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Neil deGrasse Tyson Should Stick to Physics
By adopting gender ideology’s lexicon, Tyson undermines his professed advocacy for gender nonconformity and free expression.
There is a supply-and-demand problem with science popularizers. Numerous fields require specialized knowledge, but there is a dearth of scientists possessing the essential blend of brilliance, charisma, and articulation to serve as public spokespersons. As a result, the most charismatic and eloquent individuals from the most awe-inspiring fields such as physics and astronomy often become default ambassadors for the scientific community and The Science™.
This doesn’t always result in bad takes, especially if they’re simply asked to cover the basics of fields in which they lack expertise, or if they’re reading off scripts written by actual experts. However, when they deviate from the script and discuss subjects beyond their radius of expertise, and especially on topics that have an increasingly narrow range of socially acceptable and ideologically acceptable responses, this can result in the dissemination of well-intentioned pseudoscience. This latter situation seems to apply to the world-renowned astrophysicist, Tyson, who has recently been providing offhand commentary on the hot-button issue of sex and gender.
For the record, I am overall a fan of Tyson and his work, and believe his fame to be well-deserved. But his comments on sex and gender, and his adoption of gender ideology’s lexicon, are more than a little concerning given his enormous reach and the potential real-world harms involved in spreading such radical ideologies.
What did Tyson say?
Over the weekend, a TikTok video of Tyson was widely circulated on X (formerly Twitter). The video, which was just over a minute long, showed Tyson delivering a message with his characteristic passion about sex chromosomes, gender, and sex. The clip was extracted from an episode of the Stephen A. Smith Show, in which Smith interviewed Tyson for more than an hour on various topics, including science, religion, and sports.
In the interview, Smith had just made a brief statement about the role of religion and religious conflict in our society and globally. Neil responded by distinguishing between what he viewed as three “different varieties of truth.” The first, “personal truth,” according to Tyson, is typically found within religions. The second, “political truth,” is “something that becomes true in your head because it got repeated so many times,” which he equates to propaganda. The third and final truth Tyson identifies is “objective truth” as revealed by science, which are “true whether or not you believe it.” Tyson then contends that, as a society, we should base legislation and laws solely on objective truth since they apply to everyone, unlike personal (religious) or political truths.
Smith, seemingly in agreement with Tyson’s general framework, then asked him to clarify his profound confusion about where the current debates regarding transgenderism fall. Smith states:
We’re living in a time now where you’re born a man and you can say “I believe I’m a woman,” and there’s a sex change. Same thing with a woman becoming a man. Those kind of things. How does that fall into—because that doesn’t fall under quote-unquote “religious beliefs.” Some would say to some degree it falls under science because it involves medicine in terms of the injection of hormones and things of that nature that alter your body physically.
I’m a person that openly admits I don’t know what to say. I don’t even know how to ask the question in this day and age, Neil! That’s how confusing it is to somebody like me. What is it to you, who seems to undersyand a hell of a lot more than most humans?
Neil responds by telling Smith that “the issue is simpler than you have attempted to present.” He then tried to clarify the matter by referencing a chapter in his latest book, Starry Messenger. Here, he discussed sex chromosomes, which he acknowledged as binary—XX or XY. “That’s binary; there’s male and there’s female,” Tyson says. He then posed a question, “Do these chromosomes manifest in society?”
Tyson recounted an instance when he was on the New York City subway during winter, with everyone bundled up in large coats, only their heads visible. He recalled wondering, “Why do I know who’s male and who’s female?” He then realized that he was picking up on “features that are secondary tertiarily added to a person’s appearance.” For women, this included feminine clothing, earrings, longer hair, eyeliner, tweezed eyebrows, lengthy and painted nails, and makeup. For men, masculine clothing, muscles, and facial hair were reliably proxies for sex.
The video that recently went viral on X begins here, with Tyson explaining what he concluded from this subway observation. He said:
My point is 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! 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% female, 20% male. I’m gonna put on makeup. Tomorrow I might feel 80% male; I’ll remove the makeup and I’ll wear a muscle shirt. Why do you care? What business is it of yours to require that I fulfill your inability to think of gender on a spectrum?
The viral clip ended there, but he continued in the interview:
And what I found in the human mind is that we go out of our way to put things in categories, in bins, because that makes it easier for us. So that’s why people come up and say, “Are you a boy or are you a girl? Choose one! Which are you?” I say maybe I’m a little of both. “No, you have to be one or the other!” No, I will not be what you require just because you can’t think on a spectrum. I’m going to be what I want to be…
All I’m saying is, in the people I identified as female and male on the train, if some of those females were chromosomally male, it didn’t matter to me. I’d see them as female. That’s how they present. I don’t have a problem with that.
