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Between XX and XY: Intersexuality and the Myth of Two Sexes

3.66  ·  Rating details ·  168 ratings  ·  46 reviews
“On October 10, 1970, the day she was born, she was named Dorothy Maree Alaniz--a baby girl. Curiously, though, no one filled out a birth certificate that day. When the certificate was finally filed on November 5, the name on it was Rudolph Andrew Alaniz. Within less than one month after her birth, this girl became a boy.”


Every year in the United States, more than two tho
Hardcover, 208 pages
Published July 1st 2009 by Chicago Review Press
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 ·  168 ratings  ·  46 reviews

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Bogi Takács
(Warning that I will discuss suicide, just like the book does)

In my experience, this is THE book on the shelves of American public libraries about intersex variations, so I finally gave in and read it - not because anything in it would be new to me, but to see what kind of conceptions are promulgated and what someone new to the topic might find. Can I give this book to people and save the effort of educating them?

It...... wasn't a very good experience, and I won't be giving this book to anyone.

Audacia Ray
If you've never thought beyond the concept of "opposite sexes" this is a really great primer. If you're a gender and sexuality nerd like me, you won't learn a whole lot of brand new stuff from this book.

Callahan spends a lot of time debunking the myth of the two sexes - there's slightly more in the book about that than there is about disorders of sexual development or intersex. If you're looking for a really in-depth read that focuses on intersex, this isn't that book. But if you're looking for
Jun 20, 2021 rated it really liked it
This book was interesting I like the way it was written and a lot of the metaphors were very compelling, however it is a biology book like it’s not really a “social issues” book so be prepared for a lot of talk about specific enzymes and karyotypes. There were some tangents about bonobos I didn’t really understand but I enjoyed the “case study” approach to talking to intersex people and presenting information that way.
As an overview of intersex biological conditions and possible treatments/surveys, Between XX and XY does the job, but it's nothing that you couldn't otherwise glean from similar sources. The tone of the book really turned me off, though - it was a bit too sensational, and hammered the 'fluidity of the sexes' point too hard and amateurishly (even though he's clearly right that a binary sex system is an illusion). ...more
Aug 26, 2010 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
"sex is not an either/or proposition, switching between two poles like an onn/off switch on a radio. rather, sex is like the bass & treble knobs on that radio." ...more
Apr 13, 2019 rated it liked it
a very informative and enlightening book - with some issues. i was greatly looking forward to reading it, and while i definitely don’t *regret it*, per se, i will say that i am disappointed. it’s definitely a good run-down of intersex issues in general. but...
even though the author interviews / discusses multiple transgender individuals, the way he talks about them is far less than ideal: when referring to events in a person’s life prior to that person’s social transition, he uses the name and p
Jul 23, 2020 rated it liked it
Quite heavy going, as the book goes into great detail about genetics, hormones and DNA, as well as touching on the impact culture and society has on decision-making. There are a number of cases studies discussed throughout the book but it does use language that is likely to offend, although that is not the intention of the author.

Quote: "Sex isn’t a switch we can easily flip between two poles. Between those two imaginary poles lies an infinite number of possibilities. Somewhere within that infin
Jul 08, 2019 rated it really liked it
Interesting read. While I had read some of its material before, there is a lot for people, especially cisgender, gender-conforming people, to learn in this book.

I noticed some editing mistakes - some repetition, and an intended page reference that didn't exist. However, the book detailed a lot of historical references, personal stories, cultural legends, and scientific studies that kept my attention.

I appreciate the discussion about those with disorders of sexual development and how our 2-gend
Apr 08, 2018 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Two quantities with a long and sordid history are biology and ideology. I imagine we all have some familiarity with their children: racism, sexism, eugenics, social darwinism. That was why when it came to educating myself about this controversial topic I tried to select a book that was as free from ideological slanting as possible. Just the facts, ma'am, please.

I think this book mostly succeeded in that respect.

In my opinion the subtitle 'the myth of two sexes' is unnecessarily clickbaity. It
Mar 31, 2019 rated it liked it
"Between XX and XY" is a nice introduction to intersexuality and the variability when it comes to the human sexes.

I was especially interested to read about the differences between the various karyotypes.

What I didn't really like was how sensationalist the book was in certain sections. Those parts felt rather out of place.
Feb 04, 2021 rated it liked it
Shelves: science, nonfiction
This book would have gotten four stars if it weren’t for the occasional subtle sexism and antiquated ideas.
Jun 21, 2021 rated it liked it
great, very educational and lots of food for thought but i didnt really care so much for the personal stories
Oct 17, 2016 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: amazon-reviewed
Between XX and XY: Intersexuality and the Myth of Two Sexes by Gerald N. Callahan is a free NetGalley ebook that I read in mid-October.

Where this book could have simpered, been emo, or cloyingly sympathetic, Callahan shines with his wit and simple scientific prose. He also allots large spances of his chapters for intergender interviews and biographies.
Nov 18, 2009 rated it liked it
Shelves: non-fiction, research
This is a short read and I did learn some new things from this book. For a long time I've had a sort of fascination with (and doubt about) "gender" and that's grown since I was a child.

I don't remember how long it's been, but at some point I also became fascinated with hermaphrodites. Even though I've learned of the reality of hermaphrodites, human and otherwise, I understood it more as a sort of symbolism that was free of the confines of man or woman. I know my fascination with hermaphrodites
Sep 26, 2012 rated it it was ok
As an aspiring sex therapist, it is really important for me to be aware of the many issues people face with their sexual identities and identifications. I immediately appreciated Callahan’s tone as he described this “myth” that we are all born either male or female. This is so obviously untrue, but as a society we have worked hard to maintain this image, and because of this, many people have suffered.

