Christin Milloy:

Rise up and seize equality

Don’t Let the Doctor Do This to Your Newborn


This article first appeared in Slate Magazine’s “Outward” Blog.

Imagine you are in recovery from labour, laying in bed holding your infant. In your arms you cradle a stunningly beautiful, perfect little being. Completely innocent and totally vulnerable, your baby is entirely dependent on you to make all the choices that will define their life for many years to come. They are wholly unaware (at least, for now) of the fact that you would do anything and everything in your power to protect them from harm and keep them safe. You are calm, at peace.

Dangerous looking syringe held by rubber-gloved handSuddenly, the doctor comes in. He looks at you sternly, gloved hands reaching for your baby insistently. “It’s time for your child’s treatment,” he explains from beneath a white breathing mask, shattering your calm. Clutching your baby protectively, you eye the doctor with suspicion.

You ask him what it’s for.

“Oh, just standard practice. It will help him or her be recognized and get along more easily with others who’ve already received the same treatment. The chance of side-effects is extremely small.” This raises the hairs on the back of your neck, and your protective instinct kicks your alarm response up a notch.

“Side-effects?” The doctor waves his hand dismissively. “Oh, in one or two percent of cases, we see long-term negative reactions to this,” he says with a hint of distaste. “It leads to depression, social ostracism, difficulty finding or keeping a job. Those with negative reactions often become subject to intense discrimination in society. Suicide is not uncommon…” At your look of alarm, he smiles again reassuringly. “But as I said, this happens in very few cases. The overwhelming likelihood,” he says as he cracks his knuckles, “is that this will make life simpler, more comfortable and convenient for your child to interact with others.” He tries to assuage your concerns, but cold equations, percentage points and population counts dance in your mind.

“Is it really necessary? If we don’t take the treatment, will my baby get sick?”

The doctor flashes a patriarchal smile. “No, no… but your child would lose the social advantage this treatment offers. If you choose not to take it, then others who have may not accept your child as easily. Virtually every child receives this, so it would be very unusual not to,” he says matter-of-factly. “This is a standard practice. People just wouldn’t understand why you didn’t go along with it,” he says, casting a judgemental glance.

Would you consent to this treatment for your child? A good chance for improved social privilege, with a comparatively tiny risk of negative consequences (albeit catastrophic)? Or would the stakes be too high here: Russian Roulette, with your baby’s life?

It’s a strange hypothetical scenario to imagine… Pressure to accept a medical treatment, no tangible proof of its necessity, its only benefits conferred by the fact that everyone else already has it, and coming at a terrible expense to those one or two percent who have a bad reaction. It seems unlikely that doctors, hospitals, parents, or society in general would tolerate a standard practice like this.

Except, they already do. The imaginary treatment I described above is real. Obstetricians, doctors, and midwives commit this procedure on infants every single day, in every single country. In reality, this treatment is performed almost universally without even asking for the parents’ consent, making this practice all the more insidious… It’s called Infant Gender Assignment: when the doctor holds your child up to the harsh light of the delivery room, looks between its legs, and declares his opinion: it’s a boy, or a girl… based on nothing more than a cursory assessment of your offspring’s genitals.

We tell our children “you can be anything you want to be.” We say “a girl can be a doctor, a boy can be a nurse,” but why in the first place must this person be a boy, and that person be a girl? Your infant is an infant. Your baby knows nothing of dresses and ties: of makeup and aftershave; of the contemporary social implications of pink and blue. As a newborn, your child’s potential is limitless. The world is full of possibilities which every person deserves to be able to explore freely, receiving equal respect and human dignity while maximizing happiness through individual expression.

With Infant Gender Assignment, in a single moment your baby’s life is instantly and brutally reduced from such infinite potentials down to one concrete set of expectations and stereotypes, and any behavioural deviation from that will be severely punished (both intentionally through bigotry, and unintentionally through ignorance). That doctor (and the power structure behind him) plays a pivotal role in imposing those limits on helpless infants, without their consent, and without your informed consent as a parent. This issue deserves serious consideration by every parent, because no matter what gender identity your child ultimately adopts, Infant Gender Assignment has effects that will last through their whole life.

We see more and more and more of high-profile stories about transgender people in the news. The shame and the mysticism surrounding them is fading at an exponential rate, as public consciousness matures from the depths of exploiting puerile stereotypes and bigoted joke depictions of the Trans* experience, into a more complex awareness of, and sensitivity to, the humanity and emotions of non-cis people. Every parent today knows there is a chance their child might be transgender. A small chance, perhaps, but a chance higher than zero.

