The basic definition of a hermaphrodite is a person who is born with both male and female sex organs. Commonly known as "intersex" people, hermaphrodites present medical professionals, their parents, and themselves with special physical and emotional issues.
Medical experts estimate that one in every 2,000 newborns are hermaphrodites. Such babies come into the world with sex organs that either are undersized or have both male and female traits - such as possessing both a clitoris and a penis. Often, doctors recommend surgery at a very young age, so there will be no ambiguity in the child's sex. While advances have been made in this area, often hermaphrodites are left emotionally scarred as they grow up, and often physically scarred for life, as well.
Because of this physical abnormality, parents struggle deeply with the sex of their child. Often, on the advice of doctors, they have surgery performed to produce a boy or girl, depending on which sex organs predominate. In one such case, a genetic male was "reassigned" as a female, undergoing plastic surgery several times to make her sex organs female. She is now bisexual and has had relationships with both men and women, though she considers herself female and now lives with a woman, having broken up with her boyfriend.
Children born with both male and female organs, especially those whose parents subjected them to "reassignment" surgery as infants, fall into two categories:
- Ferms - genetic females whose sex organs were masculinized through prenatal exposure to testosterone in the womb.
- Merms - genetic males whose pre-natal bodies did not produce the necessary hormones to make them fully male.
As these children grow, many have lives filled with great emotional upset, and they suffer from depression, as well as the effects of long-term drug treatments and surgeries designed to make them a male or female.
In a video produced by the Intersex Society of North America, hermaphrodites speak candidly about gender issues and other serious consequences resulting from their sexual identities. One common feeling participants express in the video is isolation; often, they are the only person (other than their parents) who know of their intersex condition. Another common feeling is anger at the medical profession because of genital surgery performed on them as infants. Such surgery, they say, has profoundly affected their ability to engage in sex, further isolating them from mainstream society.
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