Is Versus Ought and What to Do with Reality

Recently I saw someone defending the notion that there’s no such thing as biological sex. Intersex conditions exist, no one can test your chromosomes, hormone levels vary, blah blah blah. Same shit, different day. Except this time it was also a different commenter.

This particular post came from a guy who used to be known for his rigorous debating style. He knew the fallacies, avoided them himself, and pointed them out when others used them. He conceded points when he was wrong. And he wasn’t so much an outright rejecter of reality in the name of ideology.

Thing is, the biology argument is a weak argument and he should have recognized that. It implies that if we could test a particular transgender person’s biology for chromosomes, hormone levels, ladybrain, or whatever other anomoly is being posited as present, and find it absent, we’d be justified in rejecting the transgender person. I know that this particular poster wouldn’t go for that, so that makes this argument disingenuous. A more reasonable argument, for him, would be not that a transgender person’s biology is unknowable, but that their behavior isn’t hurting anyone and deserves civil protections.

There’s a concept in philosophy called “is” versus “ought.” Is deals with objective reality: A transwoman has XY chromosomes and lacks ovaries and a uterus. Ought deals with morality: We ought to not discriminate against a transgender person. The commenter in question was conflating the two.

Despite current claims to the contrary, people have, for thousands of years, been assessing the sex of everyone around them every day with nearly 100% accuracy. Never has a teenage girl or boy taken a driving test, visited the BMV, and then been asked to “drop their pants” (as some claim sex-based restroom policies will require) before the clerk placed an M or an F in the “sex” field on their license. Nor has there been any great spate of men and women being charged the wrong prices for haircuts or dry cleaning. General Practitioners recommend prostate exams and mammograms and pap smears to their patients with complete confidence, without a prior genital check to make sure they’ve made the right recommendations to the right people.

Religious couples, with some regularity, remain celibate until marriage; yet completely absent are those stories of folks being shocked by their accidental same-sex unions when the clothes come off on their wedding night. Getting pregnant and avoiding getting pregnant would both be a crap shoot if it weren’t perfectly obvious to all parties who is producing sperm and who is equipped with a birth canal. Instead, we see family planning going rather successfully for the vast majority of people.

The average two-year old can point at and identify a man or woman just as she can identify a cat, dog or duck. In fact, getting it wrong is rare enough to be seen as comical (see the Saturday Night Live skit about perplexingly androgynous “Pat.”)

Though it doesn’t need saying, fuzzy edges don’t invalidate categories. An infertile person doesn’t disprove sexual dimorphism any more than a person without a leg proves that humans aren’t bipedal. Salads may be sweet or savory and they may or may not contain lettuce, but that simply doesn’t cause us to look at a bone-in ribeye, throw up our hands in confusion, and claim, “This might be a salad!” We can say that Pamela Anderson is a blond without an extended debate on exactly what hues and shades and in what number constitute that hair color. And we can say that Kanye West isn’t one without first sending in a chemist with a spectrophotometer.

So let’s be intellectually honest. Sex exists, even if some find the fact triggering or inconvenient to their political goals. If sex didn’t exist, we couldn’t even have a word or concept for “transgender.” It literally means that the person’s sex, which apparently we can know, doesn’t match their perception of what that sex should be.

So the real question here is not whether or not a particular transgender person is riddled with unseen chromosomal, hormonal, or neurological anomalies. The real question is whether or not it is kind and good to refer to a person with sex dysphoria by the sex they would prefer to be. Is versus ought.

The way I see it we have two choices.

  • We can ask society to eradicate all mention and sign of the person’s birth sex, so as not to trigger their dysphoria
  • We can help the person with the dysphoria develop coping mechanisms that help them face the reality of their sex gracefully

Unfortunately, the first choice isn’t practical. Let’s imagine that somehow, every human on earth adopts an exclusively liberal, superbly compassionate political stance and agrees to refer to people with dysphoria by only their preferred pronouns. Even in this impossible world, the transgender person will be spared of only a fraction of dysphoria-triggering events. He’ll still hate his voice and his body. He’ll be recognized and “misgendered” by small children who haven’t yet been socialized. He’ll run across old family photos. He’ll need a prostate exam. He’ll be excluded from conversations about hormonal birth control and tampons and endometriosis. Biology matters, and it will continue to matter despite the best efforts of people conspiring to define it into irrelevance.

I argue that the first choice, for those same reasons, isn’t kind. I’m not a Buddhist, but the religion is known for its compassion. There’s something to be said for its message of grace found by reducing craving instead of endlessly attempting to satiate it. In a world where the desire to change sexes actually cannot be satiated, it’s especially cruel to cultivate another’s craving for that outcome.

As a direct observer, I’ve seen this pursuit of transition increase my ex’s cravings, not satisfy them. He was relatively happy before “coming out” and became unhappy afterward. His depression intensified with his exposure to transgender ideology, and the number and types of triggers that send him into panic or despair seemingly increase with every interaction with the transgender community.

In what other situation is dishonesty the path to mental health or to kindness?


5 thoughts on “Is Versus Ought and What to Do with Reality

  1. “As a direct observer, I’ve seen this pursuit of transition increase my ex’s cravings, not satisfy them. He was relatively happy before “coming out” and became unhappy afterward. His depression intensified with his exposure to transgender ideology, and the number and types of triggers that send him into panic or despair seemingly increase with every interaction with the transgender community.”

    This reminded me of something else I’ve read recently, about someone who detransitioned because they realised there was always going to be something more they were going to have to do (in order to pass; in order to be happy); the goalposts kept shifting and rather than be the solution they sought, transition was making them more unhappy.

    It’s no secret that it’s very hard to be happy/content/whatever when one is essentially running away from the problem. Living in a state of cognitive dissonance, creating a false (“authentic”) self, always trying to control others perception of you, being hypervigilant, etc etc, is one of the unhealthiest approaches to dealing with something.

    Liked by 4 people

  2. Your point about “kindness” is well-taken. I have asked trans supporters what they know about taking cross-sex hormones, having surgeries, etc, with no adjectives attached. Universally, they know nothing and have no reply. It’s all airy-fairy to them, as though actual bodies and actual people are not involved. Personally I don’t find it “kind” to advocate that people harm themselves in order to escape their “wrong” body, and if you are going to advocate it the least you can do is know something about it.

    It all reminds me of an old Firesign Theatre bit: The young man asks the Kennedyesque senator: “But senator baby, she’s starving to death!” Seantor: “Young man, that’s her trip.” That hippy-dippy attitude is still alive and well, especially regarding transgenderism.

    Liked by 3 people

    • I don’t know much about babies or toddlers, but would guess they can distinguish males from females depending on how they have been treated, who has cared for them, etc. Is the smell of males a distinguishing feature? (A lot of men don’t smell very good.) My horse, a proud-cut gelding (left some of his testicles when gelded), did not like the smell of testosterone on other animals, including humans. And he did not like males due to how he had been treated. Whereas he loved the young women at the barn where I boarded him once he got used to all the hugs and kisses! (Something he had never experienced in 13 years.)

      Liked by 1 person

      • Even, or especially, animals can tell the difference regardless of a human’s sartorial choices. I’d actually love to see that as an experiment. Find an animal that intrinsically hates males (my cat is one of them, even though she’s never experienced trauma at the hands of a man) and see how it responds to your average MTF. I’d predict hilarious results.


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