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Intersexed infants reassigned gender

Discussion in 'Issues Around the World' started by Misu, Jan 16, 2003.

  1. Misu

    Misu Hey, I saw that.

    The term intersexed means neither male nor female - in other words, born with both male and female sex organs.

    In our country, 1 in every 1500 to 2000 births results in a child being born as an intersex. This is an incredibly high number of 'birth defects' when one considers ratios of other birth defects.

    What I bet many of you didn't know is that these babies are then 'assigned' a gender - usually female - because it's easier to construct a vagina than it is to construct a penis that would sexually work when the child reaches sexual maturity. For the most part, these children undergo several surgeries during childhood, undergo hormone therapy, and grow up to be relatively normal adults. Problems do arise when a genetic male (XY) is reassigned to female because of malformed or disfigured genitals. One famous case is the John/Joan case. Dr. John Money's theories of gender currently dominate medical case management practices - as long as the child is reassigned before age 18 months, all should be well, according to his theories. Early on he used the John/Joan case to support his theories.

    What happened later on, however, is that Joan found out she was really a he, and chose to reassign himself back to male at age 14, and is currently living as a male. He reports he is MUCH happier now.

    I am currently studying a few chapters in my courses regarding this phenomenon, and a thought occurred to me. Could it be that traditional sexes (ie, male and female), aren't the only sex a person could be? The reason I ask this is because of the extremely high ratio of intersexed births in our country (and I will assume throughout the world).
  2. Steve

    Steve Is that it, then?

    I understand your question, but if sex is determined by the X and Y chromosomes, and there are only two of them, I don't see how there could be more than two sexes.

    Can you provide supporting proof for that statistic, Misu? It does seem abnormally high. What happened to such people prior to modern reconstructive surgical techniques? If 1 in 1500 or so has held through history, it would seem that there would be much historical reference to such persons.
  3. btdude

    btdude Veteran Member

    MISU check this out, get back to me.
    The entire site is full of information and good resources.

    Transgender 101
  4. Steve

    Steve Is that it, then?

    And also here:

  5. Misu

    Misu Hey, I saw that.

  6. Misu

    Misu Hey, I saw that.

    BT, that's a great website. I'm bookmarking that one incase the prof. asks for websites :)
  7. btdude

    btdude Veteran Member

    I took most of my advanced psych. and sexuality classes in college from MaryAnn Watson, Ph.D. She attended Johns Hopkins, and did plenty of research in the whole area of the psychology of sexuality. She is published, so maybe her work is listed on your google search.
  8. Misu

    Misu Hey, I saw that.

    I just wanted to make a quick update on this subject.

    Last night, in class, we talked about the John/Joan case (Advocat, you should have told me about this book!!). Turns out the John/Joan case is an EXTREME case study.

    If anyone is interesting in it, pick up the book <a href="http://www.amazon.com/exec/obidos/tg/detail/-/0060929596/qid=1042831912/sr=1-1/ref=sr_1_1/002-1777641-2844818?v=glance&s=books">As Nature Made Him: The Boy Who Was Raised As a Girl</a>, by John Colapinto.

    Let me just say that considering what REALLY went on during the years that Dr. John Money handled the case, I am shocked that current-day medical practices regarding assigning sex to intersexed newborns based on this freak's theories STILL continue to exist.
  9. muddly

    muddly Guest

    Wow, one of my favourite subjects.

    I am absolutely 100% opposed to sex "assignment" surgery performed on anyone who cannot consent.

    If there are only 2 genders, male and female, many intersexed people simply do not fit into either, whether you define gender by chromosomes or by physical attributes.

    For example, the mosaic karyotype XXXY (rare) is a "true hermaphrodite," an individual who possess 2 complete sets of sex chromosomes, male (XY) and female (XX) in one body. Physically, they vary, though genitalia is usually ambiguous... sometimes they have a testicle on one side of the body and an ovary on the other, or an ovotestis on both sides (composed of both kinds of tissue.) They may externally look male or female for the most part, but may have an organ that is somewhere between a penis and a clitoris in appearance and function. So... what gender are they? If there are only 2?

