In a recent blog post, Gia Milinovich responds to some of the heat she’s received for a panel she chaired for SohoSkeptics on gender. Though I don’t doubt Gia is well intentioned, her post is unfortunately filled to the brim with many misconceptions about gender stemming from what appears to be an adherence to a biological essentialist understanding of sex/gender.

This post is meant to bring attention to the ways that essentialism creeps into discourses of gender. I will not spend much time addressing the harm that this kind of thinking does to trans* and intersex people because they do a fine job speaking for themselves (for example, see Zinnia Jones’ Twitter feed for October 22). Rather, I am going to take a more pedagogical approach to Gia’s post in an effort to dispel some common essentialist misconceptions about sex/gender and biology/culture.

Let’s start with definitions, which is as good of a place to start as any in this discussion. Gia wrote:

One of the big problems, as I see it, is the conflation of the terms ‘sex’ and ‘gender’. Technically and non-controversially, they mean two different things.

Right off the bat, here is a major problem. These definitions of sex and gender are not “non-controversial” at all. Both terms are contested and have various meanings depending upon context. This pretense of scientific objectivity (read: unbiased and uninfluenced by culture) serves as a linchpin for the essentialist position.

The definition Gia chose for sex is a genetic essentialist binary definition, categorizing female as “XX and [having] ovaries” and male as “XY and [having] testes.” She goes on to elaborate this definition to bring in secondary sex characteristics, and the definition she cites correctly states that “secondary sex characteristics are usually determined by hormones secreted from the gonads.” This is an important part of the definition that Gia ignores for the rest of her post (every time she comes back to defining sex, it is always a definition from chromosomes). The second part of this definition makes it pretty obvious that there is more to being “male” or “female” than just XX or XY chromosomes (not to mention that not all sexually differentiated species are sexed due to XX and XY chromosomes—in some species, genes don’t even play a role); hormones play a large role in shaping sex traits in humans. In fact, there are multiple criteria when determining a person’s sex, including chromosomes, genital morphology, gonads, hormones, and secondary sex characteristics. And sometimes these criteria don’t all line up with Euroamerican understandings of binary sex.

The “non-controversial” definition of gender Gia cites from the World Health Organization is a circular definition based on the idea of gender as a social construction. It is circular because it essentially reads as “we know what men/women are because they take on the roles and attributes of men/women.” This definition is highly problematic in that it requires us to know what man/woman means in order to define gender, which is what tells us what man/woman means.

So, right from the start, there are issues with the definitions that Gia completely overlooks (and later in the post dismisses). By taking these definitions at face value—by not being skeptical of how they’re constructed and where they come from (for example, it is no coincidence that we are seeing biological essentialism in Gia’s post when her definitions are from biological and biomedical sources), Gia is unfortunately reproducing essentialist understandings of sex/gender.

Gia goes on:

During the panel, I tried to use the words Male and Female when talking about sex and Woman and Man when talking about gender. Again, we are mammals. There are Male and Female marmosets and Male and Female humans. There aren’t, of course, Woman and Man marmosets. One is biology, one is culture.

What I find problematic about this particular rhetoric is that it depends upon a strict separation between biology (or “nature”) and culture, something anthropologists have been arguing against for years. For Gia, it is obvious that nature and culture are clearly divided because that’s a common (and mostly unquestioned) cultural narrative in Enlightenment societies. Thus, when Gia says:

The Male and Female categories don’t vary around the world.

That’s is not actually true. The male/female categorical distinction as Gia has defined it is not a distinction that is made universally in all cultures. In fact, to make such a claim is projecting Euroamerican beliefs about sex/gender onto other sex/gender systems while simultaneously making the implicit claim that our way of viewing sex/gender is the “one true way.” Further, this is a perfect example of the social construction of sex, which Gia says later in the post that she does not understand. Sex as a biological category—as all ontological categories—is socially constructed. This is not to deny the materiality and reality of bodies; rather, it is to distinguish the meanings and senses we make of bodies from the bodies themselves.

It is also a myopic understanding of biology. Gia says, “A Female baby born in the US will have the same biology as a Female baby born in Saudi Arabia.” (As an aside, Gia rightly notes early in her post that it’s important for us to be as accurate as possible with our language, so I find it quite troublesome that her wording is so sloppy here.) I’m going to assume that what Gia means here is not that their biology is actually the same, but that their sex characteristics are the same. But is this true? Maybe. Maybe not. Humans are not all the same, and people’s biologies vary for many reasons. Just because two people are born with XX chromosomes does not mean their biology—or their sex—is the same.

After the recording of the panel went up and people started criticizing it, Gia said sarcastically in response to them”

“Yes, I am a bigot because I like to stick with the scientific definition of ‘sex’…”

I wish Gia would take a step back and try to gain some insight into why people are angry about the essentialism she is espousing. What should be obvious to anyone who has done any studying about trans* and intersex issues (which Gia says she has done) is that there is a tense and troublesome history between medical scientists and people with non-normative bodies and identities.

Now, I don’t know Gia at all, but I’m going to give her the benefit of the doubt and assume she’s not a bigot. So, it seems to me that the right thing to do is to try to step back and understand why trans* people are angry with her. With a little more sensitivity to history, she might better understand why the fact that science defines something in a particular way doesn’t necessarily hold much sway in many people’s lives, and in fact many people have been treated like complete shit “in the name of science.” Science is not the be-all-end-all of definition deciders, and claiming that because something is defined a certain way by scientists that it is therefore de facto correct sounds an awful lot like an argument from authority to me.

sex is binaryAs I previously mentioned, Gia admits confusion as to why people claim that biological sex is a social construction. Ironically, her post is a perfect example of how sex is a social construction. She discusses the presence of intersex people in her post, and yet she stubbornly insists that sex is a strict binary rather than recognizing the diverse variation in human biology. The insistence that sex is binary—all people are either male or female, intersex be damned!—is a socially constructed understanding of bodies because it seeks to make sense of bodies by placing them into socioculturally determined categories. The fact is that the two-sex system is a historically recent and culturally specific understanding of sex grounded in the Enlightenment.

Both sex and gender are assigned at birth or earlier usually based on genitals (not chromosomes!). Gia argues that the declaration of an infant’s sex (she denies that gender is assigned, something I address below) has no bearing on how that baby is gendered. But this flies in the face of the experiences of myriad intersex people. For example, intersex people born with “ambiguous genitalia” are often subjected to invasive and life-altering surgeries as infants in order to fit their bodies into the sex binary constructed by biomedical science. This is another example of the social construction of sex.

When a physician decides that the genitals of a newborn need to be altered to fit into either the “male” or “female” category, that is usually not done because it is a medical emergency. It is a social emergency. It is a response to the horror of a body existing that cannot be easily sorted into a category. Contrary to Gia’s claim, it is telling people what sorts of gendered activities they should engage in because these surgeries are done with the aim of bringing bodies in line with normative understandings of gender (e.g., “how will she have sex if she does not have a vaginal hole for a penis?”, which makes the assumption that she will be a heterosexual woman). This is because sex and gender, while used to categorize different phenomena, are inseparable from one another. A claim that gender does not inform our understandings of sex, or that bodies do not influence the way we gender others, is a claim made in ignorance of how intimately connected sex and gender are in Euroamerican societies. It is based on a false sense of a clear dividing line between nature/biology and culture.

I’ve written before about the pervasive myth that human biology/nature can be disentangled from culture. Part of the underlying belief behind this myth is that culture is completely separate from (or alternatively built on top of) biology, rather than that they are co-constructive or that culture shapes biology. Belief in this narrative is quite obviously presented in Gia’s post, particularly in how she sees gender as acquired through “conditioning” rather than as something people do that is informed by beliefs about biology, nature, and bodies (among other things).

