I pretty much flunked biology early on in high school (so I focused on chemistry and physics for a few years, then specialized in mathematics), so this was a fascinating and really well-explained article about a science that I only vaguely know in hand-wavy terms. Thank you!

Expand full comment

Interesting well written piece.

I was a Zoology major in college in the mid 70s. Since that field is explicitly about studying the diversity of biology across the animal kingdom, including classification, anatomy, physiology and behavior, we did learn about sex, primarily as it is a fundamental aspect of reproduction and manifests in anatomical and physiological of make and female phenotypes within a species, as well as behavioral differences, especially when mating season was on.

We did learn about anisogamy and isogamy. I don't remember there being any discussions of details of the evolution of anisogamy and isogamy, although evolution is a constant thread in Zoology. We did learn that mammals are anisogamous, there was a male and female phenotype for mammalian species, and in addition to observable external characteristics, there would also be internal differences in the phenotypes that would support the role that phenotype played in reproduction.

Personally I then got a PhD in Neurobiology, did a couple of post docs, then spent 35 years working for companies providing microscope based imaging systems to scientists and supporting the use of those systems.

I retired about a year ago, ad for some reason have gotten interested in this topic of gender and sex, I guess as it goes back to my academic roots in neurobiology and behavior. I am becoming more than a little disenchanted by both sides of the discussion you outline. On the as you call it gamete side, their gamete are everything arguments get a bit tortured when one starts to look across the animal kingdom, and if they even limited their discussion to mammals, and the differences of sex specific phenotypes within a species, they are only talking about anatomical and physiological differences, not behavior, which can have some predispositions toward typical tendencies in humans, but not eve close to the whole story for any individual human as our brains are a bit more complicated.

I can see why this is distressing to members of the trans and gender conforming community, but I find the response just as aggravating. Fair enough to point out the point that an essentialist gamete determines sex across biology is problematic. But just as problematic is, in the case of humans, who are mammals, the promulgation of sex is a spectrum, multidimensional, oh so confusing and complicated thing to figure out. That line of thinking implies a major difficulty in determining an individuals phenotype, which I submit is not that hard to do.

I acknowledge that there are a very very small percentage of people that have conditions referred to as DSDs or intersex that fall outside the typical phenotypes, and due to an atypical genotype. Those people may at the appropriate time need to make some medical decisions. I do feel that they are dragged unfairly into some of these discussions.

I also acknowledge that there are people that, while born with a particular phenotype (as a result of their genotype) feel extreme discomfort with the external manifestations of their phenotype and their perception of what it means to live as that phenotype. Changing the external manifestation through changes in hormones and surgery can resolve the discomfort. However, they have not changed their genotype. Acknowledging that is important for their own health, as there are medical disorders that are driven not by hormones but rather by genotype associated with their natal sex.

Expand full comment