Last week, an NHS doctor was fired from a governmental position for suggesting gender is determined at birth. He was deemed “unfit to work” after refusing to identify patients by their selected gender. Some time earlier there was similar furore when a professor from the University of Washington School of Computer Science said that women are less likely to pursue computer science because of sexual variation in the brain. In an article for Quillette, he wrote “If men and women are different, then we should expect them to make different choices”.
Clearly, arguing that aspects of identity are biologically determined is extremely controversial in 2018. Progressives, especially, take umbrage with this idea namely because it undermines the socialist perspective that, with the right conditions, anyone can be anything. There is another understandable reason that the general population questions biological theories: wariness over the eugenics movement, which hypothesised that people are the product of genes alone. It has now become mainstream to believe the likes of gender are socially constructed.
But this way of thinking has its limits and contradictions. It can be dangerous to claim that we are simply the result of socialisation, and LGBT+ groups could be impacted the most. Take sexuality, for instance. Most would agree that being gay, straight or in between is not a choice, but something one is born with; there are even studies that demonstrate the existence of genes for sexual orientation. If someone insists that we are all the product of conditioning, this would give ammunition to homophobes, and those who push gay conversion therapies, as they could argue sexuality can be learnt and therefore unlearnt.
The transgender community, too, can be helped by biological arguments – contrary to what some might expect. Researchers have found evidence that genes play a large role in shaping sex identity and gender identity. A study led by Belgian University found that the brain activity of transgender boys and girls corresponded to the gender they most identify with. Findings like these can help to counter arguments that trans-identity is a choice, but they are then undermined by the progressive argument that gender has no neurological basis.
Most psychologists would argue that nature and nurture are actually equally important in human development, and interact with one another. The danger is when we start to push one over the other, which can inspire bigotry in different ways. If we promote socialisation, we suggest that facets of ourselves can be removed through conditioning. If we rely on nature, we become too rigid about humanity. Something in the middle can help us all, but progressives must not demonise biology. It has helped win some hugely important battles.