Sex 2: Dawkins vs. Rose on whether there’s a sex binary

July 27, 2023 • 11:30 am

Here’s the second sex post of the day.

Yesterday’s New Statesman, a liberal UK paper, has dueling essays by Richard Dawkins and Jacqueline Rose on whether there’s a sex binary (Dawkins says “yes,”, Rose “no”). I won’t go into into Dawkins’s background, as he’s a familiar figure here, but will note that Rose is a linguistics professor at Birkbeck College and “is known for her work on the relationship between psychoanalysis, feminism and literature.” One could argue that that’s not a background that allows one to pronounce on biological matters, but I’ve never been a big one for using bona fides as arguments.

The paper’s intro to the two essays is just this:

Note: We asked two thinkers to address one of the most vexed questions of our time: “What is a woman?”

Here, Richard Dawkins argues that biological sex represents a “true binary”. See here for Jacqueline Rose on why that binary should be challenged.

That’s not exactly two essays that answer the question, but who cares? Whether or not sex in animals is binary—and it is—is indeed a “vexing question,” but not because the biology is ambiguous. It isn’t. It’s vexing because people refuse to accept the binary nature of sex in animals (and nearly all plants) because it is wrongly seen to cast aspersions on people whose gender (note: not sex), does not conform to a
binary of gender, in which there is more variation than in sex.  This is something that Luana Maroja and I discuss in our Skeptical Inquirer paper (point 1), and I won’t go into it further, except that the biological definition of sex rests solely on gamete size, with males having small, mobile gametes and females large immobile gametes. Our paper also discusses why this distinction is made, and its biological implications. It also discusses why the sex binary has nothing to say about the societal aspects of gender.

If you think Richard has lost his elegance both prose and biological explanation with age, this article should dispel it. Click to read (it’s free):

It’s a succinct but engaging discussion of why the sex (gamete) binary evolved, the various mechanisms (environment, chromosomes, temperature) that lead to the binary, and the confusion around gender, a confusion between its linguistic and sociocultural uses, on top of which is extra confusion that I discussed in the last post—about what gender even means as a human behavioral/mental phenomenon. But he insists on a sex binary.

There’s only one small slip-up I found, and that’s where Richard says this (my bolding):

Obviously, Klinefelter (always male) and Turner (always female) individuals must be eliminated from counts of intersexes, in which case Fausto-Sterling’s estimate shrinks from 1.7 per cent to less than 0.02 per cent. Genuine intersexes are way too rare to challenge the statement that sex is binary. There are two sexes in mammals, and that’s that.

But genuine intersexes don’t challenge the statement that sex is binary. They aren’t classifiable as “male” or “female” (the author whose figures we relied on uses morphology or chromosome constitution as the criteria for “intersex”) but nor do they constitute a third sex. They are developmental anomalies that are not exceptions to the male/female binary. As Luana and I wrote:

Further, developmental issues can sometimes produce people who are intersex, including hermaphrodites. Developmental variants are very rare, constituting onlyabout one in 5,600 people (0.018 percent), and also don’t represent “other sexes.”

The binary abides.

But except for that quibble, the essay is on the money. Read it for yourself, learn some biology, and I’ll reproduce the ending:

. . . gender dysphoria is a real thing. Those who sincerely feel themselves born in the wrong body deserve sympathy and respect. I was convinced of this when I read Jan Morris’s moving memoir, Conundrum (1974). As what she called a “true transsexual”, she distanced herself from “the poor cast-aways of intersex, the misguided homosexuals, the transvestites, the psychotic exhibitionists, who tumble through this half-world like painted clowns, pitiful to others and often horrible to themselves”. Under “misguided” she might have added today’s unfortunate children who, latching on to a playground craze, find themselves eagerly affirmed by “supportive” teachers, and au courant doctors with knives and hormones. See Abigail Shrier’s Irreversible Damage: The Transgender Craze Seducing Our Daughters (2020); Kathleen Stock’s Material Girls: Why Reality Matters for Feminism (2021); and Helen Joyce’s Trans: When Ideology Meets Reality (2021). Many of us know people who choose to identify with the sex opposite to their biological reality. It is polite and friendly to call them by the name and pronouns that they prefer. They have a right to that respect and sympathy. Their militantly vocal supporters do not have a right to commandeer our words and impose idiosyncratic redefinitions on the rest of us. You have a right to your private lexicon, but you are not entitled to insist that we change our language to suit your whim. And you absolutely have no right to bully and intimidate those who follow common usage and biological reality in their usage of “woman” as honoured descriptor for half the population. A woman is an adult human female, free of Y chromosomes.


And so onto Rose’s essay (click to read):

It’s immediately obvious that Rose and Dawkins are talking at cross-purposes, with Rose willing to accept transgender women as equivalent to biological women, and asserting that the denial of this is harmful. She takes the ability to change genders as somehow casting aspersions on the sex binary. Rose also layers all kinds of historical arguments on the word “woman,” none of which do anything wotjh refuting Dawkins’s arguments. It’s as if we have two different essays addressing two different questions.  I’ll give some of Rose’s statements to show this (the bold headings are mine):

The argument from feminism:

Being a woman is at risk of becoming a protected category, as the binary man/woman hardens into place. This is happening even though it has always been a central goal of feminism to repudiate the very idea of womanhood, as a form of coercive control that means the end of freedom.

“Womanhood” here is clearly not the same thing as “biological woman”, but a gender stereotype. And there are plenty of feminists who accept the sex binary, even today! Finally, at least in the U.S. “sex” is a protected category.

The argument from societal pressure and aging:

It was Simone de Beauvoir who famously wrote, “One is not born a woman, but becomes one.” Whatever biology may dictate, becoming a woman is something that society, not nature, enjoins on all humans biologically classified as female, as it casts its oppressive diktats over them, mind, body and soul, layer upon layer. But the still-radical edge of de Beauvoir’s statement conceals its more conservative premise – “they become one” – which implies that “becoming a woman” is something that biological females, one way or another, manage to do, however restrictive their lives then become (de Beauvoir’s crushing account of those lives remains unsurpassed). Meanwhile, the idea that “female” is some kind of primordial condition remains, as if it were the bedrock of all the limitations to follow.

If a woman is an “adult human female,” then “becoming one” simply means becoming an adult.  But what Rose is talking about here appears to be women conforming as they grow up to stifling social expectations. Again, this has nothing to do with the sex binary. In fact, note that Rose alludes to a sex binary here when saying “all humans biologically classified as female.” She reinforces this shortly thereafter:

To assume that “female” is a neutral biological category is, therefore, historically naive and racially blind. It not only drastically limits the options, but trails ugly histories behind it. The point is not to deny biological difference, but to refuse to wrench the term from the historical forces through which it takes on its myriad lived shapes.

What, then, is the biological difference she’s talking about? Isn’t it the sex binary?

The argument from transitioning.  To Rose, changing genders, or “transitioning”, is more evidence against the sex binary. But in fact it isn’t, as transitioning usually means members of one biological sex adopting the traits of another.  The question isn’t whether you can do that, but whether humans fall into two discrete classes at birth:

Far from being inevitable or always welcome, rigid sexual differentiation is one of the most insidious features of our social/sexual arrangements, grafting itself on to the biological body like a parasite. Challenging the binary by transitioning becomes one of the most imaginative leaps in modern society. Research published this June found that roughly 7 per cent of people changed sexual identity and/or orientation in the course of a six-year period in the UK. And that proportion is rising. According to the same study, the impulse to change sex does not show any sign of declining with age. People over 65, especially women, are almost as gender-fluid as the young. This suggests that the neat division of humans into women and men for most of a life is deferred by youth for as long as possible. Change then becomes permissible in old age when the individual has fulfilled the task of sexual conformity, which can then be left behind.

Transitioning may be challenging the binary, but it in no ways effaces it.

