Wednesday, November 4, 2009

This Makes Me Want to Scream

A conference on intersex will commence from November 12th to 15th.

"Oh, great!" you may think. "She's screaming for joy, since she's remarked in several past posts how intersex visibility is abysmal. How wonderful!"

You would, unfortunately, be incorrect.

It appears that the Third World Congress on Hypospadias and Disorders of Sex Development will be held in Toronto, at the Hospital for Sick Children and at the Marriott Hotel. This conference isn't aimed at awareness and education. There aren't going to be any speeches made by intersex individuals or activists. Scientific facts, nuanced views of sex and gender identity, personal experiences of intersex individuals, and the traumatization induced by medical personnel won't be discussed.

This conference, in reality, seems to be about propaganda. It's pretty telling that the conference is kicked off with a session entitled, "Welcome to the surgeons." (Seriously.) Many of the sessions focus on the genetic aspects of intersex alone, as though this is the only factor at work in every form of intersex out there, which is completely untrue. Some focus on psychosocial aspects of intersex individuals, I suppose wondering if we'll all become savage, basket-cases unless someone "picks our sex" for us. A bogus concept, because a doctor that surgically alters part of an individual's genitals HAS NOT CHANGED THAT PERSON'S SEX; THEY'VE JUST ALTERED THAT PERSON'S APPEARANCE. This would be akin to surgically removing a non-intersex woman's uterus and declaring that this individual is no longer a woman post-op. What?! (Then again, check out the psychologist that's giving some of those talks. AWFUL. The photograph of his steely gaze amid army toys on one side and Barbies and baby carriages on the other tell you everything you need to know.) A large portion of the talks, however, seem to focus on genital surgeries - what the results are, the best ways to do them, and what tissue to use to do them.

We'll have separate posts looking at surgical options, what they're exactly trying to "correct," and how, but here are some bottom-liners on genital surgeries:

* They're unneccessary. Atypical genital morphology is not a health concern, so these surgeries shouldn't be performed. However, health concerns arise AFTER surgeries. (For example, recovery periods are long, multiple surgries take a toll on the body. And what tissue is used for surgeries can make a big difference. For example, in vaginoplasties, skin may be taken from a patient's own body, a cadaverous body, or animal sources, including animals' intestines. Depending on what tissues you use, strange things can happen. Sometimes, skin on which hair growth {e.g., arms, legs} used for vaginoplasties resulted in individuals growing hair INSIDE THEIR VAGINAS post-op. If that's not a health concern, I don't know what is.)
* They don't change an individual's sex OR gender. No matter what they try to lop off and/or reconstruct, the individual's sex is still the same. And their gender is something THEY decide.
* Surgery can result in genitals that look abnormal post-op when they were just fine (though considered atypical in form by non-intersexed individuals) before. This often includes massive scarring. Would it really have been so horrible to keep genitals the way they are (and functional?!) instead of trying to "correct" them by making them look scarred? How is this more "normal" than maintaining their natural, beautiful forms?
* They are performed, in part, due to heteronormative views of sexuality. Why perform a vicious vaginoplasty on an individual if that person isn't going to be having penetrative sex? Doctors assume individuals will want to penetrate vaginas or be penetrated vaginally, and this is not neccessarily true at all.
* Loss of sensory functionality. Surgery often results in reduced genital sensation, or lack thereof entirely. This means that it's either difficult or impossible to orgasm. So, surgeries are performed to "normalize" the genitals in morphology, but then it's normal to be unable to orgasm during sex? Really?
* Loss of other functionality. Depending on the type of tissue used, say, for vaginoplasties, it may not be able to produce lubricant like normal mucosal tissues would, making artifical lube necessary every time an individual has sex. Was it really worth it to lengthen the vaginal canal if it doesn't function in the same way?
* Reinforces that the bullshit sex and gender binary paradigms must be maintained.
* Individuals often cannot consent to such surgeries, especially if they are infants and young children who can't understand/aren't informed of their intersex, and who don't understand all the implications of surgery. Parents who "consent" for them are often lied to or pressured into so that doctors can perform surgeries. Doctors may perform surgeries WITHOUT NOTIFYING parents at all, filing it under a removal of tissue that could be a "health hazard" under numerous persuasions of very vague rationale.

Ugh. And on and on and on.

Worst of all, live genital surgeries will be performed AT THE CONFERENCE. This is absolutely heart-breaking beyond all measure, to rob these infants of their own body parts that cause them no harm. I am so disgusted by this I can't see straight.

The fact that this conference EXISTS (and that it's in its third year) is absolutely unacceptable. The fact that this conference's title makes it seem like an awareness/activist conference is all the more reprehensible.

If you'd like to tell the some representatives how you feel about their conference, feel free to e-mail them at:

And, in response, two recent videos on how harmful genital surgeries are, and why conferences like this one, promoting such barbaric practices, need to STOP!

Via Organization Intersex International.