I honestly had no idea that intersexuality was as common as it is. I also never knew that there
Nov 01, 2016 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: arc-net-galley
I received this book from Net Galley exchange for a fair review.

This book was a reasonable attempt to tackle a hard subject, especially at this juncture, in the USA. Embracing the many possible scientific intricacies of intersex individuals, the uneducated absurdities of laws like the bathroom laws in North Carolina will be easily appreciated by anyone reading the book.

I enjoyed the cultural examples of acceptance of non-binary gender perceptions in South Asia and Native American/Indigenous peop
Aug 14, 2009 added it
Between XX and XY - Gerald Callahan

We read Middlesex by Jeffrey Eugenides in book club. What defines a person's gender? This book details a range of 'intersex' gender that is far wider and more common than is usually understood.

The book is an interesting mix by turns of biology, history, human behavior, medical and surgical text, personal history, animal behavior, cultural anthropology, medical ethics and opinion, all in one compact package. This is a good reference source, clear as an introduct
Ben Nash
This somewhat recent book gives a good overview of intersexuality, especially given its short length. Well, let me qualify that by saying I'm a cis-male who had nearly no prior knowledge of the topic.

Of course, it suffers in places. For example, most of the real life examples fall under the umbrella of the "tragic trans" narrative. Still, they provide understanding, hope, and sometimes horror at way some people can so completely dehumanize others.

An early chapter on human development struck me a
Dec 03, 2016 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
We were away over Thanksgiving week. When our accumulated mail was delivered, it included this book as a goodreads win and our weekly copy of the magazine Nature. The Nature had a article titled "A Bird with Four Sexes." I guess this was the week for me to learn that there are more possibilities than male and female.

This is a short book probably written with a person like me in mind-- someone who is open minded but knows almost nothing about intersexuality. The book is a bit choppy without a sm
Jul 12, 2009 rated it liked it
I want to give this more stars - it is a very readable, very interesting introduction to many forms of intersex conditions. Unfortunately, some of the scientific information is incorrect and/or poorly written throughout. For someone who is interested in learning about intersex conditions, and won't likely remember every scientific detail, this would be a good book. I wanted it to be great, as I really wanted to use it in a class I teach. Unfortunately, the factual errors will prevent me from ass ...more
Sep 16, 2009 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: non-fiction, science
I loved this book. It was very interesting to not only read about different variations of sex chromosomes in people, but to read first-hand accounts from people with these variations. Seeing how these people were affected by decisions made for them by surgeons and parents and how these decisions shaped their lives physically and mentally was very eye-opening.

I also enjoyed reading about other cultures and how they view intersex people compared to our culture. The sections on the role of sex in
Sep 21, 2009 rated it it was amazing
This book really opened my eyes to the amazing genetic and physical diversity that exists in the human sexes . There were also interesting chapters on how other cultures perceive the sexes and how intersex people feel about their own situations. The book is very clearly written and not overly technical. I gave it five stars because this is an area I knew very little about and I came away from this book thinking, "Wow!" I don't think anyone could read this and not be amazed at how little is openl ...more
Nov 29, 2016 rated it did not like it
This book is very problematic. The author is obviously an outsider, who lacks gender and sexuality 101 knowledge. The first part of the book was devoted to sex (the act) and the author could really use some education on the different between intersex/ transgender and sex/ gender. The "personal stories" throughout the book felt clinical and not personal at all. Quite frankly, this book made me sick to read and I would not recommend it. I think this book would be triggering to a lot of people and ...more
Aug 02, 2009 rated it liked it
An informative, positive primer on intersexuality. After a historical survey of Western ideas toward the two sexes since the ancient Greeks, it gives the causes, common responses to, and results of many conditions of ambiguous sexuality, drawing also of interviews which personalize the subject. As a pathologist, the author explains the medical and genetic material very clearly. There are also some examples of the ways different cultures have dealt with intersexual people.
May 02, 2010 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: for-class
Students LOVED this book- everyone should read this...if you think that there are only 2 sexes out there and everyone fits into one or the other...
You'd be surprised to know that intersex conditions are more common than colorblindness, more common than cystic fibrosis...they're just talked about much less often. This book discusses both the biological and psychological factors involved in the 'making of gender' and addresses why our society has such a hard time with anomalies. Great read!
Jonathan Scotese
I have mixed feelings about this book.

At times the author acts like you've never had a single biology class in high school, and that you believe obvious metaphors and hyperbole about the sexes as literal truth. He plays along with what "you" believe before explaining why "you" are wrong.

Once it got to things I did not already know, the authors presumption of my total ignorance was nowhere near as grating and his information and explanations were interesting and informative.
Feb 07, 2014 rated it liked it
This book successfully accomplishes its desired goal, which is basically to convey the complexity of biological sex. It explains different genetic origins which lead to offspring of ambiguous sex, and the problems with how modern medicine/society acts in the face of this ambiguity. I previously felt that I had no knowledge about trans issues, but I now feel that I have enough knowledge to state my arguments with confidence. Definitely worthwhile to anyone who's curious on this topic. ...more
Aug 06, 2013 rated it really liked it
If you are interested in the science related to intersex individuals, this is a great book! Dr. Callahan explains it very clearly and helps make sense of the physical, psychological, and social aspects of the lives of those who are intersexed. I ended up ordering several other books he has written!
Aug 12, 2014 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Very interesting and well written. This should be required reading for all medical practitioners, and many people who know an intersex individual would do well to read this too. Written at a level that lay people should have no problem understanding, but with enough information to provide an excellent introduction for human biology and genetics students.
Dec 13, 2016 rated it liked it
This book discusses a variety of the different genetic differences that can cause a range of gender differences that are often referred to as intersex. There are personal stories and stories about animals who have gender differences. The book is interesting and factual. I received this book free to review from Netgalley.
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