Nature Creates More Than Two Sexes

Intersexed individuals have genital ambiguity and/or gene combinations other than XY-male and XX-female

Intersexed individuals have genital ambiguity and/or gene combinations other than XY-male and XX-female

By Tami Hamilton

We recognize only two sexes. Nature does not.

My niece, Leah, has two children who were born intersexed. Meaning that doctors could not tell whether they were male or female at birth.

Her physicians told her that surgery was needed, and she trusted her doctors’ advice. Actually, it was not even a question but an expectation that her babies would be surgically altered.

So both of them were made female. Their enlarged clitorises were reduced and their vaginal openings made large enough to be girls. The children were also prescribed hormones to help them fill the female role they’d now been assigned. Leah’s two little ones will continue to endure years of vaginal dilation to stretch to enlarge their vaginas. 

When my niece brought her babies home she dressed them in pink, as instructed. And she never cut their hair to help affirm their femininity.

The oldest child hated girl’s clothes and toys and wanted nothing more than to be a boy. But she was not allowed to be who she was and play with whatever interested her. In anger and frustration she cut off her waist length hair when she was seven and refused to wear female clothing.

Today she is confused. And Leah has lived in embarrassment over the years by her daughter’s nonconformity. Leah struggles with how her daughter feels and with how society will perceive her.

Her other child loves the role she is fulfilling and meets every expectation of what society feels a “girl” should be.

Watching my nieces grow up has led me to question where exactly our gender identity comes from. Is it put on us by the sex we are born with or is it a part of who we are taught to be? Or do each of these somehow come into play?

intersex1If my grandnieces had been allowed to figure out which role they wanted to fulfill and live out when they’d grown older, how might their lives be different? How might they feel differently about themselves?

Even though nature provides variations that lay in between “male” and “female” our society insists there are just two sexes. And so it is easier for most to choose surgical intervention than to accept the varying degrees of sex and sexuality.

This way of seeing leaves out people who don’t fit into “normal” parameters. They are left feeling they are not “right’ or are a “freak of nature.”

Think how much more comfortable everyone could feel in their own skin if we didn’t have to live up to unreasonable standards of acceptability; if we weren’t so stuck in the old beliefs and patterns. And if all sexes were recognized and honored.

I now believe that people who are intersexed should be allowed to choose how they would like to live their lives for themselves. They should not be surgically altered just to fit society’s mold.

BroadBlogs: Soon, I’ll say more on these questions: if gender is learned 1) how can we have transgendered people and 2) why is one of Tami’s nieces having such a hard time conforming to her socialized gender?

This was written by one of my students who gave permission to post the article.

Related Posts on BroadBlogs
Baby Named “Storm.” Sex Unknown
Toys Create Gender
My Son Likes Girl-Things. Is He Gay?

About BroadBlogs

I have a Ph.D. from UCLA in sociology (emphasis: gender, social psych). I currently teach sociology and women's studies at Foothill College in Los Altos Hills, CA. I have also lectured at San Jose State. And I have blogged for Feminispire, Ms. Magazine, The Good Men Project and Daily Kos. Also been picked up by The Alternet.

Posted on June 13, 2014, in feminism, gender, LGBT+, psychology and tagged , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 35 Comments.

  1. This sort of thing just breaks my heart. Regardless of what gender the children choose to be as they grew up, I don’t think genital surgery should have been forced upon them as infants. If, as they got older, they felt they needed surgery and/or hormones to be who they really are, then fine. At least then they’d have the option. The one who was happy being a girl could have agree to the surgeries and maybe the other could have opted for operations taking them in the direction of being male.

    That’s all pretty radical thinking, though. It’s always seemed hypocritical to me that we have made FGM illegal UNLESS we’re not sure if the infant is a girl or boy. Then we snip away at healthy tissue to make the infant the gender they think they should be.

