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Sex and gender are different categorisations

Sex is immutably fixed by our DNA. Gender is a way of behaving and has many gradations. We can change our gender.

Summary

Posted 21 May 2019

Until recently, I had never really thought about the difference between the words “sex” and “gender.” That is slightly surprising since I always stress the importance of clarity in our language.

Apart from when we use mathematical symbols, we do all of our thinking with words. If we use them sloppily, that guarantees poor-quality thinking.

Last October, I responded to the document "Reform of the Gender Recognition Act – Government Consultation" on possible changes to the Gender Recognition Act 2004. My response is lower down on this page. Writing the response, and reading some of the media commentary made me realise just how much sloppy vocabulary there is around.

Accordingly, I am writing to explain how I understand sex and gender, in hope of encouraging others to be precise with their own vocabulary.

Sex

Sex is the easier concept to understand.

For simplicity, in the explanation below I have ignored the tiny minority of human beings who have abnormal combinations of sex chromosomes. There is a very detailed set of Wikipedia articles about these rare sex chromosome anomalies.

If you would like to learn more about genetics, I recommend the website page "Help Me Understand Genetics" which is part of the U.S. National Library of Medicine. Unlike commercial sites, it has no business to promote.

In the nucleus of every single cell in our body, all of us have 23 pairs of chromosomes, made up of deoxyribonucleic acid, normally shortened to DNA. (We also have some DNA in the mitochondria in our cells. That is not relevant to this page and not discussed further.)

Of these 23 pairs of chromosomes, 22 have nothing to do with sexual differentiation. The final pair of chromosomes consists of either two XX chromosomes or an X chromosome and a Y chromosome,  making the pair XY. These are referred to as the sex chromosomes.

Every cell in your body is genetically identical. Either every cell has the same XX pair or it has the same XY pair.

People who have an XX pair are biologically female. That means that they are born with a womb and ovaries containing eggs and except in cases of infertility those eggs are capable of being fertilised by male sperm leading to pregnancy.

People who have an XY pair are biologically male. That means they are born with a penis and testicles which produce sperm.

There are many other biological differences between the bodies of males and females which are less significant than the reproductive ones mentioned above.

To summarise, there is a biological difference between males and females. It exists in every cell of our body, there is nothing to do about it and we cannot change it.

Biology

Male

Has XY chromosomes

Female

Has XX chromosomes

Every human being is either male or female, as illustrated below:

The above differences are crystal clear and can be understood by anyone who has the simplest knowledge of biology, cells and DNA.

Gender

Gender is a much more complicated thing to understand, which is why there is much confusion. There are two key sources of this confusion:

In English and I believe in most if not all European languages, we have only two gender categories applied to people. (Objects have a third, neutral, gender category which is not discussed further.)

Masculine (adjective) or man (noun)

In English culture there is a type of behaviour, masculine behaviour, which is expected of people who are biologically male.

Masculine behaviour involves being tough, warlike, being the head of the household, being the financial provider, not showing your emotions, paying little attention to your clothing and appearance, being insensitive. The list could go on. There is a long list of expectations of masculine behaviour. A person who engages in masculine behaviour is called a man.

Historically, it was always recognised that the masculinity of males varied, and some men were regarded as insufficiently masculine, “effeminate”, and often criticised for this behaviour and told to “man up.”

The overlap between males and men was historically so great that our language did not really accommodate any distinction between the two. That is why when speaking English it is so easy, albeit incorrect, to use the terms man and male as if they were interchangeable.

To be precise, masculine behaviour is a way of behaving. People who almost entirely display masculine behaviour are called men.

The phrase “gender is a performance” is often used in modern society to explain the above concept, namely that gender is a way of behaving.

Feminine (adjective) or woman (noun)

Similarly, in English culture there is a type of behaviour, feminine behaviour, which is expected of people who are biologically female.

Feminine behaviour involves nurturing, avoidance of physical conflict, showing your emotions easily, taking care over your clothing and appearance, being sensitive. A person who engages in feminine behaviour is called a woman.

However, not all males display masculine behaviour, and not all females display feminine behaviour. That is illustrated in the diagram below.

The diagram is not drawn to scale; in practice the overwhelming majority of males identify themselves as being men, and vice versa. However I wanted the areas of non-traditional behaviour to be clearly visible.

