Deborah Dean -- Engendered Species

Deborah Dean


About Human Variation..

Man, Woman, or Human

What We Are, and Have Been

Nature or Nurture? or what causes this?

Engendered Species

Major News articles about Engendered Species:

The Collision of Sex and Gender

Malcolm in the Middle 

Hetero Guys in Disguise- The Psychology of Crossdressing

A brief history of transgenderism

Sex-change surgery is not for everyone

Film by Julie van der Wal  45 min


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Nature or Nurture? or, what causes this, they ask?

The case for 'Nurture', or "It's all learned".

We are all born, equally for male and female, as a 'blank slate' upon which is written, by experience and learning, that which we become.  If we are only taught the 'correct' way to live our gender, we will choose the appropriate roles in our lives.

In every society, people assume certain jobs, behaviors and ways of dressing are 'naturally' feminine, and others are masculine. But there is in the world as a whole a lot of variety in social definitions. 

Male tribesmen  in Africa displaying beauty
These are all men, nomadic tribesmen in Niger, who are proud to present a display of beauty that most of us would see as feminine. 

The case for 'Nature', or "It's all Biology".

In the womb, we are all female until the age of about 5 weeks.  At that time, if certain hormone levels are present, those destined by genetics to be male have their female reproductive organs close, 'grow over' and become male organs.

If, however, hormone levels vary beyond a range, the baby can become male or female, regardless of genetics.  An in between state can also occur.  The brain is also affected, as at 6 weeks or so, it's structure will grow differently for a male or female, or any point in between.

A person's brain is thus 'wired' before birth, to be an instinctually male or female.  This is one's 'gender identity'.  This may, or may not, by varying degrees, match a person's 'body sex'.  Neither can be changed much by later learning. These variations are why some societies and even languages, have up to 50 different words to name the gender varieties that people see.

So, Nature or Nurture?

Why are people different?

Some believe it is learned, or due to environmental causes.

Still others believe it is due to biological, or medical reasons, otherwise called, 'biological determinism'. 

identical twin boys, one raised as a girl

Brian and Bruce (Brenda) Reimer about 1956

Bruce and Brian Reimer were twin brothers born in Canada in the 1950s.  Due to a botched circumcision, medical experts of the 'nurture' school thought that it would be best if Bruce were to be raised, without being told of his past, as a girl, Brenda.

The theory of the time held that since the organs could more easily be made female, being raised as female would make a more happier person--- a 'sameness' between body and mind.  This was also an assent to social pressure, (what would the babysitter think?).

Her brother, Brian was a normal, happy male.  Brenda, however, led a maladjusted, miserable life.  Upon being told on 'her' 15th birthday that 'she' was really a male at birth, he says "a great weight was lifted off me".

He lived a much happier life as 'David', for years. Their story is recounted in the book, As Nature Made Him  by John Colapinto.

 Later, he committed suicide.  Was this because of a conflict between the earlier nurture and the nature?  Or was it for not fitting in, not having the male organs, or feeling left behind?  Or, it could be for other reasons.  We do not know.

This case has rewritten several textbooks.  Many now say that any sexual ambiguity in infancy should be 'played out' in life, the person deciding which gender is best for them when mature.