Bodies in Doubt 4.12.21

     Bodies in Doubt was my favorite read that we have done this semester. How I got background into the intersex community and the various impact that it has had on people globally was actually through a second-year psychology course that I was able to take through UMW– PSYCH of Exceptional Children Youth. While intersexuality was not explored in depth in that course, I got into it through my final paper for the course, specifically the “Ashly-X case”. Prior to doing research into this case I had no idea what to expect. The name given to the patient was Ashley-x as her parents did not want personal identifying information about their daughter to be made public. Born with a variety of physical disabilities, Ashley was dependent on her family members to care for her in almost all facets of her life. Because of this, when Ashley began to go through the beginning stages of puberty, her parents and primary doctors made the executive decision that not only would it be in their best interest to stunt her growth overall (so that she did not become too heavy and impossible for her parents to care for in their later age) but also that she undergo a hysterotomy at the mere age of fifteen. Although the “Ashley-X” case is not directly linked to  Elizabeth Reis work, it is similar as both of these works discuss the complexities of body politics on the youth.

Chapter four offered a comprehensive history of the beginnings of ways that the medical community rationalized making the pivotal decisions of what sexual organs would make each a “man” or a “women” based upon sex organs alone,  and then in the late 1970s there was a shift in where doctors would make such distinctions based upon often outdated social constructions of how each gender went on to function and assimilate themselves into the world around them. John Money was not a likeable figurehead for me in this reading as his medical decisions were often rooted in the fact that he saw gender able to bend itself in the early stages. This was particularly troubling for me to get into because it is where I started to make links between Money’s involvement and the unacceptable treatment of Ashley. In both instances, gender as both a construct and a way in which many came to understand their sexual identities, was damaged because neither persons had a fair say on what felt the most “natural” to them. As was touched on in the fifth chapter, intersex individuals often grew up really struggling to navigate and relate to others around them because how they identified often was in contrast with their own bodies. Medical choices have deeply profound psychological, emotional, and physical consequences that doctors like Money harmfully ignored.

Bodies in Doubt

In Bodies in Doubt: An American History of Intersex, Elizabeth Reis unfolds the medical history of intersex individuals in the 20th century and its lasting effects on intersex bodies and the way they are perceived throughout American time. Chapter four begins by discussing the ways in which doctors would “‘make’ men and women” (83). This chapter underscores how doctors during this time, justified their action because they understood the repercussions of being born different in a binary world, and these surgeries gave intersex people access to marriage and other social opportunities that non-intersex bodies had the privilege to obtain. Reis noted that during this time, many doctors relied on “gonads to determine a patient’s true sex” and also their proximity to heterosexual sex. However, as noted in the fifth chapter, the mid-twentieth century marked a change in how genital changing surgery was determined by people in the medical industry. They focused on psychology as the token to create gender. Through this process, doctors played into sexist stereotypes associated with men and women in “creating” gender. The time also allowed doctors to see infancy as the best time to change gender because physicians like John Money took advantage of the idea that gender has malleability in the short time following birth. In the Epilogue, Reis is able to question the terms that are used for and against intersex people, and how phrases like “disorders of sex development” have been used to stigmatize intersex bodies as a kind of defect. But terms like divergence of sex development have the possibility to give intersex bodies power, and it gives doctors the cultural backing to perceive intersex people with “complexity” (159).

After reading these chapters it became clear how fragile and oppressing gender can be. In the fourth chapter, individuals understood the circumstances of being different. There was the cost to not fitting into socially assigned genders. While reading, I started thinking about two-spirited individuals who sometimes were considered intersex. In my perspective, these systems that indigenous people created allowed intersex people to “opt-out” of the gender binary in a safe way. Gender did not end with males and females which gave them access to social means that were non-occupiable by cis-gendered people. As seen in these chapters, throughout time, it seems that euro-colonized America has never allowed space outside of the gender binary, because it might question the worth of the institution that they created.

