Intersex: Not a Problem to be Solve
When first delivering a child, the first thing the doctor says is, "Meet your new baby girl", or "Say hello to your baby boy". With these sayings your mind starts to play through your child's future. If it's a girl, you dream of tea parties and dance recitals, curling their hair and talking to them when they have boy problems. If it's a boy, you see your son playing catch in the yard with his father and building tree forts in the backyard. This one statement the doctor says immediately puts you into a mind frame of how you will raise and nurture your child. But what if the doctor couldn't tell whether or not your child was a boy or a girl? Would this change everything? Would you let a doctor talk you into a series of surgery that could completely destroy your child’s sense of pleasure for their life? Would you feel your child would be an outcast or that you yourself would be embarrassed to have an intersex child? The sex binary has made it so that people who fall outside it are seen as problematic and in need of a cure. They are not normal, even if the child is a perfectly healthy and happy baby.
Intersex people come in many different forms. The term intersex means “an individual displaying sexual characteristics of both male and female” (dictionary.com). Wikipedia states that “intersex in humans refers to intermediate or atypical combinations of physical features that usually distinguish female from male” (Wikipedia). Yet this could mean several different things. For instance, that the person has chromosomes like XO, that the person could have ovaries with testicular tissue, or that there genitals do not properly match up with one of the two sexes. An intersex person may also be born with ambiguous genitalia. This means that just by looking at the genitals the doctor cannot tell right off the bat whether the child is male or female.
One person who was born intersex was Max Beck. Max was born to parents who had been trying to conceive a child for many years. After three failed attempts to conceive, “they prayed and prayed for a healthy baby. Too late, they realized they'd meant normal” (Max Beck). When Max was born Max was a perfectly healthy child, yet the doctors were not able to determine Max’s sex. After five weeks of endless tests the doctors found that Max had two sets of chromosomes: XY and XO. Max’s genitals consisted of “‘a rudimentary phallus’ and ‘fused labio-scrotal folds’” (Max Beck).
Max Beck, like many others, has been scrutinized by society because of people’s need to be able to be group and categorize people, and one of these most important categories is sex. The term sex binary refers to the fact that there are only two sexes: male and female. And those who do not perfectly align with these two categories are to be shaped until they do. Max Beck was seen as a problem, something for the doctors and his parents to overcome and “deal” with, using surgical methods to make him as normal as possible. This idea of the sex binary led to the doctors and parents decision to raise Max as a girl, not as the person that he should choose to grow up to be. The problem with this idea is that when you are told to raise your child a girl, you self consciously begin to do so and tend to throw out all behaviors that are considered masculine or boy-ish.
Society’s need to make people fit into two sexes made Max, a person who clearly doesn’t fit this binary system through no fault of his own, feel like a mistake, a problem to be fixed and cured. Max grew into a “rough and tumble tomboy” and was consistently being confused as a young boy. Yet, as puberty hit, it was harder for the doctors and the parents to hide Max’s true identity. Max underwent dozens of surgeries and went to dozens of doctors to help him pass as a normal young lady. Max’s mother was only doing what she thought was best for her child but it “had all served to distance me considerably from my body: I was a walking head” (Max Beck). Every surgery, and every thing his mother and these doctors were doing to “protect” Max and make “her normal” was slowly tearing Max away from his body. With every surgery Max could less and less identify with the reflection he saw staring back at him in the mirror. Society’s need to make people fit into two sexes made Max, a person who clearly doesn’t fit this binary system through no fault of his own, feel like a mistake, a problem to be fixed and cured.
The doctors assured Max that he was just an unfinished girl but Max was “was numb from the neck down… Now the numbness below my neck was real—a maze of unfeeling scar tissue” (Max Beck). Max’s need to fit into the sex binary left him with countless consequences to face. He thought of himself as some sort of “sexual Frankenstein's monster” (Max Beck). The fact that Max was not able to relate to his body and the person he saw in the mirror lead to suicidal thoughts and even a suicide attempt, all because of the need for categorizing. Max went through a marriage with a man, and then with a woman he came to love deeply, but none of this could keep away the depression he faced because he did not feel at home in his own body.
Max’s extreme depression and deep desire to want to match his outside appearance with how he felt on the inside led to Max starting the slow process of becoming a man. Though Max identifies as a man, he is a strong advocate in the intersex community. Max stands up for the right to be other than a male or a female. The sex binary has challenged to livelihoods of many others like Max.
The turmoil and pain that people who do not fall into the neat, laid out categories of the sex binary is extreme. These people go through horribly painful surguries, often losing their sense of pleasure for sexual encounters down the road. These people who have been forced to go though these changes don’t feel at home in their bodies and can be suicidal at points in their lives. It’s to think that all this pain placed on these people could be avoided if society’s need for classifying people was diminished. And without a sex binary, these people would be able to live happily and freely as the people they are.
Beck, Max. "NOVA Online | Sex: Unknown | My Life as an Intersexual." PBS. Web. 09 Mar. 2010. <http://www.pbs.org/wgbh/nova/gender/beck.html>.
"Intersex | Define Intersex at Dictionary.com." Dictionary.com | Find the Meanings and Definitions of Words at Dictionary.com. Web. 09 Mar. 2010. <http://dictionary.reference.com/browse/intersex>.