Needless, Invasive Surgery on Healthy Intersex Infants Still Legal, Somehow

As the world embraces nonbinary genders, intersex people are still paying the price for these harmful and increasingly irrelevant procedures.
January 15, 2020, 9:13pm
intersex, surgery, pidgeon pagonis, lgbtq, nonbinary, gender-nonconforming, x gender marker, gender marker, binary gender
Photo by Vladimir Nenov/EyeEm via Getty Images

On Tuesday, California state legislators rejected a measure that would have banned medically unnecessary treatment for intersex newborns, as the Associated Press reported, including surgical procedures to permanently alter “ambiguous” genitalia before the age of six.

Between one and two percent of the United States population is born intersex, according to Democratic state senator Scott Weiner, who authored the bill, meaning they are born with genitalia, chromosomes, and/or reproductive organs that don’t fit strict, normative definitions of male or female. These procedures, a standard medical practice since the mid-20th century, are performed without the intersex newborn’s consent and can have permanent, unwanted complications for the individual in question.

It’s unclear why assigning newborns a sex at birth is even necessary anymore, considering how high the stakes are for intersex individuals, as well as the fact that the idea of a gender binary is quickly losing relevance, even at the legal level. An increasing number of states have begun to allow residents to change the gender marker on their driver’s licenses and other state-issued IDs to X, indicating that they are either nonbinary, gender-conforming, intersex, or some other gender beyond male or female. Last November, Michigan became the 14th such state to do so.

Perhaps a better solution would be to stop assigning sex at birth and remove gender markers from government-issued documents entirely, thus eliminating the entire hassle before it begins.

Pidgeon Pagonis, a prominent intersex activist from the U.S., has called these procedures “medically sanctioned violence and torture” and has said that their own experiences with these operations have left them with scarring, loss of sensation, emotional trauma, and severe sexual impairment. If Pagonis’ example tells us anything, it’s that intersex surgeries don’t make intersex people’s lives easier—in fact, they make them harder. And as we head further into a future where we’re able to determine our genders on our own terms, regardless of what we were assigned at birth, there’s really no justification for these procedures we can think of.

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