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.