Today, I picked on the bad science of TERFs some more


They’re a cult, I tell you.

By the way, I’m still struggling with audio. I decided to just try a straightforward camera mic, since I’ve been having those annoying cancellation issues with my fancy condenser mic. I don’t like the results much. When the quality is low enough that even I can tell, it’s not doing the job. Next time I’ll experiment with a lavalier mic and see how that turns out.

The problem was compounded by the roaring loud windstorm that was howling outside all day. Someday I’ll understand audio.

Also, I’m kind of hating my hair. How can I be a YouTube star with clown hair?

Comments

  1. wzrd1 says

    Audio… Best left to the transmitting and receiving organisms brain. ;)
    I’ve found that the more options, the greater chance of fouling things up worse, save if one takes a course in audio proce@ing. :/

    As for hair, I solved that annoyance via a buzz cut. Nothing less than that cut or stapling my coowlick to my scalp worked and the staples gave me a headache.

  2. aronymous says

    Having my own clown hair, only grayer, let me suggest some water. Business in front, wet party in the back that doesn’t stick out. Even when it dries it kind of keeps its shape until my afternoon nap.

  3. says

    Does the camera have an audio input? I’m super lazy and I usually like to record the audio in sync with the video and let the camera’s fancy mojo algorithms do their thing.

    What I need is a de-grumpy filter that makes me not sound always pissed off.

  4. PaulBC says

    When I let my hair grow out, I have the full bozo wings going. It worked better when my hair was still red.

  5. says

    The camera has audio input. I would also prefer to let it do the syncing, which is why I’ve been experimenting with connecting better mics to it. I’ve also done the thing where I simultaneously record the video on cam and the audio on my laptop with audacity, and then recombine them. It’s a pain.

  6. wzrd1 says

    I am curious, what is the proper mode to document a non-cis patient with sex hormone or, well, plumbing issues?
    As an example, some identifying as male, retaining ovaries and complains of
    issues consistent with PCOS?
    Medically relevant data has to be charted, while properly respecting the patient.

    Thankfully, you didn’t go into outliers like XXY, XYY, ad nauseum.
    As for the TERMS, they’d be 100% right, were we not possessing a central nervous system.

    As for audio quality, I have significant tinnitus, with 45 db midrange hearing loss and heard you well via high end cellphone speakers, as well as my expensive Samsung and Bose earned units.
    The Bose being OK, but don’t stay in my ears well at all. The Samsung have n3ar hearing aid amplification and exce)ent sound quality.
    If anyone is interested in the Bose units, let me know. Otherwise, they’re going into the junk drawer.
    All, for the low, low price of two earbuds for the price of one and one is free. I strongly recommend any interested that have used in the canal model buds only seek these if they use the larger sized inserts.
    Hopefully, PZ can facilitate this a bit by sharing with a desiring party with my e-mail address.
    And I’m being as serious as COVID-19?

  7. dianne says

    Wzrd @7: I don’t know that there is a standard way to do this yet, but I’d probably put it something like “X y/o transgender M who has not undergone (technical name for bottom surgery which I don’t know) presents with c/o irregular menses, severe cramping, and fatigue. He probably wouldn’t complain about the hair growth since that’s a desired outcome. I’d send him to a gynecologist who is sensitive to the problems of men with ovaries, discuss whether he is interested in bottom surgery, apologize for drug labels that talk about the risk of pregnancy in “females”, and discuss why it is important to consider the counseling provided on pregnancy avoidance even though as a man he’s going to find it pretty awkward reading. I’ve been arguing for years now that we need better drug labeling. A man who can get pregnant needs to know that he absolutely must not do so if he’s taking lenalidomide or retinoid-A. Refusing to label it as a risk for people who can get pregnant adds unnecessary risk. Admittedly, while it’s easy enough to revise “women who can become pregnant” to “people who can become pregnant”, the terminology for people who have sperm and no vasectomy and therefore can cause a pregnancy is more awkward.

  8. specialffrog says

    @wzrd1: this is something actively being worked on within medical it standards bodies. The general approach is to put gender identity as the primary field with more detail elsewhere in the patient record — and only visible to medical personnel who need to know it.

    I think it is still very much a work in progress, though

  9. dusk says

    Are there really that many people/TERFs claiming everyone is either male or female? Who doesn’t know that intersex people exist? Also how is any of this applicable to trans people who are born one sex but identify as the other? They believe they were born the wrong sex and so they transition to a the other one (or a different ‘gender’), so what does the biological definition of sex have to do with it if they’re acknowledging they were born as the wrong one?

    I’ve read through the other threads, and I watched this video this evening, while enjoying a whisky or two, and, while you state sex is a material reality, I still don’t think a biological definition of male or female has been given? What is the end game here? Simply that biology is too complicated to define male and female? That seems a strange stance to take for biologists. Stating that the definition of a male or a female is anyone who says they’re one, is not a scientific or biological definition. In biological terms the widely understood dictionary definition of sex is something along the lines of “either of the two main categories (male and female) into which humans and most other living things are divided on the basis of their reproductive functions.”. Is it fair to say that while sex is not binary but is a bimodal distribution, and that for the vast majority of humans using say gametes/how they make babies is an accurate definition (even if they have a medical condition that affects fertility or something)? Why is that controversial? Why go from having a widely understood definition, accurate in 99% of the time, to having a ‘blurry’ definition that is essentially useless?

    Also, regarding the ‘immutable’ claim – how can you state it is changeable if you can’t give a definition? I thought transitioning, or taking drugs/hormones etc and having surgery changes their gender not their sex? You state someone can change sex via hormones and surgery – is that not then defining sex as hormones and resulting body shape? Do you not differentiate between sex and gender now? You talked about conflating genetics with identity, but it seems like that you’re doing similar by conflating sex and gender. If a trans man has a heart attack the Dr is going to want to know the original/born sex because males and females suffer heart attacks differently, for example.

