There’s a long piece I’ve been procrastinating on / working on for weeks (WokeBros™ Are Pushing Us Into A Republican Trap) , and now all this blows up. Maya Forstater’s judge with no judgement. JKRowling deciding enough is enough. By the time I push the “publish” button, this will be hours out of date and suitable for the Stone Ages.
Anyway, just some minor commentary which everyone else has already said too.
Mammalian sexes are not a spectrum. They are binary. There is the large gamete sex, female, and the small gamete sex, male. That’s it. There ain’t no more. Spergs and speggs don’t exist.
Denying this biological reality is more la-la than being a Flat Earther. At least a Flat Earth *looks* plausible if you’re completely ignorant. Denying biological sex is denying how babies get made and that is something all of humanity is rather clear on. (Well, except for WokeBros™, male or female.) It’s much much much stupider than denying evolution or climate science since those require a minimal understanding of not-always-immediately-obvious evidence.
The usual refrain, including from some biologists, is “but, but clownfish!” Yes, there are clownfish. Yes, there’s sea lettuce (Ulva sp.) with identical sized gametes. Yes, some fungi have dozens of mating strains with very complex ways of producing the next generation. Invertebrate animals have all sorts of gametic flexibility. Even alligators and some birds have temperature-dependent sex ratios in their offspring.
Notice one thing about all of those? They are not mammals. Humans are mammals. We have none of that sexual diversity. In humans sex is binary. End of story.
Intersex individuals do not change that. They have chromosomal or developmental variants superimposed on the basic binary. Their secondary sexual characteristics can vary from the usual. Since everything except the production of egg or sperm is a secondary sexual characteristic, including organs like penis, vagina, or breasts, looks can be unrelated to genetics. That means without scientific tools, like karyotyping or DNA sequencing, the genetics is unknown.
The existence of variants does not turn sex into a spectrum any more than the existence of babies born without limbs means that there’s a spectrum of leg formation. Chimeric inheritance is a condition where two zygotes (fused egg and sperm) fuse together and develop as one individual. The cells derived from one of the two can be interspersed or more or less separate in different organ systems or even sides of the person. That can result in a very rare Difference of Sex Development (DSD) where there’s one ovary and one testicle in one body. (The two hormone systems interfere with each other during development, so there have been no documented cases of both systems being fertile.) In another situation, separation of one embryo into two may stop before completion and conjoined twins result. But the existence of developmental variants like chimerism or conjoined twins does not imply we’re all on a spectrum from one to multiple people.
Intersex individuals are uncommon. Congenital adrenal hyperplasia (CAH) is the commonest, at about 1.4% of live births. All the other forms combined come to 0.1%, one in a thousand, live births. CAH causes overproduction of hormones. Since a number of sex organs are developed from homologous embryonic tissues (clitoris – penis, outer labia – scrotum) overproduction during development can — does not always — alter external morphology to superficially resemble the opposite sex.
Chromosomal abnormalities, like XXY, or XYY, or XO, also change nothing about the sex binary. They either result in individuals indistinguishable from XX / XY without genetic testing, or in individuals who don’t reproduce but look and are treated as female or male. They have nothing to do with the desire to transition to some other social role.
To me, an interesting side note is XO, also known as 45X, aka Turner syndrome. Just one X chromosome results in a female-looking individual who is sterile. The second X has a role only in the formation of the female reproductive tract. One of the two Xs is eventually inactivated in each cell during development. The only function of the Y chromosome is to develop the variants on the female pattern that result in male reproduction. In other words, human society has been wrong about this for millenia. Male is not the default. Female is the default.
None of the above has anything to do with gender, which is the main concern of trans people. Gender is defined as the collection of character traits society decides belong to people based on their sex. Social constructs can be anything society decides — there’s no limit on alphabets, for instance. So if trans people want to invert or subvert or multiply genders, that’s up to them.
Which brings me to the other thing that made my jaw drop about this massive kerfuffle. When JKRowling made her extraordinarily obvious tweet:
the bad feelings engendered in some of the trans community were explained in a thread on Twitter.
JKRowling’s points are “not actual support.”
Well, DUH. Of course they’re not. You’re not supporting me, you know. Nor do you have to. Neither do I have to support you. In a free society we all have equal rights and nobody gets to demand service from others. We just leave each other alone to live our lives as we want and as best we can.
It’s called equal rights. Not equal support. Who died and made you king of deciding who has to stand ready with support?
That attitude of expecting others to forget their own needs and support transwomen is so blitheringly smug and entitled, it’s mindboggling.
It also reminds me a lot of something I see out in the world all the time. Something like a class of people who seem to think women should always hover about fulfilling their needs…. It’s on the tip of my tongue…. But that can’t be right because the transwomen who have that attitude are quite sure they’re women.