16 May 2023

On why the current attempt to be gender inclusive is actually regressive and affirms old stereotypes


I have a 5 year old.  I work at his preschool one day each week.

There's another boy at the school who is frequently mistaken for a girl.  He has long hair which he often wears in pigtails, wears dresses and skirts and often has his nails done.  He rarely corrects people's use of pronouns, but he will say clearly he is a boy if anyone asks.  He is probably a little more classically feminine in behavior and interests than my son or his other friend I'll talk about next, but definitely closer to the masculine side than neutral.  He has two moms, who have twins, and they use the pronouns that correspond to each babies sex, while treating them according to their unique personalities.  They are clearly making no attempt to gender their children in either direction, but accepting them for who they are - but without feeling that they have to deny their basic biology to do it.

We tried not to gender our own child either.  It was interesting to watch how in certain things he naturally aligned with gendered norms (loved buses and trains before he could even talk), and not others (he liked to have his nails painted and wear eye shadow, he wears nightgowns for pajamas, his favorite colors are purple followed by pink, and prefers sparkles on his pink shoes) - basically, right down the line, he exemplified the division between those gendered traits with roots in biology and those which are purely social in origin. 
I had a conversation with him which started when he expressed surprise that a kid might have a playdate without their sibling.  I suggested that maybe when his sister is old enough to have playdates, she might want to have separate ones with her own friends, and when he asked why, I suggested that, among others, one possibility would be that she could be one of those girls who is really into gendered stuff and thinks boys are icky. I said it was unlikely, but possible. He seemed confused as to what I even meant, so I asked the same question about interests I had asked his classmate.  He mentioned trucks versus playing family.  I asked if there were exceptions, and he said yes, mentioned specific girls who played trucks and trains with him, and also mentioned that just a couple days ago a group of 4 boys, (including both himself and the other kid from the story above), played family together.  (He was the dad.  The other kid was one of 2 babies, and a 4th boy was the mom.)  I asked what if a kid was female and only liked to do things people thought of as "boy" games, and he said it didn't matter.  Then he asked if that was right (to which I said yes).  I asked if they would still be a girl, and he said "of course", and laughed.

Recently, I used the term "boy", and was told by a 5 year old that no one could define his gender, and that he was neither boy nor girl.  I said that I wasn't speaking to his gender one way or the other (btw, I'm not "misgendering" him by using masculine pronouns, that's what he goes by), but rather that I use the term "boy" to refer to sex.  He seemed about to continue his lecture, but stopped, seemed to consider that.  I asked if he considered himself male, to which he answered unambiguously and unhesitatingly yes.  So I said, "in that case, what do you consider "boy" to mean?", to which he answered "boy means male".  I said, "no, I mean what do you think of it being besides that", and he said, in a confused half question tone, as though he thought it might be what I was trying to imply; "it means female?"
"No, no" I said "boy goes with male, but I mean what else do you think of it meaning.  Like, for example, what do you think boys do?".  
He said "you mean, like in sex?"
OMG.  "No!" (please, lets not get into the actual mechanics of intercourse with a 5 year old, no matter how much he may already know), "I mean, like what sort of games do boys play"
His answer "they can play any games";  "well, of course they can, I mean do you think there is anything boys usually do more than girls?"
I eventually was able to explain what I was asking, and he gave a couple examples of things that boys are more often interested in than girls (trains and starwars) and vice versa ("animals that people would think of as mostly female, like horses"), and he pointed out spontaneously (and I agreed completely) that there are plenty of exceptions and we also agreed that is totally ok.   
His parents are supportive of him in whatever expression he is interested in.  Although his "presentation" is primarily masculine, he does occasionally wear nail polish.
I was never able to get any idea of what, (if anything) it means to him to be male child, but not be a boy.

Another little girl told me she identifies as a boy because her favorite band is BTS, and they are a boy band so she has to be a boy to join the group. 


To be clear from the start: this is not an attack on any individual.  People should be free to express themselves in whatever way they want, so long as it doesn't negatively impact anyone else.
If you like to wear a big rainbow wig or a suit made of balloons, you like to paint your arms green or your toenails glow-in-the-dark, if you like to pretend your skin is #FFFFFF or rgb(0,0,0) , if your great-grandparents were all from Europe but you prefer to listen to jazz and hip-hop and eat fried chicken and speak ebonics and therefore want to call yourself a "person of color", all of that is nobodies' business but your own.
This is not intended to be against specific people or the choices that make them feel comfortable, but rather an honest and critical look at a movement which, while always well-meaning, doesn't understand the path through which it's own concepts evolved, and hasn't noticed that it is acutally working against it's own ideals.
But we'll come back around to that eventually...


First we have to establish something more basic, because, no matter what human cultures choose to believe, science is real, and reality outweighs everybody's opinion. Even the "science" in this issue has become politicized, and besides for which, the science has always been so complicated that not only do most lay people not fully understand it, but most doctors and some biologists get it wrong fairly often.

Complexity combined with mental shortcuts and sloppy language have combined to make an already shaky understanding devolve to outright contradictions of reality being presented as "science".

So lets start at the very very beginning.


The earliest life, bacteria (and archaea) are a-sexual.  They just grow, and once they are big enough, they split in half, and then there are two.  There is no meaningful "parent" or "child", just two smaller clones made of the original, and then the two clones grow and split.  In some multicellular protists, individuals may have somewhat differentiated body parts, and a clone grows in some specific spot and buds off, leaving a specific "mother" and "child".  We can recognize this sort of reproduction as many plants do something similar, budding or vegetative propagation. 

Sexual Reproduction

Most plants can also reproduce sexually, as can (almost - 99.99%) all animals.  Somewhere along the evolutionary path it was discovered that simply having successive generations of clones was too limiting to adaptation, and so mixing genes can be advantageous to survival.  In fact, it is so advantageous that out of roughly 2 to 8 million animal species, only around a dozen or so are known to be capable of reproducing asexually, and only a tiny handful of those do so exclusively.

Fungus have another system entirely, very complex, and irrelevant here, but among all plants and all animals, sexual reproduction means the same thing: in order to create a new individual, it is necessary to combine exactly one egg cell and exactly one sperm cell.  (Other than fungus), this is universal: there is no animal or plant specie that reproduces sexually that can create a new zygote with anything other than one egg cell and one sperm cell.  Inside the pistil of a flower are ovum (latin for egg), inside a grain of pollen is sperm.
(That's right - on spring days when the pollen count is high, you are breathing in millions of sperm)

The Sexes

Because this is universal, it is the only part of biology that can reasonably be considered the basis of sex differentiation.  While humans can make up whatever definitions they want - call a car a bear and call a bear a sheep - from a biological perspective, a female is an individual animal or plant whose body produces eggs, and a male is an individual whose body produces sperm.  What this means is that sex acutally is in fact a strict binary.
This is not a political or social statement.  Science is real.

There is a third type of body.  The majority of plants produce both ova and pollen, making them hermaphrodites. This does not mean they produce anything other than eggs and sperm, or that they can produce some sort of hybrid of the two, but merely that one individual produces both of the two distinct types of cell necessary to combine into a new offspring.  
In animals, ova are produced in ovaries, and sperm are produced in testes.  Hermaphroditic animals, like most plants, contain both organs.
About 65,000 animals are hermaphroditic, (roughly 5%), almost all of which are invertebrates, (the exceptions being about a couple dozen fish species - most of which never produce both types of sex cell at once, but can change depending on various external factors).  Common examples of true, simultaneous hermaphrodites include slugs and earthworms.  

Of particular note in including this "third" type is that (even among those few vertebrate species that can reproduce asexually), there are no mammals (or birds, amphibians, or reptiles) in which one specific individual makes both.


Even among intersex people, there zero known examples of individuals who have had both fully functioning ovaries and testes.
Which means there is an even stricter level to which, for mammals such as ourselves, sex is literally a binary.  Everyone, (including intersex people), are born with ovaries, or testicles, never both, and never any sort of hybrid, in-between, or 3rd option.

What causes so much confusion is that the animal body is complicated, and we have sex differentiation that goes beyond just the sex cells we produce.  This additional differentiation doesn't take the place of the gonads as the basis for defining sex, but it does make it more complicated for us to understand it, intuitively, because we can't see the gonads but we can see the body differentiation associated with them.

It is the presence of ovaries or testes which defines an individual as female or male, but different species have different ways of determining which a particular body will have.  In mammals, its the presence of a Y chromosome that changes the default body structure plan (female) into that of a future male.  The Y chromosome turns the fetal gonad into a testicle.  It in turn produces testosterone, which influences all the other cells of the developing embryo, especially the sex organs, turning what is ambiguous genitalia at 6 weeks into a penis at around 11, instead of the vagina that develops in the absence of testosterone.
But it's important to note that XY chromosomes are just one of many ways to do it.  Birds use different chromosomes altogether, many reptiles use incubation temperature to determine sex, and plenty of other systems work for other species.  Since it is not universal, XY chromosomes can't be considered the most basic defining characteristic for sex.