It’s very clear that Rose seems to accept that you’re born as male or female, but then society puts all kinds of complications on that fact, like sexism, the desire to transition, and patriarchal expectations. Yet none of this does anything to refute what Dawkins says. These are not dueling essays, but essays that have their swords pointed in different directions. One more quote from Rose:

But to claim that sexual differentiation is “reality” surely ignores that “reality” for feminism is something to be negotiated, struggled over, fought against. To claim the right to dictate on this matter is oppressive and omnipotent, and uncomfortably like the patriarchal order that feminism seeks to dismantle.

Here we have the postmodern conception of different realities: the reality of the sex binary that somehow is in contrast with the reality of womanhood as feminists conceive it.  But Dawkins isn’t dictating the latter; he’s simply pointing out that people are born into one of two biological classes.  If that truth is oppressive to Dr. Rose, well, it’s too bad. At least it gives her a lot of grist for her obscurantist mill.

133 thoughts on “Sex 2: Dawkins vs. Rose on whether there’s a sex binary

  1. The language in the two essays is telling. One is persuasive and reasonable, the other is combative and violent.

  2. “Here’s the second sex post of the day.”

    So many jokes come to mind, so many are self-censored.

    Nah… not gonna do it…

    … if there’s a third, I might get in trouble here.

      1. This reminds me of an example of unclear language provided by Steven Pinker in one of his books. An announcement on a college campus said:

        “Tonight: Panel on sex with six professors”

  3. It’s quite obvious that one essay is about science and the other is about politics. But I would point out that language itself is a very fluid aspect of any culture or society and may be the genesis of the current debate. And of course, the inability to resolve it as well.

    1. I think debating, arguing about the changing meaning / usage of certain words is quite reasonable. But arguing that science shows that biological sex is a spectrum rather than a binary is quite different. Or, as some seem to argue, science should make that claim whether it’s true or not because that is the ethical thing to do.

      1. That’s my gist. I’m just observing that language here, especially jargon, is getting in the way of communication. I would even propose that people used to converse in “scientific dialect” think differently, not just speak differently. That of course could be applied to the humanities as well. Some philosophy books are impenetrable because of language.

  4. You are correct; two essays on different topics. Also correct that Dr, Dawkin’s writing prowess has not diminished in the slightest. Always first rate.

  5. [sorry this is long but post modernism makes it so ]

    Generally, Dawkins has all observational evidence to support the conclusions he puts forth. Empiricism. It is independent of Dawkins. He and no one else “dictates” the observations. His objective is emphatically and principally to understand the world.

    Rose has no observations to support the positions put forth. The origin of any “knowledge” Rose puts forth is obscured, and located by self-reflection – gnosis(see below). Nobody else would necessarily find the same “knowledge”. The conclusions entirely depend on Rose themselves to reveal to everyone – only they have the “knowledge”, and it has everything to do with escape from the “prison” (cf. Butler) of the material world / body to attain a spiritual revelation independent of our oppressive society.

    This is the full thrust of at least particular post-modern/post-structuralist writers – mysticism made to look sophisticated or erudite. Look at the dissatisfaction with the body, to attain something beyond the body, in the quotes above. It is spiritualism. Further, David M. Halperin instructs to “make the world more gay”, on the basis of that gnosis – transformation of the world to specific ends through action in it. Dawkins has no such interest.

    Wikipedia quote on gnosis :

    “[Gnosis] It is best known for its implication within Gnosticism,[1] where it signifies a spiritual knowledge or insight into humanity’s real nature as divine, leading to the deliverance of the divine spark within humanity from the constraints of earthly existence.”

    1. Oops – a typos I think :

      I meant nobody dictates the observations, and neither Dawkins nor any doctor or scientist is dictating anything.

    2. I think I sometimes have trouble spotting the flaws in arguments like Rose’s because I find the language so impenetrable. I found this observation of yours quite enlightening:

      “[O]nly they have the ‘knowledge,’ and it has everything to do with escape from the ‘prison’ (cf. Butler) of the material world / body to attain a spiritual revelation independent of our oppressive society.”

      It is very much like a religion, isn’t it?

      Thank you for your cogent remarks.

      1. I just read James “Conspiracy Theorist” Lindsay’s material and followed through to the references to the primary literature. It obviously can’t be put in a nutshell. So I’m the messenger here – but appreciate it anyway.

        1. Can you recommend any of the primary literature for people who don’t want to dig through big shelves of nonsense (like the poor James Lindsay has done)? Did any books elicit a feeling of “yes, so that’s where this all comes from”?

          1. Cynical Theories by Lindsay and Helen Pluckrose is pretty good on the origins of pomo and its spread through academia and into ‘the real world’.

            1. Right, I’ve read that, and it was very clear and illuminating, but it’s secondary literature, and0 I’d like to hear it straight from the horses’ mouth, so to speak.

          2. TL;DR


            Personally, in haste/top-of-my-head – and I’d be glad to be proven wrong, BTW :

            Judith Butler :
            Gender Trouble

            Michel Foucault :
            Discipline and Punish [sic? Not “Punishment”], but I’m still slowly getting his writing.

            Jose Esteban Muñoz
            Cruising Utopia

            … A search of the library by author will produce tons of other titles to pick.

            Really, Lindsay does all the tiresome work for you. I am not associated with Lindsay or anything, just a reader. So read it, and get further lit from your favorite source, like the library.

          3. OK

            A personal fave:

            Judith Butler
            1990, …, 2006
            Gender Trouble: Feminism and the Subversion of Identity
            New York: Routledge
            ISBN 978-0-415-38955-6


            There are parts that are just … speaks for itself. Notice “soul” and “prison” in it. I notice as well, insistence on making “gender” a new word divorced from its original function (in linguistics), like pomo writers and Marx did with e.g. “critical”…. I wonder if Butler started the re-definition of “gender”?

            But I ramble. Lindsay’s analysis helps stay afloat though it, I’d say.

              1. There’s a reason why lindsey writes.
                And you’d be wise to read.

                But also go to the source material, it’s hell.

                I thought creationists were funny, because they were funny and harmless. These people can be very funny, not harmless.

  6. New Statesman commissioned my piece out of the blue (rather to my surprise) on 29th March. I sent it in on 4th April, having been told it would be published the following week. In the event it wasn’t published for more than three months. I was eventually told the reason for the long delay. Perhaps under pressure from junior members of staff (that’s a pure guess, but it’s a common pattern in publishing today) they had decided they needed to publish an opposing view. They were having trouble finding one, and I think it shows.

    I should make it clear that I’m not complaining about the delay. I was treated with the utmost consideration and courtesy throughout. And I think it may be the only piece of journalism I have ever written where my prose was not messed about by the editors but printed exactly as I wrote it. For that I am extremely grateful.

    Moreover, I don’t think Jacqueline Rose can be blamed for not replying to my article, because I doubt that she was shown it. Whether she should be blamed for something else – such as writing an article that doesn’t make any coherent sense – is another matter. Perhaps “doesn’t make any coherent sense” is a badge of honour among postmodernists. I wouldn’t know, as I’ve never met anyone who could even begin to tell me what postmodernism is.

    1. I’d like to add my thanks to Stephen Warren’s thanks. Also, thanks for your work in general–I just this morning re-started reading “Climbing Mount Improbable,” so it was fun to see you appearing in one of Professor Coyne’s posts today!

    2. Postmodernism has a definition. PoMos claim that 2 + 2 = 4 is a statement of power, not a mathematical truth. They claim that reality does not exist, only power exists.

    3. Thank you for your excellent article, and for citing the other books that clarify this (lamentably contested) truth.

    4. Indeed, thank you for :

      • clear writing
      • clear speaking
      • making ideas clear
      • showing that to understand even a small part of our world, empirically, is no small task
      • …

      So much more, but I ramble.

