“Where Would I Begin?” Reflections on the Historic filing of the Crawford Case

The historic litigation in the case of M.C. has profound significance for many in the intersex community. Advocates for Informed Choice (AIC) is publishing a series of personal responses to the M.C. litigation. The first in this series is by longtime intersex activist and former AIC staff member Jim Ambrose (formerly Jim Bruce). This piece originally appeared on AIC’s blog, June 5, 2013.

“M.C. will spend the rest of his life paying for his caretakers’ actions.” – Erica K. Landau, Huffington Post

Where would I begin? I asked myself that question every other hour after AIC asked me to submit my reaction to the filing of the Crawford case. Hell, I’m asking it right now. I worked for AIC from 2009 to February, 2013 so I knew this case was coming for a while. That said I had a feeling it wouldn’t get filed, that it’d slip away or rather be taken away. I wasn’t alone in feeling that simply filing the lawsuit, just filing it, would be monumental. Looking back it was kind of like when an 8 year-old thinks Christmas is an oasis (7 months away!), too far off to comprehend day-to-day and so the kid resigns himself to childhood drudgery. Because, come on, nothing exists that far in the future least of all everything you ever wanted.

But, on the morning of May 14, 2013 The Southern Poverty Law Center (SPLC) and Advocates for Informed Choice issued a press release detailing how a group of professional adults irreparably harmed a child in South Carolina. I gazed at my laptop as a press conference took place right in front of some giant brick courthouse. Attorneys representing a child called M.C. stood in a semi-circle behind a podium, and there was Anne! Anne, who will argue breathlessly that ‘They Might Be Giants’ was the greatest band of the 20thcentury, was right there on the Primetime Live at 5 Eyewitness News! Ever-measured Anne gently explained what she knows she can prove: That what happened to M.C. was unnecessary, arrogant and brutal.

You see, for me, the most difficult aspect of intersex advocacy is making this complex issue understood by any audience. Intersex stuff is nothing but sprawl. It gets everywhere: sex, genitals, going to the bathroom, hormones, clothing, fitting in, not fitting in, showering, sports, inclusion/exclusion, sex again, interpersonal connection, how we all sleep at night, self-determination, the opportunities we give ourselves and take from others and contentment. You know, the basics. These items are hardly approachable because most educated folks often fail to even understand the difference between sex and gender. So tell me how a kid is to know what a numerator is if they struggle to count to 10?

So, then two of the bravest people I may ever know did something most intersex advocates (myself included) thought could never happen. They stood in front of cameras, on record, in their son’s hometown and demanded justice. Pam and Mark Crawford denounced the needless removal of their son’s genitals and reproductive organs as “a careless and reckless action,” and that the State of South Carolina “disfigured (M.C.) because they could not accept him for who he was.” When I glanced down to watch the seconds peel away on the web clip I noticed my hands and knees were trembling. No. I was shaking all over. That’s when I realized Pam bears a passing resemblance to my own mother. My mother has that red hair, those sturdy-yet-stylish eyeglasses, and a voice that tells a careful listener suffering is something you do alone.

The thing is M.C. and I (along with many intersex people) share a similar childhood narrative. We both endured early years of ghastly cosmetic genital surgery, the loss of our reproductive organs and silence. But, M.C. was adopted by the Crawford family. I never saw the inside of an orphanage. M.C. has a sense of self and of his safety. My sense of self was gray, disoriented. I did not feel safe. M.C. has a voice that he uses. I had a voice too, but if I’d shared that voice with my parents I would have told them I was lost. M.C. used his voice to inform his family that he is a boy.

Pam projected her voice. I can hear it as I type: “The adults involved are sending him the message that your body is not acceptable and has to change in order for you to be loved.” I know how true those words are. I, and many intersex advocates, have articulated versions of them to those in power for the past 20 years. But, hey, why should highly-educated clinicians listen to a handful of surgical ingrates? History tells us that appeals for mercy through testimonials of truth and suffering have never been enough to effect institutional change. Those words from a proud and committed mother of an intersex kiddo in front of most of the world are not an appeal for mercy. They are a shot across the bow.

Pam’s unshakeable words found a spot in me I thought I’d grieved out. Out and away. I’d say it was unbearable save for the fact that I knew thousands of other intersex people were witnessing the Crawfords’ demonstration of love and belief in their son. I shared May 14, 2013 with many people, especially the ones no longer with us. And, frankly that experience reminds me how alone I was for so long, how alive I am now and, finally that resilience brings liberation to those residing on the right side of history.

Jim Ambrose is a worker bee at The Interface Project. #justice4mc

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A (No Longer) Quiet Revolution: Intersex Awareness Day

By Jim Bruce, Communications & Youth Coordinator for Advocates for Informed Choice

October 26 is International Intersex Awareness Day.

This day marks our calendars because one of the first intersex advocacy groups, The Intersex Society of North America (operating as “Hermaphrodites with Attitude”), picketed the American Association of Pediatrics annual conference in Boston on October 26th, 1996. The picketers were angry that doctors attending the conference continued to recommend normalizing cosmetic surgeries on the genitals of intersex kids. Many of those protesting had been subjected to those kinds of damaging and irreversible surgeries when they were infants. As brave as these individuals were, their appeals for reason and restraint went largely unheard by the medical community that day. Many medical policymakers thought then- and many still believe today- that these protesters experienced “old surgical methods” and that “surgical procedures are better now” and “overall patient treatment is vastly improved.”

That was then, this is now.

And things have changed.

Today, Advocates for Informed Choice (AIC)  proudly announces the landmark publication of “What We Wish Our Doctors Knew”, a brochure written and produced by the first youth leadership development program of its kind: Inter/Act . Inter/Act is a space for young people with intersex conditions or DSDs (differences of sex development)  to come together from all over the world to express themselves, uniting their individual stories to develop a voice for a new generation. Inter/Act was created to help mold tomorrow’s intersex advocates with the goal of creating greater understanding among peers, parents, doctors, scholars, and supporters about the varied experiences and perspectives of young people with different bodies.

Now, for the first time, young people born with intersex conditions have a platform. This program helps them to speak directly to their doctors about how they experience treatment. Inter/Act allows young people a safe place to voice the complicated emotions of that come with an intersex condition. They can express their concerns, encouragement, fear, hope and anger- something those protesters in Boston were unable to do. For these reasons alone “What We Wish Our Doctors Knew” is revolutionary. AIC and Inter/Act believe this document will serve to advance the dialogue between young people, parents, medical providers and activists, and we’re sharing it with you. Please pass it on!

Finally, AIC simply can’t sit still, so we’re thrilled to unveil our newest program, The Interface Project (TIP)! TIP’s mission is to gather and share personal stories of people living with an intersex condition or DSD to spread the message, “No Body Is Shameful.” We have done some work to get the first videos (http://www.youtube.com/theinterfaceproject) produced but there is more to be done! With your help  we will continue to bring you powerful stories of people with intersex conditions in their own words.

Now you know some of the significance of October 26. Please help AIC and other organizations worldwide increase the visibility of a community that has been unseen for far too long.

Jim Bruce is the Communications & Youth Coordinator for Advocates for Informed Choice. A Louisiana native, Jim now lives in Missoula, Montana. 

For more information on Advocates for Informed Choice, Inter/Act , The Interface Project, or, if you would like a copy of “What We Wish Our Doctors Knew” (http://aiclegal.files.wordpress.com/2012/10/interact_ms-updated.pdf) email Jim Bruce at jim@aiclegal.org.