The micropenis and the giant clitoris

Hermaphrodites hiss, "Don't cut up our unique organs!"

Published December 16, 1999 5:00PM (EST)

Dec. 16, 1999

Three ambiguously genitalled intersexuals, or hermaphrodites, are calling for an end to the gender-assignment surgery that has long maimed their "third sex," according to Sunday's New Orleans Times Picayune.

One of the intersexuals, Hale Hawbecker, 38, of Washington, was born with a micropenis. When he was a child, doctors wanted to completely remove it. They would have given Hawbecker a vagina and have prescribed female hormones, but Hawbecker's parents refused to consent.

Today, Hawbecker is a happily married ethics lawyer with a satisfying sex life. He is living proof that male studs (and attorneys) don't have to be heavily hung. "Your penis is the least important thing about what it means to be a man," he asserts. "Anyone can inspire loving feelings in another person, regardless of their penis size."

In Baltimore, intersexual Kiira Triea, 35, claims her genitalia "look like crap" because doctors treated her like an "exotic lab rat." Born with in-between organs, she was raised as a boy until doctors decided to feminize her at puberty. To accomplish this, they hacked off her enormous and sensitive clitoris and they surgically created for her a rudimentary vagina. A full-time anti-surgery activist now, Triea directs an online support group for intersexuals worldwide.

In Ann Arbor, Mich., Cheryl Chase, 43, once contemplated committing suicide in front of the mutilating physician who had rendered her genitalia numb and scarred. Like Triea, she was born with mixed male/female sex organs, which doctors molded into something female-looking, but lacking in sensitivity. Her resultant despair was also channeled into social protest: The Intersex Society of North America, which she founded in 1993, is presently forcing doctors to rethink the practice of surgically altering children's sex glands.

Recent progress for the anti-knife intersexuals has been exceptional. In May, a Journal of Urology article recommended ending many "feminizing" surgeries, due to the resultant atrophying of tissue. Another May essay in the Journal of Pediatrics also demanded that micropenises not be castrated. And finally, an influential surgeon spoke up: Claude Migeon from Johns Hopkins Medical Center announced at a pediatric endocrine society meeting that his research indicates that genitalia assignment always produces disappointing results.

By Hank Hyena

Hank Hyena is a former columnist for SF Gate, and a frequent contributor to Salon.

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