Anti-trans bills are popping up all over the place in various contexts. Some are meant to restrict trans girls and women from playing on sports teams; others are meant to deny gender-affirming care for transgender children. Such legislation is unquestionably horrible for trans people. Recently, I heard a sad story about a mother afraid to… Read more →
Bodies in Doubt, A New and Expanded Edition: An Interview with Elizabeth Reis
I first met Elizabeth Reis at a conference about intersex several years ago, and we became fast friends. Lizzie served on the board of interACT, the country’s largest intersex advocacy organization, when I was the board president, and though neither of us are on the board anymore, we both have continued our activism in various… Read more →
A Historic Intersex Awareness Day
This year’s Intersex Awareness Day, October 26, marked a historic pivot. A few days before, Boston Children’s Hospital revealed that its physicians would no longer perform certain nonconsensual infant genital surgeries on babies born with atypical genitals. They join the Ann and Robert H. Lurie Children’s Hospital in Chicago, which made a similar announcement in… Read more →
Intersex Revolutionary War Hero Did Good Because Doctors Did No Harm
The startling knowledge that the Polish nobleman and military leader, Casimir Pulaski, a hero of the American Revolution, may have been intersex should leave us with two important takeaways. First, people have always been born with intersex traits, or atypical sex development. Even the ancient laws of the Talmud recognized this fact, offering rules for… Read more →
What’s Truly Outrageous About Intersex?
On August 5, the World News Daily Report published an article that has been circulating on my Facebook newsfeed every day since: “Hermaphrodite Impregnates Self, Gives Birth to Hermaphrodite Twins.” Never mind that at the bottom of the webpage, the World News Daily Report publishes the following disclaimer: that it “assumes all responsibility for the… Read more →
The students in my senior thesis course at Macaulay Honors College, part of the City University of New York, were scheduled to present their original research at the annual National Conference on Undergraduate Research, in Asheville, North Carolina in early April. Those plans have been cancelled because the governor of New York has banned state-funded travel… Read more →
Toxics in our Living Rooms
The comfortable chair that I just bought and sit in for hours each day is giving me a sore throat and making my eyes sting. I know that sounds crazy, but I’ve been experimenting for about a month now, and I can say for certain that after about a half hour of sitting in it… Read more →
By Elizabeth Reis
Students at Mt. Holyoke College are protesting the annual performance of Eve Ensler’s feminist classic, The Vagina Monologues. Their gripe with the play is that by focusing on vaginas, the play perpetuates “vagina essentialism,” suggesting that ALL women have vaginas and that ALL people with vaginas are women. Transgender and intersex people have taught us that this seemingly simple “truth” is actually not true. There are women who have penises and there are men who have vaginas. Not to mention women born without vaginas! Hence, these Mt. Holyoke critics imply, the play contributes to the erasure of difference by presenting a “narrow perspective on what it means to be a woman,” and shouldn’t be produced on college campuses.
Birth Certificates can be Changed; Surgery is Forever
By Elizabeth Reis
We shouldn’t get too enthusiastic about Germany’s new birth certificate designation: “indeterminate.” Because the category will be an obligatory designation for babies born with ambiguous genitals (commonly known as intersex), the law might do more harm than good. Most infants are born with seemingly uncomplicated gender designations; we look at their genitals and decide their sex and their gender in an instant. Of course, not everyone grows up to agree with the gender they were assigned at birth. Transgender people grow up feeling out of sync with the gender they were assigned, even though the decision for most of them seemed perfectly straightforward at the time.
Do No Harm: Intersex Surgeries and the Limits of Certainty
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?”