OII Position Statement on Genital Cutting

March 28, 2010

Organisation Intersex International (OII) has posted a Position Statement on Genital Cutting. Although much attention has been focused on female genital cutting (FGC), or female genital mutilation (FGM) – defined by the Female Genital Cutting Education and Networking Project as “any practice which includes the removal or the alteration of the female genitalia” – it’s rare to see any recognition of the enforced surgical normalisation procedures carried out on genitally ambiguous intersex people, and I hope the OII’s statement will go some way towards raising awareness of this particular human rights breach.

From the late 1950’s onwards, starting in the USA, intersex infants and children were increasingly subject to cosmetic surgeries intended to ensure that their genital appearance and internal gonads conformed to that usually expected for their assigned gender. This also tended to entail hormone treatments aimed at conforming them to those associated with being “male” or “female.”

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Cosmetic surgery on intersex genitals appears to harm intersex infants, children, and even adults, yet it still persists. As with male circumcision, it is often driven by parental desire to provide their children with bodies that conform to certain beliefs about how genitals should be. Also, the presumption that atypical sex anatomy will result in atypical sexual orientation and/or gender identity, homophobia and a fear of atypical gender presentation are seen by some intersex people as the motivation driving these surgeries. In many societies today, gender expression and sexual orientation are seen as a human right, and this is recognised by the UN. Performing unnecessary surgeries on infants and children in order to influence adult sexual orientation and/or gender identity outcomes should be seen as a human rights abuse. There is no evidence that sexual orientation or gender identity are affected by genital surgery one way or the other.

The OII’s Position Statement seeks recognition that all humans have the right to autonomy over their own bodies. It continues:

Because infants and children are too young to assert their autonomy, they should not be subjected to unnecessary surgeries which may irrevocably harm them, and which they may not have chosen as adults. We recognise that cases requiring medical treatment for the maintenance of health or preservation of life should be managed as with any other situation where a child needs treatment.

However, it’s worth remembering that there are other factors to be considered in any discussion of enforced surgical procedures carried out on intersex people. Assuming that genital cutting can be avoided until a child can participate in a decision making process which includes education, communication and counselling, then it is to be hoped that intersex people may at last attain the bodily autonomy too often denied them by medical professionals in order to impose cultural stereotypes of what is meant by male and female.

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Previous posts on this blog in the category Intersex:

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