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LGBT Lessons for Straight People: Caster Semenya

September 12, 2009 By: geekgirl Category: Featured, LGBT Lessons for Straight People

Gay EducationCaster Semenya, a young female athlete from South Africa, is making headlines due to genetic and hormonal testing that was performed when she was suspected to be male. Setting aside for a moment that she was tested without her knowledge and that the result should not have been made public, setting aside that I wish she had not dropped out and that this is a heart breaking story,  I would like to take a moment to let you know that your high school biology teacher was wrong.

We were all taught that if you have two X chromosomes, XX, that you are a girl. And if you are an XY, you are a boy. For most of us, this is true.

For most.  Not all. The development of genitals in the womb is a complicated, multi-step process. Many genes are involved and if anyone of them is disrupted, then genitals will form improperly. Sometimes this leads to a mixture of ovaries and testes, a smaller penis, or what is known as sex reversal.

One out of every 3000 individuals born as XY will be a girl anatomically. 1 out of 20,000 individuals born as XX will be a boy anatomically. When you think about it, this isn’t that rare. 1 out of 3000 boys is the same as 1000 out of 3 million boys. There are 300 million people in the United States. So this means there are approximately 50,000 XY individuals who are girls.

The fact that these are so different is a clue to the simple beginning of the boy or girl pathway. All fetuses start as girls. The hormonal pathway for being a boy has to be turned on. Otherwise, voila, you will be a girl.

Interestingly enough, some causes of intersex led to the girls developing male characteristics when they hit puberty. Others may experience infertility or lack of menstruation.

Ok. Enough science. If you are interested in the science, I’ve put some links to good websites for more information.

There is great debate over whether or not being gay (and I do mean that inclusively, LGBTQI, etc.) is genetic. Recently the religious right tried to twist the words of the American Psychological Association when the APA revised their statement to say that the biological origins of being gay are still unknown and probably biologically complicated. The religious right promptly and proudly announced there is no gay gene.

Let’s think about this for a minute. The research on intersexed individuals has gone on for many years and is very well documented. This is, in part, because we can SEE the result – whether it is the appearance of external genitals or looking inside using techniques like ultrasound. We can also analyze DNA very accurately and determine not only if someone is XX or XY, we can also identify what gene mutations are the cause of being intersexed. The data is irrefutable and solid.

Where does this leave sexual orientation? If a gay man appears to have completely normal looking genitals, does this argue that being gay is a choice? I don’t think so. It takes sex hormones to develop genitals. Why couldn’t smaller changes in hormones lead to a change in sexual orientation?  We know so little about the brain and how it works. Just because we can’t “see” something physical that tells us someone is gay, doesn’t mean it doesn’t exist.

We  know that many personality characteristics have a genetic basis or are due to changes in the brain. Depression is linked to low serotonin levels, introverts brains look different from extroverts brains when imaged, we know there are genetic and developmental influences for autism  and for our sense of personal space. We know that right brained people are left handed and tend to be more visual and artistic. We know that people who are risk takers have certain genetic traits; it runs in the Kennedy family. We know that people who can get by on six hours sleep have different genes that help them get by on less sleep (I want that gene). We haven’t completely unraveled the biology behind all of these traits.

Gender is not 100%. It’s been proven. So then doesn’t it make sense that sexual orientation isn’t 100%? It’s just still on the list of things yet to be learned through scientific research. Ask any person who is gay and they will tell you that they did not choose to be gay.  I’m willing to bet there is a biological link. A complex choreography of hormones and brain development that sometimes takes the road less traveled.

I hope that if more people learn about intersex conditions as a result of Caster Semenya’s story, that it will serve as an opportunity for acceptance and understanding. But really, do we need to have science to teach us to treat everyone with respect? If it helps, I’m all for it. Shouldn’t we be understanding and compassionate toward all humans without needing science to encourage that kind of attitude? (One would think that this might be the job of religion…..)

We are all human. All races, ethnicities, cultures, age, abled or disabled or differently abled, genius or average, rich or poor, male or female or in between, gay or straight, introvert or extrovert,  bisexual or transgendered. We’re all classified under Homo sapiens. When we finally “get” that, when we as humans understand there is only the human race, then our world will make progress. Imagine a world where every human is wanted, has a loving home, education, food, healthcare, opportunity, freedom and social acceptance. Think what we could accomplish. Think about how many problems would be gone.

You may say I’m a dreamer. But I’m not the only one.

