The "biological argument"

Moderators: Enigma, Sonic#

User avatar
felipefs

Posts: 18
Joined: Sun Feb 12, 1:34 2017
Location: Brazil
Contact:

The "biological argument"

Postby felipefs » Wed Feb 15, 13:35 2017

This is a post I made on reddit.com/r/Feminism/ regarding the use of biological arguments regarding sexuality(and mating)/gender, and I wanted to share here.

Here is the text with fixed links:
The video submitted here days ago Trans women are not "biologically male" | Riley J. Dennis caught my attention because I'm a biologist (I'm male feminist just to be clear) that worked with evolutionary ecology and currently working with genomics. I'm sorry, this is gonna be a long, loooong post.

I will comment about what Riley said, what the youtube commenters said and add some points about what /u/DanyaRomulus said and /u/slutzombie said, because of the political importance of it, and because people mix mating system (reproduction) with sex (and this is very, very important).

What caught my attention is people (the commenters in the youtube page) (wrongly) appropriating of biological arguments to justify their hate. The most common argument is the XX/XY chromosomes define "sex." Sorry, if you are using knowledge of high school biology, it's very likely that you are using wrong information, since high school books on biology are oversimplistic.

I will comment here the points raised by Riley (which I agree with) and the youtube commenters (which I disagree with):

  • Genitals and gonads (by Riley), for the obvious reason that they are visible attributes, should be taken in account. People with varations in these parts are perfectly healthy, and the intersex parts might even be viable. Oddly, people want to put other people with genitals different than theirs inside a category of disease/disability, which doesn't have strong support by the scientific community. Variation is normal. Variation is part of the evolutionary process.
  • The objective of individuals is reproduction (by youtube commenters). Organisms have no objective. This is a misconception of evolution that organisms evolve to do something.
  • Hormones (by Riley). Yes, hormones are as important as genes. In fact, hormones might even regulate gene expression. People tend to assume that genes are the supreme commanders, but they are not. Together with gene regulation, hormones and epigenetic mechanisms(which include other substances) might cause gene methylation, leading into inability of a gene to be expressed. Hormones are non visible attributes, and they are as important as the visible attributes (genitals and gonads), as they will determine physiological develoment and change how the organism work (including neurological activity). However, there isn't the hormone that determines sex, and using such thing as testosterone test to determine sex is flawed, as there are many hormones that determine physiological development.
  • Sex(ual) determination (and mating system) is fixed (by youtube commenters). First, people are mixing sex(ual) determination, which can be the interest in partners and physiological attributes (non visible) that leads to having interest in those partners, and the mating system, which regards the capability to reproduce. And this is important, because people are wrongly making one dependent on the other: our political system only considers mating system and make assumptions based only on that.
  • Chromosomes (by Riley). I left this one for last ;). First, sexual chromossomes can regulate gene expression, one of the mechanisms is transposition (area I'm starting to work with, these days). And this regulation includes in other chromossomes. Now, transposition is, in short, the process of carrying a gene and putting it in another region of the genome, usually near the original region. This is important, because some genes are "surrounded" by regulatory regions. If a gene is carried and put in a region where it will not be regulated as before, that gene will be expressed differently. In other terms, a characteristic that was regulated by a sexual chromossome (X/Y) isn't anymore. Second, there are cases of XX men and XY women, which leads to more cases of ambiguous determination. In these cases, the individual is usually sterile. The chromossomes then leads to difference in the mating characteristic (the gonads) and the sexual (or gender identification) characteristic. And BOTH are biological, reason why I agree with Riley. If we were talking only about mating, then I would agree with the youtube commenters, but both are important.

Now, which of these are more important than the other to determine ones sex/mating I don't dare to say.

Don't take biology ipsis litteris into political arguments. Biology is a turbulent field that changes fast. Biology doesn't mean fair (see social darwinism). Everything depends on context. /u/DanyaRomulus and /u/slutzombie commented about the counterproductivity of the arguments in the political context: how these arguments can be used against the cause, as dismissing sex-based oppression and rights regarding based on "sex".

By /u/DanyaRomulus:
To sum up with an example, I think you'd have a hard time telling a transwoman battling testicular cancer that biological sex is just a social construct.


By /u/slutzombie:
Also, claiming that sex is fluid/an identity completely dismisses SEX based oppression, which isn't only relevant to gender, but biologically female anatomy- things like abortion and birth control access, which are really big issues for biological women right now and don't need to be dismissed or danced around anymore than they already are.


