top of page

Sex Gender and logic - the updates

So, if you've had a wander though the site and found the gender 2020 beginnings post, you'll know this topic first appeared way back in April 2017. You can read my originals on blogger, at least for as long as Google keeps them live here for part one and here for part two Like any thoughtful thinker, I feel it's wise to revisit our old opinions and re evaluate them in light of the new knowledge we may have acquired since they were written down. this then is my attempt to do so.

Have you heard the one about Sex, Gender and logic walking into a bar?

Sex says, "gimme some of that biological looking stuff, I like that," Gender says: I'll have whatever I like the look of, I never read the labels on the bottles any way. Logic says: oh you Guys... you're both concepts of categorical thinking you can't walk into pubs let alone order stuff...

Sex, Gender and Logic. The relationship between these is continually revisited time and again in respect to the trans or non binary arguments, their respective causes and thus validity.

Here's a detractors comment I found on youtube, left in reply to a great video by Dr Corivino, a very erudite professor of ethics at Wayne state university:

"If you are for gay rights, then you accept the concept of sexual orientation. But sexual orientation presupposes a genital basis to manhood and womanhood. This directly contradicts the central premise of gender identity. Therefore, the very concept of sexual orientation is transphobic.

If you support trans rights, then you accept the concept of gender identity. That concept locates the basis for manhood and womanhood (and whatever) in the mind, making the body irrelevant to one's identity as a man or a woman (or whatever). This just makes complete nonsense out of the concept of sexual orientation and thereby erases the identities of Gays and Lesbians. Thus, support for the transgender community entails homophobia."

Having read this comment I realised that if I was going to talk and write about trans issues, gender and the arguments around the societal acceptance of those phenomena, I perhaps needed to explore the validity of this seemingly core contradiction.

Firstly, as I usually do, I want to quickly take a journey back to ancient greek times... a pre socratic thinker called Anaxagoras. He watched how the food that we and other animals eat becomes part of our bodies. He watched how children and young animals grow as a result. He therefore theorised that the food must already have tiny bits of bone, muscle, hair etc in it, on an infinitesimally small scale. These he called "Seeds".

Today we know these as Amino acids, Sugars, fats, or on an even smaller scale "molecules" or "atoms", the building blocks of "matter". Anaxagoras was correct, but limited by the technology and language of his time. There are perhaps some parallels here with the sex and gender argument(s) when one poses the question "what is"?

"What is sex?"

"What is gender"

Lets take the first question:

"What is sex?"

Well the term "Sex" can mean many things. It is both a noun and verb for example. In this case lets leave the "doing" use of the term sex to one side and focus on the use of the word as a noun, ala a descriptor of something ...

It fair to say a widely accepted view of the word is that Sex is a term that can be used to categorise things that are alike, similar or dissimilar.  A descriptor if you will. So if we accept this premise, what is the term "Sex" used to describe? What physical observations do we need to make in order to decide if a thing belongs in the category of "sex" or not? And what do we mean by someone having "A sex"?

Physically speaking, there's anatomy. The presence or absence of a Penis, vagina, uterus, fallopian tubes, breast tissue,  testes, ovaries, vas deferens, prostate etc. Some of these structures were described in ancient times, they're relatively easy to explore scientifically and some at least can be seen with the naked eye, so they are long established and therefore thought of as known objects. Then theres the more modern cellular arguments, only recently possible in human history, Things like DNA, chromosomal structure, etc.  To put our physical understanding of these later categorical factors into a sort of timeline and perspective, consider that humans have been around on the earth for about 200,00 years. Civilisation 6,000. Industrialisation, 200yrs. Chromosomes were first observed in plant cells by Swiss botanist Karl Wilhelm von Nägeli in 1842. In 1905 the first chromosomal work was done on the XX/XY theory of sexual development, continuing up until around 1923 with the emergence of the "sex chromosomal pairing". Watson and Crick discovered the double helix of DNA in 1953, just 64 years ago. Chromosomal pairs (23) were identified in Lund in Sweden in 1955, for the previous 30 years it had been thought to be 24, not 48. 

So, if we take human civilisation as 6,000 years old, we have really been exploring the detail of our existence for approximately 2% of our known time here. Or to put it another way, if the 6,000 yrs were one 24 hour period, the entire scientific knowledge described above would take just short of the last 29 minutes before midnight.