"Secondary" sexual characteristics

The changes that happen at puberty - beards in males and breasts in females, for example - are called "secondary" sexual characteristics, but technically speaking, from a strict biological point of view, penises and vaginas themselves are secondary sexual characteristics.  The primary sexual characteristics, as detailed above, are the presence of either ovaries or testicles.  That makes every other characteristic secondary.  Just like breasts and facial hair, the external sex organs are strongly associated with a particular sex, they normally correspond to the sex, but they do not acutally define the sex.  

In fact, there are millions of animals that don't have them.  Most birds and fish don't.  They still have distinct sexes.  In the seahorse, it is the male that gets pregnant, and carries the offspring to term - but just like in every specie, the female produces eggs - she deposits them in the male's abdominal pouch - and the male produces sperm, which he uses to fertilize those eggs.  The reason the last sentence even makes sense is because having sperm - not a particular set of body parts or even getting pregnant - is what defines being male.  While we aren't used to thinking of it this way, it's not that far removed from how we think of other secondary sexual characteristics - for example, a woman who has a double mastectomy is still a woman, as is a woman with hormonal abnormalities and grows a beard. This is how we should think of the sex parts themselves as well - something which usually goes along with a particular sex, but not what defines it.

An extremely practical shortcut

It is exceedingly more difficult to extract and test a biopsy of the gonads than it is to simply visually observe the external genitalia, and since in 99.99%* of cases the external genitalia do in fact correspond to the type of gonads, doctors take their chances on that 0.01% and determine sex based on genitals.  This is a very helpful and practical shortcut, but it is still technically a (very) educated guess.

It is not, however, an "assignment"; nor is the term "sex" interchangeable with "gender" (more on that soon)

In other words, babies are not, and never have been "assigned a gender" at birth.  No doctor is looking at a baby and saying "hmm, this baby with a penis looks especially effeminate to me, lets call him a girl".  They are observing a biological sex characteristic, and noting that observation of male or female.
Again: science is real.

*(note: this number isn't just an arbitrary high number for dramatic effect, it is the actual number)

When the shortcut gets it wrong - medical conditions

But lets go back to that 0.01%, because, while that's not terribly common, it still makes 800 thousand humans on Earth who don't have neatly lined up chromosomes, gonads, and genitals.  That reality undermines some of the pseudo-scientific arguments on both sides of the social issue.

Because the processes of life, and in particular of complex multi-cellular organism development are so very, well, complex, there are a lot of steps in the process of sex differentiation that can potentially go other than intended.

There are a number of known reasons why a fetus might end up with a mismatch between its chromosomes, its gonads, its sex organs, and potentially the "gender" of its brain, including Congenital Adrenal Hyperplasia, Placental Aromatase Deficiency, Testosterone Biosynthesis Defect, 5a-reductase Deficiency, Androgen Insensitivity Syndrome, Gonadal Dysgenesis, XXY chromosomes or other chromosomal abnormalities, abnormal or missing NR3C4 or CYP17 T -34C allele, maternal hormonal imbalance or exogenous hormones as well as some tumors, as well as some even rarer conditions and conditions that are not yet diagnosed or well understood. 
Some of these things can cause, for example, a body to develop with all female genitalia, except that in the place the ovaries should go are testes instead.  This person would be technically male, but by all appearances seem to be a (normal, healthy) female.   In some cases a person may have matching internal and external body parts and gonads, but the chromosomes normally corresponding to the other sex. (Sometimes in either of these cases the person may not even have any idea that there is any mismatch unless they happen to get genetic testing, or until the seek a fertility specialist for diagnoses). In some cases the external parts may never fully differentiate, leaving them visually ambiguous (the most likely situation to actually be designated as "intersex").  And in some cases medical conditions may affect only brain development, with chromosomes, gonads, and genitalia all reflecting one sex, but behavior and preferences matching the gender normally associated with the other sex, including the person "feeling" they are or should be the other sex.

On the one hand, this reality disrupts some extreme conservative views that there is no medical basis for anyone to be transsexual.  There very clearly is.

Because humans can't directly observe the interior composition of gonads, but can easily observe the secondary characteristics they cause, of course it's the visible body parts we commonly associate with each sex, and if someone has a body with a mismatch between chromosomes, gonads, and genitals, it shouldn't be surprising that some feel as though the genitals they have don't tell the whole story. This error is largely a result of thinking that sex parts is what determines sex, rather than those parts (usually) being a reflection of one's sex.

But at the same time, it also undermines the position of the neotrans movement, and largely due to the same misunderstanding.

Biological Sex - A Strict Binary

Every person has a sex. Even though, for all the many reasons listed above, a person may have ambiguous genitals, or even ones clearly opposite of what the chromosomes indicate, they still have a definite sex. Since no human has ever been born with both a fully functioning male and female reproductive system, nor even with both functional ovaries and testes (there is at least one known case of an individual who had one of each, though they did not apparently actually produce both eggs and sperm), nor is there any in-between hybrid of the two nor any third option, the existence of intersex people does not change that sex is a strict binary. Believing otherwise is due to thinking that sex parts is what determines sex, rather than (usually) being a reflection of it.


It is unfortunate for us all that language is such a sloppy, flexible, malleable thing, because it makes it nearly impossible sometimes to have a straight forward discussion of complex things without stopping to define terms.
Sex and gender are usually understood to be separate things, but the term gender is very frequently used to mean sex.
Sex is reasonably unambiguous, at least from a biological point of view - males produce sperm, females produce eggs.

Gender is an extra complicated one.

For one thing, lay people have been using the terms gender and sex as though they were interchangeable for so long that defining gender as sex has actually been accepted as an official part of the lexicon, and frequently even people who should know better, including doctors, scientists, and advocates for equality and inclusion, can all be found to use the term 'gender' when what they actually mean is 'sex'.
The thing we were talking about earlier, where being male is defined by producing sperm and being female is defined by producing eggs, those are the two sexes.
They are not genders.  

In English the way a word is defined can be said to be a question of how it's used, but to make it possible to talk about the subject in a meaningful way, in this blog post at least, we are going to use the most logical, consistent, and accurate definition here:
Gender refers to a set of characteristics which are generally associated with one sex or the other.
Female and male are not genders.
Neither is 'man' or 'woman'. Neither of those are inherently composed of a set of characteristics.

The terms that encompass a set of characteristics generally associated with one or the other of the two sexes are feminine and masculine

Those are the two genders. Those are the terms which include traits which are purely social in origin, and those are the things which are not binary.


And it isn't just that some specific individuals aren't binary; while the two sexes, male and female, are in actuality a strict binary, the genders, feminine and masculine, are intrinsically non-binary. 

It isn't possible for any one person to encompass everything which defines masculine or feminine, because the terms themselves include incompatible or even contradictory traits.

Archetypes of masculinity include the tattooed motorcycle riding guy who gets into bar fights deliberately, the brave and loyal soldier, the hard working provider for his family, the CEO or politician in a fancy suit, the Casanova ladies man.  They are all masculine, but no one person encompasses all of the traits of each.

Stereotypes of femininity include the nurturing caretaker, the seductress with her 'feminine charms', the vain beauty queen, the soccer mom, the fierce tiger mom. Archetypes range from giving and emphatic as Mother Teresa, to hysterical "Karen" types.  

What they have in common is a trait or set of traits more commonly associated with one sex or the other.  But within masculine, within feminine, there are so many possible directions to go that it isn't possible to say what "100%" feminine or masculine would be.  
The more devoted a provider, for example, the less inclined to aggression and risk.  Not only is it not a "binary", with a person either encompassing every single possible "masculine" trait or else having none of them, it isn't even a 1 dimensional scale. You can't organize all the traits of each gender onto a single line and find a point on that line where any given individual is, because many of the traits are irrelevant to each other, or even contradictory.  You would likely need more than a couple dozen different axises, different dimensions, to try to graph every trait that tends to vary by sex: volatility; withdrawal; enthusiasm; assertiveness; openness; industriousness; orderliness; compassion; politeness; risk-taking; aggression / hostility; self-esteem; anxiety; altruism; kindness; impulse control; the relative moral importance given to care, fairness, loyalty, authority or sanctity.  And that only covers personality traits, without getting into personal preferences, desires, aspirations, not to mention things like fashion or hairstyle.  Trying to turn a 20+ axis graph into a binary or even a numberline-like linear gradation of gray, and say any one person is "more" or "less" feminine is simply ridiculously meaningless.

In other words, by the very nature of the meaning of "gender", everyone is "non-binary".  It makes no difference how any particular individual "identifies", because the term itself is non-linear.

So, if sex is inherently a binary, and gender is inherently non-linear, that leaves nothing for "non-binary" to actually mean. 

