Fixing the Fallacy in Anti-LGBTQ Arguments about Gender

Biology is not the final word in gender and sexuality

Amethysta Herrick
Amethysta Herrick

In my last article, I described the primary issue with anti-LGBTQ rhetoric, which centers around misuse of the word “sex.” Biology gives a strict definition of the word, which considers only production of gametes — the cells used to produce offspring in sexual reproduction. Organisms capable of producing sperm are male; organisms capable of producing ova are female.

In my article, I posed several questions that likely seemed nonsensical, such as whether a prepubescent boy is technically considered male before he begins producing sperm. Is a male who gets in an accident and loses his testicles still male? Is a woman who undergoes a double oophorectomy still female?

I purposely used nonsensical questions to draw attention to the fallacy of using sex — a species-level abstraction — to describe individual expression of sex characteristics. Because anti-LGBTQ rhetoric depends on being able to characterize individuals and their behavior by sex, demonstrating the absurdity of that approach causes the rest of the argument to break down.

I realize I was unclear describing the direction I was going — Saoirse, Deborah Schwarz, Megan, and Selena Routley had clarifications to make to my arguments. Obviously, sex must exist, or humans wouldn’t reproduce.

But what we live on a daily basis is not the existence of a species. We each live the existence of an individual. There is a word biology provides to describe how sex characteristics — whether they exist in the organism or not — are expressed at the individual level.

That word is gender, and it is the focus of this article.

Sex and gender revisited

An excellent analogy to sex and gender is the relationship of macroeconomics (performance of an economy as a whole) to microeconomics (local market behavior). National supply and demand does not take into account personal changes in expectations that occur daily, whether they be weather-related, hearing a song on the radio on the way to work, or viewing an advertisement.

Micro-level fluctuation occurs because of individual influences at the local level. Those influences exist, and cause each of us to make decisions daily about Coke vs. Pepsi, Zingers vs. Twinkies, or McDonald’s vs. well…pretty much any other fucking food on the planet.

But the decisions we make daily do not affect prices immediately — microeconomic behavior is different from long-term, macroeconomic trends.

Similarly, each of us makes decisions about how to express sex characteristics daily. I emphasize that the sex characteristics need not exist in the organism — for instance, as a transgender woman, I do not produce ova, which implies I do not fit biology’s definition of “female.” And yet I am a woman.

Those two statements may sound contradictory, but they are accurate as biology defines them. The words “male” and “female” relate only to gamete production. The words “man” and “woman” relate only to gender.

The two definitions are distinct, although related. Gender exists because humans possess sex characteristics to express. However, sex cannot be derived from the expression of characteristics as part of gender.

A top-level view of gender

Gender is a complex of physical, psychological, and socio-environmental factors. Gender is an individual expression, but understandable within the context of the above factors.

To be clear, choosing whatever identity suits you is not a definition for gender. Developing identity is personal expression, of which gender is likely to be a part. But identity — like gender — is contextual to environment as well. It is also possible to attempt to express an identity that does not match who we know we are inside.

To discuss gender thoroughly, I intend to work from the top down — from social environment back to the physical body. In this way, I will demonstrate that gender is created as layers of self-expression derived from interaction with the environment around us.

Gender as a member of society

As a final definition, the words “masculine” and “feminine” describe aspects of genders: “man” and “woman,” respectively. These terms, however, are sensitive to the context in which gender is expressed.

For instance, in the United States, high heels and makeup are considered feminine characteristics. Masculine pop stars tend to adopt rugged and strong characteristics.

But in pre-Revolution France, high heels and makeup were the definition of masculinity. Masculine pop stars in South Korea typically wear makeup, and more makeup is purchased by men than women.

Why is pre-Revolution France and present-day South Korea so different from the United States? Gender characteristics undergo continuous evolution as a society defines what it finds feminine and masculine.

The evolution never stops — where women wore poodle skirts and cashmere sweaters in the 1950s, they wear T-shirts and jeans today…which men wore in the 1950s (if “Grease” is to be trusted, and I think it can — would John Travolta lie?).

Gender is — in part — defined by the society in which one lives. We, as members of society, view human characteristics through the lens of social history. Of course, each of us is society — and as fashion and politics change, so expression of human characteristics changes.

Gender as a thinking being

To return to the United States, males wearing high heels and makeup are subjected to humiliation. They are expected to feel guilty for rebelling against social norms. They are taught to be ashamed of expressing themselves the way females do in society.

Our thoughts, our feelings, our motivations have aspects to them that can be traced in history. In Western Magical Tradition, there are two types of action, named for gender characteristics — masculine and feminine. They mirror — to a certain extent — the way male and female humans engage in sexual reproduction.

Masculine action is activating and directing. It begins a process.
Feminine action is receiving and nurturing. It completes a process.

By themselves, neither masculine nor feminine action goes anywhere. Activation requires completion, but nothing is completed without first being activated. Masculine needs feminine, as feminine needs masculine. Neither is more important than the other.

This concept — and how many social characteristics are categorized today — links back to social environment. Western society was not always male-dominated as it is today. Many Celtic tribes were led by a matriarch. The Iceni army that took on the Romans in 60 CE was led by a woman — Boudicca.

Gender is in part defined by how we act. Our actions are informed by our feelings and thoughts, some of which cannot be touched by society, and some of which change society as part of human evolution.

Gender as a physical body

Finally, gender is not completely distinct from physical structure. Before, I mentioned clothes and makeup. Although social environment lays weak boundaries around gender characteristics, those boundaries change. Clothes and makeup are good examples — what do we choose to wear within the safe boundaries of social expression?

The physical realm is where the greatest personal expression occurs. While we all think and feel and act differently, the sheer diversity of human physical characteristics is staggering.

Gender may also be affected by genetics and biochemistry. My experience with hormone therapy indicates cognition is affected by hormone balance. There may also be a relationship among genetics, epigenetics, and gender. Those aspects are being explored, and little hard evidence exists.

Of course, gender is in part expressed with body shape. Women are associated with curves, breasts, smaller frames, smaller muscles. Men are associated with straighter lines, thicker muscles, and body hair.

But as with the species-level abstraction of sex, other individual-level expressions (such as body structure, biochemistry, and brain structure) are not 100% accurate predictors of gender.

Gender as a human

Gender encompasses our physical structure; our thoughts, emotions, and actions; and how the two are expressed within socio-environmental factors. To summarize:

  • A male human produces sperm
  • A female human produces ova
  • A man looks, acts, and feels the way men are expected within context of the society around him
  • A woman looks, acts, and feels the way women are expected within context of the society around her

I wrote earlier that gender is an expression of sex characteristics — whether they exist in the organism or not. Because looking, acting, and feeling are not related to gamete production, it follows that genitalia and gamete production organs are not necessary for gender expression.

Can a male woman exist? Yes, she is a human capable of producing sperm who looks and acts like a woman.

Can a female man exist? Yes, he is a human capable of producing ova who looks and acts like a man.

Is a woman what Matt Walsh thinks is a woman? Yes, and a woman is also what you think is a woman and what I think is a woman. Isn’t life in a society grand?

These are not complicated definitions, but we in the LGBTQ community must use them consistently. In the next article of this series, I intend to discuss gender dysphoria and how we in the transgender community can improve our representation of who we are to those who question it.


Amethysta Herrick

Ami is a transgender woman dedicated to exploring identity and gender. She is Editor-in-Chief of Purplepaw Publications, LLC.

The views and opinions expressed are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect the offical policy or position of Purplepaw Publications, LLC. Please view the Disclaimer page for further information.