Jennifer was born to a young Chicago couple, and grew into a beautiful long-lashed child with wavy dark hair, big brown eyes and a yearning, youthful desire to be just like all other girls, but she wasn’t.
Firstly doctors noticed her slightly enlarged genitals, and then discovered that she had testes inside her abdomen and male chromosomes. They started a series of surgeries to make things ‘right’.
Jennifer Pagonis was born intersex. It is an umbrella term for many conditions in which an infant's reproductive anatomy doesn't conform to standard definitions of male or female. It has the physical effects that can be subtle, or very obvious.
Intersex adults were used to be top drawn at circus sideshows, but then with the evolution of surgical techniques for ambiguous genitals doctors started performing surgeries on affected infants.
At present, efforts are underway to change the way intersex children are treated.
Doctors encourage parents to raise children as the sex they visibly resembled. There were many families that keep the conditions hidden, fearing stigma and shame.
Pagonis' parents didn’t have any knowledge about the conditions, or about the surgeries', troubling risks, including damage to sexual function, satisfaction and psyche later on.
Dr. Earl Cheng said, “The way that we took care of things in the past ... where there was a fair amount of secrecy, where there was surgery done in the infant state, and potentially irreversible surgery, is probably not the best way to go about things”.
Dr. Earl Cheng is running the two-year-old sex development disorders program at Chicago's Ann & Robert H. Lurie Children's Hospital. This program is one of several nationwide that employ a team of specialists, including surgeons, hormone experts, genetic counselors, psychologists and ethicists.
The team helps the families in weighing their options, including whether surgery should be considered at all or not. Intersex activists urged all to have tolerance for affected kids.