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Jul 06 2010

On “fixing the gays” and science used for evil

This is old news by now – it broke while I was out of town at a conference – but enough people have emailed me asking for my opinion that I still wanted to comment. tld;dr: A researcher is giving pregnant women experimental hormones to prevent lesbianism and “abnormal” female behaviors such as aggressiveness, a disinterest in girls toys or becoming mothers, or wanting masculine jobs. Here’s the full story for those of you who haven’t heard of this yet; the rest of you can feel free to scroll past this quote to read my comments:

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.”

And it isn’t just that many women with CAH have a lower interest, compared to other women, in having sex with men. In another paper entitled “What Causes Low Rates of Child-Bearing in Congenital Adrenal Hyperplasia?” Meyer-Bahlburg writes that “CAH women as a group have a lower interest than controls in getting married and performing the traditional child-care/housewife role. As children, they show an unusually low interest in engaging in maternal play with baby dolls, and their interest in caring for infants, the frequency of daydreams or fantasies of pregnancy and motherhood, or the expressed wish of experiencing pregnancy and having children of their own appear to be relatively low in all age groups.

In the same article, Meyer-Bahlburg suggests that treatments with prenatal dexamethasone might cause these girls’ behavior to be closer to the expectation of heterosexual norms: “Long term follow-up studies of the behavioral outcome will show whether dexamethasone treatment also prevents the effects of prenatal androgens on brain and behavior.

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. In a 2001 presentation to the CARES Foundation (a videotape of which we have), New seemed to suggest to parents that one of the goals of treatment of girls with CAH is to turn them into wives and mothers. Showing a slide of the ambiguous genitals of a girl with CAH, New told the assembled parents:

“The challenge here is… to see what could be done to restore this baby to the normal female appearance which would be compatible with her parents presenting her as a girl, with her eventually becoming somebody’s wife, and having normal sexual development, and becoming a mother. And she has all the machinery for motherhood, and therefore nothing should stop that, if we can repair her surgically and help her psychologically to continue to grow and develop as a girl.”

In the Q&A period, during a discussion of prenatal dex treatments, an audience member asked New, “Isn’t there a benefit to the female babies in terms of reducing the androgen effects on the brain?” New answered, “You know, when the babies who have been treated with dex prenatally get to an age in which they are sexually active, I’ll be able to answer that question.” At that point, she’ll know if they are interested in taking men and making babies.

In a previous Bioethics Forum post, Alice Dreger noted an instance of a prospective father using knowledge of the fraternal birth order effect to try to avoid having a gay son by a surrogate pregnancy. There may be other individualized instances of parents trying to ensure heterosexual children before birth. But the use of prenatal dexamethasone treatments for CAH represents, to our knowledge, the first systematic medical effort attached to a “paradigm” of attempting in utero to reduce rates of homosexuality, bisexuality, and “low maternal interest.”

Women like me are doomed if this process A) works and B) becomes widespread. It’s hard not to take it personally when I have every attribute they say is “abnormal” for a female:

  • Masculine career choice: Check. Science has been and is a male dominated field. I guess these drugs are to keep it that way.
  • Aggressiveness: Check. You don’t need to know me that well to figure that out.
  • Bisexuality: Sort of check. Let’s just say while I’m significantly more attracted to men, I’m still probably not straight enough for the people doing this research.
  • Abnormal peer association: Check. As a kid I had almost exclusively male friends. I did not relate to girls at all, and of the female friends I have now, most have the attributes of this list.
  • Low interest in playing with dolls: Check. I hated girly toys as a kid. Screw Barbie, give me some Legoes!
  • Low interest in caring for infants: Check. As cute as my nephews are, when they were babies I feared breakin
    g them and had no interest in feeding them or changing their poopy diapers.
  • Less frequent daydreams about pregnancy & marriage: Check. I’m supposed to daydream about these things? If anything I have nightmares about getting pregnant.
  • Less interest in having children: Check. I want a kid, but not desperately or any time soon. Maybe in my thirties, or maybe not.
  • Less interest in traditional housewife role: Check. Uh, fuck no.

It’s one thing to have society pressuring you into heteronormative roles…but now people want to alter our biology to ensure it? What is this, Brave New World? If anything we need more aggressive women who are willing to speak up instead of feeling condemned to a life as a baby making machine. If you want to have children or be a housewife, that’s fine – but it should be your choice, not forced upon you by society or hormones you did not consent to.

Knowing the views of my typical blog reader, I’m going to assume we can all agree that wanting a masculine job or not wanting kids aren’t life threatening traits that need to be corrected. I’m also going to hope that we can agree that bisexuality and lesbianism don’t need to be fixed either, as they are not a disease or harmful to anyone.

But why are we trying to fix CAH? When PZ covered this topic, he mentioned that CAH is “a real and serious disease.” The only major symptoms other than behavioral and physical masculinization are vomiting and hypertension, both which are regularly treated with supplements. Researchers and doctors are going out of their way to fix behaviors through hormones and restructure genitalia through surgery simply to make them fit into society’s stereotypical gender roles.

If anything, conditions like CAH show that nature does not always create perfectly binary males and females. Why are we altering and mutilating baby girls without their consent to make them conform to our ideal of the female figure? It’s not limited to this study – not long ago we also heard about people at Cornell who were surgically decreasing the size of young girls’ clitorises to make them more “natural.” Nothing is biologically or functionally wrong with their genitals – we decided to label them as “wrong” because of our own cultural biases.

Now, I don’t blame science for this. As a scientist, I do find it interesting that an excess of prenatal androgens can apparently alter life long behaviors. But I do have a problem when people abuse scientific findings to fit their own political or ideological agenda. Just because science finds out we can do something doesn’t mean we should do it. But humans are humans, and it seems like these abuses are somewhat inevitable.

