Today the 40-year-old French native is one of a handful of geneticists on whom parents and doctors rely to explain how and why sex determination in an infant may have taken an unusual route. In his genetics laboratory at the University of California, Los Angeles, Vilain's findings have pushed the field toward not only improved technical understanding but more thoughtful treatment as well. "What really matters is what people feel they are in terms of gender, not what their family or doctors think they should be," Vilain says. Genital ambiguity occurs in an estimated one in 4,500 births, and problems such as undescended testes happen in one in 100. Altogether, hospitals across the U.S. perform about five sex-assignment surgeries every day.Sounds Wise.
Instead of turning on male development directly, SRY works by blocking an "antitestis" gene, he proposes. For one, males who have SRY but two female chromosomes range in characteristics from normal male to an ambiguous mix. In addition, test-tube studies have found that SRY can repress gene transcription, indicating that it operates through interference. Finally, in 1994, Vilain's group showed that a male could develop without the gene. Vilain offers a model in which sex emerges out of a delicate dance between a variety of promale, antimale, and possibly profemale genes.
Because researchers have long viewed the development of females as a default pathway, the study of profemale genes has taken a backseat. Over the past few years, though, geneticists have uncovered evidence for active female determination. DAX1, on the X chromosome, seems to start up the female pathway while inhibiting testis formation--unless the gene has already been blocked by SRY. With too much DAX1, a person with the XY complement is born a female. Vilain's group found that another gene, WNT4, operates in a similar way to promote the formation of a female. The researchers discovered that these two work together against SRY and other promale factors. "Ovary formation may be just as coordinated as testis determination, consistent with the existence of an ovarian switch,' " report geneticist David Schlessinger and his collaborators in a 2006 review in the journal Bioessays.
Lately Vilain has been exploring molecular determinants of sex within the brain and whether they may be linked to gender identity. Despite classic dogma, he is certain that sex hormones do not drive neural development and behavioral differences on their own. SRY is expressed in the brain, he points out, suggesting that genes influence brain sexual differentiation directly. His lab has identified in mice 50 new gene candidates on multiple chromosomes for differential sex expression. Seven of them begin operating differently in the brain before gonads form. Vilain's group is testing these findings using mice and is collaborating with a clinic in Australia to study expression patterns of the sex-specific genes in transsexual people.
This work, like much of Vilain's efforts, treads on fairly touchy ground. He copes by sticking to his findings conservatively. "You also have to be aware of the social sensibilities," he explains.
From the Sarasota Herald-Tribune:
There are, of course, some people saying harsh and trashy things about the transgendered candidate for the job of Sarasota city manager.
One outraged chest thumper, while explaining that it would be insane to even consider such a person for the Sarasota city manager position, called Stanton an "emasculated drag queen," and handled the pronoun confusion by calling Stanton "it."
It remains to be seen how many defenders of public morality of the kind quoted above will surface when Stanton and the other five job candidates -- whatever their names may be -- arrive next week at City Hall to begin interviews with commissioners, staff and the public. But commissioners have already heard similar sentiments, if they have been reading their e-mail, though most are more restrained.
"What message will we be sending our children?" asks one.
From the Forum discussing the article
At the most it will make a mockery of Sarasota and get us mentioned with the looneys of San Fransisco, and Key West. In other words if you are a Freak, Welcome to Sarasota. If you are a Christian Too Bad.
only sick freaks, hmmmm its a new day what will i be today? a girl a guy or a IT?
You have to laugh. Looks like we've still got a ways to go.... never mind, people like myself have two things going for us.
The first is that we've seen the depths of human despair in others, we've seen and experienced the heights of human folly, and yet we still can see the essential goodness that is in the great majority of human hearts.
The second is that we don't give in easily. Time to start writing some replies...