A friend recently decried the notion of gender-neutral bathrooms at colleges to accommodate intersex and transgender students. Apart from the question of why we have separate male and female bathrooms, I wondered why transgender issues are so commonly discussed now. Is it perhaps society finally catching up with natural phenomena? Regardless of modern taboos and concepts of gender, there have always been intersex people.
But today there’s a new factor. Many manmade chemicals, such as phthalates, contraceptives and hormone replacement compounds are hormone mimics and endocrine disruptors. Phthalates are plasticizers in almost everything plastic. Bisphenol-A, or BPA, is found in many plastics and on retail and ATM receipts. All these chemicals are found in the environment. All of us have phthalates and BPA in our bodies. Fetuses in industrial nations have higher chemical loads than ever.
Many studies of wildlife have found changes in sexual morphology of fish and amphibians. Some scientists say hormone mimics threaten life on the planet, as males are born sterile or with ambiguous genitalia and reproductive failures threaten all species. Intersex human births, currently 0.3 percent of births, are increasing, and onset of female puberty is occurring earlier, in part due to the irreversible ubiquity of hormone mimics.
Industrial societies are creating more of what ancient cultures recognized as the third sex, and it’s time to accept the inevitable.