DSD, or disorders of sexual development, is a controversial term because of the word “disorder.” Many who “suffer” from sexual abnormalities (another charged word) take issue with the idea that they are abnormal. They view their conditions as natural variations that have always occurred, in much the same way that homosexuality has always been with us. But, also like homosexuality, people with DSD are often seen as either freakish mutations or frauds.
Some cases of DSD are clear cut and can be verified biologically. Babies can be born with the sex organs of both sexes (also known as hermaphroditism). People with the condition may have irregular chromosomes: XXY for example, instead of the typical XX (female) or XY (male) set. The genes on the chromosomes may be defective. Or the body may lack the receptors that allows sexual hormones to be put to work.
But classifying sex by chromosomal or hormonal evidence can be tricky. What many people don’t realize is that the fetus is sexually ambiguous until around seven weeks when the sexual structures (known as “indifferent genitals”) begin to develop into the organs of a male or female. But in approximately one in 2,000 births the differentiation isn’t conclusive.
However, unless there is reason to suspect DSD from outward examination, the presence of the “other” sex’s organs may not be discovered until adulthood, if then. Some people go their whole lives never suspecting that they have sexual organs of the opposite sex, or that their sex chromosomes are defective, or that they cannot utilize sexual hormones appropriately. Often the only clue they have that something is wrong is that they “feel” more like the opposite sex than the one they were assigned at birth.
And then there are individuals who identify with neither sex (or with both). They often refer to themselves as “intersexual.” This is sometimes used interchangeably with DSD, but it is mostly used as an attempt to purge the terms that apply to their condition of their pejorative nature.
So why am I writing this post for a feminist blog? In other words, how is this a feminist issue?
My answer is that I think it is important for feminists to be as inclusive as possible when it comes to how we see all members of our human society. Feminists should stand for the ideal that there is no right or wrong way to be a man or a woman, male or female, masculine or feminine. In fact, I think it would be helpful for feminists to see human sexuality as a kind of continuum or spectrum. After all, those at the far ends of the spectrum are just as much variations as those who fall anywhere along it.
If we can see that the masculine male or feminine female is no more normative than the feminine male or masculine female, if we can stop categorizing people altogether based on their sexual characteristics, then we will have come a long way toward the acceptance of all human beings.
We need to realize that there are a lot of factors, some of them biological and thus not under a person’s control, that play into how an individual views his or her (or its) gender. And we need to give people the freedom to determine what variation they most identify with.
All of us know girlie-girl types as well as tomboys. We all know guys’ guys as well as “sensitive” men. What’s the point of putting people into categories, especially based on how masculine or feminine they are? The hypermasculine male might love babies and eschew sports. He might even—gasp!—be gay! The super-feminine woman might be a high-powered CEO or attorney. Or she, too, could be gay. The more we see and accept the whole person, the less likely we are to judge people as good or bad, right or wrong, normal or abnormal, acceptable or unacceptable.
We might be able to see people just for who they are, period.
For more about DSD, read “Neither male nor female: The secret life of intersex people” from Healthzone.ca.