What is Intersex?
Intersex is an umbrella term used to describe people whose bodies do not fall into the binary of male or female. It is mainly used for individuals whose sex characteristics like reproductive anatomy do not fit into females (ovaries and uterus) or males (testes and penis). Physicians usually assign intersex babies M or F based on how much more they resemble one sex or the other. Being intersex is not a medical issue that needs to be fixed, especially with surgical procedures, and is much more common than people think. There are many ways for people to be considered intersex like having genotypes of XXY instead of the traditional XX for female and XY for male. Sometimes, intersex individuals may have the external appearance of a male but the internal organs of a female or vice versa. There is a spectrum for intersex individuals so it is not possible to determine who is intersex and not.
While being intersex is being seen as normal and not a medical issue to fix, there is still a rise in intersex medical interventions. Until the 1960s, parents and doctors decided which sex was better or closer to their genitals and outward appearance. Surgery would then be done on the baby’s genitals and hormones were given to fit into either male or female as they undergo puberty. The child was also raised in traditional gender norms based on the sex the baby was changed to. Being intersex was viewed as a problem that had to be fixed to avoid discrimination. These surgical interventions are often done without the baby’s consent as the physicians usually leave it up to the parents to decide whether they want to operate or not.
Many of these surgical procedures have long-term consequences for the child since the surgeries are irreversible. One surgery involves clitoral reduction with the result being the size of the clitoris being reduced for cosmetic reasons. This surgery can cause consequences of nerve damage, pain, and scarring. Surgeries like gonadectomies, which remove the gonads, can lead to the child being forced to be on hormone replacement therapy for the rest of their life. Sex-changing surgeries can lead to fertility issues as well as mental health issues for the rest of their life. Tissues and organs cannot be replaced, scar tissue can often not be operated on again, and the pain may be ongoing. The negative connotations healthcare professionals talk about intersex bodies as well as continuous visits to the doctors for hormone treatments and procedures can lead to intersex children not feeling comfortable going to the physician as they get older, avoiding it altogether. Along with the physical damage, if a child doesn’t identify with the gender and sex chosen for them, there will be conflict in the future of their gender identity not matching their sex. About 40% of people will reject the sex and gender given to them at birth, which will lead to further distress. This is similar to what many transgender individuals face as well. Additionally, many children don’t even know of them being intersex until way further into their 50’s due to physicians silencing the parents from telling them. Many parents reported that they felt rushed to choose to operate on their child with many of the physicians not being able to provide sound medical literature supporting why there needs to be medical operations conducted on intersex babies.
While the facts show that medical interventions have many long-term emotional, social, and physical effects, there are still many physicians who believe intersex genital mutilations to be for the better. Allowing intersex children to choose for themselves if they’d prefer an operation and hormone therapy when they’re older or just exist in their body is their choice. It is not something that should be taken away from intersex children. Being intersex is natural and not an issue to be fixed.
Thank you for reading,