That honestly worries me. For example, I’ve always been interested if there’s some genetic component to homosexuality, since we have overwhelming evidence that it’s biological in some way. Are there certain genes? Certain epigenetic differences? Copy number variation? Or is it all hormonal, like this study may suggest? I’m interested out of pure scientific curiosity. It’s an interesting human behavior to me, and I want to learn more about it.

But what if I did find something? As a huge gay rights activist, it would absolutely kill me to see my research findings abused in any way. I don’t want to see companies producing genetic tests for certain “gay gene”s so people can selectively abort gays. I don’t want it used to out people. I don’t want little kids screened so they can have their behaviors forcibly altered early on. There are so many horrible things that could come out of it. I personally don’t think the cause(s) of homosexuality change how we should treat it (with acceptance), but not everyone thinks like I do.

So do we avoid this research altogether? I’d argue no. We can figure out the genes that contribute to skin color without it automatically leading to more racism. We can engineer bacteria to synthesize useful materials without it automatically leading to biological weapons. What we do need to do is make sure ethics and laws keep up with the advancement of science so findings can’t be abused. But even ethics boards are made up of humans, and humans have their biases. Too many people would find nothing wrong with the studies in this post, including some people on review boards. We need to hold these people to higher standards.

It’s bad enough that these studies are harming children with no real idea of what effects it’ll have on them when they’re adults. But it’s also a shame that these studies give science a bad name – the image of a manipulative, powerful overlord found too often in SciFi novels. We must remember that science itself is neither good nor evil; the blame lies with people who abuse it.

80 comments

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  1. 1
    Mirai

    What I find worst about the whole ‘gay gene’ thing is that the psychotic homophobes that hide behind religion to justify this behavior don’t even realize that, if there is a gay gene, it’s no longer a person’s choice and therefore can no longer be a sin since they never ‘elect’ to become gay. You basically have evidence staring them in the face that their own bigoted dogma is contradictory, but it’ll never be realized. Tragic, really.

  2. 2
    Rawr! A Bear!

    The religious know that they are losing their grip on the population… they must resort to drastic measures… it really IS a new world of sorts.

  3. 3
    REAVERS!!!!

    lower aggressiveness…. Serenity anyone?

  4. 4
    Toni

    There is a valid reason for the drug to be given – http://bigthink.com/ideas/2077

  5. 5
    PaulJ

    While the research in of itself I think is interesting, the application of it for the purposes listed has me worried. New science in the hands of the non-objective mind can lead to frightening results.The article made me think of the movie The Stepford Wives.As for the anti-homosexual religious dogma, I suppose that if scientists do prove that bi/homo-sexuality is part of our genetic code that the religious whack-jobs will start spewing that it must be God’s plan to curb the over population of our world or some other claptrap.

  6. 6
    Joleen Kuyper

    Science absolutely needs ethical standards. This is where the difference between religion and science is pronounced – science is there simply to investigate, to ask how and why. Ethics is where the discussion on the morality of how to use the information gleaned from asking questions. There is no morality inherent in science – we have to debate issues honestly with regard to people’s rights. In my view this is a good thing, but unfortunately I suppose what frequently happens is that legislators don’t necessarily keep up with science and find themselves having to deal with situations after they have started creating moral panic among religious types.

  7. 7
    Vincenzo Lisciandrello

    You see? This? This is what I don’t like. Free country my ass. There’s not enough chaos anymore. Everyone wants order. Everyone and everything must conform, regardless. The story of V for Vendetta was like a foretelling or something. Gradually, all freedom will be taken away, and we’ll have to bow down like subservient dogs.I personally, will never conform to this bull. First, I don’t believe in surrendering ANY freedom for the ignorant, and false feeling of safety and security. Second, I will NEVER bow down to ANY freedoms being taken just to make a bunch of ignorant jackholes happy. And so many people have become complacent, and obedient, they’ll just go along with everything that happens like good little curs. I won’t. I refuse. No religion. No government. No God. No politician. NO ONE controls me.Freedom or death.

  8. 8
    goldilockz

    Number one, they need to chill. I was very much into GI Joe, legos, etc.; I hold a job in a male-dominated field AND I was in the Army; I never had much interest in babies. Now, I’m a mom with a 3 br house and a happy marriage. If it’s going to happen, it doesn’t have to be on the timeline or in the manner THEY think it should.Number two, so WHAT if a woman doesn’t want all the ‘normal’ things we’re ‘supposed’ to want. Is she happy? Leave her alone.

  9. 9
    CScotMorrisBooks

    It is extremely frightening to think that any behavior could be selected for. Why not find a hormone that programs people to become docile, easily manipulated consumerists? Then only the Political Elite could enable themselves to think freely and rule the lower class.I find this most disturbing, when the behavior in question is objectionable only on a religious basis. Give them the chance, and fundamentalists will select for ‘white’, ‘straight’ and ‘docile’. To me, docile means ‘unquestioning’ and ‘un-curious’, in other-words, say goodbye to all scientific advancement.This is scary, scary stuff.

  10. 10
    Weyrdkat

    OMG — this is scary. I fit into that check list for the most part as well, I mean, I do want children and I will get married, but I’m not interested immediately because I want to be prepared for taking care of a child, not spitting them out every year because some false hormones say to. I’m sure there are legitimate reasons for this, because I work in genetics right now and there are several with androgynous genitalia that get an analysis for male or female, or the parents decide, but I can’t see anything but a sinister purpose for a child that hasn’t had anything previously diagnosed or MAY be what they deem “abnormal.” It just sickens me.

  11. 11
    Rhys_Squeeky

    You make a brilliant point that I totally agree with. Scientific development is the advancement of our understanding of everything, but unless human understanding keeps up with it, is it really a good thing? I think it is boring and naive to say that all religious people want the homosexual section of society to ‘die or burn in hell’ as I have many religious friends that are more than understanding of other gay friends. I believe with what @Mirai said, narrow minded, aggressive people willing to hate anything out of what a traditional society deems to be normal (the Phelps Clan, shall we say) hide behind a ‘greater good’ to excuse their hate which is pathetic really. The ‘greater good’ is really an excuse to do great evil and even alludes to fascism and uniformity, which would be the death of human interest, natural human behaviour and culture. If there were a god (which I do not believe is the case) would they say that something that is proven to be natural is a sin or unjust hate? I honestly believe homophobia or any prejudice should be the gene we need to ‘fix’.

