New professor presents research on intersex identity in the medical profession

SIUE welcomed Assistant Professor Georgiann Davis into the Sociology Department this fall and students were invited to get a glimpse into her research last Wednesday. She presented her talk on the tender and little-researched subject of intersex persons and their reactions to the medical profession, as well as society as a whole. The Women’s Studies Program sponsored the event.

Davis spent two years collecting data for her research titled “The Power in a Name: Intersex Identity and the Politics of the Medical Profession.” She took an ethnographic approach to people born with some form of “intersexuality,” or a “disorder of sex development” (DSD). She interviewed many people and many doctors in all parts of the country to find out how these people born as intersex have reacted to how their parents and doctors helped or did not help them through their lives.

Many times, Davis said, doctors urge parents to pursue surgery for a child born with some varied form of both sexes, even though an intersex condition is not life-threatening.

“These doctors are not monsters,” Davis said. “It is just the way they are taught to deal with this and they don’t even think about the consequences.”

Davis found that people who learned to embrace their intersexual identity had more self-confidence even though their family ties were more turbulent than others who were told to conform to either a male or female identity.

Her research also focused on the intersexual identity movement and how people rallied together to change the medical profession’s view of them. The movement has not been around long and changes are being made even today in response to the intersex movement, making Davis’ research compelling and time-appropriate.

However, she does present the problem when the medical field decided to shift from using the term “intersex” to “disorders of sexual development.” She said the latter held negative connotation and was a step backwards for the intersex community.

Regardless, some of the people she interviewed said the name didn’t matter as much as how they have been treated by doctors and society in general. Davis said while the medical community as a whole have taken positive steps in the right direction, it still has a long way to go. She is continuing her research on the subject as much as possible while teaching at SIUE.

“Davis’s talk on intersex identity and the medical profession was dynamic, engaging as she not only presented her extensive research but wove a compelling narrative about intersexed individuals’ fraught relationship with the medical community, and, ultimately, about the ways we all participate in the rhetoric of authority,” said Catherine Seltzer, chair of the Women’s Studies Program.”

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