    I really can’t see what you’re trying to achieve here. Yes there are many ways you can split people up into categories, but everyone understands sex to mean male or female and whether they produce (or would without medical condition) sperm or eggs respectively (based on sex cells/gametes that form as embryo develops), with the exception of a very small number of intersex people. You mentioned chromosomes and how there are rare exceptions where people have different configurations and sex than the XX=female, XY=male, are their similar examples with gametes that would negate what i’ve written? Like someone who wouldnt be classified as intersex that produces sperm but is biologically female or vice versa with eggs?

  10. dianne says

    dusk@11: IIRC, intersexism occurs in about 1 in 1000 births. That’s not really all that rare. For example, that would mean about 300K in the US. So, yeah, even leaving out the brain and the possibility of an identity that doesn’t match the traditional definition of male and female developing, there are a lot of variants in sexual development.

    The issue of medical care for transgender patients is complicated. We don’t yet really know whether transwomen will have heart attacks with a classic male or female presentation. Do we need to know? Probably, but in the interim, just get an EKG on any 60 year old who comes into the ER with symptoms that could be cardiac in origin. EKGs are simple, cheap, and noninvasive. Where’s the downside of checking?

    The definition of sex is sort of like the definition of art: Everyone thinks that they know what it is, but if you actually sit down and try to define it rigorously, it just evaporates into the mist. What makes someone male or female? Chromosomes? There are many exceptions: besides the obvious XYY, Turner syndrome, etc, there are also chimeras. What sex is a chimera with both XX and XY cells in their body? The Y chromosome is also a little and easily lost. Karyotyping of rapidly dividing cells often finds it missing. This is normal, not pathological–and does not indicate that the person has changed sex.

    Are there similar examples for gametes? Absolutely. Not every person even makes gametes to start with. There are also people with one gonad of each type who can make both. People with androgen insensitivity have testes, but they sit in the abdomen where ovaries usually go and don’t make gametes because that kind of heat is notoriously bad for sperm. And ciswomen lose the ability to make gametes in their 40s-60s. So no distinction to be made there.

    In medicine, it is generally considered that the brain “wins” any conflicts. For example, if someone says that their back hurts and you can find nothing wrong with their back, their back still hurts. The brain wins. An amputee who describes itching in their amputated limb is considered to be accurately describing the sensation (which can, indeed, be traced to misfiring of the nerve that is meant to serve the area that is itching.) There is a consensus that self-report is the most accurate way to determine race. The default is–or should be–to believe the patient. Why should sex and gender be different?

  11. Allison says

    As an example, some identifying as male, retaining ovaries and complains of
    issues consistent with PCOS?

    The question is: what is the purpose of specifying the “sex” in that document, or that part of the document?

    If it’s in the name/address/phone number area, the only reason is to let people know how to address the patient — pronouns, gendered (or ungendered) nouns, etc. E.g., what the receptionist needs to know. In this case, “male.”

    If it’s because it’s relevant to the treatment (which should be in the HIPPA-protected part of the record), then a simple “male” or “female” probably isn’t enough, anyway. So simply list whatever might be relevant to diagnosis or treatment, e.g., “trans male, has functional (or non-functional — e.g., post-menopausal) ovaries”, etc.

  12. birgerjohansson says

    It seems to me TERFs are intellectually lazy, they do not want to admit that complicated things are complicated, nor bother with the homework needed.
    Vilifying The Other becomes the default when faced with something that makes them uneasy.
    And if society allows them to get away with it, why bother with changing an attitude they are emotionally invested in…

  13. birgerjohansson says

    BTW PZ has a Michael Moore look.
    Me like. Now, make a feature-length film om the issues!

  14. says

    Still spending your day of rest screaming (literally) at pigeons I see? Good for you, it’s important to stay active.

    I see TERF’s more and more like some weird “blood cult”, obsessed by the unmentionable menstruation cycle. Challenging them on the facts is a waste of time, at least it won’t stop them claiming science is on their side.

  15. PaulBC says

    This is kind of an off the wall question, but is there any biological certainty that an XY-woman (e.g. with Swyer syndrome) will absolutely not produce functioning ovaries? It is true that in all documented cases I’ve read about, the ovaries are not functioning, but my (admittedly very limited) understanding of biology does not rule it out. I know that gonads produce haploid games from diploid cells that are assumed to be XX for females and XY for males. But do they have to be?

    So in the case of sperm, gametes are either X or Y. In the case of ova, they are always X. But is there a reason that if testes did not form that you definitely would not develop ovaries with X and Y gametes? (In that case, a YY egg would lack essential genes found on X and would not develop, but other combinations could work, such as X sperm, Y ova.) Given that we don’t go around karyotyping people unless there is some reason it’s indicated, this condition would most likely go undetected except as somewhat reduced fertility.

    (I spent a bunch of time reading about Swyer syndrome in particular for personal reasons, which left me curious. I would actually be interested in knowing if it definitely cannot happen and why not. I guess mouse models could shed some light on it.)

    BTW, women with Swyer syndrome have given birth through IVF of donor eggs, and I remember reading a case study of a woman who was entirely unaware of her condition until middle age, having been married for years and infertile. The most serious problem is an increased risk of cancer, but the condition while rare is not something that would have been noticed historically except as effects on puberty and infertility that could also occur in XX women.

  16. PaulBC says

    @11

    everyone understands sex to mean male or female and whether they produce (or would without medical condition) sperm or eggs respectively (based on sex cells/gametes that form as embryo develops), with the exception of a very small number of intersex people.

    I don’t think “everyone” understands this to be the definition. When I was a child in the 70s, it was already pretty common to hear about people getting “sex change operation” as it was called at the time, and I have to assume it was to meet a real demand and not just part of a scary “woke” agenda.

    The fact that it was called a “change” back then is interesting because one can infer that as least “someone” “understand” the “sex” to be “changed” after surgery, which had nothing at all to do with gametes or reproduction. You may disagree with that assessment, but you may not make incorrect assertions about everybody else’s understanding. It’s also safe to say that the person undergoing substantial permanent alteration like that had a strong sense of their sexual identity, and therefore had a very different “understanding” of sex than, say, a horse breeder would have.

    I admit I bristle at nearly any sentence that begins “Every understands…” since the translation is more accurately “I’m going to assert the following and insist that it is a universally held view.”

