My understanding of the changing methodology of sex determination has grown with my understanding of signaling. An argument I have seen on more than one occasion asserts that if a person has an XY chromosome set he is solely male and will be referred to as such, and if that person does not have a Y chromosome then she is female and will be treated in that manner. Not only is the assumption of a binary system incorrect because it discredits the existence of intersex individuals, but this oversimplification assumes the direct correlation between the existence of genes and their phenotypic expression.
As we have learned, perhaps the most important determination of sex and secondary sex characteristics is the regulation of hormones. It is because of this phenomenon that gonads of fetuses develop down distinct paths. While these developments are typically predictable, a chromosome’s presence is not a guarantee of trait appearance. The alteration of hormonal signals and the amount of hormones present in the bloodstream are what lead to situations where individuals with two X chromosomes develop ambiguous genitals, or a lack of reception leads to individuals with a Y chromosome developing XX typical external genitalia. Digging deeper, we see the genetic basis of all traits, and how the coding of proteins depends on the activation of the gene. Therefore, even individuals with functioning hormone receptors may display atypical sex characteristics caused by altered or inactive genes. An increase in the understanding of more than the binary that gender is typically associated with has the potential to give validity to movements of those seeking to expand gender identity options across the United States and the world. Discoveries in the field of genetics continue to show that conventional understandings of sex and gender are far from inclusive. However, changing laws and societal understandings will be an arduous battle due to the deep establishment of typical practices; even pronouns, a standard of the English language, focus in on using gender based he/she pronouns, designating anything else as “it”, a dehumanizing word.
Like gender, we have this understanding of sex as a binary system of classification- male and female- where our gonads and hormone levels dictate which of the two categories we fall under. But as our understanding and perception of gender is changing, so is the scientific world’s understanding of sex. As politics is shifting towards conversations about gender identity and acceptance of a wider range of genders, the scientific community is also changing our perception of sex. Greater understanding of our genetic makeup has shifted what it means to be male and female, as well as the system of classification that we place ourselves under.
Mutations in our DNA can lead to disorders of sex development such as congenital adrenal hyperplasia causes the body to produce excessive amounts of testosterone, which lead to ambiguous genitalia in women, or in milder cases, develop male-like body hair or fertility issues. The gene WNT4 actively promotes the development of female sex organs and suppresses male development, but an extra copy of WNT4 in XY individuals can lead them to develop atypical genitalia and fallopian tubes. The delicate balance of genetic material within our bodies can place a person outside of the phenotypic range by which we categorize ourselves under.
Outside of mutations, humans can also have extra or fewer sex chromosomes than what we define males and female as. Our standard is that males are XY and females are XX. However, females with only one X chromosome, as in the case of Turner’s syndrome, are still defined as female, despite the lack of extra X. People who exist as intersex due to an extra X or Y are born with both female and male sex characteristics. The difference in gonad development has no medical repercussions, but our societal ideas of the sex binary lead to corrective surgeries on patients that cannot consent.
The scientific community has a responsibility to change our perception of sex, at the very least for the reduction in unnecessary corrective surgeries on children and infants. Our society has always valued the idea of self-determination, which should also extend to our ideas of our bodies’ biology. These new discoveries surrounding our perception of sex needs to move towards perceiving sex as a spectrum in order to accommodate our shifting understanding of scientific truth and cultivate in-depth and accurate conversations surrounding our genes.
How we determine/define sex has been evolving past the binary male and female and I think that we should all come together and figure out the point at which we should consider ourselves more human than trying to compress our sex into the molds of male vs female.
Based off of the Journal article and Ted Talk, I am very much surprised of how I forgot to take into account receptors and genetic differences when it comes to sex expression given the extensive conversation we had in class discussing cell signaling and hormones. but I am sure glad the 2 pieces helped me expand my understanding of the immense complexities involved with determining human sex.
