The transgender science is not settled

Dana Pham (pronouns: who/cares)
13 min readJun 23, 2019

The revised version of this opinion piece is now available here:

Earlier this month, Prof David Flint argued in The Spectator that the transgender science is settled, and that a Royal Commission (in Australia) is needed now in response. Both claims are far from the truth; the science is not settled, and there’s no need for a wasteful Royal Commission. Whilst scientists do simplistically agree that most human beings are born male or female, and that this is sort of immutable, it’s not that simple.

Biological sex is somewhat a spectrum: this covers body parts, hormones, and genetics, just to name a few, but not gender. The XX/XY dichotomy is a simplistic starting point for discussing bio sex. There are people with intersex conditions that fall in between the dichotomy. It’s tempting to write these people off as ‘abnormalities’, because some of them do have medical issues, but many don’t. There are a range of factors that can cause all sorts of seemingly strange things to happen, ranging from genetic (XXY, XYY, Y, X, XX with translocation, XY with deletion) to hormonal (androgen insensitivity, estradiol failure), and disruptors like dioxins.

Tetrachlorodibenzo-p-dioxin (TCDD) randomly turns some boys into girls and some girls into boys, giving rise to an intersex subgroup where, for example, the female responds like the male. Here, the male hasn’t been mislabelled as female, rather, the functional female here can do all the usual female things like gestate babies, but they respond to this one endocrine disruptor in a male way. The labels ‘real men’ and ‘real women’ are not accurate labels for anyone.

As you go further down the bio sex iceberg, you find XY people that gestate babies, and XX people with penies and ovaries simultaneously. And it doesn’t stop there. On the surface, the bio sex spectrum may not seem like a big deal, given that the intersex population is up to 2% (approx 150 million people worldwide). But if an endocrinologist is exploring steroid treatment with you, or discussing treating dioxin poisoning, the bio sex spectrum could be very important. If the light’s off in your home, maybe there is a power outage. Or maybe it’s just that the lightbulb blew?

Dana Pham (pronouns: who/cares)

Trans-inclusionary radical feminist (TIRF) | Liberal Arts phenomenologist from @notredameaus | Anglo-catholic | all opinions expressed here are my own