Once again, Neil deGrasse Tyson embarrasses himself with assertions about sex and gender

August 6, 2023 • 11:15 am

UPDATE:  Perhaps some of Tyson’s views can be explained by the acknowledgments section of his book, which I’ve put below:


Neil deGrasse Tyson recently appeared on a video podcast with Michael Shermer (below), and the topics they discussed included sex and gender. The interview was apparently given in part to promote Tyson’s new book, Starry Messenger: Cosmic Perspectives on Civilization.

My collaborator Luana sent me the tweet below, but emphasized that it may have been taken out of context, as Tyson seems to think that separating men’s from women’s athletics will be outmoded in the future.  Yes, sports involving trans people is in need of modification, but Tyson’s suggestions in the full video (below) don’t seem viable, and his whole discussion seems to conflate sex with gender, different degrees of masculinity and femininity within self-identified members of male and female genders, sexual preference, and transsexuality. But because this excerpt may be misleading, I listened to the whole podcast, embedded below.

If you don’t want to listen to the whole thing, but want to hear the discussion on gender/sex/etc., start at 27:30, where the fracas begins. First Tyson says that gender “categories” are subjective, just as the ratings of hurricanes are subjective (“class 4+” isn’t that different from class 5).  That’s fine if you have a self-identified “gender” that isn’t “male” or “female” (yes, those terms apply to both the sexes and to genders), but what does Tyson mean by “gender”?  Is it the kind of genderfluidity that Tyson discussed in a previous post, where someone can feel “80% female and 20% male” on one day, and then 50/50 on another?  But then he sees this “fluidity” expressed not as some innate identity, but how you express yourself through your clothes, makeup, hair length, jewelry, and so on.  To Tyson, this “spectrum of expression” is apparently identical to the “spectrum of gender.” In other words, Tyson makes no distinction between “gender presentation”, which I don’t consider “gender presentation” for those many people who say they’re of male or female gender) with “gender identity”. I know plenty of “tomboyish” women who would tell me (or have told me) that they’re women (i.e. of female sex and gender), but don’t like to wear skirts or put on makeup. Are those of a gender different from “real” females?

As for sex, Tyson sees it as defined by chromosomes (he’s wrong; it’s defined by the equipment you possess to make one of the two types of gametes), but he repeatedly dismisses it as something of interest “only in the laboratory”. It’s not. Besides its overwhelming importance in biology (i.e., in helping us understand sexual selection), human natal sex is important in the issue of “women’s spaces,” which includes sports, jail, rape counseling, women’s shelters and so on.

Now I am pretty sure that gender, while not binary in the same way as sex, is nevertheless bimodal: “male” and “female” gender are two humps, with some intermediates. How many? Well, you can’t determine someone’s gender (social identification) just by looking at them on the subway; you have to ask them.  Is a gay guy who’s somewhat effeminate in actions and speech a member of a different gender than “male”? You’d have to ask them, but I’m betting that many would assert that they were of male gender.

I’m guessing that Tyson goes into this confusing ramble (though he speaks well) because he doesn’t want to alienate his audience, and so expresses the au courant view that everything is nonbinary—indeed a “spectrum”.  Tyson also repeats, as he does many times, that we don’t deal well with “continuum thinking” and are compelled to think that everything is binary. But who would disagree with him when it comes to gender? Although most people accept that they’re either the “male” or “female” gender, who would deny that self-identified social sex roles are nonbinary? There are dozens of them! So who is Tyson really attacking? He says this:

“The fact that we have to bin wind speeds into five categories and humans into two categories might just simply be a shortcoming of our brain wiring. We don’t know how to think about things on a continuum.”

He adds that he’s talking about about gender expression (which of course isn’t “gender”) and adds, “people want to express themselves. . . .somewhere on that spectrum that’s different from the binarity of what some other people decide what you should be.”  But this is confusing because it conflates sex “binarity” with gender “binarity”.  Even if someone is of a nonbinary gender, people can still properly see you as being in the sex binary—99.98% of the time a natal male or natal female.

At 37:41, Shermer forces Tyson to admit that biological sex is different from gender, and that there are are just two sexes under the gamete definition. But Tyson emphasizes that gender expression is the true “engine of modern controversy in the entire field”, and “it’s the manifestation of people’s conduct in society [that’s] what people are trying to inhibit.”  Well, yes, conduct is important, but Tyson  connected more with biological sex than gender. Lia Thomas is a controversial swimmer because she is a natal male who swims (and undresses) with natal females. The insistence that “trans women are women” (and the same for trans men) is what is controversial: asserting that a gender role is absolutely equivalent to biological sex.

And that brings us to sports. Tyson then goes on to try to resolve the controversial issue of “who shall trans people compete with in athletics?”.  He says that because sports are “hormonized’ (that is, some, but a decreasing number of, sports use testosterone titer to determine in which category someone competes), perhaps in the future sports should be divided not into “men’s and women’s sports” but into hormone classes.

This assumes that hormone titer is an indication of athletic ability. That is not true, though. If a male, for example, has gone through male puberty, he will retain a strength, bone, muscle, and general athletic advantage regardless of his hormone titer, even if he identifies as a woman or has had surgery. This is why the Olympics recently ditched a hormone threshold for competing as a women, and are leaving each sport to decide for themselves.  So not only is Tyson wrong here, but even if he were right, how could you possibly create competition classes based on hormone titer, assuming that equal levels of testosterone create a level playing field (he uses as an analogy weight classes in wrestling, of which there are ten)? (This also allows for the possibility of trans female doping to lower a previously unacceptable testosterone level). At any rate, this would create be a large and arbitrary number of classes in which men could compete against women.  But since Tyson is flat wrong about hormone titer being a good a proxy of  athletic ability, we need not consider this possibility.

Of course trans people who want to compete deserve the right to do so, but creating an “open” category in addition to “men” and “women” seems to me a far better solution than creating a huge number of hormone classes, which would get worse if you were to create “physical trait” classes like body size and hand width!

