On denying reality

I’ve had my disagreements with Martin Cothran over the years. He’s a bigoted man, proud of teaching logic at a private school, yet utterly dependent on logical fallacies in his actual argumentation. He wants creationism taught in public schools. He dislikes gay people and anyone else who challenges his notions of how sex and gender should work. He enjoys quoting Holocaust-denying racists like Pat Buchanan and cross-burning racists like Charles Murray. He celebrates Martin Luther King, Jr.’s birthday by listing the blog posts from 2009 he’s most proud of. Sometimes he’s basically harmless, as when he berates local universities for allowing students to undertake a sex education week, and claiming that fuzzy pink handcuffs are evidence of sexual abuse.

Other times, his bigotry is less adorable. Consider his recent post mocking the notion of transgender, and mocking the transgendered. He also seems to think he’s the first to coin the notion of transhumanism.

Cothran has presumably been living under a rock for a while, having missed cultural phenomena like Jeffrey Eugenides’ 2003 novel Middlesex, a meditation on the fuzzy cultural and physical boundaries around sex and gender. He’s also apparently missed the debate surrounding Caster Semenya, the South African runner who has always thought of herself as a woman, and who has normal external female genitalia, but who turns out to have internal testes, and no ovaries or uterus.

Semenya and the 5-alpha-reductase deficient protagonist of Middlesex are not alone in complicating our understanding of gender as a necessary correlate of a specific genetic, biochemical, or anatomical status. Transgender individuals have the anatomy of one sex but identify with another. This identification starts early in life, and seems to be rooted in brain structure, among other things. The lives of transgendered children are incredibly difficult, and get no easier in college or later. The issue of transgender and intersex individuals in sports is especially fraught, as sporting is typically gender-segregated in ways that the rest of society is not.

These are genuine problems, requiring an understanding of biological, emotional, and sociological aspects of the situation. But rather than taking a serious and complex situation seriously, Cothran replies with the same snide dismissal that leads to bullying and that trivializes genuine discussion about complex issues. “So who is it that is mistakenly ‘assigning’ their gender at birth?,” Cothran asks, as if every baby is in a position to explain its own self-identity (“I’m a boy!”), rather than having a gender identity assigned by a doctor (“It’s a girl!”).

Cothran asks “There’s nothing to stop people from denying reality, but are the rest of us really obligated to play along?” If Cothran has his way, the answer would be “no.” The reality of transgender individuals is that their gender and their sex are not the same. This may make him uncomfortable, but it is reality, and the transgendered are under no obligation to play along with his denial of reality.


  1. #1 John Pieret
    January 26, 2010

    “There’s nothing to stop people from denying reality, but are the rest of us really obligated to play along?”

    That from an Intelligent Design Creationist? It could cause third degree irony burns.

  2. #2 S
    January 26, 2010

    Thank you, John Pieret, for one of the most memorable responses to willful ignorance. I will be quoting you, though I hope I won’t have the opportunity to do so often!

  3. #3 Vene
    January 26, 2010

    I love the first (and only) comment there from the individual with Kleinfelter’s Syndrome.

  4. #4 luna-the-cat
    January 30, 2010

    So JD has no facts or evidence with which to argue, and thus resorts to calling the blog owner stupid.


    BTW, John Peret, I hope you don’t mind, but I think I’ll be quoting you too.

  5. #5 Tamara
    February 3, 2010

    I think he claim that Semenya has “normal” female external genitalia, or female external genitalia at all, is an internet myth. No official details were ever revealed about the genitalia. If we know that Semenya has testes and no ovaries or uterus, then Semenya is a MAN, so please stop referring to him as female.

    As for the reason why so-called transgenders feel the need to cut their genitalia off, abuse hormones, and behave in some bizarre cartoonish stereotypical manner of the opposite sex I have no idea. I only care to the extent that I care about other mentally ill people. I don’t validate their delusions, but I do have sympathy for them and I sincerely hope they get the help they need to be at ease with their own bodies.

    The whole “transgender” term is nonsense. There is no person who can cross over from one gender to the other, no matter how hard they try.

    I feel like a black woman. Should I darken my skin and get lip and butt injections? Would that make me black then?

  6. #6 Paul Decelles
    February 6, 2010


    Thanks for the wonderful post.

    Tamara assumes of course that gender identity is the same thing as biological sex. In reality the issue is much more complex. Transgender people feel a discordance between the gender that society assumes they are and how they feel inside.

    Tamara also has a stereotyped notion of how transgendered respond to those feelings. If she would bother to learn about transgenderism she would see that transgendered people do not typically fit her sterotypes-nor do all in fact most “cut their genitals off”, rather there is a wide range of responses to the dysphoria transgender people feel about their gender identity.

    Funny how conservatives whine about people taking away their liberties but these same conservatives have no qualms about telling people how they ought to behave and feel about themselves.

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