40 years of faulty wiring

Gender Genetics or Not?

From what I understand certain traits “run in families“: sexual orientation; gender issues; and the like.  These are life-defining traits that traumatize many people based on societal expectations and prejudice. There are families that have perhaps one homosexual member and it seems that the immediate family and all once-removed family members (aunts and uncles etc) are heterosexual. Where does the homosexual orientation originate? Can certain human characteristics and behaviours “run in families” (in other words, are inherited). If so, does homosexuality, like many genetic traits in people, occur in different generations rather than every generation?

Some people look at sexual orientation as being genetically inherited, or something that happens during a certain stage of fetal development. A Nova documentary (I believe) examined the heterosexuality and homosexuality of “identical twins” (monozygotic developing from one egg). The two men looked alike, shared similar interests, and even dressed alike but that was where many of their similarities ended. One twin was heterosexual and one was homosexual, yet they not only shared the same parents, but the same egg whilst in utero. Researchers used the two men to determine why it was that each man were polar opposites in their sexuality.

The study proved:  nothing.  All researchers could say was the homosexual twin had more X chromosomes than the heterosexual twin and this was possibly, maybe, sorta the result of differing amounts of a particular hormone per twin in the first trimester of the mother’s pregnancy. X chromosomes in a male, however, are supposedly inactive so this begs the question as to whether the presence of more X’s in one man than the other, even affects orientation at all. Early in embryonic development in females, one of the two X chromosomes is randomly and permanently inactivated in cells other than egg cells. This phenomenon is called X-inactivation or Lyonization. In males the X chromosome also experiences lyonization and only the Y chromosome is active. The unequal amount of whatchamacallit hormone that each twin received is not a gene, it is a chemical interaction between the mother and the child. It is possible this man is the only homosexual in his immediate and extended family. It is also possible there are other homosexual family members who haven’t come out, in which case that would indeed beg the question of genetic links between sexual orientation and DNA.

Is the same true for people with gender identity issues? It is such a major transformation for a person to begin life in one biological sex and transform him/herself into another that I wonder about that person’s childhood background.  The famous, tragic case of Teena Brandon (Brandon Teena) revealed that she was sexually abused by an adult member of her family, (not necessarily her immediate family), for years.  In such situations, many children believe erroneously had they been the opposite sex, the abuse wouldn’t have happened.  Actually, molestation of a child is not about heterosexuality or homosexuality.  It is pedophilia.  A person who molests children doesn’t want an equal partner, and usually s/he doesn’t want a person with secondary sexual characteristics (puberty). They want a child because it is a power situation, a chance to overcome a helpless person and to instill guilt in the victim.  This person is a rapist, not a sexual partner. However a young child or youth has no understanding of this phenomenon and thus develop the mistaken belief system about gender identity and power, because gender identity issues are all about power, even where a child has not been sexually molested.

Consider the difficult, biological and emotional journey of a transgender child. To decide whether to live as the opposite sex (or both, or neither), and to avoid the trauma of puberty in a body that doesn’t “belong” to him/her, requires power that is frequently denied by well-intended authority figures. Parents and doctors probably believe that the urge to live as the opposite gender is a “stage” that will be “outgrown”, and in enouraging the child to live as s/he chooses is to assist the child in making poor choices.  I understand the concerns of these parents. It cannot be easy to (1) realize one’s child is transgender and (2) to encourage a child who is at a highly emotional and non-rational stage in life, to live as a transgender person.  Always there is doubt and guilt for parents when choices are made that result in an unhealthy, unhappy child.

Not only does the transgender person struggle with the decision to come out to family, friends and the general community, but the stereotypes and legal and mental health issues involving transgenders continue:

  1. “I don’t have a problem with transsexuals; I just don’t know why they want to have sex with everyone.” So said a 20-something female undergraduate student studying psychology. To be sure this comment was directed against transsexuals, but it doesn’t take a great leap of faith to assume this student believes the same of transgenders.

    2. The first legal case regarding employment reported in the Wall Street Journal, dealt with a business professor at a Methodist evangelical religious school, who was discharged when school officials told him that his “womanly appearance” violated the school’s requirements of “model Christian character”. The professor was ordered to dress like a man. The professor began to manicure his nails, and started hormone therapy, and developed breasts. He was ordered to work from home,  (taking a 20% pay cut), and was not to appear on campus with a  feminine appearance. However, he visited the campus wearing a college T-shirt and makeup. He was dismissed.

