I have been contacted by reporters from The Asahi Shimbun and Tokyo Shimbun in Japan, and by various educators from Tokyo and Kobe. They wanted to question me about some of my research and the conclusions I draw from it. For various reasons, some of my ideas have been interjected into a cultural and political debate of national scope. The central issue involves how normal sexual development occurs and how government and cultural institutions from businesses to social organizations but especially schools and the legal profession and laws can best adjust to such development. The aim of both sides in the debate is to produce guidance toward the best practices for Japan to follow regarding the present and future treatment of boys and girls and women and men in that country.
As I understand it, one group that I’ll call the Traditionalists, hold that women and men in Japanese society have different roles, status and opportunities in life because that is the “natural” way. They believe that males and females are born different in capability and temperament and that the differential treatment of them by Japanese society is to be expected and proper. Moreover, they believe such deferential treatment should continue as a way of perpetuating Japanese customs and facilitating life for the citizenry as it will be capitalizing on the natural abilities and propensities of males and females as separate and distinct. Traditionalists think that my findings in the so-called John/Joan case support their position. The John/Joan case essentially showed that David Reimer (“John”), born in 1965, would not accept life as a girl (“Joan”) although that is the way he was raised following a circumcision accident that destroyed his penis. On the advice of a psychologist he was then castrated, had his genital area reconstructed to look like that of a girl, was raised as a girl and given female hormones to induce body changes so that he would develop breasts and feminine hips and thus came to look like a girl. Despite all these efforts a masculine identity emerged in David and he threatened suicide unless he could live as a boy and develop into a man. With this result Traditionalists have looked to my findings in this John/Joan case as proving that “nature will out” and the status quo is proper. They believe, and think that I believe, since David reverted to his natural male self, that males and females are different by birth to the extent that the culture is justified in treating men and women differently.
On the other hand and in contrast, a faction that identified in Japan as Feminists and their supporters, think that the different roles, treatments and expectations for the different sexes are the result of out-dated cultural myths and conventions that have developed over the years and are best modified in light of the thinking that all sexual and gender differences are the result of rearing, acculturation and socialization. They believe this largely because of some of early and misleading writings reporting that John’s treatment was a success. These writings reported that John had happily accommodated to his rearing as a girl. This led to the contention by the Feminists that people are born essentially gender-less psychosexually and that features of gender are predominantly a function of upbringing. Thus, the Feminists argue, if males could be treated as females and adapt successfully then society should modify the training of children and real opportunities for women so that individuals of both sexes are treated equally in education, work opportunities, domestic relations and all other matters. They believe this strongly enough to hold that legal measures are appropriate to force such a social change and convinced the Japanese Diet to modify its laws to that aim. The social movement, activities, and discussions surrounding efforts to remove gender based discrimination in education, employment, social realms, and opportunities are called “gender-free.”
My unraveling of the deception in regard to the John/Joan case, however, has seemed to put the “gender-free” free movement in question. David did not accept transition into a girl. He transitioned to living as a male at the age of 14 and at the age of 25 he married a woman and became the adoptive-father to her three children.
Yes, David was not converted by his rearing education and medical management to become a girl or woman. But that does not mean I believe Japan’s Traditionalists are completely right nor the Feminists completely wrong. I believe that people’s behavior results from a combination of both biological-natural and social-cultural forces. These forces interact together and there is no way to predict how this combination would manifest in any particular individual. It is well known, for example, that even in the time of the Shogun, long before there were Feminists, there were males who wanted to be females and females who wanted to be males; there were men who were having erotic and love relations with other men and women that were having erotic and love relations with other women. They were responding to internal convictions and social circumstances.
Since conflicting thoughts of sexual development might exist or be used elsewhere in debate, and my opinion might be of value, here are my thoughts on the matter.
Both males and females are born with a certain background based upon evolutionary heritage, family genetics, uterine environment and health. The strongest intrauterine influences are from genetic and endocrinal forces.
- Development has to be considered along a minimum of five levels. These are remembered by the mnemonic PRIMO. These five are:
P = gender patterns (how the individual behaves in comparison or in contrast with others in the society and culture; is it in keeping with or in variance with those considered male, female, or other?). One’s behavior patterns are largely influenced and modifiable by upbringing, education, cultural practices, law and religion and other factors but there is no way to predict any one’s individual behaviors, predilections or eventual activities, likes or dislikes.
R = reproductive considerations (the individual’s reproductive capabilities, aspirations and actualities). Men and women in this regard might be fertile or infertile, desirous of children or happy to be childless. Males and females obviously have different abilities and potentials in this realm but may not feel any different about any particular aspect. There are males who want children and females that don’t. Some men naturally make wonderful childcare givers and there are some women who are quite poor with children.
I = identity (how the person views self in regard to sex and gender). Most persons recognize themselves as anatomically male or female and accordingly prefer life as a man or woman and usually sexual and gender identities are concordant. But this is not always so. Both men and women can “naturally” see themselves as being of the opposite sex or desirous of living so. As mentioned above, this has been true for generations.
M = mechanisms (the abilities to experience and perform expected features of sex; e.g., ejaculate, nurse, vaginally lubricate, become erotically aroused and orgasm). Aside from reproductive abilities these are the only categories in which males and females as a group differ significantly by nature. But their feelings might be identical about any particular aspect or contrary to expectations.
O = Sexual Orientation (the type of sexual, erotic or romantic partner toward which one is attracted). Commonly this is thought of in terms of heterosexual, homosexual or bisexual. These terms are best used as adjectives rather than as nouns. Obviously persons of either sex can love and desire erotic and romantic relations with persons of either sex. And all of these combinations can be considered natural variations. Some well-known samurai in Japanese history were known to have male lovers and Murasaki and the Tale of Genji have references to homosexuality or allude to the practice. Similar tales exist in many cultures.
- The family, society, culture, and physical environment in which the infant finds himself or herself will exert shaping influence on sexual and gender aspects of development. These will continue throughout life. It is thus, starting out with influences—biases or predispositions imposed starting from conception—that the child meets the world and interacts with it.
- A concomitant happening, consciously or not, is for the individual to compare self with those peers and adults seen, met or heard of. Role models are of particularly strong influence but there is no way to predict who will be chosen as a model nor on what basis. People will quickly evaluate if they are “same” or “different” in comparisons with important groups or categories or others.
- The final behavioral, aspirational and attitudinal sexual profile that any adult develops and manifests is a composite of all the preceding with the cultural superimposed upon the natural. That is why I call my theory of development a “Biased-Interaction” theory or “Biased Predisposition” theory. It is not a “nature versus nurture” theory but a “nature and nurture interacting” theory.
Ethically I think that individuals ought be allowed to follow their own dispositions as to sexual and gender expression as long as it does no injury to others. Further I think that no one has the right or privilege to impose his or her preference or will as to what is correct as to another’s gender or sexual expression. I fully believe that every opportunity should be allowed and given for persons, male or female, to learn as they can and develop as they wish, to follow any course they prefer, and live any life they choose as long as it does no harm to others. I fully believe that sex education ought be honest and that no one be obligated to act masculine or feminine, or anyone, male or female, be forced to follow any particular path. To best implement these goals educational and work opportunities must be offered equally to males and females so that each person can maximize his or her potential and best demonstrate their abilities and desires. Given and allowed the maximum opportunities each will decide what is best for him or herself. Such egalitarian treatment, I believe, will provide for Japan or any other culture the best it can offer to its citizens and benefit from it by each person’s potential contribution. Social practices evolve, as do biological features. Only the future can tell which was the better path to follow.