Don’t stop me if you’ve heard this one: Sex is biological; gender is a social construct.
Well, you should know my response by now: Sex is also a social construct.
X is a social construct does not mean “X is totally made up.” It means, “The word is defined however the hell people feel like using it.” This is true of all language.
200 years ago, people did not define “biological sex” as “has XX or XY chromosomes,” because no one knew about chromosomes, and yet they still had this concept of “biological sex.” For that matter, if you get right down to the nitty gritty of how “biological sex” develops in the fetus/young person, it is not just a matter of “Do you have a Y chromosome?” Biological sex does not work the same for all species, (eg, for crocodiles, the egg’s temperature determines whether the baby inside develops as male or female,) but even within humans, the process is complicated.
Diseases or medical conditions are the easiest way to highlight all the things that come together to determine one’s “biological sex”:
Klinefelter Syndrome: person is born XXY instead of XX or XY. People with KS have tiny genitals. The Y chromosome triggers male development, but the two Xs cause an over-production of female hormones. Most people with KS are infertile. KS occurs in 1:500 to 1:1000 live male births.
Given about 150 million men in the US, that comes out to between 300,000 and 150,000 Americans with Klinefelter Syndrome.
Some other obscure conditions with similar names are XYY, XXXX, and XXYY Syndrome. People with only one X chromosome and nothing else have Turner Syndrome. TS affects about 1 in 2000 to 1 in 5000 females, or about 75,ooo to 30,000 Americans.
Congenital adrenal hyperplasia “are any of several autosomal recessive diseases resulting from mutations of genes for enzymes mediating the biochemical steps of production of cortisol from cholesterol by the adrenal glands (steroidogenesis).
“Most of these conditions involve excessive or deficient production of sex steroids and can alter development of primary or secondary sex characteristics in some affected infants, children, or adults.”
The Wikipedia recounts the potential first historical description of a CAH case:
“‘In one of the anatomical theaters of the hospital…, there arrived toward the end of January a cadaver which in life was the body of a certain Joseph Marzo… The general physiognomy was decidedly male in all respects. There were no feminine curves to the body. There was a heavy beard. There was some delicacy of structure with muscles that were not very well developed… The distribution of pubic hair was typical of the male. Perhaps the lower extremities were somewhat delicate, resembling the female, and were covered with hair… The penis was curved posteriorly and measured 6 cm, or with stretching, 10 cm. The corona was 3 cm long and 8 cm in circumference. There was an ample prepuce. There was a first grade hypospadias… There were two folds of skin coming from the top of the penis and encircling it on either side. These were somewhat loose and resembled labia majora.’
“De Crecchio then described the internal organs, which included a normal vagina, uterus, tubes, and ovaries. … He interviewed many people and satisfied himself that Joseph Marzo “conducted himself within the sexual area exclusively as a male”, even to the point of contracting the “French disease” on two occasions. “
CAH apparently varies in incidence; among the American Indians, 1 in 280; among whites, 1 in 15,000. Given 245.5 million whites and 3 million Indians, that works out to about 27,000 in those two groups. (Wikipedia doesn’t give numbers for blacks or Hispanics.)
Androgen insensitivity syndrome “is a condition that results in the partial or complete inability of the cell to respond to androgens. The unresponsiveness of the cell to the presence of androgenic hormones can impair or prevent the masculinization of male genitalia in the developing fetus, as well as the development of male secondary sexual characteristics at puberty, … these individuals range from a normal male habitus with mild spermatogenic defect or reduced secondary terminal hair, to a full female habitus, despite the presence of a Y-chromosome.”
The people in this picture have XY chromosomes, but developed as females because they have have AIS or related conditions:
The exact incidence is unknown, especially since XX carriers are basically unaffected by the condition, but Wikipedia lists estimates between 1 in 20,400 XY births and one in 130,000, or between about 7,000 and 1,000 affected Americans.