Fighting a claim no one ever actually made

The term makes as much sense as saying that some people are short, others are tall, and still others are "non-binary".  To even feel the need to use the term "non" binary suggests a belief that anyone anywhere thought that gender was a binary, but no one ever claimed gender was a binary to begin with.  There has always been, in every culture, an awareness of a broad range of variation.  There have always been men who are particularly macho, girls who are more girly than others. There has always been effeminate men, dandies, tomboys, people who conformed more or less to their designated roles.    How much tolerance a society has had for a given amount of non-conformity has varied, but everyone has always acknowledged that it exists.  No one has ever claimed that there is one, and only one, standard for being masculine which all males must meet exactly at all times, or risk losing that status of "man".  That acknowledgement of range and variation is itself an acknowledgment of a lack of binary in the genders.  The only thing that societies have considered an actual binary is sex - which, of course, is scientifically accurate.

Gendered traits are averages

Unfortunately, that one term, "gender", covers a number of different things.

There do seem to be broad differences in the various personality categories listed above, although they are only average differences, that show up when looking at hundreds of individuals - sex is not a hard determiner of any one personality trait in any one individual.  

But the list of traits generally associated with one sex or the other also includes physical traits - for example, having wider hips or shoulders, more or less body hair, losing hair in middle age, body fat percentage, leg to trunk ratio, height.  These could are all gendered traits, as they differ on average by sex, but none are the defining feature of sex, and an individual can go against the average without it calling into question their sex.

Height is a good example to use to intuitively grasp the concept.  Across the entire population of any given ethnicity, male adults are taller than female adults.  However, there are millions of women who are taller than millions of men.  A man 5'5" or a woman 5'8" are both well within the range of normal, both less than 2 standard deviations away from the norm.  It wouldn't make any sense to try to define gender using height, even though it is a gendered trait.  Keep this in mind, because it is how we should be considering every gendered trait (both social and biological).  Being true on average can be useful for things like medical studies, product design, or casual conversation, but knowing someone's sex doesn't reliably tell you anything about where that particular individual falls on any given gendered trait.

Types of gendered traits 

Body hair and height and facial hair and breasts are physical gendered traits, determined by genetics and biology.  Technically speaking, taking into account intersex people, even the external genitals themselves are gendered traits, as there isn't a 100% correspondence between them and the actual gonads. 

The personality traits listed above are another type of gendered trait.  While there are a lot of people (on both sides of the political spectrum) who hold fast to ideas based on socio-political ideology, all  objective research suggests that a significant percentage - though not all - of the correlation between biological sex and gendered personality trait differences is acutally due to biological processes and not just social or cultural influences. We are not born blank slates.  Those gendered differences may be emphasized and enhanced by culture (although, interestingly, the differences tend to be more pronounced in more egalitarian societies with less rigid sex roles), but they appear to originate somewhere in the evolutionary process and reside somewhere in our genes. 
As a reminder - this in no way implies that all people of a given sex automatically have any specific given trait.  Just like with height, a personality trait can vary by sex across a population AND vary enough in individuals that you can't predict what any specific individual will be like.

Then there is the third type of gendered trait. This last one is purely, 100%, social/cultural in origin.
It includes those things we (at least in this particular culture) think of as associated with one sex or the other, but which have absolutely no origin in anything biological.
A good example is the color pink versus blue.  The connection between gender and color was made up less than 100 years ago by the clothing industry, as a way to try to get parents to buy new baby clothes rather than reusing clothes between children.  In fact, ironically enough, when the concept was originally popularized, pink was considered a strong masculine color for dressing baby boys, while light blue was considered a gentle feminine color perfect for girls.
Other examples include having names like Alexander or Karen or John or Sarah, painting ones fingernails, wearing a dangly cloth around the neck (a tie), having short or long hair, or going into a room to urinate that has a circle or a triangle on the door.

This third type of "gender", in modern gender theory, often goes by the name "gender expression", or "gender presentation".  The modern "social justice" style theory further suggests that it is "gender expression" which should define how a person "identifies".


What is interesting about the traits of expression is that this is the only aspect of gender with absolutely zero origin in biology and genetics.  It is purely artificial, purely social.  While there do seem to be many aspects of personality which are gendered due to being (on average) genetically linked to sex, none of those aspects that fall under "gender presentation" are among them. 
This shouldn't be surprising, because "expression" and "presentation" are, inherently, social acts - literally "acts", as in "performances" - something one does specifically because someone else is watching.

In fact, the very concept of "identity" itself is inherently a social one. Social, to the point where it can not acutally exist without other people.

Think of all the ways one can identify - and what it actually means.
In order to be "tall", there has to be someone shorter than you.  If everyone had the exact same skin tone, no one would ever think of themselves in terms of their shade.  To be "disabled", there must be some baseline of abilities that other people can do - no one can do everything that might conceivably be doable, yet no one thinks of themselves as disabled because they can't fly, or can't lift a truck with one hand.  

Whatever physical or personality traits a person might have, they are significant only in the relative value compared to average people. 
No one, for example, identifies as "a 5-fingered person".  No one thinks of themselves first and foremost as a vertebrate.  No one describes themselves as an "eyebrowed" person, or a "walker".

All of these are in fact very real characteristics of people. Many of them - like having prehensile hands and being able to walk - very strongly significant to our daily lives, very much a central part of having a body and interacting with the world, and yet, in terms of "identity" they never even occur to anyone as relevant.

The entire concept of identity is based on distinguishing one's self from other people.  It is, inherently, external.
Which means that identity is not something one feels inside themself.
Identity is about picking a social group to "identify" with. Nobody is born "feeling" "Black", for example.  People are told what they "are", and are taught what that means.  

Which specific things a person chooses to focus on are a factor of which divisions their society makes, what divisions that particular culture has decided are important and "identifying" features.

Gender Identity
And so it isn't by coincidence that none of the things which define gender "expression" are actually internal things, not actually thoughts or feelings that anyone is born with.  

But here's the key thing:
If these things aren't aspects of biology, then they aren't really something anyone can really "feel" that they are deep inside.  No one is born feeling like they prefer pants, or prefer to go into toilet rooms with a particular geometric shape on the door, or have a certain type of name.  All of these things are taught to us by society.

And because they are all made up by society, we - all of us, the humans who society is made up of - can choose at any time to hold on to or let go of any particular association.

Separate Spheres

Because of the biology of mammal reproduction - females give birth to live young, rather than laying eggs, and those young are initially dependent on her milk for survival - every specie of mammal has some difference in the roles and behaviors of each sex, especially relating to caring for offspring.  The specific strategies vary widely, but the fact of nursing inherently necessitates some difference; (contrast to birds, in which many species have almost entirely egalitarian methods of child rearing, with parents switching off between finding food and watching over their babies).

Until very recent technological innovations (most notably infant formula and breast pumps), humans were no exception.  It was out of necessity that females and males had differing roles when raising young children, (which, before the technological innovation of effective birth control, was the majority of the adult life of most people).  Given that, differing roles in the larger social context is a natural extension of that, and since one surviving male can potentially impregnate several females at a time - if a society's primary goal is it's own survival - the only logical course is to send your males off to fight neighboring societies or do the most dangerous jobs, and to preserve and protect females. 

Males, along with their reproductive capacity, are expendable and easily replaceable, while females have a significant minimum investment in producing the next generation of humans. These two facts are the original basis of almost every sex role division in every culture throughout time.

I'll get much more in depth on that in a future post, the point for now is just that there is a reason sex roles developed, (although those reasons are almost entirely irrelevant today).  Today, those divisions society still holds on to (or which some individuals or sub-cultures hold on to) are remnants, relics of a time when they developed out of necessity. 

This is an important thing for everyone to remember, for two reasons - one, of course, is for those who still cling to outdated ideas. But the other is for those who are most passionately opposed to the differing roles which they see as "oppression"; that they were not originally created for the purpose of harming anyone should affect how we look at it today, as well as the strategies we use to help society let go of obsolete roles.

Technology Fosters Egalitarianism

Today's world is so vastly different from the world of almost all humans for all of time until around the birth of the oldest people alive today, it's easy to forget how much of what we take for granted wasn't within the realm of even imaginable just a few generations ago and literally for 100s of thousands of years before that. 

Its easy to "forget", because no one alive acutally lived in that world.  We've all read about it, we all know it in theory, but it is abstract. But that was the reality under which all social norms, in every society, developed.

