Sex and gender

Eva Dehlinger: A word for everything

This is an article by Eva Dehlinger.

Biology is a real thing. We can see its elements and name them and measure them. In humans, chromosomes, DNA, gametes, hormone levels, and primary and secondary sex characteristics can all be identified, named and measured. From that information, almost all humans can be classified as definitively belonging to one of two distinct groups referred to as sex: man and woman, boy and girl, male and female. There is some diversity within the specific characteristics and how they express, but not so much diversity that the two groups cannot be clearly defined and understood. This is evidenced over thousands of years by successful procreation, observed physical development and bodily function, scientific research and medicine. Humans are dimorphic.

Of course, there are also a very small number of exceptions.

These two sex categories are used extensively. Before a baby is born, tests can show the sex of the baby and in almost all cases this ends up being correct. Parents and doctors are confident in the results of these tests. Based on that confidence, some babies are aborted because of their sex. What two words should we use for the categories that this test can confirm?

When a baby is born, doctors and parents are almost always confident in recognising and identifying the baby’s biological sex. This confidence leads to some babies being abandoned, specifically due to that sex category. What word should we use for the sex of those babies?

Parents, doctors and individuals need an understanding of the spectrum of normal anatomy and physiology within the two sexes to measure against. Anomalies and differences exist. It’s helpful to be able to spot anything that might actually indicate a problem. This is true regardless of how a person feels about their sex or their gender.

The two sexes have different physical health needs relating to their distinct physiology and may need different care during their lives. Only one group will potentially menstruate, become pregnant, give birth and go through the menopause. Additionally, the two groups may suffer disproportionately from different diseases and conditions and respond differently to drugs and medications due to their anatomy and physiology.

We only know this because we have identified people by their sex category when monitoring populations over time to see which diseases manifest, and how, and which treatments are effective. This is valuable and important information in healthcare choices as well as in the prevention and treatment of disease in the population. The knowledge was established without considering the individuals’ feelings about their sex or gender.

Doctors and researchers need clearly defined, named categories.

People use DNA tests to establish paternity. They use them to find and explore ancestry and genetic family. The huge DNA databases, including data from millions of people, confidently identify the sex of the person submitting the DNA as well as the sex of their ancestors. Millions of people do these tests and understand, without confusion, the information the DNA sites provide about their genetic families. One line is female and one line is male. The categorisation comes from a test that has no interest in how any of those individuals look, feel or identify in terms of their gender, which for the majority will never be known.

These DNA tests are neutral.

If a body is found dead or unconscious, or a person is for any reason unable to express themselves clearly, then being able to identify which of the two sex categories they fit into is helpful. If a young child is missing or a dead body is discovered, we cannot know their gender. But we can ascertain their sex and that categorisation would help as part of any investigation or search. We can say, ‘We have discovered a dead man’ or ‘We have found a lost little girl’.

Given the list of scenarios above, which is probably not exhaustive, it seems clear that we need specific words to name the two biological sex categories, separate to any definition of gender identity or the feelings of an individual. What should those words be?

Traditionally, the words for these two sex categories (referring to biological sex not gender) are man and woman, male and female. These words are used and understood the world over. If the definition of those words changes, we will have to find new words to cover the examples above.

Cisman and ciswoman, whilst meaningful in some contexts, won’t work. The addition of cis relates to how people feel about their sex, their gender, their identity and potentially how they express that. Not everyone has a feeling about their gender and some people would be uncertain about defining themselves in that way. These people still need a clear, specific word to describe their biological sex.

Similarly, DNA tests, foetuses, babies, young children and dead bodies can’t clarify feelings on gender. A test during pregnancy can’t say, ‘The baby is a cisboy’. The police can’t say, ‘The dead body is a cisfemale’. We can’t know whether they identify as trans or cis or neither, but we still need a word for the biological sex of the baby or the dead body.

Ancestry websites cannot say how the person they have matched as your genetic mother or grandmother identifies or identified. But they know her biology. They know she is female. And paternity tests will identify the father, who will be male (even if they identify as trans).

We need words to describe this reality. We need words for biological sex and words for gender identity and then we need clarity over how they are defined and used socially and legally. Using the same words can’t work. If the words man and woman, male and female, don’t mean biological sex we will have no choice but to go down a tortuous path of finding and agreeing new words for the two essential sex categories. Otherwise how can we express ourselves in the examples above?

Does it make sense to do find new words and what would they be?

Could that realistically work?

Should we keep the definition of man and woman as relating to biological sex and expand our vocabulary so we have fabulous new words for gender identity for those that wish to use them?


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12 thoughts on “Eva Dehlinger: A word for everything

  1. A very good article that highlights how absurd and impractical it is to deny biological sex. I also think it may harm those people who choose to identify as a different gender. For example, a biological male who identifies as female may not go and have a prostate exam. Or, if they do, the reality of the situation may cause them distress because they have been denying their male biology for so long.

    In answer to your last question, yes, we should keep the current definitions of biological sex. And, yes, people should be free to create as many words as they want to define their gender identity. However, personal language preferences should not be imposed on the rest of society. Indeed, being compelled to use certain words (e.g. you may lose or be hounded out of your job if you don’t comply) is what the majority of people (including myself) object to.

  2. “personal language preferences should not be imposed on the rest of society.”

    Indeed. How dare someone refer to me as a cismale when I self-identify as male?

  3. Yes, that’s another thing, the compulsion is only one way (their way!). Most people live and let live, but the philosophy of the gender language police is to demand we obey their personal preferences on pain of financial ruination.

