This weekend, my boyfriend and I were not able to attend the March For Science in our area, so we tried to do the next best thing: mainline all of Bill Nye Saves The World, a new show on Netflix that updates Bill’s goofball science-explainer vibe for adults in the modern world.
If you know anything about what Bill Nye’s been up to lately, it was obvious that he’d do episodes about global warming, vaccines, the importance of space exploration, and other politically controversial subjects. But neither of us (well, I certainly didn’t — I think maybe my boyfriend had heard about the episode already because it seemed like he was ) were expecting there to be a discussion about gender and sexuality, so of course we watched it first. Why wouldn’t you? Who doesn’t want to watch Bill Nye make a bunch of dorky dad jokes about sex?
He certainly did that, and a good uncomfortable time was had by all. But he also demonstrated a nuanced understanding and surprising willingness to embrace the idea that a biological-centered binary is not the end-all be-all of human existence.
“We used to think there were just two setting, male and female, but it’s actually a lot sexier than that,” Nye said as he unveiled the “Abacus of Sex,” which helped him explain that biological sex, gender, attraction, and expression all exists along spectrums of what we consider to be “male” and “female.” And yes, he did go out of way to bring up those who exist in the nebulous areas of that spectrum, such as bisexuals, pansexuals, asexuals, non-binary people, those who identify as multiple genders, and intersex people who have multiple sex chromosomes.
“Sure, this might make things confusing that everyone pick an M or an F, but we have to listen to the science, and the science says we’re all on a spectrum,” he concluded the episode. “I think you’ll find when we look at sexuality this way, it is more complicated, but it’s also a lot more honest and interesting.” Or, as another panelist on the episode put it more succinctly, “science is not interested in studying similarities.”
It’s difficult, striking that balance between being open enough to have your ideas challenged and to admit when they need to change, but not so open that you allow potentially harmful ideas in as well. That’s why so many people who claim to be scientifically minded (and yes, this often includes actual scientists) are often just as close-minded as those who don’t. Rather than actually being interested in the discovery process, they’re simply using science or skepticism as an excuse to justify their own dogmatic way of thinking.
But Bill fundamentally understands that science isn’t about knowing more than other people, or even in believing that the world has always worked a certain way. It’s in realizing that the universe is more complicated than you could possibly imagine and constantly re-evaluating how you approach it, based on very specific critical reasoning tools. And yes, sometimes that means overcoming your own biases to explore how humans are different from one another — not because you want one type of person to be inferior or superior, but because people are interesting in all their complexity.
Other things worth noting, if embracing the diversity of the human existence beyond what our society currently allows is something you’re interested in:
* Not including Bill himself, there are more female correspondents on the show than male ones.
* There is no episode that does not feature at least one person of color, whether on one of the expert panels, as a celebrity guest, or as interview subjects during on-location correspondent segments.
* Bill often goes out of his way to mention that he is from the United States, for those who might be watching in other countries
* Bill almost stopped an episode to teach a guest about the difference between beakers and erlenmeyer flasks, which isn’t really related to what I’m talking about, but it’s extremely cute and speaks exactly to what kind of person Bill is: somebody who treats lack of knowledge as an opportunity rather than a deficiency. And who’s also a goofball.
It’s not a perfect show, of course — it would have been nice if they’d found some genderqueer or transgender experts who were willing to speak about their own experiences, which they did not — but they’re certainly trying. In a perfect world, that wouldn’t count for as much as it does, but it’s nice to see nonetheless.