Even without social pressure, without safe and effective birth control the majority of married, pre-menopausal females would have spent the majority of their adult lives either pregnant, nursing, or both, and neither of these things - both absolutely critical to the survival of every human, and therefore critical to the survival of any society - could be taken over by men, regardless of whether people of either sex would have preferred it.  Without modern luxuries like washing machines, gas stoves, refrigerators, indoor plumbing and supermarkets, something as mundane and everyday as making food palatable and basic hygiene were a many hours-a-day task.  Given that females with young children had to be near those children all day to prevent their death, (combined with the expendability of males), the only logical arrangement is for males to take on the dangerous jobs outside the home - whether hunting large animals, going to war with other societies, or working in (pre-OSHA) factories and coal mines and oil rigs - while females stayed in the relative safety of the home - and if they are in the home anyway, it is only logical they would do those home tasks that needed doing.

It's unlikely many people would have thought this "oppressive" or a sacrifice, when there simply was no other option. Not because society forced it on anyone, but just due to biology. The single most important imperative of all living things, after physical survival, is reproduction - passing one's genes to the next generation.  In humans, that takes the form of not only sex drive and attraction, but also of "love", of wanting children, of finding babies "cute", of being willing to sacrifice one's self for them.  

People everywhere, in all of history, say family comes first, family is most important, that parenthood is the most meaningful thing in life.  In fact, the idea that "work" would be anything other than a means by which to obtain resources for the purpose of providing for ones children, the idea that work itself could be in anyway meaningful, is a very recent concept - (one, incidentally, developed and promoted by religious, political, and industrial leaders who wanted to encourage people to do more work for them). 
It would likely have been "understood", so obvious as to go without saying, that creating and raising children successfully is the primary meaning and purpose of life, and that literally every other human endeavor is, however indirectly, ultimately in support of that goal.

Technology which allows egalitarianism is almost inconceivably recent.

Homo sapiens specifically have been around roughly 200,000 years.  The genus "homo", somewhere on the order of 2 million.  Many of the related, but technically different species of "homo"s, of proto-humans, had similar evolutionary advances to our own, tribes of upright walking people intelligent enough to make and use wood, bone and stone tools.  Neanderthals and homo-erectus both most likely used fire and language.  Which means human cultures date back further than homo sapiens themselves.  We would have inherited language, technology, habits, customs, perhaps even traditions and social structures, from the beings we evolved from.  Just as individuals aren't born blank slates, humanity wasn't either.
That puts the beginning of social norms somewhere on the order of 1 to 2 millions years ago.

The technological advances that allow for egalitarianism are, on the scale of how long humans have existed, extremely recent.  Both safe and effective infant formula and safe and effective birth control (in the form of latex condoms) were not invented until the late 19th century.  Even "feminine hygiene products" (in the form of menstrual pads), which were a necessary precursor to females wearing pants, were not invented until the late 19th century. 

That's a ratio of  roughly 120 years to 2,000,000 which reduces to 1 in 16,600 or, as a percentage, 0.006%
That's how long the modern world we take for granted has existed in the grand scheme of human existence.

Translated into a scale of time with personal meaning, if you are 30 years old, 0.006% of your life is the last 15 hours.  Imagine something as ingrained in you as your language, religion, preferences, or sense of morality, and then imagine trying to do a complete 180 on it in the time its been since you woke up this morning.  Language especially, since you start learning it from day 1, and it becomes so ingrained that we even think internally and dream in our primary language.  Imagine at age 30 you go to a place where the language has nothing in common with your primary (ie, if you are reading this, any language with no European roots), and no one speaks yours, and being expected to completely forget your primary language and become fluent in a totally new and different one, within 15 hours of arrival.

Considering the big picture, it is remarkable that humanity has managed to progress socially as quickly as it has, and that so many of us are able to take the new reality, the options that technology has created for us, for granted.  At the same time, it should give us some patience for those cultures and individuals that are stuck in "tradition", as well as help inform us on how to best get those hold outs to eventually come around.

Human Culture Becomes Obsolete as Fast as New Technologies Can Emerge

In regards to reproductive related activity, (what we can now just call "sexual activity"), considering the potential consequences of each instance of it (or lack there of), not only gendered roles, but nearly every single custom, value, social more, expectation, judgement, prohibition, standard, etc is entirely rational and, in one way or another, can be seen as a particular society trying to find ways to maximize the chances of survival of their own people as a whole.  However, the invention of practical, affordable, safe, and most important, effective birth control (as well as the back up of safe and effective abortion) almost entirely changed the equation overnight by reliably and predictably decoupling sexual activity from reproduction.  While human cultures may be slow to change (particularly those that value "tradition" for its own sake - although there are aspects of the culture/technology lag in every society - note that even among social liberals, it's still taken for granted that humans should wear clothing at all times in public, even when it's hot out), the fact is, these technologies do in fact exist, and nearly all of the traditional views on every aspect of sex are in fact obsolete.  

Culturally Mandated Gender Roles Are Especially Obsolete

While every aspect of sexuality is changed merely by the decoupling of coupling and creating offspring,  there are a number of other changes - some perhaps seemingly unrelated on the surface - that serve to make culturally enforced gender roles particularly outdated.  Agriculture had a major impact on population growth. The consolidation of tribes and city-states into countries, and the stabilization of world nations into a world with (almost) universally agreed upon borders, reduced battles and wars. Each nation's having its own set of codified laws, and police and courts as neutral agents of enforcement, reduced battles between families and neighbors.  All of these contribute to a lack of need for any modern society to maximize birth rates, as well as reducing the need to see individual males as expendable agents for a society's survival.

Germ theory and modern medicine reduced death rates, especially among children, dramatically, which in turn means it is no longer necessary for a family to have as many children as possible for fear that many or most of them will die before having children of their own.

And then there's the more obviously related, things like breast pumps and infant formula, which mean even if people do choose to have children, they can still exchange the biological default gender roles for every stage past pregnancy and birth.

Technology Only Makes Culturally Defined Aspects of Gender Obsolete

As noted before, gendered traits encompass a lot of different things, from the entirely biological (having a beard) to the entirely cultural (pink and blue).  It has been well researched that there are behavioral traits that are associated with biological sex that are not a result of socialization.  Some differences are visible even in infancy, and they are consistent across all cultures.  The fact that there is no legitimate reason to mandate sex roles doesn't magically make it no longer true that some aspects of mental gender are biological in origin.

However, the fact that a particular trait can be observed to be statistically correlated with a particular sex in no way legitimizes mandating that difference for everyone.  Just as males on average are taller than females on average, and yet knowing any two people's sex doesn't tell you their relative heights, a statistical tendency across populations for females to be more slightly more socially oriented and males slightly more object oriented tells you nothing about any particular individual.

The Issue is Forced Conformity.

The problem with stereotypes and generalizations isn't that they aren't accurate, (as generalizations), the problem is the assumption that they apply (or "should" apply) to everyone of a particular category.  Similarly, the problem with, for example, having mothers focus on child rearing and fathers on securing food and shelter, is in society making it mandatory. 

It isn't necessary to make a point to try to encourage little girls to play with cars and guns or to make little boys play dress up and family.  It's just necessary to give them the choice.  It's necessary to recognize that its perfectly ok for any individual to be different than the norm.  But it's also necessary to accept everyone for who they naturally are - even all those who do fit the stereotypes. 

Times Have Changed

Societies don't change overnight, but the technologies that have allowed increased egalitarianism - going as far back as agriculture - have been gradually developing over tens of thousands of years.  Even the most recent are over a full generation old, so that few if any alive today can even remember a time when they couldn't be taken for granted.
And while there has been a delay, the old paradigm of gender roles has in fact, in all but a few hold-out cultures, changed to reflect that.  

Gendered roles now are more similar to gendered traits generally - statistically people tend to lean toward particular roles - but it is no longer a requirement, or even an expectation.  No longer is it a given that a woman will focus on family and a man on career, men expected to focus on the public sphere and women in the personal domain.  Even the most conservative Americans are not shocked by women having jobs outside the home.  Women work in some of the most masculine fields, CEOs, police officers and security, firefighters, construction, political leadership...

Of particular note, women have been the leaders of many countries throughout the world, including many developing nations, many places who modern western liberals might designate "patriarchies", in Asia, Africa, South America, even Muslim nations. All together, about 1/4 of all nations have elected or appointed at least one female leader, dating back as far as 1940 - merely 20 years after the US first allowed women to vote.  (Over 80 years later, the US still hasn't elected a single female president.)  
Also notable, in Western democracies with conservative/liberal political splits, it is very frequently the conservative parties who first field, and ultimately elect, female candidates.  (Both of these facts somewhat undermine Western progressive / liberal claims to being the world representatives of feminism.)

Even the US military has opened combat roles to women, all the way to marine core infantry.
Women in combat represents a major change in underlying mindset, in the collective subconscious, as one of the primary factors motivating gender role differences is the relative expendableness of individual males without affecting the viability of maintaining or increasing the population in the next generation.

The Meaning of Life

As societies have grown larger and more complex, and as it has served the interests of kings, politicians, and the powerful, as well as the nobility / land owning / investor / capitalist class, the source of meaning and value, the implicit goal of life, has gradually shifted from the personal: the health of well being of one's family, spending time around and taking care of friends and loved ones; to the public: being 'productive' to society, career, politics, 'making a difference'.