  4. I agree that this is a very sensible, well-written and logical article that restates facts that we all know but that some people want us to forget.

    Unfortunately, the author is “preaching to the converted”. I imagine all readers of The Hectator are members of the “reality-based community” and amenable to reason.

    And that’s the root of the trouble. The people who think otherwise believe that they can make up their own facts and impose them on the rest of us. And they claim that facts, logic, and mathematics are all tools of the male hierarchy/white supremacist establishment/conspiracy of your choice.

  5. I don’t think the phrase “identify *as*” was around much a few decades ago. You might identify someone or something: you’re the copper who arrested me last week, that’s the cube root of 3.

    As for “identify as”, that doesn’t have much practical use, absent some context. If you were asked “who are you?”, at a wine and cheese do, you might say Carl, a soil-scientist, or Dominic, a specialist in Thucydides, or the bloke who has to clean the room up — a conversation might ensue. It would be a bit mad to say you were a trans-woman, an IC1 male, or a featherless biped. These might be useful when recruited for a police line-up, or when abducted to another planet in a flying saucer.

  6. It’s they way the post-postmodernists speak. “Speaking as a trans-genderqueer attack helicopter of color, …”, because your argument is judged by whether your set of oppression olympics cards trumps everyone else, rather than whether it has any merit.

  7. Plaudits to Eva — good article.

    When I see things about the gender fascists, it always makes me think about the growing unrepayable National Debt; about the unsustainable trade imbalances; about the inadequately-educated young people emerging from our schools; about the furious pace of government money-printing.

    Western societies face real, imminent existential threats which require difficult choices and painful actions if we are to survive. Instead, these people want us to waste our time on trivia.

    One thing is for sure — the Hard Rain that is inevitably coming will wash away the trans-gendered, along with a whole lot else.

  8. Years of corrupted education, thanks mainly to Common Purpose, have confused the young, giving them inadequate points of reference for their understanding of self.
    It’s not really their fault, as they have never been taught to think for themselves, only to parrot these false ideas without background knowledge.
    The subject of the article is, for most readers of Hector’s blog, stating the blindingly obvious, but is unlikely to be understood by those I describe, as they’ll stop reading at the first “trigger word” (whatever that really means), then dismiss the whole article as it’s ticked some box or other in their inner confusion.

  9. And now BBC want to spend 100 million on diversity when all the current reports show they are either at or exceeding diversity based on % of population.
    Pretty soon the HR system will need a mainframe to run the calculations and there will be a whole industry in how to game your CV/Resume to pick up bonus points for hiring.

  10. P123: “… there will be a whole industry in how to game your CV/Resume to pick up bonus points for hiring.”

    Piece of cake! These days, it is acceptable (untouchable, even) to self-identify. Once we all self-identify as Differently-Abled Black Palestinian Transgendered Lesbian Single Mothers, hiring will have to be based on track-record and demonstrated competence — just like in the old days before Political Correctness.

  11. Cis is Latin for ‘this side’; trans is Latin for ‘the other side’.

    Hence Cis-Alpine Gaul was northern Italy; Trans-Alpine Gaul was what now is France, Germany, Switzerland.

    There are therefore three places Cis-Alpine Gaul, the Alpine region, Trans-Alpine Gaul.

    If there is Cis-Gender and Trans-Gender, then there must be a ‘sex’, ‘Gender’. Therefore three types of Human Beings.

    Where/what is Gender? What does a Gender person look like?

  12. Very thought-provoking article. Interesting that when asked on a form if I’m male or female, I’ve always thought the heading should ask for gender, as in m/f, not sex as in act of procreation. There’s a huge change in our language use already.
    I just see people as people, I can’t abide tribalism from any gender or colour.
    I do find the PC stuff extremely tiresome but I’m not one of the minority groups concerned, so I don’t know how it affects them and I’m not in much of a position to comment.

    However, I knew a woman, then in her 40s with two teenage boys, who decided to turn into a man. That was 25 years ago. Before s/he told me what s/he was doing, I didn’t even know that was possible. I remember how thrilled he was to have his vagina replaced by a penis. Then I remember how much bitchiness and backbiting he encountered in his local transgender group. I was shocked by their lack of solidarity and mutual support.

    Two years ago, the son of an old friend decided he was really a she. He was in his early 20s and I went to his/her sister’s 21st party. S/he’d always been a bit of an oddball, very studious and rather introverted. S/he was accompanied by a girlfriend of suspiciously masculine height and build and s/he looked asolutely radiant. S/he was more extrovert than I’d ever seen. I was happy for him/her and more concerned that s/he’d simultaneously decided to go vegan – a dangerous option for someone hoping to undergo extreme hormone therapy and maybe surgery.

    Recently, my 13 year-old granddaughter told me a schoolfriend, who exhibits some extreme attention-seeking behaviour, had declared that she wasn’t comfortable in her body and might in fact be a boy.

    With my older friend, who’d had years to decide, I was happy for him. We lost touch but I hope his bitchy friend problems resolved and he is now happy.
    In the latter cases, I see two things going on. One, a desire to be different from the mainstream, while part of a tribe. It’s basic coming-of age stuff.
    Two, cultism. My friend’s son’s change coincided with the huge EAT-Lancet push, when veganism became an aggressive cult movement, especially among the young.

    I do understand that many people feel dysgendered, if that’s a word. However, I also wonder if the sudden mushrooming of these cases has been partly triggered by confusion due to all the hormones that currently pollute our water and food supplies. Just a thought.

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