One of the big national stories in the trans sphere at the moment is about Nikki Araguz, the widow of a firefighter killed in the line of duty. The ex-wife and mother of the firefighter filed a great big media-seeking lawsuit to invalidate Nikki’s marriage, thus denying her legal benefits as a widow, on the grounds that she was born male and the state of Texas doesn’t recognize same-sex marriages.
The case is being covered extensively by people other than me, so I’m not going to dive into the details here (Although, on a side note, if Nikki wanted to get re-married to a woman does anyone seriously believe the State of Texas would be groovy with that? I’m pretty sure they’d see that as a same-sex marriage as well even through it would require a total contradiction of the reasoning in the current case.).
I bring up the case because it’s drawing the attention of a lot of otherwise disinterested people into the nature of transsexuality. And some of the resulting comments are interesting.
Here’s one that leaped out at me today, from Bryan Fischer, director of issue analysis at the American Family Association:
“We think that our public policy ought to be guided by science and biology, and not by political correctness,” he said, noting that gender is a biological reality and not a choice or a role one plays, as contemporary gender theorists maintain.
So far, so good.
I mean you may or may not agree with the “political correctness” quip, as that particular straw man can conceal quite a lot upon which people legitimately disagree. And that’s an incomplete description at best of the various concepts surrounding gender. But anyway, I certainly agree science ought to play an important role in informing public policy, and that our policies ought not attempt to treat as true things which are known to be false. But I’m not sure Mr. Fischer is quite as committed to that proposition as he seems, as illustrated by the next part of his quotation.
“This case just certainly indicates how complicated and bizarre things get when you simply ignore the biological reality that this individual is a man,” he said. “He’s a male in every cell of his body. His DNA has been male from the moment he was conceived and will be until the day he dies.”
Here’s where we get into interesting territory. Fischer apparently believes that “science” and “biology” tells us that people conform to a rigid gender binary. Nikki has “male DNA,” so that’s what she is. That’s what he’s calling the “biological reality” anyway.
But, if you’re actually following modern science regarding the matter, it says no such thing. Certainly our culture attempts to restrict us to such a gender binary, but the science is illustrating a far more complex biology surrounding human sexuality and gender identity.
Here’s a sampling of things science knows to be true, which contradict the notion of a rigid gender binary:
- It is possible for a person with 46XY (i.e. male pattern) chromosomes (i.e. the DNA “in every cell of our bodies”) to naturally develop as a normal woman, with the ability to conceive and give birth to children.
- It is possible for a person with an external anatomy of one sex to have a brain which structurally appears to be that of the opposite sex.
- It is possible for a person with the external anatomy of one sex to spontaneously develop the secondary sexual traits of the opposite sex.
- It is possible for a person to be born with genitals which are not identifiably male or female, and to identify – in conformance with their own “biological reality” – as neither male nor female.
That’s a smattering of the “biological reality” underlying human gender. Unfortunately for people like Mr. Fischer none of this stuff supports the notion of a rigid gender binary because, in scientific terms, a biological gender binary simply isn’t true.
Simplistic notions like “if you have XY chromosomes, you’re a man, and if you have XX you’re a woman” cannot account for the range of human sexuality currently known to science. Simplistic gender binaries are to the science of sexuality what creationism is to the science of evolution.
Those who respect actual science let scientific evidence inform their decisions. Those who invoke science in order to legitimize legal discrimination of gender variant people don’t tend to be among these people.