Sunday, July 3, 2011

Intersex Is Entertaining!: Baby Mama

I was pretty sickly recently when I went home to visit my parents, and was up late one night flicking through the channels. I saw Tina Fey acting in some movie I hadn't seen before, and decided to pause for a while. In this movie, Baby Mama, Fey's character Kate selects a seemingly irresponsible woman, Angie (Amy Poehler) to be her surrogate mother. Drama ensues. Throughout the movie, Kate worries a lot about her fetus's health and development (totally reasonable). One particular scene of her worrywarting to her sister Caroline (Maura Tierney), though, really caught my attention:



K: "What if the baby's a hermaphrodite?"
C: "What?"
K: "A CHICK WITH A DICK. I heard it happens to about 2% of babies."
C: "Well, that's crazy. That would mean that about 10 people from our high school were hermaphrodites."
K: "That sounds about right, actually."
C: "You can't solve your problems by worrying about them."



The conversation continues with discussions of whether 4 year old Caroline's too young to get a cell phone for her birthday, Kate's plans in helping open a new store for her work, and how radiant Kate's hair is. Ya know, things that are really relevant to intersex and stuff.

Um, also - WHAT.

I have no idea whether any baby planning books reference intersex, but if any do, it is likely very very few, considering that most experiences shared by intersex parents indicate that they'd never heard before, and at least some of them have cracked open a bably planning book. It seems bizarre, then, that Fey's character would've heard something about "hermaphrodites" in this way.

The use of the word "hermaphrodites" is also confusing. This term is still around in various forms, but is considered to be archaic and offensive to many and also biologically inaccurate for reasons that we've detailed in previous posts. Hermaphrodites refer to biological organisms, such as various species of fish, amphibians, and mollusks that have both sets of fully functioning sex organs - either at the same time, or at different times in their life cycle. Humans don't qualify in either of those respects. (Although it's worth noting that some intersex individuals may use the term "herm" ("herm hugs!," right?!) to inclusively refer to themselves and other intersex individuals, reclaiming the term.) If intersex was covered in baby planning books, it would most likely be discussed as "intersex," and not "hermphrodites." (Unfortunately, there's also a chance it would be referred to in medicalized DSD terminology, ugh. This makes me want to flip open baby planning books and see what's exactly in there.)

Intersex = chicks with dicks, huh? Hmmmm. This phrase can be offensive to many people, whether identified as intersex, transgender, transvestites, and other gender identity/presentation--fluid/non-conforming individuals, even though here it specifically refers to intersex. This again is a serious biology fail with regards to what intersex is, and the diversity of intersex variations. This also equates intersex = all about genitals, whereas intersex bodies, and the traits we recognizie as showing sex differences, are way more extensive than just external genitals. And certainly not even just internal sex organs, hormone types and levels, and chromosome types. What about body hair disribution, chest/breast development, nipple development, overall height, shoulder:waist ratios, and bone and muscle form? How we sex bodies is much more complex than just external genitalia...if this was the case, people wouldn't automatically assign sex to a person walking down the street without inspecting what's in their pants first, right? This view of intersex is too narrow.

Intersex statistics. *sigh* It's really difficult to get an accurate handle on how many intersex individuals exist in the world. Many people whose bodies conform to definitions of a particular form of intersex may not identify as intersex, and thus wouldn't count themselves in hypothetical censues of intersex individuals. Those that do identify with intersex in some capactiy may understand their intersex not as a normal, biological way of being, but have only been introduced to the "you're sick and have a medical condition" perspective on intersex, and thus may not see themselves as "really intersex," but as a male or female with an "intersex condition." Individuals that may identify as intersex in some capacity may also not want to participate in such counts of intersex individuals due to trauma from the medical establishment and/or silence within their circle of loved ones and communities, in attempts to remove themselves from intersex associations altogether. Many clinicians are also unwilling to hand over their patient records (as though we should actually be considered "patients" in the first place, ugh) for these purposes. Furthermore, some individuals that do not understand what intersex is may claim intersex identities, incorrectly thinking it is akin to a type of sexual orientation or solely a gender identity/expression, and may want to be included in counts of intersex individuals. I am very wary, then, or quoting statistics on how many intersex individuals exist, and think all statistics must be taken not with a grain of salt, but perhaps an entire shaker (or more!). The take-home message, however, in looking at these issues in obtaining demographic information on intersex individuals, is that there are likely a hell of a lot more of us than we currently recognize. Our bodies may be atypical, but we're not uncommon.

"That sounds about right, actually." --- This sentence really bugged me since, as I interpret it, considering intersex individuals may have existed in their high school was not a reveleation of, "Oh, hey! Intersex people exist pretty much everywhere! Yay, I'm more aware of this!" It sounds more like, "I remember a lot of weirdos in high school. Intersex = weird, so that pretty much fits the bill." Granted, I AM a total weirdo, but this has nothing to do with my intersex, and everything to do with me being a ridiculous person. Shame on you, Fey, for further freakifying intersex individuals. We get it enough of it from other places.

"You can't solve your problems worrying about them." --- I'm confused. Having an intersex baby = having a baby that is normal, healthy, and beautiful. How is this a problem? Why would you worry about that? Would your problems be solved if your child was not healthy and great? Is that what Kate actually wants? This statement only makes sense in the context of large-scale misunderstanding of what intersex is in many many societies and cultures. Shouldn't this sentence be referencing these skewed societal perceptions, and not the intersex individuals themselves? (A: YES.)

It gets better later in the film when out of nowhere, Kate advises someone not to read the "hermaphrodite" chapter of one of the infamous baby planning books, stating that it'll "give [them] nightmares for weeks." Nice.

All in all, I wasn't thrilled with this unnecessary jab at intersex individuals to get some cheap laughs. (*guffaw, guffaw* CHICKS WITH DICKS *slaps thigh, guffaw*) How 'bout some positive portrayals of intersex, please? 30 Rock, I'm keeping my eye on you.

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