Two of the world’s foremost experts confidently dismiss the timeless truth that sex and gender identity are chromosomal and embodied realities—while admitting no one knows where gender identity originates or, for that matter, what constitutes male or female. This admission means humanity is left with no stable definition of itself.
Last week, within the span of a few days, The New York Times published two articles (first, second) pushing back against the Trump administration’s plans to roll back an Obama-era policy concerning gender identity. As I’ve written elsewhere, the administration’s impending memo is hardly controversial, despite what activists say. Despite the impression given by the Times, these articles reflect the viewpoints of LGBT activists rather than impartial science or sound philosophy.
The first article, published a day after the initial story, is by science journalist Denise Grady and titled “Anatomy Does Not Determine Gender, Experts Say.” In the article, Grady quotes from only one source, Dr. Joshua D. Safer, executive director of the Center for Transgender Medicine and Surgery at Mount Sinai Health System in New York. Safer is also president of the United States Professional Association of Transgender Health.
Right away in this article, readers are told that defining one’s sex based on biology is “oversimplified and often medically meaningless.” But when asked about what determines gender identity—whether one is male or female—Safer speculates. It’s biological in some capacity, he grants, but he cannot say for sure. All that’s left to define one’s gender is their “identity”—“a person’s powerful, core knowledge of who they are.” It’s worth noting that the ambiguity of Dr. Safer’s argument is only exceeded by the disagreement among transgender voices on whether any biological component is necessary at all.
The second is an opinion article, “Why Sex Is Not Binary,” by Anne Fausto-Sterling, emeritus professor of biology and gender studies at Brown University. Fausto-Sterling, a lesbian and feminist whose career has focused on critiquing traditional understandings of gender, explains the sequencing of how persons develop sexually in-utero and through puberty.
According to Fausto-Sterling, “It has long been known that there is no single biological measure that unassailably places each and every human into one of two categories—male or female.” This is a breathtaking and sweeping claim. If such a statement is accurate, it means that, up until now, all of human history’s attempt to understand the embodied reality of men and women has been in error. It would mean that every human society with norms that reflect the male-female binary has been wrong.