Food for thought eh? What I'm getting at here is the idea that we simply don't know a great deal. It's all too easy to think of the evolution of both Humans and Human knowledge as being a process up until "the now". Forgetting the idea that evolution and change is ever ongoing, that todays known and accepted premise is perhaps tomorrows questioned one. This is akin to what Dan Gilbert refers to as "the end of history" delusion. in his ted talk ... But what of the subdivisions of sex? And the mechanisms by which someone is said to have "a sex"? They have been around along time...where did they come from? Sex as a word is derived from the latin term, sexus, historically encompassing two other categories "male" and  "female" Female comes from Latin femella (compare feminine) and is not related to male which comes from Latin masculus (whence masculine, macho). The terms being derived from latin dates them pretty emphatically long before the newer scientific stuff. So, the concept of male and female based on broad anatomical observations possible with the naked eye was very much accepted long before the discovery of chromosomal pairs in 1905 and was reinforced by early scientific works on anatomical structure etc. 

So then, "Sex" in this sense can be defined as a categorical term, which encompasses two major subdivisions, "male" and "female". This being based on our understanding of ancient observations of the gross anatomical structure of humans coupled with the addition of more recent ones regarding the composition and drivers of our cellular physiology.

(If you're thinking at this point hang on, thats very binary and old school bear with me... all will be well...)

So much for sex, now what about the other question? gender?

"What is gender"

In a similar way to the discussion regarding sex, gender is a categorical grouping used to describe beings that are similar or different. However it refers in this instance to observational differences in a societal and cultural sense. It's a term that is in some sense very new, since it was first coined in relation to gender roles by John Money in 1955, around the same time Watson and Crick were doing their double helix thing. However the word itself has been around since long before this point and is derived from the latin meaning birth, family or nation. Thus one can suggest it's original meaning probably owes more to similarities rather than differences.

Usually the starting point for the development of these similarities/differences arises from the observed individual "belonging" to one of the categories of the "sex" groupings that we have already discussed. So what sort of things are included in the descriptive category of gender? Here's a few, I'm sure you can perhaps think of more:

Attire, mannerisms, conduct, profession, expectations, height, attractiveness, use of make up, prestige, social grouping, physicality and of course sex. 

Much like "Sex" it has been subdivided into two categories that are known as "man" and "woman" Interestingly "man" in the historical context was a neutral term simply meaning "human" up until the early 20th century where it came be used to define the male of the species. "Woman" similarly has its roots in older language and has at times been synonymous with "wife" a fact I'm sure a few feminists would raise an eye brow at today. 

So, The two categories "Sex", and "Gender" are different, but also arguably quite closely linked  since it is fair to suggest that the one (sex) is at least in part the cause of inclusion in the other.(gender) It would seem to be true that before we begin to assign a person a place in the category of gender, the convention has been to first determine an individuals place in the category of sex.  This seems troubling, since it gives a prima facie legitimacy to the idea that the concept of trans gender might be inherently homophobic. Or does it?

To unpick this we need a discussion of "why" and "how" we place certain individuals in each group and to create something of a cause and effect argument. 

So following on from that:

How humans are sexed. 

If any of you reading this have kids, you'll know that feeling of anticipation and wonder as you wait to find out if you're going to have a son or a daughter. We can check now via ultrasound in utero to see what anatomy is present and of course at birth there are outwardly visible differences between the "male" and "female" categories as were described above.

So, basically just as we did thousands of years ago, we look at our offspring with our eyes and go, hmm, penis = male, therefore boy, or vagina = female, therefore girl. Ok all is good with the world. 

But wait juuuust minute.....

In her study back in 2002 Fausto-sterling asserts that 1.7% of human births are what we would call "intersex". That is having genitalia that are indeterminate, not of one sex or perhaps even indicative of both. This presents a problem at the very start, because it messes with our categorical system. If we can't "sex" a new born human, how do we relate to that person? 

Whilst post publication there were methodological issues with this study which was utilising a comparison between phenotypic sex (observable anatomical structure and actions) and chromosomal sex. which lead to the decision that the 1.7% figure was decided to be too high since it included those who didn't quite fit the required criteria which was in itself rather broad, the important point here is that the intersex condition exists at all So where are we currently on the level of incidence of "intersex" births? The intersex society of North America states that 1 in 1,666 births are not xx/xy and that the number of births that anatomically differ from male and female is 1 in 100. (figures as per 2017 original article) Thats quite a few. In a world population of 7 billion, that's way more than a football team.

The XX/XY myth. An Epistemological injustice?

