Renowned astrophysicist Neil deGrasse Tyson sparked a controversy by challenging the conventional wisdom of biology and its XX and XY chromosome distinctions that typically classify humans as female or male, respectively.
In Tyson's view, such a basic understanding of biology is "insufficient" in explaining gender identity.
Tyson made these statements during a chat with Stephen A. Smith on the ESPN host's "K[no]w Mercy" podcast back in May. But it wasn't until a video clip focusing on Tyson's perspective on gender began circulating recently that the debate caught fire.
“Apparently, the XX/XY chromosomes are insufficient because when we wake up in the morning, we exaggerate whatever feature we want to portray the gender of our choice. Either the one you’re assigned, the one you choose to be—whatever it is!” Tyson observed.
Drawing on America's founding principle of the pursuit of happiness, Tyson mused, “And so now, just to tie a bow on this, I say to you, somewhere I read — somewhere, I think I read — that the United States was a land where we have the pursuit of happiness.”
“Suppose no matter my chromosomes today, I feel 80 percent female, 20 percent male. Now I’m gonna, I’m gonna put on makeup. Tomorrow, I might feel 80 percent male. I’ll remove the makeup and I’ll wear a muscle shirt. Why do you care? What businesses is it of yours to require that I fill your inability to think of gender on a spectrum?”
His comments were met with swift backlash, as critics claimed his stance oversimplified the issue. Detractors underscored the implications of such a perspective, including the dangerous and irreversible treatments children were undergoing in an attempt to alter their biological realities.
Critics were quick to point out that putting on makeup doesn’t make one a woman any more than putting lipstick on a pig would somehow transform it into a different animal, among other observations.