  17. dianne says

    PaulBC@18: I’ve never heard of a woman with Swyer syndrome who had normal ovarian development and fertility. Then again, as you point out, we don’t karyotype people for no reason and a woman with Swyer syndrome who did have normal or at least some normal ovarian development with normal menses and at least some degree of fertility might simply live her whole life without ever realizing there was anything unusual with her genetics. Yeah, any conceptions between a Y oocyte and a Y sperm would be nonviable, but there are so many other reasons that pregnancies fail I doubt it would even be noticed as low fertility. Maybe she’d think she didn’t get pregnant easily, but that’d be about it. I suppose the other way that it might be picked up is if a boy born of a woman with Swyer syndrome had a genetic condition that was carried on the X chromosome and that he shared with his father. That would indicate that he got the X chromosome from his father and the Y from his mother. I’ve never heard of a case like that, but don’t see any in principle reason that it couldn’t happen.

  18. John Morales says

    Dianne:

    I’ve never heard of a woman with Swyer syndrome who had normal ovarian development and fertility.

    Well, duh. The abnormality is the syndrome!

    (Not having a go at you, Dianne — just your phrasing; like saying you’ve never heard of someone with alopecia who remains hirsute)

  19. PaulBC says

    dianne@20 Thanks! I have been wondering this for a couple of years, but couldn’t even find discussion of the question anywhere.

  20. wzrd1 says

    @John Morales, said thunder and brimstone from above!
    No truer words have been said.
    It’s, to astronomy, to saying a central core of a galaxy doesn’t exist, it’s a streak gonad and doesn’t count.

    Were reality to follow gravity in that context, we’d not have a galaxy and frankly, gravity wouldn’t work at all the way we’re accustomed to.

    Streak Gonads barely work, there are ill fitted functions that the immune system blocks. What little hormonal signals are poorly met with, if at all.
    Receptors are clever, they meet a best possible match, a mutation, being a mutation, isn’t always best suited for continued function.
    I’m dealing with, daily, with what is currently best theorized to be a mutation of thyroid receptors, which antibodies responded to, probably due to a viral influence. Since we’ve yet to spend enough effort to unfuck that entanglement, I’m stuck with a handful of pills, twice a day. Well, that and get my angry and I slam someone over the head with a main battle tank. ;)
    Beta blockers, sorta help-ish.

    Endocrine things are complicated. I’m good at dealing with things with plumbing, arteries, veins, etc, even pigeon neurotransmitter and modulators, overall, with the endocrine system, it’s a space alien language for me and well, humanity. We’re just entering apprentice level knowledge of the endocrine system.
    Come to me when you fully can model Brownian motion. :)
    Think a puzzle box of puzzle boxes, all filled with firecrackers and you have to figure out where each particle goes, that was in the 1980’s, now, we’re trying to figure out atoms and electrons and protons, totally.
    As a hint, Google “Viral programs”.

  21. =8)-DX says

    Seconding the previous encouragement, having wonky hair is almost a prerequisite for famous youtubing. =8)-DX

  22. dusk says

    @Dianne@11 Thanks for your response. I agree 300,000 people is not insignificant, but its still only 0.1% so not exactly statistically significant, and still within a definition of human sex that is a bimodal distribution (that is effectively binary for the vast majority).
    Regarding the gametes, thanks again I wasn’t aware there were such cases – are these at statistically significant rates? Would a person who produces one gonad of each not be classed as intersex so included within the 0.1%? I take your point regarding women stopping producing gametes at menopause but I’d still include them and state they were covered by the gamete definition – that’s just a part of being a cis woman. Any medical condition wouldn’t negate the definition, just like the biological definition of being a human isn’t changed because some people are born with or without certain limbs or with disabilities, they’re still human its just a medical condition. So someone born with say a missing testicle or something would still be male.
    I still don’t see the relevancy of this discussion to trans people – if someone acknowledges they were born one sex (say male) but feel they identify as the other (female) are these not based on the widely understood definition of male and female (or masculine and feminine)? What do these exceptions to the rules have to do with it? Is there a prevalence of trans people that have different chromosomes or gamete configurations? Why confuse things?
    I like your comparison of the definition of sex being like the definition of art, however biology isn’t art it’s science and surely there should be a definition that is widely agreed upon – it seems to me the gamete definition works and is in line with any dictionary you can pick up. It’s fine to state it is not a binary, but that only seems to confuse people if you don’t also ,mention 99+% (or whatever the % is, vast majority) of people fall within the binary, I don’t get the controversy with that and the only intersex people I see participating in these discussions online are not a fan of being used as a gotcha in trans discussions.
    Does stating ‘believe the patient’ with regards sex not just mean the same as a male or female is anyone who states they are? That sex is how someone feels? Again I thought that was what gender is, and it is not scientific in any way. It’s a meaningless definition.

  23. PaulBC says

    dusk@25

    however biology isn’t art it’s science and surely there should be a definition that is widely agreed upon

    I’m not a biologist, but I can say something about terminology that I think applies to any academic field.

    Of course, terminology needs to be precise, but the meaning typically differs from informal usage, and only has a precise meaning in context. To resolve the intended meaning, you would add detail rather than engage in some doctrinal dispute over the meaning of specific words.

    Neutral example: when I was in grad school, I might have described some of my work in computer science as “massive parallelism.” Well, what’s “massive”? If I have two processors working in parallel, few would call it massive. If I have one processor for each of millions of input objects, few would dispute that the term fits. But the term itself is only informally useful. If I were writing a paper, the only thing that would matter is how I express the growth in number of processors with the input size. (Is “massive” just any growth with input size? I don’t know. If the number of processors grows logarithmically with n, is that “massive”? It doesn’t feel that way to me, though it might be a useful level of parallelism.)

    I am sure than in context it’s useful for a biologist to distinguish between “male” and “female” and I see PZ doing it reference to spiders here. But reality is more complex then words, and the only way to deal with this fact in academic writing (scientific or otherwise) is to say as much as necessary about reality, not assume there is a “definition that is widely agreed upon”. This is why academic writing is filled with constructs like “in this paper, we use the term … to mean …” Relying on some common definition is inviting misunderstanding.

