Intersex Genital Surgery as Torture, from a Perspective of the Imperative of Normality
“When we fall outside the norm, we fall outside the set of categories and concepts by which we can be understood and be made intelligible to others…[T]o the extent that we come to be identified with the anomaly, we simply are identified as someone who lacks value and even intelligibility.”
“Normality, then, is the backdrop against which our individuality…becomes foregrounded.”
“This is discrimination on the basis of social stigma. The unavoidable pain of surgery and the high risk of severe lifelong physical and mental suffering – from loss of sexual sensation and function, pain caused by scarring, infertility, castration, violation of bodily integrity, and irreversible surgical assignment to the wrong sex – would never be acceptable by doctors or parents if the child did not have an intersex body.”
To what extent can a discussion of the imperative of normality inform our classification of particular acts as torture? On Feb. 1st, 2013, Juan E. Méndez filed a report entitled “Report of the Special Rapporteur on torture and other cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment” to the United Nations which focused on certain forms of abuses in health-care settings. This report, which included a brief discussion of medical practices of genital surgery on intersex infants, drew from a report to the UN Special Rapporteur by Anne Tamar-Mattis, which extensively documented human rights abuses and harm against intersex individuals, which Tamar-Mattis claimed to be severe enough to be considered torture. What conclusions or implications from an analysis of the imperative of normality can be brought to bear on this characterization of genital surgery as torture?
At first glance it appears as if consideration of normality allows us to draw no conclusions whatsoever; indeed, it is a fact of a reality that genital surgery for intersex infants is the norm in most parts of the Western world, and certainly in the United States. And if torture is the classification in question, then we have normative definitions of torture, like the ones provided in both reports (which draw from various legal precedents, both national and international, regarding the legal definition of torture) which have been applied to intersex individuals (putting aside for the moment of their correct or incorrect application). Thus, it would appear that an analysis of normativity does little to inform this debate, as the question is simply a matter of whether or not the one norm properly confronts the other.
However, here we must distinguish between normative and prescriptive. Usually we think of “normative” with regard to claims that purport to be prescriptive, that demand obedience. However, in the context of social norms, normativity, and the imperatives of the normal, the normative is that which actually comes to bear on the freedom of action of individuals who operate within it. Thus, the UN definitions of torture (and the corresponding demands of cessation) would be merely prescriptive if in fact they did apply in this context, and have failed to be normative insofar as they continue to be ignored. Indeed, many other prescriptive norms which usually apply in medical or surgical contexts (the demand for consent, the demand for full disclosure of information, the demand that surgical operations follow a coherent and rational cost-benefit analysis, that follow up treatment be available, that we avoid actions on children that have similar psychological effects to child abuse, the principle of non-harming, that permanently life changing operations be approached cautiously and after much deliberation) are blatantly ignored in the event of an intersex birth. The question is, then, why are such prescriptives ignored, and what does this tell us?
In fact, analysis of the imperative of normality can aid us in identifying populations who are the subject of torturous practices insofar as those populations fall outside of the norm. The reason for this is found in the above quotations: normality grounds the possibility for intelligibility. Those who fall outside the normal fall outside of our normal ways of perceiving the human person. Insofar as they lie outside the text of normality, they are seen as an exception, not only to the norms that they violate, but indeed the rules of behavior which normally govern our relationship and behavior towards them. The permissibility of non-normative actions is greatly increased when applied to non-normative subjects. If individuality is foregrounded in normality, as Kittay claims above, then individuals who fall outside of norms are not seen as individuals who are subject to normative values (such as human rights) at all, but are seen instead as a social emergency that needs to be eradicated. And since intersex infants are seen as a medical emergency, the medical apparatus that (re)produces their abnormality brings its full strength to correct it. A whole slew of norms, not just gender or sex, but heteronormative, patriarchal, and embodied norms (being able to urinate standing up for males, having an adequate sized penis that is capable of penetrative heterosexual intercourse for males, having a vagina that is receptive to penetration for females, discourses of masculinity and femininity, and having genitals that match gender assignment are frequently cited justifications for surgery by medical professionals) are brought up in discussions of how to normalize. The willingness to bring intersex individuals within normative classifications no matter what the cost (mental, physical, spiritual, social, relational) should raise great suspicion about the legitimacy of normalization procedures. It could be argued that all populations which lie outside of normative frameworks which, nonetheless, have power over and come to bear on them ought to be considered at-risk populations for human rights abuses. Since falling outside of norms, and therefore outside of conceivability, elicits a visceral, emotional response and is considered an exception to normal regulations of behavior, the possibility and permissibility, and indeed the impunity of violence and abuse is magnified. This analysis of the imperative of the norm, and what falls outside it, informs our discussion of genital surgery on intersex infants and torture insofar as it forces us to consider intersex infants an at-risk group, and to take these claims of abuse extremely seriously.
