This morning was one of those times when I really wish that the times and circumstances had allowed me to stick with biology. I was scanning Sunday’s Washington Post about a 5-year-old transgender boy. “Tyler” decided at the ripe old age of 2 that she was really a boy instead of a girl. Now this was not a simple case of a child showing an interest in some aspects of the other gender nor was it a case of someone railing against the inequities that our culture enforces on both males and females. No, in this instance, it was a case of a child saying the pre-school equivalent of “What part of ‘I’m a boy, dammit’ do you not understand?”

I’m not going to re-tell the whole story here. You can read it, if you are so inclined, in the Washington Post online. What I am interested in is a statement made by Norman Spack, director of  the gender identity medical clinic at Children’s Hospital in Boston, MA. Spack said: “There’s no question that everybody is seeing more of this now.” This is something that I’ve noticed as well. Post college, there was the occasional story of an adult male or female declaring that they were in the wrong body and that they were going to try & fix things. This became more and more frequent and stories about teenagers being in the same fix began to surface. Now, we are hearing more and more about children of tender age saying flat-out that they are really the opposite gender.

I suppose that transgender people have always been with us and historical tales of men’s excessive heroics or women’s over-the-top motherhood/femininity have sometimes been about a person who found themselves in the wrong body and thought that being more manly or womanly would solve the problem. Then too, there were those who joined the homosexual community where they could act out the gender role that they felt was truly theirs. Experiments in gender reassignment surgery began in the 30’s and there was, of course, the tale of Christene Jorgensen switching sides in the early 1950’s which caused many a snigger. Nowadays, it is happening more and more often. Of course, some of this is due to the fact that “we” – meaning parents, etc. – are more open to discussing this and the internet bringing all sorts of information to our doorstep as well. But still, there are more and more instances of little Johnny declaring that his name should be ‘Jane’ and Denise announcing that she’s really ‘Dennis’.

My own theory is that this increase is a result of the increasing amounts of hormones and chemicals that mimic hormones in the environment. First, there were fish who either showed both the male and female traits of their species or even switched gender. This same mixture of male and female was also observed in other animals  and now the effects are being felt in the human environment as well. While median age for the onset of puberty in girls has remained the same – boys have been to experiencing  puberty at a somewhat younger age – there are increased instances of  girls starting to develop around the age of t 10 and others menstruating in the 3rd grade. Of course, there could be some other factor(s) involved but my bet is that the cause or causes will be found in the food we eat and the water we drink.

There’s at least a thesis in there and probably a dissertation as well. Now if I could just get the funding . . .

Last week, author Brenda Pandos posted a blog entry entitled: 1 in 88 … how many until it’s an epidemic? While I will not quote her article here, Brenda raises the alarm about the increasing frequency of Autism in the general population. There is some suggestion that part of the problem is due to diagnosing other conditions as Autism and that may well be the case in some instances. However, even 1 case in 100 or 200 children is pretty scary when you consider that 1 case of polio in 2700 people was considered an epidemic back in the day. Have we become immune to such statistics or is it something else?

Autism is 4 times more likely to occur in boys than girls. That means that of 100 diagnosed cases, 80 of them will be boys. Would the response be greater if it were 80 girls out of 100 cases? I wonder!

Let’s consider another scary disease: Cancer. In particular, Breast Cancer and Prostate Cancer. Roughly the same number of males die from prostate cancer as women who die from breast cancer. That said, let’s look at public efforts to combat the two diseases.

It goes without saying, that Breast Cancer awareness is pretty much in your face a good part of the time. You have Susan G. Komen, races – some lasting multiple days – that involve women and a noticeable number of men, countless PSAs and commercials, pink ribbons on most everything including cars in the NASCAR Sprint Cup & Nationwide series. There’s clothing, bumper stickers, pins, etc., etc.

Now how about Prostate Cancer? Well there are a couple of commercials and that’s about it. No blue ribbons, no noticeable fund-raising events and when was the last time you heard of a 10k race to raise awareness?

The breast cancer side of the house advises – correctly – that early detection is the best way to beat the disease. As for prostate cancer, early detection is important but a study published in the British medical journal, The Lancet, reported that PSA (Prostate-Specific Antigen) screening produced no significant increase in the rate of survival. It would seem that the only advantage of a PSA test is being able to make out your will in a timely manner & go on that vacation you’ve dreamed about. Both diseases can leave the survivors maimed but at least with breast cancer there is the possibility of reconstructive surgery. Nothing can reconstruct what prostate surgery takes away.

When you compare the efforts against both forms of cancer with the gender disparity found in Autism, you cannot help but think that the lack of alarm is because that males are considered to be expendable. Yes, Autism Speaks garners much more notice & support that the seeming non-existent war on prostate cancer but why is that? And why are we seemingly not concerned that Autism strikes males four times as often as females?

I am 101% behind the efforts to raise awareness about breast cancer as well as funds for research towards treatment and prevention. (You go girls!) I am also thankful that Autism Speaks is doing what it can on that front even though few in power or authority seem to be concerned about the numbers. Would the concern be any greater if women died from prostate cancer and autism’s gender ratio was reversed?

Let me close with a revolutionary thought: Males are people too.

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