June 8, 2004

New Approaches for Treating Indeterminate Gendered Children

On Slate, Claudia Kolker looks at the latest research and thinking about dealing with "intersex" or gender indeterminate children, a condition with multiple possible causes where a newborn's gender is ambiguous. To some degree or another, it affects approximately 1 in 2,000 births.

For the last 50 years or so, the standard treatment has been to quickly choose a gender for the child, surgically create the appropriate genitalia, then purge the medical history of any anomalies. But this doesn't always work. Take the now well-known case of David Reimer, who, after a botched circumcision, was castrated and raised as a girl, on his doctor's recommendation. After a tortured life, Reimer found out about his original gender, started living as a man, but recently committed suicide.

Anyway, some experts are starting to advise parents to wait a while and see if a gender manifests itself in other ways before deciding to operate. For the 1 in 2000 of you who need this info, I hope it helps.


This was a heartbreaking and tragic demise to a wounded individual.
Unlike David, I was born with PAIS (Partial Androgen Insensitivity Syndrome) Grade 3. There was a sufficient ambiguity in my gender at birth to make doctors the deciders of my fate. AS most ambiguous children are, we are victims of the individuals making the decisions.
I was forced to live as a male until I was 12 years old, at that time it became abundantly evident that I was a girl, spontaneous breast growth and a virtually virility-free appearance. The situation was 'immediately' rectified but from that point forward I was treated like a transsexual patient, with all the prejudice and complications that this entails.
This is a very real issue for many people, parents and children alike. My mother still suffers the guilt of having made the decision to listen to the doctors who, at one point, said "When it doubt, a boy's the route" !
They were wrong, instead of letting these children develop naturally to a point in their lives when they can make a decision for themselves, their decisions are often made for them, with irrevocable results.
THere is so much information available today to the parents of AIS/PAIS/THC(true hermephrodite children), please research your decisions carefullly, weigh the evidence and get multiple opinions, ultimately, there is nothing wrong with letting your child fall into the gender that is actually already in them, given enough time, support and love.
I am the proud mother of 5 children, and with much forgiveness and the opportunity to educate other parents, I live a rewarding and fulfilling life. I hope you can help your children do the same.......

Thanks for adding a valuable first-person experience, SJ.

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