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.