If you had a baby that was born with both sex parts, what would you do? Would you want to immediately treat it as a problem and have it fixed, making sure that the child was assigned one gender from birth? Most would do exactly that and most have done exactly that when faced with this issue, which isn't all that uncommon.
Roughly 1 in 2,000 children born each year are neither male nor female. They are born intersex, which is an umbrella term that refers to a group of about 60 conditions that fall under the diagnosis of disorders of sexual development (DSD).
When that happens, doctors used to examine the genitals, determine which was the "correct" set, and then perform surgery accordingly. But now that ideas about gender are shifting, there is a little less clarity and doctors worry more about things like infertility and depression as the child grows.
For many, it's proving very confusing and upsetting, and those who were reassigned as children have struggled mightily. Jim Bruce was one of those children. He was born with XY male chromosomes but ambiguous genitals. Doctors were not sure that he could live a happy life as a male and so they reassigned him with surgery to be a her and gave him female hormones as he aged, yet he never felt female.
Later, he found out the truth, sought his medical records, and started identifying as male. Dr. Arlene Baratz is a Pittsburgh breast radiologist who has two intersex daughters. She told ABC News:
Our chromosomes don't tell us who we are. We expect XX is pink and a girl and XY is blue and a boy, but we know from children with gender identity conditions that is not always the case, even when their bodies are perfectly typical.
So what is a parent to do? Maybe if we all relax a little and accept that this is not so uncommon, we could accept that gender is actually much more fluid than we think. What is so wrong with not really knowing whether to buy pink or blue bed sheets? Obviously, this is infinitely more complicated than merely what bed sheets to buy, but the truth is we as a culture need to get a little more comfortable with the idea of gender as a fluid thing.
Most children will be the sex they're born in, but some won't. And maybe waiting longer and not removing tissues is a wiser, more humane thing to do. Even though it will surely make most parents uneasy. That is understandable, but it isn't enough of a reason to surgically alter a person.
Although most children do accept their gender assignment, there need to be more check-ins and the children need to know they were born a little different. Still, maybe the trend toward waiting on surgery is a better way of dealing with it. Sure, it may cause a little discomfort for the parents and the general population, but eventually, it could lead to a happier existence for the many children who are born this way and that is obviously the goal.
Surgery is irreversible and would be a far worse mistake to make early on in a child's life.
Do you think children should be assigned a sex immediately?
Image via sarahemcc/Flickr