While I also get angry at the false-sense-of-intellectual-superiority "science" nerds on the internet who say things like "there are only two biological genders" where by "gender" they mean "sex" and and by "sex" they mean "chromosomal configurations" and even then they're still wrong, I do have a small bit of intellectual sympathy for the position that they're trying
to take. (Assuming for the moment that they're not just straight up assholes looking for an excuse to be assholes; I'm talking about the kind of people who are totally okay with trans people existing and doing whatever they want with regard to medical transition, gender expression, etc, and just making a theoretical stand about the meaning of words and such).
eSOANEM makes a great point about the actual biology of sex being multidimensional and each dimension being nonbinary. But then, if we imagine ourselves for a moment as people in a not-so-long-ago era where that information was first being discovered, which is similar to the kind of mind space that people just learning that information right now are in, that leaves us with the question of how to interpret words like "man" and "woman" that people have been using for centuries, in light of this new information. The approach that seems to me like it would have been most direct and least problematic is to take those traditional words as referring to the objective biological features that people historically could actually observe in those times, namely genitalia. And then, since genital configurations are still not binary but the words "man" and "woman" (taken as referring to them) try to treat them like they are, we're forced choose whether to interpret those words in a (referentially) inclusive or exclusive way, and so to choose whether people of ambiguous genitalia count as either "both man and woman" or "neither man nor woman" (the former, inclusive senses seem less likely to offend).
Under this hypothetical interpretation, someone with something like AIS, with unambiguous genitalia but an unexpected chromosomal configuration, would simply be a woman, just with XY chromosomes, which isn't a problem for calling her a woman because "woman" doesn't say anything about chromosomes. Someone who has undergone SRS likewise just is whatever their new sex is now, man or woman, but prior to it was another sex. And someone who has one set of genitals and doesn't like that and would rather have a different set (regardless of whether they intend SRS) wants to be
a different sex, but isn't actually that other sex until they become it. That wanting-to-be-ness is a significant psychological property that probably deserves a name, but a new name, just like we invented new words to refer to sexual orientation (which I'm not conflating here, it's just an analogy) and didn't start calling anyone who wants to have sex with men "a woman". Again, this is all a hypothetical about what I'd have suggested if it was still 1950 and John Money hadn't published yet.
But it's not 1950 and that ship has sailed and it's too late to fight it so now we're left with an unfortunate terminological convention that I honestly think causes far more conflict and confusion than necessary. Instead of the above, we decided that since people refused to accept that genital sex is nonbinary, and insisted on calling people not on the ends of that axis as though they were, that the words "man" and "woman" must refer to socially constructed categories abstracted away from sex, instead of to sex itself. That is to say, rather than saying that people were bad at honestly talking about the complex actual reality, we decided to say that they're really talking about an oversimplified collective social fantasy, and that that's perfectly okay and not something we're going to complain about. Which honestly seems kind of more insulting to the intersex people about whom this was being decided; it seems more righteous to tell the people assigning them a binary sex at birth "no, you were objectively wrong about saying I was just a boy/just a girl; there are more options than that, and I'm one of them".
And then once we established that the words refer to the socially constructed property we now call gender... well, nobody is really
any socially-constructed thing, it's entirely a matter of what people are called or are call themselves. (E.g. there's no sense arguing about whether anyone is really
, say, a nerd, as much as some nerds might like to; it's just a social categorization with no real concrete referent). So now someone who would like to be a sex other than they were born (which, again, I'm still acknowledging is a real and significant psychological attribute that deserves recognition) just "identifies as" whichever objectively meaningless social label they want applied to them, and since there is no objective grounds on which to decide if those labels "really should" apply, to disagree with them mounts to nothing but an insult. But those are labels that everyone who's not well-versed in this stuff still think refer to a biological thing like genital sex. So it sounds to them like suddenly all kinds of people are denying objective facts and all of society is insisting that they
do so as well, and I can easily see why a science-minded person would be offended by that. That's not what's actually happening, of course, but it looks
to them like that's happening until the whole difference between biological sex and social gender is explained, and then that
still sounds like people are redefining words, which honestly really is what happened but it was over half a century ago now and the words mean new things now and it's too late to go back so we're stuck with this confusing unnecessarily conflict-causing situation and it makes me sad.
Not in the least because it makes it really difficult to explain my own "gender identity" (which words themselves already don't sound like a good name for the property of myself I'm trying to describe*). The straightforward way I would like to describe it, had my above hypothetical had come to pass, would be "I'm a man, and I'm okay with that, and sometimes I even kinda like it; but I also kinda like the idea of being a woman, and would be totally okay with it if I was". Most people not well-versed in sex and gender matters would understand me correctly if I said that, I think. But then, in that kind of terminology, a transwoman would be described (pre-transition) as "a man, who's not okay with that and doesn't like it, and would rather be a woman", or (post-transition) as "a woman, who used to be a man, but didn't like it and so changed it", and that kind of language is going to upset a lot of people with the kind of interpretation given to all of those words today, which in turn makes me feel like I'm not supposed to describe myself in that kind of language either, but instead say something like "I'm neither a man nor a woman, or I'm kind of both, more or less of one or the other at different times", which sounds completely off and I think would make most people think I'm either intersexed, a shapeshifter, or more likely just a crazy person.
*If someone asks me "what's my gender" I'm never completely sure which of the many possible things that particular person might mean by that:
- What terms do I want people to call me by? (I have no preference, whatever feels natural to you.)
- What are my sex chromosomes? (I have no idea, I've never had my genes tested.)
- What is my "brain sex"? (I have no idea, I've never had my neuroanatomy examined.)
- What's in my pants? (A penis and testicles. At least that one's easy.)
- Do I feel like a man or a woman? (No...? I'm not sure what either would feel like unless you mean the last thing on this list below.)
- Do I have a masculine or feminine personality? (No; that question is meaningless unless you presume stereotypes that I avoid, but even assuming those stereotypes, I exhibit a mix of them from both, and score very near the center of tests like these
- Do I live a masculine or feminine social role? (No; that question is meaningless unless you presume stereotypes that I avoid, but even assuming those sterotypes I exhibit a mix of them from both, being both the breadwinner and the housekeeper and so on.)
- Do I have a masculine or feminine expression? (That question is also meaningless unless you presume stereotypes that I avoid but somehow it doesn't feel as obviously dumb to me; in any case, still a mix, wearing skirts usually indoors at home/work and pants usually outdoors hiking around, and a mix of men's and women's cut shirts in either case, with long hair but no makeup or jewelry and as body-hairless as I can find the time to keep myself.)
- How do I feel about what's in my pants? This I think is the most interesting question, and seems the most relevant to trans issues, but also has much less to do with the technical definition of social gender (vs biological sex) than most of the above questions, and so seems like it should really have a different name. (I'm fine with it, it's nice sometimes, some of the alternatives also seem like they'd be nice, and in an ideal world I'd prefer one of those alternatives, but since in the real world change is hard and I don't really mind what I've got now I don't especially care to do anything about it.)