Gerald N. Callahan’s book, “Between XX and XY”

Cover, Between XX and XY

Gerard Callahan’s book makes for good reading. Here are a few short extracts.

Boys and girls

… two things are clear. First, no one has yet figured out the list of ingredients needed to make a boy or a girl—neither chromosomes, nor hormones, nor genes, nor family or society or chance, alone or in combination, seems sufficient to explain how one’s sex comes to be. And second, there is no hard reason why we’ve come to believe that people even need to be a boy or a girl, no hard reason whatsoever.

Dreger testifies

Historial and ethicist Dr Alice Domurat Dreger co-founded the now defunct Intersex Society of North America (ISNA), which later morphed into the Accord Alliance.

Accord Alliance is an organisation of doctors and parents that promote non-consensual intersex infant genital surgery. It adopted a replacement term for intersex – Disorders of Sex Development (DSD) – that most intersex people find objectionable in the extreme. Dreger has claimed authorship of the term DSD. She remains a controversial figure amongst intersex people as a result, but few would disagree with her testimony in Between XX and XY.

She has met many people who, as children, had surgeries intended to make their genitals appear more typical. “I suspect there must be happy people out there, but I’ve never met one,” Dr. Dreger says. “Well, literally, I’ve met one. I should have met more by now if, in fact, the numbers were anything like the reports say they are. I should be hearing from lots and lots more people who had surgery as children and are happy, and over twelve years of this work I’ve heard from one person who had a vaginoplasty as a child who is happy with it…”

“The thing that people with intersex suffer from most is shame, it’s not surgery. The surgeries are motivated by shame. So I think the bigger issue is people getting the message that [people with intersex] are not human, that they are not acceptable, that they are not loveable. That’s a much bigger issue for everybody than the surgery is really. Because, what people who are anatomically different need the most is the message that they’re human and acceptable and loveable.”

Money in the picture

New Zealand-born psychologist Dr John Money of Johns Hopkins University Hospital concocted a theory in the 1950s that newborns are somehow sex neutral at birth and can be persuaded by doctors into believing they are boys or girls despite what their own brains tell them.

Money’s theories were incredibly popular, but were later proven decisively wrong by Dr Milton Diamond after it was discovered that Money had been faking the evidence for his theories for many years.

Before the early 1990s, physicians often chose to keep parents in the dark about their unusual children. This tactic was an offshoot of Dr. John Money’s powerful influence on perceptions of human sexuality. Money believed that the final sex of any child was determined primarily, if not solely, by the child’s upbringing—all, or very nearly all, nurture, not nature.

The issue for the pediatrician was to determine the optimum sex of rearing, regardless of the genetic sex. Determining the optimum sex could involve any number of things, including, with older children—according to one of Dr. Money’s patients—screening pornographic movies and observing the patient’s response.

The less they knew about what the physicians were up to, the less likely the parents were to interfere with the doctors’ visions for the children. If nobody but the doctor knew, girls would never suspect that they were boys or vice versa.

More information

Between XX and XY: Intersexuality and the Myth of Two Sexes, by Gerald N. Callahan, 2009.