Tyson also brings up the “bathroom/changing room” issue, and he’s right about bathrooms: you can have bisexual bathrooms with stalls, though I see no reason why you could also retain single-sex bathrooms.  You could also have changing rooms with stalls in athletic competititons so that women don’t have to see, for example, Lia Thomas’s penis. But Tyson’s missing the point here, for if there’s a need to segregate transgender women (natal men) athletes from natal female ones, then you’ve already created an unfair athletic situation. Tyson also fails to note that women like Riley Gaines have asked that changing rooms be separated by natal sex, and have been turned down by the authorities who see this as asking for a violation of the rules. The penis abides.

As for jails, rape counseling centers, and other places that natal women want to keep as “women only” spaces, Tyson remains silent.

The more I think about the term “gender,” the more confused I get. Certainly Tyson is confused here: he thinks gender is exclusively how one presents oneself to the world though clothing, hair, and other accoutrements.  I don’t think I’m alone in my confusion. Many feminists have said that gender is a nebulous and undefinable term—something like a soul.  I don’t know what it is, or what it is to feel “80% female and 20% male”. I’m not denying that’s possible, but I don’t know what it means.

And above all, we have to remember two things. First, biological sex is not gender. Much of the controversy around biological sex involves the misguided denial that it’s binary, or the assertion that biological sex is effectively identical to the assumed sex of a trans person. (“Trans women are women.”) Denying that biological sex is important, as Tyson seems to do here, is deeply misguided, and ignorant of the controversies that are really going on.

Second, gender is not the same as sexual preference. Gay people often (perhaps usually) identify as members of the male and female gender. This is important when gender dysphoria involves not confusion about what sex you feel you should be, but what sex you’re attracted to. Young people who aren’t pushed to transition during gender dysphoria usually turn out to be gay, a solution that avoids the use of hormones, surgery, and loss of sexual pleasure.

Now I’m not an expert, and it would be great to hear the take on Tyson’s claims by people who think about this stuff for a living. But readers are certainly invited to weigh in. As I said, all you have to do is listen from 27 minutes in until 50 minutes in.

In the end, though, Tyson’s bluster her betrays his ignorance of the issues.  He’s all worked up and histrionic, but what comes out of his mouth will surely anger many women who are not transphobic, but see a role for “women’s spaces” in society.

74 thoughts on “Once again, Neil deGrasse Tyson embarrasses himself with assertions about sex and gender

  1. Yes, it’s all a big mish-mash. I don’t think Tyson is making the case he thinks he is when he talks about gender being how one expresses oneself. That actually diminishes the idea of gender. There are many circumstances in life where people have to moderate their self-expression, as opposed to immutable characteristics upon which people are not allowed to discriminate. Frankly, when Lia Thomas or some other man insists on his right to enter women’s spaces and expose himself, it sounds very immature and chauvinistic. I have not heard a good argument for why we should support such a position.

    1. In normal circumstances, a man exposing himself would be considered a crime and he would be put in the sexual criminals database. It is not just immature, it is criminal behavior.

  2. “At 37:41, Shermer forces Tyson to admit that biological sex is different from gender, and that there are are just two sexes under the gamete definition. But Tyson emphasizes that gender expression is the true “engine of modern controversy in the entire field”, and “it’s the manifestation of people’s conduct in society [that’s] what people are trying to inhibit.”

    This makes little sense. ‘Gender expression’ is not “the true engine of modern controversy in the entire field”, in terms of biology. It isn’t part of the field of biology at all, in fact. It might be “the true engine of modern controversy in the entire field” if you’re completely ignorant, or an anti-science crank.

    If Tyson was talking about a cultural/sociology view on gender expression, then it might be OK. If Tyson wants to stop being a science educator and start parroting the latest post-modern humanities claptrap, then he should be honest about it.

  3. I don’t mind most of what Tyson says here. He’s right to favour people having any gender presentation that they like. He’s in JK Rowling territory there.

    But Tyson seems to have no idea that genders are just stereotypes of one of the two sexes (which Shermer reminds him are categorical and binary). Tyson doesn’t explain his view, but his opinion is consistent with the idea that people have some kind of gendered soul, and that a person’s soul (not a person’s sex) is the origin of gender expression. This view would explain why Tyson thinks sex is irrelevant to the topic, and fit only for “studying in the lab ’til the cows come home.”

    Also could someone advise Shermer about the “frequency of intersex is 1/5500” meme? Shermer’s discourse on this topic would benefit from reading Sax and not citing that number, and not referring to intersex conditions with respect to gender.

    1. ‘Genders’ are old fashioned stereotypes. Women fought against the stereotypes that we all like pink and dolls. Gender ideology is pushing those regressive stereotypes to decide that some boys are trans, and to give AGP men a stereotype to ‘identify’ into.

      Women aren’t 1950s stereotypes now. We are individuals with a multitude of personalities.

      Any man who wants to be like a woman, should identify as a unique individual. They can do that as a gender non conforming man. No need to take women’s words.

  4. I think Tyson is just wrong. Women aren’t going to give up Women’s sports any time soon. The Trans lobby has vast power. However, it doesn’t have enough power to eliminate Women’s sports. As for sports classification by hormone, it won’t work. Aside from the practical and legal issues, it produces the ‘wrong’ results. If hormone levels were used to classify athletes, than Caster Semenya would end up in the ‘wrong’ group. That’s not going to happen.

    As for defining sex by chromosomes (rather than gametes), I lean in Tyson’s favor. Yes, technically he is wrong. However, the only people who draw a distinction are Biologists. He is not a Biologist.

    As for the importance of biological sex, he (Tyson) is just wrong. Biological sex is hugely important in many areas of life.

    “You’d have to ask them, but I’m betting that many would assert that they were of male gender.”

    My guess is that 95%+ of gays would agree with you.

    “We don’t know how to think about things on a continuum”

    That just wrong. Humans easily handle continuums of height, weight, IQ, color (wavelength of light), air pressure, etc.

    1. “The Trans lobby has vast power.”

      Really? Please tell me where it gets the tens of millions of dollars to lobby lawmakers as other truly powerful lobbies have at their disposal. Whatever this minority, despised by so many, has accomplished is because something remarkable has happened. Millions of people support the transgender goal of achieving equal rights even though they have absolutely nothing personally to gain by this. One may describe these supporters as “bleeding hearts.” Yet, I contend they represent the best of the human spirit and is a sign of social progress and true social justice.