This can get even more complicated: what if it's a woman (yes, a woman) with testicular cancer (in this case, a woman with AIS)? What if she is trying to access her healthcare service?

I completely agree with /u/DanyaRomulus and /u/slutzombie. What I'm adding here is how dangerous is to use biological arguments, because it's not simple. It's not just "gender identity" and "biological sex". The "biological sex" can even be ramified into attributes that determine reproduction (genitalia/gonads, and can still be blurry), and attributes that have no context with reproduction (non visible attributes as genetics, hormonal production and neurological), but are still biological.

Ask a biologist about the subject if you need help. I would gladly help. I felt like these informations would be useful, not just to weaponize yourselves, but to not accept simplistic biological arguments just because they taught like that on high school.

User avatar
Sonic#
member
member
Posts: 4908
Joined: Sat Nov 7, 9:37 2009
Location: Georgia, US

Re: The "biological argument"

Postby Sonic# » Thu Feb 16, 20:06 2017

You are not the only biologist on here. For instance, I think Eravial has pointed to women writing accessible books about neuroscience.

I've been reading Testosterone Rex, and even though I've known some of the broad sweeps of the argument, I've learned a lot about the history of gender, sex, and the sciences. It also helped me come up with a pretty concise way to explain gender: taking a large population, it may be possible to observe certain differences correlating some with sex, but it's impossible to predict someone's traits on the basis of sex. What you're calling the "biological argument" often tries to do the latter: predicting that women generally should have X traits and men generally should have Y traits, neglecting the overlap and variety that actually exists for individuals.

User avatar
felipefs

Posts: 18
Joined: Sun Feb 12, 1:34 2017
Location: Brazil
Contact:

Re: The "biological argument"

Postby felipefs » Sat Feb 18, 19:40 2017

I've been reading Testosterone Rex, and even though I've known some of the broad sweeps of the argument, I've learned a lot about the history of gender, sex, and the sciences.


I've heard good things about that book, but I then forgot about it and didn't get one to myself. I will look into it.

but it's impossible to predict someone's traits on the basis of sex.


My critique. All of our laws and social norm is based on single trait instead of considering that there many traits related to sexuality.

What you're calling the "biological argument" often tries to do the latter: predicting that women generally should have X traits and men generally should have Y traits, neglecting the overlap and variety that actually exists for individuals.


yup. Exactly that.

tomokun
member
member
Posts: 280
Joined: Fri Apr 5, 10:18 2013

Re: The "biological argument"

Postby tomokun » Mon Feb 20, 15:41 2017

WHOA! I saved this thread to pocket, because it's got some great stuff on here I would never have thought to research.

Are there are things like women getting testicular cancer which demonstrate how incredibly muddied these waters actually are? For a non-biologist science-phile like myself, that's exactly the sort of factoid that would be convenient to have on hand. Links to sources would be amazing too. I mean, I'm a championship Googler, but an actual credible source would be very useful (being useful is the reason you shared this post I'm assuming. :p)

User avatar
Eravial
member
member
Posts: 4068
Joined: Mon Aug 11, 13:09 2003
Location: Outdoors, or wishing I was

Re: The "biological argument"

Postby Eravial » Wed Feb 22, 0:24 2017

tomokun wrote:Are there are things like women getting testicular cancer which demonstrate how incredibly muddied these waters actually are? For a non-biologist science-phile like myself, that's exactly the sort of factoid that would be convenient to have on hand. Links to sources would be amazing too. I mean, I'm a championship Googler, but an actual credible source would be very useful (being useful is the reason you shared this post I'm assuming. :p)

Unless you're suggesting that non-operative transwomen aren't women (i.e. you at least partially still believe in biological determinism and/or that testes negate womanhood), this really shouldn't be that surprising.

But, yes, people assigned female at birth can also get testicular cancer. For example, people with Androgen Insensitivity Syndrome are virtually always assigned female at birth, develop breasts and other secondary sex characteristics at puberty, and often only realize they have XY chromosomes when they never start menstruating. They have testicles, and in fact their risk of testicular cancer is even higher since they never descend, a condition that can happen in any body that is programmed to have testicles. Undescended testicles have a 4-6x higher chance of becoming malignant.
Picture a bright blue ball just spinning, spinning free
Dizzy with possibility


Return to “Feminism”

Who is online

Users browsing this forum: Eravial and 0 guests