Am I my brain or my genitals? A nature-culture controversy in the hermaphrodite debate from the mid-1960s to the late 1990s

Gesnerus. 2011;68(1):80-106.


The groundbreaking and prophetic rhetoric of neuroscience has recently highlighted the fetal brain as the most promising organ for understanding why transsexuals feel "trapped in the wrong body", and for predicting whether children born with "ambiguous" genitalia will grow up to feel like a man or a woman.This article proposes a recent history of the cerebralization of intersexuality and of transsexuality as atypical neurodevelopmental conditions. It examines the ways in which the organizational theory of brain sex differentiation developed in the late 1950s in behavioral neuroendocrinology has gained increased prominence in and through controversies over best practice issues in the case management of intersex newborns, and the etiology of transsexuality.It focuses on the American context and on the leading warrior in this battle: Milton Diamond, now a most prominent figure in professional debates about the clinical management of intersexuality, and the intersex person's best friend. Persons with an intersexed or transsexual condition consider, not their gonads, but their brains, their core sense of self, as the primary determinant of sex. (Diamond and Beh 2005, 6-7, note 1)

Publication types

  • Historical Article

MeSH terms

  • Adolescent
  • Adult
  • Child
  • Child, Preschool
  • Disorders of Sex Development / history*
  • Female
  • Gender Identity*
  • Genitalia, Female*
  • Genitalia, Male*
  • History, 20th Century
  • Humans
  • Infant
  • Infant, Newborn
  • Male
  • Patient Advocacy / history*
  • Pregnancy
  • Sex Reassignment Procedures / history*
  • Transsexualism / history*
  • United States