Wednesday, October 26, 2011

Happy Intersex Awareness Day 2011!


Things that would be awesome to do if you're comfortable:
Talk to someone about intersex today! Refer them to an awesome webpage, organization, blog (!), book, article, documentary, movie, WHATEVER on intersex! Generate a discussion about what intersex is, and that non-consensual medical practices performed on intersex kids needs to end! Let others know that biology can't be shoved into one of two categories, and all bodies are beautiful and worthy of recognition in their own right!

And, if you're in the NYC area, come check out our awesome workshop and performance series, respectively, this Friday at NYU and this Saturday at Bluestockings!

Happy Intersex Awareness Day! Whoo! <3

Wednesday, October 12, 2011

"I'm Sorry...WHAT Did You Just Ask Me?!"

Hi, there! Intersex, as we know, isn't a household word, and isn't a concept most people have heard of before. Subsequently, people may want to know things about intersex, but may go about asking intersex individuals about it in a way that feels yucky to the askee. People asking questions really do want to understand intersex, and so they ask what is on their mind. This sometimes results in inappropriate questions being asked, or questions being asked in inappropriate contexts, that end up being stigmatizing and offensive when they likely didn't mean to be.

So, how do you tell people that what they are asking, or the ways they are asking about intersex, is inappropriate? This can be especially difficult when these are loved ones who support and love you, but have made you wince upon hearing a question you really didn't want to address.

I have some ideas about this! (As usual. Ha!)

Here we go!

1) Let them know your boundaries. As stated, I think the vast majority of the time, people ask questions that can be hurtful because they don't know that they're hurtful. But this doesn't mean that intersex individuals have to respond to questions that make us uncomfortable. For example, let's say someone asks, "Oh, you're intersex? Um, what does know...look like?" (I'm using this as an example because, in my experience, this question and subtle variants on it is probably the most common of inappropriate questions about inersex.) Some responses might include, "I'm actually not comfortable answering that question. I'd be happy to talk about intersex in general, but don't really wanna talk about my *own* body. That's private." "What my own genitals look like really won't give you good insight into the variety of ways that intersex bodies may look or function. It's not really relevant. Intersex bodies, in general, [explainexplainexplain]." These responses help make the distinction between talking about intersex in general and talking about the-intersex-person-right-in-front-of-me. This is important because many questions, if asking about intersex in general, may make an intersex individual totally comfortable answering. But when the question is focused directly on THEM PERSONALLY, it can feel invasive.

These next few responses are appropriate for individuals who aren't necessarily trying to be respectful about intersex. Unfortunately, sometimes people aren't interseted in intersex in general, and are kind of just morbidly fascinated by it (OMG IT'S SO WEIRD THAT WE'RE HUMANS, JUST WALKING AROUND AND DOING STUFF LIKE EVERYONE ELSE LAWL WHAT FREAKS, RITE?!). For these individuals, other approaches to answering their questions may be more appropriate.

REMEMBER: How you answer a question is important, and it may affect your physical safety! Be calm and respectful when answering any questions. The reason you may be upset in the first place is because the person asked something inappropriate...being inappropriate in return won't necessarily remedy the situation. It's worth considering that fighting fire with fire doesn't put the fire out - it just potentially creates a bigger fire.

2) Direct a question back to its asker. If a variant of the question, "What do your genitals look like?" is asked, a response might include, "I dunno. What do *your* genitals look like? Can you describe them in detail for me?" Look at them, and wait for a response. This tactic gets across the point that it's not any more appropriate to ask such a question to someone who's perceived as "different" than to someone that's perceived as "normal." People would likely NEVER ask such a question to someone perceived to be a typical "male" or "female." It's just as not-okay to ask these questions to those who may not fit into or identify as one of two categories.

3) Respond to an absurd question with an absurd answer. Let's say we're dealing with the same question - "What do your genitals look like?" A response might include, "Actually, I have a tiny pink unicorn where most peoples' genitals are located. I also have tiny pots of gold instead of nipples, which somes in handy when the rent's due. cha-CHINNNG!" This answer is obviously absolutely ridiculous, which serves to highlight the ridiculousness of someone asking what their genitals look like. If desired, this can totally be delivered in such a way to make the other person laugh and feel sheepish about asking an absurd question, instead of pissing them off.

Also, it's totally okay if you don't feel like having a conversation about intersex! Ultimately, it's the job of everyone to educate THEMSELVES; it's not the job of those who are perceived as "different" to educate members of the majority about whatever they ask/whenever they ask it. If you are not interested in having a conversation at that time, it's your right to not consent to it! Instead, offer some resources that they could check out regarding intersex, like Organization Intersex International (the USA chapter and Australian chapter are good places to start!), various blogs like this one, Intersex Unicorn, Fuck Yeah, Intersex!, Queer Intersects, or The Intersex Roadshow, or books such as Fixing Sex, by Katrina Karkazis.

It's all about better, respectful, non-stigmatizing communication! Let's talk it out, and keep it up!

Any of you all have ideas for how to respond to questions that might be (accidentally) inappropriate or offensive, or other intersex resources you'd recommend?

Thursday, October 6, 2011

"Sex Identity"

Hey, ya'll. There's something I've been thinking about a bunch, and want to discuss.

It's become increasingly common over the last several decades to have discussions about aspects of sex-&-gender-related identites in queer spaces. Slowlyslolwlyslowly, even members of various mainstream societies are beginning to think about this stuff. These forms of identity - whether gender ID, gender presentation, gender performance, sexual orientation - are starting to be recognized as perhaps non-binary, as complex, as non-static, as fluid. As LIBERATING to be able to be yourself, without denying parts of yourself to fit one of two molds when they're (sometimes) not authentic.

Biological sex, though, is one of those things that has not been thought of in terms of IDENTIFYING in a certain way. When we're talking about intersex, I think this is completely appropriate to do so.

People may be more used to thinking about complexity and fludity in gender and sexual orientation because these identities have (nearly?) always been perceived as concepts, and not as physical realities. No one can hold hands with their gender, or squint hard enough and see what someone's sexual orientation looks like. They're inherently perceived as abstract to some degree from the get-go since they don't have physical form. And since they're already abstract concepts, perhaps it's easier to switch mental tracks and think of these concepts in more complex and fluid ways. (On the other hand, it's worth noting that just because you can't SEE a gender identity doesn't mean that people don't regard them as real, and many accounts show that people will do drastic and horrible things to enforce these "real" norms. So it's not really as simple as all this.)

In the same light, it probably seems very silly indeed to think of sex as an identity. After all, bodies are PHYSICAL things. You *can* hold hands with someone else. You *can* see what they look like walking down the street. What do you need to have a "sex identity" for? You can SEE the person's body. What's to identify about?

Well, when we're talking about intersex bodies, it's not always clear what sex to assign a kid at birth. With other individuals whose gender IDs, performances, presentations, and sexual orientations may be different from what is "expected" of them based on their sex & gender assignments at birth, there was no question as to their sex assignments at birth. "It's a boy!" or "It's a girl!" were heralded confidently by clinicians and doulas and passers-by who accidentally got roped into to helping someone give birth when that kid started coming out RIGHT. THEN. When intersex children were born, these proclamations of "It's a ---!" are sometimes replaced with a "Hmmm...what is it?" Unlike the aforementioned individuals who may have complex and non-static gender & orientation identities, intersex individuals' sex must be CHOSEN, and not simply ANNOUNCED.

Intersex kids are born with a mix of traits traditionally considered to be "male" and "female," unlike individuals assigned M or F at birth without discussion and decision-making, who are born with all "male" sex characteristics or all "female" sex characteristics. Such sex characteristics, at this point before puberty are restricted to include external genitals, internal sex organs, hormone types, hormone levels, and chromosomes; later on, things like chest development, nipple development, bone and muscle structure, hip:waist ratio, body hair density and distribution, and others can be included during/post-puberty. Sex assignment for intersex kids (and therefore gender, as well - because they have to "match up," right?!...nooo) is largely (mostly?) based on how big or small certain body parts are. For example, the penis and the clitoris are derived from the same developmental tissue. There are a bunch of different standards that physicians may use that say if the phalloclitors (as it's called) is bigger than this, the child is a boy, and if it's smaller, then the child is a girl. But deciding on what the cutoff points are vary wildly and are arbitrary...not a very objective approach. Ultimately, intersex kids are assigned a sex (and also a gender) at birth. (Hopefully, sex assignment is done without the use of harmful medical practices, such as genital mutilation surgery. After all, it only changes that child's outer appearance...we still have no idea who that child actually IS until they grow up more and can tell us who they are, making non-consensual surgery when these kids are young tragic and unnecessary.)

But what remains is a bias that because biological sex is about physical bodies, "sex identity" is nonsensical as a concept. For intersex individuals, however, our composites of body characteristics do not fall under typical definitions of what "male" or "female" bodies are like. I think, then, that it's completely appropriate to be able to identify as a biological sex, in the same way that one might identify one's gender(s), performance(s), presentation(s), and sexual orientation(s).

What we know is that intersex people already identify their biological sex in a variety of ways. They may identify as male, female, as an intersex male or intersex female, as a male that happens to be intersex, as a female that happens to be intersex, as intersex, as their particular form of intersex. Some intersex people maybe identify as having no biological sex, or as something else I have not mentioned. Intersex people may not only identify their sex as one thing throughout their whole may not be static and change over large or very short periods of time, and may change never, rarely, or frequently.

We are ALREADY identifying our biological sex in various ways, although I have never heard others describing what they were doing as such. I think we need to discuss whether this concept is so ridiculous after all, and try to better understand the range of identities that intersex individuals have/had with regards to biological sex.

