Report on Human Rights Commission Hearing

Classification: News

Learn how to view the hearing online, or to order a DVD or a VHS tape.

This report on the San Francisco Human Rights Commission hearing on intersex comes to us from Peter Trinkl, board member of Bodies Like Ours:

On May 27, 2004, the San Francisco Human Rights Commission held a historic hearing on Intersex issues. It was the first public hearing held on Intersex issues in the United States. The hearing room at San Francisco City Hall was packed with intersex people and our allies.

At the beginning of the hearing, Marcus Arana, a discrimination investigator with the Human Rights Commission, briefly laid out the reasons for the hearing. He reported that the SF HRC had received complaints that intersex people were being subjected to infant genital surgery for the purposes of sex assignment without proper consent. While he acknowledged that some childhood genital surgery was necessary for medical reasons, such as providing a functional urinary canal, he expressed concerns about cosmetic surgeries meant to “normalize” the appearance of a child’s genitals. He also reported that around 1 in 2000 births. The politics of what constitutes an intersex condition is heavily involved in these figures.

David Reimer, in memorium

Classification: News

We’ve been trying to figure out what to say about the death of David Reimer. Though David was not intersex by the usual definitions, his story was like so many others we have heard from people with intersex conditions: Full of shame, secrecy, and trauma. Punctuated by hope, individuality, and love.

Though the follow-up stories of David Reimer from Milton Diamond and John Colapinto have made doctors stop and think, we know from our work that too many families coping with intersex are still subjected to shame, secrecy, and trauma. This won’t change until intersex is recognized as a psychosocial issue fully deserving of team care that foregrounds psychosocial support. But today, it is still primarily handled with surgeries meant to make intersex magically disappear. Enough pity and secrecy already. Let’s move toward honest, open care that plays on the strengths of families coping with intersex, rather than on their presumed weaknesses.

ISNA Transforms Itself

Classification: About

ISNA has been extraordinarily successful in its work to effect systematic reform in the social and medical treatment of people with intersex conditions. With the financial assistance of our donors, we have made substantial strides towards building a world free of shame, secrecy, and unwanted genital surgeries for people born with atypical reproductive anatomies.

ISNA was founded in 1993, and we enjoyed rapid growth especially in the last several years. But with that growth, we paid a high price in terms of exhausting our core staff and volunteers. We realized late in 2003 that we needed a new system, one which would be truly sustainable—one which would keep ISNA going until its work is done.

San Francisco HRC still wants to hear from you!

Classification: News

Although the date of the public hearing has passed, everyone is welcome to submit written testimony through June 25, 2004. You can send your statement by email (preferred) or postal mail to the coordinator. Click here for postal and email address.

Intersex Documentary Wins New Zealand's "Oscar"

Classification: News

Congratulations to long-time ISNA ally Mani Mitchell: The documentary film “Mani’s Story,” which traces Mani’s life and intersex activism, has won the Quantas Award for best television documentary in New Zealand! (This is the equivalent of the U.S. “Oscars.”) Also featured in the film are American intersex activists Angela Moreno (board member of ISNA) and David Vandertie. 

This documentary was produced by Greenstone Pictures and is not currently available in the US. But you can get a copy of Hermaphrodites Speak! by making a donation to ISNA.

Sacramento Bee looks into intersex

Classification: Recent Publications

The medical profession has traditionally viewed an intersex birth as a "social emergency," pushing to assign a child's sex immediately and perform corrective surgery as soon as possible, says Celia Kaye, a professor of pediatrics at the University of Texas Health Science Center at San Antonio. Doctors want to avoid traumatizing parents and help the child grow up normally, without confusion or ridicule, she says.

Read the complete article at the Sacramento Bee.

ISNA Discussed in "Savage Love"

Classification: Recent Publications

ISNA is mentioned in the famous "Savage Love" advice column of April 14, 2004.

The issue mentioned is familiar: an adult born with intersex who was "sex reassigned" to be female as a child, now wishing the parts s/he was born with were still there.

I've written a note of thanks to Dan Savage ("Savage Love" columnist) and asked him to clarify one thing:

Intersex conditions DO sometimes come with serious underlying health concerns. Therefore anyone who thinks s/he is intersex or that his/her child is intersex SHOULD seek medical advice to rule out (or address) health problems. We do not hesitate to recommend surgeries that address serious health problems (as when a child is born with intersex and no urinary outlet).

Progress in Intersex Care!

Classification: News

As ISNA enters its second decade of life, Cheryl Chase (ISNA’s founder and Executive Director) and I have been reflecting on the astonishing progress we’ve seen in attitudes towards people with intersex conditions. So many people now know of intersex, so many care providers are employing a patient-centered model of care. We still have a lot of work to do, but those of you who have helped over the years should be very proud of what has been accomplished.

Here’s just one sign of progress:

In a recent issue of the prestigious medical journal, BJU International, physicians S. M. Crighton and L.-M. Liao documented the “Changing Attitudes to Sex Assignment in Intersex.” Drs. Crighton and Liao point out that “surgical sex assignment and genital surgery in intersex are increasingly challenged now,” and that “it is not the good intentions of surgeons that are called into question.” Instead, clinicians are finally asking what evidence we have regarding what patients really need to be well in the long-term.

Raising Kids in a "Third Gender"?

Classification: News

The “Traditional Values Coalition” appears to be confused about ISNA’s mission, so I thought I would answer again a question we get all the time:

Does ISNA advocate raising children who have intersex conditions in a “third gender” category?

To anwer that, I’ll quote from the “Top Ten Myths about Intersex”:

MYTH #7: ISNA advocates doing nothing and raising intersexed babies in a third gender.

…We certainly would like to see people become less gender-phobic, but we don’t think dumping intersexed kids into a gender-phobic world with no gender or with a “third gender” is the way to go. We believe there are two problems with trying to raise kids in a “third gender.”

Reiner & Gearhart's NEJM Study on Cloacal Exstrophy - Review by Vernon Rosario, M.D., Ph.D.

Classification: Recent Publications

The following review comes from Vernon A. Rosario, M.D., Ph.D., former Chair of ISNA's Medical Advisory Board.


Long-time ISNA friend and supporter Dr. William G. Reiner recently published a groundbreaking article with Dr. John P. Gearhart that gives further evidentiary support to ISNA’s mission. The article, “Discordant Sexual Identity in Some Genetic Males with Cloacal Exstrophy Assigned to Female Sex at Birth” was published in the prestigious New England Journal of Medicine (vol. 350, Jan. 22, 2004). They described a long-term follow-up study of a group of 16 chromosomally male (XY) individuals born with cloacal exstrophy. This is a rare birth defect affecting 1 in 400,000 live births—slightly more common in males then females. It is an anatomical defect beginning early in embryonic development and the most severe manifestation in the spectrum of exstrophy-epispadias (congenital anomalies of the bladder, genitals, and pelvis). The abdomen is not closed, thus exposing the gastrointestinal tract and urinary bladder. Frequently the intestine is shortened and malformed with the bladder. The anus may also not be open. In females, the clitoris may be split and there can be two vaginal openings. In males, the penis is short and flat, split in two, or entirely absent. It is frequently associated with abnormal kidney and spinal development (spina bifida, scoliosis, meningocele). The cause is unknown and there is no known means of prevention.

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