Wednesday, April 30, 2014

Intersex Kids

I've been reading this book for a class. I highly recommend it. It's a really depressing true story about a biological male that had a circumcision accident that completely removed his male genitalia. As a result, the leading doctor on Gender Identity at the time, John Money, claimed that the parents could just give him surgery to reassign him as a girl, give him HRT at puberty time, raise him as a girl, and that "she" wouldn't know the difference and grow up a perfectly normal girl. He also had a (male) identical twin, so John Money saw this as the "perfect matched trial" about how Gender Identity comes from nurture (your experience after you're born), instead of nature (your biological "hardwiring" before you're born). Despite his parents very dedicated efforts, it didn't work at all, and by his teens David choose to go back to presenting as male, once he finally learned what happened to him. He also dropped out of school because of all the teasing he received because he didn't feel like he fit in with males or females (since he acted like a boy but looked like a girl), and his mom and brother both attempted suicide. He continued through life and and eventually found a job working on cars and married a girl, but his brother committed suicide in 2002, and he committed suicide in 2004, at 36 years old.

This haunting story has been echoed across hundreds of intersex people's lives, as it's the "standard" way to treat them (typically reassigning them to a girl because it's "easier"). Specifically the old method of treating intersex kids - kids with birth defects that cause ambiguous genitalia - was to choose a gender (usually based on which it would be easiest to assign them to and from what the parents felt), and raise them as that, after having "corrective" surgery to make their genitals look a little more "normal." Then completely hide information about any of that from the kids, because that might "interfere" with normal development. If kids showed some opposition about the arbitrary choice of their gender, ignore it, and once they have HRT and SRS any fears should subside.

To put it simply that doesn't work. Gender Identity is very important, and John Money's theories are very wrong: The common theory today is that Gender Identity is formed by a complex combination of nature and nurture, and by the time a child is 3 or 4, it's pretty hardwired and very difficult and dangerous to attempt to "change."

The more recent proposed approach to dealing with intersex issues is to not do any "corrective" surgery until the child is old enough to decide for themselves. And be very open to them about their condition. That's not to say the parents shouldn't raise their child as one gender, they should still pick a gender like before and raise the child as that: Just if the child starts showing some opposition, be honest to them that that choice could have been wrong, and once it's time for puberty allow the child to decide for themself. If anything this backs up the idea of a "spirit gender" that we had before this life and will have after this life, since it shows that kids typically know this already, and it's not something we can control.

Overall it's still a very difficult situation to be in, for the parents and the kids, and one that probably requires professional counseling and support from people specialized in helping intersex kids, yet right now that's really rare to find.

Also to be clear there this isn't to say all kids opposing their birth gender during childhood are intersex or trans. For some girls that claim to be a boy, and for some boys that claim to be a girl, they will grow out of it once they reach puberty. Apparently many turn out to be gay, however some grow up straight. It's only if the feelings persist through puberty that it's considered being transgender, and if they do persist though puberty, like in my case, they rarely go away. For any kind of issues like this it's important to seek some kind of professional help though, these are very important to approach correctly, and a lot of harm can be done if not.

Finally, I met this intersex person in the LGBT center yesterday. Zhe (I think the pronoun they preferred) was finishing a major in communications, then going to law school. A fantastic person, very dedicated, and a bit of an inspiration to me. Also I guess zhe presented as a female for a while, and just recently had breast reduction surgery to be presenting in a more androgynous way, and "goes back and forth, every year or two." This isn't because zhe's being rebellious or anything either: It's because being intersex is part of zis identity. It's a perfectly valid identity to have as well, and it's really sad our society tends to see that as such a negative thing.

We need to learn to accept the fact that this earth is very imperfect, and intersex birth defects are simply part of this mortal life, I think.

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