Teacher resources and professional development across the curriculum

Teacher professional development and classroom resources across the curriculum

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Unit Chapters
Proteins & Proteomics
Evolution & Phylogenetics
Microbial Diversity
Emerging Infectious Diseases
Genetics of Development
Cell Biology & Cancer
Human Evolution
Biology of Sex & Gender
Sex and the Y Chromosome
Paternal Inheritance
Evolution of the Y Chromosome
X Inactivation
Genetic Imprinting
Testis-Determining Factor
Ethics of Intersex Treatment
Sex and Disease
Genetically Modified Organisms
"I think humans like things to be ordered, and they get bothered about gray areas and when things become less clear-cut. But these days I don't think so much in black and white about male and female. Now I think of it all as being on a spectrum."
- Dr. Andrew Sinclair 1


Max Beck was born an intersexual, someone with ambiguous genitals. Like most babies without a normal penis, he was "assigned" the sex of female and underwent plastic surgery to "fix" his genitals. He was named Judy and grew up as a girl, a self-described tomboy. In his teens, more surgery and female hormone injections turned him into a woman - a woman with no sense of gender identity. As a young adult he had sexual relationships with males and females, first accepting himself as a lesbian, then marrying a man. After divorcing his husband, he once again became a lesbian with a partner. Finally he received his medical records, which revealed that he was an intersexual and had both an X and a Y chromosome. Over a period of two years he decided that he could no longer live as a female. He reassigned himself as a male, married his female partner, and became the father of a child, conceived by his wife using donor sperm. Despite his sex assignment as a female at birth, Max was never able to accept his gender as female.

In contrast, Jan Morris was born James Morris, an apparently normal male. A successful journalist, author, and mountain climber, she married and had five children before she decided in her 30s to change her sex to female and her name to Jan. Jan Morris wrote of her sex change in the book, Conundrum, explaining that she had always known that she was a woman, wrongly born into the body of a man. She has continued to be a successful writer and lives harmoniously with her former wife.

The use of pronouns above may strike some as strange. Which pronoun should be used in the case of transgendered individuals? This question highlights the difficulties our language and culture have in confronting issues of sex and gender. We have used the pronoun of the individual's final choice of gender.

What is the difference between sex and gender? Max Beck was born a male (albeit with ambiguous genitals), and efforts to change him into a girl by surgery and hormones failed to change his gender, his sense of identity. In contrast, Jan Morris believes that she was born a woman in a man's body. Transsexuals like Jan Morris explain that they must change their physical sex because there is no way to change their gender, which comes from the brain. While there is no general agreement on terminology, the Merriam-Webster dictionary defines gender as "the behavioral, cultural, or psychological traits typically associated with one sex," and defines sex as "either of the two major forms of individuals that occur in many species and that are distinguished respectively as female or male." This suggests that sex is biological while gender is subjective.

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