Science! It Is Getting Everywhere

While I was having a go at the New Statesman over their lack of understanding of biology, people with far more knowledge of the subject than me were also beavering away on articles.

You have probably already seen this article in Nature, if only because John Scalzi blogged about it. Truly, biology is far more weird and wonderful than most of us can imagine.

I’d also recommend this follow-up piece by Vanessa Heggie in the Guardian (science pages, of course, where being nice to trans people is allowed). It points out, quite rightly, that all this is by no means new. One of the mentions goes to Anne Fausto-Sterling whose work was the basis for Melissa Scott’s novel, Shadow Man.

Something that was new to me from that article was the work of Keith L Moore who proposes a nine-axis definition of sexual identity, those components being external genital appearance, internal reproductive organs, structure of the gonads, endocrinologic sex, genetic sex, nuclear sex, chromosomal sex, psychological sex and social sex. I need to check out what some of those mean, but at a first glance it appears that trans women would count as female on only four out of nine, which would inevitably lead to people saying, “Less that half”! See, science proves you are not female!!!”

Then again, I am prepared to forgive Moore a lot for saying this:

Females have been declared ineligible for athletic competition for no other apparent reason than the presence of an extra chromosome…[these tests] cannot be used as indicators of ‘true sex’

Oh how Germaine Greer must hate him.

By the way, as Roz pointed out on Twitter yesterday, science is generally held by RadFems to be an Evil Patriarchal Plot (remember this?) except when it can be twisted to “prove” that trans women are men.

While I’m here, I’d also like to point you at a recent letter to the Guardian attacking Stonewall’s decision to support trans people. I’m often asked why some gay and lesbian people hate trans folk. This brings up some of the issues. In particular there’s this:

Pressure groups are usually single-issue institutions, and this is true of Stonewall and other gay and bisexual charities: the issue being the acceptance of same sex attraction as not being a disease of body nor an illness of the mind. This has been the central platform for the acceptance of all gay rights.

Transsexualism is defined as the disjunction between a mind of one sex and the body of another, a physical or a mental dysmorphia between gender and physical sex, requiring a cure – surgery. This is the opposite of everything that LGB groups, and feminist groups, have been fighting for…

The implication here, of course, is that trans people are sick, whereas same sex attraction is “normal”. And of course the writer claims that this is not a “transphobic” idea, presumably because he thinks it is a “fact”.

The main problem with this is that by no means all trans people either want or need medical intervention. Fighting for trans rights is first and foremost about the right to not have to conform to binary gender roles. That’s an issue that lots of LGB people ought to be able to get behind.

Secondly, what medical options are offered to trans people (by responsible doctors, not by Bindel and her pals) are not intended to stop people being trans, but are quite the opposite. I quite understand the fear that older LGB people have of “cures”, because the sorts of things they remember with horror are still done to trans people. However, there is a huge difference between medical treatment intended to support someone’s sense of self, and medical treatment intended to destroy that identity. I don’t think that support for trans people is the slippery slope that the letter writer fears it might be.

What we should be doing is not trying to claim that one group of people is “normal” while others are “sick”, but to move away from the stigmatization of people who require some medical intervention to get on with their lives happily.

Intersectionality, it is about understanding that other people’s oppression is just as real to them as yours is to you.