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If a Y chromosome is present, that all-purpose gonad will begin to commit itself by the eighth week to becoming a testis.But if there’s no Y chromosome, it waits until the thirteenth week and then begins developing as an ovary.Only in the case of chromosome 23, the sex chromosome, do the two representatives differ, and even then only in men, whose twenty-third chromosomes are of unequal sizes: a larger X chromosome paired with a smaller Y chromosome. However, the Y chromosome contains genes specifying the development of testes.Between the fifth and seventh week after fertilization, human embryos of either sex develop an all-purpose gonad that can later become either a testis or an ovary.But Barbara still struggled with the problem of how to present herself to her parents and friends, before whom she avoided being caught naked. When they found out, would they ridicule her--or him--as a freak?Gender constitutes the most fundamental distinction we make among ourselves, the first question we ask when a baby is born.
It’s as close as any of our children might come to the nightmare experienced by Gregor Samsa, of Franz Kafka’s terrifying story Metamorphosis, who wakes up one morning to find himself transformed into a human-size insect.Thus the natural tendency of our primordial gonad is to develop as an ovary if nothing intervenes; something special--a Y chromosome--is required to change it into a testis.It’s tempting to restate this simple fact in emotionally loaded terms.Instead, these structures are channeled toward male organs by secretions of the testes themselves, while a lack of testicular secretions channels them toward female organs.
For example, in the eighth week of gestation the testes begin producing the hormone testosterone, some of which gets converted into the closely related substance dihydrotestosterone, or DHT. DHT goes on to convert some all-purpose embryonic structures into the glans penis, penis shaft, and scrotum.To form the penis, vagina, and other sex organs, the embryo is endowed with other all-purpose sexual structures besides the primordial gonad.