On sex (including intersex) and gender (including “gender dysphoria”)
This page provides links to some of what I’ve written and edited with regard to sex and gender This page doesn’t link all of my work on these topics--just the ones I would recommend as a starter. If you're interested instead in reading about human sexual orientation and erotic practices, click here. If you're interested in sex- and gender-testing in sports, click here.
Important material on sex anatomy:
- For a primer on why you can’t be born “with both sets of genitals,” go here.
- For an illustration of genital development, go here
- For an illustration of natural human genital variation, go here
Intersex and differences of sex development (DSDs):
“Intersex” and “DSDs” are terms used to talk about when a person is born with a sex anatomy that (someone has decided) isn’t standard for males or females. Intersex involves anatomic sex anomalies, i.e., atypical sex chromosomes and/or gonads and/or sex parts. It isn’t primarily about gender identity (so it isn’t the same as transgender). Look down the page for material specifically on gender.
For what care for children with DSDs ought to look like now, see:
- the Clinical Guidelines I organized and edited
- the Handbook for Parents I organized and edited
- this piece I wrote for The Atlantic
For ethical critiques of the traditional treatment for DSDs, see:
- Chapter One of Galileo's Middle Finger
- this Pacific Standards essay on why the current medical treatment of hypospadias--aimed at getting boys to pee standing up--is really problematic
- my piece in The Atlantic about the UN Special Rapporteur on Torture calling for an end to forced genital surgeries
- this essay about feedback on my work from a fellow born with a small penis
- Intersex in the Age of Ethics
- "Ambiguous Sex"--or Ambivalent Medicine? Ethical Problems in the Treatment of Intersexuality, in The Hastings Center Report, vol. 28, no. 3 (May/June 1998), pp. 24-35.
- When Medicine Goes Too Far in the Pursuit of Normality
- Intersex and Human Rights: The Long View, in Ethics and Intersex, ed. by Sharon Sytsma (Springer, 2006): 73-86.
- Alice Dreger and Bruce Wilson, commentary on Culture Clash Involving Intersex, The Hastings Center Report, vol. 33, no. 4 (July/August 2003), pp. 12-14.
- Joel Frader et al., Health Care Professionals and Intersex Conditions, in Archives of Pediatrics and Adolescent Medicine (a subsidiary journal of JAMA) v. 158, n. 5 (May 2004): 426-428.
On the history of intersex and of intersex activism, see:
- Chapters 1, 7, 8, 9, and the Epilogue of Galileo's Middle Finger
- Progress and Politics in the Intersex Rights Movement: Feminist Theory in Action, with April Herndon
- this essay about meeting a man who slipped through the standard medical approach to boys born with small penises
- Hermaphrodites and the Medical Invention of Sex
- Intersex in the Age of Ethics
- My account of working in the intersex rights movement, as written for fellow historians of medicine
- A Brief History of Intersex, for the San Francisco Human Rights Commission
On terminology issues, see:
- "Equitable Care Begins with Appropriate Terminology, in this medical education resource guide
- my blog, Why “Disorders of Sex Development”? and the links at the end of that.
- Alice Dreger, Cheryl Chase, Aron Sousa, Joel Frader, and Philip Gruppuso, Changing the Nomenclature/Taxonomy for Intersex: A Scientific and Clinical Rationale , in Journal of Pediatric Endocrinology and Metabolism, 2005; 18: 729-733. [Contact me for a reprint.]
- Alice D. Dreger and April Herndon, Progress and Politics in the Intersex Rights Movement: Feminist Theory in Action, in GLQ: Gay and Lesbian Quarterly, for a special issue edited by Iain Morland (“intersex and after”)
Even though intersex is primarily about biological sex (parts) and not about gender (self and social identity), if you work on intersex and you’re a feminist (as I do and I am), you end up talking about gender. If you’d like to see what I’ve written about what sex and gender have to do with each other, check out my essay, Sex Beyond the Karyotype and my insanely popular blog, The Social Construction of Sex and Me. If you’re interested in intersex-related issues of gender specifically, look towards the top of this page for resources.
Pacific Standard reprinted my essay on why it's time the government stopped deciding our genders for us.
For Bioethics Forum, I’ve also written a popular little piece about why routine neonatal male circumcision is silly (Proof that I LIke Penises), and a piece about why doctors ought to get out of the business of adjudicating gender identity (Really Changing Sex).
I’ve also written some advice to parents whose children who are said to have “gender identity disorder.” Read about that article and a follow-up to that here. And I’ve written an essay arguing why and how “gender identity disorder” should be removed from the DSM.
By the way, teens with DSDs or who are transgender will find comfort and understanding in Lisa Lees wonderful young-adult novels, Fool for Love and A Queer Circle of Friends. They feature main characters who are intersex and trans.