31 flavors and then some?
April 11, 2003 1:08 PM   Subscribe

"Is it a boy or a girl?" This simple, common question can be traumatic for some parents. Approximately one out of every 2,000 babies is born with ambiguous genitals, meaning that it is not clear whether the baby is a boy or girl. What to do in such a case? A new study indicates that "gender-assigning surgery," to give the child more "normal" genitals, may increase sexual difficulties later. [more inside]
posted by soyjoy (45 comments total)
Worse, some find little difference between this practice and ritual clitoridectomy, asking "is it ethical to permanently damage the sexual organs of some people just so that those who (don't?) care for them can be made more comfortable?" After reading the theorist's view, the doctors in this article on the North American Task Force on Intersex seem like they may be asking the wrong question, i.e. rather than "which of the two genders should this child identify with?" it might be "is gender really only available in two flavors?"
posted by soyjoy at 1:09 PM on April 11, 2003

this binary blows
posted by ProfLinusPauling at 1:37 PM on April 11, 2003

Furthermore, 39 percent of the women who had experienced the surgery said they were unable to achieve orgasm, a difficulty not seen in any of the women born with the intersex condition who did not undergo surgery.

I had to re-read the above comment more than once. Maybe they should wait and observe the child for some years before making the decision. Yes, boys play with dolls; girls play with trucks too. Anyone remember the case, a boy who was not born with this condition but a mishap happened during circumcision. The case is similar to the above statement. Because the child was raised as a girl; the child felt more like a boy growing up; not until the truth came out in adulthood was there finally an ending for the child. They changed him back to a man. He may have had a twin sister this was back in the 60's.(?)
posted by thomcatspike at 1:38 PM on April 11, 2003

I've always thought it at least a little bit odd that so much emphasis is placed on this question. It seems to be the critical first thing any new parent gets asked. Not "is it healthy and happy?" but "is it a boy or a girl?"

As a species, we're really concerned and excited about slapping people into nicely defined categories from the moment they pop out of the womb, aren't we?
posted by stevenf at 1:41 PM on April 11, 2003

Parental gender assignment is probably one of the worst nightmares that can be perpetrated upon a child. I'd even go so far as to say it's child abuse, but we're far too afraid of adolescent sexuality to do anything but what we do, even though our good intentions may pave the way to hell for the child in question. Which is sad, really.
posted by WolfDaddy at 1:42 PM on April 11, 2003

thomcat, the case you mention seems to match one in the NATFI article above. It's used as an example of how wrong it is to try to force someone into the gender of "girl." But these very earnest and well-meaning doctors can't seem to think of any other answer than "if the little girl was playing with trucks, she really was not a girl, but a boy."
posted by soyjoy at 1:46 PM on April 11, 2003

Of course, wolfdaddy, it may be said that parental gender assignment is probably one of the worst nightmares for the parents as well... what parents often lack is a sensitive and supportive medical network that is willing to counsel the parents without pressure.

Of course, this question really fits into a larger one: how appropriate is "corrective" surgery in the first place—whether it's for ambiguous genitalia, profound deafness, or what have you.

Beyond that, it would appear from all accounts that gender is not exactly correlary to genetalia.
posted by silusGROK at 1:51 PM on April 11, 2003

Wolfdaddy, acually the person he's thinking about is named Bruce/Brenda Reimer back in the 1950's in upstate NY. There's an AMAZING book written about it called "As Nature Made Him" by John Colapinto-with the full support and help from Bruce himself.

It's a fascinating story. Bruce has a twin brother. While being circumcised to get rid of a sickness, they accidentally burned off his entire penis. I mean, the whole thing. The parents decided to raise him as a girl, because of the pushing and with the guidence from the nastiest and creepiest guy in the world, Dr. Money. The oddest thing is that Brenda/Bruce knew SOMETHING was different his whole life, even though he wasn't told. He liked girls. He didn't feel right wearing makeup. He felt more comfortable peeing standing up!! (Amazing.) Dr. Money used to make Brenda and her brother simulate sex together when they were growing up so they would each know their sexual "place in the world" and he would ask Brenda lots of horrifying questions-especially to a little kid! And he was constantly pressuring her to go through surgery to make a "vagina." Dr. Money did everything he could, including lying to Brenda's parents and counselors to keep the farce going (he told everyone that Brenda was doing "great" and wrote paper after paper about what a great success she was-he got lots of money for them.) In fact, their whole family was torn apart. Finally, when Brenda was 17, her family told her she was a boy and it was like the light went on...he could FINALLY place where all his weird feelings were coming from.

It's an amazing book about nature vs. nuture. I think if I had a baby with ambiguous sex, I would give the child an ambiguous name and wait and see what kind of kid they are becoming..more like a boy or a girl, before reassigning it permantely with surgery. Cuz once you do that, there's no going back.
posted by aacheson at 2:10 PM on April 11, 2003

thomcat, the case you mention seems to match one in the NATFI article above.

