If a woman is a man, can she still marry a dude?

Genetic ambiguities challenge traditional definitions of gender.

Published October 11, 2006 4:56PM (EDT)

Thanks to an intrepid Broadsheet reader for sending along this article from today's Philadelphia Inquirer, which breaks down the current consensus on what, exactly, defines gender.

Apparently it's not as simple as who has XX or XY chromosomes. There are at least seven definitions of gender, according to the article, with some men carrying around XX chromosomes, some women with XY and some people with XXY or XYY. There are people who look like men from the outside but have ovaries and an ambiguous few who have "an organ whose size fits somewhere between a small penis and a large clitoris," the Inquirer explains. One woman featured in the piece, Cindy Stone, didn't know why she had never started menstruating until a doctor discovered -- when Stone was 30! -- that she had testicles inside her body and no uterus or ovaries. (Stone had the testicles removed, with the unfortunate consequence of lowering her sex drive and necessitating hormone replacement therapy.)

Unconventional expressions of gender are fascinating in their own right, but they're especially so when considered in the light of our country's ongoing debate over same-sex marriage. If definitions of gender can be as cloudy as this science suggests, it seems even more questionable to be passing constitutional amendments -- as 20 states have done so far -- restricting marriage to male/female couples. It prompts the question of whether there is a difference between someone who lives as a woman despite having external testicles (i.e., is transsexual) and someone who lives as a woman but carries testicles inside. Should the rights of marriage extend to the second but not the first? And if so, why?

If these gender ambiguities raise enough interest and awareness, perhaps opponents of same-sex marriage will have to redefine what, exactly, they're opposing -- which might refocus the debate onto what it's actually about: certain people's discomfort with definitions of sexuality that differ from their own.

By Catherine Price

Catherine Price is an award-winning journalist and author of Vitamania: How Vitamins Revolutionized the Way We Think About Food. Her written and multimedia work has appeared in publications including The Best American Science Writing, The New York Times, Popular Science, O: The Oprah Magazine, the Los Angeles Times, The San Francisco Chronicle, The Washington Post Magazine, Salon, Slate, Men’s Journal, Mother Jones, PARADE, Health Magazine, and Outside. Price lives in Philadelphia.

MORE FROM Catherine Price

Related Topics ------------------------------------------

Broadsheet Gay Marriage Gender Love And Sex