Choices about One’s Own Body

One of my favorite movies is Gattaca. A small detail in the movie is a pianist with six fingers. In the movie, it is intentional, achieved through genetic engineering. In the real world, polydactyly is a congenital abnormality, a type of birth defect characterized by structural deformities. In my high school biology class, one of my classmates told us that she had been born with six fingers but the sixth finger had been cut off a few days after she was born.  One of the other students said, “It would be so cool to have six fingers.” The first girl explained that the sixth finger is rarely fully functional and hers was not. She showed us the scar on the side of her hand, which was so old and faded that I wouldn’t have noticed it had she not pointed it out.

Birth defects can run the gamut from those that threaten a child’s health to the comparatively trivial. It is not at all unusual for parents to choose, as my schoolmate’s parents did, to have abnormalities corrected when possible. Parents make these kinds of health decisions for infant children all time. Since, in this particular case, the finger was non-functional, the young woman was happy that her parents had made the decision they had. However, what if the finger had been functional? Would be better for her to look like other people or to have six functional digits? Who should make that decision?

Few congenital disorders have multiple choices that many people can see as equally valid. However, intersex is an exception. Formerly called hermaphrodism, intersex is, “is a variation in sex characteristics including chromosomes, gonads, and/or genitals that do not allow an individual to be distinctly identified as male or female. Such variation may involve genital ambiguity, and combinations of chromosomal genotype and sexual phenotype other than XY-male and XX-female.”

When I was in seventh grade, our school showed us a documentary about a girl who had been born ambiguous genitals. I no longer recall why the parents chose to raise her as a girl and not a boy, but that is what they did. She must have been born in either the late sixties or the early seventies, and the most common way this was handled at the time was for parents to choose to raise the child as either a boy or a girl. Surgeries made her previously ambiguous genitals into externally female genitals, she was dressed in girls’ clothes and the rest of the world identified her as a girl. They also discussed with her the subject of adoption since she would not be able to have children. I have no doubt the parents, with the information available to them at the time, were doing what they believed to be in her best interest.

Intersex is a condition that you don’t choose; you can’t choose. You’re just born with it. One in every 2000 people are born with this condition, so it’s not especially uncommon. People have been born with this condition throughout recorded history and they have dealt with it with the best way they could at the time. This is why I was aghast when I read the word “desire” associated with intersex in an article in The American Conservative.

Desire Über Alles” was prompted by an article in Der Spiegel.

The option of selecting “blank,” in addition to the standard choices of “male” or female” on birth certificates will become available in Germany from November 1. The legislative change allows parents to opt out of determining their baby’s gender, thereby allowing those born with characteristics of both sexes to choose whether to become male or female in later life. Under the new law, individuals can also opt to remain outside the gender binary altogether.

When I was young, intersex people’s lives were determined at a very young age by their parents. Today, there has been a move for those individuals to determine these questions for themselves. This really strikes me as being such a simple, and obvious, way of dealing with the situation, I can’t help wondering if conservatives immediately go on the attack the moment they hear the word “sex.” The writer, Rod Dreher, draws a link between new-born infants whose sex is not obvious to adult observers to Paolo and Francesca, adulterous lovers burning in hell Dante’s Inferno. Do not ask me to explain how these things are similar. Dreher’s article is a masterpiece of incoherence. He throws together unrelated things as if he was playing a journalistic game of exquisite corpse.

“Good Godwin,” you may be wondering, “did he mention Hitler?” You bet your sweet bippy he did! But you can ignore that because, well, he said so. “Ignore the Godwin’s Law screaming meemies and grasp the deeper point Reno is making about how we allow desire, abetted by technology, to determine reality.”

So, to recap: Dante, adulterers, desire, people born with ambiguous genitals, German birth certificates, Australian passports, desire is will, Triumph of the Will, Nazis, Francis Bacon, Liberalism is like Marxism, Karl Marx, Marxist-turned-Catholic Alasdair MacIntyre, Liberalism is not like Marxism, Nietzsche/Heidegger/Hitler, abortion. All of this is thrown together in some sort of exercise in conservative free association.

I kid you not. This is not an article. It’s the ramblings of someone lying on an analyst’s couch.

So, people who did not choose to be intersex should not be allowed to choose how to deal with that fact even when they are adults? Is that the conservative position?

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