If a child of any minority status (be it sexual, racial, ability, religious etc) is subjected to slurs and physical harassment at school, we do not view the emotional and physical injuries as the unfortunate but inevitable result of that child’s minority status. Rather, we correctly lay the blame where it belongs, on the wrong actions of hateful bullies whose wilful decisions were responsible for causing the pain.

Only a cruel parent would punish their son by making him wear a dress in public, or punish their daughter by shaving her head. That’s psychological abuse. But for gender non-conforming kids, that’s the everyday reality of their lives. We know transgender people are far more likely to be depressed, with a heartbreaking 41% rate of suicide attempts: nearly nine times the social average. That’s not evidence of mental illness, it’s evidence of trauma and distress. They’re not miserable because they’re transgender, they’re miserable as the result of being assigned the wrong gender at birth.

Infant Gender Assignment is a wilful decision, and we need to judge as a maturing society whether in fact it might be a wrong action. Why must we force this on kids at birth? What is achieved, besides reinforcing tradition? What could be the harm: in letting a child wait to declare for themself who they are, once they’re old enough (which is generally believed to happen around age 2 or 3)? Clearly, most children will still turn out like we’d expect… but it’s unlikely the extra freedom would harm them. On the other hand, we do know the massive harm caused to some children by the removal of that freedom.

As a parent or potential parent, would you love your children less if they are transgender? Would you love them more if they aren’t? If you answered those questions with the decency and compassion that go hand-in-hand with unconditional parental love, then I ask you to please take that thought process one step further… and consider the intense psychological harm it might cause for your child before you allow the doctor decide for both of you whether your baby will be a boy or a girl. Sure, it usually works out for the best—but sometimes, it goes horribly wrong. Just because an infant may survive being left alone in a car on a hot day, while the parent runs to the store, doesn’t mean that parent made the right decision—in fact they made a dangerous decision, and just got lucky with the outcome.

Is it better to play the odds, or play it safe? Think carefully. Infant Gender Assignment might just be Russian Roulette with your baby’s life.

34 Comments

  1. generalissimo
    Thursday, 2014.06.26 at 20:17

    Christin: I think you should edit your article for clarity, because the vast majority of the readers on Slate don’t understand that you are talking about Sex assignment surgeries for intersex children. They all thought you have something against doctors saying ‘congratulations, it’s a boy/girl’ in the case of a typical baby with normal genitals.

    • Christin Scarlett Milloy
      Thursday, 2014.06.26 at 21:08

      This article is intended to address both of those problems.

      • generalissimo
        Thursday, 2014.06.26 at 21:13

        Wait a second- you really have a problem with a doctor (or more like an ultra sound technician) saying “it’s a boy” in the case of a normal baby with normal genital presentation?

        • JamesEJ
          Thursday, 2014.06.26 at 21:25

          I assumed this was about surgery on intersex children and defended it vigorously on that basis. It sounds like this is not what it is about? Parents raise gendered children and doctors check a box noting biological sex. Are you angry at doctors for their relatively minor action in gendering children? If so, this article seems very opaque.

        • JamesEJ
          Thursday, 2014.06.26 at 22:29

          I am very interested in the answer.

        • Neville
          Friday, 2014.06.27 at 00:46

          She does indeed…and in doing so, she is doing immeasurable harm to the cause of trans rights. People are laughing at her article, as well they should — unfortunately, she has made the entire cause look ludicrous. Shame on you, CSM. Shame on you.

        • Nikola Kovacs
          Friday, 2014.06.27 at 20:36

          I do, who needs to know whether a baby has a vagina or a penis? How is that important to me?

          Congratulations on a great article Christin

      • julien_g
        Friday, 2014.06.27 at 07:56

        Then… I do not agree with you AT ALL, and think that you are making a stupid point, which can only exacerbate the debate for gender.

        Epic Fail.

  2. George
    Thursday, 2014.06.26 at 21:55

    How about the ‘the intense psychological harm it might cause your child ‘ by NOT correctly identifying their sex at birth?

  3. senisble_person
    Friday, 2014.06.27 at 01:49

    listen you fucking moonbat i’ve never heard something so utterly retarded as this incoherent leftoid dribble in all my two decades on this planet. Do you people who believe in a “gender binary” or whatever ever listen to how ridiculous you sound? I guess not, even though the crap you write would have elicited a reaction of “dafuq?” from ANYONE fifty or even, hell, twenty years ago.

    What’s sad about this madness is that the mainstream media will almost certainly adopt all of your gay talking points, and the’ll declare it all to be true, and any deviants who beg to differ and argue in favor of reason will be scolded as bigots, and the mainstream media and their benevolent drones will create and “controversy” to try and destroy the offender’s life.

