It’s Time For People to Stop Using the Social Construct of “Biological Sex” to Defend Their Transmisogyny

Time and time again, transmisogynists and transphobes go back to that old excuse that they are just standing up for the reality of “biological sex” when they spew their ignorance and hate. They say that no matter what a trans woman does, no matter what she believes, she’s still actually a man. Others cede the fact that trans women are women, but stop there and say “gender is what’s between your ears, sex is what’s between your legs” and therefore trans women are still males. Although this is a popular idea, it is based on a misunderstanding of biology, social constructs and anatomy, and it needs to stop.

via Time

via Time

A lot of this misuse of the idea of “biological sex” has, unfortunately, been centered around discussions of activist and Orange is the New Black actress Laverne Cox. Cox recently became the first out trans person (Chelsea Manning was on the cover before she came out) to be on the cover of Time Magazine. However, inside the magazine, Time said that an easy way to gain some understanding of trans people is to realize that gender and sex are two different things. They say that “sex is biological, determined by a baby’s birth anatomy” and then go on to call trans women “biological males” and trans men “biological females.”

They are trying to good allies, explaining what many see as a complicated issue, but what they are really doing is using a simplistic and outdated understanding of biology to perpetuate some very dangerous ideas about trans women. This type of dialogue allows people to think that they are doing trans people a service, when really they are just continuing to see them as something other than “real women.”

Another article about Cox came out at about the same time. This one, however, was very upfront about using what its author thinks is a good understanding of biology to claim that trans women are not even women at all. Written by Kevin D. Williamson for the National Review and later republished by the Chicago Sun-Times (who then removed it and issued an apology), this article is called “Laverne Cox is Not a Woman” and aggressively uses Williamson’s complete misunderstanding of “biological sex” (and yes, I’m using scare quotes on purpose) to misgender not only Cox, but all other trans people. He says that we need to pay attention to the “biological reality” of sex instead of the delusional world that trans people are living in.

princess-bride-you-keep-using-that-word

In the article, Williamson says that (get ready for some extreme ignorance and hate here) we are experiencing a new transgender phenomenon, one where we have lost grip on reality. He says that we have an “obsession with policing language (that is based) on the theory that language mystically shapes reality…” However, just because we say trans women are women, that, according to him, doesn’t change the fact that they are men.

He instead calls Cox “an effigy of a woman,” based on his belief that sex is a biological reality and “is not subordinate to subjective impressions…” He adds that “No hormone injection or surgical mutilation is sufficient to change that.” He seems to believe that sex as we describe it is a thing that just exists, that a clear, inarguable and binary definition for sex just springs forth from nature. Unfortunately, Williamson isn’t alone in this type of rhetoric. There’s actually a wide group of people, some “allies,” some lawmakers and some just outright bigots who all rally behind the idea of using the social construct of “biological sex” to misgender trans women.

The thing people like Williamson want to cling to the most is the idea that sex is an immutable, universal biological reality that is therefore easy to categorize. Although many are willing to call trans women women (or specifically “trans women” or “transwomen” or even “male women”), they say that that is just their gender. They argue that gender is cultural and that sex is an unchanging biological fact, and that therefore their sex is still male. This is used to support “Womyn born Womyn” spaces, create fear around so-called “bathroom bills,” disallow trans women from competing in women’s sports and even defend violence against trans women.

This is a nice attempt, but it's really not this simple guys. via itspronouncedmetrosexual.com

This is a nice attempt, but it’s really not this simple guys (which is something the creator of the graphic understands). via itspronouncedmetrosexual.com

Since “biological sex” is actually a social construct, those who say that it is not often have to argue about what it entails. Some say it’s based on chromosomes (of which there are many non-XX/XY combinations, as well as diversity among people with XY chromosomes), others say it’s genitals or gonads (either at birth or at the moment you’re talking about), others say it’s hormone levels (which vary widely and can be manipulated), still others say it’s secondary sex characteristics like the appearance of breasts, body hair and muscle mass (which vary even more). Some say that it’s a combination of all of them. Now, this creates a huge problem, as sex organs, secondary sex characteristics and hormone levels aren’t anywhere close to being universal to all men or women, males or females.

Those who claim that sex is determined by chromosomes must not realize that sex is assigned at birth not by chromosomes, not even by gonads, but by genitals. In fact, the vast majority of us never learn what our sex chromosomes are. Sex isn’t something we’re actually born with, it’s something that doctors or our parents assign us at birth. So if sex is determined by genitals, they must be clearly binary and unchangable, right? Wrong. Genitals can be ambiguous at birth and many trans people get gender confirmation surgery to change them. Neither chromosomes nor genitals are binary in the way that “biological sex” defenders claim they are, and the vast majority of measures by which we judge sex are very much changable.

"Hey, sorry about that whole 'assigning sex at birth thing.'" "No problem! I know that it has no real effect on who I am as a person today!" via intimatehealthhelp.net

“Hey, sorry about that whole ‘assigning sex at birth thing.'” “No problem! I know that it has no real effect on who I am as a person today!” via intimatehealthhelp.net

It’s pretty bizarre that we place so much importance on an assumption that doctors make when we’re born. A doctor took one look at me the moment I was born and that’s supposed to determine what bathroom I use, what sports I play or really anything else about my current life? We don’t hold adults to those standards in other aspects of their lives, so why do we with this one? 

While it is true that gender and sex are different things, and that gender is indeed a social construct, sex isn’t the Ultimate Biological Reality that transphobes make it out to be. There’s nothing intrinsically male about XY chromosomes, testosterone, body hair, muscle mass or penises. If an alien civilization found earth, they wouldn’t look at a person with a penis and say “Oh, that must be a male, sex based on genitalia is the One Universal Constant.” Sex, like gender, is indeed socially constructed and can be changed.

If sex isn’t the All Mighty Binary Universal Constant that some people think it is, why do they place so much importance on it? The easy answer is that it gives them an excuse to misgender and exclude trans people, and specifically trans women. They can pretend they’re just standing up for science, but they’re really just saying that trans women aren’t fully women and that trans men aren’t fully men. People need to start learning about what sex really is and what social constructs really are. People need to stop misusing biology and spreading ignorance and misunderstanding. People need to stop looking for excuses for their anti-trans bigotry. All of this needs to stop and it needs to stop now.

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Mey is a lesbian Latina trans woman living in Idaho. Her areas of expertise include comic books, witches, trans issues and pop culture. She has an English Degree, a cat named Sawyer, a tumblr that she uses a lot and a twitter that she only uses occasionally.

Mey has written 250 articles for us.

169 Comments

  1. Thumb up 23

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    Mey, I’m sorry, but I have to disagree.

    I’m not going to disagree with anything you’ve said about gender. Gender is 100% a social construct and we all should have the ability to exist and be recognized as genders different from those that the majority of humans identify as based on their biological sex.

    And the people who use biological sex to fuel transphobia are bigots and should be treated as bigots. If you were born “XY” with a penis, and want to be recognized by society as a woman, that is your right.

    But I have to take issue with your statement that “biological sex is a social construct.”

    Do you know how biological sex is determined to exist as a concept, in species other than our own? Biologists take a huge swath of the population, indiscriminate of any factors other than their belonging to that species, and survey for three things: physical characteristics, chromosomes, and genes on those chromosomes.

    If the statistics of that analysis bring about two populations, the species is said to be “sexually dimorphic.” This is the case with humans. If you look at the extant 7 billion humans, 99.8% of them would have XX or XY chromosomal identities at birth, and also at birth, those XX and XY chromosomal identities would correlate with physical characteristics like genital appearance, gene expression, and so on.

    And then modern medicine uses those two groups, “Male” and “Female” to identify how humans of each class will more likely respond to certain medications, whether they can get pregnant, whether they should develop this way or that way physically over time. If they don’t develop as a typical member of their class does (physically) they might have a disease based on aberrant gene expression, that could lead to tumor growth, early death, mental illness, etc.

    But what about the other 0.2%? They have XXY, or monosomy X, or XYY, or XXX, or possible gene expression disorders, or other conditions that cause their biological sex to be more difficult to determine.

    Doctors will offer the parents of these children cosmetic surgery, hormone therapy, and other techniques to modify their physiology such that their bodies will resemble one or the other sex. This is offered because androgyny can come with health problems, including gonadal tumors and other issues. Refusing this care is fine, and its the parents choice, since the baby is not yet old enough to consent. It’s merely an attempt to create a better and more hospitable life for the child, due to our current societal shortcomings.

    But the existence of this 0.2% doesn’t negate the fact that statistically significant dimorphic sexes exist in humans.

    I don’t think YOU understand biology very well.

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      “While it is true that gender and sex are different things, and that gender is indeed a social construct, sex isn’t the Ultimate Biological Reality that transphobes make it out to be. There’s nothing intrinsically male about XY chromosomes, testosterone, body hair, muscle mass or penises. If an alien civilization found earth, they wouldn’t look at a person with a penis and say “Oh, that must be a male, sex based on genitalia is the One Universal Constant.” Sex, like gender, is indeed socially constructed and can be changed.”

      They probably wouldn’t say exactly that, but they would likely say “Oh look! It seems that 99.98% of all these humans have either an XX or XY chromosome, and that influences how they look physically when they’re born! Check out all the differences that highly correlate with those chromosomes!” because that’s what we do with other species, and it’s probably what we’d do with an alien species that WE discovered. We’d attempt to determine how many sexes they have, by examining how many clear sexual morphisms are present in their population. Some species have three or four sexes.

      Also, in our current technological state, it is impossible to take a biologically male human, and replace all the Y chromosomes in his body with X chromosomes. To do so would be a death sentence.

      • Thumb up 2

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        The logical end to the author’s argument would be no biological sexes.

        But what about eye color? What about hair color? These things are ALSO determined largely by a set of interconnected genetic systems. Should we also pretend those separations don’t exist?

        Many people have eye colors outside of the typical, and some people have genetic disorders that cause them to have no eye color and be blind. But that doesn’t mean biological eye color doesn’t exist as a statistically significant way to divide the human population.

      • Thumb up 10

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        The thing about sex chromosomes is they aren’t very salient after fetal development. The Y chromosome in males pretty much only carries the SRY gene that tells the gonads to differentiate into testecles, and then doesn’t do much afterwards. In females only one of the X chromosomes is used. It’s the hormones secreted by the gonads that tell other genes on other chromosomes to express in male mode or female mode, so in terms of gene expression trans women on hormones are biologically female.

        Of course if you want to get SUPER technical sex is all about whether you produce of small motile gametes(male) or large non-motile gametes(female), in which case post-op transwomen are neither.

        I think calling biological sex a social construct is not very useful. It’s better instead to think of sex as probabilistic clusters of characteristics in organisms space, and just keep in mind that not everybody’s characteristics fit entirely into one cluster or another, and try to focus on salient characteristics rather than categories for decision making. For example when trying to decide if you want to have sex with someone, current secondary sex characteristics and external genitals are more salient than chromosomes (depending on what you’re into), but when deciding if want to have a baby with someone functional reproductive organs become more salient.

        • Thumb up 4

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          I’d like to say I don’t think intersex people don’t exist, and I don’t think they should be forgotten about or “fixed” or anything like that.

          Society is imperfect because there ARE so many constructs about how we TREAT intersex people. And that’s why doctors offer assignment surgery at birth, because some parents of intersex individuals will want their kids to be assigned. Is that kind of fucked up? Yeah. It is. But just because intersex people exist doesn’t mean divisions like “male sex and female sex” don’t exist.

          And the REASON that we classicly identify male and female the way we do is because sex is based around reproduction. You MUST have functioning and genetic linkage of your genitalia in either a male or female way in order to reproduce in the human species as it exists today. And by that I mean without the assistance of IVF. For IVF you need a functioning female reproductive system.

    • Thumb up 16

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      The parts that we are born with are not socially constructed, but the way we understand them is.

      Trans women are biologically male under one system of classification, but that system is not the only viable way to classify individuals. In fact, as Mey eloquently explains, the binary system of classification in common use today leaves something to be desired.

