Thursday, November 18, 2010

Intersex Activist Event!: Dec 16, 7pm, Wooden Shoe Books, Philadelphia, PA

Hi, everyone! I will be speaking about intersex - what it is, how it's perceived by the medical-industrial complex and mainstream Western society, and how these perceptions inform the human rights abuses committed against intersex individuals. This event will be part-lecture, part-Q&A. I don't want to just talk at individuals, but allow for all participants to be active participants, generating interactive discourse about intersex.

If you're available, I'd love to see you there! This event will be held at the fabulous Wooden Shoe Books, a collective, radical volunteer-run bookstore and activist center. The event will be on December 16th at 7pm.

If you can't make it to this event, no worries! I'm planning more speaking events in the NY, PA, and NJ area soon, and would definitely be open to going further afield in the US if the opportunity arose and I had the means to do so.

Thanks for your support, whether in physical presence or in spirit. <3

Friday, November 12, 2010

Intersex Is Entertaining!: Freaks and Geeks

Welcome back for another round of dissecting how popular entertainment perceives intersex individuals, and how closely these perceptions track reality.

Although I'll be looking at some medical shows in the future (like ER and House), I really liked discussing Juno previously was because it was something I hadn't heard others talking about before. In this vein, I want to discuss an episode from the totally heartwarming, cult classic television show, Freaks and Geeks.

This come-of-age, slice-of-life comedy-drama (um, holy hyphenation, Batman...I'm out of control) depicts two groups of outcast misfits, and their middle-/high-school trials and tribulations. I haven't seen the entire series, but from what I have seen, it's fantastic, and easy to see why it's both critically acclaimed and bemoaned for having been cancelled after the first season.

Imagine my delight, then, when my partner told me there was a Freaks and Geeks episode on intersex! I was really psyched.

Unfortunately, whatever hype may rightfully be attributed to this show ultimately can't be applied to Episode 17 - "The Little Things." (Or try here at Veoh, since you WMG won't authorize audio track on 2 of the 5 parts on YouTube. Freaking corporations. Be warned, though: my computer may now be acting weird after visiting Veoh. Just sayin'.)

This intersex portion of this episode focuses on Ken (Seth Rogen) talking to his girlfriend Amy, who he's been seen earlier in the episode being cute and cuddly with, and praising her awesomeness. In one scene, while Ken and Amy snuggle on Amy's bed, Ken discloses that he doesn't invite Amy to his house because he hates spending time there. As an example of how disconnected he his to his parents, he discloses that he was raised by a nanny and not so much by his parents. Amy states that she didn't know that, and is glad Ken told her.

Here's where the problems start. In return, Amy says she's got something to tell. She bolts straight-up and positions her body in confrontation-mode, making Ken promise he won't freak out. Ken is seemingly a bit confused. After all, what the hell could be such a crisis, right? (He actually says, "If you killed someone or somethin'...*trails into incoherent mumbling*.") Whatever Amy's doing, this is apparently how to scare the living daylights out of someone.

After a brief moment of denfensiveness, Amy states that at birth, she "had the potential to be male or female," being born with "both male and female parts." Ken deadpans, "Uh-huh..." looking like he already mentally checked out of the conversation that was set up to fail from the beginning. Amy states that her parents and the doctors decided to "make [her] a girl, and thank god, because that's who I am," and follows it with, "it's still a big part of my life, and [I] thought you should know."

Ken sure doesn't look like he's glad he knows, though. Actually, Ken looks like he's going to faint or hurl or implode from sheer discomfort. He tries to comfort the visibly-upset Amy with something eloquent like, "You know, it uh, er, uh, er, uh, you're- uh, er, - you're all girl now." (And repeating it later.) And then, as an apparent mood-lightening joke, "You know, if I were dating you when you were just born, things might be a little different because...uh...all that stuff, and *trails into incoherent mumbling again*," as well as, "I had my appendix out, so...uh, I've been there."

The next day in school, Ken can barely communicate with Amy about going to chemistry class and Salisbury steak before going in for an awkward, eye-wandering hug instead of a kiss before she trudges away, looking defeated. Later, they're sitting, not touching each other, on a wooden table outside, and Amy defensively calls him out. "You can't even look at me!" Ken counters with, "How am I supposed to act after ya tell me...somethin' like that?" and then, "I don't know what to do! There's nothin' I can do...I can't change it!" Amy asks him if he can "live with it," and Ken responds, "Live with what? It's over. You know, move on." Amy counters he doesn't get it, "...that no matter what the doctors did, there's always gonna be some part of [her] that's...*stops abruptly, like it's too horrific to go on." "...a guy?" Ken helpfully offers. Amy is none to pleased with this, but it gets Ken staring off in the distance, mulling over his suggestion.

In the next scene, at a sleepover with guy friends Nick (Jason Segel) and Daniel (James Franco), Ken states he's gonna break up with Amy, out of the blue. After making half-hearted excuses, he decides to disclose Amy's intersex to his buds - "...and not to tell anyone, EVER, okay?" After a pause, "Amy's not really a girl." After a well-placed, "Huh?", he explains she's "a girl, but she's- she's kinda part guy, too." Amazingly, this doesn't clear up his friends' confusion, so he offers that, "when she was born, she was carrying both the gun, AND the holster." Cut to James Franco's WTFBBQ face. Nick asks, also rather eloquently, "Well...uh, erm, uh, does she have, uh...the gun?" "NO!" Ken responds, as though keeping all her own body parts was a ridiculous notion. "The doctors...took care of it." Nick thinks it's cool, cause she's a girl now, but Daniel says, "I don't think it works that way. Ya better get rid of her." He says he might love her, though, to which Daniel responds, "Does that mean that you're gay?" Daniel says he was joking, but Nick now has he gay for maybe loving Amy?

So he goes to the guidance counselor the next day, and telling that, "...there's a small - little - chance...I might" The counselor responds that it's cool, but Ken suddenly becomes uncomfortable after learning that the guidance counselor himself is not gay, as he had assumed. (And we all know what ASSumptions do, amirite?) After a quick, "I think I better get goin'..." he indulges in listening to a bit of music before pulling out a super-secret-looking manilla envelope with two pornographic magazines - one featuring females, and one males. The scene ends with him staring from one cover to the other, looking confused as hell.

Later, Ken and Amy arrive to meet up with some friends, including Lindsay (Linda Cardellini) and Kim (Busy Philipps). Daniel casually says, "Hey, guys." Ken aggressively counters, "What's that supposed to mean...Daniel?" After pointedly staring from Daniel to Amy to Daniel again, Daniel holds up his hands, saying, "Ah, geez, Ken, I didn't mean it like that..." But Ken's not havin' it. He clocks Daniel, who falls off the fence or post or whatever he was sitting on, and his other friends yell at Ken for punching Dan. Amy, putting it together that Ken discussed their private conversation with others, says, "Oh, my god," and runs off, horrified. Ken runs off to catch up with Amy, while Lindsay and Kim stand there in shock that Daniel isn't going after Ken to beat the crap out of him. Ken taps on Amy's window, and apologizes for being an idiot, but now it's Amy that's not havin' it. She wipes away some tears, shuts her eyes, and ignores Ken, who stalks off dejectedly. On the way home, Daniel gives him a lift, indicating they're cool with one another.

The next day, Ken and his friend Lindsay's younger brother, Sam (John Francis Daly), run into one another in the bathroom. Sam is grumpy and nervous about breaking up with his girlfriend - a stuck-up, belitting, controlling jerk that everyone has been encouraging him to keep dating the entire episode because she's hot and popular (and he's not widely considered either of those things). Ken shares that he's thinking about breaking up with his girlfriend as well, since things are "...very, very complicated." Sam bemoans that he and his girlfriend have nothing in common, and he has no fun when he's with her. Ken can't empathize, because his girlfriend is cool, and he does have fun with her. "God, then, what's the problem?" a cranky Sam shoots off. Ken pauses, and eventually kind of smiles and says, "I don't know."

With his newfound enlightenment, Ken rushes to find Amy among the other band kids to see her before she plays tuba for President Bush. (...Just go with it.) He blurts out, "I'm sorry...and I don't care...I'm so sorry." And then they go in for a hug and kiss, while her tuba bashes him in the head. (Karma! Yesssssssss)

In short, this entire episode is a shitshow for a whole bunch of reasons.
1) Intersex isn't some horrible, awful thing that requires you to terrify your conversation partner before discussing it. A lot of how people react to what you say is how you present it. Prefacing an otherwise really boring, mundane conversation with a scare-your-pants-off tactic somehow makes even what you packed for lunch today somewhat sinister. If you discuss talking about your healthy, normal intersex body without shame attached to it, your companion will be much more likely to have a positive, productive conversation about intersex with you. Conversely, if you present it like it's something to be ashamed about, they're probably going to internalize that view. This is a far cry from saying that it is easy to talk about intersex; there ARE certain things that are difficult to talk about, and it can be really great to be open enough to say, "Some of the things I want to discuss are difficult for me to do so, but it's important to me to do so, and I trust and value you enough as a friend to have this conversation with you." But authentically and candidly voicing your negative feelings surrounding some lived experiences is really different than generating P!A!N!I!C! regarding something that truly isn't an emergency - medical, socio-cultural, or otherwise.

2) Amy really poorly explained intersex. I can't blame Ken for being super-confused regarding what intersex is throughout the entire episode. If intersex were explained properly - as a biological way of being (and not a medical condition) that doesn't necessarily have anything to do with gender identity, sexual orientation, etc. - then Ken may have been able to act appropriately with accurate information in hand. It's painful to see him go to his guidance counselor and initiate awkward conversations with friends wondering if he's gay or if Amy's "really" female, but if this is seriously how intersex was described to you, would you have reacted so differently? I'm unsure that I would have.

3) Amy says she's born with "male and female parts." Since intersex is essentialized by genitals, the viewer likely assumes she means both a penis and vagina at once. This is echoed in no uncertain terms later by Ken, asserting that Amy is packing both "gun and holster." There are lots of biological traits that we designate "male" or "female," and many of these aren't external genitalia, including body hair distrubution, breast development, nipple development, hormone types, hormone levels, bone structure, musculature, internal sex organs, and chromosomes. Amy could've been talking about ANY of these traits, but the focus is on the genitals. It appears that the writers didn't do enough (any?) research to truly understand what intersex is.

