Saturday, August 15, 2009

Gender, Sex & Infertility

So this topic has been on my mind a lot lately, and I think I need to write it out so I can get it out of my head (for now anyway). This is kind of a tough post for me to write..

What is it that makes someone a man or a woman? There is definitely the sex organs right? That's one way of determining sex. But all that really determines is male or female. It doesn't necessarily make you a man or a woman based on society's standards of what men and women are. Most people would say that you become a man when you go through puberty or you become a woman when you get your period(again puberty). Before that you are just a boy or a girl. And what causes puberty? Hormones. Hormones make you grow all sorts of hair, cause your voice to deepen, sex organs begin functioning and getting ready for the ultimate purpose of baby-making. I mean biologically that is what we are engineered to do. That is what puberty is all about. So what happens when your child doesn't have hormones?

I know that inevitably I will have to have THE talk with Skyler, and that it won't be the normal talk that all normal teens/preteens get/should get from their parents. I'm not scared about it though. I have a plan. I realize I will have to explain where babies come from and how to get a baby. You will notice I said get not make. I'm going to explain to him that when two people love each other very much (not just a man & woman, cause I believe in gay rights, and it makes it easier to explain if I can use them as an example of people who can't biologically make babies together) and are ready for all the responsiblities they discuss how they would like to become parents. There are many different ways of becoming parents. Sometimes a man and a woman can make a baby by having sex. Sometimes they can't, but even if they can't they can use other methods. (Here is where I explain surrogacy, and IVF, and donor gametes and adoption and so on.)

I'm hopeful that he'll be curious and want to know everything possible about his condition and that I can explain it all very clearly for him. I want him to be clear on everything there is to know. Chuck and I saw an episode of where a couple had a hermaphrodite baby and decided to raise him as a boy and didn't tell him anything about himself. They told him his testosterone shots were "vitamins" I couldn't watch that episode without getting extremely pissed off. I don't care if the kid is young or doesn't fully understand yet. How could someone lie to their kid about their own body? I think that's just wrong. If Skyler is young and wants to know something about himself I will find a way to explain it so he understands, tailor it to his age and ability to comprehend. I will not lie to my child and tell him it's a vitamin when really it's not.

There's another issue right there is the testosterone. I know the other hormones he takes keep him alive, those there will be no discussion about. He will learn how to take them himself and he will learn that he needs them and that's the end of that. But when it comes to testosterone.. I think I want to give him some amount of choice. Testosterone is not a live or die hormone. He does not actually need it. I think if he wants it, that's great, he can take it when he is ready (within a certain time period like 13-16 years old) but if he is happy with his body the way it is.. Well I don't think I would want to force him to do something he might regret. His body is his body. And the testosterone will probably change it, but it won't allow him to make sperm.

So if he can't produce children, it will basically just change his appearance. He will become a 'man' in terms of most body changes that happen in puberty. (Though Chuck and I know someone who had to have them and he still looks like he is 12 and he is actually 17. It's hard to see him deal with others asking him constantly if he's old enough to do such and such an activity) But he'll probably still look rather young and not be able to obtain the same "mature" look as someone with natural testosterone would. This is just difficult for me to figure out I think. I don't think I want to force them on him. I want him to make that choice himself.

I'm hopeful that if we're honest with him and straight about all of his questions he will respect us (as much as a kid can respect their parents anyways) and be able to talk to us, because we respect him. All I really want for him in life is for him to be happy. If he decides when he's older that he likes being 'less manly' or whatever and likes boys well then I will be totally happy for him. I think honestly and I kind of hate to admit this.. but I think it would make things easier if he's gay.. At least then he wouldn't feel like a failure as a man because he can't produce sperm (not that a man who can't produce sperm is a failure, but they often seem to feel like it, regardless). Really though, maybe he will decide he doesn't like kids or want kids at all anyway. And at least we know about his infertility to begin with. It isn't going to come as a surprise after years and years of trying to have a baby or something. Don't get me wrong, I'm not going to try to make my kid gay or anything. But I certainly won't be disappointed in him if he is.

Well I'm not sure what I'm trying to say here, but I love my son no matter what, and I just want to give him the best guidance I can in life, until he's old enough to make his own decisions. And this gender/sex thing is going to be one of those hard things we have to face.


Stacie said...

You are so level-headed, and I think that with each cross-road you come to, you will be able to discuss/explain to Sky accordingly.

It must all seem so overwhelming now. I do think that it's awesome that you and C plan to be completely open and honest with him AND you will support him no matter what he decides in the future regarding his sexuality/testosterone.

Rachel Inbar said...

I think it's only natural that you're thinking about these things now, but when it gets closer to the time for decision-making, it is probably a good idea to consult with professionals... I just wouldn't always depend on the judgement of a 13-year-old to make decisions that have long-term effects (I have 13-year-old twins).

Karen said...

I saw a really great documentary about hermaphroditism a few years ago on TLC. Most of their documentaries are very sensationalistic, and this one was to some degree, but it was more balanced than most. It seems that there's a movement among their community (adults with the condition and some parents of children with the condition) to allow them to have more choices in their treatment. In the US, the standard approach is to pick a gender for your child and then use surgery, hormones, and socialization to make them fit the mold you've picked. But in other parts of the world they don't have the option of surgery and hormones so they allow them to simply grow the way they are formed. It turns out that the adults who've had the treatments are often less happy than those who didn't get them. Some of the surgeries weren't all that successful and even the ones that were sometimes had socialization issues. It turns out that the initial studies of using socialization to force a child's gender were very flawed. Some kids are very traumatized by being forced to behave as a male or a female when they feel they are not, and the original subject that was studied ended up committing suicide. (And of course that trauma can happen even to people who are biologically male or female as well as hermaphrodites.)

Just weeks after I saw this documentary, I met a woman whose kids went to school with mine. We became friends and it turns out that hermaphrodism runs in her husband's family. Her child had the condition and they were treating him with hormones and raising him as a boy. She had debated the issues so much and didn't want to do any surgery until he was old enough to make those decisions himself. But her brother-in-law's wife had just had a baby who was hermaphroditic and they had decided to do the surgery and raise her as a girl solely because they wanted a girl. They had no intention of letting the child be a part of the decision process or even letting her know that it had happened. My friend was SO upset and worried, knowing that they were making this huge decision so casually.

So this is my very long winded way of saying THANK YOU! Thank you for letting your son be a part of this decision and for wanting to take his personality into account. Even if he's not making the most mature choices as he enters puberty or the choices you want for him, he'll be happier in the long run knowing that you loved and respected him enough to not just force him into a life that he didn't want.

Ya Chun said...

Your like me, thinking about hings way before you'll have to deal with it, but those sex talks always do come earlier than expected! I think with such a thoughtful mommy, that everything will work out just fine for Sky.

I was only struck by the thought that, as a kid thinking he can't get a girl pregnant, he might need to be reminded that he can get STDs just as easily as the next guy....