be compelling?

  33. John Morales says

    Um, Holms, here: https://www.apa.org/pi/lgbt/resources/sexuality-definitions.pdf

    Gender (n):
    the condition of being male, female, or neuter. In a human context, the distinction between gender and SEX reflects the usage of these terms: Sex usually refers to the biological aspects of maleness or femaleness, whereas gender implies the psychological, behavioral, social, and cultural aspects of being male or female (i.e., masculinity or femininity.)

  34. rietpluim says

    Ah, now the discussion shifts from the definitions of “man” and “woman” to the definitions of “sex” and “gender”.
    Really, really, insightful. After all, you can only have a sensible discussion without 100% watertight definitions, dontchano?

  35. says

    x-posted with the “deep disappointment” thread.

    I appreciate what y’all are doing in contesting Holms’ pigheadedness, but Holms is correct that most of the definitions presented don’t actually answer some specific problems that Holms has with those definitions.

    This isn’t to say Holms is right. Holms is far from right, but as an actual expert in this topic it’s driving me batty checking in and finding both of these threads still going without actually shutting down the bullshit. The extended opportunity for bullshit is itself doing harm, and while y’all are lovely people and have a great deal of knowledge at your fingertips, it’s imperfect knowledge.

    To answer the question, “What is gender?” in a full and satisfying way requires book-length argument and documentation. The best and briefest introductory text for communicating this fundamental knowledge is, as I have said many times before, a book written when I was a mere kid but one that is still an amazingly useful work today: Gender: An Ethnomethodological Approach, by Suzanne Kessler & Wendy McKenna.

    If you read that work, you’d learn that it’s probably easiest and most useful to start establishing something called a gender role. These existence of these roles is easy to demonstrate.

    A Gender, then, is a set of people with a common gender role.

    Gender Expectations or Gender Morés are exactly what you would expect: the set of expectations, rules, and stereotypes that adhere to a particular gender.

    Gender Punishments are not originally singled out in the Kessler/McKenna schema, but I and other make these distinct from Gender Expectations or Morés for important reasons.

    Gender Identity then becomes definable as how one thinks about oneself in relationship to these gender roles.
    Gender Expression then becomes definable as the set of actions and tendencies which either:
    1) are chosen or emphasized for the purpose of aligning with or resisting against the social expectations of one’s gender role, or
    2) are chosen or emphasized for no particular purpose, but which have significant impact on how others see a person choosing or emphasizing these things in relationship to that person’s gender role.

    Gender Assignment is an initial category-forcing that has some level of official status within a society where one is made a member of a particular gender. In Kessler & McKenna’s schema this can only happen once.

    However, in the K/McK schema there also exists Gender Reassignment. This is a re-categorizing with respect to gender that has official status approximately equivalent to that of Gender Assignment. GA & GR are kept separate for the convenience of being able to easily refer to the important yet different processes associated with each concept. Gender Reassignment is not necessarily rare. The anthropological literature contains arguments that rites-of-adulthood may also serve to place a person into a category where gendered expectations are different in ways distinct from how adult & child expectations are different. So while Gender Assignment exists only once in the K/McK model, this is not meant to imply permanence.

    Finally, we have
    Gender Attributions. These are the decisions individuals make about the gender to which other people are likely to belong. These do not have official status. Someone hearing the deep voice of an unknown telephone caller may assume that the unknown conversation partner is a man. This may or may not be correct. The point is not whether these decisions are correct. The point is that they are made many millions if not many billions of times daily and that, once made, they influence social behavior through Gender Morés which not only govern individual behavior but also interactive behaviors. Interactive behaviors, further, are governed under different rules given not only the gender of on party in the interaction, but more than one and frequently on the genders of all parties to an interaction.

    While the original stereotypes, rules, and expectations of our gender roles might have been influenced by how sexes were associated with specific genders, in this schema the empirical reality of gender roles provides a solid foundation for understanding the many and complex phenomena that are all frequently included in the shorthand gender.

    In turn, this model provides everything we need to productively describe, study, and discuss gender and its various aspects.

