Reader April sent in an article from the LA Times (thanks!) called Medical treatment carries possible side effect of limiting homosexuality. You know this isn’t going to go well already, don’t you? It begins with this:
Each year in the United States, perhaps a few dozen pregnant women learn they are carrying a fetus at risk for a rare disorder known as congenital adrenal hyperplasia. The condition causes an accumulation of male hormones and can, in females, lead to genitals so masculinized that it can be difficult at birth to determine the baby’s gender.
Well, anyone could tell you that’s it’s difficult to tell someone’s gender at birth as they’re not yet capable of expressing it to you. And I’m not too enamoured of the unqualified grouping of “male” and “female,” either. Anyhow! A daily hormone pill has been developed that can be taken by pregnant people whose fetuses may have CAH. Meanwhile, a 2008 study found that, compared with a control group of relatives without the condition, there were proportionally higher numbers of lesbian and bisexual women among those with congenital adrenal hyperplasia ‘who were not treated prenatally’. There is some concern that this pill will be used by parents who wish their children to be heterosexual.
That such a treatment would ever be considered, even to prevent genital abnormalities, has outraged gay and lesbian groups, troubled some doctors and fueled bioethicists’ debate about the nature of human sexuality.
Rightfully so has the idea of a treatment that may reduce the chance of someone being gay provoked outrage and troubled minds. I don’t think we can say that sexual orientation is a totally prenatally-determined thing, but that’s really besides the point here: the idea of people wanting to take pills in order to determine sexual orientation is a disturbing one. But that’s far from being the only disturbing thing going on here. ‘Even to prevent genital abnormalities’. That’s just waved away as a given in the article, and in general: it’s supposedly a given that genitalia that don’t fit certain norms are a possibility everyone would want to get rid of, like they’re so “abnormal” that it’s not even worth thinking through. And with the way this article frames the issue, it’s tossing intersex rights aside and positioning queer rights as the primary thing that is going on here, taking up a fair portion of the piece. There’s no good reason why both can’t be focussed on.
There is an intersex advocate interviewed in the article, an Anne Tamar-Mattis. Tamar-Mattis is executive director of Advocates for Informed Choice, an organisation aimed, according to the AIC website, at ‘promoting the civil rights of children born with variations of sexual anatomy’. But Tamar-Mattis’ contribution is framed in a section of the article aimed at exploring the hormone treatment as an alternative to surgery. Her words are largely backed into a corner here, really. The article doesn’t leave a whole lot of room – only about a sentence – for the idea that intersex people might decide on their own terms, might want to keep their genitals as they are.
Getting back to what I was saying at the start, the article frames those individuals with CAH as girls, females, assuming that they all identify that way. Already slotting them into a box, this is indicative of the idea that intersex people are an aberration, that they must be pushed into somewhere, that they are inevitably girls with something different. I’m sure many or most people with the condition identify as girls or women, but the wording here assumes this is the case for everyone, pushing all other possibilities out. It’s just one of the reasons I grit my teeth when people are referred to as “females” or some such!
I’m feeling some ableism, too.
Undetected, the abnormality can make both male and female infants critically ill within a few weeks of birth because of an associated salt loss through the urine. The defective enzyme also causes a deficiency of the hormone cortisol, which can affect heart function, and an increase in androgens produced by the adrenal glands.
There are not a lot of things in this world that keep me awake at night. One of them is being told people should not be allowed to exist, would be better off not existing, should be something else, because some part of their body or who they are is defective. It is not as though being ill is the worst thing in all existence, either, as though people with affected heart function deserve to not exist, to be altered in order to prevent illness. Wanting to disappear people with medical conditions is an attitude I find nauseating.
There’s a lot more to unpack in this article, but I think I’ll leave that to you lot. What do you think?
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