A federal judge refused to dismiss a lawsuit brought by the adoptive parents of an intersex child who underwent an unnecessary sex-assignment surgery when the child was an infant in state care. The child, known as M.C., is now eight years old and identifies as a boy, despite the surgery that gave him female genitalia and the fact that his parents initially raised him as a girl.
The motion to dismiss the case was denied late last week by U.S. District Judge David C. Norton of the South Carolina Charleston Division after oral arguments on Aug. 22. The lawsuit was brought by the Southern Poverty Law Center back in May on behalf of M.C. and his adoptive parents.
From a press release from the Southern Poverty Law Center:
“We applaud the court’s decision and we are pleased that the court will have the opportunity to consider the deeply important constitutional issues at stake,” said Alesdair Ittelson, staff attorney for the SPLC. “By removing M.C.’s healthy body parts and trying to make him a girl absent any pressing reason, defendants violated M.C.’s constitutional rights. We look forward to the chance to make our case at trial and bring justice to M.C. and children like him.”
M.C. was identified as male at birth, but was later determined to have “ambiguous genitals,” including both male and female reproductive organs. In 2006, when M.C. was only 16 months old and in the care of the state of South Carolina, the state decided – without any medical need – to assign a sex. Before M.C. was able to make his gender determination for himself, the South Carolina tried to make it for him.
Not only did the state make the decision, they did so without an official determination of whether or not such a procedure was in the best interests of the child. Now M.C. is a healthy boy, except for the fact that his male genitalia was taken away.
As Care2 writer Steve Williams noted back in May, enforcing the gender binary on children has a long history:
Since the 1950s, various states in the U.S. have allowed surgeons to carry out gender assignment surgeries on intersex children or kids with ambiguous genitalia, usually on the assumption that this will benefit them in the long term.
The mistake in this is obvious: a child’s gender is not controlled or defined by the appearance of their sex organs but rather a complex interplay of hereditary characteristics, brain chemistry and the physiology of the brain.
The recent decision doesn’t spell the end of this case. In fact, this is only the beginning. As Ittelson, the staff attorney for the Southern Poverty Law Center noted, now the court can consider the constitutional issues at play.
It remains to be seen which way the legal system will rule in M.C.’s case. Hopefully this will force us to develop a more broad understanding of gender and more accepting of people who don’t fit neatly into the artificially rigid gender binary.
Photo Credit: Brian Turner