    5. There’s usually a three-month lead time for journal publications, so when you put this up yesterday, I’d already assumed it was probably commissioned in March or thereabouts. I note your information that it was originally to be published in a week and that the delay was due to inability to find an opposing view. It’s a shame that this odd article by Jacqueline Rose is all anyone could come up with, when even I can provide better argument.

    1. I took it more as a reference to George R. Stewart’s novel. Didn’t know PCC(E) was into SF.

  7. I was in Manhattan last month, the same day as the Pride parade. As usual, the line for the women’s room at Grand Central was three times as long as the line for the men’s, and I wanted to ask everyone who was dressed for Pride, “If sex isn’t a binary and gender is whatever you want it to be, why are we all lined up like this?” I didn’t say it because I didn’t want to be rude and I do have some self-preservation skills. Anyway, I support people living their truths (within reason), but I don’t understand the insistence that sex isn’t binary.

    1. That wouldn’t be the right Queering?

      The intense interest in biological sex is driven by a couple notions:

      • the notion that knowledge is, in a profound sense, “a social construct”. Knowledge is not a “social construct”, nor “constructed” as such, as if it comprises some sort of super-organism. Asserting it as such is intended to make genuine knowledge malleable in a way that different social inputs would result in different knowledge.

      • language is power (Foucault). I personally take this to mean words are like magic spells everyone says to each other, reifying them as true. A world where everyone talked about three sexes, would mean there are three sexes, so let’s have everyone just do that now to make it true?

      • Judith Butler and Foucault write about release from a material/bodily prison. The dissolution of sex – as society inscribes it on everyone’s body as oppression – would aid that objective.

      BTW all my comments here are informed from reading New Discourses and all referenced pomo, Marxist, and other primary literature compiled by James “Conspiracy Theorist” Lindsay.

    2. … plus, of course,

      • Queering everything – in this case, a sort of protest / antagonism in literary / written form. It’ll never end because, and I quote from a famous book :

      “Queerness is not yet here. Queerness is an ideality. Put another way, we are not yet queer. We may never touch queerness, but we can feel it as the warm illumination of a horizon imbued with potentiality. We have never been queer, yet queerness exists for us as an ideality that can be distilled from the past and used to imagine a future. ”

      -Jose Esteban Muñoz
      Cruising Utopia – The Then and There of Queer Futurity

  8. In her essay, Rose wrote:

    Meanwhile, the idea that “female” is some kind of primordial condition remains, as if it were the bedrock of all the limitations to follow.

    “As if?” Who’s saying that? Is anyone who defines “woman” as “an adult female” doing so in order to make the point that every sexist limitation society has placed on woman is true? No, not even sexists like Matt Walsh is doing that. It’s just a basic biological definition stripped of anything about how women ought to behave.

    Jacqueline Rose, like most Genderists, believes that being female IS the bedrock to all the limitations which once followed. The idea is there’s no way to separate sex from sexism. It’s inevitable and obviously so. People like Dawkins and Coyne who argue that it’s possible must WANT a sexist world. It’s only when nobody can tell who’s a man or who’s a woman that things like rape or men talking over women in a conversation will finally cease. Improvement not only isn’t possible, but saying it IS possible sets us back.

    Very confused.

    Challenging the binary by transitioning becomes one of the most imaginative leaps in modern society. Research published this June found that roughly 7 per cent of people changed sexual identity and/or orientation in the course of a six-year period in the UK.

    Notice how changing your sexual orientation (which sex you’re attracted to) is casually thrown together with changing your sexual identity (which sex you know you are) as if they’re the same sort of thing. And note how a binary of biological classification is put in the same category as rigid sex roles.

    They are not the same sort of thing.

    1. Also notice how the binary still remains. Instead of conceiving of transgenderism as another category altogether, they still stick with the binary. When I first learnt of postmodernism at University, lecturers were at pains to point out that much of ‘western’ thought is dichotomous – which ironically is exactly what the trans movement, and people like Rose, are still engaging in. They just can’t lift their gaze far enough above their own petty concerns to see that just because sex is an immutable binary, other things don’t have to be too.

  9. When someone asks “how many human genders are there?” the correct answer isn’t two or fifteen or whatever it’s zero. Human beings have sex but they do not have gender, only words in e.g. French, German etc. have gender. The idea that humans have gender is something invented by the notorious paedophile John Money in the 1950s. The whole idea of using “woman” and “man” to refer to various cultural habits is calculated to cause maximum confusion. It would be like if I went round calling myself black and then clarified this by saying that I like traditional African music and styles of dress. Even trans people, deep down, aren’t interested in “gender”: what they actually want is for society to pretend they have a biological sex different from what they actually have.

    1. I’d go one step further with your comment here….

      “Even trans people, deep down, aren’t interested in “gender”: what they actually want is for society to” LIE “they have a biological sex different from what they actually have.”

      Because that is what *anyone* who says or supports the entire concept of “trans women are women” aka Trans Ideology are demanding. Often with menaces and use of LAW to force society to LIE about the obvious reality of the binary sex.

      Until media, politicians and indeed all scientists/medical professionals etc, start to understand and realise (or at least take their blinkers off), that this ideology is built on lies, we will continue to have this ridiculous arguments.

      Sex is binary and immutable.

      “Gender identity” is arrant nonsense.

  10. “Rose is known for her work on the relationship between psychoanalysis, feminism and literature.”

    Sounds like she specializes in obscurantist jargon.

  11. As so often the arguments that are used against the fact that sex is not binary reeks of human exceptionalism which is something that irritates me immensely, It is a form of evolution denying that would be laughable if it came from some religious nut but when coming from a full professor is deeply disturbing. I suspect that if you asked Prof Rose whether evolution is true, she will almost certainly say yes. She bases her argument on only one sexually reproducing species out of how many ? Does her argument apply to chimps? Bonobos? And so on down. She is wrong. Completely wrong but try calling her an evolution denier ….

    1. Yes exactly. Thanks for pointing this out — it’s evolution denialism. Sex has a single origin somewhere in the dim ancestry of the organisms from which all animals are descended. In that ancestor and many of its descendants, there is zero sexual dimorphism other than gamete size. Other descendants including humans that are dimorphic share that same gamete size binary, but have added other secondary sex characteristics. That’s the most important sense in which sex is binary in humans (and other dimorphic animals). To claim that sex in humans is something different from sex in clams and corals (and everything else) is to deny that evolutionary continuity. That claim is profoundly antiscience.

    2. I wonder what “social constructionists” would say when you ask them at what point the miracle happened: the time when the genetic predisposition to form hierarchical tribes with different roles for the two sexes that is shown by our primate relatives disappeared, and was replaced by the infinitely malleable social constructions of us humans, which just so happen to manifest in hierarchical (super-)tribes with different roles for the sexes in every society everywhere ever.

  12. Dawkins is in very good form.
    I got to reading Roses’ essay before your summary of it, and saw too that they were (as expected) facing in entirely different directions in their arguments. Her essay is mainly an emotional one, where what ought to be is going to be molded into existence by simply wishing it to be so. The essay reminds me of how a religious person might muster support for scientific creationism by quoting biblical scripture. As in, you will refer to the scientific peer reviewed literature when you talk about evolution, but my replies about evolution will draw from the Dead Sea scrolls. And she also says things that simply cannot be true. She claims that the term “female” as we biologists use it today originated in the 19th century as a way to refer to female black slaves. No. The term and its meaning goes waay back before that and had nothing to do with slavery. Hippocrates for example wrote about male versus female substances that join to make a new generation. There is more about the history of discovery of biological sex, the discovery of eggs and sperm, and that humans have these things too, that one can read about here:
    UPDATE: I just noticed: The article is by Matthew Cobb!!

  13. Mr. Dawkins says that “. . . gender dysphoria is a real thing. Those who sincerely feel themselves born in the wrong body deserve sympathy and respect.”

    I suspect that every commenter on this site agrees with that second sentence. As to the first sentence, the phenomenon that we currently call “gender dysphoria” is a real thing. To what degree it has anything to do with an entity called “gender” is an open question.