  12. 12
    Rhys_Squeeky

    I totally agree. You have just summarised everything I agree with.

  13. 13
    ron burgundy

    This is where my Libertarian streak comes out and I say “WTF?”

  14. 14
    hippiefemme

    I’m concerned about this because gender is a completely socialized phenomenon. Not every culture in the world uses American standards of “feminine” and “masculine” to indoctrinate their children with socially appropriate behaviors. It’s disturbing that people are growing even further from the distinction between “gender” and “sex” in this culture. I also think it’s offensive to deem natural human behaviors to be “abnormal” just because they do not align with an outdated notion of how different sexes should behave.What will become of the two-spirit people in certain Native American tribes, often the healers of the tribe? What about the hijra of South Asian cultures, an accepted third gender being neither male nor female? If this does work and become widespread, it could mean the end of long-standing traditions around various parts of the globe.

  15. 15
    Rhb

    River is an interesting case (especially if you include the Firefly exigesis). On the one hand she can out-reave the revers, but on the other she is completely helpless and broken: frightened by Book’s hair for example. I think Weedon wanted it both ways.Glau seems to like this sort of rôle, vide her rather fractured Terminator.

  16. 16
    hippiefemme

    I figure that if a “gay gene” is ever found, religious fundamentalists will say that it’s god’s plan to “fix” homosexuality and that’s why he let it become apparent.

  17. 17
    Nillerz

    There isn’t a gay gene, but current ideas suggest that an overabundance of particular hormones may affect brain development. A boy who receives too much estrogen in the womb may have a feminine brain develop. If this prevents that, I don’t see the issue, though I would like more testing to be done before it is accepted in the mainstream to make sure it is safe.

  18. 18
    Amanda June Hagarty

    Well why go to the bother of influencing prenatal hormones. How about they just sterilize the women who have too many androgens in their blood and be done with it hmmm?

  19. 19
    Jeric_synergy

    Greg Egan already addressed this idea, in an excellent short story, “Cocoon” (wiki wiki wikihey, it’s dl’able for $1.59!!! Well worth it, IMO). His treatment of gay issues was great, and he pretty much hit all the bases in the concept. Recommended! (I’m just a fan.)http://www.fictionwise.com/ebo

  20. 20
    WhatPaleBlueDot

    The biggest issue is that somehow, they got both ethical approval for this AND funding and yet no one can do studies on the effects of actual medical treatments for mothers during pregnancy?

  21. 21
    Desigualchica

    Very interesting (and scary) post. I find it amusing this concept of feminine gender meaning that as a woman you have to be happy with housework, marriage, kids and no “masculine” (and “agressive”) jobs! I am mega feminine (only wear outrageous heels and both my clothing and body are head-turningly feminine). As a child I wouldn’t wear trousers, played with dolls and was 100% a “little girl”. I am however what I would call an alpha female – I am career driven, agressive, do not want children or to get married, often treat men like “playthings”, generally prefer men but do from time to time dable with ladies. And I HATE housework. You couldn’t get more feminine than me physically (and hormonally) and yet many of my characteristics are very masculine. I am very happy with the way I am and I love my life (and life in general) – I wouldn’t change me for the world and I have a huge ton of friends who would support that. I wonder how these researchers would tackle someone like me?! It is sad that there is this lack of acceptance of people who are positvely contributing to society but may not always fit the traditional image. History is full of brilliant people who were “different”. If we were all the same society would stagnate, new scientific and cultural advances would not happen and frankly life would be bloody boring!

  22. 22
    Dhubbard

    Oh My God!!! What the hell is wrong with these people? Yes, lets experiment on unborn children. This is probably the same group of people who are against stem cell research.Gene therapy to eliminate the “gay” gene is counter-intuitive. If people are predisposed to be gay, what makes them think God does not want it that way?”Reavers” is right. Lets breed everything out of humans that make us unique. No more Da Vinci’s, Einstein’s, or Mozart’s. We don’t need diversity in culture anyway, right? Why shouldn’t we all be the same color, height, size, and appearance? Who needs individuality?If we are stopping legitimate science because of the morally superior Christians believe we are trying to be God, then we need to ban altering genes for remove “gayness” as well. Fracking hypocrites!

  23. 23
    Christy

    I am what most people would call religious. (some members of my church would disagree, but I digress) The practice outlined in the article is the most reprehensible, anti-Christian, evil thing I’ve every heard of.  It is as bad as, if not worse than, abortion in the hideousness of the whole notion of forcing someone to conform at the genetic/hormonal level.Even worse, we don’t understand the human body and mind near as much as we like to think we do, and yet these morons are f*cking with the very foundations of the person’s life from before they can even survive outside the womb!!!WRONG, WRONG, WRONG!!

  24. 24
    Calilasseia

    So much concentrated wrong in this idea full stop.Apparently these people have learned nothing from the 1950s “organotherapy” débacle, which saw Alan Turing being forced to take female hormones to “cure” his homosexuality. We all saw how successful that was.Plus, how come one of the people pushing this is a WOMAN SCIENTIST? One whose entire career has involved crashing through the glass ceiling? Doesn’t she see ANY irony in this?One of my first thoughts about this was that those pushing this creepy development are gearing up for a movie – “Stepford Wives: The Next Generation”. It’s all about fundie WASPs with small dicks running shit scared from the fact that women given a CHOICE wouldn’t touch them with a 60 foot barge pole, and desperately seeking to ensure that they have a nice, regular supply of conveniently compliant automata with breasts and vaginas, because the thought of a woman as an INDEPENDENT HUMAN BEING fills them with sufficient terror to cause prolapse. It’s “woman as property” given a new lease of life when it should have been flushed down the toilet 40 centuries ago, and fundie control freakery mated to the sort of thoughtless, ideology-driven bad science that gave us “organotherapy”. It stinks, and only in a society riddled with dysfunction and addled by a masturbatorily obsessive adherence to mythological blind assertions could such an obscenity be considered as anything but an obscenity. Incidentally, if someone would like to correct me on this, as I think I have mis-attributed this in the past, but I was of the view that Douglas Adams once said something along the lines of “the idea that there are two genders of humans is woefully naive: in truth, there are as many genders as there are humans on the planet”. If someone can correct the attribution, I’d be grateful.

