Preventing potential lesbianism in the womb

Paul Raven @ 01-07-2010

Science has brought us many wonderful things, but it sometimes gets picked up as a blunt instrument by people with deeply screwed up ideas about what is right and wrong. Worried your unborn female child might grow up to be uninterested in having children, or attracted to “traditionally masculine” career choices? Or – heaven forfend! – homosexual? Fear not: pediatric endocrinologist Maria New of the Mount Sinai School of Medicine reckons that her experimental hormone treatment for pregnant women can ensure the birth of little girls who think and act just like Jeebus and the Founding Fathers would have wanted. [That link via Cheryl Morgan; MeFi links to PZ Myers’ take on the same story.]

I don’t know which makes me more angry: that a medical practitioner – herself a woman! – could come up with such a plan and still sleep at night, or that there will be thousands of people who will be happy to have the body chemistry of their unborn child tampered with so long as it can prevent them turning out to be one of The Gays. So much for the Western societal myth of parental love being unconditional, not to mention the one about doctors being ethical.

In case you’re thinking “well, it’s a matter of parental choice, surely?”- try reversing the polarity of the story and thinking about how the guardians of public morals would respond. If a doctor announced a hormonal treatment that could ensure the expression of characteristics opposite to those traditionally associated with the sex of the child in question – a way of *gasp* manufacturing queers! – there’d be a white trash jihad on their home and clinic within hours of the news breaking. Hi-ho, heteronormativity.

Be Sociable, Share!

11 Responses to “Preventing potential lesbianism in the womb”

  1. David says:

    Wait a sec, isn’t engineering our children one of the great SF tropes? Blue-eyed, 180-IQ’d, Roundup Ready Ubermenschen?

  2. Paul Raven says:

    Sure is… I believe we tend to call those particular stories “dystopias”. 😉

  3. Fredosphere says:

    I’ve always wondered why SF hasn’t produced more gender-engineering stories where the resulting change is toward conforming to conventional roles. (As opposed to, say, creating bat-winged hermaphrodite gods living it up on asteroids.) It’s a failure of imagination, really. The fact is, the technology Paul is describing has a decent chance of arriving someday soon, and when it does, it will be used. Our SF authors should do their jobs and speculate honestly about what the implications will be, rather than ignoring it.

    Or maybe I’m just not widely-read enough.

  4. Fredosphere says:

    Another thing, Paul: consider all of what this treatment might address: not just gayness, necessarily, but the transgendered state. By all accounts, that state is a deeply frustrating one, and surgery must be a less than completely satisfying solution (to say the least). Is the impulse to spare a child from such frustration completely crazy?

    The chances of that happening are low, but parents tend to be a little extreme when it comes to protecting their kids from perceived risk. It’s what they do. That doesn’t mean they’re evil.

  5. Paul Raven says:

    Is the impulse to spare a child from such frustration completely crazy?

    No, I understand the motivation, I think – namely wanting what you believe will be a more pleasant and socially acceptable life for your child. But I can’t classify making such a deeply fundamental decision on the child’s behalf about the way they will relate to the world – and, more importantly, making it pre-emptively, before they’re even born, “just to be sure” – as a net good. The road to hell is paved with good intentions*. But I’m not tagging anyone with the word “evil”…. partly because it’s an inherently subjective term (George Bush’s evil =/= Osama bin Laden’s evil), and as such using it is almost always counterproductive. It’s more a matter of my frustration at the catch-22 nature of the problem: by trying to spare their child the “trauma” of being transgendered, parents (almost certainly unintentionally) reinforce exactly the prejudice and marginalisation that generate a social environment in which it is traumatic to grow up transgendered. The human drive to conformity is probably older than language, and deeply coded; however, in a shrinking and interconnected world, it is not only obsolete but actively damaging to our progress toward becoming something more than the animals we still are.

    I’m on shaky ground to some extent, because I’m not a parent, but nonetheless: doing everything to ensure your child gets to be the person *they want to be* is a laudable thing; doing anything to ensure your child ends up being what *everyone else wants them to be* is misguided, and ultimately may well do more harm than good to the thing you want so much to protect.

    That aside, we are in agreement – there’s rich opportunity here for some great and powerful (and necessary) science fiction to be written. And yes, some may already have been – if so, I’ve not encountered it yet, either. But I’m pretty sure that someone in the ranks of the Futurismic Irregulars will be able to tell us about it, if it’s out there. 🙂

    [ *Unless, as Messrs. Gaiman and Pratchett suggested, it is in fact paved with frozen insurance salesmen. 🙂 ]

  6. Fredösphere says:

    Thanks, Paul, for taking me seriously and putting so much thought into your response. One very interesting question would be the the state of the art world in a gay-free world. It’s a very common assumption that gays supply a major portion of the world’s style. Whether that’s an innate ability, or the result of “outsiders” having some advantage in developing an aesthetic sense, is a fascinating question. It may be un-PC to think of it as innate (I honestly don’t know, not being on that weekly memo distribution list) but I suspect the belief that it is innate is very widely, if casually, assumed.

    BTW, if you spread the net more widely to include SF that describes a future of enforced conformity, it becomes easier to think of examples. Gattaca is the first one that comes to my mind. However, that’s a conformity to superiority, not bourgeois mediocrity. I would say, the part of the Gattaca scenario I immediately found implausible is the idea that you could create a race of people who are, and consider themselves to be, flawlessly beautiful, strong, and smart, who nevertheless submit to a regimen of workplace conformity and constant surveillance. Those thoroughbreds would rebel.

  7. Evil Rocks says:

    Never fear: the people who’d chemically enforce heteronormativity are too broke to afford car insurance – much less in-womb chemical manipulation. The real hilarity will begin when teh gaze start having gene-pureed babies who are chemically treated to ensure generational homosexuality. That’s when the weirdness will really begin. Remember those stories about women not needing men at the advent of genetic manipulation? Single-sexed, reproducing, social groups are not so far off…

  8. Steve Wilson says:

    This is a fascinating subject … I was just reading an article which said that people tended to believe they were more liberal than their behaviours suggest, so it will be interesting to see how it plays out among all social classes.

    Evil Rocks: the price would surely drop pretty fast.

  9. Wintermute says:

    I believe the treatment consists of the pregnant mother taking hormone pills. Could be more involved though.

    Although there isn’t any hard proof that this procedure works without drastic side effects.

  10. Babylon says:

    If I could have picked the sexual preference of my unborn daughter I would have picked lesbian. Lesbians have significantly lower risks of STD’s and also have a lower incidence of domestic abuse as compared to straight women. Also the fact I wouldn’t have to worry about her getting pregnant would be a plus (well, aside from rape, but in that case there’s a lot more to worry about) as it is I am pretty sure she’s gonna be het, and I’m ok with that, but still, I’d have appreciated the option to choose.

  11. Ellen Herzfeld says:

    Greg Egan wrote a fine story on the subject: “Cocoon”, first published in Asimov’s in May 1994. Also in his collection `Luminous`.