The Dawn of Anti-Gay Eugenics?
"I don't want to be married anymore," writes Elizabeth Gilbert about the start of her pre-life crisis. "I don't want to live in this big house. I don't want to have a baby." To many of us this is simply one of many possible attitudes commonly found among modern women (and it sure didn't do Gilbert any harm). But maybe you're an expectant mother who doesn't want your baby to turn out like Elizabeth Gilbert. Maybe you'd even take a pill to make sure your child grows up traditionally feminine—someone who likes to play with dolls, not trucks; with men, not women. According to Alice Dreger, a bioethicist at Northwestern's medical school, such a pill exists, such experiments are being conducted, and the era of anti-queer eugenics is here.
The big-picture issue here is the notion that bodies which fail to conform to society's expectations should be "corrected" by doctors. The medication, dexamethasone, is a steroid used to treat allergies, asthma and other conditions, but it also appears to forestall symptoms of congenital adrenal hyperplasia, a rare genetic anomaly which condition in which a baby fails to develop normal adrenal glands. An infant with CAH has higher-then-usual levels of the male hormone androgen. Boys may develop puberty-like changes at 2 or 3 years old. Girls are often born with "ambiguous" genitalia: A large clitoris that looks like a penis, for example.
To me the common-sense response to such an infant is: Do nothing different than you would have with an unambiguous clit. But common medical practice for decades was to perform surgery on intersex infants, to make them better fit parents' (and, perhaps more importantly, doctors') expectations. Dexamethasone (or "dex") is described in the Endocrine Society's treatment guidelines as a way for parents to avoid the risks and pains of surgery.
Trouble is, in a couple of recent studies, some researchers have also linked CAH to higher-than-typical proportions of homosexual and bisexual orientation, and to more "masculine" behavior. Here, Dreger and colleagues criticize one of dex's leading proponents in endocrinology, Maria New of Mount Sinai Medical Center, for writing, in a recent paper: "We anticipate that prenatal dexamethasone therapy will reduce the well-documented behavioral masculinization" of CAH girls in "childhood play, peer association, career and leisure time preferences in adolescence and adulthood, maternalism, aggression, and sexual orientation."
"Her main goal has been to prevent ambiguous genitalia and all the things that come with it, including what she calls 'behavioral masculinization,'" Dreger told Dennis Thompson of HealthDay. "She includes in that what she calls 'masculinized orientation.' "
New says this is a put-up job, connecting a few dots in her research to make a picture she never intended. Her statement about the controversy was explicit about the supposedly anti-homosexual intentions of her research: "Allegations that my goal is to prevent lesbianism are completely untrue." And, in fact, it seems quite a stretch to make her statements about CAH girls' "masculine" traits into a serious interest in making Stepford-Wife babies. Her bigger problem, as Time magazine recently reported, is that women who took dex have complained that New didn't warn them that it was an experimental treatment.
So I think the "gay eugenics" uproar is a red herring. We ought to worry, instead, about two other issues. First, it's wishful thinking to assume that medication delivered in utero can determine whether a person becomes straight, gay or bi in adulthood. Why aren't we willing to admit that we don't yet know how to do this? (Dreger is no help here, as her attacks on New imply that dex will work.) Second, when society finds people "off," strange or disturbing, why is it so easy to think it's the people, rather than society, that need altering?
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The 21st century is experiencing an Asianization of politics, business, and culture.
- Our theories about the world, even about history or the geopolitics of the present, tend to be shaped by Anglo perspectives of the Western industrial democracies, particularly those in the United States and the United Kingdom.
- The West, however, is not united. Canada, for instance, acts in many ways that are not in line with American or British policies, particularly in regard to populism. Even if it were united, though, it would not represent most of the world's population.
- European ideas, such as parliamentary democracy and civil service, spread across the world in the 19th century. In the 20th century, American values such as entrepreneurialism went global. In the 21st century, however, what we're seeing now is an Asianization — an Asian confidence that they can determine their own political systems, their own models, and adapt to their own circumstances.
Research has shown that men today have less testosterone than they used to. What's happening?
- Several studies have confirmed that testosterone counts in men are lower than what they used to be just a few decades ago.
- While most men still have perfectly healthy testosterone levels, its reduction puts men at risk for many negative health outcomes.
- The cause of this drop in testosterone isn't entirely clear, but evidence suggests that it is a multifaceted result of modern, industrialized life.
Can sensitive coral reefs survive another human generation?
- Coral reefs may not be able to survive another human decade because of the environmental stress we have placed on them, says author David Wallace-Wells. He posits that without meaningful changes to policies, the trend of them dying out, even in light of recent advances, will continue.
- The World Wildlife Fund says that 60 percent of all vertebrate mammals have died since just 1970. On top of this, recent studies suggest that insect populations may have fallen by as much as 75 percent over the last few decades.
- If it were not for our oceans, the planet would probably be already several degrees warmer than it is today due to the emissions we've expelled into the atmosphere.
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