What do you think about this? How do you feel about identifying your biological sex?

Wednesday, October 5, 2011

Intersex Activist Event!: XXY Film & Discussion, Oct 13

Hi, everyone! Have you seen the film XXY? It's pretty great, in many ways, and is by far the most accurate portrayal of an intersex indiviudal within the entertainment industry to date.

NYU's Office of the LGBT Student Services is showing a screening of this film as a part of their Reel Queer Film Series. Here's the deatils below!

XXY Film Screening
Thurs, Oct 13th
NYU's Jeffrey S. Gould Welcome Center 50 W 4th St.

I will be present at the event! After the film is over, I'll be serving as a discussant so we can get some conversation and Q&A about intersex going, as pertains directly to the film or in general.

Yay! Come join us! Or, if you can't, check out the film anyway - you won't be disappointed!

Tuesday, September 27, 2011

Coming Clean to Clinicians

Hi, there! After all my talk about menstruation a while ago, I have been thinking more about the fact that I have always lied and told doctors that I got my period "on the first of the month." (Does that sound shady? I feel like that sounds shady. Bah.) Well, I don't get my period at all, as a result of my form of intersex, Complete Androgen Insensitivity (CAIS). Recently, this has started to bother me.

It's not a bad thing that I am exclusively read as female and I don't happen to menstruate. I'm not supposed to menstruate - I never was! I'm not ashamed that I don't menstruate, even though it's still kinda weird to think about sometimes since lots of people assume that I do (which as resulted in a variety of uncomfortable to funny situations, as I've detailed previously).

In light of this, I have decided to experiment a little.

I have started to blatantly tell clinicans that I don't get my period when asked.

I've been in the unfortunate position of having pneumonia this past week and some change. (Boooo, it's not terribly fun, but I'm almost better!) I've visited several doctors since then to get checked out, and to get medicine. I decided a few minutes before going into my first doctor's appointment that I just didn't feel like lying about my period anymore to keep up the pretense that I'm "normal." I didn't want to be normal anymore so much as I just wanted to be me.

So I went for it.

I was escorted by a male nurse into a non-descript room in the ER, and was asked all the usual questions, including none other than, "When was your last period?" I paused for a moment, and said, "Um, I don't...get one." "Okay," he said. No raised eyebrows. No whipping his head around from the computer he was enetering all my information into. No slack-jaw and tongue wagging and fainting in front of my eyes. He didn't really care. Nor should he! I was glad he didn't cause a scene or make me feel uncomfortable. Although I did feel a little internal glee as he scrolled through the options in the drop down menu, looking for the you-think-i'd-get-my-period-but-suprise!-I-don't-actually-get-one option to no avail. After a couple of seconds, he just left it blank. MUAHAHA. Intersex FTW!

A while later, I had to get a chest x-ray. (Oh, pneumonia.) I smiled and reassured the technician, no, there was no way in hell I could be pregnant, and donned the ever-fashionable hospital gown once again. I had to fill out another form, this time requiring you to fill in the date of your last menstrual cycle. The space on the form had backslashes already in there, just waiting for you to put in the numbers of that fateful day. I grimaced at the form, and just ended up writing over all the backslashes - "I don't get one," except that it actually looked like "I /don'/t ge/t one." Haha. I was not asked any questions.

Today, now a little over a week since that appointment, I had to go get another chest x-ray as a follow up. I once again indicated on the forms that I don't get a period. (Although I actually wrote, "I don't receive one," which strikes me as funny, since "receive" sounds like I missed out on some sort of gift I might've been getting. Ha.) I figured, well, no one asked me last time. Probably no one really cares. I glided over to the x-ray room, worry-free.

But this technician called me out on it. "Is there any chance that you could be pregnant?" Obligatory grin. "No." "Now, I see here on your form it says that you don't get a period. Can you explain what that means for me?" Cold wave of shock. Ohgodohgodohgod is this awkward, should I tell the truth? "Uh...I was born without a uterus." It was a little painful. Would I have to go into more detail? The tech was really nice. "Oh, okay." "Yeah, there really is NO CHANCE that I'm pregnant, *ha*." She smiled. "Okay, I just had to check." "I know that it's kind of unusual..." Ugh, I wish I had said atypical! Nooooooooo "No, it's not." Smiles again. ...Wait, has she had other patients here getting x-rayed that are read as female, maybe identify as female, that have a similar story? Probably. It's not like we're *actually* rare, even though TALKING about intersex is a rarity. I was really curious, but I didn't feel comfortable asking about anything further (patient confidentiality?), so I let it go and resigned myself to be pressed up against some screens while I held my breath.

All in all, it hasn't been so bad being honest about the fact that I don't menstruate, even though everyone likely assumes that I do. I haven't come out and simply said, "I'm intersex," because, frankly, that's not really informative. There are a lot of intersex variations out there, and individuals with some forms of intersex menstruate, and individuals with other forms of intersex don't. Simply saying, "I'm intersex," won't clarify right off the bat why I don't menstruate, without describing that my form of intersex is CAIS, and blahblahblah, and I'm not entirely certain I want to launch into a whole conversation with a clinician if they're not aware of what intersex is and what I'm talking about. A lot of that still stems from the fact that I'm generally uncomfortable discussing intersex around medical professionals due to my history of medicalization, which has left emotional scars that are still healing. I don't want to re-open any wounds, you know? I'm not sure how I'll proceed with this in the future, but right now, saying that I don't menstruate is a huge first step.

NYC's 2nd Annual Intersex Awareness Day Events: We Have Details!

Hi, everyone! If you're going to be in NYC at the end of October, we'd love to have you at NYC's 2nd Annual Intersex Awareness Day Events series! Come raise awareness, share, and learn with us!

We have fabulous activist Tricia Madison along with me this year, as well as another anonymous activist. Tricia, like myself, is an affiliate of the USA chapter of Organization Intersex International (OII-USA), a global advocacy group helping to raise awareness about what intersex is and to stop non-consenusal and harmful medical "treatment" of intersex indiviudals (like genital mutilation surgery). Read more about her here! Our awesome anonymous activist writes a blog I really like and have previously featured on FFA:IAA, Queer Intersects. I'm so excited to raise awareness with them!

Here are the events!

Event #1: Workshop - What Is Intersex, & How to Be A Good Ally
Friday, Oct 28th, 12-2pm
NYU's Kimmel Center, 60 Washington Square South, Rm 602

This event features an interactive workshop covering intersex basics, what intersex activists are working toward, current issues in intersex activism, and how to be an ally for intersex individuals. I'm hoping for a lot of discussion. Anyone that's interested in learning more about intersex is welcome to come & join the discourse!

Event #2: Performance - Intersex Awareness: Celebrating Our Bodies
Saturday, Oct 29th, 4-6pm
Bluestockings Bookstore, Cafe, and Activist Center, 172 Allen St.

Our activists will explore intersex issues and lived experience through a series of performance monologues that cover a range of topics. Think Vagina Monologues, intersex-style. This is going to be fun! Q&A to follow, of course!

I hope that you are as excited about these events as we are! I'll provide you with updates on the events as needed, as time gets closer.

Hope to see you there!


Sunday, August 14, 2011


Having sex can be fun and great and wonderful, but it can only be these things when all parties involved are comfortable and consenting with what’s going on. Intersex individuals may have particular needs and concerns that are uncommon for others when having sex, and understanding how to make an intersex partner comfortable may require some additional knowledge and communication. These points below are not applicable to all intersex individuals, but may give you an idea of some things to discuss before getting down to ensure that a good time is had by all.

Intersex individuals may not be entirely comfortable with their bodies. Yes, many (perhaps even most) individuals in some populations struggle with body image, but it’s important to understand that the origin of such uncomfortableness come from different places. Common body image issues stem from certain kinds of body forms that are lauded as damn-near-perfect and made prominently visible in the media and entertainment industries, bombarding us at every turn - i.e., white, thin, with "conventionally attractive" facial features = a certain suite of traits most commonly found in a subset of white individuals. Those whose bodies don’t closely resemble these idealized forms may feel a host of negative feels about this.

Intersex individuals may experience these common body image issues, which serve to judge and provide the standard with what attractive and the most highly-valued bodies look like. Intersex individuals may, on top of this, also experience body image issues surrounding what "NORMAL" bodies look like and/or how they are supposed to work. Now, that's kind of a bullshit statement, because when you say, these bodies as best, you're normalizing them. But what I mean isn't the your-body-is-not-ideal-and-therefore-not-so-normal kind of normalcy, but the people-can't-conceive-that-your-bodies-even-exist-are-you-SURE-this-is-for-real kind of normalcy. There's a lot of pressure tied in with sex as it is - "Are you having it?," "Is it good?," "Are you good in bed?," "Are you sexually attractive enough?" Things get more complicated yet when you throw in, "Does my body look normal?...Will my partner(s) find my body attractive, regardless?," "Does my body work like it's expected to in sexual situations?...How will my partner(s) react if it doesn't?," and "If my partner(s) don't know I'm intersex, (when) do I want to disclose that?...Does planning to have a short- or long-term sexual relationship change my answers?"

