Well, it finally happened. Someone came onto my blog and tried to post a comment attacking one of my posts, in a rather offensive way. So I’m giving you a content warning: there’s some offensive and transphobic language coming up, so please make sure to take care of yourself. I’m basically going to be dissecting this person’s comment and trying to show why it’s so wrong, so if you need to skip this post, the TL;DR version of this post is: don’t be mean to other people just because you have different beliefs, and definitely don’t use language which is demeaning to yet another group of people in order to express your disagreement.
If you don’t have the spoons to read someone’s atrocious words, now’s the time to skip to the next post.
Ok, if you’re still here, let me start by setting the stage. In September 2016, I wrote a post about Gender Identities, where I basically introduce the concept of having a gender identity, and how that relates to being transgender. The post was fairly light, and being so early in my transition, I still had a lot to learn about myself – at that point, I was identifying as Genderfluid, which I’ve since determined wasn’t really the case. But the post itself remains true and valid.
About a week ago, I was notified that there is a new comment waiting for approval on that post:
They wrote: “People who believe that theres more than 2 genders and sexes are the biggest r****ds in the history of the world. Who clearly never passed a biology class.”
My first reaction to this was shock at the use of a slur (a word I’ve not transcribed above). There is no call for the use of that word in the context of any human being. There are other words to use to indicate disdain for someone else’s intelligence. If someone wants to earn an instant block/unfriend/report from me, there are few better ways to do so. I’ll put up with a fair bit of transphobia or even personal attacks before cutting someone out of my social media/life, but using that one word in the way this person did is something I won’t tolerate, even for a moment. ‘Nuff said.
“People who believe that theres more than 2 genders” Oh, you mean sociologists, psychologists, social workers, experts in gender studies, and lots and lots of lay people who have done more than a minimal amount of research into the topic.
“or sexes” Now you mean biologists, doctors, anthropologists and other scientists, and anyone who knows that people can be intersex.
“are the biggest [ignoramuses] in the history of the world.” Wow! In the entire history of the world? That’s an awfully long time!
“Who clearly never passed a biology class.” And you clearly never passed an English class, or you would know that this is a sentence fragment and not a complete sentence. For that matter, “theres” has an apostrophe: “there’s”. But biology class? I hate to break it to you, I passed all my biology classes – typically with A’s.
Ok, setting aside the snark, let’s dig deeper. There are two points of dispute in this comment: Are there only two sexes or are there more? Are there only 2 genders or are there more? And there is only one (kinda sorta) offer of proof: that biology must hold the answers to these questions.
So let’s see what biology has to say about this.
First, I’ll refer you to an amazing Twitter thread from @ScienceVet2, whose self-described credentials are: “For Post-Doctoral work I went back to Neuroscience and began to work with an amazingly brilliant woman doing sex-differentiation and toxicology work with endocrine disruptors. I focused on the molecular side of things, signalling and regulation”. As he mentions in the linked thread, he doesn’t offer the specifics of his employers or who he’s worked with as he doesn’t want to drag them into this debate (which isn’t really a debate, but, you know, politics).
Next, we have an article from the journal Nature, titled “Sex Redefined“. The byline is “The idea of two sexes is simplistic. Biologists now think there is a wider spectrum than that.” Scientific American published a companion graphic (below) illustrating the complexity of sex, as well as an interesting article on how that infographic was created.
And finally, here’s an article from Discover Magazine entitled “Skeletal Studies Show Sex, Like Gender, Exists Along a Spectrum“. Oh wow, a two-fer! This one also mentions that Gender exists along a spectrum as well! One interesting topic that this article discusses is the complicated matter of trying to determine the sex of people from the past by examining their skeletons. It turns out that until 1972, anthropologists used to conclude that about 12% of skeletons were determined to be male than female, when it should have been closer to 50/50. Anthropologists modified their practices, including an allowance for a skeleton to be sexed as “indeterminate”. Since 1972, the ratio is closer to a balance, but now with a good number of “indeterminate” skeletons.
So it’s clear that biology shows that sex occurs along a spectrum. But what about gender? Well, for those who believe that Sex and Gender are inextricably linked and/or that Sex = Gender, I’ll point out that if that were true, then because sex occurs along a spectrum, then gender necessarily must also occur along a spectrum. QED. That’s how logic works. And then I’ll refer you to Gender ≠ Sex. And for the rest of us who know that Gender and Sex are distinct concepts, let’s continue.
The existence itself of non-binary gender identities proves that humans don’t fall into binary gender categories. We have a nice paper from Angela N. Tharp at the University of New Haven which gets into many facets of gender across history and across cultures – especially cultures not as influenced by Euro-American culture and religious beliefs. She lays out many of the additional genders in other (non-westernized) cultures; it turns out that non-binary genders have existed for a long, long time!
In another article on the Indian website The Swaddle, Rajvi Desai lays out the concepts and vocabulary of gender and how it includes so much more than binary identities.
Finally, I’ll mention the awesome Gender Spectrum organization, who seek to create gender inclusive spaces for transgender children and youth. A good starting point on their site is their page on Understanding Gender.
Getting back to the comment which started this whole post… I won’t be approving that comment, and will be reporting it because of their use of a particularly horrible and insensitive word. Had they not used that word, I probably would have let it go, so that dissenting voices are also heard. I’m not threatened by someone challenging my perspectives; in fact, I enjoy conversation and debate, and I welcome those interactions.
So where are you on this? Do you feel that sex and/or gender are limited to just two possibilities? Do you have any other topics or concepts you’d like to discuss? I welcome respectful conversation (warning, my snark likes to come out from time to time); please reach out if you’d like to discuss anything.
Until next time,