The Sexes: Biological Imperatives

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For the little boy who lost his penis, the change began at 17 months with a girl's name and frilly clothes. An operation to make the child's genitals look more feminine was done, and plans were made to build a vagina and administer estrogen at a later age. The parents, counseled at the Johns Hopkins psychohormonal research unit, began to treat the child as if he were a girl. The effects of the parents' changed attitude and behavior were marked. "She doesn't like to be dirty," the mother told the clinic in one of her periodic reports. "My son is quite different. I can't wash his face for anything. She seems to be daintier. Maybe it's because I encourage it. She is very proud of herself when she puts on a new dress, and she just loves to have her hair set."

In another case, a newborn infant with only a rudimentary penis and other genital defects was "assigned" as a boy because he had two testes and the chromosome makeup of a male. With the realization that he could never be a normal man, experts decided when the boy was 17 months old to give him a chance at happiness by reassigning him as a girl. A brother, two years older, was instrumental in helping the child develop a new feminine identity. To help the older boy accept the change, his parents explained that the doctors had made a mistake and that his little brother was really a little sister. Not long afterward, the big brother began to display a newly protective attitude. Reported the father: "Before, he was just as likely to stick his foot out and trip her as she went by; now he wants to hold her hand to make sure she doesn't fall."

The experience of two hermaphrodites, from different families, further bolsters Money's view. Each was born with the female chromosome pattern,* and each had internal female organs but a penis and empty scrotum outside. One set of parents believed they had a boy and raised their child accordingly; the other set assigned their offspring as a girl. (Surgery and hormones made the youngsters' appearance conform to the chosen sex.) According to Money, the children's "antithetical experiences signified to one that he was a boy and to the other that she was a girl." The girl therefore reached preadolescence expecting to marry a man; in fact, she already had a steady boy friend. The boy, by contrast, had a girl friend and "fitted easily into the stereotype of the male role in marriage," even though "he and his partner would both have two X chromosomes."

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