Trump administration would like to pretend some LGBT+ people don't exist, let's look at the facts

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Adapted from CC 2.0 source by Ted Eytan.

An ultra far-right, authoritarian homophobe/transphobe will soon assume the presidency of Brazil[1] and according to a memo leaked a couple of weeks ago, the Trump administration is planning to narrow the definition of gender to be immutable and determined at birth[2]. This would in practice eliminate protections at work, school or other settings for trans people and any other individual whose gender differs from the sex they were assigned at birth. The memo claims this would be done because gender needs to be determined "on a biological basis that is clear, grounded in science, objective and administrable.” I have actually had (internet) discussions with people who claim there's no more nuance beyond being born male or female and that science backs their view. I'm not sure which science is this one that denies the existence of people we can empirically observe by the millions.

Given all this, I thought we should actually look at the science so we can make informed decisions on matters that affect people's lives. Approaching LGBT+ issues can be a delicate subject: it can easily trigger those on the right or leave different members of the LGBT+ community feeling misrepresented. My objective here is to reach those who want to learn more about the actual science of human sexual development but also those who may be sitting on the fence or sort of thinking that “maybe these LGBT people are getting out of hand.”

First, let’s set down some terms

  • Sex (noun not verb!): A category we use for species that reproduce sexually. Also, for us humans it’s something medical professionals or authorities assign to new-born babies (although this determination can also occur before birth) based on the genitalia observed. Some are not born with traditional male or female genitalia, as is the case of intersex people[3]
  • Gender identity: This is how people self-identify. Usually, people identify as what is traditionally understood to be male or female, but others feel differently, such as being agendered or genderfluid, highlighting how this identity can run in a “spectrum[4,5].” Interestingly, some societies have long histories of distinguishing more than two genders[6]
  • Sexual orientation: This refers to which sex and gender people find themselves attracted to. Heterosexuality is the most common orientation but I’m sure you have heard of asexuality, homosexuality or bisexuality, also highlighting how this orientation can run in a non-binary “spectrum”
  • Gender expression: This is how a person behaves and looks and how their society perceives that look and behaviour
  • Gender dysphoria: Refers to the distress that arises when individuals face incongruity between their assigned sex at birth and their internal experience of gender[7]. This feeling usually begins in childhood and can oftentimes disappear after puberty. Most, but not all, transgender people experience it.

There are even more ways in which people identify their gender identity or sexual orientation than the ones mentioned above and as best as our science goes this is not a conscious choice[8,9] (and even if it was, it wouldn't be anybody else’s business, would it?) but something determined largely or completely by your biology, something that you feel deep inside. If, for example, you are a straight male who feels at home in a male body and feels attraction to females, then you know how deep those feelings are and how inherent to who you are. In part 2 we will look at some aspects of the neurobiology of sex and gender, which should help you find an indication of where these feelings come from.

Describing feelings can be difficult so it’s no wonder different people come up with different labels for who they are and why the terms you may be familiar with do not apply to them. Furthermore, we are talking about the intersection between physical sex, gender identity (and expression) and sexual orientation which can all be non-binary and also move independently from each other at least to some extent[4]. This creates a rather big canvas of possibilities, which, again, explains why the traditional male and female labels do not apply to any number of individuals you may meet in the real world. So maybe next time you should stop to think before you start talking about “attack helicopters.”


Figure 1. Schematic representation of the internal sexual structures in humans before and after the masculinization or feminization genetic programs are initiated. We are covering a period here that goes from around week 6 to around week 12 of development. Adapted from public domain source by Dee Silverthorn and a paper by SG. Tevosian[21]

How does sex determination work?

You probably know the human genome is organized into 23 pairs of chromosomes, one set of 23 is inherited from the mother and the other from the father. The “sex chromosomes" make one such pair and are so named, in an undoubted bout of originality, because they are essential in determining the sex of the individual. The chromosomes in the other 22 pairs are called “autosomes” and they also play a role in sexual development. Some people love to point out that “XX=female and XY=male and that’s it!” but the reality is more complicated. Our brain loves to put things into neat categories, yet nature is far too complicated for neat categories.

