Recently passed in the State of North Carolina was a statute requiring persons to use public restrooms consistent with their gender at birth. While the thinly concealed purpose of this statute is widely and justifiably the subject of comment and commentary, there is the underlying question as to what exactly is a person’s “gender at birth”? As in other such states, this is usually the gender on the birth certificate. There some problems with this, one being that the birth certificate has usually been filled out based on observational data of a new born, not genetic identification.
Let me now discuss Elizabeth Short. She, and I will call her female throughout this discussion, was born in Boston, MA on July 29, 1924 and lived in Medford, MA, Miami FL before dying in Los Angeles, CA on January 15, 1947. When she died, she was purported to be a rising star in Hollywood and was brutally murdered and dismembered. The murder attacked considerable notoriety but was never solved. The speculation surrounding her is fascinating, and I believe relevant to this issue. Elizabeth Short, or the “Black Dalia” (a name given her by the press because of her lustrous black hair, not her skin color) is suspected to have Androgen Insensitivity Syndrome, AIS.
This syndrome affects only men, that is only XY chromosome persons, who produce the normal male hormone: testosterone. What distinguishes them is the result of a genetic deficiency of the testosterone receptor; they are “insensitive” to testosterone. Lacking any male hormone receptors they develop only female characteristics in utero and after birth. That is, they appear to be women in every sense except that they do not have any of the usual female sex organs. They lack a uterus and have a short blind vagina, but have normal “female” body habitus, fat distribution and breast development. Their gonads are testes, not ovaries, but are undescended since no scrotum develops. It is usually recommended that the testes be removed to avoid cancer, and replacement “female” hormones are given. These individuals cannot respond to male hormones at all of course.
So the question that obviously arises is “What gender are they?” The answer is equally obvious, they are women in every sense, appearance and otherwise. Specifically at birth they appear to be and are recorded on birth certificates to be women. Now comes the rub: is the birth certificate the final authority or the genetics? Does a mistaken assumption at birth determine a person’s gender? What if, as is the case with AIS, the two disagree? If an XY appears to be a woman, is she a woman? If an individual with AIS is a woman, what then of a surgically and hormonally adjusted person with an XY chromosomal pattern who appears to be a woman? I will offer an answer that begins with the phrase: “What acts like a duck, walks like a duck, and quacks like a duck, is … “
What the state of North Carolina has attempted to make into a simple question is in fact not simple at all. A birth certificate does not determine gender.
One further note on Elizabeth Short; many feel that she was mutilated and murdered by an infuriated man when he found he could not have intercourse with her. This is just speculation, but is all too possible. The attitude expressed in North Carolina is ample proof of the inherent malice that prompted this speculation.