I feel that it is very important for science to continue to modify and build upon our current understanding of sex and I think that it is even more important for society to amend the social norms in order to accommodate these changing definitions. We need to rise over our current bias and ignorance and embrace everybody because that’s what a healthy society does. A society with acceptance and tolerance makes sure the most amount of people are supported socially and as social beings, we tend to need a lot of support. The existence of intersex individuals suggests our bodies are more complex than we ever thought and shows that there is always more to learn about ourselves and others and that we need to always keep looking, not to find differences, but to find what makes us the same.
We often look at things through a black and white lens, leading us to view much of the world in a binary system. However, with exposure to new information our understanding of how the world operates changes. For example, sexual orientation used to be viewed in a binary system, but our society has begun to understand and accept the fact that sexual orientation is more like a spectrum. An individual can be asexual, pansexual, bisexual, gay, heterosexual, etc. Although much efforts are still needed to be made, people are becoming more aware of this idea of a spectrum due to activism from the LGBT community and media coverage.
The same amount of efforts are needed to be made to bring attention and acknowledgement to how sex is a spectrum rather than a binary system. Our understanding of the world around us is influenced by the environment we grow up in, without conversation our understanding of the world won’t develop. Therefore, I feel that the individuals researching intersex and work with intersex patients have a responsibility to share their findings. My previous understanding of sex is that it was determined by if someone had either XX chromosomes or XY, and I had an idea of people who weren’t but wrongly labeled them an hermaphrodite. Now, knowing that individuals that aren’t typical males or females are actually referred to as intersex is important, because it validates those individuals and acknowledges that sex is actually a spectrum. In addition, I have become aware of the different biological factors that can affect if someone is male or female. Scientists have identified that are more than 25 genes that are involved with the different forms of disorders of sex development (DSDs), and that sex hormones and its signaling machinery also play a role. also play a role in one’s external genitalia.
If it wasn’t to being exposed to this new information my understanding of sex may have remained the same until someone shared this information with me. In order for society to become more accepting of the fact that individuals can have DSDs efforts from the science community need to be made. Rather than having procedures made the “normalize” a baby who was born with a DSDs, doctors should help the baby’s parents become more knowledgeable and direct them in a path to seek more information. If we continue to have procedures that individuals who were born intersex forced to associate with the sex given to them can cause mental distress. Having the conversation of intersex and sharing information is equally as important as allowing those individuals to choose their sex as they grow up. Actions like the ones mentioned can help shift society’s way of thinking, because in many situations societal norms aren’t accurate nor tell the whole picture.
Humans like boundaries. Parameters simplify our otherwise largely unexplainable and random world. There are two sides to this idea dictating the positive and negative characteristics. At first, definitions and boundaries exemplify humanities discovery and growing knowledge base. It is not a wholly bad thing when as a collective group we can say there is a mutual understanding of a specific idea. However, the downside of parameters is that when something is defined, it is then cemented. As a class we have striven to learn biology as a subject always in flux. As new information is presented we use past knowledge and reason to lead new thinking. Humans are not perfect beings and are more often than not, we learn from mistakes. In the case of gender, sex, race, and many other topics under the scope of society and science, no thinking should be cemented. Specifically, as our breadth of discovery has both expanded and specialized, we can move past rudimentary boundaries and into an era of accepting that not everything is clear-cut. Cliche as it may be, the pinnacle of science is not fully understanding everything in our universe. Rather, it is searching for the new and unexplored, and realizing that anything is possible.
In terms of sex determination, the idea of breaking old boundaries in light of new learning is truer now than ever before. In Alice Dreger’s TedTalk and Claire Ainsworth’s piece, anatomy can no longer equal identity. There are too many instances of contrast for this concept to remain as accepted as it is. If as scientists we can claim that it is possible and plausible that anatomy does not define gender or vice versa, then it should be taught as such. Learning is lost when complex and new ideas are discarded because they are thought as too revolutionary. It is perfectly acceptable for these new concepts to be taught tentatively and stressing the importance of more research. But when we know that something in the past is no longer one hundred percent accurate, we should stop teaching it as such. At least when the student has as a rounded amount of information they can approach the world with more than one perspective.
