This preview shows page 1. Sign up to view the full content.
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
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...
View Full Document
This document was uploaded on 02/04/2014.
- Spring '14