“Bathroom Bill” Supporters Don’t Understand the Science of Gender

There is often a danger when politicians decide policies based on a rudimentary understanding of science.

Most pronounced is the refusal of Republicans to recognize the threat of Climate Change based on having a kinda sorta feeling that the science is wrong, plus sometimes it’s cold and sometimes scientists and non-scientists paid by the energy industry say it’s not true. But even Democrats have their moments, like assailing GMO food despite weak evidence that it is dangerous, and sometimes attempting to expand exemptions for vaccinations based on discredited claims that they cause autism.

And in the debate over bathroom accommodation, once again there is the danger of politicians legislating when not fully versed in science. Because a number of recent bills in state legislatures have shown an ignorance on the part of some politicians as to the science of gender.

Some recent bills have referred to gender as being identifiable at birth, by both genetics and anatomy:

  • “’Sex’ means the physical condition of being male or female, as determined by an individual’s reproductive organs and as designated on that individual’s birth certificate,” reads a bill introduced in the Wisconsin State Senate.
  • “The term, biological sex, as used in this Act, means the physical condition of being male or female as determined by a person’s chromosomes and identified at birth by a person’s anatomy,” says South Dakota’s House Bill 1008, which passed the state legislature but was vetoed by the governor.

To begin, these bills show scientific ignorance by defining gender as either male or female, not taking into account people who are born intersex.

But on top of that, while in a sense gender is determined genetically at birth, nevertheless it is not always identifiable anatomically at birth. And even putting aside someone’s gender identity in the future, nevertheless it is not always immutable biologically. Because gender can still change biologically during a person’s adolescence.

It seems legislators are not aware of male pseudohermaphroditism (also called XY intersex), a condition in which children can be born appearing anatomically to be female, but then during puberty receive a rush of androgenic hormones, resulting in their taking on male anatomic traits. This is generally followed by the individual living life as a male. The condition, which may not be discovered until this transition takes place, has multiple etiologies.

Perhaps the most high profile publicizing of male pseudohermaphroditism, albeit a fictional depiction, was Cal Stephanides, the main character and narrator in Jeffrey Eugenides’s Pulitzer Prize-winning novel Middlesex. Cal spends childhood as Calliope until developing masculine physical features as a teenager.

One would think a substantial number of state legislators would at the very least have read Middlesex, but either they have not or did not remember when considering wording.

And again, we see the dangers of leaving politicians to interpret science.