The Government Can’t Dictate Reality

Changing the legal definition of sex doesn’t change the reality of gender.

There is a 12th century legend by Henry Huntingdon that tells of King Canute placing his throne on the beach and commanding the tide not to come in. Predictably, the tides did not listen to the King and he ended up with wet feet and a nice illustration of the fact that even as King his power had limits. This is a valuable lesson that Governments still apparently struggle with from time to time.

In 1897 the State of Indiana’s General Assembly heard Bill 246 “introducing a new mathematical truth and offered as a contribution to education to be used only by the State of Indiana”. Of the many incorrect mathematical assertions in the bill the most memorable was giving pi the value of 3.2. The Education Committee actually passed the bill but it failed to make it through the State Senate.

If Bill 246 had passed the impacts on pi, or any other math, would have been non-existent. Pi, like any number is just a word, some symbols that people use to make it easier to communicate about something that exists in the world. The ratio of a circle’s radius to its circumference is something that people can name, but it’s not something that governments have any actual impact on. People in power can decide to say that pi is equal to 3.2, or that the earth is the center of the universe, or that the tides can’t come in, but saying it doesn’t make it so.

While the HHS may want to narrow gender down to the idea that penis equals man and vagina equals woman the truth is that a person’s sex involves external sex organs, internal sex organs, chromosomes, hormones, and secondary sex characteristics like beards or breasts. For most people all these things end up in one category, but that’s not the case for everyone. Gender involves all that plus other things, like societal expectation and most importantly, a person’s own internal experience. Humans are incredibly diverse and sometimes a person’s gender is not the same as the sex they appeared to be at birth.

Transgender people have existed throughout history and being transgender is a medically and scientifically accepted fact. But unfortunately transgender people in the U.S. and elsewhere still face targeted discrimination, at the hands of individuals and even state governments. It’s unclear why people think that someone else’s gender is of any concern to them, but it is clear that transgender Americans should have the same civil rights protections as other groups that have historically faced targeted discrimination in the U.S. By changing this definition the HHS is taking a step that will leave transgender people with less protection from discrimination in the U.S. To put it another way, this change will have real negative impacts on real American citizens, with literally no positive outcomes for anyone. That should be reason enough to discount it out of hand.

The other big problem with HHS’s incorrect definition is that in the long run things like this weaken the power of the government. Indiana didn’t even end up passing Bill 246 with the wrong definition of pi, but over 100 years later it’s still being held up as an example of how irrational and stupid governments can be. The government doesn’t get to decide what reality is; it can’t command the tide not to come in, or change the value of pi, or define transgender people out of existence. When the government takes actions that contradict reality it just leaves us with the same reality and a less competent government.

Comments
No. 1-4
JP Mac
JP Mac

Editor

The idea of gender should be a completely moot point legally. What a person sees to be their gender should have no bearing legally, it should be viewed by the law as no different than being a red-head vs. a blonde. If a man has a sex change operation, is the human being that gets through it male or female? Does that operation give the person the added life expectancy of a female? Should a life insurance company treat this person as a female and charge less? Should the auto insurance company that gives discounts to female drivers based upon statistical data that women are safer drivers be forced to give this person lower rates? It's a question of fundamental fairness, both to men and women.

Philip Carino
Philip Carino

I've always believed that sex was just the biological assignment which you can never change unless surgery but then again gender is what I think becomes fluid or rather multifaceted.

Calista
Calista

Dear Editor Chapman. Thank you. Many discussants of this touchy subject choose to go the straight libertarian argument of resisting government mandates of personal sexuality. That's fine. But I like your historical mythological context. Because yes, -the proposed HHS binary definition of human sexuality flies in the face of reality and, recent scientific understandings. As you reference in your links, in considering our sexuality there are as many as nine components to consider: external genital appearance, internal reproductive organs, structure of the gonads, endocrinologic sex, genetic sex, nuclear sex, chromosomal sex, psychological sex and social sex. And, none of these components is the definitive one. On that, scientists have no consensus. We don't know enough to know if some cluster of these elements of our sexuality are the defining ones and if they are, in what measure, in what balance or combination. To put it simply all of us are binary; or posed another way, none of us is strictly one or the other. The not-so-cutting scientific body of knowledge (some dates to the 1960s) shows us there aren't just two models of human sexuality, there might be five; there might be nine; we don't know yet.

ThreePatriots
ThreePatriots

Editor

The problem with your premise is that feelings aren't reality. Just because you have feelings (mental disorder) for something, doesn't mean you get to dictate what you can and can't do in society. Feelings are fleeting and cannot be confused with the solid facts and with people who are transgender, the fact is that every cell in their body has 2 sex chromosomes that make up part of their DNA. You either have 2 X chromosomes and are a female, or you have an X and a Y chromosome and are thus male. It is true that there are some mutations and errors in the process that can leave someone outside of the normal XX and XY field, but those occurrences are less than 1 in every 1,666 births. And those are not the people you are talking about anyway.

People who determine their identity based upon their feelings (previously called Gender Identity Disorder in the DSM, now called Gender Dysmorphia) are not told that they cannot have their own feelings, but as a father, I don't want my daughter using the bathroom at the mall with a guy who decided that today he feels like he is a woman and wants to use the women's restroom. There needs to be some sort of restrictions in place to allow people to be their own "normal", but not affect others. What stops the sex predator from claiming to be a woman to use the women's restroom? What keeps my child from being peeked on in the closed stall by a man who wants to be a perv? There needs to be some common sense restrictions in place that isn't tied to a certain populations feelings.

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