With that in mind, we can focus on the Y chromosome, which carries a master gene for sex determination known as “SRY.” Initially, XX and XY embryos don’t really seem to differ, it’s only after the SRY gene is activated that those who carry it start developing testicles (see Figure 1). You could say that the “default” developmental pathway is that of developing ovaries.

As the testis develop, they start producing and secreting sex hormones (primarily androgens like testosterone, although estrogens are also produced and needed for normal sexual function and development), which go on to further masculinize the body. Most of the sexual structures have a common point of origin between the two sexes. For example, the primordial gonads can become testis or ovaries while the clitoris and the glans derive from the same precursor, as do the scrotum and outer labia (see Figure 2 below).

Figure 2. Representative illustrations of human foetal external genitalia from a sexually undifferentiated stage (upper left) to different stages of differentiation. Adapted from public domain source by Gray's Anatomy of the Human Body.

But nature doesn’t do categories:


Figure 3. Schematic representation of gametogenesis for sperm (left side) and eggs (right side) in humans. The numbers inside the cells represent the number of chromosomes. Mitosis basically creates clones of the original cell, useful for growth or replenishment. Notice how cells don't change their number of chromosomes after mitosis. Meiosis specifically creates gametes. Each pair of chromosomes interchange genetic material with each other (a process known as "genetic recombination") and the daughter cells typically end up with half the chromosomes as they will join another gamete to create an embryo with 46 chromosomes. Cell sizes are not to scale. Adapted from CC BY 3.0 source by OpenStax College.
  • Sometimes during gametogenesis (the process that gives rise to sperm or egg cells, see Figure 3 to the right) the SRY gene can be copied into an X chromosome and/or be excised from the Y chromosome meaning some people can be XX SRY-positive[10] or XY SRY-negative[11]
  • Other times, different numbers of sex chromosomes can hitch a ride into a gamete leading to people who can be XXX, XXY or XXXY among other clinically described possibilities[12]
  • Yet other times, people may carry XY SRY-positive sex chromosomes plus androgen receptors that respond differently from what’s typical[13].

This is an incomplete list but we already have numerous examples of people who behave and look typically “male” or “female” but do not conform to the “XX=female and XY=male and that’s it!” narrative. In other cases, we're talking about different kinds of intersex people who can have genitals/gonads that don’t conform to traditional “male” or “female” categorization. There can even be variability within a particular group, both in terms of physical sexual characteristics and personal identification. For example, XX intersex individuals can present different physical sexual attributes and may choose treatment to further their primary and secondary sexual characteristics into the typical male or female form[14]. This can happen because, as we review in part 2, the degree of masculinization/feminization of the sex organs can differ from the degree of masculinization/feminization of the brain[15].

Until very recently, it was still common for doctors to look at the genitalia of an intersex baby and perform surgery to remove whichever parts they thought best, thus assigning a sex of their choice to the new-born. Can you imagine self-identifying as a male but being brought up as a girl and later learn that some doctor operated on your genitals to make them conform to a more typically female form at the moment of your birth? Or vice versa? While there's a long way still to go, intersex individuals have been gaining more understanding and rights recently. Non-consensual and irreversible surgery (which can include forced sterilization) of infants has been severely criticized with different levels of accompanying legal reforms in jurisdictions such as Australia (in 2013)[3], Europe (2015)[3,16] or Chile (2016)[17].

To finalize this section I would like to mention another group of intersex people who are XY SRY-positive and have reduced expression of one particular sex hormone. They can be born looking fully female externally, grow up to usually identify as male and once puberty strikes go through masculinization, up to and including growing a penis[18,19,20]. So as you can see, nature really doesn’t do categories.

Hopefully, some of you are starting to see that claims like “there are only two sexes” are too simplistic compared to the variety of situations that can actually occur naturally. To rely on the decision that somebody else made for you at the moment of your birth, and perhaps make it legally immutable, is an affront to your personal freedom and dignity, to your basic human rights.

You can now continue on to part 2, where we review what we know about the feminization/masculinization of the brain, transgender people and hopefully convince you that we shouldn't make life more difficult than it needs to be for each other.

