Few parents-to-be consider that their child may be intersexual, i.e. born with external and internal genitals, gonadal structures, sex chromosomes or hormone levels that are not only typical for one sex. Still, parents to a newborn intersexual child are expected to make far-reaching decisions for the child: should the child be operated upon so that it has either female or male genitals?
Surgeries on external genitals are not life saving but aimed at creating genitals that are acceptable to the individual and the social environment. The surgeries have been the target for criticism from patients’ organisations and researchers. Patients who have had surgical operations assert that the operations have created a sense of abnormality that it was meant to set aside. They describe how their sexual function and pleasure have been impaired. Criticisms have also been directed at the parents’ deputy consent and it has been suggested that surgeries should be postponed until the child can be part of the decision.
The aim of this paper is to examine, phenomenologically, why parents decide to let their children undergo genital surgery despite previous patients’ critique of it. By drawing on phenomenological work by Maurice Merleau-Ponty, Simone de Beauvoir and Sara Ahmed, we examine parents’ frustration when their child’s sex is unclear and their experiences of the practice of medical sex assignment. We also examine parental identity-work when the child has been assigned a sex and parental vulnerability and trust in medical professionals when parents make decisions regarding surgery on their child. Furthermore, we provide a critical perspective on the surgical practice.
ACSIS Kultur/Natur Konferens för kulturstudier i Sverige. 15-17 juni 2009. Norrköping, Sverige.