Medicine: Change of Sex

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"Good! It is good! A woman? Bah. . . . She is nothing. A man? Hah. ... He is everything. There is not anything in the world that is not open to him." So said comely, blue-eyed Zdenek Koubek last week, through an interpreter, as he sat cross-legged on the deck of the lie de France. Because of his curious medical history, he was journeying to Manhattan to appear in a cabaret. Born in Bohemia 23 years ago, the child was pronounced a girl, christened Zdenka Koubkova. She grew up as a sturdy, sport-loving maiden. She set Czechoslovak women's records in the broad jump, high jump, a half-dozen sprint and middle-distance runs; a women's world record for the 800-metre run in 1934. Few months ago she asked her provincial government to change her on the records from female to male. An operation was performed and onetime Zdenka Koubkova was pronounced a man. Although he still crosses his legs and shows his ankle like a woman, Zdenek Koubek has sturdy shoulders, big biceps, shaves. He is one of the two cases which worry-ridden Avery Brundage, chaperon of the U. S. Olympic athletes in Berlin, had in mind when he demanded examination for sex ambiguities in all women competitors (TIME, Aug. 10).

Mr. Brundage's other case was Mark Weston. Mary Edith Louise Weston was born in England 30 years ago. Among Englishwomen she was the best shotputter from 1924 to 1930, the best javelin thrower in 1927. Miss Weston had a close friend, named Alberta Bray. Two months ago Dr. L. R. Broster of London's Charing Cross Hospital performed two operations to complete Mary Weston's metamorphosis into masculinity. Said Dr. Broster: "Mr. Mark Weston, who was always brought up as a female, is male, and should continue life as such." As to whether Mark Weston could have sexual intercourse or achieve paternity, Dr. Broster did not publicly hazard a guess. Last week in Plymouth, Mr. Mark Weston revealed that he had married Miss Alberta Bray week before.

Such cases of "sex change" fascinate not only tabloid editors but also serious students of the tremendous complexity and almost infinite variations of human hermaphroditism. To sober medical men, it does not seem strange that Nature some times blurs sexual development in men & women. Biologists say there is no such thing as absolute sex. Anatomists recognized a consistent parallelism between the genital structures of male & female. Recent research on such female sex hormones as theelin reveals that the corresponding male hormones are chemically almost identical. Normal men generate traces of female hormones, and vice versa. Thus, being male or female is not a matter of one element completely excluding the other, but rather of one ele ment dominating the other. If the domi nance is too weak to prevent confusion, the individual is a hermaphrodite.

In true hermaphrodites, which are very rare, there are glands of both sexes, either ovaries and testicles or a mixed gland called an ovario-testis. In a case which came to the attention of William Blair- Bell of England, a girl of 17 began to develop masculine characteristics. Examination disclosed an ovary on one side, an ovario-testis on the other. Eight months after the mixed gland was removed, the girl resumed her feminine appearance almost entirely.

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