PBS airs documentary about intersex without any intersex people in it

Classification: News

On October 30, 2001, PBS (Public Broadcasting Service) aired Sex Unknown, a one-hour documentary that centers around the controversy over surgical treatment of intersex children—without interviewing a single intersex person (except David Reimer, who was not born intersex but was treated in a similar manner). The documentary was part of NOVA, the “most watched science TV series in the world and the most watched documentary series on PBS” according to the station, and focused on the biological basis for gender identity. Because it is impossible to manipulate the child’s gender at will, the argument goes, children should not be surgically assigned a sex until we know for sure what their gender is.

However, this line of reasoning completely ignores the fact that medically unnecessary surgeries on children’s genitals necessarily cause physical and emotional scars as well as the reduction or loss of sensation, and violate the child’s right to informed consent and physical integrity. It is without doubt difficult to be raised in a gender that does not conform to one’s gender identity, but that is not the only potential problem with the concealment-based medical protocol. See the comparison between the concealment-based (current) model of treatment and the patient-centered model we advocate.