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Opinion | What is a woman?

Passing HB405 will make life even more difficult for Alabamians who don’t fit into traditional gender or sex categories.

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What is a woman? The answer is simple if you don’t factor in science. If you only believe what your high school biology teacher told you in the 1970s or earlier. If you think your pastor, priest or spiritual leader is the only one who has life’s answers – and if they think that, too.

If you still rely on the gender descriptions in one of those books parents gave children when they were about to hit puberty 45 years ago.

But if you’ve been keeping up – even casually – with medical science, you know the answer isn’t simple. At least not for one out of every 100 people, according to the experts.

Of course, that won’t stop the Alabama Legislature from passing HB405 and making life even more difficult for Alabamians who don’t fit into traditional gender or sex categories. It will just be another attempt to use the resources of the government to enforce their values on everyone else. 

HB405 is sponsored by Rep. Susan DuBose. The Hoover Republican wants the state of Alabama to wade into the choppy waters of genetics, anatomy and physiology without the benefit of understanding the scientific complexities waiting there. If passed, legal definitions for the words man, woman, boy, girl, father, mother, male, female, and sex will signal to the world that our understanding of medical science is far behind everyone else. 

DuBose calls HB405 the “What is a Woman Act.” And it will yank Alabama back into the Dark Ages – medically, scientifically, socially and spiritually. 

Section 2 of the bill declares: “(a) The Legislature finds and declares all of the following: (1) For purposes of state law, an individual’s ‘sex’ is defined as his or her biological sex, either male or female, at birth. (2) For purposes of state law, a “female” is an individual whose biological reproductive system is designed to produce ova, and a “male” is an individual whose biological reproductive system is designed to fertilize the ova of a female.

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Science disputes this nonsense. Nonsense because of its archaic simplicity. Its woeful incompleteness. Its easily disprovable premise.

The world-renowned Cleveland Clinic spells it out clearly on its website. As I alluded to earlier, for every 100 people, one is what medical scientists call intersex. Intersex people are born with anatomical and biological contradictions.

Their genitals, chromosomes or reproductive organs don’t conform to the conventional ideas about gender. There are about 40 variations of being intersex, but the two most common are people who have mismatched genitals and sex organs, and those with an unusual combination of chromosomes. 

An intersex person may have a penis, for example, but their internal reproductive anatomy may be ovarian. Or they may have high estrogen levels instead of testosterone. Instead of the conventional combination of chromosomes – XY for males and XX for females – they may have some other combination, placing them outside of the binary female/male model that we were taught to expect as children.

Intersex people aren’t the byproduct of some political agenda. Being intersex isn’t something they chose to rebel against Christianity, the Bible or God. It’s how they came into the world. And being intersex may affect how they decide to identify and present themselves to the rest of us. 

Some will identify publicly as intersex. Others as nonbinary or some other nontraditional gender category, including transgender. 

Their sexual orientation may be straight. Or not. 

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HB405 doesn’t address any of this. It ignores intersex people. Denies that they exist – just as it does other people in the LGBTQ community.

Even though one out of 100 are estimated to be intersex. That’s 50,000 Alabamians – nearly the entire city of Madison. Or all of Dale County. 

And that’s what makes it so disturbing. It asks a question that can only be answered truthfully by medical science – while legally imposing an answer that has no scientific basis at all. 

Welcome to that Alabama state of mind.

David Person is a media personality and consultant who has been working in the Huntsville market since 1986 as a talk show host, columnist, and director/producer. David co-hosts the podcast Alabama Politics This Week.

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