Why do ‘we’ perform surgery on newborn intersexed children?: The phenomenology of the parental experience of having a child with intersex anatomies

Feminist Theory 10 (3):359-377 (2009)
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Abstract

Few parents-to-be consider that their child may be born with ambiguous sex. Still, parents of a newborn child with ambiguous sex are expected to make a far-reaching decision for the child: should the child be operated upon so that it has either female or male genitals? The aim of this article is to examine, phenomenologically, why parents decide to have their children undergo genital surgery when it is not necessary for the child’s physiological functions. Drawing on phenomenological work by Maurice Merleau-Ponty, Simone de Beauvoir and Sara Ahmed, we examine parents’ frustration when their child’s sex is ambiguous 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 the interaction between parents and medical professionals when parents make decisions regarding surgery on their child. Furthermore, we provide a critical perspective on the surgical practice.

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