Here’s more about biological sex, which has become a hot and contentious topic in politics.
Two days ago I described and criticized an op-ed piece in the San Francisco Chronicle by Ash Zemenick, a biologist who works for the University of California at Davis. (He was also first author on a BioScience paper that I criticized.) The link is paywalled, but if you want to read Zemenick’s piece, it’s archived here. Here’s the title:
Zemenick’s point, which he tried to make but failed, is that sex in humans (like gender) is non-binary because traits like sex chromosomes, hormones, and genital morphology are non-binary. He dismissed the correct definition of sex, based on gamete size, this way:
Now, let’s consider the most reductive definition of sex. The gametes. What are gametes? Reproductive cells. Eggs and sperm. Sounds binary, right? As a human, you either produce eggs or sperm, yeah? Nah. On average, most cis women and trans guys are born with all of the eggs they may eventually ovulate with. But some are born without them. Some have their ovaries removed. So, they have no gametes. What about them? Cis men and trans women don’t even start producing sperm until the onset of puberty. So, before puberty, they have no gametes. None. Some cis men are sterile. What about them? As you can see, some people, for these reasons, don’t produce or have gametes at all. Therefore, there are three states: no gametes, eggs or sperm. It’s a triplet, a trifecta. Gametic sex is not binary.
As I said, that’s bogus because the biological definition of sex involves having the reproductive equipment to make either small mobile gametes or large immobile ones. This doesn’t require that your equipment is actually functional. Zemenick’s op-ed simply knocked down a bunch of straw men. Why? Well, Zemenick identifies as non-binary, and I suppose he was trying to find justification in nature for his own gender. But you don’t look to nature simply to justify your identity. Nature is as it is, and humans are the only animal with members claiming “genders.” All other animals have biological sexes.
At any rate, I couldn’t let this op-ed go by without trying to correct its biological errors, for it appeared in a big important newspaper. So I wrote a letter to the editor of the Chronicle that was published today. It’s paywalled at the link given in the headline below, but I’ve put a copy below the title. It speaks for itself. (It’s short because I was limited to only 200 words.)
UPDATE: I’ve now found the letter archived here.