There is a significant amount of confusion and obfuscation to dissect here, especially concerning Tyson’s overt blending of sex and gender expression and his seemingly total acceptance of radical gender ideology that roots the terms woman, girl, man, and boy in identity and expression instead of biology.
Tyson is correct in pointing out that a person’s sex doesn’t inevitably dictate how they might choose to express themselves through clothing or makeup; but this is banal and rarely, if ever, contested point. From the context, it’s evident that Tyson is using the term “gender” to describe the ways in which people express themselves through grooming, attire, and makeup choices. Given this, it’s ludicrous to imply that people are “assigning” others a “gender.” No one is campaigning or attempting to enforce binary dress codes for males and females across society. So who is the “you” to which Tyson believes he is responding?
Tyson’s take appears to be the result of a successful Left-wing fear mongering campaign to dismiss and downplay legitimate concerns over gender ideology. Progressive gender activists wants to portray their critics as ignorant, backward bigots who retch at the mere thought of a man wearing nail polish. But this depiction strays far from reality.
In a different interview earlier this year, this one with Piers Morgan, Tyson presented his views in a little more detail:
We all know growing up there were girls who were a little more tomboyish. We know they existed. There are boys that were slightly effeminate relative to the others. We know they existed… We live in a time now where people are emboldened to say, “You know, today I feel part female and part male. All right, so today in fact I will be neutral to you. I will be androgynous.” But you know something? If you’re trained in this “you gotta be A or B; you gotta be a boy, you gotta be a girl”…you say “BOR OR GIRL!? Are you a boy or a girl?” And then someone is androgynous and it makes you feel uncomfortable. But just because you feel uncomfortable, does that give you the right to come back to a person who is expressing their freedom of self?
Paradoxically, although Tyson may perceive himself as a firm and enlightened champion of gender nonconformity and free expression in these interviews, his statements and full adoption of gender ideology’s lexicon betray the values he’s attempting to elevate. This becomes clear when he associates feeling “80% female” with wearing makeup, and feeling “80% male” with removing makeup and donning a muscle shirt. He further underscores this in the above quote when he explicitly places androgyny as an intermediary state between the categories boy or a girl.
Taking his statements seriously, Tyson is promoting the outdated idea that boys and girls cannot express androgyny without renouncing their boyhood or girlhood. Such statements put Tyson into a quantum superposition-like state where he is attempting to signal progressive values while simultaneously spiraling into a regressive black hole.
By conflating sex and gender expression, and defining girls and boys according to how closely one adheres to stereotypes, Tyson appears to have now embraced the very worldview that has a sizable portion of Left-wing liberals understandably worried about the safety and status of women and girls in society.
Tyson angrily asked, “Why do you care!?” If he would bother to consult actual critics of gender ideology for their perspectives, rather than battling against straw boogeymen, he would understand that the current debates have nothing to do with a refusal to acknowledge and accept sex-atypical behaviors and expressions. In reality, they are about legitimate concerns over eliminating sex-based laws and protections for women and girls as a class rooted in biology rather than a shared desire to wear eyeliner. They are about preserving sex-segregated intimate spaces for the safety and dignity of women and girls. They are about protecting women’s and girls’ sports as a sex-based category to promote fairness and safety, which they have strived hard to establish and maintain under Title IX. And they are about not indoctrinating children into pseudoscientific, morally regressive belief systems that persuade kids to reject their bodies and pursue hormones and surgeries that permanently alter their bodies, disrupt their endocrine systems, and make them permanently dependent on medical support because they’re told their sex-atypical interests, behaviors, and expressions mean they were “born in the wrong body.”
The cynical view is that Tyson is carefully crafting his public stance because he realizes that openly admitting there is an issue with the current transgender movement would risk fully alienating him from Left-wing audiences. He’s therefore either clueless and incurious about the gender critical perspective, which is unbecoming of a scientist whose job is to find truth, or he’s pretending to miss the point so that he can receive kudos from progressive audiences for defending the widely popular and uncontroversial position of accepting gender nonconformity and a wide range of gender expression for individuals.
Until Tyson can be challenged and made to clarify his contradictory views, his position occupies state similar to Schrödinger’s cat—both enlightened and regressive until someone observes his true stance.
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