Lessons from the Intersexed
"This is a brave book. Kessler says things that need to be said, and she says them clearly, concisely, and with respect for the people whose lives are most affected by the questions she confronts. A must read for anyone concerned with intersex issues." --Holly Devor, author of Gender Blending: Confronting the Limits of Duality and FTM: Female-to-Male Transsexuals in Society. "While the physician's response to an infant with ambiguous genitalia has been to produce categories like the 'successful vagina' and the 'good enough penis, ' Kessler takes her cues from intersexuals themselves. This book is a brilliant and long overdue call for the reevaluation of gender variability." --Judith Halberstam, author of Female Masculinity "Fascinating in what it tells us not only about situation in which sex assignment is uncertain but about the astonishingly weak empirical foundations on which the medical orthodoxies of binary sex and gender are built. A must for anyone interested in the ways widely accepted social beliefs and scientific explanations generate and reinforce each other." --Ruth Hubbard, author of The Politics of Women's Biology and Exploding the Gene Myth From the moment intersexuality--the condition of having physical markers (genitals, gonads, or chromosomes) that are neither clearly female nor male--is suspected and diagnosed, social institutions are mobilized in order to maintain the two seemingly objective sexual categories. Infants' bodies are altered, and the "ambiguous" is made "normal." As Kessler argues, the way the medical and psychological professions manage intersexuality is guided by our culture's beliefs about gender and genitals rather than by the needs of the child. Interviews with pediatric surgeons and endocrinologists as well as parents of intersexed children and adults who were treated for this condition in childhood lead Kessler to propose several new approaches for physicians in dealing with parents and children. Beyond the medical sphere, the author also evaluates a political vanguard intent on gaining acceptance by physicians and society at large of an intersexed identity. Lessons from the Intersexed explores the possibilities and implications of suspending a commitment to two "natural" genders. It addresses gender destabilization issues arising from intersexuality and compels a rethinking of the meaning of gender, genitals, and sexuality. Suzanne J. Kessler is professor of psychology at Purchase College, State University of New York. She is coauthor of Gender: An Ethnomethodological Approach.
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