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Paper: The Impact Technology has on Gender for Intersex children

It is generally assumed that there are only two forms of gender, male and female and that people usually identify with one or the other; but what if there is someone that does not identify with either one? The term intersex has been used as another subgroup to place people in, who possess sex chromosomes, genitalia, and/or secondary sex characteristics that are not easily distinguished as male or female. Intersex individuals generally contain the sexual organs of both a male and female which generally makes it difficult for them to identify with one gender over the other. The topic that I find very interesting is how these individuals cope with the hardships of life when the choice of which sexual organ they want to live with is taken out of their hands and placed in the hands of their parents and the doctors who then use advanced technology to alter the bodies of the children.
In the article “Sexual Identity and Sexual Orientation in Children with Traumatized or Ambiguous Genitalia,” Milton Diamond, introduces a few beliefs that are commonly and strongly held by pediatricians which include: “a) Individuals are psychosexually neutral at birth; b) healthy psychosexual development is dependent upon the appearance of one’s genitals; c) doubt should not be allowed as to sex of assignment; d) do not change sex after two years of age” (Diamond 199). The common belief held by pediatricians is one that definitely supports the reasoning as to why parents are coerced into making a decision upon the birth of a child born with the sexual organs of both a male and female.
While engaging in thought as to how and why doctors feel that it is better for parents to make a prompt decision as to what sex they feel their child should be, leads me to question whether this is an ethical procedure or not? In the article by Erik Parens entitled “Thinking about Surgically Shaping Children,” the idea of what is ethical and unethical is discussed. The concerns that many people have when it comes to using technology to alter children’s bodies is that it may actually cause children to evolve into an individual that is different from who they really are.
I can fully understand why this could be a problem because when you first meet your baby, the only indication one has to determine the sex of the baby is by their sexual organs. Without a clear distinction of the organs, it is difficult to decipher whether or not the child is a boy or a girl. Doctors typically run DNA tests in order to figure out if the child’s sex chromosomes are XX(girl) or XY(boy) and whichever one the test states, that is typically the sex of the child regardless of what their bodily organs state. The decision made by the parents can have long term affects because the child may or may not identify with the sex that was chosen for them.
The technology used in order to rectify the genital area has a huge impact on gender. Individuals are obsessed with being able to instantly place others into categories; this is why parents and doctors are so overwhelmed when they cannot figure out the sex of the baby. When these children grow into adults and somehow figure out that they were operated on from uncovering paperwork, being told, or just feeling like something is not right within, they tend to feel mutilated and confused because of the surgery due to the fact that their best interest was not taken into account.
I am able to empathize with both the parents and the intersex children. In defense of the parents, they want to have their child live as “normal” a life as they can. In the film Is it a Boy or a Girl?, a family spoke openly about how they felt when they gave birth to an intersex child. They remember feeling upset and confused and wanted to “fix” the problem to protect their child from public humiliation and alienation in the future. Parents try to keep their children from the harsh realities of life as best they can and feel that the use of technology will allow them to do this.
On the defense of the intersex children, they feel lied to and often feel as though they are living in the wrong body or they may feel that they do not fit into any type of gendered category. As adults, they also tend to resent their parents for making such a decision due to the fact that some procedures leave them unable to feel any sensation in the genital areas at all.
When I think of technology, the simplest definition that comes to mind is a device created by humans that is used to make life easier. In some cases of intersex children, the technology used to permanently change their genital area has done more harm than good. There are some people who would have preferred to keep their original body parts instead of altering them to and forcing them into a particular gender. The question I will leave you with is it safer to say that it is more ethical to change societal fear of atypical beings instead of changing the genitals of a choice less infant?

Diamond, Milton. “Sexual Identity and Sexual Orientation in Children with Traumatized or Ambiguous Genitalia.” The Journal of Sex Research. 34:2 (1997): 199-211

Parens, Erik. “Thinking about Surgically Shaping Children.” John Hopkins University Press, 2006.

One Response
  1. February 23, 2009

    Can you imagine a scenario in which the children wouldn’t feel lied to or cheated? Would they feel better, do you think, if the parents waited and included them in the decision process? Certainly Cheryl Chase suggests as much in her work, but I wonder if there positive examples out there to show that this is the case. The film, which I believe is about 10 years old, implies that there aren’t any, but I wonder if more contemporary research has been done on this. It might be something worth looking into to see if Chase’s assumptions are borne out.

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