You and your best friend have grown up with each other since you both were very young and have always been good friends. Secretly having a crush on each other since grade school, your friend tells you how much they have liked you since they were very young, and you reply with the same response. After some time, the news about you two dating gets to both your parents and friends and everyone seems happy and content, until it gets to the point of you guys having sex. You notice something is different, yet don't quite know how to question it. Noticing your confusion, your neighbor explains that he was born with parts of both female and male genitals. He is intersexed.
Society portrays that there are only two known sexes, male or female. That clearly not being the case, how would your opinions about your neighbor change after finding such a thing out? Would your sexual identity be challenged for liking a person born with both genetalia? Would you feel confused or bothered? Would you stop having feelings for him? Claiming to be male or female may not be the only ways to identify sexually, and medical doctors do usually recommend surgery in order to make the child's genetalia resemble either female or male. Resorting to surgery to ‘fix’ individuals genitals in order to fit one of those categories has many consequences you may not be aware of, and should not be an emergency procedure, due to it having no real health risks.
Being intersexed is not a disability, and should not be put down by society as something disgusting or 'abnormal'. Why has society made it so that being either female or male are the only two ways to live? It was said "no one knows exactly how many children are born with intersex conditions because of the secrecy and deception surrounding it. It is nonetheless estimated that about one in 2,000 children, or five children per day in the United States, are born visibly intersex"(Intersex FAQ). This statistic shows evidence of how individuals are taught to hide their intersexuality from society, even though there are a significant amount of children who are born with both male and female genetalia. Along with societal denial about this issue, intersexuality also affects those around the individuals who are born this way. Needing to know the 'exact' and 'correct' sex is demanded at birth, and is needed in order to know how to interact, treat, and engage with the individual. Individuals who are not clearly female or male, brought up the question, why couldn't one be both? Even though our society tells us we have to be one or the other, our biological build up says otherwise. If an individual has to be only one of the two sexes, then why are some born with both? Because this is so socially unaccepted, our culture has found ways to 'fix' those who don't clearly represent strictly female or male, and this leads to some problems.
For example, proceeding with this surgery can harm a person's capability to have a sexual response as shown in Cheryl Chase's story "Affronting Reason". In this story, she explains how she was born with both genetalia and received a clitorectomy at eighteen months. She did not find out until she was in her twenties, and going from 'Charlie' to 'Cheryl' without knowing, lead to her feeling confused and overwhelmed with distraught, and soon to thoughts of suicide. She pondered on how those around her could hide such a thing, and how her whole childhood was indeed a lie. After some time she began to come out as an intersexual, and inspect why the doctor had removed her clitoris, and why she could not have a sexual response (Wilchins, Riki). Engaging in this surgery can leave life long damage and harm; emotionally, and physically. Our culture needs to understand that being intersexed is not a defect, and doctors or parents should not tamper or 'fix' a child's genitals into more desirable 'normal' looking genitals, due to it having many consequences and severe outcomes.
Doctors or parents being ashamed and fearful of children born with both genetalia, has lead to this common surgery amongst those who are intersexed. Having their identity chosen for them by family and doctors seems inhumane and unjust. Individuals who are born intersexed should have the right to determine their lifestyle and chose their sexual identity once they are old enough to think for themselves. What if the sex chosen for the individual was the incorrect one? What if the parents never told the child they were born intersexed and it creates never-ending confusion and trouble for the person? There are many penalties for keeping their intersexuality a secret such as depression, self-mutilation, insecurities, or a constant confusion of themselves. One story I am going to discuss is "My Life as an Intersexual" by Max Beck, where these consequences are also shown.
Max describes how his mother had trouble getting pregnant, and once she finally did, all her and her husband could wish for was a healthy baby. Though Max was born healthy, they realized their desire for a healthy baby soon exchanged, to wanting a 'normal' baby. Because society creates expectations and norms of what exactly 'normal' is, Max fell outside the normalcy boundary. Max Beck was baby born with both female and male genitalia (Beck). He stated, "They couldn't tell if I was a boy or a girl". The doctors and parents decided to remove the genitals that resembled male parts, and raise 'Max' as 'Judy'. How does one raise someone to be 'female'? As Judy grew older, she was more tomboyish than most females, and frequently got called "little boy" or "young man"(Beck, Max). What did 'her' parents see when they observed her while she was growing up? Knowing she was born with both genitals, the parents had to have had a constant worry for making sure Judy continue and believe that she was in fact female. Max new something was not right, and his intuition was letting him know that. Max's sex was tampered with, and had the incorrect sex chosen for him by his parents and doctor. By doing so, lead Max into having unneeded confusion growing up, and feelings of insecurity within.
One consequence of infant sex reassignment surgery is having no true sense of self, and not knowing what sexual category you fall into, as in Max Becks story. Being recognized as female and raised as female, 'Judy' never felt at ease with herself. The effect this can have on people who are intersexed is very immense. This constant fallacy that surrounded her, and those who were trying to sell her this lie, really affected her. She stated that she "began to experience myself as a sort of sexual Frankenstein's monster". After finding out about her case, she finally could categorize herself as lesbian, and knew from the inside her gender didn't match her sex, and soon transitioned to male. This realization brought such comfort and solidity in Max Becks life, and is an example of how a misstep in a doctor's practice, and faulty decision of the parents could have an affect on an intersexed child. This all could have been prevented if being intersexed was more accepted.
Overall, I feel that being intersexed is something no one has control over, and no one should attempt to have control over by surgically removing undesirable genetalia. Society should strive to be more accepting to the idea of there being more sexes to identify with other than male or female. The pressure we put on individuals identify with one or the other starting at the day of one's birth seems a bit unfair and stubborn. Through the examples of these articles "My Life as an Intersexual", "Two Sexes Are Not Enough", and "Affronting Reason", I show how being intersexed is not a defect, and performing surgery to 'fix' intersexed children's genetalia has severe consequences. I think that parents and doctors need to allow intersexed children to grow up with both genetalia until puberty before making a decision about taking supplements or engaging in sex reassignment surgery. Also, that our society should be more open to the intersexed community, and should not be permitted to intervene with their true self.
- Intersexed Child
- Information on Intersexed Individuals
- Information on Intersexed Individuals
- Information on Intersexed Individuals
Beck, Max. "My Life as an Intersexual." NOVA Online. PBS, Oct. 2001. Web. 29th Feb. 2010. <http://www.pbs.org/wgbh/nova/gender/beck.html>.
Fausto-Sterling, Anne. "Two Sexes Are Not Enough." NOVA Online. PBS, Oct. 2001. Web. Feb. & March 2010. <http://www.pbs.org/wgbh/nova/gender/fs.html>.
"Intersex FAQ." Intersex Initiative. 29 June 2008. Web. 29th Feb. 2010. <http://www.intersexinitiative.org/articles/intersex-faq.html>.
Wilchins, Riki Anne. "Affronting Reason." Cheryl, Chase. GenderQueer: Voices from beyond the Sexual Binary. Los Angeles: Alyson, 2002. 204-16. Print.