13. The History and Interpretations of Hermaphrodites and Intersexes

From: The 7 Sexes

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13 The History and Interpretations of Hermaphrodites and Intersexes The concepts of hermaphroditism, sexual chimerism, sexual mosaicism, intersexuality, and gynandromorphism are all connected through a common aspect. They involve the presence, in an individual, of the sexual phenotype of both sexes to some degree, either at once or at some time in their life cycle as adults. In the broadest sense, the term intersex is most inclusive, and it is purged of connotations of the classic mythologyofHermaphroditusandhisencounterwithSalmacis .Unfortunately, the biological use of the term intersex has usually excluded errors of mitosis leading to mosaicism. Richard Goldschmidt (1878–1958) first introduced the term “intersexuality” to genetics in 1915, when he was working on gypsy moth sex determination. Thomas Hunt Morgan and his students first used the term “gynandromorph” in genetics in 1914 to describe mosaicism, usually an XX/X somatic composition of flies that had lost an X-chromosome due to non-disjunction after fertilization.1 Intersexualityimpliesageneticorenvironmentalcauseforthedualsexual aspect, in which all the cells of the body have the same genotype and chromosome composition. The term “chimerism” is applied to a special type of mosaicism. It has a classical legend behind it: numerous deities were part human and part animal in Egyptian and Greek mythologies. The Egyptian Sphinx is a part-human, part-lion, chimera that is familiar to most of humanity. In human biology, the term chimerism refers to individuals produced from four gametes (“tetragametic”) with two separate fertilizations, a fusion of what should have been nonidentical twins into a single individual. In contrast, biologists use the term mosaicism to describe individuals who have a mitotic, nondisjunctional event (or gene mutation after zygote formation), leading to two The History of Hermaphrodites and Intersexes 85 different genetic compositions or cell lines that were derived from one initial fertilization. In medicine and psychology, the term “disorder or difference of sexual differentiation” (DSD) is replacing all of these terms when discussing patients with quite varied modes of origin. Time will tell whether this term is specific enough or accurate enough to convey information about the condition, as this new usage is put into public discourse. It is unlikely that the term DSD will be applied to fruit flies or species other than humans. Such fine distinctions among these terms are almost entirely of twentieth-century origin, because neither the sex chromosomes nor genes in relation to sex determination were known before then. As we have noted, some organisms are hermaphroditic. Species of annelids (worms), corals, sponges, and oysters are some of the many phyla that use hermaphroditism as a means of reproduction, but almost no animal species reproduces by self-fertilization. Earthworms are anatomically incapable of doing so because of where their male and female organs are located. In oysters, sperm maturation is independent of egg maturation. The overwhelming number of flowering plant species (angiosperms) are monoecious, meaning that the two sexes are represented in the same flower. In some of these plant species , self-fertilization is highly unlikely or impossible because of the size and placement of the two sexual organs in the flower. Others prevent self-fertilization with a genetic mechanism that renders the ovule or its receptacleincapableofrecognizingitsownpollen.Oneanimalthatdoes self-fertilize is the tapeworm: a platyhelminth that is usually a solitary occupant of an animal’s gut. It will self-fertilize if no other tapeworm is available. Mammalian Hermaphroditism Recognized In 1786, John Hunter (1728–1793) noted that twin births sometimes occur in cattle (which, like humans, almost always produce singletons).2 When cows give birth to two calves of the same sex, they are fertile, but if the twin cattle are of two sexes, the female calf is partially converted into a male calf. The presence of a male twin for the altered calf, called a freemartin, suggests some sort of influence by the male twin over the femaletwin .Freemartinsaresterileandtheirbehavioristhatofacastrated 86 The 7 Sexes male, or steer. Hunter did not know the cause of the transformation of the female into the male-like freemartin, but he believed that chorions were somehow involved in this process. He noted that both the internal genital organs and external genitals are ambiguous. The study of the chorion and its role in freemartin formation was worked out in detail by Frank R. Lillie (1870–1947) in 1916.3 Lillie got his PhD at the University of Chicago and spent most of his career there, althoughhissummersweredevotedtotheMarineBiologicalLaboratory atWoodsHole,wherehewasthedirector.Hisspecialtywasembryology. Lillie carefully drew the chorions in 27 different twin births of cattle, and he studied the ovaries of...