In Episode 66 David interviews Alice Dreger who is a Professor of Clinical Medical Humanities and Bioethics at Northwestern’ University’s Feinberg School of Medicine, author of “Hermaphrodites and the Medical Invention of Sex” and the 2015 book, “Galileo’s Middle Finger” which discusses sexual ambiguities and academic suppression, which sometimes are strongly related.
Any discussion of sexuality makes people uncomfortable, and this can start at birth for the parents and doctor of a child born with ambiguous sexual anatomy. Dreger aligned with those who think the child should grow up and make decisions over surgery (unless it’s truly medically necessary at birth) but surgeons see it differently. Things heated up for Dreger when this led her to defend Professor J. Michael Bailey who had written a popular book containing the idea that while some transsexuals appear to be born that way, as boys who act like girls, for example, others are men who find themselves turned on sexually by thinking about being a woman (autogynephilia). Some academics and transsexuals find it offensive that someone would deny that this is innate and oppose this idea. But when the fight broke out Dreger discovered that the ends were justifying the means, and the means were not pretty, even dragging Bailey’s children into the mess. And then the same people dragged Dreger through the mud as well.
Dreger describes other similar situations to David. One that is particularly concerning is the use of the steroid dexamethasone to try to prevent the development of intersexuality in female fetuses, despite the fact that the safety and effectiveness is unproven and, at best, it could help 1 out of 8 fetuses (and you can’t tell at the time you’re giving the drug).
David comments that one of the interesting features of the book is that it describes liberal academics behaving in horribly unethical and dishonorable ways, while most liberals think that those are the tactics of their enemies, such as anti-abortion activists and morality crusaders. Also, most of the situations do not involve a lot of money. Just status and a desire to be seen as having the right answer seem to be enough to unleash some of the worst aspects of humanity, short of violence.
To find out more about “Galileo’s Middle Finger”, and Professor Dreger’s other work, go to her website: http://alicedreger.com