Intersex People, they’ve existed since the beginning of humanity. They are worshipped in Tagalog and Hindu mythology as bearers of luck and fertility. In Judaism they’re referred to as androginus or tumtum. In Christianity, they’re called hermaphrodites and in Islam, they’re called kuntha. But what does it mean to be intersex?
Intersex people are born with sex characteristics, such as chromosomes, gonads, or genitals that, according to the UN Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights, “do not fit typical binary notions of male or female bodies”.
Recently, I watched an interview by Jurre from the YouTube channel ‘Spuiten en Slikken’ about being intersex. Jurre interviewed Marleen who is intersex and she talked about her life as an intersex person. One of the things Marleen talked about was her experience with doctors.
When the doctors found out that Marleen was intersex, they did a surgery to remove male genitalia from her, without asking her.
This got me wondering, how have intersex people been treated by doctors and how has that changed?
Back in the days, when an intersex baby was born, it wasn’t clear if the baby was a girl or boy. Doctors advised parents to decide the gender of the baby so that the baby wouldn’t experience gender dysphoria. It was considered as a medical problem.
Shortly after birth, parents would decide if their new-born would be a girl or boy. Doctors would then perform operations that created a fully operational vagina or penis.
The way that people have looked at gender identity has changed a lot, and this also reflects in the way patients are treated. Due to intersex activism, being intersex is not viewed as a medical problem anymore.
Nowadays, more and more doctors are advising parents of an intersex child to wait until the child is old enough to decide for themselves if they want an operation or not, seeing as it’s technically not a medical problem. Because an intersex child has no disadvantages in terms of health.
Until now, I didn’t know what intersex was and I’m happy that the way they are being treated in hospitals is changing.
Though I’m surprised that intersex operations without the child’s consent was considered normal, even 20 years ago!
The way we treat patients is linked to the way society thinks about people and the norms and values that they have. This changes through time, and so will the way we treat patients.
Times change so quickly and it makes me wonder, what operations are normal now that will be considered ethically wrong in the future?
If you’re interested in the interview, here’s a link: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=888hOmfql1o