Time to stop putting intersex kids to the knife?

Reading this article on intersex children in The Guardian, it struck me that operating on intersex children too young to give informed consent, to make their bodies outwardly conform to male or female, is no different to female genital mutilation. It should be a crime; instead it is standard medical practice, with surgeons removing organs saying they have high risk of turning cancerous, without any historical evidence to back up such claims.

Medicine, like any science, is subject to the distorting effects of society’s cultural expectations and values, which are not always fair or just.

I had mixed feelings reading about the mother who allowed her young designated-male son to have multiple surgeries; these were high-risk themselves, and painful for a child to endure. She believed the medical advice and can’t be condemned for that, because we should all generally believe doctors in preference to the person on the street when it comes to what is needed medically to keep us healthy. I just wouldn’t act until the child was old enough to choose for themself and, while waiting, would make sure I got accustomed to using the pronoun ‘they’ until the kid told me to use a different one, if ever they did.

Almost two per cent of the population doesn’t strike me as aberration; it conveys natural variance instead, to be accepted, not cut away with knives in operating theatres. The percentage of men at risk of testicular cancer is inevitably going to be a high number, if it isn’t all men facing equal risk – and we don’t remove all males’ balls when they’re babies to avoid that dangerous possibility. Moreover, while it’s long been repeated parrot-fashion that ten per cent of the population is homosexual, there have been studies and assertions made that the figure could be higher but might also be lower, say six per cent. Again, most of us rightly see attempts to change sexuality to the perceived norm of heterosexual to be barbaric, regressive and prejudicial.

Isn’t it time we stopped putting intersex kids to the knife without good reason? It’s my belief that doing so is perhaps the most violent and invasive expression of the tendency to promote heteroconformity. While parents may or may not knowingly or unknowingly seek to impose heteroconformity upon their children, they are not to blame for following the advice of medical practitioners who tell them what they advise is ‘for the best’ – but who is it best for, the child or a society that doesn’t want to accept there can be and is more than he and she?

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