Wednesday, May 15, 2013

One for the bioethics section on "naturalness"

A couple is suing on behalf of their adopted child who was born intersex, because doctors decided to assign the gender "female" to the child when he was 16 months old, before they had custody of the child. The child was judged male at birth, but the doctors changed their minds at 16 months and went with female. He now identifies as male and the suit alleges that he was "a true hermaphrodite" at birth.

Decades ago, doctors would have "corrected" the child's genitalia without ever notifying the parents or even leaving any record of the procedure, because ambiguous genitalia were deemed shameful. The Advocate says doctors are currently encouraged assign a gender at birth but "to hold off on any unnecessary surgery until they are old enough to self-identify with a gender." The fact that doctors are now being sued for what used to be standard operating procedure is a sign of progress.

I'd actually like to know what the child's exact intersex condition is. (A variety of chromosomal and hormonal factors can lead to intersexuality.) This has no bearing on the merits of the case. I'm just nosy.


lemmycaution said...

In college there was a class called "human sexuality" taught by John Money. The nickname was "sex and money". Turns out that dude was totally responsible for popularizing those sex reassignment surgeries on babies:

Rob Helpy-Chalk said...

Woah, he looks like a fucked up dude.

Can he really take credit for separating the notions of sex and gender? Certainly plenty of other people were thinking along similar lines at the time.

lemmy caution said...

He was apparently the first to come up with the terms "gender role" in 1955. But he used them in a different way than people do now.

pages 10-16 explain:

here he is bitching about the way the phrase "gender role" was used by 1985:

As originally defined, gender role consists of both introspective and the extraspective manifestations of the concept. In general usage, the introspective manifestations soon became separately known as gender identity. The acronym, G-I/R, being singular, restores the unity of the concept. Without this unity, gender role has become a socially transmitted acquisition, divorced from the biology of sex and the brain. Sex and gender have been partitioned between body and mind, respectively.

lemmy caution said...

This article explains the rise of the term "gender" in a non-grammatical sense:

It also gives credit to John Money.


The beginnings
of this change in usage can be traced to Money’s introduction of the concept of “gender role” in 1955
(J. Money, 1955). However, the major expansion in the use of gender followed its adoption by feminists
to distinguish the social and cultural aspects of differences between men and women (gender) from
biological differences (sex). Since then, the use of gender has tended to expand to encompass the
biological, and a sex/gender distinction is now only fitfully observed.


Rob Helpy-Chalk said...

Interesting. I think he's wrong to say that the current use maps onto the mind/body split. It has more to do with individual/culture in post people's minds, I would think.

Morgan Holmes said...

To the best of my knowledge almost all "true hermaphrodites" have XX chromosomes, but some have chimerism with two separate cell lines, eg: xx/xy, and I have read about one case of an apparent XY individual with a combination ovary/testis (which is how "true hermaphroditism" was defined until the term was finally put to rest with the advent of "DSD" language. Alice Dreger's book on the 19th C medical invention of the hermaphrodite explains the rationale for the 'ovo-testis' criterion for the creation of the "true hermaphrodite" category. "DSD" is considered very problematic language by many of us who work on intersex issue from a critical standpoint (and I am one), but I will grant it props for being the coffin nail that sealed the fate of the "true hermaphrodite" label.
I think that Kessler and McKenna can lay claim to having the first systematized study of "gender" as a socail construct, though what they did was to map the functions of the already established concept of "gender role" in their book, "Gender, and ethnomethodological approach."
If you would like to see a brilliant collection of essays interrogating Money's legacy, I recommend that you borrow my edited collection, *Critical Intersex* from Ashgate Press, 2010. For a combination auto-ethnography and cultural studies oriented assessment of why Money's paradigm was so persuasive, you may want to read my monograph: "Intersex: a perilous difference" Susquehanna UP, 2008.