By Elizabeth Reis
The Southern Poverty Law Center and Advocates for Informed Choice have filed a lawsuit against the South Carolina Department of Social Services (SCDSS), Greenville Hospital System, the Medical University of South Carolina, and several medical personnel for allowing physicians to remove the atypical genitals of a 16-month-old toddler because that child, in the state’s custody at the time, was born with an intersex condition. M.C. had been identified male at birth, but his genitals were sufficiently indeterminate that surgeons removed his ambiguous phallus, a testis, and testicular tissue on one gonad, and surgically created an ostensible approximation of female genitals. The suit asserts that there was no medical need for this surgery, which was meant to permanently “fix” this child and turn him into an unequivocal girl, but it did him more harm than good. M.C., now eight years old, feels more like a boy, lives as a boy, and heartbreakingly has asked his mother, “When will I get my penis?”
Posts from the ‘Intersex’ Category
By Elizabeth Reis
By Adam Turner
Today I'll be focusing specifically on the idea that a person, or a part of a person's body, can be "ambiguous." I'd like to start by noting that the word itself is fraught. As I mentioned, it can be both empowering and hurtful depending on how it's used. The first question is: ambiguous to whom? Is this person ambiguous to themselves? Or are they just ambiguous to the person doing the looking? A person who, like many of us, is trying to sort and categorize the people around them into boxes labeled "male" or "female," "gay" or "straight," "black" or "white." But -- and this gets at one of the reasons I love Hedwig, with all its issues -- ambiguity does not have to be a problem. Taken up dusted off and worn proudly ambiguity can carve out spaces for human difference in a culture and a history too often resistant to divergence from the "norm."
Elizabeth Reis is a professor of women’s and gender studies at the University of Oregon and is the author of Bodies in Doubt: An American History of Intersex (Johns Hopkins University Press, 2009). This year (2012-2103) she is a visiting scholar in the History of Science Department at Harvard University. This interview originally appeared in Feminists for Choice and is reprinted with permission.
1. What was the motivation behind writing Bodies in Doubt?
So much of the “history” of intersex begins in the mid-1950s with a critique of John Money and his colleagues at Johns Hopkins University. This was an important period, of course, because Money’s protocols became widely adopted, but it was hardly the beginning of the story of the medical management of intersex. As an early American historian, I wondered what happened to those born with unusual bodies in earlier eras. I wanted to find out how the gradual process of medicalization affected our understanding of how male and female bodies were supposed to look.