About two weeks ago, I shared some thoughts on Female Genital Mutilation, or FGM. Being the subject of my senior thesis, I spent more than a year researching the practice, digging up facts, figures and cultural ideology. By the end, I was not only firming against FGM, but all forms of circumcision. There is no reason to mutilate healthy genital tissue, be those genitals on a male, female or intersex body. Outside of medical reasoning or the consent of the person being operated on, such procedures are always wrong.
The response I usually get to this problem is that FGM is far more terrible than all the rest and should be focused on above all the others. I would agree with this statement mostly because of the way FGM is typically practiced. Outside of a sterile environment and in the absence of medicine to help with pain, infections and complications, FGM is far more sever. Saying that does not make the genital mutilation of male bodies or intersex bodies any less wrong, though. I was on the fence about circumcising any son I may have in the future until I wrote that thesis. Honestly, I don’t see that as being much different in terms of right or wrong than any other kind of genital altercation done without consent.
If you are one of the lovely readers who read my post on FGM, another question may come to mind. I discussed the idea of offering medically trained professionals in a sterile environment to perform FGM procedures for those who felt they needed it. Such a place would force patients and their families to read in depth, accurate information about the risks of the procedure, offer examples of other ceremonies or practices – developed with their culture in mind – that could be done instead of FGM. For example, many cultures performing Type 1 (complete or total removal of the clitoris) believe the clitoris will grow into a penis if not removed or altered. The practice of FGM in this instance is more about defining gender than anything else. There has been success in certain communities in completely eradicating FGM by replacing the practice with a sort of celebration of womanhood. I would also put in the rule books at such a place that the consent of the patient was mandatory. Those that refused would be directed to services that would help them get by or escape if their culture continues to demand FGM.
The aim, as I described it in my thesis, was twofold. I wanted to protect the lives of women who – no matter what advocacy groups do today – will have this procedure done. Their lives matter and I don’t think they should be allowed to die just because their culture on that day hadn’t gotten rid of FGM, yet. Maybe that information will result in them getting a lesser version of FGM. Maybe they will grow up and refuse to give their child FGM. Perhaps many cases would result in no FGM happening whatsoever. In this way, women having the procedure performed aren’t taking up quite as much risk and the eradication of FGM from the culture is promoted to the point of extinction.
That, is a very longwinded way of saying my post a couple weeks ago was not in support of FGM, but a discussion of the best way to truly erase its practice.
With all that out of the way, what would you say if I told you genital mutilation existed in American hospitals? If someone is born intersex – say they are born with male genitalia but are female on top. It’s legal to remove and reshape that genitalia to resemble female genitalia. The reverse is true as well. We can’t handle the idea that a human might be born outside the traditional definitions of male and female. Furthermore, many of us don’t understand the concept of sexuality, thinking if we raise a child as a girl she will automatically accept that definition and be attracted to men. Why else would we remove and reshape the penis of someone born intersex thinking they will automatically accept the idea they are female?
I read some stories in my research about people who had this done to them. They grow up confused, still feeling different than everyone else even thought they look the same. It all makes sense when they find out they were altered at birth and many resent that the procedure was performed on them without their permission. Still, the parents in that situation are just as well meaning as many of the parents performing FGM on the other side of the world. They think the procedure is necessary for their child to get by in society, thinking about the school bullies and angry politicians that might stand against them. Will they be able to get a job? Will they ever find love? Will they be accepted by society?
These issues were brought to my attention as I researched my senior thesis, solidifying my belief that – outside of medical necessity – genital modification of any kind, outside of the consent of the individual, is always wrong. I’ll fight FGM first, followed by intersex mutilation and then male circumcision. I don’t understand why I should have to choose, though. In my eyes, these are all wrong. I stand against them at the same time.
What would you do if you gave birth to an intersex child? Would you choose to modify their body to make them seem male or female? Do you think the issues of FGM, intersex genital modification and male circumcision are related?