Can we tell a baby’s gender at birth? After untold millennia of human experience — and the emergence of “gender reveal party” industry to the contrary — CNN’s news section informs us that we should believe them rather than our own lying eyes. In a report on South Dakota governor Kristi Noem’s executive order barring transgendered biological males from competing in women’s sports, Devan Cole insists that telling “gender identity” is impossible at birth:
Though the two executive orders signed by Noem do not explicitly mention transgender athletes, they reference the supposed harms of the participation of “males” in women’s athletics — an echo of the transphobic claim, cited in other similar legislative initiatives, that transgender women are not women. The orders also reference “biological sex,” a disputed term that refers to the sex as listed on students’ original birth certificates.
It’s not possible to know a person’s gender identity at birth, and there is no consensus criteria for assigning sex at birth.
Actually, there is a scientific consensus for “assigning sex at birth.” It’s called observation, coupled with a basic understanding of mammalian and human biology. Mammals have two sexual biological types, male and female, whose characteristics are apparent in all but the most rare circumstances from observing genitalia (and can be easily confirmed now by blood analysis). Not only are humans no different in this regard, our sex “assignment” is even more observable than in most other mammals.
Thus, those with XX chromosomes on the 23rd pair are female sex, and those with XY are male sex. Even if one wants to obfuscate the idea of “gender identity” to impermanent feelings, sexual identity is a matter of physical science. And as humans have been doing since walking upright (and almost certainly before then), we “assign” that at birth — or, more accurately, observe what is scientifically apparent. The “assignment” comes from nature, not from other people, and is a scientific fact.
If recognizing that is impossible for Devan Cole, perhaps he needs an appointment at the optometrist. His editor certainly does for allowing this absurd statement to enter into a news report. Although, as Kyle Smith points out, other CNN editors and reporters don’t appear to have the same problem following biological science:
If that’s the case, the article’s author Devan Cole should speak to his colleague Maryam Mohamed, who wrote an article just two days prior that begins, “Hilary Duff has welcomed her third child, a girl named Mae James Bair.” Mohamed better hope her sourcing is solid to go and assert something like that.
In fact, if Cole’s scientific breakthrough about the elusiveness of sex is true, CNN has a lot of work ahead auditing its past coverage of celebrity baby announcements. Here’s one from Saturday, the day before Mohamed went out on a limb with her reckless identification of Duff’s child as a “girl.”
“Powell shared his own thoughts about the birth of his baby girl,” wrote reporter Marianne Garvey in an article about the birth of actress Bindi Irwin and husband Chandler Powell’s baby.
Perhaps CNN can also address the proliferation of “gender reveal” parties these days, which while terribly annoying, at least have the virtue of being scientifically accurate. Gender/sex is not assigned — it is revealed, by observation and other means. Sex is an innate and immutable part of each individual’s biological and physical reality, which reassignment therapies only impact by altering its more superficial aspects. This scientific reality and its biological and physical implications are the reasons we have separate competition in most sports for women, and why we protected that in Title IX in the first place.
This article reveals something about CNN’s ethical and intellectual realities — and it doesn’t reflect well on CNN or its editors.