What people mean when they say a person "was born with both sets of genitals" is that a child may be born with a phallus that looks a lot like a penis plus
a vagina (the tubular organ that goes from the outside of the body towards the uterus, if there is a uterus). This can happen because of hormones, in conditions
like congenital adrenal hyperplasia and partial androgen insensitivity syndrome. But to say that gives you "both sets of genitals" is to pretend that somehow all that matters to males is their penises and all that matters to females in
their vaginas. In fact, many of us women also care about our clitorises. (For that matter, many men care about their scrotums.)
This then leads to another misunderstanding with M.C.'s case: some folks seem to be commenting as if, had M.C. come to see himself as the female gender he
was originally assigned, we would not care that surgeons had removed most of M.C.'s phallus. In other words, we are supposed only to care about the removal
of phallic tissue in this case because M.C. is a boy. But in fact, we should very much care about phallic tissue even when it comes in (or off) a female.
When Mr. Rogers sang, "Boys are fancy on the outside, girls are fancy on the inside," he was prepping his audience to need Dr. Ruth. All girls are entitled
to be fancy --sometimes super fancy -- on the outside, too. Many intersex women who had their clitorises surgically shortened in infancy are legitimately angry about having had tissue (and thus sensation) taken from them.
Because M.C. has rejected the gender assignment given to him, this case is also causing some people to confuse intersex (sex anatomy that is read as being
not typical to males or females) with transgender (rejection of the gender assignment given to a person at birth). M.C. is a relatively rare case in
involving both intersex and transgender. Far more often, the concerns of intersex and transgender people represent opposite sides of the same coin:
intersex people get surgeries they don't want, and transgender people can't get the surgeries they do want. M.C. should certainly be supported in his
self-identification as a boy, but one would hope that the courts might understand his rights to have been violated even if he had grown to be a girl.
In that sense, it will be interesting to see whether the courts agree with the plaintiff's lawyers that the 14th Amendment is at play here, and
whether they will limit that Amendment's scope to cases where "a boy lost his penis." If, in fact, they understand the case as being an unfair situation in
which "a child lost healthy genital tissue for no legitimate medical reason without fully informed consent," then the implications will be much broader,
perhaps touching even on routine neonatal male circumcision.
Of course, whether there was a legitimate medical reason will be one issue with which the courts will wrestle. Doctors have believed for many years, based on little to no evidence (and in some cases, faked evidence), that children require male-typical or female-typical genitals,
matched to their gender assignments, in order to grow up psychologically healthy. Although the Southern Poverty Law Center's involvement might lead some to
believe this case represents a sort of surgical hate crime, in fact, surgeons have performed these types of surgery in the belief they do so in the
patients' best interests. They really care about these children.
But recently -- since M.C. was born -- major medical consensuses have moved
away from the assumption that genital-normalizing surgery is required in all cases of intersex. This case is likely to drive surgeons to be even more
hesitant to remove healthy genital tissue and healthy gonads from children like M.C. Ideally, the case will also lead more parents like Mark and Pam
Crawford to understand that parenting sometimes involves forms of unpredictability that cannot, and even should not, be made to disappear.