      The brain is part of the body, so it is perfectly reasonable for a person who was assigned male at birth but who has a female gender identity not to consider themselves biologically male, since clearly part of their body differs from that of a cis male (even prior to transition). There are many ways to conceptualize the same raw scientific data.

      I don’t think anyone here disputes that fact that most people are born with either a vagina, ovaries, and XX chromosomes or a penis, testicles, and XY chromosomes. But whether all of the people in the first group should be labeled female and all in the second labeled male is a matter of opinion, not scientific fact.

      • Thumb up 17

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        I should also have added that acting like intersex people are abnormal or sick simply because they are relatively uncommon is extremely problematic. Some intersex conditions have associated health concerns, but much of the “care” provided to intersex children is simply an attempt to make them appear “normal”. These children are often subjected to medically unnecessary and sometimes actively harmful procedures without their consent, a practice widely condemned by intersex organizations.

    • Thumb up 4

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      Any reasonable conservative estimate actually puts intersex prevalence at 0.6%. That’s approaching 1 in 100, at a CONSERVATIVE estimate.

      Also 99% of doctors don’t know shit about the biology of gender.

      Honestly the idea that either parents OR doctors should be allowed to assign a “biological sex” AND/OR a “gender” to a child is sick and wrong, and sexist at its’ very root.

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      If you looked at one of your named variables in such a study, for example gene prevalence, the data would be distributed bimodally, but you would by no means observe two completely distinct populations. Your decision to call the sample “sexually dimorphic”, thereby excluding the 0.2% you mention later in your comment, is entirely arbitrary- what are your grounds for excluding people from the so-called biological sex norm?

      It has been acknowledged that the idea of statistical significance involves the setting of an arbitrary cut-off for what counts as a “difference” within a population. This works fairly well in a field such as medicine, where treatments are designed to work on the average person, and population differences are reflected in how people respond differently to the same medication (e.g. people of different ethnicities or ages).

      If the idea of “biological sex” were only applied in a medical context (and even then, trans* people face huge obstacles in healthcare), maybe this wouldn’t be so much of an issue. But our so-called biological sex has a massive social influence on our experiences as people, and results in the prejudices we hear about daily. If we were more flexible about the maintenance of the self-defined, arbitrary binary that is mainstream sex categorisation, maybe we’d see some progress.

      Also, your figure of 99.8% may as well have been pulled out of a hat. There’s no conclusive data on the percentage of the world population that could be considered non-binary in terms of sex, precisely due to the prejudices inflicted upon those who don’t fall under our idea of a “norm”.

    • Thumb up 7

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      The problem here is that you are using the phrase “biological sex” to mean exactly the same thing as “the physical reality of bodies”.

      Those are not the same thing.

      Remember your Butler: “Male” and “Female” are terms that are always already gendered, so if you use either to describe the physical reality of any body, you are gendering that body. The intent of your usage does not matter, those connotations are built into the terms by discourse.

      What we need to new language that can more accurately represent the physical reality of a body without relying on a reference to centuries old, dangerously inaccurate ideology.

      • Thumb up 0

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        I created an account just to cheer on this comment, Minerva. That is probably the most elegant explanation of the situation I’ve heard. Like, seriously, you took this muddled thing I’ve been trying to articulate for a while now and you just hit it right on the head. Bam. Thank you.

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      ” the existence of this 0.2% doesn’t negate the fact that statistically significant dimorphic sexes exist in humans. ”

      True. But it does negate it as a universal concept, applicable to everyone. It’s a good approximation, like saying tall people are men, short people women or children, or that the Earth is flat. Locally it is, if you drive round the city or walk to the corner store.

      There are objective facts, about chromosomes, genital anatomy and so on. These are invariant. But the interpretation of these facts in terms of “male” and “female” differs from place to place, and time to time, the very essence of social construction.

      Some examples -in the US, many conservative religious groups say that if a Y chromosome is present, the person is male. I’m sure you’ve heard this idea expressed.

      But in Indonesia, the Indonesian Congress of Catholic Bishops declared that anyone who had 2 X chromomosomes was female.

      So someone who is 47,XXY – as about 1 in 500 men are – is deemed male in the US but female in Indonesia, according to conservative religious groups. The facts don’t change, the interpretation does. Much as someone who was 1/128 African American was considered Black in some states (so prohibited from marrying a White), but White in others (so prohibited from marrying a Black).

      Littleton v. Prange (9 S.W.3d 223 (Tex. App. 1999), cert. denied, 531 U.S. 872 (2000))
      “Taking this situation to its logical conclusion, Mrs. Littleton, while in San Antonio, Tex., is a male and has a void marriage; as she travels to Houston, Tex., and enters federal property, she is female and a widow; upon traveling to Kentucky she is female and a widow; but, upon entering Ohio, she is once again male and prohibited from marriage; entering Connecticut, she is again female and may marry; if her travel takes her north to Vermont, she is male and may marry a female; if instead she travels south to New Jersey, she may marry a male.”

      Since then, both Kentucky and Vermont have changed their mind.

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      doctors don’t “offer” this surgery for intersex people. they do it without consent. many intersex people don’t know they’re intersex until far later in life because of this atrocity.

    • Thumb up 1

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      I agree with you. I support transpeople; it is important to remember how social exclusion damages lives of transpeople. More than 80% of transwomen are unemployed, and likely to live in poverty.
      I think we are being hopelessly binary if we say that everyone who identifies as “female” has the experience of womanhood. Transwomen didn’t get their period, they don’t have to negotiate pregnancy and avoiding it, they don’t experience menopause. These are the “privileges” are unique to women who are biologically women.
      Having gender reassignment does not give you a vagina. I’m sorry, but a hole made surgically through the perineum is not a vagina. It should be obvious to see that many of the things that transwomen seem to identify with(desire to look pretty) are at odds with what second wave feminism seemed to represent.
      Also, I think this is a well written little explainer; thank you for making the position so clear Mey. I will try to remain open to your position and perhaps I will be persuaded one day.

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        Actually we do go through menopause and we go through the emotional aspect of the period (most do anyway). There are some cis (not biological) women who cant get pregnant, or dont experience periods, they are rare but exist, and it is often due to medical conditions, and i tend to view trans folks the same.

  2. Thumb up 20

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    Well, I certainly agree that Williamson’s is transphobic and quite insulting. In fact, his view has no redeeming qualities whatsoever. Yet, saying that biological sex is just a social construct is not quite right either. I have XY chromosomes. I have male genitalia. The former I cannot change. The latter I can, but only with expensive surgery that I cannot afford. However, even with that surgery, I’d still lack the full functionality of a biological female in multiple regards. Furthermore, I don’t actually care about surgery. In fact, I fully identify as a “femme male lesbian,” proud of my status as a trans woman as opposed to just a woman. I am a woman, but I am male. I am not, however, a man, and Williamson deserves a kick in the balls for calling me one. Being male is separate from being a man. But I digress: sex is not a social construct and is determined at birth, and I think you’re missing the real issue here. The question I have is: why does any of this matter? So I’m male? So what? So I’m a woman? So what? Why does Williamson and much of the rest of society care so much? (My home state of Florida, for instance, won’t let me change the gender marker on my driver’s license without surgery, and wouldn’t let me marry a woman if I did–a catch 22, now isn’t it?) Really, the problem lies far less with social constructs and more with outright ignorance and use of that ignorance to justify violence and laws that would otherwise be unjustifiable. Neither sex nor gender is totally fixed but passing everything off as a “social construct” is just as must of an oversimplification as those made by our detractors.

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      Have you actually been typed for your chromosomal configuration? Like, have you had that specific test done and had a doctor tell you you have XY chromosomes? ‘Cause there’s a whole littany of other chromosomal configurations you could have without knowing it. Really. And there are people designated female at birth with XY chromosomes. And people with XX chromosomes designated male. And other arrangements too, XXY, XXYY, or just X. And I’m pretty sure there are other possibilities I’ve forgotten about, but the only way you would know is if you specifically had yourself tested to see.
      And yet, all these possibilities are discounted when we try to justify thinking of sex as binary, defining it by chromosomes. That’s more than two possibilites, yo, that can’t be a binary!
      And when we tried to define it as a binary using genitals, we completely erased intersex people, who make up nearly 2% of the population. That’s as many people as there are redheads on the entire planet! And we just pretend they don’t exist, and try to cover it up when they’re born with coercive, unwanted, almost always unnecessary and dangerous surgery as an infant!

      We have GOT to let go of this inherently flawed notion that we can divide all human beings into two inflexible sexed categories. It is an idea which is only possible to uphold if we completely erase the existence of millions of actual, real human beings.

      • Thumb up 10

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        And who are you to deny another person’s chosen labels? Yes, there exist people that, for all the Trans*-shaming in the world, take pride in the bodies that they inhabit, regardless of how they personally choose to alter them.
        Would you say the same thing to a person calling themselves as a “femme intersex lesbian”? There isn’t only one way for one to feel about their body, their gender, their gender expression, and/or their orientation.

        • Thumb up 6

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          I don’t have a problem with trans lesbians, but “male lesbian” is something I’ve heard way too much from creepy straight cis guys and trans guys who like to keep one foot in women’s spaces. By definition, a lesbian is a woman who likes other women.
          I don’t like policing other people’s labels unless, by definition, they don’t work. “White two-spirit” isn’t going to fly, either.

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          @woya, you could maybe thank Ilene Chaiken for that. If you ever watched the first season of the L Word you would see the character Lisa, the male lesbian who Alice dated at one point. Chaiken said in an interview the character was based on someone she saw backstage at Lilithfair.

          On a side note Julia Serrano had an interesting point. She said something to the effect; you don’t see straight trans women hanging out with gay men, but you do see trans men, hang out lesbian/queer women. Additionally, you will also notice that trans men are allowed at MichFest.

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      I already know that my input will be discounted by some because non-binary trans* is not “real trans,” but I just want to say that I consider myself “Agender, female.” It boils down to two factors for me: I’m a feminist, and Biology is and has always been my passion. Sex is only a social construct insofar as hair colour, skin tones, height, and trisomies are social constructs (which I don’t believe they are.) We, as a society, associate certain biases and tropes with all of these features (eg. blonde stereotypes, Down’s Syndrome stereotypes, shadeism/racism, etc.,) but these tropes are the social constructs, not the features themselves. Chromosomes exist, genes exist, gene expression happens. Sex is not binary, but it’s also really not open to interpretation outside of medical contexts. Words and definitions for sex must exist for very basic and inoffensive reasons. I would not neglect to learn the functional differences between sexes of any other species I’d intend upon studying. It IS an objective observation to make.
      We always talk about how bodies are all different and that they’re all lovely. We talk about how fat is really just fat and that it’s not inherently an offensive term, and that we should take pride in having it. Why can’t we talk about sex in the same way? If we (Trans* people) feel that we should not be shamed for our sexes, is the best course of action simply wishing them away? Doesn’t that diminish the Trans* identity that many people are actually proud of?
      The social constructs lie with gender, and with the conflation of sex with gender. If we cut the chords that others use to connect them, the rope that bigots use to strangle our attempts to revolutionize identity… human sexes have as much social construct around them as the sexes of fruit flies. We can use them to track and classify genetic/medical information in controlled environments, but observing the different sexes of fruit flies stirs up no differentiable emotions otherwise.

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        Al: “She said something to the effect; you don’t see straight trans women hanging out with gay men, but you do see trans men, hang out lesbian/queer women.” Huh? I’m a woman who is trans who is heterosexual (I’m attracted to men) and I have gay male friends I sometimes hang with. (?!) I’m not sure I get your point.

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        Woya, the difference is that I’m not a man. I don’t dress like one–I don’t even look like one anymore (though that took a massive amount of effort with both hormones and laser. I simply have no interest in surgery.

        PuddingShoes, you articulate the heart of the point extremely well. The real problem is the use of classifications to harm people, socially or otherwise. Whether or not the classifications actually exist, scientifically or socially, shouldn’t actually matter.