Wikipedia Intersexuality

Another great website is that of Dr. Veronica Drantz, a biologist who studies sexual development.   You’ll feel like you are in science class again as she even has videos to explain what happens.   Last, you can check out my science blog, LGBTLatestScience.

jaysays.com contributor geekgirlgeekgirl: Jude is a straight woman, a mom and has been married for 32 years to the same wonderful man. She believes in Buddhism and attends the United Church of Christ. She is a molecular biologist, her best friend is a lesbian, and she believes that every human deserves equal rights, respect and a life free from hate, fear and discrimination. The only thing she hates is pickles. Her science blog can be found at LGBT Latest Science.

LGBT Notable News Happenings – (August 13, 2009 – August 19, 2009)

August 21, 2009 By: MJ Category: Featured, LGBT News

LGBT NewsUtah Newspaper Rejects Gay Wedding Announcement (August 13, 2009)

Tyler Barrick and Spencer Jones live in San Francisco and were married June 17, 2008.  Mr. Jones is originally from Utah and wanted the announcement printed in his hometown paper – prior to a family party there.  The clerk at The Spectrum initially accepted the announcement information along with payment – then later the announcement was declined.  The Spectrum had been on GLAAD’s list of inclusive newspapers – and GLAAD did try to help but without success.  The announcement has since been published in The Salt Lake Tribune – another local paper.

Tennessee Schools Agree to Remove Anti-LGBT Filter (August 14, 2009)

In April 2009 the ACLU sent a letter to the Nashville school district.  The district had set up filters on school computers – blocking access to LGBT friendly websites.  Students were having to out themselves to their teachers to try to gain access.  The ACLU filed a federal suit against the schools.  Now the schools have agreed to remove the filters blocking the sites – and a judge has dismissed the lawsuit.  If the agreement is not followed – the ACLU will return to court.

Great Nationwide Kiss-In – Dozens Gather in Utah (August 15, 2009)

Same Sex couples exchanged a simple kiss or even just a hug – and they were detained by the police.  This happened in Utah, and in two locations in Texas.  The idea for the Kiss-In started in the blog of a concerned LGBT activist – and then grew into events in more than 50 cities across the US.  One of the events was held at Liberty Square amphitheater in Utah – where dozens of couples and individuals gathered for a kiss.  Another Kiss-In is being planned for next year – hopefully in even more cities.

Montreal LGBT Pride Celebrates Pending Action on Plan (August 16, 2009)

Quebec has had a wide-ranging action plan pending – and now the plan against Homophobia is expected to happen this fall.  The announcement that Quebec will have a policy against Homophobia – came in time for celebration at the Pride Fest.  There will still be work involved in applying the law – but the LGBT community expects the new plan will greatly help the fight against anti-LGBT discrimination.  A report from the Quebec human rights commission was partly involved in the framework of the plan.

Obama – Makes Statement re: DOMA in Court Brief (August 17, 2009)

President Obama has made statements to the public about DOMA – including one made in response to the case of Smelt v. United States of America.  The case involves Arthur Smelt and Christopher Hammer – a Gay couple who were married during 2008 in California.  President Obama and his senior advisers stated in a court brief that DOMA is discriminatory – but that it should be repealed by Congress.  This brief is an attempt to dismiss Smelt V. United States.

New York Man Receives Maximum Sentence for Transgender Hate Crime (August 19, 2009)

Last month Dwight DeLee was found guilty of manslaughter for shooting Lateisha Green – the charge included Anti-Gay bias.  Mr. DeLee is just the second person in this country to be legally convicted for killing a Transgender person.  Ms Green had gone to a party with her brother – and they were sitting in their car outside – when Mr. DeLee came up to the car and shot her.  He has been sentenced to the maximum of 25 years in prison.

DoJ Has Added Liaison to LGBT Community (August 19, 2009)

The Civil Rights Division of the Justice Department has hired Matt Nosanchuk – who advised Obama on LGBT issues during the presidential campaign.  Mr. Nosanchuk has worked for the DoJ in Policy Development – and worked on judiciary and civil rights issues for Senator Bill Nelson (D-Fla).  He will have a variety of cases as a senior lawyer – and will spend the rest of his time reaching out to constituencies on Capitol Hill as well as the LGBT community.

