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House, M.D. is probably one of my favorite shows of all time.
I’ve seen the series several times over and probably have most of the episodes memorized at this point.
But as much as I love the show, I can’t turn a blind eye to some of the *very* problematic episodes. Yes, I know House is supposed to be a jerk. But sometimes the show just went way too far.
Below are some of the worst offenders.
1. “House Divided” (Season 5, Episode 22)
In “House Divided”, House treats a deaf teen wrestler named Seth who starts hearing explosions. During one of Seth’s surgeries, House decides to implant a cochlear implant without Seth or his mother’s consent. He can’t understand why Seth wouldn’t want to hear.
This is, sadly, an extremely common thought for doctors (although most wouldn’t actually follow through on it). Medical ableism is very real and doctors often believe that deaf — and other disabled folks — need to be “fixed” (which they do not!).
On top of that, getting a cochlear implant is an extremely personal decision. And anyone who is considered getting one for their child should seek pediatric hearing care in which the doctor doesn’t try to push their own ableist beliefs onto the patient or their parent.
2. “Better Half” (Season 8, Episode 9)
In “Better Half”, House discovers that Wilson is treating a patient in the clinic who is asexual. However, House refuses to believe that anyone could *actually* be asexual and sets out to prove that she’s lying in order to please her asexual husband. In the end, House is right — not only was the wife lying, but the husband actually had a tumor in the pituitary gland, causing his loss of libido.
It should be obvious why this one is problematic. Asexuality is a completely valid sexual orientation. And the idea that the only way someone could be asexual is if they have a brain tumor is not only ridiculous but insulting.
3. “Skin Deep” (Season 2, Episode 13)
In “Skin Deep”, House treats a teenage model and heroin addict who punches a fellow model before collapsing on the runway. After a whole episode of trial and error, House and the team eventually discover that the model has Complete Androgen Insensitivity Syndrome (CAIS) and has testicular cancer. He goes on to attribute all of her negative personality traits — aggression, manipulativeness — to her being intersex.
So, why is this problematic? First of all, House continually misgenders the model after discovering that she’s intersex and proclaims, “he has cancer on his left testicle” and “he needs surgery.” The show also makes an extremely homophobic turn at the end when the model’s father — who had been sexually assaulting her — became disgusted at the thought that he had been having sex with someone who was intersex (because apparently having sex with his daughter wasn’t disgusting on its own).
The episode was so offensive that the former Intersex Society of North America wrote a blog post condemning the episode.
4. “The Softer Side” (Season 5, Episode 16)
As if “Skin Deep” wasn’t bad enough, House, M.D. decided to take on another case of an intersex patient. This time, it’s a little boy who was born with mosaicism and ambiguous genitalia. At the time of the boy’s birth, the doctor asks the parents to “choose” a gender for a child. The parents never tell the boy about his mosaicism and they constantly talk about it in hushed tones. The mother is so worried that her son will not develop into a “real” boy that she discourages him from taking dance classes and forces him to play basketball.
Not only are the ideas of the strict gender binary completely ludicrous but the idea that mosaicism — or any variation in sex characteristics that fall outside societal norms — is “shameful” is extremely harmful. There’s nothing shameful about being born with atypical sex characteristics. Genetic variation in any species is 100% normal and is not something that needs to be kept hidden or whispered about.