Standard medical practice is often to operate to “normalize” genitals, but some families are fighting back.
When Mark and Pam Crawford took their family to Great Wolf Lodge, a water adventure park, for a week’s vacation, their seven-year-old made a request.
“Since we don’t know anybody,” S asked her parents, “can I be a boy?”
The Crawfords, who adopted S at the age of two, had seen signs for years that she did not think of herself as female.
S didn’t want braided hair; S wanted a haircut “like dad’s.” At Halloween, S wanted to be a superhero, but not Wonder Woman. S wanted to use the men’s bathroom and liked to be referred to as a boy. S already tended to be perceived as a boy by strangers, after requesting a buzz cut about a month before the family’s vacation.
The Department of Social Services had told the Crawfords their child was born with an intersex condition, meaning the baby’s gender was unclear. S’s genitals had been surgically reconstructed to look more female.
An experiment that claimed to prove a child’s gender could be reassigned with surgical “reinforcement” was revealed to be a failure.
The week went well. S picked out a new, male name “M.” When the family arrived back home in South Carolina, things snowballed. M kept up his requests to be a boy, first at gymnastics class, then at the family’s Jewish temple and at school. His parents helped as M told the world step-by-step what he had known all along.
In retrospect, Mark Crawford said, “He never gave us any indication that he was not a boy.”
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M was born with genitals that were not clearly male or female. Also known as disorders of sex development (DSDs), the best guess by researchers is that intersex conditions affect one in 2,000 children.
The response by doctors is often to carry out largely unregulated and controversial surgeries that aim to make an infant’s genitals and reproductive organs more normal but can often have unintended consequences, according to intersex adults, advocates and some doctors.
A long and gut-wrenching list of damaging side effects—painful scarring, reduced sexual sensitivity, torn genital tissue, removal of natural hormones and possible sterilization—combined with the chance of assigning children a gender they don’t feel comfortable with has left many calling for the surgeries to be heavily restricted.
The Crawfords are bringing a landmark lawsuit on behalf of M against the hospitals and doctors who treated M, and the South Carolina Department of Social Services, which allowed the operation when M was in foster care.
A state lawsuit against the hospitals and the South Carolina Department of Social Services alleges medical malpractice and negligence, while a federal suit accuses the individual doctors and Social Services employees of violating M’s due-process rights under the 14th Amendment, which says that no state shall “deprive any person of life, liberty, or property without due process of law.”
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Medical ethics and health policy are still way behind science. The thinking and lack of a uniform policy underlying the treatment of these children is horrifying. While these cases are uncommon, there is no reason for the lack of a national policy to guide hospitals and parents.
Curated from www.theatlantic.com