Thanks to a conversation with an individual on Twitter, I now understand that there is a segment of the US population that is in denial about the reality of developmental biology, specifically that people can be born as something other than strictly male or female. I doubt that those in denial about gender identity in the modern age will come to read this post. But, for others who might not understand what the hubbub is about, please, read on.
Gender is not sexual preference. Gender is not the same thing as sex.
Gender is usually something personal. You put on your make-up, or shave your face in the privacy of your home without anyone else’s input. Sex is also personal. It’s not often that the clitoris and penis are discussed openly.
Yet, sex and gender are also a huge aspect of social life, and thus politics. Once upon a time in America, the owning of land was allowed (or dis-allowed) on the basis of one’s sex. If you were born with genitalia that looked male, lucky you. You could be a landowner. This, too, led to determinations of who was allowed to vote. Men could. Women could not. Nevermind that sex and gender don’t always align perfectly.
Our Western society has operated in this sort of binary gender construct for much of its history. But, thanks to science and social media, the last several decades have been filled with voices asking us all to consider the reality that gender is not just binary.
On the basis of chromosomes (XX for women and XY for men), it seems cut and dried. But, sometimes there are chromosomal duplications or abnormalities leading to XXY, X, or mosaic karyotypes. Additionally, hormones play a huge role in development of the genitalia, and excess androgen or estrogen can lead to changes in the appearance of the genitals compared to what is considered normal. Sometimes genetic or epigenetic factors can lead to hormone insensitivity, which means that even though the karyotype and hormone levels are normal, the body doesn’t develop in parallel. It’s even been suggested that environmental toxins are having an increased effect on the abnormal development of sexual characteristics in some parts of the world.
Taken together, this means that the genitals that a doctor looks at to determine a baby’s gender at birth aren’t always representative of the individual’s internal state. And, sometimes because of hormonal factors that difference doesn’t really appear until puberty. For the majority of people, it is fairly straightforward. But, for the millions of people born transgender or intersex, growing up can be extremely confusing and difficult.
Recently, and probably in a bid to drum up their conservative-base, the Trump administration reported that it is considering a change to Title IX that would legally pin-down the definition of sex. According to the NY Times:
“Sex means a person’s status as male or female based on immutable biological traits identifiable by or before birth,” the department proposed in the memo, which was drafted and has been circulating since last spring. “The sex listed on a person’s birth certificate, as originally issued, shall constitute definitive proof of a person’s sex unless rebutted by reliable genetic evidence.”
Clearly, considering hormonal influences on gender identity that go beyond what can be determined based on genetic screening, this definition is inadequate to say the least.
My conversation on Twitter let me know that there are many people who don’t care to understand that gender is more than what many of us learned about in sixth-grade sex education classes; who don’t care to understand what it feels like to be a minority; who don’t care to understand how our social policies leave some people out; who live in a state of denial.
And, I do hope that this media play does get people off their butts to vote. Let’s get our Democracy back.
addthis_url = 'https%3A%2F%2Fwww.kirstensanford.com%2F2018%2F10%2F23%2Fsex-science-and-politics%2F'; addthis_title = 'Sex%2C+Science%2C+and+Politics'; addthis_pub = '';
The Integrative Oncology Scholars Program: Indoctrinating the next generation of “integrative oncology” believers
In the year since accusations of sexual assault were first brought against Harvey Weinstein, our news has been flooded with stories of sexual misconduct, indicting very visible figures in our public life. Most of these cases have involved unequivocal breaches of consent, some of which have been criminal. But what have also emerged are conversations surrounding more difficult situations to parse – ones that exist in a much grayer space. When we started our own reporting through this gray zone, we stumbled into a challenging conversation that we can’t stop thinking about. In this second episode of ‘In the No’, we speak with Hanna Stotland, an educational consultant who specializes in crisis management. Her clients include students who have been expelled from school for sexual misconduct. In the aftermath, Hanna helps them reapply to school. While Hanna shares some of her more nuanced and confusing cases, we wrestle with questions of culpability, generational divides, and the utility of fear in changing our culture.
Advisory: This episode contains some graphic language and descriptions of very sensitive sexual situations, including discussions of sexual assault, consent and accountability, which may be very difficult for people to listen to. Visit The National Sexual Assault Hotline at online.rainn.org for resources and support.
This episode was reported with help from Becca Bressler and Shima Oliaee, and produced with help from Rachael Cusick.
Support Radiolab today at Radiolab.org/donate.
I understand the need to escape from reality. There come moments when the pressures of the real world just get to be too much. Flight can be easier than fight. It can help to escape into a book, movie, or “mindless” television watching. But, problems arise when this escapism becomes something practiced by society writ-large rather than being momentary acts of individuals. There are two very different places this society-level escapist attitude is openly playing out: willful ignorance within certain demographics and virtual-reality technologists.
People who refuse to look cultural or environmental change in the face in favor of sticking their fingers in their ears and repeating misinformation and disproven ideas are escaping into the comfort of their own identities. When online conversations turn into shouting matches where no one is listening to each other, it is likely because at least one side has escaped from the present reality. When someone refuses to listen to empirical, rational ideas in favor of what they heard on Fox News or read on Breitbart, being willfully ignorant of advances in understanding, it is because what they know is more comfortable than this new information.
When willful ignorance plays out on the wider political stage it begins to have real consequences. It becomes more than a spat between individuals. It holds back progress on large issues like climate change. For, if a large proportion of the public has run away from the scary idea of dangerous impending environmental change, refusing to see the reality, that reality does not exist for them. And, if it doesn’t exist, why does anything need to be done?
The second group, one you would think totally unrelated to the willfully ignorant, are the very well-educated and informed technologists working on developing virtual reality. At first glance, virtual reality with its goggles and gloves seems like it should be categorized along with the personal escapist entertainments like books, games, and movies. But, I see it in a different light when I consider the eventual goal of a virtual reality; that many look forward to the day that we create a construct into which humans will upload their consciousness.
The people working to create the technology that will allow humanity to shed its flesh, are looking forward to escape. They aren’t trying to fix any problems in this reality. Rather, they are building a new reality. One in which they envision no hunger, no poverty, and eternal life. It sounds like Heaven.
But, who needs Heaven if you have a computer generated existence? Or, well, who needs to fix anything here and now, if we have an escape hatch?addthis_url = 'https%3A%2F%2Fwww.kirstensanford.com%2F2018%2F10%2F16%2Foh-the-humanity-our-urge-to-escape%2F'; addthis_title = 'Oh%2C+The+Humanity+%26%238211%3B+Our+Urge+To+Escape'; addthis_pub = '';
In 2017, radio-maker Kaitlin Prest released a mini-series called "No" about her personal struggle to understand and communicate about sexual consent. That show, which dives into the experience, moment by moment, of navigating sexual intimacy, struck a chord with many of us. It's gorgeous, deeply personal, and incredibly thoughtful. And it seemed to presage a much larger conversation that is happening all around us in this moment. And so we decided to embark, with Kaitlin, on our own exploration of this topic. Over the next three episodes, we'll wander into rooms full of college students, hear from academics and activists, and sit in on classes about BDSM. But to start things off, we are going to share with you the story that started it all. Today, meet Kaitlin (if you haven't already).
In The No Part 1 is a collaboration with Kaitlin Prest. It was produced with help from Becca Bressler.
The "No" series, from The Heart was created by writer/director Kaitlin Prest, editors Sharon Mashihi and Mitra Kaboli, assistant producers Ariel Hahn and Phoebe Wang, associate sound design and music composition Shani Aviram.
Check out Kaitlin's new show, The Shadows.
Support Radiolab today at Radiolab.org/donate.