1. WingDingGaster
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    WingDingGaster Member

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    Sex and Genetics

    Discussion in 'Research' started by WingDingGaster, Aug 30, 2016.

    Yes, I know this is a politically charged topic these days; and seeing how I don't intend for it to be a HUGE plot point (in the sense that this isn't a political piece), I questioned even making this thread at all. Especially considering that researching it online gives me all kinds of social justice nonsense. But I want to be as accurate and realistic as I can.

    I have in mind a character who was genetically engineered to be (among other things) as gender neutral as possible, a well as raised to have no significant gender identity. What I need to research is what genetic possibilities there are for humans - typical karyotypes with hormonal or neurological abnormalities doesn't quite cut it for me. What I'm trying to find is what sequence could produce the most gender-neutral/gender mixed body. The mental stuff is a bit easier to read about and explore, so I'm focusing on biology here.

    I imagine that since there's deliberate genetic tampering going on, I might have a little more freedom for strange-but-still-human biology.

    Essentially, is anyone knowledgeable about human genetics enough to figure this out, or does anyone have some (apolitical) resources about unusual sex expression?


    In addition, what's the best way to refer to a genderless character? I've been using the singular they in drafts and sketches, since it seems most normal and subtle, but is that sufficient?
     
  2. Wreybies
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    Wreybies The Ops Pops Operations Manager Staff Contest Administrator Supporter Contributor

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    I don't think we have anyone here with the speciality in genetics sufficient to point you to a particular gene sequence that would create what you want, and honestly I don't think it's needed in such a story. I also don't think we're at the point where we understand the whole code well enough to treat it like a recipe book. I did a little light skimming of the web and Klinefelter's Syndrome (XXY) looks to be a possible candidate, but it comes along with other health issues that may or may not fit your story. 5 alpha reductase deficiency would also seem to be a possible candidate with much interesting research you can read online as regards its presentation (in the medical sense) in the Dominican Republic.

    You're already in the realm of science fiction with your story so why not make use of the liberties inherent therein to the genre?

    ETA: What I mean by the last bit is, though neither of the two conditions I mention may be a "best fit" for your story, could they be a starting point for the genetic scientists inside the story?
     
  3. Scot
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    Scot Active Member

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    You have a very interesting plot here. An artificially created gender neutral, raised without any gender bias. Wow!

    What goes on at the genetic level I have no idea, but what about the mind? Will your character be attracted to male or female, both or none?
    If gender is entirely neutral, do they even have nipples?
    Has some other homo-sapiens' capability been genetically enhanced, such as IQ?

    I don't think you need worry about the PC aspects of your idea.
     
  4. CrusherBrooks
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    CrusherBrooks Member Supporter

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    There are people who are genotypically male but lack the proper receptors for androgens (primarily testosterone and its derivatives). They are fenotypically female. They generally grow up thinking they are female and when puberty is delayed and delayed and people try to find out what's going on, they generally undergo hormone therapy to develop further as females. In embryology there is a phase that some call the "gender neutral phase" and others refer to as the "female phase". It appears that the human null position is female, and males are only a virilized form of the human base line. I'm not sure if this makes sense as a plot point but I'd imagine it could help a bit for background information.
    So if thinking about a human that is in between, this should be (logically from my perspective, which is granted to be limited) a partially virilized female. In more common terms I would imagine that they are physically akin to medium-tall women who go to the gym.

    There is a second option. There is a process called chimeraism in which two independently fertilized egg cells grow together into one individual. These are referred to as "true hermaphrodites". It's essentially the opposite of an identical twin, where one fertilized egg cell grows into two individuals. Every now and then in competitive sports, particularly (I think, but sample sizes are small) martial arts, an accusation pops up that one of the female competitors is not female at all. Legally as far as my hazy mind remembers, these people are allowed to choose their own gender since they often sport both sets of genitalia. So the references I vaguely recollect were women in competitive sports positions, which also seems to be a somewhat intermediate position to the classical male-female dichotomy. I haven't heard of hermaphrodites competing in male competitions, but this may be a bias.
    I'd suggest to search for these two phenomena and if you wish I can help you, pm me. I cannot guarantee that I have too much time, but I do enjoy dedicating some of my time to research of... oddities.

