I was born with typically “male” XY chromosomes and internal testes instead of ovaries and a uterus, but my body developed to appear typically female.
My intersex condition was invisible until I reached puberty and failed to menstruate like other girls. On the advice of doctors at a major hospital, my parents agreed that I should have surgery to remove my healthy gonads, without my knowledge or consent.
My natural hormone production ceased, and I was forced onto hormone replacement therapy for the rest of my life. I was just 15. Doctors also recommended to my parents that I receive invasive surgery to create a more “typically” sized vagina — thankfully, my parents refused. I didn’t find out about any of this until I was 41 years old.
Intersex people like me — up to 1.7% of the population — are born with sex characteristics that do not fit typical definitions of male or female. I have androgen insensitivity syndrome. Because my body was resistant to androgens, including testosterone, in the womb, my natural hormones automatically converted into estrogen through a process called aromatization.
Intersex people have been the last bastion of “don’t ask, don’t tell,” with doctors commonly telling parents for many years that the best thing they could do for their children was to have surgery done, even when they are infants, so they can grow up “normal.”
These and other surgeries have been commonly performed on intersex children in the USA since the 1960s. But in the 1990s, intersex adults began speaking outagainst these non-consensual and medically unnecessary procedures because of their lifelong physical and psychological consequences.
Despite decades of controversy over the procedures, doctors continue to operate on children’s gonads, internal sex organs and genitals when the kids are too young to participate in the decision — even though the surgeries are dangerous and could be safely deferred. It’s rare that urgent health considerations require immediate surgical intervention. The results of these cosmetic surgeries are often catastrophic and the supposed benefits largely unproven.
As executive director of interACT, the nation’s only organization dedicated exclusively to protecting the legal and human rights of intersex youth, I am thrilled that since interACT’s founding in 2006, we have seen progress from medical associations — but not enough, and not nearly quickly enough.
It’s not time for more data collection or dialogue; it’s time for these surgeries to stop.
I know firsthand the devastating impact they can have, not just on our bodies but on our souls. We are erased before we can even tell our doctors who we are. Every human rights organization that has considered this practice has condemned it, some even to the point of recognizing it as akin to torture.
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Source: USA Today