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.

View comments (28)
Read the Terms of Use

A tisher

Vagina* obviously

Anonymous

I'm so accustomed to people not giving a shit about genital integrity for males that it never even occurred to me how awful it was that the ACLU wasn't actively campaigning against mutilation. This does put things in perspective.

Genital autonomy goes beyond civil liberties; it falls into the category of basic human rights. Clearly the ACLU thinks only certain classes of people deserve this right; infant boys don't make the cut, so they get cut.

Anonymous

ACLU if you truly believe that we are all born beautiful then you would be defending boys from having their penises cut. Why didn't you? If you truly believe nothing should be done to our bodies without our consent, why didn't you support baby boys from from being circumcised without their consent? I'm a gay man that used to support the ACLU but you obviously are not supporting my rights to my own body.

Kaleb Brown

All babies grow to be independent, thinking, feeling, loving individuals. It's time for our society to stop treating children and babies like objects to be tailored to the desires of a parent or religion. ALL individuals need to be protected from gender - related surgical mutilation. It doesn't matter whether the child is male, female, or a variation thereupon. These children are human beings and worthy of equal dignity and respect.

Gender reassignment surgeries on intersex children and circumcisions on both males and females violate the individual's right to bodily integrity. The aesthetic views of parents, or the religious views of their cultures should respectfully end where the body of another begins.

The aforementioned surgeries have absolutely no medical benefits. What's worse is that the victims of these procedures are taught that it's normal or even more desirable for their sexual identity to be permanently diminished and scarred. Nobody deserves that.

If a parent's first imperative is love for their child, that love needs to be manifested as respect for that child's bodily integrity. Any kind of unnecessary surgical alteration is not love. It's cruelty.

Kaleb Brown

And this is not just an lgbtq right. This is a universal human right.

Maple

ALL children deserve protection from medically unnecessary amputation of healthy body parts. Male, female, intersex, the harm is clearly proven in each case. Nobody has the right to make these choices for another person. It is not about the parents' freedom to choose, it is about the individual's freedom to choose. They are the ones who have to live the rest of their lives, every single day, with the results of these irreversible procedures. There is absolutely no reason to take that choice away from them while they are too young to consent or understand.

I implore the ACLU to reconsider their prior stance defending circumcision of infants and children. Bring that policy in line with this one. Respect the right of the individual to their own body, period.

Hans Castorp

Dear ACLU:

Are you ready now to support the genital integrity rights of ALL children?

3000 baby boys are subjected to foreskin amputation each day in the United States. What could be a more basic civil liberty than the right to your own whole and complete body?

Joel

The ACLU needs to stand up to protect all children from medically unnecessary surgeries. This includes routine infant circumcision. It's a cosmetic surgery performed on someone who can't say whether they want it (they don't). People who are intact prefer to keep all parts of their bodies. I am so thankful I was spared. I feel sorry for guys who had this done without a say. It's weird to cut a babies genitals. Let's change our culture and stand for the rights of all our babies!

Greg Hartley

All children, regardless of gender (male, female and intersex), culture or parental religion, have a fundamental right to keep all their healthy, functional genitalia. Since an infant is incapable of religious beliefs, imposing an irreversible body alteration on him violates the freedom to choose his own religion as an adult. It differs from education, which can be changed. My body belongs to me!

Not Yours to Cut

"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..."

This happens every day in American hospitals, and no one bats an eye.

"Well, his dad is circumcised, so we felt that he should be circumcised too to match."

"We had our son circumcised because we were afraid he might feel different in the locker room."

"I've never heard of anyone who didn't circumcise their boys!"

Please advocate for all children.

Thank you.

Pages

Stay Informed