    Second, life is not science. Basic human decency is not about science. I practice the simple principle of meeting people on their own terms: e.g. doing my best to pronounce their name the way they do, accepting that if they say “I don’t like cherry pie.” that they really don’t and it’s not an opportunity to change their mind with my cherry pie, taking their word for it that they enjoy some activity that I don’t, etc.

    It is really not the job of a transgendered person to fit my preconception of sex, and “science” is not going to charge in to my rescue, because science is irrelevant to the real principle here: treating other human beings with respect.

  24. christoph says

    Just to let you know-you can legally get a haircut now, at least in Massachusetts. (My barber is really good at cutting around the mask.)

  25. consciousness razor says

    dusk, #11:

    Are there really that many people/TERFs claiming everyone is either male or female?

    How many would it need to be, in order to be “that many”?

    Who doesn’t know that intersex people exist?

    Like most things that matter, people aren’t born knowing it. Those who haven’t somehow learned it don’t know. That’s who.

    I bet that if I had asked any of my grandparents, none of them would’ve known. I think my parents are at best only vaguely aware, although they still have no real knowledge about it, how common it is, and so forth. Their formal educations (what little they got) didn’t equip them with that kind of information. And such topics have never been a feature of their everyday interactions with others in their community, which is fairly small, isolated, homogeneous, religious, politically conservative, where access to many relevant things you may take for granted (like healthcare, education and other social services) is very limited.

    You should empathize with people like that, but even if you don’t (as many don’t, can’t say anything about you), then you can at least try to understand them. How exactly do you expect them to learn about the subject? It’s not going to be because somebody simply wishes it or because they were magically imparted with the information at birth. So how would it happen?

    In the US, there are millions of others living in similar circumstances, and that seems like a reasonable approximation for the number you’re asking about above. Depending on exactly which things they’re claimed to know, it’s maybe not one hundred million or more. I’ll be just a bit vague and call that “millions.” Typically, it’s older people who are resistant to even discussing such things for various reasons, much less fully incorporating it into their worldview.

    Why is that controversial? Why go from having a widely understood definition, accurate in 99% of the time, to having a ‘blurry’ definition that is essentially useless?

    The world has a lot of things in it, including human beings and all sorts of things about human beings, which don’t fit into nice little categories. Given that, what I consider “useless” is to insist on crisp definitions when those aren’t really up to the task.

    What’s supposed to be the purpose of your approach? To make you feel as if you have some genuine knowledge, even when you don’t? The map is not the territory. So do you think there’s a good reason to make the discussion about our maps (our words, our categories, etc.) rather than the territory itself? Like I said, the territory is a messy place. Since that’s the truth, shouldn’t we say so?

    #25:

    I agree 300,000 people is not insignificant, but its still only 0.1% so not exactly statistically significant,

    What does that even mean? What is it for?

    We’re not conducting a poll with some margin of error. This isn’t a sample used in a study. You’re talking about a population in the real world, which we definitely know about. It doesn’t reflect uncertainty, it’s not a purported effect that maybe we’re misinterpreting somehow … it’s nothing like that. So I don’t understand what kind of inference you think we’d need to do regarding that number. It’s just a plain old number that’s counting real people, with none of that attached, and you even said here that it’s “not insignificant.” So what would be the point of trying to have it both ways?

    I like your comparison of the definition of sex being like the definition of art, however biology isn’t art it’s science and surely there should be a definition that is widely agreed upon

    Well, I don’t like the comparison, but I’ve sort of gotten used to scientists talking well outside of their area of expertise…. Anyway, who cares if a definition is “widely agreed upon”? Does that change anything? Surely, it does not matter. But you think there should be a definition which matches your criteria. Okay. Why should that be?

  26. dusk says

    @PaulBC26 Thanks for the reply, I agree with everything you’ve said there. Only thing I’d note is that I thought the concept of gender was meant to account for ‘life isn’t science’ and human decency, that was my understanding.

    @consciousness razor28 My point was that from my limited and recent exposure to this discussion I haven’t seen many ‘TERFs’ claiming intersex people don’t exist, its irrelevant to most of the discussions I’ve read and the points they are (rightly or wrongly) making.

    My approach? I don’t have an approach, I was querying why in all of the recent discussions about TERFs and biological sex that there hasn’t been a definition of ‘sex’ given. I was asking what was wrong with the gametes definition if it accounts for medical conditions and intersex people?

  27. says

    @Dusk: You seem to think that an “official” definition somehow changes anything. But the trans people will still be here, as they have always been. The problem isn’t the lack of definitions but a lack of tolerance for those that doesn’t conform to the standards of the majority.

  28. says

    I haven’t seen many ‘TERFs’ claiming intersex people don’t exist, its irrelevant to most of the discussions I’ve read and the points they are (rightly or wrongly) making.

    While it may not appear that TERFs and other anti-trans people who cloak their prejudice in the guise of “protecting women” are not asserting that intersex people do not exist, if you claim that human sex is binary, then logically those people whose sex isn’t binary cannot be human people.

    Intersex people, then, exist, but do not exist as humans if you accept the premises of these people. Press them a little and this becomes clear: you will often hear them say (or read them write) that intersex people, “don’t count”.

    Perhaps some people here are not being entirely precise enough for accuracy, but how do you think it feels to be someone who doesn’t meet the definition for human sex presented by TERFs, et al. and to be told that you simply don’t matter?

    How did women respond when we were told that we couldn’t go to college because despite the random Marie Curie who can be dismissed as an exception, for the purposes of intellectual life women don’t matter?

    Dismissing large swaths of humanity as people whose lives & experiences need not be considered leads inevitably to evil. It isn’t right when men do this to women, it isn’t right when walkers do this to wheelchair riders, and it sure as fuck isn’t right when fertile cissexual people do this trans or intersex folks. And yet they do this often.

    What does that say about them as a group?

  29. consciousness razor says

    dusk, #29:

    My point was that from my limited and recent exposure to this discussion I haven’t seen many ‘TERFs’ claiming intersex people don’t exist

    Well, whatever your point might have been, your rhetorical questions nevertheless had real answers.

