Medicating Away the “Gay” in Your Fetus: There’s an Actual Doctor For That.

So if you read HuffPo or the Bilerico Project, you may have read about the report that Dr. Maria New has been giving dexamethasone, an experimental medication, to women who are concerned that their (female) children might have congenital adrenal hyperplasia, an adrenal condition that allegedly occasionally results in intersexuality and is vaguely correlated with “tomboyishness and lesbianism.” [Sidenote: intersexuality and sexual orientation are like apples and oranges, biologically speaking, so this is already obnoxious.]

Although Dr. New is apparently a licensed pediatric endocrinologist, she seems unconcerned that dexamethasone (“dex”) isn’t approved for pregnant women or that it’s been linked to birth defects in animals. (@hastingscenter)

I’m just going to say it: this is utterly and inarguably horrifying. Even if we weren’t looking at this from a queer standpoint, even if we were just average anonymous human beings who cared about the well-being of other human beings, the fact that a medical professional could ever endanger children to further a political agenda and/or out of a misguided and highly politicized medical stance, and the fact that a mother would ever allow this to happen, we would be outraged. Even if we were, say, aliens from outer space who were observing the human race through long-range telescopic technology for research purposes, we would be appalled at how people are willing to put their own offspring in harm’s way because they are so afraid that they will someday buy a subscription to Suicide Girls.

And because we are in fact looking at this from a gay perspective, because we have been thinking about this for years or even decades because it’s, you know, our LIVES, we can go farther than that: we can say that this is finally the last straw, this is the terrible proof of how deadly the disease of homophobia actually is.

As Alex Blaze of the Bilerico Project says:

There’s a lot to be said in a debate about whether it’s ethical to try to medically prevent a child from growing up queer or gender-nonconforming or just interested in something other than child-bearing. But when the goal is to eliminate part of human diversity in order to make some people feel more comfortable, there doesn’t seem to be much need for discussion: this is a simple crime against humanity.
(@huffpo)

Crazy right-wing haters like to talk a lot about objectivity: “It’s just a fact that kids are healthier with a mom and a dad.” “Gay men are just full of diseases, end of story.” “The truth is that gay marriage will inevitably lead to terrorist attacks on the White House, and there’s just no arguing with that.”

But really, when you’re knowingly treating yourself and your own child with something that’s proven to cause birth defects and that DOESN’T EVEN CURE THE DISEASE IN QUESTION just because there’s a chance they MIGHT have a disorder that is SOMETIMES correlated with, um, “tomboyishness,” have you not objectively reached the point of completely irrational hatred and fear? Like, what else would you have to do? Literally pitch your kid into traffic because you read on the blog of someone camped out in their basement with seven automatic weapons that it will protect you from the Lavender Menace?

The Prop 8 trial, of course, with its crucial issue of whether the moral objection of California voters to same-sex unions can be defended as rational, is the most obvious site of this controversy, but stories like this crazy Dr. new one push us to ask: for how long do we put up with this? How many bigoted, fantasy-world decisions by doctors, lawyers and politicians do you justify before someone decides that enough is enough?

On the one hand, I feel like this is devolving into crazy talk, but on the other hand I feel like that’s a little bit okay, because this is legitimately crazy. Maybe we all more or less know this but go through our day without thinking about it because it’s too much to deal with. But once in a while something makes us snap inside and tear our hair out over the sheer absurdity of it, and maybe this is one of those things. Maybe.

Maybe Ani said it best, and we’ll leave the last word to her. A lot of us are going through Ani phases right now, you know?

If you’re not angry
you’re just stupid
or you don’t care
how else can you react
when you know
something’s so unfair

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Originally from Boston, MA, Rachel now lives in the Midwest. Topics dear to her heart include bisexuality, The X-Files and tacos. Her favorite Ciara video is probably "Ride," but if you're only going to watch one, she recommends "Like A Boy." You can follow her on twitter and instagram.

Rachel has written 1142 articles for us.

53 Comments

  1. But, I thought heterosexuals were certain that being gay was simply ‘a choice’ that gay people make.

    So, now it’s NOT a choice, but a medical condition? Treatable in the womb?

