What are we talking about (now) when we talk about children and gender

The rhetoric in Davis’ article is much the same as the rhetoric I’ve seen from various transphobes on Twitter and 4chan. It is a damaging argument that people who dare to challenge their sex assigned at birth do not know what they are doing and that to oppose such people is to protect children. It’s the kind of rhetoric that leads to cases like the Boston Children’s Hospital bomb threat.

Talia Fairchild

Maynard

We need more patience, more compassion to counter the political theater of “otherness”

Regarding “Children and Gender: We Need to (Be able to) Talk About It” (Ideas, September 25): Lisa Selin Davis claims to be a liberal and a feminist, but writes an article that follows the script of a specific text and political strategy orchestrated by those for whom liberalism and feminism are anathema.

While there is very little legitimate discussion about understanding the lives of trans Americans, the struggles they face, and how their families and communities can support and love them, there is a relentless campaign to fabricate political theater and “other” these fellow citizens.

The tactics play on the limited experience many have with transgender people and echo stereotypes from a horrific past. The campaign is a naked display of political violence against the vulnerable or those who are seen as unable to fight back.

I agree with Davis that there are some who don’t feel in their head or heart that they fully understand people like my own family member who is transgender. I applaud those I meet who approach this lack of understanding with patience, compassion and love.

However, the relentless political theater I have observed attacking transgender children and adults is neither feminist, nor liberal, nor benevolent.

Susan Franz

Uxbridge

Male and female categories are what we struggle with

Lisa Selin Davis’ Ideas article on children and gender has a lot to recommend it. However, I believe the author misunderstands what gender theorists mean when they claim that biological sex is socially constructed. To say that sex is socially constructed does not mean, as Davis suggests, that biological sex is not “real.” Of course, vaginas, penises, uteruses, etc. are real. Rather, what it means is that the categories masculine and feminine that we use to designate sex are constructed (i.e. invented).

There are many real biological traits for which societies do not create distinct categories—traits that are in fact empirically observable, that do exist—but these various traits do not necessarily become a basis for the division of labor in families and society. labor force and they are not used to justify social, economic and political inequalities and power relations. Gender, most often divided in terms of male versus female (although this is not the same in all societies and is changing more and more) is used in this way.

It is the job of gender specialists to explain how and why particular real biological differences – in this case sex – are socially constructed into the categories they are, and how and why these categories come to mean what they are. ‘they do.

Susan Ostrander

Cambridge

The author is Emeritus Professor of Sociology at Tufts University.

“Biological sex is dimorphic”? Well it’s complicated

I applaud Lisa Selin Davis’ call for a civil and rational discussion. Let’s start with his hypothesis that “biological sex is … dimorphic”. I guess most people, including maybe Davis, don’t know what biological sex really is.

Only some species reproduce sexually (as opposed to cloning), and only some of them are sexually dimorphic (two types of gametes: larger eggs and smaller sperm). This is the definition of “biological sex”: the asymmetry in the typical size of gametes. It sounds simple, but sex determination mechanisms vary wildly from species to species. For some reptiles, it is the temperature of the egg environment. For some fish, the young develop as one sex and sometimes switch to the other depending on group structure. Barnacles produce sexually dimorphic gametes but are hermaphroditic, each producing both sperm and eggs. For some insects, worms, and even some mammals, the females have two X chromosomes and the males only one. For most mammals, males have a Y chromosome while females do not. But that’s just the beginning; what happens next?

For humans, sexual differentiation is triggered at about six weeks gestation by a single Y-chromosome gene product that triggers a “masculinized” body plan; this is why most “Y present” people develop testicles and produce sperm and most “Y absent” people develop ovaries and produce eggs. But there are many exceptions to this typical pattern. Some people have a mosaic of different genes in their cells, resulting in a mixture of effects throughout their body. By the time we are adults, we have had several surges of hormones. Individual differences in their quantity, the sensitivity of our tissues, and other physiological and environmental factors that enhance or weaken their effect all lead to an incredible diversity of virtually continuous variation in our body and behavior.

I ask: where is it obvious that the biological sex is dimorphic?

Max Krasnow

Waltham

The author is an associate in the psychology department at Harvard and teaches in the Division of Continuing Education.

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