Let's take on the last questions first. Intersex individuals may choose to disclose their intersex or not disclose it before sexual encounters, especially they are not planning on having an extended sexual relationship with their partner(s). It is important to note that not disclosing one's intersex is not being dishonest - it simply means that that intersex individual decides to to share that part of themselves with their partner(s). For example, individuals hoping for a one night stand together aren't likely to sit down together beforehand and have an hours- if not days-long conversation, staring soufully into each others' eyes, and disclose every aspect of their personal being so that prospective partners can decide whether or not to sleep with someone for one night only after hearing their whole life story. People don't necessarily disclose their entire selves to anyone, and even individuals who know us best may not know every last, single thing about us. Or people who have disclosed every aspect of themselves may not have shared every detail with a given individual - that knowledge of their whole selves is spread across people they know, have talked to, have confided in, have shared with. People pick and choose what they wish to tell others, and what they choose to tell may be highly dependent on context. It's no less dishonest to decide not to disclose one's intersex status than it is to fail to report what you had for lunch on Oct 13, 2007 or that thing you did with the thing that one time. People decide what to share of themselves with others. Deciding not to do so can't be deemed dishonest unless people consider that thing to be offbeat and bad in some way, and thus "withholding" this information was a deliberate act to deceive. Being intersex isn't bad. The reason intersex people may choose to withhold this isn't because they view their intersex as bad (although some may that have had this ingrained by years of medical "treatment"), but it may be that they know that other people may not understand what it is, and/or they don't want to get into a lengthy conversation and explain Intersex 101 and risk getting asked invasive questions (again), and/or THEY WANT TO ENSURE THEIR SAFETY. It is well-known that transgender people for some time have been blamed for being deceptive by not disclosing their transgender status, only to have a (potential) sexual partner verbally and/or physically assault them. You have to do what you have to do to be safe. Sometimes intersex individuals won't disclose their intersex status before having sex, and that is okay and perfectly within their right to do so.

If an intersex individual DOES share their intersex with (potential) sex partners, then the bottom line is that consent and communication are key, as they should be in any sexual encounter and/or realtionship to keep it healthy. There are some things that intersex individuals may want to discuss before having sex (again) that are relevant to the sexual experience to be had. The importance of listening and communicating respectfully can't be overstated, since it's sometimes scary to share this shit!

Intersex individuals may want to share the fact that their bodies don't always look garden-variety in various aspects. This may mean explaining their form of intersex, and what features they have and/or don't have. For example, it's very common for people with AIS (androgen insensitivity) like me to have very small nipples that pretty much don't grow since childhood. I'm really self-conscious about that when having sex sometimes, and it's something I'd want to disclose before having sex. Just to get it out there, on the table, because otherwise I'm just gonna be thinking about it and wondering if they notice and are reacting to it. I just wanna talk about it beforehand so that I'M comfortable. It has definitely been helpful when partners complement your body, let you know they find you attractive, and communicate verbally and non-verbally that they desire you. Compliments and showing that they think you're super-hot? Definitely can help put someone's omg-are-they-gonna-think-my-body's-freaky?-o-meter at ease.

This may also lead into discussions of what these body parts do and/or don't do, and thus what intersex individuals want or don't want to do during sex. Individuals with various intersex variations may want to explain the form of body parts. AIS individuals planning to engage in penetrative sex, for example (using whatever body parts or toys - we're not making penis-assumptions here!), might want to discuss the fact that, without a uterus, the vagina is "blind-ended," or ends in a sac of tissue that doesn't go up to the cervix, and thus there's a back wall to the vagina. Sometimes, there can be pain with certain kinds of contat with that back wall, and an intersex individual might want to give partners a heads up. CAH individuals might want to talk about what is called alternatingly by medical folks as an enlarged clitoris/hemipenis (although individuals may have different terms, since they can describe their own bodies however they want!) and their erectile capabilities. (Clitorises of any size have muscle tissue for erectile capabilities, but erections may be more visible with larger such-structures.) Individuals with the MRKH variation, where individuals do not have a vagina, may want to discuss that penetration would not be possible, although that most certainly doesn't mean that penetrative sex couldn't happen, and certainly doesn't mean that sex can't happen! There are SO MANY different ways one can have sex. This whole heterosexual, penis-in-the-vagina thing? Is just one way to do it. All other forms of sex are just as valid, and just as much sex as the glowing hetero standard of intercourse {*insert choir of angels here and rays of white light*}. The same goes for individuals with the aphallia variation, where individuals do not have a penis. Sex can totally happen - these individuals just might want to talk about what sex could/would look like with partners.

Individuals that have gone through medicalization may not want to do certain kinds of things during sex, or may only want to sometimes, or only in certain contexts. Some of this might be due to the fact that certain sex acts are potentially triggering for these individuals. For example, with all the dilator stuff I experienced, I sometimes don't want penetration, and need to decide if that's what I want to do on my own terms, and know that I can consent to and reserve consent to it at any time (just like any other sex acts!). Remember that, like any individual that experiences triggers, partners should be attuned to watching for signs of triggering, and communicate if their partner indicates verbally or non-verbally that they are uncomfortable. Check in. Be attentive and patient. Talk about things. A good place to get started in thinking about issues of consent is Cindy Crabtree's (of Doris zine fame) Support zine. This zine is geared toward individuals that have survived or are working through sexual abuse trauma, and so is not geared toward intersex individuals, but we have discussed how intersex individuals that have gone through medicalization have often had similar experiences as those that have experienced other forms of sexual abuse. It's also worth noting that individuals one has sex with may have a history of abuse, regardless of their intersex, so it's just good to be aware of this stuff in general. <3 Individuals who have had surgeries performed on them may also have different needs. It is known that individuals that have had clitoral surgery may, post-surgery, experience diminished or no pleasurable sexual sensations when responding to stimuli, or sensations experienced might be painful either sometimes or all the time. They may also possess scarring from the surgery, and may be self-conscious of what their genitals look like post-surgery. (Ironically, it's much less common to hear of individuals reporting they were self-conscious of their genitalia BEFORE surgery. HMMMMM.) Individuals that had vaginoplasties may experience a range of experiences having sex post-surgery since, depending on the kind of tissue used (e.g., bowel, skin), the vagina may have a more or less "typical feel" or be more or less stretchy if one cares about penetrative sex. (In the extreme case for the latter, vaginal stenosis may occur, where the vagina closes partially or completely, making penetrative sex difficult, if not impossible. This would require - you guessed it! - MORE SURGERIES. This is yet another reason such surgeries shouldn't be performed on infants and children, who are still growing. If surgery is to be performed, it should be by the intersex individuals themselves, as adults, when they understand everything and want it and can CONSENT to it.) Some of the after-effects of these surgeries are also legitimate health concerns - which is ironic, since the surgeries are performed not to track health but to conform to social norms about sex and gender and bodies, but can create health problems themselves. (Does this seriously make sense to anyone?!) For example, vaginas may prolapse (= extrude out of the body partially or, in more severe cases, entirely) or grow HAIR inside them (which may happen if the tissue used to make the vagina possessed hair follicles, e.g., skin from someone's arm). These are all things that an intersex individual may want to talk about before having sex. Or not. Let's also not forget the fact that, like any group of individuals, some intersex individuals may identify as asexual, and will want to have sex infrequently, seldom, or not at all. In this case, some of this stuff might not be super-applicable to intersex indviduals who want romantic relationships with little to no sex involved. But aren't ya glad you know anyway? :)

In general, consent, communication, and respect are necessary components for having satisfying sexual experiences. Ask if it's okay to ask questions. Be honest, and discuss honestly and openly. Take concerns and dialogue seriously, and listen to what is being said. Evaluate what is comfortable and desirable together, and then go have lots of fun! Keeping these things in mind will result in healthy sexual encounters. And yay for that!

FACT: Sociocultural Norms Influence Scientific Thought.

I am a scientist (-in-training) by profession, and think about biology a lot. Other than the fact that bio is just fun (duh), I think about the relationship between intersex and normal, biological variation in what bodies look like and how they function.

I am currently working in a research collection far away from my home, NYC. One thing I've been noticing is my frustration over the biological specimens I'm using, and how they don't conform to what they "should" look like, making my job as a researcher more difficult. I'm supposed to take this measurement, but this bump or groove or whatever may be worn down, or in a slightly different location, or did something wonky and looks strange, or is just plain missing in the specimen because it broke off (more likely) or just didn't form. I have been tracking my anxiety looking at some of these specimens and going, "OMG, NOT AGAIN. WHY WON'T THESE SPECIMENS JUST LOOK NORMAL? WHY WON'T THEY BEHAVE?"

And I've been thinking about how stupid that is.

These specimens I'm working with are the way they are because they are the products of evolutionary history/trajectory, environmental factors, genetics, growth and development, and just plain ol' individual idiosyncracies. There is not a right or a wrong way for bodies to be or to exist. They just are. When I'm frustrated, it's not because the "strange" specimens I'm working with are effing up the measurements I'm trying to take - it's because any measurement you try to standardize won't work for all specimens, because there's just too much diversity in body form for any one measurement to work for every specimen out there. When I'm frustrated, it's not because that bump or groove should look like this or that so that I can easily classify it as X, Y, or Z - it's because X, Y, and Z are arbitrary categories researchers made up to make it a little easier to describe those bumps and grooves, knowing that the forms of these bumps and grooves are on a continuum or sometimes outside these continuua, and can't easily - or sometimes at all - be classified as X, Y, or Z. As a researcher, I've gotta make judgment calls, do my best, be honest about what I can and can't say, describe how I did what I did and recognize that others may do it differently or disagree. All it means is that there's yet more research to be done that spins off this stuff.