    I think "she" would be more gender neutral than "he" because of the previously mentioned reasons but if you have a gender in mind as your target audience you can adjust it to their (mis)identification.
    Hope that helps
     
  5. WingDingGaster
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    WingDingGaster Member

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    Glad to see people like the idea! Though, the plot is more about said individual's role in a greater scheme than anything specifically gender related - that's why I said it's not a political piece. Though I imagine this "lack of bias" would affect their appearance and interactions, so I wanted to get it as right as I could.

    For some reason I imagined them not having much in the way of sexuality, but that could change as I develop them more.

    Gender-neutral, as I see it, can have two interpretations: both, or neither. I wanted this character to lean more towards the "both" interpretation (indeed, I initially considered they would be a full hermaphrodite, but I question whether that's possible or a good idea. From Wikipedia alone it appears it can happen in people of any karyotype). Physically and socially, their "neutrality" would manifest in a kind of gender-fluidity - that's where the lack of bias comes in.

    Or maybe I totally don't know what I'm talking about and have reworking to do.

    Oh yes, in fact, those kinds of enhancements are the main reasons they were made - the genderlessness is more an ideological thing, almost cosmetic - "perfection" should be neither distinctly male nor female, in the eyes of the project's head. I intended to put that kind of stuff in a prologue, along with what @Wreybies mentioned about starting points for the scientists.

    I'm generally less concerned about that than some degree of scientific realism.
     
  6. BayView
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    BayView Contributing Member Contributor

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    There are people who are clearly genetically male or female who are still gender-fluid in terms of social expression and many physical characteristics. I'd say that if you just change your society to be more accepting of these people, you could have your middle gender without having to mess around with genes at all.

    If you want to get into the genetics, I think, as a reader, I'd expect something about the genitals or other physical characteristics that are associated with only one sex. Saying that someone needs a genetic adaptation in order to be socially gender neutral doesn't work, for me. There are too many gender-fluid people doing a great job of being themselves without anything unusual in their genes.
     
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  7. WingDingGaster
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    WingDingGaster Member

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    Quite true, and I appreciate how this mde me consider why I considered going straight for the genes (especially as someone who's been reconsidering her own gender identity, and opinions on the whole matter. Protip: Tumblr is a horrible source for trying to learn about non-binary identities, including how to write them).

    I suppose because doing so makes their neutrality more...definitive. Absolute. There's nothing you can really do to argue they're "technically" one or the other if even their genes are weird somehow. You can't say they are "really" biologically fe/male but identify as [whatever] or have xyz defect. I suppose how one understands sex and gender play into this.

    What you said about physical characteristics too is also what made me think I needed to go for the genes. Something would have to be off there surely for those kinds of gender-blending abnormalities to occur?

    Also, in a little research I was doing today, sex differences in the brain came up - that could play a pretty significant role, I think. Yet there ccan be cases where the brain wiring is the opposite sex as the rest of the body, including chromosomal expression. So that's more to consider.
     
  8. SplashWorm
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    SplashWorm New Member

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    Hmm. Could you use a genetic mutation that hasn't been seen before? One where the sex genes are omitted perhaps by a virus that attacked the zygote at conception? Have the baby born with a lack of sexual features as a result? A bit like a hermaphrodite but with genitals that are not distinguishable (maybe a lack of any at all) as well as no notable sex genes, just segments of X and/or Y chromosomes? Almost a twist on say the Zika virus. Not sure if this helps at all.
     
  9. Sifunkle
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    Sifunkle Dis Member

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    I'm a bit unclear on what you're aiming for - someone who is both physically and psychologically sex-neutral? This might arise in my pedantry over terminology, where sex refers to the biology and gender the psychological affiliation with sex. E.g. strictly, non-human animals only have a sex, not a gender, as we don't understand their psychology nearly well enough. And obviously neither sex nor gender are binaries, nor do they have to be in accord with each other. And there are different levels of biological sex (genetic vs anatomical) so... it's a very complicated field and reminds one that it's crazy we even exist. But anyway...

