Recently, in my spare time, I have been watching Freaks and Geeks, a show that only had one season in the late 20th century. The focus of the show is on two siblings growing up in suburban Michigan in the 1980’s. One episode in particular caught my eye in interest with this weeks topic. Episode 14, titled “The Little Things” sheds some light on the topic of intersex individuals and how they are treated in the world once they have come out as intersex.
One of the main characters girlfriends, tells her boyfriend that when she was born she had both male and female genitalia and that her family chose to make her a female. She expressed that she was happy with the decision because “she liked boys the best” but her boyfriend had a very hard time dealing with what he thought to be a “male girlfriend”.
The reading of “The Five Sexes, Revisited” made me think back to Freaks and Geeks and how the Ken’s girlfriend was treated, by people that were thought to be her friends, after her secret of being born with both male and female anatomy was out in the group of friends.
Anne Fausto-Sterling writes about Cheryl Chase and her fight to have children who are born with “genital ambiguity, infants born with both male and female anatomy, or genitals that differ from their chromosomal sex” have a say in what gender they are being assigned by their parents at the time shortly after birth. Chase stands on a platform developed around the idea that the two sex system that we find in our daily life is not enough to have everyone included in the system of “human sexuality”.
Ken’s girlfriend (Amy) in Freaks and Geeks would fall into the category of ‘Ferms’ (female pseudo-hermaphrodites who have ovaries combined with some aspects of male genitalia) according to the definition that Chase provides. As stated in the show her parents decided that they would have her be a girl and grow up as one. Amy was very weary to tell of her ambiguous gender at birth for the fear of being cast out of the group that she had become so close with.
Fausto-Sterling writes that in “The Five Sexes” that “4 percent of all live births are intersexual”. My question then is why is it such a big deal for parents when they are blessed with a healthy child who just happens to be intersex? I find the idea that gender identity is completely malleable from about eighteen months after birth to be astounding. And I am forced to think about myself, if I were raised as a boy would I really be different than I am right now. While I do not fall into the category of intersex, this makes me wonder if the difference in rearing would have any effect on me as who I have grown up to be. This is supported by the Money and the Hampsons study of a boy who had lost his penis in a circumcision accident, was assigned the sex of a female, and grew up to love wearing dresses and preformed the gender of a woman.
Children who are born with ambiguous genitalia are assigned a “gender” (used in the text to define sex as we know it) by doctors as to what makes the most sense surgically. The only thing for the parents to do in this case would be to raise the children in the arena of the gender assignment that was made in the surgery.
Over all I agree with Chase and Fausto-Sterling’s point that an infant should only undergo the gender typing surgery if the child’s life is on the line or if the probability that the child’s “condition” will shape the formation of a certain gendered identity.
This article makes me think back to Freaks and Geeks and Amy. Would she have been better off having not has the surgery and could she have made it though the tribulations of high school being intersex in the 1980’s? Seeing as the show was canceled after one season, sadly the story line of Amy and Ken ends. (However on a happy note – with the relationship becoming stronger than ever because Ken decided that he loves Amy for who she is not what sex she might have been.)
In the case of Amy and (as statistics show) 4 percent of all live births; intersex individuals are all around us and gender is not focused on the formation of genitalia. As suggested by Fausto-Sterling perhaps the world would be better off if we as a society eliminated gender from the equation and just loved and cared for people on the level of them being people, not a gendered class.