Chromosomes are often used to argue either in favor of the outdated notion of the gender binary, or against transgender people’s ability to change their gender. Both arguments come from a lack of understanding on how human genetics work and what being transgender or non-binary entails.
Humans are a complex species and ignoring that fact ignores entire subsets of the population.
Gender Identity vs. Biological Sex
Historically, gender and sex were used interchangeably. For most people, their gender identity and gender expression match their biological sex. However, this isn’t true for everyone. This has led us to recognize that gender and sex are two distinctly different things.
Biological sex refers to your chromosomes and the configuration of your reproductive system and genitalia. Gender is much more complex and is dictated by societal norms and expectations. A person’s gender identity and expression may not always align with their biological sex.
Our DNA, or more specifically our chromosomes, may dictate how our bodies are configured. However, we’re starting to understand that gender may come from how our brains are structured. The studies that have been conducted clearly show structural differences between male and female brains. Other studies have also revealed that transgender people’s brains are structured like the brains of the gender they identify as. In other words, there is biological evidence to support that transgender people truly are the gender they identify as, regardless of their genetics.
More research still needs to be conducted, as gender expression is another piece of the puzzle. A person may identify as their biological sex, but still express themselves as another gender. This can be seen through cross-dressing or drag, as two common examples.
Making the argument, or worse, insisting that everyone should look and act a certain way, based on their chromosomes, is downright dangerous. Suicide and attempted suicide rates among transgender teens are alarmingly high. They need safe spaces in order to be able to express their identity without fear of repercussions. In addition, if people insist on a binary view of gender and sex, they are completely ignoring non-binary and intersex people.
For non-binary people, their personal experience with gender can be very complex. They may be gender fluid, experiencing gender as a variable that could change day-by-day, or even minute-by-minute. For others, they may identify as both male and female simultaneously, or not identify with any gender at all.
Intersex: Going Beyond XX and XY
Where the argument of using chromosomes as what determines gender breaks down, is when you consider intersex people. All the millions of people who are born intersex prove that even sex exists on a spectrum, and that not everyone is born into neat little XX or XY categories. There are numerous chromosomal combinations people can be born with, such as XXY, YYX, XXYY, XXXY. Beyond that there are intersex people born with a variety of conditions, such as Androgen Insensitivity Syndrome (AIS). People born with AIS are biologically male, born with XY chromosomes. However, because their body is insensitive to androgens such as testosterone, they physically develop as female.
If our chromosomes don’t always adhere to the sex binary of male and female that we’ve all been led to believe, then it makes sense that gender wouldn’t either. Although that’s beside the fact that our chromosomes don’t even determine our gender, or at the very least they aren’t the only factor.
Bottom line, people need to stop clinging to the outdated science they learned in school and open their minds to the fact that our understanding of sex and gender is evolving. Science isn’t set in stone. Theories are constantly being retested. If someone is going to use science in their arguments, either for or against transgender and non-binary people, they at least need to keep an open mind and stay up to date with current scientific research.