    @CrusherBrooks has covered most of the things that popped into my head already and there's been a lot of other good discussion too :) so I'll just add a bit of extra detail.

    I agree with the 'female is default' stance too. It's the presence or absence of the Y chromosome that is the key step. Moderately early in embryonic development, there are two different ducts present (Mullerian and Wolffian). There's a gene on the Y chromosome (SRY) that codes a signal molecule called Testis Determining Factor. TDF feeds back on the DNA and results in (amongst other things) the production of cells that wind up in the testes and make testosterone (Lleydig cells), as well as other testicular cells (Sertoli cells) that make Anti-Mullerian hormone. Anti-Mullerian hormone basically does what it sounds like: it causes the Mullerian duct to fade away, leaving the Wolffian duct, which develops into much of the male reproductive system. But if you never add TDF to the mix, because you have no Y chromosome, it's the Mullerian duct that develops into the female reproductive system; the Wolffian duct atrophies in the absence of testosterone, etc. This is the basis of 'female as default'.

    It's a complicated system, so lots can go wrong, anywhere from chromosomes, through physiology to anatomy. Some chromosal oddities leave a person who often doesn't know they're at all unusual (triple X syndrome, or XYY). Others usually result in infertility, as well as a number of other physical abnormalities (because the sex chromosomes also encode genes related to things other than sex).

    I think your best bet might be androgen insensitivity syndrome, as Crusher mentioned - Anti-Mullerian hormone means the female tract's precursor disappears, but with no receptors to respond to testosterone, the male tract doesn't develop either, so you're left with a generally female (as the default) body shape. There are different levels of it, so it might be worth googling some more info, but I believe affected individuals usually appear as normal women - perhaps with a few minor medical quirks (as sex hormones don't only regulate sex). In terms of psychology and gender, I think anyone can end up agender, as environment has a much greater influence than on biological sex. But perhaps in the absence of the ability to respond to sex hormones, it's even more likely. There are hypotheses that Joan of Arc was genetically male and had androgen insensitivity... she always struck me as a fairly gender-neutral character in most senses of the term (but that touches on religion as well as gender politics, so I'll leave it there).

    Another thought that occurred - in addition to chimaerism that Crusher mentioned, you can have mosaicism, where only certain cells experience chromosomal abnormalities or mutations during development, which could lead to a situation where, e.g. parts of the body are male, parts are female. You could probably orchestrate a sex-neutral person that way (maybe the precursors of the reproductive tracts happen to lose an important sex chromosome, but the rest of the body retains a normal pairing, so that non-sexual biology is mostly unimpaired). Just a thought.

    I've got to run now, but good luck with it! Also happy to help further if needed :)
     
  10. Shadowfax
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    Shadowfax Contributing Member Contributor

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    Everybody has focussed on the genetics/mechanisms whereby a gender neutral individual could be created...

    How will this individual be raised to have no gender identity?

    My point being, we're all raised in the environment provided by our parents, and we receive male/female role modelling in that environment. The problem is that knowledge of how this works is unclear. So, even assuming the genetic engineers are providing a controlled upbringing for the engineered child (and that's for 18[?] years?), how will they know how to achieve it; especially when you factor in the socialization of the child by sending to school, etc. (our kids suddenly came home with loads of undesirable behaviour they'd picked up at school!)...how can anybody know how the child will turn out? Gender-wise, or any other-wise.

    And WHY will the child be raised to have no gender identity? Is that merely to correlate with WE'VE ENGINEERED YOU TO BE NEUTER, YOU MUST CONFORM TO THAT SEXUALITY? Isn't that another slant on YOU'RE A BOY, BE A GODDAMNED BOY AND TAKE THAT DRESS OFF!
     

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