Friday, August 21, 2009

Stay Tuned for Post on Caster Semenya!

Hello, all. If you haven't heard, the IAAF (International Amateur Athletic Federation, governing body for the Olympic Games) publicly announced that investigations are under way to determine if Olympic track and field winner, Caster Semenya of South Africa, might be intersex since her performance results in the past few months of training have improved so drastically.

I have been following this issue closely, and have a LOT to say, but I can't devote the time this post deserves until after I take my qualifying exam (required for my Ph.D. program). Although I'm sure you can all hazard a guess as to which thing I would rather be doing, as I'm on Blogger at 3am, right?... ;)

Expect a post sometime on Thursday or Friday evening of this coming week! Enjoy the rest of your weekend.

Monday, August 17, 2009

Queers United Blog Comments On Its Controversial Lady Gaga Post

Hello, Queers United! Thank you for commenting on my last post, since it was largely about your portrayal of Lady Gaga. I have decided to comment in a new blog, because I think it’s important that readers see where you were coming from, and also how some members of the intersex community may feel about your motivations.

The following comment you provided is below:

I did say it was uncomfirmed and that the quote was rumor until we could find a source. I put a question mark on the post because until Lady Gaga announces it we are all speculating. It would be great for the intersex community if she were a visible spokesperson. I suspect she isn't intersex because she used twitter to say "suck my hermy dick" which she is probably just capitalizing on the fame on not actually IS. I hope to do more intersex coverage that is positive, this article wasn't a good one, please look to my numerous others. Do you have any suggestions on how I can be a better advocate for intersex?

I understand that your title, “Lady Gaga Comes Out as Intersexed?” has a question mark at the end. However, your first sentence follows up that question mark with the following: “Pop star sensation Lady Gaga surprised her millions of fans by parading on stage without an [sic] underwear showing that she is intersex and has male and female genitalia.” Emphasis mine. Later, you state, “If indeed Lady Gaga is intersexed and this is not a rumor…” (emphasis mine). Huh? I thought you already stated she was intersex. In short, your title and your text contradicts one another, and serves only to confuse the reader. If you want readers to keep an open mind and assume that you haven’t agreed with unconfirmed quotes and statements, that needs to be made clear.

No, it would not be great for the intersex community if Lady Gaga was a spokesperson. The reason for that is because there is no evidence that she “came out.” Coming out is a willful, intentioned choice made by a person when they are ready to do so. Pulling down the skirt that accidentally rode up during a performance, and then suffering an onslaught of media speculation as to Gaga’s sex and gender identity is THE FARTHEST THING FROM COMING OUT POSSIBLE. This incident should be called what it is – not a coming out – but an exploitation and sensationalization of intersex and transgender individuals.

Now, if Lady Gaga were to have decided to TRULY come out – to make a formal statement that she was, in fact, intersex, transgender, etc. – and she was proud of who she was despite historical discrimination against people whose bodies and/or identities fall outside the standard-accepted norm, then I think she would be a great spokesperson. Rock on, Lady Gaga! Great for you! But since she has clearly not done so, it is extremely misguided and dangerous to expect that it is now Lady Gaga’s due to represent the respective group of people to which she may or may not identify. It is unclear why Queers United would assume Lady Gaga would want to be “the face of intersexed” in the first place. With her “quote” rampant over the internet and her video posted just alongside it, I’d say that Lady Gaga’s own wishes and desires are clearly not being taken into account.

I would have to agree that she likely isn’t intersex not because of her apparent Tweet (assuming she, in fact, wrote that as well!) because her supposed quote is completely biologically inaccurate. I refer you back to my original post as to why her stated morphology isn’t humanly possible. If she were truly an intersex person (or even a person who is intersex-aware), she would never have made such a cleary untrue statement.

