Stop Performing Nonconsensual, Medically Unnecessary Surgeries on Young Intersex Children

Each year, doctors around the United States perform medically unnecessary, irreversible surgeries on children and infants with intersex traits to “normalize” their bodies. The procedures are done before it is possible for the individual child to consent or even communicate their gender to medical providers making legal and medical sex assignments for them. Justified by parents, doctors, and others, at least in part, by a desire to forcibly avoid the future stigma of a perceived nonconforming body, these surgeries can lead to a lifetime of trauma for the intersex infants on whom they are performed.

On this Intersex Awareness Day, I urge my fellow trans advocates to call on medical associations and hospitals to join the international human rights community in banning nonconsensual, medically unnecessary surgeries on children with intersex traits. It is plainly unethical, cruel, and unnecessary to perform surgeries on the genitals of children and infants because we are afraid that their bodies do not seem normal and out of an impulse to “assign” a binary sex to a child before that child can articulate their gender. We must do better than that. We must celebrate the beauty of our differences rather than fear such difference so deeply that we cut into the genitals of our kids to erase it.

According to InterACT, a leading advocacy organization for intersex youth:

“The term intersex is an umbrella term that refers to people who have one or more of a range of variations in sex characteristics that fall outside of traditional conceptions of male or female bodies. For example, intersex people may have variations in their chromosomes, genitals, or internal organs like testes or ovaries.”

Approximately one out of 2,000 children born are “faced with unnecessary medical intervention at an early age.” Like transgender individuals, intersex people face discrimination and violence because they do not conform to societal gender norms. And they have increasingly become targets for discrimination by lawmakers seeking to expel gender nonconforming individuals from single-sex spaces like restrooms.

Though the discrimination that intersex individuals and transgender individuals face stems from the same social, medical, and political forces that want to enforce binary notions of biologically based sexual difference, our communities are often pitted against each other. This is because intersex individuals have to fight to be free from nonconsensual, medically unnecessary surgery, while trans individuals are forced to fight to gain access to medically necessary health care, including some of the same surgical procedures that are performed nonconsensually on intersex infants. But our communities — at times overlapping — are natural allies in the fight against medical and state control over the autonomy and health needs of our bodies.

In the case of both intersex and transgender patients, all we’re asking for is the right to decide for ourselves who we are. This means listening to young people and giving them a chance to embrace their identities and bodies and articulate their gender for themselves. For intersex youth, this can only happen if doctors refrain from performing surgeries on youth before they are capable of understanding and consenting to those surgeries. For all youth, this also means appreciating that however our sexed body parts align — or however they may differ from our expectations of how male or female bodies should look — our understanding of who we are is what should control both how we are understood in society and the medical care that we receive.

Our bodies may not always meet societal expectations of what is normal, but they are ours and they are beautiful. For parents and doctors to decide in infancy to “normalize” a body to fit societal expectations of binary-sexed bodies is to reinforce our fears of difference. And by doing so, they erase trans and intersex people from society.

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Dr. Joseph Goebbels

" Sex, sex, sex that's all you American's think about ...": Johnny Rotten circa 1977.


Wow. Really? Why should doctors get to decide what gender my child is? My child is the one to decide, not fucking doctors, not society, not no one!

Edith Pilkington

I am sympathetic toward those who have received non consensual genital and gonadal surgeries and non consensual hormone treatments. I was born w/ an atypical body. But what about people who are transsexual? The well worn expression, "“normalize” a body to fit societal expectations of binary-sexed bodies is to reinforce our fears of difference." can be read as a dog whistle. People dealing with transsexualism are often accused of promoting gender stereotypes. People who are born transsexual have a need to change endocrinology, physiology and anatomy. There is a mismatch. It has little to do with "gender confirmation". There are significant medical issues involved.

The ACLU should NOT partner with groups, like the Fenway Institute in Boston, which partners with the Center for American Progress, and Lambda Legal, to promote medical public policy that demands that medical providers refer to someone whose legal sex has been reassigned not as that sex but to that person's assigned sex at birth and have them flagged as "transgender" even after they have been become male or female and recognized as legally male or female.

The concept of "gender identity" is controversial within feminism and has been used to stigmatize people dealing with transsexualism who need medical treatment.

