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Pune’s Intersex 15 y.o. And The Problem Of Intrusive Surgeries On Minors

Posted: January 29, 2021
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An intersex teen from Satara was diagnosed with Androgen Insensitivity Syndrome. Why we need to stop the stigmatisation of these conditions.

A 15-year-old individual from Satara, Maharashtra who was raised as a female since birth recently approached doctors since she hasn’t yet started menstruating. Doctors in Pune diagnosed her with what is known as Androgen Insensitivity Syndrome – an intersex condition.

The diagnosis has led the individual, who cannot yet legally consent to begin the process of being assimilated into the traditional gender binary model of masculinity and femininity. In this case, the individual has ‘chosen’ to remain female.

(As a nod to the reports of self-identification of the minor as a woman, we will refer to her as a woman in the rest of this piece).

The minor’s self-identification

According to a report in the Hindustan Times, a team of doctors from Pune has already been committed to the transition procedure. The minor has gone through a laparoscopy surgery and a breast augmentation surgery. Meanwhile, planning for prescribing hormonal injections is underway.

The report also mentions that after the realisation of the individual’s intersex identity, she and her parents have decided to maintain the socialised female sex and gender. This has been bolstered by the minor self-identifying as a woman.

This young girl was diagnosed with Partial Androgen Insensitivity Syndrome. Due to this sex identity, she did not develop breasts like girls at 15 do and she does not have uterus and ovaries.

What is Androgen Insensitivity Syndrome?

People with ‘Androgen Insensitivity Syndrome’ belong to the spectrum of intersex anatomy. Such individuals are genetically male. But the external appearance of their genitals can be of the female sex or may be from anywhere in the spectrum between male and female.

This identity can be subdivided into three types of androgen insensitivity syndrome. One, Complete Androgen Insensitivity Syndrome (CAIS). Here the release of testosterone hormone does not influence the sexual development of the body. Hence the body develops predominantly female genitalia.

Two, in Partial Androgen Insensitivity Syndrome (PAIS), the testosterone has some influence on sexual development. Therefore, the body develops genitals between male and female.

The third is the Mild Androgen Insensitivity Syndrome (MAIS) wherein people are born with male organs. But they are often infertile and tend to exhibit breast enlargement at puberty.

The social reality of intersex individuals and kids

The absolute number of such identities are hard to document owing to the marginalisation and invisibilisation of the identities. But some studies suggest that there are about 2 to 5 individuals with CAIS among every 100,000 people. The statistics are similar in the case of PAIS, while for MAIS, the number of cases is rarer.

There are a lot of taboos, misrepresentations and stigmas around intersex identities. The misrepresentation of the sex binary as an ahistoric and static fact is at the root of discrimination and invisibilisation of intersex identities.

Trans and intersex bodies challenge normativity of the sex binary, which is the basis of the patriarchal society. Since they are seen as ‘different,’ this refusal of the patriarchal society to accept the various gender and sex identities leads to stigmatisation, and even human rights violations.

One particular form of human rights violation that these individuals are subjected to is unnecessary “normalising” surgeries on children born with intersex variations. This is a form of genital mutilation aimed at enabling the child to live a “normal” life.

Let’s stop stigmatising intersex individuals and their identities!

These young individuals haven’t reached the age of consent and are made to go through intrusive operations to make their bodies conform. Parent’s consent is not the same as informed decisions of the individuals in question.

A lot of such doctors cite the risk of malignancy to push for these “normalising” and intrusive surgeries. But in reality, the risk of malignancy is very low rendering the excuse unjustified and unsubstantiated.

Intersex rights groups have raised their voices against this non-consensual genital mutilation of intersex kids, in India too. The Madras high court in 2019 had banned these surgeries on children except in life-threatening situations. And yet, the society at large continues to perpetuate harmful stigmas that invisibilises the intersex experience and make them victims of human rights violation.

There is no ‘natural’ body, and no body has to conform to the normative cultural and biological expectations to exist. Every body, every sex, every gender identity and presentation are valid and should be seen as such.

Picture credits: Unsplash

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An undergraduate student of Political Science at Presidency University, Kolkata. Describes herself as an intersectional

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