books book reviews

pop science books

reviewed by T. Nelson


The End of Gender

by Debra Soh
Threshold, 2020, 322 pages
reviewed by T. Nelson

F or whatever reason, left-wingers have adopted biology denialism as part of their ideology, bringing them into conflict with science. But considering that we humans have had sex since the day our species came into existence, it's surprising how little we still know about it.

In this book, Debra Soh, a former feminist, gay rights activist, and sexologist / neuroscientist, identifies nine popular myths, starting with ‘sex is a spectrum,’ ‘gender is a social construct,’ and ‘there are more than two genders,’ and gives us a general idea of what mainstream scientists would say on these topics.

There's actually not much science here; mostly what we get is a light discussion of various behavior patterns and syndromes including homosexuality, gender dysphoria, and transgenderism. Mostly she tells us her opinions, which are centrist.

Talking about gender is hard to do without telling us what gender actually is: I'm convinced the word doesn't mean anything at all, except perhaps the division of humans into males and females. But nowadays even saying that is danger­ous. Soh follows the activists' ambiguous usage, sometimes using it to mean sex and sometimes to mean sexually dimorphic behavior patterns.

Soh bends over backwards to avoid offending gay people. This is generally a good strategy, but it can also mean adopting two contradictory opinions simultaneously. For example, on page 102 she says the idea that ‘sexual orientation is a choice’ is a myth unsupported by science, strongly emphasizing the research on prenatal exposure to testosterone, but then admits that some have chosen to become gay because it has become fashionable. She says that saying so is dangerous because it can be used to support conversion therapy, which she opposes:

Returning to whether gender dysphoria should be considered a mental illness, conceptualizing it this way can—and indeed has—given ammunition to those who seek to dismiss transgender people's concerns and rights with claims that they are mentally unwell, don't know what they are talking about, and shouldn't be listened to.

The job of a scientist is to state the truth regardless of whether it gives ammunition to one political side or the other. Denying ideas because they're “dangerous” is what she was supposed to be arguing against.

She criticizes feminists for saying men and women brains are identical, saying it is a sexist idea. She says “there are only two genders” [p. 67] but then talks about “gender equity”—a term used by activists to demand a redistributionist approach to hiring and salary.

So what we have here is someone who trained as a scientist and lived as an activist, and is now somewhere in limbo between these two incompatible lifestyles, and it shows.

One point where we agree is that medical science is headed for a train wreck on the subject of gender dysphoria among children. Left alone, about 80% of them eventually desist and learn to be happy with their original body. But ‘transitioning’ underage children, who cannot give consent, sterilizes them and often ruins their lives because doctors are afraid to try to dissuade them. Doctors in Canada who make the attempt risk losing their license. Sadly, in the absence of courage from adults, little children must be careful about what they say about sex these days.

Most real biologists are dispassionate about these questions and merely resent being told they cannot speak out on the science. Most of them will just avoid ‘sexology’ altogether, ceding it to the activists, who will do advocacy instead [p. 287]:

What good does it do if all of the impartial experts in the field are too terrified to engage with you? In the end, the only researchers willing to study these populations will be those confident that their results won't upset anyone. But what they will be doing at that point will no longer be science.

Most of what Soh writes accords with much of the current research on sex. Her central message is that people deny science because the truth about who we are is uncomfortable. Telling the truth in our society is dangerous, but Soh has more courage than many.

aug 22, 2020