4) Amy expresses relief that her parents "made the right choice" in assigning her female, and performing genital mutilation surgery to feminize her external genitalia. How would the episode look if Amy was NOT happy about the choice that her parents made - whether or not she felt female in terms of sex or gender? The issue of right to consent to medical procedures that are not for health benefits is not discussed. While Amy might be happy she was assigned female, this episode does not address the fact that Amy could've been just as happy had surgery not been performed at all, and she'd been given the agency to decide what was done to her own body when she was able to consent - thus allowing HER to make the right choice for HERSELF. Additionally, none of the very common after-effects of genital mutilation surgery were discussed - in Amy's probable case of clitoral surgery, painful/lack of sexual sensation (including orgasm), severe scarring, trauma from multiple surgeries, etc.

5) Amy states that intersex is a "big part of [her] life," but doesn't explicate upon this. Why is it a big part of her life? This would've been a great opportunity to discuss the physical and psycho-emotional trauma intersex individuals commonly experience as a result of their experiences with the medical-industrial complex, through the sum of her own lived experiences. But she doesn't do this. If something is such a big part of her life, why wouldn't she expand upon this to help Ken (and us viewers!) understand why?

6) Ken states twice that Amy's "all girl now." Amy is all girl as long as she says she's all girl - whether or not she received genital mutilation surgery. Medical "treatment" doesn't legitimize one's sex and gender identities. Amy is who she says she is, and that should be taken seriously, at face value, because no one can know who Amy is except Amy herself. Period.

7) Ken states that "things might be a little different because...uh...all that stuff," indicating that he would be reluctant at best to date Amy if genital mutilation surgery hadn't been performed on her. Having undergone surgery without consent doesn't make one more eligible date.

8) Ken lightheartedly compares intersex genital mutilation surgery as akin to getting one's appendix out. This normalizes the view that intersex is a medical condition in need of fixing, and that medical "treatment" serves to "fix" the problem of being intersex. Not cool.

9) Apparently, it's so shaming to learn that someone is intersex that it is perfectly acceptable to not want to look them in the eye or touch them after being told "...something like that." It could totally be catching, right?! Great job, Ken.

10) Ken tells Amy to "move on" from her lived experiences because "it's over." This implies that because Amy underwent genital mutilation surgery, her ordeals being intersex are over! YAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAY! While well-intentioned, telling Amy to just get the eff over it invalidates her lived experiences, and erases both her past and identity as an intersex individual. Ultimately, it is a move toward erasure of intersex individuals in general - removing the freaks from all the good, "normal" people out there that were fortunate enough not to be born as weirdos. This also indicates that once medical "treatment" is performed, the intersex individual is "fixed," and thus doesn't really have to think about intersex ever again if they don't want to, because it's a non-issue. However, intersex individuals - whether or not they identify as intersex - often deal with the aftermath of the trauma they underwent during treatment, in their family lives, etc for the rest of their lives.

11) Amy clearly isn't out regarding her intersex, so Ken had no right to disclose Amy's intersex status to others without consulting her first.

12) Daniel's urging to "get rid of her" when Ken discloses Amy's intersex status indicates that they're something wrong with intersex individuals, and a desire to date them is misplaced, inappropriate, and kind of creepy and weird. This definitely overlaps with queer-phobia ("OMG KEN YOU CAN'T DATE SOMEONE WHO'S KIND OF A BOY THEN UR GAY WTF LOLZ") as well as trans-phobia (since Amy's now-perceived sex and gender indentities don't match up in Daniel's mind with Amy's stated sex and gender identities). This whole scene is really pathetic in how generally -phobic it is.

13) Who keeps their porn in a manilla envelope? (Seriously.)

14) More conflation of sex and gender variables occurs when Ken assumes his guidance counselor is gay based on...what, exactly? How he acts? dresses? What? *Kennnnn...?!*

15) Ken's overreaction at Daniel's use of the plural, "guys" when addressing Ken and Amy reinforces the fact that no matter how Amy identifies herself, she'll always kind of be a guy or something anyway. By virtue of Amy being intersex, Ken's incorrect notions have priority over Amy's professed identities.

16) Don't go in for a passionate kiss when your head is close to heavy metal things, dumbass. Really?

The one great thing about the intersex portion of this episode is that Ken comes around to the realization that Amy fucking rocks, and neither her sex and gender identities or her intersex lived experiences are going to change that. He loves Amy for the person she is, and throwing away his great relationship isn't worth it just because her body form is less typical. But, this heartwarming ending is simply too little, too late; a few seconds of smooching amidst shiny things doesn't make up for an entire episode's worth of ignorance.

Intersex people aren't freaks. You'd think a show called Freaks and Geeks would've gotten that, right?

Tuesday, November 2, 2010

Fear of the Unknown or Unheard Of Affects Perceptions of Intersex

Humans are verifiably stuffed with misinformation.

One experience regarding this that sticks out in my mind was two years ago, when an acquaintance vehemently denied that vegan diets were healthful. I had recently switched from my 3-year-long laco-ovo vegetarian diet (i.e., I still ate eggs and dairy products) to veganism (i.e., I excluded eggs, dairy products, and any other animal products from my diet). This acquaintance was unsupportive of veganism, and warned me to be careful that my body would not "shut down." I discussed the research I had done before becoming vegan - both reading scholarly sources and talking to long-time vegan friends - before both deciding to commit to veganism, and to ensure that my transition would be safe and healthy. After hedging a bit, she stated that even if my own body reacted fine, raising vegan kids was totally unsafe. Confused, I responded that I had read accounts of parents raising healthy kids on a vegan diet, and that their own health was often better than their omnivorous peers. My elaboration wasn't well-received, though - my acquaintance had had enough. She shut down and said, "No, I've heard that you just can't do that." She excused herself pretty soon after and joined another group of people to have other conversations.

Now, this post doesn't really have anything to do with my dietary choices persay. The broader point I want to make is that humans often speak very authoritatively on subjects about which they haven't heard much at all, and whatever they've heard doesn't necessarily mean that information is accurate.

There's evidence of this kind of thing all around us. Someone tells me with absolute certainty that someone's birthday party is on a particular night, when their party is actually the day before or after. Individuals are more than eager to offer advice on how to treat certain kinds of sickness, using methods that might be outdated or just plain incorrect. People gossip about so-and-so's relationship with whoever-the-hell and shit-if-I-care as though they were present for these individuals' collective interactions, whether these people are those that they know in real life or are celebrities.

People like to talk authoritatively about things because it makes them feel smart and knowledgeable.

The desire to feel smart and knowledgeable aren't bad in and of themselves. The desire to know is what leads us to gain information so that we are no longer ignorant about something. Learning what we already know about something and formulating our own views on our subjects of interest enables us to make sense of our dynamic world, and keep track of the massive, ever-changing amount of information about it. If we didn't try to make sense of anything happening around us, we would likely feel very overwhelmed.

Problems set in when, instead of going out, seeking knowledge, and formulating opinions, we just take others' word for it regarding unknown subjects. Instead of turning to the Internet, library books, and/or individuals highly knowledgeable on various subjects (including those with lived experience), most of us seem content to absorb colloquial information we hear in passing from others (who very likely have themselves gained this information colloquially from others, in passing). The result is that information is traded, but this information is not accurate (or maybe only partially so); ultimately, what is spread is more misinformation and ignorance.

So, what does this have to do with intersex activism? The desire to be knowledgeable about sex and gender overpowers the desire to truly understand. Many people are very, very uncomfortable with the idea that bodies don't fit firmly into "male" or "female" categories. Many people don't like wondering what one's biological sex means if it's "ambiguous." Does this mean this individual will be homosexual? Does this mean intersex kids will act unlike the stereotypical little girls or little boys they consider ideal? Many individuals consequently don't like the idea of leaving intersex infants "un-fixed" by not performing genital mutilation surgery, or performing other so-called "treatments," so that they're "really" boys or girls afterward.

In order to understand intersex, people would need to question whether or not one's sex actually has anything to do with one's gender, gender role (including gender presentation and performance), sexual orientation, and sexual behavior. Many individuals don't know that others have made distinctions among these things, and that these factors don't necessarily influence one another. Such individuals would also need to question what intersex is, whether intersex is truly a medical issue, and whether performing "treatment" without the individual's consent is ethical.

Doing these things would not be terribly difficult. Sources exist on the Internet, in libraries, and in the form of intersex individuals (some of whom are loudmouths like me, that greatly desire to generate awareness and discussions about intersex issues) that could be used to educate and inform one's perspective on intersex. But people's long-standing beliefs die hard simply because these ideas are those they grew up with, those that they were comfortable with, those that they assumed were inviolable, without exceptions. It's just another case of, "No, I've heard that you just can't do that" - whether "that" is identifying a certain way, refusing to be medicalized and "treated" when it's unnecessary, and a host of other things. Ultimately, these ideas are so scary because if such a socio-cultural fundamental - "Males and females only exist" - can be incorrect, then what other taken-for-granted things are incorrect?

It's too much for many to question foundational beliefs and systems in our societies. I don't think that this is an excuse not to, but I think that anxiety over being unknowledgeable informs why intersex is still largely unheard of, misconstrued, and unaccepted.

What do you think?

"Herm Hugs!"

I've discussed previously why it is impossible for human intersex individuals to be biological hermaphrodites. Hermaphrodites are animals that possess both sets of fully functioning sex organs, either at the same time, or at different points during an animal's life cycle. Common hermaphroditic animals include various species of fish, amphibians, snails, and slugs. Humans do not possess both sets of fully functioning sex organs at any time, and thus do not meet the conditions to be referred to as "hermaphrodites."

However, my perception on never using this term, ever, has changed. After meeting Hida and Tricia, I was surprised to learn that the term "hermaphrodite" doesn't bother them. After sputtering a bit and invoking biological inaccuracies, I learned that some intersex individuals have reclaimed the term among themselves, and sometimes refer to one another as their "herms." I never knew this, seeing as I had never met another openly intersex person before in my life. (Although Tricia, similarly isolated, was somehow in the know about this. Hmmmm...)

