May 8, 2019

Y does not necessarily equal M: On what intersex people can tell us about gender identity

Emily Quinn is an intersex woman with XY chromosomes and (as she says) "balls".
According to the logic of transphobes she should be banned from women's bathrooms.

The current debate about intersex women in sports, is actually weakening the TERFs and the transphobic right's attacks against transgender people. The very existence of  XY intersex women, who have been raised as women and who identify as women, makes it very hard to reduce gender identity to chromosomes and genitals.

A few times I have ended up in discussions with "trans exclusionary radical feminists (TERFs) in social media. These women are neither "radical" nor real "feminist", sharing – as they do – the common traditionalist prejudices against transgender women.

On the "positive" side: They have taught me a bit about how prejudices are created and spread, and that might come in handy.

But Science!

TERF activists often pretend to have a discussion with you. In this pretend discussion they may even refer to Science (capital S implied), their most common argument being that trans women cannot be women, because they have Y chromosomes.

When you refer to real science, the one that show that gender dysphoria is a real phenomenon, and tell them that most experts in the medical field believe that the transgender identities are caused by variations in the hormone balance in the womb, combined with environmental and social factors, they simply fail to respond.

Alternatively they argue that the science community has been taken over by "transgender cult". In other words: They are not really interested in science at all. They want to cherry pick findings that seem to confirm their own prejudices.

The Gender Pencil Test

The TERFs are masters at using social control and stigmatization to invalidate and marginalize trans people.

Like the racists of Apartheid and Jim Crow, they know, for instance,  that  access to public bathrooms serves as a very important symbol of social acceptance and inclusion.   So they do their best to ban the people they do not like from these spaces, in order to hurt and humiliate them.

Like the white racists of South Africa they also use sports to put "The Other" in their place.

The South African regime made use of a so-called pencil test is order to access whether a person had Afro-textured hair. They would push a pencil through a person's hair. If it fell out, you had passed the test, proving that you where white enough to be allowed into white people's spaces.

The TERFs argue that chromosomes can be used to determine whether a person should be allowed into women's spaces. And this is where they run into serious trouble.
In order to stigmatize and control black people white
South Africans forced them to use separate public restrooms.

XY intersex women

I have found that the one scientific fact they are never able to get around,  is the existence of intersex XY women.

Oh, they will huff and puff, claiming that intersex people have nothing in common with trans people. Some will even have the nerve to say that  comparing the two is an insult to intersex people.

They are hoping that all that noise will shame us into stop talking about what the two groups do have in common.

The fact is that even if transgender  and intersex variations are different (although sometimes overlapping) phenomena, the existence of XY intersex women goes straight to the core of the TERF attacks against transgender women.

The South African pencil test was used to
determine whether someone was white
or "coloured". If the pencil fell out a kid could
go to a white school and use bathrooms for
whites. TERFs want to use chromosome
tests to achieve a similar objective.
XY intersex women prove beyond any doubt that chromosomes do not equal gender identity. Excluding people from women's bathroom on the basis of chromosomes means that you would also have to force intersex women who have been raised as women, identify as women and live as women, to use men's bathrooms.

Emily Quinn

One of my most popular posts ever over at my Tumblr blog is a presentation of the TED talk of Emily Quinn (20,000 likes and reblogs).

I think it is the way she talks about sex and gender that makes the difference. Through her words and her mere existence, she proves that the XY equals man equation is just plain nonsense.

She says:
“Most people assume that you’re biologically either a man or a woman, but it’s actually a lot more complex than that. There are so many ways somebody could be intersex. 
In my case, it means I was born with XY chromosomes, which you probably know as male chromosomes. And I was born with a vagina and balls inside my body. I don’t respond to testosterone, so during puberty, I grew breasts… I don’t actually have a uterus – I was born without one, so I don’t menstruate, I can’t have biological children…"
She argues that we should stop boxing in children on the basis of their genitalia and start looking at their personalities and abilities instead. I could not agree more!