Thanks aacheson. Soyjoy for your post that case was fine too, sorry I missed it, trying to search for the one that popped to mind.
posted by thomcatspike at 2:15 PM on April 11, 2003

Like many of you, I believe that gender is a social construction, but this is definitely a minority, even privileged view. Privileged in that those who see gender this way are probably college educated. That's not to say that *sigh* all graduates unanimously support the gender constructionist model. Gender polarity is one of the big lies in our culture, and I would say genital formation is one of the fault lines between progressive voices and the status quo.
posted by squirrel at 2:20 PM on April 11, 2003

I saw a show about this on TV, and the vast majority of people who'd had the surgery done as babies were deeply resentful of it. I understand the motivations behind doing the surgery early, and I'm sure they have the best of intentions, but I really think that this is something important enough to leave up to the person in question - you're removing parts the child can never get back, which will affect them strongly later in life, it's not just a cosmetic thing. I wish we didn't have the "one or the other" mentality so firmly ingrained.
posted by biscotti at 2:23 PM on April 11, 2003

As soon as that child interacts with other children though, they will be asked, "Are you a boy or a girl?" It's going to be difficult for them if they don't have an answer. Difficult situation all around.
posted by agregoli at 2:38 PM on April 11, 2003

hehehe, aacheson, i don't mean to sound insensitive, but it almost looked like you wrote "nature vs. neuter" in your last paragraph :P
posted by y at 3:06 PM on April 11, 2003

[warning: I wrote a massive paper on shamanism and intersexed children, this is just the tip of the iceberg really]

I'm strongly of the opinion that an intersexed child should be left as is, the parents told, and the child allowed to make the decision themselves when they reach puberty or whenever. But all other issues aside, I think soyjoy raised one of the more important questions: even when we are trying to care for and include these children, are we're asking the wrong questions? Maybe it really shouldn't be "Will this child grow up to be identified as a boy or a girl?"

The big reason these surguries are done, and children born intersexed go through so much pain and misunderstanding and mistreatment in their lives is that we (Westerners in a big fat lump) really do forcibly percieve there being only two genders. The hard situations like agregoli brought up happen because we hold so true to this dichotomy.

Now, I'm gonna get a bit mystical on you people and say I think its interesting to note that in many shamanic cultures, especially among those in the far north, intersexed children were considered extremely special. They were even most often the ones who grew up to be shamans. The term "two-spirit" which has been resoundingly claimed by GLBTQA communities, stems from a special class of people in native societies in the American Southwest, where as many as five genders were openly accepted. In MANY societies, intersexed, or even just the idea of being intersexed held a place of prestige and power in their cultures because it was thought they had a better connection to understanding the grays (lengthy pdf) in a world most of us now percieve as black and white.

My point is this: gender identity must be a social construct, and really the majority of us are just fortunate enough that our self-perception and our physical forms match up, thus making existing in a society that has chosen to accept two genders fairly easy. But I don't think this is necissarily the "correct" way to go about things. And I definately don't think that mutilating a child right after birth just so they can fit into our comfortable view of reality is in any way right.
posted by nelleish at 3:17 PM on April 11, 2003

We're all getting on a bit well here, why don't we move this discussion over to LGF or Freep? >; )
Well, I haven't much to add, other than the fact i used to live next door to a paedriatrician who dealt with hormone imbalances, which sometimes could be related to gender assignment at a young age. He was a bit of a Christian, and believed that there were supposed to be two sexes, as defined in the bible. Conversation on this topic got a bit difficult after he let that one slip.
posted by asok at 3:21 PM on April 11, 2003

squirrel... I'm not sure if I was lumped in there with everyone else... but if I was, I should clarify that I don't see gender as a social construction at all. I personally believe that gender is far more nuanced than what most think, and that it's far more than a simple effect of physiognomy.

Being a "bit of a Christian" myself, I believe that gender is a profound part of our eternal nature... that said, I also believe that genitalia are just a manifestation of that nature—not the other way around.

This is hardly the forum for a discussion of such complexity... but that the jist of it.
posted by silusGROK at 3:26 PM on April 11, 2003

nelleish, having grown up surrounded by Mescalero Apaches, and the open acceptance of the members of society whom we would call 'queer', I'm firmly convinced they have it right :-)
posted by WolfDaddy at 3:45 PM on April 11, 2003

Sorry, Vis10n, but I think you're wrong. "Gender" is by definition a social construct. It's a bunch of behaviors and social codes attached to one biological sex, and another bunch of behaviors and social codes assigned to the other biological sex. Those behaviors and codes differ from culture to culture (note the Apaches WolfDaddy was fortunate enough to grow up around), just as they do in the Christian Bible. What makes someone a "woman" is not entirely the same thing as what makes her a "female," and the same for men.
posted by JollyWanker at 4:12 PM on April 11, 2003

I saw a show about this on TV, and the vast majority of people who'd had the surgery done as babies were deeply resentful of it.

