Press Release: 1 May 1998
Four out of ten children treated for intersexuality develop psychological disorders, according to a Dutch team which followed 59 children. In a recent issue of Archives of Sexual Behavior, FME Slijper et al report on treatment of psychological problems in a population of 59 children with a variety of intersex conditions. 44 were assigned female; 5 male. All those with ambiguous genitalia were subjected to genital surgery.1 The abstract notes that “Despite the sex assignment, genital organ correction soon after birth, psychological counseling of parents and intensive psychotherapy of children, general psychopathology developed equally (39%) in all four groups [ie, CAH assigned female, those with testes or ovotestes and ambiguous genitalia assigned female, those with testes and female genitals assigned female, and those with testes and ambiguous genitalia assigned male].”
Pam Farrell and Nina Williams, a member of ISNA’s Medical Advisory Board, are running a monthly reading group for social workers who want to learn more about intersex conditions and how to provide better psychotherapy for patients with intersex conditions. The group also seeks to educate other social workers and push for institutional change. This year, the group has focused on ISNA recommended readings and videos, heard Janet Green speak, and debated the issues raised by these materials. On October 22, 2005, group members will present a panel at the NASW-NJ annual LGBTI conference about how their education in DSDD has altered the way they think about gender and sexuality. When this group disbands in December, the plan is for current members to team up and lead groups of their own.
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.
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.”
It’s not uncommon for the law to assume that everyone is born into two neat sex categories (male and female) and that everyone stays in the category in which s/he was first placed. Not so! It is inevitable that some people born intersex will tell us that the sex/gender category to which they were assigned was incorrect.
Unfortunately, it looks like U.S. legislatures are making it harder and harder for people with intersex to assume the legal sex/gender category that they personally identify with. For one example of legislation that can cause hardship to people with intersex, and to their families, read what our friend and ally Lisa Lees reports on “The Real ID Act of 2005”:
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.
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.
You may have seen ISNA in the news in the last two days! An important article directly linking www.isna.org went out over the Associated Press wire on Friday, and doubled our ordinary high level of web traffic. It was entitled “Surgery May Be Hasty for Unclear Gender” and has appeared in more than 100 national and local news outlets, including the New York Times, CNN, and NBC.
Check out the N.Y. Times if it didn’t appear in your local paper.
As we packed up for our move, we collected some of the physical objects
which document memorable moments of the history of the intersex patient
advocacy movement, and shipped them off to the Smithsonian. "It's
an important aspect of American culture that needs to be documented,"
said Katherine Ott, Curator of Science, Medicine, and Society in the
National Museum of American History.