        • Thumb up 4

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          Actually, it looks like I flubbed on my definitions. According to Urban Dictionary, a male lesbian is a man. I mean to say that I’m a “femme non-op trans lesbian,” as if that really makes things much easier to understand. I make mistakes sometimes.

  3. Thumb up 8

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    I see a lot of apologism in this comment tree. I have to wonder why there are some people who just NEED there to be some way that people are categorized into two inflexible groups. People are being forced to acknowledge that gender is not the inflexible binary they were taught, and so they take refuse in the Helms Deep of sex, ignoring and erasing the existence of chromosome configurations other than XX and XY, as well as intersex people, who make up 2% of all people everywhere, as if they somehow don’t count, or don’t call into question this notion of a binary.

    The founders of biology are not infallible. Remember all the ways that science and medicine have been bigoted in the past, and try to accept that it may yet be in ways you haven’t realized.

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      My comment is not apologism. There is no need to classify based on two genetic configurations. That’s a useless social construct that ignores real exceptions, trans and intersex included. However, spending time denying that scientific differences exist is ignoring the real issue, which is the fact that any of this is an issue in the first place.

      • Thumb up 4

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        We aren’t denying that chromosomes exist, we are denying that they can be categorized into a binary. That is the social construct around sex, which tries to downplay the existance of some sexual characteristics in order to advance the idea that there are only two “normal” sex characteristics. It pathologizes them.

        And it is essential that we as transgender people resist the attempts to replace binary gender with a binary of sex which ultimately creates very similar kinds of repression and oppression.

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          And the problem that we’ve been having is that, like our opponents, we’ve been focusing on the “what” as opposed to the “why.” Is something really a social construct? Is it not? Yet, regardless of the answer, why should it even matter? I think our side of the argument will be much stronger once we accept that the fact that we even have these things called “social constructs” is the real issue; only then can we move past this endless spiral of rhetoric that our detractors hope to keep us trapped in; otherwise, it’s just their words against ours.

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      2%? Fascinating – where do you get that number from? Research I’ve seen shows it to be far lower.

      Besides – even at 2%, that means 98% fall in to the inflexible categories. I’ll take those odds at the casino.

  4. Thumb up 9

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    I feel the same way about this as I do about transit: I get really pissed off when people who don’t take the bus get to make executive decisions about how they will run.

    If it doesn’t affect you directly, you shouldn’t get to decide.

    Thank you for a great article Mey.

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      Also, great article as always Mey! And look at how involved everyone is with their biology know-how =) Williamson is a d-bag much like Piers Morgan. I think this article should be sent out to people so they we can at least TRY to educate them.

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    I wanted to actually log in (which I never do) to thank you for this useful piece. I admit that I find the fundamental point challenging, so bear with me please. I DON’T want to be like “NO thats just a trans-opinion because CIS-SCIENCE” because I recognize science has been misused before and doesn’t necessarily answer all of our questions in this area.

    After a semester of “Psychobiology of Sex and Reproduction” in college I am obviously no expert, but pretty clear that there are biological differences between most individuals born with XX chromosomes and most individuals born with XY. (I am also pretty clear on the biology of individuals born with other variations thereof). I’m certainly way past the gender binary- I have been thinking of it as a spectrum like genderbread person up there.

    But I think I struggle with hearing that something biological is social construct, because it seems to go against the whole point of what biology means. This here in particular threw me for a loop: “There’s nothing intrinsically male about XY chromosomes, testosterone, body hair, muscle mass or penises.” I recognize that looking at a newborn’s genitals does not a foolproof sex determination make, and that secondary sex characteristics are variable. But isn’t it useful to have a scientific term for the combination of having a corresponding set of sex organs and chromosomes?

    What I can safely get behind is saying that if someone identifies as a woman, it’s because they were born that way. And I can follow the logic and agree if they were born that way, it’s biological. Thus, they are a biological female. Is that oversimplifying? And if that’s what we’re saying, I feel like that’s more an argument for adding neurological identity as a criteria for biological sex, and less an argument for biological sex being a social construct.

    I would so appreciate if someone could help me understand. I’m lost in a sea of cognitive dissonance over here.

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      I had some similar thoughts/questions, your comment helped me clarify them so thank you. Here’s my tentative conclusion:

      It seems unavoidable to me to me that the scientific-medical community needs terms to describe the clusters of biological characteristics that do divide most (but not all) of us into two groups.

      HOWEVER.

      People need to know that these characteristics do NOT fit neatly into a binary. Also, trans people have different brain anatomy than their similarly-assigned-at-birth cis counterparts. Shouldn’t that be considered part of their “biological sex”? It seems to me that this is where the social construct part of “biological sex” kicks in: what characteristics are included, which are prioritized above others, etc.

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        I’ve never been completely comfortable with the “born that way” idea no matter what it is because people, by their very nature, vary. For some it might be all biological, for others, all social, for more, a mix. All are valid. But in terms of the brain study mentioned, I’m afraid at the current time, that is a poor argument to use. 1, the studies were very limited, 2, they exampled only a small sample from a single particular culture, 3, they showed the same thing when examining gay cis men’s brains (being more “feminized”), and 4, brain structure isn’t fixed at birth but continues to develop based on life and social experiences just as much as biological influences, at least to a point and unlike what we tend to consider “biological sex characteristics”. There is a “use it or lose it” component to the brain, especially in the early years, when the neuron pathways are being developed. It also seems like an attempt to link sex with gender again, saying that a “female brain” is the same thing as a “woman”, which has a definition that varies through time and place to begin with.

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      Ok, I’ll do my best!

      So humans are generally really bad at drawing the line between where the world ends and where we begin. In other words, when we look at the world we tend to impose our preconceptions onto it without even realizing we’ve done it. It’s like we’re all walking through the world wearing rose colored glasses, and usually we forget that we have them on. Thus we look at the world and assume that everything is intrinsically pink, when in fact, it’s just our eyeware.

      This happens all the time. Like, you see an object made of wood, with four legs and a flat bit on top and your brain goes “oh, that’s a chair! I know what to do with that! I can sit on it!” Your brain has imposed “chairness” on that object, so much so that it’s almost impossible to look at that object and not see it as a chair. But strictly speaking, that chair is just a collection of atoms in a particular arrangement. It’s only a chair in terms of us, in terms of our mental categorization system.

      On a certain level, the same is true of biological sex. No one is saying that bodies don’t have a measurable reality to them, we’re just pointing out the arbitrariness of the measuring stick. This may seem flippant, but it’s really not. We may call some bodies male and other bodies female but no body can be intrinsically male or intrinsically female. Those are categories that we made up to classify our world into namable things. This is extremely valuable to us; it allows us to make sense of a world that dazzles us with its variety and its impermanence.

      This fact is especially important to remember in this case, because these mental categories that people have drawn for men and for women are being contested by trans people. After all, why is it useful to have a category that groups cisgender men and transgender women together as “biological males?” What good is this category to us? And why are people fighting so hard to preserve it?

      I would argue that the primary purpose for such a category is that it allows people to continue to think of trans women as “essentially male,” thus preventing them from having to reevaluate their mental categories.

      The point many of us are making as trans activists is that those categories, even the ones we attach to our own bodies, that those categories are in our heads. And thus, that we have a huge amount of control over what those categories are and how the lines between them should be drawn. The point is that biology as a system of classification pretends to be objective, when in reality we’re choosing what measuring sticks to use and what they mean.

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        I know I’m probably going to get attacked for this – and if you find this questions offensive, I apologize profusely and don’t expect an answer. But if no body can be intrinsically male or female, what IS male or female? It seems that all you need to be male or female is to feel male or female, but how do you feel male or female if there are no defining characteristics of what either of those words mean?

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          This is an old-ish comment but I wanted to reply as I have struggled to understand this too. I have been doing a lot of reading about this recently and here is how I (as a cis woman), have come to understand this.

          Although neither your genitals or gender expression define whether you are a man or a woman, for me it seems inescapable that gender identity is still necessarily informed by both. Perhaps some people assigned male at birth identify as women because they feel more comfortable in what society generally recognises as a ‘female body’, whereas other people feel more comfortable in ‘female’ gender roles. It seems to me that there is a lot of diversity and it all comes down to highly subjective feelings around what makes you feel comfortable and how others see you.

          I guess I struggled to understand the concept of gender identity when presented as an essential inner quality, but this article by a trans woman has been incredibly useful to me. I can better understand the concept of gender as a ‘semiotic system’ we use to communicate certain things about us.

          https://freethoughtblogs.com/nataliereed/2013/03/09/born-this-way-reprise-the-new-essentialism/

          I realise that my opinion on this as a cis woman doesn’t mean much but I just wanted to respond as I have been thinking about this in much the same way as you.

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        So I totally click with what you’re saying as far as nothing being intrinsically anything, and biology as a measuring stick based on mental categories. But I do have a couple of quick follow up question though.

        You write: “After all, why is it useful to have a category that groups cisgender men and transgender women together as “biological males?” What good is this category to us?” And say that the primary purpose is to protect people from having to reevaluate the way they look at the world. I certainly wouldn’t disagree with the fact that that’s how the category is sometimes – or even primarily – used. But I think what Mira said about the scientific-medical community needing to have that very distinction makes sense too. As someone else pointed out somewhere, a transwoman and a cisgender man may both need prostate exams, whereas a transman or a cisgender woman wouldn’t.

        And another thing I wonder about: I’ve always understood the term “cisgender” to mean an individual’s body matches their gender identity. So I somewhat feel like the word “cisgender” changes meaning a bit when the term “biologically male” becomes only a social construct.

        If we feel like telling the beginning of a transwoman’s story is important, then it’s always going to do with biology – i.e. “Sally was born with male sex organs, therefore the doctors determined her sex as male.” But if we accept that sex and gender are different things, we can still allow Sally to express as a girl growing up. If biological sex is NOT used by the transphobic to back up their own bigoted ideas about gender, is it still problematic?

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          Medical-scientific communities (among others) do need ways to make designations, and easy ones exist by using language that specifically pinpoints whatever medical issue/organ/etc. is targeted!

          For instance, many people I know (some of whom work in the medical community and some who don’t) use language such as “people with uteruses/uteri” or “people with testes” in a way that specifically highlights the population they are looking for WITHOUT imposing specific cultural ideals of how “male”, “female”, “man” or “woman” should be defined.

          That language, perhaps, is more bulky than simply using “male” or “female” but is also far more specific and accurately defined.

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      Just my look at it, but I think it is less that the science is made up, and more that calling those all male is where the ‘made up’ part comes in. The characteristics are more likely in one chromosome set vs another, but that does not make those outcomes male, know what I mean?

      I feel like you described it MUCH better, for me atleast, where it is adding cognitive identity as part of the criteria. Honestly I think it should be MOST of the criteria.

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    Thank you so much for writing this. I’ve really wanted to learn more about these issues because I’m intersex myself. I never really knew what would be the term though for my sex because I had surgery at a very young age and my parents weren’t super open about any of it. And now I know I’m PAIS and it is like this amazing sort of relieving validation. Its actually not easy to figure out, and normally to do so you have to sift through problematic medical texts with graphic pictures, often including those of coercive surgeries. Seriously you’ll never know how much this meant to me. Thank you.

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    This article and the comments made me think a lot, which is always a good thing!
    But also the gender vs sex issue reminds me eerily of the choice vs “born this way” discussion. Because it’s really the same thing, isn’t it? The idea that biology=destiny? It’s depressing that we need to find a biological basis for our identities in order to be accepted. Sigh. Wishing for a world where it is universally accepted that “Every person deserves respect, regardless of who they are or how they got that way“ (stealing Laura’s words from above-linked article because they’re perfect).

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    I think there seems to be a lot of misunderstanding surrounding people whose chromosomes don’t fit the XX / XY binary, most of those people don’t actually identify as intersex or perceive themselves to be sex or gender variant and many feel like being told they *must* be intersex because of their chromosomes is very hurtful and invalidating.

