The Next Frontier of Civil Rights

1 in every 1500 infants are born with ambiguous genitalia. Called Intersex, Editor-in-Chief DREW GOWING looks at the mutilations performed on infants that don’t conform to one of the two sexes, at the infertility rate amongst adults forced to face the truth about their gender, and to the new frontier and battle for Civil Rights, the Intersex Revolution.

Before you were ever a boy or girl you were an 'it.' “What is it?” was the first question women asked their obstetrician upon delivery, until, in 1956 after the advent of the Obstetric Ultrasound, they could see for themselves. While parents portend that a baby’s health is their primary concern, it is staggeringly only the second question they ask at a sonogram. Indeed, your sex was and remains the single most important factor of your identity.

One in every 1500 infants are born with ambiguous genitalia. Called androgynous, “Intersex” is a general term used for a variety of conditions in which a newborn has reproductive or sexual anatomy that doesn’t fit the standard definitions of male or female. For example, an infant might be born with the external genitalia of one sex while having the reproductive anatomy of the other. Or, an infant may be born with genitals that are unlike the normal male and female stereotypes. A female, for instance, may be born with a noticeably large clitoris or lacking a vaginal opening. A male can be born with an infinitesimally small penis, or a scrotum that is divided and formed like labia. In each and every case, the infant is born with something the medical community calls Mosaic Genetics: where XX and XY chromosomes coexist in the same person.

Nature doesn’t prescribe sex. Humans do. Physicians typically take it upon themselves to decide how large a penis should be, how small a clitoris is considered appropriate, and describe anything away from normality as "intersex." Long and painful reconstructive surgeries are recommended for the infant that doesn’t fit neatly into one of two socially acceptable categories leaving the child, adolescent, teenager and adult to wrestle with and reconcile that decision throughout their lifetime.

Nature doesn’t prescribe sex. Humans do
Surgeon General of the United States

Moreover, Intersex isn’t just the plight of the newborn. More often it shows up in the teenager who fails to reach puberty, the adult seeking infertility treatment, and most commonly in the postmortem; where an autopsy reveals the characteristics of two sexes. Indeed, many people live and die with Intersex anatomy without anyone (including themselves) ever knowing it.

Intersex may be the new frontier and next battle of civil rights. An individual’s sexual identity should not be decided only by a parent or physician, but rather through self examination, questioning societal norms, and debunking the myth that their are merely two genders when a kaleidoscope of variations exist.

Perhaps one day we will no longer ask “What is it?” but instead look to, honor and celebrate “Who it is ...”

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