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4 Monotheistic Religious Interpretations

Elof Axel Carlson Indiana University Press ePub

Countries with substantial populations of Christians and Muslims follow a monotheistic tradition derived from the Jews and their scriptures, the Old Testament or Hebrew Bible. Sex determination of humans is introduced in the book of Genesis as two separate events: Adam is first created as a male and later given a female companion, Eve, derived from his rib. The first strange feature of this separate creation of the two human sexes is that it occurs after the creation of sea, air, and land animals. These creatures are created in an unspecified number and commanded to multiply their kind. By implication, male and female representatives of these other forms of life were created without comment about their having two sexes, as were species that produced their progeny by parthenogenesis, budding (or other cloning mechanism), multiple mating types (e.g., paramecia), or hermaphroditic mutual gametic exchange (e.g., earthworms and snails).

The second unusual feature of the Genesis account is the creation of a female, Eve, presumably having a 46,XX chromosomal composition from the rib of Adam, presumably having a 46,XY chromosomal composition. Barring some miraculous act and assuming the Creator was using an XY mechanism for sex determination, the rib would have had to contain this 46,XX tissue. This would mean that Adam was some sort of chromosomal mosaic (or chimera, if the XX tissue was some type of embedded twin), with a region of his body (the rib area used for Eve) containing a karyotype that required two separate, nondisjunctional events to bring about. If one attributes miraculous acts for this formation of Eve, why was the rib necessary? If the human female has her origin as a second sex from Adam, the chromosome difference has to be reconciled (at least for those calling themselves “Creationist scientists”). One such possibility would be the lagging of the Y shifting a cell to 45,X, followed by a delayed separation of chromatids of the X producing the 46,XX cell from which the rib area was derived. The two X chromosomes would necessarily be identical in nucleotide sequence (except for a few new spontaneous mutations).1 Note the coincidence (or possible association) between the hermaphroditic nature of Adam before Eve is extracted from his rib, and the Greek myth cited by Plato in The Symposium, where heterosexual couples were produced from an initially hermaphroditic state.

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7 The Discovery of Sperm in Higher Eukaryotes

Elof Axel Carlson Indiana University Press ePub

Semen has long been recognized as necessary for producing offspring. It is liquid, somewhat viscous, and usually clear or slightly cloudy in appearance; certainly the unaided eye can see no visible body within it. The Greeks, especially through Hippocrates and later Galen, embraced a theory of vital fluids, which they called humors. Blood was considered the major constituent of life, at least among vertebrates. It was considered the progenitor of semen in the male body, and believed to be the hereditary material that allowed a species to generate offspring in its likeness.

Semen was endowed with a capacity to impose form on the pliable material supplied by females. That material was also thought to be blood: sometimes it was associated with menstrual blood, and sometimes it was thought to be another type of semen. Female semen was not clarified, like male semen, but still bloodlike and clotted—a type of miniscule clay ready to be molded into shape by the empowering effect of male semen. For more than two thousand years, arguments were made about the relative roles that males and females play in forming a new individual through their fluids, which were commingled after copulation. There were inside–outside theories in which the male supplied the outer components of the new baby. There were theories in which the female role was passive, being shaped exclusively by the male, forcing some observable phenomena, such as the equal contributions made to the skin color of the offspring of a black person and a white person, to be swept under a mental rug.

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16 The Seven Sexes of Humans

Elof Axel Carlson Indiana University Press ePub

In 1958, when I was a freshly minted PhD from Muller’s laboratory at Indiana University, I took my first academic job at Queen’s University in Kingston, Ontario. There, I was asked to teach a course in human genetics for medical students, which was a challenge because I had never had a human genetics course. As an offshoot from my dissertation study on the structure of the dumpy locus in fruit flies, I had published an article on the parallel of that gene complex to the Rh blood groups. That was my only contact with human genetics. I spent a lot of time in the library at Indiana University, and at Queen’s University when I arrived there, reading what I could about human genetics, including Curt Stern’s pioneering text in this field.1 I hit the medical books and journals, looking for human parallels to genetic processes in fruit flies and other organisms. When I came to the topic of sex determination, I knew that fruit flies and humans both had XX female and XY male sex chromosomes. I read Jones and Scott’s fine text on hermaphroditic and pseudohermaphroditic disorders, and dipped into some human embryology texts to follow what was then known about sex differentiation in humans, both in normal and in clinically abnormal sexual development.2 I organized the information in my mind and presented it in a series of lectures that I called, at the time, “the seven sexes of man.”

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8 The Discovery of Sex Hormones

Elof Axel Carlson Indiana University Press ePub

In 1902, William Bayliss (1860–1924) and Ernest Starling (1866–1927) introduced the term “hormone.”1 Hormones are substances produced by one organ, an endocrine gland, that acts at a distance on another organ. The field of science that studies this is called endocrinology. The names of hormones were all coined in the twentieth century, but the idea that there was something like hormones has existed since antiquity. For example, Chinese medicine frequently made use of extracts from human urine that were used to treat disease.

Since human history began and medical treatments were attempted, physical changes associated with endocrine glands have been known. Castrated males, since antiquity known as eunuchs, lose their capacity to grow a beard, may develop enlarged breasts, and become effeminate. Eunuchs have had a long history serving as guards of harems in the Middle East, where plural marriages were common and reflective of wealth and power, and they served as political advisors in the Forbidden City in Beijing during the rule of Chinese emperors. Eunuchs were usually castrated as young men, but a special category of eunuchs were castrated as preadolescent boys. These were called castrati. During the Renaissance and until the eighteenth century, boys in choirs who were aged six to ten and who had a talent for singing and reading music were castrated and groomed to become prized singers because of their “celestial” soprano-like upper voice range. They differed from typical eunuchs, who lost their testes as adults, tending to be taller than average and appearing “etiolated,” with unusually wide hips in an otherwise slender frame.2 Castration was also applied to slaves in Greece about 400 BCE because they were considered to be more docile. In Jewish tradition, eunuchs were excluded from religious ceremonies. Early Christian monks sometimes practiced castration to remove the temptation of sexual attraction.3

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18 The History of Homosexuality

Elof Axel Carlson Indiana University Press ePub

All human behavior is subject to the judgment of others. As children, we are judged by our parents, teachers, and playmates. Some behaviors are approved and admired; others are condemned and sometimes punished. That has been the history of behavior concerning table manners, dressing, grooming, reliability, dishonesty, theft, selfishness, generosity, cursing, bullying, flirting, and just about anything we do. Both culture and religion have their dos and don’ts. Those values change from generation to generation, and they are different in different countries and regions of countries. Almost all cultures condemn violent behavior toward those who are not designated by the state as legitimate objects for attack. We punish perjury, theft, fraud, treason, blackmail, piracy, and many other behaviors as crimes, and regulate them with laws. Most industrial nations no longer regard some crimes of the past as crimes today. At one time, blasphemy was a capital crime. Until the 1920s, it was a crime for a physician in the United States to offer medical advice on birth control. Until the 1950s, it was a crime for a white person to marry or live with a black person. Until the 1970s, a physician who carried out an abortion committed a crime.

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