I happened across this article on Stony Brook University’s Feminine Boy Project a couple of months ago, but I couldn’t figure out what to do with other than say “Wow, how horrible! Thank goodness we’ve evolved beyond this kind of bogus ‘medical-minded’ gender-policing of children’s bodies and behaviors.” You should check out the article regardless, but two news items* are making clear that we are clearly NOT beyond such things. Not by a long shot.
The first can be read about at fetaldex.org, run by Dr. Alice Dreger, a bioethicist who is raising awareness–and well-warranted concern–about the unregulated administration to pregnant women of dexamethasone, a hormone of dubious safety and even more dubious need.
It’s tempting to copy/paste huge chunks from the site, but I’ll restrain myself to noting that dexamethasone is apparently being administered to some women whose female fetuses may be at risk for Congenital Adrenal Hyperplasia (CAH), which commonly results in ambiguous genitals and irregularities in reaching puberty, among other things. There are genuine medical risks involved with CAH (including sterility), as with many endocrinological disorders, but Dr. Dreger’s research has shown that some medical professionals are mostly concerned with those characteristics that don’t fit in with current ideas of appropriate feminine appearance and behavior. These docs are touting dexamethasone as a way to prevent girls from being born with larger-than-average clitorises, a tendency for aggressive, boyish behavior rather than nurturing ways, and possibly! lesbian! leanings! In the words of one doc:
“CAH women as a group have a lower interest than controls in getting married and performing the traditional child-care/housewife role. As children, they show an unusually low interest in maternal play with baby dolls, and their interest in caring for infants, the frequency of daydreams or fantasies of pregnancy and motherhood, or the expressed wish of experiencing pregnancy and having children of their own appear to be relatively low in all age groups.”
If that’s a criterion for dysfunction, then I better have my clit checked!
Dr. Dreger is responsible for bringing to light an even more disturbing story out of Cornell University, where a “doctor” has been operating on little girls whose clitorises have been deemed “too large.” Yes, all these scare-quotes are warranted. So is a trigger warning.
This man, Dix Poppas, is cutting and stitching the sex organs of little girls deemed inappropriately feminine-appearing. The clitoroplasties are bad enough, but Dr. Dreger is even more concerned with the post-op procedures Poppas is executing. He claims that his method of clitoral surgery spares nerve endings, and so, to test this
Poppas touches the daughter’s surgically shortened clitoris with a cotton-tip applicator and/or with a “vibratory device,” and the girl is asked to report to Poppas how strongly she feels him touching her clitoris. Using the vibrator, he also touches her on her inner thigh, her labia minora, and the introitus of her vagina, asking her to report, on a scale of 0 (no sensation) to 5 (maximum), how strongly she feels the touch.
Let me rephrase that: after he takes a knife to their genitals, this man is using vibrators on kindergarteners.
I’m not really sure what to do with this information, other than share it and then VOMIT IN TERROR, and send my thanks to Dr. Dreger and Ellen K Feder, her collaborator, for their work.
I can only hope that the ‘net will help circulate these stories and bring attention to the parental and medical malfeasance being perpetrated on girls and women in the name of gender conformity.
ETA: Cornell has an Office of Research Integrity & Assurance. Although it seems that this Poppas study shouldn’t have gotten past the IRB people (srsly, the absurd amounts of paperwork I had to do to interview people for my diss, and you can get the OK for what amounts to child sexual abuse?), they list contact info to report complaints.
Phone: (646) 962-8200
You know what to do.
ETA AGAIN: You might also be interested in Advocates for Informed Choice, a legal organization working for the rights of children with intersex conditions.
*Many thanks to reader/commenter mischief manager for the heads-up!