Hi, there! Intersex, as we know, isn't a household word, and isn't a concept most people have heard of before. Subsequently, people may want to know things about intersex, but may go about asking intersex individuals about it in a way that feels yucky to the askee. People asking questions really do want to understand intersex, and so they ask what is on their mind. This sometimes results in inappropriate questions being asked, or questions being asked in inappropriate contexts, that end up being stigmatizing and offensive when they likely didn't mean to be.
So, how do you tell people that what they are asking, or the ways they are asking about intersex, is inappropriate? This can be especially difficult when these are loved ones who support and love you, but have made you wince upon hearing a question you really didn't want to address.
I have some ideas about this! (As usual. Ha!)
Here we go!
1) Let them know your boundaries. As stated, I think the vast majority of the time, people ask questions that can be hurtful because they don't know that they're hurtful. But this doesn't mean that intersex individuals have to respond to questions that make us uncomfortable. For example, let's say someone asks, "Oh, you're intersex? Um, what does your...you know...look like?" (I'm using this as an example because, in my experience, this question and subtle variants on it is probably the most common of inappropriate questions about inersex.) Some responses might include, "I'm actually not comfortable answering that question. I'd be happy to talk about intersex in general, but don't really wanna talk about my *own* body. That's private." "What my own genitals look like really won't give you good insight into the variety of ways that intersex bodies may look or function. It's not really relevant. Intersex bodies, in general, [explainexplainexplain]." These responses help make the distinction between talking about intersex in general and talking about the-intersex-person-right-in-front-of-me. This is important because many questions, if asking about intersex in general, may make an intersex individual totally comfortable answering. But when the question is focused directly on THEM PERSONALLY, it can feel invasive.
These next few responses are appropriate for individuals who aren't necessarily trying to be respectful about intersex. Unfortunately, sometimes people aren't interseted in intersex in general, and are kind of just morbidly fascinated by it (OMG IT'S SO WEIRD THAT WE'RE HUMANS, JUST WALKING AROUND AND DOING STUFF LIKE EVERYONE ELSE LAWL WHAT FREAKS, RITE?!). For these individuals, other approaches to answering their questions may be more appropriate.
REMEMBER: How you answer a question is important, and it may affect your physical safety! Be calm and respectful when answering any questions. The reason you may be upset in the first place is because the person asked something inappropriate...being inappropriate in return won't necessarily remedy the situation. It's worth considering that fighting fire with fire doesn't put the fire out - it just potentially creates a bigger fire.
2) Direct a question back to its asker. If a variant of the question, "What do your genitals look like?" is asked, a response might include, "I dunno. What do *your* genitals look like? Can you describe them in detail for me?" Look at them, and wait for a response. This tactic gets across the point that it's not any more appropriate to ask such a question to someone who's perceived as "different" than to someone that's perceived as "normal." People would likely NEVER ask such a question to someone perceived to be a typical "male" or "female." It's just as not-okay to ask these questions to those who may not fit into or identify as one of two categories.
3) Respond to an absurd question with an absurd answer. Let's say we're dealing with the same question - "What do your genitals look like?" A response might include, "Actually, I have a tiny pink unicorn where most peoples' genitals are located. I also have tiny pots of gold instead of nipples, which somes in handy when the rent's due. cha-CHINNNG!" This answer is obviously absolutely ridiculous, which serves to highlight the ridiculousness of someone asking what their genitals look like. If desired, this can totally be delivered in such a way to make the other person laugh and feel sheepish about asking an absurd question, instead of pissing them off.
Also, it's totally okay if you don't feel like having a conversation about intersex! Ultimately, it's the job of everyone to educate THEMSELVES; it's not the job of those who are perceived as "different" to educate members of the majority about whatever they ask/whenever they ask it. If you are not interested in having a conversation at that time, it's your right to not consent to it! Instead, offer some resources that they could check out regarding intersex, like Organization Intersex International (the USA chapter and Australian chapter are good places to start!), various blogs like this one, Intersex Unicorn, Fuck Yeah, Intersex!, Queer Intersects, or The Intersex Roadshow, or books such as Fixing Sex, by Katrina Karkazis.
It's all about better, respectful, non-stigmatizing communication! Let's talk it out, and keep it up!
Any of you all have ideas for how to respond to questions that might be (accidentally) inappropriate or offensive, or other intersex resources you'd recommend?