And now, a public service announcement about genitals. (This oughta increase my website traffic, not that I need that given my overwhelmed email in-box….)
So it happened again this week: an innocent reporter calls to ask me to comment on a story about a person in the news who supposedly was born with “both male and female genitals.” This time, the person in question was a sports figure.
I’m going to explain here why you can’t be born with “both male and female genitals” so that I can just point people to this page when they ask me about this. Because increasingly, when I answer this question, I sound really annoyed, and that’s not good for public relations, not to mention public education.
Here goes. Basically, to understand this, all you have to understand is that one plus one equals two, and humans only come with one bottom each.*
All we humans started off, early in the womb, the same in terms of sex development. From there, most people’s bodies developed down one of two paths, either male-typical or female-typical. To see an illustration of that divergence in sex development, look here.
Some people’s genitals develop in-between the male-typical and female-typical. For some examples, look here.
As these drawings show, the penis and the clitoris are the same organ developmentally. Thus you can only have a penis OR a clitoris OR one organ that is in-between.
Similarly, the labia majora and the scrotum are the same organ, developmentally. Thus you can only have a scrotum OR labia majora (OR one somewhat divided scrotum, OR one set of somewhat fused labia majora).
To have “both sets of genitals,” you’d have to have two bottoms. Because you’d have to have a bottom that had both a penis AND a clitoris, a bottom with a scrotum AND labia majora, a perineum with a vaginal opening AND a perineum with no vaginal opening.
This would be like saying you have both male-typical and female-typical breast development: it would require four breasts, and maybe two chests. Or it would be like saying you have both male-typical and female-typical Adam’s Apple development; you’d have to have two necks.
There are some people who strike me as double asses, but they can’t have been born with “both sets of genitals” any more than you could have.
So what might someone mean if she or he says she or he was born with “both sets of genitals”? Here are the possibilities:
- The person was born with a phallus too large to look like a typical clitoris plus a vaginal opening. That is possible with various conditions, including partial androgen insensitivity syndrome, and 46,XX CAH; see figures 3 and 4 here for an idea of what it can look like when you have a noticeable phallus and a vaginal opening. (So why isn’t that “both sets of genitals”? Um, because the person doesn’t have both a penis and a clitoris, both labia majora and a scrotum, etc. There’s a LOT more to genitals than just penises and vaginas, people! Just having a big phallus and a vaginal opening doesn’t give you “two sets of genitals.”)
- The person is a transgender person who is claiming “intersex privilege.” In other words, it’s a person who is transgender and claiming an intersex genital history she or he doesn’t actually have. Why would someone do that? Because, stupidly, many people generously accept innate (in-born) sex variation but they won’t forgive sex, gender, and sexual orientation variation that they think is non-innate. Thus, some transgender people feel obligated to lie and/or to fantasize that they were “born with both sets of genitals.” Some also fantasize about this for sexual reasons. I am not attributing these behaviors to any particular individuals, by the way, but I will say that most people I’ve met who fit this category are autogynephilic transsexuals who have not (yet) made sense of who they are. For a primer on autogynephilia, start here. For an advanced course, try this. And to see why daring to speak about autogynephilia will get you defamed by a certain group, read this. To read why that group pursues defamation, read this.)
I hope that helps.
*By the way, I do know about a guy who was born with two penises, but that was two penises, not both male and female genitalia. (And yes, he had a very good time with them.)