The Unkindest Cut

While I was out and about it Bath yesterday much outrage was being vented on Twitter about female genital mutilation being performed at Cornell University. Given the people who originally raised the issue, I thought this was probably something to do with cultural issues and the bizarre tradition of “female circumcision”. However, having looked into the story myself I discovered that this wasn’t anything to do with stopping women having orgasms. Indeed, the surgeon concerned, insensitive and stupid though he may be, was at least worrying about whether his patients victims would still have sensation in their mutilated organs.

So what was going on here? The surgeon, Dix Poppas, was cutting bits off little girls’ clitorises because they had been identified as “too large”. Not, of course, too large to be able to perform their function, or too large and thereby posing a risk to their owners’ health, but simply too large for the comfort of people who have arbitrarily determined how big a clitoris ought to be.

PZ Myers is amongst those who expressed outrage yesterday. His comments include this:

It is a non-issue; five year old girls will not be judged on the size of their clitorises, and even adult women should not…

Well no, they shouldn’t be, but they most certainly are. Indeed, I’m pretty certain that the whole nonsense surrounding Lady Gaga’s possible intersex status resulted in a huge flood of desperate parents contacting Dr. Poppas and begging for his help. Indeed, that might have been exactly the thing that caused people to notice his shoddy little operation.

I’m sure that Poppas had a nice little earner going anyway because there will always be idiots who think that a larger-than-average clitoris will “cause a girl to grow up lesbian”. That, however, is unproven speculation. Most parents are not daft enough to fall for that sort of thing. What really terrifies otherwise loving and caring parents is that their little princess might have to go through life bearing the stigma of being “really a man”. And yes, Dr. Myers, even girls as young as five will be judged in that way.

So yes, what Poppas is doing is appalling, but the people he is preying on are not just dupes who have swallowed nonsense about preventing kids growing up gay, they are responding to a very real threat to their daughters. And as long as we, as a society, continue to hold that making fun of trans people (of all types, not just intersex, with the usual apologies to intersex people who hate being included in the trans umbrella) then parents will continue to panic about issues such as this. I am talking to you, Press Complaints Commission; I am talking to you, BBC; I am talking to you, Stephen Fry. It is your willingness to continue to use trans people as an acceptable target for vicious and demeaning “jokes” that is causing these little girls to be treated so appallingly.

6 thoughts on “The Unkindest Cut

  1. What you say, really, plus the fact that however they choose to identify later on, those girls are already being subject to the ‘rule’ that makes every female body public property, without consent or consultation at all times and in all circumstances. I sincerely hope that this doctor is prevented from continuing with this appalling practice.

  2. The surgeon in question obviously doesn’t come close to falling into the male equivalent category and has just as obviously never thought about the ramifications if he were.

    I don’t approve of parents deciding their child’s NOSE is too big that it “requires” fixing!

    Damn these people.

    1. Bob, you are missing the point. These parents aren’t putting their kids in for this surgery because they want them to look nice, they are doing it because they are afraid that if they don’t their kids will have a life of misery. To a large extent we have changed (Western) society to the point where (sane) parents no longer worry about their kids growing up gay, but even sensible parents still worry about their kids growing up trans/intersex.

  3. The story is even larger than this completely unnecessary and horrible surgery: it includes the follow-up of clitoral manipulation by the dr. of these little girls, on a regular basis, “to ensure retention of feeling”. Every doctor and pediatrician this was explained to characterized it as sexual assault and completely unnecessary.
    So this doctor operates on toddler girls genitalia, then sexually asaults them at least every year thereafter. No, I don’t think he or the parents concerned deserve understanding.

    1. I certainly have no sympathy for Poppas. As I said, I’m pretty sure he started this as a “stop girls growing up lesbian” scam. As for the parents, on the scale of treatment of (potentially) trans kids by their families, they are actually doing quite well. It could be, and often is, so much worse.

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