Guest post: An entire suite of interpenetrating systems

Originally a comment by Nullius in Verba on Reasons.

Could we in principle change someone’s sex? Sure, but it would involve alterations so radical and so subtle that I don’t think it plausible, much less useful or ethical. Because what needs to change is not just a few body parts, but rather an entire suite of interpenetrating systems, all of which together compose the system we call sex. Transplant a functional uterus and ovaries into a man, and he’s still a man, because (a) that uterus is not from his body, (b) the eggs in the ovaries are not from his DNA, and (c) his body is not just unequipped to regulate those organs, it’s developed to maintain the complementary set of organs. Calling him a female or a woman would be even more laughable than calling a black man white because he got a heart transplant from a white man. Or saying that I have 20/20 vision because I wear glasses.

I don’t know if it’s still in use, but there used to be a very similar bad argument, named for a forum user, in online RPG discussions: the Oberoni Fallacy. People often try to argue that a particular rule is not dysfunctional/inconsistent/broken/problematic by appealing to the fact that the DM (dungeon master) can always modify the rule to make it work. (No, really. This is a remarkably common argument.) That this argument is fallacious ought to be obvious. It would be like if I were to say that your TV isn’t off because you can turn it on.

To be a particular sex means that your body is such that it is organized around the production of a particular sort of gamete. That doesn’t involve just the bare presence of ovaries or testicles; it involves every part of your body that is a product or component of the evolved system of sexual reproduction. Having wide hips is a part of being a human female, just as having broad shoulders is a part of being a human male, and this is not at all in tension with the fact that not all women have wide hips and not all men have broad shoulders. That this needs explaining to adults will never cease to amaze me. Losing is a part of playing roulette, but not every player will lose. Injuries are a part of contact sport, but not every athlete will get injured.

All this is to say that while the bar is high, a human sex change isn’t an analytic impossibility. One can certainly imagine a fantasy world in which some magic spell could effect all the necessary physical changes. I doubt technology will ever be so advanced as to be indistinguishable from that magic, though.

Of course, none of this touches on the psychological aspects of being and growing up and living as a male or female. It also doesn’t even begin to examine potential ethical considerations. Genderism is built on so many layers of sophist bullshit that peeling them away is actually frustrating, because it’s like cutting heads off mythology’s stupidest hydra. I genuinely feel dumber for having to do things like explain that saying all women are female doesn’t reduce women to their genitalia or limit the ways to be a woman. All triangles have three sides and three vertices, but there are infinite varieties of triangle. What none of them is, however, is a rectangle, because rectangles have four sides and four vertices. This means that there is a set of things that are true of triangles and things triangles can do, and this is not the same as the set of things that are true of rectangles and things rectangles can do.


8 Responses to “Guest post: An entire suite of interpenetrating systems”