    When you say “claiming,” do you mean that they explicitly state (verbally or in writing) that there are no such people? Or is it enough that it’s implicit in whatever exactly they are claiming about sex, gender, and so forth? If for example a person believes some such facts about humans should be treated as unimportant or insignificant, which may or may not help them push some of their anti-trans views as “common sense” or “what everybody knows,” then what category would you put them in?

    I think it suffices when it’s implicit. If implications like that don’t follow (or perhaps not even meant to be taken seriously, AKA “bullshit”), then the explicit stuff they do say which implies it can’t be understood as true/factual statements. Which is definitely a problem for them, because they do think that they are in some way correct. It certainly can happen that some don’t realize what the implications of their own statements are — it happens quite a bit, unfortunately — but that doesn’t mean they’re irrelevant. It means those people are wrong and have something to learn, although they may not understand why they’re wrong, how wrong they are, or in which specific ways they’re wrong.

  30. Silentbob says

    @ 11 dusk

    I don’t really get why you’re so hung up on definitions. You write as though it’s important we have an agreed upon definition of “sex”, but what’s it for?

    We don’t have a definition of “black” (as in race), or “white” do we? Does the dictionary say how dark your skin has to be to be black? Or how many black ancestors you have to have? Does it bother you? Do you think we need to come up with a strict definition everyone agrees with? Isn’t people’s identity and the way they’re perceived enough? (And no, Dolezal is not black. I’m not talking about people getting caught out pretending and then making up a silly claim of “identifying” as black.)

    No one is saying you can’t define “sex” by gametes when relevant. Like in a fertility clinic or whatever. But that has no social utility. It’s a useless definition outside of reproductive contexts. It’s no one else’s business what gametes someone else produces, if any. You have no right to expect them to divulge that information let alone label themselves by it.

    You need to realise that the people fussing about a definition of “woman” or insisting on “binary and immutable” sex are not doing so innocently. It’s like the old theory that there are three primary human races; the Caucasian, the Negroid, and the Mongoloid. You could still find that stuff in (old) textbooks when I was a boy. People didn’t come to that theory by reason and evidence. They wanted to believe it because they wanted a “scientific” justification to treat white people differently to black or Asian people. It was an era of colonialism.

    Likewise, the people making a lot of noise about “binary and immutable” sex aren’t engaged in some innocent intellectual endeavour. They’re transphobes who don’t want trans people to exist, or to be accepted in society. The insistence on “binary and immutable” sex is only so they can claim a “scientific” justification for refusing to accept trans people. “Hey, it’s not my fault trans women can’t use the Ladies’ – they were born with the wrong gametes and sex is immutable. Biology is not bigotry dontcha know.”

    P.S. A doctor who treated a patient purely on the basis of sex assigned at birth would be guilty of malpractice. They need to treat the patient as an individual – in your example as a trans man. Trans men are physiologically different to cis women due to HRT.

  31. PaulBC says

    Silentbob@33 What Rachel Dolezal did was inexcusable, though I think she was an effective organizer and I have mixed feelings about her in general (it’s not up to me to accept her or not). I think she had good intentions combined with emotional issues. It’s not like “pretending to be Black” is going to be a hugely lucrative scam for anybody.

  32. wzrd1 says

    One issue that I’ve ran into, with the crowd that wants to discuss the technical side, aka the medical side of the discussion, intersex condition was, back when I was a minor child, considered a condition where physical sexual characteristics counted and typically, streak gonads were present.
    Most of the TERF crowd adhere to that ancient “standard” and failed to adopt the medical standard, which advances with further understanding of the science behind the physical and mental. Most of the TERF crowd also adheres to a standard that’s decades out of date that defines anything “abnormal” to their warped minds as a mental illness, with a DSM code just for it. Saw that shit trotted out more times than Carter has Little Liver Pills.
    Oops, did I just give away my age again? ;)

    Simply, “I have a fixed in time view and you can’t shift me from it” bullshit. If we, as a species had embraced that, we’d still not have fucking fire.

  33. dusk says

    @Erlend Meyer30 My point has never been that trans people don’t exist, in fact I’ve said several times that I do not see how this discussion of whether sex is binary is relevant to trans people as by definition they are born one sex and identify as the other.

    @Crip Dyke31 I have explicitly stated several times that sex isn’t binary. I think describing it as something like a spectrum is inaccurate, but perhaps a bimodal distribution works better. I also don’t think stating the vast majority fit into a binary definition means intersex people don’t exist as humans?! I’m not dismissing anyone, but intersex is a medical condition isn’t it?

    @consciousness razor32 ok fair enough, i did ask…

    @silent bob33 Yes I do think it is import to have a scientific definition of sex, and it sounds like you do to, when its relevant. So I think we agree. It is relevant to the science of biology and biologists all over the world must use it daily when studying all species, I think it was the conflating of sex and gender that confused me. I suppose the problem is with the gamete definition no one can ‘change sex’ as stated in the video.

  34. says

    dianne

    PaulBC@18: I’ve never heard of a woman with Swyer syndrome who had normal ovarian development and fertility. Then again, as you point out, we don’t karyotype people for no reason and a woman with Swyer syndrome who did have normal or at least some normal ovarian development with normal menses and at least some degree of fertility might simply live her whole life without ever realizing there was anything unusual with her genetics.

    Yeah, one thing that always strikes me is how certain transphobes are of their own karyotype while only knowing their own phenotype. I mean, I can reasonably assume that I am XX, given that I am (or at least used to be) very fertile with few pregnancy complications, but do I know it? Especially childfree people will often have little indication of their own fertility (and I do know quite a couple of couples who thought they were so much better than others because they never had a contraception fail right until they tried to conceive and found out they couldn’t).

    dusk

    I agree 300,000 people is not insignificant, but its still only 0.1% so not exactly statistically significant,

    You are aware that
    a) “statistically significant” is an entirely human made concept? Nature doesn’t give a fuck about “statistically significant”.
    b) “statistically significant” is not a fixed term. Seriously, i only ever took an introductory class to statistics, just enough to understand what a paper in my field was telling me, and even I learned that each researcher will define “statistically significant”. “Statistically significant” just means “there’s a 1 in X chances that this result was just chance and an X-1 in X chances that it isn’t”. The higher you set X, the more you risk overlooking stuff that isn’t chance, the lower you set X, the more you risk chance results and you cannot have it both ways.