Additional genders in other cultures

There have been, and still are, other cultures in which the binary gender distinction historically seen in English culture has not existed.

Instead, those cultures accommodated other ways of behaving beyond simply masculine behaviour or feminine behaviour.

In the Indian subcontinent, there is a third gender which is recognised, distinct from either man or woman, known as “hijra.” While some of the people who display this gender behaviour have the sex chromosome anomalies mentioned above, others who display this behaviour are biologically male.

What can be changed?

As explained above, your sex, whether male or female, is encoded in the DNA of the nucleus of every cell in your body. There is no known technology which can change this.

Accordingly, it is impossible for somebody who is biologically male to become biologically female or vice versa. Even if a male has the sex organs removed, and with surgery is given something like a vagina, that cannot change their DNA.

On the other hand, gender is a performance, and one can therefore behave differently. A man can discontinue masculine behaviours and adopt feminine behaviours. By doing so, the man has become a woman.

That applies irrespective of whether any surgery is carried out, and irrespective of whether any hormones are administered to change the level of testosterone (a hormone whose levels are much higher in males than in females) in the body.

A man who has become a woman is still biologically male.

Most of the confusion around gender change arises from the failure to appreciate that gender and sex are different things and that gender can change but sex cannot.

Applying these distinctions in practice

In many sports, males have a significant advantage over females.

I learned this when an undergraduate at Clare College. At that time, Clare was an all-male college. Along with some of my friends, we organised a scratch hockey team and played a match against the regular hockey team of, I recall, Girton College which at that time was an all-female college.

All, or almost all of the males on our team had never played hockey before, including me. Indeed, early in the game I learned the hard way that in hockey there is no concept of passing the ball back to the goalkeeper, because the goalkeeper has no way of picking it up! That conceded an immediate goal.

Even though we were competing against a female team of regular hockey players, the score was a decisive victory for our team. The reason we won was simply that our male bodies enabled us to accelerate much faster from a standing position, enabled us to run faster, and enabled us to turn more easily and to hit the hockey ball harder.

That is why many sports have separate categories for males and females. Unfortunately, because in the past the terms male and man have been used as if they were interchangeable, the sporting categories often use the terms men and women.

For example, Wimbledon has a "Women’s Singles" competition, and not not a "Females’ Singles" competition. The same applies in many other sports. That gives rise to controversy when a man who has become a woman wishes to take part in the women’s competition.

If the categorisations had used the distinction that was clearly intended, and the events were for males or females, such arguments would not arise.

The gender recognition act consultation

Since 2004, the United Kingdom has had a legal process for changing one’s gender. Some contend that the legal process is excessively burdensome and the government carried out a consultation during 2018.

I responded to that consultation and my response is reproduced below.

18 October 2018

Gender Recognition Act Consultation
Government Equalities Office
6th Floor Sanctuary Buildings
20 Great Smith Street,
London
SW1P 3BT

Dear Sir

Reform of the Gender Recognition Act – Government Consultation

I am writing to respond to the consultation document issued in July 2018. This response is from me as an individual. It should not be taken as representing the views of any of the many organisations with which I am associated.

I confirm that I have no objection to the publication of this response including my name and other information above, all of which are already publicly available from my website.

I have copied below your consultation questions as printed in your document. The text of my responses will be clearly identifiable.

Annex B: Consultation Questions

Question 1 If you are a trans person, have you previously applied, or are you currently applying, for a Gender Recognition Certificate? Yes / No

I am not a transgender person and therefore the questions above are not applicable.

If yes, please tell us about your experience of the process. If no, please tell us why you have not applied? If you have applied, were you successful in obtaining a Gender Recognition Certificate? Yes / No / Awaiting Decision

Not applicable.

Question 2 If you are a trans person, please tell us what having Gender Recognition Certificate means, or would mean, to you. Information provided in response to this question will be protected under the existing provisions in Section 22 of the Gender Recognition Act, as relevant. Examples given may be published in the consultation response but these will be fully anonymised.

This question is not applicable to me.

Question 3 Do you think there should be a requirement in the future for a diagnosis of gender dysphoria? Yes / No Please explain the reasons for your answer.

YES.

