I received my first comment today on my sweet, innocent JK Rowling, Wrong. I was thrilled, until I read the comment. The poster seemed to have read only the topic of the post, and none of the text. He rejected my analogy of Obama’s election of a black identity as a biracial man as a parallel to giving transgender people a right to define their own sex/gender.
I use this sex/gender here didactically. While the original meaning of sex vs. gender was that sex referred to biology, or genotype, and gender referred to social identity, or phenotype, the two are bandied about in discourse to the point where they are effectively interchangeable. Yes, I could say that tonight, “I’m feeling gay,” to describe my enthusiasm and positive attitude, but few people would take my meaning that I was using the term to mean gleeful, carefree.
Now, I would have allowed his comment to be posted, if he hadn’t used an anti-trans slur in its writing. The comments are an invitation to civil discourse, and if you won’t leave your firearms at the door, you can’t enter the town hall.
What he was insisting was that race is a real, genetically imparted identity, and so should be respected; a person can have a black mother and a white father. If he’d taken the time to consider my discussion of mitochondrial DNA and its implications for our understanding of race, he would realize that defining race into black/white/asian/hispanic/other categories is reductive, and many racial groups share far more genetic similarity than the outmoded science of 50 years ago would indicate.
He then essentially cut and pasted JK Rowling’s arguments into the comment box, stating that genitals make the man or woman, and that inborn intersexuality was so rare as to be beneath consideration.
My counter would be, you really know who’s intersex and who’s not? You know for certain that your youth pastor wasn’t born with a micropenis, and his children were conceived through in vitro fertilization? You know that 5’4″, musclebound Anton killing it on the squat rack didn’t start life as Amy?
While each of the disorders I mentioned are exceedingly rare, the total number of people affected by all of them constitutes a much more substantial minority. And, as I explained in the essay, that’s just the conditions where we understand what’s going on. We as medical scientists do not fully understand the development of a person’s gender/sexual identity, and there can be a world of determining factors at work. For this reason, it is fully appropriate to give deference to the individual when determining their designation.
Here would have been my replay: “Nice try, JK Rowling! I read your essay the first time, you don’t need to quote it for me!”