Free to Be… You and Me? – How Sex Assignment Surgeries on Intersex Bodies Demonstrate that Individuality Remains Constrained in Liberal Democracy

Amelie Burchardt, University College Maastricht

Liberal Democracy is commonly understood as the political system which grants the most personal freedom and even supports and encourages individuality of its citizens. However, when looking at the popularity of sex assignment surgeries (SAS) it is questionable if liberal democracy really lives up to its promise. These surgeries, which aim to binarize the genitalia of people born with intersex genitalia, are not only medically unnecessary but also painful and often permanently hinder the ability to feel sexual pleasure in the genitalia. Why would people who are free to be themselves, and supported in being themselves, undergo such a procedure? This question will make the research question of this paper more tangible: does liberal democracy truly grant individuality? To investigate this question two philosophers, Michel Foucault and Kwame Appiah, and their relevant concepts will be introduced. Then, their accounts will be applied to the case study of SAS. From there, the paper will use both side’s arguments to analyse the role of liberal democracy in granting individuality, eventually concluding that normalization and other mechanisms of disciplinary power must be actively countered by liberal democracies in order to ensure real individuality.

Keywords: liberal democracy, individuality, intersex, sex assignment surgeries, disciplinary power, normalization

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