The law regularly has to strike a balance between the rights and needs of the individual and the rights of wider society.

As far as the individual is concerned, I believe that the requirement for a formal diagnosis of gender dysphoria helps to protect individuals from self-formulated views about their gender identity which may be inaccurate.

This is of particular concern with young persons. Recent research indicates that there has been a very significant increase in the number of teenagers (and even younger children) who believe that they may be transgender. In many cases, these views appear to have been formed as a response to particular stresses in their lives or particular influences from their peers.

The requirement for a formal diagnosis, and the need to interact with qualified medical practitioners leading up to that formal diagnosis, helps to protect individuals who may be going through other crises of their identity rather than being genuinely transgender, and helps to avoid the risk that they will seek to adopt a gender identity which in reality will be less satisfactory for them than their biological sex.

The requirement for a formal diagnosis of gender dysphoria is even more important for the rest of society. In particular, many biological females are extremely concerned about the existing requirement to accept males who have transitioned to women as fellow women entitled to have access to women-only spaces. At present, biological females are protected by the formal processes that must be gone through before the law recognises a change of gender. The formality, perhaps even onerousness, of these processes is not a “bug” from the perspective of wider society, it is a “feature.”

In other words, it is right and proper that the process of gender change should be appropriately difficult and should have appropriate requirements for third-party certification to ensure that the law only recognises a change of gender in circumstances where the rest of society can have some level of assurance, from the hurdles that must be satisfied, that the person who has transitioned is genuine about their change of gender.

As mentioned above, this is particularly important in the case of biological males transitioning to become women, but may also be applicable to biological females transitioning to become men.

Question 4 Do you also think there should be a requirement for a report detailing treatment received? Yes / No Please explain the reasons for your answer.

YES.

The reasons for my response are basically the same as those for the answer to question 3.

The requirement for a report detailing the treatment received protects the individual by ensuring that the person has received treatment for their gender identity issues as part of reaching the decision to change their gender.

The requirement for such a report also helps to protect wider society by ensuring that gender transition requires a demonstrably evident level of seriousness proven by receiving such medical treatment. It is simply not acceptable to expect the rest of society to accept self-certification by an individual as the only real requirement before society as a whole accepts that the person’s gender has changed from their biological sex.

Question 5 Under the current gender recognition system, an applicant has to provide evidence to show that they have lived in their acquired gender for at least two years.

(A) Do you agree that an applicant should have to provide evidence that they have lived in their acquired gender for a period of time before applying? Yes / No Please explain the reasons for your answer.

The primary beneficiary of this requirement is wider society. This requirement provides evidence of a genuine and serious commitment to living in the acquired gender before the law provides legally enforceable recognition of that acquired gender.

Even though some individuals may regard the requirement as onerous, it serves to protect individuals who believe that their biological sex may not be the correct gender for them. By requiring them to live in their proposed new acquired gender for a period of time, and to prove that they have done so, the requirement protects such individuals against needing to transition again back to the original biological sex. Otherwise, if changing gender were to be very straightforward, there are likely to be many cases where individuals transition and then find that they are not sure about their new gender identity.

(B) If you answered yes to (A), do you think the current evidential options are appropriate, or could they be amended?

I have no comments on the specific current evidential options.

(C) If you answered yes to (A), what length of time should an applicant have to provide evidence for?

Two years or more;
Between one year and two years;
Between six months and one year;
Six months or less.

Two years or more.

(D) If you answered no to (A), should there be a period of reflection between making the application and being awarded a Gender Recognition Certificate?

Not applicable.

Question 6 Currently applicants for a gender recognition certificate must make a statutory declaration as part of the process.

(A) Do you think this requirement should be retained, regardless of what other changes are made to the gender recognition system? Yes / No Please explain the reasons for your answer.

YES.

Many people in wider society, particularly biological females, have concerns about biological males who may insincerely transition to women for improper purposes. As making a false statutory declaration is punishable by the state, this requirement serves as a deterrent against such conduct.

(B) If you answered yes to (A), do you think that the statutory declaration should state that the applicant intends to ‘live permanently in the acquired gender until death’? Yes / No

YES

See the above answer to question (A). The requirement is of course that the applicant genuinely has that intention at the time that they make their statutory declaration. It does not serve to criminalise a genuine subsequent change of intention, but the requirement does serve as a deterrent against fraudulent claims to have adopted a new gender.