Well, no. The vast majority of people that were interviewed on that show were resentful of it, which is a very different thing.

It looks more like a lose/lose situation to me. Someone born with ambiguous or malformed genitals is going to face a set of problems in life, surgery or not, as they have crushes on people in adolescence and later find partners and mates.

I'm pretty sure I've seen the same show, and I thought that most of the people on that show were fooling themselves if they believed that they'd actually be happy well-adjusted people if only they hadn't had surgery on their genitals. They'd still have faced serious psychological hurdles in their lives, but different ones.
posted by ROU_Xenophobe at 5:08 PM on April 11, 2003

I didn't mean the last post, or this one, to advocate surgery... but there are interesting dilemmas in here, is all.

What do you do with babies born who are not intersex in the sense of being ambiguous, but who are clearly boys or girls but with malformed genitals? If a boy is born with a... whaddayacallit, a urethra that piereces in the wrong place, is he an intersexual that we shouldn't mess with, or just a boy with a deformed penis that it's obviously in the parents' purview to fix? Where do we draw the line?
posted by ROU_Xenophobe at 5:14 PM on April 11, 2003

The 'leave well enough alone' idea seems best to me. Let the kid start school as old as possible, ie 6 or 7, by which time he/she will probably have a clearer sense of his/her psychological gender. Since Western kids are rarely naked together, it's likely that no-one will notice anything odd about the kid's genitals.

Let the kid grow up and choose him/herself, if for example he/she grows up thinking of him/herself as a boy then he might want, as a man, to have surgery to construct a penis. Or maybe not. If we're talking about a kid born today, he/she won't be an adult until somewhere from 2019-2025 depending on how you count adulthood.

ROU_Xenophobe brings up a good point in the case of somewhat deformed genitals. Because of the nature of the subject it all has to be case-by-case, but I think the general requirements to intervene would include making urination possible and not too messy, and allowing some freedom of movement, especially of any erectile tissue. For example, a much too tight or un-'holed' foreskin would need to be fixed. In these cases they're very likely to be clearly XY or XX, but DNA sexing should be done as a matter of course when contemplating genital alteration for any reason.

It's akin to the difference between cosmetic and reconstructive surgery anywhere else on the body; for example, fixing a harelip is reconstructive surgery, because the sufferer's ability to eat, speak and socialize is affected, but removing a third nipple is cosmetic surgery.
posted by aeschenkarnos at 6:17 PM on April 11, 2003

This is a huge subject of course, though not as hot a topic as it was in the late 80s early 90s, because everyone's holding their breath for the next big leap forward on the strength of the human genome project and related work.

Of the books I've read this is the best.

"Gender" is by definition a social construct. It's a bunch of behaviors and social codes attached to one biological sex, and another bunch of behaviors and social codes assigned to the other biological sex.

Isn't "gender" is a feminist construct? -inasmuch as the word was a jocular euphemism for the word "sex" up until the 1950s, when the phrase "gender role" gained currency: which is what you're referring to. Do think bull elephant seals act the way they do because of seal society? I mean, do you really believe that the way women's and men's actions differ is mostly / completely due to society?

And to what do you attribute your belief on the subject? A study or two, anecdotes, ethics? Remember that feminists are feminists because of societal construction - this is a movement, after all - doctors with scissors too.

Remember, one of the implications of 20th century "experiments" [ugh] in gender "correction" is that a doctor CANNOT reliably hope to conspire with parents to re-construct the gender of a child... i.e. gender cannot really be constructed.

Not criticising feminist theory at all here. And I'm not trolling, I hope...
posted by mitchel at 6:47 PM on April 11, 2003

mitchel, since you brought up Fausto-Sterling, I'll take that excuse to include the quote from her that closes the third link of my FPP, explaining why it would be good not just for the intersexed individuals, but society as a whole, to expand the number of genders we conceive:
    True hermaphrodites could be called "herms", female pseudo hermaphrodites "ferms" and males pseudo hermaphrodites "merms". At birth, instead of hearing the inevitable pronouncement of "boy" or "girl" new parents might excitedly await a much expanded range of possibilities. Herms, ferms, and merms, being the rarer birth events might come to be seen as especially blessed or lucky, having as they do the best of all possible worlds, sexually speaking. Herms, merms and ferms might become the most desirable of all possible mates able as they are to pleasure their partners in a variety of ways. Furthermore, the existence of three additional sexes would open up possibilities for the rest of us. It would become difficult to maintain a clear conceptualization of homosexuality, for example, and perhaps its current contentious status would fade from view. If we envision the world in fives instead of twos, it would also be more difficult to hold onto rigid constructions of male and female sex roles. ...Should we have only two sexes?--my answer would be a resounding no.
This is probably from the book in your link, though in the paper I linked to it's called "forthcoming."

