Is Sex/Gender Really a Continuum?


by Bacle2
Tags: continuum, sex or gender
Bacle2
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#1
Jun24-13, 07:44 PM
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Hi, All:

I have heard all these claims thrown around that the sex/gender* of a person is not "binary" , i.e., it is not necessarily either male or female, but instead that it is a continuum with male and female at the ends. Is there something to this? If so, how can one test this; are there sort-of intermediates between XX and XY?



*Which is the correct one, BTW?
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Curious3141
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#2
Jun24-13, 08:10 PM
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I've not actually heard this claim from reputable scientific sources (I'm discounting wikipedia and various social advocacy groups). If you can cite a credible source, perhaps we can discuss this further.

EDIT: Certainly, there are other at-least somewhat viable genotypes other than 46XX or 46XY, like 47XXY ("Klinefelter's syndrome"), 47XXX ("superfemales"), 47XYY and 45XO ("Turner's syndrome"), but they are almost always regarded as pathological rather than physiological variants.

There is also a wide variation in relative degree of androgenisation/feminisation depending on myriad factors, both genetic and environmental, and this can, of course, influence how "masculine" or "feminine" a person is, I suppose. This is considered normal variation; however, to the best of my knowledge, defining this relative degree is imprecise to the point that it becomes an exercise in futility.

Pathology that is directly unrelated to the sex chromosomes may cause abnormal sexual development (generally overfeminisation). For example, a defect in a cytochrome enzyme (C-21 alpha hydroxylase) can manifest as "Congenital Adrenal Hyperplasia" where a 46XY genotypic male can look like anything from an underdeveloped male to a complete female (sans puberty and reproductive function). These are extreme variants that are readily recognised as pathological.
Bacle2
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#3
Jun24-13, 08:15 PM
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I'm not claiming it is true, I just want to know what others think because my knowledge of this area is very limited, so that I'm not able to accurately-judge any such claims. I hear about transgendered people; about people who believe they are a man(women) trapped in a woman(men's) body, which leads some of them to have a sex-change operation, etc. But I'm also curious as to how this claim could be put to the test.

jim mcnamara
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#4
Jun24-13, 08:17 PM
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Is Sex/Gender Really a Continuum?


I think you may be referring to something rare in humans: intersexuality possibly due to chimerism or genetic disorders like Klinefelter's Syndrome.

I do not know what the distribution is in the adult human population.

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Intersex - this article cites .01 -> .02% of live births as requiring medical intervention to because of ambiguous sex characteristics. The article cites a large list of known causes.

@curious3141: Thompson and Thompson 'Medical Genetics' covers aspects this topic.
wikipedia cites a large number of clinical studies. Where is moonbear when we need her?

However this kind of thread is a disaster waiting to happen. My opinion.
Bacle2
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#5
Jun24-13, 08:22 PM
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Quote Quote by jim mcnamara View Post
.




However this kind of thread is a disaster waiting to happen.
Thanks, jim.

How so? I don't have any agenda, and I don't lean in either direction. Maybe it is a politically-charged topic?
jim mcnamara
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Jun24-13, 08:24 PM
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curious3141 is thinking this is tabloid news fodder as well. It is that, too, IMO. Let's see what happens....
Curious3141
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#7
Jun24-13, 08:28 PM
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Quote Quote by jim mcnamara View Post
@curious3141: Thompson and Thompson 'Medical Genetics' covers aspects this topic.
wikipedia cites a large number of clinical studies.
Ah, OK. No, I'm familiar with the medical aspects of intersex and gender ambiguity. But calling gender a "continuum" sounds like a politically-motivated scientific imprecision.

Gender, in my view, is a categorical variable (designation). There are two normal states (male and female), making this a binary variable, but it is possible to recognise relative misfits that cannot be neatly categorised, including some that have a readily identifiable pathology (and some that don't). It still doesn't make gender a continuum (as in "continuous variation").
jim mcnamara
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Jun24-13, 09:44 PM
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I agree - it is binary. I don't think what I cited implies a continuum...
Ryan_m_b
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#9
Jun25-13, 01:41 AM
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Gender isn't really a biological topic so much a cultural one. Sex refers to biological characteristics but gender refers to the socially constructed collection of behaviours, roles etc that society deems a specific sex should portray. When people refer to gender not being binary they are addressing the idea that there are clearly definitely roles for men and women in society.

