The Skeptic magazine is skeptical about two sexes in humans; a clear thinker sets them straight

April 11, 2021 • 1:15 pm

It seems to be a dirty little secret in biology that most animals, including humans, have two and only two biological sexes. Gender (one’s assumed identity) may fall along a spectrum, but not sex. There are two. Only two. In animals, males make little wriggly little gametes—the sperm. Females make the large immobile gametes—the eggs. It is the capacity to produce one type of gamete or the other that is the biological definition of sex.

But this is a “dirty little secret” because is seems to contravene the view that if gender can take many forms, so can biological sex. In other words, denying the reality of what’s real is seen as politically expedient. And so we see scientific journals, science writers, and scientists themselves deny that there are just two sexes in humans—denying that sex is bimodal. (Yes, there are developmental aberrations and intermediate conditions, but they are vanishingly rare and are not “sexes” in the biological sense: they are the developmental derailing of the two sexes that have been favored by evolution.)

The denial of discrete sexes in humans is an ideological rather than a scientific position. It’s an embarrassment that the Society for the Study of Evolution took this position in an official statement, an embarrassment I highlighted in 2018. Conflating gender and sex, their statement said this:

We, the Council of the Society for the Study of Evolution, strongly oppose attempts by the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) to claim that there is a biological basis to defining gender as a strictly binary trait (male/female) determined by genitalia at birth. Variation in biological sex and in gendered expression has been well documented in many species, including humans, through hundreds of scientific articles. Such variation is observed at both the genetic level and at the individual level (including hormone levels, secondary sexual characteristics, as well as genital morphology). Moreover, models predict that variation should exist within the categories that HHS proposes as “male” and “female”, indicating that sex should be more accurately viewed as a continuum. Indeed, experiments in other organisms have confirmed that variation in traits associated with sex is more extensive than for many other traits. Beyond the false claim that science backs up a simple binary definition of sex or gender, the lived experience of people clearly demonstrates that the genitalia one is born with do not define one’s identity. Diversity is a hallmark of biological species, including humans.  As a Society, we welcome this diversity and commit to serving and protecting members regardless of their biological sex, gender identity or expression, or sexual orientation.

Notice the conflation of “sex” with “gendered expression of sex”, the claim that “sex should be more accurately viewed as a continuum”, and the “false claim that science backs up a simple binary definition of sex”. To a sentient biologist, that statement is “not even wrong” except in a very few species of animal.  The ideological motivation for the statement becomes clear in the last sentence above.

Another scientist, Sarah Hearne, writing in the British magazine The Skeptic (motto: “reason with compassion”), makes the same conflation, and also for ideological rather than scientific reasons. You can read her piece by clicking on the screnshot below.  Fortunately, Hearne’s errors about sex have been corrected by a piece at The Quackometer (see further down).


Hearne, a graduate student in marine ecology, writes popular science well, and she gets off to a good start by showing that the concept of “species” is a bit slippery. There are intermediate cases, cases where we can’t determine whether two populations are species, and asexual groups in which determining “species” is pretty much subjective. (Allen Orr and I discuss this in our technical book Speciation.)

Hearne then goes on to show that the concept of an “individual” also breaks down in some groups, though is pretty easily definable in humans (of course there are rare exceptions, like conjoined twins). But these two episodes are just the prelude for her big point: that biological sex, like species, is an indefinable concept. Her main point is although we can define sex by gamete type, recognizing sex by other characteristics, like presence of breasts, hairiness, and on so, is much more difficult.  Ergo “nature abhors the clean division” of two sexes.

That her argument is political becomes clear at the end of her piece: one’s sex is a social construct, ergo can be declared at will by anyone. And women are oppressed:

One thing nobody is disputing is that recognising women as a group is important. Women face problems that men do not, and men face problems that women do not. Identifying these problems, identifying their causes, and fixing them is key to making the world a better place.

But we should also bear in mind that women aren’t discriminated against because they have vaginas, or breasts, or even because they have babies. Having babies makes it easier to discriminate against us, but the pay gap still exists for childfree women. It goes back to gender – the “socially constructed roles, behaviours, expressions and identities” that have led women to be less valued than men in society.

Those social constructions may have had biological roots long ago, but that’s no reason to continue perpetuating them unquestioningly. If someone says they are a woman and are seen by society as a woman then they experience the same socially constructed barriers and stigmas that all women experience to varying degrees.

Yes, but biological males declaring themselves as women become “trans” in the gender sense but not in the biological sense. (I always wonder, if sexes are not discrete, why there are “trans males” and “trans females.”  What is being transited?) A transgender woman is a “gender woman” but not a “biological woman”. This is clarified by Andy Lewis in the Quackometer piece below, which pinpoints Hearne’s fundamental error (the title gives a clue). Click on the screenshot to read it:

Hearne’s mistake, in Lewis’s words:

But Hearne is making a fundamental error here: she is conflating the ontology and epistemology of sex. That is, she is confusing two different sets of questions…

  1. What is a sex? How many sexes are there? And how do we characterise a sex? (the ontology of sex – what exists?)
  2. How do we recognise the sex of an individual? What features indicate sex? (the epistemology of sex – what can we know?)

Hearne starts off well by explaining the universally accepted biological definition of a female as the sex that produces ova. This is where she could have stopped. There is no disagreement here in the peer reviewed biology. But that would have meant her article failed, as unlike the terms “species” and “individual” in biology, the definition of what a sex is is clear cut and defined by reproductive role associated with a gamete type. The sexes are not like species where evolution has produced a myriad of variants over millions of years. The sexes of male and female appear to be a well conserved and stable reproductive strategy that has existed unchanged for between about 500 million and 1.3 billion years. Sex is a stable biological phenomenon, across vast evolutionary time, that we can easily define.

So, to give the impression that “female” is not clear-cut, Hearne switches from ontology to epistemology. We are not supposed to notice this switch. And to be fair, I doubt she realises she is doing it.

Hearne is trying to convince us that although biologists might have a definition of each sex, our knowledge of an individual’s sex may well be unknown because we cannot use the biologists definition in any practicable way in ordinary circumstance. Therefore – tada – “woman” is an unreliable concept.

That’s really all you need to say to refute her claim (remember, we’re dealing with biological sex, not gender). But Lewis has a few more points to make as well. First, what about the “intermediate” conditions that supposedly efface the binary nature of biological sex in humans? Lewis:

A common objection that crops up here are congenital development conditions. The existence of so-called intersex conditions is often seen as an ontological threat to our understanding of sex rather than an epistemological problem. That is, there is a claim that such congenital conditions lead to a need to redefine what a sex is and its characterisation (often expressed as “sex is a spectrum”). Instead it is a medical/biological problem of knowing what sex someone (or a butterfly) is when the usual secondary sex characteristics may be ambiguously formed. No peer reviewed biology paper has ever attempted to characterise sex as some sort of spectrum of possibilities despite absolute convictions about the matter from ideological positions.

