Congratulatons! It’s a…. uhm… congratulations…


By Lena Nyhus

“Congratuations, it’s a girl and she’s perfect.” Those are the words we want to hear, when we welcome  brand-sparkling-new-born-baby into this world. Or a boy for that matter, “Congratulations. it’s a boy.” works just as well. In our minds it’s simple; there are two genders and all could be well or something could be wrong.

intersex-symbol

But what about those rare occasions when all is well and something is entirely wrong? Sometimes children are born with genitals which do not concur with our usual perception of gender as something entirely female or entirely male.

Sometimes the child is something in between or simply something entirely unique. The child may be al together well and healthy but more often than not parents, medical staff and society as such will start a series of treatments and operations in order to assign a gender to the child.

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It can be difficult to decide which gender to assign to the child, because the chromosomes and genitalia etc. may not give conclusive answers, so ultimately the decision is left to doctors and parents. Humans are fallible and sometimes they make the wrong choice. When the wrong choice is made a child may grow up feeling like a boy on the inside,  while gender reassignment surgery has removed any outer male genitalia and instead created what resembles female genitalia, as described in Interseuality, transsexuality and all the other possibilies – a challenge of perception.

Anne Tamar-Mattis of Advocates for Informed Choice explains “The initial sex assignment may be at odds with the gender identity that develops, there may be diminished sexual sensation, sexual dysfunction, chronic pain, loss of potential fertility, loss of the important health benefits of hormones, and psychological trauma comparable to that of child sexual abuse.”

That appears to have happened to an 8- year old adoptive child from North Carolina, US. The child – a self described boy – was born intersex and exposed to gender reassignment surgery as an infant.

In the suit the adoptive parents Mark and Pam Crawford alleges that the South Carolina Department of Social Services decided to perform “dangerous and mutilating surgery” in April, 2006. The decision to make the 16-month old a girl took away the child’s right to choose his or her sexual identity later in life, the suit states.

Read the story; Parents sue DSS, MUSC over child’s sex surgery

The questions we are all left with must be; is early operation the right choice in order to possibly spare the child the embarrassment of growing up in a category of it’s own in a society used only to a two-gender perception? Even if the risk is to assign the wrong gender, diminish sexual sensation, cause chronic pain, sexual dysfunction, emotional trauma as well as all the risks normally involved with operation.

Or is it perhaps a more ethical and gentle approach to wait and allow the child to make it’s own decisions? The child may choose to be a man, a woman or remain intersex. Which method is the less traumatic? To let the child live as “something in between” until it is perhaps 15 or 18 and then initiate the process of sometimes numerous operations at an age where gender exploration is normally at an all-time high? Or to make the choice for the child and perhaps make the wrong choice. Does the risk outweigh the benefits?

Personally I become more and more convinced that the choice should always be left to the child although I realise that the child and the family it belongs to face some extremely challenging childhood and teen age years, if the question of operation is left to the child itself. On the other hand I speculate that the gender reassignment process is equally challenging, so the deciding factor for me must be the child’s rights to chose it’s own sexuality and path of life. The child’s right to chose it’s own fate.

What do you think?

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2 thoughts on “Congratulatons! It’s a…. uhm… congratulations…

  1. Of course, letting the child get old enough to participate in the decision-making doesn’t mean the child must live “in between.” The child can and will live in his/her strongly-felt gender, and there is no one who needs to be checking a child’s genitals for confirmation. The child and family can tell as many or as few people they wish about the child’s anatomical variation. If the child later wants to live “in between” and stand up against the male-female paradigm, s/he can. But postponing surgery doesn’t necessarily have to make that the child’s burden.

  2. The world where sexual identity must conform to rigid standards is gone or fading. No one but the child has the right to surgically change it, and the young body is pften not prepared for such change. A young person would likely go through several stages of preference. Sex that is responsible is sex that is discreet, even though our society wants it, for their own selfish promotion, in your face.

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