Wednesday, July 19, 2017

It’s Not That Simple

If you ever read comments on an article about trans issues you will usually see a comment about XX and XY chromosomes and that is so Fiftyish.
Transgender People and “Biological Sex” Myths
By Julia Serano
July 17, 2017

note: The day this was published, H.R. 2796 — a U.S. congressional bill that would legally re-define “man” and “woman” based on an individual’s “genetic sex,” as a means to rollback transgender rights — started to garner news & media attention. While this essay was not intended to address that bill specifically, it thoroughly undermines its logical, legal, and scientific standing.

I recently penned an essay entitled Debunking “Trans Women Are Not Women” Arguments in the hopes that it would be a useful primer for countering such claims. But sometimes, efforts to undermine or exclude trans women rely on a somewhat different tactic which takes the following form: A case will be made that sex is distinct from gender — the former being purely biological in nature, the latter being entirely social. Upon making this claim, it will then be argued that, while trans women may indeed be women (because “woman” is a gender category), we nevertheless remain “biologically male” (a sex category). This line of reasoning is often accompanied by claims that women are oppressed because of their sex (not gender), and therefore feminism should be exclusively for “biological females” (thereby expunging trans women).

While this is not a new argument, it has garnered increased attention after Laci Green (a popular YouTube personality) recently forwarded it in a series of videos and comments. Since social media is actively reacting to Green’s comments and similar claims made by others, I thought that this would be an opportune time to debunk this “trans women are biological males” argument, as well as misconceptions about “biological sex” more generally.
More controversially, there is some evidence to suggest that our gender identities are influenced by biology. For those interested, here are some references from my book Whipping Girl that discuss this: [see article for the list of references]

This evidence includes the findings that a few microscopic regions of the brain display sexual dimorphism, and that, in these regions, trans women’s brains appear more female-typical than male-typical. Even more persuasive is the fact that a majority of genetically male children who have been (without their knowledge) raise from birth as girls because they did not have a penis (due to botched circumcision, or the non-intersex condition cloacal exstrophy) eventually come to identify as boys and men, despite their gender socialization to the contrary. These examples demonstrate that biological sex can influence gender (thereby disproving point #1).
She goes on to debunk more arguments that are used against us, including…

  • The “nature versus nurture” fallacy
  • Clarifying the “sex is a social construct” argument
  • Women are oppressed because of both sex and gender
  • The myth that trans people are trying to deny or erase “biological sex” differences

And she ends with,
But in my experience, when people go out of their way to use the clunky phrasing “biological male/female,” they are almost always attempting to contend that 1) biology trumps trans people’s gender identities and lived experiences, and 2) dismiss the reality of gender and sexual diversity, and the fact that there are exceptions to every sex and gender category. If this is your intention, then you should know that I am not “denying” or “erasing” sex differences. I am simply pointing out that you are uninformed about these matters and/or an outright bigot.
We now know that there are many factors in determining one’s gender besides chromosomes. There are hormonal, there are genes such as the SRY gene, there are enzymes like 5-alpha reductase deficiency and there are prenatal environmental factors that determine gender identity.

It is interesting to note that intersex babies when they are given “corrective surgery” still identity as their dominant gender. In a NBC article Dr. William Reiner who studies intersex persons said,
“To discover who or what a child is ... you have to ask them,” Dr. William Reiner of the Oklahoma University Health Science Center told a meeting of the American Association for the Advancement of Science.

“There is no one biological parameter that clearly defines sex,” added Dr. Eric Vilain of the University of California, Los Angeles, whose research suggests gender is genetically hard-wired into the brain before birth — regardless of which genitalia develop.
Then there is the BSTc a section of the brain which has been found to be different in men and women. Medscape reports that…
A similar study by Kruijver et al provided further data supporting the role of the BSTc in transgender identity.[10] They examined tissue from the same 6 MTF estrogen-treated transgender persons studied by Zhou et al and found that the number of neurons in the BSTc was more similar to genetic XX female controls. BSTc neuron number was also in the male range in the 1 FTM androgen-treated transgender individual studied.
There are also other regions of the brain that are different in men and women that trans people show a resemblance closer to the gender identity than their assigned at birth gender that are pointed out in the Medscape article.

But it is also important to remember that this might be one of a number of the reasons why a person is transgender.

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