After reflecting on reclaiming this term, I learned that I was comfortable using "herm" as a positive identifier among other intersex individuals. I was happy to receive what were affectionately called "herm hugs" from Hida and Tricia. I also got into referring to Tricia's flow-y hair as her "hermane," and after learning that some Biblical texts apparently allude angels being "hermaphrodites," I would loudly sing, "Hermangel, HERMANGEL!" to the tune of "Earth Angel," by The Penguins, from the movie Grease. (Okay, it was more screaming than singing, and Tricia's ears probably bled from it. Tricia - if you're reading, I got your medical bills covered on that.)

I don't advocate for bringing back the term hermaphrodite for use on a wide scale. Besides biological inaccuracy, "hermaphrodite" has a lot more stigma associated with it based on its historical use, whereas "intersex" doesn't have as much. But just because I identify as intersex doesn't mean I can't use this term affectionately and inclusively among other intersex individuals.

So, all of you intersex individuals that are out there reading - have a virtual herm hug, if you're so inclined! *herm hug*

What Do Intersex Activists Want, Anyway?

This is a question I've been getting a fair amount lately, and I think it's worth exploring. Let's dive in, shall we?

Intersex activists, in general, are fighting for the following:
1) Awareness of what intersex is, what it is not, and that intersex individuals exist.
2) Understanding that intersex bodies are healthy, natural, normal bodies that don't need "fixing." Intersex is thus not a medical issue, and shouldn't be treated like one.
3) Intersex individuals must have a right to consent to anything done to their own bodies, especially since such "treatment" is not for medical/health purposes. No one else - whether guardians and/or clinicans - can truly consent for each intersex individual. (So, for example, there's no argument that an infant that needs a heart transplant shouldn't get one because that infant doesn't understand what a heart is, or the complications involved in transplant surgery. On the other hand, an individual doesn't incur any health risks if their clitoris is enlarged, or if they happen to have a vulva and XY chromosomes. These aren't medical concerns, and therefore don't require medical treatment.)
4) Intersex individuals are normal people, even if we possess less typical suites of biological traits. The only reason these suites are considered atypical is because they aren't so easily shoehorned into one of two acceptable bodily forms - "male" or "female." They still fit into the normal ranges of human biological variation. Thus, intersex individuals' bodies shouldn't be shamed, fetishized, and exploited.
5) The shame, stigmatization, isolation, and trauma many intersex individuals feel result from medical "treatment," and not from knowledge of one's intersex. One must stop such treatment in order to end lasting emotional and psychological harm.
6) Intersex people shouldn't shut up and eat their shame. Intersex individuals are prevented from connecting with one another, and from decrying abuses against them by the medical community because we're told that one's intersex is a personal issue that shouldn't be discussed for fear of being shamed. Really, our shame comes from being told, whether directly or indirectly, that our conditions are shameful; conversely, reaching out and advocating for ourselves would allow us to empower ourselves and generate change. Our voices need to be heard and not silenced.
7) Intersex doesn't necessarily have anything to do with one's gender identity, gender role (including presentation and performance), sexual orientation, sexual behavior, or anything other sex-and-gender variables. Intersex is biological in nature, even though it's considered a social emergency, because some individuals expect that based on one's sex, all those other variables have to line up in a particular way according to "male" or "female" standards. Even if some of these other variables are at least partially informed by biology, you can't make predictions about how someone will identify with regards to any of them just by knowing that they're intersex. (Really, you can't do this for anyone, whether they're intersex or not.) After all, lots of people who are not intersex identify in ways that are considered not to "match up" to other aspects of themselves (e.g., a male-identified person that wears skirts).

It's important to note that not all activists are fighting for the same things, though. Many activists would add a 8th condition:
8) Repealing the use of "disorders of sexual development (DSD)" as a replacement for "intersex." While the term "intersex" itself is problematic, and some have no issues with changing it to something else (as I've previously posted), DSD is a poor choice for several reasons. DSD really came into being through ONE intersex person (Cheryl Chase) working with medical doctors and academics (notably, Alice Dreger). Can one intersex individual speak for how all intersex individuals wish to identify? Likewise, can an outside group (here, the medical community) determine how another group must identify, even if it's not how that group prefers to identify themselves? I would strongly argue no to both questions. DSD is also a term that falls in step with how other medical jargon sounds ("So science-y!"), further reinforcing the flawed view that intersex is a medical condition requiring treatment. (As well as allowing for eugenics. Some estimate that as methods of pre-natal screening become cheaper, less invasive, and more accurate, it may be more common to "diagnose intersex" and subsequently abort fetuses simply for being intersex.) Furthermore, DSD is not able to be used as an identity; one can identify as intersex, but one would be very hesitant to identify as a "disorder," which absolutely carries negative connotations in English. Hida Viloria states that in other languages, translations of "disorders of sexual development" misrepresent intersex as transgender or having a queer sexual orientation or something non-intuitive and confusing, which simply violates the first objective of intersex activists. You can read more about DSD here.

Not all intersex activists are on board with repealing DSD, however. Some individuals that have worked closely with Chase and ISNA in its earlier, progressive days feel ambivalence about the term, or feel that since some parents and doctors like DSD, that using it is okay. I would definitely question, though, whether this term has gained widespread support among intersex individuals themselves, and if not, whether using it is still acceptable. I would also question if those intersex individuals supporting it do so because they have inherently always felt that their bodies are disordered and need fixing without outside influence, or whether they feel this way because of the shame induced by clinicians, parents, and mainstream society at large.

It's also important to note that not all intersex individuals are supportive of what intersex activists are fighting for. Many individuals view their intersex as a medical "condition," as it was very very very likely described to them by the medical community. Those that have never been exposed to alternative perspectives may never have questioned whether intersex is truly medical in nature, and whether it is ethical to alter one's body without consent if such alterations are not medically necessary. Some intersex individuals feel an affinity with the queer community, even if they don't identify as queer themselves, because queer activism targets attempts to repress autonomy based on perceptions of what they are supposed to be and do with their bodies - something in line with intersex activism. Others don't want to have any involvement with queer communities, and greatly oppose inclusion, as I've posted previously.

Finally, it's important to note that activists not engaged in intersex activism may confuse the efforts of intersex activists with other movements'. For example, some assume that all intersex activists want to repeal sex-and-gender binaries for good. I am all for allowing for full sex-and-gender expression, whether individuals wish to use traditional "female" or "male" identifiers, or with other more complex, fluid, and non-static identities. However, I do not advocate for these goals specifically as an intersex activist because right now, the immediate concern must be ending harmful "treatment" practices that cause psychological, emotional, and even *actual* health problems (!) for intersex individuals. Other individuals are going to be less receptive to questioning the utility of the sex-and-gender binary, and how well it actually resonates with others' lived experiences than they will be to simply consider whether it's ethical to poke, prod, and lop off parts of healthy bodies without consent. If we tried to go from that angle, we'd probably be waiting much much longer to end the very immediate, very real trauma intersex individuals are undergoing now. Focusing on the human rights issues at hand are where our priorities must lie, regardless of whether intersex activists ALSO support others' expression of their sex and gender identities.

So, despite the fact that there isn't total consensus, there are a lot of things intersex activists are collectively fighting for. Let's work toward meeting intersex individuals' needs, thus gaining equal rights soon.

Thanks For Your Support for IAD 2010 in NYC!

Seriously. The two aforementioned events were wonderful, far beyond anything I had consciously hoped for. For those of you supported Intersex Awareness Day in NYC this year - whether in person or in spirit - a sincere thank you to you. <3 The Tuesday night film-and-Q&A was really kind of magical for me in that an honest dialogue about intersex was generated. I'd never been in the same room with so many people that were eager to ask (non-stigmatizing!) questions and offer perspectives on many issues related to intersex. There wasn't a whole lot of discussion about the film itself, One in 2,000, but I was more than content with that. We participants were so engaged in discussion that we ran 45 minutes over the event's end time, and some stayed on longer yet as we moved to a close-by restaurant for a light-fare, conversation-heavy end to the evening. It was simply so great to speak openly and candidly about a wide range of intersex issues, and I'm eager to have more of that in the future. I am thrilled to have the opportunity to do so, since between this event and the next, I made contact with some individuals interested in continuing these conversations elsewhere. Yay for future activist events - woo!

The Wednesday night presentation-and-Q&A at Bluestockings was equally successful. I gave an "introduction to intersex," explaining what it was, and how our perspectives on intersex inform the human rights abuses committed against intersex individuals.

Hida Vilora discussed her experiences as a participant in the International Olympic Committee (IOC) discussions held in Switzerland less than two weeks ago, aimed at determining whether intersex athletes should be allowed to compete in the Games or not. Although I discussed aspects of some of these points in a previous post, Hida did a great job articulating them in no uncertain terms. They are as follows:
1) Creating an "intersex" competition category (in addition to "male" and "female" competition categories) won't solve any problems, since not all individuals identify as intersex, there are many types of intersex, not all individuals know they have intersex bodies to begin with, and there are few intersex competitors in the Games. Thus, making an "intersex 100-m dash" won't magically result in fair competition for all.
2) Not all intersex individuals are conferred with physical advantages just by virtue of their intersex. For example, CAIS people naturally produce heightened levels of testosterone, but their bodies can't process ANY OF IT, so they don't receive any phsyical advantages by its excess production.
3) Even if one's intersex does confer physical advantages resulting in increased athletic performance, these attributes are NATURAL. One would not require Michael Phelps to receive surgery to make his naturally long arms and large feet smaller, since they contribute to his prowess in the pool. Instead, we all say, "Wow! What a gift!" because Phelps was BORN with these things. But since intersex is synonymous with something ambiguous that needs fixing, the more common sentiment is, "Wow! That's unfair! Put 'em on hormones to make it a REAL competition again!" But this sentiment is really misguided - if the IOC reqired individuals to alter their bodies so no one had any athletic advantages over others, every competition would result in a tie. (And even if we didn't give a crap about human rights, if for no other reason, the Games would be hella boring to watch if this was done.)
4) As relates to the previous criticism, supporters of altering intersex bodies to make competition "fair" state that they can still compete - they just have to go on hormones for a required length of time! This is akin to saying, "You can get married if you're queer! You just have to marry someone of the opposite sex!" (I have a lot to say regarding queer marriage, and think we should be focusing our efforts on socioeconomic justice for ALL queers, REGARDLESS of whether they enter into this state-sponsored institution and not ONLY if they do. Nevertheless, the comparison is apt.) This ignores one's rights to compete as THEMSELVES, and requires those who have developed their natural talents to modify them them through unnatural means (e.g., hormones). Does that seriously make any sense?