Kallman Syndrome isn’t so much an “intersex” disorder as an “asex” disorder. Kallmann syndrome is a genetic disorder in which, “the hypothalamic neurons that are responsible for releasing gonadotropin-releasing hormone (GnRH neurons) fail to migrate into the hypothalamus during embryonic development.”
The most prominent symptom is a failure to start puberty; oddly, one of the other common symptoms is an inability to smell. It affects both men and women.
Incidence: about 1 in 10,000, or about 32,000 Americans.
“True hermaphrodites” are rare, but do exist–perhaps due to improper cell division in developing fraternal twins. See also “human chimeras“:
“The Dutch sprinter Foekje Dillema was expelled from the 1950 national team after she refused a mandatory sex test in July 1950; later investigations revealed a Y-chromosome in her body cells, and the analysis showed that she probably was a 46,XX/46,XY mosaic female. …
“Another report of a human chimera was published in 1998, where a male human had some partially developed female organs due to chimerism. He had been conceived by in-vitro fertilization.
“In 2002, Lydia Fairchild was denied public assistance in Washington state when DNA evidence showed that she was not related to her children. A lawyer for the prosecution heard of a human chimera in New England, Karen Keegan, and suggested the possibility to the defense, who were able to show that Fairchild, too, was a chimera with two sets of DNA.”
And as I have mentioned before, people exposed to Diethylstilbestrol–DES–a synthetic estrogen used as an anti-miscarriage drug between 1940 and 1971, (when they realized its major epigenetic effects included cancer,) seems to have triggered female brain development in male fetuses.
“An estimated 3 million pregnant women in the USA were prescribed DES from 1941 through 1971. … The number of persons exposed to DES during pregnancy or in utero during 1940–1971 is unknown, but may be as high as 2 million in the United States.” Or about 1 million men.
There are others, but I will stop here. It is difficult to give a total for such conditions, but folks estimate incidence of intersex conditions around 1.7% of births, or 5.4 million Americans. (By contrast, identical twins occur in only 0.3% of pregnancies.)
As I have mentioned before, I strongly suspect that the vast majority of “trans” people actually have some form of intersex condition–I base this suspicion on the lives of the trans people I’ve actually talked to. According to LiveScience, about 700,000 Americans, or 0.2%, are trans–significantly less than the estimated number of people with intersex conditions.
Even though 98.3% of us probably don’t have any kind of intersex (or asex) condition, 5.4 million is a lot of people. In a country where we like to put weirdos on TV so we can laugh and point at them, really obscure conditions can become quite well-known. Like octuplets.
Whether you want to call them “male,” “female,” “intersex,” or something else all has to do with your particular definition of “biological sex.” If you’d lived in 1800, your definition of “biological sex” would probably have something to do with genitals and maybe something to do with behavior, but certainly nothing to do with chromosomes or hormones or anything like that. Ten minutes ago, you probably defined “biological sex” as “has XX or XY chromosomes.” Now you’re probably wondering what the hell is up with crocodiles.
None of this changes reality. Reality doesn’t care what you call it.
On to Gender!
What does it mean when people say, “Gender is a social construct”?
I’m pretty sure the technical answer is, “Gender is the set of behaviors and social roles and things that people expect out of people based on their biological sex, and those expectations vary by society, ie, people in Uganda expect different things out of ‘men’ and ‘women’ than people in Japan. Heck, some societies even have ‘third genders’ and things like that.”
However, most of the time when people say, “Gender is a social construct,” what they actually mean is, “People don’t actually have gender; gender roles are a mass delusion created by the Patriarchy to oppress women that we are taught to hallucinate as little kids.”
Unfortunately, the belief that children are blank gender slates is not only common among many academics and feminists, but was a thing people really believed–leading to the surgical “correction” of intersex children born with incorrect genitalia, followed by attempts at raising them as whatever gender the parents picked. They usually picked female, because it is much easier to lop a bit off than to add on.
