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!