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Standing with Susie the Intersex Dachshund

Standing with Susie the Intersex Dachshund

Written by Georgiann Davis

What does Susie, a long-haired dachshund who was discovered to have an intersex trait, have to do with feminism? I’d argue quite a bit. Susie’s experience is a harsh reminder that our society still holds simplistic ideas about bodies.

Less than a week ago, the world was introduced to Susie, the dog who was allegedly “saved” when her veterinarian surgically erased her intersex trait. Intersex traits involve being born with either internal and/or external ambiguous genitalia. Historically, individuals born with intersex traits were referred to as hermaphrodites (a term today considered derogatory by some individuals in the intersex community).

In Susie’s case, she looked like a “normal” female dog. However, once on the veterinarian’s operating table for a routine spay surgery, it was quickly determined that she had internal testes rather than ovaries, as one would expect given her outward appearance. It was also discovered that Susie did not have a uterus.

Given the widely publicized description of Susie’s anatomy, it is likely she was born with complete androgen insensitivity syndrome (CAIS)—a condition that I am personally familiar with having been diagnosed with CAIS when I was a child.

Susie and I share more than a diagnosis. We share a medical history filled with misinformation about what it means to be born with an intersex trait.

The veterinary office that operated on Susie informed her human guardian that they needed to surgically remove her internal testes because, “If they had been left in, the testicles would have turned cancerous.” My parents were told something similar when I was diagnosed, despite the fact that an intersex trait, especially CAIS, rarely poses a health threat. Still, the intersex trait was erased from our respective bodies.

Even if we pretend that the correlation between cancer and intersex traits is real, we must ask Why is it that we don’t go around removing breasts to prevent breast cancer? The answer is quite simple: Preventing cancer is not really the goal. Rather, the cancer rhetoric is used to justify surgical interventions, making it the darkest of lies.

Why do medical professionals seek to surgically erase intersex traits? Maybe it’s their ignorance about sex variability. But I doubt it. Doctors, regardless if one specializes in canines or human beings, are smart people. What’s more likely is that these medical professionals are acting on a dangerous combination of fear and authority. A body that challenges binary understandings of sex is scary to those who refuse to embrace natural biological diversity found across species. For years, many medical doctors reached for their scalpels to ease their fears and assert their authority over the body. They are experts on the body, after all. Veterinarians sadly seem to be following their lead, and Susie’s vet is no exception.

My concern has more to do with how the media describes Susie as being “saved” by the scalpel. This framing has implications for all of us, regardless of the size or shape of our genitalia.

We must actively stand against oppressive expectations imposed onto our bodies. If a dog that was born with a body that challenges ideas about sex isn’t accepted in society, how can we expect folks to embrace other natural biological diversities?

As a feminist, I stand with Susie. I hope you will, too.

This post was originally published by Ms. Magazine.

 

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144 comments

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4:47AM PST on Jan 25, 2014

Thank You. Intersex animals should be treated with respect.

5:40AM PDT on Jun 20, 2013

thanks for sharing

7:45PM PDT on May 25, 2013

I didn't get to read all the comments but its interesting reading about people's opinion about androgen insensitivity. I was also born with the syndrome. never doubt about my sexuality. i have shared my story with a lot of people and they all were supportive. still cant be all out since i don't know if people will discriminate. I am a woman, look like a goddess, and have the brains. I may be one of a kind and would love to personally meet people with the same syndrome. On regards to Susie, who cares what sex she is as long as she is healthy and loved.

6:37PM PDT on May 19, 2013

This is a dog that was neutered. It never needed to make the news. It's not newsworthy.

7:33PM PDT on May 17, 2013

This case is very familiar as a human being. As a spouse of intersex, what is happening to Susie is what happened to us. Misinformation, scare tactics by so called "medical experts", and finally secrecy. The silver lining in this story I find is that its dealt with SECRECY. We are having an open discussion about it. Even though Susie cannot talk in a language we can understand, there are others who are lending her a voice. Let us hope it wakes up the conscience of the powers to be to STOP this cycle of misinformation and secrecy. Let us move forward with truth and transparency. I support Susie as a spouse caregiver of intersex. And maybe Susie will also find a "spouse" someday.

3:40PM PDT on May 17, 2013

When I was working in an elementary school, there was a child there that it was very hard to tell from looking at if the child was male or female. One day in the cafeteria, I heard her (she appeared more female than male) talking to classmates about her appearance when apparently one asked her what she was. She replyed, "I am both. " The other children were very accepting of this and that was that. I was impressed by how calmly she delt with other childrens questions. Obviously her parents had taught her to accept herself. I read a book a few years ago called Middlesex that deals with this issue. We are all both male and female. Most are more one than the other. We need to realize that it is not as uncommon as we think.

12:41PM PDT on May 14, 2013

Jessica L., I can see how you would feel that it would be best to appear to be one sex or the other- but isn't that up to the person to decide for themselves and no one else?

Also, it's probably just as well that the little dog had the testicles removed, not so that she would be "normal" but because it would have definitely impacted her life in potentially negative ways, not from cancer but because of behavior issues. We neuter animals to make them easier to care for, not to make them conform to some kind of sexual bias. Intact pets take a lot more responsibility from the owner in terms of preventing unwanted breeding, marking of territory and potential aggression. Not every pet needs to be neutered but it is definitely an easier way to go for the long run.

12:17PM PDT on May 14, 2013

I'm with Jessica L.
And I don't think Susie cares if she has testicles or not, or what sex she has. And if she was at the vet to be spayed anyway, why is everyone so upset because the vet removed testicles instead of ovaries?

10:46AM PDT on May 14, 2013

Love her anyway.

9:38AM PDT on May 14, 2013

Has our country always been so scared of sex? It seems lately that we have to control sex, our sex, your sex, that guy over there's sex. God forbid anything should be outside our little boxes defined by what they saw on Leave it to Beaver and Father Knows Best!!! Next up the 21st century Inquisition.

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