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Now biology is a spectrum? Thoughts please

(31 Posts)
addictedtocereal Fri 31-Mar-17 13:42:22

An acquaintance on FB recently posted an article from Nature.com suggesting that biological sex is more of a spectrum. The article is from 2015 and the closing paragraph is as follows:

"So if the law requires that a person is male or female, should that sex be assigned by anatomy, hormones, cells or chromosomes, and what should be done if they clash? “My feeling is that since there is not one biological parameter that takes over every other parameter, at the end of the day, gender identity seems to be the most reasonable parameter,” says Vilain [ Eric Vilain, a clinician and the director of the Center for Gender-Based Biology at the University of California, Los Angeles.] In other words, if you want to know whether someone is male or female, it may be best just to ask."

Here's a link to the full article:

http://www.nature.com/news/sex-redefined-1.16943

On a first read it seems to me the more complicated cases are very much in the minority but would be interested in people's thoughts on this.

badabing36 Fri 31-Mar-17 14:05:34

I've heard something like this before in a podcast, can't remember which one now. But it's really interesting. I don't think people are ready to make our society more gender neutral though, unfortunately.

ChocChocPorridge Fri 31-Mar-17 14:21:24

My feeling is that since there is not one biological parameter that takes over every other parameter, at the end of the day, gender identity seems to be the most reasonable parameter

This is a ridiculous statement in my opinion - why does gender identity seem a reasonable parameter? Unless it's definable, it's not reasonable at all, and I've yet to see an objective definition. Plus of course, most people I speak to don't even have a 'gender identity'

Most people fall into one of two camps. People who don't have some kind of disorder. Humans are bipedal, the fact that some people have fewer or greater than 2 legs, doesn't change that.

Lalsy Fri 31-Mar-17 14:25:45

The article is by a freelance journalist. People with intersex have repeatedly asked for their condition not to be conflated and appropriated (google AIS). Intersex and mosaicism are biological conditions, nothing to do with gender identity (whatever that is).

iismum Fri 31-Mar-17 14:26:35

It completely ignores the fact that the problems women face occur not because they identify as female but because they are identified as female. It's undeniable (surely?) that in the vast majority of cases, it's really easy for people to guess (even though this could occasionally be wrong) what sex people are - and if people think you are female then they treat you as female - which means anything from 'with bias' to 'homicidally'.

Moussemoose Fri 31-Mar-17 14:33:02

"Nature loves diversity, society hates it" Milton Diamond

Most science and maths is not as clear cut as lay people believe it to be.

WobblyLegs5 Fri 31-Mar-17 14:34:41

Biology is 2 distinct groups with opposite roles within reproduction. Then there is a very very small % of genetic or biological abnormalities. Not a spectrum.

iismum Fri 31-Mar-17 14:35:37

Most science and maths is not as clear cut as lay people believe it to be.

What do you mean by this - can you give examples? Science and maths are both extremely precise.

Kennington Fri 31-Mar-17 14:38:11

Biological males don't have the potential to produce eggs. Females have or had the potential to produce eggs. And this is due to our chromosomes. Whether we actually product them or not doesn't change sex.
Of course there are intersex people and they may be on a spectrum, but I don't see what that has to do with gender, which is a personality trait.

ATailofTwoKitties Fri 31-Mar-17 14:38:42

I'm not sure someone from the 'Center for Gender-Based Biology' is entirely neutral on the idea of whether gender takes priority.

Moussemoose Fri 31-Mar-17 14:47:54

When scientists are working at the cutting edge and pushing boundaries many hypothesis are not clear cut. I am informed string theory and quarks raise many interesting questions that are not clear cut.

If these biologists are exploring new ways of looking at sex and new developments as to how chromosomes and genes develop it may not be as simple as a lay person - me for example - may believe.

I think it is brilliant scientists are pushing parameters and making people question their assumptions. Keeps us on our toes intellectually.

BeyondUser24601 Fri 31-Mar-17 14:50:23

"I'm not sure someone from the 'Center for Gender-Based Biology' is entirely neutral on the idea of whether gender takes priority"

That.

OneFlewOverTheDodosNest Fri 31-Mar-17 14:55:29

"Should that sex be assigned by anatomy, hormones, cells or chromosomes, and what should be done if they clash?" This could be an interesting question but it implies that there is a more frequent occurrence of clashes than there are.

Intersex conditions are rare and people with AIS have repeatedly requested that people do not use their condition in trans-arguments. It is appropriation to do so.

The vast majority of people, whether trans or not, do not have the clashes that would put a question mark over their sex and I honestly think it's immoral to pretend that you do have such a condition when many individuals that actually do suffer with severe medical conditions as a consequence.

SomeDyke Fri 31-Mar-17 15:08:26

"Most science and maths is not as clear cut as lay people believe it to be."
Well unless you are really trying to apply the Godel Incompleteness Theorem(s) to gender..................

