Steve and Deborah named their baby by plucking tiles from a game of travel Scrabble and rearranging them: Jarys.
Giving their baby a gender-neutral name was one of the only things they did against doctors’ advice. But they consented to the surgeries — four of them before Jarys was 5 — they at the suggestion of medical professionals. The doctors at UCLA Medical Center told the couple that their child had been born without “an essentialized gender.”
“I grew up believing that if I needed these surgeries to be like everyone else, then I obviously was not already good enough to be like everyone else,” said Jarys Maragopoulos, now 36. “And every time I did not feel manly enough, or like I was living out whatever I thought my parents imagined for me, I felt as if I was showing or proving that I was not human.”
Maragopoulos is among an estimated 1.7 percent of people born intersex, an umbrella term for people with variations in sex characteristics outside the binary of male and female. Since the 1960s, doctors have attempted to “correct” intersex conditions with surgeries, often assigning children a sex without their knowledge or consent.
Last Thursday, California state Sen. Scott Wiener introduced a bill that would ban those surgeries on kids under the age of 6. If passed, California would become the first state in the nation to ban pediatric intersex surgeries.
Wiener said the bill aims to prevent the surgeries until kids are at least old enough to be able to have conversations with their parents, instead of allowing doctors to assign a sex to children should a question arise about a baby’s sex.
“This is really about bodily autonomy,” Wiener said. “This is about people being able to make life-altering decisions about their own bodies and not having those decisions made for them when they’re babies, and simply can’t have the slightest participation in that decision.”
Pediatric intersex surgeries have come under intense scrutiny in recent years. Intersex adults report that such surgeries are often intensely painful and can cause a lifetime physical and physiological trauma.
In cases like Maragopoulos’, it can mean invasive non-consensual probing by multiple doctors.
For some, surgery means forfeiting sexual sensation, something that doctors have not always told parents or patients before procedures. For those reasons, Human Rights Watch and the United Nations have come out against the surgeries in recent years.
Last year, Lurie Children’s Hospital in Chicago became the first U.S. hospital to announce it would end the practice after a three-year campaign by the Intersex Justice Project. Following that, Boston Children’s Hospital said it would also end clitoral and vaginal intersex surgeries on children too young to consent.
However, no other hospitals have announced they would end the surgeries. Children’s Hospital of Los Angeles and University of California San Francisco, both known to perform intersex surgeries, did not respond to requests for comment on whether they were reevaluating their procedures. Intersex activists say they are done waiting.
“Now it’s California’s time to shine,” said Kimberly Zieselman, executive director of interACT: Advocates for Intersex Youth, in a statement. “SB 225 builds on SCR 110, California’s 2018 resolution that established the state’s commitments to equality and autonomy for people born with variations in their sex anatomy.”
The 2018 resolution is not the only other attempt California has made at securing intersex rights. Wiener introduced a similar measure last year. The bill died in committee.
However, the San Francisco senator, who has often led California and, by extension, the nation on LGBTQ+ legislation, is more hopeful about the bill’s chances this year.
“It’s still a hard bill,” he said. “ But this is a civil rights bill, and sometimes with hard civil rights bills, you have to introduce them multiple times before you get traction. And we’re committed to the issue.”