Tom Sawyer got other kids to do his work for him by pretending it was great fun. In a similar fashion, the successful attempt at developing citizens into workers via the glamorization of service was so successful that it became almost universally accepted that 'working' is 'meaningful'. While many women entered the workforce out of necessity as wealth became more concentrated (making it harder to keep up with the ever improving standard of living), the Tom Sawyer effect helped make it seem like an inherent thing of value to be employed, just for its own sake.

In reality, of course, the only goal of life is to live, which, in the evolutionary sense includes future generations.
Consider that if you ask any single individual about their own personal life, they are much more likely to rank their spouse, children, parents - family - above their job in terms of personal value and meaningfulness.  Most people would rather spend a holiday or vacation with loved ones than volunteering unpaid hours to their employer.  On one's deathbed, you are much more likely to hear someone lament not spending more time with their family during their life than lament not climbing higher in their career.
Raising a family is actually the only thing that matters, the only thing of value. The whole purpose of working is, and has always been, to be able to provide for that family.

How the Meaning got Twisted

Originally the value of strong families included significant benefits to an entire people. In early human tribes (early, meaning the vast majority of human existence), of a couple dozen people, the benefit is obvious, and with it, it is equally obvious that of the two, it is the female's role in society which is more important and valuable, both to the family, and to the entire society. But as the size of a society grows, the death rate decreases, political borders stabilize, and wars decrease in frequency, the benefit to everyone of any particular family decreases.

Because there is limited value to the public for someone to raise their own children, there stopped being as much public emphasis on it's value, until our collective consciousness did a complete flip, and everyone agreed that it was actually the external
(the male's) role that was important and meaningful.
As such, women (and men) pushed hard, for a long time, for women to be allowed to take on the traditionally male role.
Society advanced only in the direction it was pushed, so that now women wearing pants is so taken for granted in seems odd that it was ever an issue. There was never any corresponding push for men to be allowed into traditionally female roles, and so to this day - while men wearing skirts isn't illegal, per say - it simply isn't done, (not unless a particular individual is making a deliberate social statement). And so the other side of the equation has crawled along at a tiny fraction of the pace, women being freed from their expected gender role generations before men. 
However, even that is finally changing. We still sometimes use gender to specify "male nurse" or "male nanny", because they are assumed to be female, but "flight attendant" has replaced "stewardess" and "stay-at-home dad" is now a phrase in reasonably common usage.  That last of course is much more significant than career options, as it is due to biology that child rearing had always been the core of the female domain in every culture and every era.  That same technology that frees mothers from being the primary care provider after birth allows fathers to step into that role.

And in fact, while it never received even a tiny fraction of the attention that allowing women into male roles has had for the past hundred years, this change is actually increasingly occurring as well.  Go to any playground, and you may very well find close to 50% of the parents (as opposed to nannies) in attendance to the children are fathers.  

This is a much bigger deal than many people seem to recognize.  50% of married couples are dual earner households, income is slowly but steadily increasing among women and decreasing among men, while it is increasingly normal for husbands to contribute to housework and childcare.  The other side of the equation is quietly changing, catching up to the side which changed loudly and forcefully.

It is the missing piece of the puzzle of breaking down gender roles and allowing for true freedom of choice, true egalitarianism.

What it Means To Be a Man (or Woman, or Girl or Boy)

Despite all of the many layers surrounding gender, the nature vs nurture, the biological and the social, the norms that developed out of necessity now obsolete from technological advances, the definitions of the impersonal gendered nouns has always acutally been very straightforward, precise, and scientifically accurate.  
  • Man: Male human adult.
  • Woman: Female human adult.
  • Boy: Male human child.
  • Girl: Female human child.
These are not terms describing "genders".  They are terms describing biological sex.

They always have been.  Note, for example, that when a person has trouble remembering (or refuses to) use the term "they" for someone who self-identifies as "non-binary", that they will always default to the biological cues of the person's body.  The default pronoun used by, for example, a child, or just someone not hip to the culture of someone who dresses androgynously always defaults to physical cues - face shape, voice, body shape. When you talk to a customer service agent on the phone, and later talk about them, you say "he" or "she" based on the pitch of their voice. Long prior to this particular era of social justice fundamentalism, you could see the same thing: no matter how effeminate a man, no matter how flamingly gay, everyone still called him by masculine pronouns.  A leather-wearing motorcycle riding "butch" female was still a "woman".  A bunch of drag queens could go by, and a conservative commenting on it would refer to them as a bunch of men in dresses.  Not a bunch of women with penises. 

 Up until very recently, no one, whether liberal or conservative, traditional or counterculture, straight or gay, or whatever miscellaneous other, considered the terms man and woman to refer to whether a person was more masculine or feminine. 

They have always been terms that identify a body, just like referring to someone as blond or brunette, as tall or short, fat or skinny.

While its true that society associated all sorts of traits with the sexes (and therefor with the terms woman and man), and in fact largely expected that people would (or should) conform to their assigned role based on whether they happen to be born girl or boy, no one ever has used the terms themselves as anything other than a description of the physical body - our visual best guess as to whether an individual has ovaries or testicles.
When the physical cues are ambiguous - say, a fully dressed pre-pubescent child - we will turn to social gender cues like clothes and hair length, but if physical cues are present - beard, breasts, hip to shoulder ratio - those outweigh any socialized gender cues, and everyone's natural instinct is to use the terms that correspond to the simple definitions above.

The term - in fact the very concept - of a "real" man wouldn't make any sense if the term "man" itself inherently implied stereotypical masculinity.  The term "real" refers to conformity to the archetype.  It implies it is possible to be technically a man - having a male body - without being "manly" enough.  

This universal meaning, which defines people not by their genders, but by biological sex:
  • Man: Male human adult.
  • Woman: Female human adult.
  • Boy: Male human child.
  • Girl: Female human child.
also applies to pronouns:

She / her / hers - refer to a human with ovaries.
He / him / his - refer to a human with testes.

They don't have anything to do with gender.
Or, at least, they never used to...

Summary to Here

Since this has been somewhat long, here's a summary of some of the key points so far:
- Science is real. Sex is a real thing.
- Unless you are a fungus, sex is a strict binary
- Gender is partially biological, and partially social, but it describes a set of statistical correlations among populations, not a quality of a particular individual.  As such, neither biological nor social gender are binary
- Identity is by its very nature a social issue.  It does not reflect something inherently true about a person internally, but rather what group of other people someone aligns themself with.
- Because of the reality of biological gender differences between the sexes and the importance of successfully creating new generations of humans for the survival of a society, all societies developed sex based roles.
- New technology has made those roles almost entirely unnecessary, and as a result, in most societies they are becoming more flexible.  Generally the more access to those technologies a society has, the faster the change is occurring. 
- The gendered impersonal nouns and pronouns have always referred to biological sex, female and male; (not to the genders, feminine and masculine).

The Great Irony

For millennia societies worldwide imposed gender roles based on sex out of necessity.
For the past century or so, that universal cultural phenomenon was made unnecessary by technology.
It took half that time for females to be accepted into traditionally male roles, and as long again for males to be accepted into traditionally female roles.
It took about 200,000 years, but we are finally edging toward full egalitarianism, in which an individual's path in life is determined by personal preference rather than the body they happened to be born into.

In other words, for the first time in human history, terms like "woman" or "he" no longer are assumed to imply anything about an individual's "proper" role or their personality.

And just as this has begun becoming normalized, a once fringe subculture has gained enough influence to become a part of mainstream culture which asserts that "man" "woman", "she" and "he" are actually terms that do refer to gender after all.

If the gendered pronouns refer to biological sex, then

1) people don't have any choice about them.  You are born with whatever parts you are born with.
2) there is absolutely no reason to care, because (almost) everyone accepts that one's body doesn't define them as a person.

Male and female aren't "identities". 
Using the terms that way makes no more sense than if an individual claimed they "identified" as someone with multiple stomachs, or someone without a gall bladder. The body is what it is, and barring an accident or genetic mutation, humans have 10 fingers and toes, 2 lungs, 206 bones, and either ovaries or testicles.

If we all accept that a person isn't defined by their sex parts any more than they are defined by any other organs, then there isn't any reason to care what sex people think you are, in which case it doesn't matter what pronouns other people use for you. 

Impersonal pronouns are just that; impersonal

In fact, further showing just how social the issue is (about what you assume other people might assume about you, as opposed to being about something intrinsic or internal), people don't use gendered pronouns when talking to someone anyway.  Gendered pronouns are used only when talking to someone about a 3rd party.  The person being referred to is not involved in the conversation.  The pronouns that are relevant to ones' self are "you / your / yours".  "You" is ungendered - because you know who exactly I am talking about if I say to you "you".  The fact that so much emphasis is being paid to third-person pronouns reflects the cultural nature of it, rather than it being an internal, personal thing.