There is no “gender assigned at birth”. Gender is acquired by constant social conditioning that starts immediately after birth… but isn’t an inevitability at birth.

But this statement begs the question: How does gender “conditioning” begin “immediately after birth” if it is not assigned to a person? How, exactly, do infants begin being gendered if they lack the cognitive and linguistic abilities to express the gender that they would like to identify with? Gender is assigned by those who are aware of the sexed body, and thus begins the process of becoming enculturated into a certain gender system. Gia misunderstands what “assigned at birth” means—it is not a way of saying gender is an inevitability; rather, it is a way of categorizing a body and establishing expectations for how that body should be interacted with.

Gia’s discussion of the trans/cis binary does bring up some interesting points about the ways that strict adherence to binaries seeks to stick people into categories with which they do not identify. I have written on the tension I experience myself with this binary when it comes to my own identity. But I find that Gia is arguing out of both sides of her mouth here: She is arguing that the trans/cis binary is a false dichotomy (I agree) while simultaneously insisting that the male/female binary is not only accurate, but immutable. I think it’s important to ask: what are the motivations behind this stance? That’s not something I or anyone else can answer for Gia, but it’s an important question that she should consider.

Thus we come to the transphobic portion of the post that reads as if it came straight out of a radfem manifesto. Gia writes:

When someone decides to “change their sex”- the “surgical and hormonal techniques” mentioned above- they aren’t actually changing their biological sex, they are cosmetically changing their outward appearance. Just like someone who dyes their brunette hair blonde and has to keep dying it because their actual hair colour is brown, if they were born an XY Male, they don’t ever, ever become an XX Female no matter what hormones they take or surgery they have or how long they live as a Woman. They just don’t. To think about it a different way, an XY Male with Duchenne Muscular Dystrophy or Hemophilia or colour blindness is not going to be “cured” by having sex reassignment surgery.

 

Stating that XY Males never become XX Females is not a value judgement on their trans* status at all. It is not bigotry. It is biology. And being a genetic Male doesn’t necessarily mean that someone is or, more importantly, should be a stereotypical Man, nor does it say they should be any kind of a Man at all.

Here, Gia is espousing a belief in the immutability of biology, and of sex in particular. This belief is based on a false equivalence of biology with genetics. If you notice, the argument Gia makes above is that biology is not changeable because a person’s chromosomes do not change when they undergo SRS. If you buy into the genetic determinist definition of sex that she provided, this makes sense. However, as I’ve already explained, chromosomes are not the only (or even most important) factor in determining a person’s sex. If we consider sex more broadly to include hormones, gonads, genital morphology, and secondary sex characteristics, then it is absolutely possible to change a person’s sex. Comparing SRS to cosmetic changes such as dying one’s hair as well as comparing it to various diseases and disorders are not only a bad analogies, it’s insensitive and hurtful to trans* people.

It’s no wonder that people are angry with Gia when she says things like that. Or like this: After posting a photograph of a group of women with AIS, she goes on to ask of intersex people:

So, why is it deemed perfectly acceptable to say that women with AIS are “genetically male”, but not say that transgender women are “genetically male”?

The answer is that it’s not deemed perfectly acceptable to say that women with AIS are genetically male. If you look at the link I provided to the Intersex Society of North America, you will notice that they never refer to people with AIS as “genetically male.” That’s actually quite insulting to many intersex people. It’s based once again on a genetically reductionist definition of sex. The women in that picture have what appear to be female bodies based on secondary sex characteristics (one of the many characteristics used to define sex), so why does Gia insist that it is their chromosomes that are determinative of their sex rather than their secondary sex characteristics? What is it about chromosomes that is the be-all-end-all for sex in Gia’s mind? This is a stance that Gia has not attempted to defend, but rather she simply takes for granted that genes are the most important aspect of a person’s biology.

Perhaps this is due to the way that biomedical science has gone about defining sex/gender (and more often than not they conflate the two with no recognition of the role of culture in either one) and the fact that many skeptics ironically unquestioningly accept information from scientific sources. Gia is completely dependent upon “scientific”/biomedical definitions of sex/gender, which are actually usually not defined through rigorous scientific work but from assumptions made by researchers based on Euroamerican cultural beliefs (when they seek to define the terms at all).

As this post is already quite long, I’m going to skip the rest of the transphobic stuff towards the end of her post and leave that to others to address (please feel free to leave links or to take apart her arguments yourself in the comments!). But I do want to address one last thing that really chaps my ass, and is something that I see a lot of skeptics do.

She closes the article with this:

There is a reality – in this case Biology (Sex) – that exists outside of our experience of the world- Culture (Gender). One is a real, measurable, testable thing. The other is… culture. Like with Science and Religion, there is no conflict between them as long as the proponents of the cultural creation don’t insist that it explains reality.

This is a facepalm-worthy misunderstanding of culture. Culture is just as much a part of being human as biology is. In fact, it is impossible to disentangle culture from human activity. Our biology does not exist outside of our experience of the world—we experience the world with and through our bodies. Culture is not just some imaginary shared delusion that has no impact on our lives. Culture is a real process that has profound effects not only on our own biology but also on the environment and the global ecosystem within which we exist. And many aspects of culture are measurable and testable—just look at economics!

All explanations of reality—including science—are cultural. They utilize language and involve processes of shared meaning making. This is a frustratingly common belief amongst skeptics, that somehow explanations of reality are the same thing as the reality they are describing. But that’s simply not the case. And that’s what’s wrong with the above statement from Gia. She is using a “cultural creation” (science and biomedicine) to explain reality while simultaneously telling us not to do exactly that. Until essentialists acknowledge the myriad ways that their culture seeps into their constructions of sex/gender, we will keep having these same arguments over and over.

Featured image from Beatrice the Biologist’s blog.

Will

Will

Will is the admin of Queereka, part of the Skepchick network. They are a cultural/medical anthropologist who works at the intersections of sex/gender, sexuality, health, and education. Their other interests include politics, science studies, popular culture, and public perceptions and understandings of anthropology. Follow them on Twitter at @anthrowill and Facebook at facebook.com/anthrowill.

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30 Comments

  1. Profile photo of Mankoi
    October 23, 2013 at 4:51 pm —

    I think I can understand the reasoning behind some of Gia’s arguments, which is not to say it justifies them at all. But I can also see why they’d be pervasive problems in a skeptical community.

    For one thing, the intersection between culture and science isn’t, generally speaking, something skeptics are comfortable with. I think (speaking from my own discomfort) it’s a result of dealing with, and thinking about, the anti-science crowd. I can already see, in my mind’s eye, people arguing how we should teach evolution alongside creationism, because science is culturally affected. Obviously this is a rubbish argument, but I think constant struggle with the anti-science crowd can make us more likely to be overly defensive about scientific flaws and assumptions. Again, I base this mostly off my own defensive reactions.

    I also think there’s a lot of reactionism against things that no one is actually saying. There’s a bit of a knee jerk reaction to defend people who are (supposedly) making objective statements, particularly doctors. For example, I don’t really consider myself to have been assigned a sex at birth, because I was born with fairly unambiguous genitalia. If the doctor who delivered me had assigned me female at birth, it would have been perfectly reasonable to someone to look over his shoulder and say “No, man. That’s a penis.” So from my position, there’s an objective sex. But that’s a privileged position that doesn’t take into account the experiences and realities of people who were born with ambiguous genitalia, and who were assigned genders. As far as I know, I don’t think anyone is arguing that there’s no such thing as unambiguous genitalia. But, when I hear arguments about sex being vague, non-binary, and… well assigned, a part of me feels that they are arguing against unambiguous genitalia, because that’s my experience. I think a lot of the downright insistence on binary gender comes from that kind of privileged perspective. I think it’s also part of the natural response of people to relate things to themselves. We’re very self-centered people. So I think when a cis-gendered person is told that sex is culturally affected, there’s that knee jerk response to respond that sex is objective, without realizing that doesn’t hold true for everyone else. It’s the same issue men have with feminism, where they (myself included) want to make it about them.