That’s true. The non-binary nature of sex in humans appears only in ideological arguments, like that of the Society for the Study of Evolution. The ideological arguments are, as Lewis notes, the main point of Hearne’s piece:

The purpose of such arguments presented here in The Skeptic magazine is for us to be convinced that sex is arbitrary and not objectively knowable and to abandon objective attempts to define terms like male, female, man and woman. It is a textbook example of postmodernist denialism of science, reason and objectivity, using sleight of hand to undermine understanding. Such arguments are now so common and fashionable, even among those educated in medicine and biology, that recently the Endocrine Society in the US felt it needed to publish a position statement on the fact that sex is real, binary and immutable, and that recording sex accurately was vital in healthcare and research as we should not conflate sex and gender.

The rest of the argument presented in the Skeptic article then goes off on the predictable route of defending gender ideology that the only meaningful expression of sex (or gender) is through self-declaration – that you can be a man or woman only meaningfully though “identifying” as either. We are supposed to ignore the inherent incoherence and circularity here as otherwise we would would not be “kind” or, even worse, horrible bigots. We just have to accept that one can be a woman when the word “woman” has been denied any sort of objective meaning.

The denial of binary sex in humans (and many other animals, like my beloved Drosophila), is as irksome to me as it would be for a chemist to hear that the chemical elements are not discrete but form a continuum from hydrogen up to heavy elements: a continuum between copper, silver, and gold so that you can’t identify an atom as one or the other. That’s nonsense, of course, but no more nonsensical than denying the discreteness of biological males and females. The only difference is that there are no ideological implications of recognizing discrete chemical elements.

105 thoughts on “The Skeptic magazine is skeptical about two sexes in humans; a clear thinker sets them straight

  1. The politics of gender, picking one’s pronouns, respecting people’s choices, etc., were all fine for me, right up until I was required to say “pregnant people”.

    Sorry, but there’s only one biological set of organs that is able to house and grow a fetus.

    Off the deep end seems to be a place that lots of people are diving these days.


    1. Sorry, but there’s only one biological set of organs that is able to house and grow a fetus.

      “Naturally”? (Which is not a condition that we aspire to for humans today.)
      And “so far”.
      I don’t waste much effort on the details of the question, but have any biological males carried a foetus to birth yet? It is a racing certainty that someone is going to complete the experiment (not necessarily legally), and then develop it into a more-or-less general technology for extracting the “Pink Money” from the male-male homosexual population. The biggest question is whether the success rate of doing it in vivo (with chemical and maybe mechanical assistance) will remain higher than doing it in machina by stepwise extension from the Petri dish (for applying sperm to eggs, artificial fertilisation technologies) covering the first 1-20th of development to the improving technologies of supporting premature births (covering around 7-20ths of a “natural” pregnancy). There’s around 12-20ths of a normal pregnancy term still needing sufficiently-reliable mechanical replacement. That is definitely in work in the veterinary field, and I see no reason it won’t be applied to humans eventually.

      I also wonder – since the timing of birth is (I am told) largely controlled by infant-versus-mother competition for resources and subsequent development is carried out out in the dirty, germ-infested lung-ventilating world, then isn’t is possible that keeping the foetus in a mechanical (not resource-constrained) uterus until 10, 11 or 12 months of gestation would actually produce better outcomes than the standard procedure. Once you develop the mechanical uterus to be comparable in outcome to the evolved uterus, then the experiment becomes ethically unavoidable.
      Will that happen by 2100?
      -2030? Ohhh, I can see the “Religious Right” having a field day with that one.

  2. Sex is one of those classic strict binaries where there are intermediate cases. Laypeople might call that “a spectrum” but real scientists know that it’s okay for a binary to have intermediate cases if it advances their agenda.

    1. Your example of an intermediate case between having X-chromosomes and Y-chromosomes versus having X-chromosomes and no Y-chromosomes is … ? (Or W- and Z chromosomes, if you’re a bird breeder. If you’re a reptile breeder, substitute an incubation thermometer for the microscope.)

    2. And the intermediate cases account for only 0.01-0.02% of the population–citing such a small fraction of the population makes it seem like you’re grasping at straws. When people use intersex examples to support that sex is a spectrum or not binary, I always think that it’s a pretty weak argument–it’s not like the sex spectrum is the EM spectrum and shows seven different sexes and everyone’s a combo. There are two sexes on that spectrum, period. Still binary. And in intersex cases there may be atypical development, but the individuals still produce one of only two types of gametes (or are sterile).

  3. Has there ever been a pregnancy with either of the two people who produce a motile ejaculate during intercourse with each other? Or a pregnancy resulting from the intercourse between two people who do not produce a motile ejaculate? If biological sex were simply a matter of social construction, would not at least some acts of homosexual intercourse result in pregnancy if one partner declared themselves to be female prior to the act of climax?

      1. Yep. It should have. Too bad my posts don’t show up until after the edit window is closed. They keep getting lost in the ether. Oh well. Hopefully people understand what I meant, or just ignore me: I should just take the hint and not post comments. I’m not sure my opinion matters on anything anyway.

        1. Too bad my posts don’t show up until after the edit window is closed.

          It takes mine about 30 seconds to show up. Have you tried completing the edit (write), then hitting the refresh button on the page’s browser tab? It does seem to rely on several other bits of code running as well.

          I’m not sure my opinion matters on anything anyway.

          Your opinion matters, to you at least. People here might ask you what evidence base you have supporting that, but since you do have evidence on which you base your opinion, that shouldn’t be a problem.

  4. I am not a biology student but I understand this perfectly. How can there be people in the field that don’t get it. One thing for sure, they are messing it up for lots of people out there.

  5. The only difference is that there are no ideological implications of recognizing discrete chemical elements.

    Woke person buys an expensive 24-carat-gold wedding ring. On closer inspection they find that it’s brass, so ask for their money back.. “But, but”, exclaims the jeweler, “the ring identifies as gold! “

    1. Woke person is an idiot, if there is an option of a cheap 24ct gold ring. The jeweller is safe in using ploys from “Defrauding Idiots for Dummies”.

      24ct gold is generally considered too soft for construction of jewellery. Alloying with several percent of copper, silver and one or several other elements, makes the material considerably harder. 18ct gold is the norm for “solid” gold, with 12.5% alloying elements. 24ct gold is generally reserved for gilding or plating a “base” metal substrate.

  6. The spice of life is variety, so let’s curry it up.
    I came from my mother’s womb, a female of the species or at least I think she was female, she didn’t say. Said mother bought me up as a male as I have a particular appendage that allows me to use a urinal, a cultural construct for hygiene and convenience. The sign outside the urinal is confirmation of this.
    I am also part mushroom and part toadstool.

  7. In the case of the human species, “biological sex” has two facets: gonadal sex and cerebral sex (the sexual identity recorded in the brain). Both sexual facets are biological.

    1. Re the “sexual identity recorded in the brain:”

      Why would it have evolved, and at what point in the evolution of species?

      Where in the brain is it located, and is there a scientific test to determine when it fails to match the gonadal sex?

      What would falsify it?