Bodies In Doubt—Alex Poly

Elizabeth Reis highlighted the evolution of the medical field in “Bodies in Doubt: An American History of Intersex.” Specifically, Reis focused on the term “intersex” (and/vs transgenderism) and what that meant throughout time. For example, intersex individuals were previously thought to be abnormal and were perceived in an extremely negative light. Therefore, physicians would quite literal mutilate their bodies to ensure a proper “marriage” in the future (89). These experimentations were absolutely disgusting in my opinion given the lack of agency the patients truly had. It is clear the understanding of sexuality compared to intersex was not very well known and treated with the same suspicion and disgust, given the reactions from physicians. Additionally, many people viewed intersex individuals as the way we view transgender people now. If they were deemed as a man and wanted to marry a man, for example, that would stick out and impact their treatment. Many of these experimental procedures would occur without the patient’s knowledge nor their parents at birth, when a physician would randomly choose based on outward appearance or what they thought worked, as a means to protect their “happiness” (86). This is absolutely disturbing and should have never been allowed, but it does provide insight into doctor’s thoughts at the time and their intentions. Intersex individuals were treated with disgust instead of embraced for who they were and given proper medicinal treatment which often directly contradicted this desire to secure their “happiness.”

The reason I enjoyed this novel as much as I did was primarily based on the ways in which I could relate to feeling alienated and not female or male enough. I am cisgender and label myself as a lesbian but I have never felt “female enough” as deemed by society. Even though I am pretty feminine presenting, that has still caused me to feel pretty isolated at times. I can seem not gay enough to others in the community or too gay by those outside it, which has been a rather unique experience as I have adjusted my dress overtime. This reminded me of Arresting Dress and how people had to change their behavior according to the environment they were in and who would accept them. Additionally, I related to the novel because of societal alienation. Even though many people I know are open and tolerant, society at large is not about homosexuality. I quite literally would’ve been killed in my home country if I ended up staying there and decided to be out. It’s wonderful that we have made so much progress regarding sexuality and/vs the intersex community throughout the 20th century to now, as mentioned, but it is still scary to think about how many people are impacted today across the world and how far we have to go.

Bodies in Doubt

Bodies in Doubt: An American History of Intersex by Elizabeth Reis discusses how the views and opinions of patients, physicians and society have changed over time. Reis focuses more on the late nineteenth century and early twentieth century in order to gain a better understanding of how intersex has been understood over such a long period of time. The late nineteenth and early twentieth century have a very different mindset regarding intersex and transgender identities. In the early twentieth century, operations were performed to redirect the body towards heterosexual performance, or to “un-sex” the body as an ultimate solution. Techniques developed to include new factors, gonadal tissue, hormone levels and then chromosomes, moving into what she terms the ‘era of idiosyncrasy’ of intersex treatment. Reis states that doctors remain committed in their practices to heterosexual marriage, ‘to surgery devoted to guaranteeing the union of two differently sexed bodies by the creation of “perfected” men and women’ (p. 85). In the 1920s and 1930s, ‘doctors experimented on all patients’ bodies’ (p. 91) and that surgical techniques still had dismal success rates.

I was able to relate to this book on a very different level than most of the other book’s we’ve read this semester. I currently have a sibling who identifies as non binary or genderfluid, and I can’t even begin to fathom the thought of them having to deal with the issues many faced before today. Reis brings such a positive light to the topic and focuses more on educating rather than just stating facts and moving on, which is really important because there’s a lot to learn when it comes to one being intersex.

Bodies in Doubt blog post

Bodies in Doubt: An American History of Intersex by Elizabeth Reis explores the history of intersexuality from the Colonial era up to today. The author examines how different factors such as language can effect the true meaning of intersexuality. Reis explained in the 18th century, intersex patients were seen not-normal. On page 89, “Doctors were of two minds regarding hermaphrodites and marriage. They generally wanted to ensure that their patients’ bodies were properly equipped for heterosexual penetration should they indeed marry” as well as “Though they may have preferred that hermaphrodites not wed, doctors were surprised to find that many did, sometimes as the ‘wrong sex’… Thus, in the minds of many physicians who accepted the gonadal definition of sex, a person who fit that description was really male, not female”. The second quote stood out to me because of how they identified it as being the “wrong” sex.


One of the parts of the book I found interesting was on page 109, when Reis talked about people profiting off being categorized as intersex. “Some people used their intersex condition to their advantage, displaying their unusual bodies to make money. Francis Benton, a self-termed hermaphrodite, billed himself as ‘Male and Female in One: One Body- Two People’.” This reminded me of Arresting Dress in a sense that it relates to dressing in Drag in a way. Being able to profit off of an uncommon way to dress or being intersex, was a way for people who weren’t “normal” or who didn’t conform to social pressure and social norms was a way for them to feel comfortable and be themselves.