    That’s my understanding of the mental processes behind these arguments anyway. I don’t know if it represents Gia’s own thought processes or not, but I wouldn’t be surprised if they were fairly typical.

    • Profile photo of Veronica
      October 23, 2013 at 7:27 pm —

      I don’t think you understand what “assigned sex” means. If the doctor assigned you a sex based on the penis alone, he IS making an assumption. Arguably within relatively good statistical probability of being right, but still guessing.

      • Profile photo of Mankoi
        October 24, 2013 at 10:27 pm —

        Apologies, I think my statement was poorly worded. And I also admit I am not well versed on any gender theories. Hence why the most I can do is comment on the train of thought that can lead to some of the iffier ideas in Gia’s post, as I have similar reactions that I at least try to be aware of and examine.

        What I mean to say is that, I’ve had issue with the term “gender assigned” because, in my personal case, I wasn’t really assigned a gender. Like you said, a doctor guessed at my sex (what the exact criteria were, I don’t know, I don’t exactly remember it). In legal terms he may have assigned a sex, but the actual sex I have has nothing to do with what I was assigned. He could have assigned my sex as female, but my actual sex still would have been male. Because I was born with non-ambiguous genitalia, and did not have any surgeries done to try and fit me into one sex or another, I didn’t really have a sex assigned. I had my sex described, certainly, and that description was legally and socially significant.

        Or, to put it closer to what I believe I was originally trying to say, I could, hypothetically, have been assigned female at birth, but, because I lie at the extreme end of a continuum in terms of gender, that guess would have been incorrect, and later in life, when I continued to have male sexed genitalia, as well as male sexed secondary sexual characteristics, you could say with a high degree of confidence that I was, in fact, male sexed, regardless of the original description, and it would be somewhat silly to argue I was female sexed.

        • Profile photo of Will
          October 24, 2013 at 11:26 pm —

          We cannot make sense of the sexed body without using language. So, in order for your sex to be “described” (a performative utterance that actually has the effect of producing sex–in other words, the act of “describing” by the physician is actually what first assigned a sex to your body, and from there you have continued to performatively re-produce your sex–even in this very comment thread), there has to be a system in place that makes it possible. That system–our cultural beliefs about what constitutes a typical “male” and “female” body–is always already gendered (and, as an aside, there’s plenty of evidence pointing to how scientists describe human biology in heavily gendered ways).

          Had the physician not assigned a sex to your body, others (e.g., your kin) would have. But there is nothing inevitable about having testes that makes you male. That is simply one attribute that we often associate with bodies we categorize as male, but there are females who have testes (and XY chromosomes). Further, had the physician assigned the label “female” to your body, you would have come to reject that label and re-assigned yourself a sex that is congruent with your identity (as is the case with many trans* people). Either way, it’s still an assignment; and calling it a description supposes an innate, pre-discursive categorical identity that simply does not exist.

          Essentially, the argument is that there is no “actual sex” outside of what is assigned to you (that you then take on as an identity, or in other people’s cases reject) because sex itself is an assigned category based on the various traits that have been enumerated in multiple places in this post and in the comments. Thus, sex is not an immutable biological trait, but a category used to make sense of bodies. Again, this is not to deny the materiality of the body or to say that there’s no such thing as biology; rather, it is to point out how the category is becoming confused with the various traits it is describing.

          • Profile photo of Mankoi
            October 25, 2013 at 1:05 am

            See, I would say a general, and fuzzy set of traits is assigned male or female, and then a person is described using those terms. Colour, for example, is completely culturally defined. It’s all just various wavelengths, and some cultures may even have more colour types, or fewer than other cultures. So, we assign a fuzzy set of wavelengths to be green, and a similar fuzzy set to be blue. Now if I say to you that my bag is greenish, I haven’t assigned it any specific wavelength. It could be any number of different wavelengths, or combinations of wavelengths that have been assigned to the category green. I’ve described it as being in a general set. You might feel the bag is more accurately described as being part of the blue set, because there’s a fair deal of overlap. Assigning a colour to the bag means it is either one colour or the other, which is contrary to reality. Describing it as a colour means it is similar to a general set, which it is.

            Perhaps we do assign people a sex, by saying they must be one or the other. I dislike the term for exactly that reason. Assigning someone a sex treats sex like a clearcut distinction. A description allows for something to not fit firmly in a category, but be similar too. We treat sex like an assignment, when it’s really a description.

            Of course, my definition of define vs describe has always been that one has an action behind it, and one does not. If I describe someone as having red hair, their hair fits inside a general culturally understood set of wavelengths we call red. If I assign someone red hair, I’m dyeing their hair to make it closer to that set of wavelengths. If I run an experiment to look for differences between males and females, I can only describe the participants as being male or female. I can’t assign them to a group. Not ethically anyway. Now, did we assign groups to have certain traits? Sure. The groups green, blue, male, and female are empty words until we alter them by giving them traits.

          • Profile photo of Will
            October 25, 2013 at 3:02 pm

            Mankoi, being similar to a general set doesn’t mean that there is something inevitable about sets being described in the ways that they are. In other words, there is nothing inevitable about light at 550nm that is green. The light at 550nm has a certain shape of wavelength, for sure, but that we assign “green” to that wavelength is not a given.

            Further, if we are Himba, we may not assign “green” to that wavelength, but “blue” (or, at least, the English equivalent of those colors) because we perceive it differently. So, again, it seems to me that you are confusing the categorization for the thing itself. You haven’t addressed how something can be “described” in a cultureless way. And, I would argue, description is a form of assigning meaning to things, so in essence I don’t think the distinction you’re trying to make is useful.

            Perhaps we do assign people a sex, by saying they must be one or the other. I dislike the term for exactly that reason. Assigning someone a sex treats sex like a clearcut distinction.

            You’re absolutely right, it is a problem. Which is why gender theorists criticize it. I’m not advocating that assigning sex at birth is a good thing–I’m arguing that it is what produces our sense of sex as immutable and inevitable.

            A description allows for something to not fit firmly in a category, but be similar too. We treat sex like an assignment, when it’s really a description.

            I disagree, obviously, because I do not see sex as something that exists before language. It is not a description because the act of talking about it produces it. (Again, this is not to say that language creates bodies; rather, language affects how we interact with bodies, which affects how bodies develop. It’s not that language brings chromosomes into existence–it’s that our ideas of what chromosomes means shapes how we identify and interact with bodies regardless of whether or not we actually know a person’s karyotype.)

            my definition of define vs describe has always been that one has an action behind it, and one does not. If I describe someone as having red hair, their hair fits inside a general culturally understood set of wavelengths we call red. If I assign someone red hair, I’m dyeing their hair to make it closer to that set of wavelengths.

            That is an…odd distinction to make. Definitions are descriptions in my view, they are just an attempt to standardize a description. Still, the category “red hair” is making a discrete category out of something that is not a discrete trait.

            Anyway, this is starting to feel like a semantic argument rather than an argument about the substance of my critiques.

    • Profile photo of Will
      October 23, 2013 at 7:50 pm —

      Have to agree with Veronica here.

