Professor Davis named a 2013 SIUE Vaughnie Lindsay New Investigator

Writing her first book, “The Dubious Diagnosis: How Intersex Became a Disorder of Sex Development,” Georgiann Davis, assistant professor of SIUE Department of Sociology and Criminal Justice, realized a necessary voice was missing from sociocultural scholarship on the topic: children’s voices.

Sociology and criminal justice professor Georgiann Davis

Looking forward, Davis was determined to fill this gap in literature, which she is able to do as a recipient of the 2013 Vaughnie Lindsay New Investigator Awardee. The award recognizes faculty members whose research or creative activities has the promise of making significant contributions to their fields of study and to SIUE in general.  As part of the award, she received a $12,500 research grant to pursue this research agenda.

“How can we make medical recommendations without hearing from children who are directly affected?” she asked.

Davis knows this history first hand. She was born with an intersex trait.

Davis said intersex traits involve being “born with either internal and/or external genitalia that is inconsistent or unique from what we would assume given knowledge about sex chromosomes.”

Davis, proposed a project that will highlight children’s insights in ways that will contribute to a more comprehensive understanding of how intersex is experienced.

“I’m beyond excited to simultaneously begin this new angle of research on a topic close to the heart,” Davis said. “It enables me to follow my passion.”

Davis said children born with an intersex trait have historically been lied to about their diagnosis. They also have been subjected to, in some cases, medically unnecessary interventions including irreversible surgeries.

Davis said it is more common than the public may think.

“Depending upon how you define intersex, estimates can range between 1.7 and 4 percent of the population,” she said.

Davis has been studying the intersex community since her studies at the University of Illinois at Chicago where she earned a doctorate in sociology in 2011. Since then, she’s been publishing in various outlets ranging from scholarly journals to “Ms. Magazine.”

Davis’ book is currently under contract with New York University Press.

Already putting the grant to use, to date, Davis has heard from 16 children and young adults with intersex traits between the ages of 11-25. These early participants have completed anonymous surveys about everything from their understanding of intersex to their relationships with parents and medical professionals.

Davis is in the early stages of this new research project, but she is already conducting preliminary analyses. Her first presentation on this new project will be at the National Women’s Studies Association annual meeting this November in Cincinnati. She hopes this new research direction will eventually springboard into a more exhaustive study of intersex from the perspective of children with the condition.

Although the future of intersex studies can’t be predicted, Davis says she hopes to continue actively informing the public and intersex community about these issues.

Kevin Cannon, sociology and criminal justice department chair, said since joining the department, Davis has had “an extremely active research agenda in a cutting edge area of sociology. Her work is important to both sociologists and medical practitioners and her research has the ability to positively affect the lives of people born with intersex conditions.”

Of her work, Davis said, “It is my hope that my research will help all of us, regardless of our bodies.”


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