November 27, 2018

Identifying people by their genitals is not science

Dr. Ketil Slagstad, the editor of the leading Norwegian medical journal – The Journal of the Norwegian Medical Association gives a good summary of current research on sex and gender in the latest edition.

“Biologically speaking, we all fall somewhere along a spectrum of sexes, of which male and female represent the extreme ends,” he writes and gives succinct summary of the current research front.

“ increasing amount of knowledge is available with regard to the biological complexity of sex, and proof that the binary sex model finds no support in biology.”

Old men fighting for an old world order

He strongly criticizes  the current attacks against intersex and transgender people:

"The pattern is one of ageing, authoritarian, heterosexual men discriminating against minorities in a wish to appease their voters. There is no room in their world view for the human complexity that actually characterises the societies they are elected to govern; but the ideas of purity that are partly rooted in national conservatism and partly in religious fundamentalism are not echoed by science.“

Indeed, the current backlash against transgender people is partly caused by cynical politicians and religious leaders who are using people's fear of the unknown to forward their own interests.

Trans people as scapegoats

It has become harder to blame gay people for the end of the world. After all, most people know someone who is gay or lesbian these days, so it is harder to dehumanize them.

So now that more and more people see that it is actually the extremists who are most likely to cause the collapse of modern civilization, the extremists need new scapegoats.

Attacking gay people worked so well for so long,  because they threatened the fundamental binary that underpins the Conservative view of marriage and sexuality. Gay men and lesbian women threatened the well established binary of man and woman, and implicitly the social model that let men rule over women.

Transgender people are also a threat to that binary. If a "man" can become a woman, how can you defend the unique capabilities of men, the abilities that justifies their superiority?  And if a "woman" can become a man.... well... then there is nothing unique about men, now, is there?

The traditionalists therefore desperately cling to the concept of old, correctly fearing that their whole world view is at stake. The narrative of a "transgender liberal cult" aiming at undermining the world order and good table manners is therefore an easy sell in such circles.

Identifying people by their genitals is not science

I don't think Trump cares about trans people, one way or the other. He just sees that his core supporters love to hate, and he is giving them new victims that fit their prejudices.

People like Trump definitely do not care about science. We know now that he does not care about truth at all.  But he knows that it helps to bring up some pseudo-scientific arguments when presenting policies aimed a harassing marginalized groups, especially if this "science" reaffirms the binaries of sexuality and gender.

The transphobes therefore make use of an imaginary science, the kind of science they believed they were taught when they grew up, decades ago. This is the kind of science that reduces both sex and gender to what is found between your legs.

The idea that both gender identity and sexuality are spectrums rather than binaries are actually very old, but – all right –  I am sure that these traditionalists once read text books that seemed to affirm their own prejudices.

However, as Slagstad documents, contemporary science cannot be used to support such strict binaries. What science sees is a complex, multidimensional, room of diversity of variation.

Read the whole editorial here!

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