For the Last Time: Humans Are Not Fish
Stop it. Just stop it
Last week, X user Ian Copeland sparked outrage across the platform by suggesting that sex is not a binary trait because some species of fish can change sex. The post got ratioed to oblivion (1.1K likes vs. 7.5K replies at the time of this writing) and the controversy even led to Elon Musk himself weighing in to confirm that sex is indeed binary.
This is not the first time that someone has tried to use this neat tidbit about fish to argue that sex is a spectrum nor, sadly, will it be the last. But part of the reason for this particular uproar was that Copeland presents himself as a “PhD level geneticist” and was very quick to dismiss the views of his critics based on his opinion that they lacked the proper credentials (notwithstanding the fact that many of Copeland’s critics were highly credentialed and respected biologists).
Copeland was summarily taken to task by a slew of people, including Zachary Ellior, Colin Wright, and Heather Heying, who pointed out why his view was completely incorrect and intellectually bereft. The main thrust of the critiques was that the fact that some species of fish can change sex, meaning that they change from one sex to the only other type of sex, actually reinforces the sex binary. Additionally, the way that we know a fish has changed sex is because it goes from producing one type of gamete to producing the other type of gamete.
In the midst of it all, Gad Saad said what we all hoped might be true.
Amy Sousa also pointed out that, as interesting as fish biology is, this entire conversation had nothing to do with sexual development in humans. While some species of fish can change sex, humans can not. Copeland, remember, was trying to use the fact that fish can change sex to paint others as bigots for not accepting that humans cannot do the same.
Completely undeterred, Copeland dug in his heels and invited his critics to join him in a space the next day, childishly titled “Bring the Facts: Sex Is Not Binary, Sorry to Burst Your Bubble…” It ended up going on for nearly three hours and, as of this writing, has nearly 30K listens.
The first person to get his chance to actually speak the facts as they are was none other than Colin Wright. He started by differentiating sex from the “upstream mechanisms” that cause an individual to develop a sex, like sex-determining chromosomes, and “downstream consequences” like secondary sex characteristics. Sex itself is defined by whether an individual has a reproductive system organized around producing sperm or ova.
Completely misunderstanding what Wright said, Copeland responded by talking about “genotypic males” with a Y chromosome and a “fully functioning penis” but whose “sperm don’t swim too good.” And then he insisted that “genotypic sex is not binary.”
A little later on, Copeland took another strange tangent and insisted that Wright answer what sex somebody without gonads is, now growing irate, raising his voice, and swearing. With great patience, Wright answered that an individual could theoretically be sexless, but that doesn’t mean sex itself is no longer binary.
This seemed to enrage Copeland all the more, and he said that Wright’s definition of sex was “flimsy” for hinging upon the production of gametes. He then accused Wright of having smoke coming out of his ears, which I thought was an excellent example of projection.
Copeland also claimed that if someone could be sexless, that means sex isn’t binary because “sexless” is a third option.
I was strongly reminded of Dr. Greta Bauer’s testimony at the hearing of Canadian Nurse Amy Hamm, where she said that there are three types of gametes: sperm, eggs, and none.
Near the end of his back and forth with Wright, Copeland went on to say that “nobody is classifying people as male or female based on if they produce sperm or eggs.” Wright agreed, noting that, in medical contexts, we often use highly reliable proxies like genitals. This still doesn’t change what sex fundamentally is.
Following Wright, a man with a disorder of sex development came on and expressed his frustration at being used as a pawn in these types of debates. Awkwardly trying to backtrack, Copeland responded that he never suggested men with conditions like Klinefelter's are not male, thereby agreeing with everything Wright said.
Somehow, the space went on for nearly another two hours, but you get the gist of it.
My takeaway was that Copeland does not understand the “facts” and “science” nearly as well as he insists he does and that he carries himself in a very immature manner.
The cherry on top is that, as The Daily Beagle discovered last year, Copeland’s Ph.D. is essentially meaningless:
He declares he has a PhD on his Twitter profile. He even posted his certificate publicly back in May 2021, from Baylor College of Medicine, but there’s only one paper to his name, it is incredibly short, and it isn’t vaccine related.…
Ian got through via Baylor College of Medicine’s IMSD. What is IMSD? It stands for ‘Initiative for Maximizing Student Development’, a ‘affirmative action’ system adopted by many Universities.
Jikkyleaks calls it a ‘cardboard PhD’. The Daily Beagle just calls him Dr Copium.
It’s obvious that this is not an individual to take seriously, and many are recommending not to interact with him to hinder his engagement farming. I am inclined to agree, which is why I limited my own involvement to a couple of subtweets.
But I do feel like the response was very useful to show others how to deal with unscientific claims like the one Copeland was making. As I said, this is probably not the last time we will hear of someone trying to use the sex-changing abilities of fish to spread lies about human biology and call others bigots. The clear and concise rebuttals from people like Colin Wright can serve as an example of how to respond.
So, no, just because fish can change sex, it doesn’t mean that sex isn’t binary. And just because fish can change sex, it doesn’t mean that humans can. Humans are not fish.
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