A mother discusses the gender confusion in the birthing room when her adopted intersexed son was born, and how she attempted to save him from harmful genital reduction surgery and sex reassignment.
How do we know the correct gender of a child with an intersex condition?
We won't know the child's gender until she or he is old enough to communicate to us. We recommend that the child be assigned a gender based on our best prediction, and allow her or him to determine for herself or himself once she or he is old enough to do so.
Irreversible surgeries on infants should be avoided in order to give them the widest range of choices when they are older. Performing surgeries will not eliminate the possibility that our prediction turns out to be wrong.
What is intersex?
Technically, intersex is defined as "congenital anomaly of the reproductive and sexual system." Intersex people are born with external genitalia, internal reproductive organs, and/or endocrine system that are different from most other people. There is no single "intersex body"; it encompasses a wide variety of conditions that do not have anything in common except that they are deemed "abnormal" by the society. What makes intersex people similar is their experiences of medicalization, not biology.
Generally speaking, intersex is not an identity category. While some intersex people do reclaim "intersex" as part of their identity, most regard it as a medical condition, or just a unique physical state. Most intersex people identify and live as ordinary men and women, and are gay, lesbian, bisexual, or straight.
Intersex conditions are also known as "disorders of sex development" (DSD) in the medical community.
What do intersex activists want?
We are working to replace the current model of intersex treatment based on concealment with a patient-centered alternative. We are not suggesting that intersex babies are better off left alone; we want there to be social and psychological support for both the parents and intersex children so that they can deal with social difficulties resulting from being different than others.
In the long-term, we hope to remove those social barriers through education and raising awareness. See Alice Dreger's chart contrasting the two paradigms.
Are intersex conditions harmful?
In general, intersex conditions do not cause the person to feel sick or in pain. However, some intersex conditions are associated with serious health issues, which need to be treated medically. However, surgically "correcting" the appearance of intersex genitals will not change these underlying medical needs.
How common are intersex conditions?
No one knows exactly how many children are born with intersex conditions because of the secrecy and deception surrounding it, and also because there is no concrete boundaries to the definition of "intersex." It is nonetheless estimated that about one in 2,000 children, or five children per day in the United States, are born visibly intersex, prompting early (and often misguided) intervention.
How common is intersex? - http://www.isna.org/faq/frequency
To answer this More.. question in an uncontroversial way, you’d have to first get everyone to agree on what counts as intersex —and also to agree on what should count as strictly male or strictly female. That’s hard to do. How small does a penis have to be before it counts as intersex? Do you count “sex chromosome” anomalies as intersex if there’s no apparent external sexual ambiguity?1 (Alice Dreger explores this question in greater depth in her book Hermaphrodites and the Medical Invention of Sex.)
Here’s what we do know: If you ask experts at medical centers how often a child is born so noticeably atypical in terms of genitalia that a specialist in sex differentiation is called in, the number comes out to about 1 in 1500 to 1 in 2000 births. But a lot more people than that are born with subtler forms of sex anatomy variations, some of which won’t show up until later in life.
Below we provide a summary of statistics drawn from an article by Brown University researcher Anne Fausto-Sterling.2 The basis for that article was an extensive review of the medical literature from 1955 to 1998 aimed at producing numeric estimates for the frequency of sex variations. Note that the frequency of some of these conditions, such as congenital adrenal hyperplasia, differs for different populations. These statistics are approximations.
Not XX and not XY one in 1,666 births
Klinefelter (XXY) one in 1,000 births
Androgen insensitivity syndrome one in 13,000 births
Partial androgen insensitivity syndrome one in 130,000 births
Classical congenital adrenal hyperplasia one in 13,000 births
Late onset adrenal hyperplasia one in 66 individuals
Vaginal agenesis one in 6,000 births
Ovotestes one in 83,000 births
Idiopathic (no discernable medical cause) one in 110,000 births
Iatrogenic (caused by medical treatment, for instance progestin administered to pregnant mother) no estimate
5 alpha reductase deficiency no estimate
Mixed gonadal dysgenesis no estimate
Complete gonadal dysgenesis one in 150,000 births
Hypospadias (urethral opening in perineum or along penile shaft) one in 2,000 births
Hypospadias (urethral opening between corona and tip of glans penis) one in 770 births
Total number of people whose bodies differ from standard male or female one in 100 births
Total number of people receiving surgery to “normalize” genital appearance one or two in 1,000 births
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