    The APA, while helpful in describing what an individual’s gender might be and what the APA might mean in its own materials when the organization uses that word nonetheless fails to start from first principles in the way that Holms demands. This is because, like most definitions, the APA definitions are purposeful. The definitions being constructed for a particular purpose, and discussing the empirical foundations for the anthropological and sociological study of gender not being part of the APA’s purpose, definitions like these can never overcome the hyper-skeptical, trollish questioning of someone like Holms.

    Holms is the perfect analog of a creationist who notes that their 8th grade biology teacher’s definition of natural selection is worded in a way that might make it seem like it’s the only method by which species change over time, then after forcing the teacher to concede that genetic drift exists moves right on to abiogenesis and insists that if the 8th grade teacher can’t – in five minutes – fully explain the exact process by which inorganic chemical evolution produced living cells, then the teacher should admit that evolution, natural selection, and all of biological science are bullshit.

    It’s maddening to me to see this discussion take place. Yes, Holms’ bullshit needs to be contested, not least because just as conceding to religious assertions of supremacy carries with it terrible social consequences, Holms’ hyper skepticism about gender is used (by others if not by Holms’ self) to justify terrible social consequences. This hyper-skepticism which denies the phenomenon of gender and exalts the categories of sex as great truths which must be denied for any discussion of gender to begin has been used repeatedly to deny and (to attempt) to undermine feminism and the body of knowledge that feminists have accumulated – often at great cost. As a woman I resent that and feel great vulnerability and anxiety. This denying/exalting hyper skepticism has also been used repeatedly to deny and to undermine trans liberation efforts and the body of knowledge that trans advocates have accumulated. As a trans person I resent that and feel great vulnerability and anxiety.

    Do feel free to do whatever you like – engage further with Holms, give up on Holms, mock Holms – but I couldn’t productively engage without getting a headache, yet allowing Holms’ 8th grade-level denialism to stand without a more complete refutation was driving me a little nuts. For me, this is it. I ain’t coming back to this thread. The costs are simply to high.

  36. says

    I’m thankful for your educational posts, CD, but basically I’m done with doing “sex and gender prep class so you can start sex and gender 101” for people who are arguing in bad faith.

  37. says

    Crip Dyke, you’ve been doing remarkable work, arguing with a wall of text. I haven’t even been reading the posts you’re responding to for a while. They contain nothing new, and they’ve gotten long enough I can’t read them all in one screen (using a 24″ monitor in vertical format).

    I have to wonder about the motivation of people who plummet into a group to tell the inhabitants that they’re all wrong. Wait: no, I don’t. What a relief! I think I’ll just do something enjoyable now, instead of devoting another minute to thinking about Drop Bores.

  38. Porivil Sorrens says

    And here I was thinking we’d get one gender-based thread without the B&W poster shitting up the place. Stay on your TERF containment site, pls.

  39. says

    @Giliell:

    I’m thankful for your educational posts, CD, but basically I’m done with doing “sex and gender prep class so you can start sex and gender 101” for people who are arguing in bad faith.

    Yes, absolutely. I completely relate.

    I wouldn’t bother except for the statistical inevitability of lurkers who somehow think that Holms or similar commenters have some kind of valid point.

  40. rajid says

    Contrary to the claims at the beginning of this article, I actually didn’t read anything her which I didn’t already know, except one thing. The mention of, “five different groupings of human sex chromosomes, anatomy, and hormone physiology”, was interesting. It would have been good to at least mention what those are instead of a simple, ‘we’ll mention here something interesting which we think you probably don’t know, but we’re not going to tell you anything about it.’

  41. says

    @rajid:

    The “five different groupings” listed by Anne Fausto-Sterling are from a famously misinterpreted article of hers that was decidedly tongue in cheek. The point of the article was not to establish 5 groups as the definitive number of groupings established by science, the point of the article was that the 2-group schema that has been commonly used both before and since the Fausto-Sterling article is the way it is NOT because of scientific inevitability but because of choices that we make in prioritizing a binary outcome.

    I could list the groupings from memory and describe to you a number of conversations I’ve had with Dr. Fausto-Sterling at different conferences, but that wouldn’t be the point at all. The point is that there’s no scientific reason why the 5-grouping schema is less valid than the 2-grouping schema (or the 3-grouping schema which sometimes is used).