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      Intersex isn’t an identity though, it is a medical term from my understanding, not one some one can opt in to or out of (though they are of course under no obligation to share such information)

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    Hey,
    I love your writing Mey.
    However, I thought it was a little bit disrespectful to use the old version of the “Genderbread Men” and caption it “It’s not this simple.”
    The guy who made that took on a lot of community feedback, and made another version which is far better. It’s actually really useful, especially when explaining sex/gender/sexuality/expression to a person new to the concept. It is actually very clear about sex not being a binary.

    I am a little biased, because I just read his book, and think it is excellent, and I have been raving about it to everyone. But yes.

    I think that when someone learns, and publicly acknowledges their shortcomings and makes improvement, we should support that.

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    I think I’ve been guilty of oversimplification sometimes just purely because the person I’m talking to is not from LGBTQIA culture. I am so grateful to be able to read this article and the comments below and learn how to be a better ally.

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    Thanks for this thought provoking article.

    I’ve heard that the real reason for some of the transgender misogyny revolves around the mistrust of the motive behind a person wanting to be a transgender woman. There appears to be some fear of (predatory) men using transgender as a disguise. Some will go as far as saying that anyone with more natural testosterone than estrogen cannot ever be trusted. The discussion of social constructs is merely politically correct language to express this mistrust and fear.

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    I try to read a lot about trans* issues and the topic overall, but it’s still not clicking. I wish I could find something that makes sense to me – I know trans* people don’t exist as a resource for cis people, but articles shed no light for me. I guess my only option is to continue being cool with trans* people and not ask too many questions.

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      Trans man here. *waves* Being cool with trans people and not asking too many questions is a good way forward, but there are lots of places you can find coherent information. *Some* of us are also happy to answer questions and educate – the trick is to not assume that *some* of us means *all* of us, or to assume that because Quinn is happy to answer questions, ‘Sally’ is also happy to. Does that make sense? Anyway, what I’m trying to say is hit me up, I’ll try my best to be helpful if I can. :o)

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    Please educate me.

    I’m wondering if the prefix “trans” in transgender makes it difficult for journalists to write about transgender people without providing a common context for defining sex at birth for their readers. Trans implies a gender identity that transcends the medical sex label one was given at birth that carries a host of cultural meanings about gender, correct? If so, is it better to ask journalists to avoid talking about sex at all as if it no longer exists for their readers or ask them to help redefine sex as a spectrum that varies for both cisgender and transgender people so its cultural meaning no longer has the symbolic power to define “womanhood” or “manhood?” With this approach, wouldn’t male woman, intersex women, and female woman be viewed culturally as equally “real woman” and male men, intersex men and female men viewed equally as “real men?”

    Also, how do people under the transgender umbrella who identify as genderqueer feel about biological sex labels assigned at birth? I would assume (and please correct me if I’m wrong) that they would not be interested in being understood as “real men” or “real women.” Do they harbor the same concerns about discussing biological sex assigned at birth or is this something specific to the transgender community that identifies at the extremes of a gender binary?

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      I identify outside the gender binary. I feel that describing a genderqueer or nonbinary person as “biologically” female or male is awkward and not very respectful. It’s also not very necessary.

      I don’t like people making assumptions about me based on what they think is in my pants. My experience obviously doesn’t represent all genderqueer or nonbinary people, but most nonbinary folks i know don’t like to be defined by their genitals. Making a point of describing someone’s “biological sex” implies that it is significant or relevant to the discussion, which is arguable.

      Most people still have a lot of unconscious biases about gender and as soon as a journalist describes a genderqueer person as a “biological man” or “woman” then many readers will instantly read that person as a man or a woman.

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    The prefix “trans” in “transgender” comes from Latin via Chemistry. In Chemistry a compound can have groupings on the same side of a double bond (cis) or, occasionally, across the bond (trans). Thus we get the terms cis-gender and trans-gender with the latter indicating that things have swapped from the “normal” (majority) case.

    As a transwoman I still have sex. It still exists for me. I have not lost it or misplaced it or left it under a cushion somewhere.

    Some background reading: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Cis%E2%80%93trans_isomerism

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    As for the Williamson apologists i think you/likes of you and your rubbish are systemically harming my gf (who happens to be a transsexual woman) and tbh i would hands down choose your untimely demise over a single tear of hers. Have a nice day 😉

    Other than that – the reproduction capability regardless of one’s genetic makeup (as long as it’s stable) is within the limits of CURRENT technology. The political stances against neo-oogenesis, neo-spermatogenesis and human cloning do not define reality, technology otoh does – and has long proved there’s nothing ‘special’, ‘magical’ or ‘at birth’ in us, merely machinery which can be dis/reassembled at will. The circumstance that people are actively prevented by ‘birth lottery winners’ from accessing those realities is temporary, like everything else.

    Also, i find the ‘male lesbian’ concept extremely creepy and oxymoronic. it is similar to the ‘pride’ narrative that sees physical disability as an identity instead of a technological breakdown, actively fighting the reconstructive technologies that can and do help millions of people.

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        Alright, I’ll rephrase it to femme non-op lesbian transwoman. Does that click with you better? Does it really matter? Also, I really don’t see any “apologists” for Williamson in this thread. Everyone pretty much hates him. Have you even been reading these comments?

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          Monica, not only that clicks with me better – but in fact i see absolutely nothing wrong with a femme non-op lesbian trans woman. Genitals are everyone’s private matter, they’re not my business …except when they are, and indeed there have been episodes when a femme non-op girl’s bits happened to fall under ‘my business’ :). In short, i’m very very much not your enemy.

          I just don’t see what’s so magical and special in ‘at birth’ and how would that supersede your legal identity, biochemistry, neural makeup , secondary sex characteristics and public image taken together. Moreso i despise the ideologies insisting on that – for the simple reason that they have harmed those i care about much more than benefitted them. Therefore appealing to their canon/dogma means less than zero to me.

          Let’s put it this way, if you don’t mind a hypothetical involving a spaceship: if i was a captain and my crew included a member of an ostracised caste fervently believing she is worth less than a piece of dirt – i would NOT respect her opinion or her culture even though i would pretend to do so. Instead i would on the surface be supportive but actually engineer situations to expose consistency holes in her worldview and gradually manipulate her to replace it with something closer to mine and excessively reward every instance when she does so. I do not mind being considered conniving, evil or totalitarian for that.

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        I don’t think there is one trademarked view for all so called activists – and no, people are never defective. My whole point is that people AREN’T defective. Their subsystems can be defective though, and often can be replaced or fixed – and this is the Jehova’s Witness blood transfusion argument we’re engaging in now. While i don’t support coercion of a legally responsible adult, i strongly oppose parental authority in such cases – and am definitely not favouring the spread of a limiting ideology. You otoh are concerned with the survival of the ideology – about which i could not care less.

        Besides that eventually we WILL be able to replace nonfunctional parts with better-than-OEM, equal or divergent ware – do you want people to be a dogmatic cultural dead-end fighting that too?

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    I’m really sorry guys, but this is flat out ridiculous. There is a very similar tumblr post floating around about various intersex conditions and how that disproved the sex binary. I am sick to fucking death of people appropriating intersex conditions to talk about trans issues. While they may overlap from time to time, they are different situations and to claim they in any way parallel eachother is at best highly intellectually dishonest.

    I am trans but I am also female. No matter what I ever do, at its core that will never change. I spent my whole life socialized as a female as a direct result of my sex. My medical care has to reflect that I am female or I’ll just flat out die. Any number of things present differently between males and females – heart attacks for example. Everyone is entitled to express their gender and have that respected, but it gets nobody anywhere to use rare conditions completely out of context to argue your point.

    Sex exists. None of us can post modern queer theory our way out of that, no matter how much we might like to.

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      Ouch Matt. Thank you very much, my dad nearly ended up six feet under with a mere moderate heart attack because of this here line of thought. See, the medical things tend to distribute statistically on sex axis – and it does make sense to doublecheck for abnormalities known to be statistical.

      As for trans women, i know for certain it is uniformly better to follow the formal bureaucratic procedure and NOT add/subtract things because of what you believe. Except for abdominal surgery – where the best results can be expected if one knows precisely what a transsexual woman is, a knowledge of baseline male/female will be helpful only under a strong common sense which is, counterintuitively, uncommon.

      And we’re not even going into the realm of safety from people, intentional damage or neglect, and unnecessary hoops and measures like ‘oh you won’t mind messing up your biochemistry by stopping maintenance because i would like to isolate the symptoms of the common cold’. So, overall, disagreed. Of course there are risks non-standard to her here-and-now sex, but they’re so OTT overblown (such as the risk of cancer in the prostate tissue rewired to gspot in e.g. my girlfriend – ffs that cancer is T-responsive and she has less T than an average woman nevermind a man) and can be adjusted for manually, by adding specific checks rather than blanket neglecting the everyday realities of an E-dominant biochemistry and primary implications and risks there. That latter approach is called criminal neglect.

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      If a person explains their medical history to their doctors when necessary (e.g. what parts they were born with, what they have now, what medications they are taking)it doesn’t matter how that person personally defines sex.

      Whether one defines female as “someone born with a vagina, ovaries, and XX chromosomes” or “anyone who identifies as a woman/girl” it really makes no difference from a medical/scientific perspective, as long as you clearly define your terms. It may, however, matter a lot to an individual, which is why I have no interest in policing the way people define either their gender or their sex.

      However you define sex, simply stating it will always provide limited medical information. For example, a person that was assigned male at birth could presently have a penis or a vagina, primarily testosterone or estrogen in their body, have developed breasts or not, etc. Similarly, a person assigned female at birth may or may not presently have a uterus and ovaries, may or may not menstruate, may have a penis or vagina, may or may not have breasts, may have primarily estrogen or testosterone in their body – knowing which of these things an individual has is critical in determining what types of healthcare they need access to, and none can be determined by simply looking at their sex assigned at birth.

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    There is no such thing as ‘woman’, didn’t you know that ladies? All this oppression that men have forced on you for thousands of years is all in your pretty little heads. Because woman is what men want it to be, and even they can be one too!

    No need for feminism then.

    Remember, there is no truth.

    2+2=5

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        ‘Social constructs are real though’

        Do you not know what a social construct is? It is not ‘real’ it is by definition a nebulous concept that depends on people believing it (much like transgenderism) it is socially constructed with no basis in reality. Biology doesn’t fall into that category, sorry try again.

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      Men can’t be women. In a female body their proprioception (i.e. bodily self-awareness) glitches more and more over time until they break down. It’s sad that establishing this fact took some lethal experiments on human subjects (See David Reimer case) – but it is even more sad when someone wastes the knowledge acquired at such price. Willful ignorance to cover up for the outright intellectual fail that is their religious doctrine (the absence of which, among other things, indeed we would survive relatively unharmed) is an example of such waste.

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    Bringing up the stats for rapes commutes by males as if that’s anything to so with trans women is disgusting.

    60% of trans women are sexual assault survivors, and no matter how many transphobic lies you spread, they’re never going to be as bad as the males (and cis women) who have abused them.

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    Brilliant !! My heart swelled as you spoke so eloquently what I haved discovered in my own life. There is hope now with articles like this and the rapidly growing research in gender issues and gender origin. Thank you for speaking for us publicly.

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    Mey, I hope you don’t mind me making this suggestion, but when it comes to linking stuff like the National Review hit piece on Laverne Cox, I think it’s important to use an unlinked version of the article, such as this service:

    http://www.donotlink.com

    Part of the reason these bottom-feeders write sensational stories about trans women is because they make money off of it when we click on the article. We shouldn’t reward them for that decision.

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    But Trans Exclusionary Radical Feminists who spew the “biology is destiny” BS have taught this cislesbian so much! (sarcasm)

    I think this article sums it up nicely: http://www.insufferableintolerance.com/dear-radical-feminists-dont-like-trans-people-thank/

    You have taught the world well.

    You have taught me well.

