“If I ever have a kid with an intersex condition, I will not consent to surgery.”
This is what Eric Lohman, a Journalism, Advertising and Media Studies lecturer at the Univer-sity of Wisconsin-Milwaukee, said to himself during his pursuit in Gender Studies courses as a graduate student. Surely enough, Eric and his wife, Stephanie, gave birth to their fourth child, who was born intersex albeit through a normal pregnancy.
The Intersex Society of North America defines intersex as being “born with a reproductive or sexual anatomy that doesn’t seem to fit the typical definitions of female or male.” This means that a girl could be born with genitalia resembling a penis or boys being born with a genitalia similar to a clitoris or labia. Intersex conditions aren’t rare; they occur in 1 out of 2,000 births and are more likely to receive surgery to assign a gender.
Rosie Lohman, Eric’s 4-year-old daughter, was born with a genetic disorder called Congenital Adrenal Hyperplasia (CAH) which led to Rosie being born with ambiguous genitalia. The dis-ease can be treated given proper medication and monitoring but doctors urged the Lohmans to consent to surgery to reduce her enlarged clitoris.
Lohman, who serves on the board of directors for interACT, an advocacy group providing legal support for people born with intersex conditions, was where Lohman could channel his energy for positive change in the medical community. Through his connections in interACT, Rosie’s story was heard through the grapevine which piqued the interest of producers for National Geo-graphic’s documentary Gender Revolution: A Journey with Katie Couric.
Before Rosie was born, Eric had studied research on surgeries performed on intersex children and the potential negative implications it can leave on their physical and psychological health. The Lohmans had decided against surgery unless it was absolutely necessary to Rosie’s well-being.
The Lohman’s stance on anti-surgery for their children was subject to intense pressures from doctors, but they didn’t back down for a second.
“There was no gray area for us. We weren’t going to consent to any surgery,” said Lohman.
Rosie’s condition placed a multitude of worries on Eric shortly after her delivery. With the pressure from the medical professionals mounting, he worried that Rosie would have been op-erated immediately after delivery regardless of parental consent.
“I was ready to physically stand between them,” said Lohman.
After countless trial and error, their doctor, Sumit Dave, retired his efforts. Dave was featured in the documentary, who is one of the few endocrinologists who have spoken out publicly on intersex surgeries.
Gender Revolution is a documentary hosted by news anchor Couric, consisting of interviews with intersex, transgender and other individuals whose gender identity is an everyday struggle. The film also showcases intersex, transgender, gender specialists and medical practitioners on the evolution of gender and the struggles these people face in their pursuit of acceptance.The film screened free to the public in UW-Milwaukee’s Bolton Hall on March 6, with many UWM students, members of the LGBT and other community members in attendance. Audience members glued their attention to the screen, and even let out a few laughs during the documen-tary’s sparingly funny moments.
Students under Lohman came into the screening after they heard about his participation in the screening and hoped to learn more about intersex individuals. Sabrina Johnkins, a JAMS stu-dent at UWM, expressed unwavering support for her professor and enthusiasm for learning.
“You got to be open minded and willing. Just because it isn’t your problem doesn’t make it someone else’s,” said Johnkins, who learned about Rosie’s story during Lohman’s lectures in her Gender in the Media course.
Lohman recalled seeing his family being showcased in the documentary as “strange” and wishes he would have had more time to advocate his views on changing the norm of intersex surgeries.
“It’s important for me to stop these unnecessary surgeries on these kids. I really wanted to get in everything I wanted to say and that doesn’t always happen,” says Lohman. Despite a lack of screen time, he says the documentary was fair depiction of his family and a chance for people to become informed on intersex conditions.The Lohmans attended the New York Premiere where they were reunited with Couric and many others showcased in the documentary. Lohman attributed the documentary to creating a com-munity of individuals to broaden informal discussion on gender and intersex conditions.
“I think everyone in the documentary feels an incredible closeness to each other. For many of us we feel we are going to be the people who get talked about as being some of the people ush-ered in a change in the conversation about this,” said Lohman.
The screening was followed by a Q&A with Lohman, Cary Costello, a Sociology Professor and Head of LGBT Studies, and his wife, Aubrey Schaefer. Questions from the audience members varied from how can people help intersex and LGBT individuals to what the speakers expect for the future of the LGBT community. The answers to their questions had the central themes of freedom of choice and advocacy for equality among the LGBT community at large.
“To be a community, you need accountability,” said Costello. Costello urged audience mem-bers to act as any line of support for those struggling with their sexual or gender identity.
One of the event coordinators, Anna Kupiecki, shared much enthusiasm for the discussion, an-ticipating audience members to learn something regardless of not living the same experience as those depicted in the documentary.
“Things are more complicated than they are made out to be, and that’s ok,” said Kupiecki. Kupiecki is the JAMS academic department associate at UWM and has grown very fond of Ro-sie, whom she occasionally babysits at her office in Bolton Hall.
The Q&A engaged audience members, who ranged from JAMS students to Nursing students to LGBT members living around Milwaukee. Josh Martinez, an LGBT member, was enthusiastic after the discussion, for what he referred to as “a reflection of where everyone was in the room.”
“It made more me proud to be a member of the LGBT community. It was more fuel to a fire for to make sure equality is something that we have,” said Martinez.
Apart from its informational output, attendees were told the story of Rosie’s condition and how they became a part of the documentary.
Lohman still holds his seat on the board of directors at interACT and continues advocating for free choice among individuals with intersex conditions. Lohman says his lectures are another platform for him to express to students the importance of understanding the right of choice.
“I have to make sure other people know that the pressure they are likely to receive from the medical community is going to be strong and they have to resist it,” says Lohman.
Lohman ended the Q&A in a way that solidified his stance to educate and promote positive change by saying:
“This is the hill I’m prepared to die on.”
Despite the medical hardships, Rosie lives the life of a happy, 4-year-old girl who won’t have to question her gender identity for many years to come, according to Lohman.