    Wow. That seems to make the heterosexual’s discrimination against their gay children even more ugly.

    Punishing your gay children for YOUR ‘mistakes’, whether those ‘mistakes’ are nature OR nurture (both of those being the responsibility of heterosexuals) hardly seems fair, does it?

    • So I read the first part of this comment and had a moment of oh hey, is this almost progress because they are recognizing homosexuality as something people are born with? And then I thought about what I had just read above this comment and thought oh wait, no… no no no, not at all.

  2. Been reading about this all week, watching it appear on blog after blog and website after website with growing horror.

    So what happens now to the anti-stem cell anti-abortion pro-“don’t mess with God’s natural plan” and “don’t change or harm babies” conservative christian haters?

    I hope their fucking heads explode from the hypocrisy.

    And i’m really really really scared for the future lesbians whose parents DONT treat their “disease” in utero. where the fuck are they gonna find girlfriends?

    GAHHHHHH [going to go on a writing/screaming spree]

    • Also…has anyone called this eugenics yet? You know..what Hitler was trying to do during WWII by breeding white, blonde, blue-eyed people while simultaneously killing gays and Jews?

      I really..I just…I called up my mom crying and asked her if she would have taken this medicine if it had been available in the eighties and she said, “Of COURSE not, honey, I love you the way you are. And by the way, I didn’t even put Motrin in my body when I was pregnant with you, so concerned was I about your fetal health. Any woman who takes an unapproved drug that causes birth defects is INSANE.”

      This made me feel a tiny bit better. Except for the fact that the women who would want to guarantee hyper-heterosexual girl babies ARE insane. :( :(

        • Agreed. THIS was my snap. I can handle the Fred Phelps and the Sarah Palins and the general jackassery of the world as long as I know that gay people will always be around and ALWAYS stay a segment of the population, as we are naturally SUPPOSED TO BE.

          Even with all the haters, there will always be strong women and men in the queer family and gay community fighting for change. And we were slowly changing that. And even though it was taking forever, it was working.

          But there is no way to fight if your population gets eradicated before they are even born.

          I’m down for the big gay army.

          Remember that Storm scare-tactic that NOM used? Well I am ready to get that thunder and lightning crackin!

        • “I swore never to be silent whenever, wherever human beings endure suffering and humiliation. We must take sides. Neutrality helps the oppressor, never the victim. Silence encourages the tormentor, never the tormented. Sometimes we must interfere. When human lives are endangered, when human dignity is in jeopardy, national borders and sensitivities become irrelevant.” — Elie Wiesel

          • meeee tooooo. it made me feel slightly better about the insanity of the Mormons and Dr. whatsherface from Rachel’s article today.

            Quote-continuity? i think so.

          • Definately. Sometimes when shit stuff happens you can feel a bit helpless but speaking up helps in little ways I reckon. Also for me, I kinda feel like a loudmouth sometimes because of my many feelings on many topics but then I wonder why I feel bad about wanting better for people you know?

            P.S I see no comment fail!

  3. For fuck sake, this makes me feel ill. I hate to admit it but I think if given the choice my own mother would have tried this had she known. Anyway, that doctor should be struck off the medical register, she is supposed to offer the best care to her patients regardless of sexuality and beliefs, and to possibly endanger a human beings life using a drug untested on pregnant women is an absolute disgrace from a medical standpoint, she should be investigated by the medical council immediately, people have been struck off for less.

    Civil partnership was passed here in Ireland yesterday with no opposition, well there was some-> http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=WUAYp7dV32g So I kind of thought/hoped that the hatred was slowly dying out…this article suggests otherwise.

    • Also, why would anyone want less lesbians in the world, fuck sake, I cant even get a date now, imagine how hard it’d be if there was even less lesbians about the place, selfish doctor!

  4. First the doctor at Cornell shaving down “abnormally large” clitorises now experimental and probably dangerous medication applied to fetuses. Why do women and parents agree to potentially harming their children? Does the fact that the child is female make this somehow acceptable?

