restricted access 22. The Quest for a Unified Theory of Sex, Gender, and Sexuality

From: The 7 Sexes

Indiana University Press colophon
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22 The Quest for a Unified Theory of Sex, Gender, and Sexuality I have attempted to explore the history of sex determination. As a biologist , my outlook is comparative, because the human story was largely built from findings about other mammals, insects, plants, and even viruses. Although there are a scattered few species that have resisted the most common mode of exchanging genetic information, the term “sexuality” applies across all of life (Table 22.1). We think of that common mode when we use the term sex determination. It implies a two-sex system,although,aswesawinparamecia,therecanbeseveralmorethan twomatingtypes.Therearealsonon-sexual(ormoreaccurately,femaleonly ) species of rotifers, such as Philodina roseola, that use horizontal transfer of DNA to supply an influx of new genes, either by ingesting other rotifers or from other things that they eat.1 When we apply sexuality to humans, the nuances increase because we invoke cognate terms like “gender” which is not applied to bacteria, or even fruit flies. We can speak of “feminism” as a human academic study, but the term has no meaning when applied to most of the animal and plant kingdoms. Among many animals, there are atypical hermaphrodites or intersexes, some arising as accidents of cell division, like “gynandromorphic” fruit flies. We do not use that biological term for chromosomal chimeras that are XX/XY, or for mosaics, like XY/X, in humans. The older literature calls them hermaphrodites or “true hermaphrodites,” defining such individuals as having both testicular and ovarian tissue. We do not apply theterm“freemartin”toouroffspring.Thatisanintersexassociatedwith twinning in cattle. Instead we use the term “female pseudohermaphro- 160 The 7 Sexes dites” (XX or ovarian DSD) to describe the androgen-stressed embryo in its first and second trimester of development. When I first began teaching what I call “the seven sexes of humans” at Queen’s University in 1958, I quickly learned how sensitive most people are to any discussion of human sexuality that is not confined to the office of a physician. I was called into the office of my department chair, Gleb Krotkov. Hetold methathehadreceivedacallfromthe president’s office, and that a parent of a student in my biology class had told him I wasgivingpornographiclecturestothestudents!Iassuredmycolleague that I was teaching the students about the biology of reproduction, and that reproduction was part of biology. When I met with my class again, I went to the blackboard, and in huge capital letters I wrote the word pornography from one end of the room to the other. As the snickering began, I whirled around and told the class it was not funny. I told them that learning about the biology of sex determination was important. Many of them would become health professionals, and they would have patients with reproductive disorders. I also argued that, until we learned about the biology of human sexuality, we would be stuck in ignorance Table 22.1. Biological Diversity and Sexuality Organism Mode of Genetic Exchange Virus multiple infections of a host cell Bacteria transfer of DNA from + to − strain Fungi and algae isogamy using + and − strains [yeast] anisogamy using + and − strains [chlamydomonas] Protozoa conjugation of mating types autogamy [self fertilization] Hymenoptera haplo-diploidy 2N = female, N = male Earthworms hermaphroditism with gamete swapping Mollusks hermaphroditism with sequential gamete maturation Angiosperms hermaphroditism with monoecious flowers Rotifers parthenogenetic with recombination using ingested DNA Most eukaryotic animals XX and XY or ZW and ZZ chromosomes In addition to these modes, there are sex determinations by temperature, pH, and other environmental factors. Also, species may reproduce by cloning, sprouting shoots from runners (strawberries), or generating new trees from cut down or naturally felled trees (red woods). A Unified Theory of Sex, Gender, and Sexuality 161 and misinformation about those who do not conform to the simplistic view that all of life is divided into males or females when nature clearly tells us that this is not so, either because some species are hermaphrodites (e.g., earthworms) or because some infants are born with ambiguous genitalia and gonads. We have certainly added an immense amount of biological knowledge about sex determination in the half century since I began teaching at the college level. During this time, the feminist movement was reborn, gays and lesbians sought decriminalization of homosexuality, and perspectives on intersex babies were shifted from the medical and parental values then considered appropriate to infancy to the uncertain values of the future adult who would have to deal with his/her sexuality . Also during this time, there has been a growth...