    1. Yes.


      It is impossible to be born in the wrong body.

      Furthermore – that claim is a gnostic claim – self-reported, and mystical – in contrast to tinnitus – also a self-reported condition but with rational basis.

      1. This.

        Anyone claiming they are not the sex they are, have a delusion about their sexed body. The answer is NOT to “affirm” this delusion.

        It should be explored and find out *why* the person is feeling they are NOT the sex they are.

        Note. There is NO WAY that the person can claim they “feel like” the opposite sex….because no one can know what the opposite sex feels like. There is no basis for comparison. Its like saying that one “feels like a rabbit” and thus *is* a rabbit. It impossible and empty statement.

        I do not understand how any medical professional can say “Oh, yes you are the opposite sex and here we will give you toxic drugs that interfere/disrupt the endocrine system so its NOT then reversible, other drugs that will cause serious, irreversible changes to your body to mimic the opposite sex and we can offer you invasive, harmful surgeries that are likely to cause serious side effects such as incontinence, constant pain, sterilisation, cognitive decline and reduce life length and quality….to attain a vague version of the opposite sex you think you are.”

        Its abuse.

        Also, *very few* people really have that “condition” – which is incredibly difficult to prove anyway as it relies **entirely on using rigid stereotypes based on external factors such as a preference for toys/clothing/presentation/interests etc apparently assigned to the opposite sex….would love to know where that rule book is that lists all the external things either sex is supposed to prefer.

      2. You are responding to someone who believes that “gender” is a fiction, so please!

        Regarding dysphoria, it is possible to feel disgust with one’s body and to imagine that having a different body would rid oneself of the disgust. And it is possible that such disgust takes a sexualized form. That would be a psychiatric disorder that need have nothing to do with Gnosticism, gender identity, postmodernism, critical social justice, or any other toxins polluting our Academy.

        Be careful about dismissing all self-reported claims that cannot be proven to others. You would be hard pressed in the face of radical skepticism to prove that you either love or are loved. Some things in life can only be taken on trust. They tend to be the most important things.

        1. “Be careful about dismissing all self-reported claims that cannot be proven to others. ”

          I do not know where I dismissed anything except the claim “born in the wrong body”. I carefully picked self-report of tinnitus – but very little to measure – off the top of my head … but perhaps it can be assessed well, IDK. Other pain has to be self-reported on a scale, and empirically assessed. Devil is in the details, but I’m not sure that is pure gnosis. Psychosomatic illness comes to mind – hey Leslie, thanks for that Ed Shorter book reference.

          Love has an enormous literature, dating back to antiquity, and sure, it can be mystical, transcendent, perhaps, so no way I was carelessly picking that. Love of who, which, what? It’s hopeless to be specific.

          Self-reporting a bodily prison is the specific criticism. Literature back to antiquity shows human preoccupation with transcendence of the material world, e.g. through use of hermetic alchemy – including male-female aspects. I still am finding literature for that.

          Thus there is some reason to justify a pattern of mysticism in Judith Butler or Michel Foucault’s writing, in specific details. But it is an admixture with other stuff, so it is hard to isolate – there are books that just try to define gnosticism itself (e.g. Karen King).

  14. How does one read her arguments and not lose their marbles? Her line of reasoning wouldn’t even pass an introductory class in critical thinking, yet somehow these people hold PhDs? There was a time where most people would look at this and call bullshit. It’s so absurd and intellectually violating.

  15. What baffles me the most, is:

    Transgender issues and the question wether sex is binary or not are completely unrelated. The vast majority of trans “folks” are not intersex, one could even make a claim that a trans intersex actually wouldn’t be “trans”at all, as he simply would have chosen one of the sexes he has some traits of. On the contrary, trans people are people that were born 100% in one sex, but don’t feel at ease with the societal and/or biological features of this sex, identify with the opposite, and then modify, to varying degrees, their appearance, physiology, stereotyped behaviour etc to match the opposite sex. They 100% incarnate and believe in the “binary”.

    So I really don’t understand the necessity to conflate these two issues, and why it would be necessary to deny the sex binary and believe in a “spectrum” to be tolerant, compassionate and respectful of trans people.

  16. Richard Dawkins notes above that “I’ve never met anyone who could even begin to tell me what postmodernism is.” I would say that Jaqueline Rose herself begins to tell us:
    “… “reality” for feminism is something to be negotiated, struggled over, fought against.”
    Thus, everything like the existence of the sex binary, bacterial pathogens, metabolism, electricity, atoms, molecules, and gravity is to be negotiated, struggled over, and fought against. No wonder that scholars of post-modernism/feminism have not made useful contributions in medicine, physics, chemistry, engineering, and related areas.

  17. Sarcasm aside, gender dysphoria is a real thing. Those who sincerely feel themselves born in the wrong body deserve sympathy and respect. I was convinced of this when I read Jan Morris’s moving memoir, Conundrum (1974). As what she called a “true transsexual”, she distanced herself from “the poor cast-aways of intersex, the misguided homosexuals, the transvestites, the psychotic exhibitionists, who tumble through this half-world like painted clowns, pitiful to others and often horrible to themselves”.

    Dawkins’ sympathy is misplaced. Morris was a misogynist who appears to have ensured that his sons received good educations whilst repeatedly disrupting his daughter’s schooling. He cruelly made the latter proofread his will, in which she had been left nothing. Morris’ womanhood didn’t extend to sharing domestic duties with his poor put-upon wife – indeed after his transition Morris’ male entitlement continued unabated. And the extract Dawkins quotes highlights Morris’ homophobia, which runs through gender identity ideology like the name of a seaside resort through a stick of rock.

    Otherwise, Dawkins argues and writes beautifully, though.

    1. If these men are subject to unbearable suffering by being in the wrong body, it would seem they would do anything to change their appearance. However, less than 15% of male to female trans have had “bottom surgery” and 70% do not wish to have it (can’t say I blame them).

      Autogynephilia is an unmentionable component in the adult trans discussion.

  18. As much as I like him, I feel like Dawkins undermined his own argument a bit by using the popular but erroneous chromosomal definition of sex in the last sentence (but in the article’s main body), instead of the one based on gametes.

    1. Addendum: Dawkin’s specific statement is correct in that an individual without a Y chromosome could never produce sperm, but I just prefer to focus on gametes instead of chromosomes since postmodernists love bringing up Turner’s syndrome and Klinefelter’s syndrome, as though this proves anything. Still, this is a minor quibble with an otherwise great article.

    2. As Prof. Dawkins says, chromosomal segregation of X and Y chromosomes during meiosis is the mechanism by which sexual differentiation is determined in mammals. This is perfectly correct. It is not at all incompatible with sex being defined by gamete size and motility. A zygote that received a Y chromosome from its father will, if all goes well with no mistakes, develop into an embryo with male internal and external genitalia and will, at puberty, start to make small motile gametes and develop to a greater or lesser degree the typical secondary sex characteristics of a male adult. These two processes (gamete production and sexual development) are controlled by two separate cell types in the testis but both are determined by genes inherited on the X and Y chromosome.

      (The gene for the androgen receptor, without which testosterone can’t work its magic, is located on the X chromosome. So men need an X chromosome, too, which of course they can only get from their mothers.)

  19. My minor qibble with Dawkins’s excellent essay is the statement that, “Any mammal with a Y chromosome will develop as a male”. I would insert “functional” before “Y chromosome”. Complete Androgen Insensitivity Syndrome, affecting up to 1 in 20,000 XY births, results in people having female external genitalia but undescended testes instead of female internal organs. Dawkins may intend to include this in his paragraph on intersex conditions, but as written that sentence jumped out to me as just a bit too categorical. I don’t know if people with CAIS produce sperm (not that those could go anywhere), but even if so I still would call them female.

    I find this condition interesting because it results in someone with XY chromosomes, small-gamete-producing anatomy, and no large-gamete-producing anatomy, but the rest of the body, the psychology, and the hormone levels are all fully female.

