Anne Tamar-Mattis is the founder and executive director of Advocates for Informed Choice which provides legal advocacy for the rights of children with intersex conditions or DSDs (differences of sex development). The organization helps families of children with intersex conditions to tackle issues such as medical malpractice, school accommodation, identity documentation, immigration, and asylum.
Ms Tamar Mattis graduated from Berkeley Law in 2006. Just one year after graduation she began lecturing on “Sexual Orientation and the Law” at both Berkeley Law and UC Davis School of Law. Her academic profile is built on a foundation of nearly two decades of campaigning on lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer and intersex (LGBTQI) issues. She spent six years as the Director of the LYRIC Youth Talkline, a United States peer-support line for LGBTQ youth, and she was the first Program Director for San Francisco’s LGBT Community Center.
In an interview with The Global Herald, the US-based lawyer explained some of the issues surrounding treatment of intersex conditions and the rights of children.
There is some discussion in the intersex community about the correct terminology used to describe intersex condition. Ms Tamar Mattis prefers to take a patient-centred approach and use the same words as the person in question. There are several terms currently used such as “disorders of sex development”, “differences of sex development” and “intersex”. These terms describe instances where a person is born with a mix, or absence of, male and female genitalia, internal sex organs, chromosomes, and/or gender-related hormones.
When asked about the current position of the medical profession on the “treatment” of intersex conditions, Ms Tamar-Mattis explained the disparities between countries. She illustrated the marked differences between treatment options in the US and UK, arguing that because the UK medical profession is a lot more “top down” and centralised, it has allowed policies to be followed more consistently. However, Tamar-Mattis described how, in the US, different doctors offer different treatments.
As Ms Tamar-Mattis campaigns for the advocacy of children born with intersex conditions, she was asked about the range of treatments on offer to young children and whether the medical treatment of intersex people is sometimes necessary or whether it is entirely elective. She responded that parents should have access to full information on treatment options, but that they are only able to consent to so much on behalf of the child in question. She said that some treatments were “beyond the bounds of parental consent”.
Ms Tamar-Mattis listed a few examples of where treatment would be important or even necessary for young children and adults:
- When urine cannot leave the body
- When menstrual fluid cannot leave the body
- To restore sexual function
- To restore reproductive capacity
Ms Tamar Mattis pointed out that the last two points would not be essential for everyone and that it is entirely possible to include infants in decision making about their bodies as it is possible to postpone many treatments until children become old enough to participate in decision making.
When asked about how intersex treatments compare with other socially motivated medical interventions, Ms Tamar-Mattis said that there were some parallels with cleft palette surgery, though this procedure is necessary for eating and speech, and pinnaplasty for “sticking out” ears. Some limits have been put on pinnaplasty surgery in the US – generally, surgeons will not operate on children under 4 years old or on children who do not want to co-operate.
When asked about the new International Olympic Committee rules on gender testing, Ms Tamar Mattis explained that the IOC ruling represents “an improvement” as it provides a more objective and meaningful criteria for the exclusion of some athletes. However she also accepted that most athletes at international level already have some naturally occurring advantage such as height or muscle tone and that there is no definitive line between the masculine and the feminine. She did say, however, that the new rules would be fairer for a lot of people.