Tuesday, February 15, 2011

Follow-Up Post: Fausto-Sterling Chapters 3-4

One specific aspect of Fausto-Sterling’s argument in “Should There Be Only Two Sexes?” was extremely interesting.  Of intersexual individuals who chose to change their genitalia during adolescence, those raised as males were more likely to decide to surgically masculinize their feminine bodies.  Fausto-Sterling argues that this is likely due to the emphasis our culture places on males.  We seem to value males as the superior sex and data like this demonstrates how cultural norms and ideas are so deeply embedded in our thinking.  Even when a person is intersexual, he or she understands that masculinity is prized in our society and this can play a role in his or her decision regarding whether to undergo surgery. 
            Overall, I find the issue regarding medical management in intersexual births to be very difficult to address.  It seems crazy that the decision would be left to a medical doctor to decide for himself which sex the baby should have.  Furthermore, it surprised me that surgeons have been known to perform surgery without parental consent.  However, it also occurred to me that doctors may be unsure of how to act in these cases; for instance Hugh Hampton Young expressed doubt over what his action or role should be, especially when he lacked parental consent to operate. Thus, I do believe that if surgery is not necessary, as in a life-threatening situation, it would be useful to have specific protocols for what physicians are expected to do.  Personally I believe that there should be trained professionals in this field that are available for parents to consult with after birth.  Also, despite whether surgery was chosen, it would be beneficial to provide the parents and child additional information and, as Fausto-Sterling suggests, long-term counseling.  Obviously this is a complicated issue and society’s emphasis on a two-sex system likely makes everyday life difficult for someone who falls outside the realm of a “normal” or “natural” gender.  Thus, I believe that disclosure of information and counseling are necessary for the well being of the parents and child. 


  1. I was also troubled by how much jurisdiction physicians had over the life of another individual. It seemed like doctors had more of a say than parents did. Fausto-Sterling even gave an example of a doctor who operated without parent's consent and created a scrotum for their child. I can't help but connect this type of practice to the idea of "playing God." Though I am not religious, I am wary of changing nature to fulfill societal needs.

    I agree with your idea of having a set protocol in case where surgery is necessary, Tricia. Maybe if we have trained professionals to do this, it will raise the question over ethics and make this issue more visible to the public. I think visibility is necessary in challenging the two-sex and two-gender system.

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  2. Tricia-I think your argument for professionals to help consult the parents of the child's sex is very strong. I definitely agree that doctors should not be able to just change the sex of an infant without even consulting the parents of the infant. I would imagine this issue would be extremely sensitive for a parent deciding what to do with their intersex child. I definitely understand the concerns in not performing surgery, however I have no idea which is the right choice. As a parent, I would be worried about my child growing up, especially in the world today. However, Fausto-Sterling makes strong arguments that there needs not to be too definite sexes. In think our society will be able to progress towards being more open to the possibility of intersex people, however it will be a gradual transition, unfortunately.