A very long time ago — back in the same moral epoch when Dan Savage still thought “tranny” was an acceptably neutral descriptor, to give you an idea just how long — I made some now-regrettable statements on this blog that were conceptually aligned (albeit more primitively expressed) with the following argument:

The argument goes: we are rationalists. Our entire shtick is trying to believe what’s actually true, not on what we wish were true, or what our culture tells us is true, or what it’s popular to say is true. If a man thinks he’s a woman, then we might (empathetically) wish he were a woman, other people might demand we call him a woman, and we might be much more popular if we say he’s a woman. But if we’re going to be rationalists who focus on believing what’s actually true, then we’ve got to call him a man and take the consequences.

Thus Abraham Lincoln’s famous riddle: “If you call a tail a leg, how many legs does a dog have?” And the answer: “Four – because a tail isn’t a leg regardless of what you call it.”

I no longer feel that way, but until recently I couldn’t have told you exactly why. Then I read this article about whales and fish and borders (including odd Turkish enclaves in Syria) and planets and the arbitrary nature of categories-and-borders about which we have (for whatever random reason) achieved temporary consensus.

Yeah, that doesn’t really make a lot of sense when I summarize it that way. But I have a head cold, and the enlightenment you seek is behind that link there in the previous paragraph. Click it. But if you won’t click, there’s a key bit that starts like this:

The project of the transgender movement is to propose a switch from using chromosomes as a tiebreaker to using self-identification as a tiebreaker.

This is not something that can be “true” or “false”. It’s a boundary-redrawing project. It can make for some boundaries that look a little bit weird – like a small percent of men being able to get pregnant – but as far as weird boundaries go that’s probably not as bad as having a tiny exclave of Turkish territory in the middle of a Syrian village.

You draw category boundaries in specific ways to capture tradeoffs you care about. If you care about the sanctity of the tomb of your country’s founder, sometimes it’s worth having a slightly weird-looking boundary in order to protect and honor it.

If I’m willing to accept an unexpected chunk of Turkey deep inside Syrian territory to honor some random dead guy – and I better, or else a platoon of Turkish special forces will want to have a word with me – then I ought to accept an unexpected man or two deep inside the conceptual boundaries of what would normally be considered female if it’ll save someone’s life. There’s no rule of rationality saying that I shouldn’t, and there are plenty of rules of human decency saying that I should.

I elided a bunch of caveats and some nuance, but that’s the gist. Works for me.