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Old 02-18-2005, 11:01 PM   #1
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Unclear Gender: Let Children Determine Own

I've brought up before how "gender" isn't as simple as "male" and "female." Well, if you didn't believe me, maybe you'll believe CNN:
http://www.cnn.com/2005/HEALTH/paren....ap/index.html

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Unclear gender: Let children determine own

WASHINGTON (AP) -- It's the first question new parents hear: girl or boy? But hundreds of babies are born each year where the gender isn't clear. Prompt surgery to assign one was once the norm.

But gender depends on more than anatomy or hormones. It also seems to stem from the very earliest brain development, researchers said Friday in urging doctors to hold off on the knife until children can determine their own sex.

"To discover who or what a child is ... you have to ask them," Dr. William Reiner of the Oklahoma University Health Science Center told a meeting of the American Association for the Advancement of Science.

"There is no one biological parameter that clearly defines sex," added Dr. Eric Vilain of the University of California, Los Angeles, whose research suggests gender is genetically hard-wired into the brain before birth -- regardless of which genitalia develop.

The issue is "intersex," the name for numerous conditions that result in roughly one in 4,000 babies born with both male and female traits.

One of the more common is congenital adrenal hyperplasia. In such cases, genetic girls with XX chromosomes are exposed in the womb to such high levels of androgen -- the hormone that triggers male development -- that they appear male externally even if they have female reproductive organs. A different condition leaves genetic males less responsive to androgen during development, so they're born without a penis.

The parents must pick a gender somehow, to know what to call their child and because gender is required on a birth certificate. So specialists check non-obvious factors such as which sex chromosomes the child has and levels of sex hormones in the blood.

But Vilain's research suggests there are factors at work that can't be measured. The scientific dogma used to be that hormones alone could "masculinize" the brain, he said. But he identified 54 genes that work differently in the brains of male and female mouse embryos just 10 days after conception -- before sex hormones are ever produced.

Doctors also once thought that how people were raised and their genitalia were enough to determine gender, said Reiner, who as a urologist performed sex-assignment surgeries on babies.

But Reiner began seeing children who had been assigned to one sex as babies and a few years later began identifying themselves as the other. He re-trained as a psychiatrist to study these children.

His latest review of 94 intersex children found over half of the genetic males "transitioned" to become boys despite being raised as girls and undergoing female surgical sex assignment.

How? As early as age 4 1/2, the children would suddenly say, "I'm a boy," or pick a boy's name, Reiner said.

Hence his advice to parents to think hard before agreeing to surgery for an intersex baby: Dealing with the social trauma of switching gender later is enough without the issue of surgery that can't be reversed.

Aside from the emotional trauma of such a switch are legal issues.

Virginia Harmon of Chevy Chase, Md., was born with Klinefelter Syndrome, where instead of the X and Y chromosome of males, people have an extra X chromosome. She was raised as a boy, but at age 14 began developing breasts and "began negotiating with my parents" to transition to a girl. At 25, she had female sex-assignment surgery.

But law in Texas, where she was born, doesn't allow her to change her birth certificate, which still states that she is male _ so she couldn't marry a man there.

Indeed, most U.S. law assumes that everyone is clearly male or female, putting up hurdles for everything from name changes to marriage for intersex patients assigned the wrong gender, said law professor Susan Becker of Cleveland State University.

So what should parents do? Get as much information as possible on the child's physical and genetic condition, Reiner advises. He puts parents in touch with the Intersex Society of North America to hear personal stories.

And more doctors are putting off sex-assignment surgery, he said. A recent survey of pediatric urologists found two-thirds would call genetically male babies boys even if they have no penis _ while five years ago almost all would have recommended raising them as girls.

"Then if at age 12 they say, 'No, I'm a girl,' at least you haven't damaged anything," he said.
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Old 02-18-2005, 11:07 PM   #2
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Quote:
The issue is "intersex," the name for numerous conditions that result in roughly one in 4,000 babies born with both male and female traits.
Some time ago, The Discovery Channel actually said it was more like one out of every 1,000. I trust your source a little better, but really, my heart goes out to these people who have to live like this. It's a sad reality, and it's tough on the family, but especially the child.
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Old 02-19-2005, 04:29 AM   #3
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I have had so many arguments with my friends about this issue. There
was an article in a teen magazine a while ago about the
"intersex" babies and so many of the people i know just called
them freaks, without even really thinking about it.


It´s sad.
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Old 02-19-2005, 11:55 AM   #4
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Although it is fairly rare, we need to be aware of these people and have a deeper compassion for their reality.
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Old 02-19-2005, 12:54 PM   #5
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This is generally why I have a contempt for religion and it's general contempt for science. All this talk of "Adam and Eve," not "Adam and Steve" ignores the reality that sex and sexuality is not as bipolar and simple as that. The intersexed are the most extreme and visible example of that.

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Old 02-19-2005, 09:46 PM   #6
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In one of my CAS classes we talked about a community I think somewhere in Central America where there's an unusually high frequency of ambiguous gender. To them, it's so common, they don't feel like they have to "choose" right away and raise their kids "neutrally" until they are old enough to start becoming one or the other.

Personally, I think the parents making the choice at birth is wrong. I saw some show like 20/20 or 60 minutes where the parents either thought the child was one gender or wanted the child to be one gender and it turned out the child was the other. I don't think they did anything right away (the kid had a name that could be for a boy or girl), thank God, but if they had, the child's life would've been a nightmare!
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Old 02-19-2005, 10:12 PM   #7
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I admit I know nothing about this. I think anyone choosing at birth is a dangerous thing. But that being said, I also think waiting until adolesence or later is also dangerous. I mean don't you think "knowing" what sex you are and growing up into a man or a woman is very important? I think one should grow knowing they are a straight man, straight woman, gay man, or gay woman. I can't imagine having my sex defined at age 13 or 20. I feel for these individuals.