The only reason to care about whether people see you as more femaleish or maleish or neither, is if you buy into the antiquated assumptions of what it "means" to be a 'man' or a 'woman'. It means accepting that what a 'man' or 'woman' is is something beyond the having of testicles or ovaries.

Connected with this is another clue that this is a social phenomenon, as opposed to a deeply held internal feeling (that would presumably just be suppressed in a less open environment).  Making a point to tell people what pronouns to use, just like making a point to publicly identify as "trans" or "non-binary", is something you do because you want other people to know you identify as something other than your external presentation.  As with any form of lack of conformity that someone makes a point to draw attention to, it is as much a social or political statement as an identity.
Contrast that with transexual people prior to the last few years - to whatever degree possible (and if the transition happens young enough, it usually pretty possible) the most common thing to do was to just become the other sex, the one they felt they should have been, (or always really were).  The hope was just to be accepted as what they had become - and that includes not being treated any differently than a cissexual person of that sex
(A friend pointed to the episode of Horace and Pete in which Horace's one-night-stand implies that she might possibly have been born male. Horace is quick to say the "correct" things about trans people having equal rights, but still really wants to know if she is or is not in fact trans.  She never says one way or another, but points out that if he really believes what he's saying about equality, it shouldn't matter.)  

The Exception

There is one special circumstance in which third person pronouns won't necessarily always align with one's chosen physical sex, and that's in true transsexuals - people who feel they were born into the wrong physical body, and actually want to make the changes (at least as much as is currently medically possible, surgeries and/or hormonal treatments), to make the physical body match as closely as they can what they feel they should always have been.  In that case, their gendered nouns and pronouns would generally change along with their physical sex traits. 

Its true, and relevant, that this can be somewhat of a challenge for people who make the decision to transition to the complimentary sex late in life, when hormonal treatments may not alter enough physical traits to cue people instinctively as to what sex they mean to reflect.  There is a benefit to the current social trend of "choosing" pronouns to people in that situations, which I don't mean to minimize, however that isn't the focus of this, it isn't the part of the movement that is regressive.

The actual number of people who want to make a total, physical, transition to the limits of what medical science can do has not changed significantly over time.

The Rest

Recall the earlier point that the terms woman, boy, (etc), and their accompanying pronouns have always referred to sex, not gender - to physical body types, not to masculine or feminine traits.  In the modern world it is within the realm of possibility to hide one's sex (especially for children) without actually altering it.  (And by "modern", I mean the last 10- to 100- thousand years - clothing dates back roughly 100,000 but its unclear when it became more or less universal and mandatory in most societies).  As long as that is, its a lot less than the 1.5 million years our ancestors spent naked after evolving to not be covered in fur.  We are so used to it we take it for granted - it "feels" natural, but of course it isn't.  Without the artificial social creation and enforcement of wearing clothes, it would simply be obvious what sex each and every person was, just as much as it is what specie or height an individual is. It is only because of clothing that there is any need to look for clues to determine someone's sex. The idea of one's sex being a personal choice would be obvious non-sense in a world where sex parts weren't hidden away. The very concept of gender "presentation" is dependent on the artificial human invention and social requirement of hiding parts of the body away. Aside from the ability for medical technology to change it, the body simply is what it is - whether a person conforms to gendered social roles and expectations or not.

While the number of people who want to make a physical transition has not changed significantly over time, the number of people who make a point to identify in some way as gender non-conforming without making any changes to their actual sex (nor having any desire to), has exploded.

Incidentally, this should be a source of comfort to all the scared angry conservatives who are reacting to the pronoun and binary trends by restricting access to drugs that help a trans person transition: the vast majority of the new generation of people who are "identifying" as something other than their birth sex don't acutally want to physically alter their bodies.

The Problem

And there's a big problem with anyone (who doesn't want to physically alter their body to match as closely as possible the complimentary sex) using any terms or pronouns which don't align with their physical sex..

If you reject that basic definitions of:
She / her / hers / woman / girl - refer to a human with ovaries.
He / him / his / man / boy - refer to a human with testes.

Then those things have to be defined by something else.

If they don't in fact, (as is understood by everyone else, everywhere, always), reflect the physical body, the only way they can meaningfully mean anything is if they imply all the stuff we humans have been working for the past hundred years to reject!

In other words, the only other option is
Woman / girl / she / her / hers  - refer to a feminine person.
Man / boy / he / him / his - refer to a masculine person.
By rejecting the terms above as reflecting the sex binary, it leaves the only possibility being them reflecting gender.  And since there are only two set of terms, it implies the very thing that the movement claims to reject (and which no one else had ever thought to begin with): that gender itself is binary.

Including "they" only serves to suggest that the binary may also have some neutral, "zero" point in-between, a "trinary" perhaps, or maybe that there is a linear scale that some people are in the middle of, however, as detailed above, feminine and masculine don't exist even on a linear scale, but rather a multi-directional spectrum of largely unrelated traits.  

If being a man doesn't mean having testicles, then all that's left for it to mean is being "manly", which validates the concept of "manliness". 

In other words: 
rejecting the terms as referring only to physical sex inherently validates gender stereotypes.

Worse Than Conservative

The implication that the terms man and woman refer to genders (sets of traits), and that those genders are binary is why the movement is regressive; worse than conservative, it is actively moving our understanding and acceptance of the difference between sex and gender backwards.   
It is blurring the two concepts when the rest of society - even conservative society - is more and more willing to separate them.  By saying people can "choose" their pronouns we are saying those terms reflect gender, not sex, which in turn means that gender is actually binary (or at best, trinary) afterall.  

You can no more choose what gonads you are born with than you can choose your skin tone, your birth nationality, or your specie.
However, no one should care, because those things are not what define someone as an individual.

Extreme Gone Mainstream

It's gotten to an extreme where it's common to hear statements like "it's transphobic to say men can't get pregnant", or media specifically talking about the biology of reproduction using terms like "person with ovaries". Even in the medical field this idea of 'gender' being meaningful and sex being within a person's choice has taken hold - but cellular biology don't base your susceptibility to ovarian or testicular cancer on your preferred pronouns.

It would be very convenient, in talking about the science of biology, if instead of using a clunky 3 word phrase (like "persons with ovaries") to refer to people whose contribution to creating a new life was an egg, there was just a single word that meant "person with ovaries".
Of course, there is. It's "female".
If we are talking about a person who is sexually mature, it's "woman".

Redefining the terms woman and man to refer to 'genders' instead of sexes, and then using complicated descriptions such as 'person with a uterus' or 'registered male at birth' (in England they use the term 'registered', which at least doesn't imply that the doctor made their own personal 'assignment' of a newborn's sex), doesn't really accomplish anything. Just like changing the term for imbecile to retarded to developmentally delayed, the meaning in always the same, and no matter what the pc term is of the day, everyone knows what the actually meaning is.

On a document as official as a birth certificate - a document who's whole purpose is to establish that a baby was born, and to keep track of which individual people contributed the egg and sperm that created that baby - information that can be relevant for medical histories, not to mention genealogy - the terms "mother" and "father" have been eliminated.

In "social justice" based preschools, children as young as 2 are actively encouraged to "choose" their pronouns, with absolutely zero instruction on the physical sexes. Then that (completely uninformed) "choice" is to be respected, so that a child can be designated as "trans" from then on based on something as meaningless as a literal mistake.

There's a certain irony here, because for decades we have said that the conservative notion of "teaching kids to be queer" was ridiculous; now some people are literally doing exactly that.
There's nothing wrong with being queer, if that's what you actually are. But think back to the preschoolers from the beginning.  If you teach a child to conflate sex with gender and that that "gender" is a choice, they can memorize and repeat back the script.  But the kids who actually don't fit gender stereotypes, but who are never taught that they should in the first place, feel no need to reject their physical sex, or the labels that go along with it.  
The only things we should be teaching kids is the biology of reproduction - because science is real, whether we like it or not - and that it is ok to like and dress and play whatever they feel like no matter what anyone else might tell them.  We shouldn't be using children to make political statements.

The Alternative

The alternative lies in the stories from preschool from the beginning. 

What we should be doing is pushing the trend that had already started long before this new movement: 
Realize, accept, and promote that the concepts of "gender" refer only to statistical demographic trends, and have no meaning applied to individuals.  Accept that, even if on average "most" boys and girls, men and women, have some traits more in common with other individuals who share their sex, not all do, and that's ok.  Just like not all African people or all people who speak French or all short people have the same personalities or preferences - even if there are identifiable trends - not all people of one sex will have anything (other than their gonads) in common.  And that's ok.

The problem was never that people can't choose their own bodies.  The problem was having one's available life roles defined by it.  The problem was forced conformity.

