A few days ago, I found myself on the Tube, sitting next to a group of three women and a little girl. Now, it’s obviously unfair to make assumptions about people’s sexuality based purely on their appearances, and God knows I’ve been misdiagnosed on many occasions (something to do my tendency to pout at moments of disappointment) but I’d already guessed the adults were lesbians before I clocked that one of them was wearing a “WHAT WOULD XENA DO?” t-shirt. Subsequent eavesdropping revealed that the little girl was the daughter of one of the women.
At one point, the girl asked: “What colour are my eyes?”
Her mother said: “Your eyes are green.”
“Why?” replied the little girl, not unreasonably.
“It depends on what colour your two mummies’ eyes are.”
Hang on a minute. Now, I’ve got no problem with kids being brought up in any combination of parent/carer scenarios: one daddy; two mummies; three daddies, a granny and a sword-swallower; as long as the child is loved and nurtured and protected, it’s really none of my business or anyone else’s. And in a broader sense, people should be entitled to define themselves however they bloody well want, and live by that definition. Unfortunately, biology occasionally intervenes.
Take the story of Caster Semanya, the South African runner whose gender has become a matter of international controversy. Semanya is a woman, in the sense that she was brought up as a woman, and identifies herself as female. Under normal circumstances, that should be the end of it. Unfortunately, she has chosen to take part in top-level athletics, and as such her biological identity - the configuration of her sexual organs, the nature of her chromosomes - also becomes a matter of public interest, in a way that it wouldn’t if she’d decided to be an accountant or a bus driver. The fact that she appears to possess testicles does not mean that she’s not a woman in a social sense, but it does make rather a nonsense of the idea of having separate events for male and female runners if she continues to compete as a female. In biological terms, she’s intersex, or a hermaphrodite, or a person with androgen insensitivity syndrome.
Then there’s Thomas Beatie, the man who had a baby. He’s a man, because he chose to undergo reassignment surgery and live as a man, and no-one else can or should deny him that right. However, he was, is and always will be a biological woman. The fact that he elected to keep his uterus and ovaries after surgery is beside the point; even if he’d had them removed, his biological identity would still be female.
Which brings me back to the little girl on the train. Presumably she’s being brought up by two women, and she calls them her mummies, and they are her mummies, because they love her and care for her, and she loves them back and that’s all lovely. But in biological terms, there’s a father somewhere in the equation, a man who provided his sperm to facilitate her conception. And part of the back story of her green eyes is down to that man. To tell her it’s because of her two mummies is wishful thinking, a nonsense, a lie.