Notes:

After making this post, I learned of a statement published on October 26th signed by more than 700 biologists, over 100 geneticists, and nine Nobel Prize winners (it's currently signed by more than 2600 scientists) condemning the leaked proposal by the Trump administration to change the definition of gender. You can read the statement here and a news article here.

References:

[1] "The lessons for western democracies from the stunning victory of Brazil’s Jair Bolsonaro" published by The Intercept
[2] "‘Transgender’ could be defined out of existence under Trump administration" published by The New York Times
[3] "Intersex - Fact sheet" published by United Nations Free & Equal
[4] Transgender and gender nonconforming adolescent care: psychosocial and medical considerations (2015) Curr Opin Pediatr. 27(4):421-6
[5] Gender identity development in adolescence (2013) Horm Behav. 64(2):288-97
[6] "Third gender" article at Wikipedia
[7] Research priorities for gender nonconforming/transgender youth: gender identity development and biopsychosocial outcomes (2016) Curr Opin Endocrinol Diabetes Obes. 23(2):172-9
[8] Evidence supporting the biological nature of gender identity (2015) Endocr Pract. 21(2):199-204
[9] Approach to the patient: transgender youth: endocrine considerations (2014) J Clin Endocrinol Metab. 99(12):4379-89
[10] 46 XX karyotype during male fertility evaluation; case series and literature review (2017) Asian J Androl. 19(2):168-172
[11] Clinical and pathologic spectrum of 46,XY gonadal dysgenesis: its relevance to the understanding of sex differentiation (1991) Medicine (Baltimore). 70(6):375-83
[12] Sex chromosome aneuploidies (2018) Handb Clin Neurol. 147:355-376
[13] Androgen resistance (2006) Best Pract Res Clin Endocrinol Metab. 20(4):577-98
[14] Consensus statement on management of intersex disorders. International Consensus Conference on Intersex (2006) Pediatrics. 118(2):e488-500
[15] Sexual differentiation of the human brain: relation to gender identity, sexual orientation and neuropsychiatric disorders (2011) Front Neuroendocrinol. 32(2):214-26
[16] "Human rights and intersex people" published by the Council of Europe
[17] "Chilean goverment stops the 'normalization' of intersex children" published by OutRight Action International
[18] Androgens and the evolution of male-gender identity among male pseudohermaphrodites with 5alpha-reductase deficiency (1979) N Engl J Med. 300(22):1233-7
[19] Gender change in 46,XY persons with 5alpha-reductase-2 deficiency and 17beta-hydroxysteroid dehydrogenase-3 deficiency (2005) Arch Sex Behav. 34(4):399-410
[20] "The extraordinary case of the Guevedoces" published by BBC Magazine
[21] Genetic control of ovarian development (2013) Sex Dev. 7(1-3):33-45

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Trump administration is planning to narrow the definition of gender to be immutable and determined at birth

People, why do you see the conspiracy in everything? It's a practical question, needed for everyday practical functioning. Every administration needs to make clear and simple categories.

Is the vehicle X: car, bike or truck - to make proper taxes, laws and demands for constructors

In case of sex/gender, again, it's a practical question: how many men we could draft for US army? When that person will retire because in my country, men work 5 years longer. It's an important practical question that is determining the whole budget. It's also very practical to know in which sports category that person should participate.

it can easily trigger those on the right or leave different members of the LGBT+ community feeling misrepresented

Represented in/by what? Do we need representatives for people wearing glasses? Blond people? Left-handed people? Tall people? Fat people? People with high IQ? Where is the limit?

Bravo! Every one of us is a special blend of flavours and we could represent ourselves in a democratic way. 1 men - 1 vote. Good, we already have that for 100+ years

bout the intersection between physical sex, gender identity (and expression) and sexual orientation which can all be non-binary and also move independently from each other at least to some extent

Describe to me how the Olympic games should look like?

why the traditional male and female labels do not apply to any number of individuals you may meet in the real world

And the number is...

SRY

1:20.000 males Now, if something is 99.995 % right, is it ok to say it's 100% right or to destroy the whole practical system of administrative procedures that are working fine.

Practical Q: Smith, XX SRY, retires in the age of 62 or 67 (or 62.87)? It will be called to Army or not? Smith will compete as a man, woman or XX SRY?