“Bodies in Doubt”

“Bodies in Doubt” by Elizabeth Reis gives a brief history on intersex people and the medical procedures they endured through the decades. The text follows this medical anomaly from the 1920’s to the 1950’s and even touches on more modern approaches. I noticed in the first few chapters people were coming to doctors for other medical procedures and with examinations the doctors discovered that the person was intersex which is defined has having both male and female reproductive organs, hormones, or chromosomes. The medical practices of determining the person’s “true sex” used over time consisted of examining genitalia, examining the gonads of the person, evaluation the patients psychology, and gender reassignment surgery. As the text switches to more modern practices Reis uses more modern langue when referring to intersex people instead of referring to them as hermaphrodites. One thing that I noticed to be a little troubling with the surgeries and overall treatment of intersex people was how it started with adults making decision about their own bodies to make the transition to later parents making decisions for their child. Infant gender reassignment surgery just does not sit right with me especially when some children did not even know they were intersex till much later in life. I found this to be very trouble some with parents making that choice to raise a child a certain gender and make medical changes that could not be reversed because the child had no choice. I am glad to know that with the story of the parents on page 41 that the doctors advised them to not take any drastic measures to assign their baby’s sex and to not do something that was not reversible. I wish Reis had followed this couple and their child to see how they went about raising their child and if the child ever decided to have gender reassignment surgery or if they decided to live their life as being intersex.

Bodies in Doubt

Bodies in Doubt addresses the early medical community’s reactions to and relationship with intersex people in its opening chapter. The discussion of the Social Justifications for Surgery explains how many risky surgeries were done solely for the social implications. This is explained in Dr. Edmunds’ analysis of the little kid he performed surgery on. However, the way that he speaks of this kid is hard to read, as he suggests that his “happiness is seriously handicapped” (86). This discussion and O’Farrell’s discussion of the three sisters shows that society itself had an issue with these bodies and implemented this disdain into the young people who underwent these surgeries and this abuse. Throughout this chapter, the author explains how these doctors attempted to play more than just one type of relationship to their patient- not only were they primary care providers, they were also trying to be match makers and controllers of their patients whole lives. Which obviously disturbing, as surgeries like the ones that are described are extremely dangerous and harmful for the people who underwent them.

The discussion of the man attempting to marry a woman even after he had been deemed “a woman” by his father twenty years prior shows another issue with this form of identifying people based solely on their genitalia. This seen in how he explains that since he desires sex with women, he must be a man, but this notion completely throws away sexualities. Not only does it erase sexuality, it also erases the identities of people like the oldest daughter who was described earlier. As someone who identifies with both parts of her identity she was seen as a lost cause for not wanting to undergo genital mutilation to be deemed “healthy” by those in the medical community. She didn’t have access to the concept of nonbinary and intersex individuals, some of whom undergo these surgeries to become more androgynous. However, the discussion on page 105 is essentially the most important part of these debates, what does the patient want?

Some nonbinary, trans, and intersex people don’t want surgeries or hormone therapies to transition their bodies physically, some do, and it is important to address both of these views and accept them. The discussion of the way that medical records and the people who were being written about showed disdain for one another is also an interesting discussion, as it shows that sometimes the doctors did do what these people. Although their analysis and negative opinions of these surgeries obviously leave much to be desired, especially when they resorted to committing genital mutilations on infants, which is objectively worse. As the children cannot consent and these surgeries may harm them later in their lives when they were attempting to negotiate their sexuality and their gender identity– both of which were seemingly based on ones genitals during this time period.

Interestingly, the analysis of how these decisions were passed over to psychiatry shows similarities to how the medical community addresses trans and nonbinary individuals today. Althoughh it is obviously different in some ways, it is important to connect the similarities of these two forms of medicine. And obviously, these psychiatric analyses of patients provided for a more complete assessment of these people and allowed doctors to do what was truly best for the patient. Such stories as the one of Chanis which is described on 126 shows how dangerous relying solely on gonads is for the mental health and future of the patient. Interestingly, the suggestion that the only way for one to be a “true man” is to be able to stand while urinating and having a fully functioning penis is dangerous to cis men who have medical issues that may make it so they are unable to do these two things. Seemingly, the difference is that they only possess one form of gonads, but either way it was obviously not a fully thought out way to assess an individual’s identity.