To further discuss her Tweet, do you really believe that “suck my hermy dick” is a blatant attention-catching phrase screaming, “LOOK AT ME! I’LL SAY ANYTHING FOR SOME ATTENTION, EVEN IF I HAVE TO LIE!”? Have you, perhaps, considered that Lady Gaga is possibly feeling outraged and violated? (And reasonably so.) Lady Gaga is already famous. Does someone already with “millions of fans,” in no danger of losing them at the moment, need to pull a publicity stunt that would sensationalize themselves and implicate the morbidly-fascinated gazes of millions more? This is victim-blaming at its finest. Lady Gaga’s personal life, which NO ONE has the right to comment on or announce, has been made into a circus show without her consent, and somehow this is of her own doing? If she wanted to announce herself as intersex/trans for the sake of attention and not awareness, one would imagine she would simply flaunt her genitals, karyotype and hormone level readouts, body hair, etc. for all to see. Lady Gaga’s skirt rode up. She pulled it down in a seemingly quite quick and discreet manner, and has not referenced that moment throughout the rest of her performance or afterward, perhaps until her Tweet. Those are not actions of an attention-seeker. Stop victim-blaming Lady Gaga.

I, too, would be thrilled if Queers United covered intersex issues in a positive way, that reflected both the biological realities of intersex individuals and respect and concern for intersex individuals’ experiences – both of which your post failed to do. I have several suggestions as to how Queers United can be better intersex advocates:

1) Read some literature to understand what intersex anatomy and physiology is. I included a few links in my previous post, and have many more links prepared for my next two posts, but if you would like some pointers as to where to go, I would be more than happy to do this for you. (There’s far too many essentials to list right here.)

2) Do not confuse intersex individuals with hermaphrodites. While some animals qualify as hermaphrodites, humans do not.

3) Read more literature about intersex experiences, health concerns, etc. There is a lot of shame many intersex people feel from families, physicians, etc. because they do not feel as though they belong. You cannot understand how hurtful media coverage like this is unless you have a glimpse into the deeply-entrenched, long-standing shame and confusion intersex individuals often feel about themselves, how they relate to their world, and what their place is in it. Testimonials are your friend.

4) Read about clinical issues faced by intersex individuals. It’s not a simple “identity crisis” problem – that’s completely reductionist. The fact is that unnecessary genital surgeries (“gender assignment surgeries”) both for “cosmetic reasons” and to ensure “a normal sex life” are being performed often without consent by the intersex individuals or their families and/or with lack of information as to why the surgeries are performed and what purpose they serve. In truth, many of these surgeries seek to “normalize” external genitalia, but the results often don’t closely resemble un-surgeried “normal” genitals anyway. Additionally, such normalization often includes removing the enlarged clitoris/small penis, which also removes nerves necessary for orgasm. How normal can sex be if orgasm is an impossibility? Urging one to undergo surgery on the internal portions of genitalia also assume heterosexual intercourse; intersex individuals that choose not to have penetrative sex have had surgery, then, for naught. There are many issues about genital surgeries that I will discuss in future posts, but it is necessary to understand. (And surgeries aside, there may be problems with bone health as age progresses, as well as other tentative health concerns that have not been well-researched as of yet.)

5) Engage with other intersex individuals, and invite more of them to contribute to Queers United. I suspect that you must not have many, if any, intersex people actively working on blog posts, because I cannot imagine that any intersex individual on Queers United would have allowed that post to be published.

6) Do not blame victims that clearly didn’t bring undue and scandalous media attention on themselves. Do not try to justify it. It is simply not justifiable.

7) Write articles that do not exploit intersex individuals. You assert you’ve written “numerous other” articles that were not discriminatory against intersex individuals, but as activists and advocates, it is unacceptable to write ANY discriminatory article. You may have written the most fair and nuanced awareness pieces to have ever been written about intersex people, but that does not mean that you are above criticism when your posts undo the good work your blog tries to accomplish. You are not entitled to write shitty, unfair articles just because you feel you have some good ones in your crown.

Thank you again for reading, Queers United. I hope that this was helpful, and that we won’t see any more posts of this nature from you in the future. Lady Gaga, your readers, and transgender and intersex individuals everywhere deserve an apology.

Sunday, August 16, 2009

Not So Gaga Over Lady Gaga Sensationalism...

Hi, everyone. I am currently in hiding for the next few weeks, preparing for horrid exams I have to take by the summer’s end. (Ah, the joys of graduate school…) I already had topics planned out for the next two posts, but I had to derail my plans for a moment and write a quick blog in consideration of all of the Lady Gaga brouhaha going on. [Ssh! Just don’t tell my advisor! I should be studying… ;) ]

Apparently, a tape of a recent Lady Gaga performance shows her, at 1:10, dismounting from the bright red motorcycle she was sitting on while singing. At about 1:14, Gaga pulls her skirt down, as it’s ridden up too high. (Don’tcha just hate that?) So what, right? While uncomfortable, this isn’t (or at least shouldn’t be) news. The brouhaha comes about because Lady Gaga’s genitals are partially exposed for a brief moment since she wasn’t wearing underwear, and some viewers have asserted her genitals appear penile in form. The Queers United blog explains the footage by proclaiming that Lady Gaga is actually intersex, and lists a quote from her, stating that she’s not ashamed to be intersex, having both female and male genitalia.

