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On Biology and Pronouns

A common transphobic argument is to accuse trans and nonbinary people of denying biology. Sex is biologically binary, they say, and so people who -- for example -- use pronouns different from those assigned based on their presumed sex at birth are in effect making a factually false claim.

The most common response from pro-trans people is to point out that biological sex is not in fact binary. As a matter of biological fact, this is true -- intersex conditions of various sorts are much more common than most of us realize, and are often undiagnosed (how many of us have actually had our chromosomes tested, instead of just assuming them based on our genitals?). But I think this response somewhat misses the point by accepting the premises of the transphobic argument.

Consider: I propose that we base everyone's pronouns on their blood type. Henceforward, your pronouns will be as follows:
Type O: sho/shom/shor
Type A: shay/shaim/shair
Type B: bo/bom/bor
Type AB: bay/baim/bair
(If you haven't had your blood type tested, we will be happy to infer it from your food preferences, personality, etc.)

Now imagine that, to justify this proposal, I pointed out the biological reality of blood types. Anyone who doesn't want to have their pronouns based on their blood type, I would say, is simply a blood type denialist who needs to be educated on genetics, and who is potentially risking people's lives when they get an improper transfusion.

In the blood type case, I think it's obvious that the merits of this pronoun system don't depend on the biological facts of blood type. Just because blood types have an indisputable genetic basis doesn't mean that our pronouns need to match those genes. After all, we've been getting along just fine without any outward marking of blood type at all.

The same, I would argue, applies to arguments about biological sex and pronouns. The validity of someone's pronouns simply doesn't depend on any facts about biological sex, because there's no reason that pronouns need to correspond to biology. We get to decide on what basis we allocate pronouns, and "what makes the person being referred to feel most comfortable" seems like a better basis than "a doctor's assumption about the person's chromosomes."


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