Overall, not having an adapting view on sex and identity is harmful to many things. Specifically, the physical and mental health risks involved for those affected by a mixed sexual-makeup cannot be forgotten. Both pieces cited the idea of nature vs. nurture, as well as how the surrounding community plays a large role. Having a mixed sex-makeup is not necessarily a harmful thing, but how a child is raised in response to their anatomy has a lasting impact which if not properly managed can cause mental health issues. Also, in many cases, experimental or unnecessary (to appease cultural aesthetic) surgeries can do irreparable harm to a person’s natural body. There is no single answer in how to approach sexual identity, but it is safe enough to say it is not nearly as simple as we currently make it out to be.
Would parents deliberately raise a child as a male or female depending on how they weighed the benefits of being of a particular gender? For example, if a couple deems the immunity to the death penalty and the draft as a greater benefit than the right for two women to marry in every state, would they choose to deliberately raise a child—regardless of their sex—as female? It seems rare that parents would do such a thing, but the fact that some state and even federal laws are developed based on a gender or sex binary leaves this child-rearing practice as a possibility. And sometimes this happen, as exemplified in the Nature article “Sex Redefined”. Some parents chose to have their babies, who are too young to consent to medical operations, undergo genital “normalization” surgery to assign their sex based on hormonal levels or other factors. In the future, the child may struggle with gender identity due to a choice that was not theirs.
This brings another question to child-rearing practices—Is it really necessary for parents to raise a child into a gender schema before the child even becomes aware of the concept of gender? Should sex be a determining factor for placing a child within a binary? Since sex appears to be a spectrum due to a variety of differences in sex development (DSD), it seems preposterous to split the spectrum in half before the child has a chance to exhibit an inclination towards one extreme or another.
Perhaps raising a child as genderless would also reduce the perpetuation of gender stereotypes. Parents are more likely to pick “male” and “female” toys for their children once they are assigned a sex, and someone’s son is more likely to be surrounded by sporting and equipment and than someone’s daughter is. However, by allowing a child to grow and develop their own interests, they would not have to fit into a box established by society. But how accommodating is society for this type of parenting? It may take a revamping of its foundational infrastructure, but with less divisions and distinctions established between people, there may be more tolerance and unity among the human race.
Throughout my childhood, sex determination was never something that I thought to question. I don’t remember how I learned it, it was just a piece of information that was there and that everyone knew. Once I got into the literal “definitions” of male and female from the 7th grade science textbooks, I didn’t question it either. The line that is drawn between the sexes in society today is the
physical differences between male and female. I think that this binary has been effective up until now
because the old society only focused on that. Today we are aware of so many more categories and factors to take into consideration. These readings helped me understand that it there is still even more things to take into consideration.
The main question that I got from the Ted talk, the reading, and everything we’ve been learning is: We know that today the line between the sexes is drawn atthe physical differences, but
should that be changed? And what should it be changed to?
I believe that the line should be redrawn because the society we live in, is not the same as it was when this line was originally drawn. As aforementioned, we are now aware of many other factors and situations that come into play. The first thing to keep in mind is that the new line probably won’t be straight down the middle separating males and females. I think this is where society would intersect
with “gender”. I’m not saying we should make the new line gender but this is definitely one of the factors to take into consideration. In the case of someone with Androgen Sensitivity syndrome, where an individual born with an XY is resistant to male hormones and thus develops the physical traits of a woman, how would you classify that person? I think it would be up to the individual and whatever they feel comfortable being.
The artifact that I found the most interesting was the fact that many of these disorders of sexual development aren’t noticed easily. Many examples from the video and article stated that individuals were not a aware that they had different reproduction organs until later in life. It is so interesting how these things can go unnoticed for such a long period of time. And I think these examples just highlight the fact that sometimes the internal differences don’t make a difference. But then again, that’s where the line gets blurred.