Tricia Madison then shared a personal story, discussing how she eventually learned of her intersex a few years ago, and how knowledge of her intersex has affected her relationship to herself and those around her.

A lot of individuals attending the Bluestockings event commented that our different presentation topics and styles were really complementary, and that made for a good event. Well, thanks, everyone! I wish we could say that we planned it out deliberately that way from the start, but our approach to collaboration was more fluid than that. It turns out not to have been a bad thing. ;)

I'd like to end this post with a question asked by one Bluestockings event participant, who asked something to the effect of, "Now that I know about intersex, how can I be an intersex ally in my daily life?" Hida answered that the best way to contribute to intersex activist causes is to TALK ABOUT IT. Get in conversations. Raise awareness. It's a corny phrase, but "information is power" is still kickin' around for a reason. (Or maybe only I still say that, and it's not really kickin' around so much after all. Meh.) Individuals can only speak out against intersex abuse if they know what intersex is, and that this abuse is ongoing. Point them in the direction of books, websites, and blogs (!) on intesex, or to future intersex events. If there's not any of those things in your area, you can start one up yourself. Emi Koyama authored a wonderful handbook for intersex allies (read: you're supporting intersex individuals and activist issues, but just aren't intersex yourself) on how to do precisely this - check it out!

I was happy to gain permission from both Tricia and Hida to post some pictures from the event!

The photo above features Tricia (left), me (center), and Hida (right) inside Bluestockings after the event. I am still so stoked to have met them! Tricia and I were also uniquely excited, in that this was the first time either of us have met another openly intersex person! Unbelievable, right? One of my favorite memories of Tricia staying with me was a subway ride we took together, when she poked my arm seemingly out of the blue. When I looked at her quizically, she responded, "I just wanted to make sure you were real. Another intersex person!" So great.

This photo features Hida (left) and me (right) wandering around in Times Square, following the book launch of photographer and mixed-media artist Rebecca Swan's gender-bender-y work, Assume Nothing. (It was fantastic!) I love how stereotypical New York it is! I don't love that I neglected to bring my coat, and it was coooooooold out. (Womp, womp.)

Anyone that attended either of these events that wants to add more pictures to this post, send 'em my way, and I'll post them!

Sunday, October 24, 2010

Intersex Awareness Events in NYC THIS WEEK!

Ohhhhhhhhhhhh. em. gee.

This summer has been absolutley amazing, and amazingly crazy. Despite it being well into October, I am STILL having some difficulty adjusting to my "normal" day-to-day life after working outside the US for a few months. Part of this is, no doubt, because of some new, exciting activist ventures I'm taking on, but that is something about which I am absolutely not complaining. ;D

Intersex Awareness Day, as I had posted in the previous post, is officially Oct 26, but intersex awareness events often take place on other days in October. In this spirit, we've got 2 events in NYC to help raise awareness about intersex:

Intersex Film and Q&A - NYU's Kimmel Center Rm 804 - Oct 26, Tues, 7pm
In conjunction with the NYU Office of LGBT Student Services's Reel Queer Film Series, a showing of the film One in 2,000 will be followed by discussion and Q&A with intersex activists Hida Vilora, Tricia Madison, and myself about both the film and intersex in general with audience participants.

Intersex Awareness Presentation and Q&A - Bluestockings Activist Center - Oct 27, Wed, 7pm
Hida Viloria, Tricia Madison, and myself are back again! This time, we will each give short presentations on issues related to intersex, including what intersex is, its perception in Western culture, human rights abuses committed against intersex individuals and why they need to stop, and recent events surrounding intersex in the media. Discussion and Q&A with audience participants will follow the presentations.

Much love and thanks to all of the folks at the NYU Office of the LGBT Student Services and Bluestockings that helped work so hard to make event this happen. Your time and efforts are seriously appreciated. <3

If you are able to support these events, we would love to have you. If you can't make them, no worries - I want to help coordinate more events like these in the future.

In this vein, it seems to me in my totally informal, un-scientific observations, that there is less activist work focused on intersex on the US's east coast and middle than the west coast. This is a problem. I think it's really important that work is not being done in not just a few centralized places, but in a lot of different areas. This means that if there's something you want in your community that you're not seeing, DIY - do it yourself! A few people can get together and accomplish quite a lot to create spaces and events that reflect what they want and currently aren't getting from their communities. While this event will hopefully open some minds and raise some voices protesting the medicalization and abuse of intersex individuals, I know that this event alone is not going to be the panacea that changes everything. Lots of awareness-raising work must be done in many, many places over time. Only if we put our selves and skills into this really important work will we have a real chance to generate lasting change.

So, organize your own event. Create your own semi-profane blog, zine, book, magazine, chapbook - whatever! - with accurate information and/or your lived experiences. (Okay, fine. FFA:IAA is totally profane, not semi-profane. We're cuss-positive here!) Hand out pamphlets with intersex basics. Protest stigmatizing conferences. Do presentations and Q&As at schools, universities, medical schools, and other institutions to educate and generate discussion about intersex. Demand long-term outcome studies on intersex individuals' physical and psychological health be done to assess whether the medical institution's "care" is meeting its goals, and whether such care is necessary at all. There's so much that can be done. Our collective efforts will hopefully change how intersex is perceived in our society. And if this grassroots change in each of our own communities can be translated into greater societal change, then sufficient pressure may be generated to prevent future intersex individuals from the same trauma, shame, stigma, and pain that intersex individuals being born today are still facing. And I can't believe that this isn't worth fighting for. <3

Monday, July 26, 2010

Intersex Goes On The Road (Or, Why I Can't Answer My E-mail)

Hi, everyone! I'm currently not in my home country, the USA. I've had regular access to Teh Internets throughout July, but I will have intermittent Internet access through August. I probably won't be able to post (much?), depending on the situation, but know that I'll have lots to say when I return in September.

Some updates about which you'll receive more information in September:

1) I am helping to organize an event for Intersex Awareness Day in New York City, on October 26th. Stay tuned for more information! If you're interested in learning more or getting involved, just e-mail me at
2) I am currently working on several book projects relating to intersex. One is finished (YAY!), one is alllllllmost finished, and the last is a community activist project that's just starting up. If you are an intersex individual interested in sharing your thoughts on chosen topics, we'd love for you to contribute! Please e-mail me at the above address for more information.

Thanks for all your support reading so far! <3

Sunday, July 18, 2010

Intersex "Treatment" Trauma and Sexual Abuse Trauma: Not So Different

I have been thinking about medical procedures and "treatments" intersex individuals are often forced to undergo without consent, and how they can easily be viewed as abusive. Specifically, many procedures are akin to sexual abuse.

In my own experiences, some doctor would feel compelled to check the length of my vaginal canal every time I vistited (every half-year for many years starting when I was maybe 10, and then every year until I was 14 or so). This meant that they would take a freezing-cold metal dilator, coat it with (medical?) lube or something that burned like hell (it was probably alcohol-based), and insert it into my vagina and held it for several seconds until I, of course, started to whimper, shout, tell him to stop, burst into tears, or all of the above. I did not know that I had the ability to deny consent to these vaginal-length-checks using the dilators. They were presented as a standard procedure, like listening to one's hearbeat, or opening one's mouth and saying, "Ahhhhhhhhhhhhhhh!" really awkwardly. I had no idea that these procedures did not benefit or track my health...they just tracked how likely a candidate I might be for one of several kinds of particular genital mutilation surgeries collectively called vaginoplasties, which would also not benefit or improve my health. It would only give me a reconstructed vagina, which may or may not have serious, deleterious health consequences, as I briefly detailed in a former post.

I was (and still am) outraged that these trauma happened to me and I wasn't told I had a choice as to whether I want it to happen or not. And I am still dealing with the aftermath. Sometimes, I have vivid daymares consisting of flashbacks of some of these dilation procedures, and the other stigmatizing parts of the appointments that followed before and after. It felt so dehumanizing to me, even as a young child, to have to change into the scratchy-ass nightgown, lay on the cold metal table, and live through these things done to me I so, so didn't want done. (Often, multiple times if they couldn't get a measurement the first time, after which I was berated for moving around and whining too much. Doc, you would do it, too, if you knew what that felt like.) But, as intersex individuals, we're taught not to talk about our intersex or any issues surrounding intersex with others, oftentimes preventing effective dialogue even among our closest family members and ourselves. So I didn't discuss it out loud, but I felt that these procedures were abusive. I felt really guilty about feeling this way, because I was clearly taking up space I didn't need to. I wasn't "really" abused...abuse was for individuals that were touched, prodded, and traumatized under entirely different circumstances, right? If there was an old white dude in a medical coat present, it wasn't really abuse, was it?

Emi Koyama, intersex activist and founder of Pacific Northwest's Intersex Initiative, created a booklet entitled, Introduction to Intersex: A Guide for Allies (2nd Edition). On page 2 of the booklet (or page 5 in the Adobe PDF), she explains the following:

"One of the biggest problems with this "treatment" is that it sets in motion a lifelong pattern of secrecy, isolation, shame, and confusion. Adult intersex people's stories often resemble that of those who survived childhood sexual abuse: trust violation, lack of honest communication, punishment for asking questions or telling the truth, etc. In some cases, intersex people's experiences are exactly like those of childhood sexual abuse survivors: when they surgically "create" a vagina on a child, the parent - usually the mother - is required to "dilate" the vagina with hard instruments every day for months in order to ensure that the vagina won't close off again."

I would expand on this to include forced dilation at any interval during "treatment," and not restricted to those post-mutilation surgery. This is definitely how I feel about my experiences.