    So I guess I shouldn’t be mad at you gay fucks. If I could convince so many uneducated low-information retards to believe something counter to sever hundred million years of biology I might do it too.

    As for a few of the specific points in your gay article:

    What would I do if I had a transgender kid? I wouldn’t. Almost all of them are raised by moonbats like you, and I would never allow my child to exposed to whatever impure sources may compel someone to become a transgender, pangender, agender, multigender, whateverthefuck you’ve cooked up by those days. (i’m actually reassured by the fact that the spellcheck flagged all of those words). Anyway, if somehow gender identity disease did manifest in my hypothetical child, I would exact progressively worse punishment (including physical, of course) on them until they reformed. I would want to get them professional help, but the only people out there qualified to do that would probably try and say that they don’t have a disease. If my punishment wouldn’t do the trick, i’d disown them and hope they beat their disease on their own. Basically, I’d raise my child the same way as families did in the 1950s, and since all of those families had “cisgender” children, it obviously works as a strategy. Mental disorders such as GID or homosexuality appear in children raised in an abnormal (improper) manner, generally.

    However, I’m not having any children. Once any person with anti-gay views is declared a bigot by the mainstream media, and the same for every anti-trans person, god knows what “oppressed” group will demand rights. Perhaps human-like androids will ask for the right to vote, the right not to be slaves, and for the word “robot” to be declared offensive. Perhaps “trans-species” people, who declare themselves to be non-humans will ask to be recognized as whatever animal they choose to be on their birth certificate. If sure if you looked hard enough, you could find people who want to become animals. Just like if you looked hard enough in the early 20th century, you could find a handful of ostracized underground “transgender” people. In 2100, I am sad to say it would not surprise me one bit if articles were published saying that babies should no longer be declared humans at birth. Since you are so educated and reasonable, perhaps you know which oppressed people are going to become the next “rights movement.” I actually would really like to know, so if you know plz respond.

    Oh BTW, before you criticize me for my religious views or whatever, i’m an atheist. Just throwing that out there.

  4. fireflyeyes
    Friday, 2014.06.27 at 09:01

    Unfortunately, we live in a strongly gendered society, and our language is strongly gendered as well. If we lived in a society with a gender neutral pronoun that was commonly used to describe young children until they reached an age where they could choose a gendered pronoun for themselves, that would be completely fine and dandy, and they would never feel ostracized no matter how they ended up identifying. But that’s not our society, at this point in time, refuses to to identify the sex of your child will likely lead to both you and them being ostracized, and the child being very confused and othered by the child’s peers. And also, since there is a difference between biological sex and gender, I don’t think noting the biological sex at birth is a problem, provided the parents can remember that there’s a change the gender expression of that child may not match. I think giving a child a “he” or “she” to start with isn’t inherently damaging. It’s how it goes from there when/if the child starts push that definition, and making sure you have playthings ascribed to both genders around that are equally encouraged. If you have a “son” and then around three he starts wanting to wear dresses and be called she, and you don’t bat an eye, I think that is a very different experience than someone who was assigned male at a birth and had to fight to be recognized. I agree we all need to be aware we could be raising a transgendered child, or a gay child, and try not to do anything that would harm their development, but I also think we have to remember that most kids will not be gay or transgendered and also not raise them in a way that would cause harm to their gender conforming/non-queer selves.

    • Christin Scarlett Milloy
      Wednesday, 2014.07.02 at 20:12

      We have a perfectly valid pronoun in English for that: singular “they.” You use it all the time and don’t even realize it… For example, after getting off the phone with a service or company, your friend might ask “what did they tell you?” and you might answer your friend “they said” whatever. Even though you only spoke to one person on the phone.

  5. BillyBobBob
    Friday, 2014.06.27 at 10:28

    Wow. You’re nuts. But have a nice day anyway.

  6. Friday, 2014.06.27 at 11:15

    This is the most asinine article I have ever read.

  7. Friday, 2014.06.27 at 11:23

    To Clarify… This is the most asinine article I have ever read. What if your child suddenly doesn’t want to be human? Who are we to decide that is what they must be (from a world of infinite possibility). What if they want to be a dog, or a cat? Who are we to call them human? What if your child decides to be a chair or a bed instead? It would seem that genetics is decidedly NOT in their favor. The same thing is true here. The doctor doesn’t give an “opinion” of gender. The doctor looks at plain and obvious facts and determines if you have an XX or XY chromosome. THAT is what determines your gender. You may not like it, but that is a different kind of problem all together. This article is so full of falacies that I have met my quota for the last year.

