Monday, September 25, 2006

Odd News: Intersex babies

Today's odd news posting is more thought provoking than anything else. It's a long article in this past weekend's NY Times magazine, which examines intersex babies and whether genital surgery should be done on them. It addresses a number of perspectives that I don't think are commonly discussed in today's society, and I enjoyed reading it.

Thoughts or comments?

8 comments:

Nonny said...

Frankly, I see it as genital mutilation not unrelated to FGM practiced in African and Indonesian countries. While I understand that raising an intersex child is difficult for parents, I think it is extremely unethical to put the parents' comfort over the future lives and sexual function of their child.

While I don't know firsthand anyone who is intersexed, my ex-fiance is a preoperative female-to-male transsexual, which is a different but related condition. I know how drastically it affected him to live in the wrong body, and I can't imagine it being much different for intersexed people, as well.

Unfortunately, I don't think that most people are willing or able to handle anything outside their immediate realm of experience, especially not something that they see as "wrong." I won't be surprised if it takes a very long time to change -- if ever. *sigh*

kiwi said...

Great article, Jenny. It’s good to get this knowledge out there. Sadly, the ‘postmodern turn’ has been with us all for decades now, yet these types of debates are still relatively new to many. I also shake my head at the author of this article: describing intersex births as ‘anomalies’ and ‘funny looking bodies’ works only to normalize binary sex and all the narratives that benefit from this myth. Anyone with sociology 101 will tell you biological sex isn’t binary; rather it's spectral, just like sexual identity. It’s a terrible indictment on us all that the pathologization of the ‘other’ in all its forms continues almost unabated in an age where we should know better.

Kimber An said...

I think it should be taken in account when we read this article or any other article like it that the person's feelings and opinions are not solely based on being born different. The first clue is when she mentions not getting along with her mother. That's unhealthy, and of course not entirely hers or her mother's fault. And it's probably only the tip of the iceberg, so to speak. I've noticed that when people have major problems in life, they'll often blame it on one thing - usually something out of their control so they don't have to accept responsibility for it. This gives rise to the victim mentality. Poor me. In fact, having a difficult life is the result of a multitude of less-than-ideal circumstances interacting together. But, no one has to settle for it. Anyone can stand up and take charge of their life and make it happy. To do that, however, a person has to accept the painful truth that he or she is partly to blame. And then he or she has to do what it takes to fix it, even if it means making radical attitude adjustments and letting go or stopping behaviors that led to it. Change is hard. Takes a lot of courage. As writers wanting to create real-feeling characters, it's a good idea to pay extra attention to such things, I think.

Catherine Avril Morris said...

I saw an amazing documentary about intersex people that was done by a UT grad student (so not available--yet--for rental or anything). It made it clear that in allowing surgery to be performed on their children's genitals, many parents were just following their doctors' advice and trying to do the best thing for their children in an extremely confusing situation. Others, of course, were doing it out of extreme, deep-rooted shame, prejudice, etc. There were several intersex adults in the movie who had had surgery as babies and were very upset and angry about it decades later. There were also several intersex people in the film who hadn't had the surgery--and they came across to me as some of the most self-confident, sexy, comfortable-with-their-sexuality-and-in-their-own-skin people I've ever seen or heard speak. It was pretty amazing, as I said.

Kiwi said...

Just going to have to go ahead and disagree with you there, kimber an. The problem here, I think, and most in the academy would agree, is that in trying to understand society we have either privileged agency or social determination: we either 'center' or 'decenter' the humanist subject—or at least we did about three decades ago. The actuality is generally held to be somewhere in the middle. In short, people make choices within the context of their social biography. Take your description of this article as an example. It isn’t unique, right; Freud, of course, labelled much of the behaviour you are describing: projection, sublimation and so on; and, of course, much of this knowledge still informs medical and popular views on sexuality. You’re merely giving voice to a popular discourse, just as I am giving voice to a critical discourse. The point is, discursive formation exist beyond the level of the so call rational and free individual, are frequently in conflict, and inevitably, they serve the interests of some over the interests of others. The key, I think, is the latter: who benefits from the propagation of the popular and hegemonic? I’m of the view that it really isn’t many. Thus, if deconstructing ‘given logic’, including the modernist take on sex, helps liberate people, then I’m all for it.

BuffySquirrel said...

Human biology is never so fascinating as when it goes awry. Unfortunately, the idea of what's "normal" for humans is, in many people's minds, very narrow. Wyndham's The Chrysalids explores this concept in some depth, taking advantage of a post-apocalyptic world to do so, but he doesn't come to any solid conclusions. Just a 'once you know more of the world' approach.

More power to Chase in her quest to raise awareness and open up debate.

kiwi said...

Shock, horror, did buffysquirre just say: "Human biology is never so fascinating as when it goes awry" ... as if intersex is a freak of nature? Don't you just hate the way 'meaning' is so arbitrary!

And yes, there is some great literature that explores difference and the other. Unfortunately, there are also plenty of authors who continue to denigrate those who are different/marginal/vulnerable. Dan Brown's depiction of albinos in the ‘de vinci code’ was disappointing in that regard.

BuffySquirrel said...

I didn't use the term "freak of nature"; nor would I.

If you choose to find my remark offensive, then that's modernism for you :).