Koyama continues:

"Even so, many intersex adults report that it was not necessarily the surgery that was most devastating for their self-esteem: for many, it is the repeated exposure to what we call "medical display," or the rampant where a child is stripped down to nude and placed on the bed while doctors, nurses, medical students, and others come in and out of the room, touching and prodding and laughing to each other. Children who experience this get the distinct sense that there is something terribly wrong with who they are and are deeply traumatized. "

I have not experienced this, but can easily see how being publicly ridiculed would be traumatizing, and how one's emotions while/after being touched and prodded against one's will may be akin to those of childhood sexual abuse survivors.

This post is a major bummer, but I'm not sorry, because I believe that negative feelings, when properly channeled, can be used as vehicles to initiate positive change. If you're outraged, there are lots of conversations to be had with those that don't know about intersex issues, e-mails and letters to write, lots of protests to organize, lots of petitions to create and sign, lots of books, zines, art, and music to make and support that raise awareness and try to change these medical abuses. I always must remind myself that it is okay and healthy to allow oneself to experience negative feelings, but if it just stops there after my own negative feelings have passed, will they be gone for good if the social systems and problems informing them still exist? If my own feelings are resolved for the moment, is that justification to stop fighting for others still experiencing pain and trauma? I don't think so.

Koyama states " is estimated that five children per day continue to undergo the medically unnecessary and irreversible surgeries in the United States." These five (plus?) children a day are worth fighting for. We just have to go out and actually do it.

Saturday, July 17, 2010

Patients' Rights Violated?

Advocates for Informed Choice (AIC)is an awesome organization that " the first organization in the U.S. to undertake a coordinated strategy of legal advocacy for the rights of children with intersex conditions." They seem to be doing lots of fantastic work. Go, AIC!

While perusing their site, I found some highly disturbing news in their "recent tweets" section.

This news is contained in a letter AIC wrote to the Director of the Office for Human Research Protections. AIC states that NYC physician Dix P. Poppas, Doctor of Urology at New York Presbyterian Hospital and Weill Cornell Medical Center of Cornell University, may be performing "follow-up tests" to intersex individuals receiving a type of genital mutilation surgery called nerve sparing ventral clitoroplasty. This type of surgery, then, would remove those apparently horrible, freakish enlarged clitorises, but preserve nerve functionality, allowing individuals to receive some genital sexual pleasure. (Or, you could just not do the surgery and allow these individuals to have genital sexual pleasure anyway! Just sayin'.) The problem with these follow-up tests is two-fold: 1) these tests may or may not have been approved by the Institutional Review Board, or IRB - the organization concerned with approving any research involving human subjects, with ethics in mind; and 2) whether or not the tests received IRB approval, they are of questionable ethics at best.

Here's an excerpt from the document, as follows. Please note that this excerpt may be triggering to some individuals.

"In a published paper, Dr. Poppas reports employing an unorthodox technique of applying medical vibratory devices to the genitals of girls and young women ages 5 to 24 years old to collect data on post-operative clitoral sensitivity.1 Poppas’ 2007 paper in the Journal of Urology details the procedure of stimulating the girls’ clitorises with “medical vibratory devices” while the girls are conscious. More specifically, the girls are subjected to annual visits in which Poppas touches their surgically modified clitorises with a cotton-tip applicator and/or with a “vibratory device,” and asks them to rate the sensation they feel on a scale of 1 to 5. Using the vibrator, he touches on their inner thighs, labia minora, and the introitus of their vaginas. My colleagues and I are unaware of any other clinician using this technique. Further, Poppas also reports performing “capillary perfusion testing,” a technique in which the physician presses a finger nail on the girl’s clitoris to observe blood flow as a sign of healthy tissue. Dr. Ken Zucker, Psychologist-in-Chief and Head of the Gender Identity Service in the Child, Youth, and Family Program at Tornonto’s Centre for Addiction and Mental Health and Professor with the Departments of Psychiatry and Psychology at the University of Toronto, has publicly responded to this report by stating, “Applying a vibrator to a six-year-old girl’s surgically feminized clitoris is developmentally inappropriate.”2 Given the well-documented psychological harm that can come to girls with DSD as a result of excessive visual genital exams,3 it seems likely that Poppas’s far more invasive tests pose substantial risk of psychological harm to young girls."
(Emphasis mine)

I don't care if the vibrator is a medical vibrator or not. This kind of "treatment" cannot be consented to by individuals as young as 6 years old. If Poppas really wanted this kind of information, a survey would be more appropriate once individuals were sexually active. And if surveys were used, one would obviously not administer one to a 6-year-old, since the 6-year-old would be highly highly highly unlikely to be engaging in consensual sexual relationships. If one would not administer a survey to a 6-year-old, then, why would it be appropriate to perform vibrator tests on these children? For individuals of all ages "tested," though, it is not difficult to imagine how this procedure could definitely be traumatizing.

To repeat, however, one's sexual function wouldn't be risked IF THE GENITAL MUTLATION SURGERY WASN'T PERFORMED AT ALL.

My whole being aches thinking of the questions, memories, and feelings some of these individuals - and some of them quite young, too - may have later after undergoing what could very easily be viewed as unethical medical practice. Even if Poppas is performing these practices with good intentions by his own perspective ("I want to see if my technique is working!") it is difficult to justify that these follow-up procedures are in the PATIENTS' best interest. Are these types of procedures worth risking possible emotional and psychological trauma for these individuals?

I feel so sick after reading this.

Friday, July 16, 2010

Intersex Is Entertaining!: Juno

"Intersex Is Entertaining!" is going to a semi-regular segment where I can post about mentionings in the entertainment industry that serves to further stigmatize, fetishize, freak-ify, etc. intersex folks. If I find any *positive* depictions of intersex individuals in the entertainment industry, then I'll have to think up a name for a new segment, since this cheeky one wouldn't do.

I was violently ill yesterday (wah, wah, waaaaaah.) In between bouts of my vomit-a-thon (TMI?), I watched Juno since it was on my friend's computer and it was there. Sometimes painfully twee dialogue aside, I remembered really enjoying the film, so I was pretty excited to watch it. I got what I came for, and ended up enjoying the majority of it. (Even if the dialogue was even MORE twee than I remembered - !)

I caught something this time around that I didn't the first time I watched it. Check out this bit, when Juno is talking to potential-adoptive-parent-of-her-child, Mark:

Mark: "Wow, can you tell if it's a boy or a girl?"
Juno: "Um, I can't, the doctor can. But, I kind of want it to be a surprise."
Mark: "Well, it can only go one of two ways."
Juno: "That's what you think. I mean, I drink tons of booze, so you might end up with one of those scary neuter babies that's born without junk."
Mark: "Junk, huh?"
Juno: "Yeah, you know, its parts."
Mark: "I know what junk is."
Juno: "Yeah, right."
Mark: "We definitely want it to have some junk. Please."

My mouth dropped open slightly and I played the scene again to make sure I'd heard correctly, because there were a bunch of fucked up things in there.

Now, I admittedly don't know a lot about Fetal Alcohol Syndrome (FAS) (i.e., "I mean, I drink tons of booze..."), so I did some Google research to learn a bit more. Do infants born with FAS completely lack genitals (i.e., "...babies [that are] born without junk...")in some cases? Not that I have found so far. Some individuals born with FAS may have "incomplete development of genitalia" or so-called "gential defects," but what does this really mean? I couldn't find any more specific information that this doing a preliminary search, but there's no explicit mention of individuals being born without genitalia.

What I immediately thought of when I replayed the scene and listened in was MRKH. MRKH stands for the names of the medical doctors (Mayer, Rokitansky, Kuster, and Hauser) who described "...the congenital absence of the vagina, fallopian [sic] tubes, cervix, and uterus." If you'd like more information on MRKH, visit MRKH Organization, Inc., and check out common physical traits (I refuse to say "symptoms") associated with it. MRKH doesn't completely fit Juno's no-junk standard, since individuals with MRKH do possess external genitalia that exhibit typical form.

My next thought was Aphallia, where individuals are born without penises and urethral openings, although they possess scrota and other sex organs indicative of "typical male anatomy." (I don't like that ISNA uses "patient," and not "individual" in their definition, though.)

Whether Juno is actually referring to individuals' "genital defects" from Fetal Alcohol Syndrome, individuals with MRKH, or individulas with Aphallia, calling individuals neuter children is incredibly offensive. Diablo Cody, the screenwriter for Juno really needs to re-examine whether one's genital form means that they don't have any sex at all, and whether it's okay for individuals to both joke about those freaks with the fucked-up genitals and assume that they have the right to choose how these individuals identify. And, once again, this comment essentializes individuals' sex to their genital form, even though we know that biological sex is much more complex than that.

Moreover, no - sex doesn't "...go only one of two ways." That simply isn't true, and not accepting this fact legitimizes the marginalization of intersex individuals. Nice.

If you want to contact Diablo Cody on her problematic views, you can try contacting her representative (agent?) at WhoRepresents?.com. Unfortuantely, you have to pay a fee for it, which is why I'm not just posting the contact info here for you, since I don't have it, and it's not available by doing simple web searches. (I tried, Dear Readers. I really did.) Too bad we can't use our hamburger phones to contact Cody directly, huh?

"Heeeeeeey, Cody. I'll give you ten tons of Sunny D if you don't misrepresent individuals with atypical genital morphology as yucky monsters in your future screenplays, okay?"

Just sayin'.

Sunday, July 11, 2010

Intersex Bingo

I think this bingo card says it all. Print it out and have some subversive fun! (To mix it up, just cut up some cards and paste each block in a different place so that all your bingo cards are different.) Great for both daily interactions, doctor's appointments, and conferences!

I may make more of these in the future. I'd also love to hear your words & phrases if you make some of your own! :)

Caster Semenya Receives (Some) Justice!

Caster Semenya has been approved to compete in South Africa!

All in all, though, this bandage doesn't justify that this shitty situation occurred. In the article linked to above (reblogged courtesy of OII's Intersex News), it states that Semenya received "an undisclosed 'financial settlement' for her ordeal." It's really problematic to take the stance of, "OH HEY! We're going to publicly announce information to the world that's none of their business and create and media frenzy and force you to submit to tests without consent unless you want your medal ripped away from you. BUT! We'll give you money at the end, and that'll make it alllllllll better. Human rights violations can be solved with the almighty green!" That's absolutely shameful.

