Intersex Children: A Journey Between Genders

Person born with both male and female genitals meets with the surgeon who operated on him as a baby.
9:13 | 03/05/15

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Transcript for Intersex Children: A Journey Between Genders
It is a wrenching dilemma. Your child is born with the anatomy of both a boy and a girl. These children used to be known as hermaphrodites. Now they're called intersexed. In the hospital there's often pressure to perform surge rye right away to make the gender clear. But tonight you're going to meet someone who grew up and concluded the choice that was made was wrong. Here's my "Nightline" coanchor juju Chang. Reporter: It's the first question when a baby's born. Is it a boy or a girl? Sometimes the answer isn't that simple. They told me that he was intersex. Reporter: Meaning born with both male and female genitals. Pamela and mark Crawford weren't bothered by the fact that the baby they were about to adopt was intersexed. That seemed like no big deal. Reporter: It's more common than you might think. Roughly 1 in every 2,000 babies are born interseconded each year. There's no protocol how to treat INT intersex the children. Doctors are doctors have quote-unquote fixed it by choosing one gender or another. Parents are questioning whether that's the right thing to do. I said, don't let him get the surgery, he hasn't gotten the surgery, has he? But he had, after his 1 1stbirthday. South Carolina. He had been transformed into a girl. But it's clear even in toddlerhood he felt and acted like a boy. He says, I feel weird, I don't think I should be going into the girl's restroom. Reporter: He's now 9 years old. We've been asked to keep his face off hyme cam. He could play with this stuff for hours. Reporter: His brother says his little brother was robbed of his right to live as a man. What happened to him was unnecessary. Unjust. Unconsented. And he's been castrated so that is likely to have lifelong impact. Irreversible. Reporter: 35-year-old sifa says he knows all about irreversible. Like emcee he was born intersexed. A doctor assigned him female but it led to years of agonizing cushion. At what age did you question your gender? Until 7 I thought I was a boy. Reporter: He grew up in the bronx wearing catholic schoolgirl uniforms. Even went to the prom. It wasn't until college sifa started to ask serious questions. That's when he got ahold of his medical records. Initially, they had written that I had ambiguous genitalia. They checked it. But then they scratched it out and put that I was Normal. Then I felt betrayed. You were kept in the character. Of course. Reporter: He says he had no idea he had undescended December T testes, no idea a surgery turned him biologically into a girl. His mother says she trusted the doctors and condition sented to the procedure. Years later sifa felt like a man. In his mid-20s he decided to live like one. As a result, every week he must inject himself with testosterone. I have a fear of having moon man boobs. These people are not disordered. They're just a bit different. Reporter: Protesting against premature operations performed on children. Arguing intersexed people should have the right to decide for themselves when they're ready. Sifa agrees. I feel like I need to wear a suit. Reporter: Now is getting ready for an occasion more than 20 years in the making. This is it. This is like a big moment. Reporter: He is about to meet with the doctor who surgically removed his testicles at age 13. Transforming him into a girl. With his mother's consent. A surgery he says he never wanted. I probably have a whole bunch of emotions that come up. He's the surgeon, signature right here. Terry hensell. Reporter: Dr. Herry Hensle. What would you say if you were face-to-face with him today? I think I would ask him questions. Because he's a human being. And I think human beings make mistakes. Reporter: Turns out he's still practicing and a professor emeritus at Columbia university. He says new parents with an intersexed baby are often desperate to have their child fixed, surgically turned into a boy or girl as fast as possible. Have you had parents thank you for intervening early? All the time. What do they say? Well, "Thank you for big me my little girl." Reporter: The photos are too graphic to show on television but Dr. Hensle wanted me to see how ambiguous these cases can be. What do you tell mommy that is? Uh -- yeah, what is that? Reporter: Sifa argues in his case, there was no medical urgency. But many doctors argue doing it younger can avoid painful scarring down the road. Both physically and emotionally. I think it's more parents' anxiety about information being disseminated about their "Abnormal" child. Reporter: The very definition of gender normality is evolving. A person's biological sex is not determined -- does not determine their gender. Right so gender is not genitalia? It's not. It's in the brain, it's in the spirit, it's in the heart. Reporter: Nowadays gender identity is more open. But in sifa's time it was kept quiet. The criticism that is, these doctors are playing god. No. I used to. And I really liked it. But it wasn't the right thing to do. There's a real sense that if patients, even patients from 20 years out, were listened to, were heard, that that would be a big step forward. Huge. I totally and thoroughly 100% agree. Jimmy: We asked Dr. Hensle if he'd meet with sifa. You'd be open to that? Sure. Reporter: Today Atlanta to new Jersey for the meeting. I think it feels so surreal. I haven't seen this man in 20-plus years. What makes you nervous? I have the stories of so many people. That you're walking in there with. Yeah. Reporter: Sifa says he never had a chance to be heard. Now that's about to change. Terry Hensle. Hi. Hey. Reporter: Before the dialogue begins Dr. Hensle tries to shut down the interview. Something gets said and it's just the wrong twist, I can't let that happen. I can't. I can't. I hope you understand that. Reporter: Sifa calmly and gently refuses to take no for an answer. If you had it to do all over again, if you saw me as a baby with ambiguous genitalia -- I would bring to it a gender committee who would talk about the pros and cons. If you have testosterone, you have a male brain. A male brain is a male brain is a male brain. Reporter: These days many hospitals rely on a gender committee which decides the course of action. The point is that what happened to you, it was done not out of malice. Not out of lack of thinking about it. It was done because that was the state of the art in 19 whatever the date was. I wanted to make sure that you understand that our learning curve has increased dramatically. Reporter: That's when I joined the conversation. I'm wondering if you think fits out there, or you yourself who have some remorse about some of the surgeries that were done? No, I have no regrets. Now, would I have done things differently? Shull. But I don't have -- I was dealing in my heart of hearts with what I thought was the right thing to do. So what did you think? I think it was so interesting, that moment when he said that he didn't have any regrets. I was like, wow. And I guess, you know, you would have to do that in order to not -- to avoid feeling. Reporter: We asked Dr. Hensle to clarify his lack of regret. If you want the truth, I don't feel regret about it. Because I did the best I could do based on what I knew. Reporter: Because there's no clear protocol on how to treat intersexed children, these operations are still happening. Which is why the crawfords are suing doctors at medical university of South Carolina and the state, claiming they assigned their adopted child the wrong gender. The case involving their son emcee could potentially provide a first of its kind precedent-setting ruling. We reached out to the hospital where the surgery was performed. They declined our request for interview but issued this statement. Musc will vigorously defend in this case with a propond rans of evidence that will also serve to explain why music does not accept the information as alleged." There was no justification for mutilating his genitals. That's what they did. They removed his penis. They did unnecessary surgery on a happy, healthy kid. Reporter: For "Nightline," I'm juju Chang in Charleston, South Carolina.

This transcript has been automatically generated and may not be 100% accurate.

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