Dan Savage reports:
A pediatric urologist at Cornell—Dix Poppas—has been operating on little girls with what he judges to be oversized clitorises, cutting away important clitoral tissues, and then stitching the glans to what remains of the shaft.
At annual visits after the surgery, while a parent watches, 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…. Poppas has indicated in this article and elsewhere that ideally he seeks to conduct annual exams with these girls….
I believe all genital mutilation/cutting/circumcision/surgery performed on children is wrong. This is for two related reasons. The first is consent- a child or infant cannot understand the reasons for and consequences of genital surgery. Any surgery that is not medically necessary, and genital surgery is rarely medically necessary, should not be performed without the individual’s consent. Unless a major bodily function is impeded by the formation of the genitals, the surgery is cosmetic. The second is that this surgery may have long-lasting and deep-rooted effects for the infant or child, and so cannot in good conscience be performed without the individuals consent.
Some people are born with genitals that may seem “too big” or “too small” by the parents’ standards or in the opinion of the family’s physician. This is natural variation. There are plenty of genetic situations that can cause a person’s genitals to appear different than what we consider “the norm”. When a person’s genitals don’t neatly fall into what we expect a “woman’s” or a “man’s” to look like, that person is intersex. There is no way to tell by looking at an intersex baby’s genitals whether that baby will grow up to identify as a woman, man, both or neither. There is also no way to tell from genitals whether a person will grow up to be L, G, B, T or Q. The Intersex Society of North America estimates that about 1% of the population is born with “bodies [that] differ from standard male or female”.
That means that reshaping a baby’s genitals to fit a preconceived notion of what a girl or a boy “should” look like is not only likely to harm sexual/sensual function in adulthood, but also may result in the parents and physician guessing wrong and reshaping the child’s genitals into the “wrong” sex. Our sex and gender identification is not formed only by outside society… see As Nature Made Him.
In the article above, Dan Savage is correct in identifying clitoris-reduction surgery on infants as based on sexism and homophobia. Since we do not know whether all children described as having a large clitoris will identify as girls/women in adulthood, I cannot say that this is specifically “female” genital mutilation, but more broadly genital mutilation.
All non-medically-necessary genital surgery is cosmetic. And do we have any good reason to perform cosmetic, permanent surgery on a non-consenting child’s genitals? My stance is “no”. Some circumcision of boys and girls is done by religious dictate: because a holy text mandates it, or because it purportedly helps ensure virginity, etc. Other circumcision is done to fit the child into a cultural idea of what a “woman” or a “man” should look like. It is prescriptive… we see a baby as nature made hir, and we decide god or nature made a mistake that a human must correct.
But why must it be “corrected”? What is there to correct, exactly, when no major bodily function is impeded? Parents and doctors who perpetuate cosmetic genital surgery are allowing their own fears and limitations regarding sex, gender, and sexuality to play out physically upon the body of their child, a child whose very existence makes them fear for the rectitude of their dearly held social categories. Is it right to make a child suffer for life so that the parent and doctor can avoid hard questions and self-examination?
Some will always, inevitably say, “well it is too hard on the child to be raised intersex/with ambiguous genitals/ambiguous gender”. Why is it hard? Because society is sexist and homophobic, believes viscerally in a culturally-moderated gender binary, and people can be narrow-minded about these issues. Is the potential meanness of others, the potential bias against diversity, enough to perform cosmetic surgery? Why is it so hard for the parents to follow their child’s lead, to leave paths open and allow their child to pick one? I suspect that the parents are more worried about themselves, the potential explaining they may have to do, than about the highly touted danger of allowing the child to make hir own decision.
The situation that Dan Savage describes above only takes this human rights violation farther. Farther than even your average person is comfortable with, I think. To draw out the process of forcing a young body into a man-made sex mold for years, with close and constant medical intervention, is cruel and unusual torture. Parents who allow this are gravely remiss in watching out for their children’s best interests. They are also probably deeply misinformed by the “experts” into whose hands they have fallen. And the doctors—and doctor Dix Poppas particularly—are committing deep ethical breeches that I believe are egregious enough to be human rights violations.
Discuss infant genital surgery in comments, if you will. Slurs and insults not tolerated.