    1. Those with CAIS are not sensitive to androgens due to a mutation in the gene that codes for the androgen receptor (which happens to be on the X chromosome). Their tests produce testosterone, but their bodies can’t respond to it since they do not have functional androgen receptors. Sperm can’t be made without testosterone action, nor can sperm be naturally produced when the testes remain undescended, in the too-warm abdomen (testosterone action is also necessary for their descent into the scrotal sac). Also absent are other structures necessary for full development and transport of sperm (e.g., epididymis, vas deferens). Making sperm is less complex and expensive than making eggs, but conditions still need to be right! (Also—people with Swyer Syndrome have XY sex chromosomes and, although they lack ovarian function, develop a female phenotype.)

      1. OY! Welcome to WEIT readers section, Dr. Hooven, a great read every day with some funny personalities and respect moderated by our excellent host.

        I very much enjoyed your book and podcast interviews. I’m a med school dropout (didn’t last long) but I have a lifelong interest in hormones, neurotransmitters, brain anatomy/functioning. Self study so I’m no expert at all, just a well informed tourist. I learned a lot from you.
        And kudos to you for standing up to the maniacs who attacked you. That is ACTUAL bravery.

      2. Thank you for that, Prof. Hooven. You may recall the following exchange reported in the Harvard Crimson:

        Heather L. Dingwall, who graduated with a Ph.D. from Harvard’s HEB department in 2019, said she agrees with [Prof.] Hooven that there are two types of gametes — sperm and eggs — but she disagrees that gametes are the sole determinant of sex.

        According to Dingwall, some people’s external genitalia may appear ambiguous or opposite to what is commonly expected based on their gametes.

        That person could make eggs, that person could have ovaries, but they could also have external genitalia that we commonly think of as male,” she said. “The way we are typically assigned to sex at birth is based on our external genitalia. Then what does that mean for that person?” (Bolding added.)

        I trust you will agree that the scenario proposed by your interlocutor is impossible. No person with functioning ovaries that make ova can have as well typically male external genitalia that would have “fooled” us at birth. Rather, if things go wrong in embryogenesis of the reproductive tract, the usual outcome is no gametes at all. In those cases, the appearance of the genitalia at birth don’t predict the “wrong” gametes, rather they just fail to predict the absence of gametes. Even in your CAIS example, it’s not like the female genitalia surprise everyone by producing and emitting healthy spermatazoa at age 13. Rather you discover (because the girl doesn’t menstruate) that she has no ovaries or internal female organs but instead has an isolated testis with no male conducting parts. A similar story would be typical in Swyer syndrome except there would be no gonadal development at all.

        People who belabour these rare DSDs as a “gotcha” against the sex binary fail to acknowledge that most of these affected individuals are infertile: they produce no gametes at all. Babies with external genitalia that are recognized at birth to be ambiguous get individualized medical evaluations to answer, among other questions, whether sexual function and fertility will be possible. To the individual, it doesn’t really matter whether her individual case proves or disproves a biological sex binary. She just is what she is.

      3. Serious comment. Fully agree with David Anderson.
        No-so-serious comment. What sort of tests produce Testosterone? Must be very difficult ones.

  20. A minor correction for the record. Richard Dawkins is right that XXY (Klinefelter syndrome) and XO (Turner syndrome) were included, but wrong that this hugely inflated Fausto-Sterling’s estimate in “How sexually dimorphic are we?” (Blackless et al. 2000). The inflation is largely due to the inclusion of late-onset congenital adrenal hyperplasia (LOCAH), which accounts for almost 90% of the 1.7%. Dawkins’ conclusion is still right, since LOCAH is not an intersex condition by any stretch. This was pointed out by Sax (2002, linked in Jerry’s post).

    It’s also worth noting that the revised figure of 0.02% includes “classic” congenital adrenal hyperplasia (CAH). XX infants with CAH are routinely classified as female in the literature. If there are any “genuine intersexes” the frequency is way lower than 0.02%.

  21. In its proper context, Simone de Beauvoir’s “One is not born, but rather becomes, a woman” highlights the gender expectations imposed on girls in order for them to become what was society accepted as a woman when she was writing back in 1949. (Not that we have necessarily made much progress on that front in the 70+ years since.)

    Her book Le Deuxième Sexe has much to say about female puberty, menstruation, and biology – it’s just the one sentence that is always cherry-picked and taken out of context by gender identity ideologues to suit their particular agenda. Simone knew exactly what being a woman means and will be spinning in her grave.

  22. I’ll read this later and look forward to it. I LOVE it when RD weighs in on stuff. What can turn “genderwang” and woke psychopathy around a BIT (against a huge wave of Money and fame behind it) is people on the left criticizing it. People like our host, Dawkins, Pinker, Bill Maher (when he shuts up about vaccines), Brett Weinstein (ditto, twice), etc.
    Our side – many who don’t realized they’ve been sneakily tricked – will never listen to the Matt Walsh fools, or even Jordan Peterson on a good day, and nor should they!
    But luminaries from the LEFT, that actually can move the needle a tad. Hopefully.

    NYC (where we are HOT HOT HOT today. Phew. Too hot for “Aussie” and me down on 8th ave!)

  23. Ten years ago, Michelle Goldberg wrote a clarifying piece (see below), on the fight between transgenderism and 2nd wave feminism. It’s an old fight dating back 50 years.

    It simplifies to: transgenderism believes evolution happens from the neck up (female brain trapped in a male body) and 2nd wave feminism/post modern believes that evolution happens from the neck down – leaving little room for overlap….though might explain why the neck muscle is 50% heritable!

    There would be a lot more room for agreement if the argument went back to where it belongs – varied gender expressions / degrees of feminine/masculine social traits.

  24. This is why the suggestion that trans women are all potential abusers invading women-only spaces is so misguided and cruel.

    No one is suggesting that. But men – which includes transwomen, whether they like it or not – are immensely more likely to commit sexual offences than women; and women and girls are predominantly the victims of such crimes . Since no-one can tell which men are dangerous we have separate single-sex facilities in situations where females are particularly vulnerable, e.g. undressing etc.

    The proportion of humans who are terrorists is tiny, but we all have to undergo security checks at airports, because we can’t tell who poses a threat. It isn’t misguided or cruel to make us do it – simply acknowledging the risks and putting the appropriate safeguarding in place.

  25. This argument- “Where does that leave the women who, for reasons of illness, have their uterus surgically removed…” is tedious. No rational person has ever made the claim that post menopausal women become some third sex.

    There are an increasing number of people who make serious claims that they are some sort of non-human born into a human body by mistake. But an open minded observer would see that of the many characteristics where birds differ from humans, none of these kids display evidence of any of them. What they have is a belief that if they were a bird, life would be simpler, more graceful, even more colorful. I love to lay down in the field and look up at the hawk soaring high above me, imagining how the world looks like from up there, and how it must feel to ride the wind.

    Almost nobody is going to believe that a child is actually a bird in the wrong body, or that an overweight middle aged man is really an 8 year old girl. Believing that someone was born into a body of the wrong sex differs from those claims only by a matter of degree, and has the same evidence to support the claim. Which is none.

    An important point I have made before is that trans people do not want to live as the opposite sex lives. They want to live as they imagine the other sex lives, a perception inevitably shaped by their natural sex, an idealized version.
    I remember someone saying “If I were a girl, I would never get anything done, because I would always be playing with my breasts”. But of course, you are only mesmerized by breasts because you are a guy. His perception of what it is like to be a girl was entirely based on his own, natural male sexual perceptions.

    I still firmly believe that gender is simply how sex is expressed through behavior. Expectations of acceptable behaviors for each sex vary with time and place. Surely they originate from millennia of observation. Boys will tend to hit each other with sticks, but that tendency can have negative consequences if uncontrolled. So it is best to have rules for use of whacking sticks, and to instill those rules at a very young age. And to have healthy outlets for the impulses behind it.
    You can glance at a newborn and tell within a good betting margin whether the child, if left to their own devices, will chase others with sticks or draw a face on the stick and nurture it. That such predictions are not 100% accurate does not mean that the whole structure should be dismantled.

