We all know that a tomato is a fruit.
But, would you put a tomato in a smoothie? Or put tomatoes in your fruit salad? (the correct answer is no)
No matter what arguments you bring to the table, the debate over whether tomatoes are fruits or vegetables is fundamentally flawed because the argument discusses two completely separate definitions.
Biologically, there is no room for debate about whether tomatoes are fruits or vegetables: they are the seed-bearing part of a plant. They are fruit.
Likewise, in culinary terms, there is no debate about whether or not tomatoes are vegetables. A tomato’s biology has no impact on its use in a kitchen. Tomatoes are savory, not sweet. They are in entrees, not desserts. They are vegetables.
Depending on the context, tomatoes can be either vegetables or fruits, but they’re never both. At any given time, only one of the two definitions is valid, so arguing between the two inherently leads to an irreconcilable dispute over nothing.
It’s like trying to say that there is only one valid way to define what gender is.
Hopefully, you’ve already realized that this article isn’t about tomatoes (it’s an analogy).
Throughout most of human history, we’ve only ever had one definition of gender — it was an all encompassing definition. A person’s gender described both his or her anatomy and social position. The binary titles of male and female were efficient and effective.
Now, in our current American culture, the social roles and responsibilities of men and women are fading. No longer do we follow strict Victorian standards where men and women have completely separate social spheres that rarely coincide. Women can live as independently as men. It’s common for both parents in a family to work, which contrasts with the traditional breadwinner male and housekeeper female.
In social terms, gender is decreasingly important. On the contrary, human anatomy hasn’t changed much. The biological definition of gender is still relevant. But now, we also have new terminology for gender: we have terms for people who identify as genders besides just male and female.
Throughout western history, gender identity hasn’t ever been as controversial as now. Our current society is trying to understand and define what it means to be trans. We’re trying to figure out where and how it applies to our lives, and that’s important for the community as a whole to come to a consensus on.
It’s common for cis people to not understand the nuances and inclinations of trans people, but that doesn’t invalidate the latter’s gender. It’s important for us as the American population to remember that we move forward as a society through civil argument, which leads to general consensus and agreement.
And although some don’t grasp the concepts of genderfluid or nonbinary people, we as a community need to understand what we’re debating about.
We absolutely cannot argue, for example, that being born with XX or XY chromosomes discredits gender identity because that’s arguing over two separate definitions of what gender is. It’s an inherently flawed argument.
Biological sex doesn’t impact gender identity. They’re two separate definitions, and debates between the two are pointless. Rather, our arguments should focus on the question of “Under what circumstances do the identity and biology definitions of gender apply?”
Sometimes the answer is clear: in medical cases, it is important for the doctor to know a patient’s sex assigned at birth. A trans woman, for example, will still be at risk of prostate cancer, so it is crucial for a doctor to know her biological gender.
In other cases, the answer is more ambiguous. Caster Semenya, a South African runner, encountered controversy for being intersexual. She was born with a medical condition, hyperandrogenism, that causes her body to produce three times the testosterone as a normal woman, but she is biologically female and she identifies as one. Should Semenya and others like her compete with men or women?
Is biological sex or gender identity more relevant? When and where do we acknowledge each respective definition? It’s hard to determine, but these are the questions we need to ask.
So next time you engage in a debate about the gender’s place society, remember that it’s not an argument about whether tomatoes are fruits or vegetables: it’s an argument about where each definition applies.