      The reason ambiguous genitalia is often brought up when discussing how sex/gender are assigned at birth is because it highlights the ways that the assignment can be problematic. It goes unnoticed and seems natural (this is what we call the naturalization of culture in anthropology, where cultural practices are so hegemonic that they feel natural rather than cultural) when the assignment fits (or mostly fits) with the normative expectations. Whether or not you agree with the way sex/gender was assigned to you is irrelevant to the point that it was assigned to you.

  2. Profile photo of stagamancer
    October 23, 2013 at 6:09 pm —

    If someone says they understand biology and then argues about the reality of strictly defined classifications, they do not understand biology. All of life exists on a continuum. Hell, life and non-life exist on the same chemical continuum. Scientist create categories in order to make things easier to study. For example, community ecologists (of which I’m one) categorize organisms into species and then study how these species interact. Sometimes, we find out that what we thought of as one species would actually better be understood as multiple species and vice versa. It takes time, but generally we reclassify, and move on with a better understanding of the system. But what people forget all the time (including and especially scientists) is that these classifications were created by humans in the first place! Is there solid biology behind it? Of course! But they are still human creations about which the organisms themselves gives zero shits: “You say tigers and lions are different species? Well here’s a liger, good day.”

    So, you can try to more easily understand humans by classifying them as two sexes defined by the type of gamete they produce, their chromosomes, their genitalia, etc. But this only gets you so far. Human biology is just a varied as animal and plant biology, and of course you will find people between categories! What do you do then, just lump them into your old system? Do you create new categories? Maybe you completely revamp the system… The point is, biology is messy (almost as messy as psychology), and stomping your feet about rigidly defined biological classifications is basically the same as being the kind of person who tells people when they should use whom or gets mad about the misuse of less and fewer. Get over it.

  3. Profile photo of Will
    October 23, 2013 at 8:14 pm —

    Something I left out of the post that occurred to me earlier today: if we go with Gia’s definition of sex as chromosomal, then the vast majority of people do not know their sex. I have never had chromosomal testing done, I do not know what chromosomes I have. It is an assumption that is made about my body since I am a male-bodied person that I have an X and a Y chromosome. This is another reason a strictly genetic definition of sex–or even a definition based on chromosomes and gonads alone–is not sufficient. The whole premise of a strict definition of sex based on chromosomes and genitals is not only false, it flies in the face of our everyday experiences with our own bodies and the bodies of others.

    • Profile photo of Veronica
      October 23, 2013 at 8:26 pm —

      That is a point I have made a few times, and people just go “huh?” The idea that XY is male and XX is female is so deeply ingrained in our semi-educated culture that people think it follows directly from penis or vagina. A significant portion of male-bodied people have an XXY combination that will often lead to incomplete masculinisation to some degree or another. There is also partial androgen insensitivity that may lead to incomplete masculinisation.

  4. Profile photo of skeith
    October 23, 2013 at 10:15 pm —

    I understand the impulse to separate gender and (biological) sex. Gender assignment is so pervasive, so ingrained in our culture, and sooooo many people have no issue whatsoever with the gender they were assigned at birth, that it’s hard to fight the conditioning we all get that there is something fundamental and immutable about one’s gender. Separating gender into “gender” and “sex” allows one to continue to rest on that foundation while simultaneously allowing for a (related) category that is permitted to be mutable, socially-created and -enforced, and which is permitted to be questioned.

    Personally I don’t agree with the separation and never have, and I especially don’t agree with it if chromosomes are the sole determinant of one’s sex. I mean, epigenetic inheritance is a thing. And Wolbachia is a bacterium that infects insects and which skews the sex ratio in the favor of female offspring. Species tend to go parthenogenetic because the bacterium selects (extremely strongly) against males, and is capable of biochemically changing the insects to permit asexual reproduction. If a species hasn’t gone too far down that path it can be restored to sexual reproduction via cleaning out the bacterium with antibiotics. It’s perfectly possible for a species to be =genetically= sexual but =in reality= asexual. Why should we assume that genetics is the all-powerful ruler of biology in human beings when it is clearly not so in all cases? If a premise cannot be proven to be true in =all= cases, then it cannot be part of the foundation of any later argument which supposes to make statements about =all= cases. All that can be said about genetics ? sex is that it is true =most= of the time. But from that position, there’s no particular reason to separate gender from sex at all, because it is equally true that genetics ? gender =most= of the time.

    I would prefer to think of gender as a construct with many aspects. Genetics plays a role. Genetic =expression= is much more important. Pre-natal development plays a role, with all of the interplay between genetic and environmental factors that entails. A baby thereby lands in the world with a particular phenotype. Culture has a significant impact, and there is strong interplay between culture and phenotype; culture chooses how to categorize the various phenotypes, including the choice of what categories to create, and then imposes certain expectations on individuals based on that categorization. In return, people (who are fitted into various categories) influence culture on what =should= be expected of people fitted into the various categories (their own and others). Culture exists within, creates and is created by, the scaffolding of the many faces of power. Gender has aspects that encompass all of these things. I’m not sure why we should categorize the different aspects of gender into “gender” versus “sex,” especially without looking at why we elected to use these particular categories in the first place and how we choose to slot various aspects of gender into each of them.

  5. Profile photo of Tom Foss
    October 24, 2013 at 2:21 pm —

    I notice that Milinovich’s post never mentions people with Turner Syndrome, i.e., people with monosomy X, who only have one sex chromosome. It’s one of several obvious exceptions to the “XX + ovaries = female; XY + testes = male” rule Milinovich outlines in her post.

    I tend to agree with stagamancer and Will: biology defies hard, inflexible definitions, and for any you try to impose, there are exceptions and caveats. And very little of our actual real-world determinations of people’s genders involves karyotyping. Milinovich is making the same kind of errors that we see from anti-science types, confusing definitions and high school-level understandings for reality, and trying to impose nonexistent rules (“evolution can’t produce new information!”) on an uncooperative universe. It’s a shame to see a supposed skeptic making the oh-so-common mistake of thinking that reality is simpler than it actually is, but I guess that’s part of why it’s a common mistake.

  6. Profile photo of crosswordbob
    October 24, 2013 at 2:28 pm —

    For what it’s worth, I don’t believe that gia was suggesting that the definitions used in her piece were noncontroversial:

    Technically and non-controversially, they mean two different things.

    I believe she is correct; it is reasonably noncontroversial to say that gender and sex are different. The specific differences are where the controversy begins.

    • Profile photo of Will
      October 24, 2013 at 5:44 pm —

      That is a distinction without a difference. In essence, you’re saying the argument is that it’s not controversial that they’re different, but it is controversial how they are different. I’m saying, both the definitions she provided, and the idea there are totally clear differences between the two, is not noncontroversial but is rather subject to some significant debate among gender theorists.

      • Profile photo of crosswordbob
        October 24, 2013 at 9:07 pm —

        Sorry, but I have to disagree. You make a great deal from her use of the phrase “non-controversial”, yet it seems clear to me that you are outright misrepresenting the context of that use. Had it been buried in paragraph 13 as a side-note, it might be arguable that it makes little difference, but it was not. She claims that “sex” and “gender” are not identical, and few would disagree with this. She goes on to define how *she* was using the terms, in my view specifically *because* there are no universally agreed definitions. And this is the key: she sets the terminology for the scope of her article *without* prescribing how others should do so; because to do so would bog the entire article down in a morass of jargon. And yes, she leaves intersex conditions outwith the scope of the article, again (in my view) to keep it manageable.

        But at the end of the day, she’s being widely admonished for “incorrect” use of various terms; is it not therefore reasonable to point out where her own words are being misrepresented?

        • Profile photo of Will
          October 24, 2013 at 10:28 pm —

          She claims that “sex” and “gender” are not identical, and few would disagree with this.

