Wheel out the gender stereotypes, paint London blue and get those tiny football boots at the ready as there is a new little prince in town. The media today is filled with images of happy people waving banners of congratulations, mainly blue and many with “BOY” or “Prince” blazoned across them. Niagara Falls turned blue as did the fountains of Trafalgar Square; the CN tower and various other places around the world. But is it right to base our celebration of the birth around the babies genitalia?
This is a phenomenon not confined to the realms of royalty.
“Susan had a baby last night”
“Aww that’s lovely, what did she have?”
What happens when the answer comes “they’re not sure”? People expect a binary answer to the sex question and yet for many it is not so simple. Disorders of sex development (DSD) are common yet ignored. It is an issue shrouded in mystery even to those affected by it. The Accord Alliance who support individuals and families affected by DSD estimate that 1 in every 2,000 babies are born with gentiles “atypical enough to make the child’s sex unclear”. Ignorance and fear leave people and families under huge strain. Feeling the need to conform and for secrecy.
I imagine in my life I have met someone or know someone affected by DSD but as far as I know – I have not. It is an issue society doesn’t like to speak about. We like to have a simple answer to the “boy or girl” question instead of face a puzzled look and uncomfortable questions.
In previous years the medical opinion was clear in DSD cases. Choose a sex and make the external genitals look like expected. Problem solved. But of course the problem was not solved. Surgery was being used to trap people in bodies of the wrong gender. Cases of DSD can be caused by many factors they can be hormonal, purely physical or have their basis in the chromosomes the child carries. “Fixing” genitalia leaves more than external scaring.
We now realise that reaching first for the knife to assign sex is a barbaric idea and for babies with DSD we understand that it is not always a case of boy or girl but of a sliding scale between the two. Parents work with psychologists, endocrinology, urologists and more before and after birth yet it is still a stressful situation for every family.
Sex is assigned as being what doctors deem to be the best fit on the evidence available. Sometimes this is correct, sometimes it is not but with the sex of a baby legally required to be registered within the first 6 weeks decisions have to be made and each and every new registration form brings the same question: male or female?
Maybe next time someone announces a baby your first reaction shouldn't be to enquire about its genitalia.