Tuesday, November 10, 2009

All people are either male or female: think again

Not everyone is born as a boy or a girl biologically. In almost every distinguishable way [e.g. 1) genetically, 2) discerning by genitalia, and/or 3) hormone profile], some people are born ambiguous- i.e. with both sets of male and female genitalia and/or atypical genes [e.g. XXY or XXYY instead of typical XY or XX]. Though rare, hundreds of people find themselves in this class [see http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Klinefelter's_syndrome,
http://www.isna.org/, and especially
the references section of http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Intersex]. Though in these cases it is obstreperously difficult to determine gender, many parents choose either male or female for their child and raise the child as that gender.

We also know that:

"Gender is an essential characteristic of individual
premortal, mortal, and eternal identity and purpose." - The Family: a Proclamation to the World

Yet courts, parents, and individuals often elect, necessarily arbitrarily in many cases, to subject a child to surgery and subsequent hormone therapy and counseling to socialize the child as a chosen gender. Societal pressure buttresses this practice.

There is a rising movement opposing this insistence on selecting a gender: "intersex people, activists, supporters and academics have contested the adoption of the terminology, seeing it as offensive to intersex individuals who do not feel that there is something wrong with them" (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Intersex). This movement regards the societal consensus as "reinforcing the normativity of early surgical interventions." They insist: "Alternatives to categorising intersex conditions as "disorders" have been suggested, including "variations of sex development".[16] Organisation Intersex International questions a disease/disability approach, argues for deferral of intervention unless medically necessary, when fully informed consent of the individual involved is possible, and self-determination of sex/gender orientation and identity.[17]"

So, here we stand! Extant questions:

1) If gender is an essential characteristic of premortal identity, yet many children come into the world with biologically indistinguishable gender, how do we as mortals discern that "essential characteristic"?
2) Would it be appropriate for the individual, the individual's parent, or a judge to refrain from committing an intersex person to a gender, and instead allow the individual to remain intersex? Would in be ethical not to do so?
3) Is an individual, parent, or judge accountable for the decision to mandate an invasive course of action including hormone therapy, surgery, and counseling to make a biologically intersex individual either male or female? What if they "mess up," as measured by the individual later in life? [e.g. some intersex people such as Brian/Bonnie Chase (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Cheryl_Chase_(activist)), who was initially given a boy's name due to her ambiguous genitalia but was subsequently raised a girl based on the advice of baffled doctors, later speak out about the psychological harm caused them by the surgical mutilation they're subjected to]
4) Should an individual in this class seek to change one's gender later in life in some cases, no cases, or all cases? Should society permit or forbid this later-on "switching" behavior? Same questions for less gender indistinct individuals? How about non-ambiguous people like probably every person reading this blog?
5) On what basis should we as a society classify gender? Genitalia? Genes? Hormone profile? Parent choice? Effeminate behavior? Some other factor or combination of the above?


  1. Interesting points. I don't think I could commit my child to a life that was counter-nature. I would probably name the child some gender neutral name (you know, Taylor, Chris...etc) and watch to see how they developed.

    But then you have to think: if you allow the child to grow up intersexed, will they be just as unhappy when they find out than if you'd chosen for them? When would the child know what gender they most felt natural as? Do you wait indefinitely? How do you broach the subject with the child? ("Hey, honey...I know you've been acting like a boy all this time...but...you may be a girl. We don't know. You get to choose.")

    Interesting indeed....

  2. Fort Worth and Tampa Add Transgender as Protected Class
    In the past couple of weeks, both Fort Worth and Tampa have added transgender as a protected class. First, Fort Worth amended their anti-discrimination ordinance to include discrimination on the basis of transgender, gender identity or gender expression. The original city ordinance banned discrimination in employment, housing, and public accommodation based on race, sex, national origin, age, disability, religion or sexual orientation. Next, Tampa approved a city ordinance that added gender expression and identity as a protected class regarding employment and housing. Both cities define gender identity and gender expression in a similar fashion.

    There seem to be several municipalities passing similar ordinances. It appears as though many local governments are out ahead of the Federal government again. Perhaps the passage of these ordinances throughout the United States will allow for the passage of the ENDA in the near future.


  3. On Friday, the District Court for the District of Columbia issued its decision in the liability phase of Shroer v. Billington, a case brought by a woman who was transgendered against the Library of Congress.
    September 20, 2008
    District Court for D.C. Holds Gender Identity Protected by Title VII

    Although born male, Diane Schroer identifies as female. She has an internal, psychological sense of herself as a woman. In August 2004, before she changed her legal name or began dressing publicly as a woman, Schroer applied for the position of Specialist in Terrorism and International Crime with the Congressional Research Service (CRS) at the Library of Congress. The terrorism specialist provides expert policy analysis to congressional committees, members of Congress and their staffs. Schroer was well-qualified for the job, having served in the U.S. armed forces in special forces and special operations and having directed an organization that tracked international terrorist groups. Although she was undergoing the long psychological and physical treatment to transition from male to female, she had not yet reached the stage of presenting herself as a woman. She applied under her legal, male name. She was the most qualified candidate in the view of the hiring staff at the Library of Congress, and was given the position. After the hiring paperwork had been submitted but before Schroer actually started work, she told her superiors that she would be transitioning to female and that when she began the job, she would do so as female. The Library rescinded the offer and gave the job to a less qualified man.

    Schroer sued, and the district court found in her favor.

  4. This is one of those things that has interested me since first learning about it (in a fair amount of detail) in my college genetics courses. There seems to be almost a gender spectrum, as opposed to it being a straight binary. It makes you grateful that all your "stuff" (genitalia, hormones, chromosomes, spirit) all falls in the same camp.

    I think that the best thing to do with intersex children is to not do anything drastic (surgery) when they are young. Let them grow and develop and probably let them choose, or see where they seem to lean before making that choice. It would be rough, though.

  5. This is a mind spinning topic. Like Mindy said,it makes me grateful for my "stuff".

    Your list of questions up there are thought provoking for sure, and I wish I had some angle to add, but I got nothin'. This is a hard issue. I just hope that those who deal directly with these issues can be inspired, informed, and be allowed enough wiggle room to make a positive choice, whatever that may be.


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