In 1843 an individual, Levi Suydam,asked Salisbury, Connecticut to allow him to vote in a hotly contested election ( this person had to ask for the right to vote because this was 80 years before women were allowed to vote ).
A lot of people objected to the petition because it was said that this person was more female than male. What could this mean?
A doctor examined him, found a penis and so said he should be allowed to vote and this vote changed the outcome of the election.
Days later the doctor examined him more closely and realized Suydam menstruated regularly and had a vaginal opening.
So the debate started all over again: male or female?
There are actually many gradations running from female to male. In nature, we find a spectrum of people, a range, not an either-or.
Intersex – used as a catch all phrase for this spectrum
Herms (hermaphrodites) – possess one ovary and one testis
Merms (male pseudohermaphrodites) – possess testes and some aspects of the female genitalia but not ovaries
Ferms (female pseudohermaphrodites) – possess ovaries and some aspects of the male genitalia but lack testes
All pseudohermaphrodites possess two gonads of the same kind (all ovaries or all testes) and they also possess the usual chromosomes for their sex (XY male, XX female), but their external genitalia and their secondary sex characteristics do not match the chromosomes.
These three categories deserve to be recognized as three other kinds of sexes (Merms, Herms, Ferms).
In fact, the author argues further that sex is a vast, infinitely malleable continuum that defies the constraints of even five categories.
One researcher has some evidence that suggests up to 4% of births are intersexed (other stats show 2%, 1 in 50).
For most this number seems shockingly high. Consider why this might be.
Most intersexed individuals are recognized at birth.
The individual is then often put into a particular F or M sex category through surgery. It is often unlikely that extended family or friends would even know. Some individuals may not even know they had surgery as infants.
Q: Why does the medical community want to surgically make these individuals male or female ‘right away’ or quickly?
There is an assumption that there are:
(1) ONLY two sexes,
(2) that ONLY heterosexuality is right and
(3) that psychological health can only be attained if one is fully female or fully male.
In theory it is possible for a true hermaphrodite to become both father and mother of his/her child (since they have both eggs and sperm).
In practice it is not possible because the tubes do not align in such a way that the egg and sperm can meet.
This is OLD NEWS! Hermaphrodites are featured in stories about human origins.
Early biblical stories say Adam was a hermaphrodite,
Plato, ancient Greek philosopher, refers there were three sexes,
Jewish books give rules for the correct behavior of the intersexed,
in the Middle Ages Europe forced the intersex to choose a female or male life and then STICK to it or be punished.
More Current Issues
Some states allow you to change your official, legal sex if you have had a sex change. Other states say, that despite your surgery, your sex cannot change (since your chromosomes have not).
Young – studied hermaphrodites and wrote a book about the life of these individuals.
One patient, Emma, had both a penis and a vaginal opening (making it possible for her to have heterosexual sex with either gender).
In conversation she said she would often rather be viewed as a man, but that she was unwilling to give up her status since it provided her with free time and money to live the life she wanted to live (as a wife who doesn’t have to work).
Other doctors have written that to live an intersexed life is to BE subject to anguish and despair. An intersexed life leaves one doomed to live as a freak, alone and frustrated.
So, they say it is very fortunate that we can medically ‘fix’ the problem.
However, studies that follow the intersexed before such surgeries were possible show that not ONE was psychologically disturbed and not ONE committed suicide.
The question : Why should we care if there are people whose biological equipment enables them to have sex ‘naturally’ with both men and women?
One answer : There is a cultural NEED to maintain clear distinctions between the sexes. Society mandates the control of intersexual bodies because they blur and bridge the great divide.
The problems opponents raise:
What would be the psychological consequences of taking the alternative route – raising children as unabashed intersexuals?
Fraught with peril!
What about cruel kids?
What about showering in front of others?
What bathrooms do these kids use?
How do parents help them get through puberty?
Almost without exception these children have grown up and adjusted to their unusual status. There is not one instance of a psychotic or a suicide in the lot of those studied.
Questions for Discussion
What information in the article was new to you or surprised you or seemed odd to you? How did this change your thinking about the issue or fail to do so?
The type of clothes we buy our children, the names we allow ourselves to choose for our children and many of our choices and actions concerning our children seem to depend on their sex. What should you do if a future baby of yours is intersexed? Whose advice would you seek out? Do the doctors have the best answers for you? Why or why not?
If you decide to alter the sex of the child to male or female, at what point in the child’s development should this be accomplished? What makes this time the RIGHT time?
Difference or Disability?
There is more discussion today about viewing what used to be considered disabilities as differences that should be respected, not problems to be changed.
So, for instance, many little people are committed to refusing surgery and drug treatments that could allow them to grow inches taller (through repeatedly breaking and regrowing bones, thus lengthening them or through a growth hormone).
Some who are blind or deaf also don’t view themselves as disabled, but rather as living life differently from those who can see or hear. This difference is valuable, some say, since they understand life differently (feel/sense the world in different ways than others).
Could or should being intersexed be viewed in this same way? IS this something that does not need to be fixed? Or is this new movement off-track?