XXX female

It's a female, very often not in best condition

XXY

Klinefelter syndrome, it's a man, in very, very poor condition

XXXY

Still a man

XY SRY-positive and have reduced expression of one particular sex hormone. They can be born looking fully female externally, grow up to usually identify as male and once puberty strikes they go through masculinization, up to and including growing a penis[16,17]. So as you can see, nature really doesn’t do categories.

And the person will retire at What Age? In other words, if I decide to retire in the age of 62 may I do it by declaring that I'm a woman? Or... The case of mobilization, may I say that I've just decided I'm no longer man?

Don't get me wrong: do with your body whatever you want. Have sex with whoever you want.

Just before attacking the system, tell me some practical considerations that would emerge instantaneously, on the very first day if you allow people to change their sex/gender on a massive scale.

Let me tell you: all the men will become legal women. And then - what? We will take our pension earlier and maniacs will fill all the girl locker rooms. Also, some losers will beat all female athletes in all the sports.
Perfect idea!

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You are equating gender and biological sex as equivalents, they are not. The Trump administration wants to change the rules to classify gender as biological sex. The author is correct in his assessment.

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I'm still interested in practical implications.
All our documents have a field with our sex (which is in 9.999 of 10.000 our gender and also the expression)

Just imagine the administrative mess. Instead of having the field in ID card/ Passport/ Driving licence that denotes sex (and in most cases gender and expression as well), we introduce 3 fields.

It's a billion documents? that should be replaced. And all the people must learn what those abbreviations mean. Imagine that you are a police officer:

ID Card Please! Ok, justtryme, M, LJ, ZQ (what a hell...). Chchchchch, hello, central, what is LJ? What is ZQ? Ok... I'll wait... :D

There are three practical options: sex = gender = system is working most of the time
sex = whatever = system is confused (e.g. I'm chasing the suspect, white "male like gender expressing humanoid....")
sex, gender, expression must be respected all the times = complete disaster.

Just tell me what is practical benefit of having gender and expression detached from biological sex?

In USA, there are 300.000.000 people. Roughly speaking, some 30-50.000 are transgender. From those 30-50.000 how many of them actually want to be treated as a special category? And where is practical, administrative threshold for recognizing the group as a special case?

Imagine the demand that Ferrari is no longer a car? Ferrari is a vehicle, made by Ferrari that can exceed all the speed limits x3 :D
Also, Lambo is not a car, nor a Ferrari... And so on...

Gozillion categories for everything

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sex (which is in 9.999 of 10.000 our gender and also the expression)

Except it isn't. Sex =/= gender. Gender is the social state not the biological one.

Just imagine the administrative mess. Instead of having the field in ID card/ Passport/ Driving licence that denotes sex (and in most cases gender and expression as well), we introduce 3 fields.

The Trump administration policy isn't about that, and I don't see anyone calling for Sex to be replaced by gender.

Just tell me what is practical benefit of having gender and expression detached from biological sex?

It allows for policies protecting people's right to be who they are with out being discriminated against.

From those 30-50.000 how many of them actually want to be treated as a special category?

How many don't want to be discriminated against and treated like dogshit for being whom they are? Probably most. And this can be accomplished with out changing a damn thing on any forms.

Imagine the demand that Ferrari is no longer a car? Ferrari is a vehicle, made by Ferrari that can exceed all the speed limits x3 :D
Also, Lambo is not a car, nor a Ferrari... And so on...

straw man argument is straw man argument

Its not hard. Just let people be who they are, so long as that doesn't hurt anyone. This whole gender business, just doesn't affect most peoples lives in any way at all. Why should we choose to negatively affect the group of people, for a gain of nothing for the rest?

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Just tell me what is practical benefit of having gender and expression detached from biological sex?

It allows for policies protecting people's right to be who they are with out being discriminated against.

My father was a policeman, so here is the problem:
Your ID, please
Wait, you look completely different?!
No, I'm just fluidly expressing my gender...
Sure, sure, you are not masked, up to something :D

You can't change your appearance on a daily bases, because otherwise, it will be impossible to identify any human.