Bet you thought I'd miss this one out eh? Darwins "origin of species" in 1859 produced a race. A race to prove Darwin's theories through cellular evidence. A german cytologist found an X element in the sperm of a wasp in 1891, and between 1903 and 1906 Nettie Stevens studied this X and found it had a small Y hidden next to it. In 1906 Edmund Wilson independently confirms the existence of the Y and also coined the phrase "sex chromosome". 

Around this time it was understood that inheritability and genetics usually required the interplay between multiple chromosomal factors, bits of a chromosome controlling multiple things. Thus a single chromosome could have effects in multiple areas. Wilson however was insistent that this X was entirely responsible for maleness, and thus sex, since 2 of them resulted in female and 1 male. Nettie Stevens disagreed, citing that something on the X was probably involved in sex, since the known evidence of studies suggested other chromosomes act on multiple traits and that logically the x and y should function in this same way. 

Wilson's view eventually won out in 1920, perhaps because Stevens died young in 1912. There was however strong objection to the idea of a sex chromosome even at this point. Thomas montgomery of the university of philadelphia wrote that the theory was "absurdly simplistic" and an "over extension of the chromosome theory of hereditary". Thomas hunt Morgan decried it for "inventing a special element that has the power of turning maleness into femaleness"

There were other holes in the premise of an entire sex chromosome, but for a better narrative than I can give here I'd suggest reading this article by Claire Ainsworth. A brief summary of the somewhat complex article would be to suggest that Stevens was closer to the truth. Bits of the x and the y play a part in the determination of sex, but are not in and of themselves the whole story. Thus we now know people with xx/xy/xxy or derivations thereof that will develop along male or female lines according to the hormonal and genetic triggers and the responses present in utero and beyond.

So that then busts the intersex comparisons of 2002 Fausto-sterling? Well yes, in so far as comparing phenotypical sex to the XX/XY dichotomy. But it also paradoxically it gives us a reason for intersex in the first place since it highlights that the mechanisms inherent in determining the "sex" of a person are a much more complex beast than Wilson's simple presence /absence categorisation might suggest. 

Soo.. you still with me? Ok... were does all this get us? Our original premise of trans gender phenomenon being homophobic is yet to be challenged To do that we have to revisit the category of "sex" and I would suggest add in some things that were missing from the initial list. 

I'd add in:

Development, in utero environment and chromosomal "activity" rather than 'structure", and lastly the brain.

Why the brain? Because from what we now know of other internal physiological and endocrine (hormonal) influences the brain is very much effected by these mechanisms as described in utero, just as the other organs are. To assume it must be left out is tantamount to repeating the mistake of Wilson and creating an erroneous assumption. There is considerable and growing evidence to support the theory that trans people could be thought of (and thus "categorised" as) intersex in relation to their brains, and that the interplay between a multitude of developmental combinations gives rise to many more than 2 possible outcomes.  (Note: this therefore is NOT the older idea of male or female brains.. rather it allows the idea that all human brains are a mixture of what we might call male and female like traits)

Furthermore as a result of the above, there is now significant evidence to suggest that "male" and 'female" should actually be joined by "intersex". Not in the realm of being viewed as a defect in "normal" development, but as a less common outcome of the normal gestational process responsible for creating a "normally sexed" human, that is as yet not fully understood at a cellular level. 

After all, the intersex research cited in the article by Claire Ainsworth was completed in 2011, and the article itself in 2015. To use our 24 hour analogy from before regarding human civilisation, that's just over 7 minutes of research. Obviously we have barely scratched the surface here. 

So having said all that, now lets revisit our original premise, the youtube question or statement asserting that the Trans philosophy of GI and LGB philosophy are mutually exclusive:

"If you are for gay rights, then you accept the concept of sexual orientation. (true) But sexual orientation presupposes a genital basis to manhood and womanhood. (first premise) This directly contradicts the premise of gender identity, (second premise) Therefore, the very concept of sexual orientation is homophobic. (conclusion)

