Standing with Susie the Dachshund

DachshundWhat does Susie, a long-haired dachshund who was discovered to have an intersex trait, have to do with feminism? I’d argue quite a bit. Susie’s experience is a harsh reminder that our society still holds simplistic ideas about bodies.

Less than a week ago, the world was introduced to Susie, the dog who was allegedly “saved” when her veterinarian surgically erased her intersex trait. Intersex traits involve being born with either internal and/or external ambiguous genitalia. Historically, individuals born with intersex traits were referred to as hermaphrodites (a term today considered derogatory by some individuals in the intersex community).

In Susie’s case, she looked like a “normal” female dog. However, once on the veterinarian’s operating table for a routine spay surgery, it was quickly determined that she had internal testes rather than ovaries, as one would expect given her outward appearance. It was also discovered that Susie did not have a uterus.

Given the widely publicized description of Susie’s anatomy, it is likely she was born with complete androgen insensitivity syndrome (CAIS)—a condition that I am personally familiar with having been diagnosed with CAIS when I was a child.

Susie and I share more than a diagnosis. We share a medical history filled with misinformation about what it means to be born with an intersex trait.

The veterinary office that operated on Susie informed her human guardian that they needed to surgically remove her internal testes because, “If they had been left in, the testicles would have turned cancerous.” My parents were told something similar when I was diagnosed, despite the fact that an intersex trait, especially CAIS, rarely poses a health threat. Still, the intersex trait was erased from our respective bodies.

Even if we pretend that the correlation between cancer and intersex traits is real, we must ask Why is it that we don’t go around removing breasts to prevent breast cancer? The answer is quite simple: Preventing cancer is not really the goal. Rather, the cancer rhetoric is used to justify surgical interventions, making it the darkest of lies.

Why do medical professionals seek to surgically erase intersex traits? Maybe it’s their ignorance about sex variability. But I doubt it. Doctors, regardless if one specializes in canines or human beings, are smart people. What’s more likely is that these medical professionals are acting on a dangerous combination of fear and authority. A body that challenges binary understandings of sex is scary to those who refuse to embrace natural biological diversity found across species. For years, many medical doctors reached for their scalpels to ease their fears and assert their authority over the body. They are experts on the body, after all. Veterinarians sadly seem to be following their lead, and Susie’s vet is no exception.

My concern has more to do with how the media describes Susie as being “saved” by the scalpel. This framing has implications for all of us, regardless of the size or shape of our genitalia.

We must actively stand against oppressive expectations imposed onto our bodies. If a dog that was born with a body that challenges ideas about sex isn’t accepted in society, how can we expect folks to embrace other natural biological diversities?

As a feminist, I stand with Susie. I hope you will, too.

Photo of a long-haired dachshund by Flickr user Soggydan under license from Creative Commons 2.0

About

Georgiann Davis, Ph.D., is an assistant professor of sociology at University of Nevada, Las Vegas. Her research is nestled at the intersection of sociology of diagnosis and gender theories. She is currently writing a book that tells the story of how intersex became a contested disorder of sex development.