What would you do if your child was born intersexed?

This thread briefly touched on intersexed, or hermaphroditic individuals – people born with ambiguous genitalia, or both male and female genitals. This brought to mind a discussion I had with some girlfriends back in my old dorm. We were discussing children and childbirth, and the topic turned to what we would do if any of us were to give birth to an intersexed child.

If my child was otherwise healthy (i.e. the genitals didn’t pose any health risks) I would try to avoid having any operations or sexual-assignment surgery performed. I’d give my child a gender-neutral name and wait to see if s/he eventually gravitated towards a specific gender or not. And if my child never did select a gender, that’d be fine, too. It just doesn’t seem right to me to operate on someone’s genitalia when they’re too young to decide for themselves what they want to be. Once they’re adults, if they choose to have surgery, that’s their choice (for that matter, they might end up being perfectly happy staying the way they were born). I wouldn’t want to “make” them be a boy or a girl. One of my cousins was born intersexed back in the '60s (male pseudohermaphrodite) and was raised a girl until he decided he was really a boy during his teenaged years. I remember my dormmates having similar beliefs.

That is a good question. The problem is that society is going to force the child into a sex no matter what. Imagine what things would be like at school for example (I suppose you could home school him/her). The question is still going to come up all the time however and most people will not be prepared to hear or understand the answer. I can only imagine the amount of teasing or harassment the child would endure.

OTOH, if you choose a sex and get it wrong, there can be worse issues than that. This phenomena is what got earlier psychologists to stop spouting off that sexual identity was mainly a social construct. There have been several high-profile cases where a pseudohermaphrodite was raised as one sex and then turned the other way during puberty. Brain-wreck is the only way to describe it.

If you are almost certain what the brain and body sex is going to lean towards, I would have the definitive medical reassignments done.

I would oppose surgery other than any that might be absolutely necessary for normal function - such as urination. I would attempt to raise the child according to its genetic gender; if that didn’t work out, it wouldn’t be all that different than it is for ‘regular’ cases of transgender (that’s not to underestimate the whole thing).

Since the ambiguity comes in degrees (at least according to the Discovery special I watched on the subject) step one would be to do a DNA test to see if that cleared things up any - sometimes they’re genetically a boy or girl, but things didn’t form properly in the womb. If the test cleared it up, reconstuctive surgery would probably be the plan if some point. If it didn’t since there wasn’t clear evidence due to too many X or Ys, I don’t know what step 2 would be.

You’re absolutely right. But I’d view the question as “how can I create the best situaion for my child, without being forced into harmful expectations and while also ensuring their own interests aren’t compromised”.

In a school, there would certainly be challenges, but assuming you had a supportive school, none of the issues necessarily would become more obvious than for a child in a wheelchair, or a child who wanted to be open about their homosexuality, or a child with cancer. There’s a combination of mundane practicality and delicate tackling of the wider concerns in all such situations. In this case, perhaps because it is rare, it would involve specialised information being provided to staff.

Ultimately, the idea of homeschooling an intersex child, just because, horrifies me.

True hermaphrodites can really make things hard. They can have XXXY chromosomes and then what do you do?

There are a lot of these disorders out there. Several different combinations of up to 4 X and Y chromosomes can produce different odd results. On top of that, you can have failures in the sex hormone systems to cause correct differentiation. I promise that you have met some of these people in your life and probably never knew.

Here is some good info on the different intersexed disorders:


Wow. I would probably freak out massively, before I got a grip on things (to the extent that I could).

I have a bit of experience with unexpected things in one’s offspring- my youngest son is mildly autistic. I know about dashed expectations (but you change them and it ends up better than it would have been), issues with peers and schooling (my kid has been mainstreamed with a shadow aide all the way- it has made a huge difference) and other stuff that comes up because you are scared to death about how your child might be treated, both now and in the future.

It would be gnarly but it would also be okay. As a parent, I had been through enough in my life already to take hold and do what needed to be done, after an initial period of burying my head in the sand.

I would get the best experts money could buy and consult them extensively, but also trust my gut as a mother.

I agree, though some cases of non-hermaphroditic/non-ambiguous gender reassignment, such as the John Money situation described on *Nova-Sex: Unknown * and in the book As Nature Made Him: The Boy Who Was Raised as a Girl by John Colapinto, there are so many methodological problems that I assign it as reading not for my LGBTQ classes but for research methodology discussions.