Maybe I'm a rare case, but I was attracted to females at a very early age. I never went through the "girls have koodies stage". I was very much attracted to girls in pre-school. I could tell you stories but they may make you blush.

I can't imagine growing up not knowing. I feel for these individuals.
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Old 02-19-2005, 10:59 PM   #8
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Quote:
Originally posted by BonoVoxSupastar
I I was very much attracted to girls in pre-school.
In kindergarden I would chase this boy around the playground trying to kiss him. Then years later we dated for almost a year!

back to topic....
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Old 02-19-2005, 11:10 PM   #9
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Quote:
Personally, I think the parents making the choice at birth is wrong. I saw some show like 20/20 or 60 minutes where the parents either thought the child was one gender or wanted the child to be one gender and it turned out the child was the other. I don't think they did anything right away (the kid had a name that could be for a boy or girl), thank God, but if they had, the child's life would've been a nightmare! [/B]
I remember seeing that show too. The one story that sticks really clearly in my mind was a child from England--they decided she should be a girl, but now she was 4 or 5 and she clearly possessed a boy's mentality. Given a whole room of toys, she immediately chose the masculine ones--G.I. Joes and things.

Now, I'm the last person to say girls shouldn't play with boy toys, or that somehow you're mixed up if your a girl and you do prefer G.I. Joes--but she was just so obviously a boy. It was clear from the way she played and behaved. You could see the problems in the future.

There's an autobiography that I think the show was centered around, or it came out at the exact time called "As Nature Made Him." It must be in paperback by now--but I know it's about a boy who was "assigned" a girl's body and basically struggled with his feelings his whole life, until adulthood when he could basically "switch back." I remember seeing him talk about his experiences and it was incredibly sad.
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Old 02-20-2005, 09:02 PM   #10
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Quote:
Originally posted by LivLuvAndBootlegMusic
In one of my CAS classes we talked about a community I think somewhere in Central America where there's an unusually high frequency of ambiguous gender. To them, it's so common, they don't feel like they have to "choose" right away and raise their kids "neutrally" until they are old enough to start becoming one or the other.
Was this in the the Dominican Republic? There are some villages there that attracted a lot of attention in the '70s and '80s for their high concentration of male pseudo-hermaphrodites, whom they call 'guevedoche' ('balls at 12'). These are genetically normal males who lack an enzyme that initiates male genital development in utero. So at birth, they have more or less normal-looking 'female' genitals (and undescended testes). But when puberty hits, their genitals transform into more or less normal-looking male ones though a process similar to the in utero type (tissue fusion, etc.). They also develop all the usual male secondary sex characteristics.

To judge from the small handful of studies, other villagers are indeed quite accepting of the guevedoche, probably because they're RELATIVELY common there (38 people from 4 generations of 23 families, according to one of the studies). But they aren't really raised 'neutrally,' nor are they truly free from expectations about which gender role they'll choose. Basically, once it becomes clear that they're guevedoche (which can be as early as infancy, but more commonly at 8-10 years), they're still allowed to behave like 'girls,' but are also made aware that once puberty ends, it's assumed they'll fulfill their (reproductive) destiny by marrying women and fathering children. And that is what most of them do. The studies found three exceptions (out of 20 guevedoche adults), all of them apparently quite accepted by the community: one who continued to live as a 'woman,' including relationships with men; one who married and fathered children, but continued to dress like a woman; and, less optimistically, one who opted to live as a hermit.

But the most interesting thing about the guevedoche is that they are NOT classified (by themselves or other villagers) as 'male' or 'female'--just as guevedoche. This is true regardless of which gender they ultimately choose to live in. So for them, it's not a contradiction to say 'I'm a man now, and I'm happy with that' while also saying, 'I'm neither male nor female, but guevedoche.' Paradoxically, by acknowledging and accepting the ways in which the guevedoche DON'T belong to the established social order, the community has found them a comfortable place within it.

This situation is extraordinarily unique, so perhaps it's unwise to go looking for universally applicable lessons in it. But I can't help wondering if our own society's insistence that you MUST identify 'once and for all' as male or female--and that until then, you're dangling precariously over an abyss--isn't itself the worst offender in the tragedies posted above. And the idea of raising children 'neutrally' until the day they suddenly realize what they 'really' are strikes me as too complicit with this kind of 'either/or' thinking to be a real solution. (As does assigning them to what you hope [!] will be their 'real' gender based on chromosomes.)

Instead of trying to raise intersex children 'neutrally' in a social world where nothing is (or ever will be) neutral--or gambling on the chance that their genes will point the way--why not start as the guevedoche's parents do, by acknowledging to their children that they ARE different, and ALWAYS will be...but that they'll have to learn to live on the world's terms nonetheless. In this way, the reality of needing to choose a gender 'for now' (in order to have a normal social life) can be owned up to, while simultaneously acknowledging that things may need to change someday--and if they do, that's all right.
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Old 02-20-2005, 10:00 PM   #11
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it's a shame kids have to go through this. it's hard enough growing up without having to decide which sex to go with.

but of course, what other choice do they have? of course, let the kids decide when they're older, it's just a shame though that they have to go through the process in the first place.
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Old 02-20-2005, 10:24 PM   #12
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I think the main thing, is not that you can't put any gender roles upon an intersexed child, but that you don't surgically alter their genitals until they're old enough to decide for themselves. You can relatively easily change a name or clothing or whatever, but once you've cut things off you can't put them back on.
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Old 02-20-2005, 10:42 PM   #13
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Quote:
Originally posted by yolland


Was this in the the Dominican Republic?
Don't remember, just something mentioned in class. Sounds like it could be what you're talking about though.
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