M.C. feels like a boy.
The 8-year-old adopted child of Mark and Pam Crawford identifies as a boy, acts like a boy and is accepted as a boy by his family, school and pediatrician.
But M.C. is not biologically male -- at least, not anymore -- because nearly seven years ago, M.C., who was born intersex (with both male and female genitals), underwent a procedure in South Carolina that surgically removed his male genitalia, CNN reports.
Now the Crawfords are suing the people who performed and gave consent for that surgery, alleging that "the state of South Carolina violated M.C.’s constitutional rights when doctors surgically removed his phallus while he was in foster care, potentially sterilizing him and greatly reducing, if not eliminating, his sexual function," according to the Southern Poverty Law Center (SPLC).
It is the first lawsuit of its kind filed on behalf an intersex child who was given sex assignment surgery while too young to give informed consent.
From the moment the Crawfords saw M.C.'s baby picture, they were "charmed," Mark Crawford says in a YouTube video released by the SPLC, but they were saddened to find out the state had already performed surgery.
"I was really sad that that decision had been made for him," Pam Crawford says in the video. "And it's become more and more and difficult just as his identity has become more clearly male. The idea that mutilation was done to him has become more and more real. There was no medical reason that this decision had to be made at that time."
M.C. just "wants to be a normal little boy," Pam Crawford says, but because of a decision he could not influence, he will forever be a little bit different.
"I think the decisions made by the state send a message to M.C. that your body is not acceptable the way it is," she says in the video, "that you need to have a body that conforms more toward what we think it should look like... I would given anything for this not to have been done to our child. I don't want it to happen to anymore kids."
According to ABC News, about 1 in 2,000 children born each year are classified as intersex, one of dozens of disorders of sexual development (DSD).
And M.C. is not the first child to have irreversible surgery as a baby, only to later realize doctors chose the "wrong" gender.
Advocates for Informed Choice (AIC) is working with the SPLC on behalf of the Crawfords. The AIC is an organization that specializes in advocating for the rights of intersex children, according to its director and founder, Anne Tamar-Mattis.
Tamar-Mattis told The Huffington Post in a phone interview that these surgeries have been going on for years, but that parents were not necessarily willing to talk publicly about it, let alone explore possible legal options.
The issue is personal for Tamar-Mattis, whose partner and friends are intersex.
"People I care about [have] been deeply, deeply hurt by these surgeries, and I want to make sure it doesn't happen to other children," she told HuffPost.
She said the problem is often that doctors aren't following "accepted standards for authorized consent."
When a child is 16 months old -- the age M.C. was when he was operated on -- "doctors shouldn't be making that decision at all," she said. They need to "wait until the mature child can make the decision, with full information and the participation of the parents."
However, doctors who perform these procedures have argued that it can be beneficial to assign a clear gender sooner, rather than later.
"There haven’t been any studies that would support doing nothing,” Larry Baskin, chief of pediatric urology at the University of California, San Francisco, told The New York Times in 2006. “That would be an experiment: don’t do anything and see what happens when the kid’s a teenager. That could be good, and that could also be worse than trying some intervention.”
A representative for defendant the South Carolina Department of Social Services wasn't immediately available for comment. However, the Medical University of South Carolina released this statement to local station WISTV:
MUSC's general counsel and leadership will review the lawsuit through standard operating procedures for legal matters. MUSC will not be able to offer further comment on this pending litigation.
But Tamar-Mattis said the "harm" in this case is clear, and she has no idea how the state is going to try to defend itself.
"[The defendants made a] permanent, irreparable decision that compromised the civil rights of the child," Tamar-Mattis said. "They took it upon themselves to play god, and try to force this child into the body they thought he should have."
Clarification: An earlier draft of this article referred to M.C.'s operation as "gender assignment surgery." As per the SPLC, which is bringing the lawsuit, the term has been changed to "sex assignment surgery."