Hermaphrodites with Attitude

For my G101 class earlier in the semester we had to read an article called Hermaphrodites with Attitude by Cheryl Chase and I think it relates to the class. Chases discusses the medicalization of intersexed children and how it is considered a medical crisis. She states that since the early 60’s almost every hospital in a major city within the United States has a standing team of experts who intervene in the case of an intersexed baby. These experts operate on the babies to give them either female or male genitalia. These surgical techniques were mainly developed at John Hopkins University during the 20’s and 30’s under supervision of a urologist named, Hugh Hampton Young.

Chase brings up a good point about the medical emergency of intersexed babies, “the fact that this system for preserving the boundaries of the categories male and female has existed for so long without drawing criticism or scrutiny from any quarter indicates the extreme discomfort that sexual ambiguity excites in our culture.”

The article also talks about why the doctors choose to do this at such a young age. They claim growing up intersexed might cause psychological damage to the child. But like Chase I agree that using such techniques to fit into a category might have more emotional harm to the child and their families. I think Chase also provides an excellent point about how much power we give to medicine, “we as a culture have relinquished to medicine the authority to police the boundaries of male and female leaving intersexuals to recover as best they can, alone and silent, from violent normalization.”

Chase also provides a personal account for being intersexed. She explains how she was born with ambiguous genitals and the doctors decided that she was male with a “micropenis, complete hypospadia, undescended testes, and a strange extra opening behind the urethra.” And at the age of three other experts later concluded that she was actually female and was operated on again and raised as female. She labeled herself as lesbian later in life and then discovered her medical records and found the truth. Because of the clitorectomy she couldn’t have an orgasm and she now knew she was once a he. This truth caused her to consider suicide. She states, “I was no longer a woman in my own eyes but rather a monstrous and mythical creature.”

This article made me realize the categories that are placed on every one of us. As a culture we think that we need to have a dichotomy but doesn’t that just make everyone who doesn’t fit into those categories feel left out? Cheryl Chase almost committed suicide because of the burden that was placed on her. She felt she either had to be and he or a she. Luckily, she began to tell her story and later created the Intersex Society of North America (ISNA) in 1993. The society advocates that surgery not be performed on intersexed babies unless a medical reason. The choice should be given to them when they are old enough to decide not when they are babies and have no say.


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