      Saying the above doesn’t imply necessarily that transgender activists sometimes go to extremes – a characteristic of almost all social movements, regardless of their nature. Extremists need to be rejected and criticized. The struggle for the rights of minorities is eternal. But, in my view, those who fight for transgender rights will ultimately be viewed by most as heroes. So, my recommendation to transgender activists is not to lose public support by pushing demands that transgender women should be allowed to participate in biological women’s sports. Emphasize that transgender people have the right to be treated equally as all other citizens. This is how the civil rights movements for Black and gay people made great progress. Don’t blow the progress by harping on a fringe issue that science disagrees with.

      1. But, in my view, those who fight for transgender rights will ultimately be viewed by most as heroes.

        What rights are they asking for (and which you think they should gain) that they don’t already have?

        1. The UNESCO document makes a big deal about “human rights” in its Comprehensive Sex Education. It has to do with UNESCO goals of “gender equality”, and so on. To say nothing of drag queen shows for 5 year olds, or children choosing “pride” flags. The document also suggests one’s sex or sex life in important for citizenship.

          … and I just got to this :
          “Sexuality is linked to power”
          “Sexuality is a social construct”

          So we now can see the game under the banality of this >100 page document is a Critical Social Justice project to “transform” the world according to its own positions.

        2. It is quite astonishing that when this question is asked about their missing human rights to be detailed or explained, the response is always a deafening silence.

          Certainly makes one think really.

      2. Look up Comprehensive Sex Education. If I recall, UNESCO, GLAAD, Planned Parenthood, maybe Stonewall supports it.


        If CSE is any sign, then transsexuals have so far earned the right to run drag queen shows for children as young as five, conduct group sexual identity symbol (“pride” flag) selection – i.e. coerced sexualization, and more.

        It is not education for literacy. It is political education for political literacy. I hear you can’t call it gr__ming or you get in trouble.

      3. It is not about rights, in any normal sense. If a guy wanted to wear dresses 20 years ago, he put on a dress. If a woman wanted to cut her hair short, wear pants, and race motorcycles, nobody was going to stop her.
        One of the “rights” that have come up repeatedly is that male to female trans students often feel that their experience of being a girl is not authentic unless they get to shower and change with the regular girls.
        Without the shield of trans identity, someone who wants to show their penis to underage girls and watch them change clothes would be labeled a pervert.
        Similarly, an adult that wants to show pictures of penises to 10 year olds and tell them about what lubes to use for anal sex would normally come under scrutiny.
        Teaching little kids to pole dance for dollars is another example.

        Using Trans or queer activism as a shield to engage in otherwise unacceptable behavior is not a fight for civil rights.

        Perhaps we could make it a discussion about rights when someone really does not feel comfortable conforming to a gendered dress code. But that is not where most of this is focused.

        1. Agree. I would add that every parent has the right to protect their child’s innocence to not be sexualized or propagandized by a school about trans issues before puberty unless that is mentioned in sex ed class. And certainly not without parental consent. Any school doing so has forgotten their mission and is way over the line of age appropriate pedagogy and should get sued into oblivion. Teaching pre-pubescent kids about this stuff is an affront to parental rights and will risk violent backlash from parents to protect their own children – one of the strongest biological instincts there is.

          1. You realize, the literature and documentation for Comprehensive Sex Education assures us the material is “age appropriate”.

            Let that sink in.

            Let me try again:

            The pedagogy is declared to be age appropriate.

            You see what they did there?

            See the Boghossian interview with Lindsay to see the HHS Secretary, Admiral Rachel Levine in her own words on “trusted adult” – apparently, no longer “parents” of any sort.

            1. I was adding my own ethical common sense here (I’m in the US) and didn’t link to the UNESCO guidance. Outragrous and unbelievable! No school should be allowed to discuss or expose kids under 10 years old to anything sexual, peroid. I think sex ed begins around age 13 in the US but there are inconsistencies across states.

          2. “child’s innocence”

            I’m gathering that childhood innocence as a specific target for destabilization was first put forth by Georg Lukács in 1919.

            I do not have a reference for Lukács, but consider these articles – this is rough because I am just getting these :

            Hannah Dyer
            Carleton University
            Global Studies of Childhood
            Queer Futurity and Childhood Innocence : Beyond the Injury of Development

            Julie C. Garland
            Carleton University
            Interrogating Innocence – “Childhood” as an Exclusionary Social Practice

            1. I’m trying to stop – check out this snippet :

              Garland : “… I reveal how the doctrine of innocence has operated to maintain White supremacy.”


      4. What equal civil rights did transgender people not have before that they now do, or are on the verge of obtaining thanks to the heroes of the movement and all those ordinary people going along with trans rights because it sounds nice?

        I would love to see transgender people calling for the right to vote, or the right to marry, or the right to freedom of speech, or the right of habeas corpus. I’d have no trouble supporting such a campaign. But what I’m hearing from transgender activists is dammit, they want to compete in women’s sports, proselytize kids, mutilate mixed-up adolescents, get people in trouble for using pronouns they don’t like, and use women’s spaces like bathrooms, violence shelters, and prisons. That’s what all the fuss is over, not habeas corpus.

        They aren’t taking your advice, Historian.

      5. Historian, I think you are missing out an important point. This “trans lobby” does not have millions of dollars of its own, but rather it has created a climate in which all right thinking people and corporations feel it is something they should support, because that’s what good people do. They put aside their personal beliefs and reservations, often quite deliberately as there is more to gain by joining the perceived majority and saying the right things. And still, the vast majority of people understand full well that women don’t have penises, and men don’t have cervices etc etc. And as for being seen as heroes in the future, I think you and they will be sorely disappointed. Thousands of confused youngsters are mutilating their bodies, destroying their fertility, and worsening their mental health. They are going to ask us all what the hell we were thinking in letting them do all those things when they were not old enough to fully grasp all the implications and irreversibility of these choices. It is complete nonsense to ask that trans people be treated equally as all other citizens: name me a right they don’t have that other people do have. None of us have the right to sexualize primary school children, nor to mutilate children, or harm them in any way. Nor do any men have the right to invade womens’ single-sex spaces. These things should not need to be explained.