    3. Mike was a fifty-five year old who gave the following history: The patient was born female to a mother who gave her to another  family. She was severely sexually abused by the adopted father and the step-mother, who gave her enemas for punishment. The patient remembered dissociating since age six. She was aware of the time lapses but said it was easy to hide them. There were seven or eight personalities then, 32 or 33 now. The patient went to a gender dysphoria clinic, where she withheld information about dissociating. Surgeries were done and in 1986 the patient married a Swiss woman. The patient was finally diagnosed DID with psychological testing. In this case, genetics plays a role in the patient’s mental health: the ability to dissociate has been proven to run in families and to span generations. And here we have a transgender person whose identity is further compounded not only by gender issues but with several dissociative states. watch 10 rare mental disorders

     Transgender is the state of one’s gender identity (self-identification as woman, man, neither or both) not matching one’s assigned sex” (identification by others as male, female or intersex, based on physical/genetic sex). A transgender individual may have characteristics that are normally associated with a particular gender, identify elsewhere on the traditional gender continuum, or exist outside of it as “other”, “agender”, “Genderqueer”, or “third gender“. Transgender people may also identify as bigender, or along several places on either the traditional transgender continuum. I am unaware of a case study of a child who considers him/herself to be any of the aforementioned but it is entirely possible for such children to exist. This, I am quite certain, must be even more traumatic than to be transgender male or female.

Transgender identification has a long, distinguished history: 

1503 BCEgyptian Queen Hatshepsut ascends to the throne, the second Egyptian queen to rule. She donned male clothing and a false beard signifying kingship, and reigned until 1482 B.C. She had one daughter, Neferure, who she groomed as successor (male clothing, false beard and all), but Neferure did not live into adulthood. Hatshepsut’s motive was non-sexual and not due to gender identity issues. She ruled as King to avoid disfavour with her subjects. watch queen pharaoh – Hatshepsut

6th Century to 1st Century BC — In the Greek Hippocratic Corpus (collection of medical texts), physicians propose that both parents secrete male or female “bodies” and that if the father’s secretion is female (rather than male), and the
mother’s is male, the result would either be a “man-woman” (effeminate male) or a “mannish” female.

Circa 60 ADEmperor Nero reportedly has a young slave boy, Sporus, castrated (eunuching, in early times, was believed to be the primary mechanism of gender change. “Eunuchs” ranged in form from males whose testicles had been removed to those also given a total penectomy), and takes him as a wife in a legal public ceremony. Sporus is from then on clothed as an Empress, and accompanies Nero as such. watch bbc: ancient Roman emporer nero

1755 — The first openly lesbian and transgendered person, Charlotte Clarke, came out by publishing, A Narrative of the Life of Mrs. Charlotte Clarke (Youngest Daughter of Colley Cibber, Esq.). Clarke, a flamboyant cross-dressing actress during a time in which male impersonation was a popular form of entertainment, related many scandalous things, including her relationship with her “wife,” “Mrs. Brown.” Although quite famous after this publication, Clarke passed away three years later, penniless and destitute. watch transsexual gender variance

1860Herculine Barbin is studied by her doctor, who discovers that the intersexed woman has a small penis, with testicles inside her body. Barbin was declared legally male against her wishes, became the subject of much scandal for having previously taught in a girl’s school, moved to Paris but continues to live in poverty, and ultimately committed suicide in 1868. Barbin’s story is quite fascinating.  Her parents chose to raise her as a boy since males had more political and social rights than females, and it was upon reaching puberty that Barbin’s body emerged into that of an adult female. The existing law in England at the time stated that anyone who lived as a transgender person without making this known to his/her society, had committed a crime, and Barbin suffered the humiliation of a public trial. watch memoirs of a hermaphrodite

Since gender identity spans so many centuries (and millenia) it seems to me that there is most probably a genetic characteristic at work. Yet even research scientists are unable to prove this fact, leaving the mystery of the transgender, agender, bigender, genderqueer and third gender person exactly that:  a mystery.

August 23, 2012 Posted by | Education, Human Biology, Human psychology | , , , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

Why Determining Gender in a 7-Week Old Fetus is a Sociopolitical Step Backward

The headline in the internet last week that caught my attention was one that declared it is now possible for ultrasound technicians to detect a 7-week-old fetus`s gender, rather than waiting for the old-fashioned 4-month amniocentesis. There was an interesting number of mixed responses by readers, the majority of them focusing on abortion:

  1. One reader commented this leads to an even quicker abortion for families that are happy with the infant`s sex.
    I say what difference does that make since they will likely do the same when the fetus is 4 months old anyway.
  2. Another reader commented this cements foreign cultures`inclination towards sons and rejection of females through speedier, easier abortions.
    I say it`s not only foreign cultures who value boys above girls.  Many North American families feel the same way. Whose to say they don`t abort children based solely on gender

I don`t disagree with the abortion objection:  eliminating human life based on sex is amoral and a waste of a potential human being.

No one made mention of my perspective on the whole gender issue. Rather, my objection speaks to the intersex and transgender person. We ascribe to the binary gender system (male or female) for obvious reasons: we only understand what we only see, and what we believe we comprehend.  Gender however is much more than anatomy.  As a person grows however gender identity can change and our narrow view of gender creates many sociopolitical complications for the transgender person.