 Kittay, Eva Feder, “Thoughts on the Desire for Normality,” Surgically Shaping Children: Technology, Ethics, and the Pursuit of Normality, p. 106
 Ibid., 108
 Tamar-Mattis, Anne, “Report to the UN Special Rapporteur on Torture: Medical Treatment of People with Intersex Conditions as Torture and Cruel, Inhuman, or Degrading Treatment or Punishment,” Dec. 10, 2012, p. 9
 Méndez, Juan E., United Nations General Assembly, Human Rights Council, Twenty-second session, Agenda item 3: “Promotion and protection of all human rights, civil, political, economic, social, and cultural rights, including the right to development.” 1 February 2013
 The ignoring of all of these is well-documented in Tamar-Mattis’ report
 Tamar-Mattis’ report documents these concerns, but see also Kessler, Lessons from the Intersexed, Ch. 2-3
The Scarlet Letter Returns - Fundies Force Child Rape Victim to Confess Her Sin
Yet, far more powerful is a real life story, one that forces us to bear witness to the atrocities they would visit upon us, if they could. And in the story of one 15 year old rape victim we can begin to get a taste for what they have in store for us, waiting to be released with a terrible vengeance on the people of America. They want dominion, over body and soul, dominion and power to punish anyone they can with a hatred that flows from the darkest recesses of their ugly little minds.
Here, read the story of Tina Anderson and tell me I am wrong, that the atrocity she was forced to endure is an anomaly and not part of the future that Dominionist Christians would wish to impose on us with their Biblical Law.
A 15-year-old rape victim was forced to stand terrified before her entire Baptist congregation in New Hampshire to confess her sin of having become pregnant.
What Tina Anderson wasn’t allowed to tell the congregation was that she had become pregnant after she was raped by a church deacon, a man twice her age.
Are you surprised? I am not. Yet still reading the details of this confession she was required by her “faith community” to endure is horrifying and despite the fact I found her story believable, I still find it shocking that this is occurring now in our country, not in some theocratic dystopian future such as described in Margaret Atwood’s The Handmaid”s Tale, but here and now, in America, and has been for some time.
While being kept in seclusion at her pastor’s Concord home in 1997, Tina Anderson, then 15, was too afraid of the reaction from members of her church to tell the police she had been raped and impregnated by another parishioner, she said in an interview with the Monitor.
Anderson, now 28 and living in Arizona, said Trinity Baptist Church members had told her not to report an earlier case in which she had been molested by a convicted sex offender who was also a member of the congregation, so she expected them to do the same if she told them she had been raped.
“They told me that to be a good Christian, I need to forgive, forget and move on in my life,” she said. “And they told me that a good Christian doesn’t press charges on another good Christian.”
And when she became pregnant, what did her forgiving Church and its Pastor require her to do? Did they ask her to forgive her rapist. Oh no. They were not the forgiving kind once it became apparent she was pregnant. They did not ask this child, who they knew had been previously sexually assaulted by a pedophile in their own ranks, who impregnated her, or under what circumstances. They “disciplined” her instead:
She says her New Hampshire pastor, Chuck Phelps, told her she was lucky not to have been born during Old Testament times when she would have been stoned to death.
While questioning the girl before church officials crafted the speech she would deliver, Anderson said Phelps’ wife asked her, “Did you enjoy it?”
That was only the first step in Anderson’s “church discipline,” one of many ritual practices in the Independent Fundamental Baptist Church (IFB), which Anderson, now more than a decade later, says preys on the vulnerable.
“I was completely in shock, but too scared to go and tell anyone because I thought I would get blamed for what happened,” Anderson said.
“I truly believed that it was my fault,” she told ABCNews.com through tears.
Her mother sought help from the pastor and they agreed to send her thousands of miles away to Colorado to live with another Baptist family.
There, she reportedly was homeschooled and barred from seeing others her age until she gave her child up for adoption.
But in February 2010, after keeping her secret for 13 years, Anderson — a 28-year-old mother of three more children who lives in Arizona — was contacted by police and agreed to press charges.