      1. I suppose that the cerebral sexual identity is a set of instincts of diverse antiquity that were acquired very gradually because they favored the survival of their bearers. I do not believe that current neuroscience is capable of precisely locating these instincts in the brain.

        In the last century, the psychologist John Money conducted an immoral experiment that confirmed the biological character of sexual identity. A medical circumcision had destroyed the penis of a baby named David Reimer, and Money, believing that sexual identity was a social construct, convinced the parents to castrate the baby and raise it as a girl. However, Reimer never came to perceive himself as a woman. Sexual identity is an instinctive biological trait, not a social construct.

        1. The “experiment” with Money has been roundly criticized due to an enormous amount of confounding factors which could and likely would have given Reimer strong clues that something was seriously wrong with his sex. His appearance differed. His parents knew. His twin brother was his role model. He was punished for playing with “boy toys.” He was forced to conform to stereotypical femin8nity. He had to undergo regular invasive and even abusive “exams.” It’s not a good example.

          The science indicates that there are innate general differences between the sexes — but with an enormous amount of overlap. It could also be the case that Reimer interpreted his interests being labeled as “boy” interests and concluded he was a boy.

          I do not see why evolution would select for an additional instinct.

          1. “He was punished for playing with “boy toys”. He was forced to conform to stereotypical femininity.”

            That is precisely what Money’s experiment was supposed to consist of. But Reimer was always repelled by playing girl games and dressing up as a girl, which clearly indicates that sexual identity is instinctive and not a social construct.

            By the way, the instincts that underlie sexual identity may already have been present in our Australopithecus ancestors or even earlier. The only “additional” element required for our sexual identity to appear was a self-awareness that could react to those instincts.

    2. What is meant by “biological sex” is gonadal. Or rather, what gametes are made. Eggs or sperm. There are no intermediates. Admittedly, the term “biological sex” could be made clearer.

            1. In the rare cases of xx males and xy females, there are no functional gonads producing eggs or sperm. But this is a very minor point in the fact that sex is essentially binary.

              1. In the rare cases of xx males and xy females, there are no functional gonads producing eggs or sperm.

                I’m pretty sure that is untrue. I’m sure that I’ve heard of XY-females producing offspring. It probably depends on how much and which bits of the Y chromosome are present – in other words, you have to look case-by-case.
                If a female were XY, and produced offspring in the normal course of events, how would she know she were XY?
                If humanity ever bothers to go to the expense of universal genotyping (a very dubious proposition except as a MacGuffin for SF, Gattaca, I’m looking at you!) then you might get a uniform sample. But otherwise you are literally looking at a population of XY-females with problems which led to their being diagnosed as XY.
                The same argument applies to XX-males.

              2. I think Douglas is referring to people who are sterile. In humans we “stretch” the definition of sex to encompass past, future, or prototypical ability to produce gametes, so we refer to boys as males before they can produce sperm and we refer to woman as females after they’ve stopped producing eggs. And we don’t say sterile “males” are not males. But the reason we can do this is precisely because in humans, sex is fixed, unchangeable, and, barring developmental problems, perfectly predictable. (In some other species, that kind of stretching of the definition wouldn’t work because sex might be determined based on temperature, size, or other factors that can change over time, and we’d only really be able to talk about an individual’s current sex.)

            2. If we are talking about animals generally rather than just humans then we have to recognise that there are some species where biological sex is not determined chromosomally e.g. in turtles where incubation temperature determines the sex of the hatchlings and in some fish where biological sex changes during the course of an individual’s life.

  8. it really annoys me when reading woke articles like that which happily ignore all the sexually reproducing species – bar one.

      1. I took part in a study (online) on dogs and anxiety a few years ago. The questionnaires kept asking about the “gender” of my dog…my response/complaint was: “how they hell do I know what he identifies as, he can’t tell me, plus, he was neutered!”

        It never ceases to amaze me how stupid a supposedly intelligent species can be, or how many unnecessary problems they can pull out of their asses when no problems need exist.

        For what it’s worth, I’m pretty sure my late dog, Otis, would love anyone who shared their spaghetti and popcorn. Is there a gendered term for that?!

  9. I have been trying to come up with a solution to this debate about the terms “male” and “female”. I have not quite gotten there, but the notion I’m playing with is that what we are seeing is the messy emergence of new homonyms — two words with the same spelling but different meanings, and right now there is confusion over who gets to own those words. So here there are “biological males and females” (sperm and egg makers), and the homonyms “social construct males and females” (what you feel, or what others assume you are). Anyway, its half-baked and I am stuck, but there is the thought anyway.
    Btw, I am in the biological camp right now.

    1. homonyms “social construct males and females” (what you feel, or what others assume you are)

      So … that would be four categories there. Where what you feel and what others assume you are are aligned and anti-aligned, and whether that is due to your guiding other peoples assumptions, (footnote) consciously or unconsciously.
      Or eight categories, considering that time is always a factor (how you were in your development and how you are in your maturity – assuming you have reached it).
      (footnote) I’ve lost count. Are we on 32 or 64 at the moment? And is that enough shades to make a continuum of a spectrum, or are we still on 256-colour graphics?

  10. While I broadly agree with the Quackometer piece, I thought it went a bit off the rails near the end, like here,

    Just what is it then that creates injustice and discrimination for women? To what are these “socially constructed roles, behaviours, expressions and identities” applied to if it is not being female and the sex that bears children? No suggestion is made.

    As if any high-functioning individual could not think of any reason apart from having babies?

    I also think the idea of using “woman” to denote gender happens to be a good one, yet the authors just presume, without argument, that it mustn’t.

    I don’t see anything obviously bad or wrong about “woman” being a gender role and “biological female” being a sex. In this terminology, trans women are not biological females, but trans women are women.

    1. Up until yesterday, the term “woman” has always been taken as primarily about sex (with gender roles being secondary). You’re suggesting that we should now use a 7-syllable expression instead. I think it would be better to invent a new word for the gender role.

      1. Isn’t this similar to the argument that gays shouldn’t be allowed to marry because the word “marriage” was not originally defined to include gays?

        Also, “gay” used to mean happy (and still does, albeit the usage is less frequent). Language evolves.

    2. If “woman” is a gender role, what behaviors, aptitudes, attitudes, and characteristics define it? Would that mean that a typical XX female who fails to properly fit into that role is either a man, or neither? I think this approach is fraught with a return to sexist restrictions regarding being more or less of a man/woman.

      The standard feminist explanation for why it is women who have typically been dominated and controlled by men, and not the other way around, is that it’s sex-based. Men on the whole are physically stronger, and are thus able to control the means of reproduction/inheritance, and harness women’s physical/emotional labor. A woman who has no children still belongs to the subordinate sex class.

      Explaining the feminist perspective by using “gender” — as transgender ideology attempts — lacks the explanatory power. Women are treated as subordinate because of the way they think and act, and should be able to identify out of it.

      1. I first said that I supported using “woman” to denote gender. It was frankly a typo that I later wrote “gender role” when in fact I just meant “gender”, as before. Unfortunately that makes your comment mostly moot because it’s focused on “role”. Sorry, my mistake.

