Monday, September 17, 2012

I'm Intersex, NBD

Had another casual referencing of the fact that I'm intersex in a group of people - some of who knew, and some who didn't. One individual who knew tacfully asked if I was still doing presentations, without specifying what kind of presentations I was doing. I said that yes, I was!, and we made tentative plans to schedule an event in the future for some of her colleagues.

A new acquaintance then asked, "What kind of presentations do you do?" I felt comfortable in this group, so I said, "Oh, I give presentations about intersex - what it is, why it's considered a controversial topic, and why it's necessary to spread awareness about our bodies and the fact that they're okay and natural." I internally hesitated slightly, waiting for the reaction to "our" - clearly outing myself as intersex. No one cared, no one asked inappropriate questions, and everyone was respectful. It was really gratifying. :)

This is what it should look like. Looking forward to more no-big-deal interactions like this! :D

Monday, September 10, 2012


Hi, there, lovelies! I have been (unsurprisingly) considering language and identity YET AGAIN.

It won't stop! ;)

I have heard the phrase "dyadic" a few times since talking to intersex activists and in reading about intersex in general. I didn't really understand what this word meant at first, but in context, I came to realize that it was shorthand for "non-intersex."

This puzzled me a bit.

I don't think it would be a bad idea to have an adjective meaning "non-intersex." Having a term like "intersex" without an opposite serves to identify an individual as intersex, but doesn't really help you understand what a not-intersex person is. The implication is that non-intersex people are just "normal," and because they're "normal," they don't need to have an extra word applied to them. The extra-word burden is on those people that are different. But having an opposite-word can be really important, because instead of having the "normal" state of being and the weirdo one with the funny name, having two words means that for this state of being, there's more than one way to be. There's no value judgment implicit in having multiple terms for a different states of being like there is in having a term only for the less-typical one.

This can be exemplified by looking at the words "transgender" and "cisgender." The concept of cisgender wasn't something that existed when people initially were using the term transgender. There were transgender people, and then there was everyone else. The implication was that these non-trans* people were normal, so no other label had to be applied to them. But later, trans* individuals began using the word cisgender to refer to non-trans* people. Having both of these terms sent out a message that asserted, "Hey! There's different ways you can be. Some people are cisgender, some people are transgeder. Ya got choices, yo!" It allows individuals to see that the more common identity isn't inherently more valid or's just perceived that way by the majority.

I'm not against having another term for non-intersex people, but I don't think that dyadic is the greatest choice. The term dyadic means "two" - a dyad, a pair. By calling a non-intersex person a dyadic male or female, you're basically saying that everyone who's not intersex fits nicely into that binary of male, female. But the fact that intersex people exist at all means that there is, and never was, dyadic sex as long as intersex people were around. By using the term dyadic to refer to non-intersex people, it totally glosses over the implications of intersex people existing: that binary sex is actually real.

If biological sex isn't binary, then using a term like "dyadic" to describe non-intersex makes about as much sense as saying we've got a binary color wheel that's composed of red and blue, when we know full well that there's purple and orange and magenta out there, being awesome. What phrase could we use instead? I'd love to hear some suggestions. But whatever they are, they shouldn't uphold this idea that somehow, despite our existence, the idea of dyadic biological sex is still legit.

Anyone got any ideas for terms that could be used?

Interconnected Identities

I have been thinking about some interesting things regarding identity. Principally, how interconnected our various identities are. Each of our identities don’t exist in a vacuum, completely independent from all the others; in fact, many of our identities are built upon each other, so that it is not necessarily intuitive to describe yourself in one way while simultaneously claiming another identity that contradicts the first.

Let me explain.

Tricia, intersex activist and blogger of Intersex Unicorn, had a great post describing her sexual orientation after a reader inquired how an intersex person determines their sexual orientation. Her sexual orientation is, “I like girls.” Tricia explained her multiword identity by reminding us that since she identifies her sex as intersex, the use of standard terms out there wouldn’t be authentic to her. For example, lesbian didn’t feel right since it more strictly refers to a woman-identified person that is attracted to other women; Tricia didn’t feel her intersex identity matched up with this definition. Because of this, she chose to express her sexual orientation as, “I like girls.”

I've read accounts from intersex individuals, or in books about intersex, that indicate that one’s perception of your identities may change after learning about your intersex. For instance, a casual conversation about being athletic a few moments before may take on new meaning after learning about one's intersex. A doctor that learned this information from a patient getting her yearly check-up would likely have read her as a woman who happens to like to play sports, or maybe a tomboy. After learning about her intersex, this girl's love of sports meant something different. Confirming her love of sports would simply reinforce her intersex identity to this doctor. She would not be both an intersex person and a person who was athletic, separately – she'd be an an individual who was athletic as a RESULT of being intersex. This individual's sex identity is linked to her love of sports.

Identity is extremely complex, and I don’t feel that an individual’s many identities have to match up in a way that’s seen as intuitive or “normal” according to a culture’s mainstream views and attitudes – one’s identities just need to be authentic to that individual. That being said, it is worth noting how consideration of one’s intersex shifts how that person’s other identities are constructed, described, and read by others. Many standard terms for identities are based upon the assumption of one’s biological sex as male or female, and for some of us, those assumptions simply can’t be made. How will we go about creating identities for ourselves that fit comfortably and feel authentic by accounting for our intersex? I don’t think that any such identities would need to be standardized since identity is so personal, although it’s interesting to consider that some terms could hypothetically catch on and be used in a (more-or-less) standardized way.