  26. note that Rose is a linguistics professor at Birkbeck College and “is known for her work on the relationship between psychoanalysis, feminism and literature.” One could argue that that’s not a background that allows one to pronounce on biological matters,

    Well, if you consider the question “Do you want fries with that?” to be non-trivially biological in nature, then she’s marginally qualified for that. Otherwise, pretty useless.

  27. The refusal to recognize that men, including trans women, are immensely more likely to commit sexual offences than women, goes with a willingness to concern oneself with what might be “cruel” to trans women while happily regarding it as appropriate for women to bear the risks of mixed sex accommodation in prisons, hospital wards and so on.

  28. Excellent discussion here. A few posts have asked why some argue that sex isn’t binary, or that sex is on a spectrum, or intersex proves no one can be sure what sex anyone is….why, they ask, are they so outraged or scornful when material, biological facts are presented to them? The reason is that if sex is made to seem arbitrary, mysterious, fluid & fuzzy, then sex can be deemed irrelevant and less important than ‘gender identity’. So a ‘gender identity’ can be acquired that obliterates one’s actual sex. This matters, because women in particular still need some single sex spaces, services and sports. It also matters for children, who should never be given life and body changing pharma or surgery because they believe their ‘gender identity’ is at odds with their sex. It also matters for everyone else, as a widespread pretence that men can be women, women can be men and that some ‘non binary’ people are neither is to deny reality.

  29. Yes, biological sex is binary, but it applies first and foremost to gamete producing organs, and this is not the categorization most people are interested in. Genuinely intersex people, meanwhile, are not a third sex, but they are a third category with regard to sex-related characteristics. That, along with gender and sexual orientation, is the category scheme the public discourse is focused on.

    1. “This is not the categorization that most people are interested in” – they bloody well should be, if society is supposed to survive for a few more generations. It has become fashionable to consider children as an afterthought, something that you maybe consider when you’ve got your career going and all your hobbies and passions covered… but they’re not.
      (Ceiling Cat help me, I AM starting to sound like a conservative…)

    1. Thanks, Maya. [Honoured to meet you.] So what the study actually said is:

      Sex: We used a dummy variable to distinguish between women (53.4% of the sample) and men (46.6%). No respondent had changed their sex between the waves. The survey did not collect information on respondents’ gender identification nor provide options outside a male–female sex binary.

      So much for Rose and her talk of “one of the most imaginative leaps in modern society” and “According to the same study, the impulse to change sex does not show any sign of declining with age”. Very disingenuous – almost as if she hadn’t actually read the study she was citing…

  30. “Some primitive animals and plants are still ‘isogamous’:”

    What animals are isogamous? I’m pretty sure than even sponges are anisogamous.

    1. Yes sponges are anisogamous. I hesitate every time I go to write a statement like this, but: no animals are isogamous in the way that some fungi and microorganisms are isogamous.

  31. I seem to recall reading that less than a dozen cases are known of humans with both ovaries and testes, and in all such cases only the ovaries functioned. Doesn’t the intersex condition basically refer to ambiguous genitalia? Are not ‘intersex’ individuals overwhelmingly still just male or female (i.e. they have just testes xor ovaries)?

  32. Rose has the nerve to quote Andrea Long Chu (a transwoman). On page 76 of Females, the work that Rose cites, Chu wrote, “Getting fucked makes you female because fucked is what a female is”. Sounds like the view of a misogynist man to me.

  33. I appreciate that Dawkins made the point that Rose may not have read his piece, as they absolutely do not sound as if they are discussing the same issue.

    I keep reading comments on this site that second wave feminism is postmodern. That is not correct. Second wave was not concerned with Judith Butler type issues. It was concerned with equality for women- think the Equal Rights Amendment. Laws to protect women, equal pay for equal work, respect for child rearing and pink collar work, justice for rape victims and victims of sexual harassment and other such issues that impact women’s lives directly. It was action oriented. I am very much a feminist of that wave, and I have no patience for po-mo. Feminism is not a religion that one must believe in a specific dogma to belong. While it may seem tedious to do so, people should explain what they mean by the term before making sweeping generalizations about it.

    Rose has taken de Beauvoir’s famous statement about woman being made not born, and reinterpreted- actually, misinterpreted it- as supporting a po-mo infinite gender reality. De Beauvoir meant nothing of the sort. Her position was that the passivity expected of women was cultural, not biological. The idea of 2nd wave feminism was that women could struggle to be liberated from cultural expectations that limited their lives. Now we have a new wave of thinking that believes one needs to construct a new “gender” for themselves in order to live an authentic life. It is as if the received definitions of feminine and masculine are inescapable, so biology must be denied. It is a philosophy that is irrational and inconsistent.

  34. Agree that intersex is an anomaly but would still allow it as a social recognition, regardless of the low percentage, as it is still biologically evident. I don’t agree with forcing transition to meet societal impositions. We should be mature enough to accept people without judgment and transition should be the independent choice of a properly-informed adult.

    Disagree that sex is defined by gamete size and mobility. The male gametes may be small and relatively more temporarily independently mobile than the female, but what they lose in size they make up for in quantity – millions of sperm vying for one egg. Eggs do move from the ovaries, down the oviducts to the uterus at some point, and, as anyone who menstruates knows, from creation and movement of the ovum to the building up and sloughing off of uterine tissue that passes out through the vagina, it’s not entirely a “passive” process. During ‘the act’ also, more energy is expended by the male than the female. Sperm and ova are physically distinctive and XX/XY is the biological sex distinction in a person. Any other qualification is superfluous and looks as ‘self-defined’ to me as fully-anatomical, hormonal XY people with no XX physiology of any kind deciding they are “women” because they like wearing make-up and society says that’s what “women” do.

    Physiological differences should be recognised to a point, where appropriate, i.e. if the physical features are relevant. For example, in sport, there’s no reason there shouldn’t be categories, as is the case with boxing – heavyweight, middle, welter, bantam etc., for obvious reasons.

    Outside of that, there should be no gender distinction at all. Anyone should be able to do anything, whatever their anatomy or whatever name they go by and anything acting against that, is, a social construct. Not being a body-builder or on steroids, I may not have the muscular strength to fight a bear off, open a jar lid or lift a truck, but I have a brain with which to be tactical and know to put a metal lid under hot water or to use tools. “Give me a lever and I’ll move the world”.

    1. Hi Joanna,

      Sex chromosomes don’t define the two sexes. Lots of animal populations consist of only male and female sexes, just like human populations, but those other animals don’t have any sex chromosomes. In humans and other mammals, sex chromosomes are just the way that the genome has organized the genes that affect embryo development toward male or female sexes. That’s not the only way for an embryo to be directed toward become a male or becoming a female, and not the only way for the genome to be organized.

      Instead, sex is *defined* by gamete size: small mobile gametes are made by males; large immobile gametes are made by females. This isn’t something one can disagree with. If one wants to make a different definition of sexes, one can do that, but it isn’t the definition used by evolutionary biologists.

      The twitter feed of Emma Hilton is very helpful for understanding these definitions (what defines the sexes, what causes the sexes to become different during embryonic development, and what traits can be used to identify or categorize an individual organism as male or female).

      1. I overshot the runway in trying to get at a workable definition that avoids any approach that poses as many linguistic difficulties as it solves. So I’ve changed my mind. I’m sticking with the dictionary definition as per the gamete producing equipment an individual possesses, along with chromosome identification for humans, although I tend to prefer the chromosome approach.

      1. Jerry, are you disagreeing with Richard when he says that “A woman is an adult human female, free of Y chromosomes”?

        I think we need to find an agreed definition for “defined”. By “define”, you’re saying where it comes from. I’m referring to the definition of a human as the product of reproduction.

