Thursday, July 1, 2010

Doctor trying to prenatally treat lesbianism? SAY WHAT?!

Yes. You heard right. Dr. Maria New of the Florida International University and her colleague Heino F. L. Meyer-Bahlburg of Columbia University are using the drug dexamethasone on pregnant women in order to prevent their female fetuses from being homosexual or bisexual. Dexamethasone is an experimental drug that is used to try to treat female fetuses with congenital adrenal hyperplasia (CAH), a genetic defect that affects the hormone production of the adrenal glands and in females can result in an increase in androgens and "masculinized" genitals (typically considered to be a clitoris larger than deemed normal). It is a class C drug, which means that it is unknown whether dex can harm a fetus. New and Meyer-Bahlburg believe that one's sexual orientation could be connected to prenatal androgens prenatal stage, and that treatment with dex could be used to change a fetus' sexual orientation.

As if that weren't bad enough, Meyer-Bahlburg goes on to describe the behavior of those with CAH: “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.” (You can read the article where I got this quote here. It also has a link to the paper where Meyer-Bahlburg said this.) Now, I don't have CAH, but that sounds like normal childhood to me. I hated dolls. I didn't want to be pregnant. I can't ever remember having a "fantasy" of pregnancy. I was perfectly ok with the idea of a stork bringing the baby. That certainly sounded better than the alternative, and what I later found out to be true.

But this research has many consequences (listed in no particular order because they are all frightening).

First, the fact that research like this is even happening is an ethical concern. Many anti-abortion activists will rant and rave about how abortionists are trying to exterminate races by performing "selective race" abortions, but then here we have doctors trying to eliminate different types of sexuality through prenatal treatment. And writing academic papers about it! The ethical implications of "curing" differing sexualities have been debated for decades, but apparently have fallen on deaf ears of New and Meyer-Bahlburg.

Second, this research implies that there is only one normal and acceptable form of female behavior. And that's "I only have one purpose in life, making babies" behavior. So all of you who wanted to be play the doctor instead of the nurse, abnormal female behavior (ironic since Maria New is a female doctor). For all of you who didn't like baby dolls, abnormal female behavior. Those of you who didn't like to play house, abnormal female behavior. This approach completely ignores every single difference between sex and gender, not to mention some of the major points of the women's rights movement. This opens the gates to researching ridiculous gender stereotypes as proven science and biological nature, like trying to prove that girls are genetically predisposed to pink.

Third, it frames LGBTQIA (Intersex and Asexual) people not as human beings, but as diseased inferiors who need to be removed from society. Call me radical, but research like this sounds an awful lot like the beginning of eugenics. This isn't just the regular anti-gay rhetoric you hear from protesters at Pride, or even from some of the more radical anti-gay extremist groups. It's one thing to be called an abomination. It's another to have doctors out there actively working on a cure for you, a vaccine to prevent people like you from existing.

And lastly, (though we could go on and on) it belittles the experiences of those women who have CAH and other intersex individuals. Intersex people face a lot of mistreatment by the medical industry, such as forced gender correction surgeries at birth and throughout their life, constant hormone replacement, and being judged by arbitrary standards that are defined by those who can't understand their position. One measure of whether a woman is intersex is by measuring the length of the clitoris. If it's too big, then she can be deemed intersex and have gender correction surgery where they cut the clitoris down to a "normal" size (this often leaves that individual with limited or no sensation in their clitoris as they grow older). Trying to prenatally treat fetuses so that they do not behave "abnormally" for their gender as prescribed for their sex erases those who may not have a sex recognized by our binary society, even though they're already invisible in our world of only male and female options.

This is some dangerous medicine.
Photo Credit: peasap on
Cross-posted at Ode to Patriarchy

1 comment:

Advocates for Informed Choice said...

Advocates for Informed Choice is a non-profit organization advocating for the legal and human rights of children with intersex conditions or differences of sex development, like the ones in this story. We work in collaboration with bioethicists, doctors, parents, affected adults, and many others. If you are interested in taking action to help protect these children, and to be sure that possible human rights violations are investigated, please join our Facebook page at or sign up for our Twitter feed at You can also donate to support our work at

- AIC Intern