‘Ambiguous sex or ambivalent society?’

Alice Domurat Dreger is a Professor of Clinical Medical Humanities and Bioethics at Northwestern University’s Feinberg School of Medicine, but more than that, she is an advocate operating at the cutting edge of sex and gender. In fact, she’s sort of the smart person in the position of telling other smart people just how little we actually know about sex, nature, nurture, and the like. Read her latest piece on the biochemical policing in women’s sports and check out her fascinating TED Talk.

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  • http://feministing.com/members/clone/ Matt

    The answer is quite simple. If you want all people accepted as the gender they personally identify with, sex/gender differentiation altogether. No more mens’ and womens’ sports. Just peoples’ sports. Problem solved no?

    • http://feministing.com/members/nabyarn/ Danny

      Anytime something as complex and difficult as gender identity comes up sadly I don’t think there are any simple answers. Especially when issues like physical contact in sports are involved.

      • http://feministing.com/members/joen/ joen

        Especially when issues like physical contact in sports are involved.

        Gender identity has nothing to do with physical contact in sports.

    • honeybee

      But sports aren’t segregated based on gender, they are segregated based on sex. That’s what some people fail to realize here.

      It’s isn’t about keeping boys and girls separate it’s about recognizing biological differences. Got nothing to do with gender or what you identify with.

      • http://feministing.com/members/joen/ joen

        It’s isn’t about keeping boys and girls separate it’s about recognizing biological differences.

        Sports segregation is not about recognizing biological differences.

  • http://feministing.com/members/csztova/ Courtney

    great post! both the video and NYT article are provocative. I think this is an extremely important subject that needs to be discussed, but obviously it can be a scary subject given that our identities are woven with our gender/sex. My favourite line is when she says that nature doesn’t draw lines for us but that we draw lines through nature. Nail on the head! I believe the statistic is that 1 in 50 is born intersex.

    • http://feministing.com/members/logic/ Logic

      How common is intersex?

      To answer this question in an uncontroversial way, you’d have to first get everyone to agree on what counts as intersex —and also to agree on what should count as strictly male or strictly female. That’s hard to do. How small does a penis have to be before it counts as intersex? Do you count “sex chromosome” anomalies as intersex if there’s no apparent external sexual ambiguity?1 (Alice Dreger explores this question in greater depth in her book Hermaphrodites and the Medical Invention of Sex.)

      Here’s what we do know: If you ask experts at medical centers how often a child is born so noticeably atypical in terms of genitalia that a specialist in sex differentiation is called in, the number comes out to about 1 in 1500 to 1 in 2000 births. But a lot more people than that are born with subtler forms of sex anatomy variations, some of which won’t show up until later in life.

      Below we provide a summary of statistics drawn from an article by Brown University researcher Anne Fausto-Sterling.2 The basis for that article was an extensive review of the medical literature from 1955 to 1998 aimed at producing numeric estimates for the frequency of sex variations. Note that the frequency of some of these conditions, such as congenital adrenal hyperplasia, differs for different populations. These statistics are approximations.
      * Not XX and not XY one in 1,666 births
      * Klinefelter (XXY) one in 1,000 births
      * Androgen insensitivity syndrome one in 13,000 births
      * Partial androgen insensitivity syndrome one in 130,000 births
      * Classical congenital adrenal hyperplasia one in 13,000 births
      * Late onset adrenal hyperplasia one in 66 individuals
      * Vaginal agenesis one in 6,000 births
      * Ovotestes one in 83,000 births
      * Idiopathic (no discernable medical cause) one in 110,000 births
      * Iatrogenic (caused by medical treatment, for instance progestin administered to pregnant mother) no estimate
      * 5 alpha reductase deficiency no estimate
      * Mixed gonadal dysgenesis no estimate
      * Complete gonadal dysgenesis one in 150,000 births
      * Hypospadias (urethral opening in perineum or along penile shaft) one in 2,000 births
      * Hypospadias (urethral opening between corona and tip of glans penis) one in 770 births
      * Total number of people whose bodies differ from standard male or female one in 100 births
      * Total number of people receiving surgery to “normalize” genital appearance one or two in 1,000 births

      “1 in 50″ is not accurate.

  • tehanu

    Keep in mind that Alice Dreger was also the person who wrote a defence of J. Michael Bailey, author of the appalling “The Man Who Would Be Queen: The Science Gender-Bending and Transsexualism.” She was quite moderate, overall, but she did issue a pretty blanket condemnation of trans activists’ legitimate criticisms of the shoddiness of the book.

    More information is here.

  • http://feministing.com/members/emjb/ emjb

    I can think of one very simple answer: get rid of gender/sex segregation and let athletes be grouped by weight/height classes. It works fine for boxing, and it would allow men and women to compete against each other without sexual dimorphism…or intersex…being an issue.

    There are some tall, big women, who could compete against all but the largest guys; and there are some smaller men who would suddenly find a whole new field of competitors open to them, and competing on as level a field as any athlete ever gets.

    And then all this “true woman” hormone-policing nonsense can be left behind as it deserves.