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Some Thoughts And Random Questions On Intersex Babies and Assignment Surgery

S. Yaeger's picture

Our discussion of sex assignment surgery for intersex babies (and our roleplaying excercise) highlighted for me just how intricate an issue it is.  Often, when we discuss issues of sex and gender in class, I think it's easy for us to come to a consensus regarding the best way to deal with a variety of issues because we have the privilege of being in a safe space, with like minded individuals, but a parent of an intersexed child doesn't always have the ability to make a decision based solely on their own ethical judgement.  To that end, I have been wondering what would happen if parents of intersex children began to increasingly elect to not have a sex assigned to their children.  I think that this decision would be one that most suits my ideals, but then we face the question of education for the child and, perhaps more importantly, for the child's community.  Though I think that talking frankly and openly with the child would be a wonderful start, one might also have to consider how to address the child's difference with their teachers, their friends, and the adults who make up their community.  I'd like to think that just being in the pressence of a child who is typical in many ways, yet has atypical genitalia would be fine for most mature adults, I'm not sure.  I'm more likely to think that, while many adults would be open and understanding, some would not be, and that would be enough to make the road forward more difficult for the child.  To that end, I wonder how we can go about beginning a conversation in the larger sense about intersex.  I know that education would be key, but with whom should that education begin?  the parents of intersex babies?  All potential parents?  Daycare teachers?  The community at large?  And then, once a starting point is established, how does that education get implimented?  Is it fair to expect a child to take on the role of educating adults about their condition?


venn diagram's picture

Prenatal Education

I share many of the concerns that you express in your post about the potential realities for the children of parents who “elect to not have a sex assigned to their children.” I strongly believe that the way our society is right now a child who does not conform to the gender binary would face many challenges. They may often end up playing the role of educator to the children and adults in their lives, which although not intrinsically harmful may be very difficult for some children because of immense pressure and differences in personalities and temperaments. I think two distinct but related goals would help alleviate much of this potential stress for intersex individuals and their families. Firstly, I think that education about sex differences is incredibly important and currently not a significant enough part of child or adult education. For children, I would advocate for more comprehensive sex education initiatives that are not entirely __ but include age appropriate information over more years. For adults, I believe that a woman’s pregnancy is an incredibly vital and opportune time to educate women. Many women who because of financial, transportation reasons or otherwise might not regularly see a doctor, will see a doctor during their pregnancy (even if not as often as a woman with better access may). Over the last two summers I worked on the CenteringPregnancy project, a model of prenatal care in which women receive group prenatal care which largely increases the amount of time that they get with a provider and allows more shy women to hear the questions of more outgoing women and make friends in a comfortable atmosphere. The model has an emphasis on promoting sex education, specifically aimed at HIV and STI prevention. Whether or not this model results in better birth outcomes and lower rates of STIs postpartum is currently being studied. I believe changes like this in the standards of prenatal care show that this can be an opportune time to educate women and soon-to-be mothers specifically about intersexuality. Even though 1999 of 2000 of the women will give birth to a child not affected by intersexuality, this will also provide education for the women as citizens of the country and will bring intersexuality out of the margins and into more daily conversations.

Gavi's picture

The Importance of Cross-Disciplinary Intersex Education

I found myself during class also thinking about the possibilities and implications of intersex education. I with Annelise's point regarding better early and later childhood sex ed, but I hadn't thought of an education class for pregnant women (and a class extended to their potential partners would be even better). This suggestion got me thinking more about the role that doctors and scientists play in advocating or not advocating gender normativity. A lot of what I know about my body is through the lenses of various medical practitioners, who (in my experience) often adopt the voice of god in either proclaiming my body's normalcy or declaiming about its irregularities. Because their authoritative posturing, though, I trust doctors and what they say. I think that if medical practitioners of all kinds advocated differences (regarding sex and otherwise), more people would be receptive to listening.

I think that the authority with which doctors and scientists are imbued gives them a lot of responsibility to advocate for progressive thinking and legislation. I was the scientist in the class exercise we had last Tuesday, so I kept returning to the questions of what it means to be a scientist. Now, I'm not actually a scientist--I'm a probable History/ English major--so I'm not that well-versed in the methodology of scientific inquiry, nor do I feel a personal attachment to the profession. But I'm often struck in class by the resentment and frustration shown toward scientific thinkers; this feeling about doctors/scientists is one I sometimes share, but also wonder about. Scientists used to be seen as (and are sometimes still seen as) debunkers of common misperceptions, vanguards of forward thinking, driven relentlessly by a desire to get at the (or a) truth. I'm curious as to when non-scientific academic thinking began to butt heads with scientific principles, and I'm interested in why we humanities/social science majors sometimes see a conflict of interest regarding these fields.

I think, in the case of intersex education, that a combination of scientific and humanistic thinking is essential in changing the community/national conversation. Scientists should also be community educators, and educators of all kinds should be responsive to scientific thinking. I think that only a conversation spearheaded by both avenues of thinking can be successful in deconstructing the sex/gender binaries (as well as disciplinary binaries!).