Girly Thoughts

April 9, 2008

Sex, Gender, and Sexuality: eppur esistono

Filed under: Big picture,Gender,Homosexual Agenda,LGBTQ,sexuality — judgesnineteen @ 9:30 pm

In science, people are always trying to form models of the world, or a theory of how it works. We can’t prove theories to be true, but we can test them and find new information, and see if that information agrees with them or not. But sometimes it doesn’t work that way because people are too attached to the old theory. This is especially a problem when you get your theory not just from observation but also or instead from faith, by which I mean, a decision to believe something without testing it or that is untestable. For instance, Galileo found information that didn’t fit with the previously accepted geocentric model of the universe. His fit a heliocentric model, with the earth rotating around the sun instead of vice versa. Our observations of seeing the sun move in the sky can fit either model. But people had also decided to accept the geocentric model on faith, because they interpreted the Bible as supporting it. The Inquisition made Galileo recant his theory and put him under house arrest, and people were actually forbidden from advocating his theory. Eventually people realized he was right and now, as far as I know, everyone accepts the heliocentric model. Kinda difficult not to when you have all kinds of other information based on it, like we do about the solar system.

Whose side would you have been on, Galileo’s or the Inquisition’s?
We have an old theory of the types of humans that exist in the world. It divides humans into two types, men and women. There are no people in between, people can’t change category, you’re all one or all the other, and the two are diametrically opposed. Yin and yang (literally).

This theory says that men are like this/have these things: XY chromosomes, penis and testicles, testosterone, facial hair and increased muscle mass and height, aggressive, better at math/science than verbal skills, athletic, like cars with big engines, like beer, attracted to women, love sex but don’t like to cuddle, completely unattracted to men.

Women, on the other hand: XX, vagina and ovaries, estrogen, breasts and widened hips, emotional but not angry, graceful, better at verbal skills than math/science, like gossip and shopping, drink wine coolers, attracted to men, don’t have a huge sex drive but love to cuddle, completely unattracted to women.

But we’re starting to pay attention to some new evidence (some of which is not new at all).

-There are people who have the chromosomes of men but the secondary sex characteristics of women.

-There are people who have primary sex characteristics of both or in between men and women.

-There are people who have the sexuality of men but all the other characteristics of women, and vice versa.

-There are people who have the personality of men but all the other characteristics of women, and vice versa.

-There are people who aren’t attracted to anyone and don’t want to have sex.

-There are people with two or more of these conditions (that’s not meant to sound like a medical condition, just a state).

These people don’t fit out model. How do we react to this information?

We could ignore them, but that will only get harder and harder as they become more visible and we learn more about them, and it will create cognitive dissonance, which will give people an incentive to choose another option. It’s also bad science – you don’t ignore new data just because you don’t like it; that’s no way to improve your understanding of the world.

We could stand by our old model, but that would force us to define these people as not humans. If all humans fit the traditional model, anyone who doesn’t fit it must not be human. This would most likely lead to severe maltreatment of the people in question, which is one reason I don’t like it. But I’m arguing here that we don’t do science based on what we like, but on what we see. So the reason I reject this proposal is that it doesn’t fit with other observations that suggest that these humans are humans, having all the characteristics of humans except the ones in the model at hand, and being descended from other humans, and being capable of mating successfully with other humans (except in the case of sterility, which we generally do not see as reason to exclude an individual from their species). The theory that they are not human is less plausible than the idea that the prevailing theory was based on inaccurate and biased observations.

We could try to change these people – giving homosexuals therapy to try to make them heterosexual, forbidding trans people to have surgery or cross-dress, doing surgery on intersex people to make them look like one sex or the other. There are several problems with this approach – I don’t know of any way we could make people with androgen insensitivity syndrome conform, and anti-gay therapy doesn’t seem to work very well, and forbidding trans people to be who they feel to be is going to make them miserable, which is unnecessarily mean. But besides all of that, this approach is just backwards. Scientists don’t change the world to fit their theories, they change their theories to better approximate the real world. We didn’t try to make the sun revolve around the earth when we realized Galileo was right. We just changed our theory. We need a new theory of the types of people that exist. Because it’s clear that they do; if you don’t believe me, do some research.