          I don’t disagree that the terms sex and gender can have different meanings depending on the context (though some people certainly do not differentiate at all between the two). But I disagree that it is a non-controversial claim just because a lot of people would agree with it. These terms are contested and challenged, especially in the work of Judith Butler (though that’s not the only place). I tend to group them together because I find it very difficult to point to where one ends and the other begins.

          So, yes, I find that the claim that a clear distinction between the two is non-controversial to be incorrect based on my reading of various gender theorists.

          She goes on to define how *she* was using the terms, in my view specifically *because* there are no universally agreed definitions. And this is the key: she sets the terminology for the scope of her article *without* prescribing how others should do so…

          Now who is misrepresenting her words??? She actually does insist that these are prescriptive uses of the terms in the paragraph following the “non-controversial” claim:

          I think it’s very important to be accurate when using these words… something that neither side seems to put enough effort into doing. Female and Woman are different but related labels and the words should be used correctly.

          Emphasis mine. That is certainly a prescriptive decree if I’ve ever seen one!

          But at the end of the day, she’s being widely admonished for “incorrect” use of various terms; is it not therefore reasonable to point out where her own words are being misrepresented?

          She’s being admonished for presenting information as scientific fact when, in reality, it is far from that. I haven’t misrepresented her words because what she claims is simply not true, as I pointed out above.

  7. Profile photo of ursprung
    October 24, 2013 at 5:02 pm —

    Milinovich is not saying that chromosomes are the only aspect that define sex–she is arguing that there is a distinction between sex and gender. And there is. Sure there is overlapping, but the overlapping is cultural. All the evidence of biology given above does not address at all how the social is inflected from this. Thomas Laqueur’s Making Sex very finitely defines the linear development of sex models throughout history and inasmuch as there was once Galen’s one sex model or that we could view sex on a spectrum from hormonal, gonadal and reproductive capacity does not mean that being raised as x or y eliminates the social and cultural imprinting of gender onto the individual and back from the individual to society. Gender is socially mapped out onto the sexed body–correctly or incorrectly sexed body. There is no study to date, no scientific evidence at that, which shows that gender manifests itself from the subject alone as intuition, as a feeling. So when you write “because these surgeries are done with the aim of bringing bodies in line with normative understandings of gender” in referring to intersex persons you are actually agreeing with the spirit of Milinovich’s article. The whole point of many people’s hesitance in this conflation of sex and gender is that nobody feels that they are a gender. We can feel hungry, we can feel sad, we can feel tired. You argue that sex is ontological, and to a degree you are correct. The naming and categorization of that which is born unto the body is social. It is also medical (also informed by the social) which is primarily a domain of understanding the most objective problems of the body and its functioning. However, based on the sex of the body, boys and girls around the world are raised differently, treated differently within their own families, communities, schools and every single structure and individual where they step. This is not evidence that sex is social, but rather evidence that sex is framed within social narratives and as such elicits (based on the sex) certain responses from individuals and societies. (Nota bene: you do not demonstrate anywhere in the planet where the two sex model is not used–I am also an anthropologist and can assure you that in scientific and medical communities around the world male, female and intersex are the models utilized today, right or wrong, not completely accurate but meeting the social needs to differentiate sex in the first place.)

    One thing that women, and I would also add men here, have had to fight against sexism–discrimination against them doing something or behaving a certain way based on their sex (ie. that boys/men are expected to play sports, that girls/women are expected to wash up after the mean). This is what you refer to as the ‘naturalization of culture’–and these are the constraints in which every single one of us operates. The fact remains is that our bodies reveal certain facts upon which gender identity is inscribed each and every moment of our lives. You hedge by saying, “All explanations of reality—including science—are cultural.” This is a lovely dream but it is also patently incorrect. Many explanations of reality are culture, many are personal, others are mythic, others yet historical and many are a mélange of these and various other facets. But science is an open system that has its own force and reason. While psychoanalysis demonstrated long ago (ie. Lacan) that explanations of reality are simply not the same thing as the reality, this does not mean that the language to question this conflation of the somatic and the social is inaccurate. Nor does it deserve a face palm. For what you are exasperated by (ie. “She is using a “cultural creation” (science and biomedicine) to explain reality while simultaneously telling us not to do exactly that”) you are actually undertaking again here (ie. your repeated unearthing of various medical “anomalies”).

    As I read Milinovich’s piece and as I see it additionally, non-normative bodies and identities encapsulates us all. Why create a Realpolitik around trans issues when, to go by their own definition of trans, we are ALL trans. I do not know one gender conforming person. The notion that there is a prototype for ‘man’ and ‘woman’ is a vestige of things long shelved of the Natural History Museum, and put there for good reason. Do any of us really want our bodies to once again be put under siege, re-naturalized once again, by beings who claim to be the real, essential woman, paradoxically telling us that to have an opinion on something we all share (gender) is transphobic? Milinovich’s piece speaks to this very regressive nature inherent within the more vocal and noxious parts the trans movement that are setting gender rights (ie. the right to dispense with gender stereotypes and expectations) back several decades…

    • Profile photo of Will
      October 24, 2013 at 6:37 pm —

      Milinovich is not saying that chromosomes are the only aspect that define sex

      She did not explicitly say “chromosomes are the only aspect that defines sex,” but the way her article is written only focuses on chromosomes when discussing sex differences. She keeps using the terms “genetic male” and “genetic female” and “XY male” and “XX female.” Chromosomes are one of the less important traits when determining a person’s sex. That was my point–she’s using too narrow of a definition.

      she is arguing that there is a distinction between sex and gender. And there is. Sure there is overlapping, but the overlapping is cultural.

      I would argue that the distinction itself is cultural, so of course the overlapping is cultural, too.

      All the evidence of biology given above does not address at all how the social is inflected from this. Thomas Laqueur’s Making Sex very finitely defines the linear development of sex models throughout history and inasmuch as there was once Galen’s one sex model or that we could view sex on a spectrum from hormonal, gonadal and reproductive capacity does not mean that being raised as x or y eliminates the social and cultural imprinting of gender onto the individual and back from the individual to society.

      I’m not sure exactly how this is meant to contradict anything I wrote?

      Gender is socially mapped out onto the sexed body–correctly or incorrectly sexed body.

      Many gender theorists and scholars, including Judith Butler and Anne Fausto-Sterling, would disagree with your statement. The sexed body does not precede gender; rather, the sexed body is always already gendered.

      There is no study to date, no scientific evidence at that, which shows that gender manifests itself from the subject alone as intuition, as a feeling.

      This is an irrelevant point because I have not argued that. In fact, I argued that gender is assigned, which is exactly the opposite of it arising from the subject alone as intuition.

      So when you write “because these surgeries are done with the aim of bringing bodies in line with normative understandings of gender” in referring to intersex persons you are actually agreeing with the spirit of Milinovich’s article.

      I don’t see that at all. The surgeries are a way of socioculturally sexing bodies to bring them in line with normative understandings of how certain bodies should behave. The fact that the surgeries are sexing bodies flies in the face of her argument, which is that sex is a biological given and is immutable. If that were the case, the surgeries would not be altering the baby’s sex. It seems to me that she would agree that the surgeries are not changing the baby’s sex, and I disagree and argue that it is. So, there is no way that my statement is agreeing with the spirit of her post.

      The whole point of many people’s hesitance in this conflation of sex and gender is that nobody feels that they are a gender. We can feel hungry, we can feel sad, we can feel tired.

      Really? Nobody feels that they are a gender?? That’s news to me! The thing is, I don’t actually think people are a gender, I think people do gender á la Butler, and that the process of gender is incorporated (in the literal sense of being embodied) and made sense of as identity, which feels like an essential part of our selves and is then expressed as a feeling.

