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I went to Brown University, but it was actually White

Date: April 25, 2007

I heard from someone at Brown University (where I gave a lecture earlier this month) that some people are spreading the rumor that I said something that supported “normalizing” genital surgeries for intersex children. I am completely puzzled by this–after all, below is an excerpt from the talk I gave:

While some of these children have come to identify as boys or men later in their lives and are rightfully upset about the feminizing surgeries done to them, that is not the only or even the most fundamental complaint we have about infant genital surgeries. We oppose these surgeries because there is a risk every time a knife hits flesh, including risks of infection, loss of sensation including sexual sensation, and the possibility that repeated surgeries would be required later, in some cases over a dozen times. We oppose them because children aren’t given any choice over what is being done to them, and are often not told about what had been done to them. We oppose them for the pattern of secrecy and shame that surgeries trigger.

Feminizing surgeries often involve removal of all or part of what doctors consider enlarged clitoris (clitoridectomy), and the creation of vaginal opening (vaginoplasty). It should be obvious to us today that clitoridectomy is harmful to a woman’s sexual well-being, but mostly male doctors who came up with the idea back in the 1950s apparently did not realize that clitoris played an important role, assuming that women derived sexual pleasure either exclusively or primarily from being vaginally penetrated. We could laugh about their backward sexist and heterosexist ignorance if it weren’t the case that many mostly male, mostly heterosexual doctors continue to believe that it is possible to remove the “shaft” of an enlarged clitoris, while preserving its “tip,” to reduce the size of clitoris without sacrificing sensation. It’s incomprehensible that such a myth continues to survive and is being used to justify what they now call “clitoral reconstruction surgery,” (which is sort of like U.S. forces “rebuilding” Iraq), when no sane doctor would suggest that men only get pleasure from pressures on the tip of the penis, and that the shaft is irrelevant to male sexuality.

Similarly, vaginoplasty is promoted as a necessity on the same sexist and heterosexist presumption about the female body. The procedure actually involves surgically creating an opening between the patient’s legs, then keeping the vaginal walls from sticking back together over next several months, since human bodies naturally heal, like earring holes would close up if one doesn’t wear piercing to hold it open. When adult male-to-female transsexual women decide to have vaginoplasty on their own choice, they would need to “dilate” their surgically created vagina with a medical version of dildo for certain length of time every day over several months. But when vaginoplasty is performed on infants and young children, parents–usually the mother–would need to insert some foreign object into the child’s vagina every day, even as the child scream from the pain on her recently wounded flesh.

Does that seem like a lecture supporting surgeries?

It turns out that the person who is spreading the false allegation did not even attend my talk. That figures.

In the meantime, I wrote a draft of the FAQ on the controversy over the term “DSD” (disorders of sex development). Please take a look, and give me feedback.

1 Comment »

  1. […] Late last night, I came home from my trip to Providence to speak at Brown University for the second time. My last visit there was in April 2007, which you can read about here. […]

    Pingback by » Presenting at elite universities: a guilty pleasure? And introduction to my next piece on borderlands of gender — March 19, 2010 @ 1:50 pm

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