In a discussion the other day about intersexuality, hermaphroditism, and other things inconsistent with a binary gender approach in class, I was appalled. Despite having an overwhelmingly liberal and non-heterosexual composition, the class surprised me by its refusal to see a connection between performing surgical "correction" on the genitals of gender-ambiguous babies, and the idea of "correcting" aberrant sexual orientation.

The class has reacted in the past with eye-rolling and groans at the idea that homosexual orientation can be "cured", because they recognize that it must first be seen as a disease, a premise that they are eager to reject. For homosexual orientation to be seen as a disease, abnormal, or otherwise wrong, it has to be viewed as conflicting with some essential value or norm. Generally, that value or norm is the virtue of reproduction, but it often disguises itself in more spiritual terms, including religion or intuition. In my estimation, observation, and opinion, the objection that the average American Christian has to homosexuality is not that God finds it abominable, although that is what he will say. In fact, that claim is made quite sincerely, and I don't doubt that they truly believe that God (as expressed in their reading of scripture), does indeed find homosexuality repugnant. What is obvious to me, though -- obvious by the passion, the vociferous anger, and the extreme horror expressed by those religious people -- is that God's purported rejection of homosexual acts is not really what drives them. It is the person's own feeling of disgust with homosexual activity that makes it so 'obviously wrong' and 'unnatural' in their mind. God's 'opinion' on the matter is usually just a convenient endorsement of something they happened to believe anyway!

Anyway, in our discussion of indeterminate biological sex, the class suddenly became quite conservative, and were quick to disagree with the position of the class reading on the matter, which seems to be that surgical "correction" of ambiguous genitalia -- or the assignment of a gender when the body's sex is not clear or entirely ambiguous -- is violent and wrong. All of the participants in the discussion (excluding myself) clamored to justify the actions of surgeons and parents who have (historically and even currently) taken steps to assign gender to the gender-ambiguous child through surgery and socialization. The effort that must be put forth to assign gender to a gender-ambiguous baby is even greater than the standard, which itself is unreasonable. For genitally-ambiguous children, the gender which the parents have chosen must be constantly and strongly reinforced. No opportunity can be missed to remind the child that she is a girl (or, less commonly, a boy, because penises are more difficult to fashion), lest she begin behaving in ways deemed unacceptable for her gender.

I have taken and can justify the position that there is absolutely nothing wrong with leaving gender ambiguity alone. It is not a mistake, and provided that excretory functions take place safely (which is almost always true), there is rarely any medical danger. The danger comes from closed-mindedness.

The arguments put forth in favor of surgical genital modification ("correction") are eerily reminiscent of the crusade of the infamous ex-gay movement to "correct" homosexual orientation. The foremost reason, for example, is the idea that children growing up gender-ambiguous will suffer from rejection by many of their peers. Well of course they will! Just as they would if they had a funny-looking nose. Or if they were albino. SO THE FUCK WHAT?! Being a child is always hard. It wasn't easy for me as a gay teenager, and in fact, the social atmosphere of grade school is downright abusive FOR NEARLY EVERYONE. But mutilating (or, if you prefer, "correcting", or modifying) is hardly an acceptable alternative. If the child (or adult), later in life, wishes to experience such surgery -- with or without genital ambiguity as the starting point -- that's different. But to force unnecessary surgery on a child without his consent is, in my view, unconscionable.

To my dismay and great offense, one girl in the class even went so far as to say, in an incredulous, condescending tone, that to not perform gender-assignment surgery is a "stupid" idea.

Yes, gender ambiguity will present socialization problems. BUT SO DOES the violation involved in removing an "oversized clitoris", or creating a vagina where one does not exist. It is simply a matter of reality that we cannot prevent every ounce of suffering that our children might endure. Given that fact, it is far more defensible to respect a child's body by regarding it as precious, inviolable, and the sole property of that child. Parents and surgeons are charged with taking care of children, and are, in every other arena, expected to respect the sanctity of the child's body, violating it only when life- or health- threatening problems make inaction untenable. Genital ambiguity is not such a problem.

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