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.