The Genocide of Intersex People

BEWARE: Very political, this post might upset you or make you think!

The society that we are living in with all its discourses of power/knowledge wants to make us believe that there are only two sexes. But what if this wasn’t so? What if there are as Gilles Deleuze once famously proclaimed “a tiny thousand sexes”. What if 1 in 1000 or 10 000 newborn infants were intersexed, meaning that we couldn’t put the child in our neat little categories of male or female? What would our mostly Western societies be capable of doing in order to make them disappear? Because if we want to believe that there are only two sexes and such an inconvenient thing as an intersex person comes along and threatens to overthrow our belief system the easiest way of dealing with that problem is to make it disappear. Would they (different discourses, for example the state, the law, the medical establishment, the parents etc.) go so far and operate on that child, against its will to normalize it. Would they mutilate it’s genitals and sexual reproduction organs?

Yes, they all would. They all do!

The medical discourse constructs intersex people as an anomaly and this anomaly, this pathology has to be normalized- has to be taken care of- this is what medicine as a discourse according to Michael Foucault did from the very beginning. The discourse categorizes who and what is normal and who/what not and what then can be done to “cure” it.

The law- in Germany at least- tries to enforce that there are only two sexes too. This can be exemplified by the law (§ 12 BGB) and it’s guidelines that state that a child can’t be given an ambivalent first name. The first name of a child has to be either clearly female or male. No ambivalence is allowed. The law doesn’t state though that intersexed children have to be operated on, but it also doesn’t explicitly forbid it either.

The parents are often persuaded by doctors to allow the various “procedures” (read: mutilations) because otherwise the child will have a very hard time in this society and “we wouldn’t want to make the child feel like it is different”. They never seem to question that the child might only have such a hard time because of people like them.

These mutilations are justified by saying that it’s for the child’s own good. But is it really?

What about the hard childhood because they might have to operate on you more than once?

What about the adolescence in which you have to take hormones?

What about if no one ever really tells you what’s “wrong” with you but you know that you are somewhat different?  After all other children don’t have to go to the hospital and take pills like you.

What about if because of these “procedures” you were only partly able to feel sexual pleasure because of numbness of some of the skin?

What about they never tell you and you have the feeling you are in the wrong body and finally decide to change your sex until you find out that they turned you into that body in the first place? You had a vagina/penis or a mixture of both but your parents preferred a son/daughter – or the doctor said “it’s easier to dig a hole than build a pole”? Thus you were turned into your body.

How would you feel?

Cheated, Angry, Hurt, Sad, Betrayed?

You had/have to go through all this just because people don’t want you to exist.

You have to because

Medicine decided that you are a not normal and the doctors want to try out fancy new techniques of sex reassignment surgery.

Your parents are too easily convinced because they only want your “best” and are thus complicit with the medical establishment.

The law acknowledges you only as male or female but not as neither or both.

And the state (at least here in Germany) doesn’t do anything to stop this because intersex people are a minority and too few and thus apparently don’t matter?

We ( the Western nations) with our firm belief in human rights always point our finger at Africa and condemn the crimes of female genital mutilation that  are committed in the name of tradition or religion. But we are actually doing exactly the same! The human right to psychical integrity/inviolability is violated either way.

Under German law (§ 2 GG) this right means that because of the human free will- any person has the right to decide what happens with his_her* (by writing in such a manner I try to make the existence of intersex and transgendered people visible) body and that you have to prove that a person no longer can execute this free will before you can for example operate on him_her*. The law also states that if you nevertheless do it you are committing a crime (§223 and § 226 StGB) and in case of, for example children, it can be interpreted as abuse or misuse of the duty to shield children from any harm.

If we have this law, why then are intersex people still operated out of existence? Why are we still waging a genocide against them?

Because according to the state there are so few?

Because we think we have the right to take their human right to bodily integrity away from them because they are not normal? Because we pathologies and construct them as such in the first place?

Because we can’t deal with the fact that “reality” is more diverse than we want it to be?

Because we are afraid of everything that threatens our “illusion” of two distinct sexes and that we would have to change our way of relating to the opposite sex(es) and to each other?

We are all part of this society and it’s not an abstract thing. Society lives and is re-produced through each of us and our deeds. We do society in our everyday life and can thus (help to) change it! The private (what we do and how we think) is political!

What’s your excuse (of letting this genocide happen)?

Or what do you do to make it stop?

17 Responses to The Genocide of Intersex People

  1. I don’t know very much about this issue – but I don’t think you have to operate your baby if it is born with both or with no genitalia. There is no law to make you do that. I just think it is the common sense. Society gives a hard time to people who are different. Parents obviously do not want their children to suffer – so they make one of the hardest decisions in their life and then wait anxiously for decades to see, if they were right.
    It is the same with homosexuality – majority of ‘modern people’ accepts it. But you still would not wish your child to be homosexual – not because you personally judge it, but because society does and therefore it means a harder life.