  2. Very interesting post. A similar surgery happens to boys all over America at birth, and we are altered to fit societies “norms”. I find it funny how parents will allow others to harm their children just so society won’t think they are freaks, let them be them and if they want to alter it later save up a fund or something, jeez. With all the intelligence us humans have animals seem smarter when it comes to certain things.

  3. I think these are important issues that don’t get talked about much yet but I have a feeling that there is also an evolution happening in people becoming more aware that gender sometimes just isn’t one or the other. I am sure it’s probably very challenging for this family, as they try to figure all of it out! Thanks for sharing.

    • Yes, my student was brave to allow me to post this with her name. Yet it shouldn’t be shameful. It’s completely natural. But very confusing and often felt to be shameful in our culture.

  4. “I now believe that people who are intersexed should be allowed to choose how they would like to live their lives for themselves. They should not be surgically altered just to fit society’s mold.”

    Well it could be a problem. If they are intersexed they are going to live a sad life without love. Who is an intersex person going to attract? Straight men are attracted to women, and who look like a woman and not inbetween. Straight women attracted to men and even though women do like pretty men, still not one who is inbetween. Gay men, can like pretty men, but they still like guys, and intersex person that you can’t really tell could be a problem.

    LEsbians are attracted to women, sometimes manlyish looking women, but still same problem. I’m not sure about bisexuals in this case too. Without making one, one sex or the other, I don’t know if any or many people will be attracted to them based on sexual orientation. I heard Jamie Lee Curtis was born like that, but operated on and she is and looks like a woman, so it doesn’t seem she every had a problem attracting men. Without being operated at early age who knows. Then again I never understood why transexuals do what they do, considering how much they minimized a person of most sexual orientation other than bisexual being attracted to them.

    • Well, it’s not all about sexual attraction. It’s expressing who you are, living life authentically. Though there is support out there, other intersexed, pansexuals, and the queer community might be helpful (queer = pretty open, accepting of all). But this sort of surgery takes away genital sensation, too.

      Those who’ve had the surgery performed as babies without their consent are fighting this non-consent surgery.

  5. “Well, it’s not all about sexual attraction. It’s expressing who you are, living life authentically.”

    Life would seem pretty depressing with you not being sexually attractive to any sexual orientaiton because you are inbetween gendered. Unless you are asexual, it would be very sad to not be loved by anyone romantically and sexually

    • But even then, pansexuals and queer sexuality aren’t particular. Or, I imagine that a straight person could fall in love and deal with it. Really, it’s about choice. If they grow up and want to change their genitals they could do it then.

  6. “queer sexuality aren’t particular. Or, I imagine that a straight person could fall in love and deal with it. ”

    Isn;t queer sexuality “gay” as in gay men or lesbian women? And I think most straight people wouldn’t deal with it. How are you falling in love when you aren’t physically attracted to the person first? You fall in love after being physically attracted and knowing them and there’s a spark and then love grows. I highly doubht straight men are dating a hermaphrodite person with two genitals or inbetween. Most guys are attracted to WOMEN, and women who look like women and have nothing but women body parts. And though women are less visual, many straight women are attracted to guys and guys that have guys parts and only guy parts and not inbetween.

    Pansexuals might but they seem to be a very small percentage. Even bisexuals, aren’t 50/50 and many women and men seem to lean more toward attraction and preference for one sex over the other. And it seems many thought attracted to both sexes seem to be attracted to men who look like men and women who look like women and not inbetween genders. And i don’t know maybe because I’m a guy but I have to be physically attracted to a woman first before falling in love with a woman as I have to want to have sex with her first, if I can’t desire her, then I can’t imagine a relationship which love could come from and grow from.

    • No. Queer sexuality is sexuality that doesn’t fit any particular category.

      Like I said, if it were important to an interesexed person, they could always get genital surgery later.

