Newborn baby Isabel Pavia/Getty Images

Doctors Should Stop Defining Sexual “Normality”

In the United States every year, children born with ambiguous sex features are routinely subjected to invasive, medically unnecessary surgical procedures to align their bodies with prevailing cultural norms. But such a consequential decision should never be made by one's parents, much less be encouraged by the medical profession.

NEW YORK – On October 26, 1996, a small group of activists picketed outside an American Academy of Pediatrics conference in Boston to draw attention to the fact that cosmetic surgeries were routinely being performed on intersex children and newborns. Now, October 26 is Intersex Awareness Day every year.

To mark the occasion in 2017, intersex advocate Pidgeon Pagonis led a protest in front of the Ann & Robert H. Lurie Children’s Hospital of Chicago. Over a decade ago, doctors at the hospital performed a medically unnecessary surgery to alter Pidgeon’s clitoris, vagina, and gonads without Pidgeon’s consent. For Pidgeon and the others in attendance, the protest was both political and deeply personal.

In anticipation of the protest, the hospital issued a friendly public statement, saying, “We are committed to open communication with the Intersex community and fully respect the diversity of opinions that exist in affected individuals.” And yet a leaked internal communiqué from the hospital struck a rather different note. In it, the hospital’s public-relations department described the protesters as advocates of “an extreme position on the issues related to intersex individuals.”