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Critical Focus | The Cell Knows Who You Are


2022, Volume 69:2, pp. 70-83


Brian J. Ford

Can we alter our sexuality with a knife and a few chemicals? A sectioned rat fetus reminds us how we all truly began: as multicellular organisms with their own hard-wired identity.

My favorite slide is a rat fetus I sectioned as a student. This is such a revealing preparation. Everyone likes it — and everybody (absolutely everybody) points out its penis. The penis indicates at once that this is a male fetus — or at least, it did until recently. Now, transsexuals who are women but are desperate to be men, can have one created by a surgeon. Or can they? Of course not. You can no more fashion a fully functioning penis out of tissue than you can make a line-caught cod out of a tall tub of taramasalata. Men invading a women’s racetrack or the privacy of their changing room are ineradicably men, no matter what tablets they take. It is the microscope which proves the point.

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