Monday, June 28, 2010

the amusing risks of ultrasounds

Hello readers, remember a few posts ago when I wrote about using humor at an ultrasound to ease the tensions? Well, I got the results back from the ultrasound and wouldn't you know it, it said I had ovaries, even though my gonads had been removed as a small child. The report went so far as to say my reproductive system was "unremarkable". To say I was shocked by this would be an understatement. There were only four explanations I could think of:

1. The surgeons removed the wrong thing, and I still had my gonads

2. The ultrasound had been misread

3. Like some of my hermaphrodite brethren, the earthworms and sponges, I had the ability to regenerate lost body parts

4. There was a mix up and I was given someone else's ultrasound result (I hoped this was not the case because some poor "normal" lady would be in for an even worse shock then me if she got my ultrasound)

As it turns out, it was number 2. In a case of confirmation bias, the ultrasound tech expected to see ovaries, and thus mislabeled loops of my colon as ovaries. The moral of this story is when things seem weird, ask questions of your doctors. We deserve to know the truth

Wednesday, June 23, 2010

cultural compromise and genital integrity

a hot button issue for intersex activists lately has been the recent change in the protocol of the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP). This change is the AAP's recommendation that the US permit doctors to "nick" the genitals of their female patients as a compromise for their African patients seeking their ritual genital cutting. They have said this is justified on three grounds.

1. nicking is very minor, the equivalent to a pin prick or an ear piercing.

2. it demonstrates a cultural sensitivity for immigrant populations

3. it is a compromise that could prevent the parents from preforming more extreme genital cutting.

This is unusual since AAP's previous statement on the subject states (rightly so) that female genital cutting is a form of gender based violence. Even if this nicking sound harmless, it is important to not quibble over severity, if something is wrong, then milder forms of it are still wrong. Many anti-FGM activists fear, rightly so, that this recommendation opens up shades of gray which will muddle and ultimately set back their movement.

FGM is very similar to the way intersex people are treated in America, our genitals are cut up to satisfy a sociocultural requirement. The similar lack of respect for bodily integrity and sexual autonomy due to culture is striking Many intersex activists petitioned congress to add intersex to the Federal Prohibition of Female Genital Mutilation Act, citing these similarities. Obviously Congress was not persuaded. I think it is very important to understand understand other cultures, but it is also important to realize that cultures are not static, they change all the time. There are many African activists working to stop female genital mutlation in their culture. I think the American Academy of Pediatrics did these activists a great disservice by stabbing them in the back with this recommendation. In any case, no child should be put in harms way just because of cultural norms, that is deeply unethical, and suggests a norm that needs to be changed.

Saturday, June 19, 2010

American Female Genital Mutilation

If you are standing (at the computer, that would be weird) you should sit down, the news I have to report is shocking.

Dr. Dix Poppas, a pediatric urologist at Cornell University has been surgically shortening the clitoris's of girls who have been deemed to be too big and too sensitive (God forbid a woman actually enjoy sex). Then at follow up examinations he uses a vibrator to test how much sensitivity is lost. I for one am outraged by this. The mutilation and molestation of children is sick. No other pediatric urologist preforms this procedure. What kind of parents would allow this to happen to their little girl? There is nothing wrong with these girls, it is a completely subjective, aesthetic judgment (I shudder to think what these parents would do with an intersex child).

The fact that Dr. Poppas does these vibrator follow-ups shows he is aware of the risks. In spite of this he goes forward with the surgery, violating his Hippocratic oath and demonstrating a disturbing lack of respect for his patients humanity. Look up any intersex discussion board to realize how psychologically devastating genital surgeries and especially the repeated examinations and poking and prodding are on children. These posters are adults who are still not over it. Emotionally they are very much like victims of child sexual abuse.

Even if, as he claims, that he is proving that the sensitivity loss is minimal, it is still wrong. Even if genital surgeries were perfect (they never are, the results are often quite terrible) I would say that it is horribly unethical. Whatever happened to learning to accept yourself, this turning to plastic surgery to solve our insecurities is deeply problematic. It is important to feel at home in your own skin, and when you are implicitly told that you are so unacceptable that we have to operate, it is very difficult to learn that self acceptance.

Monday, June 14, 2010

the importance of humor

Hello all, I'm sorry I haven't done an entry in a while, but I am running out of topics and don't want to become repetitive. Today I'm sending a piece of advice to my fellow intersexuals, or really anyone in an awkward position, that advise is to use humor.

My personal situation where humor was useful was in the doctors office (as these stories often are). I was in for a sonogram to get a better look at my uterus (a small, misshapen organ referred to by doctors as a "shadow uterus" which is in and of itself a funny term). The technician who was doing it did not know that I was intersexed (and I didn't feel like enlightening a total stranger). All she knew was that doctors orders prohibited her from using the vaginal probe. In any case I was feeling very awkward, so while she was looking at the screen, I asked if it was a boy or a girl when I was obviously not there due to a pregnancy. This broke the ice, she laughed and said it was twins, one of each.

Thus my advise to deal with these situations is to never underestimate the power of a joke, a little humor goes a long ways.