First of all, I'm going to agree with you that I hope Exeter mom wins her case. Not because of the "fact" of biological essentialism you present above, but in a pluralistic society people shouldn't be penalized for holding "wrong" opinions, especially stupid kids who don't have enough experience in the world mouthing off in school buses.

That said, you dropped this paragraph into an otherwise solid piece, and like either of the kids on the school bus, I'm going to mouth off a bit myself:

"The fact that there are two genders—male and female—is not a matter of opinion. It's a matter of biological fact. Any person who is neither male nor female, or is biologically both is a genetic aberration, not a part of the taxonomy classification of species. There is no self-replicating gender fluid race of humans. It does not exist. The "gender" pronoun preference is as personal, and is irrelevant to all except the self-indulgent people who think words mean only what they say they mean."

If I interpret your words literally (and overlook your mislabeling of "sex" as "gender"), I'm led to believe that you are one of two kinds of person in your everyday social interactions. Either you have Kryptonian eyesight and can see a person's cellular chromosomes just by looking at them OR you can be a very grabby person around androgynous men or masculine women. ("Pardon me while I feel what you're packing so I know whether to address you as 'sir' or 'ma'am'.")

I also don't believe that you believe that human mutations (or other conditions) that render one incapable of reproduction as kicking that person out of the taxonomic species of "homo sapiens" (outside rhetorical argumentative contexts). One of my clients is a paleontologist with whom I've had a couple of interesting conversations about the debate within their field of whether taxonomically categorize prehistoric megafauna on the basis of genotype (genetic similarity) or phenotype (physical features expressed), and I'm pretty confident that neither side would treat a one-off mutation resulting in sterility as the basis of excluding a member from their species. And if we apply that logic to human beings, not only are you excluding hermaphrodites from any socially or scientifically useful definition of "human being", but also a good number of folks suffering from other genetic mutations (including more than a few folks with Down Syndrome). I have loved ones who are unable to "replicate" due to medical issues – they didn't stop being humans after their operations and accidents. I understand the argument you're trying to make, but as soon as you start to apply it outside the gender context, it becomes pretty damn ghoulish.

As someone twisting the meaning of words and commonly-understood concepts to make a biological essentialist argument, you don't have a lot of ground to stand on when it comes to dinging people for their "misuse" of gender pronouns.

As I mention above, I respect your right to be what I consider is wrong on this point, and in the interest of putting forward the way I think about these things (so you have the same opportunity to take potshots at it as I've done with yours), here's where I'm at now:

Given I don't have superhuman eyesight or another sixth sense that tells me the genetic configuration of every human being with whom I encounter (even those whose fertility status I don't know), my main relevant "fact" that I use to guide my social interactions are the social queues presented either passively or actively. Folks going out of their way to present as masculine or feminine earn "sirs" and "ma'ams" and I'll use the corresponding gendered pronoun accordingly (and often subconsciously). For folks who fall within the zone of uncertainty, I'll modify my language use to avoid gendered speech (given that I'm not sure myself and the cost of neutral language is less than the cost of a social faux pas). If someone corrects me, as a matter of courtesy (and you should appreciate this as a Southerner), I'll thank the person for their correction and modify my language accordingly. In 99.99% of the interactions that I have in my daily life, gender (the social presentation of one's sexuality) is "fact" that is most relevant in guiding my interactions with others.

That said, I also don't believe that biology (sex) is irrelevant in all contexts either. I'm not a doctor, so I don't have to deal with this hardly ever, but in the event where biology matters, I won't hesitate to tell a doctor or EMT that a person they're treating is biological male, female, or something else, as a person's biology may be relevant in terms of the most effective treatment needed to help them. In the passport discussion a couple weeks ago, this is why I think that there's still a relevant place on that document for documenting those details.

Finally – and really not germane to this discussion – I include sexual preference as the third axis in my mental model so that I have enough dimensions to wrap my head around the world of issues that sit outside the traditional cisgender norms I find myself within.

Anyhoo – that's my mental model and governing "facts" that I'm comfortable putting out there and subjecting to critique in whatever sense you'd like to poke holes in it. It's a solid model that's served me well.

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Nov 19, 2021Liked by Chris J. Karr

Agreed on the First Amendment issues at play here. I'm going to continue leaning towards Andrew Sullivan's views on there being two sexes and infinite genders: https://andrewsullivan.substack.com/p/two-sexes-infinite-genders-7e4

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Erasing my First Amendment right to freedom of religion is not going over well with me. Good for Exeter mom!

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Pronouns that differ from those commonly used are a personal matter and do not justify changing the entire language or social structure to accommodate a few confused people. If I were pointing out someone who, by all outward appearances, seems to be a male, I would use male pronouns. It really doesn't matter how he introduces himself. What does matter is if he wants to shower in the female locker room or play on the female tennis team.

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