  7. This is just so sad. I wish people didn’t define gender in such narrow terms. It just shows how hypocritical our culture has become, which on one side defends varieties of absurdities as being natural, and on the other hand cannot accept human beings the way they are born. While it maybe only loosely related to what the above article talks about, I’ve read stories in the past where parents “have helped” their children to be transgender because they were boys, who “clearly were feminine” or vice versa. For example, couple of the stories I had read mentioned that the boys liked pink color and played with certain kinds of toys. This might seem liberal and broad minded at first instance but I think it is grounded on some quite-not-so-liberal ideas on gender and sexuality. While I support gender queer and transgendered communities, I couldn’t help but feel like some parents/societies are providing wrong reasons for people to make such decisions. Which color one likes, what games they like to play, what subjects they are interested in studying at college etc. should not influence one’s gender and neither should one’s gender define what they like in such a superficial level. I believe, all the problems related to gender identity and sexuality would be solved if society didn’t have so stringent ideas on what constitutes being a man or a woman.

  8. I look forward to the future posts you mentioned. It definitely feels like awareness is growing around gender identity and complexity. Here in my little corner of the world (Olympia, Washington) I’ve seen these issues come to the surface and change my community over the last five years. For instance, on the campus where I currently work, people have fought hard to have safe bathrooms for trans-identified people. A small step, but it’s a start.

  9. Such a sad story, I can’t imagine what is must be like growing up feeling like that. I hope as a society we can start to catch up with nature and view sex and gender as something that has a whole spectrum of varieties rather than two.

  10. Congratulations! After reviewing lots of WordPress publications for June, I’m awarding you with this month’s edition of my Gender-Bender Award! http://tiffany267.wordpress.com/2014/06/15/gender-bender-award-nature-creates-more-than-two-sexes

    My Gender-Bender Award is an opportunity to celebrate those who challenge and disrupt the gender binary. Thank you for being a part of that 🙂 As an award-
    winner, you are welcome to use my exclusive Gender-Bender Award graphic on your blog (if you linked back to me, it would be appreciated).

    Please nominate a post for July! You can nominate anything you’ve seen on WordPress, even another post you’ve written yourself.

    Thanks again and congratulations!

  11. Even I felt that the surgery could have been later as per the child’s preference. In such cases of intersexes , its the child who feels more stressed and embarassed about the situation rather than the parents.

  12. The fact that it’s even okay to put a baby/child through that kind of physical and mental trauma in the name of gender conformity really hurts my heart. It’s true, no matter how you’re born, you assign your own sex or none at all. It is fluid and not something that should be restricted by doctors.

    Molly – empressof10000screamingworldsofterror.blogspot.co.uk

  13. medically speaking there is Genotype gender based on genes (XY or XX), and Phenotype gender based on how they look. (This could include presence of internal gonads or external manifestations like clitoris vs penis, body hair, voice timber etc.

    But I agree that the mental makeup may be at odds with both the above gender types. I wish we did not bracket people into genders. it seems so puny and restrictive somehow.

  14. If surgery on a child against their will is bad and doesn’t allow them to live as they want. How come you don’t bring up how boys don’t get the choice with their anatomy at a young age and against their choice circumsized. I get the benefit as disease and bacteria if a man isn’t thorough cleaning under there. But I believe there is a lot of pleasure sensations from the forehead skin, that a lot is lost from it being snipped off. Guy’s probably bang around so hard, because their is less sensitivity pleasure wise from the foreskin being cut off when they were little boys and being circumsized. Babies or toddler boys aren’t able to make a choice, wheres the writing about this and how boys should have the choice if they want to be circumzied or not.

    • If guys don’t want to be circumcised that’s fine with me, but I only have time to post on so many topics and I don’t see that this is a big deal. First as you noted, circumcision actually prevents the transmission of HIV/AIDS. I’ve also seen men who were circumcised as adults talk about the difference in experience. Some say they notice less sensation but others say they don’t notice any difference. And given that young man seem to have no problem having orgasms it just doesn’t seem like a big enough deal for me to spend time on it.

  15. I do think that the way someone is raised does play a big part on gender roles. What someone is taught and shown does impact them a lot. But i do also think that someones biological being does also play a part. I believe that there would be less differences between men and women if we didn’t have such strict gender roles that we teach kids. I do think that biology would play a little bit of a roll which would make slight differences.