This way of addressing the construction of gender makes me wonder how you can think gender is just "a feminist construct." It's kind of like saying homophobia is a gay-rights construct. Sure it's something they were essential in isolating from a previously undifferentiated mass of behaviors, but that doesn't mean it didn't previously exist, only that the perspective didn't exist (in the public arena) before the term came to be used as it did.
posted by soyjoy at 7:26 PM on April 11, 2003

oh, and nelleish and Wolfdaddy, thanks for bringing in that stuff from Native American culture that I had never encountered. It's both fascinating and infuriating - as if I needed one more reason to loathe my forbears for wiping out a continent's-worth of cultures.
posted by soyjoy at 7:29 PM on April 11, 2003

Not calling doublepost (certainly not after two years), but another discussion here.
posted by frykitty at 7:55 PM on April 11, 2003

Hrm, are we talking about giant clits here? or something else? I mean, it's not like we cant just take a look at their chromosomes and figure out what they are 'supposed' to be.

Anyway, unlike the rest of you who seem to be having a pretty crazy knee-jerk reaction to this, I'd say that not having a gender in this world could be more damaging psychologically then having the wrong one.

Personally, I'd just leave the kid be until he was three or four and then just as them what they want to be, if it's not 'obvious', but whatever.
posted by delmoi at 8:25 PM on April 11, 2003

sojo, I believe your assumption is correct - that the quote is from Sexing the Body, from the chapter which is an expansion of her previous essay the five sexes, which is online here, along with the five sexes revisited, where she reiterates that her proposal was meant to be provocative more than a seriously intentioned re-classification - which would clearly be missing her own point.

"...but that doesn't mean it didn't previously exist, only that the perspective didn't exist (in the public arena) before the term came to be used as it did."

well, call me mr. kooky postmodern, but i would say, if you admit that the "perspective" or perception of a ROLE did not exist, neither did the role per se. an act, a lie, can only have meaning beyond its overt signification if at least the performer / speaker is aware of its falsity... let's look at your example of homophobia: you say, homophobia is a social construct. i say, maybe yes, maybe no; there's no question in certain parts of the u.s. there is socially learned hostility [ending in violence & discrimination], but at the same time, if a fourteen year old boy makes sexual overtures to another, it may be that any homophobic reaction is not so well described as socially constructed but biologically determined...

are incest taboos socially constructed? they vary from culture to culture, but are observed in ape culture. these waters are much too muddy.

i mean, there is a very real sense in which the majority of geneticists believe that binary sexuality in homo sapiens is not a construct, but a fact, influencing behavior and differences in the brain, and that intersexuality [which in the majority of cases is a clitoris-size issue] is an exception to a rule, not a negation or disproving of the rule.

it could be that their belief is false, a construct! of course! and in a very vital sense, all our beliefs are constructs, because beliefs are social characteristics...

is an operation to reduce clitoris size the same thing as female genital mutilation? clearly they are related. i certainly agree that the surgury seems like a bad thing in most cases. if that's the overriding issue i'm certainly with everybody here on that.

but your fpp did seem a bit more ambivalent, alluding to the difficulty intersexuality gives to parents.
posted by mitchel at 9:11 PM on April 11, 2003

As I said before... this is too complex of an issue to really have a discussion. All we can really do is throw out a few sound bites, share sources (such as those wonderful links), and remark on any consensus that might form.

That said, I really do appreciatiate mitchel's comments... I only have anecdotal evidence, but from all I've experienced in life there seems to be something larger than social constructs at work. And frankly, a lot of the commentary from the parents of these altered children even (albeit anecdotally) point to something which seems to be very "male" or very "female" about their children.

Of course, this whole discussion only gets more interesting as you bring chromosonally ambiguous children into the mix.

Crazy, wonderful world we live in.
posted by silusGROK at 9:29 PM on April 11, 2003

mitchel, I'll stand by homophobia as my analogy. After all, if that same fourteen year old boy makes sexual overtures to a fourteen year old girl and she recoils, does she have natural "heterophobia?" I don't buy the assumption homophobia is rooted in any natural fear of personal violation. If there's any evidence of that I'd be glad to take a look at it.

well, call me mr. kooky postmodern, but i would say, if you admit that the "perspective" or perception of a ROLE did not exist, neither did the role per se.

OK, mr. kooky postmodern: thing is, I never admitted anything of the sort. Perspective and perception are two completely different concepts, and I never mentioned anything about roles. But to clarify: Homophobia and gender roles both existed before they were named as such, but they were called different things, like "rational fear" or "a woman's place." Naming them did not bring them into being, it only provided a different way of looking at them.

