The Compelling, Fallacious Argument Underlying Anti-LGBTQ Rhetoric

Language is a fine tool until politicians and religious leaders get involved

Amethysta Herrick
Amethysta Herrick

In a previous article, I stated I was not proud to be transgender, because I did not earn how I view myself from inside. That is, my gender is not an accomplishment. Being transgender is similar to being born in Burbank, having hazel eyes, or naturally purple hair — I did not choose it. (OK, I admit the purple hair isn’t natural.)

Every human is born in one location, with a unique genetic combination, and a particular physical structure. Nobody bats an eye when a human moves to another city. And while I do not discount discrimination regarding race and physical structure, United States labor laws mandate that an applicant of any race or disability be considered for a job based on cognitive factors, not physical, because physical structure does not define our capabilities.

So what about gamete production — whether my body builds sperm or ova in an organ of my body? Whether my body produces gametes at all is an aspect of physical structure that can be easily modified, much like changing location (if potentially more painful). Why — if physical structure should not prevent me from getting a job — should gamete production prevent me from wearing the clothes I choose?

The answer is the key to understanding anti-LGBTQ rhetoric — a scientifically inaccurate, yet highly compelling argument.

The anti-LGBTQ rhetoric

Why do I call anti-LGBTQ rhetoric “highly compelling?” Am I a betrayer to my community? From a logical standpoint, I acknowledge the argument appears both simple and elegant, at least superficially.

If you possess a Y chromosome…
…you are male…
…and will grow a penis…
…which makes you a man…
…who should be attracted to women…
…and should stay out of public restrooms labeled a particular way.

Despite its inaccuracy, the argument is compelling because it appears to flow from premise to conclusions. Science teaches us that Y chromosomes make new-born babies male, and male babies have penises.

If the premise — the scientific invocation of genetics — is valid, and the first two conclusions appear scientifically unassailable, why wouldn’t the remaining conclusions — regarding gender and sexuality — follow as well?

Unfortunately, we in the LGBTQ community have difficulty expressing where the argument breaks down. Worse, we have conflicting arguments about why it breaks down. We use language as poorly as our opposition, which dilutes our ability to effect change.

And that — above all things — is why we are losing the battle for policy regarding LGBTQ issues.

How sex really works

Above, I claimed science teaches us that Y chromosomes make new-born babies male. That statement is inaccurate. Science teaches us no such thing.

The words “male” and “female” exist outside the human species. They apply to any species that engages in sexual reproduction — that is, reproduction that entails two sources of genetic material. “Male” and “female” are broad categories that describe gamete production — like I mentioned in the introduction.

Gametes are the method by which the genetics of a child are transmitted during sexual reproduction. That is, gametes from two organisms reproducing sexually combine to make babies.

In our high-school sex-ed class, we saw a sperm and an egg combine to make Junior. “Male” is the word used to define the organism that contributes sperm; “female” is the word used to define the organism that contributes the egg.

There is no greater, overarching definition of sex. That’s it. Sex isn’t defined by genitalia, genetics, hair style, or type of underwear — it is defined by the type of gamete produced for sexual reproduction.

This definition, however, brings up some uncomfortable questions. Humans don’t reach sexual maturity until teenage years. Before that, they do not produce gametes.

Is a young boy male? He hasn’t yet acquired the ability to produce sperm.
Is a young girl female? She hasn’t yet acquired the ability to produce ova.
Is an old man male? His biochemistry may prevent him from producing sperm.
Is a woman still female after removing both ovaries to combat ovarian cancer?
Is a man still male after an accident that removed his testicles?

Fortunately, anti-LGBTQ rhetoric retorts, “We started with genetics, so nyah. Try and fight that!”

How genetics really works

Challenge accepted!

That Y chromosome anti-LGBTQ rhetoric reveres does not cause testes to develop. A fetus is not capable of producing the testosterone necessary to develop testes. Instead, the fetus requires an outside source of testosterone in order to begin developing testes — without it, every fetus will develop female primary sex characteristics.

The outside source of testosterone is the mother. A Y chromosome may stimulate the mother to secrete testosterone, which may stimulate the fetus to develop testes. Why the equivocation? Because some women don’t secrete much testosterone and some fetuses are not sensitive to the testosterone that is secreted.

There are also intersex characteristics that may affect development of primary sex characteristics — both male and female. Some XX genotype humans can produce sperm. Some XY genotype humans can produce ova.

Genetics is a coin toss — a semi-random distribution of two sources of genetic material. It is never perfect. It is always unpredictable.

The result, then, is that a Y chromosome represents a probability of developing testes. Should the fetus be born, that child must grow to sexual maturity before he produces sperm.

A Y chromosome is — at best — the potential for a human to produce sperm. A child who began developing testes in utero has the potential to produce sperm if he comes to sexual maturity. Technically, before sexual maturity, that child has no sex, because there is no gamete production.

Re-examining the rhetoric

New-born human babies are assigned a sex at birth based on external genitalia and no further examination. Does it matter?

Sex is a broad categorization based on sexual reproduction that applies only at the species level. That is, the definitions apply to humanity in general. Although humanity is composed of individual humans, individual humans are defined by the semi-random combination of the parent genetics. Each individual human may or may not be able to reproduce sexually.

But sex is not a characteristic intended to define an individual. Physical structure — derived from genetics and subject to actions throughout the life of the organism — are particular to each organism.

The premise of anti-LGBTQ rhetoric requires genetics to lead directly to one of two sexes that produce one of two gametes. The premise is flawed. Forget about the rest of the argument — we can’t get past the first step.

At this point, anti-LGBTQ supporters sputter, “Those individuals who don’t develop testes despite a Y chromosome are outliers, a statistical anomaly not worth considering. Most humans with a Y chromosome develop testes, which — as Cookie Monster states — is good enough for me.”

But science doesn’t work like that. A scientific definition cannot be true most of the time. A logical argument used to develop just policy in a country cannot apply most of the time. A logical argument that misuses scientific terminology in its premise is a fallacy.

So are we stuck without definitions?

What have I proved with this trip down Biology Lane, if anything? The last conclusion I reached is that categorization by sex only strictly applies to humans who have reached sexual maturity — less than half the global population. Certainly we should be able to make decisions with more granularity than that? Policy is being made every day, and this is important.

My dear friend Saoirse questions whether human existence ought to be broken down into only two buckets in the first place. Why not make laws that apply to humans, not different categories of humans that barely make sense?

There is a long road to travel before we reach that ideal. Further, there is a methodology for categorizing differences among humans that works more specifically than sex.

As a species-level characterization, sex works because it takes into account absolutely no other characteristics than the type of gamete produced. At the individual level, we must investigate how each organism expresses sex characteristics in its particular capability. There is a word for that: gender.

To be clear, the issue is misuse of language — nothing else. Common knowledge about sex and gender has been informed by political and religious agendas and could easily be rectified. What I discussed above is Biology 101 kind of information, not esoteric, graduate-level scientific research.

The problem is definitions.

In the next article, I intend to discuss gender in detail as it derives from what makes each of us human — our biochemistry, our psychology, and our socio-environmental factors.


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.