  25. 25
    ShayLeannaJ

    Ok… experimenting on pregnant mothers with drugs has NEVER been a good thing. Do deformed babies ring any bells? The only thing about the point of the experiment that bothers me is the gender stereotype: women should be good little housewives who live at home, take car of the house, kids, and cook the meals and basically live to serve their husbands. (I personally would actually prefer that for myself but that’s me and I am undoubtedly in the minority) Firstly, this is the 21st century. Women’s rights movement and all that (this could be seen as a infringement on womens rights actually.) Secondly, that lifestyle is impractical unless you’re filthy rich seeing as it now takes two working parents to support a small household and only pay for basic necessities. This isnt’ the late 1800′s anymore, life is very expensive. And thirdly… seriously? They’re trying to cure percieved behavioral problems when there is cancer, HIV/AIDS, people starving in other countries, a serious obesity problem in society, etc, and they’re worried that women are wanting the wrong lifestyle???!!! Seriously?

  26. 26
    Icecreamaddict100

    I think what worries me most about this study is what will be the long term side effects to these children that have undergone this treatment? Will it cause cancer because we are messing with nature? And on a side note: I thought I read a long time ago that homosexual tendencies were linked to a chromosome difference.

  27. 27
    Tom Baxter

    Wikipedia may be a good place to start medical research, but go to Medscape.com to read what your doctor does. It’s free. CAH, while not ALS or metastasis, it is not benign.It appears the prenatal diagnosis is often innaccuate and the treatments long term harm may exceed the good.Congenital Adrenal Hyperplasia in Adults: A Review of Medical, Surgical and Psychological Issues Cara Megan Ogilvie; Naomi S. Crouch; Gill Rumsby; Sarah M. Creighton; Lih-Mei Liao; Gerard S. ConwayClin Endocrinol. 2006;64(1):2-11Why is the Management of Glucocorticoid Deficiency Still Controversial: A Review of the Literature Anna Crown; Stafford LightmanClin Endocrinol. 2005;63(5):483-492

  28. 28
    Austin

    You can abort a fetus, but give it hormonal treatment, come on that isn’t fair!

  29. 29
    kendermouse

    Hmm… ensured early interest in men, maternity, and being a housewife… am I the only one who sees this potentially leading to an even greater rise in teenage pregnancy, if it becomes widespread?

  30. 30
    Jarod Cates

    Thanks, Tom B. I was just about to post something along those lines.There are certainly scary implications in this article, but there are plenty of reasons to “try to fix CAH”. Vomiting and hypertension are NOT “the only major symptoms” beyond masculinization. The classic “salt-wasting” form of CAH includes disturbances in electrolyte balance which can lead to cardiac dysfunction, dehydration, weight loss, and death in infants by a few weeks of age. In addition, the physical masculinization is not limited to clitoral enlargement. There are many infant girls with CAH whose external genitals are completely ambiguous or appear to be male — i.e., including completely fused labia. I hope you’ll agree that’s not a completely innocent or solely societal problem, at least by the time puberty hits.

  31. 31
    AugustaB

    Just imagine if this technique was available to the men who controlled the society described in Margaret Atwood’s “The Handmaiden”. As a bisexual male with transgender feelings my life would have been a lot different and perhaps less of a puzzle had I been more “normal”. But goats survive in places where sheep cannot so …

  32. 32
    Alison

    Great post Jen… I read this article last week and my reaction was much the same as yours. I’m another woman who doesn’t fit neatly into the category marked ‘female’ – I’ve got quite a masculine body shape and facial features, never liked playing with dolls, have always got on better with men than women, don’t fantasise about motherhood, and am bisexual. It’s entirely possible I might have some hormonal condition which, as long as it doesn’t affect my health, I may never know about. This kind of research terrifies me, as the eventual conclusion might be that women like you and I are somehow massaged out of existence. I don’t think this kind of research should be stopped, but I do worry about the underlying agenda.As a bisexual woman, it frustrates me that the LGBT community continues to engage with the Christian right over whether being same-sex attracted is a choice. I would argue that the real issue is whether it matters what makes us attracted to the same sex at all – and I would argue that the answer is no. I suspect that people are same-sex attracted to different extents and for different reasons; some might be biologically ‘hard-wired’ (as evidenced by people having same-sex relationships in societies where this behaviour is punishable by death), whereas others (such as myself) might feel that their sexual orientation is more fluid. I understand there have already been two major studies which suggest that there are multiple factors involved in determining sexual orientation, both biological and environmental. Research which focuses entirely on the biological seems to be counterproductive from an equality and diversity perspective – if it is eventually determined that there is a particular genetic or hormonal condition which leads to a person being 100% same sex attracted all their life, where does that leave bisexuals, or people who find that their preference changes at some point in their life? Will we no longer be welcome in LGBT circles because we’re not ‘real gays’? It would cement the perception that gender orientation – like gender – is binary.As for those people who want to ‘cure’ us of our same-sex attraction… they would just shift their focus, maybe arguing that we should somehow ‘rise above’ all our sinful instincts. To turn one of your points on its head… the fact that skin colour is determined by genetics doesn’t stop people being racist.Sigh.

