What is HBS

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Harry Benjamin's Syndrome 

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by Charlotte Goiar

Copyright @ 2005-2007, Charlotte Goiar.
 All Rights Reserved

What is Harry Benjamin's Syndrome?

Harry Benjamin's Syndrome (HBS)  is a congenital intersexual condition that has a pre-natal development, and it involves the differentiation of the male and female gender identities in the brain. The estimated incidence of HBS is 1 in 30.000 girls and 1 in 100.000 boys.

To put it simply, a girl with HBS would have a female neurological gender identity, whilst the genitalia would be male. Conversely, boys with this condition have female genitalia coupled with a male neurological gender identity.

At present, it is not possible to diagnose this condition at the time of birth. Therefore, the children are raised in the gender role opposite to that of the neurological gender identity. This often leads to psychological problems unrelated with the HBS itself.

Gender identity is a purely neurological function, with no psychological factors appended.

Therefore, neurological factors determine gender identity, not the anatomical structures of the genitalia. The physical structure of the brain, such as the CNS, fix gender identity. Since there is no apparent evidence at the time of birth, it is difficult for doctors to diagnose the condition, quite unlike other intersexual conditions.

Harry Benjamin’s Syndrome is not an illness or a disorder, and we should not consider it such, but rather as a physiological variation of human sexual formation, as in the case of other Intersex Syndromes. When, on this page, we speak about "suffering" HBS, we refer to the suffering caused by the physical incongruence that people born with this condition experience, and not to a pathological explanation for HBS. Read more about the convenience of the term "Syndrome" applied to this condition in the page Retrospective of this site.

If we compare HBS with other congenital intersexual variations, it occurs twice as often as Klinefelter’s Syndrome, and five times more often than Turner’s Syndrome. Research shows the incidence of HBS to be 25 times more common than AIS (Androgen Insensitivity Syndrome).

Most diagnoses of HBS occur when the individual is between 20 to 45 years of age, but many are diagnosed in their teens, and some cases are detected in early childhood (four to five-years old). No matter at what the age the diagnostic decision is given, the affected individuals go on to HRT and SAS, and live a perfectly normal life afterwards. Nevertheless, the earlier that one undertakes corrective HRT and SAS, the better it is for the person involved.

On the other hand, some have only had HRT, and not SAS, and that appears to be sufficient in these cases. (Are these true instances of HBS, or transsexuality? Research has not answered this question, yet.)

The level of stress induced by societal pressures concerning gender norms and behaviour differs widely from one individual to another. The expectations of most societies regarding gender-specific actions do not suit all individuals, and many find some sort of cross-gender identification not displeasing (this is probably a sign that the person involved does not have HBS).

The degree of anxiety concerning appearance and anatomy also varies widely from one person to another. Some do not care much about their genitalia, or about how others perceive the gender of their public persona.

However, the overwhelming majority of people place much importance in the expression and congruency of theirs and others’ social and physical gender. Most take their gender for granted, and it is so deeply rooted in our instinctual behaviour and expectations that we do not think of it consciously.

Conversely, those who have HBS experience a steadily growing dissatisfaction and unhappiness with the discontinuity between their neurological gender and their genital anatomy. The dissonance that exists between a person’s neurological gender and the expected gender-appropriate behaviour of society can be devastating.

There are only two alternatives. One can seek medical help, and obtain HRT and SAS to correct the anatomical incongruency and thereby eliminate the gender discontinuity. By adjusting physical anatomy to reflect neurological gender, the person involved receives release from the tension of HBS.

Alternatively, the pressures of the anomalous gender/anatomy signals can drive a person to suicide if they do not seek a medical correction of the condition. When one finds that one’s personal gender incongruency combines with an unrelenting societal insistence upon a properly gendered expression of behaviour, the enharmonics of the situation lead many to take their own lives.

The hostile attitude of many in society often exacerbates the pain and suffering of those with HBS. There is often disbelief and hostility directed towards those who reveal their HBS, and there are those who believe that any medical correction of anatomy is contrary to all reason and good-sense.

In addition, many elements in society treat anyone with a gender-ambiguous appearance badly. They target the gender-incongruous and subject them to verbal threats and harassment, physical intimidation and violence, and use discrimination and ostracism to isolate such individuals socially.

This situation is harsh enough to deal with, but a loss of support from family networks and friends often compound it. What finally brings many to the brink of despair is the loss of employment that often accompanies societal rejection of the individual. This is why untreated HBS causes suicide. It is not the HBS, but the pressures surrounding it that can drive people over the edge.

At present, the exact physiological cause of HBS is unknown, and it may be that there is more than one discrete antecedent for the condition. If one were to ask reputable researchers today, the probable answer would be that pre-natal events in foetal development would tell us the story.

No matter what is the ultimate causal factor, HBS is a physiological condition that has the potential to create a traumatic situation in an individual’s life. If one does not treat it with the appropriate medical regimen, it can lead to the death of the person involved. That is why society must learn to treat those with HBS with compassion and understanding.

HBS is simply a medical condition; it is not mental or psychological derangement.

Together we can fly