(C) If you answered no to (A), do you think there should be any other type of safeguard to show seriousness of intent?

Not applicable.

Question 7 The Government is keen to understand more about the spousal consent provisions for married persons in the Gender Recognition Act. Do you agree with the current provisions? Yes / No Please explain the reasons for your answer. If you think the provisions should change, how do you think they should be altered?

Gender identity lies at the heart of the marriage relationship. This applies regardless of whether the married couple are a man and a woman, two men or two women.

At the time that person A married person B, each of them believed that the other was of a particular gender, and that belief could not be anything other than absolutely fundamental to their agreement to marry.

Accordingly, a decision by person B that they are going to change their gender is of equally fundamental importance to the marriage relationship. Accordingly, it should remain impossible for person B to change gender without the express agreement of person A. If A and B are unable to reach agreement, then obviously the marriage should be terminated.

Question 8 Currently, applicants must pay £140 to apply for a Gender Recognition Certificate.

(A) Do you think the fee should be removed from the process of applying for legal gender recognition? Yes / No

NO.

There are costs to the state in processing changes of gender. These costs should be borne by the individual seeking the change which is the intention of the existing requirement for a payment.

Furthermore, the requirement for the fee is one further protection for wider society from people seeking to change their gender for improper purposes.

(B) If you answered no to (A), do you think the fee should be reduced? Yes / No

NO.

The only rationale for reducing the fee would be if it was found that the average cost to the state of processing a gender recognition certificate was less than £140. Obviously, the state should not seek to make a profit out of people changing their gender, but nor is there any reason for the state to subsidise them.

The Government is keen to understand more about the financial cost of achieving legal gender recognition, beyond the £140 application fee.

(C) What other financial costs do trans individuals face when applying for a gender recognition certificate and what is the impact of these costs?

No response.

Question 9 Do you think the privacy and disclosure of information provisions in section 22 of the Gender Recognition Act are adequate? Yes / No If no, how do you think it should be changed?

I have no response to this question.

Question 10 If you are someone who either has, or would want to undergo legal gender transition, and you have one or more of the protected characteristics, which protected characteristics apply to you? You may tick more than one box. Age / Disability / Gender reassignment / Marriage and civil partnership / Pregnancy and maternity / Race / Religion or belief / Sex / Sexual orientation / Please give us more information about how your protected characteristic has affected your views on the GRC application process.

This question is not applicable to me.

Question 11 Is there anything you want to tell us about how the current process of applying for a GRC affects those who have a protected characteristic?

I have no response to this question.

Question 12 Do you think that the participation of trans people in sport, as governed by the Equality Act 2010, will be affected by changing the Gender Recognition Act? Yes / No / Please give reasons for your answer.

The consultation is about the processes for changing gender rather than the underlying legal position which allows biological males to be recognised as women and biological females to be recognised as men provided the appropriate legal processes are complied with.

If the transition processes are simplified (and in my responses above I have explained why I oppose simplification) then the number of transgender individuals is likely to increase but this should not, of itself, impact their participation in sport.

Question 13 (D) Do you think that the operation of the single-sex and separate-sex service exceptions in relation to gender reassignment in the Equality Act 2010 will be affected by changing the Gender Recognition Act? Yes / No Please give reasons for your answer.

As explained in the response to question 12, this consultation is only about the process for a gender transition.

It is of course essential that the existing exceptions in relation to gender reassignment in the Equality Act 2010 are retained. Otherwise, one would be faced with biological males competing in women’s sports competitions where in many cases they would have significant, unfair, advantages arising from their biology in relation to physical strength, running ability and ability to make sudden changes of a running direction.

(E) If you provide a single or separate sex service, do you feel confident in interpreting the Equality Act 2010 with regard to these exemptions? Yes / No Please give reasons for your answer.

This question is not applicable to me.

(F) If you are a trans person who has experienced domestic abuse or sexual assault, were you able to access support? Yes / No Please give reasons for your answer.

This question is not applicable to me.

(D) If you answered ‘yes’ to (C), was this support adequate? Yes / No

This question is not applicable to me.

