When Ian McEwan writes in today’s Guardian:

The inheritance of the XY chromosome is inalienably connected to maleness. However, biology is not always destiny. That the transgender community should want or need to abandon their birth gender or radically redefine it is their right, which should be respected and celebrated

what on earth does he mean by the word ‘gender’? I suspect that he means nothing by it, and that the true intelligible content of this passage is: “While facts are facts, hurrah for freedom!”

 

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Human beings and other animals have a sex. In certain languages, nouns and sometimes also adjectives have a gender.

 

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If someone says, “I am biologically male, but I identify as a female/feminine/a woman”, there are various things he might mean (identify is a transitive verb, but let that pass.)

He might mean “I am male but I want others to think that I am a woman”. But this is to wish evil to others, for a male human being is necessarily a man, and to be wrong about a necessary truth is an evil for the intellect.

Or he might mean, “I am male, but I should like to be a woman.” But this is a vain and foolish wish, since if someone is a male human being he is necessarily a man, and being a man is incompatible with being a woman.

Or he might mean: “I am male, but I ought to have been a woman.” But this is a confusion of mind, since one’s identity is established by the infusion of a soul into matter which is so disposed that either a male or a female will result. So there is not, and never has been, any ‘I’, independent of the male human being which he is, that could have had some requirement or fitness to exist as a woman.

Or he might mean: “I am male, but I intend by drugs and knives to become a woman.” But this is a vain and vicious plan, since he cannot in this way cease to be a male human being, and therefore a man, but can only mutilate and deform himself unlawfully.

Or he might mean: “I am male, but I wish to pursue the activities characteristic of women”, then he may refer to activities which are necessarily proper to women, such as giving birth, in which case his wish is vain; or he may refer to activities which in his time and place are considered suitable for women and not for men, for example (it may be) cooking or sewing, in which case his wish is not necessarily vicious of itself, but may easily become so in act, by neglect of duty or dignity or needless offence given to others. Thus where men’s and women’s clothes are clearly distinct, a man who wears a woman’s clothes offends his proper dignity and shocks others.

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The word ‘gender’, used of men and women, is either a synonym for ‘sex’, in which case it is superfluous; or else it is used to foster vain and vicious desires, or mental confusion, in which case it is pernicious.

Today it is not used as a synonym for sex; and so it should not be used.

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