    3. As if any high-functioning individual could not think of any reason apart from having babies?

      Go on then. Think of another reason.

      I would suggest that the reason women are discriminated against is entirely because of the fact that they are the sex that bears children.

      While you’re at it, can you tell us what the gender role of women is, in your own terms? The traditional role of women is to run the household, to do the washing, cleaning and cooking and to bring up the children, of course. Is that what you mean? If not, what?

  11. This conversation reminds me of Ursula Le Guin’s great book, The Left Hand of Darkness, which features ambisexual humanoids. While this ambisexuality doesn’t obviate binary sex–indeed, by definition it confirms it–it serves as an ongoing meditation on gender roles as the novel progresses.

    1. Thrilled to stumble across someone else who has read The Left Hand of Darkness! It was both groundbreaking and rather shocking when it first came out, and is still an important book today, imho.
      If we take this debate back a step to ‘reproduction’ we see that sexual reproduction – i.e. the mixing of male and female DNA – is not the only way living organisms reproduce. Asexual reproduction is where the organism basically clones itself.
      Taking half a step forwards towards sexual reproduction, we see that some plants and animals use sexual reproduction but have both ‘sexes’ in their arsenal. There are even animals that change their sex in response to changes in environmental conditions. So while sexual reproduction may be a very efficient way to keep a species going in some plants and animals, it’s far from being the only way, or even the best way in certain circumstances.
      This insistence on strict binary definitions is less about biology and more about the evolution of culture and history. And most of /that/ revolved around getting and keeping power.

      1. Everything you wrote about hermaphroditism or sex change in plants & animals is true. But that doesn’t change the fact that there is a sexual binary: male or female, and nothing in between. Hermaphrodites and sex-changers are not a third sex, they’re both sexes (either in parallel or in series). Insisting on that binary is not about getting and keeping power. It’s about insisting on clarity and specificity of language. I think that’s what the OP is about.

          1. Did you read the first sentence of my post? Here it is: “It seems to be a dirty little secret in biology that most animals, including humans, have two and only two biological sexes.”

            MOST animals. I’m aware of the rare exceptions, but humans are not among them. So what point are you trying to make here?

            1. It was in response to Mike’s comment that seemed to miss that part in both your post and the comment from acflory. Nothing more than reiterating that point.

          2. Hi Eric,

            Sure these are interesting examples but they are not multiple sexes in the way the OP means: two gamete types.

            In your livescience link, the example is fungi:

            “For stationary creatures, where finding a mate is difficult, multiple mating types have the advantage, said Laurence Hurst, a professor of evolutionary genetics at the University of Bath. For example, mushrooms have more than 30,000 mating types, Hurst told Life’s Little Mysteries.”

            But many fungi don’t have gamete types (two different cell morphologies, like sperm and ova) so they don’t really have sexes. Instead they have mating types, which differ by genes that encode cell surface proteins, and it’s the interaction of those proteins that leads to fusion between some pairs of mating types but not others. That’s the sense in which there are many mating types in a fungus species, but it doesn’t take *all* of those mating types together to make a zygote.

            Animals and plants have similar gamete-recognition genes, and they have similar effects on compatibility between mates. Humans have these genes as well, and they make some pairs of males and females more compatible with each other than other pairs. But that doesn’t mean there are many different human sexes. There’s still only two.

            1. Thanks for the discussion Mike.

              I’m not a biologist, but I’m always trying to learn outside of my normal areas of knowledge. So my most challenging question for you is: why did you chose the example most favorable to your hypothesis, instead of the other examples in the article that more support the idea of exceptions to the binary rule?

              Related to that, I’m not trying to oppose the idea of having solid instead of squishy scientific definitions. So if I use the definition that the type of gametes produced is how sex is defined, what would one do in the case of complete androgen insensitivity syndrome as an example? Or Swyer syndrome where biologically they can’t make gametes? What would the birth certificate say? In the case of complete androgen insensitivity syndrome, the gonads are technically non-working testicles, so are they male even though they have a vagina? No, then we use phenotype. So we now have an exception to the gamete rule of sex determination.

              Yes, I get that these are a small number and not what happens in most development. I realize exceptions don’t break the rule. And we shouldn’t throw out an entire definition that still holds in most cases. We don’t throw out Newton just because of Einstein.

              But because we have made societal decisions long before understanding the biology, there are serious implications that arise. I think one can say *most* humans fall into the 2 gamete categories, but without acknowledgement of both the known exceptions, and the still being researched unknown of why people of 1 gamete category have many characteristics of the other gamete category, it both short-changes the science and has serious implications for those humans that are not in the *most* section.

              And let me reiterate, I am outside of my knowledge area here. I push back only because I am aware of the exceptions, and I worry about how scientists speak and how easily it gets weaponized, particularly in health and biology. I would agree that the gamete differentiation is important and trying to obfuscate that is bad. I would argue ignoring the exceptions also has real harm.

        1. Moreover, this sex change or simultaneously being 2 sexes does not happen in mammals.
          I suppose the reproductive organs, womb and the like are so anatomically specialized that it would be too expensive to ‘discard and rebuild’.

          All this (sex change and simultaneous 2 sexes) has nothing to do with human transgender. If it has to be compared to anything I’d rather go for orangutans, where there are small sneaky males that look like females, and big males that look like males. The small males cannot compete with the big males for the females’ favour, hence they rape. I’m not contending trans ‘females’ are rapists, but that small male orangutans are a kind of ‘transgender’.

          1. Just as a side note, all foetuses start out female even though some may have male DNA. As the foetus grows, the presence of certain hormones [?can’t remember] at two specific times causes the female plumbing to change into gonads. Apologies for the vagueness of my comment but it’s been a long time since I last looked this up. So you see, every male foetus does in fact ‘discard and rebuild’.

            1. The claim that all foetuses start out female is highly disputed by many biologists – more the case that all start neutral, sex-differentiation doesn’t occur till about 8 weeks gestation.
              At the point of differentiation, foundational bi-potential gonads have already developed. Presence of the SRY gene on the Y sex-chromosome determines they continue to develop into testes, which then produce male hormones that (almost always) masculinise the bi-potential foundational external-genitalia tissue.
              Absence of the SRY gene results in the bi-potential gonad tissue developing in to ovaries, absence of sufficient male hormones causes external-genitalia to develop along the female typical path.

              This 12 mins video is a great summary of the process, explains what happens to the two sets of foundational plumbing/ducts (one male, one female) which are also present at the point of sex-differentiation, really fascinating stuff,
              Chris G

              1. @Chris G – thanks for making the point that I was thinking about. Developmental biologists and geneticists generally think of sex in three terms; chromosomal, gonadal and phenotypic. Normal conception yields either an XX or an XY zygote. Abnormal concepti can be XO [abnormal female gonads and phenotype], XXY, or multiple X’s, [abnormal male gonads and phenotype], etc. More specifically, it is generally not the simple presence of the Y chromosome that drives male gonad and phenotype but rather the SRY gene that is the driver. Hence the translocation of this gene from Y to X during abnormal meiosis can lead to an XX with the SRY or an XY that is missing the SRY.