    Your ideology has taught me human beings should be allowed the ability to consent over their lives and their body. Your ideology has taught me body autonomy and the right to choose body altering surgery should only be available to the people you feel worthy. Your ideology has taught me the most important thing about being a woman is having a vagina. Your ideology has taught me the definition of rapist is “having a penis“. Your ideology has taught me policing gender and appearance is the way you protect women from themselves because we have no ability to consent to anything and we control nothing. No ability to consent to pregnancy, attraction to men is just male manipulation, and absolutely no consensual sexual encounters with men ever even if we say yes. Your ideology has taught me no consensual sexual intimacy with a trans person is truly consensual. Your ideology has taught me cisgender women will only ever be victims of the patriarchy and we cannot ever be anything more. Your ideology has taught me you cannot and will not respect the feelings and lives of those who transition – trans men will only ever be female to you and trans women will only ever be male to you because the lives of others don’t count. Your ideology has taught you feel you have the right to free access to the bodies of others when you demand to know what sex they are. Your ideology has taught me to base a persons sex and gender purely on appearance. Your ideology has taught me sexuality can and should be changed at the drop of a hat, that people can choose who they are attracted to and who they aren’t. Your ideology has taught me my rape that was perpetrated by another woman never really happened because you have taught me women cannot rape.Your ideology has taught me my chromosomes define me and biology is destiny. Your ideology has taught me you want to my sexuality as a lesbian to be used as a constellation prize for straight women to use when men don’t work out. Your ideology has taught me sexuality is defined purely by body parts and not attraction and love.

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    So this is about the sixth response to Williamson I’ve read from a feminist op-Ed site, in which the trans woman on staff offers a retort to the transphobe with a genetic gamut on why sex is more complicated than what our adolescent locker rooms taught us. Fine. I wrote one as well.

    But who do you think you’re convincing? Ablow? Williamson? It’s yet more proverbial preaching to a choir that’s memorized the alternative hymnal.

    Instead of these predictable remonstrations, I wish trans writers would go on the offensive. I’m not saying my piece was great, but I broken down the peculiar pagan metaphors of Williamson’s piece and it’s discursive framing of sexual theocracy. Don’t just respond — unpack the systems he depends upon. It’s not enough to keep waving around the genderbread person every time a transphobe says ‘but DNA!’

    There were dozens of responses on this issue. But few went not the offensive. Maybe that’s why I prefer indie blogging. Social media means social niceties, which can lead to rehearsed pieties about ‘gender is between your ears’. It’s hardly a critical hit against their broken theology of the body.

    Aoifeschatology.wordpress,org

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    I am still shocked every time I read an article like this, spotting a stunningly beautiful trans on the magazine cover and realise, “oh right I am a trans as well”. Girl on the article is effing beautiful. Look at that ass.

    I’ll never pass like that. If you are a pretty trans, sure you’ll do fine generally and you’ll have loads of support. But aside from my having great hair and killer legs, I am still 47, and I still have a face like a piece of rock, and I am still one 90.

    Will I find societal acceptance? Hell no. 40% of society (older women, muslim girls) LOVE what I do. I am breaking prejudice.

    But last day I walked the streets here in the Hague and some old muslim in a Jallaba starts howling in pain seeing me in a miniskirt, WALLAH WALLAH shielding his eyes. I was so offensive to the idiot he couldn’t bare look at my countenance without him having to shield his eyes. I mean the guy was physically in distress, with the WALL-AH, WALL-AH, he “lamented” seeing me.

    Try deal with that on a daily basis. Not in my lifetime.

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    While I think you’re right to point out what’s problematic about the phrase “biological sex”, it’s obtuse to claim that “there’s nothing intrinsically male about XY chromosomes and testosterone”. Male and female chromosomes and hormones most certainly do exist, and their biochemical influence on human beings is indisputable. Sexual dimorphism is not purely a “social construct”, it is an intrinsic physiological dichotomy that plays a fundamental role in human development.

    Within weeks of fertilization, each human fetus develops undifferentiated gonads and primordial Wolffian and Mullerian ducts that are common to both male and female genotypes. If the SRY gene is active (usually, but not always, on the Y chromosone), it causes the gonads to develop into testicles, which excrete hormones that stimulate the Wolffian ducts to develop into the male reproductive tract and cause the Mullerian ducts to wither away. In the absence of the SRY gene, the gonads develop into ovaries, which excrete hormones that stimulate the Mullerian ducts to develop into the female reproductive tract and cause the Wolffian ducts to wither away. (In certain intersex cases, one or more of these developments may be delayed or interrupted.) Once these changes to the gonads, Wolffian and Mullerian ducts occur, they are permanent and irreversible. This is the physiological foundation of human sexual dimorphism, and it is fundamental to everyone’s development, transgender and intersex individuals included.

    That isn’t the end of the story, however, because much of the brain’s development may be influenced by hormones excreted by the testicles, ovaries, and other organs. While it’s unknown exactly how this may affect a person’s intrinsic sense of gender identity, there’s little doubt that it plays a significant role. In addition, the physiological developments stimulated by testicular and ovarian hormones during puberty have a major impact on a person’s psychology and self-image.

    In my view, denying the reality of human sexual dimorphism does nothing to advance understanding and compassion for transgender and intersex people. I think it’s far more effective to recognize that we were each conceived with the inherent potential to develop along either male or female physiological paths. In many cases, an individual’s development may not follow an exclusively male or female path, but may diverge in intriguingly numerous ways. Our understanding of human sexuality is far from complete, and our collective maturity in dealing with it has left much to be desired.

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    This is a video I made about some of the biology involved in sex determination, and how many things can lead to variation in that process. Variations in hormones during development can occur, translocation of the SRY gene to a different chromosome can lead to an XX male or an XY female, etc. I hope that it is helpful.

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    The notion that biological sex is simply a social construct carelessly slapped on at birth is completely absurd, and definitely not a view held by the trans community as a whole. Your article ignores the fact that the vast majority of the time (99%), the binary system is a scientifically accurate representation of biological sex among mammals. In the real world, biological sex matters when determining things like adequate healthcare. Spreading uneducated bullshit like this is problematic.

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    Hey, Mey! Definitely agree that how we assign biological sex is socially constructed, as is the concept of gender. And that how we view sex & gender definitely contributes to transmisoginy. (And, for other conversations, intersexphobia, too!)

    Just wanted to poke my intersex head in here and say that that Wikipedia aritcle uses stigmatizing language that doesn’t empower intersex ppl. Instead, check out OII-USA’s Brief Guidelines for Intersex Allies for general intersex info:http://oii-usa.org/wp-content/uploads/2012/10/Brief-Guidelines-for-Intersex-Allies.pdf

    Additionally, my form of intersex is androgen insensitivity. (I don’t include the “sydrome” on the end because I don’t identify as being disordered or sick – I’m totes fine!) I write about my form of intersex on my blog, Full Frontal Activism. Interested folks might be interested in checking it out. http://fullfrontalactivism.blogspot.com/

    Thanks! (:

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    I appreciate your article. I see your concern, and I applaud your drive to help our community. I find some of your points to be of concern though.
    I fall into the classification of transwoman. Even though I know I am technically transgender, I do not identify as transgender or a transwoman, I am just a woman. The day that realization struck me, I felt the weight of my world lift from my shoulders. Finding my place in the social construct of gender is what gave me the freedom to just be. I no longer had to struggle with figuring out who I was, fighting against society’s negative view of all things trans, or feeling like I was viewed as “less than.” I finally fit into our (changing) construct.
    The reason I say our construct is changing is BECAUSE of the work of both the medical and psychological fields. The research from these fields is proving that gender is not binary, that it is a fluid model, and their work is pushing public opinion toward accepting the fluid model, albeit slowly.
    The research about gender related issues CANNOT occur without medical intervention, and medical intervention CANNOT occur without sexual classification. Sexual classification IS based on biological constructs, not on social constructs. Is there variability in the biological, physiological, and psychological representations of sex? Of course, just as there is variability in everything. Here is the most important point I will make: VARIABILITY WITHIN A SYSTEM DOES NOT INVALIDATE SAID SYSTEM. Within the sex system, variability is accounted for by the classification of Intersex. Intersex is the presence of male and female biological characteristics, be they sex organs, chromosomes, etc. the fact that nothing falling outside of the male/female spectrum has yet been discovered proves that our current model is correct. That’s how science works. If something outside of the male/female system is discovered, it will lead to the reexamination of our model. Again, VARIABILITY WITHIN A SYSTEM DOES NOT INVALIDATE SAID SYSTEM.
    Gender IS a social construct because it is based on a society’s perspective of behavioral expectations. There is no scientific basis for gender. Gender is a person’s personal representation of roles typically assigned to their biological sex. Remember, VARIABILITY WITHIN A SYSTEM DOES NOT INVALIDATE SAID SYSTEM. As gender roles have been assigned by the society they represent, how could they be wrong? Where the “wrongness” comes into play is society’s refusal to recognize and accept variability within the system and evolution of the principles upon which the system is built. The same can be applied to the construct of marriage. Male/female marriage isn’t wrong. Refusing to recognize variability in the model of marriage is wrong. Society is on the way to correct that wrong.
    Finally, this may sting a bit, but globalizing the system of assigned sex as merely being an attempt to marginalize transgender individuals or to leave the door open for discrimination an/or persecution of transgender individuals is simply ludicrous. Do people use the system as an excuse to do those things? Absolutely. People also use “democracy” as an excuse for war. I am a woman who is technically a transwoman, and I believe democracy is inherently good with no evil intent, just as I believe that the medically, biologically, and not socially based model of sex is not evil.
    This is my one recipe for the best course of action to affect change:
    1) above all else, treat and deal with others how we would like society to treat us
    2) stand up on the foundation of our own successful life (however we each define success)
    3) positively demonstrate that we do exist outside of society’s current construct of gender
    4) teach others why it is important to analyze the current construct
    5) help the world understand that it is better to accept variability within (and hopefully change) the system than it is to hide behind the veil of security they believe their imperfect system provides.

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    Is there an Autostraddle article which attempts to explain or situate “social construction”? Because based on this comment thread, it seems one would be uber helpful.

    A lot of the miscommunication[s] I’ve noticed on this page stems from a misunderstanding of the meaning and implications of something being socially constructed.

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      Tango you are absolutely correct that misunderstanding of what a “construct” is causes widespread communication problems. A construct is “Definition: a social mechanism, phenomenon, or category created and developed by society; a perception of an individual, group, or idea that is ‘constructed’ through cultural or social practice.”

      Example 1) Emotions are actually constructs designed to explain physiological functions/feelings in the body. Emotions are not things that exist outside of that function. When psychologists measure emotions or emotional responses, they are actually measuringFor example, if your heart rate increases, you start to feel flush, you get shaky, and you are unable to move your thoughts away from a bothersome topic, you may say you’re “anxious” or “afraid.” If your body gets warm, you feel light-headed, your heart rate slows or speeds up, you feel like your thoughts flutter, and you just feel good, then you might say you’re in love.

      Gender is a social construct, because gender is a set of ideas or principles constructed by society to represent the roles and behaviors society expects people to adopt based on their assigned sex. Gender only exists as a phenomenon to describe expectations and principles.

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    Except biological sex does exist, and saying it doesn’t is transphobic because you are denying the fact that trans people experience sex dysphoria, and you are trivializing it, which is almost equally disgusting.

    Yes, biological sex does exist. No, it isn’t an excuse to invalidate the gender of trans people.

    I am a trans man. I need the sex characteristics of my body to be altered for me to be comfortable. No matter how much you say “but if you’re male, your body is male!”, it doesn’t make the dysphoria go away. Hormones and surgery will make it go away.

    There are plenty of stories that prove it. There are several instances of men having damage to their genitals shortly after birth, and having sex reassignment. Without even being told, they begin to develop sex dysphoria shortly after puberty. It is biological, not mental.

    Basically, the argument that biological sex isn’t real is as harmful to trans people as being told that sex reassignment is cosmetic, when in reality it is life saving.