Money’s belief that gender identity is malleable until 18 months of age is also harmful to intersex individuals as it means that they are being assigned genitalia at birth. This assignment of identity doesn’t address the fact that many non-intersex people end up wanting to transition or identifying as nonbinary. Being intersex doesn’t prevent people from wanting to discover their identity, but the assignment of sex through genital surgery is harmful to the future of these individuals. Along with this, the notion that they will grow up “sexually normal” which meant heterosexual was dangerous to their identities as a whole as. Also, the belief that telling young girls that they may be sterile was not dangerous is extremely misguided, as we can see people with infertility now struggle with their identities and their fears around this. Sharing this with young women without any bedside manner is extremely dangerous to them.

The author’s final suggestion to remind medical practitioners that their views are completely based off of their current moment in history is definitely something that needs to be taken into account. However, I think it’s also important to remind these practitioners that it is dangerous to assume that these people will benefit from what is being done to them. Babies cannot give consent to a medical procedure and it is impossible for anyone to be able to predict how these children will identify and how these surgeries will effect them.

Reading #9 Bodies in Doubt

Elizabeth Reis’ Bodies in Doubt follows the thread of how intersectional bodies have been treated from the 1920s, through the 1940s and 1950s, all the way to the writing of the book. Even at the very beginning, Reis raises important questions like “Who was authorized to make the decisions, and how would one know the right decisions had been made? What constituted a positive outcome?” on page 92. The chronology Reis follows marks the changes in medical thought from the gonadal definition of gender, sex-reassignment surgery no matter what, and total secrecy about the condition, to a far more holistic definition of gender (taking into account psychology and gender presentation), less of a focus on sex-reassignment surgery past early infancy, and less focus on secrecy. Reis also discusses changing language around being intersex – from using intersex or hermaphrodite (and all variations of) to the proposed disorder of sex development. Reis offers her own language to counteract the stigma surrounding the word “disorder” – divergence of sex development, to help normalize something that is more common than one might think.

My biggest questions coming away from Bodies in Doubt are the ones surrounding language, because how one labels a thing as a lot to do with the angle you approach it from – think “victim” vs “survivor” for any type of abuse or assault. I also wonder, particularly with the focus parents of intersex children tend to have on wanting their child to be either male or female, how intersex identities and nonbinary/genderfluid identities interact with each other, as I’m sure they do in some instances. The issues of language Reis brings up in the epilogue are I think very important ones, and ones that I hope would be given more screen time, as it were, if Reis decided to update the book with a chapter on what was happening as she was writing.

White Women, Black Men Blog Post

Martha Hodes’ White Women, Black Men captures interracial relationships in U.S history, noting specifically the toleration of these couples and changes that resulted in interracial marriage prevention laws. One reason stemmed from “black male sexuality” paired with racial stereotypes and hierarchy that promoted fear regarding these types of relationships (19). 

Specifically in Chapter 2 and 3, Hodes follows the story of Nell Butler and Charles in 1681 which shocked the locals and promoted further discussion over interracial marriage laws, as well as other couples. However, this was largely accepted compared to previous relationships in the South and the lack of “public” exposure, as these were kept secret (21). Hodes explains many reasons why Nell and Charles’ relationship made more sense at the time, including class boundaries, “freedom suits,” and the American Revolution (23, 37, 66).  However, in general, people “gossip[ed]” about the relationship and subsequent relationships in the future that were similar, especially with the evolution of marriage laws (27). In fact, their granddaughter had to file for freedom and actually did win in 1787, over 100 years later (35). Overall, the conflict between viewing enslaved people as “property and human” resulted in these complex situations and how they would be handled throughout time, especially in the south (59). 

Chapter 7 and 8 focused on racial hierarchy and illicit sex that marked a start contrast in the acceptance of white and make relationships. Specifically, black liberation and racial mixing were noted as two main contributors to this change that caused whites to rethink interracial relationships (147). This “era of terrorism” was marked by extremists in the KKK and locals taking the matter into their own hands, causing a shift in social perspective that resulted in preventative laws (148). I thought it was so interesting that the author makes a note that these were not initially based on race but based on the validity of marriages or relationships as a means to separate each race, and that laws got more specific overtime based on her research (149-152). Stories of white and black relationships were dismissed entirely and the blame was placed on black participants in these relationships. For example, Elvira Corder was told to be “influenced” by her father’s laborer, Jordan, who was a black man, and their relationship was deemed completely non consensual (182). Thus, he was lynched. Other relationships were deemed non consensual and portrayed the black male as a rapist. Stories like theirs are not few and far between, because many people fell in love, but the differences between how this was handled compared to Butler and Charles Is worth noting. 

