I have been following the development of Trans ideology for the last few years.  Much of it is built on a notion of gender that I have come to believe is very misguided.  Without this, a great deal of the assertions of the Trans movement, I believe, collapse.  Well, here are my thoughts on the subject.

I want to start out with an attack on someone whose blog I have read for years, and who, I believe, is one of the most important figures in the fight against pseudoscience and the falsification of scientific fact for political purposes, P. Z. Myers.  Myers is a professor of evolutionary biology in Minnesota, and has done tremendous work unmasking the pathetic ignorance that lies behind young earth creationism and other forms of evolutionary denialsim.  Myers is often savagely contemptuous of creationist figures like Ken Ham, correctly pointing out that they are utterly ignorant of evolutionary biology, and that they spout views that any marginally educated person knows to be nonsense.  Lately, he has been very correctly attacking the new fad of  "effective altruism", a sort of left wing parallel to the idiocy of creationsim; here is a specimen of his comment:

"...The lack of relevant qualifications. Look at the big guns of ( effective altruism:) Bostrom, MacAskill, Yudkowsky, Alexander, Hanson (I’ll even toss in Sam Harris, although he doesn’t seem to be deeply involved in EA). Do any of them have any background in genetics at all? They do not. Yet they go on and on about dygenesis and eugenesis and trends in populations that have to be countered, or they defend Charles Murray’s (also not a geneticist) racist interpretations of traits of whole populations."

Well, P.Z., I am about to accuse you, and other biologists like you, with committing a similar crime when it comes to the subject of gender.  For, in fact, gender is not a biological concept at all, but rather a linguistic one, and that is really the real point I want to make here, not attacking someone for whom I have a great deal of respect.  To do this, I want to consider the etymology of the word "gender."  I will do this as briefly as possible; anyone who wants more can easily find it from numerous trustworthy sources online.

Let's start with pretty much the ultimate source for the history of English words, the Oxford English Dictionary.

"1. Grammar... In some (esp. Indo-European) languages, as Latin, French, German, English, etc.: each of the classes (typically masculine, feminine, neuter, common) of nouns and pronouns distinguished by the different inflections which they have and which they require in words syntactically associated with them; similarly applied to adjectives (and in some languages) verbs, to denote the appropriate form for accompanying a noun of such a class. Also: the fact, condition, or property of belonging to such a class; the classification of language in this way."

The OED cites examples of the word used with this meaning dating from this example from c1390:  

"Hire name, þat was femynyn Of gendre, heo turned in to masculyn."

Note that it was the name that had gender, not the woman herself.  Continuing with the OED:

"In the 20th cent., as sex came increasingly to mean sexual intercourse (see sex n.1 4b), gender began to replace it (in early use euphemistically) as the usual word for the biological grouping of males and females. It is now often merged with or coloured by sense 3b.*"

And here is another comment, from the Online Etymological Dictionary:

"The "male-or-female sex" sense of the word is attested in English from early 15c. As sex (n.) took on erotic qualities in 20c., gender came to be the usual English word for "sex of a human being," in which use it was at first regarded as colloquial or humorous. Later often in feminist writing with reference to social attributes as much as biological qualities; this sense first attested 1963."

In other words, the notion of "gender" as an equivalent to biological sex is a new one in the history of language, and has always been associated with an ideological, not scientific, purpose.

I could go on here, and I welcome anyone interested to look further at these and other sources.  In truth, as with any natural language, the history of words is not without compromise.  There are certainly examples of other uses of this term,  but note that the use of the term "gender" as a synonym for biological sex, is, except for rare occasions, a very new one, and is closely associated with certain strains of political thought.  In fact, the real meaning of the term "gender" relates to linguistic properties, not biological ones.  It is interesting to note, in support of this idea, the fact that the whole gender controversy is much stronger in English speaking places, rather than, say the rest of Europe, where spoken languages (French, Spanish, Italian, German etc.) have far stronger gender differences than  English, whose gender characteristics are at this point largely vestigial- nobody spends much time in the US or England learning to decline nouns, something which is an essential part of language education in other parts of Europe.**

My point is that there is no biological reality to the notion of gender; it is a linguistic concept which has been misappropriated for ideological reasons.  As for sex, any lab technician who examines the chromosomes from an organism can quickly tell what sex it is.  In the face of this reality, there has been a clear ideological motive in replacing the word "sex" with "gender."  Unfortunately this replacement has been in the service of spreading a falsehood, not the truth.  To turn back to P. Z. Myers, for a second, I believe a time will come when he, as an unquestionably honest man, will feel considerable remorse for directing some really unacceptable abuse at J. K. Rowling, a person who really does make her living through the use of language, for her crime of daring to speak an obvious truth. 

