February 13, 2012

Clarification, Sex Determination, and Cheesecake

Even though I was never on the debate team, I do love a good argument. And I like my arguments like I like my cheesecake: beautifully simple and without syrup on top.


Note: I foresee my love of plain New York cheesecake to be far more inflammatory than anything I could possibly say about gay marriage. That should tell you something about the US of A.

I wrote last week about how a law that defines marriage as a union between a man and a woman makes no sense because there is no good definition of man or woman that applies to everyone (because that's what laws should be able to do at a bare minimum--apply to all people). I talked about intersex people that defy any definition of man and woman that could be written into a law. But I'm not saying that intersex and homosexuality are related.


I'm also in no way saying that this is the best argument for legalized gay marriage. I would hope we would make gay marriage legal for far more interesting reasons (such as the fact that it's discriminatory and unfair not to), not just because a law against it would leave out intersex people. Mine is a logistical argument and nothing more. I left out all the really salient points like ethics, equality, and justice.  Because those things are horribly interwoven with people's opinions. And opinions are hard things to argue. Also, the people who have the opinions are sometimes scary.





Anywho, to expand on the discussion about sex determination, or what makes an animal male or female, let me show you that ours is not the only way to do this: 

In some insects like grasshoppers, crickets, and roaches, there is only one kind of sex chromosome, X. If you get 2 of them, you're female, and if you just get one, you're a male.


In birds (and even some insects and fishes) it's the females that have different sex chromosomes. Females are ZW and males are ZZ. Scientists changed the letters to differentiate between the XX-female, XY-male scenario.



In ants and bees, there are no sex chromosomes. Instead, sex is determined by whether or not an egg was fertilized. If the egg isn't fertilized, the offspring is male. If the egg is fertilized, it's female. So male ants have no fathers, and they have half as many chromosomes as females. Poor little things.


A species of deer called the Indian muntjac (as opposed to the Chinese muntjac) has three different kinds of sex chromosomes--X and two versions of Y, called Y1 and Y2. Females are XX, and males are XY1Y2. Ha, those crazy muntjacs.

May we never forget that biology is a complicated, messy, random process that has found several ways for dealing with sex and reproduction (and just about every other bit of life business). There is really no rhyme or reason for any of it. If it works, it works. If it doesn't, you die. That's pretty much the only rule in nature that applies all the time.