[Science Solitaire] Eve’s letter to Adam - 1st of many
If I had known then what I do now about where I came from, I would have written you sooner. But as things would go, we were made to believe many things that did not correspond with evidence or reality, not to mention common sense. So I am writing you now for your own education so that you would not seem like you have been living under a rock while the age of reason and clarifications passed you by. I thought I would start with my major peeve – the “rib” thing.
It always embarrasses me when you brag about my accomplishments and say “not bad for someone who was fashioned from my rib.” First of all, that is really gross. Second, your lungs are made of already mature cells that cannot reboot themselves spontaneously to form other organs, least of all another person. Third, hmm, I think you have to sit down for this one since it would pull the venerable rug from underneath your robustly held belief. Many cultures and religions, in fact, have based the primacy of men in everything on this belief so I thought I would slice this third one for you ever so slowly and gently by way of a story.
In a town called Salinas in the Dominican Republic, some children are born female and raised as such until they reach puberty around 12 when they start to grow male organs. When they do, family and community also make the transition and start treating them as boys and eventually as men, who marry and even sire their own children.
This has been going on for about 12 generations that the locals had a name for this kind of children: guevedoces (penis at 12) or machihembra (first woman, then man). They were only exposed to the international medical community in the 70s. All but one of the families traced their connections to a common woman named Altagracia Carrasco up their family tree which means that this “mis-timed” sexuality is most likely genetic.
But why is this story important in what I am trying to tell you? Because it is an excellent clue to the very basic picture of what really happens in the womb when a baby is conceived. And yes, it is related to the “rib thing.”
When a sperm’s Y chromosome instead of its X, reaches an egg cell (which is always an X), you have an XY as one of the pairs of chromosomes of a fetus, which makes for a boy. If it were a sperm’s X reaching the egg cell, then you have XX which will make for a girl.
Well, in this age of reason and body scans, we can now actually peer into the womb and watch for all the signs of life and danger, including levels of the necessary concoctions that nourish and bathe the biology of the child inside. And alas, we have found and known for quite a while now that the germinal rendezvous between X and Y is really at best, a shaky start and is not a full guarantee of a person’s biology.
Around 5 weeks in the womb, a fetus would not show any defining sexual organs. It is only after, that hormones produced in the body called testosterone and dihydrotestosterone, signal the structures that would bloom into the male plumbing system. This is the very hydraulic set-up which the eventual man who this fetus will be, will hold in grandiosity with words that are playful, imaginative and often incredibly generous.
In order for the XY to spell M-A-L-E, knocking gene emergencies of the Y would have to be attended to by the genes in the X. In other words, to be an anatomical male, the Y needs permission from the X. If the X remains silent or half-hearted in its response by some whim of nature, the male plumbing will not install. However, outside the womb, when the surge of testosterone happens as expected in puberty, this could trigger those male organs to descend and populate the once biologically tentative XY and finally become an anatomical Adam.
This is what happened to the guevedoces. They were just following nature’s more ancient female design which would only change when the signals come, and these did not come when they were in the womb.
Meanwhile, for the XXs, there is no need for a surge of hormones to make them female. The female biology is the fundamental template of nature and the male is what some scientists who have concentrated on this field call a “derivative.”
A “derivative.” I looked up synonyms which I hoped would be kinder but found “unoriginal” and “plagiarized.” Oh dear Adam, you are a plagiarized Eve. You are here because we were. And to crown your “plagiarized” form, you grew a dangling apostrophe which made you think you were nature’s gift to the original.
Are you still there, Adam? Having said all that, don’t you think a change in our usual battle cry is in order? For Adams, I know enough not to expect revolutions in your thinking so can you, for starters, simply drop the rib thing? For my own tribe, the other Eves, I think I will remind them of what a male writer once said about women who want to be equal with men – that, geez, we should aim higher.
Till my next letter, Adam. – Rappler.com
(Editor's Note: This piece is this science column’s way of marking Women’s Month.)
Maria Isabel Garcia is a science writer. She has written two books, “Science Solitaire” and “Twenty One Grams of Spirit and Seven Ounces of Desire.” Her column appears every Friday and you can reach her at firstname.lastname@example.org.