The Gender Box: Intersex Babies, Genitals & Drugs

It amazes me.  The lengths that society goes to keep people in nice, neat and organized boxes.  Our vehement defense of these boxes and our attachment to them.  Boxes that contain, shape, hold down and in.  We can easily call these boxes cages.  They attempt to create a sense of safety and order by carbon copying an ideal of acceptable parameters in which we can live and express in the world.

I’ve been thinking a lot about gender lately.  The assumptions people make about me because of my gender, how gender has shaped my life, the ways in which I authentically identify with my gender and the ways in which I don’t.  It has occurred to me how gender is so intricately interwoven with everything else that is stuffed in the box:  sex, sexual expression, sexual orientation, social status, power and socialization.  Our perception of gender is the most defining factor in each of these categories.

This morning I came across the below article on a drug that can help shape sex and, in our cultural context, gender, for fetuses.  If Your Baby Girl Might be Born with A Small Penis, Would You Treat Her Prenatally with a Drug of Uncertain Risk?  The drug has been used to suppress some of the intersex or mixed sexual characteristics that present as a result of the genetic disorder, CAH.   The drug, which has never been approved by the FDA for this purpose, has recently been discontinued for this use in Sweden because of dangerous long-term side effects.  You can read more about this below.

What I want to call attention to is the larger cultural context of this story.  As a society, we fear what is different and, instead of breaking down the boxes, we perpetuate this fear by fearing that our children will be ridiculed for being different.  Well, they will as long as you are ridiculing someone else for being “different.”  The truth is that all genitals are very different in shape, size, color and functioning.  From an anatomical perspective, both males and females have virtually all of the same parts.  Meaning you can map a anatomical part of the male body to an corresponding part of the female body.  All babies begin in utero with female parts then the clitoris begins to grow and becomes a penis and the ovaries descend and become the testicles and so on.  So, you could say that the clitoris is a small penis or the penis is just a very large clitoris.  There is no box.

You never know if your little boy or girl is going to grow up to identify with the genitals they were born with or not.  You don’t know if they will like the “opposite sex” or the “same sex.”  There are just some things we can’t control.

From the Huffington Post. . .

If Your Baby Girl Might Be Born With A Small Penis.

Would you treat her prenatally with a drug of uncertain risk?

Written By Amanda Schaffer on Slate

What do you do if you find out you’re pregnant and could have a girl born with what looks like a small penis? For two decades, expectant mothers in this position have taken a drug that seems to help prevent fetuses at risk of this from developing partly masculinized genitals. But in June, researchers in Sweden, who have conducted some of the most rigorous research on the treatment since the late 1990s, announced that they would no longer enroll new patients for fear of long-term side effects. And last month, the record of the best-known American champion of the drug was questioned when patient advocates charged she’d misrepresented her work to patients and the government. If this gives you a queasy feeling that the use of this drug has far outstripped the research on its safety, you’re right to worry.  Read full article . . .