I guess I'm just kind of surprised that, since I think about this stuff only ALL THE TIME in terms of intersex, I would be reminded that biological forms aren't wrong, or strange, or bad. They just are. What may be wrong, or strange, or bad - if anything - is the fact that the standards we use to categorize and describe things will always have some element of subjectivity, a place where you have to draw the line even if no lines really exist in nature, dividing things up into neat little categories for our convenience. Nature is messy, and biology - the study of nature - is thus messy as well, because you can't easily study something that doesn't lend itself to be easily understood and described. That's one of the reasons I love biology so much, actually - endless variation, nothing is for certain, things change all the time. The best. But these things sometimes mean that DOING biology can feel like the worst, especially since career scientists' futures of doing biology (or whatever branch/es of science they're doing) hinge on ugly things like getting grant proposals funded and flashy results and beautiful, clear-cut conclusions that might make its way into fancy, exclusive journals. There's a lot of pressure for things to work out, to make sense, to have more rules than exceptions. But nature is full of exceptions. The specimens I've seen are proof of that.

Socicultural researchers have also long noted that science in itself is not an exact science. How scientists conceptualize, explain, and describe biological phenomena is not unbiased or entirely objective, but partially a product of cultural norms and ideas. One of the most infuriating examples for me, as an intersex person, is the staunch assertation that biological sex is a categorical variable. A categorical variable is any sort of trait that can be easily lumped into one of two or more categories - for example, whether something is present or absent. It can't be kindasorta there or more there than not there. No. If something is present, it's present. If it's absent, it's absent. No questions. Categorical variables are in contrast to continuous variables, where a trait isn't just described as this or that (or also the other thing, etc.). There is a range of variation and any attempts to divide up this variation into categories will be arbitrary, although it's not uncommon for scientists to do this if they want to force a continous variable into a categorical one for ease of analylzing something.

All right, all right. Fine. Categoricatinuous whatever. The reason it's so infuriating that sex is still considered a categorical variable is because well, it's not. I don't think there has been a single science course I took in college that I didn't raise my hand once a semester in response to the inevitable sex-is-one-or-the-other-categorical-stuffystuff and specifically asked about intersex individuals. My response has never been anything other than, "Oh, well, that's really rare, and that would be an exception to the rule." Um, okay. Doesn't that then mean that if there exceptions, that the RULE NEEDS TO BE MODIFIED? Dismissing the fact that intersex people exist to make nature less messy and complex makes biology less ACCURATE. I always knew, sitting in those classrooms, just by virtue of existing, that the sex-is-categorical thing just simply was false. There are tons of nit-picky topics that I've discussed throughout my science training in college and grad school that have highlighted, if nothing else, that there are SO. MANY. variables to consider, that things are super-complex, that if you're doing it right, you can't just gloss over stuff that's inconvenient to you. But that's exactly what science does when it's pretty much universally acknowledged that I apparently don't exist since biological sex must be a categorical variable. Scientists' insistence that biological sex is categorical comes from sociocultural ideas about what sex is, and how one defines it and where sex is located in the body. These things may differ among groups of people and change over time, but the fact that these sociocultural ideas heavily influence upholding this inaccuracy can't be ignored. Just because scienctists largely don't recognize that sex is categorical doesn't truly erase me. Um, I'm still here, guys. *waves*

I am more conscious now how ridiculuous it is to place value judgments on the specimens that are "thwarting you" in trying to complete your work. But even so, I think that these assumptions that things must be or look or function a certain way are the basis for why we discriminate, why we refuse to try to understand, why we fail to examine the assumptions we're making instead of writing off the bodies and beings that are causing cracks in our shitty paradigms that aren't real and don't explain the reality of what's actually out there. We need to accept and try to understand the diversity we're seeing and not write it off. When we write off these bodies and beings, we do a lot of harm. And that's not something I want to participate in, and need to be conscious about.

In / Visibility.

I've got identity on the brain, so it seems. The idea of identity and how identity is a composite of our knowing ourselves internally, others' interactions with us, and situational context is pretty amazing, and I love thinking about it. Within these concepts, I have been thinking more about identity and visibility - that who we are may be related to how we present ourselves, or how others read us causes them to identify us as X, whether these assumptions are correct or not.

I think about visibility a lot because I actually have like, no visiiblity as an intersex individual, no visibility as a genderqueer individual, and arguably little to very little visibility as a person who's queer in terms of sexual orientation. (I've been told that the fact that I present with assymetrical hair styling (yay for the side-bun!) helps others to identify me as lady-loving, as well as the small ear gauges I now have, even though I dress pretty femme-y or tomboy femme-y. Hmmmm....) Visibility, I'm learning, is both important to me, and not important to me. I want to be visible to others in different ways. I want people to know what intersex is - duh! - which is part of why I do the work I do. I don't care to walk down the street and have someone immediately identify me as intersex - something that wouldn't necessarily be desired by intersex individuals who don't identify as intersex, and also something that would be super-difficult to try doing anyway since there's many intersex variations. Just like any arbitrary way we try to lump people together, WE DON'T ALL LOOK THE SAME ANYWAY. What I want in terms of identity is just to be able to say to someone that I'm intersex, that it wouldn't be so much coming out, that it would just be, "Oh, okay, cool," and understood the range of things that that could mean in my particular case. In terms of queer visibility in general, when I first realized I was genderqueer - and then something later I've thought about when I realized I had a fairly strong preference for female-bodied/-identified individuals - I had the urge to present as really androgynous and be a fabulous occasional genderfucker and all that good stuff. After thinking about it for a while, though, it wouldn't have been authentic. I LIKE wearing skirts. I LIKE flowly femme-y cardigans. I LIKE wearing adorable ballet flats everywhere. Don't get me wrong. I just as much love my shitty, shitty loose-fitting gender-neutral T-shirts that say things on them that make no sense whatsoever (yay for thrift stores!) and my black clunky vegan sneakers and pulling my hair into a bun (side-bun?) without combing it really. These things don't necessarily fit stereotypical understandings of what a femme looks like, but when I wear them, I still want to wear short jean skirts and other more femme-y things. I needed to face that, at this time in my life, I present as femme or tomboy femme. And this means that I'm not going to get the dyke nod walking on the street, and I'm not going to be read as particularly anything much but a white, straight, cis-gender biofemme, and only one of those assumptions is accurate.

I would like to be more visible, in terms of more mainstream/conventional people understanding what various identities mean, but have also accepted that intersex isn't visible in the mainstream, and this is why we need people to have conversations about it and discuss it and actively try to raise awareness. Because I know this isn't on mainstream radar, it doesn't always hurt as much when I am not visible in these ways, because I expect more that, for now, it just isn't going to happen until more work is done. I am more bothered that I am not/very infrequently recognized by members of the communities I identify as a part of, in terms of intersex or various forms of queer. For queer identities, I am more or less accepting that there's not much I can do. I have realized it's dumb to alter my appearance to something inauthentic, that's not really me, so that I'm more visible. Even if I don't feel that I am immediately IDed as part of a group I identify with, I have been myself the entire time. I have always identified as This Claudia. And that is more important than "looking the part" if how you are and want to present doesn't fall in line with typical ways to present and perform. By being myself, I'm not as visible, but by presenting and performing authentically, I am also expanding the range of what people-that-identify-as-X present and perform like, and that's pretty cool. I also need to recognize that I have privilege because, even though it wouldn't be authentic, I technically have the OPTION of presenting some ways that other members of various queer communities can't. For example, there are a bunch of hairstyles that are thought of as stereotypical dyke cuts, but these styles are often not possible or desirable to do or maintain for some people of color. I have to recognize that even if I'm in the same boat as being mostly invisible, I still have privilege in that I can more easily be visible in some ways if I chose.

For intersex, I think it's trickier yet. People with bodies that may be considered intersex by some may not identify as intersex. Those that do identify as intersex in some way may not be comfortable sharing these identities. Those that do identify as intersex AND are comfortable sharing intersex identities don't just necessarily randomly do it freely and to anyone in public. Especially since there's so many intersex variations, it is basically impossible to ID intersex individuals, even as an intersex person. And that is a major bummer for me. There's things people talk about and write about that focus on identifying members of Group X (or at least (stereo-?)typical versions of them). Check out Krista's (hilarious) blog, Effing Dykes as an example for identifying queer ladies. (To illustrate, her tagline reads, "YOUR GIRL GAYDAR SUCKS. LET ME HELP YOU." If that's not to-the-point, I don't know what is!) There's no blog out there, though, that's talking about how intersex individuals often present as X, Y, and Z. There's no Effing Intersex with hand-dandy ID-ing tips & tricks. THERE'S NO WAY FOR INTERSEX PEOPLE TO RECOGNIZE ONE ANOTHER, and if there are intersex individuals out there that say they can, my guess would be that it wouldn't be very accurate. If we wanted to identify each other, how would we do it? I mean, we could all be super-1990s riot grrrl or something and decide that if intersex-identified people want to ID each other, we could marker up our hands with happy, colorful symbols. Get together and standardize, HEY, EVERYONE, IF YOU IDENTIFY AS INTERSEX AND WANT TO BE VISIBLE TO ONE ANOTHER, TRY DOING THIS. But this limits personal choice and results in inauthenticity. How could we really do that? Part of me is tempted to make shirts akin to what people of other identities have done - "NO ONE KNOWS I'M ---," like Original Plumbing magazine has done to raise awareness for transsexuals. (Sidenote: OP is so good!) I don't think that we should try standardizing anything, that isn't what I'm going for. (Although I really might want to make a T-shirt, anyway, just cuz I'd like it. Anyone interested, ha?)

