My debut novel, In Between, and my novella, The Man Who Was Not, both have main characters who were born intersexual. Sophie Schmidt, of In Between, was born in the early sixties, at the time when doctors had obtained the ability to perform gender reassignment surgery on infants. After being pressured by the doctors, Sophie’s parents allowed them to perform surgery on her five days after birth to make her as much of a girl as possible. Stephen Hyde, of The Man Who Was Not, was born as an intersexual in the mid-1800s, at a time when the intersexual condition was not even recognized. Stephen’s biology was both male and female, and he lived as a man for the first part of his life and as a woman for the second.
I have grown to have great passion for the subject of intersexuality and for the struggles of people who are born intersexual; thus, I have taken particular interest in the first lawsuit to be filed in the United States against the South Carolina Department of Social Services, the Greenville Hospital System, the Medical University of South Carolina, and the doctors who performed gender reassignment surgery on a 16-month-old infant known as M.C. The lawsuit was filed by the Advocates for Informed Choice, the Southern Poverty Law Center, and pro bono counselors from two private law firms on behalf of M.C.’s adoptive parents on May 14th, 2013. When the defendants proposed a motion to dismiss the case, the U.S. District Judge of the South Carolina Charleston Division, David C. Norton, denied the motion after oral arguments were made on August 22, 2013.
At birth M.C. could not easily be labeled as male or female, and the doctors labeled the baby as a “true hermaphrodite.” After that determination, the doctors removed a completely healthy phallus and testes, rendering the baby as “female.” The lawsuit, which was filed in both state and federal courts, states that it was a violation of the U.S. Constitution for the doctors who were working for the state to surgically remove the healthy genitals, not knowing if M.C. would grow up to identify as a man or a woman. At age eight, M.C. identifies himself as a boy, though he no longer possesses his male genitalia.
The importance of this case is paramount, as it is about ensuring the safety of children who have no voice, since no one advocated for M.C. when he was an infant in the South Carolina Social Services System. The case also will be the first attempt at putting an end to the sex assignment surgeries that have been performed on intersexual infants in the United States since the 1950s. We’re not talking about just a few infants, as it is estimated that 1 in every 2,000 babies is born with an intersex condition. As M.C.’s adoptive mother stated, “They disfigured him because they could not accept him for who he was—not because he needed surgery.” My hope is that this case will ensure that all intersexual infants in the United States are treated with justice and dignity as we proceed into the future. Once again, we are at a critical juncture at which, as a society, we can put forth the reality that never have there been only two genders.