Except it isn't. Sex =/= gender

In my language, and many other languages we don't even have a word for gender?! It was a completely different thing that nobody noticed for thousands of years

From those 30-50.000 how many of them actually want to be treated as a special category?

How many don't want to be discriminated against and treated like dogshit for being whom they are?

I'm telling you, administration is about the efficiency.
If you need to fill billions of various forms and process such data in order to please 1 in 10.000 or 100.000 it will be refused - for practical reasons.

It's the same reason why cars/everyday objects are made by standards. Those things don't fit to 2.15+ not 150- cm height.
Why? Because costs exceed benefits.

just let people be who they are, so long as that doesn't hurt anyone

This is what I say... They can be who they are, so long as that doesn't hurt anyone

Put this in legislation, and you will see all sorts of abuse

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Upvoted for awareness.

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I found something:

“Sex means a person’s status as male or female based on immutable biological traits identifiable by or before birth,” the memo says. “The sex listed on a person’s birth certificate, as originally issued, shall constitute definitive proof of a person’s sex, unless rebutted by reliable genetic evidence.”

As I said, it's 100% reasonable proposal that is protecting the system from abusing.

Me, as Eastern European, I'm a master of finding loops in the system.

If I can choose my gender or sex, man, I'll start exploiting all the loops immediately.
I have troubles at work, no problem, short skirt, I'm trans. Boss, do you hate me because I'm trans? :D
I want the day off to see my gynaecologist!
I want my maternal leave :D I'm a mother!
My wife wants to take a kid, no problem, I'm a mother too!
I want to compete for L'Oreal fellowship for "women in science" :D
And I want to retire 5 years earlier!


Do you see the problem in practice?

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People, why do you see the conspiracy in everything? It's a practical question, needed for everyday practical functioning. Every administration needs to make clear and simple categories.

These categories should make things as simple and clear AND also be useful and respect people's rights. We are not cars or bikes, we are human beings. As explained, nature doesn't do categories, we humans can easily do categories for manmade objects (such as cars vs bikes vs trucks) and stick to them, but nature doesn't. You are bringing up non issues. Dealing with transgender or intersex individuals is not impractical or a burden on the system, you just made that up. We are talking about very few cases per 1000000 individuals. It's not any kind of impractical burden. And if it was a significant burden (which it isn't) we should as a society accommodate as many people as possible anyway. Are wheelchair ramps "impractical" or a "burden?" We could "simplify" things by not having them but they are useful to members of our society. Having the ability to change your legal sex is useful to members of our society too. This is backed by science, it's not only useful but promotes their mental wellbeing too. You can rest assured, the military or retirement plans will not suffer because a handful of people happen to change their legal sex midway through life. So no need to worry.

Represented in/by what?

Misrepresented means people can easily make mistakes that erroneously represent a person's feelings, needs or experiences. And yes, misrepresentation can occur for multiple traits, it's just more common in issues of gender or sex due to mass ignorance.

Describe to me how the Olympic games should look like?

Sports are man-made and we can make them look however we like. I love how people are so concerned about a transwoman joining female sports when biological differences abound within non trans women. Should we ban non-trans women with atypically high testosterone levels which have given them certain advantages in terms of their musculature? As I said these are man made sports we humans can come together and decide who is allowed to compete or who isn't or how to adapt rules. Maybe the "male" and "female" sport categorizations are silly and we should categorise by testosterone levels or some other biological metric. Is that more fair? Is that more stigmatizing? I don't know, as humans we can decide how to best deal with these man made sports as we choose, personally I choose putting the wellbeing of people pretty high when making such a decision. Furthermore, your proposal (immutable sex assignment at birth) would also force people to compete within a sex category even when their body (and gender) fits the opposite sex. Current recommendations are to suppress puberty until the person comes of age to make the decision to transition or not, which would lessen your concerns about poor women having to deal with a trans woman in some sport.

These are complicated issues, the solution is to come together as a society and develop evidence-based approaches.

Smith, XX SRY, retires in the age of 62 or 67 (or 62.87)? It will be called to Army or not? Smith will compete as a man, woman or XX SRY?

