Sunday, February 23, 2014

Intersexphobia: A Word We Need to Start Using

Hi, everyone! I’ve been thinking about something a fellow intersex activist, Hida Viloria, said a few weeks ago – that awareness about intersex and the frequency with which people are(n’t) out about it and (don’t) talk about it is really reminiscent of how things were for gay, lesbian, and other queer people in the 1950’s and earlier in the US. It is widely known and accepted by many that queer people exist, and not only should it be okay to state your sexual orientation, but that you should not face discrimination for it. Those same standards don’t yet exist for intersex people. Intersex is still largely something we are told by our clinicians and our families that this isn’t something we’re supposed to talk about. It’s something we’re supposed to feel “different” about, in a bad way. It’s something we’re supposed to keep on the DL, and make every effort to blend in and not stand out with reference to it. We’re not expected to be out. We’re still largely expected to comform, and to do all the things that go along with conforming – even if it means undergoing having our bodies (maybe permanently) cosmetically altered without our consent, using surgical or non-surgical means. We’re supposed to take hormone pills, get shots.

We’re supposed to be erased so that we don’t make other people uncomfortable with our existence.

This, dear readers, is so obviously bullshit that I think it goes without having to spell it out. Unfortunately, in keeping with the times, this is something that really, really DOES need to be spelled out.

And this is why we need language to call out the discriminatory views, perceptions, stereotypes, and expectations others have about intersex people.

We need to start using – and getting used to hearing – the word “intersexphobic.”

There are TONS of things out there that people are –phobic about. Culturally, in the US, we are used to hearing the terms homophobic and (to some degree) trans*phobic. While not using the term –phobic, we’re also used to identifying forms of discrimination via the –isms. Racism, sexism, classism. Ableism isn’t yet a mainstream term, but it (importantly) exists.

There is not a word that people commonly hear used to describe, isolate, and condemn discrimination against intersex people.

The word “intersexphobia” is the term – or maybe one of several terms we’ll use in time – that is going to raise awareness about the discrimination that intersex people face.

Like any new term, I think the word “intersexphobia” may initially sound strange. It might sound made up (but it is – AS ALL WORDS THAT HAVE EVER BEEN CREATED WERE). It might seem like it deserves some dismissive ridicule – why should such a word need to exist? Is discrimination against intersex people really so bad that we need a word? Are there enough intersex people out there to warrant creating a new word for it? Are intersex people just jumping on the I’m-being-discriminated-against bandwagon and creating another term for people to be PC about and induce eyerolls and anger from people who just want the freedom to say whatever they feel like without people getting all offended?

Listen up. This word needs to exist because the discrimination we face is real and pervasive. Even if others don’t see how intersex people are forgotten, not thought about, and actively erased from our sociocultural worldview, that doesn’t mean that it doesn’t happen. And that doesn’t mean that intersex people don’t feel it, and that it doesn’t hurt. No one likes to be invalidated. We don’t, either.

It doesn’t matter how many intersex people exist in the world. If an intersex person is being discriminated against, that’s not okay. Having language to be able to articulate, “You’re acting really fucked up toward/about intersex people, and you need to reconsider your words and actions,” is really important. We DO need ways to articulate this. Having a word like “intersexphobic” is an effective way to do this. Calling out discrimination does warrant creating and using this word, and spreading the concept it underlies.

Intersex people aren’t jumping on a bandwagon. We’re not, like, over-sensitive sadsacks who are just looking for reasons to get upset or something – which is how people who are brave enough to speak out against discrimination against them are often painted. (Victim-blaming at its best! Don’t ya love it? (…cuz I don’t.)) If people honestly feel that saying, “I have the right to exist as a human who identifies as x, y, and z without being ridiculed or hated for it,” is grounds to play the “oversensitive card,” that’s both 1) totally wrong, and 2) really sad. Arguably sadder? When people have the gall to play the “it’s my right to say and do hateful shit toward you because freedom of speech!” card. Well, last time I checked, I thought it should be my right to not be discriminated against because of my identity. I have very little (i.e., no) sympathy for others who feel that the problem isn’t that they’re discriminating against you and you reasonably are not thrilled about that, but that the problem is you’re denying THEIR right to discriminate against YOU if they feel like it!

Sometimes, people don’t make a lot of sense, ya’ll. But I’m sure you are well aware of this already. In case you haven’t, read just about any comments section after any article or YouTube video on the internet. (Actually, on second thought, don’t, and just take my word for it.)

Intersexphobia is a word we need. If someone is speaking about intersex people in a discriminatory way, that’s intersexphobic. If an intersex person is verbally or physically harassed or assaulted for being intersex, that is intersexphobia at work. When intersex people are used as a punch line for a joke (hermaphrodites are hilarious!), that’s intersexphobic. When others conceptualize intersex people as “natural experiments” to test ideas about sex and gender and don’t recognize the fact that we’re people who have lives and exist in our own right – and that it’s inappropriate to treat us like walking lab animals – that’s intersexphobic. When others perceive intersex as a medical condition, and not simply another natural, biological way of being, that’s intersexphobic. When our bodies are cosmetically altered without our consent to “fix” us and supposedly erase our intersex traits, that’s intersexphobic. When others consider it an acceptable practice to abort a fetus with intersex anatomy, simply because it’s considered undesirable to have an intersex kid or to bring an intersex person into the world, that’s intersexphobic.

There are so many other reasons I could list that show how badly we need this word. I invite you to being thinking about the many, everyday ways that intersex people are erased and discriminated against, and to consider just how important this word is – not just for intersex people, but for society in general, who should accept the intersex people in it.


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