  5. Dear Mr. Tyson – please read books.

    Kathleen Stock Material Girls 2021. For god’s sake read it and all references in it.

    Karl Marx
    Philosophical and Economic Manuscripts of 1844

    Thomas More

    I will listen to nothing from Tyson on the matter until Tyson reads a damn book. Pick one. (Stock is preferable, of course).

    I weep.

  6. “and he’s right about bathrooms: you can have bisexual bathrooms with stalls”.

    You and Tyson are wrong about bathrooms. ‘Katie’ Dolotowski filmed a 10yo girl peeing in the next cubicle. He also pushed another girl into a cubicle to sexually assault her. I can give you a hundred similar examples.

    A Sunday Times FoI request showed that more women are assaulted in unisex spaces than in single sex spaces.

    In some schools boys are breaking all the locks in unisex toilets so they can walk in on girls ‘accidentally’. Girls feel they have to go in twos, so one can stand at the door. We should not be this cruel.

    In Scotland a survey showed that girls are not taking fluids during the day so they can avoid using the unisex toilets. That’s not healthy and must affect their education.

    Even worse, why should a girl learning to cope with menstruation have to clean up at a sink in front of boys after an accident? It deters girls from school while menstruating. Boys are notoriously immature. In my day they rifled girls’ schoolbags looking for sanitary products to wave about. I doubt they are any more mature nowadays. Women shouldn’t have to clean up in front of men either.

    Women also use bathrooms for sanctuary. Many times we use the bathrooms in clubs to escape a harasser, or to support a friend who has been harassed.

    Even a decent guy like yourself in a women’s space would make women uncomfortable. How do we know which men are OK? I had a PTSD attack seeing a male face appearing under my shower door at my gym. It threw me back to a male perv I encountered as a teen. My body reacted automatically and shook in fear before my brain eventually realised it was a boy.

    1 in 4 women have been sexually assaulted by men, regardless of id. We need to feel safe where we are vulnerable or undress.

    The only options are single person toilets with floor to ceiling walls, wash-hand basins and bins – or sex segregated spaces. As the former is expensive we need to stick with the latter.

    Please listen to women. We say no to sharing our spaces. Male violence against men is not a reason to make women unsafe.

    1. Note that I said there should ALSO be single sex bathrooms for those who are uncomfortable doing their business with the other sex. Did you read my column before chewing me out?

      As for your patronizing remark, “Please listen to women” (I do on these issues, all the time), there are plenty of women who don’t mind single-sex bathrooms.


      1. I respect you a lot. You are one of the few sane people left in the skeptic movement.

        My comments were addressed primarily to those who support Tyson. He is not listening to women, and neither are School Boards.

        I did read the column, great analysis, but the vast majority of women reject gender neutral spaces, as evidenced even in the Pink News Panelbase survey. In Scotland 3 years ago 80% rejected males in female spaces. After Isla Bryson that will likely have increased.

        Companies and councils aren’t likely to go to the expense of creating third spaces, which is the only option that supports everyone’s human rights to safety and dignity under the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. That is why third spaces aren’t going to make much difference, they will be very rare for a long time. It’s why we need to revert to single sex spaces, except where there are third spaces.

        But trans identifying men like Robin White said he considers gender neutral spaces to be a ‘ghetto’ and he will keep using women’s spaces. So that needs to be addressed too. AGP men need the ‘validation’ that comes with being in female only spaces.

        Apologies if I came across as attacking you personally. That wasn’t my intention. I’m just passionate about no girl meeting a sex perv in a shared space as I did. It has lasting effects.

        1. Re: “Apologies if I came across as attacking you personally.” I did not get that feeling at all. You have just been stating plain facts in both of your comments.

        2. I truly don’t get why Tyson dances around the whole issue of trans-identifying males wanting and able to crash women’s sports. All this nonsense about fashion and hair color…

      2. Jerry, I think it is easy to underestimate just how difficult and contentious the public bathroom issue is, particularly for women. Sure you (Neil Tyson, really) can have any permutation of bathroom layouts you want if you are willing to pay for them. But bathroom spaces in venues don’t generate revenue and cost money to build, maintain and clean, so there are never enough of them. (Roy Thomson Hall in Toronto, I’m looking at you!) Provision is expensive enough in new construction, never mind retrofitting older buildings. The problem is most acute in concert halls where bathrooms are used heavily during intermission, lightly before and after performances, and not at all during. Bathrooms, like electricity grids, have to be planned for peak demand, not average.

        Here I acknowledge Joolz that communal bathrooms with only women in them serve a social role that men don’t have any insight into. Women frequently visit the bathroom together when out as group. Men never do. And yes, hiding in the ladies’ room, the one place where even drunk men will not go on pain of being kneed in the brains and bounced out, is a real thing. Women should hold out for segregated bathrooms even if some women don’t mind walking past men peeing at urinals to get to their stalls.

        For any high-intensity bathroom used by men, you have to have urinals. (The former women’s dorm Tyson lived in doesn’t count.) Otherwise the whole effort collapses. If you do all the stalls up as self-contained powder rooms available to all with hung doors, sinks, mirrors, fans, lighting, you still need a separate room with a bank of urinals. Even a trough will do. But in the same amount of combined space and for the same budget you will have fewer places for women and men to pee than you do now. And some powder rooms you will lose to colonization by drug addicts who are harder to clear out of a lockable shared-sex space where they aren’t visible to passersby, and where they sometimes die.

        Remember that this is all being done to accommodate a tiny minority of the population who could be told to use the men’s room but want to use the women’s. Far from reasonable accommodation, this is an example of how the Authoritarian Left rusts everything it touches.

        1. > Women frequently visit the bathroom together when out as group.

          Sometimes it is just safer to do so. Women must always be conscious of privacy and safety. Men, not so much.

