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Approximately one in every two thousand infants born in America each year is sexually ambiguous in such a way that doctors cannot immediately determine the child’s sex. Some children’s chromosomal sexuality contradicts their sexual characteristics. Others have the physical traits of both sexes, or of neither. Is surgical intervention or sex assignment of intersexed children necessary for their physical and psychological health, as the medical and mental health communities largely assume? Should parents raise sexually ambiguous children as one gender or another and keep them ignorant of their medical history?
Drawing upon life history interviews with adults who were treated for intersexuality as children, Sharon E. Preves explores how such individuals experience and cope with being labeled sexual deviants in a society that demands sexual conformity. Preves frames their stories within a sociological discussion of gender, the history of intersex medicalization, the recent political mobilization of intersexed adults, and the implications of their activism on identity negotiation, medical practice, and cultural norms. By demonstrating how intersexed people manage and create their own identities, often in conflict with their medical diagnosis, Preves argues that medical intervention into intersexuality often creates, rather than mitigates, the stigma these people suffer.