Feminists aren't saying that sex differences don't exist, and I think you know that, right? Nobody says the sexes don't have different tendencies. But within those two black and white categories are significant variations and a great deal of overlap - certainly more than our pigeonholes account for. And this rigidity has effects, I would say deleterious, on all of us - including the poor parents who have to try to make the best decision in such a no-win (because of societal expectations) situation.

And after all this, I just remembered that the name of that song is "Thirty-two Flavors and Then Some." Sorry for that. I guess I was low-balling it.
posted by soyjoy at 11:24 PM on April 11, 2003

Semi-rhetorical question: How many of you had older siblings who told you that you were born inter-sexed? I think my sister is one of the sickest individuals ever to live, and that is just one of the many bizarre things she did to mess with me. She even told me that the name on my birth certificate was originally "Allison," but they changed it. Then again, maybe this is not so uncommon a sibling prank.

I saw those same shows on the Discovery channel. "Is it a Boy or a Girl?" and "something" -- the show about transsexuals. These people, IMHO, are real psychonauts. I don't understand the psychology -- their personal psychology -- but they are living an existence that most of us could never imagine. Having been interested in shamanic ritual drugs since high school, the idea of an "ultimate trip" which involves one's entire life fascinates me.

Don't know how I would feel about being inter-sexed, or even just female, but I would love to know what it's like to have grown up in another country, or to be really tall or really short. Everyone has their own perception of reality, and I wonder how different the world is for other people.

Am listening to the music from WolfDaddy's Apache link in the background now. I hesitated, but thankfully it was not a link to gay porn. Cool information, which makes me think of Asian cinema's androgynous villains -- who are so powerful because they possess the power of both male and female.
posted by son_of_minya at 12:12 AM on April 12, 2003

Interestingly (or maybe not) I had an Eng 101 instructor whose first expository writing assignment to us was for us to imagine a world in which there was a third, neuter gender in humanity in addition to conventional male and female ones, and just write whatever you'd like to say about that. It was really weird, imagining what the plumbing situation would be like and whether there'd be a third restroom available in lobbies and such.

I'm really curious how many of you besides me are parents and how you'd hope to deal with having such a child.

I'm imagining that I'd probably want to respond to the initially phrased question with " He's actually in-between right now, so we'll let 'him' decide how 'he' feels about it as 'he' grows up," complete with "finger quotes." The exact nature of "his" plumbing would have to determine some things like bathroom habits and dress.

but the biggest thing is we'd let "him" know he's a little different and different's not a big deal -- the main thing is we'll love and accept 'him' either way. "We're doing this for you for now, but depending on your feelings, you get to pick what you really want!" We'd have to encourage, reassure, and generally provide a safe haven for all the confusion.

Possible disclaimer: I used to be this totally freaked-out homophobe, but anymore I'm trying to remember what the big deal was.
posted by alumshubby at 7:29 AM on April 12, 2003

mitchel: isn't "gender" is a feminist construct? -inasmuch as the word was a jocular euphemism for the word "sex" up until the 1950s, when the phrase "gender role" gained currency

Beats the shit outta me... Clearly, I'm out of my league here and have only a c. 1982 undergraduate curriculum to rely on. But if "gender" = "biological sex," then it would appear to a relatively intelligent and yet non-academic viewer that the entire question is moot: are not the kids with indeterminate sexual organs still genetically male or female? Again, relying on an outdated college education, I thought you either had XX chromosomes or XY chromosomes, and that was that (Come to think of it, is the YY pairing possible?). So, what's the discussion? The kid's either male or female. Now, later in life, when gender roles start to play a part, some kids decide or determine that they'd rather be the role that they are not. OK, fine - change roles, change your genitalia to match that role if that's what you want to do, but there's no changing your chromosomes (is there?!), so, you're going to die the sex/gender/chromosome-pairing you were born.

(On preview: I've edited it twice and it still sounds a bit snarky and it's not meant to. It just seems to me like the discussion hinges on ignoring a verifiable reality contained in our chromosomes and I'd like to understand why some people say it's not...)

(Alumshubby, as a gay man let me just say that you're my hero...)
posted by JollyWanker at 7:48 AM on April 12, 2003

I thought you either had XX chromosomes or XY chromosomes, and that was that (Come to think of it, is the YY pairing possible?).