If Smith changed his legal sex to man, or that was his assigned sex at birth... I don't see the problem. He's legally a man.

And the person will retire at What Age? In other words, if I decide to retire in the age of 62 may I do it by declaring that I'm a woman? Or... The case of mobilization, may I say that I've just decided I'm no longer man?

Again, if an individual had their legal sex changed to man or woman, or stayed with whatever sex was assigned at birth... I don't see the problem. The person would be legally a man or woman and follow whatever rules apply to them. The only thing that changes is allowing those few cases where the gender differs from the sex assigned at birth so that people are not forced into a legal sex that was assigned at birth and which differs from their gender and current sex.

Let me tell you: all the men will become legal women.

[citation needed] changing your legal sex is legal in countless jurisdictions, I'm yet to hear about this epidemic of men maliciously changing their legal sex to cheat the system. Besides, this is solved very easily by having medical professionals being necessary to approve the legal sex change. So, again, you are bringing made up nonissues.

nd maniacs will fill all the girl locker rooms.

[citation needed] "maniacs" don't need legal permission to enter a woman's locker room, what a joke. And again, changing your legal sex is legal in countless jurisdictions, I'm yet to hear about this epidemic of men maliciously changing their legal sex to enter women's locker rooms. So, again, you are bringing made up nonissues.

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People are not categorisable

Ok... Tell me what is a car and what is not:

You would be surprised, but 1 of them is a car, 3 are not. Actually, here you can see 4 completely different categories by law

Misrepresented means people can easily make mistakes that erroneously represent a person's feelings, needs or experiences

Oh, young people, so, so, young...

In the 90's we decided that Serbs need to be represented by Serbs in order not to hurt their feelings. Croatians by Croatians, Muslims by Muslims... And we killed each other in the following years.

I need representatives who use math and logic. I absolutely don't want anyone to represent my feelings. I don't want to be pleased on a daily basis because it would create Hell.

for sport... ... I don't know... These are complicated issues

Well, if you want to propose a completely new rule, you need to think about all the aspects first. You can't just say - I don't know?!
Before destroying the system that is working you need to think

If Smith changed his legal sex to man

And here is the example that you don't think.
I'm 60, I go to the doctor, pleeease doctor, I'm trapped in my body (here is a small bribe) write that I'm a woman.

Woo-hoo, free pension 5 years earlier!!! :D

I don't see the problem for the army service

How... How you don't see :)

[citation needed] "maniacs" don't need legal permission

Run the experiment in one locker room for a week :D in the nearest high school

I'm yet to hear about this epidemic of men maliciously changing their legal sex to enter women's locker rooms. So, again, you are bringing made up nonissues.

What, you need to hear it first? No power of prediction? :)

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You would be surprised, but 1 of them is a car, 3 are not. Actually, here you can see 4 completely different categories by law

non sequitur

I need representatives who use math and logic. I absolutely don't want anyone to represent my feelings. I don't want to be pleased on a daily basis because it would create Hell.

non sequitur AND strawman

Well, if you want to propose a completely new rule,

the new rule is the one proposed by Trump administration, not me.

and so on and so on. have a good one.

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I'm always amused when people start using words like

strawman

when they run out of arguments 😎

Good luck with playing it safe:

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You still don't have the answers...

To very simple questions

As a follower of @followforupvotes this post has been randomly selected and upvoted! Enjoy your upvote and have a great day!

This was a phenomenal post! Thank you for working through a (non-exhaustive) list of various genetic combinations and some of their effects. Resteemed!

Let me make sure I'm understanding: the SRY gene is normally associated with the Y chromosome, right? But SRY is not always present even on Y chromosomes?

Finally, of course, no doctors are doing complex genetic testing at birth, so they're just doing a quick visual inspection and assigning sex at birth. Hence, much room for overly-simplified error?

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Thanks! Sorry if it wasn't too clear, Y chromosomes usually have the SRY gene but sometimes they don't (and there are other genes involved too, but SRY seems to be the important one that sets things in motion)

And yes basically the doctor looks at the genitalia and that's it. I think nowadays some things are normally tested (like XXY or XXX) but I'm not an expert, I don't know which genetic or chromosomal tests are common nowadays.