Intersex people are often defined as those born with one of several variations in sex characteristics including chromosomes, gonads, sex hormones, or genitals that do not fit with what people believe are typical male or female bodies. By the way, even this illustration, which illustrates the role of the SRY protein in the development of biological sex, gives a too simplistic view ¨of what makes a man or a woman. (Illustration by Wiley & Sons)

Biological sex is not black or white, Quinn says. It is on a spectrum:
"Besides your genitalia, you also have your chromosomes, your gonads, like ovaries or testicles. You have your internal sex organs, your hormone production, your hormone response and your secondary sex characteristics, like breast development, body hair, etc. 
Those seven areas of biological sex all have so much variation, yet we only get two options: male or female. Which is kind of absurd to me, because I can’t think of a single other human trait that there’s only two options for: skin color, hair, height, eyes…"
It is easy to understand why TERFs fail to respond to the insights of Emily Quinn. She effectively shows us why their attacks against transgender women are so evil, even if Quinn does not talk about trans people at all.

Intersex and trans athletes 

Some would probably say that I am far too optimistic and that the "gender critical" attacks against intersex athletes prove that they are not only out to get trans people, but anyone who do not adhere to the strict gender binary.

Some definitely do so, claiming for instance that  Caster Semenya is a man (she is not). The medical establishment has for ages used surgery to force infants into one of the two boxes, and many transphobes still think of this as "a solution to the problem."

But the fact that TERFs have to misgender a woman in order to defend their exclusion of transgender athletes, is also a sign of weakness. It means that they are forced to attack non-transgender women in order to defend their rigid view of sex and gender, while at the same time claiming that they are defending non-transgender women.

This makes it  increasingly hard for them to defend this kind of bigotry in the discussions with sensible people outside the TERF and right wing extremist camps. 

And that is, I believe, why my post about Emily Quinn has been so popular.

Note also that this is not the only post of this kind. When I republished the amazing intersex twitter thread of ScienceVet2, I got some 30,000 responses.

Chromosomes do not equal gender identity, and many are starting to grasp that.

It is the potential for gender ambiguity that makes TERFs uncomfortable around intersex people.
The TERFs need a simplistic binary to policy transgender women, and other women with XY chromosomes
mess up their simplistic narrative. (Infographic by Interact, via Rad Remedy).

See also:


  1. A wonderful post, Jack, and well said.


  2. Excellent article Jack, thank you.

  3. Dear Jack, i have an question

    Is crossdreaming something you get born with or is it something you develop in your life? And is it possible to get rid of crossdreaming or is it something that will never go away?

    I am just curious for answers, thanks already!

  4. We have no final proof of whether crossdreaming is inborn or something purely psychological. It seems to me, however, that the idea that the psyche and the body are two completely independent systems is bogus.

    The brain is plastic and is influenced by your life experience, and what we feel and experience is also clearly influenced by genes and hormones.

    The reason i believe there is an inborn component to crossdreaming is that crossdreamers are such a diverse crowd. I see no common psychological factor or life experience that explains them all.

    I should also add that current research increasingly see both sexuality and gender identity as continuums rather than binaries, and that both have inborn components. I believe this applies to crossdreamers, as well.

    I have heard of crossdreamers who have stopped crossdreaming, but most of the ones I know tell me that it never goes away.

    It might vary in intensity though over time, and the crossdreamers ability to integrate this into their assigned lives also vary. For some this feels like "an innocent kink", for others it is an expression of severe gender dysphoria. For the latter group transitioning is definitely a meaningful response.

    1. ''I have heard of crossdreamers who have stopped crossdreaming''. Do they not get aroused by crossdreaming anymore or is it that they just stopped with crossdreaming?

      And my last two questions: Is crossdreaming only possible while you are dreaming, or is it also possible while you are awake?

      And is crossdreaming the same as autogynephilia or are there differences?

      Thx already

  5. There are those who report that they have stopped crossdreaming, but they are very few indeed. Most crossdreamers keep on dreaming throughout their lives, although this might vary in intensity and frequency.

    Most crossdreaming fantasies take place when people are awake, although I have had night crossdreams myself.

    The term crossdreaming was originally coined as a non-toxic alternative to the autogynephilia-term {which refers to a nasty, transphobic, explanation for cross-gender arousal). I soon realized, however, that the AGP term was also misleading as regards its description of crossdreamers. There are female to male crossdreamers. There are MTF crossdreamers who love men, which the AGP theory says is impossible. Crossdreaming is not necessarily sexual in nature, either.


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