One of the most exciting things about having a child is learning the gender of the baby. Many people choose to find out as soon as possible, while others decide to keep it a surprise. Although you may not see sex organs on a sonogram for weeks, a baby’s sex is determined long before it arrives in the world.
Gender is determined immediately upon fertilization. The 23rd pair of chromosomes establishes the sex of the baby. The mother’s egg contains an X chromosome, while the father’s sperm carries either another X or a Y chromosome. An XX combination means your baby is female and an XY combination means your baby is male. This means that the baby’s gender is determined before it is even considered a foetus. Other chromosomal diversities can differ the gender of the baby and this is discussed further in the Intersex section.
Though during the first few weeks of foetal development your baby’s internal and external genital structures are the same, the organs will eventually change. Your baby’s gonads will either become ovaries or testicles. The phallus will become either a clitoris or a penis, and the genital folds will become either labia or scrotum. This all depends whether or not testosterone is present. Testosterone will be present in embryos with a Y chromosome, and male sex organs will begin to form. If testosterone is not present, female organs will develop, making female the “default sex” for human beings. There are also other influences at this stage of development that can result in the baby being intersex and this is discussed further in the ‘Intersex’ sections.
Sex Organs Are Visible:
Although your baby’s gender is determined immediately upon fertilization, you will not be able to know the sex until about the 16th to 18th week of pregnancy. At around the sixth week your baby will develop a small bud called the genital tuber at the site of the genitals. This will look the same for boys and girls until around the 9th week when the sex organs begin to form. By the end of the 20th week, the external sex organs should be fully formed for both male and female babies. . In some instances the baby may be born with both male and female sex organs and may result in the early identification of the gender being incorrect.
According to the Intersex Society of North America (ISNA), “intersex” is a term used to describe a variety of conditions in which a person is born with a sexual anatomy that doesn’t fit typical definitions of male or female. For instance, a person may be born with genitals that are in-between the usual male and female parts or may be born with both XX and XY chromosomes. The ISNA says to understand intersex, think of gender like the colour spectrum. Sex organs vary in shape and size and sex chromosomes can vary as well. While most cultures divide people into male and female categories, this is not the way of nature. This condition is very rare but it does exist.
Gender as a Controversial Issue:
The word “gender” has become quite controversial. Some say gender is biological while others say gender is purely a product of the child’s environment. In other words, if you put a child in a pink room and teach he or she to play with dolls, that baby will identify as a girl. If you put a child in a blue room and teach him or her to play with trucks, he or she will identify as boy. Although socialization does impact on all humans, biologically people are born with a gender-brain. In earlier times, the gender of intersex babies was determined by the parents’ choice of gender, however as the child developed their thoughts and behaviour didn’t always compliment their genitalia or their social influences. By age 2 or 3, your baby will begin to develop an awareness of being either male or female and begin to act accordingly. For the child who is Intersex the non-conformity between genitalia, social expectations and how they feel and identify as individuals can cause severe disruption in their future development. A person may not have external or behavioural gender differences, but have internal gender variances. Biologically ‘gender’ does not always correspond with the simplistic definition of ‘male or female’ that our society has based its structures on.
The information above has been adapted from:
Dave Wells works with people, without the use of labels, and with the aim of discovering the individual that you are, (take out) with (add) inclusive of all of your diversities. Regardless of legal, and biological gender identification, client’s gender is identified by their feelings of preference, (add) and/or how they wish to present, which can fit within the male/female stereotypes, or alternatively.