          Just last week at a doctor’s office, I almost walked in on someone who had not locked the door to the only single person bathroom in the waiting room. I immediately said “Sorry” and closed the door, but I knew when the door opened it would have to be a man, as almost all women check very carefully that locks are properly engaged first.

    2. Foucault

      They fascinate over “spaces”. These things are like spiritual experiences in their view – and indoctrinate/”inscribe” themselves on our bodily prisons. Seriously, read their writings if you can stay awake.

      Thus, the bathroom would “make(s) the world more gay”, as Halperin commands. Queer theory is indoctrinated upon us by the symbols and messages – especially when erased of sex.

      Again, I weep. It’s a toilet. It’s privacy.

      PCC(E) – I’m not arguing with you.

  7. On the meanings of the word “gender,” I find very helpful Kathleen Stock’s careful teasing apart of four different meanings:

    I will disambiguate four senses of ‘gender’ now. Readers should return to this section if they later come across a use that confuses them. Just as the English word ‘bank’ can refer to the land beside the river, or the institution that looks after your money, the following are four different meanings of the English word ‘gender’ – etymologically related, no doubt, and overlapping in terms of people they apply to, but standing for different things. Here they are.

    GENDER1: A polite-sounding word for the division between men and women, understood as a traditional alternative word for biological sex/the division between biological males and females. This word is thought to have the benefit of an absence of embarrassing connotations of sexiness in the copulatory sense. When a passport application, say, asks for ‘gender’, it’s intended in this sense. In Elizabeth Gaskell’s Cranford, a character refers to the ‘masculine gender’, meaning males/men.

    GENDER2: A word for social stereotypes, expectations and norms of ‘masculinity’ and ‘femininity’, originally directed towards biological males and females respectively. These can and do differ from culture to culture, though there are many overlaps too.

    GENDER3: A word for the division between men and women, understood, by definition, as a division between two sets of people: those who have the social role of masculinity projected on to them, and those who have the social role of femininity projected on to them. This is the view of womanhood and manhood, as such, discussed in Moment 1 above. As mentioned, in the late twentieth century it was enthusiastically endorsed by some feminists as a putative shield against accusations of ‘biological determinism’: the idea that female anatomy is domestic destiny. It will be examined critically in Chapter 5.

    GENDER4: A shortened version of the term ‘gender identity’. What exactly a gender identity is will be investigated in Chapter 4, but a common idea is that it is the ‘private experience of gender role’ – roughly, whether you relate to yourself psychologically as a boy or man, girl or woman, or neither, in a way that has nothing directly to do with your sex. Keeping these different senses in mind is crucial when trying to decipher various claims made by feminists and trans activists.

    Stock, Kathleen. Material Girls (pp. 27-28). Little, Brown Book Group. Kindle Edition.

    Throughout the rest of her book, she always specifies which sense of the word she or somebody else is (or seems to be) talking about.

    1. There is another definition of gender: a property of nouns that, in European languages, sometimes correlates with sex (not always; see: “das madchen”). That may be part of the problem. When I was in France, my wife described herself as “professeur.” Our French friends thought I was hysterically funny when I said “professeuse.” Unlike us English speakers, they did not conflate sex with gender.

      1. Another definition of gender is “sexual personality”, and there are many more, it’s spectra all the way down.

    2. Stock is a treasure. Yes, the term “gender” needs to be clarified, since it’s not just Tyson who shifts between different meanings. It’s almost impossible not to, since socially identifying as a man, woman, or neither necessarily involves social stereotypes as well as mental ones (“I don’t think like a woman, I think like a man.”)

      Gender Identity appears to be internalized stereotypes which can’t/ shouldn’t be made explicit (“Oh, I just mean that when I’m thinking it’s like I’m a man having those thoughts instead of a woman having those thoughts: it’s hard to understand because it’s really deep.Don’t ask.”)

      The Gender Spectrum appears to be:

      Mostly Woman But A Little Bit Man;
      More Woman Than Man, But Not By A Lot;
      About Half Woman, Half Man;
      All Woman AND All Man;
      NEITHER Man nor Woman
      More Man Than Woman, But Not By A Lot;
      Mostly Man But A Little Bit Woman;

      I count 9. And defy anyone to describe the differences without sounding silly.

  8. Do people just forget about domestic violence when they speak about the division of men and women’s sports like this? we will think these were crazy categories in the future – really? Are women just not fighting back their abusers because of some social or cultural reason? This idea that there is no physical difference between men and women beyond hormones is silly and he should know this if he’s talking about it. I imagine people like Tyson don’t move about their day to day lives actually believing what they say. He should also be much more clear as Mr science communicator-on the words he uses, on the concepts, arguments and facts.

  9. Very well put, PCCE.

    For a great discussion of the difference between gender identity and gender presentation, I recommend this post on Jesse Singal’s Substack: https://jessesingal.substack.com/p/the-traditional-liberal-concept-of

    I also agree with PCCE about not understanding what it means to have an internal sense of gender, like a soul. I will repeat what I said in a previous comment: I don’t know what it feels like to be a woman; I only know what it feels like to be me.

    1. Thanks – Boghossian is on a roll –

      This cues to t=0 : https://youtu.be/BhWyo9iYQNE

      I will state my decision on “preferred pronouns” and then listen : I will resist or counter-“offend” if refusal is a soft struggle session over my own “kindness”.

      But I digress.

      Read Material Girls!

  10. “The more I think about the term “gender,” the more confused I get. Certainly Tyson is confused here: he thinks gender is exclusively how one presents oneself to the world though clothing, hair, and other accoutrements.  I don’t think I’m alone in my confusion. Many feminists have said that gender is a nebulous and undefinable term—something like a soul.” – J. Coyne

    You’re not alone. Even the below-quoted “woke” gender theorists admit that there is conceptual confusion:

    “Debates in feminism and trans politics are often framed in terms of a background assumption that “gender” names some particular thing and that the important questions and disagreements are concerned with what it truly is, where it comes from, or whether it is good or bad. In this book, we’ll argue that questions posed in these terms are usually confused. “Gender” doesn’t pick out any one thing; it equivocates among many. …
    To illustrate the problem better, let’s consider some oft-repeated claims about what “gender” is:

    * Problematic Slogan 1: Gender is the social interpretation of sex.
    * Problematic Slogan 2: Gender is an oppressive system that ties certain behaviors and characteristics to sex.
    * Problematic Slogan 3: Gender is a performance of the role prescribed for one’s sex.
    * Problematic Slogan 4: Sex is /female/, /male/, etc.; gender is /feminine/, /masculine/, etc.
    * Problematic Slogan 5: Sex is /female/, /male/, etc.; gender is /woman/, /man/, etc.