Although finding new ways to describe oneself can be a frustrating venture, in some ways, this could get downright fun. Let me know if you have created any identities accounting for intersex that you particularly like!

Sometimes I Take Them

Sometimes I take them, sometimes I don’t.

I often keep them on my desk, pushed back behind the stacks of bills and papers I should’ve already sent out and filed away. Or on my bureau, somewhere visible between the tissue box and my cacti and the TV I rarely watch because I don’t have cable. I try to hide them, and I try to remember them. Other times, I throw the orangey-brown vial into my purse – or more rarely, my backpack – and hear the pills shaking along as I move like maracas. I sometimes put this vial into my purse's outside flaps or the top zipped pocket of my Jansport, where I’ll hear its insistent percussion more clearly, and I’ll relent and take a pill. Other times I bury it deep under keys and papers and cardigans and gum wrappers so I can’t hear it, but get to feel slightly responsible for at least carrying them with me as though I might take one anytime. I try to remember them, and I try to hide them.

It is not particularly hard to take a pill every day. My doctors and my parents have encouraged me to get into a routine – to take it at the same time every day, so I won’t forget. Sometimes I try to do this for a day or two, but most of the time, I don’t want to be disciplined about taking those pills. I don’t want that routine. And yet I want to be able to take them every day, without these mixed feelings, because what they symbolize to me, in part, is not really what they are at all.

My body doesn’t make estrogen, and it doesn’t respond to testosterone. If my gonads had not been removed as an infant, I wouldn’t have been able to use the testosterone (at least not directly, but more on that later). I have taken estrogen since a very young age – 8 years old, at the time I first started seeing clinicians for my intersex. After being withheld information, and given “facts” that conceptualized intersex as a weird, shameful disease...after much confusion and soul-searching and internet-ing for hours and hours when I was alone in my college dorm room...after finally gaining context that intersex bodies are normal and natural and healthy and beautiful – I was angry. I was angry that intersex was presented as a medical condition, a thing to be fixed, when it was so clear that I didn’t need fixing, that there was nothing wrong with me. What really needs fixing is how intersex is perceived, how clinicians intervene to alter our bodies without our consent when these treatments don’t track our health.

And so I’m ambivalent about taking my pills. I either don’t take them for days or weeks as they stare me in the face, or when they run out, I fail to fill my prescription for weeks or even months at a time. Having to take a pill every day is a reminder of how medicalized intersex is, and my refusal to get and take pills is my own personal protest that my intersex should have anything to do with clinicians at all. Other times I’m terrified about not taking them. Sex hormones are really important for bone health, and throughout our lives, estrogen and testosterone play crucial roles in depositing new bone and removing the old stuff. I understand that if I don’t take these pills, I may have severe bone loss as I age. I don’t want my arm and leg bones to be the size of pencils when I’m forty. No way. So I take them.

I also consider that the daily pill I have taken for years would actually have been unnccessary had I been able to keep the body I was born with. My testes produced testosterone, which would have naturally been converted estrogen inside my body. Many times, I am aware that the substance contained in that chalky white pill I swallow is something I used to make, myself. I didn't need help, or doctors, or a reason to shell out for my co-pay every few weeks. I am in the fortunate position of having both access to medicine and health insurance, so comparatively, I am very privileged, and lucky. But it's strange to think that this whole process could've been sidestepped had someone just let me keep all the body parts I had at birth. Sometimes the hoops you jump through as an intersex person are really strange.

I vacillate back and forth. By refusing to take these pills, I am not rectifying any of the things I wish I could about my past. Each time I avoid my meds, I won't erase a traumatic memory from my brain – poof, gone, I don’t have to think about that anymore. Not taking a pill won’t karmically send of jolt of doubt into my former clincians’ hearts, so that they wonder whether the “treatments” I received were appropriate, these treatments that I couldn’t say yes or no to and have changed my body forever. Wonder whether they will make the same decisions when other intersex kids pass into the hospital room with one body, one sense of self, and leave the room with different ones. My choice to take or not take a pill affects only me, and no one else. My anti-pill protest is not logical. I know this. Taking these hormones every day is an act of self-care, something I want to do for myself. But sometimes I can’t, and although I understand why, my reasons for not doing so are flawed.

After holding and hiding the hundreds of vials I’ve had throughout my young life, I realize that they say something greater about my intersex. These vials perfectly symbolize how medicine and clinicians can be involved with intersex individuals by addressing our actual health concerns, instead of trying to “fix” and alter our bodies so that we’re more easily shoved into one box or the other. We don’t know what the effects of hormone replacement are on our bodies over time. We don’t know how bone density may affect intersex individuals throughout our lives, with or without taking hormones. There’s very little research out there addressing things that are medically relevant to us. Intersex is not a medical condition, but there are legitimate medical concerns that are relevant for particular forms of intersex. If clinicians shifted their focus to address our health concerns with our consent, and not our genital form without it, the relationship between intersex and medicine would be radically different.

Today I’m going to take my pill, because I’m feeling more hopeful, I’m taking my future self to heart. But I know that the next day I’m pissed off enough to chuck those damn pills out the window, let them scatter and roll all the way down the block – I have some compelling reasons to gently put the bottle back. Maybe things are looking up.