Alex Byrne in Arc Digital:
In her New York Times op-ed “Why Sex Is Not Binary,” the biologist and gender studies theorist Anne Fausto-Sterling tries to set the record straight: “Two sexes have never been enough to describe human variety.” According to Fausto-Sterling, it has “long been known” that some people are neither female nor male (or, perhaps, both female and male).
Fausto-Sterling is responding to a leaked draft memo from the Department of Health and Human Services that proposes a legal definition of sex under Title IX “based on immutable biological traits.” The memo appears to be part of a regrettable attempt to remove some legal protections from people who are transgender. Although a transgender person is no less likely to be female or male than someone who is not transgender, activists for transgender rights often cite the alleged fact that “sex is not binary” to support the idea that being transgender is not a mental health condition, but instead is merely “normal biological variation.” That “sex is a spectrum,” or — as Fausto-Sterling wrote in The New York Times 25 years ago — that “there are at least five sexes,” are claims that are pressed into similar service. Fausto-Sterling’s article endorses and reinforces these ideas. But not only are the claimed biological facts far from established, this particular use of biology to guide social and legal issues is completely misguided in the first place. Transgender people, just like anyone else, should be free to live and work without being stigmatized, harassed, or disrespected. Whether sex is binary, a spectrum, or whether there are 42 sexes, makes absolutely no difference.