I have learned later in my life that there were actually other intersex individuals that I came into contact with, but didn't know it until much later. I would've loved to know that, would've loved to have been able to share and talk and discuss and process stuff. But I didn't. Part of this is because, as we have learned from shared personal experiences, those people who have been shuttled through the medical stuff - and that is the vast majority of us - have it ingrained in them that this isn't stuff you talk about, and/or are traumatized by these (non-consenual) experiences and can't talk about them. Even those who would not have had these experiences are not going to be dancing in the street screaming to everyone they're intersex. Whether we're not visible to one another because we don't want to be visible or whether we do and don't have a clear way of signaling to one another, the result is that it's pretty common to feel like you're the only intersex person in the world. It also doesn't help that the Internet and medical journals and books and news specials and documentaries are chock-full of numbers and statistics claiming hard-line figures for how many of us there are, when these are actually more speculations since it's been pretty much impossible to get accurate stats on how many of us there are, as we've previously discussed, giving us NUMBERS to calculate how freaking few of us there supposedly are and increasing feelings of isolation.

I want to be able to have bunches of intersex friends to talk with and hang out with and feel some solidarity with. I know a few now, and am SO SO lucky to be friends with these awesome individuals (HI, THERE!), but it would be great to expand my circle. Do you all feel kinda lonely? Are you bugged by the lack of visibility, not just in the public sphere, but to one another? I have been bumming about this, and wanted to know what you all thought.

Friday, August 5, 2011

Oh No, I'm Writing a Post About Facebook.

I was hoping I wouldn't be doing that. But this shit is important!

This petition I've linked to, from All Out, is trying to get Facebook to change its profile settings to include more options for gender. I would argue that the same should be done for sex, as well, although this petition isn't lobbying for that. Blank fields for everything!!

There's links to testimonials and perspectives from individuals stating why they want Facebook to change their settings options, too, which are great - I think it's important to share stories and experiences from the people who are affected by Facebook's limited options, putting faces and names to this issue instead of just being a group of nameless, faceless, genderblobs.

Check it out, and sign it if you agree this issue is important! <3

Thursday, August 4, 2011


I was thinking the other day that, being female-bodied, there’s a lot of stuff you’re expected to know about menstruation that you might actually have no clue about.

I remember being 8 years old, in 3rd grade, and all of a sudden, I had boobs. Like, can’t-miss-them-boobs. I had to get a bra. There were no training bras. It just happened. My chest exploded over night, and there was no going back. I still just wanted to play Girl Talk and run around pretending to be international spies outside, but I knew my body was on some irreversible adult trajectory now. Huh.

So, I had the boobs thing down. Fine, whatever. A concurrent step along with OMG What Are These New Things Impeding Basic Bodily Movement was menstruating. Oh, how everyone wanted their periods. I had learned from the pediatric endocrinologist at Hershey I visited that I wouldn’t be doing that (why – my intersex – I didn’t learn until years later at Johns Hopkins), and was perfectly happy not to do so most of the time. Sometimes a general feeling of, “Awww, I’m missing out on something, even if I don’t really want to do it, but I kinda wanted to have the option anyway,” overtook me, as it did at various points of my life regarding both menstruation and childbirth. Mostly, though, there were few tears shed over my not menstruating. Since then, I’ve also realized that that perspective wasn’t quite accurate – you can’t miss out on something that your body was never supposed to do in the first place, as I described in a recent previous post.

What DID shock me a little was that even though I didn’t and would never get my period, I look female, and was thus assumed to be getting it soon, if I didn’t have it already. There was a whole list of things that I needed to know regarding menstruation that I had never anticipated until I was already in the moment, and had to think of something to say. Usually, I lied (sadly, in retrospect) since it was drilled into me that people didn’t know what intersex was, and wouldn’t understand, and it’s personal and does not need to be shared (especially since it was pawned off as a medical condition), and that if shared I’d open myself up to much misunderstanding and ridicule. (It’s worth noting that these perceived negative reactions have not come to pass talking with people in my adult life, barring some uncomfortable questions out of ignorance and not true malice.) Here are some things I can think of, as follows below. Note that all of my testimony focuses on conversations with mostly cisgender women; not all individuals who menstruate are either women or cisgender, and while I don’t menstruate, many other intersex individuals do depending on their form of intersex and individual variation.

1) My First Period story. Girls and women I know sometimes shared “the first time I got my period” stories. Well, I didn’t have one. I think I said something about getting it when I was 11 (since most girls were running around chanting didyougetitdidyougetit around that time), and went to the bathroom at school, and saw blood. Yeah.
2) This Is What A Period Feels Like. Sometimes in college, friends would be feeling crappy and mention that they were having their period. It would often devolve into a discussion about what their own menstrual process was like, or the range of things a menstruating person may experience (“My friend gets THE WORST periods EVER explainexplainexplain.”). The fist time this happened, I panicked, realizing that I had no effing clue what having a period was actually like. I fear all the things that could’ve come out of my mouth, unawares, sounding like an intersex version of The 40 Year Old Virgin (“Uhhh, my uterus feels like a…bag of sand?”). I knew some things from just being around my Mom and sister (like, bloating and feeling cramps), but was astounded that things like people’s NIPPLES hurting could happen, or that people got unusual food cravings during their periods just like I’d heard might happen during pregnancy, or that periods could last anywhere from like, 3 days to HALF A MONTH. (I mean, FUCK, that’s a long time.) I just usually shut my mouth and said that my period didn’t last very long and wasn’t too severe.
3) “When Did You Get Your Last Period?” Any sort of medical examination as a female-bodied person is not complete until you’re asked at least once if you might be pregnant. That was a rather easy one to answer, saying, “No,” especially during my younger years before having sex. I was thrown for a loop when this easy-as-pie routine was altered to include the question, “When was your last menstrual cycle?” I had no idea this information was relevant, and it seemed invasive and irrelevant and weird. It wasn’t until later that I realized they were checking that patients were menstruating, and that they were menstruating on a more-or-less regular schedule. I had no idea what to say. Did it matter what day I chose? Did it mean something if I menstruated on the 12th versus the 14th of the month? Would I start menstruating on the same day every single month? Would it be suspicious if I didn’t? Was it better to pick a day during the start, middle, or end of the month? Did THAT mean anything? Would anyone look at these charts from all these appointments later and notice something was awry about my stated menstrual schedule, that what I was saying couldn’t possibly be true, and I’d be found out? I always just said, “The first of the month,” somewhat too brightly and a little too nervously for my own comfort, but was never asked about it. Smoooooooooooth.
4) The Entire Aisle(s?) of Menstrual Products. If someone was having their period, they might ask you if you had any Midol or pads or tampons on you. I learned that this was a thing in high school, and it wasn’t infrequent at college, either. What I encountered later was that sometimes women also shared what menstrual products they liked best. It was pretty much agreed that Midol was the best pain reliever, but there was a lot of individual preference as far as what kinds of pads and tampons were used. I knew that pads could come in different sizes based on flow, but had no idea that what size you used affected how well you could sit down without feeling like you were in a diaper. If you decided on that, then wings or no wings? If you didn’t use pads, tampons came with their own questions. Who knew that tampons were made of different materials, and that their “feel” made using them more or less comfortable? And what the hell was that string at the end for? – it seemed strange and wasteful to put a string on the end just so you could get it out of the package or whatever, right? Regardless of what you were using, did you want the scented ones or not? SO. MANY. QUESTIONS.
5) I'm In On The In-Joke. Sometimes, women would make comments to male-bodied individuals assumed not to menstruate to the effect of, YOU'RE SO LUCKY YOU DON'T GET YOUR PERIODS, LADIES, AMIRITE? Um, I guessed they might be right, because the entirety of my knowledge about periods revolved around a kaliedoscope of different pains and aches you could have. But I always felt a little shame-faced when, after saying this, the women around me would all look at each other - me, included - with a look of we-know-what's-up solidarity. A solidarity that I actually couldn't share in but was assumed to. It was a strange thing to look at these women and think, "I look so much like you, but my body is different than yours. Looks? - similar. Functions? - different." For a while, I felt like an impostor, but realized later that just because other people READ ME as biologically female doesn't mean that I was somehow being deceptive by being nothing else than who I am. (= it's their problem for making assumptions, not my own problem that I exist.)

Talking about menstruation is actually one of my favorite things to talk about, ever. I’m fascinated by the intersections of people-assume-my-body-does-this and I-don’t-know-what-this-is-like, the complexity surrounding menstruation itself as a biological process, and the range of practices people profess in their experiences menstruating. Any of you intersex individuals out there got interesting perspectives and/or anecdotes to share?

Also, check out this perspective on beginning to menstruate later in life from fellow intersex activist Tricia over at Intersex Unicorn. It's hilarious. I died.

Wednesday, July 27, 2011

IAD 2011 In Planning Stages!

Just wanted to throw out a reminder that NYC's 2nd Annual Intersex Awareness Day events will be happening in late October! Activists present, locations, dates, and times are all TBA. But the point is that it's happening, and I'm exciteddddddd!

I think this merits some posi jumps, no? (Photo from



Sunday, July 17, 2011

"You're So LUCKY!"

My form of intersex is AIS (androgen insensitivity), more specifically CAIS (complete androgen insensitivity). Like other CAIS and PAIS (partial androgen insensitivity) individuals, I never developed a uterus or other “female” internal reproductive organs. Upon learning that I subsequently can’t menstruate or give birth, a lot of peoples’ reactions are, “Oh man, you are SO *lucky*!”

We need to talk about this.

First and foremost, let’s put it out there – I agree that for me personally, for this Claudia, that statement is true in part. I’ve rarely expressed interest in hanging around little kids and playing games with them, and I never wanted to create a family with a partner that included kids. I was not exceptionally pain-tolerant when I was younger and was happy not to go through every month what looked like a very uncomfortable experience at best. That you’re-so-LUCKY! sentiment, in this context, makes me smile and laugh and agree with my conversation partners.