  2. […] whether the “freaks” can be “normalized” without killing them. So, similar to the issue of intersex people , the medical establishment seizes the power to decide who counts as normal and who doesn’t. What […]

  3. Are you implying that they kill all the people whose gender cannot be changed by the operation?

  4. Jennifer says:

    Well, by operating on intersexed people without their consent and thus trying to normalize them/ turn them into women or men, they are in a way “killing” them. They try to operate intersexuality out of existence.
    The intersexed person is of course not literally killed but a way of existing as an intersexed person as neither or both female and male, or as sex in their own right is taken away from them.

  5. Hida Viloria says:

    I feel the same and have been sharing that I feel blessed to not have been operated on or given hormones since I first discovered the horrors of intersex “gendercide” in 1996. Thank you to the author for writing this — I wish I could thank you by name but I don’t see one! Hida Viloria, Chairperson, Organisation Intersex Int’l (OII)

    • Jennifer says:

      Hello Hida,

      Thanks for your comment and support!
      I just wish that everyone could have had your “privilege” and that it wouldn’t have to be a “privilege” in the first place.

      I wanted to express my (all) feelings about “gendercide” and not only help to raise awareness of its existence but also make people (want to) do something against it.

      Thanks for sharing!

      Take care and see you around

  6. The last thing in the world that intersex people need is for untruths and distortions to be spread about and repeated over and over again until they become facts, regardless of whether they are fiction or not. There are two predominant conditions in man (kind) that produce effects upon the gestating body that make up the huge majority of what you are referring to as ‘intersex,’ they are XXY-Klinefelter’s and Congenital Adrenal Hyperplasia in its various forms. The rest of the ‘intersex conditions’ are a vanishingly small number of very rare genetic, developmental, or environmental causes. The biggest problems faced by XXY-Klinefelter’s is secondary growth at puberty and a myriad of problems that ensue from that particular developmental abnormality, such as testicular failure, learning disabilities, overgrowth of limbs, lack of development of musculature and other such niceties that normal people take for granted. The biggest problems faced by CAH (and I speak from personal experience) is adrenal insufficiency, inability to combat infection, opportunistic disease vectors, poor quality of life, illness, shock and death, the type of quality of life, and of endocrine function, that normal people take for granted. The ‘intersex’ aspect of these conditions are that the endocrine glands responsible for sex differentiation are the same ones that regulate gestation, growth of the phenotype, reproductive organ growth and bone and tissue development. CAH causes secondary adrenal insufficiency and adrenal failure if untreated. The treatment is not genital surgery: the treatment is glucocorticoid and mineralocorticoid replacement by oral administration. Genital surgery has been performed because it was believed to be necessary, and up to today in Britain and Europe, infant surgery is being treated with disfavor and only those repairs necessary for normal urinary excretion and prevention of infant and early childhood infection are being sought. If you do not believe this, I suggest you read a few posts in any one of the many CAH support boards for parents, adults, children and adolescents. I do. This is rapidly being adopted as a standard in the British NHS because it reduces risk to children. The Mayo Clinic guidelines discourage infant surgery. The NIH discourages infant surgery. What planet do you live on? I live on Earth, I live in the United States of America.

    There are hundreds of thousands of untreated, undertreated, undiagnosed and underdiagnosed men and women (who call themselves men and women), who were never anything but men and women, or a mix thereof, who struggle daily with untreated or misdiagnosed conditions, and the vast majority of these have CAH in a non-virilizing, mild form that would never attract the attention of any anxious surgeon’s knife. Your portrayal of ‘intersex erasure by infant genital mutilation’ and ‘genocide’ is a political statement that does not reflect the realities of medical science, nor of the standard of care for infants with CAH, nor of adolescents and adults with XXY-Klinefelters. The vast majority do not consider themselves ‘intersex’. They did not erase themselves; they were not erased. They were born as boys and girls and grew to be men and women. This political crusade erases the bulk of all people who identify themselves AS men and women. I am one of them. I have congenital adrenal hyperplasia. You do not speak for me, so I suggest you stop while you’re ahead. Feel free to contact me for verification of any of the information above: it is factual, not political. I don’t do activism. I do support.

    E. Louise Van Hine
    Co Moderator

    • Jennifer says:

      Thanks for your feedback and thoughts.

      You are right that i should have made it clearer whom i am talking about when i talk about “intersex people” and that a bulk of people with CAH or XXY-Klinefelters identify as men and women.