The real solution is making it ok for women to join the army and men to raise babies. 
Accept "tomboys" and "metrosexuals" as part of the diversity of humanity, without making the "tomboys" feel like they need to pretend to be actual boys and the "metrosexuals" have to identify as acutally being women.

Its ok for girls to wear pants and boys to wear skirts. 
Its ok if a little boy wants to paint his nails and prefers putting on nice shoes to playing with trains. 

There is absolutely no reason a child can't be unambiguously a "boy" - because he has testicles - and still want to play dress up or family or princess (or prince).
That doesn't make him a "her" or mean that he is "trans".  He's a boy who likes pretty shoes. 

A girl doesn't need to choose what pronouns other people use for her when talking in the third person to have all life paths open to her, to be able to be who and what and how and why she wants. 
There is nothing limiting about accepting the sex one was born with - and having other people be aware of your physical sex and publicly acknowledge it, other than the biological limitations of being able to get pregnant, versus the ability to impregnate others.

But by creating this false narrative we are actually implying there is something limiting about sex.  We should be able to acknowledge the reality of biological sex independent of our desire to not pigeonhole individuals into social roles.  In fact we can, we could, and we used to; but we're slipping backward - and the next generation is going to eventually experience the consequences and have to start differentiating all over again, work to make the same progress that had already been made before the neotrans movement began.  

A Preview of Where the Trend Leads


In popular western culture, Thailand appears to be a paradise for LGBT(etc) people, because the so-called "kathoey" (roughly translated as  "ladyboy"), are very visible, and based on that visibility, assumed to be accepted culturally.  The reality for people who live there is very different; the whole reason kathoeys are so visible is because the entertainment (and sex worker) industries - both largely serving tourists - are for the most part the only professions open to them. 
Although it has been legal to preform sex-change operations ever since the technology has been available, the people who undergo it have never been socially accepted.  Westerners also assume that the apparent prevalence of kathoey - who we assume to be mostly trans people - implies a freedom to transition which is the only thing preventing more people in every other culture from doing so. 
In actuality, only a minority of kathoey actually undergo the physical transformation (despite it being the most popular destination in the world for foreigners to go for it, due to its relatively low cost and high quality and success rates).  Among those that do, however, even after the operations and hormones, it is not an option to change the sex listed on one's government ID card (never mind a birth certificate). 
Thailand has very strict gender roles, and in nearly all legal and professional jobs it is an expectation, if not a requirement, to dress as the gender that matches one's birth sex.  If you were born with testicles, even if you have had them removed, your workplace will mandate you wear pants and conversely, (assuming you could get the job in the first place), if you were born with ovaries, you must wear a skirt.

Why, if there is so little social acceptance and so much discrimination, are there so many kathoey in Thailand?  And why, when the physical transformation is legal, cheap, and medically high quality, don't most of them make the change?  The reasons have a lot to do with a history of the same cultural blending of sex, gender, and sexuality that we are beginning to embrace here today.  

While in recent years Thai culture has started adopting a few words and concepts from the west, traditionally there was no concept of "gay" in Thailand.  For a male, kathoey covered the entire range of LGBTQQIP2SA possibilities.  In other words, there was simply no distinction between what we would call a "gay man" and a "transwoman".  The mere fact of being gay inherently designated someone as trans. 
(Although "gay" in this context might only refer to being a "receptive" partner in sex - an otherwise hetero-man (a "king") might engage in sex with a kathoey the same way he would a female prostitute, without calling his masculinity into question - especially if that was the only form of sex immediately available.)

In a culture with strict enough gender roles, simply being "effeminate", or preferring or enjoying any aspects of culture traditionally assigned to females - being emotionally or physically sensitive, wearing make up or caring too much about your appearance, liking certain colors or clothes or hairstyles - can be enough to call a man's sexuality into question, but in Thailand, where there is only one word to capture the whole range of possible gender expressions and sexualities, that can be enough to designate someone as not even really "male" at all (although, as noted above, only culturally - legally in Thailand even if a person really is transexual, they are still male).  

It shouldn't be surprising, then, that the rate of kathoey is roughly 8 times as high as the rate of trans women everywhere else - it falls exactly in line with the rate of gay men everywhere else.  It turns out it isn't that more people who inside truly feel they are female are free to be themselves there, but rather that everyone who doesn't fit the strict social role of what it is to be a man is forced into the feminine role.

For a woman, traditionally the concept of being anything other than cis/hetero didn't even fully exist at all.  The word used today is "tom" or ("thom") which comes directly from the English "tomboy".  And again, it refers to both any female who prefers to take on any traditionally masculine roles or presentations (for example, wearing pants), or to lesbianism (esp. if she is the dominate one in a relationship or sexual encounter).  The counter-part "dee" (a feminine female who has sex with toms), when it is acknowledged to exist at all, much like a "king", is generally assumed to be a temporary confusion.  

Picture one way this assumption plays out: A young boy likes playing with dolls and wearing his mom's clothes, isn't into sports, and just generally doesn't fit gender stereotypes.  He is, however, entirely comfortable with his body and has no desire to be a woman, and, once he reaches puberty, his sexual desire is exclusively toward females.  In a culture with strict gender roles, and with no separate concepts of "gay" and "trans", this boy is labeled - and treated as - essentially both gay and trans since the time he is very young; young enough that he is told he will be sexually interested in boys before he is sexually interested in anyone.  Being labeled as anything by society - and especially during childhood - has an effect on one's self-image, and its nearly impossible to avoid internalizing it at least a little bit if it is strong enough and consistent enough.  So his innate tendency to be drawn toward more feminine presentation is reinforced by there not being any in-between option (no "metrosexuals", no "cross-dressers" or "drag queens"), and he goes all in on presenting as a woman.  Of course, now his only real job prospects are as a dancer or a sex-worker (incidentally, a majority of male sex-workers in Thailand actually identify as heterosexual, with many partaking of female sex workers' services themselves, and some even being married to women - the pay is just better than what is otherwise available to many), so now his best options are to either start having sex with men (for money), or, to have the best chance of acceptance as a woman, (and the best pay as a dancer) and go (almost) all in and get hormone treatment as well.
The numbers go up by one, and in the West that's seen as the cultures acceptance of diversity, rather than the pigeon-holing it really is. 

Our Turn

As we in the West intentionally blur the meaning and the lines between the biological reality of sex and the idea of gender, we move toward the Thai model.

When we tell children they are free to choose their "pronouns", we are teaching them that pronouns don't reflect the reality of their physical body, but something abstract, some feeling, which is what "really" defines someone as a girl or boy.  This "choice" we give them is inevitably uninformed, since this is rarely if ever coupled with an in-depth education on sex and reproduction, never mind the complex interplay of biology and culture that makes up the various things we lump under the umbrella of "gender".  
When we expect everyone else to respect that choice, we then reinforce whatever that child (possibly arbitrarily) "choose", and whatever mild tendencies toward less than strict gender-role conformity they may have had just to being a unique individual are transformed into a self-identification of trans or "non-binary".  Of course, as discussed above, no one is "binary" in terms of gender, but as an "identity", it becomes something of great personal significance once it is internalized, it becomes not just a fact (one that's true of every single human), but an "identity", a defining aspect of what differentiates one individual along the dividing lines their culture deems significant.  As with the Thai model of gender, this is limiting, not liberating.

Why Now?

This new view of gender - of defining "man" and "woman" not as sexes, but as "genders", and claiming that people should be able to "choose" which they are, has gained mainstream acceptance alongside the rise of Social Justice Fundamentalism in general.  I personally always found it confusing that such a socially regressive movement would find it's home among the most outspoken progressives of the day, but I think I might possibly have figured out at least one small part of what primed society to accept this view.

It is young people, by a large margin, who accept this new outlook.  The rate of "non-binary", "trans" and other non-gender-conforming people (who do not, and have no desire to, use hormones or surgery to modify their physical body to match the other sex than the one they were born) is several times higher among late millennials as any age group before them, and several times higher again among "Generation Z". (Of course, the term "young" is relative; gen Zers are old enough to have significant influence on society, hence their generations redefinition rapidly becoming accepted as a mainstream view). When sex and gender were two distinct things, only about 0.1% of the population (1/10th of 1%) were transsexual.  Today about 5% of all Gen Z self-identifies as something other than their biological sex at birth - an increase of 5000%.  Of that, however, those that actually make use of medical technology to change their sex is a minority, around 0.2% - twice as much as the baseline, but still dramatically less than those who are comfortable with their body but reject the social label that corresponds to it - what they are really rejecting is not the sex they were born with, but some other quality they assume goes along with it.

My (Partial) Theory (or, at least, maybe a factor)

Note, up until here I've been mostly saying things backed up by science and other research.  What comes next is purely speculation on my part.  There is no more evidence of my theory than that it makes sense, and the dates work.