What should our new theory be like? It would have to break apart the notions of sex and sexuality – having a penis doesn’t mean being attracted to vaginas, and vice versa. The two are independent, although they may be correlated in some way, since certain combinations are more common than others.

It would have to break apart the notions of sex and gender – having a vagina doesn’t mean feeling female, and the same for penises and feeling male. Again, independent, but correlated in a probabilistic way. This means acting feminine won’t turn a guy gay.

It would have to break apart the notions of gender and sexuality – being homosexual doesn’t mean being a girly man or a butch woman, although both are possible.

It would have to separate chromosomes from secondary sex characteristics – having XY chromosomes doesn’t necessarily mean growing facial hair and not having breasts.

It would mean regarding primary sex characteristics as lying on a spectrum rather than in one of two boxes. Same with secondary sex characteristics. Same with gender. Same with sexuality. That means it could no longer regard men and women as opposites. They are, rather, neighboring sexes.

It’s a much less black and white kind of theory, isn’t it? There are all kinds of permutations, and each one includes parameters that can be set at all different degrees rather than just one way or the other. It would be hard to adjust to, but that’s not really an excuse to ignore it. If you think this is weird, just look at quantum theory, and that’s one of the best-supported theories out there. In fact, we already know some and accept some of this. That’s why, although people may ridicule bearded ladies, flat-chested women, boys who cry, tomboys, etc, we don’t try to deny that they exist or claim that a sensitive boy is a girl in disguise or something.

So let’s imagine that we adopt this new model, in which you can’t tell just by looking at someone what’s in their pants, what they do for fun, and who they’d like to date, if anyone. Some people are going to say, yeah, the people who mess up our old theory exist…but they’re wrong. Just like they ridicule the people who they already acknowledge but don’t fit into one box or the other as well as they “should” to make the old theory work. This comes naturally. But why do we think it makes sense to attach a moral judgment to something like sex, gender, or sexuality?

Why are they wrong? Because they don’t fit the binary system. Why is the binary system the judge of right and wrong? Because most people fit it? Does that mean everything rare is wrong? After all, these people get called “freaks,” but “freak” is just a mean way of saying “unusual.” Why is rarity equated with badness? There are plenty of rare things that are wonderful, and conformity isn’t a value I hold too dearly.

Because God says so? Did God say to judge people, too? Do you think that if all people are sinners, it’s ok to discriminate against some people for their particular type of sin? Do you think something can be a sin if it’s not a choice, but just the way they are? And where exactly is the link between goodness and your gender, or your sexuality, or your sex? Really, think about it; I don’t know why I never thought to question that when I was Christian, but it’s not as obvious as people make it out to be.

Because they make you uncomfortable? Sounds like you’re the one with the problem, not them. It’s important not to project your feelings on everyone else in the world; you can speak for one person and say it makes you personally uncomfortable, but there are people out there who are not uncomfortable with it.

Because it’s evolutionarily inefficient? So are sterile people, and people who just don’t want kids, but we’re generally not mean to them (well, if they’re women who don’t want kids, sometimes we are). But evolution, first of all, is not the bearer of morality, it’s the mechanism by which those organisms that were good at surviving survived. You don’t get a prize for surviving, you just survive if you’re made to do so. It just is. And anyway, evolution equipped humans with a tremendous amount of flexibility, so you can’t use it as a reason why humans were supposed to be a certain way; we’re not transgressing the laws of nature (which would be physically impossible outside of a miracle), but rather, the laws of nature made us able to do a wide variety of things. And sometimes gay people have kids (and at this point, not having kids is better for the survival of the overpopulated species anyway). And people who can’t or won’t have kids or who aren’t attractive to you personally are no less worthy of human rights and respect.

