- Promoting Health and Social Progress by Accepting and Depathologizing Benign Intersex Traits
I was born with ambiguous genitalia and it was a doctor who, by honoring my bodily integrity and not “fixing” me, gave me the greatest gift I’ve ever received. Because my body and its sexual traits are a positive, fundamental part of my experience and identity as a human being, I know that having my genitals removed or altered according to someone else’s vision would have deeply damaged me, both physically and psychologically.
The doctor who protected my autonomy was, unsurprisingly, my father. I say “unsurprisingly” because in my experience parents are typically more protective of their children than doctors are of their patients. Also, doctors do not discuss cases with other doctors in the same way they do with laypeople, as doctors know more about medical issues such as the risks involved in infant genital surgery.
Other than having clitoromegaly (a large clitoris), my reproductive anatomy is typically female, and so I was assigned female and raised as such without incident. My parents didn’t discuss my intersex traits with me, and I grew up thinking of myself and being accepted as, a girl.
When I began menstruating, my father told me I’d need to take pills to “grow taller.” I thought this unusual, as I wasn’t short, and later overheard my mother arguing with him, saying that the pills were “experimental”. I was reminded of this discussion years later, when she told me that the pills had actually been hormones to make my breasts grow. I never took them though as she convinced my father not to make me.
Article 7 of The International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights states that, “No one shall be subjected without his free consent to medical or scientific experimentation,” and I’m grateful to both my parents for protecting my civil rights as they protected my health.
Due to my Catholic upbringing and schooling, I had no opportunity to compare my genitals to other girls’, and it wasn’t until the age of twelve that I realized, while perusing magazines with friends, that I have atypical sex anatomy. Contrary to common speculation however, this awareness didn’t make me question being female. I simply assumed there must be some genital variation in humans.
I feel my parents made the wisest decision possible by registering me as one of the two accepted, available genders but allowing me to live, physically and behaviorally, as who I am. Despite not having developed a stereotypically curvaceous female figure, I was popular and excelled in typically feminine social activities, as well as sports and academics. For example, I was one of four girls selected out of one hundred twenty–five that competed for a spot on my high school cheerleading [End Page 114] squad when I tried out to help a friend who needed a tryout partner.
Other than escaping IGM (Intersex Genital Mutilation) and estrogen therapy, I’ve had only a few experiences pertaining to my medical care around being intersex. These experiences fall into two categories: seeing medical doctors who treated me the same after discovering that I have ambiguous genitalia, and seeing ones who didn’t. I feel incredibly blessed that my experiences in the former category vastly outweigh the latter.
My first experience came at the age of twenty, when a gynecologist asked me if my clitoris had always been as large as it is. I responded that it had, and she said, while looking at me disapprovingly, that she’d like to do some tests. When I asked her what they were for though, she wouldn’t respond directly. She said I’d reported having some upper lip hair, and acne, on my intake forms. I replied that neither were above average, and asked if there were health issues I should be concerned about. She reluctantly said no. I asked what reason there was then for undergoing tests because of the size of my clitoris.
She finally responded, “It’s just not normal.”
Fortunately, I’d had positive reactions to my sex traits from the people I’d dated. For example, the first...