15 March 2019

Africa: What Should Parents Do With an Intersex Baby? Nothing Says Documentarian

London — The premier on Friday of a documentary highlighting the struggles of intersex people was followed by a call for an end to gender assignment surgery at birth by the film's director and lead subject.

"No Box For Me: An Intersex Story", is based on correspondence between three adolescents as they discuss the surgeries they have undergone since infancy and the mental and physical impacts they have had.

"Any treatment on sex characteristics that is not derived from a fully informed consent of the intersex person must be banned," film director Floriane Devigne and central subject "M", told the Thomson Reuters Foundation in a joint email.

As many as 1.7 percent of children are born with genitals, gonads, reproductive organs, hormones or chromosomes that don't fit the usual expectations of male and female, according to the United Nations.

They often undergo surgery to bring the appearance and function of their genitalia into line with that expected of males or females, which research suggests can lead to psychological damage later in life.

In the film, one of the intersex subjects, Deborah, explains how she was anesthetised every three to six months from the age of 9 for doctors to check that she could "have relations with a man".

When she had sexual relations for the first time, she was still unable to have penetrative sex.

There are many reasons why surgery is performed on intersex youths, including medical necessity, future fertility and parental preference, Barbara Chubak, assistant professor of urology at Mount Sinai Icahn School of Medicine, said via email.

The professor urged parents to wait, if possible, before making these decisions on behalf of their children.

"As a matter of ethics, I would encourage parents to delay elective reconstructive surgery until their children are of age/consciousness to have a choice in the morphology of their own bodies," she said.

 - Reporting by Amber Milne; Editing by Jason Fields

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