Thanks to all the hostility to gay marriage, it’s looking like judges in the U.S. are about to start on a learning curve now familiar to the International Olympic Committee. That’s because, to categorize people strictly into men and women—as both gay marriage prohibitions and sex-segregated sports require—you have to figure out for sure what makes a man and what makes a woman. And that ain’t simple.
In fact, the IOC has given up on what was once called “gender verification.” They’ve given up because they figured out what the U.S. courts apparently soon will: There isn’t any rational way to decide, in many cases, whether a person should count as a male or a female.
Intersex children must be protected from temptation of parents to ‘fix’ them surgically.
December 01, 2004
By Wendell Roelf
A law on corrective surgery for children with ambiguous genitals - intersex children - was under consideration, the SA Human Rights Commission said yesterday.
“We are looking at the practice of surgery; do we need legislation to regulate this area, who should decide, when must the decision be taken?” said Judith Cohen, parliamentary officer for the commission.
The commission held a seminar on intersex children yesterday, asking whether gender “normalisation” surgery was in the best interests of the child.
The American Society of Plastic Surgeons, the largest organization of plastic surgeons, has not yet started tracking how many doctors are making “gynecologic cosmetic care” or “vaginal rejuvenation” their specialty, but notes that anecdotal evidence suggests demand for genital procedures is growing rapidly.
In response to our Tips for Parents, one woman wrote to say that she was adopting a child who had already had cosmetic genital surgery, and could we write guidelines for people in her position?
First off, we want to thank all parents—adoptive, foster, biological, and other—who provide love and care to children with intersex conditions. Good, open love is what all children need.
Now, take a look at our Tips for Parents. We would recommend that you follow the same basic idea: avoid being subject to the concealment-centered approach (which features incomplete information and uninformed decision-making) and insist that your child receives a patient-centered approach, one featuring honestly and openness. More specifically:
In her early 30s, Betsy Driver learned why she had never felt totally comfortable in her high school locker room.
When she four months old, Driver’s doctors removed her entire clitoris because it was unusually large for a baby girl, and, following doctor’s orders, her mother never told her. As a teenager, Driver never fully developed breasts and had to undergo a second surgery to reconstruct a vagina that was never there in the first place …
Llerena, Kim. 2004. Living in between, but no longer living in silence. Washington Square News, October 26.
This just in from ISNA Board Member Thea Hillman:
On Sunday, October 12, I was a panelist at a Times Talk event entitled, "I Do, I Don't: Queers on Marriage", a panel discussion and Q&A with me, Patrick Califia, Michelle Darné, Carol Queen, Patricia Nell Warren, and Greg Wharton, moderated by Bill Goldstein, NYTimes.com/books founding editor. The event took place at the Koret Auditorium at The San Francisco Public Library.
My statements and responses to questions about marriage and queer culture centered on the failure of language around so-called "gay marriage" or "same-sex marriage." I talked about how these terms deny my experiences and the experiences of my community, which is made up of many sex and gender variant folks, namely transgender and intersex people. I spoke about attempts to legislate marriage based on current definitions of male and female fall apart when real human beings are put into the equation.
The American Academy of Pediatrics Section on Urology meeting in San Francisco on Monday, Oct. 11, showed evidence that just about every aspect of intersex care is now in question, but that, despite theoretical turmoil, many medical centers are continuing to provide scientifically and ethically questionable care.
Most notably—as we detail below—even though several leaders in pediatric urology urged colleagues to employ less invasive cosmetic genital surgeries, several presenters sent the troubling message that early, aggressive surgeries are necessary (despite a black hole of supporting evidence or ethical analysis).
In 1998 I published an article in the Hastings Center Report criticizing the standard of care for the treatment of intersex1. (Intersex is the general term used for a variety of conditions under which a person is born with something other than standard male or standard female anatomy.) I ended that article by arguing that the treatment of intersex was unlike anything else in modern-day medicine, that it looked like what George Annas had termed “monster ethics”—the treatment of supposedly “deformed” children by means that would otherwise be considered unethical2.
Intersex, a 30 minute radio program produced by Dheera Sujan of Radio Netherlands is part of Soundprint’s international documentary exchange series, Crossing Boundaries. Listen online in Real Player format as a group of women with AIS talk about their lives.
“Not telling people about your condition is more difficult than having the condition itself.”
“We appeared on tv as a kind of protest against doctors who are still saying that no one should talk about this. We showed them that we can tell 900,000 people about it, and nothing bad happened to us. In fact, we had nothing but positive reactions.”
“Our results indicate that individuals who have had clitoral surgery are more likely than those who have not to report a complete failure to achieve orgasm and higher rates of non-sensuality—in particular, a lack of enjoyment in being caressed and in caressing their partner’s body.”
“Our findings suggest that adult sexual function could be compromised by feminising clitoral surgery. Infants and young children are powerless to oppose any procedures, so genital surgery for them is not just a medical issue but also a moral one. Debate over ethics with interested parties should be encouraged and clinicians should advance the debate and help individuals and families to make the best possible decisions by producing reliable information. Many surgeons will undoubtedly feel justified in doubting the findings of this study, and will fall back on the traditional response of claiming that current techniques are more advanced than the surgical procedures we assessed. Although surgery has advanced in many ways, this is not a valid reason for complacency. In this study surgery was done 8-40 years ago, and most individuals had undergone clitorectomy. Of the three sexually active participants who had undergone the newer technique of nerve-sparing clitoral reduction, however, two had the worst possible score for orgasm difficulties(orgasm subscale score of 9).”