And the results are predictable:  The insistence on the "gender" theory of human sexuality has been accompanied by seemingly endless examples of bullying and threats of violence if this new doctrine is questioned.  That is a sure sign, if history means anything, that its proponents know it is not true, and are simply trying to force their will on everyone else.  That is not science, and those who care about scientific truth should not tolerate it's being propagated in their names.

* "3. b. Psychology and Sociology (originally U.S.). The state of being male or female as expressed by social or cultural distinctions and differences, rather than biological ones; the collective attributes or traits associated with a particular sex, or determined as a result of one's sex. Also: a (male or female) group characterized in this way."  All examples of this sort come from 1945 or later.  

** I want to note here that I do not speak of non-European languages because I don't know enough about them to comment.  However, as far as I can tell, the trans furor largely seems, at this point, to be a European/North American phenomenon, so I hope that is okay.  I welcome comment from anyone who can speak about this issue in other countries.


Infidel753 said…
The difference between gender and biological sex exemplifies the difference between words which describe categories and statuses humans impose on the world, and objective realities which simply exist and need words to refer to them. Gender ideology tries to muddle the distinction.

Whether a word is masculine or feminine in French really does just depend on what the grammar books say and how people use the word. In theory, a masculine word really could become feminine if all native speakers started using it that way, because "masculine" and "feminine" in that sense have no existence apart from human usage of them.

The distinction between biological sexes, like the distinction between species, is a fact of objective reality. We have words to describe those differences, but the way we use those words has no effect on the objective reality that exists outside us. A man can no more become a woman than he can become a giraffe, but ideology-addled humans are quite capable of declaring that 2+2=5 and then trying to bully everyone into pretending to believe it.
Grung_e_Gene said…
This above comment, of course, is reductive blinkered ignorance and ignores the medical realities of intersex children and biological gray areas to adhere to a mean spirited anti-trans ideology.

Biology isn't math nor even arithmetic trying claim 2+2=4 is of course a simpleton understanding of different base math.
Green Eagle said…
Gene, sorry, but I don't agree with you on this. The fact that, out of the billions of humans born on this planet, a minuscule number might be sexually malformed does not prove anything; you might as well say that because a few poor humans are born without legs that it is normal for humans to have no legs. Even those sad individuals who seem to be between men and women either have XX or XY chromosomes, and are therefore either genetically male or female; there is no genetic gray area.

What I find far more disturbing than this confusion over basic biology is the fact that trans activists have made their default response to other opinions an attack on the basic decency of their opponents. Anyone who has studied the history of ideas knows that this is inevitably a sign that there is no real argument to support their position. It is very sad to me to see people on the left falling prey to intellectual bullying of a sort that would make right wingers proud.
Grung_e_Gene said…
Green eAgle,

We can disagree no problem. But, yes there are fact gray areas XXY for instance and intersex is not rare.--->

But, more importantly the Trans community has zero power to "bully everyone into pretending believe it". Trans people are viciously bullied and beaten and suffer a high degree of emotional and physical pain and suffering. But, more than that this is America, people have the absolute right to be whomever they want to be and they have the absolute right to be called by whatever moniker or name or pronoun they wish. Period. Otherwise we might as well go back to allowing White Reactionary America they right to call Muhammed Ali Cassius Clay or Boy whenever they wish.

I absolutely believe in your decency. I also know several trans individuals and their families and I must think about them and their struggles. The problem comes when good people like yourself allow the evil pricks like Jordan Peterson and Jesse Watters claim see even liberals agree with US.
Green Eagle said…
" the Trans community has zero power to "bully everyone into pretending believe it" Gene, I do not want to go any further into a discussion of this issue, because we obviously disagree, but if you follow Infidel's blog roundup, you must know that he documents, on a virtually weekly basis, instances of bullying and far more than bullying, incessant threats of violence directed by "trans activists" toward anyone who dares to disagree with them. I want to add that none of this seems to have any support from the actual trans people I know, but it does exist and is widespread enough that it is something that people on the left need to address.
Dave Dubya said…
I can't say I understand the gender identity issues suffered by some people. I don't have the answers to their problems.

They alone have to deal with their unhappiness and emotional state.

I think adults should be free to do what they will with their bodies, but not minors.

I do pity them, and realize they are too often physically and psychologically victimized.

There's no question trans people are misunderstood and hated, and made scapegoats by bigots.

No wonder some of them get very angry and overly defensive to the degree they demand equal, and even unique, rights for themselves.

Green Eagle said…
Just to be clear: I know a few trans individuals. They are without exception fine, decent people. Their attitudes have nothing in common with the violence and hatred of the so-called trans rights movement, or at least the members of it that use bullying and death threats to force their will down people's throats, and seem to have far more in common with the worst kind of male bullies than they do with the trans people I know.

Infidel has done such a great job of reporting on this malicious fringe for years now; anyone who follows his Sunday blog roundup knows what I am talking about. I know some people whose only knowledge of this issue is through friends of theirs who are trans, and I can say that they are often mystified when I mention these alleged trans activists.

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