Friday, April 17, 2009

Hermaphrodites with Attitudes

I'm still intersexual
Written by: Morgan Holmes

Because our society demands a world in which heterosexuality is the norm and there are only two possible sexes, those born intersexual must be considered pathological. Medical procedures which remove perfectly functioning body parts (i.e., mutilation) can thus be justified by the insistence that it is a “cure.”

For the first seven years of my life, I was passed from doctor to doctor, and I remember that they all wanted to do the same thing: look up my crotch. I am sure that most children visiting the pediatrician weren’t continually removing their underpants and spreading their legs. I know this because after my surgical alteration, I went for the usual booster shots, look-down-your-throat routine that the other kids got.

The condition deemed pathological was my large clitoris. I was seven when it was amputated. At the time (1975) clitorectomy was still common, but I was “lucky”—doctors chose to remove the shaft and re-attach the glans to the stump, in a “clitoral recession.” No one explained to my guardians that “recession” is not the benign procedure that the name indicates. Until six months ago, my father thought he’d simply agreed to have my clitoris repositioned a little higher in my pelvis. Nor did any of the doctors explain to me what they would do. There was no follow-up.

My body healed quickly, and I was sent home to wonder, literally for two decades, why oh why had they removed my private bits from me. In my childmind I was horribly afraid that I was a monster—an anxiety I’d never experienced before the surgery. The surgery that was supposed to guarantee a “normal sexual response” left me incapable of trusting anyone with the truth about who I was/am. Doctors claimed the surgery was necessary because my clitoris became erect when I had to pee, and would cause discomfort when I wore pants. By this logic, all penises should be amputated as well.

My medical records refer to a clinical photograph before the surgery. I have tried to obtain it, but the clinic insists that it was destroyed. I’ve seen quite a few such photographs in medical texts on intersexuality. They are usually extreme closeups of genitals, or full body shots with the eyes blacked out.

How many doctors, med students, and archivists have been able to inspect my genitals without having to confront my gaze because my eyes were conveniently blacked out of the photo? If I had the photograph it would be a way for me to re-member my stolen body. I don’t want people to take my word for it when I say that my clitoris was about two-thirds the length that my pinky finger is now.

When doctors assured my father that I would grow up to have “normal sexual function,” they didn’t mean that my amputated clitoris would be sensitive or that I would be able to experience orgasm (or any pleasure at all). They were guaranteeing him that I wouldn’t grow up to confuse the normative conception of who (man) fucks whom (woman). All the things my body might have grown to do, all the possibilities, went down the hall with my amputated clitoris to the pathology department.

The rest of me went to the recovery room – I’m still recovering. (Immediately after operating on her at Toronto Sick Children’s Hospital, Morgan’s surgeon moved to Johns Hopkins,where he continues to practice today. ed.)

The Hermaphrodites With An Attitude Newsletter

Every day, intersexed and non-intersexed children alike are forced to be normalized under knife and pill. Approximately 5 children are clitorectomized in U.S hospitals everyday. Intersex activist Bo Laurent (formerly under the pen name Cheryl Chase) calls this, and other genital normalization surgeries, Intersex Genital Mutilation (IGM). It's important for her that IGM parallels the term FGM (female genital mutialtion) that our media often tries to paint as only a situation that happens "over there." Somewhere around 1 in 2,000 children are born with an intersex condition. Most of these children will be subjected to unethical and inhumane treatment including but not limited to: complete or partial removal of the clitoris, complete or partial removal of the penis, vaginal surgery to make the length and width acceptable for a "normal sized penis, dilation with a solid plastic dilator to make the vagina larger, gonadectomy, urethral modification, hormone administration, and the list goes on.


  1. Morgan,
    I am so sorry that they did this to you. I wish there was some way to undo this travesty. You don't know me, but I became interested in FGM in Africa. I was horrified when I learned what was happening there under the excuse of "Tradition" or "Cultural or Religious Rituals". It is barbaric and cruel.
    I am a man and it saddens me to think of all the little girls here and there that have to undergo this terrible practice. You have my sympathy, although that is probably not what want. Thank you for listening.

  2. I worked as a medical asst. in a public school in the city. There was a 9 year girl who was born was diagnosed with a "prolapsed" vagina. By the age of 9 she went thru several surgeries. I felt so sad for her. Just like the above poster said it is very cruel.