        I noted the physiological distinction between female and male gametes. I don’t deny anisogamy as an origin of sexual distinction or association with it, as a back-story. However, for mammals, isn’t the definition of the sex of the resulting product by XX or XY chromosomes? If we define human sex by whether an individual is either sperm or egg producing, that’s where binary definitions get into difficulty isn’t it? Should we shift the language to say sex in humans is “described” by XX/XY chromosomes? I’m not sure I’d entirely agree with doing that.

        I perhaps should have included a further sentence between the first and second in the second paragraph to indicate that I’m getting more at the subtext, where it becomes interpretative. I’ve leap-frogged a bit there, where I should have been a bit more explicit perhaps. I apologise for the lack of explanation due to haste. My point was I differ when biological “facts” are extended to define social roles, when the facts are dubious or cherry-picked from the entire natural world to give any one interpretation as to what anyone thinks it means or wants it to mean for human society. There’s already enough difficulty with religious interpretation and for every extrapolation along any one line, there are others.

        The reference to muscular physiological distinction was intentional and I’ve also just thought of another line to go with Archimedes – “God said ‘Let there be intellect and there was might!’ ” To foretell misunderstandings, I am an atheist. It’s just a turn on Pope’s original poem.

      2. Perhaps I didn’t put it well, but I’m trying to get around the gamete-producing physiological issues on which so much argument is currently based. Eg. What of menopausal women, women who have had hysterectomies, pre-pubescent boys and girls, men who have had accidents or for whatever reason have non-functional testes? I’m trying to find a precise biological definition that works for everyone and the chromosomal definition seems best for that. Richard’s definition of a woman as an “adult human female, free of Y chromosomes” works.

    2. Absolutely sex is defined by gametes, you completely omit the fact that the female bears the burden of reproduction. Not just a wee bit more energy involved there. Ova move passively, swept along, and then embed in the uterus (in placental mammals), gestate, then the young has be born through the bony pelvis. After birth, the mother lactates. This starts with two X chromosomes, two distinct developmental pathways, and two sexes with distinct anatomy for each reproductive role. That’s even if something goes wrong, those conditions prove the fact of sex and helped identify the genes/processes involved in sex determination. Those conditions called intersex happen to sexed bodies, there’s no such thing as a wrong body, brain mismatch, only women experience being and growing up female, same for men.

      There absolutely needs to be a distinction, bodies matter and being female changes your life irrevocably irrespective of whether that woman has a child. It seems even women don’t get it, how different a life is for women, including that a chunk of it will for many involve child bearing. No recognition of those differences and reproductive burdens means women lose out. If you recognise those differences for sport and the inherent unfairness of men using female sports to prop up their egos it carries well beyond that.

      Reality doesn’t support the idea that everything acting against a person is merely a social construct. That sex thing is very hard and fast for a starter.

      1. A misunderstanding perhaps. I totally respect the burden women bear or are unfairly forced to. I was getting more at other implications and also that physiological differences should not impede life choices where they’re irrelevant.

  35. “A woman is an adult human female, free of Y chromosomes”. But is that true in all cases? Consider, very rare CAIS persons. They have a Y chromosome, but look entirely female. Sadly, they don’t have a uterus and never have any children. Are they women? Or men? I personally lean towards considering them to be women. They are very, very low risk persons in bathrooms or prisons. Would anyone object to them being in changing room? Almost certainly, not.

  36. Excellent clarity from RD as usual. The perception of exceptionalism is a strong point and it combines with an apparent inbuilt belief in a soul (an entity separate from the physical) hence “born in the wrong body”. DSDs are a complete red herring as the inability to replicate with 100% accuracy (which species does?) does not change the purpose of the process. It’s lamentable that so much time and effort is wasted on this and not enough on what are the effects of biological designation on who we are and how we individually and as communities navigate a biological existence. We are animals not 😇

  37. “Here we have the postmodern conception of different realities: the reality of the sex binary that somehow is in contrast with the reality of womanhood as feminists conceive it.”
    This feels like the issue in a nutshell. We’re using the same terms to mean different things depending on the framework in which we place the concept’s importance. It feels we’re in a state where “gender is binary” and “gender is a spectrum” are simultaneously true and false once the frameworks the statements are uttered in are made explicit. In that sense, there is no debate, because people are literally talking about different things.

    The implication of all this is that people aren’t actually debating facts (including moral facts) anymore, but asserting the priority of their worldview. That way no-one ever has to put effort into understanding where anyone else is coming from, because those rival worldviews are “morally problematic”…

  38. Kind of like when Atheism+ wanted to redefine Atheism to include a left-wing wish list.
    What then would you call a person who does not believe in the existence of a god?

    If you take away the meaning of sex as producing eggs or sperm and attach the meaning to another left wing wish list, what word would you use to describe the fact that we produce eggs or sperm and nothing else?

  39. “Social constructs” didn’t, for a large part, fall out of the sky and nor where they designed by whichever group was top of the hierarchy at some point past. They’re products of human nature/psychology.

    In regard to sex/gender, it’s why you see behaviours that are typically male or female appear in the respective sex;
    i) across many groups of the same species,
    ii) in the young of any given species before societal pressures have had time to act, and,
    iii) across species.

    I think the sex binary has a lot of negative outcomes for 21st century progressives in that it can explain a lot of the inequity seen in the world between men and women. Whilst the unequally sized gametes probably seem inconsequential to those without a scientific worldview, they actually explain and predict a lot of what we see.

    So does, of course, sexism, but I do believe that in a truly egalitarian society there will still be major differences between men and women. And 21st century progressives don’t like that.

    Indeed, 20th century feminists may have done too good a job in dismantling the base notion that men and women are different. If trans-women (biological men) cannot compete in women’s sport because male puberty confers too great a physical advantage, perhaps it may also explain why men are over-represented in, say, the military. Or in bricklaying, And it’d be naive in the extreme to think that differences have only occurred below the neck and have not affected the brain.

    When the message for so long has been that a man can do equally well what a woman can and vice versa, it is difficult to then argue against the inclusion of trans-men or trans-women from the category they identify with.

  40. Biological sex can surely easily be demonstrated by considering whether a trans woman can reproduce naturally with a cis man, and asking “if not, why not?”

    It should be clear that trans women and cis men are in the same reproductive category. And we can follow through on that to discover that there are only two reproductive categories in humans. The word biologists have used throughout history to refer to reproductive category is “sex”.

  41. The problem I have here is that I am married to one of the 1 in 5000, to an intersex. She was born entire as a female, with XY chromosomes. Her uterus and other organs were remove when she was a child, as otherwise she would have died. She has lived and loved as a female, firstly as a girl and for the rest of her life as a woman. I love her as a woman as do all that know her. If she is not a woman what is she?

    1. Whoever said she isn’t a woman? She was conceived as an XY zygote but then developed, anomalously, as female. The later discovery of the Y chromosome helped understand the trouble she went through as a child but that discovery didn’t suddenly “make” her male. As his been explained, a Y chromosome doesn’t define, all by itself, a person as male. Your wife is a woman.

    2. She is a biological male with a developmental disorder which has left her with a female phenotype. Medical treatment has allowed her to have a fulfilling life lived as a woman. Genetic disease has taken away her original potential as a male but she has overcome that by accommodating reality just like someone born with heart disease or deafness.

      She has a rare condition where any questions over whether she should have access to women’s spaces should be answered for her unique case. I doubt there is any reason to exclude her and I do not think anyone would dispute it. On the other hand, over the years there have been discussions about the fairness of some DSDs where there is a female appearance but a male puberty advantage in sport.

      None of this is related to whether gender should have precedence over biological sex.

      These disorders are being used as a political point by people who have no interest in the well being of those who have them. The vast majority of humans are born male or female with no ambiguity so DSDs should not be used to justify taking away the rights of women to safety, privacy and modesty in places where they are vulnerable.