There are several public policy documents to refer to to understand how Lambda Legal, who promoted Alice Dreger's new book, even after she wrote a sixty page plus paper in defense of Michael Bailey, whose defamations and book they also promoted, or the Fenway Institute's, Do Ask Do Tell public policy document on outing patients with a transsexual medical history to understand the problems if you are to understand all that's involved and become a true ally:

These two organizations, following the UCSF's and Dean Spade's public policy recommendations promote the notion that people with a transsexual medical history, who have had legal and physiological sex changes, should be entered into an HIV/AIDS registry based on assigned sex at birth(all male mis-assigned) is reminiscent of something one would find in the GDR or Kurt Freund's Czechoslovkia.

I think the ACLU has a long way to come to be a true advocate of everyone on every side of these issues. It's time to recognize and promote the reasoning in Minnesota Federal District Court's Judge Michael Davis' decision in Radtke v. Miscellaneous Drivers and Helpers Union Local #638 Health, Welfare, Eye and Dental Fund where Davis recognized Radtke's sex for what it is, rather than patronizingly referring to an abstract, controversial, and far from accepted notion of "gender identity". He ruled that Radtke, who had been sued $80,000 for what a medical insurance provider asserted was "fraudulently declaring herself female" was actually female - not "transgender" or a "transfemale" and that sex is, indeed, mutable.

Davis wrote:

". The assigned sex of an individual at birth is based only on observation of anatomy at birth, which itself may change when the individual reaches puberty. Id. at 753. Here, Ms. Radtke is anatomically and hormonally female. It would be wholly inappropriate for this Court to invent a narrow federal definition of "sex" based on the sex assigned at birth and impose that construction . . . "

Dru Lavasseur should read more about what intersex activist, Gina Wilson, did in the Australian Legislature re: Kevin, which Lavasseur relies so much upon for establishing the primacy or "gender identity". Many intersex people, like Gina Wilson, do not buy into the concept of "gender identity" and have a lot to say that is contrary to what Lavasseur has to say. The legislature in Australia listened. There is a lot here to consider. I know Gina, through internet correspondence, and am very sympathetic with most of her concerns but strongly opposed what she did which carries the implication that sex is not mutable, contrary to what Judge Michael Davis conclude in Radtke v Miscellaneous Drivers . . . . She's very wrong about this and it has awful consequences for anyone who needs to change endocrinology, physiology and anatomy.

I wish people could understand the nuances involved in all these situations involving people who wish to remain intersex, transgender people. and people who are dealing with the very complex physiological problems involved with transsexualism.

David Reimer killed himself over "gender identity" theories. Many intersex people have been mutilated by those who use gender identity reasoning as a justification. Do I have to actually spell out John Money's name and the many negatives involved w/ his legacy?


That's addressed in the article...


The true root of David Reimer's trauma was his circumcision. The ACLU insanely *supports* this horrible abuse.


TERF arguments aside, it's quite simple that transgender people are aware of their gender identity and consent, while intersex INFANTS are not and cannot.

As an intersex and genderfluid person, I'm disgusted that you're trying to use this to argue against surgery for trans people. We are walking proof that sex is not a simple binary. Many, many intersex people have strong gender identities as adults that should be respected - why should trans people be any different?


> Approximately one out of 2,000 children born are “faced with unnecessary medical intervention at an early age.”

No, it's more like one out of four. Somehow the ACLU supports the body integrity of intersex babies, but opposed those who wanted to protect the body integrity of normal boys.

Georganne Chapin

How about, "Stop Performing Nonconsensual, Medically Unnecessary Surgeries on ALL Children"? According to InterACT (and quoted in this article), "Approximately one out of 2,000 children born are 'faced with unnecessary medical intervention at an early age'.”Actually, that number is one out of two children -- all boys born in American hospitals are potential targets of a medical system chomping at the bit to remove their natural, normal foreskins, without their consent. And, though the rate of circumcision is falling (no thanks to the ACLU), still, more than one million baby boys are victims of "unnecessary medical intervention" carried out for profit, under the justification that it's somehow "normal" to have a denuded penis.

Kenny Dixson

Agreed! Genital Integrity for all!!

A tisher

I did not consent.

I did bleed.

I am mad.

American needs to do better, If I was born with a vaginal I would have been left alone. Criminalize non-consensual genital cutting.


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