Girl, Nutella 

“Caitlyn Jenner is not a she,” the looming ghost of Ben Shapiro whispers into your ears “ He may look like a woman, but pronouns are based on chromosomes. He, therefore, is a he”

Looming music ensues 

“What are my karyotype chromosomes then?” a tiny delicious jar of Nutella shrieks. The map of Germany is thus filled with dots. What is the gender of Nutella in German, then? Is Nutella to be called das nutella, die nutella or der nutella ? 

Thus, a karyotype king was born. One must christen Nutella karyotypically male or female. How else would anyone ever figure out gendered pronouns, right? 

                          (image source: liege universite)

Why have we never met this king then?

Chromosomes and sex

Mr Shapiro’s argument is based on the fact that chromosomes determine sex, and therefore sex determines gender. Pronouns, thus, must reflect your chromosomal makeup regardless of your gender presentation. A transgender woman is thus ‘a he’ and HA! BEN SHAPIRO JUST DESTROYED A TRANS SNOWFLAKE.

What is so compelling about Shapiro’s argument, is that it is completely factually incorrect. 

         (image source: There are more than two human sexes)

Human sexual makeup is often not dependent on chromosomes and is also non-binary. Simply put, it has been proven multiple times by several researchers that there are more than two sexes humans can be assigned at birth. 

What Shapiro’s argument, or any person who likes to misgender queer people’s argument, hinges on is that binary chromosomes are assigned at birth and remain constant throughout your lifetime. But this is simply untrue. A person’s sex is determined through sexual differentiation, and (unless you rely on nubile middle-school biology) it is known that this process takes place throughout your lifetime. Therefore, there are multiple possible outcomes to this process. For the sake of classification, these are put into two categories using ‘visible anatomy’, where people with uteruses and vaginas are described as female, and people with penises and testicles are described as male. 

But in reality, neither of these boxes are fixed, and there is a lot of variation and overlap in what we consider male or female. Anatomically, someone may look female on the outside but may not have a uterus. There are XY (i.e., born with  typically considered ‘male’ chromosomes)  individuals who are born with fully developed female anatomy, but have high testosterone levels. Their cells are insensitive to testosterone, so their body just continues developing into a female. 

Therefore, there is no fixed chromosomal binary we can use to determine the pronouns we would use for a person. 

Who considers chromosomes when talking anyway 

It is ridiculous to think your friend wonders about your chromosomes when telling a waiter you’d be late for lunch at a cafe. She’ll simply say “my idiot friend is lazy and slow. He’d be late today too.”

Human sex chromosomes were discovered in 1905 , whereas the english words ‘he’ and ‘she’ originated in the pre-roman iron age around 500 BCE. It is quite evident that pronouns therefore grew to accommodate chromosomes and biological sex, and not the other way around. French, for example, uses ‘le’ or ‘la’ as gender determinants of all objects. Any French dictionary would call a book ‘le livre’. This means a book or ‘livre’ is masculine. Quite clearly, a book does not have XY chromosomes or visible male anatomy.

The workings of language do not rely on biology. Obviously, no gene scientists are writing a thesis about the link between grammar and chromosomes. Language is simply a sequence of sounds necessary for communication. A dictionary, therefore, is a small guide to communication. 

Thus a trans-woman who looks like any binary-presenting woman would effectively be referred to as ‘she’.  

But this brings in the question of non-binary people, and the pronoun ‘they’. It is easy to see that this is a debate about English pronouns because languages like Sanskrit and Hindi simply switch to a non-binary descriptor when talking about anything in the third person, and languages like french and german arbitrarily assign gender to all objects. Languages like Korean are simply devoid of gendered pronouns. 

So, what about ‘they’?

I have an amazing friend with the misfortune of being named Karen. To me, she is dark and mysterious and therefore, in my head, she looks like a ‘Lilith’.  But Karen wants to be called Karen and tells everyone her name is Karen. Should I still go about calling her Lilith? 

Non-binary people are people who do not conform to traditional gender roles of male or female. Under this umbrella term, there are several subdivisions including agender, genderqueer, or genderfluid people. 

Several non-binary people do not ‘look’ like any gender and prefer ‘they/them’ pronouns. Some non-binary people, like drag queen Courtney Act, use female pronouns when dressed up as a ‘traditional woman’ and male pronouns when dressed up as a ‘traditional man’. 

(image source: courtney-act-says-its-time-throw-out-labels)

This brings forth the argument that it does not matter what a person presents themselves as and how we perceive them. If someone determines that a certain pronoun is congruent to their identity, it is the correct pronoun to use for them. 

Therefore, Karen’s name is Karen, even if I may think she looks like a ‘Lilith’. Anyone with basic decency would call her the name she identifies herself with , because otherwise, it is justified for her to simply not respond. 

-Chandrima 

FY B.Sc. Economics

Leave a Reply

WordPress PopUp Plugin