    (Interestingly, that particular XXXY arrangement is believed to be caused by a fusion of fraternal twins very early in development. Since in vitro fertilization became common, that karyotype has occurred more often, in addition to XXXX (two sets of female sex chromosomes) and XXYY (two male) probably because in vitro uses multiple fertilized egges to increase chances of viable pregnancy. The latter two produce physically normal females and males, whose condition is usually found by accident during genetic testing for something else. Imagine being, in a sense, twins in one body...)

    The idea that intersex conditions are defects that should be surgically changed into "acceptable" male or female external appearance is a plausible idea, until you actually talk to intersex persons. Almost without exception they are opposed to sex assignment surgery.

    Someone who will grow up seeing themselves as male will do so regardless of whether you amputate his penis (because it's too small anyway) and fashion a fake vagina (because then presto, he's a girl.) The stories of those who went through this are a direct contradiction of the medical community's argument that the surgery is done to make their lives LESS traumatic. It does not work.

    Additonally, sex assignment surgery often changes "working" genitalia (with which the person could experience normal sexual pleasure) into non-working genitalia that looks nice but has little sensation or functionality. Is it not warped beyond belief that parents or doctors would consider having orgasms a lower priority than having parts that look more standard? If it was your life, which would you choose? How would you like it if you didn't get to choose?

    There is no way to predict with 100 % certainty what gender a person with a given intersex condition will identify with... some will dentify with neither, and consider themselves "the other gender." The evidence is overwhelming that you cannot choose for them. Some will identify very strongly with the gender their body resembles least. I think their bodies should be left alone until - and if - they themselves want to modify it.
  10. ethics

    ethics Pomp-Dumpster Staff Member

    Well said, muddly. This stuff is just way too early to tell and in essence perform something that's almost irreversible.
  11. Misu

    Misu Hey, I saw that.

    Wow, Muddly :)

    In class last night, a student likened the removal of a penis to chopping an arm off. His exact words: 'it would be like my doctor cutting my arm off and telling me "ok now you're a girl, act like one" - it ain't gonna happen'

    Could it be, because the rate is so high (which according to my prof. last night, is actually 4%, or 1 out of every 25 births, has some sort of intersex characteristic, and she attributed this to all the internal organs that make up the sexual systems of humans) that it's a form of evolution?

    But then if we think of it as a form of evolution, even if we take the figure that 1 in every 1500 - 2000 births results in an intersex, then could we also say that other things that we call birth defects or genetic mutations that happen at the similiar rates are also evolution?

    Doctors view intersex infants as children that need to be fixed, because they're 'broken'. And parents don't think of their child's future sexuality because of shock and fear and a sense of despair. I don't think parents who allow doctors to assign sex can be blamed too badly - imagine being in that position. I don't think one who receives news that their child isn't really a He or a She would make the best judgement call at the time.

    I do think, however, that a parent should have enough sense to hold off on any immediate decisions and research other cases of reassigned children and see what it did to those kids.
  12. ethics

    ethics Pomp-Dumpster Staff Member

    Wow, this has certainly turned the topic around to be even more insteresting.

    With the advancement of science, the human being's evolution, imho, has been stunted. Doctors would not know a macro evolutionary mutation and they would be thinking and killing based on the teachings of the current medical books.

    Darwin's Radio by Greg Bear touched greatly on this topic.
  13. Misu

    Misu Hey, I saw that.

    You know, if this was a form of human evolution, the only way to know for sure would be to allow intersex infants to grow up, unchanged, and let them go about life as they were made.

    If it's something that will have a negative impact on them, nature will run its course and deal with it. If it proves to be beneficial, the same thing. As long as it doesn't hurt them, it should be considered a form of evolution, correct?
  14. ethics

    ethics Pomp-Dumpster Staff Member

    Yah but no one would know for thousands of years what, if any, evolutionary changes these might be. Hence the paradox.

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