  33. 33
    Thetrueapropos

    Jen, normally I really respect your opinion because they are generally very well thought out and researched, but I think you’ve let yourself get a bit carried away here, even according to the Wiki article you yourself linked to there are much worse side effects to CAH then vomiting and hypertension, also you entirely failed to mention that the vomiting itself is caused by salt-wasting severe enough to lead to dehydration and death.

  34. 34
    Dawn Gilbert Dietzel

    I have to go with outrage and concern. While CAH is a problem, can cause neonatal death and various health problems throughout life(see the Medscape reference posted above, or try WebMD or Mayo Clinic’s pages), I would not be willing to do prenatal treatment SIMPLY to ensure a “feminine” child. I don’t care if my girl-child is feminine or not. I DO care if prenatal treatment can prevent the future life problems. If it can’t, then why treat? I don’t believe in treating a minor effect of a disease when the treatment does not effect the more important major health issues.

  35. 35
    Zenlite

    I think there needs to be a system to hold parents accountable for the impact their actions have on their children. So much that is done is effectively a crime, whether of violence or violation, against the adults they will one day become.

  36. 36
    Seth Ishtar

    I find it odd that agression is being considered abnormal… you only have to take a small glance at the animal kingdom AND it stares you in the face that the females are MORE agressive then men.As a ftm i find this whole thing disturbing to say the least.. if they get away with this it will just open the door on the ‘designer babies’ debate again. ><

  37. 37
    Mloren

    This seems very appropriate right now:”It is not unnatural. I am not sick because I feel this way. I do not need to be helped. I do not need to be cured. What we do is no different from what you do. We talk and laugh… we cry with each other when things seem hopeless.What right do you have to change us?What makes you think you can dictate how people love each other?”- Star Trek: TNG

  38. 38
    Sébastien Cloutier

    What we need to challenge is this: “Evidence that homosexual orientation is inborn could, instead, very well lead to new means of pathologization and prevention, as it seems to be in the case we’ve been tracking.”Even if “gayness” is innate, it does not follow that it is a pathology.

  39. 39
    Diane Oldermusicgeek

    as a transsexual parent of a tomboy daughter, i can’t help but be horrified by this!

  40. 40
    WhatPaleBlueDot

    This topic has been floating around for a while, and you got me all confused!Yeah, CAH is srs bsns. The discussion of using it to reduce non-normative behavior is hypothetical. But, if someone had gotten approval for it, I’d be all So where the fuck is the study on clinical dosages of Adderall? Fuckers.

  41. 41
    Andrew Hall

    What I’m looking for is when they can alter Jewish babies into clean, healthy, Aryans.http://laughinginpurgatory.blo

  42. 42
    Valerie

    I find it absolutely repulsive that somebody would sexualize their unborn baby. You’re about to deliver an innocent little bundle who’s going to love you out of instinct, and you’re most worried about how they’re going to get their jollies? That’s entirely voyeuristic.What’s wrong with tomboys & nerdy girls? Being the 2nd out of 3 daughters, I felt like there was a void I needed to fill for my dad. Does that mean there’s something wrong with me? I guess I’m just lucky I didn’t turn out gay *rolls eyes*This is America…we’re supposed to embrace individuality and be proud of the rights of our women. We can assure you…not every man is into a shoe-collecting, baby-poppin’, Cosmo Reader, thank goodness for me. Not every girl who played with barbies is going to grow up to be heterosexual. Women AND men go through great lengths not to get pregnant, and I think this country is better for it, thank you very much.

  43. 43
    Wayne Colvin

    It sounds like this applies only to baby girls. What would happen if this drug was given to baby boys?

  44. 44
    Lunchstealer

    I don’t like the idea that an overabundance of hormones creating a ‘masculine brain’ in a female or ‘feminine brain’ in a male is something to fix. Non-normality or having long tails on the statistical bell curve isn’t bad at all. Once we start deciding that there is a ‘feminine brain’ and that women should have it, rather than simply a peak in the bell curve on certain attributes, we start denying the idea that diversity is a good thing. And I think that having lots of different people with lots of different ideas is absolutely a good thing. If all women tend to be meek and non-aggressive, and all men tend to be aggressive and non-maternal, then we’re never going to get the perspectives on our society that aggressive/masculine-leaning women bring. So no more Blag Hags! And I think that for all some hyper-militant feminists may get tiresome, I think that having no mold-breaking on the parts of women or men would be boring as hell!

  45. 45
    Jawdropping

    *jaw drops* I’m ..I..I’m speechless..I’ve read the article 2x now and I..ah..I’m just speechless…OMG..is this Really going on?? I can’t even find the words to express how horrified and appalled I …am..speechless…what ??how?? Nope I’m speechless..I can’t even find the words ….I’m just so appalled… what is wrong with this world!! When did it become OK to research crap like this?? and why and how? is it being funded?? My God…someone make it stop!! This is insane!!

  46. 46
    Jake181

    Who F’n cares, really? Why do we need to quantify and qualify all of human behavior. We are HUMAN that’s what makes us HUMAN. Few people on the planet really understand how the human brain works. We are all complex equations ruled by so many factors that no mathematician could even come close to solving the resultant. I believe that sexual orientation is just that… a common resultant of innumerable factors that are impossibly duplicated. There is no simple reason for why a person is who he or she is… they just ARE. Prove to me the existence of a soul! Then I will be impressed. ‘Til then, stop wasting valuable grant money on proving something as trivial as sexual orientation. There’s a simple test for that…

  47. 47
    Myriam

    I think we should do the opposite, so we have more LGTB people. ^_^

  48. 48
    Rob U

    Okay, this is crazy.I can certainly understand wanting to fix a serious medical condition that can lead to early childhood death, or cause long term pain and suffering, but to deliberately alter a person’s mind before its even fully developed so they will conform to some 1950′s nostalgic view of how women should be is disgusting.What about us guys out there who are attracted to strong willed, independent, highly intelligent women? I don’t want some docile “girly-girl” who serves my every need though, if I can be just a little sexist for for a minute, I certainly won’t complain if she can cook because I really hate doing it! ;-)Still, gender role ideas like this distress me because I don’t need a servant, I need a partner. If they breed away all the strong willed intelligent women, there are going to be a lot of lonely guys who can’t find women who “do it” for them.Pete…

