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Intersex Children And The Battle Over Their Gender

The New Yorker recently published an article entitled "A New Era For Intersex Rights" that follows Jim Ambrose (pictured), a man who was born with ambiguous sex organs. His parents decided to surgically remove his organ and testes when he was still a newborn and began raising him as a girl named Kristi.

JimHe started taking female hormones at age 12 and planned to have a vaginoplasty at age 18, but he also felt depressed and suicidal. He didn't know why until he discovered the circumstances of his birth — he was born with a condition that inhibited his testosterone development. Gradually, he began taking testosterone, had his breasts removed and began living as Jim.

Approximately one in every 2,000 children is born intersex, that is with a "reproductive or sexual anatomy and/or chromosome pattern that doesn’t seem to fit typical definitions of male or female." These children are not necessarily transgender "as their status is not related to their gender identity" but moreso to their biological makeup.

New Yorker writer Emily Greenhouse states:

"Today, we pride ourselves on letting children defy antiquated gender stereotypes. Boys can now have dolls, and girls Erector sets; we agree that the salient differences between genders are social constructs, and give little leeway to those who insinuate that, say, women have less aptitude for science and engineering.

Yet, even as many fight against the persistence of rigid gender norms, we still separate the sexes as soon as kids are old enough to be potty-trained; when gym class arrives and locker rooms are needed, we push the boys and girls even farther apart. For all the progress that has followed from the enlightened credo that gender is but a construct, we keep hesitating at the notion that sex, too, does not obey strict binaries.

Some people aren’t just pushing away from prototypes of sinewy maleness or delicate femaleness; they were born with bodies that don’t conform to the “M” or the “F” boxes on the census form. There are children, in other words, whose genes have not defined for them which bathroom to use, or where to change for gym class; babies can be born with XX chromosomes in certain cells, and XY chromosomes in others—mosaic genetics."

Keep reading and watch a short documentary AFTER THE JUMP...

Germany, Australia and some universities have opted to let parents and intersex individuals choose a third gender option other than male and female on official documents, birth certificates and enrollment forms. But the Organisation Intersex International Europe feels that even this option continues to stigmatize intersex individuals as "others" and does nothing to stop the harmful surgeries that unfairly allow medical officials to decide someone's gender and deprive people of their right to choose treatments best for them.

Ambrose — who appeared at age 24 as Kristi in a short documentary called XXXY — now works for The Interface Project, a non-profit legal advocacy group for intersex individuals. The Interface Project discourages doctors and parents from administering sex-assignment surgery for intersex infants. Rather, they suggest explaining the condition to their children, providing medical and emotional counseling for intersex children and their families and letting the child have a say in their biological determination when they are older and more informed.

Watch the XXXY documentary below:

XXXY (2000) (HD) from Interface Project on Vimeo.

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  1. Are we going to start sticking intersex people in the lgbt community now? -_-

    Posted by: Xander | Jan 3, 2014 1:58:26 PM

  2. Xander ... What does that even mean?

    Posted by: Ted | Jan 3, 2014 1:59:30 PM

  3. @Xander - actually, the presence of intersex people is pretty vital to the LGBT movement. Because we know that there are human beings with indeterminate biological gender, it makes the notion that there are other human beings with different, hardwired, gender identities (including sexual orientation) than their "parts" may imply more understandable. In fact, one can think of LGBT people as an extension of the intersex - although we tend to be biologically fertile (which is relatively rare for the intersex), we represent a waypoint between the genders, just like intersex people.

    Posted by: CPT_Doom | Jan 3, 2014 2:05:30 PM

  4. It's actually for these types of people that the whole push for LGBTQ is so important. Eventually it will just be people without the letters. As gay people particularly, we should be challenging the whole notion of "feminine" and "masculine" - which are definitely socialized. These people can't even be socialized.

    I used to look "down" on "butch dykes" and "queeny drags".. but later realized that the levels were artificial and that maintaining them was the real problem. We are strongest when we realize what we thought was our "weakness" was just a different way to be strong.

    Posted by: stevetalbert | Jan 3, 2014 2:15:44 PM

  5. Doesn't the "I" stand for intersex in LGBTQQIAAPK?

    The two Qs are for queer and questioning. The two As are for asexual and androgynous.

    BTW: How does pansexuality differ from classical bisexuality?

    Posted by: will | Jan 3, 2014 2:17:27 PM

  6. He's handsome and has nice eyes.

    Stupid attempts of humor aside, he represents one in every 2,000.

    Reality makes people uncomfortable when they're ignorant of it. They've always existed. There are biblical references to them; even Jesus mentions them in the New Testament...

    Fear of our differences is what corrodes and hurts. We don't have to choose fear. Not anymore.

    Posted by: Buckie | Jan 3, 2014 2:37:37 PM

  7. I just want to hold him.

    Posted by: ToW | Jan 3, 2014 2:38:36 PM

  8. Sexual orientation and gender identity are distinct concepts. Just because you see yourself as "between the genders" does not mean that all LGB individuals do.

    Posted by: OddBet | Jan 3, 2014 3:15:25 PM

  9. Intersex is common and it is just another group that the "T activists" hijacked when there are no gender identity issues. In fact most of them are heterosexual.