              2. Thanks, Chris. I last searched for this info twenty years ago and the field has obviously come along quite a bit since then. That said, I can live with neutral. 🙂
                The link did not come through, however. Could you link it again?

              3. Hi ACFLORY.
                I can see the link I posted, but maybe because I flouted ‘Da Roolz’ No. 16 by posting the link incorrectly, it’s not showing for you?
                So, here’s my attempt to post the link again, correctly formatted this time, fingers crossed.
                If it doesn’t work, you can find it on YouTube, a video by Armando Hasudungan dated 14 Apr 2015, titled ‘Sex Differentiation’
                Sex differentiation

                One further point. Although many biologists challenge the ‘we all start as female’ claim, there does still seem to be widespread disagreement as to whether we should describe sex-development as ‘defaulting’ to female unless genetics determine otherwise i.e. male development determined when SRY gene is present,

                Chris G.

              4. Thank you, that link worked. 🙂 I was pleased to see that my memory hadn’t played me false, and that there are two distinct and time critical periods in the development of a foetus when the lack of the SRY protein or the lack of testosterone can interrupt the differentiation process.
                I definitely did not know about the role of DHT in the development of the external genitalia.
                So, if the SRY protein is not produced the differentiation cannot even begin, and the foetus defaults to a non-reproductive female. Is it possible that hermaphroditism is the result of insufficient testosterone at the second stage? i.e. when the testes are supposed to produce the antimullerian hormone?

                Getting back to the original debate about how many sexes are there, you could say that for the first few weeks of development, the foetus is in fact neither male nor female.

              5. Glad the link worked – it’s a great video isn’t it.
                My understanding of the role of the SRY gene is that, if present, the bi-potential gonad tissue already in place at 7 weeks will go on to develop into testes. If SRY is not present, gonads develop into ovaries. And it’s the gonad-type (testes or ovaries) that defines biological sex, irrespective of what happens in the second-stage as you call it.

                In virtually all live births (99.98%) the new born has external genitalia that ‘match’ the underlying biological-sex. When this doesn’t occur, that’s what we call intersex: a mismatch between biological-sex and external-genitalia.
                For example, you mention DHT. The male-intersex condition 5ARD is the result of a genetic variation that results in an inability to produce the 5AR enzyme that’s needed to convert testosterone into DHT, and without sufficient DHT the external genitalia is not masculinised i.e. defaults to the female-typical form, or an ambiguous form.

                With regard to AMH (anti-Mullerian hormone), this doesn’t affect development of the external genitalia. As the name suggests, AMH causes the disintegration and disappearance of the Mullerian ducts i.e. removes the component that goes on to develop into female reproductive ‘plumbing’: fallopian-tubes, uterus, cervix, upper-section of the vagina.
                In the absence of AMH, those female features will be present in a male new-born, and if not detected at birth, may not be known until puberty when periods start, blood in the urine. However, I seem to recall reading that there have only been about 50 cases of this known to medicine – the condition is called PMDS, Persistent Mullerian Duct Syndrome.
                Note that PMDS is not an intersex-condition. It is a DSD (difference in sex development) but only a subset of DSDs are intersex.

              6. Yes, you’re absolutely right. I was simply trying to approach the problem from the other end – i.e. what would it take to /stop/ a genetic male foetus from becoming a biological male. And the truth is that there are actually a whole raft of steps during foetal development where if something goes wrong, the foetus will not develop as ‘normal’.
                I don’t know how recently all this information about the physiological/biological determinants of male development came to light, but I’m sure it’s relatively recent – as in decades.
                If this is the case then it begs the question: what else don’t we know about the developmental steps needed to produce what we call a ‘normal’ male?
                Going on step further, if there are other, as yet unknown factors at play, then is it not possible that when trans people say they feel as if they’re in the wrong body, they are actually describing their reality? And maybe, just maybe, that reality is caused by some genetic difference – a gene turns on when it should be off etc. Or perhaps it’s something within the brain. Perhaps the delicate cocktail of hormones that make us ‘feel’ is different for some reason we cannot yet determine.

                I’m not saying that any of this is the case. I’m merely pointing out that we cannot dismiss a physiological basis for transgender simply because we haven’t found one yet. That is not how science works, not in the long run. It’s only by keeping an open mind to possibilities that true progress is made.

              7. There’s a key problem with your question “what would stop a genetic male foetus from becoming a biological male”. Although ‘male genetics’ XY almost always correlates with ‘male biology’, genes are not the basis of sex – a person can be born XY female (due to absence or deleterious mutation of the SRY gene), or XX male (presence of the SRY gene).
                And there are XXY males (Klinefelter syndrome) and X females (Turner syndrome).

                Likewise, external genitalia do not define biological sex e.g. male-intersex conditions 5ARD and CAIS where a new born has XY chromosomes, SRY gene, internal testes, no female ‘plumbing’ (no fallopian-tubes, uterus, cervix, nor upper-section of the vagina) but female-typical external genitalia (clitoris, labia, vaginal opening).

                Note, there are female-intersex conditions too, but not as common e.g. CAH ‘congenital adrenal hyperplasia’ where a female (XX, ovaries, all the female ‘plumbing’) has a genetic variation which causes the adrenal gland to ‘over work’ in the foetus producing much higher levels of testosterone than usual, which causes the genitalia to develop towards the male form (clitoris continues to grow into a small penis, labia continue to grow and fuse to form a ‘scrotum’).

                I think your point about trans people ‘born in the wrong body’ is at the very least a valid question, one that maybe science hasn’t yet got to the bottom of.
                I’ve also wondered what we don’t know about sex-development in pregnancy, whether the brain is ‘sexed’, and the possibility of a mis-match i.e. female brain in a male body or vice-versa.
                Been a while since I read this article, but see what you think No One Is Born in ‘The Wrong Body’

                One similar aspect of sex-development that does not appear to be discussed at all (it’s understandably controversial), is sexual-orientation. It occurs to me that in ‘making’ a foetus to be either male or female, there must be a process that sets the ‘orientation switch’ (presumably in the brain) that determines which sex you will be inclined to ‘lust after’ i.e. clear evolutionary reasons for ‘setting’ females to be attracted to males and vice-versa.
                So homosexuality may be akin to intersex: a mismatch in orientation to biological sex.

                On the issue of what’s ‘normal’ and what’s ‘abnormal’, if you haven’t read this short 2002 piece by Leonard Sax, I highly recommend it. Primarily he refutes the claim that sex is a spectrum, but he also addresses the reluctance to think of ‘intersex’ in terms of pathology How common is intersex?

                Chris G

              8. Brilliant info. thank you. It’s getting late here so I’ll check out those links in the morning. Just wanted to say that I knew about a couple of the common genetic variances but I had no idea there were so many ways in which both males and females could diverge from what we think of as the ‘norm’.