One good thing is that the medical records are not going to be released. The discourse surrounding this, though, is similarly problematic. Check out this excerpt, from the article linked to above:

But nothing was stated flatly about Semenya — rumoured to be a hermaphrodite, meaning she has both male and female sexual organs (though the second set of genitalia could be internal) — being a female, full stop. Medical details will not be released.

“Why should they be out there?” Semenya’s lawyer, Greg Nott, told South African television last night. “Would you like your sex records to be made public?”

Ohhhhhhhhh. Right. It's okay if we shout to the world, "THIS PERSON MIGHT BE A FREAK!" and that's acceptable, but releasing her medical details would be going too far. It's not like they're BOTH unacceptable or anything. Ah, sweet justification!

In general, this article, written by DiManno for Toronto's The Star, has problems with it, too. DiManno apparently can't write about Semenya's stigmatizing and likely traumatizing experience without sticking a line in there about "...what may or may not be between her legs." Way to be reductionist. Intersex is only about external genitalia! We're really just walking genitals (that look fucked-up and weird and THAT'S BAD)! Ugh. And, "What she has clearly felt, all these long months, is embarrassment, as the most intimate details of her being were debated around..." etc. DiManno isn't actually in a position to state what Semenya has "clearly" felt, since this isn't a direct quote from Semenya herself. How can DiManno know what Semenya has actually experienced? She has not lived her experiences, and she therefore can't clearly know anything about this. All individuals - whether intersex or not - cannot know what Semenya has experienced. Only Semenya can, and to state otherwise with such confidence discredits Semenya's experience and does not allow her the agency to tell us how it REALLY is for her.

Other news states that due to all of the testing and detainment, Semenya's performance might be affected since she hasn't had proper time to train. Worse, the conjecture that hormone treatments could also affect her performance. (Which in reality, Semenya may or may not have "needed" to be able to compete in the next summer Games. This isn't something that can be assumed with confidence, either.)

Finally, I want to note that there was a plethora of articles and videos stimgatizing Semenya. Conversely, when Semenya was approved to compete in South Africa, it was comparatively reported in a whisper in relation the sonic boom of sources musing, "OMG IS SHE REALLY A DUDE OR A LADY OR WHAT?" before. Why has the media not latched onto this better news in the way that they were so quick to disseminate the violating news?


Friday, July 9, 2010

OII, You Read My Mind!

Remember how I recently posted why the term DSD is really problematic? Well, the Organisation Internationale des Intersexués has a fantastic page addressing well-deserved grieveances with the term DSD. Additionally, they have a more extensive page discussing the roots of this problematic issue with Alice Dreger and the Accord Alliance. These sources should be required reading!

And if I may, my feelings in graphic form, from OII's second source:

Rock on, OII!

Tuesday, July 6, 2010

Will Patient Disclosure Fuck Me Over?

Ever since I discussed the Hypospadias conference, I’ve been thinking a lot about doctors in general. One thing I’ve realized is that I have a peculiar relationship to all doctors – not just the ones who “treated” me for my intersex. I just want to throw these ideas out there to see if other intersex individuals feel similarly, because to my memory, I’ve never heard it discussed before.

I remember once in 11th grade, toward the end of the school day, I began experiencing really severe abdominal pains. I thought, “No, no, I’ll be fine. I just have to tough it out,” but I was worried. I knew it couldn’t be menstrual cramps, since I biologically can’t do it due to my specific form of intersex, complete androgen insensitivity, or CAIS. (I don’t a uterus, ovaries, Fallopian tubes – the works. It just never developed. See one of my earlier posts if you’re curious how this works.) I also knew I still had my appendix, and I had been worrying whether I would have to get operated on, since I saw several classmates make the trip to the hospital in the last few years. When the pain persisted for over a half-hour, I thought, “Ah, shit,” and called my mom to come pick me up. She arrived frighteningly promptly and broke the speed limit pretty much the entire way to the hospital. My troubles didn’t really begin, though, until I was already inside, in my gown, on the examining table, with a doctor present.

He did the normal poking and prodding and asking me if this hurts or that, and asking if I was pregnant (Doc: “Are you absolutely positive you couldn’t be pregnant?” Me: “Yes. Yes, doctor, I am.”). Then he said, “You know, you might have a problem with your ovaries. I think, to be conservative, we should do a pelvic exam.” I think my face probably turned white because I suddenly felt weak and slumped down a little onto the table. “Uhh…are you sure that’s necessary? Aren’t there other things it could be?” “Yes, it’s possible, but see, your appendix isn’t the problem. If it isn’t appendicitis, the most usual thing we see in young ladies (Me: *chortle*gag*chortle*) your age is something in the reproductive system.” I paused for a moment. I couldn’t think of any easy way out of this. It made sense, if what he said was accurate. “Um, uh, oh yeah. I guess.” The doctor smiled. “Well, okay then, just change into this dressing gown,” – he reproduced some itchy thing with no ass covering – “and then we can get started.” Get started…ugh. I needed to get OUT of there. Instead of changing, I called my mother in the room and frantically relayed to her what was going to happen. “Oh, no,” she said, eyebrows furrowed, “he is NOT going to do that. He can try other procedures, but we both know that’s clearly not the problem. He can do something else.” And then my mother talked to the doctor, and he reluctantly let me just sit on the examining table until I exhibited any other changes that might help him make a diagnosis. (There weren’t any – except one serious fart-attack. Yep, I had too much gas in my intestines, and it was making me feel like I was going to die. Also, yes, I AM extremely classy – thank you for noticing!)

All right, so what does all this have to do with intersex? He couldn’t examine my internal pelvic organs because I didn’t have them. So what?

My point is that I am terrified of new doctors learning about my intersex, because I’m afraid that if they find out, something bad will happen.

Part of this is how intersex individuals are conditioned to think and behave by the medical community themselves. I was always told that my intersex was private, secret, something I might be made fun of for. That people wouldn’t understand, and that it wasn’t something I should share with others. (What the majority of intersex individuals hear? Something like, “Your condition is shameful, so you should be ashamed of your condition and you should be ashamed of yourself. You are shameful. Keep your mouth shut and spare everyone the messy details of the freak show you are.”) We become so used to the idea that our intersex must be concealed at all costs that we withhold this information from other medical professionals. Almost every time I have had an appointment, I have always lied and said my last period “around the first of the month,” and that I menstruate regularly. When medics ask if I have been taking any medicines regularly, I have always shaken my head and said “Nope!” as brightly as I could, hoping they wouldn’t see through my lie. If asked if there are any medical conditions or extenuating circumstances they should be aware of, I never answered affirmatively. I am always afraid that if I disclose my intersex status, the doctors will demand a battery of tests be performed, or that they’ll decide to alter my genitalia after all, or that they’ll force me to see a gazillion specialists who will forever poke and prod me and erode my dignity away. In these situations, my mind conjures worst-case scenarios. I wonder, what if I don’t tell them I’m taking [pill]? What if they give me something that reacts badly with it and I die? I could’ve saved my life by speaking up. Or, alternatively, if I speak up, will a Bad Thing happen? I wonder, what if I don’t tell them I don’t have internal sex organs before surgery for something totally unrelated to my intersex? Would they simply question me about it when I came to, or would I wake up with an artificially elongated vaginal canal without my consent?

These scenarios are really extreme, and would likely never happen. I’m informed enough now to know that I have rights as a patient, and I’ve developed a pretty brazen personality that wouldn’t stand for such bullshit now anyway. But I’m still afraid, and I’m not convinced that variations on these scenarios – even if not as extreme – have not happened to other intersex individuals. Part of my fear, then, is also due to my mistreatment by the medical community. It’s been proven to me countless times before that not all the medics I’ve encountered are concerned with either my best interests or my consent. I’m reluctant to give medics any reason to suspect that I’ve got something they might think needs “fixing.” Alternatively, I’m afraid that if I don’t come clean, I might be leaving out information that will maybe negatively affect my health. In the vast majority of situations I don't think this would ever be the case, but it's still something I think about. On top of it all, I'm also just sad that some professionals we're supposed to be able to trust with our lives are undeserving of our trust, and so it's necessary to be vigilant to advocate for ourselves.

Do any of you feel similarly?

Monday, July 5, 2010

Happy 1st Birthday, Full Frontal Activism!

It's been a whole year already. Can you believe it?

There is so, so, so much that I want to talk about, so there's no danger of this blog ending anytime soon. ;)

To celebrate, share with me a slice of rainbow cake! (Well, a virtual one, anyway...sorry.) For those intersex individuals that ally themselves with the queer community, then yay for rainbows! And for those that don't, enjoy the pretty colors anyway!

Thanks for reading, all of you! Here's to another great year to come! :)

Sunday, July 4, 2010

Freedom for All?

Hey, everyone! In the US, it's Independence Day. I just think it's important to remember, though, that not all individuals in the US (and everywhere else) are free to live with their own agency, and are stripped of their basic human rights. This applies to intersex indviduals, those with more fluid sex and gender identities, and importantly, all minority individuals being oppressed for a wide variety of reasons.

Just wanted to throw that out there. Here's hoping that activist efforts will change our system to protect the rights of ALL living beings, and not only those in power and those like them.

John Lennon Wall, Prague
Courtesy of Democrary Cell Project

Isn't that what real freedom is all about?


An Intersex Individual By Any Other Name Would Smell Like A Human.

Or something. Right? I'm pretty sure Billy Shakes said something darn close to that. (Controversy surrounding who wrote what Shakespeare works aside, of course, since that's something that's miiiiiiiiiighty lateral to what I want to REALLY talk about!)