I can't remember ever hearing of YY, but other combinations are possible. Children born XXX, XXY, XYY, OR XO are usually recognizable as male or female, but XXY (Klinefelter Syndrome) and XO (Turner Syndrome) can cause other problems. Not always, however--I have a perfectly healthy family friend who has Turner, and there has been speculation that Abraham Lincoln had Klinefelter.
posted by hippugeek at 8:16 AM on April 12, 2003

Jolly - It was indeed the feminists who put the "/" across that equal sign in the equation "gender = biological sex," the point being that while gender is closely related to sex, it is a culturally determined package of roles and identities that is malleable and different across different cultures, while "sex" is not. Previous thinking kept the equal sign, on the assumption within each culture that however gender was assigned was natural and immutable (in spite of the fact that another culture might have other natural and immutable ways of assigning them). So the interesting thing here is that while there are obviously more than two "sexes," we only have two genders to assign them to.

alumshubby, it's a really good question - it's easy for all of us to say "I'd let the child choose," but as soon as we even say "him" with air quotes, problems become apparent. I know I would resist the surgery option, but that doesn't mean I have answers as to how to deal with the questions and situations that would come up during those first few years. It would be very hard, and I don't know if I could deal with the psychological stress over all that time - "did I do the right thing for my child?" on such a large, basic scale.

And again, the spiritual angle is fascinating to me - it occurs to me that Tieresias was intersexed, and also that Jesus, in the gospel of Thomas (from the Gnostic gospels) says "until you make the male female and the female male, you will not enter the kingdom of heaven." Makes me wonder how much else there is out there of this nature that our current (i.e. last couple millennia) culture has steamrolled over...
posted by soyjoy at 8:49 AM on April 12, 2003

In the language of Eastern thought that stems from Taoism, the same can be said: there's a recognition that those who reach the higher levels of realization and understanding, a "sage," or "one who sees the Path and follows it," is as much female as he is male, or, vice versa. In fact, much of the Tao Te Ching depends upon the coexistence and mutual dependence of opposites, as in, if there were no such thing as 'beauty,' 'ugly' would cease to exist, or, without 'high' there is no 'low.' Admittedly, it sounds simplistic as I'm relating it here, but I think you understand there's more behind that. The commonplace black and white yin-yang icon is symbolic of this way of thinking.

I didn't know (or, perhaps, knew and have forgotten) about the three-chromosome groupings. What are we talking about here, statistically, in terms of general population - how many people are "other" than XX or XY? What's the mix when you put it up against these kids who are genitally indeterminate and whose parents are facing this terrifying decision? A high correlation would scrap my whole theory, I see, (unless the number of three-chromosome groupings is very low and not linked in any strong way to the physical deformities...)
posted by JollyWanker at 9:44 AM on April 12, 2003

"until you make the male female and the female male, you will not enter the kingdom of heaven."

As humans we need companionship it's in our nature. Sex is a gift from God for bonding, pleasure and to create offspring. The organs are used to link a relationship; the exiting of our human waste and a place for a child to exit the womb. Heaven, a place of perfect ness, will we need these three uses? No loneliness so no need to bond a relationship with sex; no crap in our system to exit our body and God will not need our vessels to create a living being. We shall all be equally happy, neutered, in mhop.
posted by thomcatspike at 12:12 PM on April 12, 2003

[enjoying the discussion]
mitchel, I'll stand by homophobia as my analogy. After all, if that same fourteen year old boy makes sexual overtures to a fourteen year old girl and she recoils, does she have natural "heterophobia?"

you mean, she would recoil from any male advance? or just him just this once? if the former...

look, there's considerable evidence that homophobic males are aroused by guy on guy porn, much more so than non-homophobes. so there are definite biological factors, and then definite social factors. we know that laws and enforcement against homosexuals in the u.s. really picked up in the 60s and 70s...

i think we might be speaking at cross purposes. if you weren't using perspective as a rough synonym for perception, i don't know what you meant by it. and it seems my thoughts about the non-existence of an unperceived performativity were a bit abstruse :)

i am uneasy with people just blithely saying, oh, gender shmender, let kids who are different grow up without interference... because there is obviously a politically driven battle going on over the redefinitions of gender. yes u.s. treatment of intersex children needs drastic revision, and more light must be shed "down there".

consider klinefelter xxys... most doctors and especially psychologists would recommend testosterone treatment during puberty... can i assume you find this an attempt to put a round peg into a square hole, and change one sex into another?
posted by mitchel at 2:12 PM on April 12, 2003

I hadn't heard anybody mention Androgen Insensitivity Syndrome. That's where the child is genetically XY, but the growing embryo does not respond to the male-making hormones (androgens), and thus the result is a female.

As I recall from what I've heard, many of them aren't even detected because they seem like normal females (though I think they're sterile).
posted by beth at 2:48 PM on April 12, 2003

You can't be YY. Your mother always gives you an X. Dad's dna provides either another X or a Y. I don't know exactly how you end up with an extra chromosome though... does it come in place of one the non-gender oriented chromosomes? Or is it a whole extra chromosome so you're born with 47? I doubt that's possible...