    Posted by: Sam | Jan 3, 2014 3:20:06 PM

  10. Everything else aside I am just sick of hearing the Gender/Sex are social constructs argument, it is such an intellectual fallacy. Yes, anatomy is not destiny but to ignore it is lunacy. Society doesn't give one their gender or sex characteristics, hate to say it, biology does. I wish equity Feminism would get off its ass and make the push that women and men are different and we do not need to be exactly like men, because we are not. That's the problem with equality, black must be white, gay must be straight, and women must either be totally feminine or afeminine.

    Posted by: Vera | Jan 3, 2014 3:51:56 PM

  11. @Vera - Gender/Sex may not be social constructs but Gender Roles most definitely are just that. Society pressures people into thinking they're supposed to fit into some mold of what a man or woman is supposed to be. There's no such thing. If you have a penis, then physically you're a man. A vagina = woman (again, physically, as I know there are Trans factors). There's nothing more to prove or live up to.

    But in agreement with you, I don't see the point in focusing on how Men and Women supposedly are or aren't similar. It's okay for both sexes to be whatever they are: butch, feminine, and the millions of shades between. It doesn't matter. It's all equal.

    Posted by: Marlon Manroe | Jan 3, 2014 4:13:37 PM

  12. @Marlon Manroe
    Oh of course, most gender roles are social constructs and if you ask me they're a continuation of the primordial roles of female apes which usually prevail in the caretaking of children. Over time, we had a more complex set of roles and named it 'domestic'.

    Posted by: Vera | Jan 3, 2014 4:19:04 PM

  13. Actually, what would solve the whole debate about whether "gender is a construct" would be for men to stop being chivalrous to soon as men did so, women would realize that they are inherently weak and therefore unequal and entirely dependent on the good will of men and the willingness of men to police each other......the only things that prevent women from essentially being slaves to men's whims.

    As the Iranian Revolution demonstrated, men as a group can do pretty much anything they want to with and to women as a group, if they are united in that purpose.

    Posted by: Rick | Jan 3, 2014 5:18:49 PM

  14. Anyone not convinced that children born with unusual genitalia should not be subject to sex-assignment surgery should read the interesting Q&A session on Reddit held by a very articulate young man with two penises. (See link on His enlightened parents did not alter his physical difference, refused to have their son be put on display by his doctor to others in the medical community, and advised him in a very loving way how to cope with his difference while growing up. They are a model of how parents should respond to having intersex children.

    Posted by: MichaelJ | Jan 3, 2014 5:31:16 PM

  15. "Approximately one in every 2,000 children is born intersex, that is with a "reproductive or sexual anatomy and/or chromosome pattern that doesn’t seem to fit typical definitions of male or female.""

    This was obviously not written by a medical professional. The term itself is a political construct not a medical one. A girl with normal external genitalia (vagina) but no ovaries will be classified as intersex according to this rubbish..i.e girls with Turner's syndrome which interestingly occurs in 1 in 2000. Hmmmh....

    Posted by: jonny | Jan 3, 2014 6:16:54 PM

  16. There are 2 types of genitalia (male(A) and female(B)) and there are 2 types of brain (male(1) and female(2)). Therefore, there are 4 genders:
    A1 - men
    A2 - gays
    B1 - lesbians
    B2 - women

    Posted by: TheSeer | Jan 3, 2014 6:17:44 PM

  17. And there are "others" beside those 4 genders, like intersex.

    Posted by: TheSeer | Jan 3, 2014 6:18:50 PM

  18. Maybe there are 2 types of intersex people:

    AB1 and AB2?

    Posted by: TheSeer | Jan 3, 2014 6:25:40 PM

  19. This has nothing to do with gay people. Why is this content even here.

    Posted by: Homo Genius | Jan 3, 2014 7:06:19 PM

  20. Theseer: Brain sex has no direct effect on sexuality. A female brain in a male body is a trans woman, not a gay man. Sexuality is separate from brain sex.

    Now, to be fair, a majority of trans folks are LGB, but that's a secondary effect, not the primary effect. Your statement basically says that trans folk are just really really gay, which isn't true at all, and promotes stereotypes of LGB and T people.

    Posted by: Thedrdonna | Jan 3, 2014 8:19:55 PM

  21. I know Jim, he's a wonderful, funny, sexy, one-of-a-kind guy. My world is MUCH better with people like Jim, wishing him nothing but love!

    Posted by: bozemanmontana | Jan 3, 2014 8:23:01 PM

  22. Trans generally excludes fetishistic crossdressing, and the "majority" I mentioned regards people who transition. Those numbers have been found in surveys, which are readily available online if you care to google them. I've provided links to them in the past, but like all true bigots some anti-trans folk here discounted them due to one thing or another. Pretty much the same playbook as anti-gay folks use to discount why gay families are fully capable parents.

    Posted by: Thedrdonna | Jan 3, 2014 9:07:37 PM

  23. This is a topic that brings out the gay haters, that is gays who are haters, of trans people and gender non conforming people out from under their rocks.

    Posted by: andrew | Jan 3, 2014 11:14:45 PM

  24. Human being = human animal + identity

    I believe that identity is an inalienable human right, but I was always more interested in that "human animal" part of the above equation.

    "Gay Men, Straight Women Have Similar Brains":

    TheDrDonna: The above link shows that sexuality and brain sex are correlated. But sexuality should be a private matter, and brain sex public, determining biological gender (together with the genitalia).

    Posted by: TheSeer | Jan 4, 2014 3:35:19 AM

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