In a post at Women Born Transsexual a few days ago, Suzan reposted an article that appeared in the Minneapolis News on the third of March 2009. In it was this little gem of a quote by Paul McHugh:

“Families and people who encourage young people to take hormones are, in my opinion, hurting that child, and not helping them see the reality of this world,” says Paul McHugh, a physician at Johns Hopkins and an outspoken critic of sexual reassignment surgery. “Your sex is in your cells—every cell in your body has either two X chromosomes or an X and Y chromosome.”

And allowing a child to live as the other gender?

“Well, that’s terrible,” he says. “That’s a form of child abuse.”

I was livid. Dr. McHugh tramples all over the biology of transsexualism, not to mention disregarding the entire spectrum of intersex people with his statements. He enforces the idea that humankind is purely binary and that “hermaphrodism” as intersex used to be called, is a rare and tragic medical anomaly, where people are even aware that it exists.

The reality is that intersex conditions are very common, and incidences are on the rise. Accoding to the Intersex Society of North America, up to as many as one in every 100 births exhibit some sort of intersex condition, and as they points out:

How small does a penis have to be before it counts as intersex? Do you count “sex chromosome” anomalies as intersex if there’s no apparent external sexual ambiguity?

The question becomes even more of a topic for controversy when you add transsexualism, which is a demonstrably neural intersex condition, and the question of whether gender-variant conditions such as being transgender, androgyne or neutrois are biological in origin is still up in the air, simply because there’s been so little research focussing on these individuals.

The only reason that intersex has largely fallen out of public knowledge is because of surgical intervention. This has been accepted practice since the 60’s when Dr. John Money seemingly “proved” the theory that gender is a purely social construct with his work on the case of David Reimer. In brief, he convinced David’s parents to raise him as a girl after young David’s penis was destroyed during a botched circumcision, the belief being that David would develop as a girl through social conditioning. On the basis of that work, thousands of intersex children have since been arbitrarily assigned either male or female with surgery and hormone replacement therapy, a practice that continues to this day.

But Money was wrong. He used David’s case to push his own ideological beliefs, and even after it became clear that he was wrong when David’s male gender identity eventually asserted itself, he misreported his findings or simply didn’t report them at all. He went on to fame and fortune, and for thirty years intersex people were abused. David finally came forward with his story in the late 1990’s, but Money still has his ardent followers and defenders, most of them in positions of power and influence in the medical establishment.

There is a veritable laundry-list of prominent mental-health and medical professionals that cherry-pick from biology and psychology to construct theories consistent with their own beliefs. Individuals like J. Michael Bailey and Kenneth Zucker, organisations such as NARTH and the Clarke Institute all push their ideologies as science, and because they seemingly have the credentials, people listen to them. Most recently, Dr. Joseph Nicolosi of NARTH appeared on Dr. Phil, billed as an “expert”. Dr. Phil is watched regularly by over 4.5 million people in the United States alone, and gets broadcast on over 20 major networks world-wide. Meanwhile, Dr. Kenneth Zucker, who routinely forces gender-variant children into reparative therapy in order to “cure” them has been placed at the head of the committee tasked with authoring the DSM review on Sexuality and Gender.

Of course, one might argue that these people have a right to say and believe what they want to. This is in fact a favourite argument from groups such as these, and I would agree – rights to freedom of speech and of belief are vital, and I would defend theirs as strongly as I’d defend my own. But they cross a line into malpractice and misinformation when they pass those beliefs off as science. Where their theories and statements do not reflect scientific understanding, they have a responsibility to say so.

Medical professionals and academics have positions of perceived knowledge and authority, and all too often they abuse it to push ideology. Because of that perceived “scholarly authority”, they have an enormous impact on how intersex and gender-variant people are perceived by the media, and subsequently the public. We need to start holding them to account for their statements.