Question 14 Do you think that the operation of the occupational requirement exception in relation to gender reassignment in the Equality Act 2010 will be affected by changing the Gender Recognition Act? Yes / No Please give reasons for your answer.

As explained in the response to question 12, this consultation is only about the process for a gender transition.

It is of course essential that the existing exceptions in relation to gender reassignment in the Equality Act 2010 are retained.

Question 15 Do you think that the operation of the communal accommodation exception in relation to gender reassignment in the Equality Act 2010 will be affected by changing the Gender Recognition Act? Yes / No Please give reasons for your answer.

As explained in the response to question 12, this consultation is only about the process for a gender transition.

It is of course essential that the existing exceptions in relation to gender reassignment in the Equality Act 2010 are retained.

Question 16 Do you think that the operation of the armed forces exception as it relates to trans people in the Equality Act 2010 will be affected by changing the Gender Recognition Act? Yes / No Please give reasons for your answer.

As explained in the response to question 12, this consultation is only about the process for a gender transition.

It is of course essential that the existing exceptions in relation to gender reassignment in the Equality Act 2010 are retained.

Question 17 Do you think that the operation of the marriage exception as it relates to trans people in the Equality Act 2010 will be affected by changing the Gender Recognition Act? Yes / No Please give reasons for your answer.

As explained in the response to question 12, this consultation is only about the process for a gender transition.

It is of course essential that the existing exceptions in relation to gender reassignment in the Equality Act 2010 are retained.

Question 18 Do you think that the operation of the insurance exception as it relates to trans people in the Equality Act 2010 will be affected by changing the Gender Recognition Act? Yes / No Please give reasons for your answer.

As explained in the response to question 12, this consultation is only about the process for a gender transition.

It is of course essential that the existing exceptions in relation to gender reassignment in the Equality Act 2010 are retained.

Question 19 Do you think that changes to the Gender Recognition Act will impact on areas of law and public services other than the Equality Act 2010? Yes / No Please give reasons for your answer.

As explained in the response to question 12, this consultation is only about the process for a gender transition. It is not intended to change the underlying legal principle set out in the Gender Recognition Act that individuals can change their gender.

Question 20 Currently, UK law does not recognise any gender other than male and female. Do you think that there need to be changes to the Gender Recognition Act to accommodate individuals who identify as non-binary? Yes / No If you would like to, please expand upon your answer.

NO.

I have responded “No” because this is a very big issue. It underlies vast swathes of our law that all individuals have a gender, and there are only two genders available, man and woman.

Undoubtedly individuals who identify as non-binary feel some distress when confronted by the existing legal position. I have no data on how many individuals are in this situation in UK society.

If the number concerned is significant, then in a fair society we should carry out a root and branch review of our law to consider how it would need to change to accommodate the existence of a third legally recognised gender that was neither man nor woman. This would of course be a major undertaking, but in the interests of fairness to all members in our society, it should be done.

Conversely, if the number concerned is not significant, then it is unreasonable to expect wider society to bear the significant cost of changing an enormous proportion of our laws to accommodate the needs of a small number of individuals. It is more practical for society as a whole to continue to require every individual to be legally a man or a woman, even if that causes some level of psychological distress to a small number of individuals.

Question 21 (A) Do you have a variation in your sex characteristics? Yes / No

NO.

As outlined in question 3, the Government wants to understand whether there should be any requirement in the future for a report detailing a diagnosis of gender dysphoria and any requirement for a report detailing treatment received. (B) Would removing these requirements be beneficial to you?

This question is not applicable to me.

(C) What other changes do you think are necessary to the GRA in order to benefit intersex people?

No response.

Question 22 Do you have any further comments about the Gender Recognition Act 2004? Yes / No If you answered yes, please add your comments.

YES.

My responses above are primarily intended for situations where biological males are transitioning to becoming women and biological females are transitioning to becoming men.

Individuals who are biologically intersex because they were born with non-standard sexual organs or whose sex chromosomes are not a simple XX or XY merit a more straightforward gender reassignment process. In their case, once medical evidence is available regarding their chromosomes and/or their sexual organs, a change of gender should be made as straightforward as possible since such individuals should not cause any concern to wider society.

Yours faithfully
Mohammed Amin

 

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