Because people are happier when they conform to our old model? The thing is, they’re not; that’s why they’re fighting for the right to differ from the old model. If they’re unhappy about anything, it’s about being hated by narrow-minded people.

Next in this line of thought (though who knows when I’ll write it…) will be on gender roles.

One more thing to think about, in terms of whether different is bad and in terms of how much variation naturally exists among humans.

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6 Comments »

  1. I love your posts. This one was great.

    “Scientists don’t change the world to fit their theories, they change their theories to better approximate the real world.” So true!

    One thing you wrote kind of bothered me, and I’m not sure if I misread/interpreted it somehow: “And sometimes gay people have kids (and at this point, not having kids is better for the survival of the overpopulated species anyway).”

    Did you mean to say that the “overpopulated species” was humans? Gays? What? I was confused. And the idea of being overpopulated was a discussion we had today in my women’s studies class, and if I better understand what you mean, I might have more to add on that topic.

    Comment by Amelia — April 9, 2008 @ 10:21 pm | Reply

  2. Yeah, that wasn’t clear at all, sorry. I just meant that the idea that humans should multiply and fill the earth (which Genesis says God told Adam and Eve to do*) doesn’t work so well anymore. At this point, where the human species (not gay people!) is growing at a rate faster than the earth can support, the best way to keep the species surviving is to slow the rate of childbirth. Or even within a family, if parents have limited resources and they have too many kids, it might make the kids less likely to make it to reproduction than if the parents had had one kid. My point is just that some people simplify evolution to make arguments like “homosexuality is unnatural”, when in fact there are a ton of factors and it’s just not that straightforward.

    *As much as I rip on the Bible, I’d like to note that you can believe God said this without taking it to mean that people who don’t have children are wrong, and some Christians do.

    Comment by judgesnineteen — April 10, 2008 @ 12:35 pm | Reply

  3. The only problem with stating something like, the human species is growing at too fast a rate and that slowing the rate of childbirth is a good idea, is that there are people who believe this who target certain groups as the ones who need to slow their birth rates. Forced sterilizations, forced use of unsafe contraceptives, and things like that are often suffered by minority groups/groups with little power in societies (Native peoples, the poor, for example). The dominant society often has a hard time accepting that they are part of the problem, so they put the burden of the “solution” on those who are not in a position of power to fight back. That’s what I was thinking what I heard the word “overpopulated,” because even if the world really is becoming overpopulated, we need to make sure that the solution involves all humans, not just the select few whom those in the most powerful positions deem unworthy of reproduction.

    I might have been looking too deeply into things, because that was something we had just discussed in class, but I’m just throwing that out there.

    Comment by Amelia — April 10, 2008 @ 4:33 pm | Reply

  4. No, that’s a great point. Just look at China. And there is pressure from doctors sometimes (I’m going off of memories of feministing posts) for white women to NOT be sterilized even when they want to, and women of color to be sterilized even when they don’t want to. But I also think that if more people had access to affordable birth control, many of them would voluntarily have less kids (at least, I consider it likely for urban women). That’s where things like abstinence only ed, the Hyde Amendment, and the global gag rule are hurting all kinds of women, including the poor and the non-Western. So really, we have both problems – the powerful trying to keep the others from reproducing out of racism and probably other prejudices, and the powerful trying to keep women from being able to reproduce less and keep homosexual couples from marrying out of (hetero)sexism and a desire to impose their religious/moral beliefs on others. I’m glad you brought that up, it’s really important to keep in mind how all sides of reproductive rights matter and how these issues affect different groups differently.

    Comment by judgesnineteen — April 10, 2008 @ 6:39 pm | Reply

  5. Thanks for writing this…I read some very intresting stuff here, just to let you know. Hmmmn….

    Comment by This was intresting... — March 11, 2009 @ 8:20 pm | Reply

  6. Thanks!

    Comment by judgesnineteen — March 21, 2009 @ 12:18 am | Reply


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