Sunday, September 17, 2006

Handbook for Parents is transphobic and homophobic

by Curtis E. Hinkle

The Consortium for the Management of Disorders of Sex Development in Children has published a handbook specifically for parents of children born intersexed or as the Consortium prefers to call them – disordered in their sex development. It is very revealing that the consortium has published handbooks for doctors and for parents but nothing for the actual child. There is a reason for this. The Consortium serves the interests of the two groups just mentioned at the expense of the child being managed.

This Handbook for Parents is very misleading and gives parents a lot of misinformation about intersexed children. It minimizes the suffering and trauma that many have reported over the years about being assigned the wrong gender and also being persecuted for being lesbian or gay. The propaganda in this handbook repeatedly brushes aside the serious issues of transphobia and homophobia which many of intersexed people have experienced from their earliest years and throughout life. The handbook is not about making intersexed children actually feel secure and comfortable with themselves but more about assuring the parents that their intersexed children will most likely NOT be transsexual or homosexual.

The Consortium has heralded these publications as advances in the healthcare of intersex children and not about "gender". However, if one takes the time to read the Handbook for Parents, that is all it is about – gender. And how could it be about much of anything else? The whole reason for combining a lot of different conditions which have nothing in common medically under the umbrella term “disorder of sex development” is not to treat real health conditions of intersexed children but to relieve the sufferings and anxieties that gender "ambiguity" provokes within society.

The introduction of the Handbook for Parents makes this very clear:
‘’This handbook does not include a large amount of medical information about your child’s specific condition. That is because there are many conditions that count as disorders of sex development (DSDs), so it would be impossible for us to cover them all. Instead, this book is meant to give you some basic information about sex and gender development.’’

The actual research on intersexed children is not truthfully dealt with in this handbook and one needs to ask why. The actual experiences of thousands of intersexed adults are not dealt with either. Many intersexed adults have denounced not only the early, barbaric treatments but also the very reason for the treatments – to assign a gender without consent or input from the child. Many have also denounced the homophobia that they were subjected to in childhood and later in life. Their narratives and personal experiences are almost invisible and actually trivialized in this handbook so as to give comfort to parents who most likely do not want homosexual or transsexual children.

Parents should be told truthfully that their intersex child is more likely to reject the imposed sex assignment and they should be prepared for just how difficult it will be in most states to do this, if not outright impossible. They should be prepared to cope with the intense trauma and psychological damage that adults have reported who are transsexual or intersexed and assigned the wrong sex. They should be prepared to deal with the very large number of intersexed people who have felt very damaged by the gender they were assigned and there are many of them and more and more are coming forward each day.

We also know that intersexed adults are much more likely to be lesbian or gay and this should not be trivialized or brushed off as it is in this manual. The mistreatment that young children are subjected to who are homosexual is not dealt with adequately and since the parents are usually heterosexual, they are probably not able to understand the long-term damage that many lesbians and gays have reported from such abusive treatment and prejudice they experienced growing up.

One of the most glaring contradictions between the handbook for parents and the handbook for doctors of intersexed infants is rooted in the very transphobia which permeates these documents. The Handbook for Parents repeatedly states that we do not know what determines a child’s gender identity. The Handbook for Doctors repeatedly assures other doctors who are assigning the gender of intersex infants that they can do this quite easily by simply following the guidelines based on the intersex condition of the infant. How could we have no clue what determines gender identity on the one hand and on the other be so sure that doctors can determine the gender arbitrarily by following the guidelines of the DSD experts? Well, it is quite simple. It is always the child who is disordered in these handbooks. If the intersex child rejects the arbitrary sex assignment, they have another disorder. What started out as a disorder of the child’s sex has become a disorder of the child’s gender and the doctors are still totally correct at all points of the treatment protocols and the child is always wrong and suffering from a disorder.

Another interesting transphobic detail, other than constantly asserting that intersex children almost never reject their sex assignment, is expressed when we read that in very rare cases the child may grow up and seek a sex change along with surgical and hormone treatments. Nowhere does this expert mention the most likely fact that the adult had already been altered in childhood without consent. An interesting omission because these earlier procedures can have severe consequences later in life by totally altering the genitalia and sensitive tissue and/or hormonal balance making adult reassignment much more difficult.

This document does not prepare parents for the problems that normalization often causes such as post traumatic stress and other psychological damage to the child. What is so tragic is that in this handbook for parents the disorder is always in the child and the parents are given the false impression that all will be well, i.e., that most likely their child will not be gay or trans. Many intersexed adults feel that the parents would be better served by learning to deal with their own prejudices if they have any and embracing the richness of identities within the intersex community. Those identities are conspicuously absent in this handbook because the subtext of homophobia and transphobia make it almost impossible to not think that part of the normalization process is to prevent other “disorders” also.