Sunday, October 01, 2006

Letter to the NY Times Editor regardin Intersex article from Magazine from Hannah Miyamoto

I am working on a longer blog entry on intersex issues, but while I consider that, here is a very thoughtful and informed letter to the editor of the NY Times Magazine from Hannah Miyamoto about the article that appeared in last Sunday's magazine.

To the Editor:
As one of the few scientists studying intersexed people who is herself intersexed, I wish to share some information not in the Elizabeth Weil’s article in New York Times Magazine about intersexed people (“What if It’s (Sort of) a Boy and (Sort of) a Girl?” NYT Magazine, 9/24/06).
First, the article indicates that “Disorders of Sex Differentiation” (DSD) is the universally-accepted new term for “intersex.” It is not. The focus of controversy is the word “Disorder;” a disorder is an illness—a malady to cure with things like Intersex Genital Mutilation (IGM) “DSD” (or as critics pronounce it, “Dissed”) is a poor compromise between certain intersexed activists and physicians who defend IGM. Better terms include “Anomalous Sexual Differentiation” (ASD) and “Variations in Sexual Development” (VSD).
Second, although the article indicates that genital surgery, as presently practiced, has few negative side-effects, this is unproven, and preliminary evidence is disappointing. For example, the researchers in the first-ever study of clitoral sensitivity of intersexed adults, published by the British Journal of Urology in 2004, concluded: “There is currently no justification for the optimism that modern surgical techniques are better for preserving clitoral sensation than previous operations.” Although these were only preliminary results from studying six women, the clitoral sensitivity of one woman who underwent “clitoral reduction” only a year before being examined was little different than women who underwent de facto clitoral removal.
Third, the article indicates that intersexed people are united behind ISNA, and that Cheryl Chase is their leader.  This is untrue.  Many intersexed adults actually support genital surgery and other elements of forced sex changes. On the other hand, other intersexed people oppose both IGM and the new “DSD” terminology.  
Finally, focusing on doctors and genital surgery ignores the potential damage upon physically anomalous children often inflicted by child psychologists, school teachers and administrators, and other children.  For example, the first sign of trouble in the celebrated case of David Reimer when “he” was being forced to be a girl (see As Nature Made Him: The Boy who was Raised as a Girl by John Colapinto, 2000), was that the other children insisted that “Brenda” was not a girl. Clearly, despite efforts by “her” parents and teachers, children sabotaged all efforts to imprint a “girl” identity on “Brenda Reimer.” ISNA should pay greater attention to the damage done to intersexed children besides being subjected to intersex genital mutilation.  Furthermore, scientific understanding is too limited to justify ignoring the other ways a child can undergo anomalous sexual differentiation between conception and adolescence; for example, I was a relatively normal boy until I began developing like a pubertal girl at age 14. Due to partial androgen insensitivity syndrome, my appearance became so feminine that at age 33 I decided my best option was to begin living as a woman, which I did without first undergoing surgery or taking hormones.
Hannah Miyamoto
Graduate Studies, Sociology
Pacific Center for Sex and Society
University of Hawai’i at Manoa
                                                        Honolulu, Hawai’i

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