As many as one in every 59 people are born intersex — that is, with bodies that don't match traditional "male" or "female" classifications — and this isn't usually the source of any medial or psychological problems, according to a study in The International Journal of Pediatric Endocrinology. Yet many doctors continue to pathologize intersex bodies by performing surgery on babies so that their genitalia fit into the gender binary.
"Government agencies in Germany, Switzerland, Australia, Chile, Argentina, and Malta, as well as human rights groups, including the World Health Organization, have examined this issue and found that these irreversible medical procedures, which are performed before individuals can articulate whether they wish to undergo such surgery, are not necessary to ensure healthy physical functioning, and that such surgery is not justified when performed on infants," it reads.
The letter's authors point out that doctors didn't even typically perform these surgeries until the 1950s, and studies have failed to show evidence of ambiguous genitalia causing psychological distress. In fact, it's unnecessary surgery that can have this effect. It's common for intersex people not to identify with the gender they're assigned at birth. If they have surgery before they can even express their gender identity, they may end up with genitalia they're not comfortable with. Surgery can also lead to physical complications, like loss of sensation and hormonal imbalances. "Finally, these surgeries violate an individual’s right to personal autonomy over their own future," the letter concludes.
Intersex people have long been fighting for babies' right to keep whatever genitalia they're born with, but having three prominent doctors make this statement is a huge step in bringing awareness to the issue.
"This is an important win not just nationally but globally," the Intersex Campaign for Equality said in a statement. "We also thank the many intersex activists around the world — many of whom have been working for decades on these changes, often unpaid and recognized — for their hard work and dedication to making this shift a reality."