But that’s not where these conversations (should) end.

It’s important to recognize some stuff. First off, there are lots of intersex individuals out there that LOVE kids and have wanted to raise children of their own for a long time, that may be very upset by the fact that they cannot have children. There are intersex individuals that want to have had that experience – to know what it’s like to menstruate, to be able to do that. (At various points in my life, I’ve been a part of that latter category, and even am sometimes now, though really infrequently.) What was entirely appropriate for me – “You totally dodged a bullet with this awful period/childbearing thing, amirite?” – may be the exact opposite of how some intersex individuals may feel about these issues. It may hurt.

This issue is further complicated by the fact that some intersex individuals that WERE biologically able to have children may not be after having undergone medical procedures that essentially sterilize them. Sometimes, doctors will suggest internal sex organs be removed because they could become cancerous. While it's possible that these sex organs could become cancerous, it's not because they're from an intersex person. Non-intersex people get testicular and ovarian cancer, but doctors don't remove these healthy organs at birth because they may become cancerous in the future. This means that intersex individuals may have had internal sex organs removed with the approval/advice from parents and clinicians because they might become cancerous when, in fact, these internal sex organs are functional in terms of hormone production and/or making viable eggs or sperm, and subsequently did not constitute higher risks of getting cancer than internal sex organs of non-intersex people. It's really tragic, because in many cases, an intersex indiviudual learns that they were once reproductive, and their fertile bodies were sterilized. While I concede that not all clinicians – or perhaps even a majority of clinicians – perceive these sterilization surgeries in this way, they do not make sense except in the context of eugenics. At best, these surgeries are extremely misguided and do not allow intersex individuals consent. Even if one was to accept that the parents of intersex children should be allowed to make consent by proxy for their children when they’re too young to do so themselves (something I strongly oppose), these parents couldn’t truly give consent in these cases anyway, since they were given misinformation, perhaps deliberately. In short, stating how lucky someone is not to have to go through the pain of childbearing, or having to worry about their hypothetical kids running around causing havoc, may seem like a cruel statement to someone who not only wanted to do that, but was actually ABLE to do that until these abilities were robbed of them when it was not their choice.

Perhaps the most important thing to discuss here is that absence of pain due to menstruation or childbirth does not mean absence of pain, in general. Many, if not most, intersex individuals are shuttled through the medical system, are treated like they are sick, are treated like their bodies are fucked up and freakish and vaguely shameful, are subjected to a variety of appointments and testing and procedures that cause pain at the physical, psychological, and emotional levels. When people have said to me, “You’re so lucky you miss out on all that PAIN – auuuugh, gawd!” I am reminded of these things that I have experienced, that I did not ask for, and that I didn’t know that I could say, “NO!” to. I feel angry, because by saying, “You have no pain to suffer through!” it erases my experiences, many of which were in fact, painful, albeit in different ways than menstrual or childbirth pain. It makes it feel like I have gotten away with something by virtue of my conversation partners’ bodies’ abilities to do these things when my body does not, when I also know that by virtue of having my body, I have gone through pain that my conversation partners are likely unaware of. Just because some intersex peoples’ bodies do not menstruate or are reproductive or give birth doesn’t mean that our bodies have not suffered pain.

Lastly, I have come to find statements like these increasingly more interesting as I’ve gotten older. “You’re so lucky you can’t do this” = there’s an assumption that my body is “supposed” to be able to menstruate, is “supposed” to be able to be reproductive and specifically bear children in my case. It is assumed that because I outwardly look female, that I must be able to do actions X, Y, and Z. The fact that I can’t do them means that I’ve gotten away with something. I’m “lucky.” But the truth of the matter is that I’m not lucky. My body was never supposed to be able to do this in the first place. My body was ALWAYS that of an AIS individual, a CAIS individual. As a fetus, I wasn’t going to turn into a girl. I wasn’t going to turn into a boy. I was going to turn into me, the whole time. To me, statements with the how-are-you-lucky-enough-to-have-gotten-away-with-this sentiment are akin to me being told by a bird that I’m so lucky I don’t have to fly around for long periods of time during migrations, or being told by a trout I’m so lucky I don’t have to try swimming upstream because it’s difficult. What the hell are you critters talking about?! I’m not a bird and never was, and never will be. I’m not a trout and never was, and never will be. I didn’t get away with not being able to do those things – I was never supposed to be able to do them in the first place, because I’m ME. Saying that I’m lucky not to do something it’s assumed my body “should be” able to do erases the realness of my intersex body. My body is only supposed to do what it was always supposed to do, and that includes not menstruating or being reproductive or bearing children. MY BODY IS ALREADY DOING WHAT IT WAS SUPPOSED TO DO ALL ALONG. The problem is in the perception that intersex bodies are supposed to be like or do things that male- and female-defined bodies do. But not all male bodies and not all female bodies do the same things anyway. Why would we assume that intersex bodies will all work the same way as all male and/or female bodies? Would we assume that all intersex bodies, with our many variations, work the same way as all other intersex bodies, too? These perceptions need to change.

So if you are having a conversation with intersex individuals and what some intersex bodies can and cannot do, it is worth considering whether or not to frame things in the context of luck and beating the biological system. Because it’s not like that for many of us.


It was strange.

To be back in that place, for entirely different reasons and with an entirely different reference point for who I am, what intersex is, and my relationship with intersex. I wasn’t sure how I was going to feel, and I guess I am a little surprised in some ways, and not surprised at all in others, but what I am surprised about isn’t necessarily what I really expected.

Let me explain.

I am talking, first of all, about Baltimore, MD. I’ve been to Baltimore several times, since I was about 13, I guess. Although I’ve been to other places in Maryland – mostly to go to the beach with my family on summer vacations happily scrounging for tiny, tiny seashells – I’ve been to no other place more often than I have Baltimore. This is because, for several years of my life, I annually went for appointments at Johns Hopkins. You know, because I’m intersex.

Previously, I’d gone to Hershey Medical Center, from the time I was 8. It’s strange thinking about the contrast in my feelings between Hershey MC and Hopkins because I have so, so many feelings about Hopkins, and almost none about Hershey. I never really even realized that until just now. Some of my family lives in Hershey, and I’ve been there bunches of times, and it’s never bothered me once. Maybe I’d feel the tiniest bit uneasy passing HMC, but come to think of it, I’m pretty sure that I have several times (“Claudia, oh look, it’s the medical center.”), and I don’t think I really gave too much of a damn either way except to maybe purse my lips and grumble thinking about the pediatric endocrinology wing.

It’s strange, because I feel like I should have strong feelings about both of these places. In both hospitals, I had some traumatic, effed-up stuff done to me for approximately 8 years in total – principally, super-invasive, didn’t-know-I-could-not-consent-to, assumed-it-was-to-track-my-health dilation procedures, where they basically coat some cold, metal medical dildo with cold, burny medical lube and stick it inside of you to see how long your vagina is. So that they can then decide whether your vagina is of “normal length” = assessing whether or not you “need” a vaginoplasty, or a vaginal reconstruction procedure that increases the vaginal canal’s length. That's so you can have "normal sex" with your husband someday. (SPOILER: There's not a "wrong" length for your vagina to be, even if certain lengths may be more comfortable for penetrative sex. Also, I learned that I'm gay. Me getting a husband? Unlikely, at best.) I went to Hershey every 6 months for appointments. I remember having to pee in a lot of plastic cups, and being MRIed and CT scanned at least once each, but there wasn’t any tongue depressors and saying fucking “Ahhhh” (actually thinking, “AGGGGGGGH!, thatssouncomfortabbbbble!”) or listening to my heart beat and asking me how stuff was, really. I just remember having to hop up on the cold fucking metal table and all of the other cold metal and cold burny things and the dread of knowing it was going to hurt really badly, and I was going to scream and cry, and I didn’t want a grown man who could be my grandfather poking around my vagina anyway, and I couldn’t do a damn thing about it because he was the doctor and he said I needed it and these checks were going to keep me healthy or make me better if I wasn’t healthy. It makes me really sad to look back and know that this perspective is entirely untrue – that these dilation procedures are not necessary, because they don’t track health, they just track whether or not your vagina is spacious enough to have “normal sex” (= accommodate a male’s penis in penetrative, male-female intercourse). This view then, is messed up because 1) these doctors are doing these procedures without giving individuals the knowledge that they can consent or NOT CONSENT to these procedures by acting like they’re medically necessary, 2) they’re not medically necessary because they tell us nothing about the individual’s health, 3) there’s a lot of different ideas about what “normal” vaginal size (and also “normal” penis size) exactly is, since there’s a lot of variation – who gets to decide?, and 4) it’s heteronormative (= holds up heterosexual standards and discounts the fact that not everyone’s heterosexual), failing to include queer experience – i.e., not everyone that’s female-bodied wants to either have sex with men and/or have penis-vagina intercourse kind of sex…there’s lots of ways to have sex and this obsession with individuals being able to do this act may be entirely not what that individual wants, anyway. Even further, not all individuals are (very) sexual – asexual individuals may not necessarily be having this kind of sex, either. I have a lot of trauma that I want to try to process and work through from these experiences. I’ve effectively healed to various degrees (and re-process and re-heal, of course) regarding many of my lived experiences surrounding intersex, but these dilation procedures are still something that I have not yet successfully had peace about. I’m hoping that I will be ready to deal more effectively with them someday.