  49. 49
    Craig

    I unfortunately have had to be at my parents’ house for the summer, and the insanely restrictive gender roles they believe in and are indoctrinating my siblings with have become distressingly apparent in a very short time. What’s really sad is that neither of my parents fit at all well into the norm, and yet believe so strongly in the duality and rigid binary of gender and gender roles, that they feel themselves inadequate. I was furious when first I heard about this doctor (who should lose her license to practise medicine), and am still irate about it. I don’t understand why it’s not totally obvious how artificial gender roles are, and how harmful our social norms are. I really fucking hope that society doesn’t get all Gattica on us and start screening out undesirable but unharmful traits like the gay. I would be devastated if that were to happen. In my opinion, the more minorities, the more diversity we have in humanity, the better off we are, ethically and genetically.

  50. 50
    Victoria

    OK, so here I am. I have 38D breasts and I can out-arm-wrestle my twenty-something male roommates. I love to cook but my housekeeping is near disaster, one of the many reasons to prefer those roommates. I have a degree in art, a degree in languages, and a degree in pure math. I love to garden and also to ski downhill on the black diamonds. I despised dolls as a child and never played with them, but when I did decide to have a kid, my hormones did make me appropriately goopy sentimental for the time period required to get the kid raised. I’m totally straight, attracted to men only, which is really too bad because I’d make a good butch and have so many more dating opportunities.So . . . this CAH does sound like a serious condition and the physical manifestations should certainly be treated. But we need to be activists and make very clear that it is medically unethical to go any further and start adapting to a 1950′s Dick and Jane view of appropriate roles ad behaviour.By the way, I just saw that Caster Semenye has been passed as a woman and can compete in world-class running events again. I thought she might have androgen insensitivity but apparently the sports oversight committee didn’t find this — could it have been CAH in some form?

  51. 51
    Freya

    I am against this article on so many levels, too many to mention. But I”ll touch on the main ones–First of all, the statement–” If anything we need more aggressive women who are willing to speak up instead of feeling condemned to a life as a baby making machine.”Uh, whoever wrote this must be very, very young. I know many, many women with children who are assertive. I don’t think being “aggressive” is a positive, in men or women. Assertive yes. The point is, having children and being assertive are not mutually exclusive. “If you want to have children or be a housewife, that’s fine – but it should be your choice, not forced upon you by society…”Uh, society cannot “force” anything on you. For one thing, “society” is not monolithic. Which society would you be referring to? There are countless “societies” in the world. “…or hormones you did not consent to.”– Uh, are you going to also say that we shouldn’t be content with settling for binocular vision, simply because we only have two eyes, and we did not “consent” to only having two eyes? Did we “consent” to being carbon-based rather than silicon? Since we did not consent, should we rail against the injustice of not being made of silicon? Did we “consent” to only having two legs each? Should I be angry because I was not “awarded” 100 legs like a centipede..? In other words EVERYTHING WE ARE is “nonconsensual”. We didn’t choose any part of ourselves at birth. Finally, you can certainly be against having children, be against “traditional” western maternal values, and be against being feminine, etc. You are certainly also free to live by such positions. But don’t complain when your demographic disappears, due to a low to negative birth rate (as is happening in Europe), and is replaced by demographics that are REPRODUCING LIKE RABBITS, are 100% in favor of “traditional maternal values” because such values lead to high birth rates and survival rates of offspring, have no problem embracing their femininity (which also tends to lead to high birth rates), are NOT in favor of defending homosexuality (which by definition does not exactly encourage reproduction), etc etc. Because one day these demographics will bury the self-righteous who eschew these values. This is not a moral question, it is a statement of scientific fact. If you are comfortable with this, that’s fine. But be prepared for the longterm consequences. And I’m not religious, I’m atheist.

  52. 52
    Beth

    This ethos behind this research is truly frightening. Neither myself or my female friends completely conform to this idea of ‘normal’ that they have created. I haven’t checked (for practical reasons) but I suspect that none of us have CAH. So what about all us women who didn’t spend our childhoods planning weddings, naming babies and grooming barbie dolls? There are millions of us. We’re not abnormal, we’re humans beings, with all the little differences regularly found in humanity (I guess I should say currently found just in case). The idea that we should be forced in to roles decided for us before birth is disgusting.Do people really believe that a future filled with biologically altered stepford wives would be an improvement?

  53. 53
    Desmond Ravenstone

    Yes, we should be concerned about doctors seeking to pathologize gender nonconformity. It’s bad science, and worse, could lead to bad medicine.Have they determined long-range side effects to this proposed therapy regimen? Or how successful it is?These are questions I had to ask myself when I discovered I inherited a severe dairy allergy. If someone offered me a “cure” or the chance to prevent my children from inheriting it, would I take it? Not necessarily, because I’d want to weigh the risks involved against learning how to live with the allergy.Problem is, many folks still invest so much emotional energy into notions of sexual and gender conformity, they are too easily swayed by arguments that, while this treatment may be risky, at least your kid will grow up “normal”.

  54. 54
    C.J. McCullough

    Being a bisexual woman in a male dominant industy, this kind of research is concerning. It disturbs me that in this day and age there are still people that believe that homosexuality is something to be eradicated and can be eradicated pre-birth. Can this or any scientist say for sure what the “gay gene” is and do they have the right to do anything about it? In my opinion no. As for saying we need more agressive women, that’s neither here nor there, it’s all in how it’s used. I can be agressive or passive (or passive agressive) but it’s not for some stranger to go to the mother, take a genetic sample of the unborn child and decide it’s destiny that may or may not work anyway. Playing God will blow up in their face. In not religious but trying to manipulate with a person’s base personality pre-birth cannot go anywhere good.