      Last Time i checked though Germany is a tiny place on earth and I am taking primarily Germany as an example. So don’t worry, I’m not an alien.

      Furthermore, if conferences on which the medical establishment gives speeches and shows videos of how-to operate on babies with ambigious genitals are held in front of doorstep you might or might not ( i don’t know you well enough for that) want to raise your voice not primarily in support but also do politically.

      Additionally, as you already pointed out i do politics, i am adressing a different audience and want to reach a different readership as you do, I want to produce a different effect, thus i use a different kind of rhetorics ( which you and everyone else can approve of or not)

      Thanks again of sharing!

      Take care and
      See you around

  7. The Female Eunuch says:

    baudelaireviolet wrote:
    “I don’t know very much about this issue – but I don’t think you have to operate your baby if it is born with both or with no genitalia. There is no law to make you do that.”

    certainly in my country (New Zealand) these things are not enforced by law, but I understand it varies from country to country.

    “I just think it is the common sense. Society gives a hard time to people who are different.”

    The phrase ‘common sense’ is just a way for ignorant people to pretend they are more sensible than the people they are arguing against on the grounds that they don’t understand where the people they’re arguing against are coming from. I’m not convinced that having ambiguous genitals that are left alone and not operated on leads to more teasing than having ambiguous genitals and being whisked away to hospital 7 times between the ages of 4 and 15 to have them operated on, as happened to me. I’m also not convinced that being an adult with ambiguous genitals is worse than being an adult with genital pain and reduced sexual sensation due to childhood genital operations.

    But then, having no idea what you’re taking about, you obviously think you know more about such things than I do!

    • Hi, sorry that I have offended you. this is a class blog, created for a course at a university, where we should post and comment on the other posts. we cannot be experts on every issue someone writes about, yet, it is still allowed (hopefully) to express one’s opinion.
      however, calling somebody ignorant is not a very nice thing to do. I get it that you are angry with people that do not know very much about your issue. But I have issues too and I don’t offend you because you are not informed enough about them.

  8. TFE,

    You wrote “But then, having no idea what you’re talking about, you obviously think you know more about such things than I do!”

    On this, I believe we have full agreement, other disagreements aside. 🙂

  9. Leslie J says:

    To Louise VanHine:

    “other … conditions are vanishingly small … Yes. That maybe. But if you live and grow up with AIS, for example, it is VERY real to you how others treat your difference.
    I fully support your stance. The predominant paradigm has been to operate and “fix” what nature l apparently left “unfinished”. That view is changing because we who have these conditions give voice to our unwillingness to let this continue. I was born with CAH. We embody difference that challenges the binary view of humanity, and we have just as much right to live as we wish rather than others dictate as any other. Surgery should always be the choice of the person concerned.

  10. James Loewen says:

    Cutting the genitals of infant boys without consent to make them “normal” (look like daddy) is still relatively common in the USA and some other parts of the world. The prevalence of male circumcision and it’s normalizing excuse shouldn’t be overlooked for those questioning the motives of adults forcing intersex normalizing surgeries upon infants. The secrecy and shame that shield these surgeries from scrutiny, the aura of medical respectability when cutting healthy genital tissue of any child, the medical and social excuses for doing so are intimately linked. Forcing an innocent child’s genitals to conform to our culture’s narrow definitions of what is normal and by some arbitrary adult with a scalpel is a severe violation of that child’s most basic human right, to body integrity.

  11. I think there’s room for improvement in the care of children born with ambiguous genitalia. I don’t think calling the existing methods ‘genocide’ or likening current care techniques as ‘genocide’ is very helpful. Use of that word suggests people are being killed or executed, or terminated, for needing medical care.

    Of course not only babies born with ambiguity of their genitals require surgery soon after birth. I wonder what the impact on those children is if one surgery isn’t enough? Babies born with Spina Bifida for instance, or babies born with a malformed heart?

    Ambiguity of genitals is an urgent matter. All I need do is read the accounts of XXY men I know who were not diagnosed early enough, who were ostracised by society at large for their unusual development, to know how devastating no treatment at all can cause.

    And most people these days who claim they’re ‘intersex’ are not ‘intersex’ at all. Of those people who wish to raise the notion of their hormone therapy as being like that of the truly ‘intersex’ is ridiculous. Most were adults or older teens when they were diagnosed and always did have the freedom to choose hormone therapy of not.

    I would not appreciate having to have my hormone therapy OK’d by some crackpot from OII or other such group, I would prefer my medical care to be solely in the hands of myself in consultation with
    my doctors and I’d have the same attitude for any other XXY guy.

    What influence should support groups or individuals who were ‘intersex’ have in my child’s medical care if my child were born with ambiguity of genitalia? I’d say NO influence.

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