Distillations podcast

Deep Dives into Science Stories, Both Serious and Eccentric

Sex and Gender: What We Know and Don’t Know

Society has long had strict ideas about sex and gender binaries, but even nature doesn’t always comply.

Detail of an engraving from a 17th-century text depicting a figure that is both male and female holding the letter Y.

Several years ago, historian of medicine Alice Dreger found herself in a room full of intersexed people, individuals with reproductive or sexual anatomy that is neither typically female nor male. Dreger noticed something strange: many of them had teeth that were in bad shape. She soon learned that many of them had endured such traumatic experiences with doctors that they wouldn’t go near anyone in a white coat, including dentists.

We were astonished by this story, so we asked Dreger to tell us more. She joined us for our December podcast alongside Eric Vilain, a medical geneticist and director of the Center for Gender-based Biology at UCLA. While intersex, transgender, and transsexual issues have recently entered the mainstream, our guests explain that there have always been those whose anatomy or identity prevents them from fitting neatly into the categories of male or female. And even with this newfound exposure, tensions continue to exist for them all.

But first, we’ll hear about the experiences of a transgender couple desperate to conceive a child but who struggled to find a willing doctor. Mariel Carr visits them at home in Philadelphia, where they’re adapting to life with an infant.


Hosts: Michal Meyer and Bob Kenworthy
Guests: Alice Dreger and Eric Vilain
Reporter: Mariel Carr
Producer: Mariel Carr
Associate Producer: Rigoberto Hernandez
Music: Courtesy of the Audio Network

Listen to more episodes

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Exploring ‘Health Equity Tourism’

With a new public interest in health equity research, who is actually receiving recognition and funding in the field?

graphic of midwife and pelvis bones

The Mothers of Gynecology

Why are Black women in America three times more likely to die during childbirth than White ones?

graphic showing a person in a mask and a scientific instrument

Correcting Race

A group of medical students wants to take racial bias out of the equation.


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