POLITICS
30/08/2018 12:32 AM IST

California Is The First State To Denounce 'Corrective' Surgery On Intersex Children

“This is the first time a state has gone on record supporting the intersex community," state Sen. Scott Wiener said.

Tommy Wu via Getty Images
California state Sen. Scott Wiener (D), who introduced the intersex resolution, at San Francisco’s LGBT pride parade on June 25, 2017.

California’s legislature passed a historic resolution on Tuesday that affirms the rights of intersex people. 

The resolution, SCR-110, formally condemns unnecessary surgery on intersex babies that is often performed by doctors to “correct” the child’s genitals. The resolution defines intersex people as “individuals born with variations in their physical sex characteristics” and who “may present with differences in genital anatomy, internal reproductive structures, chromosomes, or hormonal variations.” 

The resolution was introduced by state Sen. Scott Wiener (D) and co-sponsored by social justice organizations interACT and Equality California. 

“Our resolution (#SCR110) urging the medical profession to delay medically unnecessary genital surgeries on #intersex babies has now fully passed the CA Legislature,” Wiener tweeted on Tuesday. “This is the first time a state has gone on record supporting the intersex community & opposing these surgeries.”

Intersex individuals, who account for 1 to 2 percent of the population, often present with ambiguous genitalia that don’t fall perfectly into the cisgender male and female categories. This atypical anatomy can present as a larger-than-normal clitoris, lacking a vaginal opening or a scrotum that is divided, making it look more like labia.

Beginning in the 1950s, parents were given the choice to “correct” the child’s genitals at birth or shortly after. Many intersex advocates argue, however, that infants and children are too young to consent to such an invasive and often identity-altering surgery.  

“These surgeries are often performed before a child can even speak or stand, meaning the intersex individual is excluded from the decision whether to undergo these irreversible procedures,” the resolution reads.  

Surgeries like these can cause “severe psychological and physiological harm,” the resolution states, including scarring, urinary incontinence, loss of sexual sensation, post-traumatic stress disorder and incorrect gender assignment.   

“California has long been a leader for all people, and we can lead the way in supporting intersex children and their families,” Wiener said in March when he introduced the resolution. “Infants who are born healthy should not be forced into a medically unnecessary surgery, and our medical community needs to help families to take a more measured approach to surgery. Over time, as a child grows and they can make their own choices, then that is the appropriate time to discuss medical options.” 

Although the resolution does not ban intersex surgeries, advocates hope the message will start a trend. 

“It means for the very first time a U.S. legislative body has affirmatively recognized that intersex children deserve dignity and the right to make decisions about their own bodies ― just like everyone else,” the executive director of interACT, Kimberly Zieselman, told USA Today

Intersex advocate Sean Saifa Wall aptly summed up the issue in a 2016 interview with The New Republic.  

“Intersex bodies are beautiful,” he said. “People should have the right to choose, to bodily autonomy, to reproductive integrity. But the immediate work to be done is to educate people on what it means to be intersex. That’s where we’re starting.”