  55. 55
    MJ Cooper

    Freya makes a good point that “We didn’t choose any part of ourselves at birth.”, but I don’t think she took that notion far enough. Before birth (or whichever arbitrary point in development you choose) the fetus isn’t a morally important being yet. It does not have rights. Morally speaking, I don’t think it matters what we do to it, so long as it doesn’t damage an actual person. That being said, these therapies could actually damage an actual person: the person the fetus will eventually become. That person could have serious unforeseen health problems because some doctor was monkeying around with their hormones at birth. If they develop a heart valve defect at 20 as a result of an unnecessary ‘therapy’ they have been injured/wronged by that doctor. That’s assuming the doc gave them the therapy for the behavioral stuff and not CAH. This sounds like a legitimate therapy for a serious condition if used correctly.So to recap, the fetus has no rights. The person the fetus will become has rights. Is this person actually injured/harmed by a behavior-changing therapy, assuming there were no side effects or complications? I say no. As Freya pointed out, we don’t actually have any control over our state at birth anyway. What has this person lost that they had before?Don’t get me wrong, I think its fucked up that there are people in the world who want to pathologize homosexuality, and might theoretically try to breed them out of the population. Its just that this theoretical treatment doesn’t hurt any gays. It doesn’t actually hurt anyone in theory (again, see the part about side effects/complications).Part of the confusion is that some people seem to think entire cultures have rights. You might think that the gay culture, however you choose to define it, has the right to continued existence. But I’ve never heard a convincing argument to give groups rights, only people. Individual gay people have rights, gay culture as a whole has none. So if some theoretical society bred out all their homosexuality, it wouldn’t actually be immoral. It would likely be a symptom of homophobia, which leads to actual crimes against actual people, but the breeding program itself wouldn’t be the problem.*Note: I’m using ‘gay’ here to mean ‘LGBT’. I’m just a lazy writer. If you’re offended by my writing style instead of my actual message, write your complaint down on a piece of paper and stick it up your politically correct gay ass.

  56. 56
    SuperHappyJen

    This is actually good news, because it means we must have already cured cancer, and AIDS, and diabetes, and alzeimer’s, for the scientific community to be so far down on their to-do list already. “We’ve fixed all major diseases, let’s find a drug that turns women into housewives!”On a side note, I never really dreamed of being a housewife, but now I’m a stay-at-home mom and love it. It helps to have actual children, instead of hypothetical children. I think my husband got the short end of the deal having to go to work every day!

  57. 57
    Tacroy

    http://bigthink.com/ideas/2077

  58. 58
    Marion Delgado

    You used the E-word! And you’re not deferring to absolutely anything as long as it has someone in a lab coat associated with it! I’m telling ERV!

  59. 59
    Gpullinger

    Who the F*** is running clinical trials these? I breifly skimmed the linked article but I’m in a hurry to get back to work. Perhaps we should try to give them all blue eyes as well. Calling Dr. Mengele!

  60. 60
    Thomas Everett Haynes

    Clearly we should formulate a study on making men better husbands. You know, isolate a chemical that makes them not cheat, and obsess over romantic details, and makes their hair and skin color change every few days. Not to mention ze muscles!And lets see what I got on the test! * Masculine career choice: Check. Army, WOO! * Aggressiveness: Check. Army, WOO! * Bisexuality: Army, WOO! * Abnormal peer association: Check. I got in trouble once for talking to myself so well my parents thought I had friends over. * Low interest in playing with dolls: HELL NAW! The best part of any RPG is dressing up! * Low interest in caring for infants: I wanna be a stay at home dad! * Less frequent daydreams about pregnancy & marriage: I dream about marriage erry day, i’m like a little amish girl! ^-^ * Less interest in having children: Naw, I already have my kids named! Michael, Ishmael, Frestiliana, and Pandora! * Less interest in traditional housewife role: But cleaning is so… therapeutic!

  61. 61
    Ross A. Lincoln

    But don’t you understand? We can teach mice to use utensils! They will learn manners!/Dr. Nathan Bronfman>

  62. 62
    Ross A. Lincoln

    But it’s also a shame that these studies give science a bad name

    The sweet irony of course is that it’s “science” being used to further the goals of theocracy and yet, it’s the scientists and not the bronze age death cultists who will be getting the (reputationally) black eye. Awesome.

  63. 63
    Craig

    Condescending much?

  64. 64
    Lunchstealer

    I will say this: I think our beloved BlagHag hasn’t clearly ruled out one possibility. It’s clear that the main aim of these guys is to reduce ambiguity of sexual organs. While I’m sure that there are some benefits to masculinized female genitalia, it would most certainly present some social obstacles as well. The other results are reported, but unless I’m misreading something they aren’t proposing them as beneficial effects. They’re simply reporting them. If you’re doing work examining the effect of the prenatal chemical soup, you would be remiss to fail to report that it seems to affect brain development and possibly long term personality development.

  65. 65
    Partykmd

    Just to set the SCIENCE straight: From a pediatrician… Babies and children can *die* from CAH. It is not true that the only side effects are mascularization (if in a female), vomiting, and hypertension. The abnormal enzyme can prevent blockage of the corticosteroids that we need to : respond to everyday physiologic stress (cortisol and the like) and maintain electrolyte balance. Untreated, babies DIE of shock and of cardiac dysrhythmias primarily due to high potassium levels. This is why CAH is tested for in all newborn screening, along with PKU, hypothyroidism. Lifelong hormonal treatment is necessary to allow normal metabolism. Hormones are a large class of compounds with diverse affects, and only some are sex hormones, the concentrations of which can also be affected in most types of CAH. Whether doctors should alter treatment hormonally to include sex hormones is the topic of discussion here. But please realize that CAH is a serious, deadly but treatable disease requiring steroid hormone replacement. The sex hormones are another issue. Just saying…

  66. 66
    Timyang19

    I’m afraid I’m nowhere near as well-read as the other commenters here, but based on my reading that article Jen posted, I can’t help but shake the feeling that using these hormones to alter a woman’s sense of sexuality before they’re born sounds way too much like eugenics.

