Tuesday’s bracing, often emotional public hearing over controversial state legislation restricting transgenders to public bathrooms matching their sex as recorded at birth might cause us to forget: Each of us has a gender identity, an image of oneself as relatively masculine or feminine in characteristics. By middle school, researchers can reliably measure gender identity. Masculine identity scores high in ambition, competitiveness and self-sufficiency; feminine identity scores high in affection, cheerfulness and soft-spokenness.
Many children have a gender identity called androgyny, scoring high in both masculine and feminine personality characteristics. They have both masculine and feminine characteristics in appearance, attitude or behavior.
Hermaphroditus, in Greek mythology, was a being partly male, partly female.
In the United States, thousands of individuals have been identified as “true-hermaphrodite” on their birth certificates. The American Academy of Pediatrics has stopped using “true-hermaphrodite” and instead introduced the term ovotesticular.
A disorder of sex development (DSD) is defined as congenital conditions in which development of chromosomal, gonadal or anatomic sex is atypical. Ovotesticular incidents occur in 1 in 2,000 births. For many years in the United States, the fix for ovotesticular incidents was to take the newborn from the mother. Without parental consent, surgery was then used to make the newborn a girl or boy.
In the 1960s, one ovotesticular newborn was taken by the surgeons and a little girl was returned to the mother. Yet this child faced difficulty identifying as female. As an adult and upon further medical investigation, this individual found being male was the more appropriate identification.
Surgery and hormone treatments returned the boy to the individual. He moved to Canada, married and raised a family. He and his wife adopted, given that this disorder usually eliminates fertility.
Similar situations have occurred to newborns who were made boys, yet later returned to become females. There is also a case of identical twins, one male and the other ovotesticular and surgically made female.
Medical science understands that sexual development is influenced by factors such as exposure to androgens, estrogens, sex chromosome genes, brain structure as well as social circumstances and family dynamics. Although androgens may be called male hormones, both men’s and women’s bodies produce androgens, just in different amounts. Androgens spur more than 200 actions in women and are present in higher amounts than estrogens. The first exposure to androgens and estrogens occurs in the prenatal period some six weeks after conception. It is at this stage that sex is determined. Then again, as one doctor testified Tuesday, the question asked upon the birth of a newborn — “boy or girl?” — is not so definitively answered.
Any loving god expects society to be understanding of the circumstances of all developmental disorders. Rather than reacting with fear and misunderstanding, churches should not be designing programs to make someone ex-gay and state legislatures should not be closing restroom doors. Society must educate itself and accept and assist in understanding that quality of life encompassing dating, attraction, sexual functions, marriage and raising a family, regardless of any biological circumstance.
Jim Igleheart is a retired professor, dean of graduate studies and military officer with a 27-year background in developmental disabilities. He lives in Waco.