Tag Archives: intersex

What is Fairness?

On a basic level, “fairness” means equal opportunity. The idea of fairness gets more complicated when personal strengths and weaknesses are added into the equation. It should still be considered fair if one person has a natural advantage over another person, to an extent. In sports, for example, it is fair to separate youth sports teams by age, because generally, athletes that are older are naturally bigger and stronger.

The debate over the fairness of self-identified women athletes who have either some male genitalia, or chromosomes that aren’t XX has existed for years. With major sports separated into female teams and male teams as they are today, there is no clear place to put these athletes in our binary society. The majority of these women athletes in question may only have a slight natural advantage, such as a marginal increase in testosterone, which should be treated the same as an athlete with naturally long legs, as mentioned in Laura Hercher’s article on Olympic gender verification. It would be unfair to discriminate more harshly on one natural occurrence than another.

Hercher, Laura. “Gender Verification: A Term Whose Time Has Come and Gone.” National Society of Genetic Counselors, 8 Sept. 2010.

What Is Freedom?

The basic human right of freedom, the ability to choose for oneself, is somehow forgotten in cases of intersex children. Their freedom is compromised when, at birth, they are assigned a sex (male or female). Little to no thought is given to the effect that a gender assignment will have on an intersex child. The children’s ambiguous genitals are manipulated cosmetically to conform to society’s two-sex system, despite the fact that the surgery causes scarring, pain, and insensitivity, denying them the possibility of full sexual pleasure later in life.

In the cases of Angela Moreno and Cheryl Chase, both individuals were born intersex and underwent “correctional” surgery at a young age to become female. They were lied to by parents and doctors about the truth of their birth, and both regret the fact that they were not free to remain hermaphroditic.  Similarly, David also did not have the freedom to choose who he wanted to be – he was forced to live the first 14 years of his life as Brenda against his will. And, in a recent Huffington Post article, the adoptive parents of a young boy who was born intersex are filing a lawsuit against the state of South Carolina over the lack of regulation in cases of gender reassignment. The little boy’s gender was reassigned to female (without any judicial or ethical consultation) at birth, but he now identifies as a boy.

Clearly, these children have been denied their freedom. Every person deserves the freedom to control what happens to his or her own body. This freedom especially includes the right to choose their sex, as this is a decision that the child will have to live with for the rest of his or her life.


Colapinto, John. As Nature Made Him: The Boy Who Was Raised As A Girl.

Fausto-Sterling, Anne. Sexing the Body. “Should There Only Be Two Sexes?” New York: Basic Books, 2000.


Big Question: What is Freedom?

Americans rally behind freedom. But I must ask, do we really make our own choices? This question is especially relevant to intersex children and those with genital “abnormalities.” In today’s medical culture, intersex newborns are conventionally assigned as males or females and those with “atypical” genitalia receive operations. These individuals (or their parents) are given a “choice,” but that “choice” must fall into our constricting binary system of sex. Realistically, freedom is severely restricted by social pressure to conform.

Anne Fausto-Sterling, author of “Should There Be Only Two Sexes?,” highlights the dangers associated with yielding to conformity: “…Social imperative is so strong that doctors have come to accept [infant genital surgery] as a medical imperative, despite strong evidence that early genital surgery doesn’t work: it causes extensive scarring, … and often obliterates the possibility of orgasm.”1 In the case of Bruce Reimer, a boy raised as a girl after a circumcision accident, his parents made the decision out of “kindness and… desperation.”2 For these children, “freedom” is so limiting that it actually results in the harming of infants.

Freedom, especially American freedom, is extensive in so many ways. In the world of gender and sex, however, it is seriously lacking. We must strive for a day where “desperation” to conform does not command our choices.

For an opposing take on Fausto-Sterling visit: http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/12476264.


1. Fausto-Sterling, Anne. Should There Be Only Two Sexes? New York: Basic Books, 2000. 80.

2. Colapinto, John. As Nature Made Him: The Boy Who Was Raised as a Girl. New York: Harper Collins Publishers, 2000. Xvii.

What is oppression?

Oppression is when societal norms are used to define everyone’s identity, regardless of whether the same conditions are applicable to the individual. Intersexuals are oppressed when they are pressured to change themselves to fit into male-female gender categories.

Society frames intersexual genitalia as an undesirable aberration from the norm that must be rectified. Intersexuals are expected to reconstruct their genitalia to cosmetically appear male or female. Medical authorities recommend parents to raise hermaphrodite children as one gender and not the other. These are examples of oppression – people use societal norms to justify preventing intersexuals from creating their own unique gender identity.

Our dependence on norms are reflected in the language that psychologists, writers, etc. use. They describe intersexuals as having “manifest sexual problems” (Colapinto 233), even though their genitalia are not truly “problems” until society frames them that way. Medical experts predict that intersexuals will “break down under the strain” (Colapinto 233) or, if they’re lucky, find out that “adjustment to unusual genitalia is possible” (Fausto-Sterling 95) – as if it is necessary and difficult for people to “adjust” to the genitals they’ve always had. In reality, genitals play a “strikingly insignificant” (Colapinto 234) role in one’s gender identity and self-image. Intersexuals’ gender identity issues, if any, likely stem from constantly being told that their genitals are abnormal rather than the abnormal genitals themselves.

