A steroid known as dexamethasone has been making headlines in its connection with prenatal usage and health risks. Yet one team of doctors remains committed to the drug, and is currently conducting studies to prove the effects of its use on reduction of homosexuality and ‘masculine life choices’ in girls.

Yes, you read that right. Dr. Maria New and her team are offering pregnant women injections of the steroid in hopes of preventing female fetuses from growing up to be lesbians, disinterested in “childcare/housewife roles”– or just generally uppity. They’re focusing on fetuses that may have CAH– congenital adrenal hyperplasia– which results in excess male hormones in the womb, but does not affect internal sex organs.

Studies have apparently shown that women with CAH have higher rates of homosexuality and lower rates of a desire for motherhood. As Dr. New’s research partner writes:

“CAH women as a group have a lower interest… in getting married and performing the traditional child-care/housewife role. As children, they show an unusually low interest in engaging in maternal play with baby dolls, and their interest in caring for infants, the frequency of daydreams or fantasies of pregnancy and motherhood.”

And this, the doctors believe, is an illness that must be treated– an imbalance that must be rectified. CAH isn’t some life-threatening problem, nor does it have any noticeable health effects. But for Dr. New, disinterest in performing the housewife role may as well be a disease. Dexamethasone is a potentially dangerous treatment thats experimental use has been denounced by the American Academy of Pediatrics, the Lawson Wilkins Pediatric Endocrine Society, the European Society for Paediatric Endocrinology, the European Society of Endocrinology, the Society of Pediatric Urology, the Androgen Excess and PCOS Society, and the CARES Foundation. But that doesn’t concern these doctors. They have categorized interest in “men’s careers and games” as abnormal, a desire that has to be fixed.

“[We must try to] restore this baby to the normal female appearance which would be compatible…with her eventually becoming somebody’s wife, and having normal sexual development, and becoming a mother. And she has all the machinery for motherhood, and therefore nothing should stop that, if we can repair her psychologically to continue to grow and develop as a girl.”

I always figured my childhood disinclination for Barbie, my lack of ‘fantasies of pregnancy,’  my skepticism of the institution of marriage & my desire for a career were byproducts of second wave feminist progress, solid education, quality parenting and independent, critical thinking. But hey, maybe I just needed some experimental steroids to fix my faulty female brain.

It’s been 24 years since homosexuality was removed entirely from the DSM. Yet this scientific crusade wants to believe that never happened, that homosexuality is a disorder to be fixed in the womb. The good news is that many have criticized their work on grounds of being ethically and even physically harmful.  Columnist Dan Savage picked up the story and castigated Dr. New’s research– highlighting the accomplishments of ‘untraditional’ women:

…The existence of adult women who are not interested in “becoming someone’s wife” and “making babies” constitutes a medical emergency that requires us to treat women who are currently pregnant with a dangerous experimental hormone. Otherwise their daughters might grow up to, um, be nominated to sit on the Supreme Court, serve as cabinet secretaries, take 18 Grand Slam singles titles, win Grammies, and take their girlfriends to prom.

Even if this sort of research is met with widespread criticism, it still has scary implications for classifying homosexuality as a disorder, as something to be avoided. Or for women who break out of the feminine mold, who seek to devote their energy not to birthing babies but to challenging gender norms by rising to the top of traditional male industries. Perhaps the salient, lamentable irony in this whole story is that Dr. Maria New herself is a female trailblazer– studying medicine at Cornell and UPenn in the 1950s, when there were only three other women at the time. As noted in her oral history transcript, she was driven, smart, and successful– but also came to believe that her main calling was to be a mother. So perhaps ‘male careers’ are acceptable for a woman– provided you have enough female interests to qualify you as the right kind of woman.

Regardless of Dr. New’s team’s genuine interest in treating a hormone ‘imbalance,’ their advocated angle & word choice is unacceptable. They’d rather inject pregnant women with steroids that have a host of unexplored, detrimental side effects than let babies grow into adults who might be gay, might be childless, and might just be successful.