Since we all begin our first eight weeks in the womb as neither male or female, it should not be surprising that the creation of each of us is subjected to many factors as sexual differentiation occurs. In the same way that the genes for coloring and stature compete, so do the genes for sexual development and function. During critical in utero formation, the presence of male androgens in a female or the presence of female estrogen in a male, can create an array of uniquely looking genitals and functioning sexual organs. Simply stated: female fetuses virilize and male fetuses are feminized.
Bodies like ours are not created in one way, but rather many. While sometimes there is a life threatening illness that causes atypical genitals to be formed, often it is simply a unique firing of chemistry that changes outward genital appearance and/or reproductive function. Our bodies may not be clearly male or female, but rather may be somewhere uniquely on a sliding scale of nearer to male or nearer to female.
Historically, people with bodies like ours were subjected to much scrutiny, but were not surgically altered. It was only in the 1950’s when physicians figured out how to anaesthetize infants without killing them that the practice of performing early genital surgeries began. Based on the research of Dr. John Money of Johns Hopkins, physicians believed that by surgically creating genitals that looked more consistent with the sexual assignment of a child, that child would grow into their roles easily. In the most horrific of cases, boys born with small penises were surgically altered and their parents told to simply raise them as girls. Parents of female infants with larger than acceptable looking clitorises were told that this unsightly piece of flesh should be removed or tucked away. While this advice might have made caregivers of the child more comfortable during infancy, it forever damaged the sexual sensitivity that child could and would experience as an adult. Even more horrific is that these surgeries are still being performed at the estimated rate of five surgeries a week in the United States alone.
Early “normalizing” genital plastic surgeries have rarely succeeded in their goals. Firstly, since EACH child is formed differently there is no absolute procedure for surgeons to follow. Secondly, an individual’s natural ability to enjoy sexual relations are often sacrificed as any cutting of nerves and skin have the ultimate effect of irreparably damaging sensual sensitivity. Thirdly, operating on the small body of an infant is infinitely more difficult and surgeons have no way of knowing if their patient considers the procedure a success.
BodiesLikeOurs.org will always use quotation marks around the word “normalizing”. It is not normal to have your genitals cut and fashioned in the hopes of creating a better looking child, and it simply doesn’t work. It is not normal for a child to spread their legs at each physician’s visit. It is not normal for a child to even be aware of their genitals in such a public matter. With the parade of medical personnel that are brought in to “take a look see”, a child’s private parts are never that. It is not normal for the parent of a young daughter to forcibly enlarge their child’s vagina every day by repeatedly inserting dilators to insure the surgical outcome. All of these procedures are hurtful to psyche and body, are invasive and most often unnecessary.
As adults what we know is that despite the surgeries and procedures performed on us, our bodies still don’t tend to look like anyone else’s. Of course, no two bodies look alike regardless so why is medical science still trying? Adults that escaped the traumas of early surgery had different and difficult experiences, but when they learn of what was done surgically to others, they are comforted by having been left alone. We also know this: Whatever way we came into this world was so grotesque that we needed to be changed. We will never know what we would have been, would have become. Our youth was spent in hospitals and doctor’s offices where no one was addressing us directly, rather talking around us as if our unique bodies couldn’t hear.
At the dawning of the 21st century, we all know these kinds of trauma forced upon babies and young children leave that child irreparably damaged long into adulthood. The medical community is slowly changing their views regarding early non consensual genital plastic surgery because adults with bodies like ours are speaking out against this long standing protocol. There are fifty years worth of experience in our voices, and we are being listened to and heard.