I think it’s worth nothing here that over a decade since my last dilation procedure, I have not been able to take any steps toward emotionally healing from this, because these medical visits have been so traumatic. I just can’t think about them, even though I get flashbacks all the time in my daily life. My experience is sadly not uncommon based on testimony given by other intersex individuals who have undergone medical “treatment” that is often physically and/or emotionally damaging for a long, long time afterward. I think this says volumes about what the role of the medical community should be in terms of intersex (= nothing to do with policing and altering our bodies without our consent and doing “medical procedures” that aren’t actually medical in nature = for our health).

The point of discussing this contrast between Hershey and Hopkins, though, is that I am not largely affected being in Hershey and apparently even so much passing the medical center. Even though I had traumatic procedures happen in both of those places. If I was in that patient’s room that I had to visit in Hershey, I’m pretty sure I’d feel a freak-out coming on, but seeing the hospital itself doesn’t do much. Why is it, then, that I’ve had such strong reactions to Baltimore, to the point that I have not been back since my last dilation, up until a few days ago?

The difference is that in Hershey, I was just some kid that – for whatever reason – didn’t have a uterus, and couldn’t have a period. And also maybe had a short vagina or whatever. Short-vagina-no-uterus-no-period thing. It was probably in medical books somewhere. But I wasn’t given a name for it, and it was just something that happened sometimes, and I never wanted to bleed monthly and I expressed interest in little kids or having little kids of my own someday, so I was pretty much thrilled to hear of this multi-syllabic atypicality without a fancy science-y sounding name attached to it. Some of my classmates were just starting to get their periods when I started going to Hershey, and hearing about these experiences sounded uncomfortable at best. I thought everyone should have this magical no-uterus thing – HOORAY!

But at Hopkins, the problems really started in earnest because where it seemed I just had some innocuous-ish medical anomaly (“So I don’t have a uterus – who cares?”), it was clear that my body was more complex than that, and there actually were names after all (“I’m…intersex? Huh? Is that WHY I don’t have a uterus?”) and there were all of these psychological, emotional, and identity-based layers added on top of it – “Who the hell am I? Am I a boy or a girl? What does that even mean now? What really IS a boy or a girl if someone like me can exist? If there’s answers, who decided these things and figured them out – how’d they do it? Do I need to start dressing or acting different? Who can I go on dates with or ask to a dance – am I kind of straight AND gay either way? Am I always presenting in drag whether I wear heavy eyeliner or really big boy’s shorts? Will I be able to have “normal” sex? Am I going to be rejected by every potential love cause I’m just too fucking weird?” The list of questions went on and on.

At Hopkins, I first had to confront my identity in a whole new way, and I was angry and bitter and depressed and self-hating for a long time because I truly thought that something was deeply wrong with me and my body was one of nature’s practical jokes (“Ha, ha, humanity! Look what I can do!”) but now I had to live with that joke of a body and walk around and pretend it was totally legitimate and wasn’t freaky and horrible and was capable of being accepted and even loved maybe someday. With Hopkins, I first talked to psychologists, asking them earnestly (with discomfort) if I REALLY was REALLY a girl, and them saying yes, absolutely, no question, you’re a girl just like every girl, and no matter how many times I asked it never made me feel better because I knew if I was like every other girl, I wouldn’t be here being poked and prodded and pressured into surgery by old white men every year. (Why? My vagina’s just how it has always been – it’s normal already. And who said I’m necessarily having that kind of sex and/or with boys, anyway?) I didn’t want easy answers – I wanted a nuanced discussion. I wanted to know about variation in peoples’ identities. I wanted to know that who I was wasn’t static, that I was whoever I was, that my identities didn’t all have to match up in one of two acceptable ways. Who I later learned myself to be was in some ways actually irrelevant at that point – what I really needed to ask but didn’t know how was, how do I even start going about the process of me figuring this shit out, just wrapping my head around it enough to approach figuring out who I am in this context? Enter another decade plus of thinking and processing like crazy and agonizing a good deal about it throughout until I could really feel comfortable with my identity.

And then there were still all those fucking dilation procedures. Some of the things the clinicians wanted to talk about and ask me also got a lot more invasive (and I felt, inappropriate) than they’d been at Hershey since I was starting to get to that age where people assumed I’d be having sex any day now. I didn’t want surgeons popping in during every visit, reminding me that if I didn’t get let them hand-stitch me a brand-new, shiny vagina (like my body was an arts & crafts project or something that could be sold on Etsy afterward), I could have big problems “trying to have sex.” Despite the fact that I’d told some of them that I wasn’t READY to have sex and this was not an issue on my radar anyway, it didn’t seem to matter – still the upward inflection out of nowhere “surrrrrrgery?”, still the dilations, still my sulking and storm-cloud moods days beforehand and after each appointment clearly noted on our kitchen’s dry-erase board calendar in my mom's perfect handwriting, haunting me for the whole month. Hopkins was the period of time when I went from no-uterus to no-identity, I was a who-knows-what person – which I now know is actually anyone ever, if they are honest and everyone felt free to express themselves and their identities as they are, and that being a who-knows-what person (= I am whoever I am, and I don’t care if that deviates from societal expectations) in any sense is a fabulous, freeing existence since it allows you to be more of yourself at any time than you otherwise can, but I didn’t see the positives of doing the tough work to figure out who you are at the time.

But, yeah, so I went to Baltimore the other day.

I am dating an absolutely wonderful girl, and she is moving to Baltimore pretty soon. I visited with some of her family and one day, we took a trip out to Baltimore together. I was not sure how I would feel, if I would be triggered, if I would feel like a mess and would need to be quiet. I had vowed I never wanted to go to Baltimore ever again for a number of years, and as the years passed, that I would go maybe not never, but very rarely and only for good reasons, like to raise awareness about intersex, or to go to a conference or something.

Now I have an excellent reason to be going there, and I was both excited and nervous to see how I would react being in this place again, but for entirely different reasons. I wasn’t there, after all, to go to the hospital. I was there to just hang around a little, and NOT go to the Harbor for, like, the zillionth time. She was really supportive about the uncertainty of my feelings being in Baltimore, but even with this support, it was still scary to not completely know what would happen. I just kept thinking more or less, “Baltimore. MAN. Oh, gawd. BALTIMORE. Man.” And so on. (Also very articulately.)

Ultimately, being there wasn’t terrible. I actually had FUN, which was kind of shocking to me. I thought maybe just being anywhere, ever in Baltimore would be such a bummer that I wouldn’t be able to relax, have fun, without having an emotional meltdown knowing what this place has meant to me in the past. The historical district was really nice – I’d never been there since we’d pretty much only been to the hospital, and the nearby Bar Harbor-ish areas. As a former violin nerd, it was fun to see the Peabody Institute, and one particular church had gorgeous architecture, with some copper bits turned streaky-green from air exposure over time.

I did see the hospital, twice – once when we got into Baltimore, and once when we left it. I couldn’t not look. My head was a magnet, and I couldn’t help turning in the direction of Hopkins. I knew it was Hopkins even though we didn’t drive directly past it because of the airwalk connecting buildings over the street below. I felt triggered and scared in some ways, but more in a all-my-emotions-are-freezing-up-in-my-chest kind of way, and not in a everything-is-flooding-back-to-me-and-I’m-experiencing-everything-all-over-again kind of way, which was much preferable. I might’ve felt more triggered had I actually faced the hospital, looked at it, thought about taking the elevator all the way to pediatric endocrinology. But even then, I’m not sure it would’ve been much more. And that surprised me a little.

I think the biggest thing for me is what else I felt while I was there. I was assuming that when I hit the city limits entering Baltimore, everything would maybe fall apart, and I’d be this little girl again, terrified on the way to the place where all this trauma and shit went down. That I’d be back there, and there wasn’t anything I could do about it. But that wasn’t what happened at all. Although part of me was scared, another part of me, the much more grown-up who-I-am-right-now part was like, Okay, Baltimore. We’ve been through a lot of shit, and you made my life terrible for a long time, but you know what? I’m not the same person I was back then. I know who I am, and anything that was said to me here or done to me here hasn’t prevented me from knowing who I am and not being afraid to be it. Pretty much, you didn’t and will continue not to prevent me from being who I am. I figured it out, anyway, Baltimore, despite all your shit.

It was pretty empowering.

I think some of my reactions will be more strong, maybe, if I’m really faced with the hospital. But even then, this trip was a test – and I think the results mean that I’m gonna be okay. Even if I do get triggered sometimes, I can be in Baltimore, and I still have my sense of self. Baltimore hasn’t defined me, and it hasn’t gotten me beat.

…Also, in other news I got my hand stuck in a car door, because I am very conscientious and aware of my surroundings and would never put important things, like oh, I dunno, my appendages, in unsafe places because I was too busy looking at museum buildings. NOOOOO, I’d certainly never do that. (Ha, FAIL.)

Sunday, July 3, 2011

Happy 2nd Birthday, Full Frontal Activism!

Continuing in the tradition of rainbow-cake celebrations...

I was totally taken by these adorable heart-shaped ones! <3 Awesome. Credits to

All in all, this year was a really great one in terms of activism. I've had the opportunity to discuss things with you lovely folk, begin speaking at events (and hopefully doing a lot more of that!), and meeting some other amazing intersex activists. What I am doing now is a long way from what I thought I could really do about raising intersex awareness as a confused kid in high school, and I'm so grateful to be a part of what I'm doing.

