Saturday, December 27, 2008

Hermaphroditic dogs?

Today, “Fresh Air” re-broadcast Terry Gross’s March 20th interview with veterinarian Nick Trout. Here’s an excerpt:

TG: This is Fresh Air. I’m Terry Gross.

Animal surgeon Nick Trout has noticed that many pet owners feel more like pet parents. The people that bring their animals to him want him to know how much they love their pets. He loves animals although the cats and dogs he treats might not return the sentiment during his examinations.

We’re going to talk about some of his more unusual cases and how the whole field of veterinary medicine has changed in the past few decades.

* * *

TG I want you to tell us of one of your more challenging cases. And this is a case, I would describe this dog as, um, almost a hermaphrodite?

NT Yeah, yeah…

TG It had, it’s a male dog that had become feminized? It it had, uh, you, why don’t you describe what it had.

NT (Sorry) This wa, this wasn’t an easy story to uh convey and get across uh but uh I try my best to basically describe a, a boxer dog who on the outside appeared to be male. This dog only had one descended testicle. And uh the remaining testicle in the side had succumbed to a tumor, a tumor and was secreting feminine hormones. And those feminine hormones were making this male dog become somewhat female in nature. This dog would stand to be mounted by other dogs, had somewhat pendulous breasts and uh and had this real sort of hormonal turmoil going on inside of him. The other problem was, unbeknownst to both me and the owner, that he had a remnant of an embryonic uterus that should have disappeared during his development as a puppy and yet had persisted and so this, this uh increase in female hormones had sort of ‘turned on’ a female reproductive organ within his body and as a result he had developed what is called a pyametrum which is not an uncommon infection of this male dog’s uterus. And so this gave me this very unique once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to end-up actually neutering and spaying one and the same dog.

“That’s just, that’s just really bizarre.”

NT It, it was quite bizarre and you know occasionally these cases do get reported in the veterinary literature. What is more entertaining is how you explain this to a somewhat chauvinistic owner.

TG And how’d it do?

NT Well uh, I um, I like to think that the uh, the feminine side of his male dog brought out the feminine side in him.

TG < laugh> How so?

NT Well because, you know he, um, he did find it difficult. He was um just insistent that this was a male dog and that this couldn’t be happening. This, this hormonally-induced ability to be attracted to the other male dog in the dog park. And so what I ensured the end of the day was that uh he should understand that the man the male side of this dog actually shines through, was the dominant um party, and he seemed to be comfortable with that.

TG You know, one of the supermarkets tabloid seems to specialize in bizarre animal stories. It I wouldn’t be surprised if they picked-up on this one. But they just have a lot of stories about like the biggest cat in the world or half-cat,

NT Right.

TG half-dog .

NT Right.

TG Kind of combine the photos together.

NT Yes.

TG so it’s half-cat, half-dog.

* * *

The point of this piece is to draw show how veterinary medicine is taking on human medical modalities.

This excerpt relates to a dog that had a genetic or perhaps a congenital oddity that Gross identifies with a community of humans that she identifies as “hermaphrodites.”

What do we learn from this?

1. For starters, Gross is misinformed.

The term “hermaphrodite” has long fallen into disuse as objectionable, replaced by the neutral and descriptively correct term “intersexed.” That term has just recently been supplanted (by the medical professionals over the patients’ overwhelming objections) as people with “disorders of sexual development” (DSDs.) But Gross uses the outdated and demeaning term “hermaphrodite.”

2. Gross calls the dog’s condition “bizarre,” and the vet agrees.

But the medical community and society at-large understands that sex and gender variances occur within the human community all the time. Roughly one in 2,000 children are born intersexed.

We’re mammals; so are dogs. If this happens to us with such frequency why should anyone be surprised to see it in a dog? Given the number of canines among us what’s surprising is that the vet has only seen or heard of this one case.

3. Gross is uncomfortable with sex and gender variance.

She punctuates each juncture that she deems sexually amusing, whimsical, titillating or mildly prurient with her signature laugh/guffaw, signaling that it’s a matter we can turn into an off-color joke because it is after all about sex and sex makes us uncomfortable. Why? Fifty-five years into Playboy magazine and we still live in a sexually repressed society?

You’d expect Gross's take from teenagers when they discuss something that makes them nervous – like sex. People do that when they're not fully mature adults.

Maybe Gross just plays it cute for ratings.

4. The vet, who’s a medical professional, doesn’t seem to have a better take on this than does Gross. Toward the end he interjects agreements with her (two rights and a yes) as she trivializes the subject.

5. Gross and the vet’s unease is shared by the men in general if not the public at-large.

The vet relates the dog owner’s discomfort with his hermaphroditic and gender-bending dog. I suspect he sees it as reflecting on him personally. Men who buy fighting animals like pit bulls and tough-looking hyper-masculine dogs like boxers are projecting their animals’ innate aggressiveness. It’s an advertisement – “Don’t mess with me.” It’s the same with their cars – high power and long hood lines to compensate for their likely genital under-endowment. What can be more embarrassing for a macho stud than having a male dog who likes to take it up the ass?

Fathers have the same problem with their less-than-masculine sons.

Too bad Terry Gross missed the larger story. Query whether she could ever have seen it.

Tuesday, December 23, 2008

What did He say?

I can't imagine anyone is surprised that Pope Benedict would attack transsexuals, and how creatively! He speaks so obliquely one could almost confuse him with Alan "what did the Fed chairman say?" Greenspan. Please - someone translate this bit of rhetorical fluff for me:

"The fact that the earth, the cosmos, mirror the creator Spirit, also means that beyond the mathematical order, their rational structures in the experiment become almost palpable, which in itself brings an ethical orientation."

Of course it does.

If we could stick the members of the College of Cardinals in separate rooms and ask them to write out their individual interpretations for us, would anyone be willing to bet that any two of them could come up with the same interpretation?

But isn't it nice to know that the Catholic Church cares. About rain forests. That's why it's leading the charge to save the environment. Or cholera victims in Zimbabwe, a Christian country (except they're black.)

No, it's just anything having to do with sex that disturbs His Holiness' sleep.

And how about this gem:

"Rain forests deserve, yes, our protection but the human being - as a creature which contains a message that is not in contradiction with his freedom but is the condition of his freedom - does not deserve it less."

I always though 'which' is to be preceded by a comma but what do I know?

Does anyone other than the Pontiff really think humanity is threatened by the concept of gender variance? What - people are going to so flock by the droves to change sex/gender (does His Holiness have a clue as to the difference between them?) thus imperiling human reproduction and the continuity of the species? With 6.8 BILLION people on the planet and the Maternal Faithful hard at work popping out more people in ever increasing numbers, is depopulation something we need to worry about?

The rest of us have a lot to worry about - mostly religious fanatics like you-know-who.