On February 5, 1897 the Indiana General Assembly passed a bill that effectively defined the value of π as 3.2. In 2016 an Oregon judge handed down a ruling that effectively defined the number of sexes in the human species to be at least three. This July, the Oregon Transportation Commission implemented this new definition by adding a third sex option to their driver’s licenses.
Now, as you may recall from your high school geometry class, π is the Greek letter that stands for the number you get when you divide the circumference of a circle by its diameter. You may also recall from your high school biology class that sex is a classification among living creatures that identifies which role in the reproductive process an individual is designed to play.
It is one of the curious truths of the universe that for any circle, no matter how big or small, the number you get when you divide its circumference by its diameter is always the same. It is also a curious truth of the universe that, for any species, no matter how big or small, the number of sexes involved in the sexual reproductive process is always the same.
You may have also been told in your geometry class what mathematicians think the value of π is. You may have been told in your biology class what biologists think the number of sexes is. Mathematicians think π is smaller than 3.2. In fact they think it is close to but slightly smaller than 3.1416. Biologists think the number of sexes is smaller than three. In fact, they think it is two.
The Sexes Are Not Like Pi
Mathematicians tell us it’s pretty difficult to find the exact value of π because no matter how many decimal digits you write down you can’t hit it right on the nose. Mathematicians have believed for centuries that this number cannot be written exactly either as a decimal or as a fraction. This is why they use a letter to express it. They probably use a Greek letter because it is such a mysterious number, just as the Greek language is mysterious to many of us.
It seems to be pretty difficult finding the exact number of sexes, too, because no matter what value we set we can’t seem to hit it on the nose because someone always wants us to increase the number. Facebook thinks the number is 50. Perhaps we should use a Greek letter to identify the number of sexes too since its true value is so mysterious to some people and since the judge’s ruling is so mysterious to the rest of the people.
Even though the number π is difficult to pin down, mathematicians still tell us the political action of the Indiana General Assembly did not actually change the value of π and that it is still not 3.2. And, even though some people seem to have difficulty pinning down the number of sexes, many believe the judge’s ruling did not actually change the number of human sexes and that it is still not different from two.
Will Some Biologists Please Stand Up?
Let me be clear. I am not saying that the number of sexes actually is two. After all, anyone who still thinks that must be careful not to say so because, after the judge’s ruling, it might be against the law to say there are only two sexes since, by law, the number of sexes is now at least three, at least in Oregon. One can surmise that a judge who has the power to change the number of sexes in the human race also has the power to put you in jail if you deny the new truth she has created.
It was fortunate for Indiana that, after the General Assembly passed the measure back in 1897, there was a good mathematician in the state by the name of Clarence A. Waldo, a professor at Purdue University. When he got wind of the assembly’s strange attempt to legislate mathematical truth, he lobbied the Indiana State Senate not to tamper with “unsolvable mysteries . . . above man’s abilities to comprehend,” and the bill was tabled in the Senate, never became law, and has happily never been heard from since. When given the opportunity to meet the gentleman who had instigated the bill, Waldo kindly declined with a comment to the effect that he was already acquainted with as many crazy people as he cared to know.
Having a good mathematician in the great state of Indiana in 1897 saved the state a good deal of further embarrassment. One can only hope there is a good biologist in the great state of Oregon these days.