        2. You’re correct about hermaphrodites, but as I just commented to StephenB, mitochondria reproduce asexually and are part of /our/ sexual reproduction. In fact, we probably wouldn’t have DNA if not for the first ‘enslaved’ mitochondrial organism. Mitochodrial daughters are right there, hitching a ride with our eggs and sperm. There is your third ‘sex’, and it’s asexual.

      2. Let’s take additional steps back to the origin of earthly life, which I am defining as the point in time when self-replicating molecules achieved nonrandomness with respect to their environment. This resulted, of course, in DNA, but, as Neil deGrasse Tyson famously pointed out, when it comes to life in the universe, we have only one sample, that of DNA. There may very well be, given the unfathomable vastness of the universe, different types of self-replicating, coding molecules. Some science fiction writers have had fun speculating about what these different molecules might be. I recall reading about silicon-based life, as opposed to our earthly carbon-based life, since silicon is in the same group as carbon, just one period down. But, per contra, some scientists have opined that the silicon atom is too large to share the same “miraculous” bonding properties of carbon, so SF writers have cast their nets wider.

        1. -grin- since reading the posting and adding my comment, I kept thinking about the fictional example of three sex reproduction you raised. And that led me to mitochondria. Some sources credit the enslavement of mitochondria as the point in our single cell evolution when life really took off, eventually leading to DNA and sexual reproduction.
          Now we all know about mitochondria, but I wondered, if they started as an independent cell, how do they reproduce? It turns out that mitochondria reproduce asexually. When we produce eggs and sperm, some of these mitochondria stow away, but because of their location in the tail of the sperm, only about 1% of male mitochondria end up in the new, fertilzed cell.
          And that means that all complex life on Earth is actually the result of what amounts to three sexes, not two – male, female AND mitochondrial daughter cells.

          Clearly this is not what most people think of when they think about sexual reproduction but…it is there as a necessary part of all our lives.

          1. Fascinating discussion, thanks! If you’d like, let’s continue it off this forum. I have your email address. I’ll send you mine. Cheers!

  12. What I wonder here – if there are more than two sexes in humans, what is their role in reproduction? It seems like people sometimes forget this, but the whole function of the reproductive system is reproduction. Biological sex is based on the two major types of reproductive systems found in humans. There are females, who produce ova and bear children, and males, who produce sperm that fertilize ova. Some people do have disfunctions with their reproductive tracts that prevent them from reproducing and some people just don’t reproduce but those people aren’t different sexes.

    So what are these alternative sexes called, I wonder? I’m not talking about gender roles, but reproductive function. I’ve never seen a good answer for that, probably because there are, indeed, only two sexes when it comes to the actual function of the reproductive system.

    1. It seems like people sometimes forget this, but the whole function of the reproductive system is reproduction.

      It is ridiculously inefficient at it. Rarely more than 1% efficiency. Most species manage a much better reproduction:copulation ratio.
      Or maybe, the main purpose of the sexual organs is pair-bonding, as an adjunct to individual reproduction, as alluded to in the phrase “it takes a village to raise a child”.
      As for what they’re called, isn’t “tops and bottoms” sufficiently well established? Which pointedly says nothing against those people who are bottoms one evening and wake up in the morning and are tops.

  13. It is interesting to me how the woke use the difference between sex and gender as a tactic to win arguments, but always seem to combine them themselves as well. That is natural, I suppose, because they are related. I was taught that gender is a set of behavioral manifestations of one’s biological sex. That might not be a perfect definition, but it is a reasonable one.

    I also agree with others here that it will be interesting to learn about those intermediate sex roles. When I visualize the claimed spectrum, it sounds to me like some individuals might choose to menstruate and produce eggs on a limited basis, but primarily produce sperm. Or perhaps they choose to do one more than the other.

    The whole conversation seems like it is taking place between members of some far-off alien species, who only know of humans theoretically, but have not actually encountered them. It is really hard for me to see these postulations as good-faith arguments made by human beings, who have regularly encountered and had the opportunity to observe other people.

    1. Right, none of it is in good faith.

      I was taught that gender is a grammatical term for the verbs in French, which thankfully English has abolished. It snuck in as a replacement word for sex (in common usage) because people are squeamish.

      While at about the same time, the word was being defined within certain academic books to denote another supposedly independent property. Giving something a name in your book does not make it exist. There is obviously a role-playing aspect of sex in everyday life, and on stage we have no difficulty following a story about a woman with a man acting the part. But to expand this ability to play out a role to imply that we are all born with two logically independent binary (or not) characteristics, this is crazy. Or at least, it’s an idea you are free to explore in sci-fi novels (or academic literature) but should not pretend to have established to exist in the real world.

      1. Indeed. When, back in ancient times, I was studying foreign languages in high school, we snickering teenagers were fond of the double entendre, “People have sex, nouns have gender.” If anyone were to say that now, they’d get slapped down hard. (It’s been noted before that the Woke are a humorless bunch.)

      2. which thankfully English has abolished.

        It is certain that she has not abolished grammatical gender! We just cover it up, the better to confuse those from languages with obvious genders – all three of them.
        I’m now trying to remember if the Slavonic language group (“Pawel”?) has binary or trinary grammatical genders.

  14. Since I brought up science fiction by referring to Ursula Le Guin in my previous comment, let me continue in this vein by recommending another SF novel, Those Who Watch, an early work by Robert Silverberg. This book is about aliens observing us humans surreptitiously, but something goes wrong and a triad of them become stranded on earth and have a close encounter with earthlings. This triad is really a mated trio, since sexual reproduction among these aliens is ternary, that is, there are three sexes. This is another fascinating speculation on sex and gender.

    1. I remember when the trinary nature of Puppeteer sex was revealed by Larry Niven, wondering how that worked. It turned out to be two inseminatory motile genders and a larger passive gender which is consumed by the reproductive act. I’m not really sure if that counts as cannibalism, which at least one of the characters thinks.
      I can’t, off the top of my head, think of a SF … “exploration” (?) of thermally-regulated gender development. But I’d be surprised if hadn’t been explored.

  15. I laughed out when she argues that there are “no characteristics that are unique to women that are not found in trans women without excluding a lot of cis women in the process” and in the next paragraph hurries to add that “recognising women as a group is important” — even though the main thrust of her argument is trying to show the futility to draw such group boundaries.

    We each have copious first-hand experience and effortlessly categorise people into sexes/genders all the time. Trans individuals seeking medical interventions, growing beards, breasts, change their voice pitch, or using make-up and suchlike is supporting this obvious, everyday notion.

    Then there are philosophical, psychological and cognitive-science ideas, too. Wittgenstein imported the “family resemblance” originally for games. Rather than essential features, various games have sets of “overlapping similarities”, not a shared essence. There’s Gestalt theory with its investigations on proximity of such elements. In Prototype Theory it’s shown that we think of categories with “best examples” that have the “essential” features, even though not all category members must have all of them, i.e. family resemblance applies, e.g. the prototypical bird lays eggs, sits on twigs, chirps, has feathers. Yet we still know there are penguins, decomposed birds, nandus or hatchlings etcetera, still seen as birds. More recently, we have some ideas about making categories out of an analogy-faculty in the mind, looking for analogical “matches” between elements that again can be partial and family-resemblance-like.