  35. KG says

    I’ve come across this “we must have a definition of sex” bullshit from transphobes – most recently Suzanne Moore in the Guardian. “Sex” is, primarily, a natural language term, and those don’t depend on having a definition for people to use and underatand them. It’s also a scientific term, but those frequently have multiple definitions, depending on context (hence my emphasis on “a” definition above). Moore was claiming (I don’t have time to find her article right now) that women could not organise against misogynistic oppression without a definition of “woman”. Total, obvious crap, once one considers that (as already pointed out here), there is no such definition of “black”.

  36. dusk says

    @Giliell37 Yes I’m aware it’s a human made concept (aren’t all concepts?). My point was never that sex is a binary, i’ve said the opposite – due to the existence of intersex people. I said describing it as a spectrum doesn’t make sense if there’s only 0.1% that don’t fit the binary. A bimodal distirbution would work I believe, however accounting for a medical condition that affects 0.1% of the population, it will look a lot like a binary though. Are we even sure about that 0.1% figure, that’s significantly lower than I was expecting? I googled it and found a report stating 1.7% of the population is born with intersex traits (Anne Fausto-Sterling and her co-authors). That seems a more likely figure and is 1 in 60 rather than 1 in a 1000, definitely bimodal. Similar rate to people having red hair apparently.

    @KG38 I’m not transphobic at all, neither is having a widely understood definition of sex. By definition trans people are born one sex but identify as the other, so how on earth is having a male and female definition of sex transphobic? In every other field of science people strive to explain reality, biology is no different. As I’ve said, I think conflating gender and sex when talking about the scientific mistakes of others just muddies the water and does nothing to advance the discussion.

  37. KG says

    I’m not transphobic at all – dusk@39

    Such assurances are worth very little. Consider the common racist trope: “I’m not racist, but…”.

    how on earth is having a male and female definition of sex transphobic?

    It’s insisting that everyone agree to your definition (one beloved of transphobes) which is problematic. Along with the fact (and it is a fact) that there is no definition of “male” and “female” that assigns everyone unproblematically to one of those two categories.

  38. says

    Dusk

    I said describing it as a spectrum doesn’t make sense if there’s only 0.1% that don’t fit the binary. A bimodal distirbution would work I believe, however accounting for a medical condition that affects 0.1% of the population, it will look a lot like a binary though. Are we even sure about that 0.1% figure, that’s significantly lower than I was expecting? I googled it and found a report stating 1.7% of the population is born with intersex traits (Anne Fausto-Sterling and her co-authors). That seems a more likely figure and is 1 in 60 rather than 1 in a 1000, definitely bimodal. Similar rate to people having red hair apparently.

    So, I cannot make a spectrum of hair colours starting with platinum blonde and ending with pitch black if only 1.7% are ginger? Your own example shows that this is nonsense. Same with a lot of other concepts we are so fond of. Sexual orientation can appear on a spectrum. Sure, there’s a huge peak at the “straight” end, there’s a peak at “gay”, and there are all the many varieties of bisexual and then there are also all the varieties that completely defy any linear idea of sexual orientation. None of these require a minimum of participants.

    @KG38 I’m not transphobic at all, neither is having a widely understood definition of sex.

    “Widely understood” is not synonymous with “correct” (as much as a concept can be “correct”) nor “unbiased” or “not bigoted”. Really, do I have to explain that?

    In every other field of science people strive to explain reality, biology is no different.

    And if you listened to PZs video, you’d know that biologists are accurately aware that just lumping a bunch of things under “male” and another bunch of things under “female” doesn’t work and is bad science.

  39. dusk says

    @KG41 OK we’re going round in circles and you’re putting words in my mouth I didn’t say.

    It isn’t my definition by the way, it’s the dictionary definition of male and female and it’s applied in the same way by scientists and biologists across the globe studying the entire animal kingdom. And if it covers male, female or intersex who isn’t covered (and i’m referring to sex not gender)?

    @John Morales40 I meant transgender as you well know, I didn’t know it’s used as an umbrella term (or how on earth being gender fluid or agender would relate to sex).

    @Giliell42 No my point was it isn’t much of a spectrum if you have male, female and intersex – it’s a bimodal or a binary with a <2% exception to the rule based on a medical condition.

    By widely understood I meant the dictionary definition that very few people would have problems understanding. I did listen to PZ’s video and he stated you can change sex by taking hormones and surgery, which definition of sex is that based on? All I asked was for a definition of sex in a thread that was discussing biology – . It’s not ‘a bunch of things’ it’s gametes that are sperm or eggs, and all of the secondary characteristics that go along with that. It’s how species reproduce. not something arbitrary like ginger hair. It’s pretty fundamental to most of biology.

    Anyway this is a waste of time, thanks for the discussion, I’ll not post again in this thread as I’m probably heading for a ban going by the previous threads on this topic.

  40. PaulBC says

    dusk@43

    I did listen to PZ’s video and he stated you can change sex by taking hormones and surgery, which definition of sex is that based on?

    This is a “widely understood definition” of sex. As I pointed out way above, it was very common over 40 years ago to hear about “sex change” operations in the news. Though the term sounds old-fashioned now, there was no dispute about the meaning.

    There are other definitions in context, such as ones connected to gametes and reproductions. It is indeed a “bunch of things”, which is why it’s important not to rely on informal terms in scientific writing.

    If you’ve purchased any electronics at all, you have probably seen references to “male” and “female” connectors. The metaphor is pretty clear, and obviously has to do with external criteria, not reproduction. But it’s not just a metaphor. It’s a precise use of a term. If you got the wrong type of connector, it would not not work. Words can have wildly different meanings in different contexts. Who knew?

    Why is it so important to you that the way you believe biologists use a term should set the pace for a discussion that is about social policy and its effect on human lives, not biology and reproduction?

    Giliell@37

    “statistically significant” is not a fixed term.

    That’s a good point. Though I am not a statistician, it certainly does not mean “smaller than I think should matter.” In polling, for instance, a difference is statistically significant if it exceeds polling error. With a large enough sample and reliable enough measurements, a differ of 0.1% reached consistently is statistically significant.