  16. This is very interesting. I think the kids should have the choice on whether they want the surgery or not, depending how they feel when they get older. I think a lot of people take their gender for granted in a way, because many people often don’t have to think about making these life-altering decisions.

  17. I imagine that it is difficult for people to think of sexuality without categorizing it as male or female. Gender roles are such an ingrained part of our lives that even when we want to rid our selves of them and find whatever feels more authentic, they resurface. It is crucial to educate and raise awareness about intersexed individuals to end the stigma and discrimination against them for equality. It may be difficult for people to create a safe space for the expression of diverse sexuality when many people may be ignorant of this topic and judge and assume according to the two sex myth.

  18. I wasn’t even aware this could happen! Thanks for sharing this experience of yours/your friend, a sad but informative read. x

  19. Such a really unhappy story. I honestly do not know where do I stand in this matter. I just feel sorry for Leah’s oldest child. It seems like the society are completely controlling her child’s live. I am not blaming this matter to the parents at all because I believe that the parents were confused too and they decided to follow the doctor’s instruction just because they want their children to live a ‘normal’ live. In other words, to provide their children to live like any children. However, I think it is wise to give the options to the child on whether or not the child wants to follow the gender norm.

  20. Howard Houston

    I have never heard of intersexed children being born nor have I heard of the surgeries they would undergo to make them a certain sex. To me, I absolutely do not care what sex someone chooses or how they intend on living their lives. Every child is born to be their own person in the future and as parents, they should be accepting of that. No matter if intersexed or male or female, the child should be left to become an amazing young adult however their brain and body want to. Society cares too much about how other people live their lives, but the fact of the matter is, they have no right. Society should mature into the understanding that the idea of “to each their own” is how people should be treated. Their body, their choice.

  21. I try to imagine how hard it would be to have to deal with constant judgmental looks and comments as I try to be myself. How is it that society wants individuals who are unique and amazing, but not different and weird? People who are born intersected do not choose to be outcasts in our world, but society make that their destiny. They live everyday trying to figure out who they are, but are forced to be something they are not. Because they are born this way, they grow up confused. this parents have chosen who they are for them without knowing the slightest thing about them.

    I believe that as a parent raises their child, they only have a choice to identify their kids as female or male. Each child will then be raised as the culture believes boys and girls should be raised. For example in our society, boys will wear blue and be introduced to sports, while girls wear pink and play with dolls. As soon as theses kids can develop their personality and find the slighted idea of who they are, they can start shaping their character. There for I believe gender identity comes from both your sex and what is taught by your parents. However, a child should be taught to be themselves and if they do not agree with the gender identity others expect them to be, it is okay for them to be different.

  22. Unfortunately, science was often misused to enforce social stereotypes. Biased scientists were paid to exaggerate features in attempts to prove ideas about race or gender, and because society places truth in science, these false accusations were seen as true facts. And today, we see that many people only believe scientists when they say what they want them to.

    Specifically relating to this article, scientists have tried to enforce the existence of only two sexes. These are what we refer to today as female and male (not woman and man, that refers to gender not sex). But the truth is that there are more than two sexes, and the gender binary is entirely a social construction. Within all species on earth, we find more than two sexes, and even species with the ability to change their sex. So why is it that only humans would have two definitive sexes? Well, we don’t. Intersex babies are born every day, and the truth is that nothing is wrong with them, and everything is wrong with our perception of them.

    “Even though nature provides variations that lay in between “male” and “female” our society insists there are just two sexes. And so it is easier for most to choose surgical intervention than to accept the varying degrees of sex and sexuality.”

    Let’s not do the easy thing. Let’s do the better thing and adjust our perceptions to allow for all that nature gives to us.

  1. Pingback: Gender-Bender Award – Nature Creates More Than Two Sexes | Tiffany's Non-Blog

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