I do not strongly identify with my gender - I think I'd have been just as comfortable growing up male. I mean, now that it's been almost 30 years, I'm very used to being female and have never had a desire to be otherwise, but it just doesn't strike me as a big deal to imagine it having gone the other way... I'm sure my life would've been very different and everything, but I can't conceive of having felt that I was in the "wrong" body, the way pre-op transexuals or intersexuals with gender reassignment say they feel. Maybe I'm wrong, and if I'd been brought up male I would've wondered if something were wrong, but it seems plausible to me that some people are just more strongly identified with their sex, through biology or upbringing or both. My interests and tendencies have always been pretty gender neutral (blocks and legos over dolls & over guns, etc)
posted by mdn at 3:25 PM on April 12, 2003

I once worked in a facility where one of my charges was born with what they call "Fragile X Syndrome" - chromosomaly, he was XXXY. At 16 he had the genitalia of a 5 year old, asymetrical nipples, a face that was similar to people w/ Fetal Alcohol Syndrome, and overall looked like he was a very tall 8 year old. He was also profoundly retarded with lousy impulse control, a bad temper, and a very malicious sense of humor.

He was only one of 26 cases in the US, so there was very little information on treatment options. The one bit of evidence they did have indicated that the therapuedic use of Testosterone would help calm him down - apparently his own body produced very little. I didn't stick around long enough to see if the treatment worked.

What was interesting was that in spite of the odd chromosone count that was heavily skewed toward the female, he had a very strong self identification as a male, and was very much heterosexual and had a definite "type" of woman he liked.

He would often act out in order to get one-on-one time with another counselor who, like me, was a busty blond, me, or another counselor who wasn't so busty but was, again, blonde. It was much easier for us to get him to take his meds and, in general, get him to behave where other counselors would invariably get water thrown in their faces, spit at, kicked, slapped, etc.

When asked what he wanted to do when he grew up he would invariably say that he wanted to be a fireman, have a red Ferrari and marry a blonde. The things that create gender identity aren't always strongly correlated to chromosones, apparently.
posted by echolalia67 at 4:50 PM on April 12, 2003

First, I want to say that I'm really enjoying this thread and am encouraged that the trolls have left it alone. Maybe it's too complicated and scary.

mitchel: look, there's considerable evidence that homophobic males are aroused by guy on guy porn, much more so than non-homophobes. so there are definite biological factors, and then definite social factors. we know that laws and enforcement against homosexuals in the u.s. really picked up in the 60s and 70s...

I'm interested in and inclined to believe the homophobic-gay porn connection, but I see a disconnect between that phenomenon and the "definite biological factors." Are you implying that this research (and links would help) directly proves a biological gender assignment argument? I'm not sure what you mean by the last part.

Unlike the trolls, I'm actually interested in learning something from your reply.
posted by squirrel at 6:40 PM on April 12, 2003

mitchel, I definitely agree on the homophobic/homoerotic coin flip, but like squirrel, I don't necessarily see that as any evidence of biology. Some people may be born with a tendency toward, say, shallow hostility, sure, which might be manifested as homophobia, since it's a readily available, culturally endorsed outlet. But rather than some biological correlation, I could see the tendency toward homoeroticism growing out of homophobia as a psychic reaction, a kind of Jungian shadow. On the flip side, homophobia in other people could be, and in some cases is, a classic reaction to homoerotic feelings.

And let me say before I go on that I find all the chromosome discussion enlightening and informative - I knew that there were more combinations than XX and XY, but not what any of them did or how they could be arrived at, so I'm grateful for that.

That said, echolalia67, I'm puzzled by whether with this -

When asked what he wanted to do when he grew up he would invariably say that he wanted to be a fireman, have a red Ferrari and marry a blonde. The things that create gender identity aren't always strongly correlated to chromosones, apparently.

you're suggesting (since the subject in question was chromosomally female-skewed) that such desires were programmed biologically rather than by all-American tropes of what a "real man" would want. I mean, come on, a Ferrari? What if he'd said a Beetle? Seriously, he may have had a male self-identity, and it may even have come from his biology, but that list of goals sounds a little methinks-he-doth-protest-too-much, you know?

Let me stress again that I'm not saying I know what to tell parents to do across a wide spectrum of very personal situations. I did set off my second link as "the theorist's view" because it's easy to condemn society and say "this must be resisted" if you're not the one who has to live with the real-world effects of something.

Still, I do find it interesting, considering how little we know about nature's plan or our own mind-body interface, that motivations and proclivities tend to be readily ascribed to "nature" rather than "nurture," even if that fundamental "nature" changes depending on who's looking at it (and which "nurture" they come from) and even if there's been some bizarre shit coming from the "nurture" side (e.g. Bruce/Brenda, the circumcision victim). Going further, I find it suspicious that when nature and nurture seem to clash, as in this issue, the perspective (or, yeah, perception here) on the issue, the thematic overlay, and the solution all happen to support the notion of maleness as normative and female as broken. After all, is "what will the babysitter say" really what impels doctors to recommend surgery? Or is there some serious "clit envy" - the subconscious knowledge that normalizing big clits threatens the dick-centered status quo - affecting their judgment? And if sexual self-identity isn't necessarily tied to chromosomes on a 1-to-1 basis, why is the solution so often to push the intersexed into a female self-identity (even in some of those Native American tribes)? It seems to me that the whole notion of intersexed people is a much bigger threat to the male psyche than to the female.