Apropos of nothing, I’ve only ever read one novel with a hermaphrodite protagonist: Raptor, by Garry Jennings.

Good one, too. Thorn has one heckuva sex life! (But I mainly love it for the literary picture of Dark Age Europe.)

Like most of the other posters here, I’d take a wait-and-see approach, after any urinary problems were dealt with in the least invasive way possible. Yes, every person seeing the baby will assume a gender or ask. I’d come up with some clever, but non-illuminating answers.

I think most kids have a pretty good sense of which gender they are before school age, and the child can be enrolled in school as the gender of his/her/other choice. If it’s still ambiguous at that point, I’d talk it over with the child and try to encourage the child to “try out” being a girl or boy for a year, with the option to change (and change schools, if need be) the following year. I consider home-schooling an option for any kid of mine who doesn’t do well in a brick and mortar school for any reason, and this would remain true for this challenge.

I would always be clear that gender is fluid, and boys can be boys and play with dolls and girls can be girls and play with tool sets, and anyone can change their mind as many times as they need to to feel right. I’m that way with my unambiguous son and daughter, and see no reason it would be different. My kids know I love them and will stand by them no matter who they decide to be or love - as long as they harm no one, including themselves.

What do you mean about methodological problems?

That’s hard. My first instinct would be to see if the baby could be genetically identified one way or the other, but like others have said I would be reluctant to do permanent surgery until I saw that the child definitely identified one way or the other. I would have to do tons of research and talk to specialists and probably other people who have gone through it.

If we just couldn’t tell I would give an ambiguous name and wait a few years. I would guess the child would have a good idea before puberty about what they identified as, and before puberty it would be easy enough just to let the child wear clothes and hair as they wished and fit right in with either sex.

I don’t get this, either…the book was basically based on anecdotal evidence…actually, only on one example of someone whose sex was reassigned. It was pretty compelling anecdotal evidence, to be sure, but I don’t get how methodology was even an issue.

I don’t see how it would be as easy as just giving the child a gender-neutral name and waiting it out. Society expects an assigned gender, even if just for external things. The very first question asked of new parents is “Is it a boy or a girl?” Is there a way to answer that in a noncommital way without sounding absurd?

I absolutely agree with not doing any medically unnecessary surgery and with letting the child establish its own gender identity. But, realistically, if only for the outside world, you have to pick a sex and go with it. I’m guessing that it wouldn’t be too hard, once the child got a little older, to explain that some children are obviously boys, and some are obviously girls, that some look like boys but are acutally girls inside, and vice versa, and that some children are born with a little bit of both, and get to decide for themselves. And along with this that some people (even the grownups) don’t really understand this, so sometimes we have to choose for our children, but they can make up their minds when they are ready.

I’d also be ready to pick up and leave town if necessary so that the child doesn’t have to deal with a potential public gender switch, and all the bigoted hatred that such entails.

Well, assuming neither of the, ah, “sets” requires removal for health reasons…hmmm. If, physically, they seem to be leaning more towards one sex more than another one (like, say, if they only had one type of gonads, but otherwise ambiguous genetalia, or some such) I’d probably consider having the non-dominant organs removed, and choosing the gender that way. If the kid grows up and decides they wish they were the other sex…“hey, sorry, what can I say? My bad. If you want to ‘switch teams,’ that’s fine, and I’ll give ya all the support I can. Sorry for the inconvenience.” But, at that point, I don’t see it as really much different from a situation where a kid starts out with a normal set of genitals, and decided they wanted a sex change, anyway, later in life.

If, however, things were more “equal,” physically (probably more what the OP had in mind), I’d probably just forego surgery and pick a gender, arbitarily, to raise the kid as (mostly for pragmatic convenience—I wouldn’t really care which they were, and I’m a pretty egalitarian guy already, so it’s mostly so I don’t have to find a proper gener-neutral pronoun to use and explain to everyone we meet, or try to give a progressive education in the intricacies of gender identity to a four year old) until they’re old enough to decide for themselves which gender they’d prefer to be, if any.

But, like I said, I don’t think I’d put a lot of strict emphasis on sex and gender roles, anyway, so I think I could avoid warping them by trying to make them a proper “boy” or “girl.” They can be whatever “feels right” to them, it just ain’t that big a deal for me.