Are you sure about your sex?

intersex

Have you heard the news about the elderly Chinese man who found out she was in fact a woman? Of course you have, since it was reported everywhere last week. In fact, it was so ubiquitous I deliberately chose not to write about it in order to keep Ayzad.comfresh. If you have not, however, you can find all the details following the link.
In a pinch, a 66 years old person suffering from severe development problems (he stopped growing up at ten) who had always lived as a male was unexpectedly diagnosed an ovarian cyst – meaning “he” was genetically female. The condition was the result of two concurring genetic syndromes but, apart from the shock, the patient will continue to identify as a male.

You should know by now that I like to dig into sex-related stories a bit deeper than the mainstream press. In this case I was intrigued by one comment made by paediatrics professor Ellis Hon Kam-lun, who said it was «an interesting and very rare case of having the two combinations. It probably won’t be seen again in the near future», as only one girl out of 15,000 births suffers from congenital adrenal hyperplasia, which causes the female to develop male features in early life. Not to mention the second condition, Turner syndrome, whose incidence is 1:2,500… Hey, wait a minute!
These numbers are not so low after all. Sure, the combination is highly improbable… but what about other medical conditions that might impact gender? What are the odds of something strange happening if we take into account all the possible combinations?

To make a long story short, I did some research and found that the scientific term for «you wouldn’t believe what I saw in OB-GYN today» is DSD, for ‘disorders of sex development’ – and the statistics are disturbing. The incidence of DSD in general and consequently of intersexed people is one in 1,500 births, which is a lot.
Ok, so this explains where all those photos tagged ‘giant clitoris’ come from (yeah, go ahead and google it… I’ll be waiting here), but that is just half of the story. What really troubled me is that until very recent times physicians regularly performed surgical gender reassignment whenever faced with intersexed infants.

There are of course very sensible reasons for this… except when there is none. Or the parents weren’t able to give their fully informed consent. Or were told at all. What is even worse, however, is that this kind of surgery can easily result in a physical or functional mutilation, and doesn’t take into account the full development of the individual. The Intersex society of North America has heaps of horror stories about the aftermaths of these arbitrary decisions.
While this barbaric approach (technically called ‘Hopkins model’ or ‘concealment-centered model’) is finally being questioned in many countries, the issue is far from resolved. Apart from a general ignorance about the subject, there are cases in which early reassignment may be preferable – but the point here is our collective cultural approach.

We live in a society struggling to come to terms with a concept as simple as gay rights and transsexual people are non-persons almost everywhere. What sort of integration can realistically expect an intersexed person, especially as a child? Intersex activism is a rarity among rarities: only an improbable major shift in sexual education could open the door to a really serene life for this innocent minority.
While you think about it, by the way, ask yourself… are you really sure about your own sex?

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