      You argue that sex is ontological, and to a degree you are correct. The naming and categorization of that which is born unto the body is social. It is also medical (also informed by the social) which is primarily a domain of understanding the most objective problems of the body and its functioning. However, based on the sex of the body, boys and girls around the world are raised differently, treated differently within their own families, communities, schools and every single structure and individual where they step. This is not evidence that sex is social, but rather evidence that sex is framed within social narratives and as such elicits (based on the sex) certain responses from individuals and societies. (Nota bene: you do not demonstrate anywhere in the planet where the two sex model is not used–I am also an anthropologist and can assure you that in scientific and medical communities around the world male, female and intersex are the models utilized today, right or wrong, not completely accurate but meeting the social needs to differentiate sex in the first place.)

      So far, you’ve not given me any argument or evidence that contradicts the claim that sex is socioculturally constructed. All you’ve done is equivocate on the difference between sex/gender that you’re claiming not to conflate. You have simply stated that people construct their understandings of bodies in different ways around the world. No one is arguing anything different.
      Sex as a category is a socioculturally specific and historically recent development. I am not sure how you, as an anthropologist, can make the argument that sex is a universal category when it arises out of a biomedical scientific tradition. I would be more inclined to agree that gender is a universal category of human organization (though I am loathe to call anything a universal when it comes to human culture). The distinction wasn’t even made in Euroamerican societies until the 1970s when Gayle Rubin published “The Traffic in Women,” which it sounds like is where you get your understanding of the sex/gender system. Her position in that article is outdated, by the way.

      One thing that women, and I would also add men here, have had to fight against sexism–discrimination against them doing something or behaving a certain way based on their sex (ie. that boys/men are expected to play sports, that girls/women are expected to wash up after the mean). This is what you refer to as the ‘naturalization of culture’–and these are the constraints in which every single one of us operates.

      Thx for the explanation. I had no idea what sexism is until you came along! So glad someone came along to give me that information.

      The fact remains is that our bodies reveal certain facts upon which gender identity is inscribed each and every moment of our lives. You hedge by saying, “All explanations of reality—including science—are cultural.” This is a lovely dream but it is also patently incorrect. Many explanations of reality are culture, many are personal, others are mythic, others yet historical and many are a mélange of these and various other facets.

      You haven’t actually refuted my claim. Personal explanations of reality are cultural (unless you want to make the case that people can come up with explanations of reality without any input from their culture…). Myths are cultural. History is cultural. Any combination of those is cultural. I feel like I’m arguing with an anthropologist who doesn’t know what the word culture means…

      But science is an open system that has its own force and reason.

      How does that make it not a cultural activity?

      While psychoanalysis demonstrated long ago (ie. Lacan) that explanations of reality are simply not the same thing as the reality, this does not mean that the language to question this conflation of the somatic and the social is inaccurate.

      Of course it’s inaccurate. All language is inaccurate. How could a symbol–language–be a perfectly accurate representation of something it’s not? This is not to say that explanations of phenomena are not useful for making sense of things. It’s also not to say that there aren’t varying degrees of accuracy.

      Nor does it deserve a face palm. For what you are exasperated by (ie. “She is using a “cultural creation” (science and biomedicine) to explain reality while simultaneously telling us not to do exactly that”) you are actually undertaking again here (ie. your repeated unearthing of various medical “anomalies”).

      Let’s be clear, I never used the word “anomaly,” so I would appreciate it if you would not quote it as if I had.
      I don’t see how this has anything to do with taking down my claim that all explanations, including science, are cultural. If I am making that claim, don’t you think I understand that I am making cultural explanations??? I am not the one claiming super-cultural universals here.

      As I read Milinovich’s piece and as I see it additionally, non-normative bodies and identities encapsulates us all. Why create a Realpolitik around trans issues when, to go by their own definition of trans, we are ALL trans. I do not know one gender conforming person.

      Sorry, but normativity exists. As a queer person, I am constantly bombarded with heteronormative culture that seeks to shape my behavior. People who are heterosexual are normative by society’s standards. Similarly, people who go through life comfortable with the sex/gender assigned to them at birth are normative in the sense that that is the expectation of our society. If we were all non-normative, there would not be institutional and informal mechanisms that seek to normalize people’s bodies and behaviors.
      Further, this is a contradictory argument. If, as you insist, we live in a society with a NORMATIVE sex/gender system, how could we possibly all be trans when the definition of trans is a person whose sex/gender is incongruent with their society’s normative understandings of sex/gender? If we were all non-normative, there would not be a normative system in place. Or, rather, the normative system in place would make room for queer and trans* bodies and identities without resistance.

      The notion that there is a prototype for ‘man’ and ‘woman’ is a vestige of things long shelved of the Natural History Museum, and put there for good reason.

      I wish that were true, but as someone who does a lot of educating on sex/gender issues and does research in that area, I can tell you with certainty that it is not a vestige of the past but is still very much how most people think about sex/gender. And the fact that a lot of people believe that has actual effects in the world, particularly for those of us who are non-normative.

      Do any of us really want our bodies to once again be put under siege, re-naturalized once again, by beings who claim to be the real, essential woman, paradoxically telling us that to have an opinion on something we all share (gender) is transphobic?

      This doesn’t even make any sense. What do you mean by “our bodies”? The bodies of women and trans* people are already under siege. Have you been living under a rock??? And the issue isn’t that having an opinion on gender is transphobic, it’s that some opinions about sex/gender are transphobic. Gia’s opinion is a perfect example.

      Milinovich’s piece speaks to this very regressive nature inherent within the more vocal and noxious parts the trans movement that are setting gender rights (ie. the right to dispense with gender stereotypes and expectations) back several decades…

      I’m starting to think you’re a TERF….

      • Profile photo of ursprung
        October 26, 2013 at 3:49 am —

        I was prepared to respond to you until I came to your last sentences. Typically when you cannot uphold a rational discussion you take to ad hominem arguments. I have zero to learn from you therefore because everything you write is in contradistinction to a dialogue. Note that when I disagree with you, you try to recast this as ‘agreement’. In short, no I haven’t been ‘living under a rock’–but clearly you have since you do not recognize how making ‘woman’ a cure through hormones is deeply misogynist. It is clear that you are a regressive thinker who when he cannot argue logically insults others. It is also clear that you have completely misunderstood Butler. I will not lower myself to your level and leave you with your clearly pre-ordained answers that you fill in for all of us. Good luck with that!

        • Profile photo of marilove
          October 26, 2013 at 4:43 am —

          That was not an ad hominem argument. But so shocking that you went right for the tone argument instead of taking time to counter act his many clear, concise, and patiently written out points, though.

          Good luck with that!

          • Profile photo of ursprung
            October 26, 2013 at 5:28 am

            Your knowledge of logical fallacies is sorely lacking. Indeed, the name calling is appalling and unnecessarily. Moreover, he makes no arguments–again, just trying to deflect my clearly written points by saying ‘but you agree with me’. I don’t agree with what he has written and make my points clearly. And no, he doesn’t respond to my critiques with anything more than platitudes and empty references (ie. “Sorry, but normativity exists. As a queer person, I am constantly bombarded with heteronormative culture that seeks to shape my behavior.”) I am a queer woman of colour and find it hard to believe a white male who writes of his [sic] oppression in response to critical points I make above. I don’t play this game of one upping based on oppression, but if wants to play this, then I win. :) His basic problem is that he argues against heteronormativity while actually making quite heteronormative arguments. For nothing could be more heteronormative than ‘feeling gender’–Aretha Franklin and Joe Cocker aside, we all must fight against gender normativity. Trans persons are not new to this scene–they are simply trying to co-opt the language of gender non-conformity. So yeah, gender normativity exists (and I didn’t say it didn’t) as discourse and in practice, but it is conterminous to the very dismantling of gender that we all do, in discourse and practice as well. This blogger has posted a circular argument and dislikes it being dismantled as I have done. Even saying he did not mention any medical anomalies is intellectually dishonest–I did not mention AIS, he did.

