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5 Sep 2003

I am what I am

In The Pink explains what it means to be an intersex, effeminate behaviour in male toddlers, the homosexual 'nature' versus 'nurture' debate and why we should learn to be happy with what we have while continuing the struggle to fight for gay rights.

It's a boy! It's a girl? It's a #*@!??? John and Mary could not believe their eyes. This is more than what they have bargained for. John had secretly wished for a boy and Mary had gone to the temple to pray for a girl but lo and behold, staring at them was a sweet handsome baby with a normal-sized penis and a partially formed v agina Yes! Vagina. This baby is a true hermaphrodite.

In the medical world, we refer to it as an 'intersex.' Its chromosomal analysis - 46XX/XY (mosaic). Here is nature announcing to all of us that the world is not as simple as we make it out to be. It is not just male or female but that physical combinations in various permutations of male and female exist! But alas, the world we know of has often chosen to ignore the existence of this true other sex by dismissing it off that the number is small (so are Siamese twin conjoined at the head) and medical doctors are not helping in clarifying the situation by often deciding among themselves which intersex should be man-made male and which, female, often even before the child turns a year old.

Everything is hushed up so that on paper, there is only male or female sex and you the public at large often do not even realise that true human hermaphrodites do exist. In fact, they have existed for a long time and before the advent of modern surgery, these hermaphrodites remain as both male and female simultaneously throughout their lives. With the advent of sexual reassignment surgical techniques, these fellow humans, born as both male and female are now cut up into either male or female as dictated by the norms of this world.

Would we have accorded my dear hermaphrodite friend the same generous spirit of empathy and respect if it was to undergo a phenomenal operation to become externally male in genitalia but on follow up through the years, was to discover that our dear surgically corrected male now likes males sexually. Would we been so quick to cast a stone at him and label him a 'queer' or a 'homosexual?'

Some things in life need no proof or explanation. A true hermaphrodite is one of them. He/She is totally natural and born that way. Genetic analysis often reveals also a mixture of male and female genetic sex in the form of 46XX/XY(mosaic). There is no 'nurture' in this debate but over the bend of the rainbow, our dear homosexual friends have become the centre of a fiery medico-social debate of 'nature' versus 'nurture.'

Most of the medical research studies done to date have not been able to prove or 'disprove' the genetic basis of homosexuality. These studies are also often complicated by the fact that we are dealing with a human being with a pretty complicated mixture of brains, feelings, sexuality and genes and hence there are bound to be many confounding (external influencing) factors.

Unlike a rather straight-forward study of cholesterol level in influencing the incidence of acute heart attack, where we have technological means to assay the blood cholesterol levels and special ECGs to look for signs of heart attack, studies on the human psyche and sexuality have found no definite yardstick for measurement.
Perhaps science has not reached that level of advancement so that a yet to be discovered genetic or molecular structure in the body that determines sexuality could be identified and measured. But we do not need to engage in a whole storm of debate again to proof its possibility for we can turn to the example of true hermaphroditism and realise that nature has created a fellow human with two sexes. This is the extreme end of the rainbow and like many medical parameters that we measure, there is often a spectrum of graduations, e.g. as in height and weight.

If true hermaphrodites do not exist, then it would be ludicrous even to fathom such a possibility but creation has her own way to make us understand the world. What we yet do not see or know does not mean it does not exist. Even for things we know exist, like the true hermaphrodites, we do not yet comprehend or appreciate its existence as one which will help us understand all other things unknown.

Not so long ago it was widely believed that the world was square. When it was proposed that the world is round and not square, it was deemed a mockery and an evil thought. However, 'dissidents' believed the world is round based on the observation that I) people were able to sail past the other end of the horizon and return to the same spot and II) that the sun and the moon that we can see are all round, so the earth too by inference should be round. This is what we call an 'indirect proof.' Likewise, it is common knowledge that homosexuality exists in many other animal species as well; if mankind is the most superior animal, then by inference, homosexuality would also be a natural phenomenon in Man.

For those who cannot appreciate man as an exotic, super-intelligent animal of the highest order, then we would need to draw their attention to two reputable scientific papers by Dr Bernard Zuger, a Psychiatrist from the New York University School of Medicine, entitled, 'Is early effeminate behaviour in boys early homosexuality' and 'Early effeminate behaviour in boys - outcome and significance for homosexuality.' These papers were based on prospective studies of a long term follow up of 57 boys with early effeminate behaviour. The parents of these children were also interviewed.

In general, the younger the children were when examined, the fuller was the symptom picture of effeminate behaviour that emerged. Reports by mothers as to when their sons began showing signs of effeminacy varied - some recalled it as happening 'from the very beginning,' others not until it was brought to their attention by school or social agency. By about 6 years of age, 86% of mothers knew that their son's behaviour was different from what was generally considered normal for male children.

Interestingly, 36.8% of mothers already knew their son's behaviour was different even before the age of three years. Of the 57 effeminate boys followed-up, 72.9% was confirmed homosexual, 6.3% heterosexual and 20.8% uncertain as to sexual orientation.

Several behavioural symptoms are quite characteristic of effeminate boys. The most frequent symptoms were feminine dressing and the aversion to traditional "boys games." Feminine dressing included wearing underclothes of mothers or sisters, high heels, stockings and carrying a purse. Generally cross-dressing was discontinued by about 10 years of age but was practised by some into adolescent years. While no longer a frequent practice as they grew older, it would appear in some at Halloween or costume parties!
Concurrent with cross-dressing was the effeminate boys' fascination with hair. Combing each others hair when playing with girls or mother's hair until she stopped participating or a doll's hair, or putting on their head towels, sweaters or other objects that would hang down and look like a girl's hair was a favourite practice. The lack of interest in boys' games and sports was present from the very beginning and continued into adult life. They never liked the school period set aside for gym and the real reason for most was the panic at the thought of undressing before other boys.

