Even I have been guilty of saying that “male” and “female” are the two categories of “sexes assigned at birth”, while at the same time maintaining that there are two observed biological sexes in humans (and in nearly all mammals), and it’s that way because of evolution. That, and empirical observation, shows that sex is almost completely binary. In contrast gender, a self-assigned adjective referring to one’s sexuality (or nonsexuality) is more of a continuum.
I’m not going to use the phrase “assignment at birth” any longer. It’s hypocritical to hold an empirical view of sex as a nearly complete binary and yet to also imply that somehow doctors slap on a newborn a label that’s more as a social construct than a biological fact. Make no mistake about it—”assigned” is meant not as simply “recorded”, but is now used to imply that sex is more or less arbitrary: an elusive social construct.
Sex is not “assigned” at birth, it’s determined at birth (or, to be more accurate, at conception)—just as the number of limbs you have is determined at birth (or a ways into fetal development). Yes, there are exceptions to both normal limb number as well the apparatus for producing big or small gametes, but those exceptions are vanishingly rare. Individuals who deviate from the males-make-small-gametes and females-make-large-gametes binary constitute less than 0.02% of the population.
I realized this when I saw this article in the Associated Press about rugby champion Elia Green (born a female), who has decided to transition to the male gender. Since he’s retired from rugby, there’s no discussion about his participation in the sport (I believe men’s rugby banned transsexual males anyway), but that’s not the issue here. My point involves the implications of the article’s first paragraph:
BRISBANE, Australia (AP) — Ellia Green realized as a young child — long before becoming an Olympic champion — that a person’s identity and a gender assigned at birth can be very different things.
Two things are wrong here. Neither sex nor gender are assigned at birth. Sex is determined at birth, usually based on phenotypic traits that are correlated with biological sex but don’t define biological sex (gamete size does that). Second, genders, being a person’s self-assigned role in the spectrum of sex, cannot possibly be “assigned at birth”. That must wait until the child is old enough to choose a gender or gender role—or is forced to adopt one by some authority.