Sect in Australia Apologizes to Transgender & Intersex People (August 19, 2009)

Three daily newspapers in Tasmania published the apology – as a result of a conciliation agreement.  In 2006 members of the religious sect – Exclusive Brethren – published a state election advertisement attacking Transgender and Intersex people.  As a result of the advertisement – Martine Delaney filed a complaint with the state’s anti-discrimination tribunal.  Those who issued the apology were members of the Exclusive Brethren – along with a shell company (TradTas) which paid for the ads.

LGBT Youth Center in NY Named for Bea Arthur (August 19, 2009)

One of the stars of Golden Girls – Bea Arthur – was a generous benefactor to the Ali Forney Center.  Four years ago she went to New York for a benefit performance for the center – which raised $40,000.  The charity currently has four residential shelters for LGBT youth.  Recently it received funding from the Oak Foundation to buy housing sites – and the first site will be named – the Bea Arthur Residence for LGBT Youth.
mjpngwnz: MJ, a/k/a pngwnz, is summarizing LGBT current events each week for jaysays.com and the Why Would You Say That – Really? series. She is an out lesbian with an affinity for the music of Phil Collins and Carole King.

Everyone’s a Freak To Someone – the Inclusion Problem and the Great Nationwide Kiss In.

August 03, 2009 By: jaysays Category: Commentary, Featured, Thought of the Gay

kissinI would like to take a few moments to sit on my pulpit and vent. The new promotional video for the Great Nationwide Kiss In has been released. Like the first, this video is very sweet, very powerful and expresses the point well. In fact, the promotional videos have expressed exactly what many of the local events want to do – and why.  Before going into my lecture, take a moment to watch the video and draw from it what you will:

Now, the three primary folks involved in planning this event on the national level are ordinary folks, just like you and me.  David Mailloux, David Badash and Willow Witte.  They are working hard to defend our rights from those that would tyranize us.

But who is the “us” they are defending?  According to one commentator on the video you just watched, the us isn’t inclusive because it did not refer to queer or intersex.  With that in mind, I point out that the fully inclusive way to refer to the “us” folks is arguably, LGBTQQIA – Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender, Queer, Questioning, Intersex and Allies.  An acronym for which I really care (explained more later), but try to remember when considering the “Gay Community.”

As someone who has worked hard to identify biphobia, transphobia, racism and other biases within the “Gay Community,” and to address and end those issues (including my own ignorance and misunderstandings) – I’m going to express what may turn out to be an unpopular, but not biased, opinion.  At some point, the labels have to stop.

Now imagine for a moment you were standing before an audience of people that disagrees, at least to some extent, that gay people should have equal rights – these are the people WE are sending our message to, not to the LGBTQQIA community.  Now imagine we complicate that message with the LGBTQQIA and then attempt to explain all the nuances of the all encompassing “Gay Community” to those that work so hard to defeat us.  For example, explain to them what “questioning” is and why it is included.  The message, would, in my opinion, be completely lost.  Why?  We’ve overcomplicated it in an effort to be “P.C.”  We’ve acronymed, for want of labels, ourselves out of understandable, linear thought.

Did you know that “transgender” can refer to heterosexual cross-dressors?  Yup.  Many of them identify with the transgender community.  It’s not just about a biological female changing the physical to match the psychological.  Should we now have LGBTQQIA[CD] to be truly inclusive?  When do we stop with the acronyms and accept the fact that we are all simply human and deserve equal treatment?

The point here is this – when you see people out working very hard to secure a better future for anyone within the LGBTQQIA label factory and feel they’ve left off a letter somewhere, they are very likely your closest ally and an improper target for negative comments and name-calling.

The full text of the comment left that has me so infuriated that our own community would further divide itself is thus:

you forgot queer and intersexed you cisgendered misogonyst

That accomplished nothing – it was spiteful and distasteful – not too mention the wrong word, misogonyst, for the intent of the comment as queer doesn’t translate to “woman.”

So to those that would agree that the people like David Badash, David Maillouw or Willow Witte, who are stepping up to the plate to lead OUR COMMUNITY to a better tomorrow are excluding a group within our community, please – be proactive.  Suggest they be more bi-inclusive for example or perhaps step up to the plate yourself and join in.

Perhaps it goes without saying, but – divided, we fall.

Author’s Note: The opinions expressed in this post are not necessarily the opinions of the Great Nationwide Kiss In or it’s champions, David Mailloux, David Badash and Willow Witte.  Any problems, concerns, misconceptions or angry emails about the content contained herein should be addressed directly with the author.