    • Friday, 2014.06.27 at 11:25

      Are you are seriously using “Kinsey Report” for citation? *smh*

    • Christin Scarlett Milloy
      Wednesday, 2014.07.02 at 20:11

      What you’ve just done is called making a “straw argument.” Look it up.

  8. jeff
    Friday, 2014.06.27 at 11:56

    you are incredibly out of touch with reality and should really consider never sharing your opinions about anything with anyone ever again

    • Christin Scarlett Milloy
      Wednesday, 2014.07.02 at 21:43

      But that would allow you to continue to define reality as you see fit.

  9. Logan
    Saturday, 2014.06.28 at 00:04

    Okay, I seriously feel like someone needs to be educated. For starters to address the “Doctor choosing gender at birth” thing. I don’t know if you are aware of this, but people are born with male or female genitals (And in some extremely almost none-existing rare cases both in which the doctors confront the parents ans ASK them which to choice if they want to do the operation now or wait until the child is old enough to determine that for him/herself, usually 13 years of age is appropriate).

    Now to deal with the belief that surgery is preformed to change the gender. That is completely ridiculous. You can change someone’s gender via sex change operations but that would leave the person sterile as their sex organs would be removed and you can’t grew female/male ones to begin with and if you did exchange it with another sex’s reproductive organs the body would reject it and cost both the organ and possibly the infant to die. So if everyone or nearly everyone had this so called operation preformed or determined then we’d all be sterile and our population would have been unable to reproduce and thus die off as a species.

    Now onto the “transgender” section, this ties into Homosexuality. This is determined not on the doctor level, but the on the Genetic level. Yup, that’s right, DNA. So if both parents are straight, wouldn’t that make the child straight? The answer, not always. Now to answer this question in depth you need to know about hormones, mainly Testosterone (Male) an Estrogen (Female) growth hormones. Both are present in both sexes, however in different levels. Men’s Testosterone to Estrogen ratio is closer then Female’s E:T ratio. So men have More E per T then Females have T per E (I’ll abbreviate it to T and E for the remainder of this post) Example to better explain. Men might have 5-T:1-E while females might have 7-E:1-T ( 1 being a single PPM of said Hormone, again this isn’t actual numbers or ratio, just an example). Now that we have that explained, you will now know why majority of Homosexuals are males and/or transgenders (originally were males). Their is usually a defect in the coding for protein that releases more E then T in males and thus makes them believe (in some cases) they were “born into the wrong body”. In reality it’s just their DNA’s mutated and is coding for extra Hormones in the wrong area. This is the same in Homosexual Males and Females (Only it codes for more T then E in the case of Females). The attraction of the “same sex” is due to this miss-coding and not a decision on one’s part to be a male or female, simply they are born that way. The number of Homosexuals hasn’t increased at all, just more are coming out in the open, Homosexuality has been around since the dawn of sexes, even in non-human animals.

    I really think you should do research and check on facts, learn science (in this case biology and genetics) before you decide to post something like this, it only shows your lack of intellect. Now if you excuse me, I have to find some of my brain cells I’ve lost while reading this article.

    • Christin Scarlett Milloy
      Wednesday, 2014.07.02 at 20:08

      The time for biological essentialism is past. I’ve got a topic for you to educate yourself on: Gender.

  10. JamesEJ
    Thursday, 2014.07.03 at 00:34

    Christine, still don’t get why you dwell so long on the non-consequential momentary declaration of a doctor about a child’s *sex* – particularly in terms that confuse it with the clear problem of children born intersex.

    If you’re blaming someone, shouldn’t you blame *parents* for foisting *gender* constructs on their children. And, even then, it isn’t the language of *boy* or *girl* or *him* or *her* that are damaging. It is the building up of a huge number of presumed-static stereotypes around those words that trap a child. It is the judgment of non-conformity to those stereotypes that are damaging. It is the refusal of parents to listen to their child grappling with their identity that is damaging. In short, the real problem is a parental refusal to act like Ryland Whittington’s parents.
    http://www.upworthy.com/this-is-what-happens-when-parents-love-their-children-unconditionally

  11. James
    Tuesday, 2014.07.08 at 18:48

    I think you’re throwing kids like this one under a bus with your advocacy. Intersex kids need the attention of this issue and you are derailing that real issue.

    • Christin Scarlett Milloy
      Wednesday, 2014.07.09 at 18:02

      Intersex kids are not the only ones who need the attention of this issue. Thanks.