Short on time and sleep but here's a link to get you started, I suggest looking into gender studies as a field of sociology rather than biology to learn further.
http://www.who.int/gender/whatisgender/en/
Bacle2
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Jun25-13, 03:55 AM
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Thanks; I learnt something .After visiting the page and seeing the same-old unsupported statement that men earn more than women for similar work (after repeatedly asking for proof in many sites--why would anyone hire a man if this was truly the case?), I think I'll spare myselef reading about how men suck and all they do is exploit and oppress women. I was just wondering if there is scientific basis for the claim about sex (I accept that the answer is no) ; the claims made by the gender studies people are more questionable IMHO.
Just trying to filter out garbage from both the far-left and the far-right.
Ken Natton
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#11
Jun26-13, 03:50 AM
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The concern expressed for this thread is that it will suffer closure because of the ‘tabloid journalism’ kind of bad science. And perhaps that is the fate of this thread. But what I cannot get past is how on earth you could possibly discuss this matter without being philosophical. The question is inherently philosophical. For sure, Ryan has already mentioned the key, critical point, that sex and gender are two completely different things – though it appears to have passed the OP by. But then, understanding and recognising that point is unavoidably philosophical…
Bacle2
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#12
Jun26-13, 05:34 AM
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Quote Quote by Ken Natton View Post
The concern expressed for this thread is that it will suffer closure because of the ‘tabloid journalism’ kind of bad science. And perhaps that is the fate of this thread. But what I cannot get past is how on earth you could possibly discuss this matter without being philosophical. The question is inherently philosophical. For sure, Ryan has already mentioned the key, critical point, that sex and gender are two completely different things – though it appears to have passed the OP by. But then, understanding and recognising that point is unavoidably philosophical…
Would be better if you addressed me directly when saying I'm too thick to understand the issues in point, (or related/underlying issues) instead of referring to me as 'the OP'. Now, for what _you_ missed is that I posted this in the _Biology_ forum, because I was interested in knowing whether there is some _scientific_ or biological basis to many of the claims I have often heard made. I am well aware of the issues associated with this question, but there are a few reasons why I'm not interested in a discussion of that sort. Firstly, I'm just too busy to get into a seriously-involved discussion, and , secondly, I am aware of the policies re this type of post. Actually, there is a third point. I have attended classes in these types of issues and I have never seem them treated in a way I thought was reasonable, and I do not want to have to do some special research in order to bring the issue in a way that I believe would be fruitful.

So, while the question may or may not be inherently philosophical , I was _specifically_ interested in knowing whether there is scientific basis for claims that I have heard made. So what _you_ missed is that there are good reasons ( at least good for me) why I do not want to get into a discussion about related gender issues at this point.
Ken Natton
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#13
Jun26-13, 06:45 AM
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Quote Quote by Bacle2 View Post
Would be better if you addressed me directly when saying I'm too thick to understand the issues in point, (or related/underlying issues) instead of referring to me as 'the OP'.
I neither made nor intended any suggestions of any failure of intelligence on your part. Ryan made what, for me remains the key point and your subsequent post made no acknowledgement of it. I understand your reasons for not acknowledging it, you have made them very clear, but that is all I was referring to. In any case, that point is not important.

I was actually making a serious point entirely apropos of this topic. My contention is that this thread will have one of three outcomes: As others have predicted, it will suffer closure because of unfounded assertions that are politically motivated. Or, it will suffer closure for a breach of the rules on philosophical content – my contention is that such a thing will have been unavoidable. Or, it will go nowhere, either because of lack of interest or because of the impossibility of significant discussion of the topic within the constraints set. So, assuming that the feared politically motivated interventions do not occur, my challenge is to discuss this topic in a meaningful way within the rules about philosophical content. My contention is that such a thing is impossible. Go ahead Physics Forums community, prove me wrong.
Bacle2
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#14
Jun26-13, 01:05 PM
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Quote Quote by Ken Natton View Post
I neither made nor intended any suggestions of any failure of intelligence on your part. Ryan made what, for me remains the key point and your subsequent post made no acknowledgement of it. I understand your reasons for not acknowledging it, you have made them very clear, but that is all I was referring to. In any case, that point is not important.

I was actually making a serious point entirely apropos of this topic. My contention is that this thread will have one of three outcomes: As others have predicted, it will suffer closure because of unfounded assertions that are politically motivated. Or, it will suffer closure for a breach of the rules on philosophical content – my contention is that such a thing will have been unavoidable. Or, it will go nowhere, either because of lack of interest or because of the impossibility of significant discussion of the topic within the constraints set. So, assuming that the feared politically motivated interventions do not occur, my challenge is to discuss this topic in a meaningful way within the rules about philosophical content. My contention is that such a thing is impossible. Go ahead Physics Forums community, prove me wrong.
Maybe you can volunteer your services as a moderator for these discussions , i.e., moderate the phylosophy subforum; a difficult and thankless job --you will very often be criticized harshly by _all sides_ of an issue . Or you can try to bring in someone you believe can do a good job of it.
dkotschessaa
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#15
Jun26-13, 01:23 PM
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If you want to avoid softer, social science and psychological approaches to this topic you might have better luck with neuroscience than with biology.
dkotschessaa
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#16
Jun26-13, 01:27 PM
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Quote Quote by Ken Natton View Post
The concern expressed for this thread is that it will suffer closure because of the ‘tabloid journalism’ kind of bad science. And perhaps that is the fate of this thread. But what I cannot get past is how on earth you could possibly discuss this matter without being philosophical. The question is inherently philosophical. For sure, Ryan has already mentioned the key, critical point, that sex and gender are two completely different things – though it appears to have passed the OP by. But then, understanding and recognising that point is unavoidably philosophical…
By predicting doomsday on this thread you may have created a self-fulfilling prophesy. You should have left it to the moderators.

-Dave K
Bacle2
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Jun26-13, 01:39 PM
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Quote Quote by dkotschessaa View Post
By predicting doomsday on this thread you may have created a self-fulfilling prophesy. You should have left it to the moderators.

-Dave K
But if experience ( in this forum) is any guide, it is a good bet that doomsday will come about. And the issue itself is pretty politically- and otherwise- charged, so that it attracts a lot of fanatics on all sides. Besides, for the time being, no philosophy-related topics are allowed in PF--precisely because of the experience with this type of topics.

And it is not so much the softness of the approach itself, which can sometimes be fruitful that I am trying to avoid, it is the extremism that so often comes with this type of approach.
Borek
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#18
Jun26-13, 02:23 PM
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There were so many OT posts, I am considering locking the thread now.


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