Last week, something revolutionary happened on television. AIC President, Sean Saifa Wall, confronted the surgeon who removed his internal testes when he was 13 — Dr. Terry Hensle–and it was all captured by ABC’s Nightline. Saifa reflected on his Facebook page the next morning:
“To my intersex friends and comrades, Despite the lack of empathy expressed by Dr. Terry Hensle, Wednesday night was a victory for both myself and our movement. The medical community needs to know and understand that these “corrective” measures against people born with atypical male and female anatomy are not only stigmatizing, but harmful. We must continue to hold the medical community accountable for the trauma they have visited upon this community, both historically and at present. Our bodies are not shameful! We deserve our dignity! No more genital mutilation of intersex children and adults! And I will continue to advocate and fight for these things until it’s done.” ~ Sean Saifa Wall
After much preparation for this long awaited Nightline segment I watched with nervous anticipation as it aired close to midnight in Chicago. Saifa, my colleague, friend and brother in this liberation struggle for intersex human rights, simply awed me as he remained cool, calm and collected while refusing to take no for an answer from his pompous surgeon who stated that he had “no regrets” for what he did to Saifa as a child. Side-eye aside I turned off the television feeling as though I just witnessed David take down Goliath not with a rock–but empathy.
The surgeon I would really like to speak with is the one who performed an unnecessary clitorectomy on my two year old body, and ask as Saifa did on national television, If you could do it all over again, would you?
However my doctor, recently passed away. Dr. Firlit is described as a gentleman’s man in his obituary. How ironic.
One of my other surgeons, who later performed a vaginoplasty and also tweaked some of Dr. Firlit’s previous work on my clitoris when I was just 11, is still alive and practicing. Named “Best Plastic Surgeon” by Chicago Magazine in 2014, Dr. Bruce Bauer makes no mention of the the types of plastic surgery he performed on me, or other children born with intersex traits, in his promo-video. Instead, he distills his work neatly into the euphemistic category of “reconstructive surgery in children.” He currently practices just a stones throw away from my apartment and whenever that thought creeps up on me–a cold chill runs down my spine.
Saifa, who had just landed in New York to visit his mother when we got word from ABC that the segment would be air that night, told me afterwards,
I feel like this is just one more notch in the intersex liberation struggle.
Our community has every reason to lack empathy for our surgeons and doctors and yet I have never met some of the most compassionate people in my life right here amongst our intersex community. On television last week you exemplified that compassion and we thank you for taking us on that journey.Thanks also to Pam, Mark & Ben Crawford, M.C.’s family, also featured in the Nightline piece for speaking the fierce truth from their hearts about why what happened to M.C. unacceptable. Shout-out to Daniela “Nella” Truffer and Markus Bauer of StopIGM.org who rounded out the episode with an interview amidst a street protest in Europe. And Dr. Judy Geizhals, a special thank you as well for being willing and able to be interviewed at the drop of dime to only have the footage not make the final cut. Thank you to everyone who joined AIC along this bumpy ride. Speaking out in defense of intersex rights and bravely telling our stories is a necessary step along the path to justice.Lastly, thank you, as Saifa stated so beautifully, to all those whose stories he held with him as he stood face to face with his doctor. You, and your stories, are our fuel.