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    Interesting article here with many good points. I am definitely in the camp that believes in the notion of “biological sex,” but I agree with the author that it should not be used to gender/misgender anyone. Biological sex matters in the context of science and medicine, most of all when it comes to reproduction. Regardless of any cultural and social expressions, our species reproduces sexually. We are not strawberries, earthworms, or amoeba (just a few examples of organisms that reproduce differently from ourselves).

    Point being, although biological sex is relevant in certain contexts, it doesn’t bear on gender, and hopefully as society at large becomes more educated about trans issues, people will learn not to use a person’s reproductive system as an attack on their gender.

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    Clearly, the issue is based on the use of the words “male” and “female” to dichotomize the human population. The biological reality that I’m interested in (as a researcher in the field of evolutionary biology) is that people (and other organisms) vary in their genetic composition (e.g., number of x chromosomes, number of y chromosomes), and these genetic differences have real effects. For example, people with certain genetic compositions look different, have different susceptibilities to disease, have different rates of certain types of cancer, respond differently to certain medicines, etc. It’s totally correct, however, to say that the partitioning of all this genetic variability into two categories (male and female) is arbitrary. But it’s a bit of a stretch to claim that using external physical characters to make a prediction (with greater than 99.9% certainty, I should note) about certain fairly important things (e.g., what cancer I’m at risk of developing, what my susceptibility to heart disease is, what my early-life developmental trajectory is likely to be) makes a doctor a hateful person. In my case, when I’m teaching about genetics and evolution in a university classroom, I use gender to make a prediction about genetic make-up (either XX or XY) of students in my class in order to demonstrate patterns of genetically-based variation in height among my students (there is an effect of X and Y chromosome composition on height) – I really don’t think there’s anything hateful in that. It’s just an effective way to teach about the sources and patterns of variability that form the basis of evolutionary change.

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    Thanks for breaking this down so clearly and concisely. My students will be reading this. Each semester, as part of the Introduction to Cultural Anthropology university course I teach, I go over the fact that sex assignations are also culturally shaped and determined, not biologically fixed as opposed to gender identity. My students usually fall into the Time authors group – they understand the distinction between sex and gender fairly well but persist in understanding sex assignations as a straightforward binary. Hopefully this article will help them understand better!

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    I’m confused by how many people have read this article and think that Mey is denying the existence of biological difference or that sex is a social construct in the same way gender is. She clearly differentiates between gender and sex in one of the concluding statements of the article: “While it is true that gender and sex are different things, and that gender is indeed a social construct, sex isn’t the Ultimate Biological Reality that transphobes make it out to be.” Based on earlier explanations in her article, I read this as noting that the concept of sex as popularly and commonly presented is restricted and misrepresented as a strict binary, most often assigned based on one specific phenotypical aspect (as she breaks down in the paragraph noting that people pinpoint different ways of identifying the existence of sexual dimorphism in human populations – genitalia, gonads, chromosomes, secondary sex characteristics, hormone levels, etc.).

    As I understand it, Mey is critiquing the popular perception of “biological sex” as an excuse for mis-gendering trans* people and as an over-simplification of the all the genotypical and phenotypical traits that go into the ways in which many industrialized societies classify people at birth. In addition, she’s drawing connections to how people use the supposed immutability of “biological sex” (what assignation you were given at birth based on what your genitals looked like to the delivering doctor) in order to enforce certain gendered standards and expectations on people and deny their identities.

    There’s a difference between questioning and probing the ways in which humans classify themselves and others and denying physicality. Mey is doing the first, not the second. Clearly there are differences within the human population in terms of reproductive organs, genital appearance, chromosomal make-up, hormone concentrations, and expression of secondary sex characteristics. Different fields of study/paradigms have distinct standards for assessing and organizing those within-population differences. What is problematic is when those standards are then taken as natural or “real” as opposed to human-constructed.

    If we’re looking for ways for medical-scientific communities, among others, to be able to directly and accurately deal with particular sub-populations, then we can look to examples that highlight specific aspects of our physicality without applying inaccurate sex or gender labels – for example, if searching for participants in a study related to testicular cancer, using “people with testes” instead of “men.”

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    I appreciate the education I am receiving from such gifted writers and commenters as I find here. And, my education is too close to the beginning to have formed anything approaching an opinion; for now, I can only ask questions, and hope they are received as intended.
    If we take it to be true that biological sex, or at least some significant part of it, is as much a social construct as gender, then what do we mean when we say man/woman/transman/transwoman? Or, more precisely, what do you – whomever might choose to answer this – mean when you use those words? I mean, if “woman”, “man”, “female”, “male” are all socially constructed ideas that have no concrete foundation in biological reality, then what possible meaning can the word “transwoman” have? From the perspective that “maleness” or “femaleness” are simply labels assigned to us by doctors or parents at our birth, based upon some perceived morphological marker, it seems to me that saying “I am a man” or “I am a woman” is meaningless, regardless of whether or not it jibes with our particular culture’s ideas regarding those words. Which makes my “transness” equally as meaningless. If my “sex” and my “gender” are both constructs, unconnected to objective reality, how can I possibly be “trans” anything?
    I will note again that these are not rhetorical questions, that I really want to understand this – to me at least – complicated topic. Thanks.

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    You have definitely shown the lie society lives by, Mey. I had myself genotyped by 23 and Me, which reveals every gene on every chromosome. Full frontal DNA nudity, one might think of it as.

    When the results came in they asked for reconfirmation of what my sex was, instead of forcing on me the social construct of what sex someone with DNA like mine should be.

    If geneticists can take it like adults and admit to the hazards of trying to classify people by their parts instead of as a whole person, then everyone else can do it as well. Seriously, if there’s doubt as to the sex/gender of a person, whether they be clothed or not, just ask, instead of kicking them out based on idealized wo/man beliefs.

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    This is such a thing.  Thanks for describing this.  I remember having made my own (much less clear) version of that Genderbread Man diagram and later having lamented its problematics.  ‘Biological sex’ is so… not exist… ah, what am I even repeating this for?  Your article already explained it all; I’m just singing choir backup.

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    Why is biological sex in quotes? Listen I have no problem calling a transgendered woman a woman but why do I have to be less for her to be more? This article makes no sense. A son who enters my family biologically or through adoption is still my son. I won’t call one biological or the other adopted. The PROCESS is either biological or through adoption. My son is my son. Period. But one was adopted and one was not. It won’t change the love, the care, the value but the identity and the stories are different. So woman/man isn’t what you wear, hormones etc so why do transgenders do wear typical woman or male clothes and take hormones?!?! Those who like me were born with a vagina are being dissected in all sorts of ways when trans go get the same vagina because they feel that they should have. I was given one and so I shouldn’t be in quotes. Period. Listen call yourself woman, I’ll call you woman, use the same bathroom as I do and all that, but don’t call me “biological woman”… in quotes! You can’t stand on top of someone else to make yourself taller. I thought we knew as a species that that’s nonsense. Apparently not.

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      The clothing thing was because in the early days trans people would be denied medical care if they did not conform to gender expectations. A dear friend who is a trans woman in her 60s told me that she was shunned away from care for decades because her dressing style was more androgynous and she primarily preferred woman, which made the medical establishment suspicious about her desire to be a woman. “You’re not really trans!”

      Alice Dreger has a great talk on how the distinction between male and female biologically isn’t all that clear cut: http://www.ted.com/talks/alice_dreger_is_anatomy_destiny

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    The article stated over and over that biological sex is a social construct, yet provided no evidence for this assertion, and mysteriously lacks citations for the claim that our current understanding of the human species as predominantly sexually dimorphic is incorrect. The few reasons given for why such statements as “trans women are male” being false are as follows:

    1) Some people are born with a chromosomal sex that is neither XX or XY, and some people are born with ambiguous genitalia (anatomical sex). This proves that biological sex is too messy for a binary to be applicable.

    To answer, this is an understandable point to bring up, and the way the author has stated it makes it seem that sex identification at birth is hopelessly flawed. However, if we look at current intersex statistics, in which 0.06% of humans are estimated to have an atypical chromosomal sex, and the liberal estimate that about 1.7% of humans are born with atypical chromosomal and/or anatomical sex (i.e. intersex individuals) we see rather plainly that such occurrences are errors in normal human development. What this shows is that in 98-99% of humans, there is no ambiguity regarding the alignment of chromosomal sex, anatomical sex, hormonal sex, and secondary sex characteristics. Certainly, there is a range, but not to the extent of any ambiguity regarding one’s reality as either male or female in 98-99% of all humans.

    2) Sex is complicated and there are so many variances that the system itself must be disregarded.

    As I showed in my answer to #1, sex is indeed complex (being comprised of different “layers” of sex, so to speak) and that errors in this amazingly wondrous and complex system do occur – these individuals are known as intersex, and their lived reality is describable by measurable means. “Internal gender identity” is not describable by any measurable means except the subjective statements of the individual. If you are stating that a subjective experience trumps an objective, studied and measurable reality, then you are not aware of how the scientific method functions, and by what means we are capable of feats such as going into space.

    3) People who refer to biological sex just don’t understand science, or it’s complexities, and people are simply using sciencd to justify their transphobia.

    This is a reversal. It is a form of gaslighting, and is usually associated with the larger attempts by a troubled and/or abusive individual or group to redefine the prevailing view of reality to suit their desires, usually by way of emotional manipulation.

    This article is a classic attempt at an emotional appeal to obfuscate the lack of any rational argument other than “because I say so.”

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    Oh another article that pushes reality aside. Biological sex is not a social construct. Intersex people are not transgender persons. So let’s leave them to the side since this attempt to link one to the other makes no sense in any way.

    Most people are happy to call a transperson by their preferred name and pronouns, but please do not publish lies that biological is not a scientific truth (yet you go to scientists to correct a problem you claim not to be scientifically rooted and for which you come up with all sorts of convoluted claims as to why you are transgender) or accuse women and feminists of biological determinism. If anything is biological determinist here, it is historical culture which has always told women what to do, how to be, think and move and which, even today, tells them to shut up when they object to such articles such as this above. And looking from the outside of this spectacle, I can only see, once again, males telling females to shut up because they want these women to stay in their place. If anything this article demonstrates the policing of language which is troubling. Just because a group politicizes their cause does not mean that their arrogant attempts to manipulate scientific discourse is anything short of nonsense and wrong. I have no problems saying that this is all so wrong. Not that people want to identify how they wish–go ahead and do to yourselves what you wish. Don’t expect us to be the crowds gathering around the naked emperor telling him that his clothes are divine.

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    Biological Sex is not a social construct.

    The fact that 99+% of the world population is born with XX chromosomes and a uterus or XY chromosomes and a penis is not socially constructed or a random phenomenon. Nature does this on purpose.

    Regarding Chromosomes , true, it’s the presence or absence of the SRY gene that determines the sex, but guess which chromosome carries the gene? The Y.

    And yes there is more than just xx and xy. But if you’ve taken a biology course, you’d know that the number of X chromosomes doesn’t determine a male or a female in a scientist’s eyes, but the presence of a y chromosome. The Y chromosome = maleness. Absence of the Y chromosome = femaleness. XXX = female; XYY = male; X = female; XXY = male.

    “Klinefelter’s syndrome is a genetic condition that only affects males. Affected males have an extra X chromosome.”
    “Turner syndrome or Ullrich–Turner syndrome (also known as “Gonadal dysgenesis”[1]:550), 45,X, encompasses several conditions in humanfemales, of which monosomy X (absence of an entire sex chromosome, the Barr body) is most common.”
    “XYY syndrome is a genetic condition in which a human male has an extra male (Y) chromosome, giving a total of 47 chromosomes instead of the more usual 46. This produces a 47,XYY karyotype, which occurs in 1 in 1,000 male births.”
    “Triple X syndrome (also known as triplo-X, trisomy X, XXX syndrome, 47,XXX aneuploidy) is a form of chromosomal variation characterized by the presence of an extra X chromosome in each cell of a human female.”

    Also, you say a penis isn’t male. But let’s define what ‘male’ means:

    “of or denoting the sex that produces small, typically motile gametes, especially spermatozoa, with which a female may be fertilized or inseminated to produce offspring.”