Its certainly nothing new that in Western cultures (probably most non-western ones too, here is just what I know best) femininity is associated with weakness, female sexuality with victimhood.  Its been seen this way by society for thousands of years, and has never fully stopped.  In fact, I've written at length about some of its various insidious, almost invisible forms a number of times on this blog.  But for nearly 100 years, and especially the last 50, there has been a large component of feminism which has been more interested
in empowerment, in acknowledging and celebrating women's own desires and potential for pleasure in sex rather than just protecting women from what was assumed to be an aggressive and dangerous male sexuality;
in allowing women the choice to work, be a parent, or both, rather than just lamenting the burdens that inevitably go along with all of the options; 
in making sure every individual had the opportunity to do what she truly wanted and wasn't discriminated against if she choose something non-gender-traditional, rather than trying to force every industry and realm of society to have equal representation even when the reason for a disparity is lack of interest in the part of most women;
in acknowledging that all humans are sexual, and that being sexual in no way detracts from one's humanity or ability to be taken seriously, rather than simply insisting that society desexualize women;
in encouraging women to embrace their own sexuality, as well as their power, by speaking up to their partners about what they want, rather than just demanding that those partners assume that any ambiguity or submissiveness be interpreted as lack of consent.
In other words, a new brand of feminism which, while recognizing that sexism exists in society, did not assume some inherent victim hood invoked by either femaleness or femininity which society was responsible for counter-acting; one which didn't assume that females needed to be protected from sexuality.
While this form of feminism was never the only one, it was fairly dominate, especially among liberal / progressive / left leaning types, for decades.  Then some time around the late 2000s and early 2010s it's opposite extreme counter-part - the one which has often dominated conservative feeling on sexuality, started making a comeback.  At first it was fairly fringe, although with the advent of the internet, fringe ideas had a chance to spread rapidly, with ideas like "due to the power imbalances in our society, meaningful consent is not possible in heterosexual intercourse" (or, in other words, 'all penis in vagina sex is rape') passing as feminism in some social justice circles.
Then in 2017, the abuses of power of Harvey Weinstein became public, and #MeToo (which actually predated 2017) became a major movement.  The original purpose of it - to expose ways in which people in positions of power were able to get away with abuse - was an important and necessary step forward, but it very quickly expanded, and allowed the people who felt that sexuality itself inherently victimized females a platform to (re)spread that anti-feminist axiom.  So, you had various celebrities attacked for having weird fetishes (Louie CK) or being bad at sex (Aziz Ansari), even when there was no power factor and the "victims" acknowledged that they had in fact been asked for, and given, consent.  Soon public service billboards on transit were proclaiming that the very act of looking at a female (while, presumably thinking sexual thoughts) is a form of harassment, if not assault.  We were back to the idea that sexuality is something women must be shielded and protected from.  

In this view, male sexuality is inherently aggressive, dominating, and predatory.  Sex is something males do to females, something that males seek out at the expense of females, and which females want to avoid.  Under perfect conditions - a woman who is old enough, already sexually experienced, has not taken any sort of alcohol or other intoxicant (even voluntarily), has no professional relationship with the partner, is, by the standards of society, competent enough, and, most importantly, has no ambiguous or conflicted feelings about it (including after the fact) she may be allowed to have sex that isn't rape, but the priority became to define consent as narrowly as possible and invalidate it even when given if any reason could be found to do so.  In this worldview, while its possible for a female to have sex in circumstances that don't make her a victim, victimhood is still the default.  This view is certainly not new to history, but this was the first time in modern history where it became quite so mainstream.

To those who were adults, who had had romantic and sexual relationships for years or decades prior, we could see it as a moment in history, a social reckoning with much merit and value but which occasionally went to far and sucked people up like a witch hunt.  But to someone growing up, just learning about the world, about love and sexuality, about how babies are made and gender roles, and most especially about how they themselves fit into everything around them, there is no outside context.  #MeToo, with everything it implies about both male and female sexuality IS the context, around which everything else becomes framed.
Perhaps this is just coincidence, but Gen Z, the ones who have largely embraced the idea that you can choose not to be a man or a women, were in the age range of about 5 to 18 in 2017.  The sexual victimization of women by men was the primary focus of society - on social media, in the news, in everyone's conversations, during the most formative years of their lives.

And if those are the options presented to you for sexuality - to be either predator or prey - it is no wonder that a significant minority would decide to opt out.

When they rejected that model, rather than being shown that, despite all the media attention, despite all the individual anecdotes adding up to a prevalence far beyond what many people may have expected, this was still the minority, that there are actually lots of healthy consensual relationships among heterosexual people, those people who were still confusing gender and sex were ready to step in and offer an easier answer: rather than the difficult and complex process of becoming a strong and independent women whose role in life isn't defined by her ovaries, just deny that you have them.  Rather than rejecting social assumptions by being a man who is sexually attracted to women while still respecting them as people, a easier, safer bet is just to deny being a man in the first place.

Whats Next?

One upside is that in order to accommodate all the new "genders", some of the remaining social structures which were still using the old "separate spheres" model are becoming ungendered - 100 years after females won the right to wear pants, its finally, just barely beginning, to be normalized for boys to wear skirts.  Children are less heavily gendered, and that shows, even when they accept their own birth  sex.  Restrooms - places for urinating and pooping, which everyone do, are beginning to be less segregated. 
There was never any good reason for them to be separate in the first place. 
It is disturbing, though, that nearly every gender-neutral restroom needs to have the urinals and female hygiene products  removed.  The whole point isn't supposed to be that we can pretend that penises and vaginas don't exist; its supposed to be that it doesn't matter.  The idea that it would be harmful for a female or trans person to see a man urinating from the back, implying he had a penis, could be in anyway harmful is another manifestation of the idea that sexuality is intrinsically negative to female people.  Just like the "crimes" of flashing and peeping, it assumes that wearing clothing is a default state of being human and not a social invention designed to control sexuality.  A public urinal is just practical.  It uses less water.  It keeps stalls free and prevents men from accidentally peeing on seats.   Its faster to use and takes up less space than a stall.  Its better for everyone, but we still have this mindset of needing to "protect" people without penises from the existence of penises.  While they may say "all-genders", it apparently means "lets pretend there are no sexes".
  While the de-segregation of restrooms is a step in the right direction overall, the manifestation of it shows how far we still have to go.  

The adoption of "they" is similar - while its sometimes slightly clearer to understand who someone is talking about with a gendered pronoun, it is a reasonable argument that that slight convenience isn't worth the degree of significance of sex it implies.  We don't use different pronouns for people based on their race or income or religion.  And, unless you plan to have sex with a particular individual, there isn't much reason their sex should matter one way or another.  What advantage is there to having gendered names and hairstyles?  A gender neutral pronoun could imply that the sex of a person doesn't really matter, its not really relevant to whatever topic is at hand.  It would be a positive direction for our culture to take to change the language.
However, saying there is no reason to specify sex whenever talking about someone is very different than having individuals choose their own pronouns.  If the goal is egalitarianism, what we should be doing is using gender neutral pronouns for everyone, all the time.  Regardless of what sex or gender they identify as or prefer.  Making it a choice doesn't mean it ceases to matter, it makes it even more of a focus.  

In the long run we are going to find that changing the language and denying biology isn't going to change anything meaningful in the dynamics of sex and love and relationships and discrimination and power, any more than changing the words we use for people with mental disabilities every generation makes those people any more capable of functioning in society.  What it might do is actually set us back on the road to egalitarianism we had been on the past 100 years.
Hopefully not.  Personally, I don't feel especially optimistic.  Maybe it will just depend on how long the trend lasts, or on how pervasive it gets.  Maybe it will end up being neutral.  I guess we'll just have to wait and see.


I know the topic is hot right now, very politicized, very tied into social justice.
I have no doubt this would generate all kind of hate - but, lucky for me, no one reads this blog anymore, so I'm off the hook there...
I know also it is deeply personal for a great many people.  I know my take would probably be pretty unpopular - probably with people on both sides, but more importantly I think it could be interpreted as offensive or be hurtful to individuals who personally  feel they are transgender (or non-binary or misc other) not who aren't (and don't which to be) transsexual.
My hope is that its been clear in this that I don't think negatively of the individuals themselves.  I find it entirely understandable - given the social framework we are in.  I don't think there is anything wrong with a person rejecting gender roles; the problem I have is with a culture that makes people feel like the only way to truly reject gender roles is to reject the reality of their own biology as well.  I believe that if we had a truly egalitarian society there would be no need, no desire, for anyone to choose pronouns or identify as non-binary or any of the rest other than that less than 1% of people who actually feel they have the wrong sex parts.  I think the culture is largely inadvertently creating the discomfort its trying to alleviate, and that's what inspired me to write.

No comments:

Post a Comment

If you ask a question, I will answer it.

NEW: Blogger finally put in a system to be notified of responses to your comments! Just check the box to the right, below, before you hit "publish"