    Alongside these claims about what “gender” is, in debates about trans life and trans experience we often encounter claims about what “gender” is /like/:

    * Problematic Slogan 6: Gender is between your ears, not between your legs.
    * Problematic Slogan 7: In transsexualism, biological sex conflicts with psychological gender.
    * Problematic Slogan 8: A person is cisgender if and only if they identify with the gender they were assigned at birth.
    * Problematic Slogan 9: Gender is an important, deeply felt aspect of the self, which deserves our respect.

    We plan to argue that serious problems arise when we understand all these slogans as claims about one and the same thing, but, to start, let’s note that each of them is getting at something worth talking about. Some of them are unnervingly vague, some of them incorporate debatable assumptions or political positions, and some use dated or offensive language, but, in their various more or less clumsy ways, they are all gesturing at important phenomena that deserve our attention.
    Problematic Slogans 1-5 are all concerned with contrasting “gender” and “sex”. The notion of “sex” is understood in many different ways, and it, the associated notion of distinct “sexes”, and the “sex”/”gender” distinction all present their own difficulties.”

    (Briggs, R. A., and B. R. George. /What Even Is Gender?/ New York: Routledge, 2023. pp. 5-7)

  11. Neil deGrasse Tyson is a person with whom one could have a great discussion of sidereal time, and who could probably point out Vega with little effort.

    He also has done pretty well as a science presenter, along the lines of an “Ask Professor Cranium” type. What he should do is avoid unscripted conversations on touchy subjects about which he lacks specialist knowledge.

    Lia Thomas shows her(?) junk to female athletes for exactly the same reason that Harvey Weinstein shows his junk to young actresses. Pretending otherwise is never going to solve anything.

    Most of the gender vs sex business is diversionary argument. They are immutably linked or totally separate, depending on what argument the activist is making. As gender can be defined in several different ways, I try to avoid being steered into arguing gender when I am making a point about sex.

    1. “Lia Thomas shows her(?) junk to female athletes for exactly the same reason that Harvey Weinstein shows his junk to young actresses.”

      I doubt that’s true. I think it’s unfair. And I am not pretending. Whatever Thomas’s motivations, intentional sexual assault of teammates seems very unlikely to be among them.

      1. I did not say anything about physical assault. One of the things Weinstein was infamous for was showing his junk to young women.
        The same goes for flashers, who might typically open their trench coats to shock schoolgirls.
        It is behavior that has been recognized for centuries.

        1. Ah. Well Weinstein was no mere exhibitionist. Any junk-showing on his part (surely the least of the accusations against him) was undoubtably a means to a furthet sexual end.
          As for Thomas, I doubt she is an exhibitionist either. She certainly wants to win swimming races. And if we (charitably) ascribe sincere gender dysphoria to het, she probably thinks her girl-dick doesn’t matter in the locker room, on account of she’s a girl.
          Neither Weinstein nor Thomas shares motivation with a trench-coated flasher in the park, in my opinion.

          1. In my opinion, it is a matter of degree.
            Obviously, I do not personally know any of those under discussion. I do know that many or most male to female trans folks consider themselves lesbians.
            Whatever their delusions, such an individual continues to be a naked man in the company of a bunch of naked and semi-naked young women. Unless you buy the “actual woman” business, a male lesbian is a heterosexual male.
            Where Weinstein had the power imbalance of being a producer and many of his victims were aspiring actresses, Thomas has the advantage that the young women have to pretend to not notice, lest they face official sanction from the school, or even general shaming and doxxing.
            There is no possible way that Thomas is unaware that those girls are extremely uncomfortable, and that there is nothing that they can do about it.

          2. Lia Thomas’ girl-dick mattered a lot to the girls in the locker room, and Thomas could clearly see that s/he was making them uncomfortable. But his feelings mattered more than all of theirs. Just a bit of left-over male privilege, post transformation.

        1. You’re correct, I had missed all that. It certainly complicates any discussion of Thomas”s motivations, I admit.
          Nevertheless, the comparison to Weinstein, a convicted sexual predator, is still over the top imo.

  12. I can think of an obvious refutation of Tyson’s harping on dresses and makeup as outward signs of gender expression: crossdressing. I believe Mark Sturtevant has also brought this observation up. Again I relate my personal experience. I’m acquainted with a club of crossdressers that meets at an institution (that shall remain nameless) I was involved with. My impression of my interactions with this club is that the members are heterosexual men who like to dress up as women from time to time. Nothing wrong with that, and nothing transgendered about that.
    That said, I will repeat that I do believe “transgenderism” does have a biological basis. Perhaps we should return to using the term “transsexualism” to better understand this phenomenon. The controversy surrounding transgenderism seems to largely involve those individuals who self-identify as the opposite sex without “doing the work,” that is, transforming their bodies by means of surgery, hormones and drugs to turn themselves as much as possible into the opposite of their natal sex. Transexuals have done the work and can be said to present as their chosen sex as much as medically possible at this point in history.

    1. Transexuals . . .can be said to present as their chosen sex as much as medically possible at this point in history.

      That is medically perverse and narcissistic, since you can’t turn yourself even a little into the opposite sex, but good advertising for transsexualizing hucksters. “You won’t pass unless you get your Adam’s apple and your brow ridge shaved down while we are giving you fake breasts. And neo-vaginas are terrible things but if you want to be accepted, you’ll need one, preferably before your penis shrinks so much from androgen blockade and estrogen there’s not much to work with. It won’t be good for anything but it will show you ‘did the work’.”