      If gender is used to determine these rights instead of biological sex it leaves women unsafe.

      1. Alison, without knowing the details of the woman in question, I don’t think you can presume to say that she was ever “biologically male”. A Y chromosome all by itself is not sufficient to define someone as male or create a male phenotype. To be male, an individual must have the body plan geared toward the production of small motile gametes. This involves more than a testis. It requires the associated organs to conduct them. If no male sex organs develop, and only female ones do (however incompletely), the person cannot be said ever to have been male. Someone who has been living as a girl for 14-16 years is not going to stop being a girl/woman just because of a diagnosis she receives then as to why she doesn’t menstruate, or needs treatment of other conditions. She will continue to enter women’s spaces freely because no one but she need ever know. Her birth would have been recorded as female and there is no reason now she should want to change her birth certificate.

        Of course none of this has anything to do with gender. I think we agree there and people with DSDs should not be exploited for political reasons. I don’t think @Observer was doing that.

        1. I don’t know, leslie, i just check the gametes.
          Does she produce ova or sperm? (or, would it be easier for her to produce ova or sperm)

          1. Too simplistic, I’m afraid. Actually you don’t check gametes because you have likely never seen another person’s gametes (or the genitalia of more than a few, for that matter, and then only the external genitalia, not the gonads.). You can only impute gametes in couples who have produced a child together and even then a casual observer can’t vouch for paternity. So your method of ascertainment fails except in the case of your own children.

            Even if you could see the gametes, you are assuming she will actually let you “check” hers, which she probably won’t because it’s none of your business. Ascertainment of any biological characteristic is a human rests on her consent to be ascertained. In most areas of social interaction this consent is not given. A person who appears to be female and not male is accepted as such by women who undress with her and that’s the end of it, except in elite sport where various forms of dissembling need to be policed. But even there, gametes aren’t testable.

            As to what gametes she produces or would more easily produce, whatever that means, the answer in DSDs is often “neither”, even with direct microscopic examination of gonadal tissue.

            At some point, common sense has to take hold. A person who looks like a woman is a woman for all ordinary intents and purposes. If she is infertile, this is something she will want to discuss with a marital partner but it has no effect on sex ascertainment.

            It is easy to say gametes define sex, and they do, but in most cases we have to impute the gametes from the anatomy of the visible sex organs, the “body plan” oriented to making and conducting those gametes.

            But no, checking the gametes doesn’t actually work in real life.

            1. Reply to Leslie

              Thank you for your comments above. No, I am not here for the politics I am concerned that some comments further up seem to imply that women like my wife do not exist. I would also be concerned if the broader debate rolled back to a hard line definition of sex that excluded them as women, whatever the implications of that might be.

          2. Reply to gush
            Neither. She had a uterus but that had to be removed before puberty as otherwise puberty would most likely have been fatal. In that regard there was never any potential for gametes.

        2. In a lot of cases there are issues with the expression of the SRY gene which triggers male development. If there are problems then the individual will develop as a female but with a catch. Although there are a number of genes that are expressed on both the X & Y ( the PAR1 and PAR2 regions), plus there are a number of genes that escape X chromosome inactivation ( anything between 12 & 20%), I strongly suspect that there will be overexpression of a number of genes in a XY SRY negative individual which possibly/probably/maybe explains a number of the issues associated.

      2. Reply to Alison.
        As I understand it, the only medical treatment was to remove her uterus and associated “plumbing” as to go through puberty could have been fatal. In that regard she has not had to “adjust” to being a woman, she has always been so, both in her mind and in the mind of those around her.

        She never had “corrective” surgery and has always appeared to be a perfectly normal female, to other women and to sexual partners.

        She is taller, larger and probably stronger than the average woman (but no-where as tall or strong as me). She was good at swimming, but her father discouraged her progressing with the sport because of the issues you outlined.

        I would contend she is entitled to the same rights to safety, privacy and modesty as other women (and she would be devastated if she wasn’t). If strict adherence to some scientific line denied her this she too would be unsafe.

        With regards to rarity I know three other women with the same condition, her sister, cousin and a former girlfriend from some years back. Maybe I better by a lottery ticket.

        1. You’re very kind to share these details here so patiently.

          The objections to men in women’s spaces almost all derive from biological features of males that have costs for women in a mixed-sex group. Your wife doesn’t share those biological features of males because she didn’t experience a male puberty, so it would be unreasonable to exclude her from women’s spaces.

          It seems ok to me that there are a few people like your wife who are women (based on some secondary sex traits) but don’t fulfill the definition of either the male or female sex (based on gamete type). That doesn’t invalidate the ontological definition of the sexes, but it means there is a fuzzy edge to our epistemological identification of a small proportion as males or as females.

          I’m not sure about the former girlfriend, but your wife’s sister and cousin with the same condition as your wife may point to a rare inherited susceptibility to the same disorder (such as Swyer syndrome).

          Thanks again for your contributions to this discussion.

  42. In her article Jacqueline Rose refers to Andrea Long Chu’s book “Females”, which contains the following. (I cannot tell if Chu is serious or joking.)

    “The thesis of this little book is that femaleness is a universal sex defined by self-negation, against which all politics, even feminist politics, rebels. Put more simply: Everyone is female, and everyone hates it.

    Some explanations are in order. For our purposes here, I’ll define as /female/ any psychic operation in which the self is sacrificed to make room for the desires of another. These desires may be real or imagined, concentrated or diffuse—a boyfriend’s sexual needs, a set of cultural expectations, a literal pregnancy—but in all cases, the self is hollowed out, made into an incubator for an alien force. To be female is to let someone else do your desiring for you, at your own expense. This means that femaleness, while it hurts only sometimes, is always bad for you. Its ultimate toll, at least in every case heretofore recorded, is death.

    Clearly, this is a wildly tendentious definition. It’s even more far-fetched if you, like me, are applying it to everyone—literally everyone, every single human being in the history of the planet. So it’s true: When I talk about females, I am not referring to biological sex, though I’m not referring „to gender, either. I’m referring instead to something that might as well be sex, the way that reactionaries describe it (permanent, unchanging, etc.), but whose nature is ontological, not biological. Femaleness is not an anatomical or genetic characteristic of an organism, but rather a universal existential condition, the one and only structure of human consciousness. To be is to be female: the two are identical.

    It follows, then, that while all women are females, not all females are women. In fact, the empirical existence, past and present, of genders other than man and woman means that /the majority/ of females are not women. This is ironic, but not a contradiction. Everyone is female, but how one /copes with/ being female—the specific defense mechanisms that one consciously or unconsciously develops as a reaction formation /against/ one’s femaleness, within the terms of what is historically and socioculturally available—this is what we ordinarily call /gender/. Men and women must therefore be understood not as irreconcilable opposites, or even as two poles of a spectrum, but more simply as the two most common phyla of the kingdom Females.”

    (Chu, Andrea Long. /Females./ London: Verso, 2019. pp. 11-3)

    1. Not forgetting Maya Forstater, whose victory in her Employment Appeals Tribunal case set the legal precedent establishing that the belief that sex is real and immutable is protected under the Equality Act 2010 in the United Kingdom.

  43. Anti-science fraud Hemant Mehta has already embarrassed himself over this story, on social media.

  44. Short note

    Just got Kathleen Stock’s Material Girls. Trenchant book as just like the synopsis says. Excellent writing. Hasty near-quotes :

    John Money and Robert Stoller first coined the concept of gender identity in the 1960s.

    In the 60s-80s, academic literature gave the bundles of expectations of femininity and masculinity the special name “gender”.

    1949 – Simone deBeauvoir : near-quote: one is not born a woman ; rather, one becomes a woman. (End near quote of deBeauvoir ). This has been taken to mean being a woman is not the same as conception or birth as female (my own slight re-write of Stock there).

    Material Girls is a valuable book!

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