Gender Identity and CAIS

Look, it's the transgender X chromosome!

Look, it’s the transgender X chromosome!

Recently a business called Planet Fitness hit the news after banning a woman who complained about a trans woman in the locker room. As you might expect, this prompted a scathing rant by Matt Walsh. It seems that Christian business owners are the only ones who should be allowed to turn away customers based on beliefs. If there is backlash against a Christian denying service to a gay couple, it’s persecution. But if Christians insult and attack other business owners for turning away customers based on beliefs…well, that’s just the way things should be. One could get the idea that if given the chance, these Christians would persecute LGBT people and allies just as much as they claim to be persecuted by liberals.

The woman who complained stated that if she knew about the gym’s policy on gender identity, she wouldn’t have signed up. It sounds like everyone got what they wanted. However, in the fantasy world concocted by the minds of Matt Walsh and people who agree with him, hell is where people who disagree with conservative Christians are allowed to live and run their businesses according to their beliefs. His nightmarish society is one where people he thinks are evil can do what they like as long as they don’t hurt anyone…kind of like he has the freedom to write and publish hateful insanity.

But what about the basic assumption his entire rant is founded upon, that a trans woman is actually a man and gender can’t possibly change? Perhaps Mr. Walsh would benefit from studying the science of gender, as in reality it is far more complex than he would like.

When I talk to hardcore conservatives about gender identity, I discover almost invariably that they have very little or no understanding of a condition called Complete Androgen Insensitivity Syndrome (CAIS). Simply put, CAIS happens when a biologically male fetus (with X and Y chromosomes) doesn’t respond to androgens, the hormones that cause development of male features. As a result, the child is born and raised female, and will likely identify as fully female. Even puberty is mostly normal, with just a few small differences. Most people with the condition don’t discover they are biologically male until their period never starts. They are so physically female that it is rarely discovered in children.

Religious conservatives often say that God intentionally made humans male and female, and he doesn’t make mistakes, so everyone is born biologically male or female and there is no gray area. If gender is a strict binary, and if a person with a vagina is always a woman and a person with a penis is always a man, what about the people with male chromosomes and a vagina? If the woman with CAIS is a woman despite her chromosomes, that would mean the physical appearance is all that matters. In which case a trans woman who had sex-change surgery would be a woman, despite her chromosomes and all of Matt Walsh’s whining that gender can’t change. But if chromosomes are what matter, you would have to claim that the physically female people with CAIS are actually men with vaginas.

There are other intersex conditions that can result in someone being raised as the gender opposite the one in their chromosomes. These people serve as examples of how gender is not an immutable fact of biology, but rather a social phenomenon. This is why we must consider gender and biological sex to be separate, even though they work together.

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