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Human Inscription of DNA

Catherine Durante

Gender and Technology Sp ‘09


Paper #2

Human Inscription of DNA

            DNA. Deoxyribonucleic acid. Until about four weeks ago, DNA was just a definition: A double helix stabilized through hydrogen bonds between two nucleotides of which four contribute known as adenine, thymine, cytosine, and guanine. The closest reference to any sociological networking DNA gave was to coin the molecule as a “blueprint.” But DNA dives deeper than its status as a polymer. Four weeks ago Natasha wrote a posting referencing the website, “My Right Self” that imparts information regarding five persons who have undergone transgender surgery, whether top, bottom, or both. In her analysis, she wrote how it is possible to “think of DNA as a ‘technology’ itself that inscribes itself on us… after all, DNA is just a code” (qtd. in Gender and Technology). This is quite an unearthly thought. Though I suppose it is viable to consider DNA as a “program” that is written on a “hard drive” known as the body and is “run” by “mechanisms” or amino acids. One piece of the post that is particularly intriguing is the mention of “inscription.” DNA in essence imprints its data on our body, telling us our eye color, allergies, and even our gender, in an anatomical sense. What if it’s the other way around? Can we not ourselves “imprint” on such a technology as DNA? The code can be rewritten and morphed so that I can decide who I am instead. This reversal of the aforementioned perception of DNA has biological constructs as well as sociological implications at its core to demonstrate exactly how humans wield the power to denature such a so-called “absolute” molecule as DNA.

            Biologically speaking, I am female. Of the two sex chromosomes I carry, both are the X sex-determining chromosomes. Other individuals are inflicted with mutations that bring about the addition of a sex-determining chromosome or a lack thereof. I myself check the “F” box on any applications, but what about these individuals? Or rather, what of those persons who do not identify with their gender that was DNA-determined or even those who identify with both the X and Y chromosome? Alex Tismen stated that he “did not regret being born female. [He] identif[ies] with both [his] feminine side and [his] masculine side. But [he] needed to lean towards one.” Thus Alex decided to become who he wanted to be and took the radical and drastic step of ingesting testosterone to be at peace with his identification, in his terms, as more “masculine” though having been born female. Increased dosages of testosterone in the female body have significant anabolic effects such as growth of muscle mass and bone density but also virilizing effects including the acquisition of male secondary sex characteristics. An increase in testosterone initially leads to the binding of the hormone to an androgen receptor, a type of nuclear receptor in the body. The key portion of its function is as a DNA binding transcription factor that regulates gene expression (Cox and Nelson 359). Thus, Alex is in fact re-coding his DNA and re-engendering his technology (which I refer to as DNA) by promoting expression of repressed traits that his DNA had originally repressed. Alex is in effect inscribing his own DNA to fit his ideal body image of his selfhood. He can then be deemed an example of a human reconditioning his or her “hardware.” 

            Though Alex biologically inscribed himself on technology, there are those who have used social factors to essentially “classify” DNA. On the day two group panel, I represented an anthropologist that researched the Daughters of the American Revolution, or DAR. The DAR is a lineage-based membership organization of women that is “dedicated to keeping America strong by promoting patriotism, preserving U.S. history and supporting education programs” (DAR). The membership is extremely exclusive, allowing only those women biologically connected to descendants who contributed, whether financially or physically, to the cause of the American Revolution. Of course the founding women must themselves utilize technology such as gene sequencing in order to expand in number and determine genealogical and gender legitimacy. These women collectively gather through a link in their DNA which inscribes these women with female anatomical structures and blood from ancestors during the American Revolution however, it does not inscribe them as members of the DAR. DAR members chose to become part of something greater and in turn may newly acquire or even enhance those characteristics of being a “proper” lady devoted to educating others through their personal history. These women can again be considered as those individuals who have “marked” their technology as something that cannot be inscribed by the technology itself. Thus, their DNA has been imprinted with the status of DAR membership, a reversal of the DNA signature on the body.

            Alex and the women of the DAR have challenged the limits of the view of DNA as a technology of design that determines decidedly who we shall be. Both examples have shown to be just as capable of influencing DNA as DNA influences them through biological means and personal social schisms. It is interesting to note just how “reverse” subjects of gender and technology can be. DNA inscribes us. We inscribe DNA. Technology affects gender. Gender affects technology. Perhaps the definition of what is “absolute” and “irreversible” is finally being challenged. 


  Works Referenced

Cox, Michael M., and David L. Nelson. Principles of Biochemistry. New York, NY: W. H. Freeman and Company, 2008.


Daughters of the American Revolution. DAR: Daughters of the American Revolution. 2005 <>.


Natasha. “DNA Technology (and Decisions of Passing).” Online Posting. 11 Feb.  2009. Gender and Technology Spring 2009. 2009. <>.



One Response
  1. March 10, 2009

    I think the idea of changing our DNA is quite interesting. I very much like the examples of changing DNA through technology in the case of Alex and of using already inscribed DNA to change social positioning. I’d like to see this second example explored a little more. It’s interesting to contemplate the ways that biological determinism have been used negatively–for gender, for race, etc.–but that you position the DAR as using it positively. And I wonder if DNA is so malleable, both with technology and within social constructs, what that really means for us? It means, perhaps, that nothing is determined and that one can use this technology and manipulate it, which is a really interesting idea.

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