Imagine, for a moment, that you born with a small penis, so your parents just decided to have it chopped off, turned the nub into a clitoris, stuck a dress on you, and called you a girl.
No, it doesn’t work.
I don’t have any statistics, but I have read a lot of stories along the lines of, “My parents lied to me all my life that I was a girl and it turned out I was a boy and it was horribly traumatic and I was suicidal for most of puberty, etc., etc.”
Gender is a real thing, and even intersex kids can figure it out.
If the feminist “You learn gender roles from the patriarchical society around you” school of thought were correct, these kids would turn out completely normal members of the gender assigned to them and not have any issues at all.
If gender is a real thing, then trying to raise a kid as the opposite gender should result in exactly what we see: The kids are miserable, and then they assert that they are the gender they were born as.
But what about trans people who don’t have any kind of intersex condition? Given 7 billion people in the world, there are probably some. Again, if gender were nothing more than arbitrary social roles determined by our dumb patriarchical society, why would anyone bother changing their “sex” to match their “gender”? Remember that SRS is very expensive, painful, time consuming, and incurs significant social stigma. If I can just say, “hey, all this business with handbags and football is totally arbitrary; I’m just going to re-define football as a thing “women” like and handbags as something “men” like,”–which is exactly what the feminist theory of gender claims you can do–then why wouldn’t trans people just do that, and save themselves all of the effort?
Because trans people understand that gender is a real thing, not just a made up thing that they can re-define because it happens to suit them.
“But wait,” I hear you saying, “trans people are actually just autogynophiliacs, and so that’s why they transition, not because they’re actually trans.”
To be honest, I consider this a weird story. For starters, half the trans people I know started as “female”, not male. Second, almost all of the trans people I know have really obvious intersex conditions. Third, most people into LGBTQ etc. sorts of things will NOT SHUT UP about their sexual interests. If these people had weird self-fetishes, they’d be talking about it all over the damn place. Like furries. Remember furries? No one was ever confused about furries’ sexual interests.
Now, could some trans people be autogynophiliacs? Sure. There are 700,000 of them in the country. That’s a lot of people. Some of ’em are probably into all kinds of weird things.
But there are about 1 million men who were exposed to DES in the womb. So DES sounds like a more likely cause of biological men who “feel female” than weird sexual fetishes.
However, I am willing to grant a chicken and egg potential: once a “man” starts believing that he really is a woman trapped in a man’s body, then he will of course begin thinking about himself as female, and want other people to treat him as female, and even fantasize about being treated like a normal female, being found attractive as a normal female, etc.
That is, I suspect the autogynophiliac hypothesis has the causation backwards. Believing that one is a female trapped in a man’s body leads to imagining oneself as female, not the other way around. The same probably holds true for trans folks in “female” bodies who decide that they are really men–they desire to be seen as attractive, too.
(I will note that a fair number of people with intersex conditions are asexual.)
Now, does that mean that Jenner or any other high-profile celebrity trans person is actually intersex and not just a weird attention whore? I have no clue, but if Jenner wants to be female, I don’t care.
But I don’t consider Jenner “brave” or “pioneering” or anything like that. Jenner has millions of dollars and a media three-ring circus to praise her every move. Meanwhile, I know people with actual, diagnosed chromosomal abnormalities who live in poverty because their families don’t believe in fucking genetics.
But anyway, why does this whole “Sex != Gender” thing get hauled out every time people start trying to explain transsexuals?
Eh, it’s because they’re gender non-conforming weirdos and so for a long time, the only people who would accept them were other gender non-conformists like radical feminists and gay people, and this whole “gender is a social construct” business has been the dominant catch-phrase of feminists out to re-define femininity for a long time. And I’m sure that for some trans people, it has given them some peace of mind to think that it’s okay, they can redefine gender how they want to include people like themselves.
But that doesn’t change the fact that the reality of gender is what trans people are actually seeking.