Binary Thinking in a Non-Binary World
Another Example of Ignoring (or twisting) the Science
According to Fundamentalist Christians, including all local Republican respondents to WeBelieveWeVote.com’s Survey, “The Holy Bible is the supernatural, inspired Word of God; it is inerrant, supreme, complete, and final.” That statement could not be clearer. One consequence of Fundamentalist belief is straightforward: the Creation Stories (there are two, not one) in the Book of Genesis are not allegorical, they are not an attempt by members of a primitive society to explain their existence. Instead, for a Fundamentalist, the Creation Stories are the literal truth—and, by implication, the science of geology and all that it implies is junk science. “Our” eastern Washington Representative to the U.S. Congress, Cathy McMorris Rodgers, a woman steeped in Fundamentalist education, makes this clear: “The account that I believe is the one in the Bible that God created the world in seven days.”
For a Fundamentalist (a status self-confirmed by every local Republican who responded to Question 1 of the WBWV Survey) there are other doctrinal consequences. Genesis 1:27: “So God created man in his own image, in the image of God created he him; male and female created he them.” There is no room in that statement for ambiguity. That binary statement is simple, direct…and factually wrong.
I was brought up to think of sex as a clear dichotomy, male and female. For my parents, it wasn’t so much an article of faith, it was simply obvious to them based on common observation. Obvious, that is, in the same way as it was “obvious” at one time that the earth was the center of the universe, the earth was flat, and the sun and the moon were moved in the sky for the benefit of Man.
The Fundamentalist Biblical doctrine of binary, dichotomous sex determination, fails just as miserably under careful observation as does the doctrine of an earth-centered universe—but fewer Fundamentalist Christians have studied human embryology than they have studied the basics of modern astronomy.
There was much that I found fascinating in my medical training, but the study of human embryology was, given my upbringing, an eye opener. “Gender assigned at birth,” for some percentage of babies is exactly that: assigned. Little seen, appreciated, or discussed outside of medicine, some percentage of babies are born with “ambiguous genitalia”. When I was in medical school the sex/gender of such babies was often surgically assigned according to the best guess and cultural bias of the doctors and the parents. When biological reality is actually studied it is far messier than simplistically binary.
Still, Fundamentalist Christians, that is, all of the local Republican respondents to question one of the WBWV Survey, hang their hats on this binary notion and deny the messy biological reality that “gender assigned at birth” is a biologically wobbly concept. For this narrow segment of Christianity that seems to permeate local Republicans the biological fact that gender is messy—a clear challenge to the written Word—must be seen as the work of the Devil and, somehow, as an evil personal choice or, for minors, the consequence of being evilly “groomed”.
The GOP has determined that the last acceptable group to discriminate against (after women) is the LGBTQ community, and it is pursuing that agenda with a vengeance.
I have been outspoken in my defense of transgender people because . . . . well, they are people. Period. Full stop. I am always surprised when a well-intentioned reader sends an email that says either “God created two sexes” or “there are two sexes.” Both of those statements are wrong to their core. Anyone who believes so has not educated themselves about human sexuality, gender, and biology.
If you believe there are “only two sexes” and are open to a scientific discussion of same, I recommend Dr. Steven Novella in Science Based Medicine, The Science of Biological Sex. I will not repeat his lengthy discussion but will note that 2% of infants have ambiguous genitalia and that common chromosomal variations include XXY, XYY, and XXX. And some people have cells in their body with XX chromosomes and other cells with XY chromosomes. And those chromosomal variations do not account for the role of gene variation in gender identity. I could go on, but you can read the article if you are interested in the science of biological sex.
In the tens of thousands of cases each year when doctors must make their “best guess” as to the sex of an infant, that guess becomes ironclad in the view of GOP lawmakers and judges—even if the “guess” is wrong. So, all of the GOP bills that talk about “gender assigned at birth” create the illusion of certainty that does not exist.
Even if the numbers of biological and genetic variants are small—say 2% of the population—that is no excuse for asking that segment of the population to “Sit down, shut up, and pretend to be someone you are not.” Nor is it grounds for discriminating against them. One day, we will look back on the institutional discrimination against LGBTQ people with the same shame and guilt that we feel looking back on discrimination against Black Americans in the Jim Crow south.
People are entitled to believe what they like. It is (still) a free country. But I don’t vote for people who reject reality and project hate on vulnerable groups based on adamantine adherence to a literal interpretation of an ancient text. Hate is not a Christian value.
Keep to the high ground,
P.S. Of course, it was only a few centuries ago when those who literally interpreted the Bible believed as an article of faith that the Man and the Earth he lives on were the absolute center of the solar system, that is, that the Sun orbits around the Earth. The dominant Christian authorities of the time bitterly persecuted scientists like Galileo for suggesting otherwise. Consider where that ended. (Of course, ideas now viewed as wrong and archaic almost never completely die out. Witness the endless and witless “proofs” that the earth is flat found on the internet.)
P.P.S. If you’ve read this far I want to put in a plug for Robert Hubbell and his blog “Today’s Edition.” People I meet often say they can’t bear to read the news any more, it is “too depressing”. Hubbell’s blog is a welcome antidote. He describes himself as “Citizen. Optimist. Realist.” and the blog as “A reflection on today’s news through the lens of hope.” I became a subscriber three months ago. I encourage you to do the same.