    We still don’t fully understand how the mind exactly makes categories (that is: things). But it seems to work based on forming analogical links between experiences. They may also stretch categories socially, say, from mothers to step mothers (who lack the essential bit of mothers, yet have family resemblance with many other traits).

    I suspect we recognise elderly people as their sexes/genders because we know of the continuity across time, even though they lost most of the salient features, likewise, we can see continua of females and males and extend them (in much the same way you can still recognise a dead bird as a bird).

    All of this is to say, her assertion about essential characteristics are no problem at all — we work with, and around that all the time, and every category is fuzzy under some circumstances.

    One main problem in these discussions are “moderates” who take the ideas from activists or queer theorists they never read, and then pitch these ideas to everyone else in a “sanitised” but nonsensical fashion. Actual queer theorists and feminists like Judith Butler, most famously, say that the sex/gender distinction is meaningless. When you tell this the well-meaning moderates, they insist this is but a strawman, try to sell that only gender is a social construct but without noticing it, also that gender and sex is basically the same thing.

  16. I think the ontology / epistemology distinction is key. To argue that ‘biological sex is a spectrum, not a binary’ could only make any sense at all from an epistemological approach.
    PZ Myers recently quoted an article from JAMA published in 1968 by Keith L. Moore:

    “In most individuals the nine components of sexual phenotype (external genital appearance, internal reproductive organs, structure of the gonads, endocrinologic sex, genetic sex, nuclear sex, chromosomal sex, psychological sex, social sex) conform…”

    Myers concludes that, because these “parameters that are diagnostic of sex…aren’t always in concordance with one another,” that means that “sex is more complicated than a simple binary”,
    But Moore’s purpose is explicitly epistemological: the article is titled “The Sexual Identity of Athletes” (an issue even 50 years ago).
    Of the listed diagnostic components, the closest correlate to ontological/binary biological sex is the (presumably histological) structure of the gonads. Here there is no spectrum, one has testicular (potentially, actually, or formerly sperm-producing) tissue OR ovarian tissue, or exceedingly rarely both (or I guess neither, but still no spectrum)
    Spectrumites are coming from a strictly epistemological stance. The concept of a spectrum could reasonably be applied to the criterion of external genital appearance, if not so much to chromosomal variation (effects of meiotic nondisjunction).

    Moore’s ‘psychological sex’ is I think today’s ‘gender identification’ and his ‘social sex’ today’s ‘gender presentation’. Ceratinly these would be expected to have much larger environmental/social/nurture influences than the other criteria. That’s why I think the muddling up of the concepts of ‘sex’ and ‘gender’ (whether intentional or just by sloppy thinking) impedes so much communication on this subject.

  17. I keep asking myself how in the hell did we ever get to this point. As far as I know, none of my friends or acquaintances question even a tiny bit of the transgender dogma.

    1. I know your question is rhetorical, but I’ll answer it anyway. As I understand it, the whole transgender issue slowly came to light as a result of infants born with indeterminate sexual characteristics. This was long before being able to check the DNA of the infant. The gender of these infants was ‘assigned’ according to their most likely biological sex, but as these children grew, it became apparent that not all were comfortable within the gender they had been assigned.
      I believe this was the beginning of /thinking/ about transgender and what might or might not be possible.

      1. There are some people who are truly intersex. In some cases, a sex was assigned at birth and surgery, hormones, etc. provided to support that decision. In some of those cases, the people later felt that a mistake was made. Sometimes much later. Case in point: David Palmer was a pipe-smoking, deerstalker-wearing, bearded musician and a member of Jethro Tull. He was intersex and assigned male at birth. Now Dee Palmer. I don’t know what, if anything, was done to reverse the transition decided at birth.

        However, truly intersex people have essentially nothing to do with the trans activists all over the internet now. The main difference is that intersex people are pushing for the right to be neither, whereas trans activists claim that they completely belong to their chosen category. Pretty much exactly the opposite.

        If the role models for men and women were less strict, then intersex people would have it easier. And trans people would have it more difficult, but I’m fine with that. As Lou Reed sang, “plucked her eyebrows on the way, shaved her legs then he was a she”. Do we really want to live in a society which essentially defines men and women via artificial superficial activities? My take is that the more uncomfortable one is with the real differences, the more one supports artificial differences.

        1. “Truly intersex” people are truly intersex only if sex is defined solely by external genitalia. Again, epistemology.

        2. ‘the more uncomfortable one is with the real differences, the more one supports artificial differences’ – yes!
          And to clarify, I didn’t mean that intersex people and trans people are the /same/. I was merely suggesting that intersex people may have opened the door to questions about what gender truly is. They also made it possible to ask whether there was more to gender than simply DNA and physiology.

          I have no answers other than to say that a high profile trans woman here in Australia was once a high profile, powerful male figure in the military. She struggled with who and what she was until her 50’s. Now, despite great hardship and heartache, she finally feels ‘comfortable’ in her skin.
          Why was she not comfortable as a male? Why is she comfortable as a female? Are there things about gender that we simply do not yet know?
          Given that no one knew about DNA until 1953, I would not be surprised if we have yet to learn everything there is to know about being human. 🙂

          1. Yes, they opened the door, and most intersex advocates the right not to be assigned to one or the other sex, the right to avoid hormone treatments and surgery, and so on. Pretty much the opposite of what many trans advocates campaign for. I think that the latter group picked up on the publicity of the former and deliberately conflated the two in order to gain sympathy.

            There are a few people who are genuinely uncomfortable and are much happier after transitioning. I mentioned David/Dee Palmer, but that is a rather different case: intersexual, assigned male at birth, then later after transitioning more comfortable. But they tend to just get on with their life as opposed to cancelling people on the internet.

            1. I don’t see it as a ploy to gain ‘sympathy’ and I’m rather disturbed by the degree of hostility in the comments. Where does this animosity come from? Trans people hurt no one, yet they seem to have become the new whipping boy/girl of both straight and non-straight society.
              As a straight, 68 year old woman I don’t feel at all threatened by trans people, and I’m rather shocked that so many people area. As for this whole cancel culture thing, I have absolutely no idea what the heck it means.

              1. I find the comments here much less hostile than those of some trans activists on Twitter.

                The opposition is mainly against the idea that trans women should be allowed to compete in traditional women’s sports with no restrictions, that people who don’t want to have sex with trans women are transphobic, and the claim that anyone who disagrees with a trans person is transphobic. With regard to the second point, there are people, some highly vocal, whose male-to-female transition consists of nothing more than bad eyeliner and who claim to be lesbians who then criticize real lesbians who don’t want to give them a blowjob as transphobic.

              2. I don’t see what trans activists have to do with any of the people in this discussion. Like any new kid on the block, I assume they’re taking an extreme stance in order to carve out a place for themselves in mainstream society. Homosexuals did exactly the same thing just a few short decades ago. As for lesbians being threatened by men pretending to be women because…hmm…lesbians are femme fatales? Yes, I can see that…
                What I can’t see is what is so very threatening about transpeople – both male and female – to the people commenting on this post?