      So it becomes tribal, then: how well the in-group in the tribe thinks you can pass. If the transsexual faction takes over from the gender-in-my-mind faction, transsexuals will get to define who is a transsexual by how much money an applicant for tribal membership has spent (or how early in puberty he started transitioning, or how “pretty” he was when he started out, the better to be able to pass.) If the tribe doesn’t accept you, you’re out…or you were never in. Since most transgender people have not done any work at all, other than fashion advice and voice coaching, — most don’t take hormones — what becomes of them? And what becomes of the poor schlemiels who go through all that they can afford and still look no better in poor light than caricatures of ugly women in wigs, unattractive to both men and women?

      1. Mindful of Da Roolz, I’m unwilling to engage you in a lengthy back-and-forth about this important subject, Leslie. I would ask you, though: Do you know any trans people? If so, do you think they’re faking their sexual manifestation or mentally ill in expressing it? Those are the impressions I get from your comments. Respectfully, Stephen

        1. Not at all. All tribes get to decide who they admit. If they admit only people they believe have “done the work”, that’s on them, not me.
          All behaviour is biological.

          1. I think there’s a fallacy of “lived experience” being somehow relevant to empirical science.

            It’s why science and medicine works – it does not depend on any given person’s “inner feelings” or perhaps gnosis about the matter. We know a lot. It is rare to make discoveries – instead, a parsimonious reason can usually be sufficient to cover the facts.

        2. I know several transwomen, some post surgery. One, who is HSTS, passes, the rest don’t. They are good people and I use their chosen pronouns as there is mutual respect.

          But it is impossible to tell which strangers are genuinely dysphoric, which are fetishists and which are plain lying. Males with gender dysphoria are in the minority, but I have great empathy with them, as it’s not easy to deal with.

          There were 436 trans identifying men charged with rape over a 7 year period in Eng & Wales. [Source: UK Gov CPS data presented to the Scottish Government during the Census Bill debate].

          I’m positive that almost all of those males are lying sexual predators who are pretending to be trans to access women’s prisons, if convicted. It’s incredible the number of violent men who suddenly discover their ‘inner woman’ when they face jail. Prisoner stats show many then decide they aren’t trans on release.

          I say this because genuine males with gender dysphoria are triggered by male pattern behaviour and, from my conversations with dysphoric trans friends, committing rape would be far too traumatic for them..

          Predatory men have pretended to be many things to access females. Taxi drivers, delivery men, teachers, ministers, cops. MSP Shirley Somerville was ridiculous to claim that predators wouldn’t also pretend to be women. Even the Scottish First Minister had to admit that ‘Isla’ Bryson was pretending.

          They do a great disservice to those who genuinely have dysphoria.

          1. Thanks for your detailed comment, joolz. I couldn’t agree more with your last paragraph. This is our challenge in crafting public policy: Identifying and filtering out the deceivers and poseurs as much as possible.

    2. With transsexuality defined as an invisible mental state—as the strong and lasting desire to be(come) a member of the opposite sex—there is a distinction between “non-/pre-transition transsexuals”, who haven’t (yet) undergone any hormonal treatment or surgeries (and may not even be transvestites), and “post-transition transsexuals”, who have.

  13. “Tyson also repeats, as he does many times, that we don’t deal well with “continuum thinking” and are compelled to think that everything is binary. But who would disagree with him when it comes to gender?” – J. Coyne

    If “gender” means “sexual habitus”—with a person’s habitus defined as their overall appearance & behavior/demeanor (including their clothes, hairstyle, makeup)—then gender certainly isn’t a binary category, since a person’s sexual habitus can be androgynous, more or less feminine (womanly/womanish), or more or less masculine (manly/mannish). However, a person’s sex isn’t defined by their sexual habitus, since a feminine man is still a man, and a masculine woman is still a woman.

  14. Tyson is seriously confused about what testosterone really does. It’s not the level you have at the time you compete but the level your body was exposed to during embryological life and from puberty onward. And of course that’s why testosterone levels are no longer used in many sports to allow trans-identified male athletes to compete as women: their competitive advantage persists despite the sustained artificially lower levels documented leading up to competition. If a man takes drugs to reduce his testosterone level he would be eligible to compete against women under Tyson’s “hormonization” of sport. Which we can’t accept, sitting as aging boomers in the rocking chair on the porch.

    So we need to distinguish natal males–men–from natal women–females–in cases where there might be doubt. The upper limit of normal for women is less than one-fourth the lower limit of normal for men. (2.4 vs 10 nnmol/L.) The overlap isn’t zero — it never is in biology — but the likelihood that an athlete with, say 7, is a normal woman is less than the likelihood that she is doping, or that she’s a male manipulating the test, given the frequency of cheating in elite sport. Checking testosterone levels is therefore an accurate first step to detect men trying to pass as women without making them disrobe in front of a marshal. It also detects women (and men) who are doping with pharmaceutical testosterone. So even if there is not much doubt that an athlete is female or male as registered, they all should be tested for testosterone (and other banned substances) once you get to some level of elite competition, first to detect dopers and second to detect women who are really men.

    This latter reason could become more important as male athletes become excluded absolutely from women’s competition. Lia Thomas and other “history making” male trans athletes have all identified themselves as trans. So if they now don’t disclose this–transwomen being women, right?– they will have to be outed by hormone testing and excluded as cheats, not celebrated as heroes. If suspicion persists that the athlete’s testosterone level is low because of surreptitious anti-androgen drugs, further testing will be needed, particularly, of course, if other competitors have seen his male genitalia. World Athletics frowns on “hate” campaigns instigated over an athlete’s “appearance” but at some point common sense has to take over. There has to be some way to verify that all athletes taking their places at the start of a women’s event are indeed undoped women.

    There are, of course, medical conditions where bona fide women do have levels of testosterone elevated above the female range who are not doping. These women need comprehensive medical evaluations which are out of scope here. Some will be found eligible to compete as and against women. Others will be disqualified. There is no right to compete as the sex or the gender you believe you are, if you’re not.

  15. The whole point of nebulous gender definitions seems to be Orwellian confusion and obfuscation. Gender is described as fluid and changeable, but somehow a child can tell us their gender and receive life altering procedures as a result. I no longer use the term.