    Pretty sure a penis fits into that definition. How is it not male? Male does not mean ‘man’ or ‘masculine’. It is not a gender, but a sex. In humans and even animals, there are two very distinct sexual anatomies a person can have; scientists dubbed these two different types of reproductive anatomies as male and female which allows them to study how childbirth works. That’s all it is

    I get where you’re going with this ‘Social construct’ thing, but I think it would be more accurate to that the way we ASSIGN or STUDY biological sex is a social construct, because biological sex in itself is a very real thing. the fact that a cis woman can have a child and her cis brother can’t is not a social construct. Also, if there was no such thing as biological sex, then what’s the point of hormones , sex changes , etc?

    Just my thought on it all. Regardless, sex should not be a reason to misgender someone, I agree. But also remember that the male and female sexes are not made-up things , and male and female are an anatomical makeup, not a gender or an identity.

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      Keep in mind the definition you use is not atatic, and was designated by those in a position of power wothout talking to any people who had a differing view point. Definitions change pretty frequently as well. There are many societies that recognize more than 2 sexes.

      Also speaking strictly from an identity standpoint, if a person’s brain is genetically female, but they have a penis, does that mean that despite being a woman, that singular piece of them is a man or male? I fell the body is that of a person, if that person is a woman, then her body is that of a woman.

      The drive to change the body is a tricky subject, some feel that of society didnt so tightly group sex and gender that surgical intervention wouldnt feel so needed. Others believe it is that there are parts we designate as male and female but those change from person to person (such as non-op trans people (including trans men), non-hrt trans people, etc).

      I believe the penis is not male if the person is not male, it may very well be the product of a y chromosome in any setting, but calling it male just helps confuse the issue of the differences of sex and gender, and is obviously upsetting to the trans population. Does it not make more sense to find a name for it that doesnt lend to this confusion?

      Is it really too much to ask that a person who is constantly called male, a man, a deceiver, not really a woman, etc (and reversed for trans men) not have part of their body labeled in a way that lends its self to societal back lash?

      I prefer to look at it like a machine, each part has a name, but when put together these parts are called one thing, a tractor, a computer, etc. this is how many trans people voew themselves, they are women, the parts used to construct them may not be typical, but it doesnt make them not a computer, one solid term for all of them.

      Would you say my DD breasts, born of a naturally high estrogen level before i even started my transition, are actually male because they are just elongated pecks born of a person of XY make up with some reason mixed in for this production?

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    Hi, I am a 68-year-old transsexual retired teacher grandma, with a Masters Degree in Elementary Education. I have never taken hormones or had surgery. Over the nearly 34 years of my teaching career, I taught in German-Russian and Scandinavian communities in the Dakotas, on Chippewa/French/Cree Rez in North Dakota, the Navajo Rex in New Mexico, and urban mixed race schools in Florida. Just to establish, the basis for my opinion. Just because I spent most of my life living as a dyke female presenting as a male and have male anatomy, it doesn’t mean that in my two long lasting relationships with two cis women, even though I have six biological children, functioned consistently as a male sex organ. It really only acts like a male sex organ at the moment of climax, otherwise it is entirely undependable. The point that just because a trans lady has male sex organs that doesn’t mean that she really wants anything to do with them and many desire their absence. While each trans woman’s experience is different, to blanket say that having male sexual organs makes you a male is at the most a very misleading statement. Each person’s sexual activity takes place within the context of who they are and what their emotional needs are and the relationship they have with their partner in the sex act and their social and cultural expectations, and their feeling of self-worth. So picking one or two characteristics and deciding what a person’s gender identity at birth is problematic at the most. If a person strongly identifies with one gender identity, and can only function emotionally as that gender, why should society stand in that person’s way. Throughout my whole life, looking back over my past I would not have functioned first if I would have accepted myself as a woman, even as a dyke female trying to present as a male, rather than trying to function as a male, and feeling a failure at it. At least I would have known who I was.

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      You’re denying the simple truth that there are typically two groups of people within the sex (gender is masculine/feminine, not male/female) category, male and female (with the exception of different syndromes, including Down Syndrome, where there are issues with a person’s chromosome count and subsequent fertility problems). Unless you’ve been diagnosed with some sort of measurable genetic syndrome, I don’t see how what you’re dealing with can be justified on a scientific level. You may feel a certain way and have emotional issues as a result, but feelings are not measurable, nor are they lasting from one moment to the next in any human being. Somewhere along the way you were able to have children, with a woman, which complicates your story. Just because the world doesn’t understand what goes on in your mind doesn’t mean it’s against you, personally. Everyone has issues, more or less worse than yours. It’s unfortunate that you’ve taken on your feelings and tendencies as an identity, because then anytime someone says something against your feelings on the matter, you will automatically take personal offense. I’m sorry, but what you feel in your mind is not part of your identity. Identity is unchanging, it is measurable, you don’t need a black person to tell you they’re black in order to find out. There are basic truths in life, and those who wish to warp them, change them, and pervert them to fit their own truths are damaging the whole of humanity for the future. Feelings are fleeting and we should not be devolving into a species that values fantasy over reality and truth. We should be striving for what is real, what is measurable, what is good for all. The human mind is a messed up thing to let run wild…. By promoting individuals’ feelings and feel good behaviors to be justified, we are moving closer to animal-human instinct rather than developing our minds and bettering our society.

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    Throughout my whole life, looking back over my past I would not have functioned first if I would have accepted myself as a woman, even as a dyke female trying to present as a male, rather than trying to function as a male, and feeling a failure at it. At least I would have known who I was.

    What I mean to say is that I would not have functioned any worse as a human being if I would have accepted the fact that I was a woman, who was trying to function as a dyke female, presenting as a male rather than trying to pretend I was a male trying to function as a male and feeling like a failure. At least I would have known who I was and accepted it.

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    Genitals are only an indication of sex. Sex has real, biological traits from a thicker corpus colussum in the brain of women to fallopian tubes and a uterus.

    The differences in the brain, in particular make a difference. When a doctor can look at a human brain and determine if it is a male or a female with 80% accuracy, then there are going to be gender differences in behaviour. This is a just a simple fact.

    http://www.scientificamerican.com/article/girl-brain-boy-brain/

    When differences in the skeleton are present in any species, such as wider hips so women can give birth but aren’t as efficient when running, the gender of that species will have evolved different behaviour to that of the other gender. If gender and innate behaviours were so fluid – natural selection would have weeded some of those out.

    Does this mean that every man is a man and every woman is a woman? No – genetic mutations happen all the time and biology is very complicated – but the number that do not fit one or the other neatly is vanishingly small, in the neighborhood of 0.3% of the population.

    But – the genders that we have, a combination of social expectations, biologically motivated behaviours and more, are incredibly useful for streamlining our day to day interactions with other people. This makes us more efficient at everything from business to buying a coffee, freeing up our time and brain power for greater things.

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      https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=AXj3DenRsOg

      As mentioned here, the difference in behaviour may be coming PRIOR to the major brain differences, causing many of the differences. As for the weeding out, many factors ARE being weeded out, but they take time, hell we still have tail bones, some longer than others, that haven’t completely faded, so these physical differences may very well change with enough time, and I have not seen much in the way of comparing our skeletons now vs say 500-1000 years ago (though again, i doubt much can happen in such a small time).

      Using vanishingly small is a rather poor and inaccurate choice of wording, especially given we are just now really starting to grow in to this topic and seeing a major rise in people questioning their gender in a way that is more obvious (where as in the past such things were frowned upon even harder than they are now). There are so many sub-sects and given just how much this is growing, an accurate number of trans people is going to be difficult to lock down, both because with terms ever changing it is difficult to pinpoint just what is or is not included in any given statistic, as well as the number in general growing not so much due to it being more common, but that it is becoming more acceptable to move forward with something like this. It is becoming more visible.

      Streamlining has always left minorities in the dust, and there are still ways to streamline while being respectful (use a genderless pronoun initially with people, or just asking, hell in most situations gendering isn’t even needed). I can just as easily, or even possible with even more ease, ask ‘how can i help you today?’ at a coffee shop as ‘hello ma’am how may i help you?’

      We have LEARNED to inject gender in to places it is not needed, and efficiency isn’t always the ultimate goal, or else slave labor and slavery would still be widely accepted options (not saying some of those aren’t still used, but on the whole seem to be not seen as acceptable).

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        First, the differences in the regions of the brain are adaptive traits – men and women can’t have different brains and exact same behaviours – the brain does not grow differently because of how we are treated.

        Second – natural selection can work in a very small amount of time. If there is a drastic shift in the environment, like for example, when China overnight switched their main food to rice, natural selection can weed a sub-set of the population out within a couple of generations – < 25 – 30 years.

        Third – tailbones are a dumb example because they are not a detriment with regards to natural selection. They do not slow us down, make us more inflexible, dumber, or any other negative, so of course natural selection won't weed them out. Behaviours like aggression – though, that may cause a 115lb woman to throw herself a at a 200lb tiger with sharp claws, that would wipe her genes out the gene pool very quickly, far less quickly, then say a 200lb man in the same scenario.

        "Vanishingly small" is very accurate, and may I say, has a nice flair to it. You're right – hard numbers on how many people are "intersex" or "transexual" or whatever are hard to get. But – in my experience (such as the "rise" of autism rates, that have simply been linked to a widening of the diagonistic criteria), the reason you're seeing more people in these categories is because people like you are constantly adding definitions and conditions, which widens the people that fall in to these categories, but add no actual value to these peoples lives.

        Also, being on the internet means that that you can seek out and communicate with whomever you want, however narrow the definition. This often makes it seem like there are more people that agree with you or fall in to one of these categories then there actually are. How many people have identified to you as intersex or other? Now divide that number by 350,000,000 for the US alone and tell me there are a lot of them.

        You are incorrect about injecting gender in to places it is not needed. Gender, as I said before, is extremely useful in day to day interactions for making our lives simpler. Simpler = more productive because we can dedicate our brainpower to greater things.

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    You have quite an impressive vocabulary and an extensive knowledge of the existence of these big words you use, but have not grasped the simple truths and concepts of humanity and have distorted the meanings of these words to fit your personal theories. We have a man made concept of gender, and a small mess of people distorting it in order to justify their feelings and behaviors. The human body and mind are complicated yet simple. People want to feel unique, special, accepted, loved, etc. and by building upon the concept of gender and creating a super spectrum of genders and everything in between they are accomplishing that. If we were to approach all of humanity’s feelings and wants and desires this way, to apply them as identifying features (that simply cannot be measured or even determined except by the person’s disclosure) we would have utter chaos. Any whim, any fantasy, any secret desire, any vice, any want, any perceived need, any behavior, any feeling, ALL immeasurable, would be justified, by your logic, and would need to be accepted by all of humanity. If a gay bi gender Arab man with brown eyes and a missing ear looks in the mirror, he sees an Arab man with brown eyes and a missing ear, only the measurable things. If something needs to be disclosed in order to be known, it has no business being part of ones identity. There are simple truths in life, and one who needs to complicate matters is seeking to confuse in order to deceive. I didn’t bite, neither did Sam.

    Sam in the comments section said it superbly.

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      Except this isn’t some hereditary disease, also it comes down to more than feelings, as a great many studies are showing. How we present is one thing, how we identify is another. Given the limited research on it thus far, as it is only hitting a wide audience as of the last while, the words to explain this aren’t easy to come by, but it is more than just a feeling.

      It is about becoming who we feel we are, for me, it is something in the middle with a female base to work from, this is me, because this is where I feel most comfortable being me.

      Ignoring the fact that you have ignored all non-binary or fluid people in your point, let us not forget that the treatment for gender dysphoria, as agreed upon by the majority of the medical profession, is physical treatment. If this was something strictly psychological, than there would be a psychological way of fixing or minimizing it, and yet, they have agreed there are not.

      So tell me, if the people you are talking about disagree with you, and the people who would be the most medically knowledgeable ALSO disagree with you, where do you draw your facts?

