Nov. 5, 2018
When I was a college student in the New York metropolitan area, I subscribed to the New York Times. For a while, I even set the goal of reading every article that appeared on the front page, no matter what it was about. I thought if it was important enough to be on the front page of the New York Times, it was important enough for me to read it. It was known, after all, as “the paper of record.”
Oh, how the mighty have fallen. On October 22, the Times published—on the front page—one of the worst-written, worst-edited newspaper articles I have ever read.
The article begins, “The Trump administration is considering narrowly defining gender as a biological, immutable condition determined by genitalia at birth . . .”
The fake news begins with the eighth word of the article—“gender.” It is simply untrue that the Trump administration is re-examining the definition of “gender.”
What is actually under consideration is the definition of the word “sex”—particularly where it appears in a law or policy that forbids discrimination on the basis of “sex.”
This is evident in the parts of the article that quote or directly cite a draft memo leaked to the Times from the Department of Health and Human Services, such as these (emphasis added):
- “Sex means a person’s status as male or female based on immutable biological traits identifiable by or before birth,” the department proposed in the memo . . .
- “The sex listed on a person’s birth certificate, as originally issued, shall constitute definitive proof of a person’s sex unless rebutted by reliable genetic evidence.”
- For the last year, the Department of Health and Human Services has privately argued that the term “sex” was never meant to include gender identity . . .
Despite this evidence from their own reporting, the Times reporters continued throughout the article to use the word “gender” instead. For example (emphasis added):
- The department argued in its memo that key government agencies needed to adopt an explicit and uniform definition of gender . . .
- The agencies would consider the comments before issuing final rules with the force of law — both of which could include the new gender definition.
- The department would have to decide what documentation schools would be required to collect to determine or codify gender.
What’s wrong with this? Well, the very people who were stirred to outrage against the Trump administration by the Times article—transgender activists and their allies—are the ones who have been telling us for years that “gender is not the same as sex!” Yet the New York Times breezily assumes that the two words are synonymous. This mistake would not be tolerated in the average undergraduate term paper—yet somehow it slipped by the editors of the New York Times.
Unless it didn’t slip by at all.
In reality, there is little dispute that the word “sex” refers to biology. The American Psychiatric Association, for example—hardly a bastion of conservatism—defines “sex” as “Biological indication of male and female (understood in the context of reproductive capacity) . . .” Nor is there any dispute (even among conservatives) that the phrase “gender identity” commonly refers to a subjective, psychological state of, as the APA puts it, “an individual’s identification as male, female or, occasionally, some category other than male or female.”
The word “gender” standing alone, however, is ambiguous and contested ground. It has come to be used as a reference to someone’s essential “maleness” or “femaleness.” The cultural and social debate is about whether that is determined by a person’s objective “sex” (biology) or their subjective “gender identity” (psychology).
However, this debate is largely irrelevant in interpreting and applying current federal law—which is what the Times article was ostensibly about. Few federal laws or regulations even use the word “gender.” The key ones mentioned in the article—non-discrimination provisions in statutes regarding education (Title IX, 1972), employment (Title VII of the 1964 Civil Rights Act), and health care (the Obamacare law)—all use the word “sex,” not “gender.”
If the Times’ unjustified conflation of the words “sex” and “gender” did not arise from incomprehensible ignorance, it can only have arisen from inexcusable bias. Acting as though the clear-cut term “sex” is the same as the ambiguous term “gender” seriously tilts the playing field in favor of the Left’s preference for psychological rather than biological definitions. It assumes the very point that is in dispute.
This is bad logic—as well as bad journalism.