Thursday, December 4, 2008

Womb Gay

Reading an excerpt from the new book Sex and War has got me thinking about the Mormons and California’s Prop 8. Sex and War features a meditation on how biology might help to explain why and how humans kill each other. The battle between the Mormons and the LBGT civil rights movement, now being waged over the Mormon’s support of California’s anti-gay Proposition 8, has not (yet) turned bloody. But I can’t help but think about the interesting biological background to all this.

Discussions and debates over the origins of homosexuality have tended to focus on two possibilities: you’re either gay because you’ve got a “gay gene,” or you’re gay because of some aspect of your upbringing. (The latter option is usually imagined to involve something nasty, like a pedophilic priest.)

These two options—gene-gay and turned-gay—fit neatly in the (yawn) nature-nurture debate, and that probably explains why almost everyone seems to keep ignoring a third option, one for which there is astoundingly robust data: womb-gay.

Thursday, October 9, 2008

Footnote to a Footnote: On Roving Medicine

Why language and little groups of radicals matter.

“Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world. Indeed, it is the only thing that ever has.” This insight from Margaret Mead functioned as the guiding inspiration for those of us who worked for years as the Intersex Society of North America. A footnote to a recent Hastings Center Report article made clear Mead was right. And, because Mead was right, the history of social change (including in medicine) is actually significantly more interesting than it at first appears.

Thursday, August 28, 2008

Sex Is Good

But not always. And that’s kind of the point.

OK, let me back up.

Like that bad-for-you ex from whom you just can’t seem to make a clean break, the “news” story about how the feds fund questionable sex studies has come back a-knockin’ at the door. We’re supposed to be totally horrified that our tax dollars are going to fund studies that find out what turns people on and what makes people loose.

Are there some stupidly designed, rather useless studies happening in sex research? Yup. Which distinguishes sex research not at all from other academic fields. I admit, it was at a sex research conference that I conceived The Duh Award, an honor which would be given annually for the study constituting the most effort put into finding the most obvious conclusion. (The study that directly inspired The Duh Award was one showing that alcohol lowers sexual inhibitions.)

But the truth is, every field sometimes accidentally funds poorly conceived or useless research, and that isn’t reason to get rid of a field’s funding, nor to micromanage it. Why is sex research worth funding with public money?

Thursday, July 31, 2008

Olympic Problems with Sex Testing

When will the International Olympic Committee learn that you can't fool with Mother Nature?

Ah, Beijing, where men are men and women are… women until proven otherwise. As reported in the New York Times, “Organizers of the Beijing Olympics have set up a sex-determination laboratory to evaluate ‘suspect’ female athletes.” According to the Times, “only athletes whose gender has been questioned will be tested in Beijing.” This approach betrays fuzzy-headed thinking of – well, of Olympic proportions. So I’m laying out here my questions to the Olympic officials involved in this business, in the hopes someone on the inside will send them along.

But first, let’s get the language straight.