Reconstructive surgery; narrow view of success

February 27, 2012 § 4 Comments

First of all, this essay , “The tyranny of the esthetic,” was eye-opening for me, because I was not aware that it could be decided so early in a children’s lives that their sexual organs could be deemed “abnormal.”  In the stories presented, it seemed early in their lives to determine the need for a surgical procedure to “fix” their abnormal genitalia.  What I find most interesting is that the definitions of what is normal are not biologically determined, but socially determined.  Since there is no physical danger for the abnormalities faced by these children, the motivation is social conformity with ideas about gender and sex.

This reminds me of the story about David Reimer, a well-known case of gender and sexual reassignment that was not successful, but was marketed as though it was by the physician who promoted gender identity as a product of nature.  The following link tells the story of David, http://reason.com/archives/2004/05/24/the-death-of-david-reimer.  David was the victim of a botched circumcision that left him without most of his penis at 8 months.  His parents took the advice of his physician, and they had him surgically reassigned as a girl named Brenda.  The surgery was deemed successful, though Brenda did not feel as though she was a girl.  She was finally told her story, and she suffered psychological and emotional problems as a result.  She decided to transition back to a man, and had another sexual reassignment surgery.  David eventually committed suicide.  This story shows the detrimental effects of hiding the truth from children and not being honest with them about the surgeries they have had.  Although these conversations may make parents uncomfortable, it is important that they engage their children in these talks.  Hopefully with more openness about this subject, there will be fewer instances of stories like David’s, Martha’s, and Angela’s.

One last part of the essay that sparked my interest is the evaluation of what is a successful genital reconstructive surgery.  It seems as though success is based on whether the physical being looks the way it should.  This totally negates the psychological effects of these surgeries and the aftermath.  If the person is suffering emotionally and psychologically from the surgery, the surgery is not successful.

§ 4 Responses to Reconstructive surgery; narrow view of success

  • futurepublicist2013 says:

    I definitely agree with this point of view. It is very odd and disappointing that parents would do such things to their children all because of something “socially determined” rather than something actually be physically wrong and have to be corrected. What else I find interesting about this post is that there is a story that ended in someone taking their own life because they could not deal with the emotional stress and pain that came from the surgery performed on him as a baby. I had not previously known this.

  • I agree with your post, and it is important in pointing out that they fix what is wrong according to society’s standards rather than biological needs. I am shocked just as you are that this kind of surgery is legal in a nation that embraces human rights and the liberty to be who they are born to be. Parents very rarely question their physicians and are very easily persuaded hearing that this is “good for them” and if they don’t act quickly, their child is “at risk”. The public is silent about such matters and parents are rarely educated and given the chance to think for themselves. We are often too worried about standing out from the crowd and worried that we might not be loved for who we are. but in this world where only one type is considered beautiful, we can hardly blame parents for fearing for their children. We should be worried about the messages we pass on to our next generation, if we “fix” them just to please the social standards, we can hardly ask them to “be themselves’. This is an ironic ideal, growing up teachers and our parents encourage us to be who we are and when we grow older, college and employers ask us what makes us stand out from the crowd and why we are unique. If at birth, parents send this message to their children that once they are born, they already are “unfit”- imagine the emotional trauma when the child grows up and realize that he or she does not fit the bill not only by society’s standards but perhaps what hurts the most is their own parents’ standards. As more and more surgical procedures become available, we need to question them and even our physicians about what is truly best for our children.

  • mlitwicki says:

    I watched the video clip before reading this post, and i was absolutely shocked. It was difficult for me to not be angry with the mother’s decision to literally change her son’s life. it’s horrible to even think about the fact that her decision is what ended her son’s life. it was particularly interesting for me that she said that her son wasn’t longed for this world. I’m confused how any mother could just predict that her son’s differences might eventually lead to suicide. it was like she knew that it would eventually lead to this. Later, the mother asked the physician what happens to other children who undergo this experiment, and he openly said :SUICIDE. it would have been nice for him to let her know that from the start. It’s sad and sickening that some physicians would rather have an interesting story and experiment than fully inform the parents of the possible emotional distress that they will inevitably feel. David’s story is one that definitely should be shared to parents put into this position.it’s hopeful to say that stories such as David’s could help prevent these surgeries from continuing.

  • Whenever I teach this essay, there are such passionate responses because people are either shocked or disgusted. I also think we should consider the issue of pleasure a person’s life. In other words: Is it worth is to “correct” genitalia so that they appear normal but ultimately they lose all sensation or worse inflict pain? What does it mean that we live in a society where physical appearance trumps physical usefulness, particularly use of parts of the body for the purpose of sexual pleasure?

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