lifestyle

A baby born intersex was given surgery to become a girl. Now he identifies as a boy.

By MAMAMIA TEAM

There’s no such thing as being born with both genitalia.

But the closest thing would be this.

Eight years ago, a baby in the US was born with ambiguous genitalia and both male and female reproductive organs.

The child, who goes by the name M.C in all media reports, was under state care when it when it underwent a procedure to remove the child’s male genitalia on the advice of South Carolina doctors.

M.C was later adopted as a girl by a husband and wife named Mark and Pam Crawford.

The problem is however, M.C. now identifies as a boy. He feels like a boy, acts like a boy, has been accepted by his family as a boy – and refuses to be called a girl.

M.C.’s adoptive parents have now decided to sue the people responsible for his procedure, arguing that South Carolina mutilated their son by having his male sex organs removed.

The surgery took place when M.C. was only 16-months-old, after his biological mother was deemed unfit to make decisions about his wellbeing.

Apparently, decisions such as these are not uncommon.

About 1 in 2000 children born every year, are classified as intersex, and many doctors argue that it is beneficial to ‘assign’ a gender to a child sooner rather than later in development. And so children who are born intersex frequently undergo surgery at a young age to assign them a distinct gender. Male or female. Anything that deviates from this binary, is a problem to be fixed.

Mark and Pam Crawford

Pam Crawford says that her son just “wants to be a normal boy”.

It is the first case of its kind – on behalf of an intersex child who, although being too young to give consent, was given gender reassignment surgery – to be filed in America.

A spokesperson for the Advocates for Informed Choice (AIC), an orgaisation that advocates for the rights of intersex children, has said that such surgeries have been going on for years.

M.C.’s mother, in a video released by the Southern Poverty Law Center (SPLC), said “I was really sad that that decision had been made for him … and it’s become more and more and difficult just as his identity has become more clearly male. The idea that mutilation was done to him has become more and more real. There was no medical reason that this decision had to be made at that time.”

M.C.’s father Mark was quoted by CNN as saying that the intent of the lawsuit was to “uphold these constitutional principles — integrity of a person’s body, and some kind of due process for infants where people around them in power are considering doing surgeries like this.”

ADVERTISEMENT

Pam agreed, saying, “I don’t want it to happen to any more kids.”

This will he a landmark case for intersex rights in the US. But what of the situation in Australia?

There has been no such case in our country, although the Health Department of Victoria this year released new guidelines to govern the “decision-making principles for the care of infants, children and adolescents with intersex conditions”. This new medical protocol found that:

Treatments where the medical imperative for intervention is not obvious include those performed to protect against potential psychosocial stress associated with ‘looking different’ and being known by others to look different. Some advocates for intersex people now firmly argue that protection against potential psychosocial stress associated with looking different alone should no longer provide a satisfactory rationale for surgical intervention, and no longer provide a basis for characterising a treatment as therapeutic.

Essentially, the document recommends that medical treatments not be performed upon children, just because they are ‘different’.

Sheila Jeffreys wrote on The Conversation last year, about ‘who gets to decide gender’ in Australia:

The medical profession, which reflects and enforces the rules of a patriarchal society, has historically considered that infants should be placed in one of two sex categories, and brought up to be either a girl or a boy.

In recent decades, intersex activists have campaigned against altering the bodies of children to fit into one of two sex categories. Until recently, for example, it was routine to surgically alter penises that were considered inadequate on babies with male biology, to make them into clitorises and slot them into the category of female. These surgeries were harmful and often removed the capacity for sexual sensation.”

Activists argue that surgical or hormonal treatment of children to make them resemble a particular biological sex is against their human rights and should not be attempted. Intersex persons, in their view, should be able to choose for or against such treatment as adults.

It is perhaps surprising that our society will so readily surgically – and permanently – alter the biology of an intersex child before they are able to give any real form of consent; especially when one considers that so many roadblocks have appeared in front of cases where young people actually want to transition from one gender to another.

The Health Department of Victoria recommends that medical treatments not be performed upon children, just because they are ‘different’.

Without having been in a similar situation, it is almost impossible to imagine how M.C. feels now – and how he will feel in the future. According to the Southern Poverty Law Center, he has been potentially sterilised, and his sexual function has been – if not entirely eliminated – greatly reduced.

His healthy genital tissue was removed, and reproductive organs completely restructured, so that his body could appear to be more feminine.

This is the body that M.C. will have for the rest of his life. That he may well feel trapped in.

Sex and gender diverse people – including people who identify as transgender, transsexual, intersex, as well as other varied groups – have a diverse range of experiences, that’s true.  But many face setbacks and emotional turmoil that significantly impact upon their life. Surveys show that unemployment and poverty are higher in this group than the rest of the population, and sex and gender diverse people often face other physical and mental health issues.

The outcome of M.C.’s case will determine the future of many children – giving them the opportunity to make their own decisions, and create their own futures.

What do you think? Should intersex children be assigned a gender at birth, or be able to make their own decision later in life?

00:00 / ???