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Unformatted text preview: ot an either/or proposition. Instead, between “either” and “or” there is an entire spectrum of possibilities. Some people come into this world with a vagina and testes. Others begin their lives as girls but at puberty become boys. Though we’ve been told that Y chromosomes make boys, there are women in this world with Y chromosomes, and there are men without Y chromosomes. Beyond that, there are people who have only a single unpaired X chromosome (people we call women who aren’t exactly like other women). There are also people who are XXY, XXXY, or XXXXY whom we call men but aren’t exactly like other men. There are babies born with XYY, XXX, or any of a dozen or more other xii Introduction known variations involving X or Y chromosomes. We humans are a diverse lot. As I worked on the book I also met some wonderful people who were willing to share their stories with all of us—stories that too often included a litany of doctors’ and families’ lies and secrecy, and feelings including shame, confusion, and despair. Because of those stories, the world around me changed forever. I discovered that the character of our society, our language, and our past often drives us to do something about those of our children who don’t fall easily into our minds as either boys or girls. The surgical and other means we have developed to help these children are amazing, but no one knows just how successful such methods are. Still, we continue to alter ourselves in sometimes painful and questionably successful ways because, I think, we believe that sexual attraction and human genitalia serve the sole purpose of human reproduction. But a single look into the animal kingdom, a lone glance at the wondrous society of bonobos, is enough to reveal that all of our preconceptions about sex are just that, preconceptions. Among other primates, sex serves a nearly unimaginable number of purposes beyond reproduction. Because of this exploration I’ve come to believe that the ideas about sex that are so ingrained in us just don’t fit very well with reality. Human sex is not something that switches irreversibly between two poles—male and female—like an on/off switch on a radio. Rather it is like the bass and treble knobs on that radio. Pure bass or pure treble are impossible to achieve, but in between those two exists an infinite number of possible mixtures. Inside that infinity of possibilities each one of us is nestled in the vastness between pure male and pure female. My purpose is not to convince you that we need to imagine more sexes, because the concept of five sexes would be no closer to solving the problem than the idea of two sexes is. Instead, I wish to offer other ways of thinking about sex—ways that aren’t so constraining or exclusive, ways that might even change how we think about ourselves. 1 The Puzzle of Intersex: The Story of Lenore It might have been one of those Los Angeles days when the soup rolled in off the sea and sopped up the sky, one of those days when people were left with nothing more than sputtering electric fans and limp palm trees curdling in the oily light. It might have been, but the report doesn’t mention any of that. So it might have been otherwise. For certain, it was the summer of 1952. Harry Truman was still president, the Dodgers were in the process of losing more road games than they’ve lost since, and the Ford Motor Company was preparing for its fiftieth anniversary. That summer, in the city of angels, a baby was born to two very proud parents. I will call them Frank and Laura. The baby—let’s call her Lenore—was the second child in what would grow to be a family of twelve, and Frank and Laura were first cousins. Maybe that’s important; maybe their genetics had something to do with the way Lenore turned out. Maybe not. At birth, Lenore was everything everyone had hoped: all her digits present in the proper places and numbers, beautiful eyes and hair, pink gums and stubby toes. Everything about her looked perfect, with one tiny exception. Well, actually, not so tiny. Lenore’s clitoris was a little too big for a baby girl. “Hypertrophied” was what the doctor called it. 1 2 Between XX and XY But after some further probing the doctor found what seemed to be a vagina, so he announced, with a big smile, “It’s a girl.” As the doctor’s words split the air that day, one door opened and another one closed. No one noticed. Wrapped in pink, Lenore went home, and for the next several years things seemed just fine. Lenore did all the things a baby girl should do. Then, when she was six years old, Lenore—like many kids her age—got the measles. Her mother took her to see the doctor. Once again, nothing about her physical exam seemed out of order, except for that clitoris thing. It still seemed a little big, but not too big, at least not so big that anyone felt compelled to do something about it. By age thirteen, Lenore had begun to develop pubic and underarm hair, just as any girl her age should. C...
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This document was uploaded on 02/04/2014.

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