Um. WHAT?! Does this honestly make any sense to anyone? (Sadly, the answer is yes.)

I call bullshit on the Queers United post for several reasons. First of all, Lady Gaga’s quote can’t possibly be true, because intersex-aware people know that “intersex” does NOT equal “hermaphrodite.” The quote, specifically cites Gaga possessing both female and male external genitalia, and the language leads one to assume this means a penis and a vagina, each of normal form. (“I have both a poon and a peener. Big [fucking] deal.”) However, the penis and clitoris, and the scrotum and the labia, respectively, are derived from the same developmental tissue, so it’s impossible for humans to possess both sets of “male” and “female” external genitals. That being said, there is a highly variable range of external genitalia an intersexed individual may possess, from ambiguous genitals, to a micropenis, an enlarged clitoris, to not having a vagina at all, or even to having genitals we’d immediately register as “normal” male or female varieties. Which leads us to remember that external genital form isn’t the sole diagnostic characteristic of intersex individuals. Intersex individuals may have one or a combination of external genitals, internal sex organs, hormone levels, collection of chromosomes (or karyotype), musculature, bone structure, secondary sexual traits (e.g., breasts, body hair distribution) that are atypical according to “male” and “female” standards. A person is considered intersex when they possess at least one such atypical trait (e.g., an individual has a line down the back of their penis, with no other atypical characteristics) or a suite of traits that, when paired together, are considered atypical (e.g., a person with seemingly large, penis-like clitoris, scrotum-like labia, XX chromosomes, and a deep voice, as might be exhibited in some individuals with Congenital Adrenal Hyperplasia). For a website that is supposedly an activist blog discussing, in part, “intersexual” issues, the poster(s) seem(s) to be largely unaware of what may or may not constitute an intersex individual.

Second of all, why would one immediately grab their megaphones and yell, “INTERSEX!” when viewing Lady Gaga’s genitals? The brief moment of footage doesn’t allow one to see much. Even if some viewers are comfortable stating Gaga’s genitals appeared penile, how does translate into an intersex classification? Can one supposedly see both full sets of external genitals, as Gaga’s questionable quote claims she possesses? If one takes on a biologically accurate view of intersex, can one see any atypical genital forms discussed above? Can one use their X-ray vision and assess Lady Gaga’s hormone levels or karyotype? Or her muscle and bone structure? Even if we (inaccurately) decide to go just on external genitalia, I don’t think even carrot addicts with 20-20 vision could positively ID Gaga as intersex in that footage.

Finally, if Lady Gaga has decided to announce that she’s intersex in mainstream media, why do we see no other statements in other news and literature sources? As Lisa astutely points out, there isn’t even any mention of her announcing herself as intersex on her official blog – one place you’d surely think she’d address the video and her quote. It’s hard to believe anyone opening with “It’s not something I’m ashamed of…” would remain zip-lipped to anyone but apparently Queers United. I take the stance of Incredible Shrinking Phallus and Lisa from Questioning Transphobia: whether or not Lady Gaga is intersex, transgender, a flying pink elephant, or anything else, it is none of our business unless Gaga chooses to share that with us. And from where we’re sitting right now, it’s highly dubious she’s choosing to do just that. And more importantly, it’s HER RIGHT to do or not do so.

Overall, I’m appalled that Queers United would create posts containing highly questionable quotes and fundamental biologically inaccuracies. But most of all, I’m angry that the post served to sensationalize Lady Gaga herself and intersex individuals by presenting it as a juicy tidbit of gossip, and not addressing her experiences as a person who is intersex, trans, etc. It's absolutely horrid to think that this experience may force Lady Gaga to address such a personal issue that doesn't concern anyone else. How can activist sites generate awareness about issues of interest to effect positive change by spreading misinformation and dramatizing the reality of many individuals’ lives? This entire thing is just a shame.

Thanks to Feministing for first alerting me to this issue!