To sum up, I'm not trying to say "gender shmender" - there's no denying how stuff like hormones affects behavior - but I am trying to keep the concept from being collapsed back onto sex. I would hope that as our notion of gender and sexual identity continue to evolve and expand, there will soon be a realistic option for parents to say, "let's wait and see" on the thesis that the child may be growing up into a more pluralistic, gender-richer world. But I don't know that that time is here yet.
posted by soyjoy at 10:02 PM on April 12, 2003

that last para - perfect, i can agree with you 99%. sometimes compromise can be... quite pleasant.

re: homophobic < -> homoerotic. if we assume [tough hypothesis, extremely recalcitrant to testing; but one makes the assumption looking for corroboration] that a homophobe's arousal is [in large part] genetic, then we can work through various theories, some psychiatric [involving repressed feelings], some social-biological [involving uneven distribution of homosexual tendencies across different competing populations of primitive species of genus homo; or stratification and control of homosexual practice within a given population], some theory-based [e.g. queer theory].

the conclusion would be highly counter-intuitive: that homophobia, a seemingly highly cultural phenomenon, might in fact be highly determined. just food for thought.

you're suggesting (since the subject in question was chromosomally female-skewed) [...]

funny, when i read echolalia's [always loved that word, and glossolalia] post, i sort of back-of-my-mind pigeonholed her patient as "male-leaning" yet you think "female-skewed male".

i have heard that there are klinefelter 48's with fragile x but know nothing about it... i feel sickly voyeuristic when i read about him, thinking, "god, that's fascinating." and then, how cool that he wants a ferrari, and not an suv.

I did set off my second link as "the theorist's view" because it's easy to condemn society and say "this must be resisted" if you're not the one who has to live with the real-world effects of something.

you did follow the link on the author's name, right?

You can't be YY.

not yet in humans, anyway

Maybe it's too complicated and scary.

scary-wild more than scary-shriek [meme pat. pend.]
posted by mitchel at 1:36 PM on April 13, 2003

Oops - looks like the extra slash tag after "anyway" closed the span class and knocked us over to the side of the page. I guess that means it's time to say goodnight to this thread. mitchel, if you want to continue via e-mail, I'd love to talk more about this, but I think we may have worn everybody else out. Plus I'm leary of continuing deeper into the is-homophobia-biological thing (here) because it will drive us into a sticky is-homosexuality-biological tangent.

Just for the record, though, my phrase "chromosomally female-skewed" was a shorter way of repeating echolalia67's "the odd chromosone count that was heavily skewed toward the female." Yes, it sure does sound like her patient was "male-leaning" but the sentence I was addressing had to do with chromosomes (vs. identity); I wasn't attempting to summarize the psychology of someone I don't know.

you did follow the link on the author's name, right?

Nope, sure didn't, and although it doesn't really contradict my point, I certainly should have phrased it better so I wouldn't look so clueless now. I actually kind of assumed the author was intersexed, but the "real-world effects" I was referring to were those of being the parent of an intersexed child and having to make a decision on that child's behalf. But doing counseling and whatnot does bring Morgan closer to that, so my "theorist" vs. "doctors" dichotomy was probably overblown. I was just trying to find links to two divergent viewpoints on the topic, and I should've read more than that page before starting in on the labeling.

I'll try harder next time, I promise!
posted by soyjoy at 7:46 PM on April 13, 2003

soyjoy:you're suggesting (since the subject in question was chromosomally female-skewed) that such desires were programmed biologically rather than by all-American tropes of what a "real man" would want. I mean, come on, a Ferrari? What if he'd said a Beetle?

The thing I found in working with mentally ill and retarded adults and children is that whatever their gender identity is they tend to express it pretty openly. There doesn't seem to be a "closet" for them, they pretty much put what and who they are right out in the open.

What they gravitate towards in terms of like or dislike and the things that are symbolic of gender identity wasn't terribly nuanced or ambiguous. One guy I remember identified himself as a woman and to him, being a woman meant wearing a dress. Pants, to him, weren't woman's clothes.

Believe me a kid with an IQ of 50, isn't going to think, "gee, I better pretend I like football so the other guys won't think I'm gay." This kid was who he was, and he really didn't care what anyone else thought. If he wanted to wear a dress or play dolls, he would have and he would have slapped the shit out of anyone who might try to stop him.
posted by echolalia67 at 1:22 PM on April 14, 2003

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