I think the most interesting aspect of the reading was Poly and Jim and how the blame was shifted to her when they claimed rape. I thought this was extremely interesting when you think about how easy it was to frame black men and use the history of police violence/racism as a death sentence. However, the courts actually put more blame on her and didn’t believe the story (46). The reason I was shocked by this story in particular is due to the way the public continued to defend Jim’s character and trash hers. Regardless of what truly happened, locals viewed this woman with suspicion. I cannot tell if this is primarily based on victim blaming and sexism already present in society (Hodes mentions that briefly) or if this is an extremely rare case where people genuinely knew the man and respected him. Hodes does include, however, that pregnancy was thought to be indicative of consensual sex, so maybe that is the basis for their argument, but I was shocked regardless. This relates to the issue of “white women’s agency” and the ways in which female sexuality was controlled and manipulated as a means to justify racist attacks on interracial couples (194). I was thoroughly confused when I attempted to understand why themes of “race and manhood” also contributed to these racist attacks when in reality, people generally minded their business (196). Perhaps finding an outlet to express white male frustration allowed for an opportunity to place blame on others and police white women’s sexuality as well as black men’s autonomy (free or enslaved). Overall, I absolutely loved this reading and learned a lot about a pretty significant aspect of our nation’s history that has continued to define many interracial relationships. In fact, when we think of Loving V Virginia and how recently that happened just her sin Virginia, it makes you contemplate how far we actually have come and what legal and societal barriers are still in place. 

Additionally, this reading reminded me of Angry White Men and the ways in which historic realities influence our lives now and our contemporary understandings of race, class, gender, and privilege. No one ever doubted white male behavior when they targeted interracial couples and made examples out of them, or when they manipulated the courts or local authority figures into believing entirely false rape allegations. Everyone took their word for it and just continued about their day, using false accusations of violence to justify real violence. I know many people, including myself, who had negative reactions from others based on the races in their relationships (obviously faced homophobia for me personally as well), and that breaks my heart. While it is not comparable to the struggle of BIPOC in general, many mixed kids also feel entirely left out because their racial identity is essentially erased one way or the other depending on how they look. For example, my friend is black and white and she looks Hispanic. People treat her as a brown person, just not as black. My other friend is darker than her half siblings who are fully black, but her mom is white. Everyone in America seems to see things through a very racialized, black and white frame (connection to framing from last class) and how that can alter our perceptions of people/interracial couples. Gatekeeping race has to be one of the many contemporary issues I cannot even begin to understand. Luckily, much of the discrimination my friends and my exes have faced was relatively “minor” in their words, but that doesn’t erase the racism or their trauma responses in those situations. I can only hope that things continue to improve and fight for an America where everyone is free to love who they want and are RESPECTED—regardless of gender, race, class, or sexuality. 

White Women, Black Men

In the sections of White Women, Black Men by Martha Hodes, we were able to see how interracial marriage was viewed centuries before the Supreme Court case Loving v. Virginia. Interracial marriages were discriminated against and oftentimes dangerous for not only the husband and wife, but also for the kids during the time before emancipation. Due to the one drop rule, if the father of a child was enslaved, even if the mother of the child was white, the child would then be considered enslaved, and the mother’s status was disregarded.  An example of an interracial couple during this time is Nell Butler and Charles who got married on the Chesapeake and were advocates for interracial marriage such as their own and to end the stigma towards relationships such as their owns. After emancipation, if a free black man were to be caught with a white woman, there was a large possibility that they would end up lynched as often during this time the KKK got involved with these cases. Black men would also be brought to court as it was very easy for the white woman to say that the man was attempting rape (like in To Kill a Mockingbird). Organizations such as the KKK or even people whose job it was to give marriage licenses often felt threatened by interracial couples, and the KKK would go after both the men and the women and marriages licenses would be refused.

I really enjoyed this reading because I feel as though it goes more into depth about the deep history of how interracial couples have been treated throughout history. I have researched the Loving v. Virginia case (I have multiple books on the case) but there are so many others that are similar to the Loving’s that just aren’t talked about. I feel as though many interracial couples are still discriminated against or at the very least judged when out in public together because of how stigmatized they were throughout history. Interracial couples have definitely been more normalized in recent years, but I would love to see more acceptance from society.