Throughout history, the existence of intersex individuals has puzzled scientists, medical doctors, geneticist, gender theorists, psychiatrists, etc. Perhaps this topic captures so much attention, whether positive or negative, because it conflicts, at its very core, with the permeating and ever-present model of sexual dimorphism in heteronormative western cultures. These androgynous individuals shatter the belief that there is something huge and impervious separating male and female bodies. To compensate for the instability brought on by this group, medical doctors began the search for the ultimate determinate and cause of sex. When the genitalia and anatomy of these ambiguous bodies failed, doctors were forced to base their claims on sex in such minuscule evidence as gonadal tissue. This allowed scientist to name and assign a true sex based on one’s molecular make up. Fortunately for scientists, these results allowed for 90% of all ambiguous bodies to be stamped with a sex and a gender and eliminated their confusion around sex. Unfortunately, however, this view of sex and categorizing the body only furthered the impression of sexual dimorphism as an ultimate reality and fortified the wall dividing male and female bodies. Later on, when scientists began examining chromosomes, they once again thought they had discovered a sure, clear-cut way of determining the sex of any individual in what they deemed, “sex chromosomes”.
Viewing the diversity of sex and chromosomal make up of intersex individuals through this one gene on trait model, however, was problematic. Women, like Helen discussed in Rosario’s essay titled “Quantum Sex: Intersex and the Molecular Deconstruction of Sex”, for example, have two X chromosomes, deeming them female, but they are born with some aspects of male anatomy, including testis. Based on work done with mostly intersex individuals, several genes on different autosomes (chromosomes that are not the two “sex chromosomes”) have been linked to production of sex and control of sex determination. These and other results have led scientists to view sex and all other genetic traits as complex and multifaceted results brought about by the interactions of several genes in conjunction with the environment and socialization.
Through these new scientific advancements and discoveries, social scientists like Rosario hope that the differences between female, male, and intersex individuals can be blurred and viewed in terms of a bimodal rather than dimorphic model.
Furthermore, examining the history of science as it deals with sex, demonstrates some of the major shortcomings of science as a production of knowledge. As theory after theory about sex have been developed and then disproven, it is important that we consider our own limitation of understanding. Certainly the one gene one trait theory of gene expression was not the pinnacle of genetic science, and our current understanding is certainly not complete. Knowing this, we must continuously and actively challenge our current understanding and open them to criticism across discourses. If this peer review across discourses was properly employed, I believe it could act as a system of checks and balances, identifying subjective reasoning, results, and research agenda, and helping scientists make more informed decisions.

Jennifer L. Peper

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