In debates about the medical management of intersex, also known as “disorders of sex development,” it is often assumed that morally good treatment can make patients, families, and doctors feel comfortable and, conversely, that morally bad treatment generates feelings of discomfort. Commentators and stakeholders diverge over definitions of good and bad treatment, but everyone wants to feel comfortable—whether with sexually ambiguous anatomies, infant genital surgery, the identity “intersex,” or the nomenclature of “disorders of sex development.” This multidisciplinary article critically analyzes the role of feelings in such debates. It argues against accounts of “lived experience” that cast feelings as purely personal, to focus instead on interpersonal feelings between individuals with and without intersex anatomies and with and without histories of genital surgery. The article draws on neuroscience and philosophy to reinterpret such interpersonal feelings as occasions when individuals who have not had surgery literally feel on behalf of those who have, in particular where surgery has caused desensitizing nerve damage. This phenomenon can be understood neuroscientifically as sensations referred between bodies by mirror neurons and philosophically as an injury to the flesh of the world of which we are all composed.
Iain Morland; The Injured World: Intersex and the Phenomenology of Feeling. differences 1 September 2012; 23 (2): 20–41. doi: https://doi.org/10.1215/10407391-1629803
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