  5. I always wanted to be a microbiologist because I have a theory that gayness is genetic, and wouldn’t that be cool? It’d prove that it’s a part of human nature and it’s in our coding and it’s natural and you can’t change it.
    But now, I’m scared that if it is, people are going to see it as a genetic disease and want a cure.
    And I will not be responsible for bringing such a thing into the world.
    So maybe I’ll just, y’know, not do that…

    Also, “The truth is that gay marriage will inevitably lead to terrorist attacks on the White House, and there’s just no arguing with that.”
    Really? REALLY?!

  6. obviously if women with congenital adrenal hyperplasia have lower rates of child-bearing then they won’t be passing their genetic mutations on to future generations, right? so just honour the hippocratic oath and let darwin sprinkle his magic fairy dust around, yeah? ‘abnormality’ my ass. so angry.

  7. so i’m in tears right now. the ignorant fucks have finally made me cry. and i’m not sure because it’s the fact that women would willingly put their children in harm’s way to avoid the gay, or a result of this crazy fucking week with all the gay hating? and i remember why i stopped watching the news last summer.

    i feel like our society is regressing. i feel like only evil people have money, and it wouldn’t bother me so much if they weren’t using their money for evil things.

    when i came out, my mother told me it was the devil rearing his ugly head into me (she’s so charming). but if what this doctor is doing isn’t purely evil, then i don’t know what is.

  8. From what I understand of this story, it’s an isolated thing that one total quackjob is doing. Other, saner doctors think she’s full of crazy, too. I don’t think this will become widespread.

    That being said, the fact that a climate exists in which this is thought of is acceptable, let alone necessary, is terrifying.

  9. I’m not really sure if this offends me more as a queer or as a queer in science.
    What will be the effects on children with CAH if their mothers decide to go through with this? Will the attempts to ‘normalize’ them in the end do more harm than so-called good? What is normal anyway? A dainty a little girl that plays with dolls, instead of sports? An ideal that no one actually is? But hey that’s a characteristic of the Conservative right and their perfect ‘family.’
    Can one simply shape their child to be what the parents may want them to be before birth (that happens enough after the child is born)?
    How early is too early? We don’t know how the child in question will be affected by CAH until the child is born; there is a range of symptoms associated with CAH. The treatment with dexamethasone could be dangerous in the developing fetus.
    I’m outraged that a scientist would actually sacrifice objectivity in order to fix the ‘problem’ of tomboyishness/lesbianism. There are diseases/disorders/syndromes that a pediatric endocrinologist that focus on, rather than ‘curing’ lesbianism.
    The wonderful thing about science is that there is so much that we don’t know; that if we’re lucky, we may find something that may help cure cancer or some other fatal disease. These methods are done objectively, in the attempt to figure something out. Scientists may find that they discover that histone deacetylation and DNA methylation correlates with cancer (which they have, but also a number of other events contribute to cancer progression, and eventual diagnosis). I hate that she would put an agenda into her science.

    I could go on for days about this, but I should end my rant now before it gets more unintelligible and ADHD shows anymore.

    • I was so happy to see this comment, because when reading about this, especially after reading the Bioethics Forum link, my inner scientist was ripping her hair out.
      Seriously, when I first read about New, I couldn’t imagine how this woman was performing any kind of legitimate clinical trial.
      This all blows my mind and makes me want to hide in my basement and watch tv and pretend life isn’t happening.
      Ugh.

  10. I read this more about preventing a child from being intersex then I did lesbian. I haven’t seen any quotes from Dr.New talking about sexuality, so is that being assumed? Did I miss something?

    • It’s correlated with intersexuality, but also allegedly correlated with a higher probability of “tomboyishness and lesbianism.” which, like, i’d be very curious to find out how they’re studying/quantifying that as there is so little real research on anything to do with queer women, but hey, whatever? i think it’s fair to say that this doctor/these people hate both intersex people and queer women a whole bunch, if that makes it easier.

  11. So, I have the less extreme form of CAH. This story and the other one about the Cornell doctor have made me feel like these people are physically and psychologically harming me personally. I want to run and find all these little girls and pregnant women and just rescue them from the clutches of these doctors. I guess it’s my maternal instinct–that thing I’m supposedly not supposed to have–flaring up.