I've noticed that the Accord Alliance - started up by the former founder of the now-defunct Intersex Society of North America, Cheryl Chase - advocates the use of the term "disorders of sexual devleopment" (or "DSD") in place of the term "intersex." The earliest use of this term is in the Journal of Pediatric Urology by Hughes et al., 2006, in an article entitled "Consensus statement on management of intersex disorders." I don't have access to the entire article, but I can get you the abstract. Basically, the authors of this article feel that "disorders of sexual development" is a better phrase than "intersex" because it "...integrate[s] progress in molecular genetic aspects of sex development..." Okay, okay. I get it. Because we know that various genetic, anatomical, and physiological sutes possessed by intersex individuals are caused by molecular processes intiated in fetal development, using DSD might be a better choice. And it's important for all professionals to switch to DSD because standardizing language is essential to communicate effectively, and blah blah blah. Let's dissect this argument a little bit, shall we?

"Intersex" is definitely a term with many problems. "Inter" and "sex," when paired together, create an image in my mind of taking a female form, and taking a male form, and then violently mashing them together, until you end up with an individual that's BOTH! They're INTER - SEX! Get it? This is obviously not how it works, so discussions regarding the creation of a new term to replace "intersex" are great and really important.

I don't think "disorders of sexual development" is it, though, for two reasons. My first objection is rooted in identity. DSD focuses on the science-y things, yes, but it is problematic for those that identify their sex as intersex. If I were to say to someone, "I'm intersex," yes, I wouldn't necessarily expect them to have heard this term and what it means and maybe confuse it with a lot of other words regarding sex and gender identity, performance, presentation, etc. If DSD is universally accepted and replaces "intersex" entirely, then what would I say to someone? I think it would go something like this:

Me: "I have a disorder of sexual development, or a DSD. [lengthy explanation]"
Individual A: "Oh, well, what do you call yourself?"
Me: "What do you mean?"
Individual A: "Well, you used to identify as 'intersex,' and not as biologically male or female. If you accept the use of DSD, how would you identify?'
Me: "Oh, um...I'm...disordered?"

This is not how I choose to identify. There is a big difference between recongnizing that my development was atypical, and that it was "disordered." One can wave their hands and quickly reassure me in soothing tones that disordered is just in terms of the science, and that of coure I MYSELF would NEVER be considered disorded (to which I'd ask in less soothing tones "So, why was it that those doctors forced all of those vaginal dilations on me again?"). But "disordered" absolutely has a negative connotation in the majority dialects of Western speech. (I'll allow that this might not be the case across the board.) If there's anything we don't need, it's more stigmatization of intersex people. Haven't we had enough of being subtly or blatantly regarded as grotesque, malformed, monstrous spectacles?

Many intersex individuals do choose to identify as biological males, or biological females. That's perfectly fine, and I think it's great if that is how they identify! However, I think this new terminology is problematic for those of us that don't identify as biologcial males or females.

My second contention is that this terminology does not - and cannot - reflect all of the varied ways an individual may choose to identify. This term was embraced by and, in part, created with the help of the Accord Alliance, which included Intersex Society of North America founder Cheryl Chase (who probably does not identify as "disordered"), yes. But can Chase and other intersex individuals consulted speak for each INDIVIDUAL that has a "DSD"? Should we allow for a term that is not inclusive, and forces some individuals to identify in a way that is not authentic to them?

Should we condone DSD, formerly known as intersex?

What do you think?

Human Rights Violations: Best Paired With Fancy Chocolates?

Well, it looks like plans are already in the works for the IV World Congress on Hypospadias and Disorders of Sexual Development in Norwich, Britain. Oh, joy of joys!

Just to refresh your memory, the III World Congress on Hypospadias (which I previously posted about it here) featured several days of doctors discussing how best to "treat" intersex individuals (who clearly must be fixed), the newest methods to most efficiently perform genital mutilation surgeries (ahh, technology!), and mutilation tutorials, where SEVERAL INFANTS WERE ACTUALLY MULTILATED AT THE CONFERENCE FOR OTHERS TO WATCH. Condoning these discriminatory views and barbaric practices is completely unacceptable, and it saddens me that the conference will take place another time.

If you click on the first link and check out the website, it looks more like an invite to vacation in Norwhich than to attend a conference. Yes, the left-hand side of the main page mentions discussions, presentations, and pros-cons debates, and how important this conference is since it addresses "such a challenging subject." (I don't really see how intersex individuals pose such a challenge. It really isn't that difficult to see us as just people, and let us live our lives without either potentially altering and/or lopping off our body parts, or potentially providing misinformation to us and our loved ones about how to "manage" us. It can really only be difficult when your view is, "OMGWTFBBQ! WHAT DO WE DO WITH THESE *cough*freaks*cough*, UH, PEOPLE! WE CAN'T DECIDE WHETHER THEY'RE "REALLY" MALE OR FEMALE USING ARBITRARY GUIDELINES, BECAUSE THEY OBVIOUSLY SHOULDN'T BE GIVEN THE AGENCY TO HAVE A RIGHT TO THEIR BODIES AND CHOOSE HOW THEY IDENTIFY!") But look to the right, and you'll see an entire section on fancy, touristy things to do in Norwich. It lists a Chocolaterie, places to shop for gifts ("Susie, look what Uncle Johnny bought you when he went to slice people up from London for their own good!"), Norman castles, and pubs. But, what do the "picturesque landscape of marshes and fen" have to do with the medical institutionalization of engaging in human rights violations? Does anyone else find it a bit upsetting that hundreds of individuals lives will be ruined after this new conference's proceedings, while the physicians are encouraged to "...extend your stay and invite your friends and family to join you. Do take this opportunity to visit this lovely area."? Does this conference really have intersex individuals' welfare at the forefront, or the physicians' digital cameras, some which will undoubtedly be filled with pictures of their smiling children eating pie and mash...children who could have easily been operated on by these same physicians, had they been born to other individuals, and possessed a different anatomical, genetic, and/or physiological suite?

The conference is also telling in the "Who Should Attend" section. Those cleared for attendance include doctors of various specialties, social workers, genetic counselors, and mental health professionals. Glaringly absent from this list are INTERSEX INDIVIDUALS. Is it not logical that if one is interested in making decisions regarding intersex people, that INTERSEX PEOPLE should be involved in the decisions that will affect them? More logical yet, shouldn't each INTERSEX INDIVIDUAL be allowed to make decisions about their bodies and their identity FOR THEMSELVES, without these things being dictated by doctors who very likely are not intersex themselves, and cannot relate to the wide variety of life experiences intersex people have had? WHY SHOULD INTERSEX PEOPLE "NOT ATTEND" THE CONFERENCE?

This conference does not yet list whether or not live genital mutilation surgeries will be performed at the conference like last year, or whether The Accord Allicance - supposedly an organization advocating for the health of intersex individuals - will sponsor them, in part. Let's hope that these things don't happen.

Regardless, if you are outraged that medical and psychological health professionals feel entitled to make decisions about things only each individual should be able to make for themselves, then feel free to give some suggestions on how to improve their conference. (Like, you know, not having it.)

Monday, April 12, 2010

Full Frontal Activism Blog Readers: Build A Little Community Here!

...Um, ALL of you! O.o

This blog is relatively new, so I'm staggered to see the growing list of individuals that are following this blog, or are perhaps reading but don't officially "follow." (I get it; I read lots of blogs semi-regularly, and don't officially "follow" any.)

Aside from the fact that I'm curious to learn a little more about you (other than the fact that you're likely interested in intersex and/or queer issues), I thought it might be nice for you readers to have a space to introduce yourselves and get to learn a bit about each other. I know I oftentimes read really intelligent comments written by other readers on blogs I like, and wonder, "What's their background? How did they find this blog? I wonder what other cool stuff they have to share?" Well, now you can share and learn, ask and tell! :)

I'll go first, to get you started. Hi, my name is Claudia. ("HI, CLAUDIA!") Besides the stuff you already know about me, I am a scientist, love to bake sweets, am constantly freezing, and love dressing in bright colors.


Nice to "meet" you all!

Sunday, March 28, 2010

Am I Still Made of Velveteen?

UPDATE: In this piece, I discuss "passing" a lot in terms of a chapter in The Nearest Exit May Be Behind You, by S. Bear Bergman, entitled "The Velveteen Tranny." Well, I should've kept reading before posting in a flurry of super-inspiration. If you read further in Bergman's book, he makes a really excellent distinction between using the word "passing" and "being read by." In passing (usually framed in terms of passing as male or female), the onus is on the sex-and-or-gender-"variant" individual to conform properly, and smacks of the age-old stereotype of transgender = deceptive, since they are "really" just disguising themselves or play-acting to "pass," and therefore penetrate a world to which they really don't belong. They're getting away with something. In being read by others, and not passing as male or female in front of them, however, there is no connotation of deceptivness. The onus is now not on an individual to be sneaky and wily enough to be deceive viewers into thinking they're men or women (or something else). This is simply framed as the gender "impression" made on a looker-on. Any spontaneous gender assignment is made BY ANOTHER PERSON, and not the result of a person to assimilate in a (devious) way that is culturally expected of them.

This distinction isn't a small one, and something worth considering. In the future, I'm not going to frame the above scenarios in terms of "passing." However, I'm going to leave the text below in their unaltered state, simply because I think that people are used to the concept of "passing." It might, then, be easier to read this post as is, without the extra mental burden of, "What this 'being read' stuff? Oh, yeah!" I don't want to write to confuse, after all. After reading, if you'd like to go back to a few sentences and substitie "read" for "pass," then go for it! In future posts, you'll get enough of "read," anyway.

Thanks for reading this technical note! Enjoy! :)

~ Claud

Or am I a REAL intersex-genderqueer-lady-queer yet?

I have kindly been loaned the book The Nearest Exit May Be Behind You, by S. Bear Bergman. (Thanks C and E!) This book is fantastic for tons of reasons, but one essay that has already emblazoned itself into my mind is one entitiled, "The Velveteen Tranny."

"Ha," I thought. "Quippy title. Wonder what this'll be about?"

Well, I'm not entirely certain I actually read the entire story of The Velveteen Rabbit, so his fantastic insights were a bit lost on me at first. For those of you who might not've been exposed to this book (or perhaps, like me, just never got around to reading it), here's the synopsis, via Wikipedia. The basic gist, though, is that this stuffed rabbit toy, made of velveteen (hence the moniker) isn't a real rabbit. The only way the toy can become a real rabbit is if his owner loves him. Well, the child gets scarlet fever and pretty much everything the rabbit's owner touched recently needs to be burned, including the poor rabbit. (Ouch!) But, before the rabbit can be burned, the rabbit cries actual tears, and then a Nursery Magic Fairy (...just go with it) tells the rabbit that the owner loves him, so he's actually a real rabbit. The rabbit then hops off into the woods, knowing his owner really loved him, even though he can't be his owner's toy ever again.

