To what extent do inter sex and sex reassignment surgery confront naturalised ideas about gender


Research questions and answers

  • Some of the research questions that are emergent within this topic include;
  • Is intersex a gender identity?
  • Does intersex imply a homogeneous classification?
  • What does the term gender refer to?
  • Does a sex reassignment surgery change the individual’s sense of self?
  • What are the naturalized ideas about gender?
  • Do intersex and sex reassignment challenge the naturalized ideas about gender?
  • Is sex reassignment morally permissible?

Hypothetical answers

Intersex individuals are born with sexual characteristic variations that do not fall within the definitions of either male or female. The variations in intersex individuals may involve genital ambiguity as well as other characteristics. In understanding whether intersex persons are classified within any gender identity, it is important to understand the different factors that determine sex. Within biology, the factors that are important in sex determination include the type and number of sex chromosomes, sex hormones, gonad types, the reproductive anatomy, and the genitalia. Intersex individuals are those with characteristics that are not all female or male. In today’s society, the naturalization of gender has been within the gender binaries of hetero-normativity that has made female and male as the natural binaries. From this consideration, intersex individuals do not fall within any gender identity. Defining intersex persons within any gender classification is likely to lead to their mis-gendering. On the other hand, intersex is not a homogenous classification as science has shown the existence of different intersex variations.

Individual’s undergoing sex reassignment seek to identify themselves with a particular gender and therefore engage in a transition to become what he or she desires. For these individuals, the need to undergo a sex reassignment comes from the need to overcome the trappings of the social and physical conventions of their biological gender. Individuals undergoing sex reassignment undergo continuous change, development, and growth but do not lose the essence of self. The sense of self-persists and the sex reassignment is not meant to change her inner self but rather her desires to be identified in a particular way. With questions emerging as to whether sex reassignment is morally permissible, it becomes permissible on the basis that it is used in the treatment of gender identity disorders.

The question being addressed is on whether intersex and sex reassignment confront the naturalized ideas about gender, and this calls for an understanding of what these naturalized ideas are. The naturalized ideas about gender in society have always been within the lines of hetero-normativity that has shaped institutions in society. Gender is assigned to individuals in culturally defined signs that are either masculine or feminine, and this begins at birth where children are classified in a particular gender based on their sex characteristics. Society then defines the gender roles that the binary genders are expected to adhere to. Intersex and sex reassignment challenges these naturalized ideas on the basis that intersex and sex reassigned individuals do not stick within either of the genders as defined by society. This paper will seek to analyze how intersex and sex reassignment confront the naturalized ideas on gender.

Literature analysis

The concept on the naturalization of gender has been discussed widely by scholars who often attribute naturalization to socially and culturally created norms that individuals are expected to stick to. The naturalization of gender has been based on a bi-narism that defines individuals as either male or female. In her book on intersex and identity, Sharon Preves notes that initial assignment takes place at birth and is based on the genital appearance of the child (Preves, 2003, 16). Preves continues to note that this assignment does not stop at birth but rather continues with the social expectations of the particular gender such that a hetero-normative society will expect boys and girls to desire each other. While sex is physiological and gender social, the naturalization of gender is based on the physiological characteristics that define the individual as feminine or masculine. Bodily indicators become the means by which culture distinguishes between sexes while also assigning gender (Butler, 2004, 87). Scholars such as Judith Butler appreciate that this is how society naturalizes gender, but challenges this concept by referring to the core identity of male and female as false (Butler, 1997, 304). Shrage (2009) also challenges these ideas on gender by noting that gender identity is complex and cannot be reducible to a single feeling.

As much as scholars such as Butler have tried to challenge the naturalized ideas on gender, these assumptions persist such that they have become part of the social order. Lamarre, 2007) notes that the only existing discourse is within the socially constructed ideation of male and female and any attempt to go beyond these binaries has been perceived as unnatural and wrong (p19). For intersex individuals, they do not fall within any genderized category by their sex since they do not possess ultimate male or female sex characteristics. Such implies that intersex individuals are likely to fall between different gender identities. For individuals born with intersex variations, classifying them within a particular gender identity is likely to mis-gender them. On the other hand, sex reassignment means that the individual seeks to undergo a transition where he/she seeks to match his/her physicality with her inner desires. An individual raised as a male may undergo sex reassignment to become a female and in so doing confronts the masculine norm and ideation imposed by society while also seeking to align herself with another naturalized ideation.

Essentially, intersex and sex reassignment challenge the naturalized ideas on gender since they go beyond the bi-narism imposed by society. Girschick (2008) notes that all people in the gender continuum should be accepted as they are, but society fails to stick to the gender continuum approach (p180-183). On sex reassignment, Hume (2011) notes that these individuals are aware of the risks they are taking in becoming a part of the opposite gender but having an identity is more important to them than social acceptance (p41). The research essay will seek to bring together the different approaches in which intersex and sex reassignments challenge the naturalized ideas on gender.

Annotated Bibliography

  1. Butler, J., 2004. Doing justice to someone: sex reassignment and allegories of transsexuality. Undoing gender. New York, NY: Routledge. In this article by Butler, she explores how the essentialists and constructivist perspectives on gender identity reduce people’s worth to their physical, sexual appearance. She explores how these perspectives fail to consider the individual’s desire and perception of self and rather seek to confer a masculine or feminine gender.
  2. Butler, J., 1997. “Imitation and Gender Insubordination.” The Second Wave: A Reader in Feminist Theory, pp.300-316. Butler is extending the idea on rethinking gender and sexuality as a way of resisting homophobic oppression. The author is opposed to the essentialist perspective on sexuality as this does not take into consideration the pluralities and complexities in a certain group. Butler argues that gender and sexuality are always performative.
  3. Girshick, L., 2008. Transgender Voices.  New Hampshire: University Press of New England. The book by Girshick is based on in depth interviews with sex and gender diverse individuals who talk about their identity, sexual orientation, and homophobia. The book gives a perspective on gender variance and its place in human cultures while also advocating for an alternative and inclusive model to gender.
  4. Hume, M., 2011. Sex lies and surgery: the ethics of gender reassignment surgery. Res Cogitans, Vol 2. No 1, pp 37-48.   The article by Hume explores the ethical questions around sex reassignment by considering societal expectations and perception of gender. He argues that reassignment goes against society’s established gender norms, but this is because society has failed to adopt a gender continuum model. The author bases his argument on a rigid naturalized idea on gender that is based on hetero-normativity and cultural constructs of feminine and masculine groups.
  5. Lamarre, N., 2007. “Compulsory heterosexuality and the gendering of sexual identity: A contemporary analysis.” The New York Sociologist, vol. 2, pp16-26.    The article explores how society has created the notion of hetero-normativity and how this has secluded those that are not within the confines of hetero-normal behaviour. The author explores how society has created a discourse of binarism that has labelled those beyond it as unnatural. In this article, the author extends the notion that society should go beyond bi-narism and compulsory heterosexuality.
  6. Preves, S., 2003. Intersex and identity: The contested self. NJ: Rutgers University.  Preves discusses the bi-narism existing in gender and queer theory, where the author confers the notion that intersex people have been long ignored. Through different interviews, the author can show how the intersexual individuals have been referred to as sexual deviants since they do not fit within the sexual conformity extended by society.
  7. Shrage, L. ed., 2009. You’ve changed: Sex reassignment and personal identity. Oxford: Oxford University Press. The book brings together different perspectives on how sex reassignment relates to personal identity. The essays contained in the book also explore how sex reassignment raises the questions on gender and being queer. Importantly, the book challenges society’s conception of gender.

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