If you support trans rights, the you accept the concept of gender identity. That concept locates the basis for manhood and womanhood (or whatever) in the mind, (true) making the body irrelevant to ones identity as a man or a woman (or whatever) (does it though?) This just makes complete nonsense out of the concept of sexual orientation and thereby erases the identities of Gays and lesbians. (conditional premise based on first two) Thus support for the transgender community entails homophobia" It's actually the arguments first premise "Sexual orientation presupposes a genital basis to manhood and woman hood" that is problematic and TBH at first it's not easy to see what is actually wrong here. What is sexual orientation? What does being gay or lesbian or bi mean? I'm going to fall back on a suggestion by Dr Corivino here and say probably a lot more than the gentialia of the person you might fancy. Theres personality, behaviour, SOH, hair colour skin type, age range, interests, music etc etc, so on the face of it the "exclusive" genitalia argument is a reductive premise. But it is fair to say that genitalia play a part in that over all conversation. Though i'd argue that part would be to some extent as an effect of being attracted to "men" or "women" not a cause, and the usual case scenario's with regard to anatomy in each case.  What do I mean by that? Well if you're a gay man, then presumably you are going to be attracted to other men. That attraction on first meeting does not initially depend on whether the person does or does not have a penis. (as per a trans man for example) Similarly a lesbian, or bisexual woman may fall for a trans woman, who may or may not have had surgery, but I doubt that's their first topic of conversation.

Sure once a person finds out that a given individual may have a body that doesn't work for them, that may be grounds on which to reassess the situation or it may not. Is that trans phobic? No, because people like what they like. It's hardly fair for a trans person to stipulate what another person should or should not find sexually appealing. Is it potentially awkward? Hell yeah. A rejection at this point based on anatomy is going to hurt, one party feels let down and the other unloved for who they are. But diversity by its very nature has to embrace that these situations are not a one size fits all.

I would suggest the first premise is based in the stipulation that if a gay man falls for a trans man, then they are not 'really gay" which extrapolates to "because they (the trans man) are not a real guy" Which leads to "real guys have a penis" and the result: "wow that's trans phobic"

Does that make sexual orientation transphobic. Of course it doesn't, since sexual orientation is a category like all the rest, and thus the borders and frames of reference exist in isolation to those who live within them. Sexual orientation is a concept, like the all others we've discussed

What the statement actually suggests is that the author has a prescriptive view of a genital basis to manhood and womanhood. we could re write it as: I presuppose a genital basis to manhood and woman hood and therefore orientations as result. It does not follow from that view that all discussion of sexual orientation would subscribe to that same view. So the conclusion that concepts of Gender Identity are mutually exclusive with Homosexual identity would ONLY be true IF the first premise were true. (which it isn't It is in fact a gross over simplification of human attraction mechanics) and therefore the second premise, which is actually a conditional fails, and the conclusion is proved false. Note here the seductive part of the posters argument is the valid argument structure. IF both premises were true the conclusion had to be, since the structure is valid. But the premises are not, and therefore their conclusion must be false.

What of the second statement? Gender Identity as a concept and a basis for man and womanhood is again part of the argument, but not it's entirety. As we have seen from the exploration of the questions "what is sex" and "what is gender" there is significant suggestive evidence to include the brain in the developmental process that leads to a "male" or female" or "intersex" person, and therefore some inclusion of trans in that premise."The brain" which may be responsible for our "gender identity" is of course a physical anatomical structure.  This serves as rebuttal to the statement:  That concept (gender identity) locates the basis for manhood and womanhood (or whatever) in the mind, making the body irrelevant to ones identity as a man or a woman (or whatever)

The brain is part of both the body and the mind*, thus is subject to the same developmental influences as all our other anatomical structures. We return therefore to where we began, an anatomical discussion of the causative biological factors of "sex" and "gender" as intrinsically linked, but still different. 

*(this of course depends on your view of the dualist and physicalist arguments of mind and body, something i'll be delving into in my basics of philosophy series a little later on) 

So based on this, is GI theory homophobic?. No. Since knowing that there are more than two physiological expressions of sex, thus more than two genders, and that the causes likely reside in a combination of genitals, gonads, hormones and brain development does not preclude two people of the same sex or the same gender having a relationship.

Of course, if you choose to define "manhood" and "womanhood" by genitalia and hitch concepts to your own definition...... thats perhaps a little different don't you think?


To sum up what has been quite a wordy review of these blogs, It would seem we humans are even now only just getting to grips with the modern versions of Anaxagoras' "seeds" as they might pertain to "sex" and "gender". After something of a false start thanks to the erroneous conclusions of Wilson that took hold in the early 20th century we are playing catch up. We now know at least that we "don't know", and as result can start reframing questions and categories.

I wonder in 3000 yrs time, will the humans that exist then look back at us and wonder at the language we use to describe things that they then understand in so much depth. Will our chromosomes and other descriptors seem to them like Anaxagoras seeds? It is an intriguing thought is it not?

20 views0 comments

Recent Posts

See All
bottom of page