For those just joining us, please read the following links to catch yourself up:
DISCLAIMER: Please remember that the natural science side of studying and understanding gender is still in its infancy as far as science goes. What is stated within this blog may be updated as new information arrives. While the social science side of gender has been studied for far longer, it too is still in its infancy in the official sense. Historically speaking though, the concept of gender has been around since ancient times.
“No one is born with a gender. Everyone is born with a biological sex. Gender (an awareness and sense of oneself as male or female) is a sociological and psychological concept; not an objective biological one.“
Let’s break this one down by each point, shall we?
“No one is born with a gender.“
This is a line that is repeated over and over in many of the anti-trans movements and even in many of the less accepting feminist circles out there. Currently there is no definitive study of when our sense of gender appears, but general consensus is that we start to become aware of our gender identity around the age of 7-9 (sometimes earlier depending on circumstances and development speed). Having siblings of a different sex can also “speed up” awareness of one’s gender identity.
One thing so far is clear when it comes to gender identity: We need to have a sense of self before we can have a sense of gender.
So at least on this aspect, the ACP is correct. Since we are not born with a sense of self, we technically are not born with a sense of gender, which could be perceived as not being born with a gender. However, the science community is still out on that topic, so we may learn someday that we are in fact born with our gender and it merely takes until we are self aware before we are aware of our gender.
“Everyone is born with a biological sex.”
I have yet to see anyone argue this point. This is like saying “water is wet”. Yet in this simple statement is something that glosses over people with various disorders or chromosomal differences. This leads to the assumption that one is born either physically male or physically female and disregards those who are intersex, androgynous, or who are born with any number of chromosomal abnormalities (48,XXYY, 48,XXXY and 49,XXXXY)
“Gender (an awareness and sense of oneself as male or female) is a sociological and psychological concept; not an objective biological one.“
Once again I would like to state that the natural science side of gender is still in its infancy. While we are aware of gender as a sociological and psychological concept (as well as historical and anthropological), we are still just barely scratching the surface as to what gender is when we look at it through the lens of such fields as biology (neurobiology), chemistry, neuroscience, genetics, and many other fields. As it stands right now, the most commonly cited study out there among deniers of gender is “Sex beyond the genitalia: The human brain mosaic“. The problem with this study is that most people read it and ran with the narrative that there is no such thing as a male or a female brain (as can be seen here, here, and here), while the study itself says something entirely different. Just from reading the box labeled “Significance” we can see that the narrative being spread is not what is being said in the study:
Sex/gender differences in the brain are of high social interest because their presence is typically assumed to prove that humans belong to two distinct categories not only in terms of their genitalia, and thus justify differential treatment of males and females. Here we show that, although there are sex/gender differences in brain and behavior, humans and human brains are comprised of unique “mosaics” of features, some more common in females compared with males, some more common in males compared with females, and some common in both females and males. Our results demonstrate that regardless of the cause of observed sex/gender differences in brain and behavior (nature or nurture), human brains cannot be categorized into two distinct classes: male brain/female brain.
Did you notice that last part? Where it says that brains cannot be categorized into two distinct classes? That is what people are using to justify the statement that there is no such thing as a male or a female brain.
This is highly problematic on many fronts.
First of all, we need to remember that the common statement is that gender is a spectrum, not an either/or sort of deal. So this study does actually back up that statement. It also states that there are some features that are more common in males than in females and vice versa.
This study focuses on trying to prove/disprove sexual dimorphism, which is not the same as proving/disproving gender (which a lot of people like to use it for).
But moving past the study, let’s look at a well documented case example that leads one to wonder if gender is at least in part biological in nature. For those who have taken college level psychology courses, you are probably familiar with the case of John/Joan. This case followed a man who was born biologically male but was raised female due to a botched circumcision. While there was a sexual reassignment surgery done, and hormones and hormone blockers were administered to the child, and the parents did everything in their power to raise John as Joan, the child failed to identify as female. Even though everyone around him was raising him to be a female, and he was given everything that should have convinced his body that he was a female, his gender identity still told him he was male. He eventually transitioned to living as a male full time by the age of 15.
One interesting fact to note on the case of John/Joan is that he was one of a set of twins. Twin studies are often preferred for things such as this, to see whether or not something is nature or nurture. It allows scientists to look into something known as behavioral genetics, which you can read more about here.
Does this mean that gender is 100% biological/genetic and that culture and society have no influence on it? Not in the slightest! There are definitely aspects of gender out there that are social constructs, such as what we define as feminine and masculine (toys, colors, sports, cooking, etc). But that doesn’t mean that there aren’t also biological factors at work when it comes to gender.
What this means is that instead of just closing the book on the topic, like the ACP has done, we need to keep up with the research and see what all we can learn and discover!