            In short, I do not respond to aggressive and name-calling posts. If you note Milinovich does insult her readers and does not respond to the many posters who have contested her piece with condescending comments. Will has a lot to learn both about gender in its reality today and how Butler deconstructs it in both _Gender Trouble_ and _Bodies that Matter_ and moreso he ought to learn how to dialogue with people who do not agree with his writing. Nota bene: I am not a TERF. He ought to learn who he insults if he is going to repetitively use such derogatory terms (ie. non-trans people have asked not to be called ‘cis’, and radical feminists have asked not to be called TERFs). A radical feminist would not maintain that gender hurts men as much as it does women as I contend. But clearly, Will has no argument, has not expressed anything beyond platitudes and bullying language. He might be queer, but he acts very much like a typical heteronormative male.

          • Profile photo of marilove
            October 26, 2013 at 11:18 am

            I know perfectly well what an ad hominem argument is. That was not. Perhaps you need a refresher course on logical fallacies. Or perhaps you should stop relying on them once you’ve so very clearly run out of counter-arguments.

        • Profile photo of Will
          October 26, 2013 at 10:31 am —

          Aahahahahaha! What a hilarious hypocritical couple of responses! You obviously have no idea what an ad hominem response is. I very clearly went through and responded to each of your points, and at the end said that you sounded like a TERF. That’s not an ad hominem because I did not dismiss your arguments on the basis that you sound like a TERF. It was a simple observation based on your rhetoric.

          You, on the other hand, replied with “I was going to respond to your arguments, but I didn’t because you are heteronormative.” That, my friend, is an ad hominem. Instead of telling me where, exactly, I’ve been heteronormative, you dismiss all of my arguments on the basis that you claim I am heteronormative. You’re also arguing out of both sides of your mouth here: either I made arguments worth responding to or I made no arguments. Which is it? You start off by saying you were going to respond to my points, but the rest of your comments insist that I made no points to respond to!

          Anyway, I’ll go through and respond to all of your claims despite the fact you have neglected to give any substantial response to my reply to you above. This way, I’m clearly citing your own words and making responses to them, rather than doing as you do and just making up arguments to argue against.

          Note that when I disagree with you, you try to recast this as ‘agreement’.

          I read back through my comment, and I don’t see anywhere that I tried to re-cast your disagreement as agreement. In fact, YOU are the one who tried to recast my disagreement with Gia as agreement. You said, “referring to intersex persons you are actually agreeing with the spirit of Milinovich’s article.” What a hypocritical person you are!

          In short, no I haven’t been ‘living under a rock’–but clearly you have since you do not recognize how making ‘woman’ a cure through hormones is deeply misogynist.

          I never argued that.

          It is clear that you are a regressive thinker who when he cannot argue logically insults others.

          That’s hilarious considering the paragraphs of logical responses I gave to you before saying I’m beginning to think you’re a TERF. And the more you reply on here, the more clear it is becoming to me that you are.

          It is also clear that you have completely misunderstood Butler.

          Oh? Do enlighten me as to how I’ve misunderstood Butler. Clearly you haven’t been reading other comments in the thread where I’ve even provided links to explanations (one from Butler herself) that backs up what I’m saying. I also question your understanding of Butler (if, in fact, you have even ever read her work) considering you can’t even comprehend the most basic of comments on a blog.

          I will not lower myself to your level and leave you with your clearly pre-ordained answers that you fill in for all of us.

          Pre-ordained? What is that even supposed to mean in this context?? lol…

          Moreover, he makes no arguments–again, just trying to deflect my clearly written points by saying ‘but you agree with me’.

          I never wrote that in response to you (despite you trying to quote it as if I did). And I made plenty of arguments in response to your “clearly written posts.”

          I don’t agree with what he has written and make my points clearly. And no, he doesn’t respond to my critiques with anything more than platitudes and empty references

          Yeah, okay. What actually happened was that I asked you lots of questions in response to claims you made. And instead of answering those questions (can you?? I’m beginning to think not), you have tried to completely avoid having a conversation about these topics by using red herrings and straw men, putting words in my mouth and arguing with those instead.

          “Sorry, but normativity exists. As a queer person, I am constantly bombarded with heteronormative culture that seeks to shape my behavior.”) I am a queer woman of colour and find it hard to believe a white male who writes of his [sic] oppression in response to critical points I make above.

          That’s fine if you don’t believe I’ve ever experienced oppression in my life. That really has no bearing on my experiences at all. But this is such a hypocritical thing you’re doing here, because you’re trying to use me to dismiss the idea that normativity exists while you later claim that I am heteronormative and that normativity does exist. So, which is it??

          I don’t play this game of one upping based on oppression, but if wants to play this, then I win. :)

          I wasn’t playing any games, I was using my own experiences as a queer person in a heteronormative society to illustrate that normativity exists and impacts people’s lives. Further, this is another hypocritical statement because you say you don’t play oppression olympics but then claim to have won them. WITH A SMILY FACE. Well, congratulations!!!!!

          His basic problem is that he argues against heteronormativity while actually making quite heteronormative arguments.

          Give me an example of something I actually said that is heteronormative. Like, give me a direct quote, not something you’ve made up to argue against.

          For nothing could be more heteronormative than ‘feeling gender’–Aretha Franklin and Joe Cocker aside, we all must fight against gender normativity.

          You will need to explain your equivocation between heteronormativity and gender normativity, because it is based on the idea that all gender structures in all places and all times are view heterosexuality as the natural and normal default subject position. But not all cultures are heteronormative (for example), though they still have gender norms. An anthropologist should know that….

          Trans persons are not new to this scene–they are simply trying to co-opt the language of gender non-conformity.

          And you wonder why I think you’re a TERF!

          So yeah, gender normativity exists (and I didn’t say it didn’t) as discourse and in practice, but it is conterminous to the very dismantling of gender that we all do, in discourse and practice as well. This blogger has posted a circular argument and dislikes it being dismantled as I have done.

          So now you’re arguing that normativity does exist. After arguing that there’s no such thing as non-normative bodies and that “trans” is a meaningless category. Yeah, okay! Your arguments are totes based on “clearly written points.” Also, I have not made any circular arguments and you have not dismantled anything. You haven’t even directly responded to anything I’ve written in reply to you.

          Even saying he did not mention any medical anomalies is intellectually dishonest–I did not mention AIS, he did.

          Reading comprehension fail! I said I did not use THE WORD anomaly, even though you used quotes around it as if I had used that word. I do not call AIS (or any intersex condition) a medical “anomaly.” I would never use that word to describe an intersex person. It’s a stigmatizing word that is offensive–something you clearly don’t give a shit about.

          In short, I do not respond to aggressive and name-calling posts.

          I don’t feel I have been aggressive (perhaps until this comment); but even still, if you do not respond to comments you perceive as aggressive and name-calling, why are you still here writing multiple paragraph replies??? This whole “I’m announcing that I’m not going to reply!” bullshit is tiresome. If you have nothing of substance to say, then don’t bother replying!

          Will has a lot to learn both about gender in its reality today and how Butler deconstructs it in both _Gender Trouble_ and _Bodies that Matter_

          Again, I’ll ask you to give me a specific example of how I’ve misread Butler. Rather than just citing the names texts she’s written, how about you give me some useful examples from her work that contradict my reading of her?

          I won’t hold my breath…

          moreso he ought to learn how to dialogue with people who do not agree with his writing.