      • James
        Thursday, 2014.07.10 at 09:27

        But, at birth, before a child can see six inches past his face or understand language – at a time when gender norms are utterly incapable of entering that child’s mind – only intersex kids can have something done to them that might initiate the harms you imagine in your article. The parents – and certainly not the OB/GYN in the delivery room – are the ones who take acts that may imprison a child in their gender identity. Your argument is on the mark as it relates to intersex kids, but woefully off the mark as it relates to transchildren. A doctor declaring biological sex at birth is not remotely equivalent to a parent forcing a child, for years, to adhere to gender norms that are repulsive to that child. By conflating the two, you are an enabler of those who say that our side is ignorant, deluded, blinded by our politics, and incapable of understanding the normal experience of the majority of the population.

        • Christin Scarlett Milloy
          Friday, 2014.07.11 at 14:16

          I don’t see how forced gendering of an intersex child is worse or more harmful than forced gendering of a trans* child, and I find your implication that it “should be” considered that way (simply on the appearance of genitals?) to be a cissexist attitude. The problem of infant gender assignment may be more easily exemplified at the time of birth in a case when the baby presents with intersex anatomy, but the long-term negative impacts are equally significant in either case.

          • James
            Friday, 2014.07.11 at 16:19

            In what way does the OB/GYN engage in “infant gender assignment” for non-intersex babies? How do they engage in “forced gendering” of such babies? At most, the doctor notes the biological sex – just like they note breathing rate and heartbeat. They say absolutely zero about gender.

            I don’t defend “forced gendering” of non-intersex children. But, if the doctor is merely observing the genitalia (whether clearly male, clearly female, or any of the many rare variants in between), we shouldn’t be attacking them for what is entirely out of their control and wholly in the parents’ control. Why do you accuse the doctor of cissexism when they are innocent of the charge and the parents are the only ones who might be guilty?

  12. DVR
    Sunday, 2014.07.13 at 22:28

    Question: if we’re all suddenly raised as gender neutral “theys” how the Hell is a person even supposed to know that their body (sex) doesn’t match up with what’s in their head (gender)?
    They’ll have this feeling of “wrongness” about their physical body but won’t be able to identify it because hey, there isn’t a male or female anymore.
    If we call every child zer, how is a child with a penis supposed to think “hey, I’m a boy who likes boys” when there is no longer a gender and no one knows what a boy is?
    Furthering that: I’m a female who happens to like “male” things like swords, dragons, and hey, I hate pink. How am I supposed to know that I’m a unique female for being into swords, dragons, and hating pink if there is no more gender stereotyping?
    And another: how are we supposed to identify criminals and other law breakers if we can’t even say something as basic as a person’s gender?
    Gender, just as much as sex, identifies us as individuals. If we do away with it completely we’re doing away with our individuality and our CHOICE to decide whether or not to change it later.
    Besides, no one knows what child is going to be trans* and it’s a low number, 2%, right? So why destroy the gender identity of 98% of children just to appease that 2%? That’s like saying we should kill all pit-bulls because 1% of them are aggressive. It’s like saying that every single white male will rape a woman because 1% of them do.
    What we should be focusing on is giving parents (and kids) an education about what trans* is, a proper education so we don’t have parents convincing their son that because he likes pink that he’s a girl.
    Forcing someone into being non-gendered is just as bad as forcing them to be the wrong gender.

    • Christin Scarlett Milloy
      Tuesday, 2014.07.15 at 12:47

      I think you’re confusing the solution with the problem here just a little bit. All of the issues you’ve raised are *caused* by cissexist binary gender assignment.

      Your argument is essentially that if we remove the chains, then we remove someone’s opportunity to break the chains. I still say we’re better off starting without the chains to begin with.

  13. Crystal
    Monday, 2014.07.14 at 09:09

    This is the most upsurd thing I have ever heard. Fruitcake. Seriously. There isn’t an in between. You are born a girl or a boy you just can’t change that. And yes I’m sorry but babies are already assigned a gender from a few weeks gestational. Go seek help.

    • Christin Scarlett Milloy
      Tuesday, 2014.07.15 at 12:48

      Here is a free smile for you 🙂

  14. Monday, 2014.07.14 at 21:47

    Instead of being unhappy about the way people are born, might be better to spend your energy criticizing the clothing industry, which assigns colors to boys and girls’ clothing. Now THAT’s something that’s human-made. Boys are given clothes in primary colors. Girls’ clothes are secondary purples, lavenders, pinks, pastels, etc. There are a few outlets that give girls clothes in reds, blacks, etc., but they are rare. Go into a kids’ clothing store and you’ll get what I mean.

    • Christin Scarlett Milloy
      Tuesday, 2014.07.15 at 12:50

      There’s no law stopping you from shopping on the other side of the store. At least, in most places.

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Christin Milloy