Intersex Activists Hope to End Childhood Surgeries

According to a story by reporter Nara Schoenberg from the Chicago Tribune, when Pidgeon Pagonis, then known as Jennifer Pagonis, was born in 1986, it didn’t take long for Pidgeon’s parents to notice that there was something unusual about their child’s genitalia. After three months, the concerned parents took their newborn child to the doctor to see if anything was wrong. 

What is Intersex?

As it turned out, Pidgeon was born intersex. An intersex person is someone who shares characteristics, such as hormones and genitalia, that do not fit the conventional definition of male or female. As it turned out, Pidgeon had the chromosomal genotype of a male (XY) and internal testes, but also had a small vagina and a clitoris. This is just an example of many variations in physical characteristics that can be described as intersex. Unfortunately, intersex people often face discrimination and stigmatization in broader society. Although natural variation doesn’t necessarily pose any harm to the person, these differences are often unnecessarily medicalized. In some cultures, children born with these traits are often abandoned or outright killed. 

Surgery is No Solution

When an intersex person is born with genitalia that is not distinctly male or female, they often receive non-consensual surgery to modify their genitalia to look more typical. There is little evidence that these surgeries are particularly beneficial for the patient. These operations essentially assign a gender to a intersex person, a decision often left to the child’s parents.

Since Pidgeon had been named Jennifer and had been assumed to be a girl anatomically, Pidgeon’s parents authorized surgery to modify the child’s genitals to resemble those of a woman, despite the fact that Pidgeon was genetically male and could never have children.

The result of this has been a life time of frustration for Pidgeon, who now no longer identifies as either male or female. In addition, the surgical operations caused emotional trauma, scarring, sexual impairment, and loss of sensation.

No Surgeries Without Consent

Pidgeon and other intersex activists say that these non-consensual surgeries have serious, lifelong consequences. There is little evidence to indicate that the operations are beneficial, and many people that get them experience major physical and emotional problems afterwards. They believe that such surgeries should be postponed until the intersex person is old enough to understand the situation more clearly and has established their gender identity, if they are to be conducted at all.

While these surgeries continue to happen, a growing number of medical professionals are beginning to agree with the perspective of the activists, who point to more and more stories of intersex children living their lives without surgery and having a more normal and fulfilling childhood as a result. 

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