Yay activism! This blog will continue to do its part in smashing shit down, and planting flowers in its place. <333

Intersex Is Entertaining!: Baby Mama

I was pretty sickly recently when I went home to visit my parents, and was up late one night flicking through the channels. I saw Tina Fey acting in some movie I hadn't seen before, and decided to pause for a while. In this movie, Baby Mama, Fey's character Kate selects a seemingly irresponsible woman, Angie (Amy Poehler) to be her surrogate mother. Drama ensues. Throughout the movie, Kate worries a lot about her fetus's health and development (totally reasonable). One particular scene of her worrywarting to her sister Caroline (Maura Tierney), though, really caught my attention:

K: "What if the baby's a hermaphrodite?"
C: "What?"
K: "A CHICK WITH A DICK. I heard it happens to about 2% of babies."
C: "Well, that's crazy. That would mean that about 10 people from our high school were hermaphrodites."
K: "That sounds about right, actually."
C: "You can't solve your problems by worrying about them."

The conversation continues with discussions of whether 4 year old Caroline's too young to get a cell phone for her birthday, Kate's plans in helping open a new store for her work, and how radiant Kate's hair is. Ya know, things that are really relevant to intersex and stuff.

Um, also - WHAT.

I have no idea whether any baby planning books reference intersex, but if any do, it is likely very very few, considering that most experiences shared by intersex parents indicate that they'd never heard before, and at least some of them have cracked open a bably planning book. It seems bizarre, then, that Fey's character would've heard something about "hermaphrodites" in this way.

The use of the word "hermaphrodites" is also confusing. This term is still around in various forms, but is considered to be archaic and offensive to many and also biologically inaccurate for reasons that we've detailed in previous posts. Hermaphrodites refer to biological organisms, such as various species of fish, amphibians, and mollusks that have both sets of fully functioning sex organs - either at the same time, or at different times in their life cycle. Humans don't qualify in either of those respects. (Although it's worth noting that some intersex individuals may use the term "herm" ("herm hugs!," right?!) to inclusively refer to themselves and other intersex individuals, reclaiming the term.) If intersex was covered in baby planning books, it would most likely be discussed as "intersex," and not "hermphrodites." (Unfortunately, there's also a chance it would be referred to in medicalized DSD terminology, ugh. This makes me want to flip open baby planning books and see what's exactly in there.)

Intersex = chicks with dicks, huh? Hmmmm. This phrase can be offensive to many people, whether identified as intersex, transgender, transvestites, and other gender identity/presentation--fluid/non-conforming individuals, even though here it specifically refers to intersex. This again is a serious biology fail with regards to what intersex is, and the diversity of intersex variations. This also equates intersex = all about genitals, whereas intersex bodies, and the traits we recognizie as showing sex differences, are way more extensive than just external genitals. And certainly not even just internal sex organs, hormone types and levels, and chromosome types. What about body hair disribution, chest/breast development, nipple development, overall height, shoulder:waist ratios, and bone and muscle form? How we sex bodies is much more complex than just external genitalia...if this was the case, people wouldn't automatically assign sex to a person walking down the street without inspecting what's in their pants first, right? This view of intersex is too narrow.

Intersex statistics. *sigh* It's really difficult to get an accurate handle on how many intersex individuals exist in the world. Many people whose bodies conform to definitions of a particular form of intersex may not identify as intersex, and thus wouldn't count themselves in hypothetical censues of intersex individuals. Those that do identify with intersex in some capactiy may understand their intersex not as a normal, biological way of being, but have only been introduced to the "you're sick and have a medical condition" perspective on intersex, and thus may not see themselves as "really intersex," but as a male or female with an "intersex condition." Individuals that may identify as intersex in some capacity may also not want to participate in such counts of intersex individuals due to trauma from the medical establishment and/or silence within their circle of loved ones and communities, in attempts to remove themselves from intersex associations altogether. Many clinicians are also unwilling to hand over their patient records (as though we should actually be considered "patients" in the first place, ugh) for these purposes. Furthermore, some individuals that do not understand what intersex is may claim intersex identities, incorrectly thinking it is akin to a type of sexual orientation or solely a gender identity/expression, and may want to be included in counts of intersex individuals. I am very wary, then, or quoting statistics on how many intersex individuals exist, and think all statistics must be taken not with a grain of salt, but perhaps an entire shaker (or more!). The take-home message, however, in looking at these issues in obtaining demographic information on intersex individuals, is that there are likely a hell of a lot more of us than we currently recognize. Our bodies may be atypical, but we're not uncommon.

"That sounds about right, actually." --- This sentence really bugged me since, as I interpret it, considering intersex individuals may have existed in their high school was not a reveleation of, "Oh, hey! Intersex people exist pretty much everywhere! Yay, I'm more aware of this!" It sounds more like, "I remember a lot of weirdos in high school. Intersex = weird, so that pretty much fits the bill." Granted, I AM a total weirdo, but this has nothing to do with my intersex, and everything to do with me being a ridiculous person. Shame on you, Fey, for further freakifying intersex individuals. We get it enough of it from other places.

"You can't solve your problems worrying about them." --- I'm confused. Having an intersex baby = having a baby that is normal, healthy, and beautiful. How is this a problem? Why would you worry about that? Would your problems be solved if your child was not healthy and great? Is that what Kate actually wants? This statement only makes sense in the context of large-scale misunderstanding of what intersex is in many many societies and cultures. Shouldn't this sentence be referencing these skewed societal perceptions, and not the intersex individuals themselves? (A: YES.)

It gets better later in the film when out of nowhere, Kate advises someone not to read the "hermaphrodite" chapter of one of the infamous baby planning books, stating that it'll "give [them] nightmares for weeks." Nice.

All in all, I wasn't thrilled with this unnecessary jab at intersex individuals to get some cheap laughs. (*guffaw, guffaw* CHICKS WITH DICKS *slaps thigh, guffaw*) How 'bout some positive portrayals of intersex, please? 30 Rock, I'm keeping my eye on you.

Intersex and Identity: Self- and Perceived

I have been thinking about some interesting things regarding identity. Principally, how interconnected our various identities are. Each of our identities don’t exist in a vacuum, completely independent from all the others; in fact, many of our identities are built upon each other, so that it is not necessarily intuitive to describe yourself in one way while simultaneously claiming another identity that contradicts the first.

Let me explain.

Tricia, intersex activist and blogger of Intersex Unicorn, had a great post describing her sexual orientation after being asked by a reader. Her sexual orientation is, “I like girls.” Tricia explained her multiword identity by reminding us that since she identifies her sex as intersex, the use of standard terms out there wouldn’t be authentic to her. For example, lesbian didn’t feel right since it more strictly refers to a woman-identified person that is attracted to other women – Tricia didn’t feel her intersex identity matched up with this definition. Because of this, Tricia chose to express her sexual orientation as, “I like girls.”

I've also learned from accounts from intersex individuals, or in books about intersex that one’s perception of your identities may change after learning about your intersex. Casually discussing your love of sports (i.e., "They happen to be athletic!") can take on new meaning after learning about one's intersex (i.e., "They must be athletic because they're intersex. It's hormones or whatever!") A few moments before, you were just a person that liked doing something, and the fact that you liked thing thing was taken at face value. Being intersex + liking this thing, doing this thing, being this thing, whatever now just serves to reinforce your intersex. The fact that one likes, does, or is this thing isn't taken at face value - it's now perceived as a function of one's intersex.

When I think about this, I see headlines and articles of things I've read looking for the biological bases for blahblahblah or empirical reasons for being soandso or new evidence revealing why we're whosewhatsit. I think it's important to remember that there may well be biological bases for lots of things that color our self identities and our likes and dislikes. But we aren't out there trying to find the biological bases for lots of things. For example, what's the biological basis of liking blueberry muffins? There are likely biological explanations for why some individuals dislike blueberry muffins that have to do with sensory information and receptors and the genes that give rise to and control them. But at the end of the day, what does knowing where blueberry muffin dislike come from mean? What do we do with this information? Being a scientist myself, I think there is inherent value in understanding how the world works, how we work, how our bodies work. But just because we can find a biological basis for something doesn't mean that WHO WE ARE IN THAT RESPECT IS ANY LESS REAL, OR THAT IT SHOULD BE ANY LESS RESPECTED. Taken to extremes, some individuals are interested in how knowing the biological bases of something might be used to prevent people having traits that are considered undesirable, which can lead into eugenics and related scary stuff. The question then is, why are we cherrypicking what thing to investigate the biological bases for, while ignoring others? Knowing where intersex "comes from" doesn't change the fact that I'm still me, have always been me, will always be me. The point is to respect me, regardless of the minutiae of How and Why I'm Me. Additionally, focusing on biological perspectives alone is seriously limiting. Maybe some blueberry muffin haters don't eat them because they ate far too many once and became violently ill and just can't bear to stomach them again. Why someone is the way they are may be multi-facted and complex, and there isn't going to be a single "magic bullet" gene for everything that will illuminate the complexities of what it means to be a person and a biological being.

Identity is extremely complex, and I don’t feel that an individual’s many identities have to match up in a way that’s seen as intuitive or “normal” according to a culture’s mainstream views and attitudes – one’s identities just need to be authentic to that individual. Nor do I think that these identities need to be static and fixed. That being said, it is worth noting how consideration of one’s intersex shifts how that person’s other identities are constructed, described, and read by others. Many standard terms for identities are based upon the assumption of one’s biological sex as male or female, and for some of us, those assumptions simply can’t be made. How will we go about creating identities for ourselves that fit comfortably and feel authentic by accounting for our intersex? I don’t think that any such identities would need to be standardized since identity is so personal, although it’s interesting to consider that some terms could hypothetically catch on and be used in a (more-or-less) standardized way.

Although finding new ways to describe oneself can be a frustrating venture, in some ways, this could get downright fun. Let me know if you have created any identities accounting for intersex that you particularly like!