What we learn from this, broadly, is that your identity is only as good and "real" as it is to those that encounter you. If they "love" you, and accept your identity as "real," then your identity will be real. If your identity isn't accepted as real, then your identity cannot be what you claim it is.

In short, OTHER PEOPLE DEFINE WHO YOU ARE BY WHETHER OR NOT YOU "PASS" AS YOUR IDENTITY. When we think about this in gender-variant terms, things get really interesting, and this is actually an excellent analogy to use as a framework to think about "passing."

Passing is a subject that is oft-talked about in gender-"variant" communities. Passing is important to talk about, for me, because not all gender-variant individuals choose to pass at all. It's just not a goal. Sure, individuals may alter their bodies, behaviors, voice timbres, clothing, accessories, makeup use, etc., at least in part, in order to "pass" as something - commonly talked about in terms of passing as male or female. But not all individuals want to "pass" as anything. Individuals whose gender identities blur or lie outside the gender binary very, very often make these changes to more closely approximate the person they are, with no goals of passing as anything in particular to others. Sometimes various presentations and performances are assumed for the sake of genderfucking to publicly challenge gender norms (e.g., think an individual with a beard, wearing a skirt, with a biker jacket, a large hair bow, heavy-duty work boots, and bright lipstick), with which a genderfucking individual may or may not identify with as their own gender identity. Or perhaps they do, at least sometimes, while they are presenting and performing in that way. (I say sometimes because often the outfit I was feeling when I woke up is completely ill-fitting to my gender identity that afternoon, later that morning, or 5 minutes after I walk out the door. *Sigh* Should I just start wearing full layers of separate outfits under one another and peel things off and mix-and-match as appropriate? That could get kind of fun, actually!) Individuals may also only want to pass sometimes - whether out in public, in going to a queer event, drag show, etc., so it is just an occasional goal. Others want to pass all the time, either because it is important to their identity, for SAFETY REASONS (not to be taken lightly in any form for gender-variant individuals), to keep their job (even though it's highly illegal to fire someone for this, but it still happens), keep not-understanding friends or lovers, for their childrens' sake, or a host of other reasons that may completely be their choice or they are forced into to prevent certain elements of their lives from changing. Others are not really sure what they want to do - just a valid reason as any. Passing is really complicated in general.

But this essay has made me think about passing with fresh eyes. I have always thought about passing in terms of, "I have passed as female in the presence of all of these people. Yes! Or, ugh." The focus on passing was certainly how others identified me. But that is a very different sentiment than focusing on passing as how others ALLOW YOU TO BE REAL OR NOT. Check out this excerpt, as follows:

The truth is that I might not mind as much if I didn't understand so well what was going on. I might be willing to believe that there was some sort of innocent educational journey at work every single one of those times [being interrogated about one's sex and gender], if I hadn't already answered those questions over and over only to discover that each of my questioners was using the information to decide whether or not I was real. I say that my name is Bear, and when I am asked if I have changed my first name to Bear, I say no, it's my middle name. Not real enough. When people learn that my grandmothers still call me Sharon, it's further proof: not the real deal. These judgments are made about surgeries, about hormones, about sexual orientation, and people who ask them - the same people who moments before claimed the need for my tender educational mercies - are not the gender judge and jury.


It's tempting to make the comparison to the Velveteen Rabbit, and tidy as well - and you know essayists; we love to wrap up a good metaphor with a pithy ending. Here I just say that I know that I'm real, that I believe in it fully, and if I can become real to just one person it's enough to sustain me. But unlike the Velveteen Rabbit, who was redeemed from death through love but never allowed to be near his love again, it takes more than one person believing in my realness. It takes cultural change. And so this essay doesn't really end as much as it stops. I'll let you know if I ever get more real.

This is really interesting, because it means, to an extent, that whether or not we're trying to pass, or not trying to pass, many, many other people are still trying to shoehorn us into one of several categories - often just two, or maybe more if they're slightly more aware/kind. But ultimately others do not believe we have the autonomy of saying, "This is who I am." They do not think that we are the experts on who we are - that they know more about who we are than we do, who we have been living with all our lives, based on a few physical or behavioral features they just happen to notice in-passing. Others should not be allowed to define us. They don't have a right to our identities any more than they have a right to our bodies. But they think that we do. That because we are different, because we are minorities, that this means that, by default, we are for public consumption. That it is justifiable to pick apart our identities and challenge us, and ask us stigmatizing and triggering questions because we are the weird ones, and they can't be expected to POSSIBLY make any sense of our Non-Sensical Crazy, and so we must educate them about it. We must answer their awful questions. We must engage with them in discourse as equals, as though they potentially know as much about our "confused" states as we do, and maybe their unsolicited advice on how to be "normal" is just all we need in order to bounce back to "reality."


This is a really different way of thinking about passing than I have been thinking about it previously, and in context, people's "inquiries" (i.e., harassment) makes much more sense to me within this framework. This framework is obviously applicable to people that are trans-identified, androgynous, or gender-variant in some way. How does this relate to intersex?

Not all forms of intersex come with a suite of external morphological characteristics (i.e., shape and form of the whole body or various body parts) that look anything unlike people's typical constructions of "male" or "female." With my own variation, CAIS, I look very female. I have never been mistaken for a male. Not once. Not even that time I received a hideous bowl-cut from an inept hairdresser that looked utterly like the mushroom cut all my elementary school male peers were wearing. (I only identify as female sometimes, most of the time identifying as gender-neutral or gender-less, and never identify as male. So, even though I "pass" as female because I meet stereotypical preconceptions of what female-bodied individuals look like because of my form of intersex, I often feel a lot of anxiety because I don't always know if how I'm acting or wish to act conforms with behaviors typical of stereotypical female-gendered individuals. I look the part, but I don't always feel like I'm PLAYING it correctly. Can't a new actor be hired to play female Claudia, instead? Also, this would give me less time to work at my job, and more time to engage in activism! Yesssssss!)

Individuals with other types of intersex conditions may possess suites of body parts that, together, don't match other peoples' conceptions about what male or female bodies should look like. Check out the Intersex Society of North America's "Intersex conditions" page. (To start, check out congenital adrenal hypoplasia (CAH), Klinefelter's, and XXY. I'm not going to talk about each one in-depth because I know my own form of intersex far better than other intersex individuals', and I can't speak for all intersex individuals, whether they have my own form of intersex - CAIS, level 7 - or not. People need to be given the forum to describe their own bodies and lived experiences, in ways that I - though, yes, intersex - am still, however, an outsider into their particular lived experiences. Only they can describe the nuances they experience. Also note that not all individiuals with atypical sex anatomy, such as Turner's, Klienfelter's, etc., consider themselves to be intersex, as we've discussed in previous posts. There's nothing simple or clear-cut about identity! Now if only we all accepted that...) These individuals very likely are harassed by outsiders, who have absolutely no business to do so. A lot of people likely think it IS their business, though, because they are threatened if others stray outside the sex-and-gender binaries, or if they are attracted to - *GASP* - "some freak," something else Bergman addresses in his essay. The difference is that intersex individuals may not be gender-variant in any way, nor identify as queer - none of it. So, intersex individuals that are not a part of the queer community may be interrogated and discriminated against by virtue of "looking funny" to others' oh-so-idealized paragons of male and female bodies. {*insert choir of angels here*} This kind of "passing" for intersex individuals outside the queer community shares many of the same elements, trials, inequities, and frustrations of many queer individuals' experiences in "passing." The difference is, I'm very, very unconvinced that intersex individuals think about passing, share tips for passing, etc. in the ways that many queer individuals do. Instead, there may just be isolation and frustration and body-hate and a host of other things. How can we have a greater discourse on passing for intersex individuals whose bodies don't conform to culturally-defined expectations of male or female forms, who may or may not also be part of the queer community where some of these concepts may have been encountered already?

In a lot of ways, we've definitely got tons of queers, not (just?) wearing velveteen but MADE of velveteen, if we are to go along with Bergman's deft analogy. If passing is something that is desired, for queers, queer-identified intersex individuals, and non-queer-identified intersex individuals, what can be done if the power to be real does not lie within our own capacity, according to many others? It is simple to say, "Just ignore it. Go along with your business. YOU TRULY define your OWN identity!" Well, yes, this is the way it should be, but that doesn't meant that's actually how it plays out. Stigmatizing questions do wound one's pride. Constant challenging does sometimes lead to crazy-making. We SHOULD have control over our own identities (for fuck's sake, we should at LEAST have the autonomy to define who we ARE! ARRRGH!), but unless we want to be a constant walking font of education and decide to inform ignorant individuals when we feel like it, or simply ignore them, or get angry and lash out, none of these options may ultimately feel satisfying, depending on the situation. You still want to be taken as REAL, without having to prove yourself. Questions are one thing. Attempted identity homicide via non-acceptance of one's identity is another.

There are, of course, lots of creative ways to raise awareness about gender variance, trans issues, intersex issues (whether with or without overlap with the queer community) when interrogated, but that deserves its own blog post, and I'm starting to fade. (Note to self: Don't try to think about meangingful stuff before eating. Ever. Just don't.) The ultimate rub, though, comes from not being taken at face value, maybe because our faces don't line up with your expectations. My face, my body outline, my muscles, my skeletal structure, my hormone levels, my chromosomes, my external genitals, my internal sex organs, my body hair distribution, my voice timbre, my clothing choices, my behaviors, my likes and dislikes, my work and hobbies - NONE of that gives anyone the right to decide who you ARE based on that. We can try to fight this system of interrogation and verdict of whether one's "real" or not, but the fact is that majority folks have an unearned privelege of choosing to do this, whether or not they exercise this privelege or not. Like Bergman said, what really needs to change is our cultural values regarding this.

Only then can we define who we REAL-ly are, without a fight.