          I tried to dialogue with you, and you instead chose to construct a bunch of straw arguments because you didn’t like that I pinged you as a TERF.

          Nota bene: I am not a TERF. He ought to learn who he insults if he is going to repetitively use such derogatory terms (ie. non-trans people have asked not to be called ‘cis’, and radical feminists have asked not to be called TERFs).

          Those are not the same thing and you know it. Cis is not a derogatory term. The reason people (like myself) have asked not to be identified as cis is because that’s not how we identify. The reason people ask not to be referred to as TERF is because they don’t want to be stigmatized within feminist circles–too fucking bad. TERFs need to be marginalized within feminism.

          If a member of the KKK asked you to stop calling them a racist and instead insisted they were a “radical white separatist,” would you comply?

          A radical feminist would not maintain that gender hurts men as much as it does women as I contend.

          Wait! Earlier you said that because I am male that I couldn’t understand oppression. And now you’re arguing that I am also harmed by gender. So, which is it? Also, many feminists who are not radfems would maintain that gender norms are harmful to men as well. Though I wouldn’t argue that gender itself is harmful because it is just a social category. It’s how people use it that is harmful.

          But clearly, Will has no argument, has not expressed anything beyond platitudes and bullying language.

          Hilarious. How could I possibly have “bullied” you? Do you even know what bullying is?? Way to trivialize the experiences of people who actually are bullied! Congratulations.

          He might be queer, but he acts very much like a typical heteronormative male.

          How? Provide examples or shut up already.

          • Profile photo of marilove
            October 26, 2013 at 11:20 am

            “You, on the other hand, replied with “I was going to respond to your arguments, but I didn’t because you are heteronormative.” That, my friend, is an ad hominem. Instead of telling me where, exactly, I’ve been heteronormative, you dismiss all of my arguments on the basis that you claim I am heteronormative.”

            YEP. This type of ironic use of “ad hominem” happens so much. It’s ridiculous.

          • Profile photo of ursprung
            March 19, 2014 at 12:37 am

            I just saw your response here. Will, frankly you can’t substantiate your arguments and have spent a vast amount of time trying to deride me. This is just silly and indicative that you haven’t anything of value or substance to say. Making arguments like “I never argued that” in response to quoting your having written “Are you living under a rock?” is patently dishonest. I am not cornering you here, Will. I am citing what you wrote and then you say you didn’t write it?

            You use straw arguments and outright lies, hyperbole (ie. really, the KKK?), willful ignorance (ie. many people have argued against the term ‘cis’ and you are willfully ignorant of this fact or perhaps it is your rock keeping you from this very commonplace knowledge) and your writing is pretty badly documented (or rather not at all). I know you claim to be an anthropologist but as an anthropologist with an academic position, I would have to say that you need to brush up on your subject matter, attempt to think rationally and not hysterically making jabs at your readers for the sin of disagreeing with you and poking holes in your faulty arguments and moreso, I would recommend that you not take to writing if your approach to dialogue is to offend. Yeah, I don’t know what ad hominem is… Right. I guess I just learned reading your article and the many responses you have left here. Oh, I will shut up already. I just put a fork in you, Will, and you are done. You’re welcome!

          • Profile photo of Will
            March 19, 2014 at 12:50 am

            Dude, this happened like 6 months ago. And you raise this thread from the dead only to continue not making any substantial points, basically with a “I know you are but what am I?” argument?? *golf clap*

            Now, kindly get out of this thread and don’t post in it again.

        • Profile photo of Buzz Saw
          October 26, 2013 at 10:38 am —

          I wanted to reply to your post further down, but apparently it is too many levels deep to do so. With that, wow. I don’t think I can add much to this conversation other than to say to get off your high horse! Your arrogance is stunning. And I can’t help but to be highly negative and sarcastic in this response. Normally, I do try to be polite, but arrogance rubs me the wrong way.

          Your knowledge of logical fallacies is sorely lacking.

          You can determine this from discussion of just one logical fallacy? Your powers of insight are impressive!!!

          The name calling is appalling and unnecessarily.

          OK, but name calling =/= ad hominem, which may have been marilove’s point.

          I…make my points clearly.

          Again, rather sure of yourself, aren’t you? Let’s look at one of the “points” you made, shall we?

          This is not evidence that sex is social, but rather evidence that sex is framed within social narratives.

          I have little idea what you are “clearly” trying to say. What’s the difference between something being social as opposed to being framed within social narratives? Are we saying that one is 100% social where the other is maybe only 50%??? And how would any of that refute anything Will said?
          But, alas, I may just be too stupid to understand your great wisdom.

          Even saying he did not mention any medical anomalies is intellectually dishonest–I did not mention AIS, he did.

          Um, actually, Milinovich did. Glad to know you think my wife is an anomaly, though! I agree that she’s certainly something special!
          And, by the way, Will had asked you not put that word in quotes as though he had specifically used that term. You don’t even seem to understand what the objection was, and that point was actually clear! To quote Will:

          Let’s be clear, I never used the word “anomaly,” so I would appreciate it if you would not quote it as if I had.

          Why is that so hard to understand?

          • Profile photo of marilove
            October 26, 2013 at 11:23 am

            He wasn’t even “name calling”. Like, not even a little bit. It’s not like he called her a whore or anything.

            “ad hominem argument!!!(&@*(&%$*(!!!!” is often used as an argument stopper. And not used correctly. “YOU CALLED MY ARGUMENTS STUPID, AD HOMINEM!!!!!!!!!!”

            It’s ridiculous.

            Argue your points or go home.

  8. Profile photo of spamiam
    October 25, 2013 at 4:30 am —

    Wow. As a person who has never really been exposed to or explored these issues, this has been an eye-opener and I’ve found myself way down a rabbit hole of links within links. I read Gia’s article first and, to be honest, I didn’t really understand the ways in which it was flawed. Thank you SO much Will, for taking the time and effort to explain some of the counter-arguments so thoroughly and calmly. You helped me understand many nuances and raised my awareness by an order of magnitude without making me feel berated or condescended to. In my experience that doesn’t happen enough online.

    I have a question/request, and I hope you’ll forgive me if it sounds ignorant (if it does it’s probably because I am). Gia referred to this article, which I read with interest, on why some feminists reject the term ‘cis':
    http://revolutionarycombustion.wordpress.com/2012/06/24/a-feminist-critique-of-cisgender/
    I’ve noticed that the writers on this site tend to use the term ‘cis’. Would it be possible for you to please recommend a preferred source or two (preferably web based) which can help me understand your decision to do so?

    • Profile photo of Will
      October 25, 2013 at 3:16 pm —

      I’m glad it was useful! =)

      I won’t speak for others on this site, but I tend to use the word “cis” to describe non-trans people because it’s a useful term to get a point across. If I use it and someone tells me they don’t like it or don’t wish to be described using that label, I stop using it in reference to them.

      As far as the particular post you linked to criticizing the use of cisgender, there’s a lot in it I agree with and a lot in it that I disagree with. I myself am uncomfortable with the idea that cis/trans exists on a strict binary, and I do not identify as either cis or trans, but as queer. But I strongly disagree with the conclusions that person draws that there is no such thing as cis (or non-trans) privilege. I find that sort of rhetoric harmful and to have the effect of erasing very real, often very traumatizing and harmful events in trans* people’s lives.

      (Also, on a pedantic note, I think they’ve misread Judith Butler as they describe her discussion of gender performativity in dramaturgical terminology (“performing gender on the world stage” sort of thing). That’s actually not what Butler was talking about, as you can see in this video where she describes what she means by performativity (or, also check out Judith Butler Explained With Cats because it’s hilarious and awesome).

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