    Going on at length, then, about the nature of the 5 categories in the Fausto-Sterling article would actually be in direct contradiction of her research and her argument.

    So don’t feel slighted by not knowing the 5 categories. Emphasizing the 5 categories is wrong. Instead learn the lesson that emphasizing a 2-category model is also wrong to the extent that it makes it more likely for people to miss the complexities that actually exist.

  42. =8)-DX says

    Much thanks to CD for the informative posts. I’m never sure whether or not we actually a precise definition of gender, but reading different comprehensive explanations is very useful, especially well-researched and expressed ones like yours.
    Thanks! =8)-DX

  43. Acolyte of Sagan says

    Giliell

    Accolyte of Transphobia

    Name calling? Really? Grow up. And there’s only one ‘c’ in ‘Acolyte’.

    Really, why do you dudes never actually listen to the women who tell you to just stfu?

    Double standards much? Why do you not listen to those women who refuse to be sub-categorised as ‘cis’, preferring to dismiss their concerns with more childish name-calling? Anybody not 100% in lockstep with trans ideology is labelled either phobic or TERF, because once the label is applied you no longer have to consider their views. And why is that? Oh, I know. Because they’re wrong for reasons so shut up, etc.

    Your obsession is showing.
    Yeah, if you’re interested in sexy fun times the physical configuration may be important, but how often does that happen[?].

    No obsession, I was providing a counter-point to PZs “all the sex details are irrelevant to our interactions” with an example in which sex details are relevant, that’s all.

    Swap ‘bottles’ for ‘beds’ (or floors, cars, wherever floats your boat) and that’s just normal reproduction. I don’t see what else that is supposed to be saying except that we don’t force humans to mate in labs.

    You’re quite obsessed with cis hetero fucking.

    Again, that was in response to PZs obtuse and irrelevant point about making genetic human crosses in labs.

    At least twice did I meet cis men there [Ob/Gyn] who had appointments.

    Because sometimes men require ultra-sound investigation, which usually is done in Obs/Gyn as that’s where the machines tend to be found. What was your point?

    Frederic Bourgault-Christie #17

    (How the transphobic idiots in the Shapiro school maintain the sheer spite to keep calling someone who presents as an attractive woman and is post-op “he”, even when their eyes are telling them otherwise, I will never know).

    But a male-bodied person declaring themselves female despite the biological and physiological evidence to the contrary is….ok? And just what ‘attractive’ has to do with anything is anyone’s guess.

    Charly, #33

    I never watched or read anything by Sagan except snippets here and there so I know very little about him, but I am sure he would not applauding anyone who claims to have the final knowledge on any issue.

    This just highlights the arrogance on display here whenever anybody has a counter-opinion. You know little about something but know for sure, and accuse others of thinking they have the final knowledge whilst trotting out the ‘official’, not to be argued with ‘truth’.

    I’m done here. It’s impossible to discuss anything with a group of self-proclaimed experts who employ every logical fallacy in the book and then some. You lot carry on with your mind-body dualistic view of gender whilst denying you have a dualistic approach.
    Really, for a commentariat that once dismissed people with a scornful ‘feelz ain’t realz’ you sure put a lot of faith in peoples ‘feelz’ about their gender.

  44. says

    @Acolyte of Sagan #51

    You know little about something but know for sure, and accuse others of thinking they have the final knowledge whilst trotting out the ‘official’, not to be argued with ‘truth’.

    Says the guy defending status quo. I just facepalmed so hard I nearly knocked myself out at this example of projection. Existence of trans people was scientifically acknowledged, accepted and gener dysphoria was researched for about a hunderd years by now. You would benefit from reading up on that history and research.

    …every logical fallacy in the book and then some…

    Says the guy failing to point out an example of a fallacy and an analysis of said fallacy.

    There are plenty of reasons and arguments being presented to you in this topic. You did not engage a single one with counterpoint and evidence. And you evidently did not understand a single one either.

    I’m done here.

    Good riddance. Or did you seriously expect anyone to try to hold you here?

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