However, for about 1 in every 100 newborns, their external genitalia deviate significantly from the standard female or male shape. In about 1 in every 2,000 newborns, their deviation is so great that it is not obvious whether they are a boy or girl. Sometimes they have elements of both the female and male "standard" shapes. These persons are described as intersexual.
Some years ago, this web site included a voluntary survey that was intended to find out the gender, age, occupation and other details of the site's visitors. We gave three options for gender: male, female, or intersexual. An intersexual adult, who filled out the form, contacted us by Email. She thanked us for including an option that she could accurately choose. It was a novel experience for her. In her entire life, she had filled out countless forms that asked for her name, gender, address, etc. However, she had never seen a form that that gave her the option of stating her actual gender. This is one demonstration of how rigidly North American society considers everyone's gender to fall within a purely binary system.
Sometimes, surgical operations are performed on intersexual newborns and infants for what some believe to be medical reasons. The end result was usually to simulate female genitals. This was more common in past decades when the gender of very young children was believed to be flexible and moldable. Parents were told to take their post-operative baby home and raise her as a girl, and all would turn out just fine. Unfortunately, long term studies showed that the end result was often disastrous. Their "girl" asserted his maleness as a child and experienced increasing internal conflict as he matured. In one well publicized case, he committed suicide.
Similar operations, called female genital mutilation, are traditionally performed on non-intersex girls later in life in some African, Middle Eastern and Far Eastern countries. The motivation appears to be a desire to follow tradition and to better control their sex drive during adulthood. Although these procedures are illegal in North America, Aboriginal, Christian and Muslim families who have emigrated to the US or Canada from these countries sometimes practice it.
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