The expressed desire to have been born a girl or to be a girl, a preference for girl playmates, doll playing and female-types gesturing were not far behind in frequency. The boys freely verbalised their wish to be taken for girls, saying that they were girls, wanting to know from their mothers why they were not born girls, or included the wish to be a girl among the three wishes they were required to make.

Generally, children by five and a half years of age choose to join children of the same sex to play when exposed to mixed groups. This was not so for boys with early effeminate behaviour. Eighty-nine percent preferred playing with girls. They joined the girls in playing with dolls, playing house, enacting mock weddings and becoming the bride.

Feminine gesturing varied in different individuals both in degree and extent. It probably was an important factor in evoking name-calling like 'sissy,' 'fairy,' 'queer' etc. It included body movements, manner of speech, way of walking and occasionally strutting and swinging of hips.

A three and a half year old boy who had been playing with dolls and telling his mother he was going to be a girl and have a baby, spoke in a high-pitched babyish voice, a characteristic which neither of his two older brothers had shown at his age.

As the more open and observable signs receded, the effeminate boys began to be aware of an attraction to males. When effeminate boys were asked at what age they were first attracted to males, several announced 'always' or as far back as they could remember. Other answers varied between seven and 12 years, usually later if specifically asked when it was sexual.

Many research papers have been quoted to cite 'nature' versus 'nurture' in homosexuality. Few however have actually studied the effeminate children themselves and followed them up through the years. The famous Freud for example did not himself study children. Kinsey had little to say about children before the adolescent years. But the answer to the question when homosexuality begins has been available all along - from the effeminate boy himself.

From the very beginning, however differently he might have been saying it, the effeminate boy has been delivering the same message, 'I am a girl, not a boy.' This he did verbally and behaviorally probably at the earliest time he could express it and objectively for the observer to apprehend it, if he or she would. And this he continued to do, at least in his early years, in-spite of a cascading number of forces telling him he must stop. Essentially the effeminate boy's development mirrored that of a girl. He wanted to dress and appear like a girl and to play with girls at their games. He developed no interests in boys' games.
In school he was called 'sissy,' 'fag' or similar names. He knew he was 'different' from other boys. This pattern was essentially the same in all effeminate boys. It had its own inner consistency, from its early beginning to its later functioning, sexual and in many instances, occupational. It would be difficult to conceive this happening from anything other than a common inner biological factor. Disclosing himself as homosexual later involved no sharp breaks with the direction of all his earlier development, except in casting off what had always been unnatural to him.

36.8% of these boys showed effeminate traits even before three years of age. This despite the fact that effeminate behaviour was not encouraged or taught at that early age. In fact, it was the contrary. Parents would try to change their effeminate children's behaviour and chide them for 'misbehaving.' This also notwithstanding the fact that these children are of such a young age that they do not go out to socialise so that there really were no external environmental factors which could have influenced them to become effeminate.

Psychological influences such as maternal dominance, paternal indifference or hostility and other familial factors in molding the pattern of a child's sexual orientation failed to account for the children's behaviour.

Effeminate behaviour parallels corresponding behaviour of non-effeminate boys in time appearance, its widespread and varied expression, acceptance as natural to the organism and its strong resistance to change would all argue against external imposition. It would appear that the basic organisation for effeminate behaviour is present at birth in the same way as the potential for walking or talking. In other words, homosexuality is very likely to be CONGENITAL, though whether it is genetic or incidental to an event in foetal life has not been determined.

While not all homosexuals are effeminate, by and large, the vast majority is. Just look for that wrist drop, finger lift, head tilt and sashaying. Some of you would scream if you were told that you have feminine gestures, especially if you have been trying to portray yourself as a butch homosexual, but hey, screaming is also a feminine gesture. Whatever it is, gays just know that they are different and usually from a young age too. Knowing that homosexuality is congenital would certainly allay the fears of many homosexuals.

Now there is no need to chastise oneself for being different and for not being able to change oneself as society dictates. We would however still need to be very cautious in our quest for equal rights. We must try not to incur the wrath of the vast majority of heterosexuals to the point where they start retaliating. We do not want to jeopardise everything that we have fought so hard for.

Gays have come a long way - from being persecuted to being branded a 'faggot,' to being employed on equal grounds and to even partying unabashedly on a large scale outdoors. Perhaps we should recognise that we will never be totally the same as the 'straights' (and that is what makes us gay in the first place).

While still continuing the struggle to fight for gay rights, it would be good to learn to be happy with what we have so far so that we will continue to live in peace with straight organisms and receive their respect for what we are and what we can contribute. This would likely be a topic of discussion in our subsequent articles but for the moment, I am going to prepare myself for the next big party... I am going to dance the night away... And be what I am and who I am!


1. Zuger B: Early effeminate behaviour in boys. Outcome and significance for homosexuality. Journal of Nervous and Mental Disease Vol 172:90-97, 1984
2. Zuger B: Is early effeminate behaviour in boys early homosexuality? Comprehensive Psychiatry, Vol 29, No. 5, 1988
3. Intersex society of North America http://www.isna.org/library/dreger-ambivalent.html
4. Hermaphrodite: The Other Gender http://hermaphrodite.arriba.net
5. Human Hermaphrodites http://www.devbio.com/chap17/link17116.shtm
6.The Berdache Spirit

Reader's Comments

1. 2009-08-29 16:16  
I am what i am
2. 2010-07-26 13:59  
isnt there a rumour that Lady Gaga is one too?

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