  67. 67
    Kibrika

    Isn’ t wanting your children not to be gay kind of evolutionary bonus?So ethics above survivival of our kind? :D

  68. 68
    Jeffrey

    This is a serious research goal? It strikes me as the people running the research have issues…I could state them, but anyone trying to change genes because of gender roles strikes me as sick

  69. 69
    Kris

    Oh good lord.They want to change genes to prevent gays? And they’re trying this out on CHILDREN? Children who have no other choice? There are things wrong with this that I cannot even begin to describe.That and the world is overpopulated enough, I don’t think we need to ensure survival of our species by genetically altering children to not be gay. Let’s hit that mark of too many people for the planet to support that much quicker! Oi.

  70. 70
    Dale Husband

    Look at what P Z Myers says about homosexuality, Catholicism, and academic freedom and honesty:http://scienceblogs.com/pharyn…I thought it was very impressive and balanced. Pass it on!

  71. 71
    Kailey

    Fucking Awesome Post.

  72. 72
    medstudent

    I was about to post these exact same sentiments. As a medical student, I totally see nothing wrong with attempting to alleviate the suffering caused by CAH. Why put children through surgery to correct genital deformities and expose them to the psychological trauma at puberty of being in the wrong body, if it can be prevented simply by treating their mothers with dexamethasone!

  73. 73
    Desmond Ravenstone

    @medstudent: The issue is whether we ought to consider gender variation as a “dysfunction” and therefore a rationale for subjecting a child to a risky treatment. No one here questions that CAH is debilitating, even life-threatening at times; our concern is using gender “deviance” (which is not debilitating in itself) as a reason to undergo an experimental procedure, esp when we still don’t know what long-term side effects there might be.

  74. 74
    Guest

    oh wow, this is terrifying. why can’t they just leave people to be themselves? ack.

  75. 75
    La_murph

    Please do your research and correct your blog entry. CAH is a serious disease. I have late-onset CAH, and trust me, medication is necessary. If babies are screened, and treated in-utero for this disease, it improves their outcome. It’s caused by diseased adrenal glands. The over-abundance of androgens damages a girls body and her reproductive organs. Many untreated babies die early on due to salt wasting because the disease affects electrolyte balance. Having higher than normal androgens has made me more agressive than most girls, but it didn’t make me a lesbian. What it did cause was high blood pressure, early menopause (age 30), severe menstrual problems (leading to hospitalization), early osteo-arthritis (from years of untreated electolyte imbalances) and infertility.It really angers me that you would blast researchers just because they’re noting that treatment may have an effect on some behaviors. You’ve just made up a bunch of bull and gotten people worked up about nothing.

  76. 76
    Desmond Ravenstone

    If this form of treatment allows people with CAH to live functional lives, great. But what we’ve been reading is that the researchers appear to be using gender conformity as a selling point, just when the medical community has been accepting gender variance as healthy.This would be like someone using Haagen-Dazs as a major selling point for their treatment for dairy allergy, as opposed to reducing the risk of osteoporosis and other related health problems.

  77. 77
    Gonzalo Vergara

    The best prisons are those in which a prisoner is given freedom, for in confusion lies enslavement. Gabriela Anaya Valdepeña#2177

  78. 78
    Keith Barrington

    It is a shame that there is so much misinformation in this blog post.CAH is a frequently LETHAL disease.It is not a “normal variant”, but is a block in the production of essential adrenal hormones. The metabolites which accumulate up to the point of the blocked enzyme (21 hydroxylase)  are diverted into other pathways, including those leading to the production of testoterones. (A “milder” variant of CAH with a less complete block in the hormone production pathway leads to less elevated testosterone levels delayed puberty, or primary amenorrhea, or infertility)Babies who are born with the most common, severe variant of the disease often leak sodium in their urine and end up with low blood pressure and in shock and may die, as they also accumulate potassium and end up with life-threatening arrhythmias. Girls who have the disease have variably masculinized genitalia, which can range from clitoral hypertrophy to almost complete masculinization, apart from the fused labio-scrotal folds not containing gonads, as the ovaries do not descend in the way that testes do.Boys may have an excessively enlarged penis (macrogenitisomia praecox).Antenatal steroid therapy is used to prevent the masculinization, and prevent the other life-threatening complications in women who have previously had a sick baby, Unfortunately the antenatal diagnosis is not always correct, so certain babies are  born after the mother receives this treatment, but do not have the disease. Such unaffected babies do not have any effect on sex hormones from the antenatal treatment. The authors of the original article were reviewing the experience in the world with antenatal treatment to prevent severe illness in babies affected by CAH, and discussed a number of articles demonstrating that antenatal testosterone levels affect behavior. Such altered behavior is likely to also be affected by antenatal steroid treatment. Whether you think that is good or bad is a matter of personal opinion, but the comments in this and other blogs show that almost no-one has read the original articles, and unfortunately (and unskeptically) have accepted the third hand nonsense relayed on this web site. Which is itself a rehash of nonsense spouted by an extremist anti-male commentator who herself clearly did not understand the original article.So no-one in the world gives antenatal therapy to try and change sexual behavior of the offspring. It wouldn’t even work. Antenatal steroids have no effect on sexual behavior except among babies who have a very abnormal steroid synthetic pathway, which is what CAH is.

  79. 79
    Abell23

    But we’re under no obligation to appease these losers. The “I can’t help it, I was born this way” angle smacks of an apology. One that doesn’t need to be made, especially to the religious wind bags. It’s the bigot’s problem…no one else’s. Even if homosexuality was entirely a choice, and one that could be made on the fly throughout a person’s life, there would STILL be nothing wrong with it

  80. 80
    Der Cat

    River Tam is not exactly…mentaly stable…just saying…

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