Actually, sex and variants and various developmental conditions is exactly the sort of observable, quantifiable information that science loves! As this quote seems to say 'it's all jolly complicated, so lets give up measuring whatever we can measure, and just take peoples word for it, and go for their totally subjective opinion' -- which is of course not just complicated science, just not science (or even good thinking) in any way, shape or form!

And as regards the slightly complicated stuff that people say about themselves, or say or do, that is sort of thing that social scientists have been studying as well for a jolly long time.

Really, this approach is the physics equivalent of saying -- I KNOW that trying to reconcile quantum theory and gravity is hard and no one has actually managed to do it, so instead, let's just all pretend really hard that it has been solved, and hope the issue will go away.................

Sex is (mostly) simple, almost always quantifiable, compared, for example, with what people believe about themselves. It may be useful or important to them, but that doesn't make it real anywhere outside of their own heads.

ChocChocPorridge Fri 31-Mar-17 15:17:52

occur not because they identify as female but because they are identified as female

This is a really good point, and a perfect way to put it.

DJBaggySmalls Fri 31-Mar-17 15:43:00

I'm answering as a feminist, not a scientist.
Everything is a spectrum. That does not mean that categories no longer exist, or that we cannot define anything.
Since biology is not perfect, some fetuses develop abnormally. Some die. A fetus starts off as female and some develop into males. the process does not always proceed as it is 'supposed' to and some people end up as a chimera or intersex. They are in the minority.

If a person produces sperm they are male, and if they produce eggs and a fetus they are female. Thats not a matter of self identity. Self identity produces the confusion. It does not clear it up.

Looking at animal behaviour, many birds and animals go through a stage in adolescence where they practice/play courtship and breeding. Its not unusual for them to play the role of either sex.
Then later when it comes to breeding as an adult, they are not confused by the role they played as an adolescent. They majority go on to pair, court and breed as expected. This is not new information. I think it may have been described by Konrad Lorenz or one of his students.

Children play as perpetration for adult life, they try on many personas. We know that, its why we talk about them going through stages. The protestor or goth stage dont come as a surprise to most sensible parents.

venusinscorpio Fri 31-Mar-17 15:49:07

I'm not sure someone from the 'Center for Gender-Based Biology' is entirely neutral on the idea of whether gender takes priority"

Beautifully understated!

venusinscorpio Fri 31-Mar-17 15:54:32

It completely ignores the fact that the problems women face occur not because they identify as female but because they are identified as female.

Yes, exactly. That is the heart of the matter.

MercyMyJewels Fri 31-Mar-17 16:10:48

This article seems to be referenced rather a lot, including from some half baked person claiming to be doing a PHD in Biology and repeatedly referencing this (is this all there is?)

Lalsy Fri 31-Mar-17 16:13:44

I think it is referenced a lot because it is in Nature. But is half-baked, confuses sex and gender and is by a journalist (not Nature staff or a peer-reviewed scientific article). The gender-critical reference thread has lots of references for those interested,

Datun Fri 31-Mar-17 16:31:45

It completely ignores the fact that the problems women face occur not because they identify as female but because they are identified as female.

I too think this is wonderfully put.

vesuvia Fri 31-Mar-17 16:35:48

A quotation from the director of the Center for so-called "Gender"-Based Biology hmm in the linked article of the OP:
“My feeling is that since there is not one biological parameter that takes over every other parameter, at the end of the day, gender identity seems to be the most reasonable parameter”

Most reasonable to whom?

... Yet another man telling women how he feels about who can be a girl or woman.

I think it is an unscientific illogical leap of faith to go from:
(a) finding evidence that a few people have a chromosomal sex that does not match their gonadal sex;
to
(b) encouraging any boy or man, almost certainly with healthy 100% male chromosomes and healthy 100% male gonads, to claim he is actually female because he says so, or because he and his supporters misguidedly believe that such a declaration is not harmful to the rights of women and girls. I think the article linked in the OP provides ammunition to support this anti-female behaviour.

venusinscorpio Fri 31-Mar-17 16:58:39

Most reasonable to whom?

"When I use a word," Humpty Dumpty said, in rather a scornful tone, "it means just what I choose it to mean- neither more nor less."
"The question is," said Alice, "whether you canmake words mean so many different things."
"The question is," said Humpty Dumpty, "which is to be master-that's all."

iismum Fri 31-Mar-17 17:35:13

somedyke - great addressing of the science point (apart from the random crossings out!). That's exactly what I was trying to get at. I hate the tendency people have to equate the fact that science is complex and evolving and doesn't fully understand things with the idea that therefore we can believe anything. It's bullshit!

addictedtocereal Fri 31-Mar-17 17:59:49

Thanks for your responses and directions to further reading on the gender critical threads.

I too was a bit dubious about the guy from the Center for Gender-Based Biology. It seems a bit of massive leap to say that because of a small percentage of cases where biological sex is difficult to determine, it's all too complicated so self-identification is probably best.

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