A friend of mine had a friend who birthed a beautiful boy. She was disappointed. She wanted a girl. So my friend actually advised her to cross-dress the boy as a girl until he got a little older. This idea baffled me at the time. I felt the boy`s mother should have been grateful that she had a healthy, beautiful child. Dressing the boy as a girl simply confirmed her lack of gratitude.  Now I think a fair compromise might be dressing the child in a gender neutral wardrobe.

Of course what is a gender neutral wardrobe.  Well, probably not one that emphasizes too much pink or blue.  It is unlikely there could be any dresses or skirts in such a wardrobe but since infants are usually dressed in slacks and jumpers, that`s neither here nor there. In fact it`s a rather fashion and gender forward way of thinking.

When I suggested that early ultrasounds negate the experience and the validity of the transgender person one response I received stated:

Then a mother can abort the transgender baby and a baby that is homosexual.

Abort a transexual infant.  How, I asked in reply, is that possible considering there is no possible biological means of knowing if a fetus is transgender. This is as much a psychological condition as it is biological. It is impossible to determine through an ultrasound if an infant is homosexual or not, and who`s to say the appropriate response is to abort it for either of those reasons. Abortion issue aside however the emphasis on fetal gender insists that the binary gender system is the only `normal“ human gender, just as the heterosexual orientation serves as a social “norm“.

As for the intersex person I am unaware if it is possible to determine fetal gender ambiguity via ultrasound. Let`s hope not. I mean, what of it. Eventually the individual normally settles on one gender or the other, and he or she tends to favour a particular sexual orientation. Of course there are also genderqueer people who, regardless of having a determinate gender if they should, prefer not to choose one gender or the other but retain a fluid movement between both, and in some cases, neither.

Personally I believe we should keep the prenatal focus on fetal health. Prenatal surgery is a profound medical breakthrough and offers many children and families a brighter future than would have been possible without the latter. Use the 7-week technology for that. I`ll support that purpose 100%.

August 14, 2011 Posted by | Human Biology, Human psychology, Politics, Technology, Uncategorized | , , , , , | Leave a comment

The Changing Face of Gender



Transgender, Transsexual, Intersex and Genderqueer people aren’t just people who feel as though they were born in the wrong body or are comfortable as both genders (can you imagine Michael Jackson saying that?…I’ll take it). It doesn’t always specify a particular sexual orientation. Trans and genderqueers claim both or neither gender. Sometimes they float between the two.  In other words they themselves have invented a third gender – a non-gender or neuter gender that defies male or female identification. It defies the gender binary system in terms of roles, biology and sexual orientation. This is also known as heteronormativity and it defines the majority of our society.


watch Gender queer me. The gender binary system is known to contribute to the prejudices which stigmatize intersex and transgenders. Gender binary as a restriction against trans, intersex and genderqueer people is undeniable. True, women universally are the only humans capable of giving birth (at this point in our history). Arguably, it is this biological function that many cultures and religions use to justify second-class treatment of women. And within the rigid roles women are forced to accept, the gender binary system flourishes.

Riki Wilchins author of GenderQueer: Voices from Beyond the Sexual Binary, argues that gender binaries “divide and polarize society“. They certainly do. In fact gender binaries result in stereotypes, bullying, exclusion and hatred of genderqueer and trans people (along with lesbian, gay, bisexual people – however that is a sexual orientation, not necessarily a gender role). Sexual orientation of pansexuality or polysexuality, provides a flexible option for people’s sexual orientation since it encompasses all kinds of sexuality and gender or non-gender roles; “pansexuality is not limited or inhibited in sexual choice with regards to gender or activity.” Pansexuality can apply to heterosexuals too. Consider that gender roles are more of a psychological concept than a biological one. Can a heterosexual person not establish an intimate relationship with an intersex or transsexual person, even if the former thinks of his/her partner as the opposite sex? I believe that is possible. Chaz Bono on becoming a man

What concerns me the most is the struggle youth and young adults face when coming to terms with their gender or non-gender. Many teenagers in high school have committed suicide due to bullying over their sexual orientation; worse, these teens have lived in terror that their orientation would be discovered by others when they have worked so hard to conceal it. Of the annual teen suicides that occur in Canada every year 30% are committed by LGBT students. There are no stats available as to whether any of these youth are intersex, trans, genderqueer, neuter, or pansexual. Recently I watched a brief news documentary where a young man informed his parents he was homosexual. His mother’s reply was he would have to move out since her live-in boyfriend didn’t approve and she couldn’t bear to lose her boyfriend. It’s no wonder that 40% of homeless youth are LGBT. It’s not rational for teachers and students to expect that LGBT students will be treated with respect and equity at school when they aren’t being treated as such at home. We need to start with educating the public and families about various gender roles and sexuality if we’re going to make a difference.  Watch It Gets Better – LGBT Anti-Bullying Movement

June 7, 2011 Posted by | Health and Wellness, Human Biology, Human psychology | , , , , , , | 3 Comments