Intersex—the third sex?
Web Paper #2
Intersex—the third sex?
We live in a society that is constructed on binary forms of gender. Most children have one Mother and one Father, bathrooms are marked Male or Female, single sex-institutions cater to either Men or Women, and when a child is born---the doctor indicates whether the child is a boy or a girl. By societies standards, it is almost impossible to be someone or identify outside of the binary forms without being labeled a freak or sexually deviant. For the majority of people, these binary forms do not pose a problem, however, for the estimated one out of every two thousand Intersex children born in America, these labels are very problematic. After all, if you are born with traits of both sexes and are biologically neither male nor female then how can Intersex people effectively live in a society in which they are required to be one sex or the other? It is unfortunate that has it been determined that there can only be two sexes which leads to the notion that a third and distinct sex/gender identity is culturally and medically taboo.
In the Medical Construction of Gender: Case Management of Inersexed Infants, Suzanne Kessler engages in a case study of physicians and psychologists who “manage” intersexuality in infants. That is, they help to determine the sex of an Intersex infant through discussions with the parents post delivery, consultation with the Intersex patient during adolescence and advisement on surgical procedures to correct the perceived problem of intersexuality. According to the Intersex Initiative, Intersex is defined as “congenital anomalies of the reproductive and sexual system, [people who are Intersex] are born with external genitalia, internal reproductive organs and/or endocrine systems that are different from other people.” Intersexuals are also known as hermaphrodites and have been demonized in popular culture.
The physicians and psychologists interviewed in the case study argued that it is crucial that gender is assigned “immediately, decisively and irreversibly and the decisions be presented in a clear and unambiguous way.” According to a pyschoendocrinologist, once doctors determine the sex of the infant they should try not to change their diagnosis. The doctors base their management of intersexed cases on John Money’s theories of gender, which argues that gender identity is fluid and therefore changeable until eighteen months of age. Therefore, as experts, doctors must ensure the parents have no doubt regarding the sex of the baby and the genitals must be transformed in order to match the gender that has been assigned. Under this theory, the intersexed child will develop a gender identity correlating to the gender assigned regardless of the gender of its chromosomes and will be highly unlikely to desire reassignment surgery at a later age. The Physicians involved felt this form of mismanagement of Intersex cases prevented parents from believing that their child was neither male nor female.
For people who are Intersex, there are many flaws with this theory. In fact, many Intersex people feel unsatisfied with the surgery that they have received which more often than not was conducted against their will. Our society views Intersexuality as a disorder that needs to be corrected in order for its “suffers” to grow up into healthy adults, however, what would happen if the Intersex were left to develop on their own? In a video created by the Intersex Society of Northern America, many of the participants expressed their happiness with the own bodies, pre-surgery and the emptiness and dissatisfaction that they felt post-surgery. They also expressed that as Intersex people they believed that gender and gender identity could not be confined soley to two categories. Many of the participants argued that they felt that they were a mixture of both male and female traits.
The Intersex Institute released a statement stating, “Many argue that the standard practice of sexual assignment by surgery in infancy should be discontinued giving the intersexual the right to chose or not to chose surgery once that person reaches adolescence.” Numerous Intersex movements and affinity groups have emerged, devoted to ending “shame, secrecy, and unwanted genital surgeries for people born with an anatomy that someone decided is not standard for male or female”(INSA.org).
It can be argued that the non-urgent cosmetic surgical procedures that physicians perform on the Intersex in order to make them more male or female, is in fact a form of genocide. Genocide does not soley constitute systematic acts of murder, it is also the extermination/elimination of a distinct group of people. Prevent Genocide International defines genocide as, “Causing serious bodily or mental harm, deliberately inflicting conditions of life calculated to destroy a group, [and that] perpetrators of genocide frequently make group categories more rigid or create new definitions which impose group identity on individuals, without regard to peoples individual choices.”
Money and his colleagues are guilty of genocide. They determined that there would be psychological repercussions for Intersex males to have a micro-penis in childhood and an undersized penis after puberty, therefore they arbitrarily assigned the Intersex infants with the female gender simply because of the psychological damage a small penis can inflict. Therefore, “inflicting conditions of life…[in order] to destroy a group”.
The Intersex should be treated as a third and distinct sex. Unless there is a medical life or death emergency that requires genital surgery, people who are Intersex deserve to live their lives fully the way that they were meant to. They should be able to make the own decisions regarding their intersexuality, and conducting surgery against their will in order to change them to make them fully male or female by societies standards is morally reprehensible. Why should these people be forced to live in a world where only two genders are recognized? The next time an Intersex child is born why can’t the doctors simply declare “congratulations, you have given birth to a healthy baby?”
S F Ahmed1, S Morrison1 and I A Hughes2, “Intersex and gender assignment; the third way?” Archives of Disease in Childhood 2004; 89:847-850
Kessler, Suzanne, “The Medical Construction of Gender: Case Management of Intersexed Infants”