              3. I think that essentially everyone here agrees with Jerry when he says that he has no problems with trans people, and is even willing to accommodate their pronouns. It is only the three issues I mentioned.

                The point is that the extreme stance casts a bad light on the less vocal but more sensible people.

                I don’t follow your “As for lesbians…” sentence at all.

                We are not directly threatened. But that is like saying that White supporters of civil rights should not have spoken up, because they weren’t affected by Jim Crow.

              4. No, that’s not quite the same thing and you know it. White supporters of the black, civil rights movement were standing up for those who were disadvantaged and discriminated against. In /this/ instance, it’s the trans community that’s been disadvantaged and discriminated against.

                Lesbians and homosexual men have fought for and gained the right to stand tall in mainstream society. Here in Australia, an overwhelming majority finally granted them the right to marry. Not as a privilege but as an inalienable /right/.

                The world is still not a perfect place, but the homosexual community, in all its forms is no longer being abused in the same way as it was when a) homosexual men could be jailed for the crime of not being ‘straight’ or when lesbians were not bound by the same laws because Queen Victoria refused to believe that they existed!

                If the trans activists have become more vocal, and I assume, extreme, it’s because of the intransigent attitude of a small segment of the entire lesbian population. These lesbians are, themselves, highly vocal and extreme.

                This is a perfect example of tit for tat, and egging on one side or the other serves only to inflame a situation that should never have arisen in the first place.

                And let’s not forget that there are trans MEN as well. They seem to have been either forgotten or completely ignored in this turf war. I don’t know the relative numbers of male vs female trans people, but I’m sure they are as diverse as any other segment of the population. Hating the whole population and denying their right to exist seems to be based on an extreme fear that has little basis in actual reality.

                And this is nothing new. Remember how all gay men were once feared as paedophiles? In fact, there are some people who still think that all gay men are paedophiles.

                And this brings me to my last point: intolerance is evil no matter who spouts it, or for what reason. And so is hypocrisy. I’m dismayed that any part of the greater gay community would turn around and deliberately ‘other’ another, newer group. How can anyone who has experienced the evil of discrimination then do the same to someone else?

                This debate is not about semantics and who calls who what. It’s about morality and ethics, and a woeful lack of compassion and empathy.

                This is precisely the ape-brained thinking that leads to violence in communities and wars between countries.

                If you want to support a small group of radical lesbians go right ahead. Help them in any way that eases whatever trauma they’re suffering. But for pity sake, don’t fall into the trap of thinking that the ‘enemy of my friend is my enemy too’.

                Humanity has to rise above this tribalism. We have to be /better/. We have to stop seeing difference as dangerous. That’s caveman thinking.

      2. I believe this was the beginning of /thinking/ about transgender and what might or might not be possible.

        I think that Tiresias has a couple of millennia, give or take, on that.
        Come to think of it, the Babylonians had a fair bit of gender-fluidity in their pantheon, while the Egyptians would definitely know a few verses to “Bestiality’s Best Boys!” I don’t know Maya or Chinese mythology well enough to dig out examples from their mythos – but I’ll bet they’re there.

        (BTW, WordPress accepts basic HTML markup for e.g. /italics/ and *bold*.)

        1. You’re probably right in your mythology, but I’m not sure the current debate owes much to ancient history. And yes, I am aware of basic HTML, but I’m lazy and this is faster. 🙂

  18. One of the (superficially) strange things about this question is that it is completely irrelevant to any of the current contentious transgender issues. The trans women seeking to be admitted into women’s spaces are virtually all unambiguously of the male sex. In fact, I would argue that trans activists don’t even see gender as a spectrum: they want to be identified as women, not as “mostly women”.

    1. Right. As I wrote above, there is a small minority of truly intersex people, but their activists want them to be accepted as neither or both or whatever and are against trying to “fix” the problem (certainly for children; for adults it is their choice, but the advocates think, correctly, that society should not pressure people into choosing one or the other). On the other hand, many trans activists argue that they are unambiguously in one category, their chosen category. Completely different things.

      There has been a realization that assigning a sex at birth if it is ambiguous is wrong, and I agree with that. It seems like many trans activists are trying to get the sympathy for that channelled into their own agenda, which in many respects is the opposite.

      1. It seems to me that there are two types of trans people: binary trans (trans men, trans women) and non-binary trans (for example, those who do not feel neither male nor female).

          1. A trans person is one whose sexual identity does not match that commonly associated with their gonadal sex.

            If by “transition” you mean “hormonal treatment and surgery”, then I will tell you that there are binary and non-binary trans who do not feel the “need to transition”.
            For example, there are trans women who only need to wax, put on makeup and dress as a woman.

            1. At least in some cases, that seems to be a different phenomenon.

              My problem with that is that I am uncomfortable in a society in which it is considered the norm for women (or anyone for that matter) to wax, for women (or anyone for that matter) to wear makeup, or in which men and women are expected to dress differently. Especially given that such norms have changed with time, a preference for certain types of fashion seems rather different from the feeling that one is in the wrong body. In other words, why have tomboys and dandies gone out of fashion, perhaps replaced by teens or even children who have the idea that they are trans?

              Remember when people thought that the Beatles must be gay because they had long hair? (There were also people who had an answer to the question as to whether the Beatles wore wigs: of course they do, since everyone know that male hair can’t grow that long. Really.)

  19. I have a lot of these sorts of discussions, as I have a trans child. That does not give me special knowledge, but it certainly means that cannot avoid the subject, and I interact with lots of trans kids and their parents.
    When I was young, one of my sisters was very much a tomboy. When she realized she was gay, the rest of us had known for quite some time. Nobody was surprised or shocked. We certainly did not have specialized knowledge about exactly made her this way, but there was something physical going on, and had been so before puberty even.
    I have noticed that at least in my circles, most of the girl to boy trans kids are not like my sister at all. They tend to be delicate and feminine in appearance, which their short hair and boyish clothes do not hide at all.
    The same applies to the boy to girl trans kids. The usually have deep voices and masculine physiques.
    This changes somewhat when the medical interventions start. Even then, there is not much of a “spectrum” happening. The boys who want to be girls want to be super girly, and the girls who want to be boys seem to be trying to conform to exaggerated stereotypes of men. It goes to my belief that they do not actually want to experience life as a member of the opposite sex, but wish to experience life as they imagine life for the opposite sex to be. Those expectations are very much shaped by their natural sex, and tend to be unrealistic and idealized.

    Another thing that I did not expect is that many of the trans boys only date trans girls.

    These are my own observations, and obviously formed within the limits of my own experiences.

    1. There seem to be fewer tomboys and dandies than there used to be. 😐

      The exaggerated stereotypes (which I find completely silly among cis people as well) are probably there because otherwise the transition wouldn’t be so obvious.

      As for dating, my guess is that most cis people are interested in other cis people, whether they are gay, straight, bisexual, whatever. Especially if one is straight or gay and not bisexual, by definition one is interested in a certain biological phenotype, and the genuine article and not an imitation.

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