Sunday, August 25, 2013

Poland's Next Top Model Contestant Comes Out As Intersex

Michalina Manios, a contestant on Poland's Next Top Model recently came out as intersex. I think it was really courageous of Manios to disclose her intersex status, since she clearly didn't have to. Way to be out and proud, Manios!

I don't love her media quotes or some of her characterizations of intersex, however. She referred to herself as a hermaphrodite, stating that she "had male genitalia," but that she, "had an operation to remove the male bits and changed my name." Some intersex people don't mind the term "hermaphrodite," and do self-identify in this way. But when discussing intersex issues with the public, the term "intersex" is usually used instead of older terms that are more stigmatizing (and biologically inaccurate for humans). That being said, it is possible that, in Polish, there isn't an equivalent word like "intersex" that distinguishes it from "hermaphrodite." Many languages don't have such a word - worse, the term that is used for intersex might be confusing, and sound like it's referring to trans* indiviuals, or queer/homosexual sexual orientations. Or, it's possible Polish does have an "intersex" word equivalent that Manios used, but the journalists reporting on her coming out are not well-versed in intersex issues, and THEY used the term "hermaphrodite," and not Manios. US journalists still frequently make such mistakes; it's totally possible this occurred in Manios's case, too.

I also think that it's a big oversimplification to refer to non-normative intersex genital forms as categorically "male" or "female," as in her description of removing her "male bits." Intersex exists in its own right - our body structures don't have to be understood or individually labeled as male or female. I respect Manios's decision to identify her own parts as male if she wishes, but I think it is problematic to not further explain that not all intersex individuals would characterize their body this way. It is also problematic not to state that not all intersex indiviuduals have "both" male and female bits - which is likely the assumption that readers will walk away with...that our bodies are those of the mythic Greek fable hermaphrodites after all, when they're not.

While I think the articles discussing Manios's coming out have some problems associated with them, I offer all my support to Manios herself. Welcome to the club, Michalina! :)

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