Viewpoint: About the backlash faced by JK Rowling arguing against a ’sex spectrum’—Evolutionary biologist says maybe she was right

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JK Rowling recently drew fire on social media for tweeting the statements to the effect that “biological sex is real.” The tweets began when she mocked an opinion piece that used the term “people who menstruate” in place of “women” to account for the fact that transgender men also menstruate, and prefer not to be described as women.

The backlash on Twitter has been swift and cacophonous, and headlines have followed. GLAAD, an LGBT advocacy group, issued a response on Twitter, calling Rowling’s tweets “inaccurate and cruel.”

As a broad concept, males are the sex that produce small gametes (sperm) and females produce large gametes (ova). There are no intermediate gametes, which is why there is no spectrum of sex. 

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As more and more people refer to themselves as trans, nonbinary, two-spirited, and gender-non-conforming, there’s been a push to realign the objective reality of biological sex to match one’s subjectively experienced gender identity. In the emerging view, the very notion of males and females existing as real biological entities is now seen as obsolete. Instead, some argue, we have only varying degrees of “male-ness” and “female-ness.” 

Related article:  Viewpoint: Science needs to embrace the difference between sex and gender—without abandoning the past

That above-cited 99.98 percent figure falls short of 100 percent because of the roughly 0.02 percent who are intersex. (The actual figure is estimated to be about 0.018 percent.) But the claim that intersex conditions support the sex spectrum model conflates the statement “there are only two sexes” (true) with “every human can be unambiguously categorized as either male or female” (false). The existence of only two sexes does not mean sex is never ambiguous. But intersex individuals do not demonstrate that sex is a spectrum. Just because sex may be ambiguous for some does not mean it’s ambiguous (and, as some commentators would extrapolate, arbitrary) for all.

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Some trans–rights activists have asked why it should be that people like me are so fixated on an issue where the stakes seem so small. But the stakes aren’t small: If the idea of biological sex can be overturned in the domain of athletic competition, where differences between male and female are abundantly obvious, then the battle to push back sex-spectrum pseudoscience in every other area will be lost—from the admission of males into female prisons and rape-crisis centers, to the facilitation of sex-change surgery for schoolchildren.

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