13 August 2007

Snakes, Snails, Puppy-dogs' Tails


Gender politics in Northampton, Massachusetts, the small city where I live, goes way beyond whether or not men help with the housework and childrearing. Here in Northampton we discuss whether or not public restrooms should be labeled "Men/Transgender" and "Women/Transgender." Here in Northampton, home of Smith College, which nurtured such luminaries as Betty Friedan, Gloria Steinham, and Molly Ivins, we discuss whether a female-to-male transgender person should be allowed to attend an all-women's college. Here in Northampton, which the television show 60 Minutes labeled "Lesbianville, USA" in 1995, transgender people live comfortably and are welcomed and participating members of the community.

I've been wondering about gender for a long time. Back in the 1970s, when I was in my teens, I remember watching a television documentary with my family about "The Sexual Revolution" and there was a quiz to see where you would fall on a male/female continuum. We all got out our paper and pens and I distinctly remember the strange feeling I had when we looked at our scores and I discovered that I landed smack in the middle of the spectrum, a perfect androgyne.

I have no science to back this up, but I believe that a lot of one's gender identity is biologically based. In addition to being psychologically androgynous, I'm also gay, and my mother's theory is that it's partly due to the fact that she took a synthetic estrogen-like drug called DES (diethylstilbestrol) which was hyped in the 1950s by obstetricians for prevention of miscarriage. I have all of the "normal abnormalities" associated with in-utero DES exposure. DES is now defined as an endocrine disrupting chemical, so my mother's theory that DES made me gay (or androgynous!) may hold some truth. Who knows what else DES may have caused; I keep my fingers crossed that there will not be any other repercussions as I age.


This print I'm working on explores gender identity. I was struck by the photo above, a view of the human karyotype. Those little chromosomes look like snakes and snails and puppy-dogs' tails!


Anonymous said...

Annie - I used to work for the Human Genome Project... if you need any genetic pointers, let me know. I've been waiting to use some of that experience in my own prints. But I think it's a great idea. I haven't been back to Northampton in a long time, but it sounds like it the same as it ever was. :)

b'oki. said...

I always enjoy the research stage - I learn so much. As to that quiz you took, testing in the middle is good. It sounds like you have a great balance in your life . . . and when you two are settled in your new home you will feel even more balanced ;-)

m.Lee said...

Should be an interesting print! I am looking forward to it.

Of course when I see the chromosomes I imagine them layered in various transparencies but that is just how my brain works.

Annie B said...

Jenn, that's impressive that you used to work at the Human Genome Project. You must be a scientist, then. Makes sense, now that I reflect on your Periodic Table Print Project... I seem to gravitate toward science topics, although that's not my training. Maybe it's from those years of doing information graphics.

Bette, I'm looking forward to the balance that having a home again will bring! We're scheduled to close this Friday.

Marissa, yes I can visualize what an m.lee chromosome print would look like! Great idea.

Dungeness Paddy Hamilton Studios said...

Sounds all good - Research is the tangent creator for all good artwork ..The more you know -The less you need to show... should take you to the essence of your enquiry.

I too worry about the Anti-malarial tablets I took everyday when a child in Africa - Who knows what makes how we are!

Alexiev said...

Good images...

Best wishes from Buenos Aires...

Alexiev Store

Anonymous said...

Hi Annie,
They also look like people, teeth, and Hebrew and/or some kind of script (the top left pair look similar to the Hebrew letter Aleph). In regards to gender: UA allows anyone into the restrooms of their choice depending on how they "gender-identify" and recently the City of Tucson celebrated/recognized international gender day or something like that. More importantly to me is that whomever uses the toilets/restrooms clean up after themselves :) Good luck with your move! -Nicole

Magic Cochin said...

Hi Annie,

I have tagged you for the Fantastic Four Meme, follow this link for the details


(you can ignore my request or join in - it's a free world!)

KJ said...

Your mother's theory piqued my curiosity... I also took DES when I threated to lose my second pregnancy, my only daughter. She is not gay but is resigned to never marrying. Though bright and attractive, just never seemed interested enough to develop a serious personal relationship with anyone, male or female. She has two adopted daughters, a fine career and a very full life. I hadn't thought that the DES might have contributed but I wouldn't be surprised.

kate said...

When I first saw this, I thought 'alphabet soup' ... this was an interesting post. I don't know much about the effects of DES, so I was interesting in reading what you had to say.

I have a hunch that few people in the place where I live would even know what the word, transgender, meant. Maybe that's not so bad because I think I'd find the discussions about bathroom signs a bit much.

Annie B said...

Thanks for all the comments. I've moved and don't have internet access yet, so it's hard for me to get to the blog this week. No Fantastic Four for me, but thank you Celia :)

KJ, interesting to hear about your daughter. I read an article once that said that DES daughters had some brain functions that were more like males. Can't remember what those functions were... good at math and science or something like that. I'm very hesitant to take drugs of any kind given my DES experience. It's clear to me that "they" don't know the long-term consequences of many of the things they put on the market.

Meg Wolff said...


I like your site and woodblock prints. I noticed you are from Mass., and then North Hampton. I LOVE North Hampton. Sounds like you grew up in an interesting family.

Best wishes,