by David Balashinsky
I recently came across the essay cited in the title of this post in xoJane, "It happened to me: I was born without a vagina hole," by Anonymous (a better term than "vagina hole" would have been "vaginal introitus.") (A link to the essay is provided below.) As silly and as poorly written as this piece is, it does serve to underscore an important point: every human being is born with the right to ownership and control of her or his own body. From an ethical standpoint, it would be as wrong to deny this young woman the corrective genital surgery that she sought as it is to impose a non-corrective genital surgery on an infant that he has not sought nor consented to. Private parts are private property: they don't belong to the state and they don't belong to one's parents.
This narrative also underscores a more fundamental principle. Because we experience self-awareness, our bodies are important to us. That is no less true and maybe even more true of our genitalia. Hence, it is not merely the physical control of one's body that is a fundamental human right but the freedom to value and define the significance of one's own body that is a fundamental human right. That is why it is so offensive when opponents of genital rights dismiss the significance of the prepuce by saying "it's just skin." To impose one's own judgment of the significance of a part of someone else's body that has been stolen from him or her is just as much an affront to human dignity and human rights as depriving him or her of the functional use of that body part, to say nothing of depriving him or her of the body part itself. This principle is well illustrated by this narrative. Why else would Anonymous have written about her experience if her vagina were not an integral part of her self-concept as a human being with free will and personal agency? Why did she compile a list of reasons why she needed the surgery? Without knowing all of the specific reasons on that list, it is nonetheless evident from this essay that Anonymous attached a meaning and a value to the structure and configuration of her genitalia. Moreover, that the shape, structure, and function of her genitalia were intrinsic and central to her ability to live her life as she wanted to live it. The principle of bodily- and genital integrity, then, goes to the very heart of what it is to be human: to define oneself, to value oneself, and to differentiate oneself from every one and everything else.
The physical boundaries of one's body - its external limits - are analogous to a political border or a property line. Our bodies declare to the world, "no trespassing." Without the sanctity of being secure in one's own physical person, the individual is denied full personhood. That is why this young woman sought to exercise control over her vagina. Because the importance of its structure transcends the discrete purposes of its physiological function and instead matters to this young woman's ability to live her life freely in pursuit of her own interests.
That is why Intactivists fight for the right of boys, girls, and intersex children to determine for themselves what parts of their bodies they get to keep. That is why non-consensual genital surgery is a human-rights violation: it deprives the victim not only of the functional use of the part that has been stolen but of the right to define himself. It violates the sanctity of his personal borders. Non-consensual genital modification surgery - infant circumcision - deprives the victim of his right to full personhood.