Colapinto, John. As Nature Made Him: The Boy Who Was Raised as a Girl. New York: HarperCollins, 2000. Print.

Fausto-Sterling, Anne. “Should There Be Only Two Sexes?” Sexing the Body. New York: Basic Books, 2000. 78-114. Print.

What is Natural?

When discussing the concepts of gender and sex, many of our readings and class talks have raised the question of whether or not something is “natural.” According to the Merriam-Webster dictionary, there seem to be two groups of definitions for natural. One is “usual or expected,” and the other is “existing in nature and not made or caused by people : coming from nature.” I think that often the authors and we as students employ the first definition – for instance, when discussing if it is “natural” for a child to be born intersex.

However, this intersex case especially perplexes me. In As Nature Made Him, many figures consider it “unnatural” for a child to be born with ambiguous genitalia. But to me, looking at the second definition of natural, it seems that the very fact the child was born with it makes it natural. What is unnatural is the construction of new, unambiguous genitalia.

Though perhaps not explicitly framed in these terms, I think that As Nature Made Him also delves into the debate of whether gender is “natural” or constructed. While I tend to think of gender as largely socially constructed, David’s experience as Brenda has convinced me that gender is at least partly natural – meaning one is born with an inherent inclining toward a certain gender identity. So I consider “natural” to be something one is born with, or something internal in origin.

Colapinto, John. As Nature Made Him: The Boy Who Was Raised as a Girl. New York: HarperCollins, 2000. Print.

“natural.” Merriam-Webster.com. 2013. http://www.merriam-webster.com (17 September 2013).

What is Discrimination?

 Discrimination is defined as treating someone differently on the basis of their actual or perceived membership in a certain group or category such as race, color, sex, religion, national origin, sexual orientation, etc. Discrimination has and probably always will exist due to the extreme fear people have of the “other”.

Although it might be the case that people fear the “other” or general uncertainty, it should not interfere with one’s health and/or bodily rights. This is the case for intersexual and “genderless” children. The discrimination that society has for these individuals is so extreme that radical steps are taken to “normalize” and classify them after birth. What should be considered normal (i.e. a healthy baby) is transformed into a “life-threatening” issue. This is due to society’s inability to fit outliers into its rigid two-gender system. Even after efforts are taken to “normalize” these individuals, society still doesn’t react to them properly, thus creating discrimination.

In Arthur Caplan’s article on the case of Caster Semenya, he describes how sexual ambiguity presents a great challenge in determining playing eligibility in sports. This shows how even in the arena of sports there is discrimination towards the “other”. Sports officials simply do not know how to react towards those with gender disorders and as a result, discriminate against them (whether intentional or not). It is true that gender disorders may give advantages in competition, but the fact that biological sex is on a continuum needs to be taken into account so that discrimination diminishes and cases like that of Caster Semenya are handled differently.

The ultimate question is: how do we diminish discrimination against what society fears the most: the unknown or the other?

Caplan, Arthur L. “Fairer Sex: The Ethics of Determining Gender for Athletic Eligibility: Commentary on ‘Beyond the Caster Semenya Controversy: The Case of the Use of Genetics for Gender Testing in Sport’” Editorial. National Society of Genetic Counselors, Inc. 8 Sept. 2010: n. pag. Print.

Big Question: How does biological sex function in society?

We’ve studied and settled on the idea of gender as a cultural construct, within whose system society forces us to choose an identity of male or female. The role that biological sex plays in social roles is less clear. As it’s usually tied to gender, sex identity seems fairly straightforward–perhaps not as an identity at all, but a fact.

Even cases of intersex persons being forced to choose a sex seems to be tied to gender. The confusion of sex identity plays a role, but for the most part, sex as a category seems to be considered most as it pertains to gender–i.e., if the child doesn’t know their sex, how can they know what gender to perform?

The biology of sex comes up particularly, however, in “gender testing” in sports. (A side note: should it be called “sex testing” because it pertains to physical characteristics?). That testing testing is meant to measure physical advantage based primarily on testosterone levels; because of the potential of physical advantage, in sports, sex is an important category. Physical attributes dictate how the world of athletics work. In a hypothetical gender-neutral society, individuals with more testosterone would still excel at sports, regardless of gender identity. I’m interested in this because it suggests an area where cultural facts could be based almost entirely on physical, natural characteristics.

Do you agree? Are there other categories in society where having a normative sex identity–having more or less testosterone, for instance–plays a significant role, apart from its ties to gender? At least off the top of my head, I can’t think of other situations in which biological sex, not gender, manifests itself culturally. That is, in sports, the actual physical qualities of sex seem more relevant a category than elsewhere. What do you think?