There is not much I can add to her horrific story. I know rape victims get short shrift in America. I once was married to a woman who had been raped as a child by her father, and I know of other rape victims, dear to me, who suffered greatly at the hands of their oh so religious relatives for their “sin.” But I have never known a rape victim who was abused in quite this manner.
A fifteen year old girl who was called out before her congregation and forced to confess to a “sin” she did not commit. Publicly humiliated and shamed before family and friends. Torn from her family and shipped thousands of miles away to an unknown Baptist family in Colorado where she was essentially treated as a prisoner who had committed a crime. Forced to give up her child for adoption and never see her baby again.
And don’t think that wouldn’t be an option if a Theocratic state ever assumes power here in America, the “land of the not so free anymore.” They stone women in fundamentalist regions of certain Muslim countries, where those who murder the women believe in the same severe interpretation of God’s law that Pastor Phelps and many like him apparently also believe. Many fundamentalists of them openly admit they would welcome making homosexuality a capital crime requiring the death penalty, as has occurred in Iran.
They would return women to the status of chattels, under the control of men, mere property for a father or husband to do with as he wishes.
That is where they want to take this country and the rest of the world. That is the New Jerusalem they dream about and hope to bring to fruition in their lifetimes. That is why“The Family” on C Street is so insidious and a real and present danger to our democracy.
The churches are out there. Waiting, Biding their time. Longing for a nation governed by “God’s Law” where men are never blamed and women are always evil.
For a link to the preview of the ABC 20/20 report about these churches that abuse their female children go here (sorry the embed code for the video would not work).
This is the world these fundamentalists would make if they are ever given the chance. And as Pastor Phelps, Tina Anderson’s “spiritual guide” noted at the time, it could have been worse: they could have stoned her to death. And for fear of their retaliation against her she kept quiet, suffering who knows what psychological trauma and emotional trauma. Now, at long last her rapist is being brought to trial. But why wasn’t he dealt with years ago? Why did his church protect him and condemn her, a 15 year old child? Because that is the way these “Christians” wanted it.
Ernest Willis, now 51 and a former church member who lives in Gilford, N.H., is accused of raping Anderson twice — once at Anderson’s home where he showed up when her parents were away and a second time in the backseat of a car when he was teaching her to drive.
In a seven-page statement to police obtained by ABCNews.com, Anderson said Willis offered to take her out of state where abortions for minors are legal, then asked if she wanted him to “punch me in the stomach as hard as he could” to trigger a miscarriage.
Willis has been charged with four felonies — two counts of rape and two counts of having sex with a minor. He was released on $100,000 personal recognizance bail and will be arraigned June 16 in Concord District Court. Calls to his house seeking comment were not returned.
“We just received the files and have not had a chance to review them,” said Assistant City Prosecutor Tracy A. Connolly, who would not say if there were more alleged victims.
Police have told the Associated Press that they are looking into obstruction of justice charges against the church for possibly sending the victim away so they could not prosecute.
“Without a victim, it makes it very difficult to have a case,” Lt. Keith Mitchell told the Concord Monitor newspaper. “That basically made the investigation very difficult.”
Police were alerted to the alleged crime after a group page went up on Facebook: “Independent Fundamental Baptist (IFB) Cult Survivors (And their Supporters).”
Matt Barnhart, a former member of Anderson’s church, left a simple message: “Trinity, New Hampshire, church hid 15-year-old getting pregnant from deacon. You can contact me privately.”
You see, even after 13 years, Tina did not come forward. The rape was only discovered because of an post on Facebook by a witness to what her church did to her. I am glad that Mr. Willis will finally be forced to pay for his crimes. I feel great sympathy and admiration for Tina Anderson for agreeing to cooperate with police and for agreeing to allow her story to be told, including an agreement to reveal her identity. That was a brave and courageous act.
But this is only one small victory, and the Dominion cultists and hard line fundamentalist Christian sects are still waging a secret war against our country, subverting our military and getting believers in their “mission” elected as officials at all levels of our local, state and even the federal government. It is easy to dismiss the danger because we do not see it everyday.
However, when we are confronted by the story of Tina Anderson and all the other women out there who have been abused by these communities of religious fanatics we should recognize the danger they pose is real. What happened to Tina Anderson is just a foretaste of what they have in store for us, if we refuse to recognize the threat they pose, if we refuse to defend this republic of ours against “all enemies foreign or domestic.”