What’s Sex Got to do With… Intersexuality?

We’ve discussed extensively in class the societal necessity to classify bodies into binaries. When individuals don’t fall into either category of these binaries, they are labelled as “wrong” or “broken” – things that need to be fixed. However, these “things” are people’s lives, and the medicalization of desire holds real, tangible consequences for those affected by it, such as Mark and Pam Crawford.

That is the plight of the intersex individual. Intersexuality is not an anomaly medically. In fact, one in every one or two thousand births is a child who’s genitals can not be classified as either “male” or “female.” However, it is common practice among medical communities to simply decide the biological sex of these children, based on what the doctor determines to be “best” for the child. Medically, intersexuality is defined as bodies that do not fall into the category of “male” or “female” based solely on their biological makeup. While there is nothing wrong with intersex individuals physically, they often face “corrective” surgery at birth to normalize their genitalia to fit the binary.

Medicalization of desire is a concept we’ve discussed in class in reference to the female orgasm and mental health of transgender individuals – I think it applies to intersex individuals as well. The reason intersex children are forced to conform to the gender binary is, supposedly, to make the child’s life easier. However, the fact that the medical community has decided that the best option for these children is to physically change or modify the genitalia they were born with is unsettling. The reason behind this is social – the normalization of genitalia serves to police the binary of sexes – to keep it neat and tidy with nothing in between. However, this goal is completely socially based and not biologically sound.

In the case of Mark and Pam Crawford, their family is experiencing the negative results of the medicalization of desire firsthand. Their son was born intersex – with both female and male genitalia – and was operated on to remove his male genitalia at a young age under the recommendation of the medical community. This lawsuit serves to complicate the issue of informed consent, and to further problematize this form of medicalization of desire.

Do you think the medical community oversteps its bounds when trying to “normalize” children in order to create a better social environment for that child?

If the Crawford’s son had kept both his female and male genitalia, how do you think that would have affected his sexual socialization – living as a male while biologically being both sexes?

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