The Times: “Caster Semenya and the middle sex”

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Sophia, a British member of OII is quoted in this story in the London Times. She is doubly qualified to comment on intersex in the media – Sophia is a geneticist.

… Britain is the first to base treatment on the assumption that it should be acceptable for boys and girls to look far from “normal”. That doctors may be better off doing nothing to “fix” the kind of confusing genitals that incite laddish, locker-room bullying. This approach asks provocative questions of the rest of us. What makes us the sex we are, and what makes that so normal in the first place?

“These conditions are relatively common,” says Professor Adam Balen, consultant gynaecologist at Leeds General Infirmary. “I wouldn’t say they are hidden because that is an emotive term, but we’re obsessed by sex, and whenever sex is raised all of a sudden a prurient angle comes into it. We are not open enough in our society to discuss the variations that come with disorders of physical development.

“How do you define your gender? Is it defined by sex chromosomes? Not always. Is it your sex hormones? Not necessarily. Then what?”

When Sophia, 45, from Brighton, was born with a genetic condition (called 5-ARD) that made her sex initially unclear, her parents were told nothing. This secrecy by the medical teams was absolutely standard. “They didn’t know what I was, but all they said to my parents was, ‘there’s a problem, we’re doing some kind of repair’.”

She was sent home to an almost impossible life. Her parents were told she was a boy, but they “picked up something strange was going on”. Meanwhile the botched “repair” made life as a boy utterly miserable.

In adulthood Sophia now lives (“exists” is the word she uses) as a woman, campaigning passionately against surgery to “normalise” babies. Wouldn’t it be kinder, I ask, to make a child less different in the eyes of their peers, to spare the taunts? “That argument is countered by the messiness the surgery itself causes,” she says. …

Two errors:

“Money’s experiment was fictionalised in the prize-winning bestseller Middlesex, by Jeffrey Eugenides.” This is not correct, the fictional story in Middlesex has no relation to John Money.

The word intersex was invented in 1901 and was not coined in the 1960s, as the article suggests.

The Times: Caster Semenya and the middle sex