    And 1/1000 is not a small probability at all. I routinely work on software that is expected to be more that 99.9% reliable in production. And not just for failure rates. What percentage of the general population is qualified to perform open heart surgery? I’m sure it is a lot less than 0.1%, but it makes a difference to many people that it is not really 0.

    In short, 0.001 != 0. Not even close!

    Or suppose I knew that I hand a 0.1% chance of winning $10000 in a lottery? It’s unlikely, but it would be “rational” in that case to buy several thousand tickets and have a near certainly of a gain. (Lotteries can’t work like this, or they lose money, but I can picture a realistic scenario in which a knowledgable “collector” would purchase large lots with just this kind of thing in mind.)

  41. PaulBC says

    Apologies for the typos in @44. I wrote a lot and didn’t proofread as well as I should.

    To continue on 0.1% for a second… If I knew that 0.1% of the cells in my body were about to develop into metastatic cancers, I would not be long for this world. On the positive side, less than 0.1% of the population can compete at a professional level in any sport, but cities seem to think it’s a big deal to be associated with this “insignificant” percentage of people. Less than 0.1% are billionaires or Hollywood celebrities, but we chatter on about them all the time.

    0.1% is a huge percentage of any sample space, or at least it can be depending on context. It is a big number in my own work–again, usually if it’s an error rate, but in my hobbies at least, it’s a big deal if it’s the success rate of a randomized search.

  42. KG says

    Gilliel@42,
    You wrongly (and i’m sure accidentally) misattribute a quote from dusk to me.

    dusk@43,
    You may be going round in circles (as well as plain lying – I didn’t put any words in your mouth), but I’m not.

    You (dusk) said@11:

    In biological terms the widely understood dictionary definition of sex is something along the lines of “either of the two main categories (male and female) into which humans and most other living things are divided on the basis of their reproductive functions.”

    So it is actually your definition, since you don’t cite a dictionary as source. But that quibble aside, it’s factually wrong, even if a dictionary says someting similar: most living things are bacteria, which are neither female, male, nor intersex; many plants and some animals are hermaphrodite, producing both eggs and sperm, while some species consist entirely of females which reproduce, if at all, parthenogenetically; many fungi have multiple “mating types”; worker ants and bees have no reproductive function, but are still classified by those who study them as female… Biology is much richer and more various than your imagination. The appropriate definition of “sex”, “female” or “male”, when one is needed at all, depends on the context – as with most words – both everyday terms and scientific ones.

    it’s the dictionary definition of male and female and it’s applied in the same way by scientists and biologists across the globe studying the entire animal kingdom. And if it covers male, female or intersex who isn’t covered (and i’m referring to sex not gender)?

    You didn’t mention intersex in the passage I quoted and criticised. And everyday language does not assign the terms “female” and “male” unambiguously to either sex or gender, if only because that distinction is itself fairly recent in everyday language, and I’d say still in flux.

  43. says

    @dusk, there are languages that do not differentiate between “sex” and “gender” with regard to people, my native language being one of them. So “gender change” cannot, in these languages, be differentiated from “sex change”.
    There are also languages that have more than just two genders/sexes for humans.

    You seem to be hung up on wanting to have precise and exact definitions for all words. Those do not exist.

    Language is an imperfect tool for communication about very complicated and messy reality. Whatever definition of the word “dog” that relies on describing physical characteristics, there will always be animals who are an exception to it. That does not mean the word “dog” is useless, it only means that all words have meanings that can only be fully understood with the context of what they are trying to describe. All words mean what people as a whole agree they mean and that can and does change as our collective understanding of reality progresses.

    tldr. Words are descriptive, not prescriptive. They always describe reality, with a degree of error. They do not prescribe what is or is not real.

  44. says

    @Dusk: The most accurate definition I can think of is whether or not the person has procreated successfully. That’s pretty much foolproof unless you want to include offspring survival rate into it.

  45. says

    however biology isn’t art it’s science and surely there should be a definition that is widely agreed upon

    Yes? Define “species” for me. There have been whole books written about that little problem.

  46. says

    I accidently hit post.

    It’s like playing table-top rpg and resisting the idea of understanding how the character sheets work. Why wouldn’t you want a descriptive system that covers everyone? Why would you want to be ignorant of the kinds of humans around you?

    Ignoring the different kinds of 1/200 people out there leaves us ignorant of our group behavior. Some might have disproportionate impact on the group based on their nature in these areas. It seems foolish to avoid knowledge about us.

  47. says

    KG
    Ooops, sorry. Believe me, I’d never do that intentionally.

    dusk

    No my point was it isn’t much of a spectrum if you have male, female and intersex – it’s a bimodal or a binary with a <2% exception to the rule based on a medical condition.

    So according to your definition all elements in the universe are either hydrogen or helium, because the rest is so rare? BTW, intersex people thank you not to pathologise them.

    It isn’t my definition by the way, it’s the dictionary definition of male and female and it’s applied in the same way by scientists and biologists across the globe studying the entire animal kingdom.

    Holy cupcake, what are you? Very naive? Extremely uneducated and proud of it? Or simply dishonest.
    First of all dictionaries are descriptive, not prescriptive, they tell you about usage. Here is what Merriam Webster has to say about “male”:

    : of, relating to, or being the sex that typically has the capacity to produce relatively small, usually motile gametes which fertilize the eggs of a female
    (2) : having or producing only stamens or staminate flowers a male holly
    b : having a gender identity that is the opposite of female
    c : made up of usually adult members of the male sex : consisting of males a male choir
    d : characteristic of boys, men, or the male sex : exhibiting maleness a deep male voice
    e : designed for or typically used by boys or men a male cologne male contraceptives
    f : engaged in or exercised by boys or men A social code that taught women deference to male power in return for protection was upended …— Jane E. Schultz
    g : having a quality (such as vigor or boldness) sometimes associated with the male sex

    Ooops. One entry about “typically” (not necessarily) producing sperm, one about flowers, one about people’s gender identity and lots of things about stuff usually attributed to men, from a certain type of voice (I once had a student whose mother was always mistaken for his father on the phone) to gender stereotypes.
    So the dictionary says you#re full of shit.
    Second, no scientist will go to the dictionary for a definition. Scientists and indeed people in the arts usually very carefully explain their terms at the start of a paper. That definition then holds true for the length of that paper. Nobody will just use a term and expect people to choose the right definition from Merriam Webster.

