Plenty of people have issues with the concept of ‘designer babies.’ Advances in medical technology may one day make it possible to select or splice gametes in a way that allows us to predetermine features of our children. There are plenty of horrific potential scenarios–a world full of blondes, everyone’s super-smart so no one’s smart anymore, the homogeneity…
Dan Savage brings us news that some people are working on just that. This began as an attempt to help girls who are born with genitals that are midway between those of male and female. You see, we all start out female. Then, if XY is in your DNA, androgens come into play and activate male traits. If this process is interrupted, or androgens appear when they shouldn’t, the child is born ‘malformed.’ That word alone indicates how society views these people, and so work is being done to try to ‘normalize’ them. There are medical and psychological arguments to support this practice, but one scientist is taking ‘normalize’ way too far.
Pediatric endocrinologist Maria New, of Mount Sinai School of Medicine and Florida International University, and her long-time collaborator, psychologist Heino F. L. Meyer-Bahlburg, of Columbia University, have been tracing evidence for the influence of prenatal androgens in sexual orientation…. They specifically point to reasons to believe that it is prenatal androgens that have an impact on the development of sexual orientation. The authors write, “Most women were heterosexual, but the rates of bisexual and homosexual orientation were increased above controls . . . and correlated with the degree of prenatal androgenization.” They go on to suggest that the work might offer some insight into the influence of prenatal hormones on the development of sexual orientation in general. “That this may apply also to sexual orientation in at least a subgroup of women is suggested by the fact that earlier research has repeatedly shown that about one-third of homosexual women have (modestly) increased levels of androgens.” They “conclude that the findings support a sexual-differentiation perspective involving prenatal androgens on the development of sexual orientation.”
Now, I find this kind of fascinating. I’m one who believes that sexual orientation is biological, not a choice. I also think emotions are chemical, and a lot of our behavior can be traced to evolutionary needs for survival. So, if they’ve discovered what biological factors make women gay, that’s kind of an awesome breakthrough.
Unfortunately, with great knowledge comes great stupidity.
And it isn’t just that many women with CAH have a lower interest, compared to other women, in having sex with men. In another paper entitled “What Causes Low Rates of Child-Bearing in Congenital Adrenal Hyperplasia?” Meyer-Bahlburg writes that “CAH women as a group have a lower interest than controls in getting married and performing the traditional child-care/housewife role. As children, they show an unusually low interest in engaging in maternal play with baby dolls, and their interest in caring for infants, the frequency of daydreams or fantasies of pregnancy and motherhood, or the expressed wish of experiencing pregnancy and having children of their own appear to be relatively low in all age groups.”
So, maybe there’s a biological predisposition supporting the stereotype of bull-dyke lesbians. I find all this fascinating. Dr. New sees an opportunity to ‘normalize’ all this ‘abnormality’–and she’s not just out to prevent homosexuality. She sees an opportunity to weed out anything that isn’t ‘normal’ for women–women of, say, the 1950s. Basically, she’s saying you’re not normal if you don’t like men, don’t play with dolls, don’t want to get married, or don’t want to have kids. Not looking like a woman is only half the battle–you’re clearly not really a woman unless you act like a woman.
Feminism has fought hard to expand the definition of ‘woman’, to free us of these age-old constrictions. Feminism aside, the fight against breast and ovarian cancer has brought the same issue to the fore–are you really a woman without a woman’s body parts? The rise in infertility rates have forced the same question–AM I a woman if I am unable to bear a child? We tut and reassure such women because we see them as victims of disease (or the myriad other causes of cancer and infertility). Yet when a girl is born in the body of a boy, we insist she shut up and stay a he. A lifetime of misery later, maybe we run some tests and realize she was exposed to too much androgen, or what have you, and her body really doesn’t match her insides. Is she any less a woman?
Dr. New doesn’t want your daughter to be a tomboy. It’s not good enough if she decides she doesn’t want to have kids of her own. Lack of interest in men is simply untennable.
Dr. New is willing to expose women and fetuses to highly experimental drugs in order to prevent these normal variations on the human theme. When asked about benefits of the treatment, she readily admit that she won’t have an answer until the girls reach puberty. This a very long-term study, a highly risky one–with little in the way of concrete evidence at the end. Is she going to mark her success based on the number of girls who show interest in dolls? How about the number who have a boyfriend by fifteen? Eighteen? Will her study be one more voice nagging these girls to get married? And what if her treatment actually makes them infertile? Will she conclude it a failure because they don’t have babies, or a success when they adopt?
Pro-lifers make a lot of noise about choice–the choice of the fetus, that is. They argue that the fetus is unable to vote yea or nay, it can’t say whether or not it wants to live. (They assume it does.) Well, these fetuses also can’t say whether or not they want to be somebody’s experiment, they can’t opt in to a dangerous treatment that will change the course of their lives.
Dr. Maria New’s Children’s Hormone Foundation website says:
Dr. New maintains contact with all children treated prenatally, and has found not permanent adverse effects of treatment on mother or fetus. Thus, with nearly 20 years’ experience, the treatment has been found safe for mother and child.
“Experience” is not the same as monitored clinical studies.
The drug in question, dexamethasone, is by no means mild. Quoth Wikipedia:
Dexamethasone is a potent synthetic member of the glucocorticoid class of steroid drugs. It acts as an anti-inflammatory and immunosuppressant. Its potency is about 20-30 times that of the naturally occurring hormone hydrocortisone and 4-5 times of prednisone.
This is fucking potent stuff, used to treat everything from anaphylaxis to wisdom teeth removal, arthritis to meningitis, and more. The fact that it’s synthetic is no better than if it were natural. Either way, you don’t screw with hormones. Hormones can fuck you up.
So, lets expose a bunch of babies to this, in the name of heteronormativity. And lets continue to do so, after 20 years of ‘experience’ and ‘contact’, in the abcense of verified clinical trials. Twenty years is still considered developmental, these young women could go on to have terrible difficulties–especially with fertility. But Dr. New assures us everything is fine, and always will be.
Best of all, no more troublesome daughters!