If you're going to use science to make a point, you'd better hope you know the science.
A meme circulating on Facebook caught the eye of Grace Pokela, a biology teacher at Arlington High School in Lagrangeville, New York. It didn't get her attention just for the poor science, but for the bigotry it was encouraging:
The meme began circulating around the same time the Obama directive that allowed trans students in public schools to use the bathroom matching their gender identity was rescinded. When Pokela saw the post, she decided to make a Facebook status explaining why it was so off-base. Her response was such a thorough takedown of the meme that it was shared over 30,000 times.
Pokela started her post by explaining all the different variations of chromosomes we see in nature, and how they don't necessarily reflect or predict whether organisms are "male" or "female" — terms that begin to seem much too simple to encapsulate the biological complexities of sex and gender as her post continues.
"You can be male because you were born female, but you have 5-alphareductase deficiency and so you grew a penis at age 12," she wrote. "You can be female because you have an X and a Y chromosome but you are insensitive to androgens, and so you have a female body. You can be female because you have an X and a Y chromosome but your Y is missing the SRY gene, and so you have a female body. You can be male because you have two X chromosomes, but one of your X's HAS an SRY gene, and so you have a male body. You can be male because you have two X chromosomes- but also a Y. You can be female because you have only one X chromosome at all. And you can be male because you have two X chromosomes, but your heart and brain are male."
Pokela drove her point home with poignant, incisive language. And she finished it with this kicker:
"Don't use science to justify your bigotry," Pokela wrote. "The world is way too weird for that shit."
Pokela's perspective is not unique in the scientific community, either. The American Medical Association, the American Psychiatric Association, and most other major medical organizations do not classify trans people as having a "psychological disorder" or a mental illness. In fact, as Pokela alluded to, there is a lot of evidence that supports the fact that trans people's experiences are underpinned by biological realities. For instance, the Journal of Clinical Endocrinology and Metabolism found that in trans women, the anatomy of the brain looks a lot more like a cisgender woman's brain than a cisgender man's.
"Facts have become so nebulous recently," Pokela said in an email to The Observer. "To see someone spouting such rage towards a truly oppressed group made me very upset. Using falsehoods to promote hate just rubbed me the wrong way."
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Cover photo: Shutterstock / John Arehart