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      Given the very wprds we use were socially constructed, and that many societies, even ours, recognize more than 2 sexes (intersex), and recognized more in the past (there used to be 4 in our history), yes, socially constructed.

      I mean scientists recognize many karyotypes even when just focused in those we deem sex karyotypes. It is more society fixated on only seeing the two.

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    Thank so much for this article!
    I’ve been searching for an explanation of this whole issue for a long time now and this is brilliant. All I have known to be true instinctively you have put in words here. Great!
    I knew that I was a man from early childhood on, nothing could change that, I was just a guy with yes, a vagina – and, that I am into guys. Unfortunately, I look like what most people perceive as a beautiful woman. Usually, when I started a relationship, I tried to explain that I am, in fact, a guy – but nobody ever gets it.
    Next time somebody asks endless questions I will send them here, thanks again.

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    oh my god! This is the dumbest, most anti-scientific delusional thing I’ve ever read. People who buy into this tripe are the social justice equivalent of anti-vaxxers.

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    Ok, so the argument of this article is that sex is not binary/objective like people think it is?

    How does this invalidate the concept of biological sex? Based on this article the concept (in how people typically use it) merely seems to forget about intersexed folk.

    But what does that really have to do with trans people if they aren’t intersexed in anyway? How does that not make a trans woman who was born with a non ambiguous penis, xy chromosomes and all the other typical secondary sex traits associated with being male “biologically” male?

    “that trans women aren’t fully women and that trans men aren’t fully men.”

    If primary and secondary sexual traits don’t matter, what does being fully woman/man mean? Based on the way the words are typical used and what they usually are, a trans woman is still biologically male, that doesn’t mean she’s “really a guy” or that misgendering her is ok. It’s just the reality of the matter.

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    Perhaps this will help you to understand what biological sex is…it is a definition you didn’t mention in your article:
    “There is one fundamental feature of the sexes which can be used to label males as males, and females as females, throughout animals and plants. This is that the sex cells or ‘gametes’ of males are much smaller and more numerous than the gametes of females. This is true whether we are dealing with animals or plants. One group of individuals has large sex cells, and it is convenient to use the word female for them. The other group, which it is convenient to call male, has small sex cells. The difference is especially pronounced in reptiles and in birds, where a single egg cell is big enough and nutritious enough to feed a developing baby for several weeks. Even in humans, where the egg is microscopic, it is still many times larger than the sperm. As we shall see, it is possible to interpret all the other differences between the sexes as stemming from this one basic difference.” -The Selfish Gene by Richard Dawkins

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    I’m sorry but you say “the hate needs to stop” and yet when anyone disagrees with you it’s “you’re a bigot fuck you bigot!”

    Look we all get it, America is great. You can do whatever you want. You can surgically modify everything about yourself and then demand everyone else treat you “like normal” and if they don’t then they are the assholes.

    But it’s all a little too much freedom. You give people an inch and they take a mile. Shit like this is the reason this country is doomed. You can be a guy or girl and do whatever you want! But human beings have never been able to change their sexes biologically. There are reptiles that can do it. But not homo sapiens. Maybe we would all be more accepting if you were more reasonable.

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      Human beings also aren’t able to change their heart muscle biologically, and yet we perform heart transplants and valve transplants all the time. So the “it’s not natural” argument holds little water, dude.

      How does a transgender person being recognized as such doom the country? How is it unreasonable?

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    If there’s no basis for biological sex then there’s no basis for sex dysphoria either. No reason to switch hormones, no reason to have surgeries and no ability for the brain to know its incompatible with sexed anatomy. If male and female are not real, just a collection of features that occur in a set for most people, then male and female brains cant have any knowledge of that set.

    Biological sex can be explained as a series of linked biological factors which if all function lead to the development of males and females, and if those males and females have a fully functional set of gonads they have hormones within a range common in the population. Sex is a biological configuration that normally results in ability to reproduce via either eggs or sperm, its a case of one half of the population having on set of organs and the other half having another. It just happens those organs produce hormones that affect the rest of the system and people vary in how they respond to those hormones. Its the same with non sex hormones like insulin and thyroxin, everyone varies in how responsive they are to it and that can impact health of the system those hormones are involved in. Sex hormones are the same and whats effected by response to those hormones is fertility and markers on the body that indicate fertility. A person can be set in an unhealthy pattern where levels of hormones are out of balance and it may mean they dont develop certain features as a result of it. That does not make biological sex unreal it just means the biological equipment has an imbalance and just because its sex hormones instead of some other system it dont make it less of an imbalance. Im no talking intersex here im just talking endocrine disorders that can effect anyone and result in hormone driven traits developing out of line with sex. People can be at more risk from cancer if they produce high levels of unbalanced hormones.

    The reason why certain hormone levels are classed imbalanced in one sex and not the other is not a social construct its because if you have ovaries or testicles the hypothalamus and pituitary has different ways of regulating those hormones to ensure blood levels are measured and the glands respond by increasing or decreasing levels inline with what the body needs. Breast tissue and prostate tissue can turn cancerous when hormones are imbalanced and other systems in the body are affected too. In males the pituitary and hypothalamus monitors testosterone levels and control the cells in the testicles. Some estrogen is produced directly in males and also excess unregulated testosterone can convert to estrogen and this acts to feed back on the pituitary t shut down testosterone production. Certain environmental chemicals can mimic estrogen and have a similar effect,and what results is a drop in sperm count and fertility and estrogen may drive some cancers in men. Things can go wrong with the hormone feedback system and if they do its not to be celebrated its what happens when they body has lost control of its regulation method and that is why its defined as disease. When the body loses control of hormone regulation the liver then has to work harder to get rid of the hormone overload, this is the reason the pill and oral sex hormones in general are hard on the liver. In the case of estrogen it can be stored in body fat and build up over time, testosterone is taken up by body fact and converted to estrogen as aromatase levels increase in response to more estrogen and this acts in a cycle. This happens in women too and body fat acts as the second source of estrogen after the ovaries due to it taking up adrenal androgens and converting it to estrogen.

    The ovaries are regulated into a cycle by the pituitary and hypothalamus, and this too can go wrong. The ovaries make estrogen from cholesterol via various enzyme dependant steps, they actually make estrogen from testosterone. If any of these enzymes malfunction or are present in low levels for some reason the ovaries can secrete high levels of either testosterone or estrogen out of the control of the pituitary and hypothalamus. In most cases ovulation fails and progesterone production in the last two weeks of the cycle is absent, this can result in increased odds of getting breast or uterine cancer. Estrogen is a growth factor for those tissues and progesterone inhibits that effect giving the body a break from estrogen, along with its effect in reproduction.

    A pair of ovaries secreting testosterone and a pair of testicles doing so cant be treated the same because the feedback systems in the brain dont have the ability to respond in a regulatory manner to those hormones in women. The ovaries evolved to function cyclic and testosterone in women as a by product of that cycle but not the regulatory factor and not in a constant way like in men. Infact in women none of the sex hormones are constantly produced, its a process set around releasing the egg and nature doesn’t care to provide hormones for women outside that. It does not care to provide them for men outside their sperm production either, it just happens that sperm requires different patterns of production. Males hormones do have a pattern though, its just more subtle than womens fluctuations.

    Whatever you want to call it, male, female, man, woman, egg producer, sperm producer, person with ovaries or person with testicles etc the reality of two reproductive patterns and two biological directions most human go in biologically exist. The fact so many things can go wrong should not be used to prove biological sex does not exist.

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    I can’t believe this ever made it out of someone’s mouth. We all mean one thing when we label sexes, and it’s not about chromosomes or genital appearance (the former of which we didn’t know about for most of history and the latter of which we don’t get to check for most of out acquaintances). It’s about reproduction. If you could potentially carry and birth a child, you’re a woman. If you can cause somebody to carry a child, you’re a man. If you can’t do either you are either ill or intersex. It’s that simple.

    If aliens came to earth, they’d notice that only one specific combination of humans results in babies. And they wouldn’t be surprised that we have words for those two categories of people.

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      Actually, while (to my knowledge) there are no cases of intersex people with BOTH working parts, there are intersex people with one or the other still capable of reproduction. I want to be clear that there are plenty of people who fit within intersex, and that those with multiple genitalia are only one of the types of people.

      I am not ill, but I am very likely sterile, and am not intersex, so care to explain where I fit?

      “We all mean one thing when we label sexes,” wrong, some mean chromosomes, some mean secondary sex characteristics, some mean brain configuration, and some mean a combination of those or something else entirely. Hell, most people can’t tell the difference between gender and sex.

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        If you can reproduce, you are to all intents and purposes the sex that corresponds with your input to reproduction (baby carrier or egg fertiliser/female or male). You may have some odd secondary sex characteristics like excess body hair or reduced stature, but unless it influences reproduction nobody is going to think you’re intersex.

        If you’re sterile, that’s either illness or disability. If you were born without functioning reproductive organs, it’s no different to a person with a heart murmur or a deformed limb – you are the sex you are, but not fully functioning. We wouldn’t claim that a person born with no legs (or an amputee) proved that humans are not bipedal, and in the same way someone who is sterile does not invalidate sexual dimorphism.

        Lastly, you’re right, some people mean things other than reproductive function when they use the word ‘sex’, but as a generalisation and including historical use it’s accurate enough. There’s a reason that sex (of a person) and sex (the reproductive act) are the same word – they share a common etymology because they relate to the same essential concept. I would argue that those who use ‘sex’ to mean something other than this are incorrect in their usage, rather than their usage invalidating the most common one.

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    We don’t need to invalidate biological sex to validate gender identity.

    Biological sex is not a social construct. Most people just simply forget that there are folks who are intersex.

    Biological sex is “gendered”. The penis and vagina are directly associated with social expectations for gender identity and expression. People who are a**holes use this as an excuse for bigotry and intolerance when someone’s gender identity doesn’t “match” their genitals, yes, but that doesn’t make biological sex any less real.

    Those associations have a primal basis. The male, who impregnates the female, is associated with more dominant traits as he must win a female over (or overpower her) to pass along his genes. The female, who can carry a child and thus carry on the human race, is considered softer, alluring, something worth chasing and/or protecting. These are directly associated with other man/woman gender expectations.

    In the modern age we can certainly challenge these associations, which are social constructs, but they are based in biology and I wouldn’t say they need to be (or even can be) entirely eliminated. I think there just needs to be changes that ensure we don’t exclude transgendered or intersex people, which could include, for example, reducing the role that biological sex plays in assigning gender role expectations from birth.

    Even if we disassociate gender expectations from biology, the biological reality remains constant. I’m gender fluid but that doesn’t change that I have breasts and a vagina. Even though it’s uncomfortable for me on occasion, I don’t think biological sex isn’t real just because I don’t always directly associate my genitals with my gender identity and expression.

    As said by Blake in the comments:

    “[if] a trans woman is still biologically male, that doesn’t mean she’s “really a guy” or that misgendering her is ok. It’s just the reality of the matter.”

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    I also think if there is any way that we can encourage people to expand their idea of what their gender role and expression could be despite their sex, that would also be helpful. I think that would be beneficial to everyone, not just transgendered folks.

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    People with advanced degrees are fairly agreed that gender is a social construct and that sex is determined by biological definitions. These people with advanced degrees conduct studies and reference data, then second guess each other for errors. By what authority have you made these conclusions? Is this belief or are there existing studies and academia to support this? As far as I can surmise, you are an english major. By what credentials do you make such conclusions and derived from what evidence?

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    The author of this article doesn’t understand what it means to be a woman (what the necessary and sufficient conditions for womanhood are) and unfortunately uses crucial terms, such as “gender,” inconsistently throughout the article.

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    If gender is in fact a social construct of humans, how come every other animal that exists seems to obey the same construct? There are significant differences in the actions of, say, male and female bears, as well as in every other animal. Secondly, you said that doctors and parents are mistaken for attempting to determine a gender for their child based on their genitals. However, genitals, like the rest of one’s body, are reflections of one’s chromosomes and other DNA, so it seems a reasonable assumption.

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