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AP Article on Intersex Sparks Controversy


In April 2015, the Associated Press news wire widely circulated "Intersex Surgeries Spark Move Away From Drastic Treatment" with a detailed article as well as a 2 minute video.

The article presents 2006 policy statements as part of a "trend in U.S. medicine toward better communication and more patient-focused treatment." The policy statements advocate against knee-jerk surgeries and recommend the patient's involvement in treatment decisions.

Jim Ambrose published a response soon after on the Advocates for Informed Choice website, titled "Manufacturing Comfort." He argues the article is "a strong example of a disquieting trend of wishful thinking – or excessive optimism – in recent press coverage of intersex issues."

Ambrose goes on to note a long history of "optimism bias" in reporting on intersex conditions.

Articles like the one we saw last week typically begin with the soul-baring personal story of someone born with intersex traits. It moves on to casual conflation of the terms ‘sex’ and ‘gender,’ a dubious quote from a careful surgeon, and a selectively inaccurate representation of present-day intersex treatment protocols. This formula – paired with the inference that every intersex birth in the U.S. is met with a multidisciplinary team of fair-minded specialists – can lead a casual reader to believe children are no longer arbitrarily sterilized, mutilated, or deceived. It’s remarkable how quickly an ideal gets marked as reality.

Ambrose notes that a significant number of clinicians in the U.S. are still "devoted" to protocols that are supposedly retired -- and goes on to demand that clinicians take responsibility for their actions.

Ambrose closes by connecting the dots between intersex patients, clinicians, and the media:

Public intersex activists volunteer their stories because they know the discomfort silence brings, and when a trusted journalist delivers manufactured comfort and false assurance for their readership then an opportunity is lost – and once again we are saddled with the choices of others.

In 'American surgeons are still mutilating children who don’t look “normal”' (Quartz, April 2015), Sean Saifa M. Wall raises similar concerns,

Too many in the medical profession see surgery as their duty. Too many still disregard what intersex advocates say about the impact of these surgeries. Too little has changed about the way doctors treat intersex children since I was 13.

Intersex activism is not easy because our bodies are sites of resistance. We can’t go home and disconnect from this issue after arguing about it; we live and breathe the intricacies of intersexuality every day. But our activism continues, fueled by anger and love; anger at what was done to us without our informed consent, and love for what remains of our bodies and for a future generation of young people, to be protected from such violations.


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