Sex is not a spectrum

I’d be happy to get feedback on this one. I’m not too sure it comes across.

I am sure that sex is not a spectrum.

When we hear “sex is a spectrum” you’d usually think of this a really nice even distribution of colours. All types of possibilities bleeding into one another. Males blending with females. Intersex in the middle bridging the gap. Non-binaries off in a corner because no one knows how to use “they” as a singular pronoun.

But in actual fact there is only male and female and a tiny proportion of people who have intersex or DSD traits. DSD stands for differences in sexual development, not as I said in my previous blog post, “disorders of sexual development”.

In that previous post I relied on an article from Intersex Human Rights Australia about the difficulties in finding out how many intersex people there are. They have a table of estimated numbers. I noticed that one type dominated the table, makin up 1.5% of the estimated 1.73% of people with Intersex conditions.


Emily Quinn gives a stirring TEDx Talk about being Intersex. She starts with “I was 10 years old when I found out I can’t have children”. She goes on to detail a history of being treated as a science experiment and of unnecessary genital examinations.

The rhetoric of “sex as a spectrum” uses Emily’s story to justify a mythical mosaic of sexes. If Emily exists, the narrative runs, then anything must be possible. It leads to the fallacy that “trans” is either it’s own sex, or the visible metamorphosis of male into female.

It leads to the creation of the mystical non-binary. A being who lives between the sexes, and yet is constantly pissed when their very real sexed bodies are recognised by others.

It leads to this condescending non-binary claptrap. (Sorry I try to be positive, but sometimes I fail).


This is from a video by Alok, but I’ll also link to the Magdalene Berns reaction video for context. The ultimate message is great: make room for variation. But the way it gets there is via blaming the fact of 2 sexes for white imperialism.

“Sex is a spectrum” is used to associate the biological reality with harmful totalitarianism. By conflating gender with sex, is used to imply that a binary has been imposed where none exists. The gender binary is a construct, but the error is in extending this understanding to material reality.

Anyone claiming biological reality is decried as oppressive. We will inevitably lose the language that allows us to know and master our own bodies.

Sex is not actually a spectrum. A spectrum is for things that are continuous, like soft-serve ice cream, not for things that are discreet like chromosomal variation. Even a non-biologist knows that. Yes there are variations because that is how evolution works. For the moment, these are rare, and in the future who knows?