  48. says

    So many things to subvert.
    All of these individual differences that society wants to ignore or pathologize because the they show up at a few out of thousands. In a species of billions that developmentally reacts to environments and each other.

    As a person with significant differences from the population at large on a couple of cognitive axes at 1/200 and 1/20 of the population it would have been nice if society had been able to explain and enable me to own and control my neurodevelopmental differences.
    That’s what social recognition and accommodation gets you. A species that can let specialized individuals express it and own it.

    And that doesn’t cover developmental individual differences like depression and ptsd and other kinds of natural neurodevelopment that don’t compatantly interact with as a society.

  49. wzrd1 says

    @PZ Meyers, please do reveal what the current definition of species is.
    When does Pan become Homo> ;)
    Trust me, at a taxonomy convention, I could trigger a minor riot… ;)
    What is ever so distant to turn a Bonobo or Common Chimp away from our species?
    In general.

  50. says

    @dusk

    @Crip Dyke31 I have explicitly stated several times that sex isn’t binary.

    You’re taking my #31 personally. Take a breath then go reread it. There’s nothing in there about you personally. You said that you don’t see TERFs asserting that intersex & trans people don’t exist. I was rebutting that in a manner similar to consciousness razor’s #32 (which you seemed to take better).

    I was talking about the same people you were talking about, who are, presumably, not you. What you state or don’t was nowhere at issue. What “TERFs” (to use your term, I prefer others) state was at issue and that’s what I addressed.

    I also don’t think stating the vast majority fit into a binary definition means intersex people don’t exist as humans?

    Saying, “the vast majority of people fit into a binary definition” is not nearly the same as saying “Sex is binary”.

    It’s the difference between saying, “the vast majority of personal vehicles owned by individuals in the US are closed bodies – such as SUVs, sedans & hatchbacks,” and saying, “all personal vehicles owned by individuals in the US are SUVs, sedans, or hatchbacks”.

    You might think that the first version is just wordier, or the second is just snappier, but in actual fact the two statements are different – and one of them is blatantly false. When the people you call TERFs opt for the latter, they’re saying the equivalent of “individually owned pickup trucks and convertibles don’t exist”, except they’re not just being stupid & wrong, they’re hurting people.

    @KG38 I’m not transphobic at all, …

    I’m not attacking you, nor am I saying that you’re acting out cissexism in this thread, but I would be really careful there if I were you. You’re clearly talking about a subject where you don’t have all the answers (I say that not least because you’re openly asking for some, which is tantamount to declaring you don’t know those answers). Given that you don’t have all the answers, how can you be sure you’re not harboring unrecognized stereotypes and/or bigotry?

    I know shit tonnes of people who said that they weren’t heterosexist but just didn’t think two women who got blessed by their rabbi should be allowed the same tax deductions as a man and a woman blessed by the same rabbi.

    Do you think that they were correct that they weren’t heterosexist?
    Do you think that they were consciously lying that they weren’t heterosexist?
    Or do you think that they simply didn’t recognize how their own assumptions were generating unequal outcomes that privileged hets over queers?

    Unless you can be certain you’re infallible, “I’m not bigoted at all,” is a reckless statement you may not wish to make again.

    By definition trans people are born one sex but identify as the other,

    Pfft. No. That is not true “by definition”. There are many ways to be trans*. And the laughably simplistic level of awareness that shows should make you even more wary of absolutist statements like, “I’m not transphobic at all” or “By definition…”

    You don’t know the definitions. Stop trying to tell people who are experts in this area what the definitions are and instead spend more time listening & learning.

    Trans* (with asterisk) was an umbrella term used to unite transsexual and transgender communities who, in the 90s were often at odds with each other. Too many transsexual people dismissed transgender people as “inauthentic” for not having sex-altering surgeries. Too many transgender people publicly miseducated people on transsexual lives because they thought that their transgender experiences made them authorities on transsexual lives, which could be an typically were very different.

    At the time trans* came into use, it was intended as a unifying compromise word that could apply to a number of different communities, including non-binary, third-gender, & fourth-gender communities. In the time that has elapsed since then, many non-binary folk have felt alienated from the term trans*. And thus depending on which community you’re speaking to, trans* may include non-binary folks or may not. Local usage significantly varies.

    But you wouldn’t know any of that, because you think that “by definition” trans* people are non-intersex people assigned to one sex at birth who unproblematically identify as “the other” sex (as if there were only 2) as adults. Just the fact that you think there’s only one definition of “trans” is revealing of your ignorance.

    Seriously. Stop making declarations. I’m not pissed you’re participating in the thread, and I’m not asking you to end your participation. I’m just telling you that you’re making fundamental errors which reveal your ignorance and you’re neither going to make yourself look good in this conversation, nor are you going to learn anything of substance until you stop pretending that you actually have authoritative information on trans* lives or the prejudice & discrimination trans* people face.

  51. says

    PS.

    I suppose the problem is with the gamete definition no one can ‘change sex’ as stated in the video.

    Producing ova ==> not producing ova

    is, in fact, a change. Moreover, we can already use stem cells to produce gametes, eggs & sperm both, IIRC.

    While “producing ova ==> not producing ova” is already a change, we are not technologically very far from being able to medically cause the opposite effect, “not producing ova ==> producing ova”.

    So let’s think for a minute. Say 10 years from now we have our first cohort of people who begin producing sperm or ova (or a cohort of each) after medical intervention when they could not do so previously. Would that or should that require governments to revisit who can use public bathrooms and which ones? Would it or should it require institutions to revisit who can take advantage of men-only or women-only scholarships for higher education? If nothing else changed save that a person having surgery for one reason received a more advanced treatment that kickstarted in vivo production of gametes not previously produced, if literally nothing was different save that gamete production, what social effects would or should that have?

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