So, I tend to have a wide range of topics that I randomly decide to debate in my head. As I mentioned, the main reason of this blog is to debate that “out loud” while not driving those people close to me crazy while I debate with myself.
This topic is one that has been on my mind for a while now. I think it links with circumcision (if you’re interested I have a blog on that already: https://inkyspider.wordpress.com/2013/08/22/circumcision-and-body-modification/) in my head for a number of reasons including the case David Reimer (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/David_Reimer). Wikipedia is a decent source for understanding the gist of what happened to him.
Anyway, the question I have randomly posed to my friends on occasion is this: “If you had a baby and that baby were born intersex, what would you do?”
The reason I began asking this is because I was conflicted. As you can probably tell if you’re read anything else I’ve written, I am pro-personal choice and autonomy. My initial instincts are don’t do anything. Let the child grow up to be whatever and whomever zhe wants to be. It’s not my place to permanently mutilate this child body to fit in with my ideal of what a little baby should look like.
I also would know which sex to “choose”. I mean, as the case of David Reimer (just skim the wikipedia if you don’t know about it, I really think it was an incredibly important screw-up in the world of human sexuality and gender identity) shows us. We can’t just decide what gender we want a child to be and make it grow up that way. That’s not going to end well for anyone, especially the child, if we chose wrong.
So, what made me question my instincts? It was the conversations I had with men about circumcision. Two common reasons they were glad to have been circumcised, and would do the same for their child were:
1. Not wanting to have any surgery like that as an adult.
2. Fear of being mocked and bullied in the locker room, given that in the US it is rare to be uncircumcised.
Both of these concerns translate even more strongly to the question of the intersex baby. Any sort of genital surgery would be far more painful and traumatic as an adult than as a baby, and the bullying and mocking for being intersex could last well past puberty. It is something that can make a person a complete social outcast: they do not fit one of the two “required” molds. I can see how it could be just as mentally damaging for a person to grow up intersex and “different” as it was for David Reimer.
When talking to my friends I got a range of answers from checking the genetic make up (XX or XY [and I understand that genetics are not this simple, sometimes there are more than two sex chromosomes]) and doing surgery based on that, to maybe doing surgery depending on societal behavior at the time. No one was comfortable saying that they would not do the surgery as it was not their choice.
I understand the concern. As a parent you want to protect your child as best you can. Sending them out into the world being so inherently different from their peers is scary, and most people would rather do a little surgery and pretend nothing was different than deal with having a child who was abnormal. I cans see why people’s choices might be based on society. If the country had a commonly used third gender option, and if people were more open minded then a lot of people I spoke to said they would let the child grow up as it had been born.
Once again, this is sad to me – that we are willing to mutilate our children, and to be glad to have been mutilated ourselves (in the case of circumcision) so as to be protected from the attacks of society at large. A common argument a lot of people give for sex-assignment surgery of babies born intersex is the fact that they can never be happy in a two sex society. Firstly, the youtube video linked below shows that not to be the case; and secondly, why does that mean we should change these people? Shouldn’t that mean society should be changing?
A news article looking at current legal implications of sex assignment surgery, and a youtube video of someone explaining their experience as intersex: