Biological sex

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"Biological sex" is an ambiguous term that is often used to conflate multiple concepts relating to gender. In the majority of cases these concepts do align in polarity (i.e. if one indicates femaleness or maleness, the others will indicate the same), but in a number of cases they do not.

See CWRE for more about how this ambiguity is often used misleadingly in discussions on gender.


It can refer to the following, where "(F)" and "(M)" refer to the typical gender-alignment in each case:

  • reproductive role:
    • whether one plays the role of penetrated (F) or penetrator (M)
    • whether one provides the ovum (F) or sperm (M)
    • whether one gestates (F) or not (M)
  • assigned sex: the gender-label one is assigned at birth, almost always based on genital configuration
  • genetics: the sex indicated by one's chromosomes, with most humans having either an XX (F) or XY (M) sex-chromosome

The term could also be reasonably construed to mean any of the following attributes, which tend to be overlooked in public discussion:

  • overall hormonal balance (estrogen-dominated or androgen-dominated)
  • brain configuration (typical brains tend to have certain specific differences by gender)
  • skeletal structure

In most humans and animals, these attributes are both unambiguously binary and unchangeable – but there are numerous exceptions, both in humans and even more so in nonhuman animals.


Due to the conflation of these various attributes, and also the relative rarity of exceptions, it is often assumed that they are universal and that "biological sex" is some innate or immutable property of an organism. This logic is then often used to deny the existence of exceptions to commonly-used sexual-identification heuristics (e.g. "all people born with penises are male"), especially among humans, especially transgender and intersex people – a form of hypernormalization.

Similar arguments were once used against homosexuality and feminism.




  • 2020/06/10 [L..T] J.K. Rowling Writes about Her Reasons for Speaking out on Sex and Gender Issues "For people who don’t know: last December I tweeted my support for Maya Forstater, a tax specialist who’d lost her job for what were deemed ‘transphobic’ tweets. She took her case to an employment tribunal, asking the judge to rule on whether a philosophical belief that sex is determined by biology is protected in law. Judge Tayler ruled that it wasn’t."
  • 2017/07/17 [L..T] Transgender People and “Biological Sex” Myths “...sometimes, efforts to undermine or exclude trans women rely on a somewhat different tactic which takes the following form: A case will be made that sex is distinct from gender – the former being purely biological in nature, the latter being entirely social. Upon making this claim, it will then be argued that, while trans women may indeed be women (because “woman” is a gender category), we nevertheless remain “biologically male” (a sex category).”
  • 2017/06/27 [L..T] Debunking “Trans Women Are Not Women” Arguments “...since these trans-women-are-not-women claims recur on a regular basis (and are often forwarded by people who self-identify as feminists), I thought that it would be worthwhile to compile all my relevant counterarguments in one essay.”
  • 2015/02/18 [L..T] “The idea of two sexes is simplistic. Biologists now think there is a wider spectrum than that.” " only quibble would be with that “now”. You’d have to define "now" as a window of time that encompasses the entirety of my training and work in developmental biology, and I’m getting to be kind of an old guy. Differences in sex development (DSDs) are common knowledge, and rather routine – and coincidentally, I’m giving an exam on sex chromosome anomalies today."
  • 2015/02/18 [L..T] Sex redefined "These discoveries do not sit well in a world in which sex is still defined in binary terms. Few legal systems allow for any ambiguity in biological sex, and a person's legal rights and social status can be heavily influenced by whether their birth certificate says male or female."