    Women and children are up against the ACLU, Title lX (I believe this started with Obama), Planned Parenthood, Governor Pritzker’s family, and ceiling cat knows how many more. Only in recent months could a person tweet “trans women are men” without a Twitter ban, and I believe it still is considered hate speech some places.

    As an aside, this Stroop test helps show why you might struggle with the pronoun game. https://faculty.washington.edu/chudler/java/ready.html

    A big thank you to those in the sciences willing to take a look at this mess and stick their necks out. Far easier to be popular like NdGT.

    1. That’s not the problem – the problem is he doesn’t read the relevant literature, let alone think about it.

      Kathleen Stock
      Material Girls (2021) would be sufficient.

      1. Thanks for this reference and your commentary. On the basis of your recommendation and some reviews — I searched for Kathleen Stock’s Material Girls in online catalogues in this medium-sized west coast city. OK, it’s not at our municipal library, nor among her published books at the local university library. Bah! Oh, shall we blame budget cuts?

        1. Well, I couldn’t find it, so I bought it, but just now I found one – and only one – in my library. A good sign.

          So I deleted my rant. Whew.

  16. deGrasse Tyson is more than annoying here by accusing Shermer of being an old, out if touch man. He presumes that the new culture of gender fluidity is the progressive and right answer, not the entire past of human and mammalian history. Sure culture differentiates humans and we can in some measure overcome biological imperatives with culture and values. Trans categories in sports he views as still regressive and his his vision of the non-old-man future is something like having both weight classes and hormone level categories. He’s a physicist and really doesn’t know much about biology and should really shut up about opining on the subject unless he’s cool with PCC lecturing him about cultural aspects of astrophysics (as an reverse analogy).

    I find deGrasse Tyson tough to listen to these days. Everything is analogized to physics and math and even that he gets wrong sometimes (e.g. ‘once a helicopter blade stops spinning, it falls from the sky killing everyone onboard’ but he didn’t know about autorotation). He’s implying that the solution to gender dysphoria is a libertarian issue and everything else is an abrogation of human rights. What about the social contagion of the trans movement Neil, which cannot be genetic? What about trusting that youth are the best arbiters of their identity at any age? Are we to assume that they are all correctly self-diagnosing and let them start exercising their rights to get disfiguring surgery and drugs? Is that a right? More broadly, should trans activists be able to reinvent and police the language of the rest of the entire human race? What about free speech? Stick to cosmology.

    1. Autorotation requires that the blade continue to spin. Autorotation is a technique to use the rotational energy stored in the spinning blade to make an emergency landing when the engine or transmission fails. When power is lost the blade is decoupled from the transmission so that the spinning blade doesn’t lose energy from the drag of the shut down engine and transmission.

      If the blade isn’t spinning autorotation is not possible. The helicopter will indeed fall from the sky. Actually, Even with autorotation the helicopter still falls from the sky, just in a controlled way. If you are lucky and all parameters happen to be in the necessary range. Interestingly, being too low is very bad. You need a certain amount of altitude in order to successfully execute.

  17. Neil deGrasse Tyson usually expresses himself with a good measure of often annoying bluster, and he does seem inclined to dismiss the difference between gender and sex, despite the negative impact of that perspective on the progress of women’s rights.

    But I won’t pillory him for these things. Generally, he’s been an inspirational voice for science and reason, if not for everybody, then at least for a significant proportion of the general public, especially minorities. (I would like to think.)

    I agree that “gender” is a confusing issue, given “fluidity” and “identity” and “expression” and “feeling” and “behavior” and “presentation” and “accoutrements” — and their cultural interpretations. These all seem to be on continuums — a variety of varying and intersecting continuums that might change over time, maybe even day-to-day (as Tyson has stated).

    I’ve found myself moving around on several of these gender continuums throughout my life, though I’ve always considered myself definitely of the male sex. I’m 73 now, and I feel a little weird just being the same age as old people now…

    But from my late teenage years to the early 1990s, I had long, fine hair. I didn’t comb my hair, I carefully brushed it. And for most of that time my hair was literally down to my butt. But I didn’t keep it long for the look, which even I thought was not particularly attractive.

    Before I went out in public, I usually gave my hair a single twist that was held in back on my head by a barrette or hair clip — giving me both a kind of “man bun” and a pony tail. As I said, not a particularly good look. (My wife retrospectively agrees, though she didn’t know me then.) But I liked the sensual feel of my hair on my body enough to keep it long, regardless of what other people might think.

    Not being gay or transgender, I nevertheless felt (and still feel) affinity with a human future that might consider sexual fluidity a common reality — a time when medical technology would allow a human being to change their sex — not just their gender — at every biological level, morphological, cellular, and even at the chromosomal level. (And remain able to easily reverse that change.)

    If you’ve read some of the novels of Samuel R. Delany, you may appreciate what I’m saying. In particular, his 1976 science-fiction novel, “Triton” or, more fully, “Trouble on Triton: An Ambiguous Heterotopia,” found me comfortable with the the idea of sexual fluidity. (I haven’t read his more controversial gay works.)

    Three other science-fiction novels paved the way for me, including “The Female Man,” by Joanna Russ (written in 1970, published in 1975). And, two by Ursula K. Le Guin — “The Left Hand of Darkness (1969), and “The Dispossessed: An Ambiguous Utopia” (1974).

    Parenthetically, there was an interesting stir in 1977 when science-fiction writer “James Tiptree, Jr.” — a pen name of Alice B. Sheldon — became publicly known to actually be a woman. The funny thing is that another well known science-fiction writer then (a man) had previously lauded Tiptree’s writing as a good example of “manly” writing.

    Anyway, my two cents.

  18. “The Penis Abides”
    I could make a tasteless joke about this, but I won’t. Anyway, NDT is going to be in big trouble when this tidal wave of wokeness finally recedes. He will probably offer some groveling apology (as will the AHA for cancelling Dawkins.)

  19. “Niece Lauryn Vosburgh (wellness consultant) is a New Age rationalist and my conduit to that world of thought.” – N. deGrasse Tyson

    Good heavens! That explains a lot. By the way, “New Age rationalist” is an oxymoron.

Leave a Reply