This Post Has Nothing to Do with Hillary Clinton…You’ve Been Warned
I used to have a general politics blog but gave that up a few years ago. I’m thinking of starting a new one so I don’t have to punish all you Hilary fans with my random musings about things having nothing to do with Hillary Clinton, but until I get a second blog up and running, you are certainly free to click away from these posts.
I saw this and nearly fell out of my chair:
Dr. Maria New has a new strategy for treating unborn fetuses: the use of a potentially dangerous steroid aimed at treating the effects of a rare congenital disorder that affects the adrenal gland, potentially consigning the future child to a lifetime regime of drugs.
And yes, it gets worse. As columnist Dan Savage points out, Dr. New is also exploring the use of dexmethasone’s effects on future fetuses’ desires to explore “male careers” or have disinterest in becoming mothers”
The majority of researchers and clinicians interested in the use of prenatal “dex” focus on preventing development of ambiguous genitalia in girls with CAH. CAH results in an excess of androgens prenatally, and this can lead to a “masculinizing” of a female fetus’s genitals. One group of researchers, however, seems to be suggesting that prenatal dex also might prevent affected girls from turning out to be homosexual or bisexual.
Pediatric endocrinologist Maria New, of Mount Sinai School of Medicine and Florida International University, and her long-time collaborator, psychologist Heino F. L. Meyer-Bahlburg, of Columbia University, have been tracing evidence for the influence of prenatal androgens in sexual orientation…. They specifically point to reasons to believe that it is prenatal androgens that have an impact on the development of sexual orientation. The authors write, “Most women were heterosexual, but the rates of bisexual and homosexual orientation were increased above controls . . . and correlated with the degree of prenatal androgenization.” They go on to suggest that the work might offer some insight into the influence of prenatal hormones on the development of sexual orientation in general. “That this may apply also to sexual orientation in at least a subgroup of women is suggested by the fact that earlier research has repeatedly shown that about one-third of homosexual women have (modestly) increased levels of androgens.” They “conclude that the findings support a sexual-differentiation perspective involving prenatal androgens on the development of sexual orientation.”
In a paper published just this year in the Annals of the New York Academy of Sciences, New and her colleague, pediatric endocrinologist Saroj Nimkarn of Weill Cornell Medical College, go further, constructing low interest in babies and men—and even interest in what they consider to be men’s occupations and games—as “abnormal,” and potentially preventable with prenatal dex:
“Gender-related behaviors, namely childhood play, peer association, career and leisure time preferences in adolescence and adulthood, maternalism, aggression, and sexual orientation become masculinized in 46,XX girls and women with 21OHD deficiency [CAH]. These abnormalities have been attributed to the effects of excessive prenatal androgen levels on the sexual differentiation of the brain and later on behavior.” Nimkarn and New continue: “We anticipate that prenatal dexamethasone therapy will reduce the well-documented behavioral masculinization…”
It seems more than a little ironic to have New, one of the first women pediatric endocrinologists and a member of the National Academy of Sciences, constructing women who go into “men’s” fields as “abnormal.” And yet it appears that New is suggesting that the “prevention” of “behavioral masculinization” is a benefit of treatment to parents with whom she speaks about prenatal dex.
Male careers? What, you mean like MEDICINE? Irony alert! The woman conducting the research is a DOCTOR. You know, the career, which like law, used to only be available to the men-folk? And disinterest in being mothers? The assumption being that those who choose to not give birth have some sort of genetic issue or chemical imbalance? Here’s an idea for Dr. New and pals- how about just accepting people’s choices, even if perhaps they differ from your own?
Also, could this be any more stereotypical? It seems to infer that lesbians are just a bunch of men-wanna be’s. I really thought we had sort of moved past that. Guess not. I’m going to go out on a limb here but can the medical (and some in psych) research community stop treating homosexuality as a disease? This search for a genetic/hormonal/chemical basis for everything becomes tiresome. Maybe there is a genetic basis but no amount of Ivy League scientific research is going to be able to discount the role of the environment (including evolving social mores) plays in affecting sexuality.
I’m going to continue to part ways with my gay compatriots on the whole purely genetic “cause” for homosexuality. I know the gay community lives and breathes to promote this view and for all I know, maybe it is purely genetic. I certainly don’t have some special knowledge that no one else has. But then again, I don’t really find the whole obsessive quest for a cause to be the best use of research funds. But that’s just me.
I bet if we asked people to define what believe it means to be “gay” or “lesbian” we’d get about 50 different answers and that some of those answers may differ based upon gender. And I bet if some of the people we asked were academics, we’d get even more answers. It would seem that some in the medical research world define homosexuality very narrowly as “people who have sex with people of the same sex” and I would venture to offer that that’s a bit simplistic in this day and age. I was talking to a psychiatrist friend a few years ago and she made a comment that she had seen a huge uptick in the number of adolescent girls in her psychotherapy practice who considered themselves bisexual, even if some of them hadn’t had sexual relations with other girls/women. She said the same was not true for adolescent boys, where it was still seen as much more of a taboo to identify in any way with possibly being gay. The adolescent girls defined sexuality in general in a much more open and fluid way to include close friendships, etc. My point being (if you were wondering), that the sort of phenomena she mentioned doesn’t fit so neatly into the whole genetic theory of homosexuality and seems to argue that environment (including things like social acceptance and a more open view of gender roles and sexuality in general) can count as much as anything when describing who is and isn’t gay. That’s why I personally could care less what the “cause” is.
This constant quest for a way to prevent or cure homosexuality is damaging, particularly to young people who are struggling with issues of sexual orientation. It’s one thing when the rhetoric is coming from the likes of right wing Evangelical groups, but it’s a whole other thing when it comes from the hallowed halls of academia, where their work is granted instant legitimacy because they work under the guise of objective scientists.
But at the end of the day, I guess it all comes down to this- in the year 2010 why are we in the U.S. still so hung-up about anything involving the word “gay?”