    I understand wanting to combat infant CAH, as it is potentially fatal and can lead to situations where the intersex child is subject to severe trauma (like the girls in the Cornell experiment). But the thing that scares me about this story in particular is the giving of dexamethasone to pregnant women. I take dex, along with a fun cocktail of other medication, and the one thing my endocrinologist emphasizes again and again is that I have to make sure not to overdose on the dex. It’s not a drug to play around with, by any account. What’s worse is that I was told, in no uncertain terms, that if I get pregnant I have to stop taking the dex IMMEDIATELY. And now this doctor is planning on feeding it to pregnant women?!

    Additionally, maybe I am getting the science completely wrong, but I don’t see how the dex could possibly make a difference. CAH is a genetic mutation and dex is meant to suppress the production of testosterone and progesterone–not somehow switch the genetic make-up of someone. So, if a mother doesn’t have CAH but does carry the recessive gene, and the male DNA also contains the recessive gene, I don’t see how the dex will do anything but potentially mess with the hormonal balance in the mother (hence the fact that dex and pregnancy cannot mix) and maybe, somehow, in the fetus, too, though the child will nonetheless continue to carry the mutation and probably exhibit the same symptoms at some later point.

    Argh. Sorry for this epic rant, but I can’t believe this is all happening in such a supremely misguided and, quite frankly, dangerous way.

    • no don’t be sorry, this was super interesting! thank you for sharing! i’m sorry that there are other, evil endocrinologists in the world, but i’m glad you have a sane one. and yeah from what i understand they know that the dex doesn’t treat CAH, but is supposed to “reduce the masculinizing effects.” aka make your daughter straight. yeah i don’t know either. hopefully this is only happening on a super small scale?

      • That’s the thing though: dex does indeed “reduce the masculinizing effects” of CAH because it suppresses the over-production of testosterone and progesterone thereby affecting the physical manifestations of CAH. It doesn’t, however, increase the amount of estrogen in the body, and it doesn’t, far as I can tell, rewire your brain to quell a sexual attraction to one sex over the other. In fact, a doctor friend of mine went on a rant about how Middlesex got all the science behind CAH and intersexuality completely wrong by assuming a link between CAH and lesbianism.

        Sometimes, I just want to throw plates at the wall in rage.

  12. I’m worried this is just the beginning and the argument of choice vs. biology is going to turn into If it’s a choice, unchoose it. If it’s biology, we can fix that.

  13. I’d like to propose a different perspective. If this doctor is so confident in this treatment working, then I would suggest that we place a condition on her testing and require that she live by and accept this long term test and whatever the results are, and that she/they (and all of her family/kin/business partners/Associates/(“ad nauseum”) be solely responsible for ALL the financial/emotional/physical burdens/consequences that may arise (no matter how infinitesimal)… Not the government (in reality, the citizens of the US), not the parents of the “test tube babies” (shades of Brave New World), nor anyone else.

    AND

    That these initial tests be conducted on only those family members (and future family members) of the doctor and all associates working or otherwise involved in this “test tube experiment” and no other action will be allowed on any other persons until all test tube babies have reached the age of 50 years, and have undergone physical and psychiatric evaluations to determine the full extent of the program…

    AND

    If this experiment is less than 100% successful, then all monies/properties/valuables/important things shall be removed from those persons (and their heirs, successors, families, children, grandchildren, great grandchildren, and all future generations to come, trust funds, and whatever other things the dumb bastards will establish to protect their name, their riches and their futures, and every proceed MUST be used to care for those test tube babies…

    Sounds sort of like “an eye for an eye”. Because it is!

    If someone suffers due to this insanity, and all that the medical/pharmaceutical people have to do is say “I am sorry for destroying your life”; then this law would allow us to say to those same people who ruined our lives, “Gee, we’re sorry also for what has happened to you.”

    I shall now step down from my soapbox and become the meek and mild-mannered person I used to be…

  14. What the FUCK is wrong with people.

    Dr. New is letting these women know that dex is harmful, right? Not that that would make this any better, but I’m just wondering.

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