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Male Raised as Female is Studied

Associated Press
New York Times, July 6, 1998

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CHICAGO (AP) -- A Canadian boy who was raised as a girl after his penis was irreparably damaged during circumcision continues to live as a woman, suggesting gender identity develops after birth, researchers say.

The case is only the second documented case of a boy being "assigned" a new gender after his genitals were mutilated during circumcision. [NOHARMM note: If two such incidents have come to light in Canada, one would expect a far greater number to have occurred in the U.S., which has 10 times the population and 2 or 3 times the circumcision rate. How and why are these cases being hidden from the public?]

The study, released Monday in the July issue of the journal Pediatrics, contradicts the findings in the first case, in which the boy
returned to life as a male.

The Canadian who is living as a woman describes herself as bisexual. As of last summer, she was in a relationship with a woman.

To researchers, that suggests that sexual orientation may be determined in the womb, by genetics and prenatal hormones, but that gender identity may be determined months after birth.

"When you think about the fact that this person was an entirely normal biological male prior to the circumcision accident, this case may shed some insight of how malleable someone's gender identity is," said Kenneth Zucker, one of the study's authors and a researcher with the Clarke Institute of Psychiatry in Toronto.

"The outcome of our case -- at least with regard to gender identity -- suggests that it is pliable after all."

In both cases, the testicles and remainder of the penis were removed and a vagina created. The patients also were given female
hormones, which enabled them to develop breasts and other female traits.

The operation in the first case was done at 21 months, vs. seven months in the second case. Researchers say that may mean there's a "window" of time after birth -- some say up to age 18 months -- in which babies identify as neither boys nor girls.

"It suggests that, if you reassign a child early enough and tell them that they are whatever sex, then they probably believe you and tend to accept themselves," said Michael Bailey, a professor of psychology at Northwestern University who studies gender identity and sexual orientation.

In both cases, the patients studied had "tomboyish" characteristics. In the first case -- initially studied in 1973 at Johns Hopkins University -- the patient rejected dolls, tried to urinate standing up and decided to return to life as a boy at age 14, after learning about the operation. He also reported exclusive attraction to women and has since married a woman.

The Canadian patient has adjusted to life as a woman. She was not identified by researchers and did not respond to a request for an interview sent through her doctor.

She works in a blue-collar job almost always performed by men, Zucker said. When interviewed by researchers last year at age 26, she said she has had relationships with men but was in a relationship with a woman.

John Bancroft, director of the Kinsey Institute for Research in Sex, Gender and Reproduction at Indiana University, said the studies show "we are very much in the dark" when it comes to how gender identity and sexual orientation develop.

See also:

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